Friday, February 22, 2019

Saving a Yellow-legged Gull Photo Op!

This is a story about an encounter I had with a Yellow-legged Gull many years ago ( 8 years ago to be exact). For the unfamiliar, Yellow-legged Gull is a much sought after Gull species in North America. There are not that many records and most of the good ones are from here in St.John's, where it has been mostly annual (sometimes multiple individuals) for almost 20 years.

Our particular brand of Yellow-legged Gull are thought to originate in Azores, which is approximately 2500 km's to our east. This is not meant to be an ID piece, so I won't get into details of  why our bird's are thought to be Azorean, but if you are curious, feel free to message me or comment here and I'm happy to explain.

If you are a dedicated Gull watcher and know what to look for, most winters, you can get some good looks at Yellow-legged Gull in St.John's. However, good looks don't always equate to good photos. While I have seen Yellow-legged Gull very well many times and have logged many hours of combined observation time over the years, rarely do you see these birds up close an personal. It's even more unusual to get good flight shots, and even rarer still to get an opportunity for that classic (head forward, wings raise vertically) stretching pose. Personally, this is one of my favorite poses to capture in photos and getting the chance to get a Yellow-legged Gull in this pose, at close range, is somewhat akin to winning the rare bird photography lottery.

One afternoon I was doing my regular rounds, Quidi Vidi Lake, Pier 17 sewer outflow and lastly Harvey Wharf (sadly, the latter two locations are gone!). When I got to Harvey Wharf, I was looking through the Gulls and I could hardly believe my eyes, there was a (the) Yellow-legged Gull. While it has been a known bird, it wasn't seen in this spot very often. It was not real close, but closer than normal. Then just as I get my camera in position a flush, and all the Gulls lift off. I figured this was it for my Yellow-legged Gull photo ops. Amazingly, the bird circled back and landing right in front of me! At the time I was using a Canon 300mm f4 and a 1.4 extender, there was no zoom option, just a static magnification. I could hardly believe my luck. I started blasting off shots of the standing bird, not even considering that it might do anything interesting. Then I noticed it was starting to stretch. The bird was so close I could hardly fit it in the frame as it was (not usually an issue!), I knew I would not be able to fit the bird and it's stretched wings in the frame. However, there was a solution. I shot off frames of the bird, then adjusted slightly to get the wings, the photos below were the result.

YLGU stretching, late Dec, 2011, St.John's, NL

The rest of the YLGU, stretching, late Dec 2011, St.John's, NL

Well, what was I going to do with this.I had half a bird, posts, boards etc all over the place. Seemingly, not the makings of a good photo. However, it could be saved! While I am not usually one to spend a lot of time on post processing, I felt it was justified in this case. So I went about stitching the photos together and cloning out the distracting elements from the foreground and background. The result is the photo below.

YLGU stretching, late Dec, 2011, St.John's NL

After some effort in photo shop I was quite pleased with the result. To this day I have never has an opportunity like this again.

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