Readers Photo Challenge: Birds of a feather

The latest Readers Photo Challenge assignment of “birds” has been a great success. Readers have taken to it like ducks take to the water.

The response to this assignment was tremendous, so much so that we may revisit this challenge again in the future. Twenty-four readers sent in 148 photos and there was nary a turkey among them. Well, that’s not exactly true. Joseph Moreno of Stockton did send in a nice shot of wild turkeys in Mokelumne Hill. All the photos entered can be seen in an online gallery at Recordnet.com. Here are some of the best examples sent in.

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In bird photos, as well as pictures of almost any kind of animal, you want some personality to show through without anthropomorphizing them. Mockingbirds can be fiercely territorial, attacking animals that are much bigger than themselves. I’ve even seen them dive bomb my dog in the backyard.

Tom LaBounty of Stockton, armed with a Canon EOS 7D Mk II and a 70-200mm lens with a 2X extender (making effectively a 400mm lens) photographed a mockingbird at the Woodbridge Ecological Reserve west of Lodi (many of the entries were shot there). He captured the bird’s bold unrelenting stare. Combined with its vigilant pose and puffed out chest it looks like that it’s ready to take on any foe and trespassers should be wary.

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Swans are celebrated in music and dance for their beauty and grace. Pete Silva of Jackson used an Olympus E-620 DSLR camera set to monochrome with a 70-300mm lens to photograph a pair of mute swans at the Camanche Lake South Shore recreation Area near Burson. His choice to shoot it in black and white helped to eliminate the distraction of color and emphasized the elegance and feeling of the scene.

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Dave Skinner of Stockton is an early riser and it served him well in the photos that he took for the challenge. He entered several images but the one I liked the best was a sunrise on Staten Island near Walnut Grove in the Delta. With a Nikon D7000 DSLR camera outfitted with a 55-300mm lens he photographed a small flock of sandhill cranes were shrouded in a foggy morning. A rising sun peeks through the mist, its orange glow imbues the entire scene with a beautiful golden warmth.

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Powerful and majestic, the bald eagle is an impressive symbol of our country. It’s no wonder that out forefathers picked it to represent us. Carolyn Silva of Jackson (wife of Pete Silva) used a Nikon D5500 DSLR camera with a Nikkor 55-200mm lens to capture the dignity and grandeur of a bald eagle soaring through the skies at the south shore of Camanche Lake near Burson.

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Kelley Jennings of Stockton used a Canon 7D DSLR camera with a 100-400mm lens to photograph cormorants on a light pole off of Woodbridge Road west of I-5 near Lodi. I like how the birds are just like a bunch of guys hanging out on the corner waiting for something to do. As with a candid group photo of people, it can be difficult to get all the birds’ faces in the shot. They’re often preening their feathers or twitching their heads about looking for potential predators. Jennings caught this group just right with their beaks pointed in several different directions to make for a more interesting photo.

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Sandhill cranes are elegant and graceful birds. Steve Nilssen of Lodi used a Nikon D7100 DSLR camera with a 80-400mm lens to photograph a sandhill crane at the Isenberg Sandhill Crane Reserve west of Lodi. His photo captures the beauty and gracefulness of a single bird as it stands in the tall grass of the reserve.

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Sometimes a bird can be just the right accent to the composition of a photo. Susan Scott of Stockton used a Canon Rebel DSLR camera to photograph a mockingbird at Oak Grove Regional Park in Stockton. A thin branch of a tree arcs gracefully at the top of the frame, while more branches from another tree spike up from the bottom of the picture. A mockingbird sits carefully at the to of the tree and provides just the right focal point to the image.

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Photographing a bird in flight can be a challenge. Steven Rapaport of Stockton used a Canon 70D DSLR camera with a 100-400mm lens to photograph red-tailed hawk along Highway 26 near Valley Springs. He caught the bird in flight just after it took off from a nearby utility pole. Although the bird’s face is hidden in its own shadow, you can make out it’s iconic silhouette.

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This challenge is skewed towards DSLR users. Most cellphones and point-and-shoot cameras have a hard time competing with the long telephoto lenses that the DSLRs can employ. Most of the photos were take with lenses in the 300-400m range. Neil Hayward of Modesto used point-and-shoot camera but didn’t take a back seat to anyone. He used a Nikon Coolpix P900 point and shoot camera to photograph egrets at the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge near Los Banos. The little compact camera is equipped with an 83x zoom which is the equivalent of a 24-2000mm lens on a full frame DSLR!

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