Paying Attention to the Birds Beyond My Subject – The Surprise Curlew Behind the Reddish Egret

/, Florida, Fort De Soto County Park, Long-billed Curlews, Pinellas County, Reddish Egrets/Paying Attention to the Birds Beyond My Subject – The Surprise Curlew Behind the Reddish Egret

Reddish Egret foraging in a lagoon with a curlew in the backgroundReddish Egret foraging in a lagoon with a curlew in the background – Nikon D200, handheld, f8, 1/1000, ISO 200, Nikkor 70-300mm VR at 300mm, natural light

When I lived in Florida I photographed birds quite often at the north beach of Fort De Soto County Park, I love that place and I felt very much at home on the white sand beach, sand crawling towards the Gulf to photograph shorebirds, sitting quietly in the warm waters of the lagoons or using the trees or spartina as temporary blinds.

As I recall May of 2009 was hectic for me, I was finishing up one of the courses for the Florida Master Naturalists Program and my go to lens, the Nikkor 80-400mm VR, was in the shop being repaired and I was using my Nikkor 70-300mm VR lens to photograph birds. Life was busy, busier than normal. I had a two week trip planned to head to Utah for later in the month so for a bit of May my brain was working harder than normal to keep up with all of the details.

On the 6th of May I spent the morning photographing birds with my friend Adrian and at the end of the morning found this Reddish Egret foraging in a lagoon to the north of where the footbridge used to cross over to the beach from the parking area. I was running late for something (who knows what now) and I needed to get the sand on me rinsed off and on the road so I only took a few images of the Reddish Egret and left.

When I was finally able to upload the photos I took that day to view them on my computer monitor I hurried through the photos to view the images I had taken earlier in the day were as sharp as I hoped they would be and they were everything I had hoped for. When I came to thumbnail of this image of the Reddish Egret my busy brain said “that bird in the background is distracting” so I didn’t even open the file up until much later. I should have been paying more attention to what that “bird in the background” was that day instead of just thinking that it was a distraction that drew my eye away from my primary subject, the Reddish Egret. But I was in a hurry, I was distracted, I was thinking about what I needed to get done that day and beyond. I edited and shared images I took earlier that day but ignored this image file. I don’t like to remove things from my images by cloning, I like to get them right in the camera so I spend as little time post processing as possible and I wasn’t going to clone that brown blob of a bird out of this frame.

Long-billed Curlew with a small crabLong-billed Curlew with a small crab – Nikon D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/1000, ISO 250, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 340mm, natural light

On the 24th of May I met up with Adrian at Fort De Soto to photograph one more time before I was to head to Utah for two weeks to photograph birds there and we found a Long-billed Curlew, an unusual bird to find at the north beach during the breeding season, and we took hundreds of images of it feeding, foraging and preening in the still waters of the lagoon. I was thrilled. Okay, I was beyond thrilled because the curlew was beautiful, cooperative and kind of rare to find in Florida, especially during the time it should have been much further away on its breeding grounds.  She was a gorgeous, graceful and fascinating subject. When I left the beach that day and headed home I knew I was going to be more than pleased with the images I took of her.

Then I took my trip to Utah and Montana and was gone for two weeks. I had a great time and took hundreds (okay thousands) of photos. I even photographed Long-billed Curlews on their breeding grounds at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge and saw some of their chicks from a long distance.

I went back to Florida and for a few days life settled down and I reviewed the images I had taken during the month of May. I came across the file of the Reddish Egret with the brown blob of a bird in the background again and realized I had overlooked a surprise. That brown bird in the background was the Long-billed Curlew I had been so thrilled to photographed on the 24th of May.

If I hadn’t been in such a rush that day I may have been able to photograph the Long-billed Curlew much earlier than I did. There were 18 days between the 6th and 24th that I could have used to find and photograph the curlew but because I didn’t pay attention to the out of focus bird behind my Reddish Egret I lost out on those opportunities. I kicked my own bottom more times than I care to remember  about this. Knowing that I had not seen what was beyond my subject made me realize I needed to look beyond my viewfinder, a lesson I have not forgotten (often) in the field.

I kept this photo of the Reddish Egret with the surprise curlew in the background not because it is a great image but to remind myself to look beyond the subject in front of me.

Life is good.


The curlew was still at Fort De Soto when I returned from my trip and I photographed her several more times before I put all my things in a Uhaul trailer, hopped in my Jeep and moved back out west to Utah that July.


  1. Patty Chadwick January 6, 2017 at 4:12 pm

    The story is every bit as interesting as the great bird captures…makes me feel almost as if I had been along for the trip!

  2. Elephant's Child January 6, 2017 at 2:55 pm

    Sometimes our brains are not our friends. And hurry is very rarely our friend.
    I am so glad that you saw the curlew. Finally.

  3. Diane McPherson-Stern January 6, 2017 at 8:00 am

    Mia ? Have you published any books of your photos???

  4. Diane McPherson-Stern January 6, 2017 at 7:59 am

    Thanks for sharing. Beautiful Bird.

  5. Stu January 6, 2017 at 7:22 am

    Thanks for the words of wisdom in additin to the images.

  6. Bob mcpherson January 6, 2017 at 7:10 am

    Beautiful photos,, Mia.

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