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Mike Dowsett won third place in our Birds in Flight 2021 competition with this extraordinary image of an osprey carrying a fish. Dowsett is originally from England and now lives in southern Michigan.
He took the photo in August 2018 at Cairngorms National Park in the Scottish Highlands while on a photography trip with a close friend.
“Photographing ospreys actively is the most thrilling wildlife photography I have experienced, feeling a real adrenaline rush capturing the birds plunging incredibly fast through the fish-rich waters and then exploding into frantic flight with huge trout” , Dowsett said. “Through many years of technical improvements I have learned every year and see better images over time. Key areas of technique involve camera focus placement, exposure and camouflage.
“I’ve been working on perfecting my ability to pre-focus on an area of water where I predict the Osprey will hit to gain about ½ second and help give the camera a bit more time to focus on the bird. It is crucial to ‘lock’ the bird before pressing the shutter button, otherwise the whole burst of images will be out of focus. The impact of the bird until the start of the The water is very fast (maybe 2 or 3 seconds) so it is very important to be ready and have practiced on other birds like ducks and herons before the main attraction. important to set the exposure correctly. The Osprey has a bright white body and feathers under the wings, which makes it easy to overexposure and lose feather detail. The osprey will not fish if it sees a human presence at nearby, so we usually get in place before sunrise and wait in the dark.
“This particular image had an added challenge that day. Haze can be a real problem in this area, and on this day she was no exception. The first two Ospreys to dive were completely obscured by mist, preventing the camera from focusing.
“Then at about 5.30am, as the mist lifted and early morning sunlight lit up the valley, we heard the single call of Osprey from above as one circled the valley. area looking for an easy hold. That’s when my excitement peaks and the nerves begin. I pre-focused where I hoped the fish were retreating and prepared for the dive by checking exposure and making sure the gimbal/camera rotation path was clear to track the bird . Then I waited. There was a huge splash and blur that broke the silence. I got the camera into position and prayed the focus would lock quickly. I then pressed and held the shutter button for a full burst of RAW images, while following the Osprey as it struggled to take off with a 2-3 pound fish and wet feathers. The silence as the bird flew away was followed by laughter as Gary and I both realized the warm light was amazing, and we both had several “guardians” on our media cards. We returned to our accommodation around 6:30am after the local fishermen spooked the Osprey, to enjoy a hot breakfast to end our amazing morning spent with the most amazing raptor of all.”
“This photo not only captures the theft, but the reason for the theft,” says Ernie Mastroianni, a former The world of ornithologists photo editor and one of our judges. “The timing is perfect. The fish is well placed and is intact. Look how well this shows off the power of the Osprey’s wings. The image tells a perfect story of the bird, how it flies, and the dynamics and reason for the flight. The splash is a bonus. I’ve seen many photos of Osprey/fish, but this one defines the genre better than any other I’ve seen.
Dowsett used a Canon EOS-1DX Mark1, with a Canon EF300mm f2.8 lens and 1.4x converter on a Gitzo carbon tripod with a Wimberley Mk 1 gimbal. Settings: 1/3200 sec, f/8, ISO 800, manual operation.
You can see more photos of Dowsett on his website.
Many thanks to our panel of guest judges: author, radio host and editor Laura Erickson; our former photo editor Ernie Mastroianni; Outdoor photographer Editor Wes Pitts; and William Brawley, Imagery Resources Editor.
See the first place winner: Sandhill Crane
See the runner-up winner: the Tricolor Flycatcher and the Great Egret
See the finalists
View Honorable Mentions