Tuesday, November 30, 2010

In which I find out that bird photography is really hard.

A Great Blue Heron flying into the storm.
It's a slow day on the hawk watch, the weather is nice and a stalled front just south of me has stopped migrating birds in their tracks as they were headed south, leaving them tired, confused and searching for food. The result is what's called a fallout, albeit a weak one, in which migrating birds hit bad weather, grow tired and seek whatever food and shelter they can find, often on the ground and without fear of people. 

A few seconds away from being a first prize winner, really!
So it seemed as good a time as any to try my hand at digiscoping. Simply put, it's taking a picture with a digital camera through the lens of a spotting scope. Sounds simple. Focus scope. Hold camera to eyepiece. Take picture. Hope the bird hasn't moved. It's that last one I had problems with. Since there were yellow-rumps everywhere, it should have been a cinch to get a great shot of one. They were flitting all around the platform, landing practically at our feet. And they never sat still more than a few seconds. No problem focusing my binos on them in that time. I could even get the scope on the bird and focused. And by the time I got the camera to the scope, it flew. Re-find, re-focus, and it flys again. I got dozens of empty branches and blurred flashes of bird for every good shot.

Almost perfect..
And then, even when everything lined up, the light was good, the sun at the right angle, the bird chose an opportune spot to perch, fully exposed and with an excellent background, the optimum camera settings (accidentally) achieved... It's never quite what I saw. The spark of life, the little animated movements of the bird, slip through the lens, not quite leaving an imprint. All my pictures look flat, dull, and hazy compared to real life. Imperfections in the glass? A bit too much glare on the lens? Or maybe, just maybe, you had to be there to truly appreciate the bird.