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Posts Tagged ‘takeoff’

As I was observing two Tundra Swans (Cygnus columbianus) last Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, a loud boat passed by and scared the two swans. I managed to capture some action shots of one of the swans as it was taking off.

Some waterbirds can lift off directly from the water, while others need to run across the surface of the water to generate some momentum before they can take off. The tundra swan seems to be in the latter group. As you can see from the splashes in the water in some of the photos, the swan was bouncing along as it flapped its impressively large wings. In the final photo, the swan was in the air and was able to retract its feet into a more aerodynamic position.

Tundra Swan

Tundra Swan

Tundra Swan

Tundra Swan

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I have long been fascinated by the way that Double-crested Cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) take off from the water. The cormorants flap their wings and bounce across the surface of the water before they lift off into the air.

Yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge I spotted a cormorant and was just beginning to focus on it when without warning it started to take off. I was happy to be able to capture a short series of images of the cormorant in action that show some of the stages of the cormorant’s takeoff.

Double-crested Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Several noisy Tufted Titmice (Baeolophus bicolor) were frantically foraging in the trees on Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I tried to track them as they moved in and out of the branches, but they turned out to be remarkably swift and elusive. However, I am pretty persistent and eventually managed to capture several shots of these little gray birds with their distinctive crests.

The first shot below was a really lucky one. The titmouse had perched momentarily on an exposed branch and I pounced on the opportunity to get a clear shot. Just as I started to click the shutter release, the bird took off. Somehow I captured the moment when the bird’s wings were fully extended, but its feet were still on the branch. The titmouse appeared to be looking right at me in an almost defiant way, as though he were ready to challenge me.

The second shot provides a good look at the beautiful markings of the Tufted Titmouse. You can see its black forehead and the wonderful orangish wash under its wings. I also really like the titmouse’s pensive pose as it turned towards the sun, trying to absorb some of its warmth on a cold winter day.

Tufted Titmouse

Tufted Titmouse

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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The Great Egret (Ardea alba) was beautiful in the bright sunlight. Its wingspan was impressive and its flight was graceful as it took to the air.

Yes, the takeoff indeed was great.

Great Egret

Great Egret

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Do you photograph some subjects over and over again, hoping to get better (or at least different) images? I never grow tired of observing herons and egrets at my local marshland park. Most of the time, they (and I) are standing still, waiting for a brief moment of action, generally when they are fishing or when they take off into the air. These birds look gangly and awkward when on the ground or in the water, but when they are flying, it’s like watching an aerial ballet.

I took this shot last Friday as a Great Egret (Ardea alba) was just taking off from the muddy waters of one of the small ponds at the park. I was thrilled to be able to capture both a shadow and reflection of the graceful bird. Although I often have trouble getting a good exposure and frequently blow out the highlights, in this case I as able to capture some of the details of the wing feathers.

The egrets will be migrating out of this area soon, but I will continue to have the herons to keep me occupied in the upcoming months (and I’ll be trying to get more shots like this one).

Great Egret

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Some subjects are so awe-inspiring that I get excited just seeing them, even if they are too far away for a good photo—like this Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) that I saw Monday at my local marsh. The eagle seemed to sense my presence and took off before I could get closer, but I managed to capture an image of its final preparations for takeoff from the branch.

eagle_takeoff1_blogWhen I am walking through the woods at this time of the year, I have to keep my eyes in constant motion. Leaves are still sparse enough on the trees that I am still able to spot some birds in the trees.  However, insects are starting to appear too, so I have to scan the leaves and branches on the ground for these little creatures.

On early Monday morning, as I looked through a break in the trees, I caught sight of a large bird in the distance, sitting on the end of a branch. I immediately stopped, having learned from experience that even a single step forward would be likely to spook the bird. The light was not great, but the shape suggested to me that it was probably a bald eagle.

The eagle looked around for a few seconds and then took off. At that moment, I was absolutely certain that it was a bald eagle. I was not so certain that I had captured any useable images, but I was content just to have experienced the sight of that majestic bird in flight.

eagle_takeoff2_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Have you ever watched ducks taking off from the water? Some of them seem to rise up almost straight out of the water, while others, like this Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris), like to get a running start, bouncing across the surface of the water.

bouncing_takeoff_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Have you ever seen a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) attempt to do a vertical takeoff from the water? Most of the time, blue herons gain altitude with a few thrusts of their powerful wings as they move forward into the air.

This heron, however, looked like he was initially trying to levitate straight up into the air, like a Harrier jet, a jet that is capable of taking off vertically. It looked like the heron could not perform a normal takeoff because his feet were tangled in the weeds at the bottom of the little pond.  Before he could take off, he had to untangle his feet and his initial upward wing movements were intended to accomplish that task. Only then was he cleared for takeoff.

You’ll probably noted that I posted the images in reverse chronological order, so if you want to follow the takeoff process, you should start at the bottom. The first two images are more impressive as photographs, because I was able to capture the heron in the air, with the wings in interesting positions, despite the fact that I was using “only” a 180mm lens. (Some of the bird photographers that I encounter have 500mm or longer lenses.) The last two images are interesting and a little whimsical, because of the heron’s actions and the angle at which we are viewing the heron. Did you notice how skinny his face and neck look when shot from a head-on position?

flying2_blog

Click on the image for a higher-resolution view.

flying1_blog

flying4_blog

Before you can take off, you have to untangle your feet.

Before you can take off, you have to untangle your feet.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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At a moment when the lighting was particularly beautiful yesterday morning, I sensed that the pair of geese was getting ready to take off from the pond. I readied myself and somehow my timing, composition, and focus clicked together with my shutter.

I ended up with some images that required almost no adjustments or cropping. I was particularly happy, because I have been experiencing difficulties capturing motion with my newest lens, a Sigma 135-400mm telephoto zoom.

Luck played a big role too, since I had no control over the way that the geese would move their wings (though I guessed correctly the direction in which they would take off).

geese_takeoff_bloggeese_takeoff2_blog

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I stumbled upon a pair of Hooded Merganser ducks (Lophodytes cucullatus) at Lake Cook, a tiny urban lake, shortly after I photographed a Belted Kingfisher this past weekend. As soon I spotted them, they also became aware of my presence and immediately took evasive action. In most cases in the past, that has meant that they started swimming away. This time they seemed to have decided that more decisive action was needed and they immediately took off.

Fortunately my camera was already in my hands and the settings were about the right ones for the situation. When I started photographing birds, one of the more experienced birders whom I met recommended keeping the camera set for burst mode and that’s where I keep it most of the time now. Occasionally that means I shoot off a few extra exposures unintentionally when my trigger finger is a little heavy, but sometimes it lets me get an exposure I might not have gotten otherwise. Now, let me be clear that my almost ancient Canon Rebel XT is not a professional DSLR, so burst mode means about three frames a second, which worked out this time.

I fired off a half-dozen frames as the two ducks, a male and a female, took off from the water and I am pretty pleased with the results. It looks like the ducks get a running start on the water before they take to the air. The photo of the male duck that I featured at the start is the second one in the chronological sequence, but I thought it was the most interesting in showing the little water “explosions” as the ducks skipped across the surface. The rest are pretty much self-explanatory. I especially like the way that the heads flatten out into more aerodynamic shapes as the ducks start flying and the reflections are pretty nice. A couple of the shots are cropped to show only the male duck, because his position happened to bemore interesting than that of the female in the image (no discrimination intended).

Takeoff2_blogTakeoff1_blogtakeoff3_blog Takeoff4_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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The new year has started. Like these Canada Geese, we have taken off and are continuing our journeys. Who knows where we will stop along the way? The wind and other obstacles may cause us to make unexpected stops or detours—things will undoubtedly not go according to our plans or maybe not even our desires. Best wishes and prayers for all of you on your own adventures this year, that you remain safe and healthy, joyful and at peace.

newyear

Click on the photo for a higher resolution view

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I keep trying to photograph geese and  ducks taking off and landing, using a variety of techniques. Normally I will try to catch the birds in flight, though sometimes I have trouble getting my lens to acquire focus quickly enough. I stumbled onto a panning technique when I tried to photograph geese landing in the early morning. This weekend I experimented using both techniques.

I took this first shot when several geese took off without warning almost directly in front of me. I didn’t intend to cut off the goose to the left, but I like the effect of him entering into the frame. In this image, the action is completely frozen.

Geese takeoff

Geese takeoff

The second image is an example of the panning technique. The geese are not quite in as sharp focus as I would have liked, but you can see some details. I like the way that the background is blurred and provides a sense of motion. This panning was much more deliberate than the photos that I posted previously with motion blur.

Geese liftoff

Geese liftoff

It’s so much fun experimenting with different techniques—photography is still new enough to me that I often feel like a little kid on a voyage of discovery.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I haven never really paid attention to how birds take off. This past weekend I was photographing a Great Blue heron wading in the water of a nearby pond.  Without any prior indications, he suddenly took to the air. I happened to be in a good position to get a few shots of the different positions his wings assumed as he lifted off from the water. As you can see, I was almost directly behind the heron.

The first photo is my favorite because of the way in which the wings frame the extended legs and the barely visible head. Out of the three photos I have posted here, this was the second one shot.

The photo below shows the heron just as he was taking off from the water. The wings are blurry and are almost like a silhouette. It seems like he had to flap them really hard to lift out of the water. I like the fact that I was able to capture part of his reflection in the water.

Lifting off from the water

This final shot shows his wings in what I consider to be a normal flying position. I haven’t observed herons enough to know if they eventually pull in their legs tighter when they fly higher, but I assume that to be the case. In this photo I managed to get more of a complete reflection in the water than in the previous one.

Spreading his wings

I learned a few things when shooting these photos. First, and perhaps most importantly, I learned how important it is to be ready at all times, because a static situation can become very dynamic very quickly. Secondly, I now understand better why serious wildlife photographers have really big (and expensive) telephoto lens—it’s tough to get in close enough. Finally, I appreciate much more the abilities of those who are able to capture moving subjects like this heron with perfect focus and sharpness. My photos are not very sharp and clear, but I still found them interesting enough to want to share them.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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