The Cornell Lab Bird Academy Discussion Groups Bird Photography with Melissa Groo Practice Understanding Birds for Better Photos

    • James
      Participant
      Chirps: 1
      • I'm always excited when migration begins in early spring. This is when the Black and White Warblers pass through our property. This year I was only to see them for a short time. On vacation at the lake house on Nantahala we went to the Wayah Bald Tower were we spotted the Black and White Warbler that you see in the two pictures where there is no leaves on the trees. With that said, for this section of the course I decided to study the Black and White Warbler. It's a fascinating bird. Builds its nest on the ground next to a tree, log or a bolder. Prefers primary to secondary forest. Eats most bugs you find on trees as it climbs around the bottom of the trunk making its way up similar to a Nut Hatch or Brown Creeper. As I set out to see if I could observe and photo one this week ( 07/21/2020). I was able to get a photo of the Black and White Warbler. (the photo of the trees with leaves). They are now you see me now you don't. Maybe you tell that it's a Black and White Warbler.Black and White Wabler callingBlack and White Wabler searchingBlack and White Wabler
    • Laura
      Participant
      Chirps: 1
      I researched Cedar Waxwings because my usual observations of them are when they are located at the tops of tall trees on bare branches.  The All About Birds site listed various berry trees that are favorite foods of these beautiful birds.  A local photographer mentioned a park where there are serviceberry trees.  Sitting on a bench in view of the trees, I could hear the bzeee calls from high up in the trees around me.  It wasn't long before the Cedar Waxwings were flying down for the berries.  I only managed to photograph them in half-sun/half-shade but they were fun to watch. DSC_0715
      • Aidan
        Participant
        Chirps: 11
        I live in NY and would love to see these birds. You have nicely captured them though! Great job!
    • Michele
      Participant
      Chirps: 2
      DSC09147
      • Michele
        Participant
        Chirps: 2
        The following image of a Mourning Dove was taken quite early in my backyard. I took this photo actually from behind glass from our living room window where we often see many different birds gathering.  I can always tell when the Mourning Doves are near by their cooing and this one landed right in front of my eyes.  We see them year round and often in pairs. They do tend to dominate this old wooden table but often we see them sharing seeds on the ground with Cardinals and Grackles.  Occasionally, I see them on telephone wires resting along with taking rests on some large oak trees near us.
      • Aidan
        Participant
        Chirps: 11

        @Michele I live in a very wooded area, and I see them resting in trees a lot too. I also see them put up there wings like this a lot to when threatened. I would not have guessed that this picture was through a window. Great job!

    • Jody
      Participant
      Chirps: 1
      todayearly Marchtwo weeks ago One of my favorite birds is the Brown-headed Barbet. I loved these birds' songs long before I knew who they were, got into birding, or tryed my hand at photographing birds. I find them to be pretty shy though. In early March, I discovered one pounding away making a nest on a dead tree near Thalangama Lake, where I try to walk every day. It was so engrossed in what it was doing that it didn't even care that I was nearby. Then quarantine came, and for two months I couldn't check back on the site. Once we were free to return, and walk (with masks), I checked again over and over, and figured too much time had passed. Then one morning I spotted one of the barbets coming out of the hole, so I kept checking back, keeping a distance (bridge camera with 1200 zoom). Saw it a few times, and nothing again for the last couple of weeks, so I thought maybe the time had passed. This morning I saw one of them again, on a branch near the hole! There aren't a lot of good books on the birds of Sri Lanka, but I do have a couple I keep on hand and reference frequently. It's often the case - as in this instance - that I witness something and then learn more about it. Primary breeding season is February to July (fits my timeframe), and "the bird, working solitarily, hammers and pecks out a hole in a soft-wooded dead stump or branch" (G.M. Henry, A Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka, p. 324). I also learned from the guide that the calls I love so much are the pair keeping in touch with one another from some distance.
      • Kay
        Participant
        Chirps: 2
        Nice shots!  Great clarity and color!   Very cool looking bird.  I believe I've only ever seen one in Tanzania!
      • Aidan
        Participant
        Chirps: 11
        I wish I could see that bird, let alone photograph it so well! I think this is such a cool bird. How did you find its nest?
      • Mary
        Participant
        Chirps: 90
        Loved your photos and got a sense of the bird too from them!
    • Dika
      Participant
      Chirps: 13
      DSC09932Pel DSC09820PelLarge The Brown Pelican (Pelicanus occidentalis) is a common species today along all our coast but it was on the Endangered Species list  from 1970 to 2009 and became extinct in some states.  The cause was the use of the now banned pesticide DDT which caused pelican eggs to become so thin they would fracture before the embryo was fully developed.  There has been an enormous conservation effort to restore this magnificent species, especially so in Santa Barbara where some of my birding colleagues have done regular brown pelican counts.  They are very sociable birds both congregating and flying together often in large groups.  I know that there is a breeding colony on Anacapa Island off the southern California coast.  It is an enormous bird and because of its size it is easier to photograph in flight than most other smaller birds.  The birds I've been seeing lately along with the Black Skimmers are juveniles, the adult being mostly gray and white.  It is fun to watch them when they dive head first into the ocean to capture fish.
      • Laurie
        Participant
        Chirps: 6
        These are both great photos! What beautiful birds.
    • Dave
      Participant
      Chirps: 1
      I spotted a Great Blue Heron last week in a nearby marsh, and was inspired by this class to learn more about this species. I started paying attention to the tide charts for my area, and read about GBH feeding habits, and am now trying to use that to predict when he'll be there again. The last few mornings I saw him there 1 to 4 hours after low tide, but this morning I was there an hour before low tide and he wasn't there. As I was leaving I saw him in a different spot, not in the marsh, but way out at the tide line of the beach. Now I am wondering if he goes up to the marsh only after low tide. Will have to keep checking to find out. This photo was taken four hours after low tide.   1E7A2288
      • Dika
        Participant
        Chirps: 13
        Lovely photo.  I love the intense colors in both the bird and the water.
    • Dika
      Participant
      Chirps: 13
      DSC06649Cropped I live a block from Alice Keck Park and walk my dog there often in the mornings.  One day I noticed a juvenile Great Blue Heron in the pond.  I walked home and got my camera, then waited for about an hour while watching this bird's movements.  Suddenly he spotted and caught a large fish and held it in his bill.   The fish was obviously too large for him to swallow, so he had to drop it.  I shot multiple frames. BlCrNiHeron I often bird in the evenings at the Andree Clark Bird Refuge in Santa Barbara.  I was seated at the third viewing platform when a young Black Crowned Night Heron flew in and landed on the bench not more than 15 feet away from me.  He was quite comfortable sitting there and watching me for several minutes.  It was a wonderful experience!  These birds are breeding in this area as I have seen several juveniles there as well. Dika Golovatchoff
      • Mary
        Participant
        Chirps: 90
        The first time I saw this bird I thought it was a statue as it did not move! Your photo reminds me of that time; nice photo!
    • George
      Participant
      Chirps: 2
      I shot this goldfinch feeding on a sweet-gum ball in mid-January this year at a city-owned swamp near my house.  The behavior surprised me because I had always though of sweet-gum balls as being useless outdoor Legos. So I did a bit of research and found out that sweet-gum balls provide a critical source of food in mid-winter to several species, particularly goldfinches, at a time when other food sources are very scarce.  It gave me a new appreciation for the role of the sweet-gum tree in the environment, that I wouldn't have known without the experience of taking this picture.   Goldfinch on sweetgum
      • Dana
        Participant
        Chirps: 12
        I never thought about sweet gum balls as food sources. Thanks for the information. Dana
    • Scott
      Participant
      Chirps: 5
      The online resources are such a great help!  I have loved watching and photographing Great Blue Herons for some time.  We are blessed to live on a small lake in Florida where we have a fair amount of birds and the occasional American Alligator.  This GBH was fishing for breakfast one recent morning and I was able to capture a few frames.20200707-GBH-with-Fish-1-2
    • David
      Participant
      Chirps: 1
      I, too, am intimidated by the quality of the photographs submitted thus far. They encourage me to improve. I try to be a faithful student and follow directions, so I decided to research two birds that I had hoped to see yesterday. They were the Black-tailed Gnatcatcher and the Black-capped Gnatcatcher. Both had been seen on on the slopes of Montosa Canyon which includes their natural habitat of isolation, slopes and mesquite trees. Unfortunately on a gray day, I neither heard nor saw them. It was uncharacteristically quiet in the canyon. Eager to fulfill my assignment, I switched to the only birds I was hearing, Bell's Vireos and Northern Cardinals. My Bell's photos were very poor and the Cardinal was pretty far away. It was the best I could do. I did my research but not on the bird I photographed, the commonly seen Cardinal. Northern Cardinal
      • Kitty
        Participant
        Chirps: 2
        I like your cardinal photo! The cardinal really stands out from the greenery behind. I am learning to expect the unexpected. We can plan for what we want to see and photograph, but we really just need to be open and ready to be awed by what we come across. That is part of the fun!
      • Mary
        Participant
        Chirps: 90
        We are all learning bird photography, so no worries. I love seeing the birds and if I get a photo then it is a bonus!
    • Phil
      Participant
      Chirps: 1
      I very much appreciate this lesson on responsibility. I have a question from a later lesson. You recommend using a teleconverter. My camera is a Nikon D5300. My long lense is a Nikon AF-S Nikkor 80-400 1:4.5-5.6G. What teleconverter do you recommend ? Thank you very much 🙏   Phil Fitzpatrick bgaldoflife@yahoo.com
      • Hello Phil,   Welcome to the course. Melissa isn't a full time staff member so she won't be on here to answer questions. The discussion boards are peer to peer for the most part. However we do have several more advanced photographers on here that might have a suggestion for you on this.  Melissa will indeed talk about teleconverters in the lesson about gear. I hope you and everyone enjoy the course. When you post questions you should come back at a later date to look for replies.
      • Fred
        Participant
        Chirps: 10
        The Nikon 1.4 teleconverter will cost you one f stop so your maximum aperture at 400 mm will be f8. Most Nikon DSLRs will auto focus at f8, but not all. Make sure you check Nikon's web site for compatibility info.
    • Siddhesh
      Participant
      Chirps: 5
      This was my first successful sighting and close observation of a bird! Common name: Common Wagtail Scientific name: Motacilla alba Bird1_1 I recently began observing birds in my surroundings. This was one of the commonly encountered species in the garden and surroundings with ample fresh water. Observation: This species appeared almost daily and at different times of the day. One interesting observation was (correct me if I am wrong), that it tried to keep its radius of food capture constant. When I tried to go near it (15 feet away), it flew away to the next perch, whoch was about 30 feet away. However, as I kept still and sat there for a while, it returned to its radius of food search. Also, it seemed to be a pretty confident bird. I also saw a second one, which it tried to follow. I do not clearly understand if it was an opposite gender, since the information about the bird says that it breeds throughout the year, but especially from July till December. I think the research I did at the beginning helped me to know which species are commonly found and I can hope to see most of the times during the day. This also means that I had more chances of spotting it. I look forward to learning and applying it in the field. Thanks, Siddhesh
    • Francisco
      Participant
      Chirps: 3
      Lately I had been trying to photograph the birds on a garden in Mexico City. I like the bronzed cowbird, for its              red eyes and it´s mating display, the male will it inflate itself and hover above the female. This bird lives all year round here, I didn´t know it is a brood parasite.
    • Francisco
      Participant
      Chirps: 3
      IMG_0011 (2)IMG_0022 (2)
    • Scott
      Participant
      Chirps: 1
      I've primarily been photographing from our porch and yard, but I was certainly surprised by how uncommonly beautiful the common grackle is.  I've taken to peeking over our fence (with the help of an upturned bucket) into the neighboring field where they tend to feed so as not to startle them! I've been lucky once or twice and already been waiting on the porch when they've landed closer, and managed to catch this stunning male on our arch! I've also started taking my camera with me when I bike, so I can stop by one of the local ponds and capture the wildlife there. Even a few minutes away, the difference in diversity is striking. DSC_0044DSC_0047DSC_0051
      • Kabita
        Participant
        Chirps: 4
        Wow Scott you have captured some real emotions and expressions. First impression I got going through your pictures was something like..... "Who is that spying on me?? ... "Ahhh I will be fine ....."  ..... "No, its not ... here I come... watch out ... " Awesome.
      • Doug
        Participant
        Chirps: 13
        hello Scott, Great shots. I also find the grackle to be a pretty bird to photograph especially with his irridescence and contrasting yellow eye. I am an avid cyclist and often sight birds when I am riding my bike. I have a bid telephoto lens though so I am wary of carrying it on my bike in a backpack. I was wondering how you manage carrying a camera and biking? Any advice?
    • Cynthia
      Participant
      Chirps: 9
      After my first less than thrilling early morning sit spot, I went to the bay and carefully and slowly  zig-zagged down a pier to sit for awhile. Although blazing hot, it turned out to be a much better spot for this time of year. I was able to practice trying to shoot birds in flight, diving for fish, but I realize that I need to work on my lighting as many of the birds just blended into the background - the sky was a bright light blue. I am really looking forward to delving into the next lessons on how to use the setting on my camera to optimize my outings. My best pictures were still shots of laughing gulls. I was using my 200-500mm lens so I was able to get some close up shots without interfering with their environment. My favorite shot - gull yoga - tree pose. C592AAE4-483A-4C51-9CFC-A1E1E535220E
      • Kabita
        Participant
        Chirps: 4
        So interesting gull yoga. I am more inclined to call it Ekapadasana (One foot pose) rather than tree pose :) Nice one Cynthia.
      • Mary
        Participant
        Chirps: 90
        Now that is a pose one will not see everyday! Cool!
      • Dana
        Participant
        Chirps: 12
        This photo made me chuckle, but Cynthia, your comment had me hooting! Thanks. Dana
    • Karin
      Participant
      Chirps: 2
      I went last week to a park where Wood Ducks are reliably found. To my surprise there were no males, but I found a female with her babies sitting on a log. In my excitement, I moved too quickly and the family left the log. I have the Canon 7D MKII and always forget that the exposure meter is awkwardly placed to the far right, out of view with a normal look through the viewfinder. So I had to lighten up the image. It takes some effort and a little time to see the exposure meter in this camera. I didn't even know it was there for the longest time. I did find a bird that looked like a wood duck but not exactly so I took a shot. I'm guessing it's a juvenile male because the markings match up with the male markings but the rest of the plumage colors are not there yet. It stumped me for quite a while. I can't even find a photo to match mine yet.
    • Karin
      Participant
      Chirps: 2
      Wood Duck F and Juveniles2-ed
    • Richard
      Participant
      Chirps: 7
      I found out that my area is a stop along the way during the winter spring migration of the sandhill. Each year in March the small town near the area holds a festival so getting to the wildlife area is a nightmare. So I went there days prior and there were only 2 photographers and 17,000 Sandhills.
    • Richard
      Participant
      Chirps: 7
      Sand Hill Cranes (100 of 127)
      • Laurie
        Participant
        Chirps: 6
        Smart to get there before the crowds! Love how you captured so many in flight in one shot.
      • Jeanne C.
        Participant
        Chirps: 7
        Gorgeous shot, thank you for sharing this amazing photo Laurie fullsizeoutput_8481 This photo was taken in Sarasota FL in 2019
      • Dana
        Participant
        Chirps: 12
        Awesome photo... I had always hoped to go to the midwest (I live in CA) to see sandhill cranes during migration, but recently was in Bolsa Chica FL with two old classmates and saw them in people's yards! They are endemic to that part of Florida. I felt so lucky to see them but did not have my camera!!. Dana
    • Lucy
      Participant
      Chirps: 24
      DSC_4465eWhile hiking I suddenly heard some Titmice making quite a fuss and I heard the high pitched call of a hawk. When I stopped to look and listen I realized there were 3 juvenile Cooper's Hawks calling for the parent to bring in dinner. I didn't have my camera on me because it was a new park and I was unsure of how safe it would be to carry an expensive camera around. I ran back to my car and came back knowing that based on past experience the juvenile birds would most likely remain in the area. When I got back to the spot the calling had stopped but in a short amount of time I was able to spot two of them in a tree. I took up a spot and waited. Soon they started calling out and I knew a parent was probably in the area. I had hoped to get a pic of the parent but he/she flew in pretty fast and just dropped the meal on a large limb and flew off. The two juveniles flew over and the one in this photo was faster and ended up with the meal. In my experience I usually hear the birds before seeing them and I have become familiar with types of calls such as alarm, calling for a mate, and even alerting to a parent in the area. DSC_4486e
      • Isabelle
        Participant
        Chirps: 59
        Awesome photos. I had a similar experience with Red-shouldered Hawks. It is very thrilling to see them eat their prey so close by.Mine was eating a squirrel and he let me take photos and movie for about 20m minutes! I am glad you witness that scene and shared your photos.
      • Lucy
        Participant
        Chirps: 24

        @Isabelle Yes - Always thrilling when you see a new species you haven't seen before or get to see them interacting or catching/eating prey. Thanks for your complement!

      • Fred
        Participant
        Chirps: 9
        Awesome capture! Excellent detail and slice of life detail of these magnificent birds.
      • Dika
        Participant
        Chirps: 13
        Beautiful images.  Your perseverance paid off.  Dika
      • Bill
        Participant
        Chirps: 4
        Beautiful pics.  I especially love the second one.  Nice job!
      • Doug
        Participant
        Chirps: 13

        @Bill Great shots. I have had that same experience with an Osprey eating a catfish he had just caught on a limb in close proximity to where he caught the fish.

    • Laura
      Participant
      Chirps: 4
      I have loved Sandhill Cranes for their exotic appearance.  In the past I've driven to watch them in fields where they have been known to congregate in migration season, and I have also been thrilled to come across a few or large number of them unexpectedly.  They are one of the few birds I can identify by voice as they fly overhead.  I used to think they only passed through my midwest area to more northern summer grounds, but my research shows that they spend the summer here, too.  I have been seeing them more often.  I was taking a walk through a forest preserve I had not visited before, and I came upon two sandhill cranes in a field.  I was surprised how close they let me come, as they seemed oblivious to cars nearby and to me.  I didn't want to scare them, so I stayed about 50 away.  IMG_1156
    • Meyer
      Participant
      Chirps: 1
      I've always known that there have been some Black-crested Titmice that love to forage in my backyard. They tend to stick around almost all year, too. I occasionally spot one of the birds jumping around in this large oak tree nearby my patio. After doing some research on their behaviors, I discovered that these acrobatic little guys that will cling upside-down to find insects to eat. After hearing some chirps on a gray spring afternoon, I quietly set up outside and waited for the bird to come for me. I eventually caught sight of the titmouse, and sure enough, after some waiting, it started hanging upside down. I was even able to capture this photo!DSC_0693
      • Isabelle
        Participant
        Chirps: 59
        He is sooo cute, love the photo. We have Oak Titmice here in California, they are very similar except that they are entirely grey.
      • Aidan
        Participant
        Chirps: 11

        @Isabelle here in NY, we have tufted titmice, look the same, but does not have the black cap. This picture looks great!

    • Phyllis
      Participant
      Chirps: 2
      DSCN2538DSCN2535 I chose to look for the Rock Sparrow, Petronia petronia (a life-list bird for me).  This is a bird that is found in rocky habitats throughout the Mediterranean, but has a north-south movement throughout the year in Israel.  Since we were in lockdown when it was in my area in the Negev desert in the spring, I went to Mt Hermon (3000 m) where it is easily found in June and July. I used three resources: eBird, Oiseaux birds and Wikipedia.  As to the description, eBird records it as “odd-looking, chunky, sparrow-like bird”, whereas Oiseaux is “very similar to the female House Sparrow”.  In my unschooled opinion it just looks like a sparrow, not odd at all.  Further to its appearance, a yellow spot on the throat is rarely visible in the field (eBird) which, indeed, is not visible in my photographs. However (Oiseaux) record that both females and males prefer mates with bright yellow spots.  It does have a streaked breast, brown head and pale yellow eyebrows. All sources were in agreement with it being found in arid, rocky habitats with short grass and Oiseaux has it as a “typical Mediterranean species”.  It feeds on seeds and berries throughout the year and insects when feeding nestlings. They are reported to nest in crevices in rocks or walls; so, it was very odd when I saw it at the mouth of a pipe. At first I thought it just landed there; this pipe was about 12 cm in diameter, stuck in the ground and at about a meter in height bent at a 45º angle. Since there is no sexual dimorphism I didn’t know if it was a male or female bring insects to the nestlings.  It perched in the open and had an upright stance holding the insect in its mouth.  I moved away to allow it to freely fly to its nest in the pipe.
      • Isabelle
        Participant
        Chirps: 59
        Enjoy reading your research! Very interesting.
    • denise
      Participant
      Chirps: 2
      I had no idea that, when doing this type of research, my chances of getting better poses and pictures would increase more and more. I'm really excited to go to the field to train what we have learned, but unfortunately I have to wait until the weekend where we have a country house. The bird I chose is a very beautiful, interesting, and especially agitated hummingbird which fascinates me. I have been watching and listening to this bird for the past two years and, among all the hummingbirds that we have in our mountains, this is the species that most amuses me. It is very difficult to take a good picture of him while in movement, as he is especially fast when compared to others who live in our area.IMG_4335
      • Hello Denise, I'm sure others here would love to what area you live in. I'm so glad to hear the tips are already helping.
      • Mary
        Participant
        Chirps: 90
        Hummingbirds, they are a challenge to photo and you caught this one on the fly! Nice!