The Basics of Bird Photography
When BlogHer asked me to participate in this project, I initially thought I wouldn’t be able to comply. The assignment was “capturing summer fun” and my mind immediately conjured up images of sailboats on the water, children playing on a beach or having fun in the pool, and I wondered how I could contribute and remain true to my style of photography.
My favorite subjects have to do with nature, so it seemed fitting to do a post about digitally capturing birds –- and specifically the art of capturing The Elusive Bluebird.
It’s really quite simple, so if you’re expecting a technical post, that’s not what you’ll find here. You see, the art of capturing these birds is simply a combination of timing and patience. Well, that and a good camera with a zoom lens. I used a 70-300 mm with built-in vibration reduction for these shots, and believe it or not, all of the images were shot using the sport mode on the auto dial. I rarely use the auto dial anymore, but sometimes when the light keeps changing, as it was doing on this somewhat overcast day, the auto dial seemed to be just the ticket.
My husband and I are caretakers of an old manor house that sits on a hill in Maryland. We’ve got several bluebird boxes posted along the old fence line that runs through part of the property. I love watching the bluebirds go to and fro while busily feeding their young. On this particular day, I noticed some bluebirds coming and going from one of the nesting boxes. Not having anything particular to do for the afternoon, I gathered everything I would need: the camera and lens, something to drink, and a comfy chair and footstool. I got as close to the box as I dared, and then settled in to wait, moving the chair closer and taking a few test shots, getting into just the right spot for photo composition.
The Eastern bluebird can have up to two broods in a typical summer period. The cycle begins in the spring, and I know something is up when I see the female bringing food to the nest. If it’s just the male bringing the food, the female will be inside incubating the eggs. When you see the female bringing food you know that there’s a brood of young hatchlings in there. And when the parents are near, I can hear those babies chirping.
After I got settled, it took over half an hour for one of the parent birds to come around. It was the female, and I saw her go into the nest, listening as her brood made excited chirping noises. But when she came out, I saw that she had something in her beak. And I kind of freaked out a little, because it looked almost like a tiny bird. I know bluebirds are born blind and with no feathers, and this is what I thought I saw. I couldn’t believe that she and her mate would attempt to move the babies because I was sitting so near, so I got up and checked out the film on my computer to try to see if I could tell what was in her beak. After looking at the images zoomed in and researching on the internet, I found that what she had in her mouth was a fecal sac.
A fecal sac is a clean, tough mucous/gelatinous membrane/film containing the excrement of nestling birds. Nestlings usually excrete one sac after each feeding, especially as they get older. The parent grasps the sac by the middle with their beak. I read that both parents contribute to the removal of the waste matter, but it was only the female that I saw doing so on this particular day.
After three hours of sitting and being patient, and just taking it easy on a somewhat cloudy early summer afternoon, I managed to get them both at the box at the same time.