Photographing Wildlife in the Ria Celestun Biosphere

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Stephen F. Dennstedt

There is no better way to spend a morning than to photograph indigenous wildlife. I am in Celestun, Yucatan, Mexico and just minutes away from the Ria Celestun Biosphere. After a quick breakfast I headed to the biosphere via tuk-tuk (motor scooter cyclos) for 20 Mexican pesos (less than one U.S. dollar). I paid my entrance fee, grabbed a guide and a boat and headed out on the water.

A gorgeous morning: bright blue skies and warm temperatures (about 75°F with a slight breeze). I had my trusty Canon EOS 5D Mark II digital camera and my Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM Super-telephoto lens. The camera body isn’t the best wildlife shooter but the lens is epic. Body upgrades to the new Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and Canon EOS 7D Mark II (7 and 10 fps) first thing when I get back to the States.

This is the time in Ria Celestun when Flamingos are plentiful—they are here in their thousands. Pink and beautiful and full of activity. They dine on the local shrimp in the estuary which gives them their bright pink color. I also saw plenty of Pelicans, Gulls, Frigates and other unnamed species but my goal this morning was to photograph the Flamingos and the ever elusive Tiger Herons that lurk in the Mangrove swamps.

If you’re anything like me you’ve probably never seen a Flamingo in flight. They are awesome if not ungainly and awkward. Before coming to Latin America the only Flamingos I ever saw were in zoos and static (no flying). Down here they fly all over the place and you can really appreciate how big they are—very large wingspans. Again, with their long necks and legs they look really ungainly but they also have a certain grace and style. My guide would approach with our boat and then cut the motor and we would drift in among them for an up close & personal look-see.

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Flamingo in Flight (1/2500s @ f/6.3 ISO 400 @ 400mm handheld from boat)

 

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Flamingo in Flight (1/2500s @ f/6.3 ISO 250 @ 400mm handheld from boat)

My other target for this morning’s shoot was the Tiger Heron. My guide was good. He headed our boat into the Mangrove swamp and navigated us through its surreal world. Almost immediately he spotted one in among the branches and roots—they are very well camouflaged and difficult to spot without expert help. The lighting was terrible, deep shade with dappled sunlight, almost impossible to shoot in without losing detail in the shadows and at the same time blowing out the highlights. I wish that I had taken my SpeedLite with me but alas I didn’t.

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Tiger Heron (1/400s @ f/6.3 + 2/3 Exp Comp ISO 2000 @ 400mm handheld)

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Tiger Heron (1/400s @ f/5.6 + 2/3 Exp Comp ISO 3200 @ 400mm handheld)

Of course I shot hundreds of images but these are the first. Don’t worry I won’t overwhelm you with everything I have but I will share any special shots I come across. At first glance I thought these were some of my best. Nothing here is world-class (sorry) but at least you can get a sense of what I saw this morning. This is my fourth visit to Celestun and I always enjoy going into the biosphere to shoot the birds. I wasn’t disappointed—I got some shots of what I was looking for and they turned out okay. Nothing spectacular but they don’t embarrass me either. Thanks for viewing.

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