As I've mentioned before in this blog, my luck with chasing birds for a good image is little to none. I may get a photo or 2, but not where I want, with the background I want, nor the perch I want the bird to be on. (The only exception I know is shore birds, but that's a different blog subject) The best way I know to get a lot of good images is to go to a place where some one feeds and waters them and it has a blind or hide you can use (please see my blogs on elephant head pond above). But for reasons such as distance, the inability to book a spot, or that the bird (s) you want to photograph do not eat from feeders (insectivores) or are not found in the habitats where such areas are you are up to your own devices. My methods for photographing these birds is audio calling them to perches I have already set up. I'm either in a blind or my vehicle and waiting.
I'm not going to go into here on what methods I use because there are already a couple of definitive sources out there, both by the same author. Noted bird photographer Alan Murphy has produced 2 audio cd books and I am completely impressed with the methods in both. I have used over 50% of the many methods he discusses in both with better than expected results. I'm not going to duplicate his efforts here but instead I urge you to purchase one if not both of these cd's. To order these cds please see Alan's website (http://www.alanmurphyphotography.com/ebook.htm) and order yours. NOTE: I have never met Alan, talked to him on the phone, etc. and get no kickback from his sales, I just think his products are that good to highly recommend them. If I do meet him I'll certainly shake his hand with a sincere thanks.
After I read both of these cd's I started calling and I'm still learning about our birds here in Arizona. You will find each species has a time that it works best to call them, usually a week or 2 week long period when they are just setting up territories. Some that you can call in late February will not respond in April and visa versa. I just came back from the Catalina's where I hoped to attract red-faced warblers with an off chance I might see a yellow eyed junco based on what a friend told me. What I found was the opposite, the yellow eyed juncos landed right in front of me and I was lucky to get a red faced warbler into range. If you want to know when to go I recommend purchasing a in depth bird guide in your area. Here in Arizona I read the Arizona Breeding Bird Atlas (http://www.amazon.com/Arizona-Breeding-Bird-Atlas-Corman/dp/0826333796/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1368900962&sr=8-1&keywords=arizona+state+breeding+bird+atlas) to get the best information I could on some different species.
So far I've found I have to tweek some of Alan's methods which he recommends, and that's half the fun. It's your creativity and thoughts against the cautious instincts that every species has, You will "lose" some as the birds won't respond as hoped to your great idea. It sure happened to me but keep it up and success will taste that much better.
A concern biologists have on using bird calls is their overuse (long periods of calling the same bird) causing stress on the bird and/or pair bond, and some research indicates this concern is well founded. The Sibley bird guides has an excellent synthesis of what NOT to do and what is considered ethical. Some people do not like the use of audio at all but research has not found a negative effect when used properly. I strongly urge you to visit this site and follow their guidelines as close as possible. Murphy's "The photographer's guide to attracting birds" has a good overview as well in his extensive section on using audio.
Below I've posted a subset of the many images I took this spring, all with the use of audio and using my own perches. My goal was always to get as close to a full frame image as possible with an attractive perch and an uncluttered, preferably light green background. Unlike some bird photographers some times I opt for more of the habitat/plant as well, guess that's the biologist in me. I started in late February in the lower desert and worked my way up. When I started in the desert my goals were the "silver dollar" birds because that's there size (verdins and black-tailed gnatcatchers) and gilded flickers. As I noted what was around me I tried to call them as well, some times with success and sometimes not. Cactus wrens and curve billed thrashers are some of the most aggressive, thus easiest to call. Abert's towhees are very timid, and orioles are just hard to find but call in fairly easily. Unlike visiting a feeding area, I find when calling I have one of 2 species I'm hoping for. If I do and do too much I don't get any good images. As the weather got hotter and desert birds began to stop responding I went up in elevation, still with specific birds as targets such as vermillion flycatchers and kingbirds. As of today, May 18, it's still a great time in higher elevations but due to an upcoming trip of a lifetime (6 weeks in South Africa) I've had to postpone calling until spring of next year. I hope you enjoy the images, I sure enjoyed taking them.
In mid March I decided to try to photograph birds during one of our snow storms in the high country. I was able to get permission to photograph at a private residence outside of Prescott where the owner vigorously fed birds and lived on the the USFS boundary. By setting up my blind, more for protection of my equipment as it was snowing hard I was able to get a few hard to photograph species with different backgrounds than the norm. I was happy with some of my bridled titmouse, dark-eyed junco, ruby crowned kinglet, hairy woodpecker, spotted towhee, and western scrub jay photos. I was really hoping for a nice stellar's jay but the snow was so wet that the crests of all the jays I photographed were droopy. Just gives me an excuse to go back next year in the same conditions.
If you are fond of photographing birds I strongly recommend you find ways of photographing them such that they come to you. My first 2 years of bird photography were "chasing" birds in some popular bird photography areas like Gilbert Riparian and the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden. Both are good spots and I return to the areas a different times of the year. However, I found that the number of species you could photograph well at either area was limited. If I wanted more perching birds I would have to find new areas.
I now concentrate at feeding areas such as this private residence, my favorite is a place discussed before, Elephant Head Pond, and you can go there by contacting owner Bill Forbes at Phototrap.com. I also use bird calls frequently and find this method very successful. I will be discussing some of my method for calling species in future blogs. Although I love the calling, it's hard to get near the species you will at a popular feeding area though.