In my experience, nothing else in wildlife photography is quite as difficult as trying to image a portrait of a wild bird. For one thing, most of them are very small and they don't take direction very well. No matter what you say, they don't seem to understand English! If you think chasing around kids with a camera is tough, then a bird in the wild can become a real challenge that will tax your patience.
Some wild birds can be approached easily; you can walk right up to a Mountain Chickadee (Poecile gambeli), and photographing other species can become a goal that may never be reached; the Golden Eagle comes to mind. At times it seems that a bird just wants to have it's picture taken, which is ridiculous; it's usually just curiosity, take advantage; there is no substitute for building trust. And photographs of some birds happen by serendipity----things just start to happen and I just go along for the imaging-ride; like the shoot with the Red Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra) one winter's day. I crawled on my belly in the snow! Quite recently, I had just such quality time with a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias). A long-telephoto lens and a sharp eye, and his weird trust, led to an exciting photographic adventure. Working the image as I would for a person seemed appropriate, and flattering; even though the bird will never know it. I've gotten pictures of Great Blue Herons in-flight, and that's tough enough, but this bird-portrait is a fascinating character study. Any quality camera with a good telephoto lens will do the trick. My personal favorites are the 70-200mm f/4 lenses; they are light in weight and super sharp. The newest infatuation is the modern-marvel Tamron 150-600mm G2 lens. A long, long time ago a lens that can do what this lens does would have been a fantasy; and was. Big lenses are heavy and they can be a real workout, for your body and your wallet!
Now, the lecture on why we shouldn't irritate the birds, even though sometimes you must. It's wrong to interrupt someone's dinner, but a celebrity (like a Bald Eagle) is fair game. I'm sorry, but those are the rules. Nesting birds are off limits, period; how would you feel? And that's how I handle shoots with wild birds; I try to be nice and tactful. The patience of a saint would help, yet sometimes things just explode and a fast finger on the shutter button gets the job done.
Some birds seem brave, others never will be. Some wild birds just don't care you're there, others you may never see but for a moment. Try to learn as much as you can about all of your portrait subjects, be they birds, Bighorn Sheep, or your kids playing baseball. How will your photographic subject react when they see you with a camera? Hummingbirds are my absolute favorite wildlife to photograph here in the Wind River Canyon; they move at the speed-of-light and have little fear of man. It is interesting to note that the famous painter of birds, Mr. Audubon, painted pictures of birds that where dead! Some species where sent to him from far away. When you photograph a wild bird with your digital device, the bird still lives----that is something to discuss.
I've said it before, "When you make a connection with a wild animal, you touch the face of Mother Nature." Several years ago we had two Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) that spent the summer with us. I moved cautiously as I introduced myself----this took days. When they obviously trusted my presence, a special portrait was in order. But there is a question, "Who decides who is ugly?" Ben Franklin and most hunters will tell you that Wild Turkeys are smart, but nobody said they were at all cute. Every snowy Wyoming winter I look forward to spring and the arrival of the House Wrens (Troglodytes aedon). They're great singers, and are nearly as fearless as Chickadees; they are great fun to photograph. I love listening to their songs in the morning while still in bed; interesting portraits abound. As winter sets in, the American Robins (Turdus migratorius) gather together here in the canyon in unlikely flocks. They are rowdy and eat lots of juniper berries, and the first name of their Latin-family name is completely true. Wandering around these fragrant pines one late winter's day, a robin let me approach to an even more unlikely distance; it's still the best robin portrait I've ever gotten to this day! It would be easy for me to let this blog go on and on, but it must end somewhere, so lets end it with the marvelous Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides). I've got this secret spot where they come to nest----and wow, what a color!! I hope this Wind River Canyon Blog uplifts your Holiday Season wherever you are. Sit and watch the wild birds....it's good for your health. And thank you for reading my work.
All my wildlife stories are true----my name is Michael John Balog and I live in the magical Wind River Canyon in snowy Wyoming. All content in this blog and my website HogbatsPhotography.com is protected by international copyright laws recognized throughout the known universe, except by Klingon's.