Bluebirds

I haven't had the best of luck with birds in the backyard this year, so far.  I've been plagued with some nuisance birds that think they own the place.  They have been trying their best to run off any other bird that comes into the yard.  However, my luck started to change as the month of May rolled in.  

I've seen several different species fighting for use of the bird box since then.  I've seen wrens, swallows and bluebirds all trying to claim the box as their own.  Time will tell who wins that fight.  Either way, I would be happy to photograph any of them.  Yesterday was my birthday and I started the day off with photographing those birds.

I was so worried that the bluebirds wouldn't show up this year.  They are usually here well before now.  So I am especially happy to see them in the backyard now...even if it only lasts for a few days.  This is the male Eastern Bluebird.  These bluebirds are easily one of my favorite birds to watch and photograph.  I was especailly happy to start my birthday off photographing them.

Equipment list: Nikon D500, Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD, Sirui P-324 Monopod, Sirui L-20S Monopod Head

EXIF Info: Aperture-priority, 1/1,000 sec, f/8, ISO 900, 450 mm

Bluebirds

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.

Female Eastern Bluebird

I love my backyard bluebirds.  All of them.  However, I think the females tend to photograph better than the males.  I have no idea why...I just usually like the images of the females better.

This image of a female Eastern Bluebird was taken on an early, overcast morning.  As I've mentioned many times before, that's my favorite kind of light to shoot these birds in.  I did have to kick my ISO up to 3200 for this image.  I did that in order to get a higher shutter speed in order to freeze any action and ensure a sharp image.

I have my backyard bird blind setup about 8 feet from the posing trees.  Doing so allows me to fill the frame with these small birds at 400mm or less.  I am continualy amazed at how sharp this Tamron 150-600mm G2 lens is!  You could count the feathers on this thing if you wanted to!

Aperture-priority, 1/1,250 sec, f/6, ISO 3200, Compensation: +1, 350 mm

Hover over the image to see my camera settings.  Click the image to view it larger.

I have a video of my backyard birding setup planned, pleas be patient as I work through that.  I plan to share everything from how I setup feeders, posing trees, birdhouses, blind, tripod....everything.

This image was made using my Nikon D500, Tamron 150-600mm Lens, Sirui Tripod and PH-20 GImbal Head.

First Bluebirds of 2017

I've seen the bluebirds around the backyard this year, but this is the first time I've had the chance to photograph them.  They are already starting to protect the bluebird house and all looks good for them moving in soon.

Aperture-priority, 1/160 sec, f/5.6, ISO 1600, Compensation: +1, 300 mm

Hover over the image to view my camera settings.  Click the image to view it larger.

Here is the male having one of the mealworms from the feeder that is tucked inside that hollow log he is on.  Having the feeder, which is just the bottom of a water bottle I cut out and screwed inside this log, allows the birds to come where I want them to be, while still looking like a natural scene.

Luck played a bit of a part in this image.  This image was taken just a few moments before sunset on an overcast day, so light was getting pretty low.  Because of that, even at my widest aperture and an ISO of 1600 I was only able to get a shutter speed of 1/160th.  Getting a sharp image at 1/160th required a few things...first, I needed to be on a tripod, which I was, and secondly, the subject needed to sit perfectly still, which he did.  That's where luck comes in.  If this bird had moved in the slightest, the image would not have been sharp at 1/160th.  

Often times, I read comments from people that think their lens or camera has an issue when they are shooting a longer lens, like this 150-600mm lens, because their image isn't as sharp as they would like.  Most of the time the problem is more so with not using proper technique or paying attention to your camera settings.  Like I mentioned above, at 1/160th of a second if this bird moved a tiny bit the image would not be sharp.  That would have nothing to do with the lens or camera, but my shutter speed.  I did not really want to raise my ISO any higher, because I wanted as clean an image as possible.  I was aware of that when I was shooting and was banking on a little luck, which I got.

Image made with my Nikon D500, Tamron 150-600mm Gs Lens, Sirui Tripod and 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.

Update on America's Favorite Bluebird Couple

I'll try to catch you up to speed as to what is going on in the world of Blondie and Dagwood.  I've been keeping a close watch on their nest.  The earliest I documented eggs in the nest was on April 2.  Then I noticed two eggs in the nest.  Well, those eggs are still there...not hatched.  Since then they have laid three more eggs, but I wasn't able to document at what time they showed up.  I am pretty sure the first two eggs are no good, based on all the information I have read.  Typically bluebird eggs hatch between 12-14 days after they are laid.  The first two have been in there for over a month.  I have hope that the last three are still good.  The bluebirds have been spending a lot of time with the eggs in the last few weeks, so I am holding out hope that the birds know better than I that at least some of those eggs are still good.  I'd like to see Blondie and Dagwood be successful parents.

On another note, they have been eating their tails off.  Mostly Dagwood at the feeders.  He usually grabs food and takes to the nest to Blondie.  She has been spending a lot of time in the nest box, which is why I am still holding out hope for a few of the eggs.

I've been putting out live meal worms for them over the last few weeks, too.  I usually just put them in one of the "holes" on the tree and as soon as Dagwood finds them, it's on like Donkey Kong.

Aperture Priority, F/6.3, ISO 2000, 1/1000th second, Exposure Compensation +0.7, 330mm

In the above image you can see Dagwood digging for worms.  I have placed a handful of live mealworms in the hollow cavity of this posing tree so he can find them.  He's got his head in that hollow area in this image digging them out.  Then when he does find them it allows for photographs like you see below.

Aperture Priority, F/6.3, ISO 1600, 1/1000th second, Exposure Compensation +0.7, 330mm

This is just one of the things I do to capture images of these birds in a more natural environment.

Both images were made using my Sony A6300, LA-EA3 Lens Adapter and Tamron 150-600mm Lens.  Of course I used my Sirui tripod and PH-20 Gimbal Head, too.

Dagwood, You Charmer

So, the action in the backyard is starting to pick up quite a bit.  I've noticed over the last few days a lot of new, migratory birds stopping by the feeders.  Also, I'm still waiting any day now for the bluebird eggs to hatch.  In the meantime, Blondie and Dagwood are packing in the calories in preparation.

I've been putting out live mealworms for them and they are tearing those things up.  It's also been giving me some pretty good photo ops.

Here's a shot of Dagwood giving Blondie a little gift of love.  Personally, I would never want a worm for a gift, but hey, we are all different.

A bit of a tip here.  When I was out shooting yesterday the sun was moving in and out of the clouds causing the light to differ from one shot to the next.  If you find yourself in a similar situation try using Auto ISO.  In my Sony A6300 I can set a minimum shutter speed for auto ISO.  So I told my camera that when I'm using Auto ISO not to let the shutter speed get below 1/500th second.  Then I have my aperture set in aperture priority mode.  As the light changes the camera quickly calculates and adjusts the ISO (much quicker than I can) to keep that 1/500th shutter speed based on my selected aperture .  It saves a lot of missed shots from constantly having to change the ISO.

Image made with Sony A6300, LA-EA3 Adapter, Tamron 150-600mm Lenes, Sirui tripod and PH-20 Gimbal Head.

Aperture Priority at F/6.3, 1/500th second shutter speed, ISO 2000, Exposure Compensation +0.7

 

 

Yes, more bluebirds

I know what you're thinking.  However, Saturday morning, the bluebirds and I had an extraordinary time.

See, I checked the bluebird box last week and they had quite a nest built up inside the box.  I figured I had just missed all the photographic opportunities of them building the nest.  I was pretty bummed about that, because I think those can be some of the best images.  I guess I was living right, or someone knew how bummed I was because Saturday morning, they added a few finishing touches to the nest that allowed me to get some great shots.

ISO 6400, 600mm, F/6.3 @ 1/1250th second

The light was not the best so I knew I was going to be shooting at higher ISOs.  This made me go with the Sony A7R II for my body choice.  I probably ended up missing a lot of shots because it is so much slower than the A77 II I normally use in terms of FPS, but I also might not have gotten these shots at all due to the A77 II not being able to do as well with higher ISOs.  

This was one of my favorite images of the morning.  Blondie is bringing in a little extra padding for the nest.  

I was able to capture this image with my Sony A7R II, LA-EA3 Adapter and Tamron 150-600mm Lens.  I had this setup mounted to my Sirui tripod and PH-20 GImbal Head.  The PH-20 ended up being a vital piece of this setup.  For these in flight shots, I just pre-focused on the area in front of the house, then locked the PH-20 down.  I knew this head wouldn't be slipping.  I knew once I locked it down , it wasn't moving.  So, after I pre-focused and locked the head down, I would just wait for her to come in and fire away.

 Some skill, some good timing and some good luck...