I finally got to spend some time with the birds in the backyard again last week.  It's been a while since I've seen very many birds in the backyard, much less got to photograph any.

If you've followed me for any amount of time you know my favorite backyard birds are The Eastern Bluebirds.  Although they are my favorite, I do enjoy attracting new, and different, birds to the backyard, too.  Most people do not realize how much time and effort go into getting these bird photographs.  It's more than just putting food out.  I easily spend three times as much time watching the birds vs. photographing them.  I spend a lot of time learning their behaviors, seeing which direction the fly in from, learning their flight pattern so I can know what bird it is before I "see" it, learning which perch or tree is their favorite and other things.  This doesn't include placing feed for different species and setting up different trees and branches that will photograph better.  In short, it's a lot of work...but the rewards are pretty great!

Aperture-priority, 1/250 sec, f/6.3, ISO 360, Compensation: +2/3, 500 mm

Image made with my Nikon D500 and Tamron 150-600mm G2 Lens supported on Sirui N-3204X Tripod and PH-20 Gimbal Head.

Dad's Role

During the week last week the backyard bluebirds really started working hard on building their nest.  They had been house shopping for quite a while before they finally decided.  Their indecisiveness was a blessing in disguise due to the fact that if they had picked a week earlier they might have been in trouble.  We had very warm temperatures followed by a week of mostly freezing temps.  If they had  moved in and laid eggs a week earlier they might have lost the eggs due to the cold.  Luckily for all, they are picky.

I spend a lot of time watching these birds.  Easily double the time I spend photographing them, possibly more.  I've been noticing during nest building that dad never really brings in any nesting material.  It appears that mom is doing all the hard work.  So I spent some time watching dad to see what his whole role was during this process.  Dad's first role was to be a watchbird.  He was always at, or near, the house watching for invading birds.  He sat on this one tree stump that is about 10 feet away from the house constantly watching and attacking anything that came near the house.  Mostly running off House Sparrows and other birds that were brave enough to investigate the situation.

Aperture-priority, 1/500 sec, f/6.3, ISO 800, Compensation: +2/3, 600 mm

Another role dad played was making sure mom didn't burn off too many calories during all of her nest building activities.  Many times mom would go to the ground in search of the perfect piece of straw and dad would follow her with a mouth full of mealworms.  He would then offer her the mealworms.  He did this over and over.  On the ground, at the tree stump and on top of the birdhouse.

Aperture-priority, 1/400 sec, f/6.3, ISO 1600, Compensation: +2/3, 500mm

Although dad didn't "look" busy and it looked like mom was doing all the hard work, dad was doing his part, too.  Heck, he might even do the dishes later.

These images were made with my Nikon D500 and Tamron SP 150-600mm Di VC USD G2 Lens.  The camera was mounted on my Sirui Tripod and PH-20 Gimbal Head.

The Bluebirds Have Fledged

So it appears last week that Dagwood and Blondie successfully fledged a group of young bluebirds.  I was excited that everything went good with this brood.  They have even slowly began building a new nest for the next bunch.

I wanted to share a few of the images I was able to get just the day before they fledged.

This is Blondie feeding one of her chicks a delicious looking worm.  

Aperture Priority, F/8, 1/1,000th second, ISO 1600, 220mm

Here's the image just a second after the first.

Aperture Priority, F/8, 1/1,000th second, ISO 1600, 280mm

For these types of images I basically get my tripod set, then compose the scene and lock everything down tight so the camera doesn't move.  I'll set my aperture and then check to see if my shutter speed is fast enough and if not I will adjust my ISO until it is.  Then once I have everything locked down and the camera settings all dialed in, I wait.  Once I see one of the bluebirds flying to the box from across the yard, I hold the shutter button down until they reach the box.  It helps having 10 FPS.  

These images were created with a Nikon D500 and Tamron 150-600mm Lens.  I also used my Sirui Tripod and PH-20 Gimbal Head.

Bringing Home The Mealworms

If you follow me on Facebook, you'll see I posted a picture of the bluebird eggs hatching last week.  It was very exciting, because I really didn't know if they were going to hatch or not.  You can read the last blog post on that...

Well, since the eggs have hatched, feeding has picked up.  I took advantage of that yesterday and spent a little time trying to capture shots of Blondie and Dagwood flying in with food.  The babies are still too young to have their heads out of the box begging for food, but I think I still managed some pretty good shots.

Here is Dagwood bringing in food.  He spent most of the time hunting then delivering the food to Blondie, who stayed in the nest feeding babies.

Aperture Priority, F/8, ISO 800, 1/1600th second, 170mm

This is Blondie.  She only left the nest a few times to hunt.  She came out of the box a few times looking pretty rough.  Raising bluebird babies looked like a dirty job.

Aperture Priority, F/8, ISO 800, 1/1600th second, 320mm

These images were made with a Nikon D500 and Tamron 150-600mm Lens resting atop my Sirui tripod and PH-20 Gimbal Head.

Moving In

More bluebird images.  

This first image is Blondie moving her stuff in.  Dagwood wasn't much of a help during this "moving in" process.  He did bring a cricket afterwards, though.  You can see that in the second image.

ISO 6400, 600mm, F/6.3 @ 1/1600th second

ISO 6400, 500mm, F/6.3 @ 1/800th second

As always you can click the image to view it larger and hover over it to view the camera settings.

Images were made with my Sony A7R II, LA-EA3 Adapter, Tamron 150-600mm Lens and Sirui Tripod and PH-20 Gimbal Head.

Blondie and Dagwood

So, I came up with a little name for the bluebird pair that is hanging out in the backyard...Blondie and Dagwood.

I've been able to get hundreds and hundreds of pictures of them separately, but haven't been quick enough to capture them together yet.

Here's an image of Dagwood from a day when I was trying out a bit of a camera experiment.  It was a very overcast day, so I decided to give up the speed of my normal A77 II and go with the better low light performing A7R II.  It had several advantages and disadvantages.  It did what I expected, however, and that was get me shots at higher ISOs with very little noise.  I had to use a Sony LA-EA3 lens adapter to connect my Tamron 150-600mm Lens to this body.

What you can't see in this image is that branch he is looking behind has a hollow area in it that I have placed dried mealworms in.  He's checking out the groceries.  This is how I get so many shots of them here, too.

ISO 3200, 500mm, F/6.3 @ 1/800th second

And that brings us to Blondie.  She is always more camera friendly than Dagwood.  Here's an image where she is giving someone down the road...yes, probably Dagwood.

I shot this image with my 'normal' setup.  The Sony A77 II and Tamron 150-600mm Lens.

ISO 1600, 400mm, F/6.3 @ 1/1600th

Regardless of which camera I use.  I am using a Sirui Tripod and Siui PH-20 Gimbal Head to stabilize my gear.

I look forward to following their adventures throughout spring and into summer.  They should begin nest building here in the next few weeks.  So, if you aren't sick of bluebird pictures yet, you maybe soon ;)

Backyard Bluebirds

So, a few weeks ago the bluebirds that were nesting in the backyard all fledged.  Unfortunately, I was so busy during that time, that I missed the event.  I did manage to photograph the parents for a few weeks prior  and wanted to share a few of my favorites with you.

The first image below is shortly after the eggs had hatched.  This is mom bringing in a treat!

ISO 800, 300mm, F/5.6 @ 1/1600th second

Here is dad bringing in some kind of nasty worm.  Here he's hitting the brakes so he can stick the landing.

ISO 3200, 300mm, F/5.6 @ 1/1600th second

Here is dad coming in with a cricket.  He hasn't deployed the brakes yet, which makes me wonder how they ever stop in time.

ISO 1250, 280mm, F/5.6 @ 1/1600th second

If you hover over these images you can see the settings used.  You will notice a few similarities.  In fact, the shutter speed was the same for each image.  I needed a fast shutter speed to freeze these fast lil turds.  Depending upon my light, I had to raise the ISO higher sometimes to attain that fast shutter speed.

All of these images were made with my Sony A77ii and Tamron 150-600mm Lens.

Bluebird Buffet?

Here's an image I made several weeks back when these bluebirds were still feeding their young in the box.  

Dad was on the box with a cricket and then mom came to join him with a grub.  To the babies I'm sure this was like when I found out the Chik-Fil-A in Rome, GA had a breakfast buffet.  

I can't really explain why, but I love photographing bluebirds.  To me they are so much more fun than other birds.  Maybe it's their personality that I like about them the most.

I made this image with  my Sony Alpha 77ii and Tamron 150-600mm Lens.  In a rare event, I was hand holding the camera/lens so I raised the ISO a touch to make sure I had a decent shutter speed.

ISO 800, 230mm, F/6.3 @ 1/400th second

What I've Been Up To

I haven't been as active on the blog the last few weeks as I would like.  I've been in the process of making the switch from a Canon system over to a full Sony setup.

I've been shooting the Sony mirrorless system since the A7R was released...heck I preordered it.  So I am no stranger to Sony.  So now I have the A7R, the A7S and my newest addition the A77ii.  

Why the A77ii?  Well, The only Canon body I had left was the 7D that I was using for sports/wildife/action.  I wasn't real happy with what it was giving me noise wise...even at lower ISOs.  I noticed a Deal on the A77ii and knew what I could get for my 7D, so I had little invested in the switch.  Also, I have the Sony LA-EA4 adapter, which will allow me to mount any A Mount Sony glass on my mirrorless bodies, so the A Mount isn't an issue for me either.  In fact, I love the fact that with the A Mount, I can use old Minolta Lenses from the 80's.  Some of those lenses are super sharp and can be had for next to nothing!

I've been shooting with the A77ii and the Tamron 150-600mm Lens over the last week or so and I am very pleased with the results.  I knew the Tamron lens would be top notch, I was really curious to see how using this Sony body over the Canon would be...and, for me, it is much easier to use.

Here are a few backyard bird shots I came away with using the above combination.

Here's one of the male bluebirds in my backyard.  He looks upset.

ISO 400, 600mm, F/8 @ 1/250th second

Here's one of the female bluebirds checking out the house.

ISO 400, 600mm, F/8 @ 1/400th second

And finally here is a mockingbird from the backyard

ISO 400, 500mm, F/6.3 @ 1/500th second

And while this is no testament to the equipment...or even a great photo for that matter, I wanted to share this experience with you.  This is an Owl's nest we got to photograph with one of the owlets starring us down.

ISO 400, 600mm, F/7.1 @ 1/640th second

I really enjoyed viewing the owls even if I didn't come away with any wall hangers.  Remember this is about the experience as much as it is the photographs.

I am really enjoying using this Sony system and am about to put it through some good paces over the next several weeks....stay tuned ;)

More from the Tamron 150-600mm

This time it's not coyote pups, but Mountain Bluebirds.  We stumbled upon what happened to be a little bird nursery along Moose-Wilson Road in GTNP.  It was an area that the woodpeckers and sap suckers had carved out.  All the other birds were using their houses once they were unoccupied.  Case in point...these Mountain Bluebirds.

I quickly mounted my Canon 7D with Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD Lens on my Vanguard Alta Pro 283CT Tripod with BBH Ballhead and went to work.

There were birds everywhere...bluebirds, woodpeckers, tree swallows, sap suckers, etc...all darting from tree to tree and hole to hole.  It was a fantastic piece of nature to watch.

Today I wanted to share some images of the Mountain Bluebirds with you.  

This image of the female was taken at 552mm (no cropping in post), F/8, ISO 400 and 1/100th of a second.  Since I was mounted to a tripod, I wasn't too worried about my shutter speed being too high.  It really would only factor in if the bird was moving.  In that case I would raise my ISO up to get a higher shutter speed.

You can see their house directly behind her.  They were super quick in and out of there so most shots were them posing outside or sticking their heads out, like below.

The image above was taken at 600mm (again, no cropping), ISO 400, F/8 and 1/80th.  Again, since she wasn't moving much and I was on a tripod, shutter speed wasn't a concern like it would be if you were trying to hand hold, or there was a lot of movement.  If there was a lot of movement, at 1/80th second, it would just be blurred as fast as these jokers are!

Finally, a shot of the male.  He posed for us like this outside the house for quite a while before flying off and returning to pose again multiple times.

I had cranked up my ISO on this shot, probably due to the fact that the birds were flying around and generally just more active at this point.  My ISO was 1000.  I shot this, again at F/8 with a shutter speed of 1/160th.  This was shot at a 600mm focal length (again, full frame, no cropping).  All of these images were shot in Aperture Priority, as well.

It was a real treat to watch and photograph these bluebirds!