This past Saturday I headed up north on Highway 79. Knowing that the frigid temps and predicted winds of 30 mph + would not afford many great opportunities, the chance of snow in these areas made me think that something interesting could happen. Here are a few I thought worthy to share.
Technical details: Canon EOS 50D camera, EF400mm f/5.6L USM lens, ISO 400, f/5.6, 1/640 sec
The Great Rivers Confluence is the area where North America’s two largest rivers, the Missouri and the Mississippi, meet together and flow as the Mississippi. This confluence is just north of St. Louis, Missouri and provides many opportunities for birds along the Mississippi migratory flyway to find the habitat they need. These areas provide great opportunities for bird-watchers, hunters, and other outdoors types and go by names such as Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary, Jones Confluence State Park, Columbia Bottom Conservation Area, Marais Temps Clair CA, and a handful of other public properties that have been given mandates based on conserving the basic habitat that wild birds and our other wildlife kin rely upon for their existence.
I have been bird watching in this region for about five years and taking bird photographs here for the last two or three. In a previous post I showcased six of my favorite images I made at Riverlands MBS and Confluence SP. Today, I will feature another group of bird photographs taken at Columbia Bottom CA, which sets on the south side of the Missouri River.
These areas may seem very different to us bird watchers because it is about a 15-20 minute drive between the two. The birds, however can literally move between the two locations in 20-30 seconds. Such was the case with this Red-tailed Hawk, which is pictured above. This guy was present in the confluence area for three weeks or so and I had several great opportunities to photograph it. This is probably my favorite bird photograph to date. My wife and I were doing a drive through CBCA and in one of the smaller gravel parking lots here was the bird perched atop a post. I slowly pulled within about 25 feet or so from her going as slow as possible so not to flush her. The bird cooperatively sat still for maybe five minutes before another car flying by a nearby road caused her to take off.
Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF400mm f/5.6L USM lens, ISO 250, f/5.6, 1/1000 sec
One of the great things about birding the confluence region is that every season brings with it a different species composition. On a monthly basis you will find that some species have arrived and some have left in the ever ongoing event we call migration. The bird pictured above is a Horned-Lark and he is found in about equal numbers year round. They are a little more noticeable in the winter season, however, because they tend to aggregate in small flocks – most likely to make finding food easier and potentially spotting predators quicker. Starting in early spring they will slowly form the mating pairs that will spend the breeding season together.
Technical details: Canon EOS 50D camera, EF400mm f/5.6L USM lens, ISO 400, f/5.6, 1/250 sec
This relative of the Cardinal is the monotypic, Dickcissel, and is very much a summer visitor. These guys arrive en masse to the confluence area around mid-May and following the breeding season leave just as abruptly to their over-wintering homes that lie from southern Mexico to northern South America. These guys are usually very numerous, but their population in recent decades are facing pressures. Dickcissel are grassland specialist, seed eaters. As such they have found there are easy pickings in agricultural areas. In their off-breading homes in Latin America, where there are fewer regulations against such things, farmers are using very dangerous poisons that have been documented in the killing of thousands of these birds as well as other non-targeted species.
Technical details: Canon EOS 50D camera, EF400mm f/5.6L USM lens, ISO 640, f/5.6, 1/320 sec
The widely distributed, Black-crowned Night Heron is the quintessential marsh associated bird. These guys are perfectly adapted at catching and consuming a wide variety of animal prey items that they come across in wetlands across the world. I very much enjoy watching and photographing these birds. They can be found in the confluence region during the warmer months of the calendar.
Technical details: Canon EOS 50D camera, EF400mm f/5.6L USM lens, ISO 400, f/6.3, 1/1000 sec
In bird photography nothing beats a typical, perfect, “documentary” style shot. You know, the photograph in which you were actually able to get close enough to your subject to come close to filling the frame, acheive a perfect exposure and obtain sharpness that will make your eyes bleed? That is definitely nice, but just as much, I appreciate the “bird as art” image; the photograph in which, with intent or not, you are able to show the subject and/or its environment in a way that looks different than a mere documentary of what the species “looks like”. The image above of a Great Egret is probably somewhere in between these two image styles. I wanted to exaggerate the length of this bird’s neck by cutting it from its body. The shallow DOF separates the bird from the background to further emphasize the subject and its lengthy proportions.
Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF400mm f/5.6L USM lens, ISO 250, f/5.6, 1/1600 sec
The Cadillac driving, fancy-pants of the duck world, the Northern Pintail is probably my favorite of the waterfowl. Much like any photographer who can’t afford to own $10K in glass that will reach, I always struggle to get close enough to ducks. I made this image just this weekend and it’s probably the closest I’ve ever been able to get to this species with a camera. The Confluence area lies almost directly in the middle of these guys range. We are near the northern limit of their wintering range and the southern limit of their breeding range. Their presence is hard to predict in this area. Typically they will start to arrive in early spring, but they are not uncommon to find any time during the winter when unfrozen water is present in marshy habitats. They typically are not found here in the summer as northern Missouri has only a small number of breeding pairs on record.
Folks who give a darn about things other than economic concerns have recently saved the confluence region from an environmental threat. The development that was proposed would have threatened and endangered many of the birds that rely on this region of the Mississippi River Flyway. I have attached a few links below for those of you who may be interested in this story.