Endangered snail kite poses for stunning photos

One of the things I love about being a Bassmaster photographer is traveling the country and seeing new places. The gig allows me to shoot photos I might never have the opportunity to — and that's exactly what happened during a recent trip to South Florida's Kissimmee Chain of Lakes when I spotted what turned out to be an endangered snail kite perched on a snag.

I was on the boat's trolling motor, moving into position to shoot an angler competing in the first Bassmaster Eastern Open tournament of the year when I saw the bird. At first, I thought it was a hawk, and I eased closer to get a better look.

But a couple of things about it didn't seem right. First, the bird's eyes were blood red. And then there were those bright-orange feet. Neither of those characteristics fit with a hawk.

So I just kept shooting, moving closer with the hopes of getting a nice photo of it taking flight. The bird did not seem bothered by my presence, even when I was so close I worried I wouldn't be able to focus my 300mm f/2.8 Nikon lens.

Finally, I stopped not much more than 10 yards from the bird, but the raptor just sat there looking around like nothing special was happening. After almost five minutes, however, the bird launched itself off the snag.

I shot a couple of frames before it flew so close I couldn't track it.

The shots are amazing. See the entire series of photos here.

I quickly downloaded a photo to my phone and shot it to some photographer friends, and one of them started researching it. Ten minutes later he sent me a video of a snail kite.

Snail kites are really cool. They are listed as endangered in Florida, and they feed exclusively on snails. I saw a lot of them on Lake Kissimmee, gliding over the mats of vegetation and swooping down to grab a snail. Mostly they seemed keyed in on apple snails, an exotic species that needs controlling.

Every time I saw one, I marveled at those red eyes. I mean, they are just mean looking.

Can't wait to hit the road for the next Bassmaster event: I never know what I'll find to shoot!

The full snail kite photo series

Perched snail kite

Snail kite ready to take flight

Snail kite taking flight

Snail kite grabbing air

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