Whenever a really great bird is reported and accompanied by great photos I am envious. From time to time I am able to get great photos of rare birds, but more often than not, my best shots are of birds that are more common. It is undoubtedly easier to get great photos of common birds--more abundant, more accustomed to people, and easier access provide better opportunities for such photos. I have on occasion revisited a sighting of a rarity on multiple occasions in hopes of better photos. Most of the time however, it is a spur of the moment sighting and the photos I take are the only ones I get. There have been brief encounters, lasting mere seconds, and fleeting glimpses of birds moving through the tree tops. Usually I don’t even start shooting until I am sure of the ID, or unless the ID is so questionable and I need photos to take a second look. So in turn the vast majority of the photos I have of “rare” or “out of range” birds are, well--bad. Here are some really bad photos of some really good birds.
Miller Beach, Indiana - November 2006
I sweat to you that is an Eider! This is probably the worst of the worst of the bunch. The flyby was spotted by myself and a handful of other Indiana Birders coursing the south shore of Lake Michigan on a cold November day. The large sea duck was as unexpected as any bird might have been, but was the 5th or 6th report from the area over the years. Bad light and 300 yards of water between us and the bird made for this incredibly horrible record shot!
East Canyon Reservoir, Utah - November 8, 2007
Not the worst of the worst--actually fairly identifiable from the picture. The bird was several hundred yards away, but the distinct pattern really stands out. The quality of the photo leaves something to the imagination but for rare migrant loons on Utah mountain reservoirs its enough for validation.
Fish Springs NWR, Utah - August 2007
What do you get when you take a picture through a 60X eye-piece with a 6 megapixel point-and-shoot camera, at a bird way too far away to photograph on a windy summer afternoon? This record shot of a Reddish Egret. I took a number of shots, but nothing came out nearly as awesome ad this shot. Other were graced with views at less than 50 yards away--I was not so lucky!
Bear River MBR, Utah - August 2007
This might actually be the best of the bunch. Easily identifiable, and very colorful. But it was taken in crappy light, at well over 100 yards away. It was my first and only Ruddy Turnstone in Utah--a state nemesis bird that I haven’t seen in state since this. The bad photo remains the only I have of any Ruddy Turnstone--and a welcome addition to my gallery.
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper (Pectoral on the left)
Antelope Island Causeway, Utah - October 2007
When a 1st state record is at hand any picture is better than none. After the initial shock of seeing the rufousy washed bird in the company of a number of Pectoral Sandpipers, I snapped off a handful of distant shots of the bird. Poor light and distance were the culprit here--but none-the-less, just enough detail for a 1st! Several others were able to relocate the bird the following day although no other photos were captured.
Hurricane, Utah - December 2004
No question as to the identity here. Even a terrible record shot of this bird is unmistakable. Flying through the trees at an orchard in southern Utah, this was one of the best looks I had at the only modern report of Red-headed Woodpecker from Utah. Others managed some great shots, but at the time I was happy with what I captured using a 300MM $50 lens and my 1st generation DSLR. I also got a perched shot that is equally as bad--in fact worse in terms of focus, but the red head is blazingly obvious!
Beaver Dam Slope, Utah - April 23, 2010
Possibly one of the worst record shots. The details in the photo are murky and were a last ditch effort to get some type of documentation for the woodpecker that has been sparsely reported in southwestern Utah, with very few photos for vindication. The birds (yes 2) flushed from a water tank in the desert and flew directly away from my wife and I. I took to foot chasing them through the Cholla and Joshua Trees, snapping this shot before they disappeared. Sometimes even the worst shot is just that--the worst shot!
Chicago, Illinois - May 2008
What do you do when you are in Chicago in May birding Lincoln Park as migrants duck and dodge through the trees and you spot the rarest native wood warbler found in North America? After the initial freak out you try to get a picture of course... But umm... What if you don’t have you camera because it was a business trip and the birding was just supposed to be a casual after work stroll? Luck for me I had my point-and-shoot. I wasn’t dumb enough to go without at least some type of camera. But handholding binoculars, and trying to digi-binoc in the waning evening hours doesn’t make for an easy task. When all was said and done I managed two shots that were barely identifiable for this record shot--one of only 3 reports ( believe) from the lake front in Illinois.
Some times we capture the worst shots of some of the greatest birds. It’s part of remaining a birder and keeping photography as a secondary when in the field. It’s always best to spend as much time identifying the birds and studying them to make sure what you see is what you think it is, only going to the camera when you feel confident or need that reassurance. Using photos to identify birds later leads to all kinds of pitfalls, and can be one of the most frustrating experiences to go through--been there and done that!
This is only a small sampling of some of my bad photos of good birds... Maybe down the road I will post some more.
What are some of the worst photos you’ve taken of good birds?
Labels: commentary, photography, rare birds