Osprey Pandion haliaetus
Port Bolivar, Galveston County, Texas
One of America’s favorite and most unique raptors, the Osprey, Pandion haliaetus can be found along our coastal plains and well inland on larger streams and lakes throughout the continental United States, south into Central America and South America where they winter and well into the Canadian Provinces during the summer and breeding months. “Unique” describes their favored food of live fish and the ability to fly high above a body of water, spot their prey, begin a short hover, then rapidly dive and catch their meal with their razor sharp talons, and then again launch themselves airborne and retreat to a safe place to consume their bounty.
The visual spectacle of the Osprey fishing is as gratifying to the observer as their meal is to them. As an avian photographer, capturing this activity is fun and exhilarating and requires a bit of skill. The perched pose of the title image above was captured on a chilly foggy December morning near the Galveston Island Ferry landing, Bolivar Peninsula side, along the upper Texas Gulf Coast.
Osprey, Fowler Beach, Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Delaware
“Camera Ham” would be a good description of the bird above as he or she was more than willing to pose for me while preening, sitting atop a refuge boundary sign along Fowler Beach road within the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware. The preening halted on various occasions long enough to give the “once-over” and make sure I wasn’t getting closer. I often use my vehicle as a “hide” for photography which seems to offer more security to my avian subjects. I keep my movements to a bare minimum inside while resting the camera and big lens on a bean bag from the vehicle window for maximum stability.
Most of you who visit our National Wildlife Refuges regularly will more than likely notice various vehicles with these bags protruding from their windows . This type of shooting is a favorite practice of many of the “refuge cruisers”, in fact some refuges prefer that occupants remain in their cars to keep any disturbance of birds and wildlife to a minimum.
Osprey, Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, New Jersey
The Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, just outside of Atlantic City New Jersey is a wonderful location to get fairly close to these raptors for nice full frame captures with a 500 to 600-millimeter telephoto lens. The Osprey above perched very close to the levee drive on a ragged snag and I was rewarded by having a tele-zoom lens to capture him at only 400 millimeters and fill the frame with a nice composition. “He or she was just that close” …
The levee drive forms a squared-off circle that extends into the bay with fresh water inside and coastal brackish water on the outside. There are numerous Osprey nesting platforms along the route both near the drive and well out into the marsh giving one numerous opportunities for viewing and photographing these beautiful raptors and especially with their young during the summer nesting and breeding season as pictured below with a youngster giving his parent a piece of his mind. Perhaps he was hungry and was begging for a meal.
Osprey Juvenile and Parent, Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, New Jersey
Photographing this beautiful raptor in flight is a pure joy and a rush of adrenaline for any avian photographer. Just like the eagle, the path of flight while fishing can be erratic with unpredictable turns and gains or losses in altitude very quickly. However with the Osprey, the dive for the catch is usually preceded by a very short hover which allows some opportunity to key in on the bird before it’s plunge into the water below.
Capturing the actual plunge and initial contact with the water is the “grand prize” and something I have yet to accomplish with any quality to the image, but I plan to keep working on it. Even with the fastest of lenses and cameras, good support and a quality gimbal head, it’s a challenging task. “One of these days” I hope to capture this sequence!
During the late summer of last year, 2017 I met up with a group of friends and made some new ones during several weekends at the Black Rock Flats area of Lake Marburg, which is the main attraction of Codorus State Park located in York County Pennsylvania and only 10 minutes from my home. My primary draw was to photograph migrating shorebirds, and little did I know that I was in for some of my best opportunities to photograph the resident Osprey’s in flight. One weekend yielded some wonderful clear blue skies and lovely late afternoon sun light with just the right angles for excellent highlight and shadow detail on both the birds and their under-wings during flight.
“In Your Face”, Lake Marburg, Codorus State Park, York County, Pennsylvania
The image above is amazing as it shows this raptors geometry with it’s small head, larger body and massive wingspan. There is zero distortion here as it was photographed with a 600-millimeter telephoto zoom lens, as were the majority of these images, and with the Sigma 150-600mm Sports on the Canon EOS 7D Mark II body. The bird was coming straight at me at a high rate of speed as it banked in a turn, and astounded me that the auto-focus and servo drive of the camera and lens performed flawlessly.
“The Rocket Pass” Lake Marburg, Codorus State Park, York County, Pennsylvania
Above is a beautiful view of the top of the body, wings and tail with the feather patterns highlighted and washed by lovely light. It pays to shoot late in the day with low sun angles, which this location presented. As a photographer who primarily shoots small songbirds, and normally under a dark forest canopy dependent a lot of the time on artificial light for color and fill, this was a treat!
“Physics of Flight” Lake Marburg, Codorus State Park, York County, Pennsylvania
Just beginning a shallow left turn above, the Osprey lowers the leading wing into the turn creating an interesting visual perspective and view of the wings underside and tight feather detail.
“The Hover” Lake Marburg, Codorus State Park, York County, Pennsylvania
Photographing birds from behind or flying away on rare occasions can provide some interesting alternative views and perspectives. The image above captures this Osprey in its short hover before performing the dive to capture a meal. Close inspection provides the intricate feather detail of the trailing wing and tail surfaces and how each feather seems to work independently for stability as well as presenting some nice highlights from the light.
“Before the Plunge” Lake Marburg, Codorus State Park, York County, Pennsylvania
Above, our Osprey has spotted his quarry during its hover and is preparing to begin the almost vertical dive to make the catch. This is the moment for the photographer to key on the bird and follow the decent, and “I say this laughingly with a wink and a grin” as I always loose the bird during this process.
Below is a 4 shot-sequence of the impact, catch and retreat with a nice fat Gizzard shad for a meal. I find it amazing watching the recovery and launch of this raptor after the dive and catch which would leave me stunned to say the least. It’s truly a spectacle to witness.
“The Catch and Retreat” Lake Marburg, Codorus State Park, York County, Pennsylvania
Photographing this beautiful raptor is a pure joy and again I’d like to again bring notice to Codorus State Park, Lake Marburg and especially the Black Rock Flats location at the western end of the lake. This area has always been productive for migrating shorebirds not common to our area as well as a very friendly and seemingly tame Green Heron that humorously entertained our little group for days on end with his feeding antics and behavior.
The area was brought to my attention by a good friend Karen Lippy who meticulously keeps a constant vigil on our resident eagles “on a daily basis” and who’s smile always provides warmth on the coldest of Pennsylvania days. Karen has published several books on the lives and times of the Codorus Eagles which are suitable for all ages.
Black Rock Flats offers plenty of parking in an intimate area of the park and lake, close to the water so it’s a wonderful spot to bring your photographic gear, spotting scopes and lawn chairs for a relaxing and fun day afield. The success of your day will depend on the water levels of Lake Marburg which can fluctuate greatly in the drier periods of our seasons. Good winter snowfall amounts, and/or abundant springtime rainfall will assure good levels for summer photography and bird observations. However, receding water levels and exposing of the flats can be productive as well, especially for the migrating shorebirds passing through late summer into fall.
The park does maintain a set of rules and make sure to park only on the designated gravel areas and stay off the flats for your own safety. The surface can look deceptively dry, but can swallow you up to your waist in mud. There are normally signs posted warning of this. The area is monitored by rangers making spot checks regularly. There is ample space for setting up gear for your photography or bird viewing close enough along the shoreline. You can almost count on the “regulars” being there during the spring, summer and fall and they are always welcoming to new friends who share their interests. I’d like to personally invite new folks to experience this area and the fun to be had!