I spent about three weeks this June at our family’s lake place in northwest Wisconsin. I credit much of my interest in birds and nature with long summer stints there growing up, and it is wonderful to continue spending meaningful time in the woods and on the water every year with my family & the critters there.
My bird photography is usually of an opportunistic nature, characterized by dragging a camera around with me as I bird and getting shots that present themselves. But with the extra time and ample birdy habitat right out my cabin door at “The Lake” I sometimes set up a portable hunting blind, rig up my tripod, and sit around waiting for photo opps to present themselves in likely spots. Often I’ll set up some nice perching material and trim out offending branches, etc. to make what is in effect an outdoor studio. There are lots of tips for doing this online or in articles such as “Build it and They Will Come” in the June 2014 Birdwatching Magazine or my July 2009 Winging It column, so I’ll not get into terrible detail on such a setup. What’s mainly needed is the blind (commercially made ones are easy but home-made equally effective), an eye for what looks good to both birds and your lens, anticipation of the lighting you’ll want, and patience. My blind is basically a camp chair with a few hinged hoops that hold a canopy over it and camo mesh windows on the front and sides. It doesn’t have an excess of space but I fit well with one of my tripod legs stuck out the front a little. It is easily and quickly deployed, only slightly more involved than tossing open a camping chair at the campfire.
A classic target zone is around feeders. The advantage is a concentration of birds along with a pretty good grip on when they are likely to come in. I found a really neat old rotten oak branch festooned with interesting lichen and bound it to a section of pipe hammered into the ground for an anchor. I put it near the feeder tray, offering a nice intermediate perch between the nearest trees and the feeder post on the lawn. Sometimes I put the feeder tray down on the ground in front of the perch so birds might tee up a bit while they figured out the new buffet setup.
Of course, many neat birds aren’t to be found at feeders. A few years ago several swaths of mature forest in the area were knocked down in a derecho. This created zones of more open habitat on our property that three years later are full of brushy vegetation and saplings, with some tough old trees scattered in the openings and solid woods beyond. These new openings nicely match the habitat preference of a buzzy little gem I heard daily from my cabin and could see any day I strolled our trails, the Golden-winged Warbler. So I found a suitable dead alder and propped it up right in what I deemed ground zero in one of our Golden-winged territories and put my blind out one afternoon. The next morning I dropped in and the bird didn’t disappoint.
A third area that looked really promising was along the edge of a bog with a mix of trees and shrubby stuff bordering the wetland. I liked the look of a small oak that had twisted over in the blowdown and died but not yet fallen. I tidied up a few extraneous branches and twiggy vegetation to reduce the possibility of branch-in-front-of-the-eye syndrome (if you don’t know what I’m talking about you haven’t tried bird photography.) Several neat birds came and went over the afternoon I spent there.