Are your windows ready?
Today's installment is a quick check to see if your windows are ready for special visitors. In this case I'm not talking about the serious issue of bird strikes (but if you are having problems with this please review these excellent strike-prevention posts by Julie Zickefoose and David Sibley.) Instead, I'm talking about how to be ready when neat birds show up outside your windows, either to visit feeders, water, or habitat near your abode.
Some steps are probably obvious, but nonetheless here's what I do during the winter feeding season.
1) Remove window screens. Viewing and especially photographing birds through screenless windows is ideal. Shooting through the glass this way is good, and opening the window, even if only wide enough for the camera lens, is ideal.
2) Wash your windows. It is amazing how grimy the outside of my windows get, and my sliding glass door gets really smudged from kid height down. Clean glass = better viewing & photography.
3) If there is a bird that you really want to photograph, start by shooting through the glass. If the bird sticks around you can always try to open the window later. If you flush the bird away by opening a window you should then build a time machine, go back in time prior to your unfortunate window-opening decision, and photograph the bird through the glass first before attempting to open the window.
4) If you have the opportunity, turn off the indoor lights to cut glare from the inside of the glass. You will also then be hidden in what amounts to an apartment/condo/home-sized photo blind.
5) If the bird's position and your indoor arrangements permit, shoot with your lens close to the glass (or even touching your shade hood to the window), as perpendicular to the glass surface as possible.
6) If it is really cold out and you open your window, warm indoor air escaping can cause image-blurring heat distortion. If you are in a small room such as a bedroom, close the door to reduce airflow. Otherwise, time your shots and/or shoot many pictures to try to get some sharp images amongst the blurry ones.
Here are some of my favorite shots taken from inside my house.
Once I caught a glimpse of some strange movement out in my dripper bath and noted this American Kestrel having a splash. This time I photographed the small falcon through the sliding door glass, not wanting to scare away the bird.
In April of 2005 hundreds of Bohemian Waxwings choked the trees in my back yard, waiting for a turn at my water features. Here we see some shoulder-to-shoulder waxwing drinking along the rail on my back porch, shot through my kitchen window.
This past January, an immature Northern Shrike made an appearance (and apparently had a meal to judge by the blood on its breast feathers) in my back yard. It flew up to the ornamental cherry tree that shades the back porch, sitting up high and only offering belly views from the first floor. But much to my delight, the view out of the second-floor office window was eye-to-eye. After snapping a few images through the glass I quietly eased the window open enough for my lens to get unobstructed views in the cherry tree. When the shrike flew over to a nearby cottonwood I opened the window all the way and carefully leaned out a little to shoot again from the elevated position.
In December our yard was blessed with a two-day visit by a flock of redpolls. Since this thistle feeder is off to the side of our back porch I leaned out the sliding door just enough for some record shots like this before getting a more serious photo blind setup in place out back.