The Nuthatch

I personally love both bird and wildlife photography. It provides a greater challenge and satisfaction than shooting a non moving subject such as a landscape or macro. Last summer I sat in front of my mom’s bird feeders for hours waiting for the ideal shot. Many of these common birds will lose their bashfulness if you sit near them long enough. After about an hour I had gotten several pleasing images of woodpeckers and the especially sociable chickadees, but I had yet to get a gratifying image of the white breasted nuthatch. These little creatures were far more skittish than their playful peers. Every time I lifted my Nikon D200 with Nikkor AF-S VR 70-300 to my eye all the nuthatches would flutter away in a chaotic frenzy. After about another thirty minutes the beauty nuthatch returned. I slowly lifted my Nikon to my eye and rattled off a few shots. I happily obtained the nuthatch performing an action unique to its species. Most people think that I rotated this image, but this bird is actually hanging upside down from while it feeds.

Because I caught this bird performing a unique action it has become one of my favorite and most published shots. I shot this image at f/8 which is one of this lens’ sharpest apertures, but it still created a silky smooth bokeh due to the close proximity of the subject. Bokeh is a Japanese term meaning the out of focus part of an image. Wider apertures – like f/2.8, f/4, or f/5.6 – will create creamier or smoother bokeh. Simplicity is the key to creating stunning wildlife images. Too much clutter or lack of a strong subject area and diminish an images appeal. Also remember to focus on the subject’s eyes. When I was new to photography there were several bird images I’d taken which would have been great shots, but the eyes were out of focus and the wings were. A strong sharp subject with a non-distracting background will result in a great wildlife image.—Ryan Watkins

May Long Weekend (Connor Stefanison)

Just got back from a trip to the interior of British Columbia to do some fly fishing and photography. Going to a new lake, I was skeptical on the bird situation, but It ended up being very good. Once we arrived at our friend’s cabin, I immediately noticed a red-necked grebe nest, tons of waterfowl, beavers, muskrats, raptors, and songbirds. It’s a good thing the photography was good because the fishing was terrible.

One of my goals for the trip was to get water level images of Common Loons, as I have not really seen any before. At this time of year, the loons are pairing up, so using calls worked well. I’d find a pair of loons by shore, dock my boat, and play a loon call a few times. The Loons would approach me to see what was going on, which made for some cool shots. I was careful to only play the call a few times, this way the loons wouldn’t get habituated to it and waste energy responding. 

Another highlight of the trip was a Red-necked Grebe nest on our friends property. In the four days I was there, the grebes had layed their first egg and pretty much built the whole nest. Overall, it was an excellent early season trip. I”ll be doing more lake trips for loons and what not this coming June with Jess Findlay, which I’ll keep you posted on.

Erithacus rubecula (Jodie Randall)

It has been a while since I have turned my lens to birds, having been rather preoccupied with all things macro i.e. flowers, amphibians and insects. Spending last Tuesday at my sister’s house, where she is lucky to get a good number of avian visitors to her garden gave me the perfect opportunity to dig out the long lens.

My sister moved to her new house a year ago. During one of my first visits I encountered a friendly robin in the graveyard next door. Sitting on top of a lichen flecked gravestone, he was quite relaxed in my presence. European robins (Erithacus rubecula) are among the most tame garden birds in the UK. Over the past year he has become a familiar and welcome sight in the garden and is bold enough to take food from one’s hand.

I watch him flitting around the garden gathering worms, caterpillars and flies, their legs protruding awkwardly from his beak. Earlier in the Spring he attracted a mate and now has his own family to feed. His daily routine is currently centred around gathering enough food to satisfy the shrill, gaping mouths of his chicks.

Eating lunch outside, it is impossible to get any peace. A free lunch that doesn’t fly, wriggle or run away is an easy meal for a robin and the cake crumbs on our plates prove too much to resist. He surveys the scene from a fence post, then almost as if he had teleported appears on the arched back of the chair next to me, red breast puffed out. In the blink of an eye he is on the table. He confidently steps onto the edge of the plate pecking the few remaining chocolate crumbs out of the white, frilly paper cases in an audacious act of daylight robbery.

The sun is hot so I seek shade under a small apple tree. I have put some raisins in a pot of pansies in the hope of getting a cheesy shot of him amongst the flowers. I sit quietly with my camera and wait…..

I am forced to duck as a small plump body swoops above my head. I look up and there he is, perched upon a branch in the apple tree, no more than a foot away. I have made the mistake of keeping the remaining raisins in a clear plastic bag next to me. The ones in clear view in the pot appear to have gone unnoticed. His beady black eye quizzes me optimistically.

I get up and show him the raisins in the plant pot. He hops onto my camera, peering down at the bag full of treats. The two raisins that I have put out are just not good enough. Who am I kidding? Why would he bother with two when there is a whole bagfull going spare? Eventually he gets the idea and I manage to snatch a few shots of him amid the pansies. A minute later he is back; an incoming feathery missile. I duck again. He lands beside me in the tree, then his head tilts back and he opens his beak wide emitting a burst of song. I’ve never been this close before, never heard the rich resonance of the notes at this volume. I listen in awe as the remarkable little soloist  recites his vibrant song, far too close to get a shot.

New Video Presented by GEICO

The annual exhibition of award-winners from the 2010 Nature’s Best Photography Windland Smith Rice International Awards competition is open throughout the summer at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History until September 25, 2011. Shown on SONY Bravia 46″ HDTVs, this video is specially-produced to accompany the exhibition of category Winners and selected Highly Honored images displayed as large-format prints. Come to Washington, DC, and you will enjoy one of the world’s most-visited museums!

Set the video at high quality on Youtube for the best viewing:

Make a Personalized Card

Are you tired of searching for that perfect Mother’s Day or Father’s Day card? Why not put some of your lovely photography to use by creating your own personalized cards? Just go to a local craft store and buy a pack of pre-made cards with frames in the front for photos. If you don’t have time to run to the store, create your own out of a sheet of paper or cardstock. Print out some of your favorite shots (of nature!) to insert into or glue onto the front of the card. If you can’t decide which one of your shots is the best one to use, then  create a beautiful collage out of several of them on the front of your card. Embellish your card by drawing a decorative border on the paper frame to add a touch of homemade-ness. Maybe you could even handwrite a poem on the inside to show how much you care. Your loved ones will be impressed by the amount of effort you put into making this card, and because it is homemade with your photography, it will be obvious that it comes from the heart!

My Unfinished Card as an Example

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