I captured this photograph (it is one of many) of a White-tailed Kite (Elanus leucurus) cleaning its beak, after I had watched it devour a mouse.
For eighteen minutes, I lay on the damp, almost marshy ground, unmoving while I cowered up against twenty inches of cloth fencing, as I watched the kite land and eat its prey. I thought the show was over, when it began to clean its beak for an additional four minutes and forty seconds. I had been laying in that same spot for an additional twenty five minutes before the kite landed, as I had observed that the roots of this fallen tree seemed to be one of their favorite butcher’s blocks (place where they would bring their prey to dismember and devour).
Was it worth it to lay there in an uncomfortable position with the cold, salty wet slowly seeping through my clothes and into my skin? Yes, decidedly yes, because I was able to see something that I had never seen before- a bird of prey sticking out its tongue as it cleaned its bill. I try to think back to when I was a kid, watching a parrot clean its large curved beak on it perch… Did it too stick out its tongue as it rubbed its beak along its perch? It may have, but it wasn’t the same…
This photograph was captured in the Giacomini Wetlands, while I was documenting the wetland restoration work being undertaken by the Point Reyes National Seashore (one of my favorite local parks). I was photographing the work being done to turn cow pastures that had once been the southern end of Tomales Bay back into the southern end of Tomales Bay. I was also recording, in pictures many of the different species present during this work so that there would be a visual history of the different spices before and after the project. (I am still heading into the wetlands three years later to photograph new species that are still arriving in the area.)
Kites are not present in as high of numbers (there are very few now) in the tidal areas of the wetlands, but you can see them yet in the grassy verges, as the marsh transitions into grassland. The Northern Harriers (also know as “Marsh Hawks”) on the other hand, while having dropped in numbers slightly are now a much stronger presence than the kites. The two raptors that seem to have benefited the most from the restoration are the Osprey, which now has a new area to fish, and the Peregrine Falcon, which now has a wide selection of shorebirds to feed upon in most seasons, as well as a plethora of ducks to hunt in the winter.
This image of the kite cleaning its beak was captured using a 420mm lens. I was shooting handheld at 1/1000th of a second to be sure to freeze all of the action and to eliminate camera shake. The aperture was set to f/8.0 so that the entire bird would be within the depth of focus. ISO was then set to 500 to compensate for all of the other settings.
Enjoy the photo,
For more animal tongues, you can have a look at these animals-