Just past the glitz of Niagara Falls (on the Canadian side) are the Dufferin Islands.

850_1316 gull chasing anotherThese islands were created early in the 20th century during the construction of a generating station by Ontario Power Generating (OPG).

The area has been a government-administered nature area since 1999, when power was no longer produced there.

The islands are rather small and easily traversable.  Paid parking is nearby, and there are benches near the water for those of us who want to check our gear for the proper settings before we begin.

850_1404 gull in flightI met my friend and mentor, Andy, there yesterday for a lesson on birds-in-flight.  Photographing birds – period – is hard enough, since they never really stay put for every long.  You never know when they will take off, leaving just a blurry spot in your photo as evidence of their existence.

Birds-in-flight, though, is particularly challenging. . .for me, anyway.  Part of the challenge is that I’m easily distracted by bird behavior, even when they are fairly static and just hanging around.

They’re so funny!

850_1613 juvie gullSo, while most of the lesson was learning how to pay attention, I did get quite a few useful pointers from Andy, who I swear is the original Bird Whisperer.

Armed with a stockpile of suitable bird food, Andy threw it towards the water, which immediately attracted flocks of Canada geese and ring-billed gulls.

The geese were lazy, not hungry, or both, because only a few of them chased after the food.

In fact, they mostly preferred to gather around our feet, waiting for us to scatter it on the ground.

850_1375 food fightEven so, they pretty much ignored it.

The gulls, however, were different.

They battled each other, winging and splashing, until the triumphant victor rose above the fray and flew off with the tasty morsels.

And woe to the poor goose who dared to venture out and capture a snack!

It would get a scolding from an infuriated gull for sure!

So, it was a great opportunity for catching some birds-in-flight!

I850_1463 food fightt was sunny at mid-day, so we shot  wide open (for me, that was f/5.6) at 1/1600 or 1/2000 with a low ISO.

Andy advised a 4-stop difference if filling the frame with gulls (all that white would drive the meter crazy!)

But that would be a rarity for me.

At this point, I’m happy just to get a bird in the frame that is recognizable as a bird!

Unfortunately, I did get a good amount of blurry blobs but eventually managed some decent shots, especially after Andy changed my focus setting to group. . .

850_1292 gull in flight. . .and coached me to try to keep the focus pont(s) centered on the bird.

That worked a lot better!

These birds may be “just gulls,” but they are living, breathing creatures doing what they are programmed to do.

And they do it beautifully!

Maybe not as colorful or rare as other birds, but good subjects to practice on. . .and amazing creatures in their own right.

850_1425 butt shot gull and duckButt shots are not acceptable in the good-photographer community.

However, I couldn’t resist this one with his tail so strategically elevated in the perfect position for a quick takeoff after landing and grabbing.

I think the duck was utterly surprised!

I worked reallyreallyREALLY hard on focus, which seemed to elude me despite my best efforts.

Another Andy tip — when focusing on BIF, “pump” the focus button.  This will help keep a fast-moving bird acceptably sharp.

850_1603 gullBack-button focus works well here, and I was pleased that I was able to set BBF without Andy’s help.  🙂

This tip worked well, so well that I was able to crop some of my photos for close-ups.

Just before we had to leave, in flew an adult black-crowned night heron!  They call them “night herons”for a reason, so it was great to see one in the middle of the day.

Andy’s photo is much better than mine (he caught the red eye by moving to where the sun would catch the heron’s eye and light up the retinaH).

850_1634 black crowned night heronBut I am happy with mine.  The focus is good, and the heron is preening.

“Preening” sounds much better than “scratching at feather mites,” don’t you agree?

Anyway.  My next lesson will be on reading the light.

But I need some practice first!

In case you are new to this blog and don’t know who Andy is, he is a phenomenal photographer who both teaches and offers higher-end workshops.  His main interest is nature, specifically birds.

He really IS the Bird Whisperer, not to mention the Gear Guru.

Take a look at his photos, and I think you will agree.

850_1482 close upYou can see his work here:


or here on Facebook at Wild Wings Photography:


Last I heard there were spots still open on the two remaining workshops for this year, one in Africa


and the other in Costa Rica:


850_1599 gull in flight

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