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Extraordinary Bird Photos and How to Capture Them Vol. 2

Extraordinary Bird Photos and How to Capture Them Vol. 2

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Extraordinary Bird Photos and How to Capture Them Vol. 2

316 pages
2 hours
Jan 1, 2021


217 photos with appropriate How To Sections. "The present volume 2, and the earlier volume 1, is some of the best photography I have taken in the last 20 years." There is photo work here which spans the lower 48 states and Alaska as well as parts of Canada. Each volume includes an instruction section which explains in detail why the particular photograph under discussion recommends itself as a worthy subject and/or how it could be improved. The earlier chapters of both volumes cover everything from basic equipment to fundamental techniques necessary to achieve a professional result or at least the best that can be expected from the particular subject. The later chapters include a photo gallery, a list of magazines, a list of websites and a bibliography of useful books.
Jan 1, 2021

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Extraordinary Bird Photos and How to Capture Them Vol. 2 - G. Cope Schellhorn



I came from a family of hunters, not birders. My parents drove great distances to spend their vacation days in the pursuit of deer and elk. In my late teens and early twenties, I dreamed of doing a big game safari in Africa, and as a young English instructor and assistant professor at the University of North Dakota, I was an avid deer, goose and duck hunter.

In those days, there seemed to be plenty of four-legged critters and birds of all kinds for everyone interested in hunting as a sport. For most rural inhabitants of the nation in the late 50s and throughout the 60s, hunting seemed almost as natural as sitting down to the dinner table. Little did we realize then that our human and Western lifestyle was already putting more pressure on a planetary ecosystem than it could bear. Heck, we hadn’t even heard of the word ecosystem or the phrases greenhouse effect or global climate change.

The greatest joy of my life has been the opportunity to experience nature in its less manhandled realms and to witness both the stunning variety and often surpassing beauty of its creations. I’m speaking specifically about its wonderful topographical formations and its intriguing flora and fauna.

As we have become more citified as a civilization, the great majority of our young people and their parents remain virtually shut away from the greater natural reality which surrounds us all. They have not learned what priceless natural riches the world holds just passed the city limits. And even more importantly, they don’t understand how valuable and necessary experiences with these natural riches are for a healthy mind and body on a planet whose own health is being severely compromised.

People whose understanding, experience and education have been blunted are increasingly unaware of how hugely detrimental many of the actions of individuals, corporations and governments can be. As yet, no politician I know of has had the courage to say we must do something about a human world population that is out of control. Few politicians dare challenge corporate practices that are found to be fundamentally toxic. Few public servants truly seem to place these days national and planetary welfare above self-aggrandizement. All these problems are tragedies coming increasingly and relentlessly to haunt us and our future.

(1) Atlantic Puffin, Grand Manan Island, NB, Can. Canon 300mm f/2.8L lens with 2x teleconverter (600mm), 1/1600 sec. at f/ 8, ISO 400.

It took many years of hunting before the realization occurred to me of the damage I was doing to my own sensibilities as well as the environment around me. It was of course a process of education. I began to realize we were all consciously or unconsciously killing what we professed to love one small cut at a time multiplied by 6.5 billion or more over and over again.

I have been diligently photographing birds for 15 years. And that was well after the populations of many species, especially migrating ones, were perceived by people doing annual bird counts to be spiraling downward in North America during the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. Unfortunately, during those decades, world-wide surveys began to indicate that the numbers of many migratory species on all continents were declining at a worrisome rate.

Ask the old-time birders if the bird numbers have declined significantly, especially among the migrants, and almost invariably a shadow passes over their faces as they tell their stories. Loon photographer Woody Hagge of Wisconsin, whose work was featured in Loon Magic (1985), is, like so many other birders and bird photographers, appalled and greatly saddened by the decline, Where have they all gone? I’m afraid of the answer. Ask a European birder about the decline of returning species such as the famous White Storks, which use to nest on rooftops of villages and towns all over the EU, and you’re likely to get a similar reaction.

(2) Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, High Island, FL. Canon 300mm f/2.8L lens with 2x teleconverter (600mm), 1/160 sec. at f/ 11, ISO 400.

I have photographed these past years for three main reasons: (1) to record the wondrous beauty of the birds and (2) to help create a record of those species and that beauty for future generations which may not ever get the opportunity to see some of them alive. The third reason is to warn the public about what is happening apace, without most souls having an accurate idea of what is being lost and the speed with which that loss is happening. For anyone who cares about the quality of the ecosystem which surrounds them today, they must quickly become aware of the gravity of this situation if they are not already. It is later than we think.

The Unnatural Catastrophe of the Birds

The deteriorating plight of many of the wild species of animals on earth has been making news for several decades. The best example, of course, is the attention that has been given to Africa. The dwindling numbers of elephants, rhinos and leopards killed mostly by poachers, for instance, has generated a host of television specials and serials. Yet the global reduction in numbers of migratory and nonmigratory birds of most species has not, however, received the same attention, although many national and international organizations such as the International Council for Bird Preservation (ICBP), Bird Life International, Conservation Initiative and National Audubon, have all worked to bring the true facts to the public’s attention.

Sadly, the public has not been much aroused. It seems if a few common urban and suburban species are visible and active about the local premises, the average citizen feels the wild bird situation couldn’t be all that bad. The following statistics indicate otherwise. They suggest that an on-going and increasing catastrophe is happening to the world’s bird population (as well as to the more publicized animal species) and that it is becoming increasingly likely that the world’s present bird numbers may be halved again in the next 50 years—just as they have been in the last 40 years.

(3) Common Loon, Churchill, MB, Can. Canon 300mm f/2.8L lens with 2x teleconverter (600mm), 1/200 sec. at f/8, ISO 400.

How catastrophic was the world-wide decline in vertebrate animal species between 1970 and 2010? A 2014 study conducted by scientists of the wildlife group WWF (World Wildlife Fund), as well as the Zoological Society of London and other allied organizations, concluded that overall world vertebrate populations fell 52 percent in those four decades. The decline is based on data trends in 10,000 populations of approximately 3,000 animal species, including birds, which are found in all the major land and sea habitats.

Two reports released only days apart offer a sobering look at the present state of North American bird life. The first describes conditions as of now; the second forecasts the effects human-induced climate change will have in the near future.

The first report, called the State of the Birds 2014, comes to us by way of the previously mentioned U.S. Committee of the North American Bird Conservation Initiative, a 23 member partnership of government agencies and organizations whose driving impetus is bird conservation. It lists 233 species, gathered from data collected between 1968 and 2012, which are either endangered now or at great risk of becoming so without significant and immediate conservation measures. This list includes 42 pelagic species, 30 neotropical migrants, and 33 Hawaiian forest species, of which 23 are already classified as endangered. In addition, the list includes over half of all U.S. shorebird species such as Red Knot, Piping Plover and Long-billed Curlew. (See www.stateofthebirds.org)

(4) Common Eiders, Churchill, MB, Can. Canon 300mm f/2.8L lens with 2x teleconverter (600mm), 1/2500 sec. at f/10, ISO 400.

The second report was prepared by scientists at National Audubon. They compared many years of data from North American Christmas Bird Counts and Breeding Bird Surveys with models from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for 588 species and identified as many as 314 which are at risk from climate change. The report predicts that over half--188 species--will lose over half of their current range by 2080. Of the remaining 126 species, which Audubon labels climate-endangered, it is estimated that they will lose more than half of their present range even sooner—by 2050. (See Bird and Climate Change report at www.climate.audubon.org)

How did things get so bad so quick? As a partial answer to that question, I refer you to a book called Save the Birds published first by the Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge in Great Britain and Australia in 1987 and two years later in the United States by Houghton Mifflin Company. This particular book was a special project, a world campaign, of the International Council for Bird Preservation.

Counting backward from the present date, we see that the alarming data that Save the Birds analyzes is now 28 years old. Even then the likely outcome predicted by such disturbing evidence was obvious to any thinking mind. It offered a bleak prognosis for the future of avian species on this planet unless a massive effort was made to reduce abuses and repair damages to a fragile world biome which was being assaulted by devastating and increasingly deadly attacks. The problem was, as it so often is today, not many people wanted to read about unsettling news, and fewer people wanted to get involved in any attempt to do something about it. The 1985 edition of the ICBP’s Red Data Book listed over 1,000 bird species as endangered. The 2012 edition of Bird Life International (which collects data for IUCN, Union for the Conservation of Nature) now lists 1,313 species or 13 percent of the 10,064 bird species extant.

(5) Burrowing Owl, Calipatria, CA. Canon 300mm f/2.8L lens, with 2x teleconverter (600mm), 1/1000 sec. at f/9, ISO 400.

What generally is contributing to the increasing threat of extinction facing so many bird species? Sadly, it is mostly the actions, consciously or unconsciously made, of human beings who have become the architects of a radically and dangerously rearranged planetary ecosystem which they hope will sustain them and their children’s children. If you read books such as this one, you probably have an appreciation for the beauty and marvelous diversity of the nature which nurtures us all. And you probably have a growing understanding of the threats which one particular family of the animal kingdom is facing today, the birds.

What specifically are some of these threats? They include the disappearance of large tracts of wetlands and forests for development; the disappearance of high grass and low grass prairies; general air pollution; pesticides (in the U.S. and increasingly in Central and South America and the Third World countries in general); hunting; poaching; competition from introduced species (particularly on island breeding grounds); international trade in rare birds; blinding city lights (especially during migration seasons); tall buildings and wind farms without warning devices; feral cats; dog and cat pets.…

(6) Long-tailed Duck, Churchill, MB, Can. Canon 300mm f/2.8L lens with 2x teleconverter (600mm), 1/4000 sec. at f/5.6, ISO 400.

What can you do to help protect our natural environment, including the birds which play such an invaluable role in maintaining its balance? Think seriously about joining an organization like the Audubon Society, the American Birding Association, Bird Life International, the Nature Conservancy, the Sierra Club, the Union for the Conservation of Nature, the International Council for Bird Preservation or the World Wildlife Fund. You might enjoy offering your services during the annual Christmas Bird Count or Breeding Bird Surveys. Slowly but surely we can all help stop the attrition happening to our wildlife numbers and the damage being done carelessly or opportunistically to our environment. Even the birds, who are supposed to be inferior to us intellectually, know they cannot perversely foul their nests and destroy them haphazardly and survive for long. Can we say the same for ourselves given our record to date on preserving environmental health?

Basic Equipment Simplified

Choosing good, basic equipment for professional-quality bird photography isn’t nearly as difficult as some people would make it out to be. Granted, there is a lot of equipment to choose from, and the human brain can get quickly overloaded faced with so many rather expensive choices. I am going to keep my suggestions brief and simple and yet professionally directed. Bird photography does require special equipment, especially lenses. The advice which is forthcoming directs you to the kind of equipment a professional or serious amateur photographer would choose if he or she were out shopping to replace lost or seriously damaged equipment.

(7) Arctic Tern, Grand Manan Is. Churchill, MB, Can. Canon 300mm f.2.8L lens with 2x teleconverter (600mm), 1/1600 sec. at f/5.6, ISO 400.


Here is a fact which may surprise you. All the major DSLR camera manufacturers offer some models which are suitable for serious bird photography. Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) cameras are what professional and serious amateur bird photographers use. And there is one particular overwhelming reason for that choice. DSLRs make it possible for the photographer

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