Trumpeter Swans, Field

Trumpeter Swans, Field - A small group of trumpeter swans on a misty day in a Skagit Valley field, Washington
A small group of trumpeter swans on a misty day in a Skagit Valley field, Washington

Trumpeter Swans, Field. Skagit Valley, Washington. December 3, 2012. © Copyright 2012 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A small group of trumpeter swans on a misty day in a Skagit Valley field, Washington

Finding myself in a wonderful place to photograph birds, but without the (rather long!) lens I would usually rely on, I had to think differently about how to photograph the migratory birds of Skagit Valley, Washington earlier this week. I was in Washington for something else entirely, but had brought along a minimal kit “just in case…” but wasn’t really thinking that bird photography might be on the agenda until plans changed and I found myself with nearly a full day free. So despite having nothing longer than 200mm, I decided to drive up there from Seattle and see what I could find.

Among the locals, I hear that the area is especially renowned for eagles – which I saw and (barely) photographed a year ago. But I’m also, and perhaps predominantly, fascinated by the snow geese and the trumpeter swans. The geese remind me of the very similar Ross’s geese that I photograph in California, but the trumpeter swans are birds that I don’t really get to see at home. While the geese collect in huge flocks of many thousands of birds, creating an audio uproar that must be heard to be believed, the swans don’t seem to be such social creatures nor nearly as noisy. When I’ve seen them, they collect in small groups, sometimes very small or perhaps including a few dozen individuals. They seem to assemble quietly – apart from the occasional “trumpeting” – and don’t do anything like the swirling, flocking behavior of the geese. Instead, even so often a couple of them will lift off – taking a long, shallow trajectory like an overloaded airliner lifting off – and then fly at low levels across fields.

Having only my “short” 200mm telephoto, it proved nearly impossible to photograph them in the usual bird photography style – trying to come as close as possible to filling the frame with a bird or two. Instead, I started by thinking about how I could incorporate the birds into the landscape. Here, near the end of an empty road, I turned onto an even emptier road and slowly drove up to where I was reasonably close to this group. I remained in the car, using it as my “blind” so as not to disturb the birds, and I sat quietly making a few photographs as they fed in the field. I decided to go with an interpretation of the subject that did not attempt for anything like objective realism, instead trying to evoke the subjective aspects of these birds, caught in a momentary beam of sunlight against a misty and rainy sky and hills.

G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist whose subjects include the Pacific coast, redwood forests, central California oak/grasslands, the Sierra Nevada, California deserts, urban landscapes, night photography, and more.
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Text, photographs, and other media are © Copyright G Dan Mitchell (or others when indicated) and are not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

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