Nature Photography Blog Trip reports, techniques and more...

Leopards in Sri Lanka

I spent close to a week on safari in Yala National Park in Sri Lanka. While I've never had great luck with leopards in a photographic sense (though I've seen plenty!), this trip turned out to be a little different. Our first few game drives turned up two or three sightings each. This is probably my favorite shot…

Leopard - Panthera Pardus Kotiya


Ospreys learn to fly

There's a beach in Plymouth that's a great location to photograph Ospreys - a nesting platform sits right on the beach and a pair of Ospreys nests there pretty much every year. I was there in July a couple of years ago and was fortunate enough to see the chicks experimenting with flight. They were flapping and hovering right above the nest for a few seconds at a time, and what was interesting was that they looked graceful even while learning how to fly. Note the orange hue to the eyes - the juveniles have orange eyes which gradually turn yellow as they mature.
Though I've been using a 600mm lens for a few years now, I was experimenting here with a 500mm lens and shooting handheld instead of on the tripod/gimbal rig. I found the freedom of movement fantastic for flight photography - check my gear blog soon for some updates…




A great morning with Marsh Wrens

I headed to Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Concord, Massachusetts this morning with a couple of friends to see if the Marsh Wrens were popping up and singing yet. I've been to the refuge a couple of times over the last week or so and didn't have much luck - there were plenty of Marsh Wrens but they were staying low in the reeds. This time though, I lucked out. After identifying the flying pattern of a single male (he had developed a system of cycling through three different spots to sing in), I parked myself at the location that had the cleanest backgrounds and waited. An hour later, I had two opportunities with the holy trifecta - soft, diffused light, a clean background and a relatively close subject. Here are some of the shots. Which one do you like best?





Chasing Kestrels in Austria

My wife and I were able to take a day off to do some photography while we were in Europe this summer. We drove to Neusiedler See in Austria - a well known wetland mecca for birders. Of course it being September we didn't see much! But our guide gave us a good location for photographing Kestrels, which I really, REALLY wanted to photograph. It was in the middle of a private vineyard (nobody chased us off the property) and there were 3-4 Kestrels in the area. They seemed quite skittish (as Raptors usually are) so we weren't able to get too close, so these pictures will have to do for now!

A VERY large Kestrel


Yellow Breasted Chat in Boston

I heard about a Yellow-Breasted Chat that was hanging around in Boston, and spent a couple of hours this past Saturday trying to get some good pictures. Things to be thankful for - I actually saw the bird and got pictures of it up close, as it was gorging itself on a piece of bread someone had left in the park. Not so great - trying to leave the piece of bread out of the picture was next to impossible, the light was atrocious (I was shooting wide open at ISO 5000) and the backgrounds sucked!
I shot these with my new 500mm lens - I'm still getting used to it, but my back totally appreciates the almost 50% reduction in weight I got by downgrading from the 600 f/4!




A Mother's Bond

Anyone who has spent any time with elephants know that they have very strong maternal instincts (the daddies don't live with the herds). The picture below was taken in Yala National Park, and we first spotted the mother and calf in the brush ready to cross the trail to have a drink of water. Upon seeing us, they paused and the mother positioned her body between us and her calf, and they walked across the trail in this formation and proceeded to quench their thirst.


This next couple of pictures were taken at Minneriya National Park in Sri Lanka, where we were fortunate enough to witness the annual gathering of elephants known as (wait for it…!) The Gathering! The mother wasn't overtly shielding her baby from us, but gently followed him around and kept a watchful eye on him.



Flight photography at high ISO

Every time I have to shoot in bad light, I'm constantly amazed by the high ISO capabilities of the Nikon D4. In the waning light, getting the 1/2500th of second shutter speed needed to freeze the wing beats meant cranking up the ISO on the camera to levels I don't use often. The D4 pulled it off with barely a sweat. While looking at the images at a pixel level shows a good amount of noise, it cleaned up easily in Lightroom and there was a decent amount of dynamic range. The first picture of the Green Jay was taken at ISO 2,500 and the Pyrrhuloxia was taken at ISO 7,200…



Painted Bunting

One of my target species during this spring's trip to Texas was Painted Bunting. There weren't abundant photo opportunities - I probably got a minute or two of the bird on a good perch over the course of three days, so I was happy to get this…



Trip Report - Photographing Birds in the Rio Grande Valley

This year has been quite interesting for me photographically, as I was able to do some travel exclusively for bird photography. The first of my trips this year was to the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. I went in May, which research indicated was one of the better times of the year to visit - it was before the weather got really hot, but late enough in the year for the migrant birds to have arrived. I usually set myself some photography goals before every trip - this gives me something to work towards and helps me evaluate whether the trip was a success or not. For Texas, my goals were as follows:

  • Get some decent photographs of the Painted Bunting, which in my opinion is one of the most beautiful birds you will ever see in your life
  • Photograph the American Kestrel
  • Photograph the Crested Caracara
  • Do some songbird flight photography. By the way, it's harder than it sounds!

Well, I ended up accomplishing three of my four goals, so it was a good trip! Unfortunately, the Kestrels had already left the area by May - I have since learned that the winter is probably the nest time to photograph Kestrels in the Rio Grande Valley. I was photographing at the Laguna Seca private ranch, which has blind setups that are quite productive for songbird and raptor photography. My routine for four days included getting up at 4:30am, hitting the road by 5 and being set up in one of the blinds and being ready to photograph by 6am. It's a lot of work, but someone's gotta do it!
I did get some good shots of the Painted Bunting, though the opportunities were a little limited. The Green Jays were really the stars of the show - the beautiful coloring along with the striking black-and-blue head makes for a striking subject. I took over 8,000 pictures over the four day trip, so I still have a lot more pictures to select and process - stay tuned for more to come.

Painted Bunting

Green Jay

Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher

Long-Billed Thrasher

Crested Caracara

Northern Cardinal


Eastern Screech Owl in Cambridge

This Eastern Screech Owl occupied a tree stump in Cambridge for a few weeks. Whats was surprising was that though the stump was located on a sidewalk of a pretty busy street, but it didn't seem to bother the little owl. I ended up making three trips but only saw the owl once. That's ok - I'll take it!
     Screech Owls can be one of two general colors - the gray morph or the red morph. The first picture is of the owl in question - it was a gray morph, though you can see it has some brownish coloring too. This got me looking through my files for a red morph so I could show the differences, and the second picture is of a red morph that I actually photographed a few hundred yards away from the gray morph (though a couple of years apart).

Eastern Screech Owl (Gray Morph)

Eastern Screech Owl (Red Morph)


Second Fox Den

After a few days of observing and photographing the first fox den, I heard of a second den which wasn't too far away. I was able to locate it with the help of a few fellow wildlife enthusiasts, and I couldn't believe my luck that it was literally only a few hundred yards away from the first one. I set up close to a large bush and started observing the den. I watched two of the kits move in and out the brush near the den, but wasn't able to get any good shots. 
     I stuck around for a while, and my patience eventually paid off. One of the kits came out into the open and trotted around for a good 30 seconds or so before heading off for a lie-down! I literally had only seconds to get the money shots, and I was glad my gear didn't let me down. I was shooting with the D800 and the bare 600mm f/4 lens, and given the D800's slow continuous shooting speed and relatively shallow buffer I had to pick my shots with care. Some people say you simply can't shoot action with the D800, and that's simply not true. You just need to be careful and pick your shots - there is much less margin for error than when shooting with a faster camera like the D4. Enjoy the pics!





Fox Family

I was pretty stoked early this spring when my friend Karl called me to inform me of the discovery of a Fox den. Actually, he didn't really call me - he sent me some great pictures he took to make me feel bad! Anyway, I realized this was a unique opportunity and this started a couple weeks of me waking up at 5am to drive to the den and be in position to shoot by 6:30. The den was on land that was off limits to humans and was maybe 30-40 yards away from the road, so big lenses were the order of the day. I used the 600mm VR with different teleconverters(1.4x, 1.7x and 2x) at various times.
I was able to observe the family playing, the mother grooming the kits and even some feeding behavior when one of the parents dug up some previously stashed goodies for breakfast. On the third day, one of the kits wandered close to us for a drink of water and I was able to get some decent shots.




You're probably wondering about the inconsistent colors between some of these pictures right? The day was a pretty strange one - it started off with heavy fog (which you can see in the first picture), then patches of sunshine, back to fog and finally heavy cloud. Rather than process the pictures to make them look the same, I wanted to let everyone see the natural lighting conditions. 
Stay tuned for more updates on the foxes.


Great Egret

I was on a shoot earlier this summer in Rhode Island, and we were targeting Great Egrets, Green Herons and Ospreys. We had very dense fog so the conditions weren't great, but we had a Great Egret land and start fishing 30-40 feet away from us. I was using the 600mm VR lens with the 1.4x teleconverter, and the AF was pretty decent in spite of the dim light. I've included a sequence of photographs that depict the scene from arrival to the main course!






Terns on Plymouth Beach

Plymouth Beach in Massachusetts is home to a large migrant Common Tern colony, and is a great place to try to photograph these beautiful shore birds. Unfortunately, the beach is not very accessible if you get there early in the morning - it involves either a 2 mile round trip hike, being able to procure a permit to drive close to the beach, or taking a boat. I was fortunate enough to know someone who had a permit, but the most enjoyable way by far to get there is to take a boat. Be warned though that this requires booking the boat in advance and also making sure you're at the boat around 5am! You'll be rewarded with views of a brilliant sunrise while you lounge on a boat that will land you right at the tern colony. And the photography is pretty good too!

Here are some pictures I took of the terns fishing and feeding their chicks:






A Tale of four Kingfishers

Sri Lanka is home to at least seven types of Kingfisher, some of which are quite rare. The four most common species are the White Throated Kingfisher, Stork Billed Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher and Common (Eurasian) Kingfisher.I was hoping to get good shots of all four when I visited Sri Lanka in August 2012, but the Pied Kingfisher eluded me until the last day of our safari. I finally saw one and was able to photograph it, though it was more an image that documented the species rather than one I'd be proud of photographically.
The Stork Billed Kingfisher is by far the largest of these four, and is almost as big as a crow. The White Throated is arguably more common in Sri Lanka than the others, and I was able to observe one at close quarters as it took a dip in our swimming pool quite regularly!

Stork-Billed Kingfisher

Pied Kingfisher

White-Throated Kingfisher

Common Kingfisher


Purple Swamp Hen

This species known by many names, among which are Purple Coot and Purple Moorhen. It belongs to the rail family, and its enormous feet allow it to spread its weight evenly when walking on water plants.




Sloth Bear

Soon after our leopard encounter on our very first game drive in Yala National Park (Sri Lanka) in 2012, we heard that a bear had been sighted close to where we were. We lost no time in getting there, but it turned out about twenty other safari parties had the same idea! It was feeding in a tree, and we got some shots of it feeding, climbing down from the tree and walking around too. As this was one of the species I was hoping to get good pictures of, needless to say I was pretty happy!
Sloth bears are a medium sized species of bears, with adults weighing between 120-400 pounds and standing 2-3 feet at the shoulder. Their large claws as specially adapted for digging out termites, which along with honey bee colonies and fruits form most of their diet. Though they don't look like it, Sloth Bears are very aggressive animals and have even been known to face down Tigers in India!




Green birds!

The Little Green Bee Eater is a pretty common sight in Yala National Park. The one in the first picture was a great opportunity - it was sitting on a branch on the edge of a road in the park, and as our safari jeep came to a halt right next to it, I was almost perfectly lined up. I say' perfectly' because I was actually TOO close, and had the 2X teleconverter on a 400mm lens. Result - I had to cut off either the head or the tail, and the tail seemed more expendable to me…
If anyone's wondering why I didn't take the teleconverter off, I did. I just make sure I take a couple of 'banker' shots before changing equipment, and sure enough the little guy flew off just as I was taking the teleconverter off!

Little Green Bee Eater

Little Green Bee Eater

The Rose Ringed Parakeet's (below) habitat in Sri Lanka ranges from the lowlands to moderately hills country. Flocks of these birds often descend on agricultural crops and have a tenuous relationship with farmers there. I spent close to half an hour with this flock on the edge of a small lake, when they seemed pretty unconcerned by a couple of White Bellied Seas Eagles, a Grey Headed Fishing Eagle and numerous Brahminy Kites that were all within fifty yards of this flock. Perhaps they thought the raptors would be more interested in the plentiful fishing opportunities - and they were right!

Rose-Ringed Parakeet


Wild Pigeons & Doves from Asia

The Spotted Dove is a native of Southeast Asia, and its kukroo, kukoo, koo... call is familiar to many inhabitants of rural areas. It's a very adaptable species, and is now found as far afield as Hawaii, California and Australia. I saw several during my stay in Yala National Park in Sri Lanka earlier this year. While they weren't too shy, photographing them while they bob and scurry around looking for seeds was quite a challenge!
Spotted Dove

One of my target bird species this year was the Orange-Breasted Green Pigeon. While I saw several flocks at a distance, I was never able to get a half-decent shot until I saw a small flock on my last day. A cloudy sky and intermittent rainstorms meant the light was far from perfect, but I tried to salvage what shots I could...

Orange-Breasted Green Pigeon

The last picture here is of a Green Imperial Pigeon. These are a little more common so I was able to pick my shots until I found this one with nice side lighting and a little breeze creating a mane at the back of its head. Wish I could have gotten rid of the branch in the foreground though!

Green Imperial Pigeon


Crossbills in New England

My photographer friends Shawn Carey and Karl Zuzarte alerted me to a unique happening in New England this winter - a Crossbill irruption. These birds are apparently only seen around here every four or five years, so we took this opportunity to photograph them at Salisbury Beach State Reservation in Salisbury, Massachusetts. It was a pretty productive morning, as we literally saw hundreds of these brightly colored birds. They're named Crossbills because their beaks cross over at the tip - no brownie points for guessing that though! The flocks consisted of primarily White-Winged Crossbills, but we did see a few Red Crossbills mixed in.

Immature Male White-Winged Crossbill

Male White-Winged Crossbill

Male White-Winged Crossbill

Female Red-Breasted Crossbill

Male Red-Breasted Crossbill

Male White-Winged Crossbill