Monday, June 02, 2008

Florida Pelicans

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The paradoxical pelican - clutzy and graceful at the same time - can provide hours of entertainment along Florida's coast. Pelicans make a great study for photographers, especially for flight shot practice. And for portraits, action shots, and seascapes, no other bird offers such versatility, cooperation, and accessibility.

On my recent workshop with Artie Morris in southwest Florida, I again encountered both Brown and White Pelicans. Many of the birds in this highly human-populated area are comfortable around people, and plenty have learned that fishermen (and tourists and photographers) can supply an easy meal. We found such a flock at the fishing docks in Placida. Artie was happy to reinforce the begging birds, sending them into a frenzy with a tossed bait fish. Pelicans were coming and going, making take-offs and landings easy to capture. For awhile I practiced some long-exposure-blurs, trying to keep the center point on the face of the bird (for a sharp eye). This proved to be quite difficult but I did get a few interesting effects. Here's one I liked.

At Estero lagoon, we came across some tourists with a bucket of fish, trying to attract the egrets and herons fishing there, but the pelicans kept rushing their offerings. The happy pelican at the top of this blog is about to make a mid-air catch.

Not all pelicans are so human-friendly. (Luckily, I suppose.) I photographed these three white pelicans swimming near shore, but this is the first time I have been able to get close to these elegant birds. Once at Lake Okeechobee, I paddled into the lake from Fisheating Creek, climbed out on a bar (camera-in-hand) and before I knew they were there, a flock of white pelicans took off from a small inlet on the other side of the sawgrass. Most often, I see whites from a distance, often in large flocks.

Whether human-acclimated or in wilder places, it's always fun to sit and watch these birds as they glide on the updrafts in formation, dive for fish, paddle deftly like little boats, maneuver a fish around in their pouches for a face-first swallow, roost on shrimp boats or pilings, or fight for the spoils at the fishing docks.