Posted by on Aug 10, 2012 in Cameras, Equipment, Vermont, Wildlife | 12 comments

G’day Everyone,

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) typically build large nests atop elevated structures. Snags, utility poles, bridge piers, artificial nesting platforms, and channel buoys are favorite real estate for a nesting pair. Yet, in photography, it’s often the exception to the rule that provides the opportunity for the exceptional photograph.

Osprey are not hawks (they belong in their own unique family) and are not equipped to navigate branches and obstructions in flight, in particular upon approach or takeoff to and from a nest. They are piscivores (fish eaters) with especially long legs and talons with which to snag fish and they are the only raptor that plunges into the water for their catch. Taken together, these traits require that osprey nest in wide open areas near lakes, rivers, and along coasts. Adults bring uneaten fish back to the nest for the mate and chicks to feed on, in other words, they do not regurgitate like, say, great blue herons. Finally, when approaching a nest for landing, they fly upwind.

Details all, but when one plans to spend upwards of 60 hours over the course of two hot summer months sitting nearly motionless in a canoe photographing a family of nesting osprey and hoping for a closeup of a bird arriving at the nest with an impressive fish in its talons, it’s wise to sweat the details.

 Nesting Osprey with Chick (just after hatching in early June)
Canon EOS 5D Mark III
Canon EF 300mm f/2.8 L IS USM Lens with 2x teleconverter
1/800″ @ f6.3, ISO 200
aperture priority, evaluative metering, AI servo tracking
Gitzo GT3541LS tripod

In spring, my friend, naturalist Stu Randall, emailed me to let me know that he’d spotted an osprey nest in a shallow stretch of the Lamoille River that the birds had built on the root ball of a fallen snag. Stu met me on the bank of the river early one morning in April and pointed out the nest. From the bank, I peered through my binocs and saw an osprey perched on the rim of a magnificent nest whose branches and twigs were masterfully interwoven with the tangle of roots at one end of a partially submerged trunk out in the middle of the river. The water in that part of the river was deep enough for my canoe but much too shallow for motorized boats. I surmised that, seated in my canoe, my head would be about even with the rim of the nest and that, unlike from underneath a nest perched 10 – 30 feet overhead, I could get full body images of the chicks. I went to the truck to get my compass out of the glove box and determined where the sun would rise with respect to the nest. Looking up from my compass, I nodded at Stu and smiled; I had some extremely early though serenely beautiful and photographically promising mornings ahead me.

Early in June, I received another email from Stu. Through his spotting scope, he’d spotted the first of what would eventually be a brood of three chicks. I checked the weather forecast and loaded my canoe onto my Ford Ranger. It’s exactly 1hr and 45 mins from my dooryard to that section of the Lamoille where the nest is located. The next clear morning, I was out of bed at 3:00 am and on the river by 5:00 am. I slid my canoe alongside another half-drowned log about 75 yards from the nest, close enough for my Canon 300mm with the 2x teleconverter but not so close as to agitate the female osprey who was keeping vigil on the nest. Dawn was breaking behind my right shoulder as I pointed the bow of the canoe at the nest and untied the bow anchor. Only about three feet of rope slide through my hand before the line went slack. I secured the line to the canoe and then similarly lowered the stern anchor. The two anchors would keep the canoe secure and the bow pointed at the nest. Next, I carefully unzipped my camera bag and set up my camera on the tripod directly in front of me. Then I relished the coffee and danish I had picked up at the Country Cupboard which thankfully opens at 4:30 am while I waited for the sun to crest a low hill on the eastern horizon.

 Osprey with Fish Arriving at Nest (first week in July)
Canon EOS 5D Mark III Canon EF 300mm f/2.8 L IS USM Lens with 2x teleconverter
1/1000″ @ f5.6, ISO 400
aperture priority, evaluative metering, AI servo tracking
Gitzo GT3541LS tripod with Wimberley head

Thereafter, I visited the nest about a dozen times, taking advantage of nearly every calm and cloudless morning through June and July until the chicks fledged in early August. The male (it was always the same bird that brought in the fish) would usually arrive with the morning catch within half an hour after the sun illuminated the nest in that soft, golden light of sunrise allowing me shots of the osprey family without harsh shadows and with details preserved in their white feathers. What’s more is that the prevailing wind, blowing from behind me, compelled the birds to approach the nest facing my camera. Another big plus.

This was the first bird-in-flight field test of my new Canon 5D Mark III. After some tweaking of the AI Servo AF characteristics in the field, I was able to lock the focus on the osprey flying to and from the nest as well as on other birds in flight and get supremely sharp images of these action situations. So far, in terms of its resolution, high ISO / low noise ratio, and AI Servo properties, the new 5D Mark III has not let me down.

 Osprey with Smallmouth Bass Arriving at Nest (end of July, fledgling in foreground)
Canon EOS 5D Mark III
Canon EF 300mm f/2.8 L IS USM Lens with 2x teleconverter
1/600″ @ f6.3, ISO 400
aperture priority, evaluative metering, AI servo tracking
Gitzo GT3541LS tripod with Wimberley head

Along about the end of June, I met Steve Schlipf who had come to photograph the birds from his kayak and we began coordinating our visits to the river. We’d meet on the water and sidle up alongside the log, one of us on either side, set up our gear and then savor the mornings, sharing Fig Newtons and coffee and quietly discussing technique in between getting some world class shots. After the light grew harsh around 9:00 am, we’d head to the Foothills Bakery just down the road and enjoy a breakfast of spinach croissants and fresh coffee. We’ve made plans to take our vessels to Baxter State Park in the Fall and paddle for moose.

There are those precious moments in one’s life when one just knows that we’re meant to be nowhere else but at exactly that location, doing precisely what we’re doing at that very moment.  Indeed, my life has been richly rewarded with many such moments.

Helen Longest-Saccone, Publisher
Helen Longest-Saccone, Publisher Nature Photographer Magazine

Closer to Home and Farther Afield features over 150 images by Gustav W. Verderber and Robert Servranckx.   This is a stunningly beautiful portfolio of landscape, wildlife, and macro images.   Those familiar with Gustav’s and Rob’s work will be thrilled with this collection of images, and those new to their work will be dedicated fans once they experience the splendor of their work.   The rich colors, the dramatic scenics, the eye-stopping wildlife behavior, the unique macro images, and more draw you into this book beckoning you to spend hours upon hours studying this collection of images. The book’s design is very pleasing in its simplicity supporting the exquisite beauty of each image.   Closer to Home and Farther Afield is a book that photographers as well as nature lovers will treasure.

Click on the Blurb link below for more information about Sojourns In Nature – Close to Home and Farther Afield and to purchase the book.

Close to Home and …
By Gustav W. Verderbe…

Still getting away with it,



  1. 8-10-2012

    Gustav; Excellent article and pictures. As one of the first members of Audubon’s Osprey Monitoring Program here in RI and a photographer, I can appreciate all your photographs as well as the sentiments you expressed. I spent a lot of time on the water and on foot mapping all the Osprey nests in my area. While we don’t have any that provide the view you had with this one, we do have a lot on shorter (12-16 ft.)platfroms that do provide a good view. Following a nest like you did, you become attached to the birds and chicks. It’s a sad statistic but 80% of the chicks that hatch this summer won’t survive their first migration. I was on the Palmer River earlier in the week and the shoreline was alive with Osprey. All the chicks are flying now and learning to fish. For the 4 hours I was out there was constant Osprey chatter in the trees and in the air. I love this time of year….Butch

    • 8-10-2012

      Thank you very much Butch for the encouraging comment. Do you have any data to explain the high mortality during the migration? That’s a terribly high percentage.

      • 8-11-2012

        There’s a good book call “Return of the Osprey”. It documents 4 nests during a single breeding season on Cape Cod. It’s a very good read plus it’s entertaining also. I got a lot of information from that book. He references the first people to put up platforms on the Westport River in Westport MA. which started their comeback around this area. I have also attended seminars at Audubon. At one this spring, a professor and PHD who has studied them for 20 years also quoted the mortality statistic. If you want his name I should be able to get it plus his contact info.

  2. 8-11-2012

    Great article Gustav and a meaningful and applicable conclusion for me. Thank you.

  3. 8-11-2012

    I’ve also done a lot of work with the birds. I’ve repaired and rebuilt platfroms and built several new ones. I’ve investigated downed nests for Audubon. In the spring of 2011 I returned from out west to find one platform down. It had fallen while I was away. With the help of my wife and a friend, we had it back up in less than 24 hours after I discovered it had fallen. All the time we worked on it we had birds circling us. The day after we finished there was already a new nest taking shape. Can’t express how satisfying that was.

  4. 8-11-2012

    Wonderful shots Gustav, someday I hope to be able to come north to visit. You have a wonderful talent…

  5. 8-12-2012

    What a wonderful experience you had with the Osprey’s nest and family. To see the pictures is already a treat but to be able to photograph the event is just fantastic. The sad part of this beautiful article is to know that the mortality rate is 80%. This would amount to something like only one of the 3 hatchlings has a 50-50 chance of survival. Your pictures are beautiful and I like the last one best of all. Well done Gustav & Mabuhay*.

    *Mabuhay is a way of saying “Long Live” in the Philippines.

  6. 8-12-2012

    Judi, Butch, Ely, and Jeff….

    Thank you so much for your kind comments. Please know that you would always be welcome to join me in the field. And Mabuhay to all of you as well!

  7. 8-13-2012

    Great Pictures! Osprey and all birds of prey are amazing to watch. Arrowhead Mountain Lake has a very similar nest on it. I have watched the Osprey there many hours. Once again, great shots. I appreciate your pictures and the stories behind them.

    • 8-13-2012

      Thanks, Shawn, for your kind remark. May the light be with you!

  8. 8-13-2012

    I love the photo of the Osprey coming in with the fish for the 4 babies! So beautiful!

    • 8-13-2012

      There’s a similar image on my previous blog, “Coming Home”. Thanks for staying in touch, Lyn!

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