I once came across a post in a forum about wildlife photography: “After 4 years of tramping through woods, I gave up. The bird was always just 2 trees ahead.”
I’ve walked trails with a 600mm lens, monopod and gimbal, and once in a great while I get something good. But if it’s just a bird way up in a tree, no one is really going to care, unless maybe it’s an Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, or a very beautiful tree in a sunset. People want to see that bird up close. They want the detail.
I think we crave the feeling of being close to birds, because we like them, but they don’t seem to like us. Nothing gives us that feeling of closeness like looking them right n the eye.
If I haven’t captured the bird’s eye, I feel like I don’t have a photo. But you can’t sneak up on a bird; and even with a 600mm lens and a 24mp sensor, getting that eye means getting within about 15-20 feet. That’s why I get some of my best photos I like in my own back yard. I can set up a nice-looking branch as a perch, and a carefully positioned feeder next to it, and I have a sort of simple blind set up in a window. After that it’s a waiting game; but not only can I get that eye, I can get the bird doing something interesting. And I can get it sharp.
There are other opportunities for avian closeness. A local raptor rehabilitation center sometimes brings their resident birds outdoors for a meet-and-greet – and some eye contact.
Sometimes the bird looks back with suspicion. But this Great Egret wasn’t too concerned about being photographed – he went on hunting in the shallows.
All my bird photos are here.