Surfside Bathing Beauties and a Swallow
May 5, 2017 ~ My time to go out chasing birds has been severely limited due to the joys and perils of home ownership. Some air conditioning issues (all parts under warranty, thank goodness!) and getting the correct valve in the right location for my new gas stove. I spent a lot of time waiting on repair guys to call or show up and missed some nice cloudy days. But, the new stove was hooked up on Saturday and within an hour Bill and I were on the road to Surfside.
Bill Maroldo and I ran into our buddy Cheryl Vance-Kiser on Crab Road as she was watching a nice Reddish Egret. We found some Short-billed Dowitchers not far from her. A Whimbrel flew off just as we set up with our crates and tripods on the side of the road with the sun behind us.
Now, these are definitely Short-billed Dowitchers; the bill is ONLY twice the length of the head where the Long-billed Dowitcher's bill is even longer. These are all sporting breeding colors and will soon head to their breeding grounds in the Arctic tundra AKA Canada. The were bunched up and not feeding, preening or doing much of anything. It is so ard to isolate one bird when they are in a tight group.
But, then I noticed a few of them were bathing. I started watching. Bathing birds are tricky; the splashing water often obscures the bird, especially if the view is from the side. I remember taking dozens of photos of grackles bathing in a fountain when I first started and not a one of them was good. Dark birds and bright light was only part of the problem. I think I was shooting on "automagic" and letting the camera pick the settings.
These guys are medium size and were facing me, the light was good, so there was a nice opportunity. You will need a bit higher f/stop so the whole bird and splash is in focus, depending on how close the bird is. Closer the bird, higher the f/stop. And of course a really high shutter speed. If you attempt to shoot this type of behavior in Aperture Priority you will probably not get a fast enough shutter speed.
This one is really vigorous in his splashing. Note the tip of his bill is in focus and his tail. Go ahead; click on the image to embiggen. After viewing, click (or tap) anywhere outside of the photo to return here to the adventure.
And a lot of birds complete their bath and then fling themselves straight up in the air and shake off the water. Skimmers do that and I wondered if the Dowitchers would. I can happily report that they do and I started watching for the tell-tale send off. Remember, anticipation of bird action will help you get good shots.
Now, we would have to JUMP but remember, he has wings. One flap of the outspread wings and he is airborne. He is getting ready. I was kind of surprised how pretty the under wing feathers are; you would see a flash of light brown when he flies.
Fully extended wings with a tiny flap and his feet are off the ground. Look at the water droplets1 He has turned slightly from the first shot when he was bathing. I think a higher f/stop of f/8 would have caught the leading edge of his closest extended wing.
A nice umbrella pose. Wish we could see his eye here, but ... you can't. Even with a good photo, you can always improve.
And he settles back to earth. That entire jump sequence was one burst shot, with the last one dipped below the frame. Hmmm. Maybe I do want more than 5/fps :-)
One little Ruddy Turnstone joined the crowd and also had a bath. Being smaller, he was obscured by the larger birds while he bathed, but I caught him as he began his after bath ascent.
Ruddy Turnstones in breeding colors like this one are hard to photograph. The calico colors are nice but the mottled pattern is hard to show. And their black eyes often disappear in the dark mask.
But this little guy looks glorious. He will be leaving soon too for the Arctic breeding grounds. Hard to image this little guy will fly all the way across the US and Canada for a chance to mate and raise chicks.
Oh, I had to remove a few other birds that were close in some of these shots, but you wouldn't know if I hadn't told you. Photoshop is such a good tool for $10 a month.
While I was working on the bathing beauties, Bill was taking photos of a couple of Barn Swallow youngsters that were using a Private Property sign as a perch. They repeatedly flew off and returned to the same place which is an extraordinary opportunity for a photographer. We were trying all our tricks to catch them airborne just before they landed. I wasn't successful with the airborne shots, but I did get a lot of them hanging on in the brisk wind.
It was a really nice afternoon. We also found some Reddish Egrets in another location; I will have to tell you about those later. I see a lot of warblers posted on Facebook but we haven't had a lot of luck with the pretty little birds this year. But the shore birds are getting breeding colors and migrating as well. Have you been going out chasing warblers? Are you also interested in the terns and shorebirds? Let me know in the comments below.