I’ve upped my game,
With the purchase of the Canon 7D Mk II, I really upped my game as far as being able to shoot photos of birds in flight, or any situation really. However, it seems as if the birds have retaliated and upped their game in response, as far as how hard that they try to stay hidden to avoid having their picture taken. You may think that this will be another long boring post about camera gear, but it really isn’t, I’m using camera gear as a device to move onto what will be another post on bird behavior, so please bear with me.
As I have mentioned way too often, the 7D Mk II has one of the best auto-focusing systems of any camera on the market today. Once I started getting it dialed in to be able to get photos like this…
…it seemed as if the that hawk put the word out and let other birds know that I could get photos of them in flight, and they’ve been keeping their distance from me. As I’ve gotten even better with the 7D, I’ve been able to catch a few swallows in flight, no easy task.
Apparently, that swallow put the word out about my new-found ability to catch them in flight, for the large flock of the swallows that formed during the fall of the last two years around here didn’t show up this year.
It isn’t just birds in flight, the same applies to perching birds as well. This juvenile indigo bunting did its best to avoid the camera…
…as it continued to hop from branch to branch…
…until it finally gave up and posed for a few photos, since it knew that it was licked, it couldn’t escape from the 7D once it had locked in on the bunting.
But, that bunting put the word out to the other birds in the area, letting them know that if they let me get a focus lock on them once, that the 7D could track them though widely spaced branches, so the other birds moved into thicker brush, or took off before I could get a good lock on them.
It got so bad that day that I gave up using the 300 mm lens and 1.4 X extender, and resorted to using the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) as I chased a family of wrens around in the brush. The Beast may not be my best lens overall, but it’s still my best lens for seeing through thick brush and finding the birds as they try to hide. It was a tough fight, but eventually, I managed to outlast a couple of the wrens for these photos.
But, not even the Beast was able to get a clear shot of one of the species of birds that’s the best at hiding, a brown thrasher.
That reminds me, several people have asked how I get so close to the birds, one way is that I get right in the thick brush with them, then, I stand motionless other than following the birds with the camera as they look high…
…and low for food.
Sometimes as I’m following the birds…
….they become surly, and let me know what they think of me.
Other birds seem to have a sense of humor, they’ll perch where they know that I can’t get a clear photo of them, then laugh at me as I try.
But, every once in a while even an intelligent species like one of the jays will slip up, and I’ll get a reasonably clear photo of one.
I hope that you’ve enjoyed this light-hearted look at the birds so far, because this all leads up to what I read in a recent study into how intelligent birds how, how well they communicate, their ability to recognize individual humans, and how long that they remember individual humans. I could type most of the important parts of the story out, but here’s a link a New York Times story about the study if you’re interested in more than the highlights that I will touch on here.
Anyway, what that study proved was that birds can recognize and remember the faces of individual humans, and do so for years. I’ve often thought that, I had a much easier time getting good, clear photos of birds at the old apartment complex where I lived than anywhere else I go. I think that’s because I was one of only two or three people who walked around the complex daily, it became easy for the birds to recognize me, and to learn that I didn’t pose a threat. Now, when I walk daily in a public park, there are hundreds of people who the birds see over the course of a week, and it’s harder for them to know which human is which. When I go to places farther from home, the birds never get a chance to learn to recognize me, hence, I have more trouble getting a clear look at them.
That’s especially true with migrating birds in the spring and fall, not only do they not get a chance to learn the faces of individual humans, they don’t know the lay of the land very well, and therefore, they tend to be even more wary, as they don’t know the best places to hide as do the birds that live in an area year round.
On the other hand, migrating birds often travel in flocks, and once you find a flock, you can pick a spot and wait out the birds until one or more of them let’s you get a good look (and hopefully photo) at it.
Changing gears, in my last post, I said that I was mulling over changes to my blog. I was thinking of doing more theme based post, such as saving photos of birds in flight and lumping them into posts with just those photos, whether individual birds…
…or flocks of birds in flight.
I also considered doing posts on birds and what they eat, such as in these photos.
I also considered holding photos that weren’t cropped at all and putting them all into one post, but that would require more self-control than I’m capable of. When I get a photo of a bird when I’m so close to the bird that it more than fills the frame, then that’s most often the first photo to go into a post. I do have these leftovers though.
I do have a number of flower photos left over from this summer, I’m going to put at least one in my posts over the winter so as to remember that winters don’t last forever, it only seems that way.
Having given it a lot more thought, I think that I’ll just continue to post the same as I always have, with one exception.
If you remember, a few months ago, I was having a debate with myself as to what constitutes a great photo, and whether a photo can be great even if it isn’t in the style that the experts say makes a great photo. That is, shot using a wide aperture so only the bird, particularly the eyes, are in focus, and everything else in the frame is out of focus completely with the creamy smooth bokeh that’s more important than the subject itself. Well, I have decided to shoot more photos that for lack of a better term, are of birds as scenery, or I should say, part of the scenery.
This sort of goes along with how I began this post, it isn’t always easy to get great photos of birds perched in good light and when you have a clear view of the bird. I hoped that I would never post a photo like this one again, but it represents how hard it can be to get a clear shot of a bird. I tried to get a clear view of this Savannah sparrow for a good ten to fifteen minutes. Every time I moved slightly to avoid the intervening branches, the sparrow moved so as to put a branch between us again, before I could fire off a shot.
But, there are times when seeing a bird, even though it’s too far away for a great photo, it is worth shooting because of the background in this case.
It would have been even better if there had been more light for this one.
A lot better! 😉
That’s the small-scale version of what I’m talking about, here’s the larger scale version.
That one is a little too “tight”, but by the time that I removed the extender from behind the 300 mm lens to go wider, the flock of gulls was down to only one gull.
That one would have been much better if the entire flock had hung around, but maybe you’re getting the idea?
I’ll get back to this in a second, but here’s why I’m considering these types of photos. I’ve been going to Muskegon at least once per weekend, and I’m tired of shooting the same birds at the same distance all the time. No one’s said anything, but how many times to you need to see what’s about the same photo of a juvenile ruddy duck…
…or even a male that has retained some of its breeding plumage?
I’ve decided to hold off from shooting any more of the ducks in their non-breeding plumage, I’ll at least wait until spring when they’re much more colorful, and so that I’m not shooting more of the same old same old all the time. Besides, sometimes having a bird in the frame can add a bit of interest to an otherwise uninteresting scene.
I’ve been including more of those photos lately, since I’m trying to expand my creative horizons. These next two may give you a better idea of what I’m talking about. Yesterday, at Pickerel Lake, I saw a few geese taking life easy on the shallow end of the lake. I’ve got head shots of geese, I hardly needed to shoot a photo of the geese off in the distance. On the other hand, I thought that there may be a photo in the scene itself, so I went ahead and shot this image.
How boring can you get? But, by moving the focus point to move the geese to where I wanted them to be in the overall scene, stopping down the aperture, and converting the image to black and white, I came up with this.
Yes, I did consider the black and white conversion when I shot that, but I should have moved the geese a little more to the left. Still, it’s much better than the first photo as far as the overall scene, which is what I was going for.
No, that doesn’t mean that all my photos from now on are going to be B&W, nor of birds in the distance, but I’ll probably shoot more of those over the winter until spring arrives with more things to photograph again. Expanding one’s horizons is seldom a bad idea. It’s just like the neutral density filters I’ve recently purchased, I’m not going to go crazy looking for moving water to blur, but those filters will come in handy under the right conditions. If I can’t freeze moving water to get a sharp image, then I’m better off blurring the water until it’s smooth. There’s a time and place for every technique, the secret is learning when to use them, and when not to.
So, I’ll continue posting as I have, with the exception that until I get tired of doing separate posts of birds as part of the scenery, I’ll be doing one of them from time to time.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!