A Few Birds This Week

I’d like to share with you a few of our feathered friends from my recent adventures. Now that I’ve been photographing birds for a number of years, and with the hundreds of thousands of clicks that I’ve done in doing so, I’ve finally learned when ‘not to take the shot.’

This has been a hard lesson to learn as I’m always excited when I see birds. Especially when I was at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge earlier this week and there were about 200 Northern Pintail ducks that were….too far away.

Not all that long ago I remember my first visits to the Wildlife Refuges. Every bird species was new to me and of course I’d have to take their picture regardless of how far away they were or what the light was like. Sometimes I’d photograph a bird because I’d have no idea of what it was so that I could come home to try to identify it.

Over time I’ve managed to photograph most of the bird species found in the Eastern Flyway. So when I’m out in the field, I have to ask myself “Is it worth the shot?” Is the bird close enough, the light right and the bird cooperative? Do I have an image in my archives already that is better than what I am currently seeing?

One of these bird species I’ve been wanting to get a better image of are Horned Larks. There was one day three years ago that I was with two birder friends and we came across a wonderful and super cooperative flock of Horned Larks in the snow. I managed to get some images but felt rushed as birders like to look and move on where as bird photographers take their time to get the best capture.

Since that day, I’ve been searching corn fields in the wintertime when I’m out in the Eastern Shore and haven’t had the good fortune to find any. I’ve known them to spend time in the fields just going into Bombay Hook and scour once again I did on my way out on Tuesday. I keep my window down and listen for chirps, chips and birds singing. Doesn’t matter it’s 25 degrees out, I just crank the car heat. At last, I finally found…one.

I remained in the car so that I wouldn’t spook the bird and this was the best I could get.

You know, I’ll take it. A good bird is better than no bird. At least the Barred owl I went to visit was kind enough to be at home that morning.

In the Wildlife Refuges one drives a wildlife loop to enjoy the scenery and wildlife within it. It is an unspoken code of honor between the wildlife and the photographers that frequent these places. So long as you stay in your car, they’re okay with that. Get out and trust me – off they go! I was able to spend about ten minutes with the Bald Eagle at the beginning of the post watching him cling onto his branch and hold on when he was hit with a gust of wind. I finally decided to continue on leaving the Bald Eagle content in his spot.

There are some areas where the wildlife becomes accustomed to their human visitors. Like this resident Red shoulder hawk at Centennial Lake in Columbia. Desensitized to many walkers, visitors, dogs that walk by this Hawk sat on a tree next to the walkway. He would just glare at passerby’s but didn’t leave. I sat on the ground and watched him for a while before moving on to other things. Usually hawks see you from a long way away and quickly fly off.

The image tells a story of fisherman neglect as the tree has fishing line stuck in it. While watching the hawk I could tell that he knew the fishing line was there and intuitively kept his head out of trouble.

As budding bird photographers, you want to photograph as much as you can of each and every bird you see. It’s with practice that you learn the bird species and how to best capture them. Good luck!

27 thoughts on “A Few Birds This Week

  1. Wow. Just Wow! So lovely. The other day I was walking home, in my wee town in Nova Scotia and heard some distinctly different hoots coming from above. I stopped. Looked up. On a wire sat two bald eagles. They were making warning noises at me and my large dog. It was one of those sweet moments in town when you don’t expect to see that, when you look up.

  2. Beautiful photos. I can identify with the “too far away” comment as I don’t have enough lens length many times. But when I am able to get a nice shot of a beautiful bird it makes it even more special.

  3. Even though I live in their range, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a horned lark. I think it turned out well.
    I love the camouflage of the owl in the sycamore tree – what a great image!

  4. I’m still learning the lesson on restraint and often end up with way too many images to cull through. Still, sometimes it pays off to take a shot when the light is wrong or the distance is too far or when conditions are far from perfect. I guess for me, Emily, it’s about finding a kind of balance and discipline and honing my ability to react quickly and listen to my instincts, like the old Kenny Rogers song says–“you gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.”

  5. Indeed it takes great patience, try and error, the perfect light, the cooperative bird or wild creature , some degree of skill and a bit of luck to get that perfect shot, but I think you are doing fabulously, Emily.
    I had great fun yesterday trying to capture a great tit on our feeder outside the motorhome. I kept clicking away with my mobile phone and Peter laughed at me. When I looked at my thumbnails, I couldn’t quite make out what showed in front of the tree in front of me, but when I clicked on the photo, I saw it was the little bird taking flight! I was thrilled! I shared it on FB!!!

  6. These are wonderful! I especially love the barred owl, the tree opening looks like a heart to me and the textures of the bark and colors remind me of camo. And the owl is charming, he or she looks very wise.

  7. It’s easy to look at your photographs and think how lucky you are that the birds pose for you so well. But after many years of stalking birds with a camera, I know just how much skill and practice it takes to get shots such as yours. Sometimes there’s luck of the weather and light, but even with that knowing the seasons and spots and then recognizing good times to go has much to do with it. My brother and I learned the trick of shooting from the car many years ago. Sometime you can sneak from the far side of the vehicle very quietly and use it as a blind, but I would never recommend that unless you’ve shot all you can from inside first. Sometimes an odd angle you’re forced into can be interesting. I just cam across one of my favorite eagle shots. The lighting was not great, and the angle we could achieve was terrible. I’m not ‘serious’ so equipment is marginal, but I love getting the best captures I can. This imperfect pose was so interesting, I thought : https://twitter.com/KennedyJQuinn/status/811732112831188992

    • LOL ! Had to laugh as I’m totally guilty for sneaking out of my car door and not closing it and coming around the side to get out outside angle. Thrilled that you appreciate and understanding about what it takes to get a nice pose with a bird with all of the other elements. Only years of practice has helped me to see what I’m looking at. Thank you!

      • Oh, a nice hint for your readers that you have likely already discovered too. My brother taught me to walk at an angle and with your head turned away if you must approach a bird in the open. If you walk gently in that manner and then swing your camera inside your body outline and take the shot fairly quickly, you can usually get a shot before they spook, or better yet, not spook them at all. If you don’t have a camera and are just looking, a bird will let you approach much more closely using this technique. Especially if your manner and energy are relaxed, not too excited. It kind of reminds me of Harry Potter learning to approach Buckbeak, the hippogriff. 🙂

        • You’re definitely a master, Emily. It often looks uncanny to me how perfectly posed and lighted your images are. Like you have the birds stop by a perfectly lighted studio with sets and props made to exactly mimic nature. That’s not to say they look false – just extraordinary! I’m so glad you share them with us. Thanks

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