Southern Photography-More Travels with a Camera in Florida, Georgia & South Carolina

Saturday October 27th - Savannah National Wildlife Refuge

I returned to Savannah and work. I required most of the week to complete project related activities and didn’t think much about trying to get outside to do any photography. However, I knew via an email from Diana Churchill that an Audubon sponsored walk was scheduled for Saturday, October 27th at one of my favorite places in the area – the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge (SNWR). Diana writes the “Birder’s Eye View” column for the Savannah Morning News and is in the process of preparing a compilation of her articles with plans of publishing. She is clearly an accomplished birder and it was good to see her again.

I was in the refuge early, right at dawn and had checked out the area by vehicle before heading to the entrance road to the wildlife loop. I wondered how they went about birding this area because as a group on the road communication would not be a simple task. As I was investigating the surrounding area near my truck a bevy of vehicles started pulling in all at once. It wasn’t long before I realized this wasn’t the group I planned to meet but a Boy Scout troop with plans to conduct a six-mile hike in the refuge to support a merit badge effort. I enjoyed listening to the leaders as they provided instructions, trail maps and contingency plans for their time in the refuge. I also met a Ranger, the first I’d recalled seeing in my many times at this facility. I took a few handheld group shots of the scouts, told the Ranger I’d email them to him (which I did) and off they went.

Boy Scout Group prepared for the merit badge hike

Shortly afterwards people started to arrive that definitely had the look and gear related to our group for the morning. Diana arrived and conferred with the leader for the day and once they felt everyone was gathered, a group of perhaps a dozen, we commenced to walking the tree lines to see what we could find. As is usually the case, I’m certain the leaders kept a running list of sightings that got posted on-line somewhere but I didn’t write anything down and in hindsight, am not even certain which local Audubon group this was. In any event, I thank all of you for the effort.

Northern Mockingbird in the tree line. Canon EOS 5D camera on tripod, 1/200 second, ISO 400, 700mm at f/8 with flash extender.
Northern Mockingbird

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher There wasn’t much light this early in the morning as we walked around the trees. I took a few shots with the 40D and recognized the shutter speed would be far too slow to make this effort successful. The images posted for this morning were taken with the 5D tripod mounted using a flash extender.

A Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. These birds are common year round in Georgia & South Carolina but unlikely to be viewed where I live.
Canon EOS 5D camera on tripod, 1/200 second, ISO 400, 700mm at f/8 with flash extender.

We viewed several examples of this Gray Catbird on our walk.
Gray Catbird Gray Catbird

There was quite a bit of activity in the trees and we viewed several examples of this bird. Although I wasn’t certain at the time, it was identified as a female American Redstart.
I obtained multiple images of this specimen and others like it.

Canon EOS 5D camera on tripod, 1/50 second, ISO 400, 700mm at f/8 with flash extender.
American Redstart

Loggerhead Shrike At left is another example of a Loggerhead Shrike which I’d seen several times in recently. These birds are rare in Maine and I don’t ever recall seeing one, so I was pleased to have the opportunity to photograph these over several occasions. Seeing these birds reminded me of when I was young and living in Virginia where they were common.

Canon EOS 5D camera on tripod, 1/200 second, ISO 400, 700mm at f/8 with flash extender.

One area we visited in particular appeared to be a favorite haunt for the Common Yellowthroat. These are indeed common and I’d had opportunities to photograph them before. However, I sensed that if I were patient one of these flitting around a large pile of brush may break cover and allow a close up shot. I stayed behind while the group moved on seeking birds and obtained several photographs that I was pleased with…

Canon EOS 5D camera on tripod, 1/60 second, ISO 400, 700mm at f/8 with flash extender.
Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat Because these Yellowthroat images represent several of my favorites from the day, I’m going to display another imaged around the brush pile. It would be difficult for me to select just one to display in any event. Prints from the master file of either of these images are detailed and of excellent quality. They're also large files and could be printed at a significant size because I was so near the subject. I doubt anyone would care to have a 16 X 20 inch print of a yellowthroat however except me perhaps...

American Redstart American Redstart

After we expended several hours walking the tree line on both sides of the road near the refuge entrance it was determined that we’d car pool and drive the wildlife loop. Even with maximizing passengers in the vehicles it still required four or five to accommodate the group. Because I carry my tripod system in the back of my truck so I don’t have to shorten the legs or break it down, I took a mother and daughter pair with me on this part of the tour.

Not far along the road from the start of the loop we came to one of the first lagoon areas. Right outside the growth alongside the water we viewed what appeared to be an egret sized bird across the way. The group leader was in the first vehicle and he was already out of his car and telling everyone to be quiet, not to slam the doors as they exited, etc. As I walked up I knew instantly what we were viewing, an American Bittern. I couldn’t be more pleased as these birds are around often but rarely seen in my experience. They have the art of camouflage down so well that their extended neck could easily be overlooked as just another tree branch poking up as they stand completely motionless.

Canon EOS 5D camera on tripod, 1/160 second, ISO 400, 700mm at f/8 with flash extender.
American Bittern

Those of us with cameras started stealthily to approach hoping to improve our image scale but we knew without cover we would quickly get within the bittern’s ‘comfort zone’ and we’d lose the opportunity. I had the most reach at 700mm and took insurance shots as we edged closer. The bird was a fair distance from the road and started slowly moving away from us as we attempted to close the gap. The bittern simply walked away and vanished into the tall growth at the water’s edge after a time. All things considered, although not close enough for a definitive head shot I was pleased with the images. Photographing this bird was one of the highlights of the day and predicated upon how everyone else reacted, I didn’t appear to be the only to think this.

American Bittern American Bittern

I’m always on the lookout for subjects that catch my eye and there were still blooming plants along the way. I took time to get several shots of the local color as we did our tour as can be viewed below.

Flowers in the refuge Flowers in the refuge

At one point along the road we parked the vehicles and walked back where sparrows are known to congregate. We viewed many examples of these and other birds but they were far away in most cases. I took a series of images at this stop, near the end of the session and will post some here.

Swamp Sparrow Swamp Sparrow Swamp Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow Savannah Sparrow

Turkey Vulture It was getting beyond noon and our morning trip ended as everyone had things to do for the balance of the day. We all said or good-bys and left the refuge. On the way out I stopped to take this image of a Turkey Vulture as the bird soared over the refuge.

Because I have a concern for the overall length as I write and plan out this photojournal, I’m not going to add a significant amount of text to this account in a journal format. Besides nobody really cares about the date an image was taken on unless it’s of historical importance, unlikely with most of my general photography. I keep my metadata intact including my copyright information in any event and can easily obtain all the shooting details from an image.

As I look at the over five hundred reduced image files I enhanced from October and November I recognize I have many more than I’d choose to post. This count doesn’t even include going back to the Raw captures to glean more files from the archive. And yes, I always shoot in Raw format and wouldn’t wish to do it any differently – it allows much more latitude than jpeg capture. And no, the word ‘Raw’ doesn’t really stand for anything in particular so it doesn’t matter if it’s capitalized in whole or in part or relayed in lower case as long as the reader understands what is being conveyed with the usage. If you’re not certain about this email me.

Suffice it to say, the next eleven or twelve times I got out with my cameras were in the SNWR. This facility is close to where I was staying and I always enjoy either driving the Laurel Hill Wildlife Drive through the refuge or seeking out other areas off the highway – the refuge is large and spread out. You can take as much or as little time as you wish in this pursuit and I had opportunities to spend hours or simply drove the four-mile road through the refuge when time was limited.

Common Yellowthroat in motion. Canon EOS 5D camera on tripod, 1/200 second, ISO 400, 700mm at f/8 with flash extender.
Yellowthroat Nosedive

Green Heron

Young Red-tailed Hawk In closing the October section of this photojournal I’m posting this shot of a Red-tailed Hawk that has nothing to do with the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge. I took several photographs of this bird at the project site in Savannah one afternoon. I happened to be looking out the back window of the building we’re working on and viewed this bird fly by briefly. I knew it had to be a raptor so went outside and to see it had landed on a building rooftop behind us. I quickly pulled the tripod out of my truck and took some images while the opportunity presented.

Canon EOS 5D camera on tripod, 1/1600 second, ISO 400, 700mm at f/7.


November Photographs from Savannah National Wildlife Refuge

Wood Ducks in Flight

It was about five days later when I got back into the refuge on an overcast day that had experience some rain. This was a quick trip and other than seeking raptors viewed in the distance, not particularly productive. I didn’t enhance many of the shots from this session as the weather was poor & I didn't shoot much. On several occasions when I visited to drive the wildlife loop the entrance was gated off for burning in the refuge. I didn’t note which days, but when this occurred depending on how much time I had, I’d either seek out parts of the refuge elsewhere or just head out of the area. I spoke with a volunteer about the burning and learned it’s an annual event where they burn sections in counterpart under the auspices of the local fire crews who use this activity as a training tool.

I did view a sizeable group of White Ibis foraging in the mud flats. This was the largest group I’d seen in my times through the refuge. Previously I’d spotted one or two individuals and that was about it.

Canon EOS 40D handheld 1/200 second, ISO 800, 400mm at f5.6.
Pair of White Ibis in the mud

There was a fine example of a Tricolored Heron fairly close to the where the road passed by one of the lagoons. Although a wader I’d imaged many times, this was a prime example and worth pulling the tripod out to photograph. I was close to this heron and obtained a terrific image scale on some of these photographs. The shots noted below are of this bird.
Tricolored Heron

Tricolored Heron Tricolored Heron

Green Heron November 2nd found me back traveling the wildlife loop. Today was far different being quite blustery with the wind blowing hard and steady. This isn’t usually conducive for photography, but if one can find birds on the hunt it does present imaging opportunities as they hover into the wind while seeking prey. I took advantage of this wind and shooting mostly handheld, obtained some good shots.

I’d seen this Green Heron around frequently in the refuge and today was no exception. I knew where the bird hunted and figured it would be in the area.

Canon 5D handheld 1/500 second, ISO 400, 400mm at f7.

American Alligator

Barn Swallow in flight Barn Swallow in flight

Belted Kingfisher

Red-winged Blackbird in the wind Grackle in flight

Belted Kingfisher

This Belted Kingfisher image represents my favorite of the group taken this day. There had been a good deal of kingfisher activity in the area and I'm always pleased to see them around. These birds are not easy to photograph I’ve found unless you can locate a nest or something. They are quick, not that large and a bit shy.

Canon 40d handheld; 1/1250 second, ISO 400, 400mm at f/5.6.
Belted Kingfisher in flight

Immature Little Blue Heron Snowy Egret

In Savannah National Wildlife Refuge

My schedule permitted me to get back into the refuge the next morning, November 3rd. This turned out to be an exceptional experience and one I recall vividly. At one point along the wildlife loop a significant group of Tree Swallows were in the air feeding. As I parked the truck and walked back towards the birds I found myself in the middle of the flock as they swarmed to and fro around me. This was an amazing scene and most impressive sight... A local fellow fishing nearby indicated he’s seen this before often at dusk before the birds roosted for the evening. I imaged this group with both cameras but never did change to a wider lens as planned. The photographs I obtained of the birds swarming with the longer focal length lenses were good but hardly conveyed the visual impact and count of this flock. I'll select some of the swallow photographs and post them below. Hopefully this will provide some idea of this remarkable & unexpected encounter.

Tree Swallows

Tree Swallows Tree Swallow

Tree Swallows Tree Swallow

Tree Swallows

Tree Swallows Tree Swallows

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker After imaging the swallows I decided to travel on to see what else I might find. I viewed this Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and took a few shots before moving on. The day was improving and the sun was commencing to shine through the haze.

Canon EOS 5D camera on tripod, 1/200 second, ISO 400, 700mm at f/8 with flash extender.

Off in the distance I spotted a Kingfisher searching the water for a meal. Although far from my tripod I took a series of shots as can be seen in the composite below.

Belted Kingfisher on the hunt Belted Kingfisher on the hunt Belted Kingfisher on the hunt

Driving the loop road often brings to view the ‘usual suspects’ and today was no exception. Many more American Coots and Pied-billed Grebes had moved into the refuge since the last time I visited. Common Moorhens always appeared to be fairly plentiful and I spotted them regularly. Although common around the refuge the Double-crested Cormorant population was increasing around the waters of the wildlife drive perhaps in anticipation of the onset of winter.

Lilly-pads at SNWR

Rather than extend this account of visits by date, the next section will be a representation of images taken at the refuge over the course of multiple sessions in November.
I hope you'll enjoy this tour...

Pied-billed Grebe American Coot

Double-crested Cormorant with Catfish

American Kestrel American Kestrel American Kestrel

Common Moorhen Common Moorhen squawking


Red-tailed Hawk Merlin

Savannah Sparrow  Gulf Fritillary

Wood Ducks

Purple Gallinule  Purple Gallinule

Turtles Sunning

Ruby-crowned Kinglet Ruby-crowned Kinglet

White-tailed Deer

Ring-necked Duck Ring-necked Duck

Doube-crested Cormorant

Eastern Meadowlark Eastern Meadowlark

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Palm Warbler

Pied-billed Grebe Pied-billed Grebe

Loggerhead Shrike Loggerhead Shrike

Double-crested Cormorants
Double-crested Cormorants - Morning Silhouette Boat-tailed Grackles - Morning Silhouette

Boat-tailed Grackle Boat-tailed Grackle

Song Sparrow
Ruby-crownwed Kinglet Hermit Thrush

Turtle White Ibis Immature Red-tailed Hawk

Bald Eagle One morning as I was driving the loop road I caught a glimpse of this Bald Eagle doing a flyover. This was the first eagle I’d spotted in the refuge and he was flying quickly away from where I’d stopped the truck. There was no time to get out or for much of anything else - I aimed the 40D and 400mm lens the best I could and managed to shoot a series of exposures as the bird traveled toward the horizon. I was hoping the eagle would turn and provide another opportunity but this was not to be.

Canon 40D handheld, 1/800 second, ISO 400, 400mm at f/5.6.

Fall is raptor season and I had many opportunities to photograph birds on the wing. This wasn’t just raptors of course, but I always seek them out when I can. Most of these sightings were quite distant but every now and then you’d see a close fly-by. In the next group of images I’ll add to flight shots posted elsewhere in this account. All the birds in flight photographs were taken with the canon 40D unless noted otherwise.

I liked this image at right of a Red-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk

Bald Eagle Bald Eagle Bald Eagle

Blue-winged Teals

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk Northern Harrier Northern Harrier

Wood Ducks

Belted Kingfisher Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier

Red-tailed Hawk American Kestrel

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Red-tailed Hawk in Flight

Snowy Egret White Ibis

Red-tailed Hawk

Double-crested Cormorants Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Great Blue Heron


Link to Page Three

December 2007

A note about the photography...All images in this account are by the author. Any images viewed that are digitally framed and labeled have been added to my collection of works for sale. These are displayed when at shows and events either packaged on foam core, professionally framed or ArtiPlaq™ mounted as a final for purchase. The web versions are nice, but a full resolution print significantly enhances the beauty of these images; all are ©2007 Photography by Kirk M. Rogers - any reproduction, publication or transmission of this content without the written consent of the author is prohibited. Please contact me should you have an interest in obtaining any of the images.

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