Friday, November 18, 2011

Winter birds

After a frustratingly slow fall bird-wise (we even only had one lowly little white-crowned sparrow pass through, and it was a juvenile that I saw once), things seem to be picking up. Yay!

This week we had our first American Tree Sparrow of the winter at our hopper feeder, the Hairy Woodpecker made a reappearance for the first time in a couple of months, and we had Yard Bird Species #52 - White-breasted Nuthatch!

We also have a Cooper's Hawk back stalking our yard. Last year I came home several times to carnage in the snow, but only a couple of times did I catch the culprits in the act - one was a Sharp-shinned Hawk happily munching away on a sparrow, and the other was a Red-Tail that took out a Mourning Dove right under our back window.

I didn't even know the Cooper's was back until the other morning. I was outside with the pup before leaving for work on Tuesday, and I was standing near the driveway, by my hubby's SUV. All of a sudden a sparrow comes screaming past the front of the barn/storage shed, followed by a Cooper's Hawk in full hunting mode. The sparrow just barely made it under Dave's truck and the Cooper's veered off just in time to avoid smacking into the bumper. I was maybe... 10 feet away from the action, and it was SO cool to be that close to a hawk on the hunt.

I saw the Cooper's again yesterday morning, as it dove after some birds at the side of our house. I just happened to look out the front door in time to see him fly up and off (talons empty and no carnage to be found in its wake).

So yes! Fun times are coming. I'm also getting a new camera soon, so I hope I'll be able to put it to good use this winter. And I'm REALLY hoping the snowy owls make it this far south again - I missed them last year!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

"27 October 2011" by home page | RedBubble

Hey, check it out! My favorite screech owl picture made the Oct 27 Redbubble home page. Apparently only 3 out of every thousand pictures ever make it there. Very cool! :)

"27 October 2011" by home page | RedBubble:

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Holy harriers, Batman...

We’ve had a fair number of Northern Harriers hanging around lately. In fact, yesterday afternoon we saw a pair of them in a mid-air battle with a red-tailed hawk. But just now, there were FIVE Harriers flying over the field adjacent to our yard. FIVE! I wonder if they live in family groups, or if they group together for migration…? But I think we had Harriers around all winter last year, so I don’t know if the ones around here actually migrate.

I really, really need to try to get some good pictures of these guys. They’re usually juuuust far enough from the house that they’re too far away to get a good shot with my 300mm lens. I need to keep trying, though, because they’re such beautiful birds. I just love them.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Screechy good fun

For the past three nights, my hubby's been hearing an eastern screech owl calling from the woods adjacent to our property. (Dave, the hubs, does astrophotography, so he's been outside in his observatory the past few nights because the sky's been nice and clear - and apparently that means good hunting for the little screech owls.) We need to search these little guys out in the daytime!

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Early winter bird

Our first Dark-eyed Junco showed up under our feeders this morning. That seems awfully early in the fall for them to be making an appearance. Clearly, winter's on the way!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Girls gone wild... hummingbird style

This is one of the craziest shots I've gotten of our hummers. Two females were fighting for a feeder, and the one pinned the other to the ground. Never seen anything like this!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Ruby-throated hummingbird at zebra mallow 6

Summer's winding down, and I figure our hummers will stick around for MAYBE another week or two, at most. They disappeared sometime during the week of Sept 20 last year, so we'll see if that holds true this year.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Owls Obsessed

As a follow-up to my post yesterday, I've published my third bird photography book, Owls Obsessed. Click on the window below to preview.

The 20% off deal is still valid on Simply order two or more books (any titles, any authors, not just mine) and enter the promo code AUGUST when prompted during the checkout process, and you'll save 20% off your entire order.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

New book - Feathered Jewels

I've published my second book through Feathered Jewels, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.

In case you're interested, Blurb has a special discount offer for the rest of this week. Simply order two or more books (any titles) and you'll save 20%. Just enter the promo code AUGUST when you check out.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Photographing hummingbirds

I've had more than a handful of people ask me how I manage to get so many post-able hummer shots, so I thought I'd share what I can. Honestly, a lot of it is luck and the fact that I've got access to so many hummers throughout the summer, so I have a lot of time to practice. My tips and tricks aren't big secrets, and they're nothing special, but they've worked for me these past two summers.

1. Attract

Yes, this may sound obvious, because you can't take pictures of birds you don't have access to. So if at all possible, make your yard and garden as attractive to hummers as possible. Place nectar feeders in different spots around the yard. Make sure your garden has a good selection of nectar-rich (native, if possible) flowers that hummers love. The more hummingbirds you have, the better your chances are of getting some good shots.

2. Observe

Hummers, like a lot of birds, develop patterns of behavior that, once you've learned, give you a better chance of being at the right place at the right time. So watch the birds in your yard. Do they hang out in a couple of particular spots? Do they seem to prefer a certain feeder? Are they more active at certain times of the day? Do they perch on the feeder, or do they hover and move in and out to drink?

Also take careful note of the area you're shooting in. Where's the best light at certain times of day? What angles give you the best background? It's amazing how you can sometimes have a completely crap background and then move a step to either side and it's perfect. Are there stray branches or leaves that could get in your way?

3. Be patient

This applies two-fold: be patient with the birds and be patient with yourself.

Birds are wild animals and you can't control them. The sooner you accept that, the better. Some days they'll be cooperative and put on a show that blows you away and lets you fill media card after media card, others they'll frustrate the hell out of you by making it impossible to snap even one shot, let alone a decent one.

I can also promise that you'll get a lot more throw-away shots than keepers. I guarantee it. The other night, I went into the backyard and shot more than 1200 frames over the span of an hour and a half. I got maybe 25 shots that I considered good enough to show people. It could take you a while to get into a rhythm, to learn to hone your reaction time to get the little guys at just the right time and just the right spot. You'll miss a lot, I promise you that, so don't beat yourself up over it.

4. Experiment

Each camera and lens set-up will be different, as will your preference. But I'll tell you what works for me. After some trial and error and more hummer photos than I care to admit to, this is the default I fall back on.

Now, there are a few different schools of thought on the technical side of the picture. Quite frankly, as long as the eye is sharp and there's some definition to the wings (for an in flight shot), I figure the rest is up for debate. When you're using a wide open f-stop, your depth of field is so narrow that unless you get the bird completely side on, most of the bird will be soft. And honestly, the perfectly side-on shots don't tend to be the most exciting ones (says the girl with a lot of those in her portfolio). I prefer the three-quarter views, or angled bodies while they feed on a flower - it adds so much interest to the shot. Some people like wing blur, some people hate it. Yes, frozen wings are always very cool, but I happen to think wing blur gives a nice feeling of movement. I know a lot of people would argue with me, but to each his or her own, I say.

I use a Nikon D90, and my birding lens of choice is a 300mm f4 paired with a 1.4x teleconverter. Because this lens doesn't have any kind of built-in stabilization, I always have my camera on a tripod. I hated the idea of being stuck to a tripod when I first got this lens, but I've since made peace with it - and in fact, I love it. I suspect that even if it did have stabilization, though, I'd use a tripod more often than not, because it allows me better control to make small, smooth movements to follow the ridiculously quick and spazzy hummers. (I also have very unsteady hands, so...)

My minimum f stop with that set-up is 5.6, so that's what I go with so I can get the fastest shutter speed at the lowest ISO, and I set the camera to Aperture mode. I try not to increase my ISO from the default 200, because I get annoying noise at 400 and above. I usually just don't bother trying to get in flight shots on days with less light - that's when I go for perched shots, if anything.

The most important thing, in my humble opinion? Burst mode. Don't try to conserve your shutter actuations. )I'd rather wear my camera out - which I'm very close to doing, as a matter of fact - than be disappointed by missing opportunities for a great shot.) Burst mode will be your best friend, because you'll increase your chances of getting a nice, sharp shot exponentially.

So, to summarize, my default settings for all bird photography, not just hummers, are:
f/5.6 (if using the 300mm and TC, otherwise I use the widest f-stop possible)
ISO 200 (or the lowest you can use while still getting the shutter speed you want)
Aperture mode
Burst mode
Single point auto focus

So I'll end this entry with three words of advice: Don't give up. Hummingbirds are a challenge to photograph for many reasons, not the least of which being their small size and incredible speed. But with practice and patience, you'll get there. :)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Fractalius - hummer at vervain

Having fun with a new photoshop filter, Fractalius. It does funky stuff with bird photos...

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Friday, August 05, 2011

Thursday, August 04, 2011

What a night!

Wow, what a crazy evening in our yard. Highlights: Hummingbirds battling each other for the feeders (three at a time), goldfinches, house finches, some random juvenile sparrows (either Song or Savannah, I'm not 100% sure), indigo buntings, and a merlin falcon. Craziness!

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Monarch on cone flower 1

These monarchs were chasing the goldfinches around our yard all weekend. It was highly entertaining to watch. ;-)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

New Book!

I've published a book of my favorite bird photos from the past year and a half. Take a peek, and if you feel so inclined, place an order. (It makes a great gift for the bird lover in your life!) :)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Feed me!

Feed me! by Jen St. Louis
Feed me!, a photo by Jen St. Louis on Flickr.

Grackles, grackles everywhere... seriously, everywhere. At least they occasionally do something cute, like this...

Friday, July 08, 2011

Bluebirds of happiness

We have Bluebird fledglings! Two adults have been feeding two babies in our backyard for the past hour or so. Haven't been able to get any pictures, but I'm working on it! :)

Monday, July 04, 2011


Right now we've got a Papa Hairy Woodpecker feeding his daughter, and a Papa Downy Woodpecker feeding his son in our front yard. It's super, super cute.

Saturday, July 02, 2011


Found a dead baby Bluebird when we were out walking the pup. It wasn't far from the nesting box, but in the grass on the other side of the drive/laneway. Made me very sad. :(

Friday, July 01, 2011

Nap time!

Nap time! by Jen St. Louis
Nap time!, a photo by Jen St. Louis on Flickr.

Baby Downy Woodpecker taking a nap on a tree stump below our back window. So cute!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Empty nest syndrome

Our little tree swallows have left home. For the past little while, the parents were dive bombing anyone who set foot in the backyard, so we figured the little ones were ready to fledge. Yesterday, there was zero swallow activity, and the nesting box appears empty. So it was a successful year for them! (Last year, the house sparrows decided to take over the box and killed the three babies inside. I was completely traumatized.)

Thursday, June 23, 2011


Was almost decapitated by a young downy woodpecker this afternoon. He missed my head by a matter of inches, and only missed because I ducked - seems like the whole flying thing might be a little new to him, still.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

More babies

Two new fledglings in the yard tonight - an itty bitty little baby sparrow that we think is a chipping sparrow (would make sense since we have so many of them around), and a young red-breasted grosbeak being fed by its daddy.

From the sounds of it, the tree swallows out back are going to be leaving the nesting box soon (and it looks like mom and dad are already working on their second brood of the year, based on their activities on the clothesline tonight). When we walked the puppy down the laneway/driveway tonight, I could hear the baby bluebirds peeping away in their box.

I need to play around with our feeder set-up so I can try to get some pictures of all these cute little babies before they get their adult feathers in.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Species #51

Yesterday we checked off #51 on our "Bird Species in the Yard" list - a cute little Eastern Wood Pee-wee. :)

Friday, June 10, 2011

Babies, babies, everywhere!

We live on a farm, so we don't have a whole lot of trees around the house. However, in the front yard, we have a large Maple and a big ole pine tree; we think the pine tree acts like some kind of birdie condo, with multiple nests at different levels. Right now, that tree is LOUD. We figure that, at the very least, we've got Grackles and House Sparrows, and possibly Starlings (yeah, I know, all pain-in-the-butt birds we could happily do without) all nesting in there.

And the babies have started to fledge.

Over the past few days, we've seen baby Starlings and Grackles following their parents around our yard, mouths wide open and demanding to be fed. We also have Robins nesting somewhere, but I'm not exactly sure where. Possibly in the barn. All I know is that our poor neighbour (we're in a semi-detached house) was traumatize when she ran a baby robin over with the lawnmower (I found the poor little body :( ).

I figure it's only a matter of time before the Eastern Bluebirds who are nesting in the box by our driveway start bringing their little ones around, and same for the Tree Swallows who have been play relay from the bird house in the backyard for the past several weeks. And the Barn Swallows will probably fledge soon, too, I would think.

I also hope that starting in July, we'll start seeing an increase in hummingbird activity. It's dropped off like crazy over the past week and a bit, which makes me very sad; we seem to have one male and one female left. I just hope the others come back. Last year, the mature males disappeared early in the summer, but the females would bring the young ones to our yard. It was like Grand Central Station for hummers during July and August, as the juveniles figured out their place in the world.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Eastern Kingbirds

We had a new bird in our yard today - two Eastern Kingbirds! We've seen them all around our place, but never actually in the yard. So that brings us up to a total of 50 different species that have been seen in our yard since January 2010. :)

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Bald Eagle portrait 1

Bald Eagle portrait 1 by Jen St. Louis
Bald Eagle portrait 1, a photo by Jen St. Louis on Flickr.
One of the perched shots from Saturday's workshop. As expected, my in-flight shots were horrid. Won't attend that workshop again until I've managed to upgrade my camera. I love my Nikon D90, but it's just too slow for BiF.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Grosbeaks, Grosbeaks, everywhere!

Last night we had four male rose-breasted grosbeaks on our feeders at the same time. What a sight that was! The most we'd ever seen together before were two, so needless to say, we were surprised to see so many. They're such beautiful birds... and I can't seem to get a decent picture of one to save my life. **grumbles**

Anyway, heading down to Simcoe this afternoon to a birds-in-flight workshop with some of the birds from the Canadian Raptor Conservancy. I'm a little worried that my camera and lenses won't be up to the task, but I guess we'll see! If I get any decent ones, I'll be sure to post them. :)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Male Baltimore Oriole portrait 1 (Explored!)

This one's getting a lot of attention on Flickr right now... One of the male Baltimore Orioles who have taken a liking to our yard.

It's funny, this was one of the birds on my "To Find" list last summer when we did our birding trip down to the states, and it's one of the only ones I didn't find. As soon as we got home, they showed up at our feeder. I hoped they'd come back this year, and man, have they ever. We seem to have at least two pair of them, which is awesome. Love these birds!

Monday, May 23, 2011

They're baaaa-aaaack!

They're baaaa-aaaack! by Jen St. Louis
They're baaaa-aaaack!, a photo by Jen St. Louis on Flickr.
I love our hummingbirds. I really, really do. They make such awesome photography subjects... even if they make me crazy by moving so damn fast.

Yard visitors

Some of our more amusing yard birds over the past couple of days: the Indigo Bunting intermingling with some Godlfinches, and a male Baltimore Oriole playing hummingbird at a feeder that's most definitely intended for smaller, hovering-type birds.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Feelin' blue... but in a good way!

Went to the garden centres and spent a small fortune on a nice variety of bird-friendly plants. Going to go start planting shortly.

When we got home, we had a lovely surprise on the feeder - a beautiful male indigo bunting. We saw them a few times last summer, but much later (late July, after they'd harvested the wheat in the one field adjacent to our yard). Totally made my day. :)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Tree swallow

Tree swallow 3 by Jen St. Louis
Tree swallow 3, a photo by Jen St. Louis on Flickr.
Spent some time out at Snyder's Flats a couple of weekends ago with a friend and fellow photographer. We were really hoping for some Osprey shots, but they were very uncooperative. Had to settle for some song birds, and even then I was disappointed in most of my shots. This tree swallow picture is probably my best of the day, I'm afraid.

The more I look at it, the more I like it, though... :)


Spent some time out in the rain last night working on the garden. We kind of let it go towards the end of last summer, so the whole bed of the main was just a mass of giant weeds. Between me and the hubs, we got about 75% of it ready for planting. The small garden won't require much to get it ready, just turning the soil over to get rid of the itty bitty plants sprouting from the birdseed kicked out of the feeder.

I'm a little bit concerned about a few of my perennials, though. I pruned back my butterfly bushes (one of the hummingbirds' favourites) last month, as I was supposed to, and there's absolutely zero signs of life - no new growth, no sprouting leaves, nothing. And the trumpet vines are just... dead-looking branches stuck to the bricks. I don't know if this is normal for these plants in early spring, or if their first winter in our yard took its toll on them and killed them. I guess only time will tell. :(

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Gardening blues

We've had nothing but rain for the past four or five days, and it's making me very sad. Why? Because I haven't been able to finish getting the gardens ready for planting. Boo. :(  That said, I spent last night scouting out my favorite garden centres and figuring out what plants we need to make the garden appealing to our little hummers (and other birds, of course). It's looking like Thursday the hubby and I will spend getting the beds fully weeded and ready, and then Friday will be our planting day... unless I can get some done on Thursday. A girl can hope!

I really want to try to get out for some warblers this weekend. We've got a ton migrating through the area right now, and I know I've missed the best of it already, but hopefully there will still be some around Saturday and Sunday. **fingers crossed**

Friday, May 13, 2011

Male ruby-throated hummer

I haven't gotten any good hummingbird shots yet this year, so here's one of my faves from last summer.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


I got to see my first hummingbirds of the year this evening. First, a little female visited our feeders and the blossoming golden currant bush (only thing blooming in our yard, just yet). A few minutes later, a male showed up, flashing his red throat at me. Totally made my night. :)

Monday, May 09, 2011

Osprey 13

Osprey 13 by Jen St. Louis
Osprey 13, a photo by Jen St. Louis on Flickr.
This is the elusive bird we were hoping for yesterday morning. Unfortunately, the pair were feeling a bit camera-shy.

This shot was taken the weekend prior, in Cambridge, Ontario.

Busy weekend

Spent both Saturday and Sunday mornings out taking pictures. Saturday morning was spent at a photography workshop at the Mountsberg Raptor Centre and Sunday I met up with a fellow photographer to explore Snyder's Flats. We went specifically for Osprey, but had little luck there. Saw a nice variety of birds, though, including a lovely Oriole who sat singing for us for a while, and a handful of yellow warblers. I'm still going through the pictures from both days, but hope to have something postable within the next few days.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Thursday, May 05, 2011

First hummer of the year!

Just got a report from the hubby that our first ruby-throated hummingbird of the year has made its way into our yard. This is a good thing, since we're playing host to a series of hummingbird photography workshops this summer.

Goldfinch eating lilac buds

Our yard is overrun by these little guys, right now. We maintain a healthy population of them all year 'round, but over the past month, their numbers have increased fairly dramatically. We've been watching the males challenge each other, chasing each other around the yard, spinning together and falling towards the ground, only to part and fly upward at the last minute. They're so pretty, and so entertaining... I just wish they wouldn't eat the lilac buds.

Yard birds

For the second time this spring, we had a lovely male rose-breasted grosbeak at the feeder last night. This bird was one of my nemeses last year, as it never posed anywhere pretty enough for pictures - always just flew onto a feeder and then flew away without perching in, say, the lilac tree or anything else photogenic. Hopefully he'll be a little more cooperative this year.

We had a flock of 50 - 60 Blue Jays fly through the yard last night, too. I had no clue they flocked in those kinds of numbers. It was pretty cool to see.

The Baltimore Oriole was back on the feeder this morning. :)

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Spring arrivals

We've had two new migrant arrivals in our yard so far this week - a white-crowned sparrow and gorgeous male Baltimore Oriole. (Chipping sparrows have increased in number, too.) I hadn't thought the Orioles came back this early, but I'd read about some sightings close by, so we decided to put out the feeder Monday evening. This morning, bright and early, one showed up. :)

Eastern screech owls 1

Eastern screech owls 1 by Jen St. Louis
Eastern screech owls 1, a photo by Jen St. Louis on Flickr.
For my first photo post, I thought I should go with one of my personal favorites. These two eastern screech owls were featured at a photography workshop I attended last Fall at the Mountsberg Raptor Centre.

Welcome to my bird nerd-dom

So the hubby suggested I start a blog to talk about birds and showcase my bird photography... I figured it wasn't a completely crappy idea, so here I am! :)

I guess I could start with a bit about me, in case you don't want to read my profile.

My name's Jen, and, as my darling husband has informed me, I'm a bird nerd. A relatively new bird nerd, but one nonetheless. If you'd told me even a year and a half ago that I'd soon become an avid bird enthusiast and obsessive bird photographer, I would've laughed in your face. And then I would've ended up eating crow.

God. Bird puns. So lame.

The hubs and I live with our four-legged, barking child on a farm in the heart of Mennonite country in Ontario. We're surrounded by farm fields and wooded areas, and our yard entertains a lot of wildlife. In the 17 months we've lived there, we've recorded 48 different species of birds, and a decent variety of animals, including coyote, fox, and deer.

Because of the variety of birds we attract, I have to admit, I do a good chunk of my bird photography in our yard - and a surprising amount from shooting out our living room window. There are a lot of great birding spots around us, though, and we try - and fail, lately - to get out regularly to find new and interesting species (to us, at least). Last year, when we planned a road trip to Washington, DC, to visit friends, we mapped out birding stops along the way. It was an awesome trip, despite craptastic weather for Assateague Island and Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.

So that's me in a nutshell. This blog, as mentioned above, will be someplace for me to talk about birding/birds, post some of my photos, and, hopefully, allow me to meet some other bird enthusiasts with whom I can nerd out.

You can find me a few other places, too, using my Jen St. Louis Photography handle, so please feel free to add me as a contact, follow me, or Like me, etc., at any of the following:

My Flickr account
Jen St. Louis Photography website