My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

When birds soar

Much of mankind has always been fascinated by the flight of birds, and I am one of those who studies the flight of birds. Part of the reason why is that it helps me to identify them at a distance, different species of birds have different flight characteristics. You can often identify a bird just by the way that it flies. Some birds spend most of their time soaring with almost no flapping of their wings, others flap almost constantly, other flap, glide, and flap again. I know there are many books available about the flight of birds, and probably many web sites as well, and they do a far better job of detailing and explaining it than I could, so I’ll leave it at that.

Over the years, much has been written about the beauty, grace, and even power of birds in flight, so I won’t go on about that either. Besides, they say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ll let the pictures do the talking for me.

This last week or so, I have managed to get quite a few photos of birds in flight, some good, some not so good, I am going to start with a few of the not so good ones of a fairly common species, Canadian geese.

Canadian geese in flight

Canadian geese in flight

Canadian geese in flight

For as many shots as I have taken of geese in flight, I have yet to get one that I think is exceptional. I think that their coloration has something to do with it, but I’m not positive about that. This is the way the underside of their wings should look.

Canadian goose stretching its wings

Another common bird in these parts is the herring gull. Large flocks of them move inland from the Great Lakes over the winter months, searching for food. People often use derogatory phrases in describing herring gulls, since they are plentiful, and are often seen scavenging in landfills. That’s human nature for you, because a species has learned to survive man’s onslaught intent on wiping almost all wildlife from the planet, we look down it. Well, I look up at them, since they I usually see them soaring overhead. 😉

A large flock of herring gulls soaring

And, a closer view..

Herring gull 1

Herring gull 1

I happen to think that they are beautiful birds, even if they do eat our trash. Maybe if we didn’t waste so much food, there would be less for them to scavenge?

Herring gull 2

Herring gull 2

Hey, wait! Herring gull 2 has no legs! That’s OK, this guy has four of them to make up for that!

Fox squirrel "in flight"

OK, so it’s not a bird, it’s a bird brained squirrel. 🙂 Actually, if you look closely at Herring gull 2, you will see that it has its legs tucked up in its feathers. I don’t know if they do that to keep their feet warm, to reduce drag, or both.

This is the White breasted nuthatch from my last post, I am recycling it because it fits so well in this one.

White breasted nuthatch taking off

This is the worst shot of the bunch coming up. The only reason I am throwing it in here is because it confirms something I have thought for a long time, and that is that chickadees don’t fly, they have a hidden jet pack that they use to zoom from spot to spot.

Black capped chickadee in flight

Seriously, chickadees are one of the species of birds that flap their wings intermittently as they fly. It’s thought that they do this to avoid predators. I included that photo as a segue to a discussion about nature photography and understanding nature in general.

I wish that every photo I took was so good that the National Geographic Society was beating down my door asking me to go to work for them, that isn’t going to happen. In the first place, the way I go about getting the photos I do isn’t conducive to getting nothing but top-notch photos. Since I am always moving, either hiking or kayaking, what I get is catch as catch can. If I were to set up some where in a blind or something, I would hope the quality of my photos would be much better.

In posts where I have attempted to explain to others how to get close to wildlife, I have stressed that you have to pay attention to everything you see, hear, smell, and even feel. To sum it all up, you have to immerse yourself in nature.

This is where the two come together, nature photography and immersing yourself in nature. My fellow photographers may understand this already, but I have found that since I have gotten back into nature photography the way I have, I am learning more than ever about nature. As I have written about hunting and hunting with a camera as I call it, you have to know and understand the animals you are hunting if you plan on being successful. Since I have gotten back into nature photography, I spend much more time observing wildlife, their habitats, and their habits than before I picked up a camera again.

I guess I had gotten to a place where I would see lots of wildlife, note it, and move on. Hey, there’s a deer! Wow, an eagle. Look, a beaver, and that would be the end of it. Now, when I see an animal, I question what it is doing, and why, and how can I use that information to help me get the best possible photo that I can. In a way, it’s been like learning to hunt again, for that’s the way I used to hunt, question everything.

I find that taking lots of photos helps in my understanding as well, no matter how bad they are. For every shot that gets posted here, I have dozens more that will never see the light of day, but I don’t delete them, they tell stories. They remind me what the weather conditions where on that day. They tell me what the animal was doing. They tell me where I was at the time, and even the time of day. The photos give me the time to really look in-depth at animal behavior in a way that is hard to do as I am witnessing it live.

I would suggest to any one interested in wildlife and nature to take up photography as well. You don’t need top of the line equipment, you don’t need to try for perfect photos every time, but a photographic record will help you to remember what you see, and you may begin to look at nature differently, or at least more in-depth.

OK, done with that little speech, time to get back to the pictures. Here’s a few of another common species, mallards. I took these three as a male mallard flew from a pond to shore.

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard walking on air

Hey buddy, don’t you think you should wait until your feet touch the ground before you start walking?

Here’s a few of a red-tailed hawk.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

I almost fell over backwards getting that last one, it was directly overhead. Glad I didn’t fall over though, as I got the best ones just after that.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Would it sound like I was bragging if I said that I am very proud of that last one?

I am going to wrap this up with an eagle.

An eagle in flight

Even though it isn’t as dramatic as the last of the hawk shots, I am pretty proud of the eagle shot as well! It’s hard to capture a good photo of a black and white bird, especially on that is soaring with the sky as a background.

Anyway, that’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


9 responses

  1. Wonderful post. The geese and gulls are so much a part of Lake Michigan here. When the farmers work their fields in spring, the gulls will be there too.

    I’ll watch more carefully to see about the flights of birds–that would be great for a poem!

    Happy New Year, Ellen

    December 28, 2011 at 4:44 pm

  2. Wow. I think most of those are fine shots. That’s why I need a real camera-try getting shots like those with a cell phone camera!

    December 28, 2011 at 7:08 pm

    • Thanks for the comment, but no thanks to trying to use a cell phone camera! I did take the eagle photo with my Canon, and that was tough enough as it was. Trying to follow a moving target holding the camera at arms length and trying to see the eagle in the LCD display was not easy.

      December 29, 2011 at 3:08 am

  3. A great collection of shots. Congrats on getting some amazing in-flight shots as well. 🙂

    December 28, 2011 at 7:17 pm

    • Thanks, suddenly, shooting perched birds is passé, boy, am I in for a let down!

      December 29, 2011 at 3:10 am

  4. “That’s human nature for you, because a species has learned to survive man’s onslaught intent on wiping almost all wildlife from the planet, we look down it.”

    Talk about hitting the nail on the head. The same thought process is applicable to Canada geese and whitetail deer–both “nuisance species” that have simply adapted to the environment as modified by the hand of man (golf courses and office park ponds in the case of the former; pushing the edges of forests on the other. And when–utterly predictably–geese lay guano and deer nibble flowers people get all hot and bothered. It’s as though a large segment of the human race wants the entire planet to be a mostly paved shopping mall parking lot with groomed landscaping; whatever can’t adapt, tough…and whatever can adapt becomes a nuisance. It’s kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy.


    Birds in flight are TOUGH. You did very well, IMO.

    December 29, 2011 at 1:25 pm

    • I don’t think it is that every one wants to see the world paved into a parking lot. Most people like and enjoy nature, as long as it is on their terms and doesn’t require any effort on their part. People like geese, as long as they don’t have to watch where they walk to avoid stepping in the guano, that’s too much work for most people. We are a lazy and completely self absorbed species, one of the reasons I spend so much time in nature. Seeing critters struggling to survive every second of their life puts things into perspective for me. No matter how bad I have it, I really don’t have to worry about having enough food for my next meal, or becoming another critter’s next meal.

      December 29, 2011 at 2:23 pm

  5. Great photography! I really like your photos and blog. I’ve nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award! Thanks for sharing your stories and pictures!

    December 30, 2011 at 9:24 pm

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