A Morning with the Stilts

During my spring and summer trips to the coastal island community of Chincoteague, Virginia, I often catch fleeting glimpses of one of our most colorful and entertaining shorebirds, the black-necked stilt. Unfortunately, fleeting glimpses is all you can get since these long-legged shorebirds frequent the salt marshes and salt pannes along the causeway leading to the village; not the safest place to park and enjoy nature. 

Last June I had an opportunity to finally get a chance to photograph them. I found a safe location away from the speeding cars, trucks, and vans that zip along the causeway.

On the morning I decided to photograph the silts, the weather was perfect with clear skies, mild  temperature and low humidity.  The early morning light was perfect as well. I positioned myself to get full frontal lighting on the birds; the low angled morning light would bathe the bird in a nice warm glow and enhance the bird’s black plumage and long pinkish-red legs.

For a couple hours I photographed these elegant birds as they fed along a small salt panne in the marsh. At times they would take off and chase any other avian intruder that dared invade their space. But once this was accomplished, they would fly back to the salt panne.

The success of this morning was made possible by reading and using the right type of light.  I also did not rush to photograph them, but instead made a slow, steady approach so the birds would not flush. While photographing, I never made any sudden movements.  During this whole time the stilts went about their business, paying me no mind.

My camera set up was Nikon D300s with a Nikkor 600mm f/4 lens with a 1.4 extender on a Wimberley BH-200 Head on a 1548 Gitzo tripod. I had several flash cards with me because in my type of photography, I prefer to work a subject as much as I can. I’m not one to snap a picture and move on; I want to savor the moment before me and watch nature play out before me. Nature first, photography second.

Stilt Fact:  The male stilt has a jet-black back and darker pink-red legs, while the female is tad bit browner on the back with duller colored legs. Unlike many shorebirds, stilts do not perform aerial courtship displays, but they will aggressively fly after potential predators.

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