Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Friday, September 2, 2011

Photographing "My" Birds

Black-capped Chickadee about to feed babies

Transcript of For the Birds for September 1, 2011.
Ever since I started lugging around a camera with a 400-millimeter lens around my neck wherever I go, I’ve stopped using binoculars.

Laura Erickson

I can readily identify most birds through the camera lens, and even when I can’t, all I have to do is snap a photo and then zoom in on it to figure out virtually every bird I see. Pressing my camera’s shutter-release is noisier than using my binoculars, and once in a while a nearby bird flies away the moment I click, but very often birds look up at me and then go back to whatever they were doing.

Magnolia Warbler

Photographing birds is, of course, easiest when the birds are far enough away that the camera click is too soft for them to worry about. I’ve gotten lots of good photos of tanagers, orioles, warblers, and flycatchers in Russ’s cherry tree, but the tree is a good 25 feet from the window. The birds look good in the photos after I crop them, but these photos aren’t as perfect for printing as the ones I take at much closer range.

Scarlet Tanager in my cherry tree

One Mourning Dove perched on the power line that runs right past my upstairs window to the back of my house. It let me take dozens of photos of it preening from close range.

Mourning Dove

Last summer I got lots of photos of chickadees preening right outside the window next to my desk. Based on my experience as a rehabber, birds never preen unless they’re feeling safe and comfortable, so I’m virtually certain these birds didn’t mind my presence at all.

Black-capped Chickadee

This spring I spent many hours sitting outside in a tent-like blind photographing the many migrating sparrows feeding in back.

My "Bruce Pomeroy" blind

I got some amazing photos. A few of the birds got skittish when my camera first started clicking, but so many of them got used to the noise that pretty soon even the newcomers just looked around, saw everyone else ignoring it, and went back to feeding.

Fox Sparrow detail

The Evening Grosbeaks that have been visiting me all this August quickly became very comfortable with me standing at the open window with my camera, and they’ve been giving me great shots.

Evening Grosbeak

But the regular old pigeons that live in my neighborhood are extraordinarily camera shy—I’ve only gotten a handful of nice photos of them, and usually it’s just a single shot before the bird takes off in a huff. In my yard, the only birds more skittish around a camera are crows and Blue Jays.

Rock Pigeon

Sometimes when I click, birds look up and stare, as if trying to figure it all out. That’s when I get photographs of them looking directly at me. I’ve gotten cool photos of Kirtland’s Warbler, Northern Hawk Owl, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Yellow-throated Warbler, and lots of others looking straight into the camera wondering what the heck it is.

Kirtland's Warbler

Northern Hawk Owl

Some of the hummingbirds that come to my window feeder are very camera shy while others take it right in stride and let me click away as they feed, preen, and sit in the sun looking pretty.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird preening

The hummers I had in early summer, which I presume were nesting nearby, chose their territories knowing I was always at the window, and they were exceptionally tame. Some would even keep feeding at the feeder stuck to the left window pane while I cranked open the right pane and took out the screen. But some migrants don’t even stay in the feeder if I simply turn my head at my desk three feet away.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Photographing birds has given me a whole new lease on birding, and makes me appreciate in a richer, deeper way just how individual birds are. I only wish I’d started taking bird photos years ago.

American Tree Sparrow