California Thrasher & Towhee

I’m not a bird photographer, but I gladly accept the gift of being able to make a bird photo when Mother Nature puts the feathered friends close enough to my lens. :-)

I’m especially happy to see the friendly natives to the chaparral of course, such as this California Thrasher and California Towhee, that I photographed on a morning walk along Lake Hodges’ north shore.

The Thrashers are easy to identify – with their curved beak they always look somewhat grumpy. You wouldn’t expect it, but their song is quite beautiful, and it was sitting in that Laurel Sumac and doing just that – singing. The Towhee was kind enough to pose for me a little bit, changing it’s position and looking in different positions.

Tech Notes & Philosophy

Both of these photos are cropped a good bit, as they were made with my 70-300/4.5-5.6 lens – that’s not exactly a lot of reach for bird photography, I know. As much as I’d like to have a 200-500mm or 150-600mm zoom for wildlife, those are not really “walk around” lenses. The chances that I’d just grab them just like I grab the 70-300 for a casual morning walk with Toni would be fairly slim. The 70-300 doesn’t get in the way at all because it’s relatively compact, and lightweight. And it has 100mm more reach than the 70-200/4. :-)

As with all equipment, you just have to know its quirks and a way around it. This lens for example isn’t “fast” to begin with, and also really needs to be stopped down to f/8 or f/11 to produce images with acceptable sharpness at 300mm. Both photos above where made at 300mm and f/8, and both were cropped from the original 36mp files to ~12mp (which means down from 7360 pixels to 4000 pixels on the long side – that’s still way more than my first 6mp digital SLR had!).

When using my 70-300 hand-held, I also found that it is better to not rely on the stabilization too much – it should allow for “safe” exposure times as long 1/40s at 300mm (3 stops slower than 1/320s) – but in reality, that just doesn’t work for me. The range between 1/100s and 1/160s is particularly problematic: the mirror-slap seems to interfere with the VR “perfectly” at 300mm, and in that exposure range I’m hardly able to get a sharp photo hand-held (the blur is always in the direction of the mirror movement). So I just have my camera in Auto-ISO and let that go wherever it wants to be (Trasher: ISO720, Towhee: ISO1250).

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