Flying down the river

I had a few minutes to kill while waiting to see the “Hurricane on the Bayou” (the before and after of Hurricane Katrina in NOLA) at the Imax theater on the Riverfront in New Orleans, so I walked over to the levee to watch the local birds perform their aerial stunts.  One lone Brown Pelican soared up and down the riverfront without flapping, using just the lift provided by wind off the water.  The clean, aerodynamic lines of the wings as the bird maneuvers through its turns are truly impressive.

brown pelican

brown pelican-1

brown pelican-2

I’ve seen these birds practice this dynamic soaring over ocean waves where they can exploit the difference in velocities of the moving air masses, but never over the quieter moving water of a river like this.  The bird employed a sort of figure 8 pattern, zooming close to the water surface, and then rising up swiftly to make a turn and back out of the loop to zoom down close to the surface again.  Quite fascinating to watch.

The neck is tucked in tightly to reduce drag.  I like the shadow the bird casts on the water as it flies by.

The neck is tucked in tightly to reduce drag. I like the shadow the bird casts on the water as it flies by.

Laughing Gulls were quite numerous, but flew by me much more rapidly, making it difficult to focus accurately.  They too use their long wings to soar, but flap to change direction continuously, as they key in on potential food sources.  Laughing Gulls are one of the most common gulls along the coastal areas of North America.

Laughing Gulls

gull flight

One of these gulls had distinctive white spots on tips of its black primary flight feathers.  It might have been a migratory Franklin’s Gull, which are also found along the Gulf Coast in the winter.

Crescent-shaped white spots on the trailing edge of the wing tips are more typical of Franklin's Gull than Laughing Gulls.

Crescent-shaped white spots on the trailing edge of the wing tips are more typical of Franklin’s Gull than Laughing Gulls.

A Double-crested Cormorant flew by, too quickly for me to get a good photo of it in flight.  They flap their wings rapidly and continuously to get from one place to another, and my shutter speed was entirely wrong for that action.   But the bird did pose nicely for me while it was diving for food.

Orange throat pouch and blue eyes are characteristic of this species.  The double-crest is only seen in breeding birds.

Orange throat pouch and blue eyes are characteristic of this species. The double-crest is only seen in breeding birds.

6 thoughts on “Flying down the river

  1. Wonderful shots, Sue, especially of the pelican. I see that you and I are experiencing some of the same trials and travails in trying to capture birds in flight. It’s a daunting challenge, but the results are great when things work out right (like the pelican with the shadow).

  2. Which is why I limit my flight photos to very sunny days and birds that glide rather than flap. You’ve had more success with the latter (flapping flight) than I — can’t seem to get the shutter speed fast enough.

  3. Pingback: Daily Tao / 58 – Opportunity « my mostly unfabulous life

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