Cardinal Sunset

This female Northern Cardinal has been spending a lot of time at the feeders recently. She is new to the area as I have not seen her markings before. I think she is a beautiful specimen. My wife is jealous ;-).

Female Northern Cardinal
Female Northern Cardinal 2

Images captured using Nikon D3x, 600mm f/4 w/TC-14e II on Lexar Digital Film.

Monday Musings – Is there a Difference Between Birding and Bird Photography?

I get asked this question a lot. Many people don’t realize that “birding” and “bird photography” are NOT the same thing. I know this may seem odd to some of you since you are probably saying to yourself “I take pictures when I go birding”! Well I also make bird images when I am out with other birders. However, when I attend outings with birders my intent is to learn about birds, not make images. I think that is really the difference between the two activities, what are your goals or intent when you arrive at your location? For me, the preparation and mindset I get into are different if my intent is bird photography and not birding.

Red Winged Blackbird Sneaks up on Momma Osprey

The quest for great bird photography is not practical in a group with as many people as birding groups usually contain. My best bird images have been created when I am alone or with a very small group of photographers. This is true for several reasons. First, wildlife in general does not like large groups. In fact, if you look at the details of many “wildlife photography workshops” you will notice that most have a maximum participant size of 6. The reason is simple. It is very difficult to have 18 people sneak up on a bird or bear :-). Second, I have made some great friends in the birding world and as a group, I feel comfortable saying they are the nicest bunch of people I have ever met. But inevitably when you are in large groups of people, all with different agendas, trying to make sure someone doesn’t walk in front of your images or scare off your subject is just not practical. Alas, birders I know, hate sitting around at a perch that has perfect light waiting for a bird to land on it so a nut like me can photograph it ;-).

Brandon Harley Rookery (No comments about my bald spot!)

So how do I deal with these “issues”? Personally, I adjust my expectations for the group I am with. When I am with birders, I try to learn as much as I can and share information. I do not go out with the hope of making an image that I will sell or put in my portfolio. I save that for when I am with bird photographers or out on my own. The opposite is true when a birder friend wants to go with me to do some serious shooting. I share with them the process I go through before I visit a location and the plan for that days shooting. So far this approach has worked very well for me, allowing me to get the most out of both types of birding experiences.

Happy Thanksgiving!

To all my American friends, I wish you and your family a very Happy Thanksgiving.

Wild Turkey

I am thankful for so many things its hard to remember them all. Most importantly I am blessed to have a wonderful wife and 3 great kids that I get to spend this holiday with, not to mention my parents, sisters and their families. I also feel incredibly blessed that we have the great fortune to live in a land that is free, protected by many who risk their lives to ensure our freedom. As you gather tomorrow, please say a prayer for them.

Have a great holiday!

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker Portrait
Downy Woodpecker on Perch

I’m fortunate to have Downy and Red Bellied Woodpeckers that visit my feeders. They are not easy to photograph let alone to get clean images. I happen to like both of these, especially the clean backgrounds. I hope you enjoy them.

Images captured with Nikon D700, 600mm f/4 with TCe-1.4 II on Lexar Digital Film.

House Finches on the Lookout

I am not a fan of having bird feeders in my images. But I made an exception here because of the gesture shown by this pair of House Finches.

House Finches at Feeder

The behavior of the birds was interesting. What you can’t see from these images, but I hope you can surmise, is that a Red Tailed Hawk is flying above. After every seed these two pulled out of the feeder, they would eat that seed while keeping a close eye on the Hawk high above.

House Finches Eyeing Red Tailed Hawk

Images Captured with Nikon D700, 600mm f/4 and TCe-1.4 II on Lexar Digital Film.

Common Grackle Migration

Sometimes you are in just the right spot! I woke up early Friday morning and headed to Greenwich Point Park to photograph the sunrise and whatever birds I could locate. Unfortunately, when I arrived I realized I had forgotten to check the tide table……tide was out! If that wasn’t bad enough, the wind along the shore was strong, probably 15-20 mph gusts, strike two!
Given the weather conditions and the nondescript sunrise, I headed home. I had planned on doing some work at the computer this weekend so I got down to business. I didn’t give it much thought at the time, but my wife informed me that she had seen thousands of crows fly over the house on Thursday, stop in the yard briefly and move on. I surmised that these were Common Grackles. Hoping that they would return today, I left my camera mounted on the tripod in the garage. Sure enough, off in the distance, I could see the black cloud coming our way.

Common Grackles
Common Grackle Portrait

I have always had a hard time photographing Grackles. They tend to be very skittish birds. In order to make these images, I used the garage as a blind. I had fantastic light which helped to show off the iridescense of the species feathers, something I really like about Grackles.

Common Grackle Eyeing a Snack
Common Grackle Closeup

I suspect that this flock of Grackles was not the one my wife saw. She claims there were thousands. I only counted hundreds. Given that Luke Tiller from Under Clear Skies, reported 44,000 Common Grackles in Greenwich on Thursday (Greenwich is south west from here), I think what I witnessed on Friday was a different flock.

As I have said before, you never really know what you are going to find in your own backyard. The biology/behavior I was able to witness on Friday was awesome. As many of you know, I have a resident family of Red Tailed Hawks living in the woods that surround my home. The Grackles spent the day avoiding the Red Tailed Hawks or I am sure they would have spent more time here. I was able to witness a great piece of hunting as well on Thursday. One of two Hawks circled above the flock of Grackles while the other flew threw the flock and chased and ultimately captured one of the Grackles. I only wish I had a video camera on the action.

Sparring Common Grackles

The result of spending the day observing the Grackles was I didn’t get much computer work done.

Images Captured with Nikon D700, 600mm f/4 and TCe-1.4 II on Lexar Digital Film.

Monday Musings – Master Your Location

Its that time of year again when I start thinking about where I would like to photograph next year. Having a location list is essential to making sure you don’t get stale. It also gives you something to look forward to and work toward. As I was kicking around some ideas with friends, one of them made a comment that I thought was worth writing about.

Great Black Backed Gull Wing Flap

The comment was along the lines of “I could never make images as good as you because I have nothing to photograph”. That comment made me wonder. How many others out there don’t get out and make images because they think they need to go to Yellowstone to find beauty?

Great Black Backed Gull Preening

I think one of the best parts of photography for me is mastering the landscape (buildings, wildlife, people, landscape, everything for that matter!) in and around where I live. Mastering your location is a tremendous learning experience. It helps hone your skills so that when you do spend the money to go some place you deem special as a photographic location, that you bring the skills necessary to capture more than just images that say “I was here”.

Herring Gull Yawn

These images were all taken this weekend at Greenwich Point Park. Most of you know that I am an emerging birder. One of the great things about photographing ones own community is that it improves skills other than my photography. How could that be you ask? Well, look at it this way. I spent a few hours at Greenwich Point searching for light and subjects. When I found subjects in good light, I started looking for gesture and biology to photograph in order to tell the story I was looking to communicate.

Herring Gull Preening

After making the images, I returned home and researched the birds I captured in order to learn more about their biology. If I hadn’t made the images, I wouldn’t have learned about the birds. There are hundreds of images in my files where the story is similar to this one. So the best advice I can give you is find things in your community to photograph that make you happy. Please don’t think you need to go to a special or exotic location in order to have a reason to make great images!

Images captured with Nikon D700, 600mm f/4 on Lexar Digital Film

BwBTC Outing in Wilton, Connecticut

I had a chance to meet up with a Facebook birding group I have been learning from the last year or so. The group is Birders who Blog, Tweet and Chirp (BwBTC). I was a little intimidated as I am a novice birder. The group was led by Luke Tiller who did a great job of identifying birds for the group, although everyone in the group was very helpful. The birding day stopped at 3 locations, Allen’s Meadow, Schenck’s Island and Sherwood Island State Park. Unfortunately I was only able to attend the first leg at Allen’s Meadow. 🙁

One of the first photo ops I had was of this Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler at Sunrise

This is a beautiful bird and one that was new to my species list.

Next on the hit parade was the Savannah Sparrow. There were several of them around and they were very photogenic!

Savannah Sparrow Profile
Savannah Sparrow with Raised Crown
Savannah Sparrow in Tall Grass

This last image stood out to me as more of an environmental, made very interesting by the fall foliage I was able to blur in the background.

Upside Down Black Capped Chickadee

Lastly, a group of Black Capped Chickadees entertained us with their antics trying to pull seed from dead, hanging sunflower seed heads. All in all I made some new friends and I can’t wait for the opportunity to learn more from this group in the future.

Images captured with Nikon D700, 600mm f/4 w/1.4 Tce-II on Lexar Digital Film.