Sunday, April 19, 2009

More Days with the Swans

Two days ago the Swan family left the nest and these are their last images early in the morning. Mom is just counting the cygnets once more...there are ten for sure.
One left the nest earlier and is trying to get back into the nest. Later on that morning, all the cygnets were walking to the water's edge and feeding on the grass that the Dad had pulled from the bottom of the lake and from the fresh sprouting cattails. They would at times venture into the water and started to swim but at times lost their balance and went upside down. They all returned the first night to the nest for the night but no more after that.
By yesterday, they were the masters of the lake with the Dad chasing the Canadian Geese out of the pond, the cormorants from getting too close and the turtles from snatching one of the cygnets. He was very very vigilant with the turtle and would beat his wings against the surface of the water scaring them away with the noise. Once in the shallow water he saw a turtle and started stamping it with his feet against the bottom of the lake. Both parents would pull grasses from the bottom of the lake and when these floated to the surface, were eaten by the cygnets. I spent 10 hours with them and in my distraction while walking across a stump to cross a muddy creek, slipped and sank to my knees in the smelly muck. One of the cameras got also baptized by the mud but I was able to reclaim it from the ooze and is still working. If you take a close look you may be able to see the egg tooth in th cygnet below, it really looks like nail and is light blue, it will eventually fall off.
At times the cygnets went to sleep while floating in the water, I observed them just once this date walking on the shore line. I will be taking leave of these wonderful birds for a few weeks
when I will be looking for more photos in another part of the world. I wonder how big they will be by then.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A day with the Swans

Today I visited the Swans' nest at an undisclosed location here in Tidewater, Virginia. This is my fourth visit to the nest site and finally cygnets were coming into the world. Below you can see Mama Swan sitting in the nest where she had already spent more than 30 days. What does she have here? How many are there? When I got there this morning there were only six, it appears that by the end of the day there were 8 according to another photographer that also monitors the site.
A closer look...the young ones are gray in color and chirp most of the time. They stay under the mother's wings waiting for the unborn siblings. Once the whole batch of cygnets are born the mom leaves the nest right away. So perhaps by tomorrow the nest will be abandoned.

The male is always nearby at a minute's call. This morning he may have fallen sleep since two Canadian swans came within 5 feet of the nest; the female did not seem to be bothered by them.
But as soon as the male noticed he flew in and started posturing to scare the Canadian Swans away.

It appears that the posturing did not bother the Canadian geese so eventually the male swam charged the Canadian geese away. It appears that there was a bit of posturing before an actual fight began. It happened, and the male swan can be seen chasing the Canada geese.

I must thank Mr. Dave Tuttle who was kind enough to share the location of the nest. And Joan who gave me guidance on how to put together an article in a blog.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


There are two extreme birds for me; the eagles and the hummingbirds. The later are very nimble and probably the most colorful, smallest, fastest and more aerobatic of of the feathered world. These little jewels are a wonder of nature and most difficult to catch in flight. Although their main food is the nectar of flowers, I have seen some snapping small flying insects. What is the color of a hummer? It depends in what they are doing and how they are illuminated. When flying one can see the whole color gamut as light is reflected from the tiny feathers. While at rest, the colors are more constant but still very iridescent.

They come in different body sizes and their bills in an array of lengths and curvatures, depending in what flowers they visit. As always, the boys are more beautiful than the girls. Have you ever tried to photograph a hummer flying? Unless they are hovering over a flower or feeder, it is a rare accomplishment. Hummer photography has become a very specialized field requiring lots of lights (almost as setting a portrait studio) with background cloths and flowers attached to a stand to which honey of sweetened water are added. And to make sure that a hummer is digitized, arrays of infrared beams are installed to ascertain that the camera fires when the beams are broken. Some photographers go to the extreme of catching the small birds and putting them inside light boxes. Although magnificent images are obtained, they just don't look natural. I rather take their pictures with just a camera and one or two flashes set to high speed synchronization. Most of the time I just use one flash mounted in the camera shoe when there are no shades and the day is sunny. When in the shade, I set up the second flash as a slave to one side of the feeder about 3 feet off the ground.

There is no way to get photos of these birds unless they are habituated to come to feeders. These are most often maintained at the various eco-tourism centers. I go where the feeders are and set up the camera and flashes, get a seat and just wait. Hummers do not seem to mind people. They come in waves with periods of inactivity in between. These jewels are very noisy and fight with each other very aggressively, often crashing into each other in midair without major damage. It is frustrating at times when a hummer just perches in a branch one or two feet away and I can't photograph them since they are so close. I get better results with the camera drive mode set to continuous shooting and shoot as much as I can. I get more sharper photos with the camera set up to fixed distance and shoot as much as I can; auto focus is too slow for these feathered helicopters. These birds are so fast that less than 5% of the images obtained are keepers. I hand hold the camera/lens and follow the action shooting at apertures between 4 and 8 at ISO 400. Still photos are a steal as the one here.

Where to go to get these flying jewels in the States? The East Coast in not the place since the Ruby-throated hummer is the only one in this area. The SW of the United States is probably the best location to photograph them. But Latin and South America will reward you with a large number of species all year round. Give them a try!