Midair Collision over Midway!

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All three of the images in this post were created with the handheld Canon 400mm f/4 IS DO lens and the EOS-1D Mark IV. ISO 400. Evaluative metering +1 1/3 stops off the sand set manually: 1/1250 sec. at f/7.1 As always, you can click on each image to see a larger, sharper version.

My last morning on Midway dawned still and clear. Very still.  Eerily still.  With many types of bird photography wind can be a negative, and the direction is of vital importance.  We generally wish for the wind to be from roughly the same direction as the light,  east or southeast winds in the morning and west or southwest in the afternoons are generally ideal.  If you are facing your subject with the sun at your back the one thing that you do not want is the wind blowing in your face at all.  The birds will be landing into the wind, taking off into the wind, and facing into the wind while facing away from the light.  In generaly, not good.

On Midway wind is your ally no matter the direction, and the stronger the better.  Why?  Because the more wind there  is,  the more albatrosses will be in the air.  And since they love to bank it is possible to create good images even when the wind is against the sun. And in March the windier and warmer it is the more tropicbirds will be in the air courting.  

With strong wings, both the Black-footed and Laysan Albatrosses are quite maneuverable in flight.  By moving a few feathers, they are able to change direction very quickly.  As we learned on that last morning, they are pretty much dead in the water on still, windless days.  They expend a ton of energy just to get in the air and once they are airborne they are sort of like a runaway train; they pretty much have only one directon: straight ahead.  There were perhaps 8 of us near the usual Laysan runway but photography was not very good because the birds were taking off in many different directions.   Several of us were following a bird flying towards us when WHAM!  A bird headed west has collided head on with another that was flying east.  It sounded as if a car had hit an abutment.  The bird that had been heading west missed a wingbeat or two but was able to continue on its way.  The bird that had been headed east fell to the ground like a rock. 

When it hit the ground, it righted itself and after taking a quick look at it (see the opening image here), pretty much everyone shouted “Broken wing!”  With the bird’s left wing drooping and dragging into the sand, it seemed fairly obvious that the diagnosis was accurate.   But within a minute, the bird seems to be trying to fold its wing.  (See the image immediately below.)

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Same techs as the opening image. As it turned out, our initial diagnosis had been wrong :).

Within a few minutes, the bird seemed fine and begain testing its wings by flapping them vigorously.   Minutes after that, it began displaying.  Then after posing for vertical portraits (below), it walked off under its own power into the native naupaka bushes presumably for a short rest before heading out to sea to feed on small squid.

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Again, same lens and camera, same techs. Here I got down on my belly to photograph the recovering crash victim.

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