Category Archives: Birds

Molting Black Capped Chickadee

This is what the Black Capped Chickadees usually look like in my backyard. They are a fairly common species for me so I am a little curious as to why I never noticed them molting before.

BZBC_00271 as Smart Object-1 copy

Below is an image made this past weekend. It was overcast so the birds colors do not pop the same way as in the image above. I can tell you from first hand information that a little sunshine wasn’t going to help this little fella 🙂 He looked down right ratty. The only other thing I could think of is this was a juvenile but given how big he is, I ruled that out. Anyone have an opinion?

BZBC_00288 as Smart Object-1 copy

After checking several sources it appears that mid-August molts are common for Black Capped Chickadees.

BZBC_00293 as Smart Object-1 copy

Its funny how you can find something new even in something you thought was common and you have seen 1000 times before.

Images captured on Nikon D3x w/600mm f/4 and Tc-14e on Lexar Digital FIlm.

Willet Chicks!!

Willet Itch
Willet Itch

I have been visiting this Willet nesting area for years. As some readers will remember I have had some close encounters with Willet chicks but I have never been fast enough to get glass on them….until now.

Willet Foraging
Willet Foraging

One of the reasons I like this photographic location is that it enables me to use my car as a blind. There are 2 key reasons why I find this desirable. First, I dont stress the parents or the chicks by walking around their home. Second, my movement does not flush the chicks from hiding, making them more vulnerable to predators.

Willet Chick
Willet Chick
Willet Chick going to hide
Willet Chick going to hide
Willet Chick on the move
Willet Chick on the move

By my estimate these chicks (there were 2) are approximately 4 weeks old. I was really glad to finally be able to photograph these chicks. I have to admit they are fast and my persistence was worth the wait.

Images captured with Nikon D3x, 600mm f/4 w/TCe-1.4 on Lexar digital film.

Laughing Gulls

Laughing Gulls are a rare subject in avian photography. No matter where you go, they seem to be ok with a photographers presence. I think if someone with a big black shiny tube that had 3 long black poles sticking out of it, walked or crawled toward me at a slow pace, I would hightail-it out of there as fast as I could. Especially if I could fly :-).


Yet these interesting birds seem to love to put on a show for us. They also do some really funny things if you sit and observe them long enough. Thats the important message here, if you sit and observe long enough. Avian photography is all about putting in your time. Things don’t just happen because you are there. You have to wait for them to happen. Hopefully, you put yourself in a position to take advantage of when they happen! Often knowing when something is going to happen is the result of good research (understanding your subjects biology) and observing the subject so you know when certain behavior has a great chance of occurring.

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I think the patience aspect of bird viewing and photography is one of the reasons I like it so much. My life is full of schedules, timetables and the need for instant gratification. When it comes to nature, mother nature decides what you see, when you see it and how you see it. Thats why every scene, event or creature we view is different and special. A lesson we should learn for our every day lives as well. All too often we take for granted what we have right in front of us, only to be devastated when it is no longer there.

BGLG_00053 as Smart Object-1 copy

Images captured with Nikon D3x, 600mm f/4, TC-14eII on Lexar Digital Film

Looking Forward to Barnegat Jetty

Lets face it, I don’t love the cold weather. Give me the choice of somewhere warm vs. cold and I take the warm location every time. The exceptions are for my son who plays hockey (usually cold places :-)) and for photography. Some of the best photographic locations in the world are even more beautiful in the winter. The winter also affords the opportunity to photograph some bird species not around during the warmer weather. One such magical place is Barnegat Jetty in New Jersey. If you would like some background information on the location check out my Barnegat Jetty Post from last year.

Harlequin Drake Swimming Near the Rocks

I loved the Harlequin Ducks that I photographed at the Jetty last year. They are beautiful birds.

Harlequin Drake and Hen in Flight

I look forward to getting back to Barnegat over Christmas break in order to photograph these wonderful birds and a host of other “winter only” residents that call Barnegat their home away from home.

Harlequin Drake on the Rocks

New Species in my Yard

I was thrilled to see a new visitor to our feeders yesterday.

House Wren

While I know House Wrens are considered a common species, I have not had the pleasure of sighting and/or photographing one. When I first saw these 2, I thought for a minute that they might be in the Nuthatch family. I was especially drawn to this conclusion by the tail position of the Wren in the the photo below.

House Wren Singing

However, after doing some research I realized it was not a type of Nuthatch but in fact a House Wren. Apparently my incorrect species identification is a common one ;-).

House Wren 2

I believe based on comparing these images that this must be a mating pair. I did in fact place a wren box on the edge of the woods this past winter hoping it would provide some shelter for some of the birds. I suspect that these Wrens have either been using this box and that I have not seen them before or the more likely scenario is that these two found our feeders on their migration south.

Images captured with Nikon D3x, 600mm f/4 w/TC-14eII on Lexar digital film.

My Backyard Bird Photography Studio

Co-Posted on Birding is Fun! (link)

Its amazing how this topic seems to be on the minds of so many people. I bet I get a few emails a month from folks asking for help designing and/or building a backyard bird photography studio. I have tried many different gadgets and setups for my backyard bird photography studio, both home-made and purchased. In fact I have tried as many setups as I have camera bags! Just like camera bags, different yard setups present different solutions and complications depending on weather and time of year. What I will attempt to do in this post is talk about and show you how I have generated the most consistent results in my backyard bird photography studio. I will give you one warning before you read this post. I follow the KISS method in my photography. KISS stands for Keep It Simple Stupid :-). If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me how many lights I setup in my backyard or how big or what kind of a tent I use for a blind, I would be rich. The simple answer is I don’t use any of these things. I know, I know, some of you will say you have to use lights if you are going to stop the action of a hummingbirds wings or counteract the effects of the harsh mid day sun and this is true, in some applications. I will give you that using a flash when photographing hummingbirds is helpful but not required. As it relates to using a flash to help counteract the harsh midday sun my response is I don’t photograph in the harsh midday sun. Have I used flash in the yard for special effects, yes. Do I use it often, no.

So lets talk about the basics of backyard bird photography studio. What do you need for this to be successful? The first thing is you need to be able to control your background. There is nothing worse than a beautiful bird on a branch, with 20 other branches in the way or a sky scraper in the picture along with your subject! What you also need to consider before you select a location for your feeder is the angle of the sun and where you will be standing in relation to the sun and your feeder. Ideally, you want the sun to always be behind you (over one of your shoulders) so that you will be between the sun and the perches/branches you will be photographing.

Basic Setup

In the picture above you will notice 3 locations for birds to land, eat and drink. All 3 are highlighted by white arrows. I will show you closeup images below to help. If you notice, I have placed the feeders, bird bath and large perch in locations where the birds can fly in and out to the woods easily. I have also made it easy for little song birds to hide in bushes and make their way to the feeders using the cover of the shrubs for safety. You should also notice that I do not place any of the feeders near windows in an attempt to limit window strikes.

The feeders and stands I am currently using are made and sold by a company named Wild Birds Unlimited (WBU Link). I have found their products to be excellent and the store employees to be very helpful and friendly birders. I use the APS System (APS Link).

Here is the view of the main feeder from the driveway where I usually shoot from. Notice the clean background behind the perches.

Providing water is an essential element to having happy birds at your feeders. In fact, water is often more difficult for them to find than food so if at all possible, try to provide this. I am actually considering burying a water feature in the ground nest spring for a different angle from which to photograph my birds!

Hopefully this post gives you some ideas on how to layout your feeders and perches on your property in order to give you the best opportunities to photograph the birds in your backyard.

Notice all the feeders have squirrel and raccoon baffles
Second setup with ranch style feeder
Anther view of the ranch feeder
Clips sold by WBU to hold branches/perches

So I thought that I would provide some examples of images you can take in the yard with and without special effects. The two images of a Ruby Throated Hummingbird were both created without using flash. Nope, just plain old fashioned sunlight. Its just how you use that sunlight! The bottom image is taken using flash. The intent was to try and give the viewer the impression that the bird was actually photographed in front of a black background. It was actually photographed in front of a tree. Its amazing what you can do if you use your imagination when it comes to photography. Don’t be afraid to experiment with your photography!

Ruby Throated Hummingbird with an itch
Ruby Throated Hummingbird looking for some nectar
American Goldfinch photographed with flash to blacken the background and make his colors pop!

Juvenile Mourning Doves

We have had a lot of Mourning Doves around the feeders this year. I have actively been stocking feeders for 2 1/2 years now and I have never seen as many juvenile Mourning Doves as I did this year.

Juvenile Mourning Dove

My count was 4 pairs of adults and approximately 7 juveniles. Given that the average clutch size is 2 eggs, this would make sense.

Juvenile Mourning Dove from behind

If you are interested, here is a link for a PDF on building a nesting basket for Mourning Doves, provided by All About Birds (PDF Link)

Images captured with Nikon D3x, 600mm f/4 w/TC-14eIII on Lexar Digital Film

Visiting Some Old Friends

Those of you who are regular readers of my blog know that I have adopted an Osprey perch that I visit a few times a year. I love to learn about and observe these incredible birds. Unfortunately I have only been able to visit my regular Osprey spot once this year and to my disappointment found the location I used to enter was now locked. It appears that the area is being surveyed for development. I am heading back to the location this weekend in the hopes that I can gain entrance (I’m bringing a little help this time :-))

Osprey Watching Over Nest with Chicks

If there is a silver lining in every cloud it could be this. I visited several Osprey nesting locations this spring and found this adult, I’m sure female, sitting on this nest with 3 chicks (counted). This perch has been empty the last 3 seasons. Im glad to see that the Osprey population appears to be getting stronger/larger on the East End of Long Island.

Image captured with Nikon D3x w600mm f/4 and TC-14e III on Lexar Digital Film.