Falling in Love with Song Birds and the D850

Over the past few months I have fallen in love with song bird photography which is a part of wildlife photography I struggled with over the years. One of the main reasons I felt I struggled was the camera gear I had; often times photographing song birds you are having to use high ISO and on my D610 I just never liked the results. Anything over ISO 800 just looked garbage to me.

So with my newly acquired D850 and new found inspiration in the works of fellow photographers Ray Hennessy, Josh Galicki and Scott Keys I headed out in the field many mornings before work to try and locate some cooperative subjects. To make things a little more challenging for myself I decided to explore new areas around my home town and avoid the hot spots where many photographers go to find song birds. Not that hitting hots spots is a bad thing but I wanted to feel the excitement of finding each species on my own and in turn hopefully gathering a better understanding of the various habitats they can be found in.

In terms of camera gear and settings I armed myself with the D850 as mentioned above, which I have to say is a beast of a camera and has not let me down yet. I paired this with my trusty Nikkor 500mm F4 VR lens. I set my camera on auto-iso since I had complete confidence in its ability to capture pleasing images at high ISO. I set the MAX at ISO 5000 (which I have to say I captured some images at ISO 4500 and I was pleasantly surprised at the result). Most if not all images were captured at F5.6 and a shutter speed of around 1/250s to 1/400s. All images were captured hand held but I am hoping in the near future to purchase a monopod which should help save my poor shoulders. Why a monopod you ask and not a tripod? Well if you have ever tried song bird photography you know the action is fast and the birds only stop for a brief moment. So it really leaves no time to setup a tripod or move it around to get a better position. With a monopod I think it will allow some flexibility and provide an extra bit of stability. 

On one of my first outings I decided to hit a locate park called Sgt. Ned Nugents Park which was only 5 mins from my home. I picked this park for a few reasons, one being that it seemed to have a lot of great habitat for song birds..small streams, a wetland, young stands of birch trees and sections of coniferous trees.

My theory was correct; I quickly discovered a great number of species in only a small area. On my first few outings I decided to try some back lit shoots to create a more moody feel to the image. Below are some of my favorite images captured from this location

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Yellow Warbler taken at ISO 280, F5.6 @ 1/400s

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Black and White Warbler taken at ISO320, F5.6 @ 1/400s

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American Redstart taken at ISO 1600, F5 @ 1/250s

Northern Waterthrush taken at ISO 3200, F5 @ 1/200s

Purple Finch taken at ISO 1000, F5.6 @ 1/400s

There were also many more species seen and heard like the Wilson Warbler, American Goldfinch, Yellow-Bellied Flycather, White-throated Sparrow and Orange-crowned Kinglet but I was unable to capture any decent images of them.

One species I was really after was the Black-throated Green warbler and I knew they liked open stands of coniferous trees which really wasn't available at the park. Then on Father's Day an idea hit me which was to check out one of my daughter's favorite hikes which is up a steep hill called Murray's hill in Holyrood, NL. Sure enough that morning when my daughter, father and I stepped onto the bottom section of the trail I heard and seen one calling. About half way up the hill I captured this image of another individual male:

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Black-throated Green Warbler taken at ISO 280, F5.6 @ 1/320s

Our hike was a short one and with the excitement of finding the Black-throated green warbler I didnt pay attention to what else might be around. So naturally the following morning I returned before work to see what else I could find and was even more excited to locate my first Magnolia Warbler. By far this has to be the most stunning warbler here on the island

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Magnolia Warbler taken at ISO 2200, F5 @ 1/200s

Magnolia Warbler taken at ISO 1600, F5.6 @ 1/250s

Magnolia Warbler taken at ISO 2000, F5.6 @ 1/250s

I also came away with images of a few other species and the realization that this location has huge potential.

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush taken at ISO 1600, F5.6 @ 1/320s

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Wilson's Warbler taken at IS0720, F5.6 @ 1/400s

Black-capped Chickadee taken at IS0 2200, F5 @ 1/400s

All in all I have been able to locate 4 new locations which have great potential for photographing song birds and one of the biggest things I learnt in the process was that being able to find locations with higher elevation is key. Most song birds enjoy signing from the tops of trees and being able to be eye level with the birds is a huge bonus. I also learnt that having a camera that can capture clean high ISO images with a fast auto-focus system makes Song Bird photography a hell of a lot easier and more enjoyable; the D850 certainly has that and more.

I will leave you with one more image which to date is my favorite Black and White Warbler image captured only a few days ago. 

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Black and White Warbler taken at IS01250, F5.6 @ 1/400s