Untamed Images Blog

    Adventures in Nature Photography

    Browsing Posts in Birds

    Juvenile and adult king penguins mingle in a large breeding colony below a backdrop of tussock grass and a hanging glacier at Gold Harbour on South Georgia Island.

    Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM at 200 mm, 1/30 sec at f/16, ISO 200
    Click photo to see high resolution version.

    The image featured in this post is one of my favorites from a landing on South Georgia Island last December. I used a telephoto lens to compress the dominant elements of the landscape into layers of varying color and texture. When standing on the shore at Gold Harbour, I could not help being struck by the awesome sight of glacial ice hanging from sheer rocky cliffs, while rivers of penguins flowed between hills covered in bright-green tussock grass. With this image, I hoped to capture the essence of the place in a semi-abstract composition of those dominant elements.

    If you’d like to read more about the effects of perspective compression, or telephoto distortion, check out this wikipedia page.

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    Albatrosses in Love

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    A pair of black-browed albatrosses (Thalassarche melanophrys) strengthen their pair bond through bill-fencing. These birds were photographed at the edge of the world's largest black-browed albatross colony on Steeple Jason Island in the Falkland Islands.

    Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM at 560 mm, 1/800 sec at f/8, ISO 800

    My day started early as I boarded one of our ship’s zodiacs at 5:30 am to be ferried to Steeple Jason Island. Steeple Jason is a small island situated in the far northwest reaches of the Falkland Islands. It is the setting for the world’s largest black-browed albatross breeding colony, which recent estimates have pegged at 220,000 breeding pairs. As I stepped ashore that morning I had no idea that high winds would prevent any of the zodiacs from coming to retrieve me (and other members of our expedition) for another fifteen hours, but that is a story for another day.

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    A Pair of Kings


    A pair of king penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) preen side-by-side as part of their courtship ritual. These were but two of approximately 500,000 birds found in and around the king penguin breeding colony at Saint Andrews Bay on South Georgia Island.

    Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM at 232 mm, 1/320 sec at f/5.6, ISO 400

    Far too much time has passed since I last posted to this blog. The reasons surrounding my absence have been both good and bad. The bad: in early 2014 I was dealing with a health issue that forced me to limit my time at the keyboard. The good: beginning in August of last year, with my health improving, Alison and I began a whirlwind of travel in which we undertook three separate international trips, totaling roughly eleven weeks out of the country. The trips were outstanding and I was presented with (almost) too many photo opportunities!

    It will take some serious effort for me to select all my favorites from the trips, but I must start somewhere, and I feel the image featured above will hold its own among the best. The photo was taken on our most recent journey — one in which we explored the Southern Ocean on a Cheesemans’ Ecology Safaris expedition, with the M/V Ortelius serving as our home base for 25 days. I hope to share many more images in the weeks and months to come via blog updates and brand new image galleries, and I invite you to join me as a regular visitor. As always, I welcome your feedback via the Comments section here, or via email.

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    Superb Owl

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    The Boreal Owl (Aegolius funereus) is a small owl found in the forests of Alaska, Canada, Eurasia, and the mounatins of the Western United States.

    Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II, 500.0 mm at 500 mm, 1/8 sec at f/10, ISO 400

    In order to discuss the Big Game on his show without inviting the wrath of the NFL’s litigious attorneys, Steven Colbert covered his butt by shifting one letter and referring to today’s game as “The Superb Owl.” Click here to view some of those funny video clips.

    As usual, I enjoyed Colbert’s silly wordplay, but then thought to myself, “Why not join in the fun?” So in celebration of Super Bowl Sunday, I present my Superb Owl of 2014. The little guy pictured above is a Boreal Owl photographed on Amherst Island in Ontario, Canada.

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    After hearing the Goldeneye ducks had begun their courtship rituals, last week I decided to spend a morning at Lake Shoreline in Mountain View to see for myself. While I observed a number of half-hearted courtship displays by the males, and a bit of bonding behavior between a few male/female pairs, I didn’t see any really flamboyant displays. Still, I managed to get some nice shots of Common and Barrow’s Goldeneyes going through their typical morning routines of feeding and preening. Oh, and the super-cooperative Lesser Yellowlegs was an added bonus.

    Though I spent most of my time focussed on ducks, I could not resist this Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes) when it came close and posed in the beautiful early-morning light.

    Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, EF500mm f/4L IS USM +1.4x at 700mm, 1/1600 sec at f/5.6, ISO 800

    A male Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula) dries its feathers after preening.

    Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, EF500mm f/4L IS USM +1.4x at 700mm, 1/2500 sec at f/5.6, ISO 800

    A Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula) drake dives for its breakfast on Lake Shoreline.

    Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, EF500mm f/4L IS USM +1.4x at 700mm, 1/2500 sec at f/5.6, ISO 800

    Having retrieved a clam from the lake bed, the Barrow's Goldeneye (Bucephala islandica), amazingly, will swallow it whole.

    Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, EF500mm f/4L IS USM +2.0x at 1000mm, 1/2000 sec at f/10, ISO 800

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    Grebes in Love

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    I spent the last two mornings at Coyote Lake County Park east of Gilroy, CA with the goal of photographing Western Grebes (and/or their close cousins, Clark’s Grebes) engaging in their fascinating courtship behavior. The grebes did not disappoint as you can see in the following pictures. One post on the “South Bay Birds” mailing list described this viewing opportunity as one that occurs about once a decade, or perhaps only once a generation within Santa Clara County!

    Two Western Grebes (Aechmophorus occidentalis) engage in a courtship ritual known as "rushing", where they race across the water in synchrony.

    Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, EF500mm f/4L IS USM at 500 mm, 1/1000 sec at f/4, ISO 1600

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    A male wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) gobbles vociferously to announce his presence to prospective mates in Cupertino's Rancho San Antonio County Park.

    Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, EF300mm f/2.8L IS USM at 300 mm, 1/1250 sec at f/3.5, ISO 400

    The wild turkeys at Rancho San Antonio County Park have definitely detected the arrival of spring. Last week when I was at the park, I could not help noticing a flock of turkeys in a field near the parking lot. At least six males were courting at least as many females, trumpeting forth their loud gobbles and showing off their fanned tails. I was at the park to go hiking and, alas, did not have my camera with me.

    The following morning I returned to the same spot hoping to re-find the turkey flock. While the flock was nowhere to be seen, there was one lone tom turkey who put on an excellent show. He was gobbling and showing off his breeding plumage with gusto, apparently not phased by the fact that no other turkeys were in the vicinity at the time. He did not seem to mind the attention he was receiving from the paparazzi (me) and proudly continued his performance, providing me the opportunity to capture the photographs shown in this post.

    Don’t forget you can see a larger version of any image in this post by clicking on it. By using the left/right arrow keys on your keyboard you can navigate to the previous/next image within the post. Similarly, you can navigate to the previous/next image by clicking on the left/right edges of the enlarged image. Click in the center of the enlarged image (or press the ESC key) to return to the original blog post.

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    Be My Valentine!

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    A drake Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula) performs a courtship display known as the "head-throw-kick" with the aim of attracting a female.

    Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, EF500mm f/4L IS USM +1.4x at 700 mm, 1/3200 sec at f/5.6, ISO 400

    After reading Tom Grey’s post to the South Bay Birds mailing list on Saturday in which he reported seeing Common Goldeneyes exhibiting courtship display behavior at Shoreline Lake in Mountain View, CA, I decided to try my luck this morning to see if I might be fortunate enough to photograph this phenomenon. It took some patience, but eventually I was able to photograph two of the drakes (male ducks) showing off for the nearby hens over the course of several hours. The photo shown above is my favorite from the four courtship displays I witnessed.

    Since today is February 12th, I can only assume that these males don’t want to find themselves dateless on Valentine’s Day!

    IMPORTANT NOTE: You can see a larger version of posted images on this blog by clicking on the image. Click on the larger image (or press the ESC key) to return to the original blog post. At this date, it does not yet work on older posts.

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    An American Bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus) does its best to ignore the falling snowflakes while prowling for rodents.

    Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, EF500mm f/4L IS USM at 500 mm, 1/250 sec at f/5.6, ISO 200

    During a trip to the Sierra Nevada Mountains last month, Alison and I were blessed with a late spring snowstorm. I say blessed because unusual or severe weather often leads to dramatic photographs. Case in point is the American Bittern pictured above. This normally secretive bird species usually spends its time hunting deep within dense, reedy wetlands where one is fortunate to even get a glimpse of it. Perhaps it was because of the inclement weather that we were lucky enough to observe and photograph this bird for over an hour at close range. It was busily hunting for unwary rodents and mostly kept in full view in an area with only sparse reeds.

    You can see this photo and more from the trip by clicking on this link and then by clicking on the “Sierra Birds” thumbnail. The gallery includes photographs of Yellow-Headed Blackbirds, Sandhill Cranes, and Marsh Wrens which were all busy with spring courtship behavior. One particular Marsh Wren tugged at our heartstrings, as we watched him sing virtually without stopping for four days, even while constructing a nest many times his own body weight, but sadly without attracting a willing female. Perhaps he found Mrs. Right after we left the Valley.

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    A Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) searches for prey during a faint midday snow shower in California's Sierra Valley.

    Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, EF500mm f/4L IS USM +1.4x at 700 mm, 1/2000 sec at f/6.3, ISO 800

    Let me give a “shout out” to the Lahontan Audubon Society (LAS) and their Sierra Valley and Yuba Pass online bird guide entry. Alison and I were on the third day of an early-season trip to the Sierra Valley and Yuba Pass. This visit was several weeks earlier in the season than in prior years, and in hindsight, we might have been too early to see much of the abundant birdlife that nests and raises its young in these locations. So, having had my fill of photographing Yellow-headed Blackbirds and Marsh Wrens, I consulted the LAS bird guide which referenced a certain nearby road, stating that “the seasonally flooded sagebrush habitat along this road may produce Short-eared Owl[s].” I wondered to myself when the LAS had created this writeup, and whether it was even relevant in 2012. Since I am so enamored with photographing owls, I figured that it would certainly be worth trying; I just wouldn’t get my hopes up too high.

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