One Angry Coot

American Coots are among the most belligerent birds in North America.

Their pugnacious attitude provides the photographer with some wonderful opportunities but you have to be quick and capable of anticipating their behaviors to have any chance at success. Coots often fight and they regularly chase each other across the water but for a whole slew of reasons those chases are difficult to photograph well. But if we pay attention to behaviors we can often anticipate a chase and be ready for it and that’s a big part of the key to success.

 

1/3200, f/7.1, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

Two days ago I watched as this bird and another coot fed peacefully in the water right next to each other. Their behaviors suggested that they were probably a bonded pair so at first I didn’t anticipate there would be any excitement involving either one of them. But then I noticed this bird lower its head and neck flat on the water and raise its stubby tail into an aggressive posture so I looked to my left and spotted another coot approaching the pair. Figuring there might be a fight or at least a chase I had to quickly choose one of the three coots to train my lens on. This time I got lucky and chose the right one.

In a flash the angry coot rose out of the water and started chasing the interloper. In most of my shots of the chase I was always trying to catch up with the bird (they run very fast) so the coot was usually too close to the left edge of the frame for acceptable composition. But I do like this one because the composition works, I have pretty good detail, the bird is plenty sharp enough and I really like the running posture. In addition this is one of the few times I’ve noticed the alula on the wing of a coot.

However I did have one dilemma with the image. There were gulls on the water behind the coot and the bright white reflection of one of them poked down into the frame at upper right. That reflection was terribly distracting so I was faced with the choice of living with it or cloning it out. As you can see I was seduced by the clone tool. I don’t do that very often and when I do I always disclose having done it but I still don’t feel very good about it. But dammit that reflection was irritating!

Lots of folks mostly ignore coots and I think that’s a mistake. If nothing else photographing their belligerent behaviors is a wonderful way for the photographer to improve his/her skills.

Ron

 

 

Redhead Wing Flap (a nine image series)

Wing flapping of aquatic species is a common behavior that I find difficult to photograph well for a variety of reasons.

  • Distance from subject is critical. When those wings come out it’s very easy to clip them if you’re just a little too close but when you’re too far away you lose critical detail.
  • Angle on the bird. I find a side view from slightly in front of the subject to be most appealing but that doesn’t happen very often. And some birds rotate in the water during the performance so if you have a good angle you can lose it and vice versa.
  • Some species habitually turn their back to the photographer just prior to a wing flap (Pied-billed Grebes for example). I can only guess as to why they do it but they usually do, especially when you’re close.
  • Sufficient shutter speed. Wings move very fast and typically when we’re photographing a bird swimming slowly on the water we don’t have enough SS to freeze the wings when the flapping begins. And when that might happen is almost completely unpredictable. In this series I had more SS than I needed but better too much than too little. 1/2500 probably would have been sufficient but I like some wiggle room when I can get it.
  • Good light and a low perspective on the bird contribute immensely to the appeal of the image and both are often unobtainable when the performance begins.

I  was pleased with this series because all of those factors came together for me. All images are presented in the order they were taken.

 

 

1/4000, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

Our recent snow and bitter cold have finally enticed a few birds to “my” local pond besides the ubiquitous domestic ducks, gulls, coots and a few geese. Yesterday afternoon this male Redhead was one of them and he performed a nice wing flap at an appropriate distance and appealing angle. Here he’s just beginning to rise up out of the water and raise his wings.

 

 

1/4000, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

Those wings were already moving very fast but I had more shutter speed than I needed to prevent any motion blur.

 

 

1/5000, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

As they often do he began to lean forward to counterbalance the lift from his flapping wings. Otherwise he might tip over backwards in the water.

 

 

1/5000, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

I like the shadow of his head on his right wing.

 

 

1/5000, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

By chance the timing of my shutter and his flapping wings gave me more photos with his wings in this approximate position than any other.

 

 

1/5000, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

Here we see the flexibility of his wing primaries as they’re bent and curved in response to resistance from the air.

 

 

1/8000, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

Near the end of the performance he began to settle back down into the water…

 

 

1/5000, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

and fold his wings back into a resting position.

 

 

1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

An instant later he was a lazy looking laid-back duck again. Almost immediately after the wing flap he swam away and never returned while I was there.

With most ducks wing flapping is a common occurrence but many things have to come together to photograph it well. This time I was pleased with my results and I even had a handsome subject. This single bird made the trip down to the pond worth the effort

Ron