Mixed Results with My Warbler Photos

If you’ve ever seen warblers you know that they are some fast-moving little dudes. They find insects by quickly hopping around and under leaves on trees, working their way out to the very tips of the branches; some of them even “flycatch,” flying out to grab an insect in the air, then returning to the branch. All this movement often takes place fairly high up in the trees too, meaning that photos are either obscured by leaves or backlit by the sky. It’s quite the challenge, which is why most of your photos will likely look like these two:

Example of a typical attempt to photograph a warbler (you can click to enlarge it, but it won't  help much!)

Example of a typical attempt to photograph a warbler (you can click to enlarge it, but it won’t help much!).

Another attempt, still no good....keep doing this for hours and you might get a few keepers.

Another attempt, still no good….keep doing this for hours and you might get a few keepers.

This is why the Magee Marsh boardwalk (the area where warblers concentrate in large numbers during migration) is filled with guys lugging around professional cameras on tripods, with big telephoto lenses costing in the thousands of dollars — you need equipment with a fast burst rate (many frames per second) and ability to shoot in low light at fast shutter speeds. I have what’s called an entry-level DSLR camera, the Canon Rebel T2i. The owner’s manual says it can shoot 3.6 frames per second, which isn’t usually enough for warblers. And since I was handholding my (heavy) 400mm prime lens with a 1.4x extender, I was limited to shooting in very good light and using manual focus. I still got some good pics, but was disappointed at how many failed attempts I had this year.

Here are some of my pics, some acceptable and some not so great. Below the photos I have a couple things to say about a camera we just heard about this week that might interest you, whether you photograph birds or not. First up, a pretty Yellow Warbler:

Yellow Warbler, taken from our hotel room balcony

Yellow Warbler, taken from our hotel room balcony

Below is a Palm Warbler, also taken from the hotel room balcony. You know the birding is good when you can shoot birds sitting in a chair at the hotel!

Palm Warbler, also taken from hotel balcony

Palm Warbler, also taken from hotel balcony

Magnolia Warbler reaching for an insect.

Magnolia Warbler reaching for an insect.

Black-throated Green Warbler, blurry but still awesome

Black-throated Green Warbler, blurry but still awesome

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe, a flycatcher

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler, male

And finally, here’s my favorite warbler, a beautiful Blackburnian. Believe me, when you see one of these gorgeous birds flitting around the chartreuse leaves lit by sunlight you’ll never forget it. No matter how many times I see these guys, I’m always entranced by them and find it hard to move on to see more birds. They’re truly like nature’s jewels in the woods.

My favorite warbler, for obvious reasons: Blackburnian Warbler

My favorite warbler, for obvious reasons: Blackburnian Warbler

During the Biggest Week, we attended a keynote presentation by Don and Lillian Stokes in which Lillian showed us lots of her bird photos. Although she has one of the mega-big professional cameras too, she also got amazingly good results with the Canon SX50 camera. It has the ability to zoom up to 1200mm, allowing you to get surprisingly good pictures of birds at a great distance. She impressed us so much that Eric decided he wanted an SX50 for his birthday this week. He’s not into photography like I am, but he still wants to be able to document his bird sightings too. Don’t tell him, but I’m probably going to take his camera out for a spin too, just to see what I can do with it. If you’re curious about it, check out Lillian Stokes’ blog for all the details about how she uses her SX50 for bird photography.

I wish I’d gotten more warbler photos to share with you, but I’m not done trying. As long as migration is on, I’ll be out there looking for these pretty little birds and doing my best to capture them in my camera! Note: After I wrote this entry yesterday, I spent an excellent day today at Magee Marsh and got some much better pictures. More about that coming soon!

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2 Responses to Mixed Results with My Warbler Photos

  1. Littlesundog says:

    Great post Kim, and very informative! I think the Canon SX50 would be excellent for outdoor wildlife photography. Since it’s a compact, ease of transport is a key selling point. I have an old Rebel and FD has a Rebel T1i which I use a lot as well. Our 50 to 400mm lens does a great job on most wildlife photography, but it is very heavy to lug around, and not always easy to crawl under fence with, nor run with should I need to seek safety. I’ll be anxious to hear what you and Eric think about the SX50!

    I love your little bird shots… again, all species I haven’t seen before… or wasn’t aware WHAT I was seeing maybe!

    • Kim says:

      I’ve thought of that too, about how the weight of the lens would make it harder for me to run if I had to. But I carry pepper spray when I hike in the woods alone, so I hope that would buy me a head start at least. Not sure if that would work for one of your wild hogs though…. 😉

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