A splash of pink
The stars seemed to align for photographer Steven Blandin when, with wings held symmetrically aloft, a spoonbill offered up a bright splash of colour as it touched down into the water.
Photographer Steven Blandin and an adult roseate spoonbill (Platalea ajaja) came face-to-face when the large, pink bird landed into the early-morning low tide in Tampa, Florida.
Set against calm grey waters reflecting the overcast sky, the spoonbill held its brightly plumed wings aloft in a perfect U-shape as it arrived to join the other morning food foragers.
Steven Blandin's image, Reach for the sky, is one of the 24 images shortlisted for the Wildlife Photographer of the Year People's Choice Award.
A blank canvas
Some photographers dismiss overcast conditions as unfavourable for photographing wildlife. Steven Blandin uses the grey morning light as a canvas.
Steven says, 'I have often been extremely satisfied with the images I create during cloudy days.
'I love this type of effect. It makes you think that the subject was literally drawn on a blank sheet of paper.'
Tampa saw a lot of rain throughout the preceding week, and the grey skies were reflected in the water.
'The early-morning low tide allowed the birds to forage for food a bit further away from the mangrove trees than usual. This offered the opportunity to see some hunting action with a light grey shade of brackish water as decor.
'I decided that the stars were aligning very well for what I had in mind.'
Steven knew that the morning was going to be a special one when he spotted from afar a few approaching adult roseate spoonbills on the wing.
'I have long noticed that flying birds tend to spot a feeding group on the ground and land nearby to join the culinary festivities,' he explains.
Swiftly reconsidering his position, Steven backed up a few steps so that should the birds land he would be able to fully frame the moment - a decision that paid off.
'The pink birds kept flying in my direction, so to join the foraging group of wading birds.
'The wind was blowing from behind my back, and as birds tend to prefer to take off and land against the wind, there were just the perfect conditions to create dramatic landing action sets.
'The birds were almost magically landing face to face with me.'
The photographer captured a set of five images that show one of the birds' landing sequence in detail as it made its way down into the water.
'You see the bird coming almost straight to me. In Reach for the sky, the subject is striking a perfectly square, wings-up stance.
'We have a rare view at the underwings and body structure of the bird.
'While the other images from this set are all impressive, the perfect symmetry of the middle one stood out to me as the strongest photograph.'
Keeping things natural
Steven positioned himself far enough away from the foraging birds so he would not disturb their natural behaviour.
'This is one of my preferred techniques to capture great landing sequences. It is very important to give enough room for the animals to behave in a natural way.
'When in too close proximity, one may stress avian subjects and prevent foraging behaviour.'
Even with his experience in capturing images of birds in the wild, Steven acknowledges that Reach for the sky was the result of a series of fortunate circumstances.
'It's not every day that everything comes together in such a way and I was more than delighted by the chance and vista. Capturing the exact moment when both wings are stretching to the sky in a stunning U-shape is one of the greatest satisfactions to me.
'May this image inspire us to work diligently at preserving the beauty of Mother Nature.'