There are few birds more pleasing to the eye than the brilliant Vermilion Flycatcher, a widely distributed bird in the southwestern U.S. Even people who aren’t usually interested in birds often remark when their eye is captured by one. And since few outside the realm of birding have heard of this species those who do catch a glimpse often think they’ve seen a Scarlet Tanager.
I see them occasionally at the Water Ranch in Gilbert, AZ, but more often than not they will be females or young birds that don’t stand out like the brightly colored adult males. Even then they can be difficult to get into decent photographic position. So, when a bright male shows up and it cooperates for photos I can’t resist taking shots.
I first saw this bird on Thursday morning in the same general location that a Black Phoebe has made its home. I didn’t have much time to work the flycatcher, and the shots I got that morning were ok but not anything special.
Thankfully it stuck around and after fulfilling ll the day’s obligations I was able to return late Friday afternoon to spend more time with this cooperative bird and with my friend Brendon. I took 108 frames, mostly in natural light but also a few with fill flash, varying the ISO between 200 and 320, and looking for alignments giving some variety in background.
Like the Black Phoebe this Vermilion Flycatcher had a preference for the fence rails and post around a pavilion, and the few times it landed on branches of the nearby mesquite trees it would always be blocked from clear view by other bits of mesquite.
This image was made at 4:29 pm on October 2, 2009, with a Nikon D200, Nikkor 300/2.8 AF-S lens and matching TC20E 2x converter, ISO 320, spot meter at -1/3rd stop, 1/100th second at f/8, in natural light. I prefer natural light over fill flash whenever I can get away with it as I find the colors look more natural and the shadows of natural light help define forma and give the subject more dimension. The background is distant vegetation made smooth by the long lens and wide aperture.
There’s a school of photography that believes manmade objects should not be part of any nature image, but I’m not one who subscribes to that “rule.” I don’t mind manmade perches like this when they add interesting graphics and texture to the image without overpowering the subject. Besides, if the bird likes the perch then who am I to say it is somehow wrong for the photo?
For comparison, here’s the Black Phoebe that I posted here a few days ago. It too was photographed at the Gilbert Water Ranch in this same location, and maybe even on the same post (seen from another angle). The phoebe was photographed on September 24, 2009, at 6:37 am, with the same camera lens and converter. Since the light was so low at this time of day I shot at ISO 500 and still only managed 1/40th second at f/5.6, also in natural light with no fill flash.
And to continue the “flycatcher on a post” theme, here’s an older shot of a Say’s Phoebe on a different post at the Gilbert Water Ranch taken January 28, 2007, at 3:06 pm. Same camera and lens and converter, ISO 200, 1/500th second at f/7.1, matrix meter at -1/3rd stop.
Note that all three flycatchers selected similar manmade perches, and all three perched on the edge. My composition for all three images follows the same general plan, with the bird offset from center with more room in front of the bird. All images were taken in natural light and the natural shadows help give the subjects dimension by accentuating form. All three use the manmade perch as a design element in the composition, providing color, line and texture.
One final observation: the Black Phoebe was still hanging around the area, but the smaller Vermilion Flycatcher easily dominated the location. Could it be that the brilliant color of the smaller bird intimidated the “low color” phoebe?