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:
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:
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!
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.
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!