American Birding Podcast



Tee ’em Up!

I usually photograph birds on an opportunistic basis, toting my camera with me on outings and grabbing images as the chances present themselves.  When I find a good photo opp I’ll tarry to get the most out of it, and if conditions are great an extended photo frenzy may even result. But in this blog installment I’d like to mention that it can also be fun and productive to plan shoots right down to the perch you want to photograph birds on.

I’m just back from 3 weeks in Northwest Wisconsin, where I was treated to birds I rarely see in Colorado.  A few will serve well as examples of photographic subjects captured in a more considered way.

The first case features a family of Great Crested Flycatchers who were nesting near my cabin in a bluebird house (despite the nearby availability of a box I made to Great Crested Flycatcher specs but what can you do?)  The nesting box was along the lake shore, out in the open about 10 yards or so from more wooded terrain.  I noticed the parents steadily bringing in food, flying from the woods to the house without offering decent photo possibilities.  Of course I didn’t want to obstruct the feeding schedule despite my interest in getting good shots of the birds, so I implemented a plan that would keep the birds and me happy.  Step one was to pick a nice, weathered old aspen branch from the woods and prop it up about 2/3 of the way from the woods to the house.  This only took a couple of minutes and as I was walking back to my cabin a bug-bearing parent had already decided to use the perch to stage on- a great sign!  Step two was to set up my pop-up blind so that I had good range, good light, and a nice backdrop.  This also took just a few minutes (the blind is basically just a folding camp chair with cammo material and netting suspended on spring steel hoops over it.)  Within minutes of zipping in the parents were right back on their feeding schedule and my GCFL photography commenced.  It was pretty cool seeing the variety of insect prey the parents produced and the frequency of their feeding visits- those things are darned effective hunters!


Great Crested Flycatcher with skipper butterfly (anyone know the species?),  Burnett County, Wisconsin, June 2012.


Great Crested Flycatcher about to feed chicks the skipper butterfly, Burnett County, Wisconsin, June 2012.


Great Crested Flycatcher, Burnett County, Wisconsin, June 2012.


Great Crested Flycatcher with fish fly, Burnett County, Wisconsin, June 2012.

The second case involved my desire to photograph some of the great birds coming to the feeders by the main cabin.  I’d watch the birds come in whenever we were eating- the set-up is the lawn right outside the windows where the dining room table sits (hey, I’m from a birding family!)  The problem is that shooting birds on feeders leaves a little something to be desired.  So I pounded a two-foot length of iron pipe into the yard near the feeders as a foundation and then wired a few interesting branches to it.  Once again I deployed my blind to be close and have good light, and waited on the birds.  Some would use the perches but many flew straight to the feeding tray- eye on the prize, I guess.  So I set the tray on the ground under the perches- bingo!  Now many of the birds I was interested in would sit on a branch to figure out the new configuration.  Interestingly, most would soon drop down and feed anyway so I didn’t feel as though I was depriving them too much.  When I was done with a session I’d put the tray back on the post where it normally resided.  Here are some of the results.  Enjoy!


Baltimore Oriole, Burnett County, Wisconsin, June 2012.  The perch, a jelly bowl on a tray feeder, leaves much to be desired…



Baltimore Oriole, Burnett County, Wisconsin, June 2012.  Here the distracting jelly feeder is just a few feet out of the frame below the perch I set up (but that can be our little secret!)


Male Purple Finch, Burnett County, Wisconsin, June 2012.


Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Burnett County, Wisconsin, June 2012.


Red-breasted Nuthatch, Burnett County, Wisconsin, June 2012.  I like to use interesting branches for perching setups like this one of rotten paper birch.


White-breasted Nuthatch, Burnett County, Wisconsin, June 2012.  I find nuthatches to be vexing photo targets most of the time, but both species were very interested in fully checking out the perches I set up before they resumed their swift single sunflower seed-snatching behavior.


Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Burnett County, Wisconsin, June 2012.  As you might guess, I moved the hummingbird feeder to my set-up perches and soon enough this male took over, loitering atop the highest spot a few feet above the feeder.