Birds

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.

More From the Female Osprey

On Sunday morning our workshop group got the opportunity to photograph both mom and dad osprey eating a fish.  

Dad brought his fish to the nest to eat.  Mom was none too happy about this.  She screamed and squawked at him the entire time he ate, until he finally left the nest with the fish.  I think she was more upset that he brought the fish to the nest than she was that he wasn't sharing.  At one point while dad was eating at the nest, a mighty brave, little kestrel came swooping in trying to steal some of dad's meal.

After dad left the nest, mom went out and got a fish of her own.  She began eating it within the cover of some trees instead of at the nest.  This worked out great for the group.  The trees were much lower to the ground allowing a much better perspective for photographing her.

Aperture-priority, 1/1,600 sec, f/8, ISO 800, Compensation: +1 2/3, 600 mm

It was very cloudy and the light was not great, so I had to increase my exposure compensation for this by 1 2/3 rds.  Shooting a dark subject on a bright background always throws your camera meter into fits, so you need to adjust your settings to compensate for this.  

This image was made with my Nikon D500 and Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 Lens mounted onto my Sirui P-324S monopod and L-20S Monopod Head.

Mobile, AL Birding Workshop

This past weekend was our birding photography workshop in Mobile, AL.  It went really well!  We were hosted Friday night by Calagaz Photo in Mobile, where David and I both gave presentations then Calagaz offered some super specials to the 6o+ in attendance.

Saturday and Sunday morning we held our field sessions of the workshop.  Due to weather and blustery winds, the bird activity started out a bit slow.  However, thanks to the nesting osprey in the area, we got plenty of chances to photograph stationary birds and birds in flight.

We made some great new friends and had a great time!

On Friday morning, while we were out scouting locations for the workshop, we got the opportunity to photograph some osprey that were busy nest building.  

Aperture-priority, 1/2,000 sec, f/6.3, ISO 400, Compensation: +2/3, 600mm

This is the female osprey bringing in a few sticks to accommodate the nest.  She and her mate spent about 45 minutes non stop adding to the nest this particular morning.  She would leave and get a stick, and upon her return, he'd then leave and go get a stick.

I used my Nikon D500 and Tamron 150-600mm G2 lens all weekend attached to my Sirui monopod.  The Tamron G2 did so well at locking on focus and never losing it!

More Backyard Bluebirds

I've been spending a lot of time in the backyard photographing the birds lately.  This time of year things start to pick up again at the feeders.  I'm glad to see activity picking up.  Everyone knows how much I enjoy the bluebirds, so I never pass up a chance to photograph them.

Aperture-priority, 1/800 sec, f/5.6, ISO 3200, Compensation: +1, 300 mm

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

Whenever it's a bright, overcast day outside that type of light allows me to shoot all day in the backyard...and if I am able to, I certainly will.  This image was taken on just a day.  It was taken about 8:30ish in the morning, so I had to raise my ISO to 3200 in order to get a decent shutter speed.  Luckily, the Nikon D500 had no trouble with noise at ISO 3200!

I typically don't like taking photos of a bird's backside, however I am OK with it as long as I can still make eye contact.  The eye is the most important part in any kind of wildlife photography.  You need to see the eye and it needs to be sharp!  The impact of the photo is increased even more if you are able to photograph your subject at it's eye level.  Sometimes that means getting down low and maybe even dirty.  But it's all worth it for the shot ;)

Image made with my Nikon D500, Tamron 150-600mm G2 Lens and Sirui Tripod and PH-20 Gimbal Head.

Merlin

While down in Mobile, AL scouting for our upcoming birding workshop, David Akoubian and I ran across this Merlin.  As we were driving down the road, we saw this bird sitting in the top of a tree and thought it was a hawk.  We turned around, came back and got a closer look through the lens.  We knew it wasn't a hawk at that point, but we were unsure what it was for certain still.  Whenever you are with a bird nerd, like David, and he doesn't know what kind of bird it is, it is a bit of an exciting moment.  You know if David can't ID the bird instantly it must be something special.

This Merlin had just finished a meal when we found her.  She was pretty content to sit on that tree snag and pose for us.  So, while I was just taking pictures David was doing the bird nerd thing and taking pictures from the front, sides and back to properly ID the bird.  Sure enough when we got back in the car, we used our phones to ID the bird as a female Merlin.  I can tell David was doing a happy dance on the inside.

Aperture-priority, 1/640 sec, f/8, ISO 200, Compensation: +1 1/3, 600 mm

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

Although this bird sat and posed for us for several minutes, I think the shots I liked the most were the ones where it appears she is looking directly into the camera.

This image was made using my Nikon D500, Tamron 150-600mm G2 lens and Sirui P-424S Monopod.

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.

Overcast Days In The Bird Blind

Yesterday was a great day to be in the backyard bird blind.  It was a bright overcast much of the day, which meant I could shoot all day long in great light.  So, I did just that.  I would shoot an hour or so then go inside for a few hours, then go back out again.  I don't get a lot of days when the light is good all day, so I take advantage when I can.

Often times when I am out traveling and shooting, I hear people say things like "I don't shoot between the hours of 10 and 2.".  I think that is a ridiculous statement.  I shoot when the light is good, period.  I don't care what the clock says.  

I had a ton of different birds show up at the feeders yesterday, but I was really excited to see these goldfinches show up by the dozens and dozens.  It's the first time I've seen them at the feeders this year.  Everyone of them took their time to pose for the camera, too.

Aperture-priority, 1/320 sec, f/6.3, ISO 3200, Compensation: +1, 500 mm

These goldfinches showed up to eat sunflowers, but when I noticed so many of them I also put out some thistle seed for them.  They tore up the thistle seed, too!

Although it isn't quite time for these birds to be in their mating plumage, I still think they are gorgeous birds.  Even in their "drab" winter dress ;)

This image was taken about 7:45 am, so the light was still fairly dark at this point.  I normally like to shoot these birds at about F/8, but I had to open up to F/6.3 to get more light to the sensor.  I also had to bump my ISO to 3200 to get a shutter speed that would even come close to working out.

I made this image using my Nikon D500, Tamron 150-600mm G2 Lens, Sirui Trpod and Gimbal Head.

 

White Pelicans

Near my house is a wildlife refuge called Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge.  Typically, in November there are a large group, or groups, of white pelicans that stop there along their migration.  They usually hang around a few weeks and then they are gone.  There are many other birds there, but the pelicans steal the show in early to mid November.

This past weekend I took the kayak out to Wheeler to see if I could find some pelicans.  These birds are pretty smart and usually stay away from the easily accessible areas.  Often times they are on the opposite bank, that is not accessible by road.  Hence the kayak. The kayak also allows me to get closer to the birds without stressing them out.  So a paddlin' I went.

Aperture Priority, F/6.3, 1/3200th second, ISO 400, Exposure Compensation -1/3

Another advantage of being in the kayak was I could pretty much place myself to be able to shoot in the best light.  So I would position myself with the sun to my back, front lighting the pelicans.  Once I was in position the camera part was pretty easy.  I shot these with my Nikon D500 and Tamron 150-600mm G2 Lens.  I made sure the camera was on continuous focus and high speed shutter.  Then I wanted to make sure my shutter speed was at least 1/1000th, which was pretty easy to do on this day.  I had my aperture wide open at F/6.3 and my ISO was set to 400.  This ended up giving me a shutter speed of 1/3200th...much faster than my desired 1/1000th speed.

I'll probably be making a few more trips out there before these birds leave, so stay tuned.

Northern Flicker

Ever since we started going out to Jackson in the spring one of my highlights of the trip is always finding these "bird nurseries", as we like to call them.  Basically, any cluster of aspen trees you find has all sorts of nesting holes in them and all kinds of birds make use of them.  In a small area you could see several different species of birds.

Aperture Priority, 1/1000th, F/6.3, ISO 3200, Exposure Compensation +1/3

This is a Northern Flicker feeding it's chick.  These birds are found all over the United States in any season.  This is the red shafted form of the Northern Flicker.  There is also a yellow shafted form.  Their main diet is insects, mostly ants.  They use their long, barbed tongue to collect the ants.  I need some of these guys in my backyard.  It would be a like an all you can eat buffet for them!

This image was made using a Nikon D500 and Tamron 150-600mm Lens.  All resting a top my Sirui tripod and GImbal Head.