Monday, April 25, 2011

Use Perches For Better Photos - Part I

Male Bluebird
Canon 7d - 300mm f/4.5 1/400th Second ISO 500
I’m known for a couple of things; a twisted sense of humor, the occasional good photo, and the creative use of stumps as perches for my shots. I don’t really much care for shots of birds on feeders, so I try to put something more attractive close by for them to pose on for me.

Placement of tripod with Branch - Canon Powershot
It may take a bit of getting used to, but you start to get a feel for what birds will land on and where best to place them. I often strap a log or branch to an old tripod so that I have more flexibility with the final positioning. Play around a bit until you get the light the way you want it.

Close-up of tripod - Canon Powershot

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Rental Cars And Me

Me at Crater Lake in Oregon with my rental car
I travel a lot to beautiful places to take photos and, of course I rent a lot of cars. Since I generally use mine as a blind, I am only going to put one photo of a car in this story and that is only because I feel obligated to do so. The rest of the shots will be those taken FROM the car so that you won’t be bored to tears by anything other than the text.

American Bittern - Sacramento NWR - California
I’ve had a few bad experiences with rentals. Most notably was a brand new Toyota a number of years ago. We were stopped in traffic on the highway when a guy in an 18 wheeler fell asleep and plowed through our lane bouncing cars like ping pong balls. The only thing unbroken on our car was the rear view mirror. Even the “new car smell” was knocked off and left by the side of the road.

Roseate Spoonbill - Merritt Island NWR in Florida

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Lucky To Be Alive - Part II

Being a good son, I visited my parents on the Oregon coast a couple of years ago. Overall, the trip had been going fairly well with lots of good photos. On the drive up from the airport in California, I found an American Dipper under a bridge and saw that it had a nest with babies up in a drain pipe.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Bloody Dingo Stole My Boonie!

(Although this happened in Wyoming, it is best read with an Australian Accent)
When you visit Yellowstone National Park, you see signs everywhere warning you to keep a safe distance from the wildlife. Good advice, especially considering that I was visiting the Park during the rut, when hormones run high and tempers are short.

Western Coyotes are rather common throughout Yellowstone
and tend to be rather wary
I was driving down a fairly well-traveled dirt road when I saw a Coyote in a field just a short distance away. The light was perfect so I pulled over, put on my favorite hat and got out to get a few shots. The animal was hunting for mice and seemed completely unaware of me. At one point, it trotted over to the road and began coming my way. As it approached, I moved towards the open door of my car and started to get in, figuring that the animal would pass by.

Note the shifty-look in his eyes!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

A while back I was photographing Hummingbirds in my backyard and I was finding myself getting a bit bored. I figured that it was due to my off-the-charts high IQ, while my friends just figured that I was an unfocused clod. Perhaps the real answer lies somewhere between.

Anyway, I set about trying to get a photo of a Hummingbird drinking out of a straw in a glass. Sure, I could have just photoshopped it, but that would have been more work than I was interested in. As I started building my prop drink with a straw, I encountered a couple of problems. I wanted to put ice in the drink, and I didn’t want the sugar water in the straw to be cold. Also, I needed the sugar water to be at the top of the straw, which basic physics sort of prevented

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Lucky To Be Alive

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (dangerous)
Photography can be a dangerous profession. You never know what (or who) you are going to run into.

 Tarantula (scary, but not dangerous)
Last summer, I went to Arizona in August to witness the Hummingbird migration, but I also had a few special creatures on my “wish list.” In the tiny town of Portal, I was hoping to photograph Nectar Bats - large bats that often visit Hummingbird feeders at night.

Violet-crowned Hummingbird
(not very dangerous)

How To Build A Natural-Looking Birdhouse

For thousands of years, many species of birds have relied on tree cavities made by woodpecker in which to build their nests. Bluebirds, Wrens, Titmice, Chickadees and Swallows often competed for the same holes. Sometimes a single cavity could serve as a home to two or three different species in a single year. Different strategies, habitat preferences and timing have allowed for native species to co-exist despite constant skirmishes. Shortly after coming to North America, European settlers brought with them two species of birds that forever changed the delicate balance that existed. In the late 1800’s the House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) and European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) arrived on our shores. These two species are more aggressive than many native birds and gained a decided advantage over other species, causing their numbers to swell.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Better To Be Lucky AND Good

This article appeared in the June 2010 edition of Rangefinder Magazine
Bird photography can be rewarding as well as extremely frustrating. There is always a stick in the way, an unwanted shadow or the light is bad. Just when you think you have the perfect shot lined up, the bird flies off. While other photographers worry about the composition of their shots, many wildlife photographers rely on “Press and Pray.” Sometimes you have to be happy that you got the darned bird in the shot at all – at least, most of it.

Female Cooper's Hawk that disrupted my
photo session with some songbirds

Always on the lookout for danger, most birds possess superior eyesight and keen hearing. Even if you could sneak up on one, as soon as you hit the shutter button the startled creature would simply fly off. This is not to say that you can’t get close enough for mind-blowing photos, it’s just that you need a different approach. Taking beautiful photos of the Grand Canyon does not require much knowledge of geology nor do wedding photographers need to be experts on human relationships. Most really good bird photographers, on the other hand, know an awful lot about birds – often more than most wildlife biologists!

Many birds are more active in the early
morning hours when the light is best

Attract Hummingbirds To Your Yard

 “I’ve never seen a Hummingbird.” Those words almost bring tears to my eyes. Tell me that you’ve never been in love or that you haven’t visited Disneyland, but PLEASE don’t tell me that you haven’t seen a Hummingbird.

Broad-billed Hummingbird
Let not your heart be troubled – I am here to solve your problems. I can’t do anything about love, or Disneyland, but I will not rest until you have seen your first Hummingbird. While Hummingbirds can be found all across North America, there are only a few areas where they can be found year-round. Unless you live along the Pacific Ocean or in Southern Arizona where Hummingbirds are hard to miss, your best chance is to find one of these feathered jewels is during migration. There are lots of great articles about planting flowers and such, but I want to make absolutely sure that you attract the most birds with the least cost and effort.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Take Better Winter Photos

This Article appeared in the December Issue of Birds and Blooms Magazine

As I get older, I find myself spending more time in the bathroom. No, this isn’t an article about men’s health. It’s just that I find my bathroom to be the perfect location for taking pictures of birds in the winter.

Cardinals, White-throated Sparrow and Junco near a feeder
Many people look at my photos and assume that I must be in an exotic location using a lens the size of a small car. In reality, I find that I take many of my best shots in my own backyard using 300mm and 400mm lenses. The real secret is to get the birds to come to you, and winter is the perfect season to make that happen. All you need is a camera, a birdfeeder, some old logs and a piece of cardboard.

Blue Jay on a stump in snow in front of a black background (garbage can)