Monday, November 17

For the Birds

As some of you know, I've been into birding for some time, and photography for a bit longer. Now that the election is (mostly) over, I'm going to do another one of those diaries where I share some of my favorite bird photos and talk a little bit about the photos themselves. There will probably be some overlap here, as some of my favorites I've probably discussed before.

I'm going to start with the one showed: a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird feeding off of a bleeding heart.

This is a different version of this photo than I've shown before: it's a wider shot, as I've found a nice way to present it as a gallery work (10"x15"), but I think it works nicely.

This shot was a combination of preparation and dumb luck. I had been mowing the lawn all morning and was exhausted. I sat down on the porch, really unable to do much of any damned thing, but I did have my camera with me (when I mow, I set it up on a tripod, near the feeders so if I spot something interesting, I can take a break and check it out).

So suddenly I see this flicker of motion and realize what it is. One of the hummingbirds has swung over to the front yard. They love the bee balm plants, but I'd never seen one go after the bleeding heart. I grabbed the camera, took as many shots as I could, and... well, wow.

This next photo I haven't shared here before, I don't think, though it's one of my favorites. Snow geese sometimes populate the Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area in Western Vermont. I had often tried to get photos of them, but it was always from a great distance. This particular day, I'd had a morning meeting in Burlington and had the rest of the day to myself. I decided to go the long way home and swing by Dead Creek (it takes me an extra two hours or so). When I got there, there were no Snow Geese to be found, and suddenly I spotted these ones on a nearby field. I pulled over, grabbed the camera and started to take pictures. They were all on the ground at that point. Sometimes I will take a photo, edge a little closer, take a few more, etc., which is what I did in this particular case. Eventually, I made the mistake of getting a little two close. The entire flock started to take off and then started flying in circles, more or less surrounding me. It ended up with me getting this photo:

While I love this shot (and when you see it blown up, you get some incredible textures), I think I like it even better like this:

It seems to come down to 1/3rd preferring the b&w to the color and 2/3rds preferring the color.

This hummingbird shot, though, is one of my favorites as well:

It's a very lucky shot. I had the camera pointed at the feeders to see if any cool looking hummingbirds showed up, but I'd rarely seen two at once. Once I realized there were two of them the trick wasn't getting *close* enough. It was zooming out quickly enough that I'd get them both in the same shot. I managed to pull it off, just as they hit the dive bombing position.

This Rufous Hummingbird:

was a real joy to photograph. I'd never seen one of these before (we really only get the ruby-throated hummingbirds in New England), but in November of 2007, we got word that one was hanging out at a feeder in Westmoreland, NH. Westmoreland isn't that far from where I live (and we've traveled a lot further to find rare birds) so we figured we'd check it out. It was on someone's property, which is always dicey, but this woman had given permission for people to stop by her porch and hang out to look at it. She was really into it, too, it turned out. She came out to say hello and asked us to make sure we sign her guestbook.

But the best part was that it took *minutes* before we saw the bird. She had hummingbird feeders all over the area, and the porch looked out on several of them, so we figured, well, we'll get a decent look and maybe I can get a nice photo from here.

But no, the rufous was interested in the feeder *on the porch*. The one that was only about eight feet away. So we sat there for about half an hour watching it come and go while I photographed it, figuring out *just* how close I could get where it would use the feeders without being so close I'd scare it off (turns out about 6'6" is about the magic distance) and voila, instant life bird.

Speaking of traveling to find birds... this January was our first big birding trip. We went to Bosque Del Apache Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico, and had a real trip finding all sorts of new birds. But the real treat was the Sandhill Cranes. This shot in particular:

is one of my favorites from the trip. There's something wonderful about that moment just before flight; all that energy built up and ready to go, at that moment where the bird transfers from awkward and gangly to magnificent in flight.

I will also say something else about snow geese here. I mentioned before getting to see Snow Geese at Dead Creek. Seeing them at Bosque is a whole different ball game. If you get to the viewing platform before dawn, you can be part of probably the most amazing thing I've ever experienced as a birder.

There is this large body of water where many of the birds roost all night (roosting in water makes them much less vulnerable to predators, such as coyotes, which *will* try to get their paws on the geese and the cranes). If you get there at the right time, you will see the ones gathered in the water, plus all the other geese gathering in to join them. It's *thousands* of snow geese, coming together in the middle of this pond, making all sorts of racket. This can go on for an hour; sometimes more; sometimes less.

But then there is this point where all of a sudden (and there is *no* time to prepare for this) it gets *silent*. This lasts about as much time as you have to breathe in and then out again and everything else is just dead quiet.

And then...

...the geese take off. For about five seconds, all you hear is wings. It's loud enough to sound like a tornado going directly over your head. The first time you experience it, it's like nothing you've ever been through before. The second time you think you've already seen it once so you're prepared for it. You're wrong. It's every bit as intense.

There's something about being surrounded by birds that just makes my heart leap. I hope writing this up has been nice for some of you as well.

For those of you who enjoyed these photos, you can see tons more at
As usual, feel free to use this as an open birds and birding thread and post your own photos.

1 comment:

JPDeni said...

(This is Carol Hall from the politics list.)

The hummingbird with the bleeding hearts is just incredible! They're all really great photos, but that one knocks my socks off.