Readers Photo Challenge assignment: For the birds

The subject for the next Readers Photo Challenge assignment is for the birds. Actually, it is birds.

The trickiest thing about photographing birds of almost any type is that they can be very skittish. It’s very difficult to get close enough to get a good shot of one or even a flock of them. A long lens, 300mm or longer, is recommended. Even then it can still be difficult to get close enough. Some sort of “blind” or camouflage can be useful. Hiding or approaching a bird from behind a tree can help.

Some birds aren’t afraid of a vehicle they way they are of a person. I’ve used my car a few times as sort of a rolling duck blind and shot out of the window to photograph some birds (as I did in the photo above). Any way you to chose to do it, patience is the key. Rushing things will only frighten the birds away.

Capturing birds in flight can be a challenge. Make sure you’re using a high enough shutter speed to stop the motion (1/500th of a second or faster). Make sure of your focusing. It’s easy for autofocus systems to focus on the sky behind the bird. Most cameras are set up to focus at the middle of the frame so make sure that the bird is at the center when shooting.

Most birds are active in the early morning or late afternoon, which is great because that’s when the best light for pictures occurs.

We are in the middle of the Pacific Flyway where many birds migrate to for the winter. This time of year there are many places where you can photograph birds. A simple jaunt out to the Delta can find many flocks of geese, ducks and cranes.

The Woodbridge Ecological Reserve (also known as the Isenberg Sandhill Crane Reserve) on Woodbridge Road west of I-5 and the Cosumnes River Preserve north of Thornton are great places to view all kinds of migratory and native birds. The Micke Grove Zoo’s Gardner Mediterranean Aviary is a walk-in enclosure that offers great views of Waldrapp ibises as well as other species of birds.

You don’t have to go far to find birds. Some are as close as your own backyard, literally! Sparrows, robins, hummingbirds and more are all a part of the urban wildlife world. An easy way to photograph them is to hang a bird feeder outside a window and wait for the birds to come to you.

Close the curtains/blinds so you don’t scare the birds off, then crack them a bit so that you can poke a lens through to get a shot. Turn off lights inside to help eliminate reflections on the window and make sure the glass is clean.

If you can, try to identify the type of bird in the photos you submit. Some are pretty easy. We all know what a red-breasted robin, a crow or pigeon looks like. But, unless you’re an avid birder, there are dozens of species that are harder to figure out. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a great web site that can help you ID many kinds of birds (http://www.birds.cornell.edu/Page.aspx?pid=1478).

As any avid bird watcher can tell you birds are beautiful, majestic, graceful and interesting and, with a little time and patience,they can be great subjects for photographs.

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How to enter:

1. Entries can be emailed to coto@recordnet.com. Type in “Birds” in the subject line.

2. Photos have to be shot between Feb. 4 and Feb. 18. Please try to identify the type of bird, if possible.

3. Include your name (first and last), hometown, and the kind of camera/lens you used and where it was taken (eg: “John Doe of Stockton. Canon EOS Rebel Ti with 55-300mm lens. An egret along Pool Station Road and Highway 49, San Andreas.”)

4. If there is a recognizable person in the photo, please identify them (name, age, hometown) and what they are doing in the photos.

5. Please feel free to include any interesting anecdotes or stories on how you took the picture.

6. The deadline for submission is Thursday, February 18. The top examples will be published on Thursday, Feb. 25 with an online gallery of all the photos on the same day.

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