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Friday, January 10, 2014

Another Year of Bird Photography

Now that I am into 2014, I am formulating my plans for taking my bird photography to the next level.  2013 yielded some good results but that was mainly the setup of a backyard birding test studio. This year I have plans to upgrade the bird studio and do some additional field work.  Below I am outlining how I will proceed.

UPGRADING THE BIRD STUDIO
In 2013, I had a single perch setup designed for the small species of birds commonly found around feeders.  There were plenty of Titmice, Sparrows and Finches.  Although I love these birds I want to expand into two separate perches this year to take advantage of several different types of birds.  

Large Woodpecker Perch 
Part of my experience in 2013 showed that we do have a fair population of woodpeckers and similar birds which feed on suet.  The perch will involve a larger vertical tree trunk supported on steel pole.  On one side, I will attach the suet feeder and drill holes for on the opposite side of the camera view to pack with peanut butter and seed.  I had some good luck with this approach in a test environment but my materials were a bit flimsy.

Building an Owl House
Largely this is an experiment, but hopefully I can attract some Screech or Barrow owls to nest.  Many time these houses are taken over by other critters such as squirrels but we do have a large rodent population here and good forest edge so I am hoping we may see some nesting.  Should this be successful I will attempt to do some remote photography of the owls.

Hummingbird Feeder Perch
In 2013 I was completely shocked by the population of Ruby Throated Hummingbirds we had.  I and my daughter could stand still out next to the feeder and the birds would swarm around us and feed.  They seemed very curious about who we were and were not intimidated at all.  Because of this success I am relocating the feeder to my outdoor studio and placing a small perch adjacent to it.

Adding a Bird Bath
There simply is not enough water on our property to adequately allow the birds to drink and bathe. In theory adding this will keep the birds closer and increase their visits to the perches.

Adding Squirrel Baffles
Although I love to watch the little critters, they are not helpful to bird photographers.  They are large and interfere with the birds feeding.  Although not completely squirrel proof, the baffles will help keep them at bay.

ADDITIONAL FIELD WORK
In 2013 I did very little field work.  I did travel to a local aviary and take some shots but really did not do any non-captive photography.  This year my main thrust is the capture photos of the various species of Heron.  These birds have a strong population in this area and so make a logical choice.  I may also venture out on some local Audubon Society walks but that is not a high priority.

EQUIPMENT UPGRADE
This is an area with which most photographers struggle.  For me, the choice is between upgrading the glass or getting a second body in a 1.6 crop factor.  

Camera Body Upgrade Option
My current camera body is a Canon 1D Mark II and frankly it is a great camera.  It does however have some limitations which hurt me in the area of bird photography. The first problem is that the sensor only provides an 8 Megapixel resolution and this resolution makes it difficult for cropping. I took several good photographs this year which ended up in the junk pile simply because cropping would be impossible.  The second issue with the 1D Mark II is that its sensor is really useless past ISO 400 and tends to mimic what film is capable of.  The noise is very pronounced and in the case of long exposures has some very bad hot spots. Finally, the body only has a 1.3 crop factor which can be limiting when used with shorter telephoto lenses.  If I upgrade to a 15 MP 1.6 crop body, it will turn my telephoto lenses into  much better birding lenses.  This is the cheapest way to improve the equipment.

Lens Upgrade Option
Currently I shoot a Canon 70-210 F4 and a Canon 100-300 5.6.  The 70-210 is actually quite a performer for a consumer grade lens.  The 100-300 was purchased primarily as a filler lens until I can afford something better.  At the 300 range, the lens is soft, even at F8, but sharpening does improve it quite a bit.  I am looking at upgrading to the 70-200L lens used for around $600.00.  This is twice as much as I would spend on the body upgrade in the used market.  Upgrading to this lens also gives me the option to add special Canon teleconverters to increase magnification without loss of quality.  The reality of it is that image quality is mostly from the lens.  Even with my 8MP camera, coupled with an "L" lens it will produce great photos. If I go this route, I am looking at probably 1,000 dollars after I buy the teleconverter.  Unlikely I will be able to swing this this year but who knows.  

CONCLUSION
Well that is pretty much it for this year in my bird watching and photography.  The upgrades to the outdoor studio start this weekend and I should be in a position to purchase new equipment within 6 months.  I am leaning toward the body upgrade because the pros of it outweigh the pros of the lens upgrade currently, but that may change.