Birds taking off, in flight and landing.
Yup. I was determined to up my game. I wanted to catch the birds in real action — not just opening their beaks. First, I’d focus on a bird and then I’d try to press the shutter at the first bit of movement. I was somewhat successful. If the perch was in focus and the bird was not, I learned, I wasn’t the problem. (Well, not directly.) I needed a faster shutter speed.
And speaking of faster shutter speed, it would be a couple of years before I started using a pretty fast shutter speed to get pictures of hummingbirds. I will include them in a later post. And, maybe, some day, I’ll get pictures of swallows in flight. They’re even harder to photograph than hummingbirds.
Again, I started in the backyard. In the spring, we had a pair of Northern Mockingbirds nesting in our yard. They often perched on the utility lines around the house. I practiced taking pictures of them as they took off. I also tried just shooting at 3 frames a second in several bursts in hopes of catching them taking off. That was actually more helpful than relying on my aging reflexes.
Great Egrets, like the one below, and Great Blue Herons and many of the larger birds are easier to catch in the act of taking off. They are aren’t as zippy as the smaller birds.
With the hawks and falcons, patience is required. I can spend twenty minutes or more of focusing on a perched raptor, taking an occasional photo, resting my arms and focusing again. And I might still miss the moment when the bird takes off. It took me two days to get the below photo of a Red-shouldered Hawk.
The first day, I was resting my arms when it took off. (I’ve mentioned in previous posts that my lens and camera weigh together weigh more than six pounds; I may need to start lifting weights…oh, wait, I already am!)
I went back three days later and the hawk was back in the same tree. This time I was lucky and happened to be aiming at it when it took off. It still took about twenty minutes of aiming and resting before the hawk took off.
Brown Pelicans are another bird that is pretty easy to photograph in flight. They don’t fly quickly and if you miss one, another one is right behind. And another. And another.
The Turkey Vulture circles lazily in the sky searching for something dead to thrust his beak into. No darting about for this guy. His meal isn’t going anywhere.
“The Northern Harrier flies low over the fields, allowing the enterprising photographer ample opportunity to catch her best side.” (I was trying to sound like a 1950s educational video; did it work?)
Now, a bird landing sounds like it shouldn’t be a tough shot, but as in the photos above, it depends on the birds. Again, the little birds, like this Black Phoebe, are sometimes harder to catch in flight so they’re harder to catch when they land.
Speaking of Black Phoebes, I really like these birds. They were one of the first birds I was able to reliably identify. Also, as a photographer, I appreciate how they perch for a minute or so, then fly off — but not too far, so if you miss the shot, they’ll give you another opportunity.
Another bird landing. The Mallards can fly pretty fast and be hard to keep up with — particularly with a heavy lens. I don’t think I even knew what I had here until I downloaded the photos onto my computer. I was super happy with it!
In Part 3, we’ll look at birds with food. When it comes to the raptors, I always have mixed feelings about their food. I feel bad for their meal (another bird or a small mammal) but it is the cycle of life.
The challenge here is that to get the picture two things must come together at the same time: predator and prey. If the predator was successful, there is a photo opportunity. If not, there isn’t. And, small birds are always a challenge.
See you next time!