Think like a bird – the anatomy of a photograph (or two)
ANATOMY OF A PHOTOGRAPH
They say luck favours the bold or good things come to those who – not wait – but make an effort. Often, it is a combination of effort with a bit of luck, and that is what I walk talk about here.
While there are a few different ways bird photographers may go about capturing their photographs, I prefer to try and stalk my subjects in the field or use knowledge I’ve built up over many years of observation and in the field photography. It may sound funny, but you probably heard the old saying that “To catch a fish, you have to think like a fish”.
Does that sound about right?
Well, in my opinion, to photograph a bird, you have to sometimes think like one, put some effort in and make quick decisions in order to capture a moment. This means you may be in a better position to capture a special moment depicting your beloved subjects. When you spend a lot of time observing birds in their natural environments, then couple the observations with some theory in the form of books, journal articles and other written documents, you should be able to come to conclusions when out in the field. At least, you should be able to put yourself into a position where your chances of capturing a good photo of natural behaviour dramatically increase.
That is exactly what happened to me last Sunday afternoon. I began my short raptor session by finding the female of my local pair of Wedge-tailed Eagles cruising above the trees beside Castlereagh Road, Castlereagh, with her offspring from the previous year. That’s the second time I have observed her with her young in about a month and both times conditions were favourable for their hunting behaviour. Both times, we had strong westerly winds blowing, making the glide over the treetops effortless for the pair. I suspect, based on the ruggedness of her primaries, that she has been busy setting up her nest for this year’s breeding and chances were her mate was putting finishing touches to the nest. Perhaps she was already incubating, but wanted to take a break from incubation. I find it interesting that there appeared to be no animosity toward the young bird. Often the adults of many raptors would chase the young off into the world by the time they’re ready to nest again.
We actually observed an adult White-bellied Sea Eagle locking talons with a first-year bird in Broken Bay in May. The adult chased the youngster and as they ascended to great height, they locked talons honking as they spiralled towards the water’s surface. Once they got close, both birds released their lock and flew their merry way. That was some spectacle I can tell you! The area around Broken Bay was so overloaded with first and second year sea eagles that it was ridiculous! Not ten minutes went by on the boat without seeing a new youngster! It was insane!
Once I parted from my wedgie pair, I was able to let the dogs out for their daily run. However, interestingly, I noted my Castlereagh pair sea eagles flying together in front of a gully on the escarpment, as if to advertise their territory. Although, they should be still incubating, or at least have one or two very young chicks waiting in the nest. Both sea eagles returned towards their nest gully very quickly, which I was able to confirm with my binoculars. As I rounded the dogs up and left to drive home south along Castlereagh Road, I was romanticizing in the hope of seeing some more cool action to top off the day. As I approached the Cranebrook Road intersection, I could not help, but see the adult White-bellied Sea Eagle hunting low over the trees where the wedgies were about an hour earlier. Could it have been one of my adults from the nest? Already? I was here within minutes of seeing them a couple of kilometers away. I pulled over quickly, got out with my camera and waited a few seconds (spot 1 on map). The adult sea eagle had no time for me, it kept flying NW along the tree line then turned north towards the back of Church Lane and the rural properties that line the area there. I quickly thought to myself how cool it would be if it swooped down near Helen’s Lake, which is directly opposite the private entrance of Helen Dixon’s property, which is inside the quarry. I thought if I were a sea eagle and wanted to use the wind to my advantage and take a quick shot at a few waterbirds, I’d be coming in over the east to the lake, swoop down low and try to take a coot or duck.
These thoughts rushed through my mind in a matter of seconds if that, so I quickly turned my vehicle around and hightailed up towards Helen’s Lake. While the lake is not really called anything, I like referring to it as Helen’s for obvious reasons.
As I passed the Church Lane exit onto Castlereagh Road, I could see the adult sea eagle making its way north and it was about 600 or so meters away. Lucky they are big aye?
When I got to Helen’s private access road entrance (spot 2 on map), I could quickly check and as I had predicted, the bird turned into the strong westerly and started to descend over the paddocks towards Helen’s Lake. I was so lucky that there was a quick break in traffic that I could quickly chuck a u-turn and pull up on the gravel on the lake side of the road. The eagle bore down on the coots that were swimming around the far side of the lake (spot a on map). The ensuing panic was incredible and many splashes were the audible giveaway of quick-diving waterbirds to escape the eagle’s talons. It flew low until it passed the scared bunch of birds, then pulled up high into the air and gained altitude to dive at the lot closer to my side of the lake (spot b on map). I was afraid to move, despite being in between two power poles close to each other, in case I throw the sea eagle off course. I was way too worried about it noting my movement. Therefore, I stayed put.
The sea eagle came in low again, the coots closest to me screamed and dived in a desperate hurry to get away. The sea eagle pulled up when it reached the shore closest to me and I managed to fire three frames off as it sharply ascended and began to head north, parallel with the road. Soon after, the sea eagle flew across the road (well overhead) and headed in the direction of the river. I was literally gobsmacked. That quick assessment and anticipation had worked wonders. Was the raptor reading my mind? I doubt it very much. It was probably doing what it would normally do and I was very fortunate to put myself into the right spot at the right time.