Black-necked Stilts (Columbia Bottom C.A.)

April 26, 2017

A pair of black-necked stilts in a shallow water wetland at Columbia Bottom Conservation Area.

A took a circuitous route home from B.K. Leach on Monday after discovering the black-bellied whistling duck. I wanted to check the wetlands at Columbia Bottom Conservation Area for interesting shorebirds to photograph. Upon arrival, around lunchtime, I observed several black-necked stilts on Pool 5. I made plans to return the next morning to capture some sunrise images of the rangy shorebirds.

Monday evening I called my friend, Bill Fritz, to see if he would like to join me Tuesday morning as I knew it was his day off. I explained that we could depart around 4:30 AM, stop for some coffee, and eventually get to the wetland a little before sunrise. Bill, a venerable birder, replied, “I’m in!” The plan was for me to settle into a hide in my turkey chair where Bill could brush me in with some cattail reeds, thus making me totally invisible. Shorebirds aren’t typically skittish, but I suspected there might be a few teal or other ducks around, as well.

Upon arrival, I found a good spot with the sun to my back and Bill covered me with the cattail stems. As he departed to take a birding walk, we both saw a pair of stilts arrive before he was even out of shouting distance. It was going to be a great morning!

Minutes later, I was photographing the leggy birds as they closed on my position, completely oblivious, as per plan, to my presence. As the sun crested the prairie behind me, I made what I thought were some beautiful images but later realized that I just wasn’t dialing in the sharpness I needed in the soft glow of first light.

As the morning progressed, my shutter speed doubled and then doubled again. The stilts continued to feed, court, and preen around my position providing a plethora of poses for my lens.

One of my favorite images of the morning as a lone bird showed off its long pink legs in a patch of vegetation.

I continued shooting for about two hours before the bright light of morning became a little strong for the brilliant, white undersides of the stilts. It seemed like a peaceful, calm morning from my hide but when I called Bill to check his status, he said he was seeing birds but the wind wasn’t helping. I was so buried in my position, I never even realized it was windy!

I thought this image would make a nice magazine cover. “I’ll have to work on that,” he said, as he held the “call me” hand signal up to his cheek for any publishers who read this blog.

Although black-necked stilts are relatively tame, compared to other birds, especially waterfowl, they are difficult to photograph. Their eyes are somewhat deep-set and their small heads are easy to miss with critical focus. Also, they are very busy birds, always on the move. I must have deleted 90% or more of the images I made that morning.

A vertical image with a nice combo of color and reflection. What a stunning bird, the stilt. I love their white eyebrows.

My subjects spent a lot of time preening. My goal was to capture them when they were in the same plane of focus. This one was close.

A good demonstration of the stilt’s use of its “chopsticks” to capture a crayfish. Mr. Miyagi has nothing on this bird!

When I finally decided it was time to call it, I reluctantly crawled out of the blind Bill had built around me. Before becoming a physician, Bill was an engineer, so it took me a few extra minutes to exit his creation. It had been another perfect communion with nature for me, something I never take for granted. After stowing my gear I headed out to find my birding buddy.

As I selected these images from the large file of captures, I used my favorite technique. I call it the “smile” system. I first go through all the images and quickly delete every one that is slightly out of focus or hamstrung by distracting elements in the vicinity of the bird. Next, I look at the images more slowly and choose the images that bring a reflexive smile to my face when they come up on the screen. The system isn’t too technical, but it works for me.

Thanks for looking,

DB

Always great to hear from you at:  Natureframes@Rocketmail.Com

Would you like to see a collection of my favorite images? Go to my website at:  www.dannybrownphotography.com

America is beautiful. I vote to keep it that way.

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