Birds in Southwest Florida and the Secret to Great Bird Photography

Birds in Southwest Florida and the Secret to Great Bird Photography

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When you have seen one ant, one bird, one tree, you have not seen them all.

– Dr. E. O. Wilson

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90 second interstitial for WUSF on birds in south Florida

I love filming birds; seeing large flocks of birds fly in unison across the marshes of south Florida is a sight and a sound to behold. Just as spectacular is watching a solitary eagle soaring overhead.

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One of my favorite species to document is the American bald eagle. The symbolic image of the eagle is one of power and majesty. The lone raptor flying high, the mother protecting her chicks, and an eagle diving towards its prey are all iconic images.

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Another favorite is the Roseate Spoonbill. Akin to a flamingo, but stouter and with a unique spatula-shaped bill, the Roseate Spoonbill gains its rosy pink color from carotenoid-rich organisms in its diet (such as shrimp). They are fascinating birds to observe, especially during low tides while feeding in the mud flats. It constantly moves its head back and forth to find food in the low tide areas.

Some of my favorite places to film eagles, spoonbills, and other birds include Big Cypress National Preserve, Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park and Aududon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.

So, you may know what bird you want to photograph and where to go…but what is the secret to photographing birds well?

Ted Below, a former warden and biologist with National Audubon taught me the three-step method to capture images of birds.

1) Move towards the bird as slowly and silently as possible, being careful to not flush or frighten it.

2) Locate the distance that you can take the first image without disrupting the bird, set up your camera tripod, and capture your first image.

3) Pick up the tripod and slowly move in three to five steps closer to the bird and capture another image.

Repeat this method until you capture a close-up image of the bird. If the bird flies away, at least you have several images, even if it is not as close as you desired. Of course, having a long lens (such as a 300mm or 400mm) allows you to snap a close-up without disrupting the bird.

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To get wonderful shots of large flocks of birds, set up close by a bird rookery before dusk and wait for the birds to fly in to roost as the day ends. Arrive early in the morning and you will see birds leaving their resting area.

These practices have been helpful to me; I hope these ideas works for you, as well.  You may have you own methods to capture excellent bird images; what is your secret to great bird photography? Please share your comments with us!

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