These photographs were made on the deck of my home in Nevada City. My setup is a suspended white sheet behind a small table on which I place a few seeds and peanuts. I use a Nikon D700 camera mounted on a tripod. A twelve foot cable release allows me to put some distance between myself and the birds. I position a bottle of Windex (blue jay blue) on the table for focus and exposure purposes then replace the Windex with a few seeds. For starters, I set the aperture of my 180mm lens at f8, the shutter speed at 1/60th, then settle back in my recliner and wait for the show to begin. I think of this process as painting with birds. The feathers are brushes, the blues and grays provide the palette and the bird’s irrepressible energy gets it all done. I watch the jays teetering on the cedar branches above the deck and anticipate when they will make their swoop. I set the shutter for 8 burst a second then fire it when I sense the birds are about to fly into the frame. The raw digital files produced by this process are not remarkable. Some images are underexposed, others over-exposed. I keep all the images because I never know what will be revealed once I bring them into Photoshop and begin my adjustments. Suddenly all the beautiful details I’d missed during the blue jay feeding frenzy are revealed. The graceful stretch of a thigh as the bird prepares to escape. The Hopi-like dance. The perfect splay of feathers. The brilliant paths where the blues and grays had just been. The energy of the birds in motion.
I'm looking forward to making more bird images in Baja, with a whole new cast of characters. I'm presently working on a more sophisticated set up than I used in Nevada City. I don't think the hummingbirds will be a problem, and I suspect they'll make great subjects. I'm optimistic about coaxing the hooded orioles, Eurasian collared doves, and various sparrows to my set-up. It'd be great to include ravens in that group, too. But the seabirds, the beach browsers – the egrets, terns, herons, gulls, oystercatchers, grebes, cormorants – they'll present a whole new set of challenges.