Nikon d300, Nikkor AF-S 300/2.8 lens with TC20E III (@x), ISO1600, 1/160th second at f/5.6, tripod
I’m not much of a backyard bird photographer, even though birds are a prominent part of our lives. We scatter seed every day for the doves and quail, and my wife has an addiction for feeding mealworms to the mockingbirds, thrashers, and towhees. This Abert’s Towhee is one of a pair that hang out all day in our yard on most days of the week.
If our yard wasn’t so cluttered with plants that block almost all my site lines I’d think about setting up some perches in good light to take advantage of these birds when I don’t have the time to visit the Water Ranch or Boyce Thompson Arboretum for more serendipitous encounters with more wild subjects.
This image is about as close as I’ve come to a baited set-up shot, even though it wasn’t set up nor baited. It was about 20 minutes before sunset when I noticed the towhee perched on a random ornamental branch on the ground a few feet from the patio. Luckily the camera was already mounted on the tripod nearby and I quickly dragged it over to the patio door, cranked the ISO to to 1600 and set the lens wide open at f/5.6. I didn’t have time to carefully frame my image (hence the unfortunately clipped tail) – I just made sure the auto focus had locked on to the head of the towhee and then got off a quick burst of three frames before the towhee moved elsewhere.
I’m quite happy with the quality of these results. ISO 1600 is two stops faster than the grainy B&W film I used to use, and three stops faster than the very grainy Kodachrome 200 I considered my high speed color option in the days of film. And yet this image looks remarkably clean with little visible noise (the digital equivalent of film grain).
More surprising is how good this looks while being shot through the plain glass of the patio door! I’m glad I risked this shot even though the odds were stacked against quality results.