Back to the Birds

I have not had much opportunity or made much of an effort to photograph birds in the past year or so. There are a few reasons, but it’s definitely not because of any waning interest. With two little ones in diapers now, I have not had the time it takes to make the bird photos I desire. This type of photography takes so much patience, and such a deep time commitment to get great results. I love the time spent in solitude, just surrounded by peaceful nature. That, and I find it a challenge to get top notch avian photos with my long birding lens, what Arthur Morris refers to as his “toy lens”.  My 400mm f/5.6 L lens (non-image stabilized) is a little short and slow when it comes to bird photograph, but that in no way means great shots can’t be made with this lens. They just take more effort, that’s all.

Yesterday afternoon my friend Bruce sent me a text message teasing that he was looking at two little green herons at Commonwealth Lake in Beaverton, not too far from my home. My gracious wife let me grab my gear and go as quickly as I could grab my gear and get out the door. When I arrived, the herons had fled their ideal spot that Bruce had sent me the message from. The spring bird activity was definitely picking up, but we saw no green herons as we walked the park. It was a stretch anyways, hoping to get shots anywhere close to as good as the work Bruce put together a short while ago (check out his blog post on his successful outing here). Bruce left, and I slowing made my way along the south side of the lake, and saw no sign of my prize. I was just about to go, when I saw one little heron on the rocks near the water’s edge. Though they don’t blend in at all to the shore rocks at this park, the green herons stay so still that it’s very difficult to spot these birds, even when it’s exactly what you are looking for. I walked down to the edge of the water a ways west of the heron, who was busy catching little fish while walkers and joggers strolled near on the park’s paved path. This works to the photographer’s advantage, as the birds here are more accustom to people. I got a few shots off, but was disappointed with the light. The sun was shining when I first arrived and was diffused by some high clouds. By now, the weather had changed to become more overcast, and I had left my flash in the car. There was no going back for it now, but I did miss the flash in reviewing these photos on the large monitor.

My little green heron did let me get pretty close to it, within the bird filling half of the frame. I slowly got down onto my belly, certainly not for comfort reasons on the muddy rocks, but in order to get down to eye level with this pretty little bird. I was able to shoot well over a hundred frames of the green heron, including an action sequence of it catching a little fish. Not a surprise in this man made and stocked lake. But, the heron got too concerned about me and fled the scene. I am no where near the patient and experienced birder that Id like to be, and it cost me here, but not before I got some nice frames. I would have preferred the heron get up on one of the higher rocks to separate itself from the out of focus foreground rocks, but it was not to be.  It leaves a reason to go back I suppose.

After my portrait session with the green heron, I was playing with house money. The little outing away from the family on a Saturday afternoon was certainly worth the short trip, I had already bagged all the shots that I was hoping to get. But not far away there was a little pied-billed grebe that caught my eye. These little fish eaters typically hurry away when a photographer, myself especially, approaches, and then dives once the camera lens is raised in their direction. This particular grebe dove before I could even raise the lens. As soon as it was under the surface, I ran to the muddy shore to hide behind a large rock before the grebe surfaced. Once surfaced, the grebe looked around for its’ would be predator or the photographer. This poor little bird now looked quite confused. I was hidden behind the rock, taking far too many photos, as I’m accustom to doing, and this grebe couldn’t find what it was fleeing from. There’s a reason we use the term “bird brain” to describe something lacking intelligence. As the scene unfolded, I was able to grab many frames of the pretty little grebe not rushing away from me, but instead looking more natural. My favorite was a photo of the grebe looking right down the barrel of my lens, not even aware it was that of the evil human, as seen through their point of view.

Any photo opportunity of wildlife looking right into the camera is always a treat, these photos are so often quite engaging.  Even though I went to the lake on this afternoon hoping to get a chance to photograph a green heron and had my expectations with the heron met, this photo of the pied-billed grebe is my favorite from the day.  It was so nice to get back behind my long lens and hunt some birds, photographically of course.  Much thanks to Bruce for letting me know of this early spring action at Commonwealth Lake.  Without his prompting I definitely would not have run into this good fortune.