Readers Photo Challenge assignment: Bird watching

(10/18/12) A sandhill crane “dances” in a field along Woodbridge Road near Van Excel Road outside of Lodi. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

There’s an old photograph phrase of “watch the birdie!” Well, for
the newest Readers Photo Challenge assignment you will literally be watching birdies because the subject is birds.

LEFT: (5/3/05) A pigeon makes its nest In the yellow light of a traffic signal on Yosemite Avenue and Fremont Avenue in downtown Manteca. RIGHT: (2/19/04) A scrub jay sits in a flowering almond tree on the campus of the University of the Pacific in Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

From backyard sparrows to turkey vultures soaring over the countryside to a hawk sitting on a telephone phone along the road to a robin perched in a neighborhood tree, birds are everywhere. You’d think with the prevalence of our avian friends that getting a picture of them would be easy. But the actually task can be pretty daunting.

A flock of seagulls float on the waters of the Stockton Marina in downtown Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

Most of our fine feathered friends are lower in the food chain and are preyed upon by predators from both the ground and the in sky. Thus they are very skittish and hard to approach. Try to get in close for a picture and they’ll fly away. This is there reason that most birders have very long telescopes/binoculars/lenses. The problem with getting a telephotos lens (in the 300mm or more range) is that they’re usually expensive. If you have the means to buy one, then distance isn’t a problem for you, but if you don’t it’ll make things more difficult.

LEFT: (4/2/18) A red-winged blackbird perches on a sow thistle in a field of wild mustard on Sperry Road near Airport Way in Stockton. RIGHT: (1/12/17) A meadowlark perches on a fence at the Phil and Marilyn Isenberg Sandhill Crane Reserve in Woodbridge. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

You don’t have travel to far to find a bird to photograph. A simple walk around your neighborhood or even just out your backdoor can yield a plethora of birds. Here’s where you don’t need a very long lens You can even set up a bird feeder just outside a window which can preclude the need for a long lens. Just set it up near the window (make sure it’s clean) close the curtains/blinds and wait. All you need to do is open up the curtain/blinds just enough to allow your lens through (without spooking the birds) and voila! You’ve got yourself a closeup bird picture.

A Canada goose takes off during the Ducks in Scopes event at the Cosumnes River Preserve near Thornton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

There are plenty of places find birds in the wild. Locally the Cosumnes River Preserve near Thornton is habitat to a wide variety of waterfowl and other types of birds. I’ve even see pictures taken by others of a pair of bald eagles there. Sandhill cranes can be seen at Staten Island near Walnut Grove and the Isenberg Sandhill Crane Reserve near Woodbridge.

(11/6/11) Sandhill cranes fly over the Woodbridge Ecological Reserve and Isenberg Sandhill Crane Reserve on Woodbridge Road west of I-5. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

While photographing birds that are perched on something like a branch or fence can be daunting enough, getting one in flight can even more difficult. One has to be much like a sports photographer to get the shot. A long telephoto lens is pretty much a must to get a tight shot of a bird in the air. If it’s at first stationary, you have to anticipate if and when the bird will take off then be able to follow and focus on the bird’s movements. Practiced bird photographers may make it look easy, but trust me it’s not.

(7/13/16) A white duck is reflected as it floats lazily on the waters of one of the ponds at Victory Park in Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

(11/6/08) As the suns sets in the west, a seagull takes flight near the water tower at the Port of Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

You can make your photo all about the bird, meaning, the bird is the main subject of the photo, filling most of the frame. Or you can take another approach. The bird could be just an accent to your photo, like one perched atop a tree or flying against a cloudy sky or sunset. Just make sure that it’s noticeable.

Whether you get photos of birds in the air, on a tree, fence or anywhere else make sure to watch the birdie.

20080121 Against cloudy skies, pigeons and seagulls perch on light standards on I and 9th Streets in downtown Modesto.

How to enter:

1. Entries can be emailed to The preferred format is jpeg. Type in “Birds” in the subject line.

2. Photos have to be taken between November 26 and December 10.

3. The number of photos is limited to no more than 12.

4. Include your name (first and last), hometown, the kind of device you used and there the photo was taken (eg.: John Doe of Stockton, Canon Rebel T6i with 18-55mm lens. Cosumnes River preserve, Thornton).

5. If there is a recognizable person or persons in the photo please identify them (name, age, hometown) and describe what is going on in the photo (eg.: “Jane Doe walks her dog Fido as a flock of Canada geese take flight behind them at the Cosumnes River preserve near Thornton.”)

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

7. The deadline for submission is December 10. The top examples will be published on December 17 with an online gallery of all the photos on the same day at

An egret takes flight over the waters of McLeod Lake at the Weber Point Events Center in downtown Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

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