Friday, November 18, 2011
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
Sunday, October 23, 2011
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
Wednesday, October 05, 2011
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
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
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
The 20% off deal is still valid on Blurb.com. 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
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
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.
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.
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)
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. :)
Thursday, August 18, 2011
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Tuesday, August 09, 2011
Sunday, August 07, 2011
Friday, August 05, 2011
Thursday, August 04, 2011
Wednesday, August 03, 2011
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Monday, July 18, 2011
Friday, July 15, 2011
Friday, July 08, 2011
Tuesday, July 05, 2011
Monday, July 04, 2011
Saturday, July 02, 2011
Friday, July 01, 2011
Monday, June 27, 2011
Thursday, June 23, 2011
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
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
Friday, June 10, 2011
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
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Saturday, May 28, 2011
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
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
Thursday, May 19, 2011
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
The more I look at it, the more I like it, though... :)
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
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
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Monday, May 09, 2011
This shot was taken the weekend prior, in Cambridge, Ontario.
Friday, May 06, 2011
Thursday, May 05, 2011
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
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