Category Archives: Thrasher

Photographing A Brown Thrasher and Utilizing the DOF Button

Photographing Birds Who Linger in the Cold

I photographed this Brown Thrasher near our suet feeders in late November, 2015. He lingers still- mostly hiding out near the edges of the woods. Brown Thrashers are considered to be “short distance, partial migrates”.  In the colder northern states, these birds head south to warmer climates. In the south, Brown Thrashers stay in their nesting grounds year-round.

It’s been fairly warm in SW Michigan so far, with only 6″ or so of snow, but winter will certainly come. It has been my observation that a small percentage of (young and crazy?) birds of almost all migrating species do not migrate. See this post for more information on the perils of migration.

Photo of Brown Thrasher
Brown Thrasher.
ISO 800; f/5; 1/400 Second

Experimenting with Aperture

I took a couple shots of this Brown Thrasher with my 500mm 4.0 L II lens wide open when I first saw him in my yard. He was more interested in the suet cake particles that had dropped to the ground than he was in me, so I decided it was safe to experiment with a tighter aperture.

Optimal Through-the-Lens Light

On modern DSLRs, the camera stops down the lens’ diaphragm (black metal blades inside the lens) to the aperture size specified right when the shutter release is pressed. That means that at all other times, the lens aperture is wide open to the lens’ maximum size, no matter what the aperture is set to. (On my 500 mm lens, 4.0 is the maximum aperture. On my 300mm lens, 2.8 is the maximum aperture.) This is done so that the photographer will have optimal through-the-lens light when composing and focusing.

Previewing Depth of Field

Unfortunately, all this light does little to help gauge depth of field. Consequently, most cameras include a DOF button that will allow the photographer to preview precisely what is in sharp focus and what is not.

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher
ISO1250; f/7.1; 1/640

Experimenting with the DOF Button

When using the DOF button, the more you tighten the aperture, the darker the scene gets in the viewfinder.  I started out by setting the camera’s aperture to f/7.1 – my minimum aperture when the light is strong and unobstructed. Initially, with the DOF button engaged, it was simply too dark for me to see through the viewfinder how much of the scene was in focus. I tried throwing my camouflage sheet over myself and the camera to help my eyes adjust to the darkness. Eventually, after fiddling around with wider apertures, my strained eyes did slowly adapt to the point where I could determine depth of field.

Photo of Brown Thrasher
Brown Thrasher
ISO1250; f/5.6; 1/500 Second

Not for Me

I don’t particularly like using the DOF button. It’s just too time consuming.  Besides, after years of experience in bird photography, I have a good sense of how much depth of field my telephoto lenses will deliver.

Assign DOF Button A Different Function

The DOF preview button is located in a very prominent place at the back of my camera. DOF preview naysayers recommend that photographers assign a different function to the DOF button so that this prime real estate doesn’t go to waste. Canon makes it simple to re-assign buttons to suit your preferences. I’ve changed the DOF button to toggle AI Servo Focus when held down–something I find much more useful.

To read more about Depth of Field, press this link.

To read more about Brown Thrashers, masters of avian acoustics, press this link.

Brown Thrasher

Photographing Brown Thrashers- Masters of Avian Acoustics

Photographing Brown Thrashers

I came upon two Brown Thrashers skulking in a rather dense and tangled bush in the Allegan State Game Area. By the sound of the songs and calls coming out of the bush, I thought I had discovered the nests of many bird species. As I watched and listened, it soon became apparent that one bold Brown Thrasher, nestled at the top of the bush, was doing all the singing.

Photo of Brown Thrasher
Brown Thrasher.
A Bird of With a Repertoire of Many Songs, Calls and Whistles.
ISO 320; f/9; 1/1000 Second

Camera Angle

I looked up at the crooning Brown Thrasher from the driver’s seat of my car, while my lens rested on the open door window. I knew the bird would vanish if I opened my car door and got out to reposition the camera on a tripod. My camera and monster lens are too heavy to reliably hold still, so I needed to rest the weight on the window. In order to be able to point the lens up high enough to focus on the bird and still be able to look through the viewfinder, I moved the car seat to its lowest setting and scrunched my body down into the seat.

Low Angle Perspective

Perspective changes the feel of a photograph. A “low angle” shot is where the camera is positioned anywhere below the eye line. If the distance is right between the lens and subject, I am always ready contort my head and body into position, if that what it takes to get the shot. (NOTE: My experience has been that opportunities to take eye level photographs of birds do not come around that often.)

Despite the problem with the high perch, the other conditions were good. Mid morning light was behind me, the bird’s pose was engaging and the background colors exceptional.

The second photo (below) shows a juvenile Brown Thrasher snuggling in the brush, appearing rather vulnerable as he looks up in search of his parent. This was an easier shot because the bird was positioned close to eye level. The cluttered brushy background is not ideal, but I like the colors of the Thrasher displayed in this side pose and the way the bird fluffs his feathers and bundles himself in a ball.

Photo of Brown Thrasher
Juvenile Brown Thrasher, at Eye Level with My Lens.
ISO 640; f/9; 1/1000 Second.

Bird Mimicry

Brown Thrashers are rather gangly secretive birds that do a good job of staying hidden, even though the bold copper wings and heavy dark streaking on their white breasts don’t exactly blend. Once you spot movement in a bush, their glaring bright yellow eyes and slightly downturned beak are easy to pick out. Brown Thrashers are most noticeable when they sing because they don’t just sing one or two songs. Generally they repeat a phrase twice, pause and then start again with a different tune. This bird in the top photo was showing off by singing complex songs with radical changes in volume, tempo, tone, pitch.

Avian Acoustics

When you hear birdsong that radically and continually switches from one song to another, it’s a pretty good indication that you’re listening to a mimic. Brown Thrashers are a species of bird (along with catbirds, blue jays, crows, starlings, and mocking birds) that imitate the songs and sounds other birds make. The males can have a repertoire of over 1000 sounds.

Brown Thrashers not only mimic other birds, they also imitate sounds that are not from nature, like construction noise and doorbells.

To learn more about bird mimicry, visit this link.