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Lift Off

Posted by
Barbara Lee (Oakland, United States) on 8 December 2010 in Animal & Insect and Portfolio.

It that time of year again in the Sacramento Wildflife Refuge when the snow geese congregate in the thousands on the wetlands during their southern migration. I have been wanting to take a trip up this year to see this amazing phenomenon, but may not have time, so I decided to share a photo I made during last year's visit. It is very challenging to make a good picture - the sheer magnitude of the scene, with so many, many birds, makes it hard to find a good point of focus. I took hundreds of pictures (thank you, digital!) in an effort to get at least one which gives the flavor of this wondrous place. I like this one. I think that the trees at the left help to anchor the scene, and I like the three layers of birds, those resting on the water, those which have just lifted off, and those higher in the sky.

The best time of day to be there is just at daybreak. All night long, the birds rest on the water, but as soon as the sun's first rays peek over the horizon, they all lift off in a mad cacophony of honking. It one of the most wonderful sights (and sounds!) I have ever witnessed in my entire lifetime.

NIKON D90 1/100 second F/11.0 ISO 400 600 mm (35mm equiv.)

To view more of my images, visit my portfolio at Barbara Lee Photography. Also, visit my Facebook fan page at!/pages/Barbara-Lee-Photography/244133283497[/url

Spotlight photo at

CLODO from PESSAC, France

Hi barbara

Absolutely great! I have never seen so many birds at the same time, on the lake and in the air. It looks as a painting with 3 "horizontal" areas.

8 Dec 2010 4:16pm

Iknow from Chengdu, China

wow! REALLY awesome capture,greatly seen and brilliant job!!

8 Dec 2010 5:37pm

Andrea from Regina, Canada

Wow, incredible! I would love to witness that, but your photo is the next best thing.

8 Dec 2010 5:52pm

Stefan from Thiersee, Austria

Wonderful capture!

8 Dec 2010 9:20pm

Tede from Aubenas 07, France

Wonderful capture, great shot. 5 * Nice day.

9 Dec 2010 9:55am

Anita from West Nottingham, United States

Great image! I see four layers of birds--seeing two in the water--the dark ones and the light ones. Beautifiul colors and composition. thanks for the description.

9 Dec 2010 11:02am

marci from Morocco

oh, beautiful!! love this shot - for all of the reasons you pointed out, plus I really love the it looks like a painting, with each bird being somewhat indistinct, but the effect of so many birds all together. **applause**

9 Dec 2010 12:31pm

Denny Jump Photo from Easton, PA, United States

How did I miss this one yesterday!?! This is wonderful, Barbara, and it really makes me homesick for my old stomping grounds of Roseville and Sacramento. My sister in Woodland will really love this one....we have geese here (both Canda and Snow) but not in the MASSIVE thousands upon thousands that the delta and upper Sacramento River valley have for sure....I can see why it took you forever to get a shot that you liked...but this is just glorious. And my God, the colors are just fantastic.!!! This would look great in the lobby of the Yolo COunty Offices.......let me do some work on that ;-)

9 Dec 2010 4:31pm

Julie Brown from Indianapolis, United States

This is a wonderful composition, and great color too. I like the birds against each part of the image. How did you get a focal length of 600mm?

10 Dec 2010 2:02am

@Julie Brown: Oh, Julie, good catch! I rented a 400mm lens for the weekend! With my D90, there is a 1.5 crop factor,which takes it out to 600mm. But the rental rate for our trip to Costa Rica is prohibitive. Shucks!

DarkElf from Perth, Australia

how many birds have you captured here?! must be thousands! excellent photo with superb clarity and sharpness! the various layers of birds either flying or floating are wonderful - so much action and interest all around!

10 Dec 2010 2:54am

Julie Brown from Indianapolis, United States

You could also use your 200mm lens for birdscapes like this. Did you get any individual birds with the rented lens, and how fast was it? I know how expensive it can be to rent for a week. The last time I rented a lens was back in November for a weekend. It cost me $100 for a 500mm f4L IS lens and a gimbal head. I wanted to try this lens out with my new 580 EX flash, Wimberly flash bracket, and better beamer. I plan on using this combination of equipment again because next spring I will be going up to Magee Marsh on Lake Erie near Toledo for the spring warbler migration. This set up is rather heavy and requires a tripod. I usually rent the 300mm f2.8L IS and put it on a monopod with a monopod head, which is much easier to lug around. If you want a lens that is great for hand-held shots of both butterflies and birds, you might look at a 300mm f4 prime lens with a 1.4X extender. Maybe your husband might want to get you one for Christmas? :)) How long are you going to Costa Rica for?

10 Dec 2010 10:52am

@Julie Brown: Julie, we will be gone for 18 days. It is going to be heaven. I am looking out the window at a gray foggy and cold morning, by this time next week we will be flying off to the tropics! I am not sure how much "dedicated" photo time I will get. We are going with Overseas Adventure Travel, (OAT), which comes super highly recommended. We have two friends who have done this exact trip. Yes, I would love that 300 prime! Maybe one of these days. I just bought myself the 24-70 2.8 Nikon, which is super sharp and super bright. I can use it to photograph those slow moving iguanas and some landscapes. I'll do the best I can with my 18-200 VR - I can handle it off a tripod pretty easily.

Sylvie49 capture image from Anjou - Maine et Loire, France

Impressionnant le nombre d'oiseaux !
very beautiful picture.

10 Dec 2010 3:44pm

Tracy from La Selva Beach, United States

Wow! what an amazing sight!

13 Dec 2010 2:11pm

Japanalia from Yokohama, Japan

Amazing effect in this shot with the clouds of birds in flight! A rare capture!

24 Dec 2010 12:29pm

1/100 second
ISO 400
600 mm (35mm equiv.)