Photographing Yellow Warblers in Spring

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Photographing Bright Yellow Warblers

Tiny brilliant yellow balls flash across my path….so bright and exquisitely delicate.

Photo of Yellow Warbler
Showing off his Spring Finery.
Closeup of Male Yellow Warbler
ISO500; f/8; 1/2000 Second

Photographing Yellow Warblers

Yellow Warblers are one of the most numerous and widespread warbler species, and very common in Michigan in the summer. Male and female Yellow Warblers have solid yellow faces, black eyes, and thin pointy beaks. The adult males have a brighter yellow head and pronounced chestnut streaking on their breasts and bellies. Like most wood warblers, they are difficult to photograph because they spend most of their time weaving in and out of dense foliage, eating caterpillars and other insects.

Camera Setup Options

I often spend time with my camera on my lap, just watching and waiting to see what birds are lurking in the shadows of dense foliage. It didn’t take long before I was able to discern two yellow bursts of light in a dense growth of shrubs near a stream. I parked my car on the road and proceeded to set up my camera, 500 mm lens and tripod approximately 15 feet from these woods. I chose a spot where there were some attractive, open perches. I could see the pair of Yellow Warblers foraging in the thickets, but when I tried for a shot, the lens searched back and forth -utterly confused with the tangle of overlapping branches and leaves.

Photo of Female Yellow Warbler
Female Yellow Warbler.
Her Colors are Not Quite as Bright and
She has less Pronounced Stripes on her Breast
ISO800; f/8; 1/2500 Second.

The Trusty Car Door as My Tripod

Both the male and female Yellow Warblers are highly territorial and will perch out in the open to investigate any sign of other Yellow Warblers intruding into their space. To entice this pair to perch in a less congested area, I set up the blue tooth speaker under several isolated branches.

No luck. The warblers were watching, but stayed hidden in the brush. Clearly, I was too much of a presence for them to feel comfortable. Leaving the speaker in place, I disengaged the tripod from the camera, put everything back in the car and then moved the car to the same spot where I had set up the tripod. I sat in the car and rested my camera and lens on the car door window.

Like many birds in this modern age, the warblers were highly acclimated to the presence of vehicles. With multiple fly-bys and aggressive sounding chirping, they rushed in to investigate the source of the song. It took less than 2 minutes for them to figure out that there was no foreign invader and retreat back to the foliage, but it was long enough to capture 25+ photos.

Photo of Yellow Warbler
Yellow Warbler, right before Take Off.
ISO 1000; f/8; 1/2000 Second
Photo of Yellow Warbler
Yellow Warbler in Flight.
Wingspread slightly obstructed by Leaves.
ISO1000; f/8; 1/2500 Second

Yellow Warbler Nesting Habits

NOTE: A tribute to the diligence of the tiny female Yellow Warbler (2nd photo above). She is not often fooled when her nest is parasitized by Brown-headed Cowbirds. She may abandon the nest- or she may start a new brood by building a new nest layer on top of the parasitized nest-(even if it means burying her own eggs). These diligent female Yellow Warblers will keep building if the problem persists to as high as 6 tiers.

To read a blog post about Yellow Warbler Identification, visit this link.

To read about the pros and cons of setting up shots in the wild, visit this blog post.

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