Written By onci on Wednesday, December 16, 2009 | 7:20 AM
“One to Remember” By: Jason G. Harrison
It was going to be a long night as I lay in bed thinking why can’t I sleep. I tossed and turned for hours and did not feel the slightest bit sleepy yet. I soon became aggravated that I could not sleep and decided to get up and go do something. It was 2 a.m., my wife and daughter were sleeping peacefully, and I am looking for something to do. A thought entered my mind…hmmm….yea, go for it. I decided to load up my gear and go after a bird I had found 3 days earlier, but did not get any good images of it.
I woke up my wife (bad idea) and told her I was heading out to try for some images and that I would call her when she got up. I quickly loaded my gear and took off. My destination was over 2 hours away but if I could get some good images of this bird, it would be worth it. About 40 minutes from my destination, I started seeing flashes of lighting dance across the sky. Soon, this “dance” turned violent, and the once pretty flashes of distant lightning were replaced with intense explosions of bluish white light all around me accompanied by an immediate roar of thunder that could be felt inside my truck. I had not even thought of checking the weather prior to my hasty departure. Oh well…came this far, I am going the rest of the way. After driving through some of the most severe thunderstorms I have driven in, I arrived at the wooded tree line I so desperately wanted to set up on. My goal, the whole reason for the trip, was to get a quality image of a Painted Bunting that had been seen working this area. Painted Buntings are VERY rare here.
As I mentioned earlier, I found this bird 3 days earlier (alerted by a friend), but could not get close enough to it for any decent images. I was determined to get close to this bird, or better still, allow this bird to get close to me. I learned long ago it was much easier to hide within a subjects range, and let it present itself to you vs. you chasing the subject around. Doing so would disrupt its natural behavior and more than likely you would not be successful in getting the type of images you want.
It was still raining and storming, but I had lots of time before the sun came up to wait the storm out. Well…after 2 more hours of rain, the storms passed and things began to calm down. It was quite cloudy but at least the rain had stopped.
I positioned myself where I believed the bird would pass by. I quickly learned I was RIGHT where I needed to be. Within minutes of the rain stopping, I saw the male Painted Bunting working his way down this tree line. He would fly tree to tree, singing very loudly, and fly to the next perch. It was obvious to me; he was defending his nesting area. He soon flew into a tree right in front of me, just past minimum focusing distance for my Nikon 600VR. Soon as he touched down I had him in the view finder and began taking images. WOW…I had never been this close to a Painted Bunting in the wild, let alone taking images of it. It sang and sang and sang…never had I heard a bird so intent on singing and flying perch to perch. His song filled the air, and there was no mistaken, that on this day, he was to be heard by all. He was as bold and brave as he was brightly colored.
He soon flew off to another perch, but within sight still. I took the time to make sure all my settings were correct. I realized then just how bad the light was as my shutter speeds were too slow for such an active bird. I just needed a bit more light but with the cloud cover…that was not going to happen. I knew high shutter speeds were not an option.
No way could I achieve the recommended speeds when using long focal lengths. I tried to concentrate and use the best technique I could muster at the time with all the excitement of first seeing the bird so close and getting images of it at the same time. It was at this time that I thought to myself, VR help me please! Little did I know just what was in store for me this wonderful stormy day!
All of these shots are hand held with the Nikon 600VR f/4 lens. Sometime later, I did rest my arm on a knee, other times I rested it on my camera case as I was struggling holding this heavy lens when he came back to the tree time and time again. At first I was shooting around 1/200th of a second. On a stationary subject this would be ok, but this bird was very active. He was constantly singing, looking around, not to mention the movement created by the wind that was blowing the branches he was on every which way.
This scenario repeated itself over and over that morning. He was making a circle, perching tree to tree around a “small cluster” of trees that I believed must be where the female was and the nest. With each trip around the perch spots, the male would land in front of me, and offer a minute or two for me to get images, which were nearly full frame, and then be off to the next stop. 16GB worth of images later, I decided to head back home. I told a good friend of mine about this and 2 days later he was there trying to get images of the male. It did not sing or perch like it did for me, but instead stayed close to the cluster of trees. It was then that the female was spotted in those trees and a young fledgling was sitting there as well!
For what ever reason, I had been there at the right time, at the right place, and was ready. After having driven through horrible storms, waiting through hours of rain, I was rewarded with perhaps a once in a lifetime opportunity. This was a very special day for me for sure, definitely, One to Remember.
Jason G. Harrison
Posted by onci at 7:20 AM