Botetourt County, Virginia. – The Cherry Blossom Trail is a gentle path around the small lake of Greenfield Park in Botetourt County. Greenfield is a modern take on an industrial park, with tall steel buildings spread over hundreds of acres.
Inside the park, businesses make everything from heavy machinery to beer.
But we are here for the trail and the lake. Specifically, having wildlife photographer Garland Kitts shows us that amidst this rural version of the industry, there is a significant amount of wildlife.
Garland has a knack for finding this wildlife and capturing it through her camera lens.
After retiring four years ago, he was able to dedicate several hours a day to the quest.
He is looking for photos with a little something extra. It’s not enough to just see the topic and save it. They must be downright interesting too.
“A win is a shot that’s on point, it’s kind of unique. Not just a flat bird or animal or anything. It is something like a bird with a worm in its mouth. Or it’s hanging upside down on a tree,” Kitts said.
After visiting a website called E-bird, where local birdwatchers report recent sightings of interesting birds, he hopes to photograph a somewhat rare duckling called a teal.
“I understand there are probably a few Bluewing Teals here. So hopefully I can see them,” Kits explained when we arrived.
On the way to his favorite place – he suddenly stops, because he heard something.
“I’m looking for a yellow warbler to come back,” Kitts said as a bird chirped somewhere in the canopy of nearby trees and bushes.
Three hours a day looking for subjects pays off. He recognizes a pretty bird when he hears it.
An app on his phone called Merlin listens for birdsong and confirms it’s a yellow warbler. Kitts places a Bluetooth speaker on a branch and plays the warbler sounds.
Then it’s a waiting game.
And a few minutes later, the bird flies towards the loudspeaker.
Kitts sees the movement first, then spots the streak of yellow among the branches.
He looks through the lens and waits for an angle, one with no leaves in the way.
Moments later, the shutter clicks at 30 frames per second. More than a few of these shots are “good.”
Kitts captured the image of a beautiful yellow bird that most people would never have noticed.
It’s a safe bet that even the most serious outdoor enthusiasts have never seen a yellow warbler.
Don’t say anything about taking a picture of one.
If bird photography was baseball, warblers would be an A, while mighty birds of prey would be major leaguers.
Songbirds are one thing, but photographing raptors – falcons, falcons and eagles is a whole new level. If bird photography was baseball, warblers would be an A, while mighty birds of prey would be major leaguers.
Kitts has just returned from California where he captured footage of peregrine falcons – which can dive at 180 miles per hour when searching for prey.
“When I got there, the first thing I saw was the male basking shark sitting about 15 meters away from me on a branch on the side of the cliff. I mean a perfect shot,” he said. declared.
As good as that shot was, he went back to it the next day and snagged photographer’s gold.
“The male is out. He caught a pigeon. Prepared for the female, plucking her feathers. And then it took off from the cliff wall and flew in a circle past where the cave is – where the nest is,” Kitts said.
He witnessed how both male and female hawks care for their young. The male hunts and brings the food – in this case, a pigeon. But he does not come directly to the nest. Birds do an amazing meal swap in the air for youngsters.
And Kitts captured it all.
“The male carries the pigeon. The female passes under him, still in flight and in full flight, he hands her (the food) from his beak in his talons and she returns to the cave to feed the young,” he explained. “I will never see that happen again. What a dream it is to get this photo.
Talk about a little something extra.
Kitts shares his images on his Facebook page and it’s clear he has incredible talent.
Photos of water dripping from a loon’s beak, a couple of beavers, a mink along the Roanoke River.
And a den of foxes.
“I went and kind of hid the weeds. … Sure enough, one of the young people raised his head. I have very good shots of him.
Another of his favorite images is a bald eagle scratching its head.
“I took several shots and he started doing all sorts of funny things as he moved around. I realized he was wet…then he started scratching his head. It was very cool to watch. Almost comical and in some ways,” Kitts said.
We kept walking hoping to find these little ducks – but again the birdsong interrupts.
Again, the song on the speaker. Once again the reward – a bird among the leaves appears.
It is a bright blue bird the size of a sparrow called an indigo bunting.
It’s not a first for Kitts, but it’s still worth the space on its digital media.
“Always looking for something I’ve never seen before. The beauty of birdwatching is you never know,” he said.
Kitts keeps a list of all the birds he has photographed. Its life list includes more than 300 species.
We continued hiking the Cherry Blossom Trail, entering openings near the lake in search of the elusive teal. At one point, he spotted them in the distance through his binoculars. But the little ducklings are camera shy and never appear when we are close enough to take a picture.
“It happens,” Kitts said with a shrug.
After several hours, we pack up and are almost back to the car when he hears something else. In the trees above us is a Baltimore Oriole.
After a few chirps on the speakerphone, the bird appears and Kitts records another gorgeous shot.
He makes it look easy. But that’s because it took time.
“You can’t expect to spend 30 minutes today looking for things and getting them to come to you. And having a lot of pictures, you just can’t do it,” he warned.
For Kitts – The Oriole isn’t one of those elusive birds he’s never seen – it’s not even a bird that does anything special.
But again, this is an example of what any walker or hiker could see if they slowed down to smell the roses.
Or maybe listen to the birds.
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