Behind the Lens
Despite a harsh climate, this photographer figured out how to entice birds into his backyard.
I am a retired chemical plant engineer and environmental manager from England who recently moved to America to pursue my favorite pastime, wildlife photography. Over the years, I have captured thousands of wildlife images and staged several exhibitions in England.
But when I moved to Rancho Mirage, California, in 2006, I found few subjects for photography. Wildlife was thinly spread across the high-desert area, which has a harsh climate, very low rainfall, hot summers, strong winds and penetrating winter frosts.
Without enough water to support a lush wildlife garden, I installed a variety of bird feeding and watering stations, which have attracted a wide range of colorful, interesting birds to our property. The feeding station is built from two 5-foot-tall steel fence posts placed about 8 feet apart, with a steel cable stretched across like a tightrope.
I use thistle seed feeders, suet and nut cages, hummingbird feeders, flat trays and a wire cage feeder to hold unshelled peanuts. I set various fruits on trays, on the ground and pressed onto short branches in surrounding trees. Fresh pineapple is definitely the favorite among the orioles.
The water system is in semi-shade to prevent the water from getting too hot. It consists of an 18-inch-round by 2½-inch-deep flowerpot saucer set into the ground and decorated with local rocks so it looks natural and provides perching surfaces and variable water depth. The water is automatically fed twice a day using a 40-foot-long, ¼-inch feed from a battery-powered sprinkler valve.
I established a permanent viewing and photography blind near the bird station. It is situated away from the house to give timid birds more confidence and prevent buildings from showing up in my photos. The blind is a 60-inch-high, 30-inch-wide box, constructed from spare timber, that is just big enough for a camp chair, a tripod and a slot for a camera lens. The blind is southeast of the feeders to ensure good lighting in the mornings, which is the best time to photograph.
The blind allows me to comfortably observe and photograph birds through every season. Sitting inside, I have observed behaviors that I would not likely have witnessed if birds were aware of me. I have seen house finches courting, Scott’s orioles dining at hummingbird feeders, and dozens of acrobatic pinyon jays feeding on the nuts of the pinyon pines. Both Anna’s and Costa’s hummingbirds come to visit, as do quail, hawks, tanagers
Once birds accept this kind of station, you’ll be surprised how the traffic will increase. Maybe your neighbors, seeing the beautiful birds around your home, will even follow your example. Just imagine the potential benefit to the bird population!