Spring has been a whirlwind with Tropical Birding! I guided an 11-day Chasing Chickens loop through Colorado and Kansas April 6-16, flew directly to Texas where I lead a 5-day Upper Coast Migration trip from April 17-21, and finished the season with an 12-day haul through Kentucky, Ohio, and Michigan on our Warbler Tour from May 8-19. With five weeks of downtime before I head to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia June 28-July 9, I'm going to try crank out a few bog entries. Here we go...
I don't take many pictures on tour because I'm busy spotting and identifying birds for clients, but the stars aligned in Colorado, when we visited a Greater Prairie-Chicken lek outside Wray. My clients were content to sit the van on that frigid morning, so I exited the vehicle and slowly belly-crawled towards the birds. I reached a small rise 10 yards beyond the van, hunkered down, and waited. The males started displaying, and I had incredible views when the sun rose forty-five minutes later. I took ~1,200 photos across the next hour, and I'll use this post to present my favorites. After the lek slowed down and I crawled back to the van, the clients said they had as much fun watching me as they did the birds. They all thought I was crazy for lying on the frozen ground for nearly two hours, but that what it often takes!
This first frame was captured just as the sun cracked the eastern horizon behind me; that's why it has such a strong pink/orange hue. The window to preserve this beautiful cast on any given morning is really narrow, so I was stoked this displaying male wandered into photo range at the magic moment. Besides minimizing disturbance to the birds, getting into position in the dark guaranteed that I'd be able to utilize this amazing light.
This fourth frame shows a different male. The sun is higher than in the first frame -- hence less orange/pink tones -- and I like this one as a color-neutral complement to it. I also like that both display tufts are visible in this shot. The pattern on the far/right one is really pretty. Notice how my shutter speed and ISO decreases as the sun rises (and thereby lends more light). In this instance I had sufficient light to stop down to f/7.1 (from f/5.6) to get more depth-of-field and critical detail across the bird's body.
As you can see, it was a memorable morning. There weren't many females/hens on the lek on this time around, so I'm hoping for photos of them next year. If you're thinking about joining us on next year's tour, have a look at this year's trip report for a detailed description of what we saw and did. My tour was birding-focused, but we offer a separate photo tour as well. That's it for now. Cheers!