Backyard Birds

On New Year’s Day, I put my son on a train to Eugene, Oregon, and returned home to mope about how quickly he’d grown up.

Now, I’m a versatile guy, so I can mope just about anywhere, but the back yard is my preferred spot, particularly since everyone knows that really serious moping requires a good cigar. I know that tobacco is harmful, but YOU know that watching smoke waft through dappled sunlight is strangely calming.

However, my moping was preempted by the appearance of some old friends. Several hummingbirds and a hawk showed up to comfort and distract me. I think they knew I love to photograph backyard birds.

Although this blog is intended for lazy, disorganized, impatient photographers like myself, I’ve discovered that laziness can sometimes imitate patience. Sometimes, a casual observer might think I’m sitting in the yard doing nothing, when I’m actually staying very still to attract birds. The snoring is just a ruse.

You see, there are two secrets to photographing backyard birds: 1) Try to live in a fairly wild place where you can’t even sleep late on a beautiful spring morning because the sweet singing of a million individual birds combines to create a shrill din as loud as a thousand screeching freight trains amplified through a wall of Marshall Stacks positioned where your headboard ought to be, and 2) Sit quietly in the yard smoking a cigar and drinking scotch until the local birds mistake you for some sort of stunted, slovenly, malodorous quasi-bear and gather on nearby branches to stare at the freak and wonder aloud to one another, “What the heck is that?”

Then you’ve got them right where you want them, presuming you went to the yard with the scotch and cigar in one hand and your camera, a long lens, and electronic flash in the other. A flash is very handy for balancing the bright midday light, and being a lazy, disorganized, and impatient photographer, I’m rarely out and about during the early morning and late evening magic hour.

Seriously, whatever gear you use, even big hawks look small in the viewfinder, so the most important thing is that you’ve got to get close to get a good shot. And the best way to get close to backyard birds is to let them get close to you. I’ve never had much luck stalking them. Instead, I find a nice spot near some friendly looking branches, and I wait for the birds to come to me.

These aren’t the kind of images that sell, but that’s not what they’re for. I just want to show friends a picture and say, “This red-breasted sapsucker landed on the trunk of the silk oak tree, looked at me, looked at the tree, looked at me again and asked, ‘Are you gonna eat that?’”

In other words, I’m not out in my backyard shooting for National Geographic. I’m just trying to get some amusing and/or flattering snapshots of guests at my home.

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Filed under Nature Photography, Professional vs. Amateur

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