Bird Hunting
June 9th, 2014

Probably my favorite movie of all time is Hitchcock’s “Rear Window,” starring Jimmy Stewart as a photojournalist turned voyeur. The movie co-starred the lovely Grace Kelly as the rich girl who falls in love with Stewart in spite of the fact he’s poor and has a broken leg. Why? Well, because he’s got a BIG lens! A hefty 400 millimeter Fern-Kilar Kilfitt f/5.6, to be exact. The lens was attached to an Exakta VX, pretty much the same as the Exakta that was my first single lens reflex. Sadly, I never owned a lens as long as Stewart’s, and as a result no society girl ever fell for me.

Recently my boyhood fantasy of owning a super telephoto lens finally became reality. Too late to win the heart of Grace Kelly, and way too late to catch Raymond Burr in the act of dismembering his wife, but not too late to get up close and personal with some of the birds that flutter about my backyard—most of which, I’m sorry to say, are just pigeons.


Nonetheless, I like this shot, mainly because of the composition. But I like this one better, of a fat California quail perched upon my fence.


Quails do more walking than flying, so they’re fairly easy to photograph—similar to penguins, which Frans Lanting tells me are about as hard to photograph as mailboxes.

Scrub jays? With a bit of effort, you can almost train them to do your bidding. Or is it the other way around? Once they figure out that you are the one in charge of peanut distribution, they’ll watch for you and issue squawky demands for more. This particular branch is their favorite landing spot.


Woodpeckers also announce their presence, and so does the Northern Flicker. Usually I see flickers pecking at a nearby power pole, but this one, a male, swooped down and alighted briefly in my maple tree, just long enough for me to squeeze off one shot.

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The smaller the bird, the harder it is to photograph. Chickadees are extremely challenging, flitting as they do from branch to branch, never standing still long enough for me to acquire focus. However, yesterday I got lucky with this little fellow, who graciously stayed put beside a plum, so you can see how very small he is. Note the shallow depth of focus!


Often I can tell what kind of birds are about just by listening. If I hear nothing, then I know danger is afoot. Take, for instance, this sharp-shinned hawk.


Hawks hunt birds, and so do I. Only difference is, I bring ‘em back alive.

-Richard Menzies