A battered copy of The Birds of Alberta reminds me of my teenage years tramping through aspen groves and wading through sloughs on the northwest edge of Edmonton sixty years ago. That countryside has disappeared under the expanding city. I was into birds but not photography. We didn’t know what a list was but we kept track of what we saw. Should I confess to building up an egg collection?
Forty-nine years ago Anne and I moved to Prince George and bought a little house with a garden surrounded by forest on a rural road. The birds, other critters and the forest are the reason we are still here. I had plans to set up a darkroom but abandoned them since we were not connected to the city water system. I have many boxes of slides but very few of the bird photos are decent.
I got a Coolpix camera soon after retiring in 2001 and have been striving to take better bird photos since then. I’ve gone through a series of DSLRs and have one very big and heavy lens that no longer gets the work it deserves. It feels like it has put on weight over the years. My main camera is now a 5-year-old Nikon D500. I sometimes carry a 80-400 mm zoom lens but my favourite lens is a 500 mm Nikon PF (“phase fresnel”) with the equivalent reach of 750 mm on a full-frame camera. I am resisting the temptation to “upgrade” — the limitations to my photography are not equipment-related but instead are declining energy levels and decreased mobility. This camera/lens combination produces high quality files but can be carried and hand-held without wearing out an aging photographer.
I try to make photos that capture something lively about the subject. I enjoy sharing photos but my first audience is myself. I see detail that I missed in the brief moment of observation. I’m a person who does not see detailed pictures when I close my eyes so my photos are my memory. I remember the circumstances in which the photo was shot when I scroll through my catalogue. We travel much less now so most of my recent photos show what I see around home.
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1. Ruffed Grouse: This grouse strutted around our yard and tromped through the garden in early May 2007. He didn’t pay much attention to my efforts to get a photo. His mind was on other things. (D200, 70-200 mm lens at 200 mm).
2. Least and Western Sandpipers: This photo was taken in May 2010 at the mudflats just south of Tofino. We have visited Tofino quite a few times during the Shorebird Festival. This photo provides a comparison of two similar species. (D700, 200-400 mm lens with TC at 550 mm).
3. Short-billed (I think) Dowitchers and Marbled Godwit: Taken in May 2013 from a canoe on the Tofino mudflats. This is a heavy crop from a photo that also included an out-of-focus Whimbrel which has been removed with Photoshop. (D800E, 200-400 mm lens with TC at 550 mm).
4. Razorbill: We spent several days on Grand Manan Island in southeastern New Brunswick in late June 2013. One day we made a boat trip to Machias Seal Island. I got lots of colourful photos of Atlantic Puffins but I decided to include a Razorbill in this collection. The island has a staffed lighthouse — as a means of asserting Canadian sovereignty to counter the American claim for this tiny bit of real estate. (D800E, 70-200 mm lens with TC at 330 mm).
5. Long-billed Curlew: No Prince George bird photographer can avoid including a photo of a Long-billed Curlew. They are back again and curlew mania has once again gripped local birders. I’ll be participating in the curlew survey at the end of this month. This photo was shot in April 2014 from Walrath Road. (D800E, 600 mm lens).
6. Pacific Slope Flycatcher: I noted that a flycatcher was hanging about beside our house in July 2014. It was some time later that I finally saw the nest on top of a light fixture under the eaves. We watched three youngsters as they grew too large for the nest and eventually fledged. The birds returned to the nest the next year but a strong wind took the nest down and they went elsewhere. (D800E, 600 mm lens).
7. Barred Owl: In December 2014 I got the feeling I was being watched. Then I looked at the big Interior Douglas Fir that stands in front of the house and saw this owl. That tree may some day fall and crunch the house but it has given us more than enough wildlife moments to compensate should that happen. (D800E, 200-400 mm lens at 400 mm).
8. Cedar Waxwing: Five or six waxwings were flying about the yard in June 2015. Rather than chase them around the yard, I got a chair and waited by one of the trees that seemed to be a popular perch. A couple of birds arrived. This one is saying something to its buddy just a bit further down the branch. (D800E, 80-400 mm lens at 400 mm).
9. Northern Pigmy Owl: A Redpoll met its end in February 2018. If you feed birds, you also feed the predators that feed on birds. I re-edited this photo for the BCFO Featured Photographer Series, starting with the “raw model” of Topaz Denoise AI. It is astonishing how that program can clean up a noisy photo and enhance the detail. In February at 54° north, the light is seldom good. This software makes a big difference. (D500, 600 mm lens, 900 mm equivalent).
10. Lincoln’s Sparrow: The bird is perched on a steel flower on its way to feeding at a nest located in our perennial garden. Lincoln’s Sparrows nest here every year. This is June 2019. (D500, 600 mm lens, 900 mm equivalent).
11. Swainson’s Thrush: We maintain a water fountain on the patio behind our house. Low-hanging bird feeders have all been taken in to avoid bear conflicts. Swainson’s Thrushes visit it often but are usually very cautious. I was sitting only 10-15 feet from the fountain with my camera in July 2021. This bird hung back in the bushes but eventually decided to chance it. After a bath, it retreated to the undergrowth to preen, Then made another visit to the fountain. It may be anthropomorphism to say so but this bird seemed to be really enjoying its bath. (D500, 500 mm PF lens, 750 mm equivalent).
I’ve got 7,000 bird photos in my Lightroom catalogue. Picking just 12 was tough. You can see more photos at <https://www.flickr.com/photos/bubba55/albums>.