Category Archives: Warblers

Photographing a Tennessee Warbler- The Power of Framing

Photographing a Tennessee Warbler

I still can not ID a Tennessee Warbler quickly. A dark line through the eyes accented with long white eyebrows are most often used as the determining factors. My bird books refer to this species as “dull”, most likely because nothing really stands out color or pattern wise on the plumage – especially compared to other warblers.

I don’t think so.

These warblers are so individually distinct! Different gradations of yellow, gray, black and olive green are entwined throughout the plumage. The first image shows an individual with delicately understated colors…olive gray feathers on the head streaming down into the plumage on his back. The second image captures a very different pose and package, with a burst of daffodil yellow on the breast. No doubt the flash made those flaxen colors pop. Different birds, both captured in the Autumn of 2017.

Photo of Tennessee Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Expansive View of his Background.
ISO400; f/8; 1/250 Second

Creative Anticipation

So…. what to take in when photographing birds? Do I want a tack sharp close-up where the image is so crisp that I can almost touch the playful plumage patterns and textures and count the feathers? Or should I expand the boundaries and create a sense of space, take in more of the mood of the landscape, the intensity and hue of colors, and the expressive lines and curves?

Photographers can create meaning and tell a story through their work. However, in bird photography, it is not often possible to follow through on pre-visualization routines… to capture the image exactly as you imagine it.

Pre-Visualize or Crop

No doubt some artsy photographers might think that the only way to do photography right is to start with compositional building blocks, to thoughtfully pre visualize and then frame in-camera. Zooming and cropping afterwards, (or any post production process for that matter) would be “cheating”.

I tend to operate in the reverse. Given the realities of the fast and frantic world of bird photography, I’d say that I end up cropping at least 90% of my images… and possibly more.

Tennessee Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Close up view.
ISO400; f/8; 1/250 Second

The Power of Framing

The more I look at a digital image of a bird, the more I know what to do. The power of framing through post processing helps me be less sloppy, snip away at the discordant parts, break away from standard aspect ratios. I push and pull the Lightroom crop tool every which way… trying to determine what looks best and to get rid of distractions. Post production is just another set of tools I use to create the look I want.

Bottom Line:  The photographer should decide what looks best, whether it be fanciful or faithful to the scene and subject, and not let other elevated egos decide for her.

NOTE: Pre-visualizing is a more time consuming endeavor when photographing with a long lens. Most often, my binocular vision is not engaged while peering through my 500mm monster lens.  I try to avoid the disorientation that comes with overlapping fields of view that consist of one eye seeing a magnified limited field of vision and the other eye looking without magnification at a much wider field of view.

Photographing Nashville Warblers and Thoughts About HDR Images

Photographing Nashville Warblers

Nashville Warblers have been our most common visitor during this Fall’s migration. Individuals don’t stay long and they are as skittish and unpredictable as most other warblers. I’m always very pleased when I get at least one good, unobstructed shot.

If a warbler pauses for a few seconds and I do get more than one shot, (assuming the flash keeps up with the shutter action) there is always bird movement within the sequence. Warblers don’t sit still, calmly, quietly, motionless. And that makes HDR bird photography impractical.

Nashville Warbler
Nashville Warbler
With Colorful Fall Plumage
Tonal Richness Sparse on the
Right Side of the Histogram.
ISO800; f/8; 1/250 Second

What HDR Does

Whenever I come across well done, realistic HDR photography on the web, it is most often a promotion for high-end housing or other real estate on the market. A High Dynamic Range (HDR) photo is the compilation of multiple exposures into one and works well with static subjects like fancy interior housing layouts.

The purpose of HDR photography is to capture a careful blend (usually AEB bracketed) of identical images, and then digitally combine them to create a single photo that has a wide dynamic range ..much wider than the camera’s sensor can capture with only one photo.

Photo of Nashville Warbler
Nashville Warbler
ISO400; f/7.1; 1/250 second
Could not create a Decent HDR image
with the Dozens of Shots I Took of
This Nashville Warbler.

Why Use HDR?

Photographers practice HDR to enhance tonal richness (expand the dynamic range) of the image. The HDR algorithm incorporated in the camera (or post processing software) pulls multiple images together into one and thus captures more detail on both ends of the 0-256 tonal range spectrum.

Each image file is set up with slightly different exposure settings allowing the camera to create a different dynamic range for each. Most often, the photographer will set up the sequence of shots to use the same ISO, the same aperture, but different shutter speeds. They take the time to measure the shutter speed required for the darkest and the brightest parts of the scene and then add additional shutter stops at the high end and low end. Finally, they blend only those images that expand the tonal range spectrum, i.e. overall dynamic range.

Tone Mapping

At its best, the HDR process exposes different portions of the final image by different amounts. Called tone mapping, the software allows you to lighten shadows and darken highlights in specific regions. Some photographic artists prefer to use tone mapping to make the blended image look surreal and/or unnatural.

How to Know When to Use HDR

There is no point in considering HDR if the dynamic range of the scene does not exceed the sensor’s light intensity range. It’s easy to check.

Every dSLR camera maps the light intensity range of its sensor on its histogram, so a photographer can instantly determine the dynamic range. If the histogram is ‘clipped‘ at either edge of the scale, picture detail will be lost – either in the shadows (if it’s clipped on the left) or in the highlights (if it’s clipped on the right). If the histogram shows large peaks overflowing at both ends and a low dip in the center, the camera’s sensor can not handle the dynamic range of the subject.

HDR with Bird Photography

Certainly a living, breathing, highly active bird in his natural environment looks much better when the light is outstanding–   – when the direction, intensity, and overall quality brings out distinct contrast and eye popping detail.

With HDR, there must be no movement (no discernible heartbeat, no wind, no camera shake) within the sequence of fast continuous shots. In bird photography, there is almost always some evidence of movement between the shots, creating ghosting and alignment issues and making a successful image meld impossible.

Perhaps I should practice on a statue of a bird.

Photographing a Female Hooded Warbler – Image Editing Limitations

Photographing a Female Hooded Warbler

This female Hooded Warbler alighted on a branch near the camera for less than a minute. Right before dusk, she perched 3 or 4 feet above eye level on a Sassafras tree very near the camera. Instead of staying put, she took off like a shot…a yellow blur flying directly at the camera and then swooping up 10 feet or so to avoid crashing into the window. She must have decided that with me there, it was too risky to attempt a drink at the fountain.

There is very little to recommend this image file. The detail is good and the blurred background is OK. However, harsh shadows (created by the flash blast) outline the underside of the warbler’s profile and make the overall image look very unattractive. I was able to minimally correct the darkness of the shadowy outline with Lightroom’s Shadow slider. If only there had been some distance between the tree trunk and the branch on which she perched, the dark shadow outlining the bottom of the bird’s profile would not have been so noticeable.

Hooded Warbler, female
Hooded Warbler, female.
Taken Right before Dusk.
Harsh Shadows in the Background
from Flash blast. Corrected Minimally With Shadow slider.
ISO 800, f/9; 1/250

(NOTE: The shadow so prevalent on this image is not the kind of shadow that would be highlighted in the camera’s clipping indicators. It is just a background shadow created by the flash and made a little less black by pushing Lightroom’s shadow slider all the way to the right.)

Photo Editing

I do not own Photoshop, but maybe I should. The thought makes me weary because I think of post processing as a hateful but necessary chore. Time consuming as Lightroom is, I can not master image editing by using it. I can only minimally fix issues with the shadow slider and adjustment brushes and make minor adjustments with cropping, exposure, contrast, clarity, and sharpening.

Photoshop (and the hundreds of fancy plug-ins designed to enhance this software) would  have helped improve this image. First and foremost, it would give me the tools to separate the subject (Bird Layer) from its tree (Background Layer) and then replace the background completely. There’s also image magic to be had with the Masking, Brushing, Adjusting, Cloning, Layering, Blending, Liquifying, and Transforming tools.

Keep it Simple; Keep it Real

Bottom line: Learning Photoshop is not something I want to do to. When I first go through a day’s shoot, I’m looking for promise and potential – something pleasing that will draw the eye. If I don’t see this, the image is just not worth the time and effort it takes to fix.

Photographing a Black Throated Green Warbler High in the Tree

Traveling Along, Virtually

So far, warblers have been relatively scarce this Fall. While I wait, I wonder if the devastating hurricanes in Texas, Florida, Mexico and the Caribbean temporarily put the birds’ migratory schedules into a holding pattern.

Bird photographers marvel at the distances and travails involved in the seasonal movement phenomena that is bird migration, yet critical knowledge gaps remain in the how, why, when and where of this spectacle. I hope that one day I might spot and photograph a tiny, durable, battery powered transmitter attached to one of these champions of endurance…. a geolocating device intended to track an entire migration route. These trackers will plot the movements, behaviors and timelines of thousands of bird species on world wide maps. They will allow us to travel along with the birds, virtually.

Photographing a Black Throated Green Warbler

A colorful transient appeared in short order. This little Black Throated Green Warbler perched high in a Sassafras tree that was less than 10 feet away from the tripod and camera. The soft brown bokeh comes from another thicker, taller tree directly behind where the bird sits. Tilting the lens upward with the Gimbal tripod head, I estimate that the distance between the 500mm lens and the warbler was approximately 24-25 feet.

NOTE: Gimbal Tripod heads are smooth and steady swing mounts designed to fit atop tripods and maneuver long lenses easily and quickly. A Gimbal head will support heavy equipment and enable the photographer to easily move it around horizontally and vertically. This includes the weight of not only the camera and long lens, but also the lens hood, the flash and its fresnel extender, battery pack, flash bracket, telephoto extender and various straps.

Black throated Green Warbler
Black Throated Green Warbler
ISO640; f/8; 1/250 Second.
Shot with telephoto lens pointing upward
Distance between lens and bird
approximately 24-25 feet

Shooting with the Lens Tilted Upward

The plane of the camera’s sensor was not parallel to the subject when I took the shots above…in fact it was substantially below it. So why do these images look like the bird was situated at or slightly above eye level with the camera?  When looking up through a long lens, parts of the subject will be at varying distances from the camera’s sensor. Shouldn’t this cause the camera to record a distortion? This bird is so tiny, so possibly its whole body was recorded at the same magnification because there was very little distance between the bird’s head and feet.  (Of course, the aperture setting … depth of field … has an impact on the sharpness of the entire image, especially when the camera is not parallel to its subject.)

This doesn’t explain why the bird looks like it’s perched almost parallel to the camera. 

Black Throated Green Warbler
Black Throated Green Warbler
The Background is a Nearby Tree Trunk.
ISO640; f/8; 1/250 Second
Lens Pointing Up 24-25 feet

At Camera Level

The Black Throated Green Warbler eventually flew down to the fountain area and I was able to get a few shots of him. Comparing the images where camera’s sensor was not parallel to the subject (see above) to an image that was taken when the bird was situated about the same distance away but at camera level (see below) is one sure way to determine if there is distortion. It is definitely easier to see that the lens was angled dramatically in those first shots. The camera level shot is a much more pleasing perspective.

Black Throated Green Warbler
Black Throated Green Warbler
Warbler at Eye Level with Camera
in This Shot.
ISO800; f/8; 1/250 Second

Photographing A Golden Winged Warbler in Very Different Light

Photographing a Golden Winged Warbler

The Golden Winged Warbler (female or young male) is a new bird for me. She appeared near the fountain suddenly and stayed only a few minutes. Too nervous to jump into the water with the other birds, she flew back and forth perching on different branches situated close to each other, but in very different light.

Golden Winged Warbler
Golden Winged Warbler.
Enlarge to see strong image
detail in the white areas.
On a Branch Situated in evenly
filtered light- with Flash.
ISO640; f/8; 1/250 Second

Transitioning With the Light

The darkish branch upon which the bird perches in the above shot was situated in evenly lit shade. A relatively dark scene, the flash provided a good amount of fill light and captured details on the dark and light parts of the bird. The wooded background (already 2 stops or more darker than the perching area), came through as black. The histogram shows many more dark areas than light… not an ideal bell curve, but no blinkies.

If she had only stayed there! Dashing quickly and erratically, she flew over to a light toned, more reflective branch located only a few feet away. This branch (see photo below) was saturated in overhead direct sunlight and so was the bird when she alighted there. The highlight alerts I saw through the viewfinder confirmed that the harsh light would overexpose the images, rendering certain white areas on the warbler with little or no detail.

Golden Winged Warbler
Golden Winged Warbler in Harsh Light.
Shot in Raw.
No details Could be Restored
in Post Processing – See close-up below.
ISO640; f/8; 1/250 Second
Golden Winged Warbler
Close up of Golden Winged Warbler.
Feather Details on Face, Neck and
Breast were lost and are Irretrievable in Post Processing

Time to Address Highlight Alerts

A Highlight Alert is basically a quick check of overly bright areas (overexposure) on the image. If you have turned this DSLR camera option on, you will see blinking alerts on your LCD review screen after you’ve taken the photo. If the alert is not in an obvious or important portion of the image, the patch of overexposure does not matter. Ignore the blink and stick with the initial exposure readings. If the blinkies are flashing on critical areas of the subject, it’s probably best to quickly adjust your exposure settings. (NOTE: With bird photography, there is rarely time move to a different location and reshoot.)

During this shoot, all it took was for the bird to relocate a few feet away to a nearby branch and the bulk of my images were ruined. As I think back, there might have been time and opportunity to: a) Check the highlight alerts (to see if they were blinking in critical areas of the image); b) Turn off the flash; c) Alter exposure settings to correct the overexposed portions of the image; and d) Reshoot.

Given adequate time, this is how I should have proceeded:

  • If the graph of the histogram is just touching the right edge, the exposure should be fine.
  • If the data is not quite to the right edge of the histogram, just add exposure – either manually or by moving the AEC dial a little to the right.  (on the “+” side)
  • If the data is crawling way over the right edge of the histogram (clipping) that means that there’s WAY TOO MUCH LIGHT. This is very bad. Lost details means lost forever. No post processing software can bring back those over exposed details. Simple solution: Manually adjust exposure or move the AEC dial one or more stops to the left (subtract exposure – on the “-” side).
  • Take another test photograph and recheck your histogram. Keep making adjustments until the RIGHTMOST data is just touching the right edge of the histogram.

It’s not hard to screw up exposure settings when a fabulous bird appears unexpectedly in front of the camera.  Despite all my time in the field, excitement can still cause me to neglect to change some setting on the camera. In this instance, even with the camera set to RAW, mistakes like that almost always matter.

Subspecies or Hybrid

This individual photographed above has the markings of a classic Golden Winged Warbler. Golden Winged Warblers occasionally hybridize with the Blue Winged Warblers and produce two separate hybrid types: a) the Brewster: yellow head and throat, white belly and white wing bars; and b) the Lawrence version: yellow crown and belly, black throat and eye patch and white wing bars.

In my many bird photography adventures, I have photographed several subspecies, but I have never seen or photographed a bird that would be considered a hybrid. A subspecies is a variety of the same species….a population (usually geographically isolated) that has a slightly different appearance than others of its own species. A hybrid is born when two different and closely related species successfully breed.

An excellent article about hybridized warblers “Why Hybridize?” by Dr. Rachel Vallender, can be found at this link.



Photographing a Female American Redstart Warbler and Birding Festivals

The Joy of Bathing

Birds bathe to maintain optimal feather health, but they also appear to savor their time in the water -and seem reinvigorated afterwards.

This little female American Redstart Warbler clearly relishes her evening baths in our little oasis off the deck. She first checks her surroundings then takes a quick drink. She then wades into the water wholeheartedly, immerses her head and saturates her little body, then jiggles and shivers to release the heavy droplets. Up she rises to the branch above the fountain to continue shaking out excess water on her feathers and to preen. Once is often not enough….she goes back and does it all again. All part of her nightly spa ritual before heading off to roost for the night.

Definitely fun to watch and photograph.

Photo of Female American Redstart Warbler at Fountain
Female American Redstart Warbler.
Lightly Touching Down
at the Fountain for her
Evening Bath
ISO1250; f/8; 1/250 Second

Thoughts About Birding Hotspots

I’ve been a bird photographer long enough to know the rush and the rewards of good bird photo opportunity.

The best Spring and Fall Migration birding hotspots are widely publicized and photographers flock to secure the prime locations at the best times. No doubt fabulous photographs are to be had by those who put in the time and effort to pack up their gear and travel to these places.

This Spring, I had planned to travel to Magee Marsh on the southern shore of Lake Erie (3+ hours away) to watch and photograph the Warbler migration. Unexpected and sad circumstances intervened. I am not unhappy about missing the event, even though I no doubt missed photographing some new colorful warblers who would never venture into my part of the woods.

Photo of Female American Redstart warbler.
Female American Redstart Warbler.
Enjoying her Bath.
ISO1250; f/8; 1/250 Second

A Paparazzi After Birds

This year, I was just not ready to squeeze in onto some bridge or public path early in the morning with dozens of other nature photographers positioning their camera gear, lawn chairs, bug spray and coolers. At times, bird festivals become nothing short of a high energy spectacle. A gaggle of photographers clusters onto one spot in an effort to capture the best birds in the best light. It is impossible to practice stealth in these settings.

Generally, these birding festivals/events bring out the worst in me. Impatience, envy, and frustration…all in the name of getting a lucky shot of a new and/or uncommon bird. I’ll admit that most participants do their best not to get in the way of other photographers, but sometimes limited space just does not allow for comfortable distances. This provokes bad behavior in the form of rude glaring, annoying comparisons about equipment, and unsubstantiated judgments about skills and abilities. (NOTE: Some of these people have never had an unexpressed thought.)

Impact on Birds

Birds may appear acclimated to human behavior, but that does not mean that they are unaffected by it. The competition in the air gets in the way of concern or respect for birds. It also stresses wildlife and complicates bird routines. At times behaviors are so intrusive that they breach ethical practices.

Should I Stay Or Should I Go

So ultimately, each Spring, I’ve got to decide…. should I stay or should I go. No doubt lots of good shots to be had, but I’m spoiled here in my private bird space even though I saw very few migrators this Spring.

Bottom line: As a bird photographer, I’m not going to be continually challenged and rewarded with anticipatory delight unless I get myself out there. So I will go.


Bird Migration- August Field Notes

They Come, They Go

August 10

The House Wrens that were so prevalent in our yard during the spring and summer are suddenly no where to be found. I miss their bright beautiful songs and their industrious display and hunting behaviors.  I’ll keep watching, but I’m pretty sure they are laying low, going through their molts, taking advantage of the ground level hunting opportunities and resting up for migration.

Rose Breasted Grosbeaks and Baltimore Orioles who were so busily tending to their fledglings only a week ago are no longer showing themselves. I can see an abandoned Oriole nest from my window, hanging by only a few threads, in disarray and looking quite uninhabitable. One good wind will bring it down.

The Hummers never disappoint…. always flitting in and out, displaying, chasing, divebombing… ever watchful. They will continue their activities through September undeterred, no matter how close the camera and flash intrude into their escapades. Why these diminutive birds don’t feel the biological urge to rest before their long migratory journey ahead I’ll never know.

Ruby Throated Hummer
Hummers Let the Camera Get Close.
Female Ruby Throated Hummingbird.
ISO400; f/7.1; 1/250 Second.

August 15

I no longer hear the the cacophony of bird song that use to fill the air in early morning, even though migrators like Robins, Red Winged Blackbirds, Gold Finches, Song Sparrows, House Finches, Towhees, and Wood Thrushes are still around. No journey ahead for Titmice, Chickadees, Cardinals, most woodpeckers and doves. Is it more of a relief to stay through the MI winter or face the perils of migration?

I look around and note that the Gray Catbirds, Cowbirds, Phoebes, and Chipping Sparrows are not showing themselves in our yard anymore.

August 20

Glimpses of yellow flash around the fountain. Too quick to get an ID shot. We have a nesting pair of American Redstart Warblers so what I see may be the female. Both cameras are set up in different locations in the house. Soon I’ll have those windows open most of the day…..mosquitoes permitting.

August 25

Leaves are still green and heavy on the trees, making bird ID and tracking birds with a long lens very difficult. Cicadas are droning -alternately loud then fading. It’s hot and muggy here in SW MI. The windows are open to facilitate a clear shot and that makes for a damp and sticky house. I have the fans going to help keep out the mosquitos.

Sunny with a strong east wind today. I saw a Tennessee Warbler, a Red Eyed Vireo and one Merlin Falcon on Lakeshore Drive. Got in a couple shots to confirm ID but the resulting images were awful.

August 26

Spent most of the day watching, but only saw a Least Flycatcher peeking around in his hiding place in the Serviceberry tree. A few gold leaves have a tentative hold to their branches.

Least Flycatcher
Least Flycatcher, trying to Hide
Deep within the Serviceberry Tree.
ISO1000; f/9; 1/250 Second

August 27

A rain storm –might it bring some traveling warblers down to the understory trees?  Two cameras on swivel tripod heads facing different directions in the library. I keep checking other possible warbler landing spots–like near the dining room, in back near the fountain or off the front porch. Thinking about relocating one of the cameras… but doesn’t make sense to keep moving the equipment unless I see more activity in that location. I can stretch myself only so far. Uneven cloud cover blankets the yard with intermittent light, mostly sparse. Each camera has a flash and telephoto extender attached. (I fiddled with the wires on my old Canon 580 flash with old Better Beamer flash extender. So far, it’s been working, although I don’t know how accurate the Flash enhanced exposure readings will be.) The rain tickles the leaves. So much movement to track even before I point the lens.

Last year on this date, two warblers were feasting on the bugs on the Serviceberry trees (A Black Throated Green Warbler male and a female Magnolia Warbler). This year I saw and managed a shot of a perky little Chestnut Sided Warbler. (See below. Female or first year male…so different looking than the mature males.)  The flash intensity was reduced to -2/3. (Surprisingly the flash blast doesn’t seem to worry the birds.)

Female Chestnut Sided Warbler
Chestnut Sided Warbler
An Early Arrival
ISO1000; f/9; 1/250 Second

The usual birds are out and about….. Titmice, Blue Jays, Gold Finches, Downy Woodpeckers.  That’s good.  It seems that birds find comfort and safety in crowds…. much more likely to have a warbler sighting when there’s lots of other activity. I take a few shots of the oft photographed faithfuls/dependables to review the exposure settings and flash intensity. Keeps me going.

August 31

Keep hoping for a migrating newcomer, but no luck. I was happy to get ID shots of a Wilson’s Warbler and female Magnolia Warbler. I look forward to September… migration has only just begun.


Photographing an Unexpected Yellow Warbler – Taking Cover

Photographing An Unexpected Yellow Warbler

It’s was a rainy July day in late morning when this dewy, unspoiled Yellow Warbler appeared in front of my lens. I took a few through-the-window shots to confirm ID…. and then noisily cranked opened the library window. I was surprised to find him sitting in our Magnolia tree. Generally, we see Yellow Warblers (sometimes just a blur) in our yard only during the fall migration cycle. He looked young….so perhaps he ventured out of his familiar territory to explore. Why ever he came within view, I was very pleased to see and photograph him.

Photo of Young Yellow Warbler
Yellow Warbler.
Looks Fresh and Young.
Right Before He Noticed a Predator.
ISO400; f/6.3; 1/250 Second

Take Cover and Freeze

We do not live in an open habitat, so there are plenty of places for a bird to hide from the camera and from predators. When I notice a warbler who is not obsessively flitting about searching for food, driving off the competition, or singing his heart out to attract a mate, it gives me pause. Something is wrong.

Birds alter their behavior when there’s a risk of a predator attack. Most fly off fast and erratically, searching for distant cover. This Yellow Warbler was utilizing the crouch-and-stay-put strategy that is so prevalent with Downy Woodpeckers. He was quiet, hunkered down, immobile mostly, and looking up to the sky. He most certainly saw me, but had more to worry about than the camera.

Yellow Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Barely Moving–for more than 10 minutes.
On High Alert-Watching the Sky.
ISO400; f/8; 1/250 Second

Tele Flash Considerations

The ISO was reading 5000+, compelling me to attach and connect all of the flash gear. It was much easier to manage the flash blast in the first photo because the background was free of nearby distractions. In the second and third photos, the warbler was hiding from his predator within the branches near the truck of the tree… so he was right up against his background. The Magnolia tree is 20+ feet away and the tele flash extender did a good job of lenghtening the light beam to effectively spotlight the bird.

Looking back on this photo, I think I should have reduced the e-TTL II determined flash blast somewhat. I could have pushed up the ISO, enlarged the aperture to let in more ambient light, or adjusted the Flash Exposure Compensation (FEC) by -1 stop or so. NOTE: There are lots of ways to tone down the light in order to minimize the sharpness of the shadows.

Photo of Yellow Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Feeling Safer.
Stretching Out a Little After Watching the Sky for Predators.
ISO800; f/9; 1/250 Second

On His Way

This warbler stayed hidden from the angel of death long after other avian dare devils were comfortable enough to try some quick feeder in-and-out maneuvers. Eventually he felt safe enough to fan his tail feathers and stretch his wings; and then he was gone.


Photographing A Thirsty American Redstart Warbler at the Fountain

Photographing An American Redstart Warbler

It’s been partially sunny with cool refreshing winds for 5 days now and the forecast predicts much the same for the next three days. Tree canopy above the house is fully leafed out. Petals from the tops of the blooming locust trees float into the house onto the carpet. Plants are looking dry and droopy. The few mosquitos I encounter are sluggish.

Squirrels and chipmunks scurry along the cedar mulch paths to the fountain to get a drink from the water flowing down. Titmice and Robins pay me no mind as they bathe and drink from the bubbler. This Spring, a pair of American Redstart Warblers have returned to nest in our yard. The male, adorned in his spring finery, visits the fountain often.

Male American Redstart
Male American Redstart Warbler
He’s Shaking and Fanning His Feathers
To Dry them Before He Goes In for
Another Dip. ISO1600; f/9; 1/250 Second

High in the Treetops

Here on ground level, the only warblers we have noticed are the Redstarts. My bird books confirm that 43 wood warblers species nest in MI… most of them arboreal.  An arboreal bird is defined as: “A type of bird that relies on trees and dense foliage, spending much of its life in trees and rarely either descending to the ground or otherwise leaving the cover of the canopy.”

A wide diversity of highly specialized birds and other creatures live in this upper layer habitat created from the crowns of trees. This obscured community rarely needs to venture down to a ground level water source. They drink from the near billions of lighter-than-air floating water droplets carried in the fog and intercepted by tree leaves.

Is it too much to hope that other species of warblers actually live high in our tree canopy and that they might one day come down?

Hope Springs Eternal

I set up my camera, 500mm lens, 1.4 tele extender, and bracketed flash on to the tripod inside the house (with one tripod leg outside on the step of the deck). Sunlight on the deck slowly transitions, uneven and patchy, as the morning sun rises in the sky. I set the focus limiter switch on the lens barrel to restrict the len’s autofocus to 3.7m-10 m.

Male Redstart Warbler
American Redstart Warbler
Luxuriating in the Fountain.
ISO1250; f/7.1; 1/250 Second

ISO Settings With Flash

I keep my Canon camera in Manual (M) mode, but set the flashgun to Auto. E-TTL II will compensate as the exposure parameters change with the shifting light. I play around with the ISO settings, raising it to brighten the background. If I leave the camera’s ISO setting in auto mode, the camera automatically sets  ISO to 400 when a flash is attached and activated. (NOTE: There are times when the flash can not recycle fast enough to keep up with the shudder action. If Auto ISO is set, the ISO will rise to compensate and correct exposure when the flash does not fire. If I set the ISO to a specific value, the camera will be in complete manual mode and will not override the aperture, shutter, and  ISO set by the photographer.  In this instance, the camera will still take the shot, but the images will be underexposed.)

Working on Glare Control

Mid day rolls in. The sun is casting glare and shadow and the blinkies are flashing through the viewfinder. I can feel the hot sun on my face as it clears the trees and bears down on the house. The brim of my hat does a good job blocking the sun from my eyes, but whenever I try to place my eye on the eyecup, the hat pushes back on my head, moving the camera and tripod. The hat comes off.

Instead of packing up, I consider inserting the circular polarizer into the lens. Then, possibly I could effectively boost color and contrast in an otherwise washed out scene. The reduction of light with the polarizer inserted sends the ISO soaring. For birds I can only lower the shutter speed so much….so I turn on the flash with extender again. I rotate the polarizer to get the maximum reflection reduction, but the resulting images shone on the LCD screen come back full of glare. The polarizer can not eliminate the glare caused by the elevated flash gun. That beam probably needs its own polarizing sheet. Too much hassle for such a beautiful day. I power down the camera and flash and put everything away.

Photographing a Magnolia Warbler — Battery Maintenance

Spring Bird Vigil

It’s Spring migration time again. My eyes are continually scanning the outdoors for birds newly arriving or just passing through. I know that I must be missing most of them. If they do venture down to rest and replenish, the vast majority are hidden in the foliage or high in the trees or off in somebody else’s yard. The number of transients that come within my purview–at a time when my camera and I are ready –seems minuscule compared to the billions of birds on the move.

My mind was elsewhere as I swapped out the spent batteries in my Canon 1 DX Mark II camera and set up the camera near the deck. I had spent much of the day behind the viewfinder photographing the familiar birds when a stunning male Magnolia Warbler appeared right in front of my lens. I got off one shot, then nothing. The camera went dead.

Photo of Male Magnolia Warbler
Magnolia Warbler, male.
ISO400; f/8; 1/250 Second
With Flash Enhancement

No Power

Ack!!!  No power!  And no swappable moment…. the warbler was gone.  I had just changed the battery pack in the morning and couldn’t have taken more than 100 shots during the day. Why did it fail?  It is true that Canon new flagship…the 1 DX Mark II is power hungry, but the newly designed battery pack is supposed to be up to the task. The specs boast that battery pack (less than a year old) will provide up to 1210 shots per charge, optimally. (Battery life for Video = approx 1-1/2 hrs). I do have power hungry functions engaged (flash, focus points, IS, Al Servo auto focus, etc.), but nothing unusual for bird photography.

Frustrated, I swapped out the dead battery with another recharged battery pack and scrolled down to battery info in the menu system. In big red letters at the bottom of the screen it read: Calibration is recommended when charging battery next time.

Battery Calibration

Batteries don’t stay young. Battery calibration is the process of maximizing electrical storage capacity and insuring that batteries hold their charge. It also resets the gauge of the battery freshness indicator to better match the actual power remaining in the battery.

The solution to fast draining batteries is to attach the exhausted battery to the charger and press the calibration/performance button. The charger will go through a calibration procedure which fully discharges any power left in the battery. It then fully recharges it. If you try to calibrate a charged battery, the depleting process takes much longer.

Over the next two days, I re-calibrated both lithium ion batteries. The recharge performance indicator in the camera menu now shows that they both can adequately retain a charge.

It costs $169.00 for a new battery for my camera. From now on, I will pay more attention to battery maintenance.