Spectacular and Unusual Photo of an Osprey Gliding on the Water’s Surface

Photographer Andy Woo captured the perfect moment of an osprey gliding across the surface of a body of water, an unusual and dramatic shot of the wild raptor.

The photo was taken in August 2020 and is one of the most popular photos Woo has shared on his Instagram. He says the osprey photo was pure luck and he wasn’t even trying to photograph the raptor species that day. Instead, his target was the green heron.

“This plan was as unplanned as possible. Over the summer of 2020, with COVID shutdowns and working from home giving everyone a bit of cabin fever, I spent nearly every night after work visiting some of my favorite local parks and nature preserves in the Seattle area,” he says.

“That day I went to this particular nature preserve in Seattle because a good friend of mine – excellent wildlife photographer Mukul Soman – told me he had seen a green heron there in the evening. We agreed to meet after work but at first I went to the wrong side of the reserve and didn’t see much other than some of the usual birds.

Eventually he realized he was on the wrong side of the reserve and encountered Soman, but they had no better luck finding a green heron. Instead, they were greeted with the perfect opportunity to photograph the osprey.

Ospreys are known for their spectacular and graceful dive through the water when hunting, which they can sometimes do at heights of 120 feet. Normally, they dive with their feet into the water to capture their prey – fish – before quickly ascending into the air and moving away to their perch to consume their prey.

This time, something was different that led to Woo’s unusual photo.

“I don’t claim to be an expert on osprey behavior – or even an expert on ospreys in general – but this was the first and only time I’d seen this happen and I suspect it had to do with the weather conditions,” Woo said.

“It was a heavy day: hot, humid and windless (not to mention the infested mosquitoes at the edge of the lake where we were). Although I couldn’t figure out what had just happened at the time, looking at the footage I captured, it looks to me like the osprey tried to catch a fish out of the water , missed it, then couldn’t get enough lift to quickly get back into the air,” he continued.

“As good as they are at fishing, it’s not uncommon for ospreys to miss their target, but usually they get back in the air, shake off the water and try again. In this case I think the windless day, while great for getting the osprey reflection in the shot, also made it more difficult for the osprey to generate enough lift after hitting the water to resume flight immediately.

Woo says bird photographers and experienced bird watchers know that birds typically land into the wind and take off into the wind in order to gain needed lift. But in this case, the osprey didn’t and instead glided just above the surface of the water for a while, resulting in what Woo calls a “skimming shot” where it was so close to the water that the tip of its beak and its talons trailed on the surface.

Andy Woo Animal Photography

“He was then able to get enough lift to get higher in the air and then to a perch,” says Woo, who is also pictured above.

“Just to be clear, I’m not sure that’s exactly what was going on, but that’s my most educated guess based on the photos I was able to capture. It was also perched much lower than what I used to see, which worked very well as it provided us with a rare opportunity to take portraits of the osprey from a closer distance and from a better angle than usual.

Andy Woo Animal Photography

“In case people were worried, the osprey didn’t look sick or injured. He came in with some speed and banked well just before he dipped,” Woo adds.

“It’s also important to keep in mind that the precarious gliding across the surface of the water (and the ‘grazing’) only lasted less than a second based on camera timestamps, so this n It’s not like the osprey has trouble gaining altitude over a long period of time. It was just a little longer than usual when I was about to use the device. photo to capture that fleeting moment when the osprey hovered above the surface.

Andy Woo Animal Photography

Looking back at how it was set up, Woo admits that he wasn’t fully prepared for Osprey, but he managed to make it work.

“To be honest, I hadn’t even had a chance to adjust my camera settings and had to do it on the fly as we approached. It looked like he was hunting, so we expected to him diving, but it all happened so fast,” he says.

“Looking at the timestamps in my photos, it was nine seconds between when the osprey first appeared and the ‘skimming shot’ and another 6 seconds between that shot and when it swooped down. is perched, so the whole sequence was about 15 seconds,” he explains.The photo below was the first photo of this sequence.

Andy Woo Animal Photography

“At the moment, I was mostly puzzled by the behavior and wondering with my friend Mukul what we had just witnessed. Was he drinking water? did it just for fun? The funny thing, and I think it’s a lesson I learned, is that because I was so determined to take a picture of an osprey catching a fish out water, my mind was still obsessed with it.

“I was certainly glad I got an interesting shot, but my mindset at the time was ‘well, at least I got something passable’, rather than ‘whoa, what a moment, what Photo! For the rest of the evening we still waited impatiently and hoped that after a short rest the osprey might try again and catch a fish this time. It’s a good reminder that even though we go into the field with a preconceived idea of ​​what the “photo” we want should look like, sometimes nature surprises us with something even more captivating or unique.

It is practice makes perfect

Woo says he’s been photographing birds for nearly 10 years, so when he took the osprey shot he had nearly eight years of experience.

“As a child, I was always interested in wildlife and photography, but never had access to a ‘real’ camera (only the family’s point-and-shoot) until I go to law school and get a paid internship in the fall of 2012 that allowed me to buy my very first SLR: a Canon Rebel T6i,” he says.

“I dreamed of the kind of wildlife photography you see in National Geographic, but in reality the telephoto lens that came with it (a 55-250mm) was barely long enough to photograph ducks in the park and birds in the garden, so it that’s what I did,” he adds.

“Birds weren’t necessarily an obsession at the time, but I wanted to photograph wildlife – any wildlife – and birds were the most available and accessible wildlife for someone living in an urban area. and a law student. In fact, I remember that one of the very first birds I photographed was a group of tiny grayish birds in the backyard of my family home. I went back inside, I hopped on the computer and used an online bird guide to identify them as Common Bushtits, and the obsession grew from there.

Andy Woo Animal Photography
Woo’s photo of the common bushtit that sparked his love of birds.
Andy Woo Animal Photography
Another photo of a common bushtit, but this one captured eight years later in the same location (and just an hour before) as the osprey photo above.

Woo says most of his photos, and many of his favorite snaps, come from what many would consider “ordinary” places like the local parks he regularly visits. His idea of ​​scouting locations is not quite the same as what landscape or portrait photographers might do, but is rather more organic.

“Even after doing this for almost ten years, I can’t claim to be an expert, but you learn new things every time you go out to shoot, about the location, the wildlife and their behaviors,” says- he.

Andy Woo Animal Photography

Andy Woo Animal Photography

Andy Woo Animal Photography

“For people who might be interested in getting into wildlife photography, I think the most important thing is to develop an appreciation and respect for wildlife and nature. Over the past couple of years there have been quite a few headlines about people getting too close to wildlife (e.g. bison in Yellowstone) or photographers misbehaving to ‘take the picture,’” Woo adds.

“In my experience, chasing after the shot never does anyone (including yourself) any good. I’ve had more success picking a spot at a respectful distance and waiting quietly, leaving the animal come at you (or not) There will be plenty of times it’s a full bust or you don’t get the shot for one reason or another, but that’s really part of this hobby.

Andy Woo Animal Photography

Andy Woo Animal Photography

Andy Woo Animal Photography

For more from Andy Woo, be sure to visit his website and Instagram.


Picture credits: All photos by Andy Woo

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