Bird Photography is What I like to Do

With binoculars, scopes, and gazes turned to the skies, birders are often easier to spot than their feathered friends.

Green jay takes a bath in Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, headquarters for World Birding Center. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Green jay takes a bath in Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, headquarters for World Birding Center. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Birding has become one of the fastest-growing and most popular activities in the U.S. and around the world. An estimated 30 percent of all Americans go birding each year.

According to an U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service study, birdwatchers contribute over 36 billion dollars annually to the nation’s economy.
Bird watching is also one of the few activities open to all ages and levels of ability.

Getting Started

It doesn’t take much to get started in bird watching. You don’t need special hiking boots or clothing and you don’t require special equipment. Birds can be observed with the naked eye, although a pair of binoculars makes the experience more enjoyable.

Field Guides

Using one or more field guides are also recommended.

The choice of a field guide for birding can be a very personal thing. Partly it depends on what you want from your field guide; partly on how you process information.

Sibley Guide to Birds

Eastern and Western editions of The Sibley Field Guide of Birds of North America.

Eastern and Western editions of The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of North America.

The Sibley Guide to Birds is THE North American bird book if you’re a serious birder.

The volume covers all the birds, and most of the plumages of all the birds you can find in Canada and the United States. If you have more than a passing fancy, it’s well worth owning. Its large size makes it generally impractical for use as a field guide. Alternately you may opt to purchase this guide in smaller Eastern and Western editions as we have.

Kaufmann Field Guide to Birds of North America

Kaufmann Field Guide to Birds of North America is also THE guide to own. The text is clear and the illustrations are very well done. Kenn Kaufman took the illustrations from photographs and digitally enhanced them to bring out the species characteristics. This field guide quickly became my reference guide of choice.

Record Keeping

Keep a list of the birds you’ve seen.

A great way for birders to keep track of the species they’ve seen is with a “life list”.

The standard procedure for recording a species you’ve seen for the first time is to include the common name, the date and time, and location. Special notes regarding identification, weather conditions, or unusual plumage are often useful for later reference.

Many birders maintain their list by recording their sightings in their favorite field guide. This is a handy approach, but more than one bird watcher has managed to lose a field guide, and also their life list at the same time.

Some birding websites also make it easy for you to maintain a life list directly on-line.

If you decide to become even more serious about keeping lists of the birds you have seen, there are several PC-based packages that make it easy to create and manage your lists.

Birding with a Camera

Bird Photographers wait in predawn light for the sandhill cranes lift-off at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bird Photographers wait in predawn light for the sandhill cranes lift-off at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A small but increasing number of birders have started to combine photography with their love of birdwatching.

It has been my experience that birding groups aren’t overly photography friendly.

Birdwatching runs at a faster pace and photographers are often considered a slowing threat for the listing expectations of the group. With their high powered scopes birders don’t require the same proximity to birds as do photographers.

As a result of past experiences I now tend to avoid groups of birders or at least maintain a distant presence. However, my encounters with individual birders have been pleasant and meaningful often sharing insights into our particular focus.

Although I deeply enjoy birding, I still consider myself first and foremost a photographer and writer. As a birder, I want to find and enjoy new birds, observe their behavior, and document what I see. As a photographer, I want to photograph birds in good light and a pleasing background, and above all return to my motorhome with quality photos.

I now take photos of birds with two purposes in mind.

Identification

The Black-vented Oriole made its home a short distance from our RV site at Bentsen Palm Village. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Black-vented Oriole made its home a short distance from our RV site at Bentsen Palm Village. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I rarely carry binoculars with me. I can more quickly find a bird and observe it with the telephoto lens on my Canon D-SLR camera. When photographing a bird species for the first time, I’ll use my photo to help me identify the bird once the image has been downloaded to my computer.

Artistic Expression

Beyond and including simple identification, I want my photos to be artistic paying attention to form and composition, sharpness and exposure. I want to avoid compositions where the background will compete with the foreground for attention.

And that’s what gives me the greatest joy in photography and birding.

Worth Pondering…

Have you ever observed a hummingbird moving about in an aerial dance among the flowers—a living prismatic gem…. it is a creature of such fairy-like loveliness as to mock all description.

—W.H. Hudson, Green Mansion

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