Talkin’ More Bird Photography

Happy Independence Day, America! And am I grateful to be living in the “the greatest country on God’s green earth.”

The U.S. flag
The U.S. flag

Green Heron Nestling

Some of you have seen this bird photo before. I took it on 7/1/20 at what has now become one of my patches: Lakeside Park in Chesapeake, VA. My main patch continues to be that 40-acre marvel of land restoration, Paradise Creek Nature Park in Portsmouth.

Green Heron nestling
Green Heron nestling

We’re great at attributing human thoughts to our fellow creatures, including birds. When I posted this photo on Facebook, I did just that. I posted it with this caption: “Green Heron nestling, Lakeside Park, Chesapeake, 7/1. This wasn’t just an ordinary ‘Who are you?’ This was a much more elemental, ‘WHAT are you?'”

That caption might not have been clear. What I meant was this. The nestling had probably never seen a human being before, let alone one pointing a 500mm “bazooka” in its direction. So, to me, the bird’s craned position and bulging eyes weren’t just a “Which one in that category are you?” They were, instead, the much more basic, “I need a new category altogether.” I was reminded of a child seeing an object or a process for the first time, then making a concerted effort to come to grips with/understand it.

A curious child
Focus and concentration

Random Photography Thoughts

As I look at the heron photo above, one I shot with my Canon EOS-1D X DSLR with a Canon Extender EF 1.4X III and Canon EF 500mm f/4 II (the “bazooka”) attached, I think, first of all, of some of the things what we covered in “Talkin’ Bird Photography“:

  • Being prepared
  • Placing the AF point on the eye
  • Capturing decisive moments
  • Taking advantage of natural framing

Then I think of the importance of using a long lens to capture wildlife. Using a long lens (minimum 400mm) enables you to keep your distance without disturbing or provoking. It enables you to be a more responsible image-maker. I’ve learned the hard way that getting too close to wildlife can cause undue stress on lives that are under stress already. It is said of birds in particular that “the law of their lives is eternal vigilance.”

Of course, another advantage of having a long lens is that you’re not focal length limited. Here, I was on the riverbank, some 120 feet away.

Personal watercraft
PWC driver

I often tell others, when I’m out with my camera, that everything’s fair game. This PWC driver certainly was, with that wall of white water behind him. He was also fair game for another reason: the story. Here was yet another person enjoying the pleasures of the once presumed dead Elizabeth River. For that matter, the child above was enjoying its pleasures, too.

Knowing Your Target Species

As I look at the Green Heron photo, I also think about this. Photographers need to know and understand the target species. They need to know, for example, when and where the target species is active. They also need to know how to approach; they need a firm grasp on fieldcraft. Let me use the pursuit of a different species to explain.

I wanted to take some photos of Clapper Rails. Clapper Rails are crepuscular residents of coastal salt and brackish marshes. They usually remain hidden in marsh grasses, but as the tide falls or rises they’ll feed along the margins. They’re also approachable.

So, early in the morning on 6/28, I headed to my main patch. The tide was falling and the “golden hour” lighting was perfect. I parked myself on the boat ramp and sat low and still (and inconspicuously) for 50 minutes. Fortunately, the diligence, the patience paid off.

Clapper Rail
Clapper Rail


We’ll continue to talk photography in the next blog, so please stay tuned.

And This Just In

Here are some words that speak to this moment: “Notwithstanding the flawed lives of our founders, all of whom were imperfect and people of their time, the principles upon which this nation was founded are both extraordinary and beyond reproach.”

Quip, Question, Quote

And in case you missed it last time: “As we gaze together, everything that’s different about us disappears into the plumages of the creatures we see beyond our binoculars.” Dr. J. Drew Lanham, author of “Birding While Black.”

Bald Eagle
Our national symbol: the Bald Eagle





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