Bison and Birds on the Wing

American Bison, European Starlings and a stormy sky backgroundAmerican Bison, European Starlings and a stormy sky background – Nikon D810, f7.1, 1/2000, ISO 640, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light

The light and clouds looked iffy this morning but Antelope Island didn’t disappoint when it came to bison and birds plus some dramatic light. After making the northern loop and seeing only a few birds that were close enough to photograph the southern end of the island started to call. I can’t recall how long it has been since I had been south of the Frary Peak Trail head but there was some light shining down there!

There were stormy skies to the north when the sun broke through and lit up a few bison on a hilltop with a huge flock a starlings flying around them.

Bison and Birds on a hillBison and Birds on a hill – Nikon D810, f7.1, 1/1600, ISO 640, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light

I know a great many people don’t like starlings but the bison don’t mind them at all especially since the starlings will pick pests out of the thick coats of the bison. I have seen times when there have been around 25 – 30 of the starlings on the back of a single bison.  It isn’t all the unusual to see flocks of starlings, cowbirds or blackbirds feeding on the ground either because the bison stir up insects. That doesn’t usually happen at this time of the year but it has been unusually warm here for “winter”.

European Starlings and a Bison bullEuropean Starlings and a Bison bull – Nikon D810, f7.1, 1/1600, ISO 640, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light

I loved how dramatic the light was for the few minutes we photographed the bison & birds, it light up the hillside and the sky was moody looking above. The starlings didn’t stay put long before they would lift up, circle and come back around again.

A flock of European Starlings and a Bison bullA flock of European Starlings and a Bison bull – Nikon D810, f7.1, 1/800, ISO 640, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light

At one point there was stream of the starlings flying in front of the bison at the top of the hill and I wish I had used just a touch more depth of field to get all of the birds, the bison and the grasses in sharp focus but I admit that I like the grasses being out of focus in this shot.

One of these things is not like the others...One of these things is not like the others… – Nikon D810, f7.1, 1/1600, ISO 640, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light

The murmuration of starlings near and above the bison was interesting to watch as they turned and the light flashed on their wings creating shapes in the sky. When I took this image the birds were almost in a ball shape. It wasn’t until I came home and looked at this frame on my monitor that I noticed that one of these birds is not like the others… not all of them are European Starlings.

Can you find the odd ball bird? I’ll post the location and ID below.

Life is good.

Mia

The ID is: Red-winged Blackbird and it is the bird that is closest to the left side of the frame. That lovely red epaulet gives it away!

27 Comments

  1. Kathie December 9, 2014 at 10:14 pm

    Life IS Good, Mia! and I did find the Red-winged blackbird all by myself!

  2. Wickersham's Conscience December 8, 2014 at 12:43 pm

    A few words about the first photo: it hd to have been a terribly difficult shot to properly expose. Consider: the dark bison, especially the face, the bright grasses in the foreground, the jet black,glossy starlings and the comparatively bright sky. Mia has nailed all of those elements without resorting to flash or exposure compensation. Very, very impressive.

    • Ingrid T December 8, 2014 at 1:29 pm

      That’s a great point … along with the gorgeousness of light against dark, stormy skies … my favorite scenario. Mia, I can’t remember — do you shoot primarily manual/aperture priority? I shoot almost exclusively manual but I know a lot people use A or S because it’s a tad more efficient.

      • Mia McPherson December 8, 2014 at 6:21 pm

        Ingrid, I shoot in aperture priority and adjust my exposure manually.

    • Mia McPherson December 8, 2014 at 6:20 pm

      Thank you WC, very high praise coming from you!

  3. Jolanta December 7, 2014 at 10:18 am

    Awesome pictures!!! 😀

  4. Bill December 7, 2014 at 8:28 am

    Beautiful series. What beautiful photography, I will follow you as I love western wildlife.

    Thanks,
    Bill

    • Mia McPherson December 8, 2014 at 6:18 pm

      Thank you Bill, and thanks for stopping by!

  5. Julie G. December 7, 2014 at 7:57 am

    An awesome sight! Fantastic photographs!

  6. Ingrid T December 7, 2014 at 3:26 am

    Love, love, love these images! 🙂 Impossible to pick a favorite, so I won’t. And as you know, for better and worse, I’m a starling defender.

    • Mia McPherson December 8, 2014 at 6:18 pm

      Thanks Ingrid. You are my hero 🙂

  7. Eileen December 7, 2014 at 3:13 am

    Amazing photos, Mia!

  8. Elephant's Child December 6, 2014 at 8:55 pm

    WOW. And repeat.

  9. Patty Chadwick December 6, 2014 at 7:09 pm

    These are all great images, but the first one with the bison tattoo on his shoulder is my favorite!!!

    • Mia McPherson December 8, 2014 at 6:15 pm

      Thank you Patty, I think the first one is my favorite too

  10. Mia McPherson December 6, 2014 at 6:31 pm

    I wondered about that bird too Mary but thought it might be a starling that was in the shadow of the other birds. It might be though!

    Agree, RWBB’s are fearless! They are wonderful.

  11. Lois Bryan December 6, 2014 at 7:02 pm

    these are gorgeous, Mia!!

  12. Mary McAvoy December 6, 2014 at 5:50 pm

    A male red-winged blackbird all the way to the left?! Fantastic!

    • Mia McPherson December 6, 2014 at 6:03 pm

      You got it Mary!

      • Mary McAvoy December 6, 2014 at 6:18 pm

        I love that bird! I have wonderful photos of the rwb, even awarded him “father of the year” award when I was writing my SilverLining-MaryMcAvoy.com blog (2007-2012). I’ve shot photos of him attacking a red-tailed hawk to protect his nest. Also have shots of him attacking a great blue heron to protect his family. They are like David and Goliath images! Thanks Mia – great photos!

        • Mary McAvoy December 6, 2014 at 6:25 pm

          Mia, there might be another in the crowd.
          Near the front of the pack – about an inch and a half behind the lead bird. I can’t see any red, but the silhouette is like the rwb/male. Maybe…
          Thanks, fun!

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