My fascination with the grace and beauty of avian flight that I was observing and documenting in photographs eventually collided with what I had learned many years ago as a pilot, aeronautics instructor and one-time aircraft designer. What I saw as I watched birds fly simply did not agree with the meager explanations of bird flight as presented in most ornithological literature. The more I studied bird flight the more I found that it did not follow aeronautics, as I knew it, either.
Clearly, this was new territory and I soon leaned that I could not navigate it with preconceived notions.
My first professor, a stately old Great Blue Heron, set me on the path of re-thinking how birds fly. As a fine art photographer, my specialty is birds in flight and Prof. Heron returned repeatedly to his favorite fishing spot allowing me, if I crept up slowly, to photograph him when he stopped fishing for the day and flew off.
Focused as I was on capturing the ‘perfect photographic moment,’ I was an inattentive student; fortunately, he was a patient teacher. Day after day, he would cease fishing, glance at me, raise his great wings, let out a brief squawk, tilt forward and fly.
Finally, one day as he flew off, I grasped just what he was trying to teach me. With a sideways glance to see if I was looking, Professor Heron squawked, “Watch me.”
With a single downward beat of his great wings, he hurled himself two body lengths (body + extended legs) forward. This was astounding – his wings moved down but his body moved forward! How could I have missed seeing this?
How did he convert vertical movement of his wings into horizontal movement of his body? With that I began my photographic exploration into bird flight.