Rich Ditch's Photography Blog

February 19, 2009

Pleasures of Wait and Watch

Yellow Warbler at Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Yellow Warbler at Boyce Thompson Arboretum

When I was more interested in bird listing than bird photography, I spent a lot of time chasing birds and working on my year list (the list of birds seen in the current calendar year, reset at the start of each year, and restricted to the state I lived in at the time). It was fun, and it got me outside and visiting a variety of habitats. It taught me a lot about bird distribution and the timing of migration and other movements. But it was easy to get caught up in the numbers game and lose touch with the birds themselves.

Bird photography has tempered the need to always be chasing after a bird to increment my year list, and there’s a lot to be said about the slower pace that comes with trying to get good photos of the birds:

  1. I spend a lot more time with common birds, learning more about their activities.
  2. I visit fewer places and stay at each one longer, where I learn more about the preferences of each species and specific territories of individual birds.
  3. I see things I would have missed.

Yellow Warbler is an abundant and widespread species, but how often do you get to see a bird this young away from the nest? I got to see this one because I had been at a small artificial brook at one of my favorite places – Boyce Thompson Arboretum – on a hot day in June. There’s a tiny stack of rocks at the top of the brook where the water is pumped up to start the flow, and it makes a small pool that attracts many birds, especially when the temperatures rise and water is harder to find. But its a challenge to photograph here: there are low shrubs around the rocks, an obviously artificial wall behind them, and the rising sun comes from behind. Flash only makes the birds look artificial and throws shadows on the background wall. I end up working at a high ISO value and rather slow shutter speeds, so it is imperative to work in “catch and release” mode – taking a lot of digital images and deleting most of them later on the computer in the hopes that at least a few of them will be sharp.

Lesser Goldfinch at Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Lesser Goldfinch at Boyce Thompson Arboretum

This Lesser Goldfinch was also taken at the same place as the Yellow Warbler, both on June 21, 2007. Nikon D200, 300/2.8 with TC20E 2x converter, ISO 800, 1/90th second at f/5.6 and f/7.1.

I’ve taken advantage of the backlight to separate the birds from the background. THe light also separates the foreground rocks from those in the background and gives the image more depth. The birds are a bit small in the frame (as I tend to shoot) since I find the colors and textures of the setting interesting. More space has been left in front of the birds than behind them.

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