Post-copulatory Bill-crossing Courtship Display « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Post-copulatory Bill-crossing Courtship Display


I slept long but not very well on Tuesday morning but did not realize that the sunrise was at 6:11am. I got out of bed and hustled over to Gilbert. As I was setting up I missed a long, wings raised copulation by one minute. I was back at the room early blowing balloons. Amy had a cancellation so I enjoyed an extra treatment. I had my MRI done in the late afternoon. As soon as I finish this blog post I am hitting the sack.

The Nikon Autofocus Focus Fine-tune e-Guide was finished several days ago. I still need to put the finishing touches on it and create the PDF but it is functionally finished. It is currently out for review and should be in the BAA Online Store within a week. It will sell for $30. More soon. See below for the details. If you would like to receive the MS Word file give Jim a buzz at 863-692-0906 and have him run your credit card for $30. He will contact me and I will shoot you the link. I would love to hear about anything that is unclear or does not make sense. You will receive the final PDF when it is completed.

The Streak

Today makes two hundred forty-nine days in a row with a new educational blog post! This one took about 90 minutes in all to prepare including the time spent on the image optimization. With all of my upcoming free time (or not…), the plan right now is to try to break the current record streak of 480 … Good health and good internet connections and my continuing insanity willing.


BIRDS AS ART is registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Money Saving Reminder

If you need a hot photo item that is out of stock at B&H, would enjoy free overnight shipping, and would like a $50 discount on your first purchase, click here to order and enter the coupon code BIRDSASART at checkout. If you are looking to strike a deal on Canon or Nikon gear (including the big telephotos) or on a multiple item order, contact Steve Elkins via e-mail or on his cell at (479) 381-2592 (Eastern time) and be sure to mention your BIRDSASART coupon code and use it for your online order. Patrick Sparkman saved $350 on a recent purchase!


Several folks on the Gatorland IPT used the Booking.Com link below and got great rates and saved a handsome $25.00 in the process. If you too would like to give Booking.Com a shot, click here and to earn a $25 reward on your first booking. Thanks to the many who have already tried and used this great service.

Gear Questions and Advice

Too many folks attending BAA IPTs and dozens of folks whom I see in the field, and on BPN, are–out of ignorance–using the wrong gear especially when it comes to tripods and more especially, tripod heads… Please know that I am always glad to answer your gear questions via e-mail. Those questions might deal with systems, camera bodies, accessories, and/or lens choices and decisions.

This image was created at the Riparian Preserve at Gilbert Water Ranch on my first day in Phoenix, April 4, 2018. I used the Induro GIT 304L/Mongoose M3.6-mounted Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4E FL ED VR lens, the Nikon AF-S Teleconverter TC-14E III, and the Nikon D850. ISO 400. Matrix metering at about -2/3 stop as originally framed: 1/2000 sec. at f/7.1 was confirmed by lack of blinkies. AUTO1 WB at 7:16am on a clear morning.

One up and to the left of the center Group (grp) shutter Button AF with the right hand AF point on the spot where the bill’s crossed.

AF Focus peaking Fine-tune: +4. Click on the image to see the rather spectacular larger version.

Black-necked Stilt pair/post-copulatory bill-crossing courtship display

The Behavior

  • 1- Two birds hang out together.
  • 2- The female leans forward with her tail up and her bill near the water.
  • 3- The male walks around her several times splashing water with his bill tip.
  • 4- The male mounts the female and copulates. Sometimes with wings raised. This may consume anywhere from a very few to maybe twenty seconds at most.
  • 5- The male hops off and the pair crosses bills for five to ten seconds.

Understanding bird behavior can help you anticipate the action and make some great images.

All of the world’s stilts and avocets exhibit the same behaviors described above.

I was onto this pair from step two above. I photographed 2, 3, 4 (briefly), and 5 (very well thank you). The copulation was very quick and I was wishing that I had not had the vertical AF problems that I mentioned in the last blog post. I created about 15 frames of the bill crossing ceremony. All were razor sharp on both eyes. I kept six frames. The raised foot here made this my #1 pick.

The Nikon Autofocus Focus Fine-tune e-Guide

There is lots of mis-information out there on Nikon Automatic AF Fine-tune. Working with Patrick Sparkman, we developed a way of using that feature most effectively. Patrick was on a roll and perfected a method for using the Focus Peaking feature available only on the D850 to quickly and accurately micro-adjust all lenses and TC-Es with the D-850. Both Nikon Automatic AF Fine-tune and D850 Focus Peaking AF Fine-tune require a LensAlign Mark II kit so that you can obtain accurate results. I learned recently that the Nikon D500 DSLR and the older D7500 both offer Automatic AF Fine-tune.

Folks who use one of my links to purchase a Nikon D850, a Nikon D5 DSLR Camera (Body Only, Dual XQD Slots), a Nikon D500 DSLR , or any Nikon gear totaling more than $2,000 will receive the new guide free.

IPT Stuff

All IPTs include an introductory briefing before the IPT begins so you know what to expect, frequent in-the-field instruction and guidance (priceless), image editing and small group Photoshop instruction during and after lunch. Breakfasts are on your own so that we can get in the field early. Lunches are on me. Dinners are on your own as well so that we can get to bed as the days in spring will be long.

Rides with the leader are available on a limited basis for $50/day.

Registering for an IPT

To register for an IPT call Jim or Jen in the office at 863-692-0906 from Monday morning through Friday lunch with your credit card in hand to leave your $500 non-refundable deposit. Balances may not be paid by credit card so you will be asked to send a check for your balance along with the signed paperwork that you will find here.

Spring at DeSoto is often magical

DeSoto IPT #1 Sunrise: 7:07 am. Sunset: 6:22pm.

3 1/2 DAYS: SUN 15 APR thru the morning session on WED 18 APR: $1599. Limit 5 photographers.

You must purchase a season Parking Pass in advance for early entry. Click here and scroll down for info. If you are not a local, the six month pass if fine. Best to order by mail. Join me to photograph a wide variety of birds of the shore including pelicans, gulls, terns, sandpipers, oystercatchers, heron, egrets, and night-herons. Many in full breeding plumage. Most are ridiculously tame. Osprey likely. Learn to get the right exposure, flight photography techniques, my secret DeSoto locations, how to see the best situations (nobody is better at that than me), and how to make great images in extremely cluttered situations. Enjoy some great sunrises and sunsets.

Which will offer better opportunities, Desoto #1 or DeSoto #2? I have no idea. Both have the potential to be great.

Tame birds in breeding plumage and heron and egret chicks are great fun.

Gatorland IPT #2. Sunrise: 6:48am. Sunset: 7:58pm.

3 1/2 DAYs: THURS 26 APR through and including the morning of SUN 29 APR. $1599. Limit 5 photographers.

(2 1/2 DAY option) FRI 27 APR through and including the morning of SUN 29 APR. $1199.

Must purchase Gatorland Photographers Pass. Click here for details. All early entry. Late stays Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Gatorland IPT #2 should have lots of chicks, and lots of birds in breeding plumage. We will get to photograph Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Tricolored Heron, and Wood Stork. The Cattle Egrets in full breeding plumage will be present in good numbers. Learn my Gatorland strategy, to get the right exposure, flight photography techniques, my secret Gatorland spots, how to see the best situations (nobody is better at that than me), and how to make great images in extremely cluttered situations.

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To show your appreciation for my continuing efforts here, we ask, as always, that you get in the habit of using my B&H affiliate links on the right side of the blog for all of your photo and electronics purchases. Please check the availability of all photographic accessories in the New BIRDS AS ART Online Store, especially the Mongoose M3.6 tripod head, Wimberley lens plates, Delkin flash cards and accessories, and LensCoat stuff.

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16 comments to Post-copulatory Bill-crossing Courtship Display

  • avatar Ted Willcox


  • avatar David Policansky

    What a great image. Sleep well.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks David and Ted above. Sleeping has been hard towards morning …

      with love, artie

  • avatar Tony Z

    Never having seen these before, i am not sure if the male is the larger one with the rusty color on the neck, or if that’s the female.

    • avatar Warren Robb

      According to iBird, the one with color on its neck is a male.

      • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

        Thanks Warren.; I did not know that. In side views the upperparts of the male are all black whereas the female has a dark-brownish back.

        with love, artie

  • avatar Larry Rudnick

    This is a great capture of amazing behavior. Looking at this, its hard not to anthropomorphize it. I’ll resist the temptation to put words in the birds mouth. 🙂

    I agree the crop seems a bit awkward but the background is very nice to my eye, with the water blending into it.

    Good luck with the treatments.

  • avatar Noel Heustis

    Artie I think the image is beautiful. I love the green, yellow, and brown reflections in the water as a bg..not distracting at all to me. The intimate behavior captured is great, and I love how the male places his wing around the back of the female. The image is tack sharp. Thanks for sharing the details of the behavior.

  • avatar Adam

    Lovely image though I find the “rules of thirds” crop a bit formulaic and the reeds or whatever is creating the bokeh a bit distracting. It’s just too much negative space for me when the power is in the pose and birds’ interaction. Did you play around with the cropping to see if other results were more impactful?

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks for commenting Adam. I disagree but only 100%. I love the image design. I find the background soft and gorgeous. And no, this crop worked perfectly for me right from the get-go. That said with the great sharpness of the image and the amazing D850 image quality I am sure there are other crops that will work.

      with love, artie

  • avatar Kerry Morris

    hi Artie,
    BEAUTIFUL Photo! So intimate.
    here is what i found on the internet –
    “Some higher-end professional models feature a dedicated AF point control that acts like a miniature joystick, enabling you to quickly change focus points, but you can still use the four-way rocker switch on these models as well.

    On some cameras, you can also lock the AF point selection control so that it doesn’t move inadvertently, as illustrated on the Nikon D750 in Figure 4.6. There have been times when I have changed the focus point by mistake with my cheek as it pressed against the back of the camera. This can be really disconcerting, because the focus point will seem to move by itself—and usually at the wrong time. You do need to remember to unlock the AF point if you want to select a different one, and this, too, has caused me issues in the past, when I have forgotten that the lock was on and tried to change AF points. My initial reaction is that I have broken the camera—until I realize the lock is still engaged.”

  • avatar frank sheets

    Love the image Artie. Hope the therapy goes well. We are down below you south of Tucson in Tubac working on the new house.

    Trust all is well,