bird photography

Snow Geese Migration - Rocky Mountain Front

The snow geese migration along the Rocky Mountain Front in Montana is in full swing. The birds usually come though from the middle of March though early April on their way to their nesting grounds located on a small island in the north Bearing Sea. The migration is a nature and wildlife photographers must do activity. It's an epic adventure and a wildlife experience worth watching in person. Every spring I travel up and down the Rocky Mountain Front of Montana to photograph one of natures most miraculous bird shows. Its a total experience. I usually camp-out and photograph from sun up to sun down. I'm away from home for a few days at a time, but I love it. This time of year, the days are getting longer but it's still early enough in the year to experience below freezing temps in the mornings, snow on some days, and lots of wind. Layering is a must as some daytime temps can reach the 50's.

This year the bird numbers are down. I think most of the white geese are moving through but not staying. The weather has been mild here so I suspect there's open water up north, how far up north, I'm not sure, because I know that Alaska got hammered this winter. Check out my friend Dan Bailey's posts, he's an alaska based oudoor adventure photographer who can teach you a lot.  Moving back to Glacier Country, and the Rocky Mountain Front, I'm going to share a photograph and video of snow geese with you.

In preparation to make a video like this, you have to know a little about bird behavior, and I know just enough to get me in trouble, and that's what I found.  I knew the birds would fly into the wind, they always take off into the wind - but I never imagined that the entire flock would move over me.  You'll watch as over 100,000 and as many as 150,000 snow geese lift off and fly right over my head (starting at about minute 1:15).  Watch as the geese just keep coming and coming and coming. What's also unique about this video, is that these geese are leaving for good, this was their final lift off  as they moved farther north from Montana. I have to tell you that this video was shot last spring, the numbers did not get this large this year. . .   The video is below this still image of a flock of snow geese rising off the water, and heading out to feed. The snow capped peeks of the Rocky Mountain Front are visible in the background.

Spring Waterfowl Photography - Northern Pintail Ducks

As a commercial outdoor, wildlife, and nature photographer I’m constantly drawn to unique wildlife photography opportunities, particularly when there is real action. One can hardly ignore jet fighters flying in formation. Sometimes we stop the car just to watch the display. People even pay money to go to air shows just to watch them fly. What does that have to do with nature photography? Northern Pintail Ducks are the F-16 of the duck world. The annual migration of waterfowl is underway across Montana. It’s one of my favorite times of year. The days are getting longer, the ice is melting off our rivers and lakes, the weather is unsettled, clouds are always changing, and the light is useful nearly all day. Of all the waterfowl I watch, my favorite species to photograph are pintails.

On a recent three day trip to my favorite waterfowl location in Montana, I was reminded of just how much fun and challenging it is to photograph pintail ducks. For every "keeper" I must have a hundred shots that go in the trash. Pintails are easy to identify in the spring. Their colorful feathers and sharp, pointed tail are present only during the breeding season, much to the dismay of most hunters. The colorful males don't carry their tail during the fall when most hunters see them down the sights of their shotguns. Pins, as they are called, fly fast, really fast!  In fact they are one of the fasts ducks in north American, and when multiple birds fly together, in formation they are a thrill to watch!

This photograph shows a typical, “courtship flight," consisting of several males and one female (the female is hidden behind the males). These flights occur on and off throughout the day. The group of pintails, usually four to as many as a dozen consisting of mostly males and one to two females, will fly swiftly, rinsing and dodging above the water in a remarkable display of speed, accuracy and agility. In this photograph, a male sprig (another word for pintail) takes flight.

Typical day:

1. find birds before sunrise; 2. hike to a suitable location; 3. get in my portable hide/blind before sun up; 4. sit on butt and at times knees till it gets dark all the while following the birds with my camera and lens mounted on a gimble head.

Could you ask for anything more fun!  I didn't think so! Next time, more waterfowl, one of north America's most prolific wildlife displays, the migration of the snow geese . . .  Stay tuned!

Sincerely, Tony Bynum