The Trumpeter Swan Society January 2012 Photograph of the Month

Trumpeter Swan with Fish by Larry Jernigan



Professional Photographer and TTSS Photo-of-the-Month host Greg Smith says:

Larry’s image of this hatching year Trumpeter Swan with a fish in its bill gives us an opportunity to talk about close-up photography or cropping a photograph to create a close-up appearance.  It also kicks off the theme of our 2012 Photo-of-the-Month selections – The Natural History Moment!

This is a wonderfully crisp shot!   There is plenty of detail in the feathers, the bill and the eye is tack sharp.  To create a photograph with these attributes, you have three primary options as a photographer:  You can be physically close; you can be further away with a longer lens or you can closely crop (like drawing a box around the area you want to feature in your photograph and removing the extraneous material) the photograph after shooting with any size lens.

I see one, possibly two of the elements I mentioned above in Larry’s photograph: A longer lens and potentially some cropping.  One of the benefits of using a longer lens (in this case maybe 100mm – 400mm zoom) is that you usually have a very short depth-of-field (DOF is the area from front to back that is in focus).  We can see the DOF (in focus) drops in the water behind the second swan, which indicates a longer lens.

The potential cropping is indicated is by the position of the bird in the overall photograph (centered).  Cropping is the photographer’s choice and in this photograph Larry has put the subject (the fish in the swan’s bill) he was trying to capture in the appropriate alignment.

And it is the fish that brings us to a new feature in the Photo-of –the-Month:

The Life History Moment (our NEW theme for 2012)

Most swans, but especially the Trumpeter Swan, forage on vegetation that grows on terrestrial habits and underwater in the water column (hence their long necks for getting to vegetation that dabbling ducks and geese can’t reach).  There may be incidences  of where a swan swallows invertebrates of fish trapped in the vegetation, but it is uncommon to find a fish in a swan’s bill as a matter of purpose.  In other words, swans do not normally seek out and pursue fish as a prey item.  This juvenile swan’s behavior, caught in a series of shots by Larry, is quite a capture!  His reflections of the moment:

How it all happened!

On January 20, 2011, while at work as a 4-H Assistant Coordinator for the University of Arkansas, I spent the greater part of the day meeting with fourth and fifth grade classes from Heber Springs Elementary School at Magness Lake. The purpose of the outing was to introduce the young students to the one hundred or more Trumpeter Swans that had arrived from places north of us. As always when visiting the swans, I brought my camera and set it up on a tripod just in case of a chance of a good photo presented itself. The students were listening as I told them various facts about our visitors. As I talked with the students I noticed that one of the juvenile swans had something in its beak and seemed to be “chewing” on it. I took a quick look through my camera and saw that the swan had a fish about four inches long, a shad, in its mouth and was trying to swallow it. It was having trouble because the fish seemed to be too large. This went on for about five or six minutes until it had chewed it enough that the fish could be swallowed. The students not only had the opportunity to see the swans but also something that I have never seen or heard of before. They witnessed a swan eating a fish. In watching these swans over the past twelve years I have never observed anything like this before.

Editor’s note: in the photo below, see how the Trumpeter Swan gets a grip with the lamellae of its bill!

Featured Photographer for January, 2012 – Larry Jernigan, Arkansas

About Larry Jernigan:

From Larry:  “ I was born in Tennessee and moved to Arkansas in the 7th grade, received a B.A. Degree in biology at Arkansas College. I did graduate work at the University of Oklahoma where I was fortunate enough to study under the internationally-known ornithologist George M. Sutton. I was drafted into the army before I could finish my Master’s degree. While in the army I did medical photography during the time I was stationed in Japan. When I left the army I taught school for three years before opening a photography studio and running it for ten years. At the age of forty I went back to school and got a Doctor of Chiropractic degree. I came back to my home town, Pine Bluff, Arkansas, where I had a chiropractic practice for twenty years. In 2000 my wife and I decided to build our retirement home in Heber Springs, Arkansas. We moved here in July of 2000 and I commuted back to Pine Bluff until 2005 when I retired from my practice. I began some part time work with the U. of A. as 4-H Assistant Coordinator working with the youth of Cleburne County. I have had an obsession with photography ever since I began taking pictures in undergraduate school 50 years ago.”

We are pleased that Larry was willing to share this “keeper” shot in support of Trumpeter Swans and The Trumpeter Swan Society. 


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2 Responses to “The Trumpeter Swan Society January 2012 Photograph of the Month”

  1. Barry Wallace Says:

    The photo of the cygnet eating the fish is a beautiful picture but The comment in the life history section is wrong. I’ve been watching my wintering swans here in Hudson fish for over 20 years, They will swim up into the fast water duck their heads and float down scouring the bottom for gizzard shad, i’ve watched them do this hundreds of times.

    • trumpeterswansociety Says:

      Thanks for the heads up on this behavior Barry, I was not aware of their regularly taking fish for forage. We don’t know what is going on underwater, but you have some unique insight into this feeding style. Thanks again for sharing! Greg Smith

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