The Joys of Backyard Birding: Part 1
This will be the largest article I’ve written for the blog thus far. This Part 1 installment is primarily a contribution to the following thread in the Digital Photography Review – Canon Talk Forum:
The author of that thread and I have had several conversations regarding the joys of backyard birding, and you can both read about and see the work of several other birders in this and many of the other DPR forums. Temple and I have also participated in many discussions on several other photography and birding related forums, so we know that there are lots of people who share our interest in photographing wild birds and the many natural wildlife subjects found in backyard habitats. As always, we hope this article will be helpful to our readers.
The point often arises in birding discussions, regarding the virtues of photographing wildlife in one’s backyard as opposed to “shooting in the wild”. I will tell you that we have done and do both, but we’ve found that the vast majority of our most satisfying images have been taken in the former rather than the latter. And we photograph many many times more species in the yard than we ever see, or even hear, in the public “wild”.
So first, let me say again, that all of the birds we photograph are indeed wild and free. Their only cage is the sky, and we photograph them only where they live… To them, our homestead habitat is the wild, and they have chosen to live here.
Secondly, many of the birds and other wild creatures commonly found in public park lands and wildlife reserves will see, be fed, and photographed, by more humans every day than the average backyard bird, bunny, or butterfly will during its lifetime. So the most frequently photographed species found in public wildlife areas will often be quite common indeed, and very well-acclimated to people milling about in their habitat. This is in large part the very reason they choose to live there… publicly provided food sources in the form of offered seed, bread crumbs, and varied kinds of edible litter. In these parks, you will normally find an abundance of doves and ducks, and pigeons and house sparrows congregating near ponds and fountains and feeding areas, and often perched on a water pipe or fence. These birds can provide many photo opportunities for detailed shots at reasonable distances… but quite few that are likely to produce “wall-hangers”. And if you’re looking to have a “Big Year” (capture many different species), you’ll surely need to visit some less-public places also.
Those dedicated wildlife photographers who shoot the less-commonly seen creatures found in true wilderness areas usually find it necessary to study the habits of such wildlife, trek through remote undeveloped terrain, and wait patiently in a blind or hide for long periods in hope of any opportunity to capture worthy photographs of them. Our hats are off to any who succeed at this.
You may note that there are neither feeders nor any man-made objects in most of our gallery photos. This is by intent of course, and usually requires both planning and cropping our shots, even though we frequently shoot at fairly close ranges. Our goal is to present each finished image in as natural a composition as possible, while capturing our subjects close enough to let us marvel at the beauty of their detail. Lots of our backyard photos are portraits taken at close range on provided perches. But we take many hundreds of environmental and “birds in trees”shots as well. The best photos of any wild birds are seldom easy or trivial to capture, regardless of where you shoot or with which gear. But working in our own backyard habitat provides us with many more opportunities to capture images that we love to see and share, and a much wider variety of species as well.
These are just some of the reasons that we are mainly backyard birders. Here we can provide clean water and many natural sources of food and cover, which let us enjoy watching a wide variety of lovely and entertaining birds. We also provide both natural and man-made nesting sites, which results in many of our birds raising their families here season after season. There are lots of mature trees of various kinds and sizes here, the most photogenic parts of which vary in distance from quite close to well beyond the reach of our longest telephoto lenses. But there are many more wild birds and animals living in populated areas than most folks realize. Simply providing for their basic needs will soon bring them into view… and eventually within the reach of your lenses.
We are thrilled with each new species that we see here… (73 species of truly wild birds captured with our cameras so far), and we relish the challenge of capturing worthy images of them all. So to anyone who feels that backyard birding isn’t both challenging and rewarding… I would simply say, it’s really just a matter of how you approach it.
In Part 2 we’ll offer some specific suggestions on getting close to the wild birds in your local habitat. And in Part 3 we’ll include some more tips on planning and executing closeup shots of your backyard birds.
Meanwhile, however you do it, we wish you all happy birding, and good shooting.