Rich Ditch's Photography Blog

March 23, 2010

Why I Keep Going Out

Filed under: Birds, composition, digital benefits, favorite places, Gilbert Water Ranch, light — richditch @ 6:57 pm
Western Grebe head shot

Western Grebe head shot

Not every trip out to take bird photos is a success, but it pays to keep going out as you never know what you might find.

There’s usually a few Western Grebes somewhere around Phoenix each winter, but they usually are seen one at a time and far out in the middle of a large body of water. No matter how hard I try, and no matter how many times I circumnavigate these large ponds, I just can’t get within shooting range of these interesting birds.

But things went a bit better at the Gilbert Water Ranch on the afternoon of March 21, 2010. I met my photographer friend Brendon there at 4:00 pm with the intension of trying to get better photos of the Dunlin that still seems to be hanging around. The first bird that caught me eye, however, was this Western Grebe at the distant end of the first pond we came to. I immediately changed my plans and set off to reach the other end of the pond before one of the many anglers decided to fish where the grebe was close to shore.

Sure enough, just as I got to the place where the grebe was a guy with a fishing pole went down the bank and the grebe started swimming away. By acting quickly I got off a few shots at incredibly close range – so close the grebe was too large for my 600mm. The lead image isn’t the sort of shot I normally take, and it is a crop to 34% of the frame to make the best of the partial grebe I managed to get before it was chased off. I had never imagined I’d get something like this in Arizona!

Nikon D200, 300/2.8 AF-S plus TC20E (2x), ISO 400, 1/500th second at f/10.

Western Grebe swimming away

Western Grebe swimming away

As the grebe moved farther out from shore I kept shooting (gotta love digital and high capacity compact flash cards when you have a good opportunity). I was able to squeeze the complete grebe into the frame as it swam out. The light even cooperated by illuminating the face and marvelous red eye at a perfect angle.

Nikon D200, 300/2.8 AF-S plus TC20E (2x), ISO 400, 1/6400th second at f/10.

Western Grebe

Western Grebe

I took a lot of images of this bird: it is always wise to take advantage of an unexpected opportunity such as this as there is no way of knowing if you’ll ever have another cooperative bird in good light. I am liberal when I shoot and try to be critical when I review my raw files (I call this “catch and release” shooting). I try to get a variety of poses, settings, and light to add variety to my portfolio. In addition, by taking many similar images (shooting in bursts) it gives better odds of getting at least one in the set sharper than the others.

Nikon D200, 300/2.8 AF-S plus TC20E (2x), ISO 400, 1/400th second at f/10.



  1. Huge congrats Rich, I know you have wanted images of this species for a long time! Youer persistence did pay off.

    Comment by Mia — March 24, 2010 @ 4:28 am

  2. Rich,

    These are very nice western grebe’s, definitely shows that persistance pays off

    Comment by Bob Wright — March 24, 2010 @ 4:58 am

  3. Beautiful images, Rich! Congratulations!

    Comment by Robin McEntire — March 24, 2010 @ 8:56 am

  4. Holy COW; these are gorgeous.

    Comment by Kimberly Hosey (AZ Writer) — March 26, 2010 @ 12:28 am

  5. Rich, that head shot is a killer–very nicely done.

    Comment by James Jerome — March 27, 2010 @ 1:56 pm

  6. Thanks for posting this photo of the western grebe. On the day after Christmas 2011, we were at JaLama Beach and I saw one of these stuck-up with black tar. I gently collected it and took to the Ranger on Duty. He put it into a box and covered it with a towel. The bird was soon looking over the side at us. The head looks like a Muppet character! The Ranger called “a lady” who is associated with a bird rescue effort. The beak is VERY sharp!

    Comment by goatmountain — December 28, 2011 @ 1:50 pm

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