Nature,  Wildlife

Photographing White Pelicans on the Mississippi River

Each year between Late March and August, hundreds of white pelicans migrate to the Mississippi River on the border of Illinois and Iowa.  There are also plenty of Egrets, Great Blue Herons, and Cormorants to be photographed as well. Click on the photographs in this blog to see a larger version of the Pelican photos.

White Pelican

Two of my favorite locations to photograph the white pelicans are the Fisherman's Corner South near Hampton, Illinois and Lock and Dam 14 on the Iowa side of the River.  These locations are across the River from each other near Lock and Dam 14.

Fisherman's Corner South is a better morning shoot as it is on the Illinois side of the River and the sun will be at your back as you are photographing the birds on the left side of the levee.  Walk up the Levee towards the Dam, the birds may be on either side of the levee. 

There is a shallow bay to the right that also has a good population of Egrets and Great Blue Herons Fishing.  The Pelicans also like to harass the herons and Egrets and attempt to steal their fish.  This is a good place to photograph in the evening for Egrets and Herons fishing.

There are good photo opportunities for solo and group shots of Pelicans in the water including reflection shots.  There are also plenty of Pelicans in Flight photo ops so have your camera set for focus tracking.  The GPS coordinates for Fisherman's Corner South are 41.568104, -90.394957.

White Pelican in the Early Morning Light

Across the River in Iowa, the Lock and Damn 14 area has a concrete walkway with a chained linked fence where photographers can setup to photograph the Pelicans.  This is the location where I photograph Bald Eagles in the winter.  This is a better evening shoot as the sun will be at your back.

There doesn't seem to be as many Pelicans on this side of the River near Lock and Damn 14.  However, I've had several Pelicans swim up close and got terrific photos.  There are also quite a few Flybys in this area.  The GPS Coordinates for this area on the Iowa side of the river are 41.572898, -90.406960.

White Pelican Coming in for a Landing

Equipment

 I would say that 300mm would be the minimum focal length that you would need for photographing the White Pelicans.  I primarily used a Canon 500mm f/4 lens.  However, got several nice photos of Pelicans in flight using a Canon 70-200 f/2.8 with the 1.4x teleconverter on a crop sensor camera.  This set up has an equivalent focal length of 157 – 448mm on a Canon 7d.

White Pelican Flyby

Tips

  • In the spring it can get cold on the River in the mornings, so make sure you dress in layers and bring gloves.
  • This is a great place to practice birds in flight photography as the Pelicans do flybys all day.
  • Look for when Pelicans catch fish, the other Pelicans will flock to them and attempt to steal the fish.  This can make for some terrific photos.
  • Use a smaller aperture (around f/14) when photographing groups of Pelicans.  This will ensure all the birds will be in focus.

Written by Martin Belan

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