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Nature in it's glory

Nature in it's glory

Nov 3, 2010

7 reasons why I'm engaged in bird photography

Juvenile Cooper's Hawk
As I am sure is obvious by now, I like to take pictures of the birds I see while out on bird watch.  One of the reasons I like to do so, is that I take them out and look at them quite often to remind myself of the joys of birdwatching, especially in winter when I usually don't see very many birds.  For me doing so falls into the same category as reading a favorite book over again.  However, there are other, more important reasons why I take pictures of birds and these are as follows:

Birds are often too quick and/or very adept at concealing themselves, depending on the bird species.  Many will simply fly off instantly, if they do not enjoy your presence. Or, they will  fly up higher into the canopy or closer to the trunk of the tree to conceal themselves effectively from view.  Of the bolder species, there are some that are simply very active and seldom still, like the American Redstart for example and so are difficult to see clearly.   In the picture directly below, at first glance you only see the head of one bird, but if you look more closely you will in fact see two birds. 

Two birds in the bush
American Redstart Female

Some birds conceal themselves out of habit, no doubt to escape the notice of predators.  These, like the hermit thrush, will be seen only fleetingly amongst low bushes or on the ground, and seldom venture out into the open.  Hummingbirds are the most difficult to see clearly, due to their speed of flight.  When I was in the Caribbean last year, we went to see the public gardens on one of the islands there.  Amongst the flowering cactus displayed was a humming bird flitting from flower to flower.  All I saw was a streak of movement,  and if I hadn't taken pictures I would never have been able to view it's true color and size.  As it is, the pictures unfortunately turned out to be blurred, as I hadn't set my camera to a faster shutter speed.

House Finch in flight

Sometimes the light isn't very good, so all you will see is a dull image,or a fleeting silhouette.  As happens often when I go out on bird watch, the weather will be cloudy and dull, or there will be a sudden storm.  When this happens visibility can become very bad and any bird I see, will be presented in bad light.  Another bad light situation is smoke from a far off forest fire, as happened once this year, pollution or when I am under the canopy of a dense stand of trees.  While I can adjust my camera to compensate for the lack of light, taking pictures at that time will also often allow me, with the use of a photography program, to alter the pictures in such a way as to bring out color and other details, if my cameras settings have failed to produce a clear image.

The modified image above allowed me to see the slight streaking on the bird's chest and throat, as well as the bright coloring of its bill.

Some birds are so well camouflaged that they render themselves nearly invisible.  Many bird species are naturally the color of  leaves, the trunk of a tree, or have such subtle light shades of color that they blend in virtually anywhere, unless they are out in the open.  Take this bird for instance in the picture directly below, which I caught on camera quite by accident and have yet to identify accurately.  With this posture and color you can barely distinguish it from the leaves it is surrounded by. 

Camouflaged bird

The bird might be too far off in the distance.  There are times when I will take pictures of birds which are perched at the very top of a tree, or in flight in the distance, on the off chance that it is a bird I have not seen before or, as is the case with raptors, simply because I love them.  I do so knowing that I have a fairly good zoom on my camera and because I know that my photography program can bring the image of the bird closer still if necessary with the use of it's crop feature.  I noticed the owl in the pictures below only because  it's white color stood out in the blue of the sky and because it's flight pattern was very different from the birds that I typically see.  When I took the picture I had no idea what I might have on camera.  I never suspected it might be an owl.  How often do you see an owl fly in the day time after all?

Owl in the distance

Owl cropped to bring it closer
 When a bird is completely unfamiliar to me I don't want to rely on memory alone to identify the species.   When this happens I make every attempt to take as many pictures as I have the opportunity for.  The camera does instantly capture details that I might fail to notice in the sometimes brief time period which I get to see the bird.  Trust me when I tell you that there have been instances when, even though I had my camera set to a fast shutter speed, I only managed to get one or two images of a bird, and often it is a long while before I spot that particular bird again.

A species of Thrush
The bird above was so shy, it was hiding very deeply in the bush and flew off with the first click of my shutter.   I have so far identified it as a species of thrush, but since I managed to get only the one picture, I hesitate to state specifically which species of thrush this might be.  In the brief instant that we actually saw this bird, my brother mistook it for a Robin and this is precisely why I take pictures.  Happily the camera proved my brother wrong.

Many bird species are so similar in appearance that only a close examination will help to identify them, especially if you are new to bird watching. This is the most important reason that I take pictures of birds, and is the only solution to doing so, aside from capturing the bird and examining it physically.  In this case, to help with identification, I take pictures of a bird from every possible angle, if and when the opportunity allows it.

Male and female House Finch
Cassin's Finch at top of tree
Juvenile Cassin's Finch cropped
Some good examples of birds that are very much alike in appearance are the White-winged Crossbill and the Pine Grosbeak, and the Goshawk and Cooper's hawk, or the common House finch, Purple finch and Cassin's finch.  There are off course many more.   Separating one bird species from the next for bird watchers can be a real challenge more often than not, and I do not like to make mistakes, even though making mistakes can often teach you new and important things.   Two of the pictures above feature a Cassin's finch that I mistook initially as a house finch because it was so similar in appearance.  When I cropped the pictures however to bring the bird closer to view, it allowed me to accurately identify it as a juvenile Cassin's finch instead.

If you are looking for a  good resource to help you identify bird species accurately, which also provides pictures along with descriptions just follow the link below:

Don't forget to check out my wildlife portrait's of the month page, just scroll down to see the latest addition.



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