wildlife

Photographing Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warblers in the Wetlands by Todd Henson

Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warbler perched on a branch.

On a recent trip to a wetlands park I was fortunate to watch and photograph several Yellow-rumped Warblers of the Myrtle variety. These are a beautiful bird with a yellow patch on their rump, the top of their head, and on their sides. Their back is grey, and the rest of their body is white with black patches and stripes.

Side and underside of a Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warbler in the brush.

I worked to create photographs of these warblers from every angle I could, trying to capture images of their identifying characteristics. This makes it easier to identify the species from field guides.

Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warbler facing forward and singing.

Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warbler facing forward, head facing the left.

I also worked to create as many pleasing images as I could. In one location I noticed how the warbler would return over and over again to the same set of perches. I found a perspective to shoot this location that gave me a nice, simple, out of focus background. Then I just watched and waited. I readied my camera when the warbler appeared to be returning to the perches I’d seen it use before. And then I began photographing, hoping to capture some nice gestures, some pleasant angles.

Side view of a Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warbler perched in the brush.

There is skill in photographing wildlife. Some of that skill is learning the behavior of the animal, learning its patterns and anticipating what it might do next. Some of the skill is knowing your gear, getting it setup and ready.

Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warbler perched on a tree, head looking down towards the ground.

But there is also luck in photographing wildlife. You can’t control the animal. It will do what it wants. Luck will play a part in whether you see the gestures you might wish for. Luck will play a part in whether the animal actually does return to the same spot or whether it decides to move on to another location.

Profile of a Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warbler perched on a branch.

Finally, patience plays a huge part in photographing wildlife. The animal may very well return to the same location, but it might not do so right away. You may have to wait many minutes, or in some cases hours for the animal to return. It may not return at all that day. You may need to try again another day, over and over again, watching and waiting, but never giving up.

Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warbler perched on a tree, getting ready to fly.

A top down view of a Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warbler on the side of a tree.

But photographing wildlife is worth it. You get to spend some small part of your day out in nature watching, learning about, and creating images of all these beautiful creatures. It doesn't get much better than that!



The resources below contain affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. This is at no extra cost to you.

George Washington Birthplace National Monument by Todd Henson

Memorial Obelisk at the entrance to the George Washington Birthplace National Monument.

Earlier this year I went on a short day trip with my folks. One of the locations we visited was the George Washington Birthplace National Monument in Westmoreland County, Virginia. As its name implies, this location is a memorial to the birthplace of George Washington, who was born here on February 22, 1732. Very little remains from that time period, as the original house burned in 1779. The Memorial House was built in 1931 and is thought to be representative of houses of that time period.

This National Monument has a lot to offer visitors, so I’d highly recommend visiting at least once if you’ve never been. You can study a little history while here, and they have recreated architecture of that time period. There’s plenty of nature and wildlife, such as osprey and bald eagles. The local scenery is fantastic, and there are enough trails to get in a little exercise while touring the grounds.

History

Naturally, the George Washington Birthplace National Monument is full of history. It is an attempt to recreate a small piece of history as a living monument.

Panorama of the Memorial House. This side faces Popes Creek.

The site contains the Memorial House, a Colonial Kitchen, Colonial Garden, and Colonial Farm. There is also the Family Burial Ground, and a Memorial Obelisk that was erected by the War Department in 1896 where the Memorial House currently stands. Later, in 1930, it was moved to its current location at the entrance to the park.

View of the Memorial Obelisk facing the exit of the park.

There is also a small visitor center with a number of historical artifacts from the site. And if you spend some time driving or hiking around the entire park you will discover other small historical treasures.

Architecture

The outline of the original house, with the Memorial House and Colonial Kitchen in the background.

The architecture, though not original, is representative of that time. These are not ruins, but recreations of buildings from that period of history. In 1936 archeologists unearthed the foundation of the original house. They later reburied it to preserve it, but also outlined the location with oyster shells. So you can see the size and location of the original house in relation to the Memorial House.

Side view of the Memorial House. The Colonial Garden was along the trail further to the right.

Nature & Wildlife

The Memorial is located in the Northern Neck of Virginia and is a great location to view nature and wildlife of various sorts. While we were there we watched many bald eagles flying overhead, as well as more osprey than I’ve ever seen in one location. There were almost 2 dozen osprey all flying over the large open waters of Popes Creek looking for fish.

Male Ruddy Duck swimming in an inlet off Popes Creek.

From one of the boardwalks stretching over a small inlet of water we watched as a curious little male Ruddy Duck waddled its way over to us, under the boardwalk, around the little inlet, then back out to Popes Creek. They are fun ducks to watch, with their tails sticking almost straight up as they paddle through the water.

Northern Watersnake in the brush between the trail an Popes creek.

We also found a Northern Watersnake along the brush at the side of a trail. Unfortunately, I think it might have been dead. It didn’t move for the short time we watched it, and zooming in on the photo it appears the head may have been crushed. I’m hopeful this wasn’t the case, but I didn’t try to poke at the snake to verify. I just created a few photos and moved on.

I don't know exactly what this interesting object is, but found it at the end of a tree branch. 

Scenery

This is a great location for admiring beautiful scenery. The back of the visitor’s center has a porch with a couple chairs that over look Pope’s Creek. While we sat there an osprey perched in a tree directly overhead. You could watch other osprey fly above the water, sometimes diving underwater for a fish.

A view of Popes Creek from the back porch of the visitor's center.

If you follow the trails you can see other views of the Creek and where it enters the Potomac River. Some of the trails weave through the woods, and one leads to a sandy beach.

Exercise

And, of course, with all the trails there is the benefit of exercise. Most of the trails are fairly level, so they aren’t overly taxing. Some of the trails are made from crushed oyster shells, which is easy to walk on. And the scenery makes the trails a joy to hike, especially on a day with comfortable weather.

View of the Memorial House through the trees.

This was my first trip to the George Washington Birthplace National Monument. I would like to travel back to this park during different times of the year. I’d love to see the Colonial Garden in bloom. And I’d love to bring my larger lens to photograph the osprey and eagles from the shore. I suspect it would also be a great place to visit if you just need a break and would like a peaceful place to relax.

Check out the George Washington Birthplace National Monument if you’re ever in the area. There’s plenty here to enjoy. And if you do visit let me know what you thought.



The resources below contain affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. This is at no extra cost to you.

Respect Wildlife: Don't Touch! by Todd Henson

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher building a nest. Keep a respectful distance when photographing or observing nesting behavior. Don't stay at the site very long. Don't disturb anything.

I love photography, and I love photographing wildlife in its own environment. But the photograph has to be secondary to the welfare of the animal. We can’t endanger or harasses an animal just to get a photograph. If we don’t respect and protect the wildlife we enjoy watching and photographing, we may lose the privilege, either because the parks we visit restrict access or because the wildlife moves off or dies off.

I've read several news reports over the last year about people mistreating wildlife, sometimes just to capture a selfie, but other times thinking they were helping. It's sad. I'm hopeful some of these people are just ignorant, they don't realize the damage they're doing. I’m hopeful over time they’ll learn and change their behavior. But I fear some people just callously don't care.

The most recent incident I’ve read about involved a mountain goat in Seward, Alaska. The goat entered a populated area, something that is apparently unusual. When it made its way to the harbor people were following it, trying to get pictures. They kept following it, giving it nowhere to go but towards the ocean. It jumped or fell into the ocean and drown. If people had not crowded it, it they weren’t so determined to get close and photograph it, perhaps it could have made it’s way back out of the populated area. And perhaps not, but at least it would have had a chance.

Earlier in the year a couple of tourists at Yellowstone National Park apparently saw a bison calf they felt looked cold, so they picked it up, put it in their truck, and drove it to the ranger station. The rangers brought the bison back and tried to reunite it with the herd, but the herd rejected it. They later euthanized the bison because, having been abandoned, it kept endangering itself and others by approaching tourists and cars. Though it does appear these tourists meant well, and it’s entirely possible the calf would have died anyway, they never should have approached the animal. If the mother had been nearby the tourists could have been attacked. And by interfering with the calf it is entirely possible they were responsible for the mother rejecting it. Wildlife doesn’t care whether we mean well.

There have been several reports of people picking up and taking home harbor seal pups along the U.S. northwest coastline, thinking they had been abandoned by their mothers, not realizing mothers often leave pups for long periods of time so they can hunt for food. Unfortunately, the pup sometimes dies as a result of what are often well-meaning, but ignorant people. 

Perhaps some of these reports have left out important details. Perhaps, in some cases, animals are already dead when people approach them. Either way, in most cases they should be left alone. If people feel the need to try to help they should leave the animals where they are and contact organizations better suited to helping injured or abandoned animals. Contact an animal rescue group. If it’s on park land contact the park authorities.

I recall one instance of the correct way to help wildlife. A large osprey nest in a park fell from a tree with a mother and a couple chicks in the nest. The nest landed near a trail. One of the regular visitors of the park saw the fallen nest and osprey. Instead of approaching too close he called the park’s wildlife biologist, then waited by the nest to keep watch and assure no one else approached until the biologist arrived. If he had approached too close he could have been injured, as osprey have very sharp talons and beaks. Or one of the birds could have become agitated by the approach and injured itself. When I happened to arrive at this part of the park the biologist was putting the injured osprey in her truck. She was taking them to a raptor rehabilitation facility. From what I heard later the mother and one of the chicks recovered enough to be released back into the wild.

If you’re new to watching and photographing wildlife, please learn from these examples. Don’t approach wildlife too closely. Don’t harass animals. Don’t feed them or attempt to touch them. Watch from a distance. Observe the behavior of the animal. You can tell if an animal is ok with you being there. If it becomes agitated, if it tries to move away from you, then you’re too close. Move away, perhaps leave and come back another day. You know you’re observing wildlife correctly when the animals seem to completely ignore you. I’ve been in situations where the wildlife I was observing lay down and went to sleep right in front of me. I love those moments!

Young sleeping fox. Don't get too close. Don't try to touch or pet wildlife, no matter how cute they appear.

By all means, go out into nature, observe and photograph wildlife. But realize it's a privilege to be this close to wildlife, a privilege than can be taken away or destroyed if we misuse it. Learn to respect the wildlife. Learn to care more about the wildlife than the photograph. Then when you view or capture a beautiful wildlife moment it will have even more meaning.