Splish, Splash!

Take a hot day, a trickle of water leading to a shallow puddle in a two-track road and add a shady, poison ivy-covered hidey-hole between two trees and you’re well on your way to some good bird photos. It does help if you’re in a “target-rich environment,” such as the awesome slough, bottom land forest and canebrakes along the road into Ozark Riverways’ Big Tree campground.

I was photographing dragonflies along the beaver-reinforced dam/mud pile that lies between the slough and road, when I noticed a LOT of bird activity in the brush next to me. A tiny bit of water was still flowing from the slough, forming puddles in the low spots in the chat fill and the birds were having a blast, basically ignoring me, twenty feet away.

I had a bad angle and the light was coming from the wrong direction, so I risked spooking the birds and crossed the road to the trees on the other side. There is a pair of large cottonwoods here, a few feet apart with one leaning towards the other, that formed a natural blind, albeit one camouflaged by poison ivy. Happily, I’m not allergic in the least and quickly hid myself to wait. It didn’t take long for the birds to return, which was fortunate since the humidity and mosquitoes were swiftly becoming a distraction.

The first bird to come in was a male Scarlet Tanager. Bold in color and action, he splashed about while I fired frame after frame. We were in the shade so I had to use a slower shutter speed than I would have liked, especially since I was shooting handheld. Regardless, most of the photos came out quite nice considering and I just used here the one I liked best.

He was soon joined by a female American Redstart. She was much spookier and I only managed a few photos before she retreated to cover. I shot a few photos with both birds in the frame, but I was having to shoot wide open and the resulting shallow depth of field left me with none that had both birds in focus.

After these two left, there was a male Redstart, a pair of Indigo Buntings and a female Eastern Towhee that came into the brush, but none of them would commit to exposing themselves long enough to partake of the puddles. Finally, a female Scarlet Tanager, the male’s mate perhaps, landed at the edge of the water, posing regally before splashing herself with water.

I had only been sitting for fifteen minutes or so at this point, but the sweat was rolling off my forehead and into my eyes and the skeeters were eating me alive, leading me to abandon my post. I returned to this spot three or four days later, hoping to reprise my success, but the trickle of water had ceased and the puddles were dry. Aint that the way it goes.

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