Spring, 2004

Since our Costa Rica trip, our travels have been restricted to the Southeast, primarily North and South Carolina. In particular, while attending the 2004 Annual Meeting of the Carolina Nature Photographers Association in Litchfield Beach, SC, we learned of a Rookery at the nearby Waccatee Zoo. When we were there at the end of March, we had a blast shooting the Great Egrets in flight, as they were busy building their nests. We returned at the end of May, and had just as much fun photographing the chicks that had since been hatched. We had wanted to return a little earlier, but weather and other factors prevented us, so many of the young were pretty large by then. But it was fascinating observing the feeding behavior and interactions between the chicks and the parents.

We returned to Huntington Beach State Park, near Litchfield, and always enjoy shooting there at dawn and dusk. And finally we had our annual family vacation on Kiawah Island, south of Charleston, SC, and I got up before dawn several mornings to try and shoot the Black Skimmers that have eluded me in previous visits. We also finally managed to get an updated photograph of our entire family, and I've updated my Family Portraits gallery with that shot, for any that are interested. And whenever we're at Kiawah, we always seem to manage at least one trip to the Audubon Swamp Garden at Magnolia Plantation.

Finally, in early May, I was able to purchase the newly released Canon 1D Mark II (and sold my 1D a few days later). I have been extremely impressed with this camera, as it addresses almost all of the shortcomings of the prior model. The performance at high ISO is a quantum leap forward, the resolution is double (8 vs 4 megapixels), and there are many other enhancements which are just icing on the cake.

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Black Skimmer 'Skimming'

Image # 1D2_00256

"Willet Pond"

Kiawah Island, SC

Canon 600L/f4 IS with 1.4x II Teleconverter

ISO 3200, f/8, 1/500 second

Manual Metering

Gitzo 1329/ArcaSwiss B1/Wimberley Sidekick

As I alluded to above, I have been trying for a shot like this for a while. I haven't even seen this species very often, but found a location on Kiawah Island they occasionally visit. They seem to be actively here primarily right after dawn, when the light is extremely limited. They also feed mostly quite a ways from me, but make occasional passes at my location. I have been there at dawn on many occasions, with less than acceptable results. Armed with the 1D Mark II, I bumped up the ISO all the way to 3200, which was necessary because I didn't want a shutter speed any slower than 1/500 second, and with the 1.4x teleconverter, I wanted to stop down at least one more stop to get a little better optical quality. I finally came back with a number of decent images. I did need to carefully process this raw file, using Neat Image for noise reduction, and while I'll still be heading out when I can for better shots, am glad that I at least have something worth looking at.


 

Great Egret with Nesting Material

Image # 1D_02674

Waccatee Zoo Rookery

near Myrtle Beach, SC

Canon 70-200L/f2.8 IS at 145 mm

ISO 200, f/8, 1/1250 second

Manual Metering

Handheld

The shooting opportunity here is just wonderful. It seems to be as productive, if not more so, than the famous Venice Rookery in Florida, and the birds are considerably closer (too close at times!). Much of my shooting was done with the 70-200L/f2.8 IS, although I did use my 600L/f4 IS for some birds a bit further away. We came back with quite a few flight shots, with this being one of my favorites.


 

Black Crowned Night Heron in Flight

Image # 1D_02705

Waccatee Zoo Rookery

near Myrtle Beach, SC

Canon 600L/f4 IS

ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/4000 second

Manual Metering

Gitzo 1329/ArcaSwiss B1/Wimberley Sidekick

While Great Egrets were the predominant species here, there were occasional Snowy Egrets, as well as a few Black Crowned Night Herons, pictured here. The one took me by surprise, flying in the shadows (while I was set in Manual Exposure mode for the egrets out in the sun), and was probably close to 2 stops underexposed. It took a fair amount of work in Photoshop to salvage a useable image, and shooting in Raw Format, I believe, really helped in this instance.


 

Great Egret Chick Pair 1

Image # 1D2_00088

Waccatee Zoo Rookery

near Myrtle Beach, SC

Canon 600L/f4 IS

ISO 800, f/8, 1/400 second

Evaluate Metering at 0

Gitzo 1329/ArcaSwiss B1/Wimberley Sidekick

These chicks were among the smaller number of younger ones present. It was fairly early in the morning, and the sun hadn't broken through or over the trees behind us, so I didn't have to worry much about losing the highlights of the white feathers (which becomes a real problem later in the morning).


 

Great Egret Chick Pair 2

Image # 1D2_00099

Waccatee Zoo Rookery

near Myrtle Beach, SC

Canon 600L/f4 IS

ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/500 second

Evaluative Metering at -1/3 EV, 550EX/BB at -2 EV

Gitzo 1329/ArcaSwiss B1/Wimberley Sidekick


Taken a little later in the morning, the sun was beginning to be an issue, but still wasn't too bad, and a -1/3 EV adjustment was adequate. Many of the nests had 2 or 3 fairly large chicks, and they were starting to have problems all staying in there together. We didn't see any alligators there, but were told by some local photographers that the gators often show up for a free meal as the chicks are old enough to start leaving the nest.
 

Great Egret Chick Wing Flap

Image # 1D2_00094

Waccatee Zoo Rookery

near Myrtle Beach, SC

Canon 600L/f4 IS

ISO 400, f/5.6, 1/800 second

Evaluative Metering at -1/3, 550EX/BB at -2 EV

Gitzo 1329/ArcaSwiss B1/Wimberley Sidekick

I think you can get some sense of the crowding I referred to above, in this picture. I had the 550EX set up for fill-flash in these shots, but it's unclear how effective it was. The only main step backward with the Mark II version of the 1D is that the flash synch speed dropped from 1/500 to 1/250 second. The net result is that the flash power and reach is reduced by about a third at 1/500.


 

Great Egret Chicks with Mother

Image # 1D2_00121

Waccatee Zoo Rookery

near Myrtle Beach, SC

Canon 600L/f4 IS

ISO 400, f/8, 1/500 second

Evaluative Metering at 0

Gitzo 1329/ArcaSwiss B1/Wimberley Sidekick

It was amazing watching the feeding behavior displayed here, when the adult would come in with food in her throat, and the chicks would then start calling and clamping their beaks on hers, to try and be the one to get the food. I have quite a few shots demonstrating this behavior, with a tangle of heads, bills and wings, but chose this one as it is a bit 'cleaner.'


 

Great Egret Feeding Chick

Image # 1D2_00133

Waccatee Zoo Rookery

near Myrtle Beach, SC

Canon 600L/f4 IS

ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/400 second

Evaluative Metering at -2/3

Gitzo 1329/ArcaSwiss B1/Wimberley Sidekick

This is the last image in this series, and shows the actual transfer of food (a fish in this case) from the mother's throat to the chicks'. It is a little hard to see at the relatively small size that I need to use for web presentation, but at higher resolution, you can actually see the reddish fin and yellow and black scales on the fish (although I can't quite identify the species).


 

Peacock Head-on

Image # 1D2_00146

Waccatee Zoo

near Myrtle Beach, SC

Canon 70-200L/f2.8 IS at 200 mm

ISO 400, f/4, 1/320 second

Evaluative Metering at +1

Handheld

We did a little walking around at Waccatee, after shooting the egrets, and I couldn't resist taking a few shots of the incredibly beautiful peacocks they had walking around. Regarding the technicals, I had inadvertently left EV at +1, from some shots I was taking of a backlit bird. Fortunately I was shooting in Raw Format, and was able to salvage the image with virtually no ill effect from this user error.


 

Black Necked Stilt at Dawn

Image # 1D2_00164

Huntington Beach State Park

Murrells Inlet, SC

Canon 600L/f4 IS with 1.4x II Teleconverter

ISO 320, f/8, 1/500 second

Manual Metering

Gitzo 1329/ArcaSwiss B1/Wimberley Sidekick

We always love visiting this park, and usually find some birds to shoot. This particular morning, there were quite a few Black Necked Stilts who, while staying fairly far away for much of the morning, finally made an appearance in our vicinity, with the rising sun to our back.


 

Black Necked Stilts with 'Gator'

Image # 1D2_00169

Huntington Beach State Park

Murrells Inlet, SC

Canon 600L/f4 IS with 1.4x II Teleconverter

ISO 3200, f/8, 1/640 second

Manual Metering

Gitzo 1329/ArcaSwiss B1/Wimberley Sidekick

On several occasions, an alligator moved in the vicinity of some of the stilts, and I was prepared for a "National Geographics" moment. Fortunately, or unfortunately, this never happened, but it was interesting as they interacted, and it really seemed as if the stilts were following the alligator (perhaps feeding on animals stirred up by the alligator's movements?).


 

Cardinal Calling

Image # 1D2_00276

Audubon Swamp Garden at Magnolia Plantation

near Charleston, SC

Canon 600L/f4 IS with 1.4x II Teleconverter

ISO 400, f/8, 1/640 second

Manual Metering

Gitzo 1329/ArcaSwiss B1/Wimberley Sidekick

While on our family vacation at Kiawah, my son Sam and I usually find time to make a trip or two to the Audubon Swamp Garden. Unfortunately, then don't open until 8:00 a.m., and the best light is long-gone, but you do what you can, and we still enjoyed our time there, with a chance to take a few decent pictures. A common bird, I couldn't resist when this cardial briefly appeared with a nice perch and a decent background, with the not overly harsh sun to our back.


 

Common Moorhen Chick

Image # 1D2_00273

Audubon Swamp Garden at Magnolia Plantation

near Charleston, SC

Canon 600L/f4 IS with 1.4x II Teleconverter

ISO 400, f/8, 1/500 second

Manual Metering

Gitzo 1329/ArcaSwiss B1/Wimberley Sidekick

We came across a number of these cute little chicks. They usually stayed in the shade and bushes, but made an occasional foray into the open where this shot was taken. The stubby little wings on the fat body made one of my grandchildren say it looked like a little pig with wings. This represents a fairly severe crop of the original (they were quite a ways away!), slightly less than 10% of the original image area. The extra pixels of the MkII certainly came in handy here.


 

Anhinga Female in the Sun

Image # 1D2_00281

Audubon Swamp Garden at Magnolia Plantation

near Charleston, SC

Canon 600L/f4 IS and 1.4x II Teleconverter

ISO 400, f/11, 1/400 second

Manual Metering

Gitzo 1329/ArcaSwiss B1/Wimberley Sidekick

Another common species, it more commonly stays in a very cluttered environment with branches and leaves all around. I couldn't resist shooting it when we came across one with a decent perch and a remarkably clean background. The sun was starting to get harsh, but wasn't too bad yet.