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The Majestic Swans of Yellowstone

Yellowstone has never really been known for it’s bird photography. When one thinks of Yellowstone it’s always the big guys, the Bison, Elk and Bighorn Sheep. Then of course is the predators, grizzlies and wolves. Well the Trumpeter Swan has gotten lots of attention over the last few decades for having gone from an endangered species to being recovered and is now state listed. This bird is migratory and winter can be seen in good numbers at Yellowstone. At least in a normal year they can be. Well the first week we had 77 adults and about a dozen signets. The week after we had maybe a dozen adults and half a dozen signets. Where did they all go, who knows, but it was interesting to watch the differences in numbers.

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The first week of the workshop we had a great morning shoot wit the swans. It was rather clear which is good because shooting water fowl against gray water is the same as shooting against a gray sky, it doesn’t look good. Keep in mind this is a big white bird so any is gonna stand out on it’s feathers, good or bad. One of the other really cools things about photographing these birds is their reflections in the water can be just amazing.

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The swans have two really cool looks that i tend to go for. The first one is obviously the wing stretches they do after preening. All birds have three types of feathers, contour, down and flight. Each one of these feathers have specialized jobs. The flight feathers are designed to handle the stress of flying by being stronger with stiff barbules. Contour feathers act as an outer shell to the elements by keeping moisture and the cold out. The overlapping design of the feathers does just that. The last is the down. Everyone knows that down was used in blankets, pillows and jackets for warmth, well it has the same job for the birds. The down is the insulation under the contour feathers and is important to keep dry. When waterfowl are preening they are cleaning the water out of the contour feather so that id doesn’t get into the down feathers. When moisture gets into the down the birds get cold and can be difficult to get warm, especially in winter in Yellowstone.

As i said earlier the other shot that i like going for is the helmet shot. It’s that pose when the heads are tucked into the bodies and the only part showing is the eyes. Like they’re hiding in a bunker waiting, watching. This is when that dark side can be seen, the evil eye. Just fun shots that allows us to connect more with the critters. Hopefully they will always be around because they are really great birds that are always worth stopping for.

Images captured with Nikon D3, 600 f4, TC-14e, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

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