Thursday, October 18, 2007

Photography Is For The Birds!

I think that I finally figured out the mystery behind why some pics are clickable and some aren't. Both of these pics are clickable.
I spent much of my day off at Hammonassett State Park (Madison, CT) on Monday. It's usually much easier for me to find birds there than almost any other place I visit. This was one of those days when I didn't bother making notes or keeping a list. I really just watched birds and watched people photographing birds.

The first birds to catch my attention were White-crowned Sparrows. For some reason, there are lots of them in Connecticut right now. I saw six of them on Monday. I don't normally see that many in one place. There was a juvenile Yellow-bellied Sapsucker drilling some neatly aligned holes in a tree. When I saw its big bill, I briefly mistook it for a Hairy Woodpecker. There were birds of prey flying at low altitude throughout the park including a Merlin, Northern Harrier , Red-tailed Hawk, and Sharp-shinned Hawk. This year I discovered that Sharp-shinned Hawks sometimes make a sound that falls in between a croak and a squawk. I observed Black-bellied Plovers feeding in the Nature Center parking lot. Only one out of about a dozen actually had a black belly. There were Great Egrets, Double Crested Cormorants, and Black Ducks in one pond. I was really shocked by the number of Yellow-rumped Warblers in the park. I counted hundreds, so there must have been thousands. At times, they nearly missed my head as they flew across the path. There were dozens of both Ruby-crowned and Golden-Crowned Kinglets. There were also some Brown Creepers which I haven't seen in a while. I thought it might be nice to have a picture of a Golden-crowned Kinglet but...........

Truth be told, my main interest is birding, not photography. I bought my (point and shoot) camera so that if I came across a rare bird, I could take a picture for photographic evidence. Now that I'm doing this blog, it comes in handy to give a post some visual interest. I get frustrated trying to get decent photos of birds. The only exceptions would be birds at my feeders or those that stay still (like Mourning Doves). I thought having a point and shoot camera would make it a cinch. It hasn't worked out that way. Bad lighting, shaky hands, and birds that are too far away or don't stay still are just a few of the problems I often run in to.

I spotted three cars parked close together at the end of a grassy parking lot near East Beach. I thought that someone may have found a rare bird, so I sauntered over to investigate. It turns out they were photographing birds. It's the way that they were photographing birds that had my interest. All three cars were pulled up along side of brush piles that had been purposely constructed to attract birds. Someone had even thrown bird seed into the pile. The lenses on their cameras reminded me of megaphones. They looked to be about two feet long! The photographers stayed in their cars and photographed sparrows with the lenses just a couple of feet away from the bird's faces. I decided I would try the same thing before the day was over.

I spent the next couple of hours trying to find a Saw-whet owl, or get a picture of a Golden-crowned Kinglet. I could hear those little buggers, but they hardly ever showed themselves. When I did see them, they were flitting about in the trees. I finally did get a couple of pictures, but they weren't very good.

On the way out, I drove up to the brush pile and took 6 pictures of a Savannah Sparrow within a couple of minutes. They all came out much better than the Kinglet picture. I still don't enjoy using a camera, but the pull-up-your-car-to-the brush-pile method is a great idea. It was also a heck of a lot easier than trying to chase down a Kinglet.
What frustrates you about photography?
Do you have any bird photography secrets you would like to share?


Lynne at Hasty Brook said...

I always try to get photos to examine later, usually to help me with identification. It frustrates me because it feels like the camera separates me from just watching the birds. Tips? I do try to focus on an area where I see bird activity (auto focus on my point and shoot) by pushing the shutter down half way, then I hold it half pushed to lock the focus and wait for the bird or move the camera view to where the bird is.

THAT was a bad sentence!

J. Karl Clampit said...

Most of my birdwatching and photography goes on right in my backyard. I have a lot of feeders out, some close to my house and others close to the tree line in the back. I have also left a few fallen limbs out to serve as a congragation point. I've got a lot of regulars but have noticed as the weather is changing, a few migratory birds are starting to visit. I've got a digital camera with a good zoom to help get shots further out in the yard.

Hanley Family said...

Wouldn't it be nice if the birds would sit still and say cheese? I don't even get that good of shots from my birds at the feeder since it I am usually shooting through a window. The sparrows, downy woodpeckers and nuthatches will hang around despite my presence, but nuthatches do not sit still.

I want to take another picture of my finch feeder filled with goldfinches this winter...but from outside this time. I don't know if I have the patience in freezing weather, but I'm going to try it.

Larry said...

Lynne-I feel that way about the camera interferring with just watching birds too.It would be nice if they could perfect the binoclars with built in cameras.-That sound like a good method for capturing bird pictures too.

Karl-I read an article in Birdwatcher's Digest about a photographer who took dead limbs and inserted them right in to the gound just to make a good perching location to photograph birds.

dana-It's always nice to have a fun project to look forward to.

Anonymous said...

So many wonderful birds and photography! Ugg, lighting is my biggest complaint! Then again I refuse to take a tripod with me! So shaking to the camera can do it to me!

Mary said...

Oh, Larry. Photographing birds is a constant source of frustration for me but I always try again and hope for the best. I like the challenge. I use my camera zoom for ID, too.

Some of my best photos (of Cedar Waxwings) were taken in my drivers seat. When you think you have a photo opp, slow down, turn off the radio and glide slowly to the spot and be patient. Birds don't mind cars as much as they do people.

When walking, I take a shot, slowly take a few steps closer, take another shot, and continue the routine. Sometimes I'm lucky but most of the time I get the tail feathers exiting...

Great Savannah Sparrow!!!!!

Larry said...

Monarch-You must have pretty steady hands from the pictures that I've seen.

Mary-Good techniques Mary!-Thanks for letting us in on your secrets.

LauraHinNJ said...


Cross your fingers and hope for the best.

Ruth said...

Today I went birding with my binoculars and didn't worry about pictures. And it was enjoyable. I saw a number of gold-crowned kinglets and yellow rumped warblers and knew that trying to get pictures would be very difficult. With an autofocus camera, I often end up with "spectacular" branches and blurry birds.

Larry said...

laura-On both hands or just one hand?

ruth-I know that I would enjoy myself more without the camera, but I'm afraid that I'll need it and won't have it available!-So I'm not the only one with a collection of branches with blurry birds in the background.

Anonymous said...

Hi Larry,
Photography is not my thing, but I appreicate the photos of others. White-throated Sparrows are just about the most common winter bird on the Big Spring. Great Picture of the Savannah Sparrow. Don't you just love how bright white they are? They aren't very common here, but I did manange to find a small flock mixed in with Song Sparrows. Side by side the difference between the two is stunning. By the way got the blog back up.

Jayne said...

I am like Karl in that most all my photos are from my backyard. I find that I enjoy spotting the birds more effectively in my lens than with binocs. If I get a good view AND photo, it makes it even more enjoyable to me. So many of them are so far away that until I load them and crop them a bit, I am not sure if I even got a decent image, but so many times, I am rewarded with something that is a forever memory of a beautiful sight to behold.

Great photo of the sparrow Larry!

Larry said...

Vern-Yes -they are a very clean looking sparrow and are less comon around here than some of the otheres.- noticed your blog up this morning, and already put it back on my blogroll.-Glad you're back!

jayne-You make a good point.-The photo is also a personal memory of what you saw and when you saw it. Thanks-glad you liked the sparrow photo.

Mary C said...

Hi Larry - what frustrates me most is the poor lighting. That's one thing I haven't worked on with my point and shoot. But I plan on honing my photographer skills a little at a time. Tips/advice: my point and shoot has a 10x optical zoom which helps. I also have a "sport/action" mode, which I have learned to use for all my bird photography this summer; the pix come out better than if I would use my auto focus.

dguzman said...

I'm a frustrated bird photographer; all this advice really helps!

I do most of my photography in the backyard, and I'm currently making myself a little "blind" so I can just set up with the tripod and camera and snap away. I have a couple of brush piles constructed in my yard, but I never thought about making one out in the field. I may try that.

RuthieJ said...

Hi Larry,
Getting good bird photos is a challenge for me also. I'm sure thankful for digital....I probably delete at least 5 pictures for every one that I think is good enough to save. Imagine how much that would have cost me in 35mm film and processing!

My camera has the image stabilizer feature which is a plus--especially on long shots without a tripod. But I'm still totally frustrated with trying to figure out how to take good close-ups.

Oh yeah, being clothed totally in camouflage while birding in wooded areas works pretty good too....sometimes the birds get pretty close before they realize you're not a tree!

Anonymous said...

I love the brush-pile method!! Great idea. My problem with taking photos from inside the car is that usually they fly in front of the car where the windshield messes up the photo.

However, I've captured some interesting shots of flying pelicans through the moonroof which is pretty cool.

My usual method of photographing birds (because I am birding first and don't have super long lenses) is to find a patch of birds and get as close to the action as possible and then just freeze. The birds usually come close after a while if you stay still. And I always shoot with the viewfinder and not the LCD because A) I can hold the camera more steady right by my face and B) Without moving the camera about, I don't spook the birds as easily.

Your Savannah shot is superb!!

nina at Nature Remains. said...

Isn't it reassuring that so many share your frustrations?
When time is short, I feel rushed to both snap good ID pics and get a "pretty" picture.
Usually when I download back at home, the bird I was looking at is barely a speck on a branch in a very fuzzy picture.
I now spend more time observing for ID with binocs, less attempts for a picture, unless it lands right in front of me.
(but I did just buy a blind that I'm excited to try!)

Larry said...

Mary c-I might have a sports mode.-Maybe I'll give it a try.

delia-I may try using a blind some time too.-I'm still much more interested in birding than photography though.

birdfreak-thanks-I try to stand still but I'm not very patient that way.-through the moonroof- cool idea!

nina-good advice-I'm trying to avoid getting trigger happy and just accept it when a bird is in bad lighting or too far away.