Great Blue to Best Quality

I wrapped up “A Close Encounter,” a blog I published midday on 10/16, with these words: “Any day now, the [young Green Heron] will make it’s first trip, its maiden voyage, from the breeding grounds where it was born to its wintering grounds. It’ll probably leave during the night. I’ll revisit the lakeshore a few days later and won’t find it—it’ll be gone.” Well, I returned to the lakeshore on 10/17 and then again on 10/18, and there were no signs of the bird. It probably left on a cold front that came through on the night of 10/16.

Juvenile Green Heron
Juvenile Green Heron

The Great Blue Heron

Stalking A Great Blue,” a blog about another member of the heron family, the Great Blue Heron, is getting renewed attention. It’s not only about the beloved pre-historic looking bird and how to approach it, but it’s also about how to approach birds in general. The way folks approach birds in the field is important. Just ask any bird or wildlife photographer. Ask any bird watcher, too.

The Great Blue is North America’s largest heron and wader. The one below is navigating the waters of Yellow Breeches Creek. Great Blue sexes are similar, which is true of all herons. But as I look at this photo, I like to imagine that this bird is a female and that she’s hiking up her skirt as she steps into the water.

Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron

Here’s another photo. This is the same bird but in a different spot: the edge of a nearby pond. BTW, if you want to find and photograph Great Blue Herons, look for places with shallow water. Better yet, look for places with shallow water in public parks. Great Blues and other species that visit public parks are often accustomed to human presence, so you can get close. You’ll never get anywhere near 2 body lengths away from a Great Blue, but you can get close. I was maybe 60 ft. from the bird when I took its photo. And I approached it in the same way that I laid out in “Stalking.”

Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron

The Most-Photographed Bird

For fun, but also seriously—and as I was thinking about the big bird—I decided to pose the following to some on Facebook: “I was thinking about this earlier today. Which is the most-photographed bird in the U.S.? I’d be willing to bet that the Great Blue Heron ranks up there but is not at the top. But which bird is? Would love your thoughts.” It’s interesting, but made perfect sense, that many chose the Northern Cardinal, one of the most common U.S. birds and the bird “responsible for getting more people to open up a field guide than any other bird.” Many also chose the Bald Eagle.

Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal

I followed that up by doing some more informal research. And the answer I came up with to the question above was the Red-tailed Hawk. I based that on the results of another poll (different forum), on both my knowledge and intuition, and on the fact that over 250,000 Red-tailed Hawk photos have been submitted to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Macaulay Library. There, the Red-tailed beat out the Great Blue (over 230,000), the Bald Eagle (230,000), and the Northern Cardinal (less than 150,000). It also beat out the Osprey (175,000), the Canada Goose (179,000), and the Mallard (200,000). I was surprised there weren’t more Osprey and Canada Goose photos. The Mallard below was a little stumped about that, too.

Mallard
Mallard

Best Quality Photos

As I looked at the Macaulay photos, I became interested in the “best quality” ones, or ones that viewers rated most highly. As I considered them, I got to thinking about why those photos had been chosen. I noticed that one thing almost all had in common was a blurred background—one that made the subject pop and drew the viewer in. Then it occured to me that most prize-winning bird photos, most in-demand bird stock photos, and most bird photos that are featured in print and digital media share that same element. Also—in the Facebook groups and  photography forums I belong to, photos with blurred backgrounds get the most attention. Here’s one such Facebook photo, courtesy of Josh Houck.

Ovenbird
Ovenbird

In the next blog, we’ll take a closer look at Josh’s photo and keep discussing backgrounds and how to achieve better ones, so please stay tuned. 

And This Just In

I mentioned that the young Green Heron probably left on a cold front. Take a look at this Cornell Labs eBird article about fall migration and weather (including cold fronts). It’ll provide more detail.

Did you notice the star effects on the Mallard’s beak? B&H Photo Video has a great Explora article about creating those kinds of effects.

Each photo above, with the exception of Josh’s, was taken in a public park. 

Quip, Question, Quote(s)

“In my own journey as a bird photographer, I’ve discovered that knowing how to approach birds, how to simply be around birds, is just as important as knowing which lens to use.” Melissa Groo

“Though they’re underrated or even dismissed as places to bird and/or photograph wildlife, parks—especially along riverbanks or that contain ponds or lakes—almost always host good numbers of birds and provide abundant photo opportunities.” A quote from “Bird and Photograph Locally

“The background is of utmost importance to the success of most wildlife images. A clean, non-distracting background helps the subject stand out and allows the viewers of your image to see exactly what it is you want them to see.” Don Mammoser

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