Dyeyo and I drove over to Viera Wetlands in search of the Ross’s Goose that has been reported there on the BirdBrainz list serve. We didn’t see the goose, but we did see a group of happy, diving Hooded Mergansers. It was the first time either of us had seen a female Hoodie (we don’t typically see mergansers at the Circle B Bar Reserve where we normally bird.)
We got to Viera and decided to drive around the perimeter once to locate the birds. Except we saw so many birds that the “first lap” took more than half our morning!
The first bird we spotted was a Wilson’s Snipe. He was fishing in some short reeds and obligingly came out periodically to allow us to photograph him. This was my first opportunity for full-frame snipe photos. Usually the snipes are far away and I’m just happy to see them at all.
We paused to take a duck inventory of the many American Coots, Pied-Billed Grebes, and Ring-Necked Ducks that covered the wetlands. A Belted Kingfisher came screeching across the landscape and landed on a dead palm tree right in front of us. With my new 500mm lens, he was practically full frame! But he had his butt turned to us. I already have lots of birdie-butt shots. So this picture is from a bit farther away, when he flew to another dead palm, and landed with his front facing the car.
We approached the spot where I thought I saw a Sora on our last trip to Viera. He dove into the reeds when we got out of the car to photograph him. So this time we stayed in the car, rolled down the windows, and shot away. We stalked this bird for probably 15-20 minutes, watching it as it went in and out of the vegetation. Finally it got brave enough to come out into the open water.
I’m learning how to use the 500mm lens. The auto-focus is so sensitive, my usual Zone autofocus with my 7D sometimes leaves me focusing on the reeds in the foreground when I want to focus on the birds in the background. I’m getting faster at setting my auto-focus point automatically, without looking or thinking too hard about it. In the picture of the Sora above, I had the auto-focus point on the bird’s shoulder, and I should have had it pinned to the bird’s head instead.
We finally left the Sora, then noticed a group of diving Hoodies out in the water. We photographed them from several vantage points, and came back to them as we looped around the impoundments. At one point we got out of the car to try to get closer to them, but it was so cold and windy outside (mid-thirties) that we quickly retreated to the shelter of the car.
A lone female Hooded Merganser hung out by himself at a bend in the road. She was pretty skittish, and the least noise caused to her to fly off. I missed a flight shot by about a half a second. :-p
There were plenty of Blue-Winged Teals at Viera Wetlands. The teals seem so small when you see them next to other ducks. Yet when you see them by themselves, they seem like normal sized ducks. I like it when they show their blue wings, which they did regularly this morning.
Then I spotted a male Green-Winged Teal feeding in the distance. Boy did he like to stick his head under the water! He had no consideration for photographers who might be trying to catch the pretty green on his head. It was with this bird that I really noticed the extra focal length of the 500mm lens plus the 1.4x teleconverter. The bird would have been small in the frame with my 400mm lens, and I would have had to use LiveView to autofocus with the 1.4x teleconverter added. With the way the bird was diving, and the slow speed of the LiveView, I would have had to guess (or take a ton of pictures) to get the head-up shots. With the new lens, I still cropped a bit, but I got good pictures. Yay! Thank you Rich!
Red-Shouldered Hawks made their presence known all over the wetlands. This one did us the favor of landed on a post right near the car. The post was far enough in front of the background vegetation that the background blurred nicely.
Several small groups of Lesser Scaups mixed in with the coots and other ducks. I’m slowly starting to learn to distinguish between the many duck species. It’s hard, with the varying juvenal plumages, and it seems like all the female birds look similar. I guess practice makes perfect…
The many calls of Killdeer dominated the soundscape. We had a great time watching these silly birds, who seem to cry and run faster than any other bird there. Their wings are so pretty when you can catch them in flight.
Dyeyo’s favorite part of the trip was at the very end. We made one more circle of the wetlands to check once more for the elusive Ross’s Goose. I spotted what I assumed was a hawk on the Observation Tower. When I took a closer look, it was a Crested Caracara! I know there are several resident Caracara at Viera, so they are fairly common there, but we didn’t see one on our last trip. Dyeyo really wanted to see one. So we hopped out of the car and carefully approached the tower. The bird didn’t seem to mind us, or the other photographer who was also taking his picture. As we watched, a juvenile Caracara flew up and joined the adult on the tower. The adult started to preen the juvenile, taking great pains with the feathers around the juvenile’s face. They were backlit, so I dialed in some exposure compensation and planned to adjust shadows in Photoshop.
I liked this front angle best, where I could see both birds’ faces as they preened. Then I moved so that I was shooting into my shadow, trying to get the front lighting angle. The birds continued to preen, but from that vantage point, I couldn’t see the adult’s face as well. A couple of times, the birds both looked up, and I was able to get a few portrait shots. Did I mention that I was hand-holding the 500mm? I hadn’t wanted to drag the tripod out of the car and scare away the birds. I was pretty happy with the handheld results. I have a feeling I’m going to develop some good arm muscles lugging this lens around…and it’s so totally worth it!! :-D