Bird Photography,  Nature,  Travel

Birds in Flight Photography at J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island

J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge is one of my favorite places to photograph birds.  I especially like to practice birds in flight photography at Ding Darling.

What makes the Ding Darling so good for photographing birds in flight?  One of the features of Ding Darling that makes it great for birds in flight photography is that there is water on both sides of Wildlife Drive.  Wading Birds such as White Pelicans, Brown Pelicans, Roseate Spoonbills, and Cormorants assemble in groups in the shallow areas.  Other birds of that species will fly in to join the group from both sides of Wildlife Drive.

White Pelican coming in for a landing
White Pelican coming in for a landing at J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Florida

The shallow areas are on the left side of Wildlife Drive which is predominately facing west, making this a better morning photography shoot.  It is also important to understand the tides in the area.  The photography is better at low tide since the shallow water will attract more birds.  Use the Cape Coral Bridge Tide Chart for Ding Darling.

Osprey in Flight

Osprey in Flight

There are also plenty of shore birds in J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Flocks of shore birds will take flight and land at the same time.  It is fun to find patterns in compositions of entire flocks of the birds as they takeoff and land.  Also watch for Ospreys in flight.  Several Ospreys fish the waters in Ding Darling providing good photo opportunities.



I set up one of the custom settings on my Canon 5D Mark III for birds in flight photography.   I take photos of stationary birds and use a single focus point to better control the area in focus.   So by setting up the custom setting, I can be ready to photograph a bird in flight by simply rotating the mode dial to C2.

White Pelican Flying Low Banner

White Pelican Flying Low Banner

Settings Used in the Custom setting for Birds in Flight Photography

  • Back button focus
  • AI Servo
  • AF Point Expansion focus mode
  • ISO – set depending on the lighting conditions
  • Aperture – I like to set this to at least f8 to ensure the entire bird is in focus.  This may need to be set to a smaller aperture when photographing multiple birds in flight.  You also may need a larger aperture in low lighting conditions.

Written by Martin Belan

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What to Photograph on Sanibel Island, Florida
Photographing Shore Birds at Bunche Beach Preserve, Florida
Bird Photography at J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge

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