Birds in Habitat

Pileated Woodpecker on Rotting Stump. Elm Lake, Brazos Bend State Paark, Texas
Pileated Woodpecker on Rotting Stump, Elm Lake, Brazos Bend State Park, Texas. Note the extended tongue. Pileated Woodpeckers are among my favorite birds. Imagine what a glory the Ivory-billed Woodpecker must have been. Those familiar with BBSP will know that this is summer: The green “field” behind the bird is Elm Lake, carpeted with duckweed. Canon EOS 7D/500mm f/4L IS (+1.4x TC). Natural light.

Nothing beats being able to sneak up so close to a wild bird that it fills a significant fraction of the frame. And the crisp, fine detail of structure in feathers, scales, and eyes that is the gold standard of bird photography is hard to achieve unless you are very close. But often getting close is not possible. Birds are rightly suspicious of humans and their treachery and will bolt once the minimum approach distance is breached. Lemonade can be made from the lemons of avian suspiciousness, though.

Laughing Gull Chick
Laughing Gull Chick, Galveston Bay near Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, Texas. This youngster can easily slip into the tall grass at the first sign of a threat. Canon EOS 7D/600mm f/4L IS (+1.4x). Photo taken from a boat. Natural light.

Staying back a bit can allow the photographer to include a little more of the bird’s habitat. This context provides information on ecology and behavior. Details of background can provide the attentive viewer with information on habitat type and season. In contrast to the classic bird-on-branch shot, though, such images may require a tolerance for minor imperfections such as shadows and sticks and blades of grass that cut across the bird. Such things are hard to avoid when the bird is in habitat doing its thing. Often the insight gained by documenting birds in habitat can more than make up for some aesthetic shortcomings.

Exhausted Magnolia Warbler, Lafitte's Cove, Galveston Island, Texas
Exhausted and Starving Magnolia Warbler, Lafitte’s Cove, Galveston Island, Texas. This beauty had just arrived from across the Gulf of Mexico and was frantically stumbling around grabbing bugs. Hey Cat People: this is why you shouldn’t let your animals roam. In the U.S.A. “house” cats kill an estimated one billion darling little cuties like this each year. Canon EOS 7D/600mm f/4L IS (+1.4x TC). High-speed synchronized fill-flash.

 Context is worth 80 IQ points.—Alan Kay

©2015 Christopher R. Cunningham. All rights reserved. No text or images may be duplicated or distributed without permission.