Photographing an Oven Bird
Deep within the dense brambly Allegan forest, I found an enclave of warbler species that could scarcely be seen dodging in and out of the foliage. In this rich space, I saw flashes of blue winged warblers, yellow rumped warblers, yellow warblers and chestnut-sided warblers identifiable (just barely) through my dark, noisy and blurry photos.
As it is with most of my surprise bird encounters, my 500 mm lens with 1.4 extender was resting on the car door. The tall grasses in front of the dense brush were a hindrance to locking down focus. I took as many shots as the lens would allow, mainly trying to get a closer, identifiable look at what was hiding in there.
Thankfully, one brave warbler was curious enough to come out into the open long enough for me to get off a burst. The Oven Bird Warbler.
A Ground Foraging Warbler
A stocky warbler with dark streaking spots on its breast, the Oven Bird looks and acts more like the larger Swainson’s Thrush. Its wing and back feathers are a dull brown-olive color. A reddish brown crown bordered by two stripes sits on his head.
This warbler gets its name from the domed shaped (oven-like) nest it builds amongst the decaying leaves, moss, and grasses near roots and fallen trees. Like all warblers, (and some bird photographers) the Oven Bird abandons Michigan for warmer winter climates.
Achieving Focus Lock
A major challenge on this shoot was locking down focus. I had the focus limiter switch on my Canon 500mm 4.0L II IS USM telephoto lens set for the longest available focusing distance. Consequently, the lens took way too much time hunting back and forth from “4.5 m to infinity”. I quickly changed the switch on the lens barrel to the “10m to infinity” setting. The hunt time was reduced substantially because the lens no longer tried to focus on the tall grasses closest to the camera.
Revisit this Enclave with Video
As much as I love photographing warblers, it’s hard to get photos with beautiful creamy backgrounds because of all that brambly wilderness in the spaces they call home. Since the warblers are mostly uncooperative about posing on perches in prime locations, I’ve considered mixing things up next time by turning on the little used video component on my fancy cameras.
Turning on the video component on both of my cameras (Canon 5D MarkIII and Canon 7D Mark II) is easily done with a flip of the switch. But sadly, a camera resting on the window of the car door is not a steady enough mount to engage video. Shaky videos just make me nauseous. To do it right means waiting for a windless day and setting up the camera and lens on my most sturdy tripod. Shutting off the audio component is a must because 1) the little mic on the camera is substandard, making audio an irritating distraction and 2) the bird will likely not vocalize much this time of year.
So, my mission in the next few weeks is to research how best to video birds and then make a good video of the the migrating warblers who stop to rest and replenish in our yard.
I’ve got a lot of research to do.
Read this post to learn more about locking down focus.
Read this post about photographing the Swainson’s Thrush.