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  • Sydney Daniels

winging it: bird photography for newbies

Did you know that I love birds? Since I don't shut up about our local feathered friends, I wanted to write a piece dedicated to bird photography, and hopefully teach you a few things about my experience.

The Great Backyard Bird Count is coming up so if you want to improve your photography skills or an excuse to look for birds, I hope this piece inspires you.

Step one: meeting the birds

Pop quiz: do you know what birds live near you? Do you know what colours they are, what they sound like? The first step in becoming a good birder is getting to know your birds, shocker. One of my favourite 'me-time' activities is simply filling the bird feeder and staring out the window. Am I an old woman trapped in a twenty-year-old's body, who's to say?

If you want to take a more active approach, go for a walk. There are lots of conservation areas and parks that are teeming with birds. Set yourself up for success in an area where you're almost guaranteed some bird action.

Once you've found your spot and your birds, it's time to study them. I've found using the 'Merlin Bird ID' app from the Cornell Lab to be very helpful. It has super helpful programs that can help identify birds using a picture you took or a sound recording (arguably my favourite feature).

After watching and listening to the birds for enough time, you can pick up on some of their defining features or even their calls if you have a good ear.

Step two: grab the camera

Now that you know what to listen or look for with your own senses, it's time to do the same with your camera. You do not need to be a birder to be a photographer, and vice versa, but combining the two has enabled me to get a greater appreciation for these creatures while exercising my creative brain.

As rewarding as bird photography is at times, it is a very frustrating subject to shoot. Songbirds, while they might come closer to you, move very fast and don't stay in one spot for more than three seconds. One blink and they're out of your frame. With larger birds like herons and hawks, they might move slower but are typically very far away.

In my experience, you either need to spam your camera like crazy or be extremely patient. Both strategies have worked for me, it just depends on the day which one I shoot with. At the end of the day, the best tactic is to not hold back on the trigger and take a billion photos. During my shoots, I know there are several that are going to look blurry, but if I'm lucky and wait it out, I usually end up with a few solid photos.

Step three: become a crazy birder

It is at this stage that you are converted to the crazy birders' community. While some may take it more seriously than others, birding is a very unique hobby that seems bizarre to outsiders. I love that. Once you start mastering a hobby, it can turn into a new creative outlet or a fun party trick, depending on how you want to use it.

One tool that will help to improve your birding knowledge is a life list. This is a fun concept that you can use for any animal or plant species, but all you do is create a log of all of the bird species you have come across in your adventures or daily walks. The 'Merlin' app creates one after you upload your identifications and tells you other birds you might come across based on your location and the time of year.

If you're anything like me, you can't stop talking about the stuff you're interested in. While some people may be sick of me talking about birds, some are curious or get excited about my new bird photos or discoveries. Birding is a very easy hobby to introduce to friends, you literally just take them on a walk and listen for the birds.

Helpful resources

Every year, the birding community comes out of "hibernation" in late February for the Great Backyard Bird Count. It is an annual event that takes place around the world to observe, monitor, tally, and share global bird findings before spring hits and plenty of species migrate back to their home for the warmer months.

I highly encourage you to take part in this citizen science weekend. All you need to do is share the number and types of birds you saw at any point from February 16-19 with one of several wildlife tracking organizations. If you do end up going out and you manage to capture some cool bird photos, send them to me on Instagram, I'd love to see what you found!

Here are some organizations you can submit your bird findings to:

Happy birding!

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