Male Bobolink

Photographing Bobolinks – and Being Respectful of Bird Habitats

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Photographing Bobolinks in Restricted Areas

A friend and I were having a marvelous time photographing, from the side of the road, two (or possibly three) male Bobolinks.The birds were taking turns scaring each other off. They would circle multiple landing sites and then light on an isolated mullein flower, close to the cameras, that offered a lush green background. The Bobolinks were definitely competitive, carving out territories and vying for ownership of this one little mullein stalk. It gave us ample opportunities to practice landing shots.

Photo of Bobolink
Bobolink Coming in for a Landing.
I like the Motion Blur and His Right Wing
Although, I Just Barely Got that Wing in the Frame.
ISO640; f/9; 1/1250 Second

Photographing Landings and Takeoffs

The morning was sunny and windless. Over and over, a Bobolink would gracefully touch down and try to stabilize himself. My lens was resting firmly on the car door and focused on the top of the closest mullein flower. Trying to anticipate the perfect moment to press that shutter button, my eyes intensely tracked the flight of each bird as he circled and then came in for his landing.

This task definitely requires some precision, and lots of practice. I was successful only a couple times with the landing and take-off shots, but was able to capture the complex efforts the birds made to brace themselves on the mullein stalk. The legs and feet on Bobolinks are large, long and prominent, perfect for grasping and clamping on all sorts of perches. The toes are independent and flexible, three toes in front and one stabilizer in the rear. You can see in the photo below how this Bobolink works his feet and his wings to balance himself.

Photo of Male Bobolink
Male Bobolink, Using
Both Legs and His Wings to Try to Steady
Himself on the Mullein Flower.
ISO400; f/8; 1/800 Second.

Noticing Deformities While Photographing Birds

My 500mm lens allows me to get close to the action and see many details. It was not until after I downloaded the photos onto my computer that I noticed that the right leg on one of these male Bobolinks has only a partial foot and one claw. Sadly, I was not able to get a landing shot of this handicapped bird, but the three photos below reveal that even with one deformed leg, he accomplishes his takeoffs and landings quite well.

Photo of Male Bobolink
Male Bobolink Using His One Good Leg to Try
to Steady Himself on the Mullein Flower.
ISO320; f/8; 1/800 Second
Photo of Male Bobolink
Frontal View of Male Bobolink-
Balancing on the Mullein Flower with one leg.
ISO640; f/9; 1/1250 Second
Photo of Deformed Male Bobolink
Close up of Deformed
Leg of Male Bobolink, as he Leaps of the Mullein Stalk.
ISO800; f/9; 1/1250 Second.

Photographing Birds in Restricted Areas

Not all birders and/or photographers respect the birds’ habitats. They trespass into restricted areas and cause serious disruptions as the birds go about their mating and nesting rituals. The DNR officers are charged with protecting the wildlife and enforcing the rules on all birders and photographers, respectful or not.

I was born well into the last century and I have always been a member of the teacher pleaser class known for respecting and following the rules. So why did I feel offended when the DNR officers told me recently that while photographing birds at the Todd Farm Bird Refuge (in the Allegan County Game Area), I could not stop the car in the road, prop the camera on the door window and photograph birds from the car. The officers said that I must first park the car in one of the designated parking areas and walk (hauling all the equipment) to an approved location (mainly on the road)  from which I could set up and shoot.

Of course, I’ve parked, hauled and set up equipment in the past when I found a location that, given time and favorable conditions, would be productive to photograph birds. Being the rule follower that I am, I have always set up on the roads and pathways, staying well clear of the prairie and wooded nesting areas.

A Little Mutiny

I’m feeling offended because bird photography is so much more than walking to a location with all the photo gear, then waiting and hoping for the best. More important and exciting is the opportunity to explore beautiful back country roads in a vehicle, camera at the ready on my lap. There is always the hope that on these exploits, a fabulous and serendipitous encounter will occur, unknown, exciting and captivating. Seconds later, if I’m on my game, I will have a wildly pounding heart and wonderful photos.

Well…Just saying…. that driving around on public roads with my camera in my car, looking for an occasional and unanticipated thrill is too much to give up, teacher pleaser or not. Nope. They can’t take that away from me.

To read more about photographing Bobolinks, press this link.

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