Learning animal behavior and biology

As I delve more into wildlife photography, I have learned that one of the important aspects of this type of photography is studying and learning animal behavior.  This can be done through books, online articles, or even better, sitting and observing the wildlife in the field over time.  The past several days of photographing has given me more insight into bird behavior, and I expect to learn even more from Artie and from observation over the next year.

One of the difficult skills of bird photography that I am working on is capturing birds in flight with their wings spread and feathers visible.  When birds take off from a perch, they often defecate prior to flight.  This gives me and other photographers a forewarning and allows us to get the camera ready for action. In the shot below, I saw exactly that and could prepare.

Osprey juvenile ready for flight 9501

Image: Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 300mm, f/6.3, 1/1000 sec, ISO 1600, hand-held

Fortunately, morning time is when ospreys also fish for their morning meal.  I’ve heard and seen the splash as they dive into the lake for a fish, but I have yet to capture it with the camera.  Yesterday we were lucky enough to see one flying overhead, carrying a large fish to its nest.

Osprey juvenile flight with fish 9456

Image: Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 200mm, f/6.3, 1/1000 sec, ISO 1250, hand-held

Artie stressed the importance of photographing the osprey with the fish as soon as possible after capture since these birds bite off the fish’s head quickly after landing.  As you can see below, I was a bit late in the meal for this shot.  🙂

Osprey juvenile flight with fish 9548

Image: Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 390mm, f/6.3, 1/1250 sec, ISO 1600, hand-held

As promised, here are a few images of the sandhill crane tending to her nest.  The few times I observed the crane off its nest were early in the morning just as the sun rose and when its mate arrived.

Sandhill crane and eggs 9055

Image: Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 200mm, f/6.3, 1/800 sec, ISO 500, on tripod

Since the crane did not switch places with its mate on this occasion, it nestled back down on the eggs, giving us 2-3 minutes of time to photograph these beauties.  Prior to sitting down, however, it tended to the eggs by turning them over.

Sandhill crane and eggs 9072

Image: Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 200mm, f/6.3, 1/800 sec, ISO 500, on tripod

As the crane settles into its nest, it often rests its head on its body while keeping a watchful eye on its surroundings.  The lines and curves of the bird’s body make for great up-close shots.

Sandhill crane 8023

 Image: Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 500mm, f/13, 1/500 sec, ISO 2000, hand-held

Week one of my Year with Artie is almost over.  It has been filled with a great introduction to bird photography at Lake Weohyakapka in Indian Lake Estates.  Tomorrow, we will set off on a great European adventure for the next 6 weeks. I will try to post as often as I can when I have internet access to share what we are seeing.  It might be some rough iPhone shots, but I will be going to parts of Europe that most of us will never see…above the Arctic circle!

Take care,


To learn more advanced tips on bird photography, please visit Artie’s blog:  Birds As Art Blog

Author: Dr. Amy Novotny

Amy Novotny is a physical therapist, marathon/ultra runner and nature photographer. She treats patients for a variety of conditions but specializes in chronic pain and calming an overactive nervous system using special diaphragmatic breathing. She has used this technique to help her qualify and run in four Boston marathons! She enjoys the outdoors and can often be found running and hiking on trails in throughout Arizona. She attempts to capture the beauty of nature with her photography both locally in Arizona and also throughout the United States. She is becoming more interested in wildlife photography and attempting to capture the emotion of animal interactions. In her spare time, Amy volunteers as a photo guide for the Arizona Highways PhotoScapes nonprofit and shares her joy of nature with others. Please feel free to contact her regarding her photography, physical therapy or running.

23 thoughts on “Learning animal behavior and biology”

  1. Hi Amy
    Love your images..is it not amazing that the parent knows exactly when to turn the eggs so the fetus does not get stuck to the wall of the egg/placenta and can continue to get the right amount of oxygen that has to pass through the wall of the egg shell,,this has aways amazed me..when I would see an eagle leave the eggs out in the open with snow on the nest I would anxiously want them to get back on the nest..they knew better..they were allowing the temperature to drop to exactly the right level to maintain perfect oxygen levels..I am always so humbled by the beauty of our natural world..we as humans are so separated from the essence of the circle of life….see you soon…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Anita! Thank you so much for all this information! I love it! The more time I spend in nature, the more I’m in awe and grateful to be alive to witness these miracles. Can’t wait to see you tomorrow!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Your photos are amazing Amy! LOVE the close-ups of the Sandhills! Boy you are learning a lot already… The Ospreys are gorgeous… So happy for you to have this opportunity!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The shots are great! Being able to sit, wait and watch for a shot is a talent not many people have. I can’t wait to see your next posts.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You are off to a terrific start. What wonderful images. Love the crane looking at the eggs. A winner!!!


  5. Amy, I am so happy that I can be on this journey with you and getting to live life thru you. Safe travels and can’t wait for your next message. I am so happy for you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aww. Thanks Marie! I’m so glad you are following along. It is one of my great joys to share journeys like this to others who might not be able to go to these places. 🙂


  6. Good Day…hope your day was eventful 😊….thank you for your comment on bird and nature observation regarding patters…I know it is not much but I have been doing this with Hummers around the house, it is interesting very much indeed…I am excited starting this week I am taking a class at the college up here in Payson on the Birds of the Mogollon Rim…I will let you know how that is going, so when you are finally home you have another area to come to 😊….anyway, Godspeed on your work for this week, cannot wait for your photos…take care, Deb

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Deb! Oh, yes, I’ve photographed hummers before and they are a great study of bird behavior! I’m sure you know about their circular feeding pattern, right? I can’t wait to hear what you get out of that class about the birds on the rim! I would love to come up there when I get back!


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