I’ve been working on bird photography for five decades, but it’s only since the digital era that I’ve had consistent success. Bird photography back in the sixties and seventies was a matter of waiting for hours in hides, hoping that a bird would come within a few yards. Success was rare. In the eighties and nineties it was all about huge lenses and weighty tripods – and still hanging around for hours with little to show for it. But digital photography, small sensors, and vibration reduction have allowed the capture of satisfying images on a daily basis. Add Photoshop, which can do marvellous things to so-so shots, and we have a totally transformed situation. All my bird photographs are now taken handheld while I’m on birding trips, or simply driving somewhere. These days I use an 80-400 Nikkor lens on my Nikon D7100, though some of the following shots were taken with a 70-300 Nikkor or 150-500 mm Sigma. I don’t much like lenses of greater length, because they kill the spontaneity required of my style of bird photography, which aims to complement my birding. To get the best shots, too, you really need to be close, not shooting from afar.
One of the few things I do differently from others is to continue photographing a good prospect until it’s no longer present, or I’m sure that there’s absolutely nothing more that can be added. I find that when I’m with other photographers, they’ll tend to take perhaps a dozen shots of an excellent prospect and then move on. This seems to me to waste the opportunity. I might still be there an hour later, still photographing the same subject: and of the hundred and more shots I take there’s nearly always one that is a cut above the rest.
This is a prime example of the above lesson. I’d taken around 350 photographs of this Dipper over a ninety-minute period (thank heavens that the Kodachrome days are past), and though I was pretty happy with the haul so far, suspected that more was possible. After sitting motionless for nearly two hours, I was rewarded when the Dipper collected some nest material from a rock beside me. Patience is all in bird photography.
I particularly like this shot, because it breaks all the rules of composition, and it doesn’t matter in the least: the beauty and elegance of the bird shine straight through.
Somebody please identify this young raptor. I was too concerned with crawling up to it through nettles to think clearly about the species, and the experts have never been able to agree on an ID. This is, incredibly, a full-frame shot, taken at about 200 mm lens extension. The bird seems to have just attempted to catch a duck, and was drying out beside a lagoon at Shelley. The beg-marks at the corners of the bill show that the bird must have only just left the nest.
My yard is flooded in the summer with Evening Grosbeaks, so getting decent photographs almost any time is a breeze. Yes, I’m a lucky guy.
Quail must be one of the most photogenic birds of all, and for northerners they are a great treat. Photographers really shouldn’t be given the credit for a beautiful shot like this, though. It is the bird, not the person behind the camera, that deserves all the kudos.
Prince George winters tend to be thin for birding, but the influx of raptors, including this Gyrfalcon, helps make up for it. This shot was taken at the First Avenue railyards in PG, where there is spilt grain and thus lots of nourishing pigeons.
Every spring, just as the snows are melting, large numbers of Long-billed Curlews – the record count was around ninety – appear in one particular field outside Prince George. Since the town is at the very edge of their range, this is odd, but it gives marvellous photographic opportunities. This is one of around 120 shots I took in one afternoon there last spring.
The Prince George airport is a great place for owls, so I detour past the edge of it on my way to or from town. My camera is always beside me just in case I strike lucky, as on this occasion.
Distracted birds tend to be great subjects for photographs: they are too busy with their birdy concerns to bother about someone lurking with a camera. This photograph is interesting partly because it demonstrates something odd about the NWCR – a high proportion have curious-shaped bills. This was taken in Prince Rupert, during a break from photographing the super-abundant Bald Eagles.
It’s not every day that an adult Sora comes out of the reeds and offers you a decent photograph, and the opportunity doesn’t last long. Another reason for throwing away the tripod, and even the monopod, so you can react instantly. Yet another shot from the Shelley lagoons.
I must have taken ninety minutes to get this shot. Snipe are skittery, but I spent the ninety minutes moving extremely slowly, even when the Snipe flew off some way. Eventually it decided that I had all the sprightliness of a superannuated sloth and couldn’t possibly be a threat, and so let me get close enough for a good clean shot.
Every once in a while the surroundings and pose of a bird complement one another and we get a harmonious whole. Wise photographers admit that it’s luck – but get the odds in their favour by taking lots of shots.
NOTE: Clive has authored a number of entertaining essays that have appeared regularly in our news magazine ‘Birding in BC’. A collection of these articles and more has been published and is available here: