Foraging WilletForaging Willet – Nikon D200, handheld, f7.1, 1/1500, ISO 400, Nikkor 70-300mm VR at 300mm, natural light

Gray skies, freezing temps and the inversions are beginning to get to me so I thought I would share some bird images from warmer days on Fort De Soto County Park’s north beach in sunny Florida.

In Florida I very rarely took my Nikkor 200-400mm VR lens to the beach because I didn’t want to get sand in the zoom mechanisms and I also didn’t want to dunk it in the salt water, my normal lens for Fort De Soto was my Nikkor 80-400mm VR but when I took all of these images it was off in New York being repaired so I was using my relatively inexpensive Nikkor 70-300mm VR lens. I often hear that for birds “the bigger the lens the better” and that simply is not always true.

With my shorter focal length lenses I was able to shoot handheld and didn’t have to drag around a tripod and waste time setting it up when birds were nearby. I was also able to make myself “look small” easier by laying flat on the sand or sitting as low as I could in the water which isn’t as easy to do with a tripod.

When I photographed the Willet above as it foraged in the Gulf of Mexico I was laying flat on the wet sand to get this image, the Willet was less cautious around me because I made myself appear small and stayed still, the shorebird came closer to me and I was able to get a nice series of this Willet.

Mating Laughing GullsMating Laughing Gulls – Nikon D200, handheld, f7.1, 1/1600, ISO 250, Nikkor 70-300mm VR at 220mm, natural light

The birds at Fort De Soto’s north beach are acclimated to human presence but that does not mean you can just walk up close and get high quality images because after all; they are wild birds. To get images like the mating Laughing Gulls above you need to practice stalking skills. The gulls were to the west of a small sand dune that had Sea Purslanes on it, to get close I sand crawled closer behind the dune and hid myself as well as possible behind the Purslane. I zoomed back to 220mm simply because I didn’t want to clip the male gull’s wings as he mounted the female.

Resting Short-billed DowitcherResting Short-billed Dowitcher – Nikon D200, handheld, f9, 1/320, ISO 200, Nikkor 70-300mm at 300mm, natural light

I was in the lagoon near a Spartina marsh when I photographed this resting Short-billed Dowitcher with resting Willets behind it. I came up to the bird in the water at first by kneeling on me knees and slowly creeping forward and then when the water was shallow enough I laid down in the warm water and took this image with the hood of my lens just barely above the water. If I had just walked up to the birds they would have flushed and I don’t like to flush birds at rest. As I recall; this Dowitcher only lifted its head once while I photographed it and that was because of another bird flying in and not because of my presence.

Calling Fish CrowCalling Fish Crow – Nikon D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/1250, ISO 200, Nikkor 70-300mm VR at 300mm, natural light

I was also in the lagoon when I photographed this calling Fish Crow, I had been photographing other birds when the Fish Crow flew in and walked around the wrack line calling and poking about in the debris that had been washed onto shore by the high tide. The Fish Crow practically ignored me while I kneeled in the lagoon taking images of it.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron feasting on a Ghost CrabYellow-crowned Night Heron feasting on a Ghost Crab – Nikon D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/1250, ISO 200, Nikkor 70-300mm VR at 220mm, natural light, not baited

When I photographed this Yellow-crowned Night Heron I was behind a sand dune and crept up slowly on my belly until I could raise my lens just slightly over the dune to photograph the wading bird as it tore apart and devoured the Ghost Crab I saw it capture.

High quality bird images can be taken with a shorter focal length and to do so it helps if the birds are used to human presence, with patience, sound and ethical stalking methods and did I mention patience?