First, I don’t pretend to be an avian photographer. Avian photographers are people who take pictures of birds using bazooka lenses that look as if they evolved from cannons (ha! pun intended) that had their heyday at the Battle of Gettysburg. Avian photographers also have an amazing degree of patience. You can’t ask that Bald Eagle or that Song Sparrow to strike just the right pose in the right kind of light — you have to wait … and wait … and wait for the bird to do it. And don’t forget the catch light in their eye!
I don’t have that kind of patience. And my bazooka lens, a Tokina AT-X 80-400mm, is, in my hands anyway, better suited for shooting stationary objects like lighthouses rather than birds that you may capture on the wing. But what I do have is an amazing little point-and-shoot, the Olympus Stylus SH-1. It was recommended to me by fellow upstate New York photographer Dan Burkholder. In fact, the first time Dan and I met, at the reception for his gallery show in Hunter, we recognized each other because we each had this camera hanging around our necks. With its zoom that reaches to an astounding 600mm, this Olympus is capable of getting bird close-ups that (for me, anyway) would otherwise have been impossible.
The image of the heron, above, is the closest I’ve ever come to “avian photography” with the Olympus Stylus SH-1. I was in San Diego on a business trip, and the heron obligingly posed in the waters of the harbor right outside my hotel. (I had gone out just after breakfast to photograph the ships–I have a thing about anything nautical–and this guy was there as an added bonus). Otherwise, as far as photographing birds is concerned, I find that this handy camera has various other uses. For example:
getting record shots of the birds that visit my feeders in winter (visual confirmation of the ticked boxes on the lists at the back of my Kaufman Field Guide), such as
Mr. Downy Woodpecker (the red cap identifies him as male), who seems to have moved in permanently; I sometimes see his mate, as well as a second male who is, in the opinion of the first Mr., avis non grata; or —
this White-Breasted Nuthatch. These are aggressive little birds who are able to run up and down trees, and when they run down, they go head first. Cute to watch. Always on the move, they’re difficult to photograph and so you have to keep shooting successively in hopes of getting something fairly usable.
Another application for photographing birds with the Olympus: Boasting rights, so I can email a photo such as this one of a White-Throated Sparrow to my birding friend in New England as proof that my feeder got one of these guys before his did. (Yup, that white stuff is snowflakes. This is the Northeast, remember.)
Finally, here’s one that I like to think goes beyond just a plain old bird snapshot. This Red-Tailed Hawk was perched in a tree at the McIntosh Audubon Preserve in Bristol, Rhode Island last month, patiently waiting to find someone to eat. Very patiently. And he wasn’t bothered by my walking slowly and ever closer to where he was. He had his back to me and eventually I was able to pass the tree and get some front shots of him — even with that all-important catch-light in his eye. Eventually he did swoop down on something but I don’t think he caught it. He landed in a tree on the opposite side of the field, but after a time returned to his original perch. To think that I was almost going to leave the Olympus in my car and just take the Nikon DSLR. Moral of the story: Never ever ignore that little inner voice that whispers a suggestion.