Flora and fauna of the Athens County area, and occasionally habitats outside Ohio. Subject matter will consist of both interpretive material and taxonomic issues in plant and animal identification.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Shooting Birds With a Macro Lens

Now why would anyone waste their time trying to photograph birds with a close-up lens? Because I can't afford the $10,000 telephoto that would give me those ooh-ah shots. So it's either give up on birds entirely, or at least try.

No works of art here. Distant pics that I have to crop and lose pixels. So why bother? I got to thinking. I teach Ornithology, and realized this is what they look like in the field. This is what you see through binoculars. This is how you learn them!!   A 105 macro lens does give you some telephoto ability, and the word 'some' is being generous. You can always click on the photo for a (better?) look.

An all yellow bird with orange streaks on the breast is a male Yellow Warbler, Setophaga (Dendroica) petechia. Yellow Warblers are not woodland species. They are found on woods edges, old fields, or in Willows and Box-elder Maples around wetlands.

American Goldfinch, Carduelis tristis. Beginning students often call these yellow warblers. I think this is because they see them in winter plumage, when both sexes are all dull yellow. The males molt into this bright, neon, federal safety yellow as I call it. Black wings and a black spot in the front of the head will separate this from any warbler. Goldfinches are here year round, are active at feeders, and will be found in any open area habitat. People not into birds often call this a 'wild canary'.

Here is another example of sneaking up on a bird, which is what you have to always do using a small lens. A black head and back, white front, and orange-brown or rufous sides. This is a male Eastern Towhee, Pipilo erythrophthalmus.

Towhees can be found in any habitat, commonly foraging on the ground. Like most male birds though, they will find a favorite perch from which to sing. It was formerly known as the Rufous-sided Towhee, until they found the spotted versions out west were a different species. Females are similar, but the colors are bleached out or faded.

Redwing Blackbirds are easy to identify. The males display a bright red spot on the wings in flight or when showing off to females. When sitting, the red is often covered up. You can see a hint of it here, but the other field mark is the cream colored stripe on the wing. Females are totally different. They are all brown, with a streaked breast, looking something like a giant Song Sparrow.

Cedar Waxwing, Bombycilla cedrorum. Cedar Waxwings show a light yellow belly and buffy upper parts. That's not really a reliable field mark. Look for the black mascara through the eyes, a crest on the head, and a yellow band on the tail. These birds are big fruit eaters, and often forage in large groups. Don't park your car under any berry producing trees, especially Mulberry, or your car will be covered with the remains of their feeding.

You may be surprised by the number of birds you can identify in flight. That includes small songbirds as well. This Pterodactyl of birds is of course the Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias. Herons and Egrets keep their legs hanging out back, and their necks in a bent form. Some people want to call these 'Cranes'. In Ohio, the one you might expect to see, the Sandhill Crane, keeps its neck straight out when flying, much the same way as a Canada Goose.

Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos. Everybody knows the look of the green headed male mallard. Female ducks, both the surface feeding dabblers, and the divers, often are hard to tell apart. In spring migration, the females are usually following the males everywhere. That's because they have already paired up by the time they get here. Solitary females often need a second look.

As soon as you see the speculum, you know for sure. Female Mallards have a purple-blue patch surrounded by both a white and black bar.

Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor. The female on the left is a rather dull colored bird. The males have a bright metallic or iridescent green on their head and back. Depending on the light angle, they may look bluish. On an overcast day, you may see only black. Tree Swallows are cavity nesters, and although they may often utilize a Bluebird box, unlike House Sparrows, this should be encouraged! They will do a better job at mosquito control than any bug-zapper.

A tiny bird with a black chin and head, white front, and grayish back tells us Chickadee. But in Ohio, you have to consider where you are before you go any further.

Here it is pounding a caterpillar on a branch before eating it. All these pictures were taken in Mahoning County south of Youngstown. Being that far north, this is a Black-capped Chickadee, Poecile atricapillus. Down here in southern Ohio, we only have the Carolina Chickadee, P. carolinensis.

Geographically, Route 70 in Ohio from Springfield to Columbus to Zanesville, has always been the dividing line between populations. That demarcation line is actually further north than Columbus now. This is the area where both species occur together, and they have been known to hybridize, making identification between the two more difficult.

The songs are distinct, but after that it gets iffy. Experienced birders often say they can see the slightly larger size of a Black-capped. Their call, "chickadee-dee-dee" is slower. Their neck area is more white than Carolinas. Generally speaking, I look for the tail and wings to have more distinct white marks. For beginning birders in the overlap zone, if the two aren't side by side, well, good luck.

And what do you know.  A day after I posted this, along comes another cooperating bird. A shiny blackbird with a brown head. This is a Brown-headed Cowbird. These birds don't build nests, they lay their eggs in other birds nests. Some people think they were an introduced pest, but they are native. Their parasitism is a habit they have practiced for thousands of years. Only in the endangered Kirtland's Warbler habitat is it necessary to control their populations.

1 comment:

  1. Might I recommend a Sigma 15-500 zoom? Much more affordable at around $1000 bucks, it's arguably the cheapest way to get quality 500mm shots. I've had mine for about eight months, and truly enjoy using it.