Behind the Lens with Douglas Rumpl
A Michigan photographer springs into action to record the comings and goings of resident and migratory birds.
It is now April, and my thoughts are filled with feathered friends on their way to Michigan. There’s no better sign that winter is over than the sight of returning great blue herons, sandhill cranes and American robins. And I can’t get enough of the sweet songs of American goldfinches and northern cardinals that fill my yard.
I’ve been an avid photographer since my late teens and have tried many types of photography over the past 35 years. But my focus shifted about 10 years ago, when my brother showed me some photos of songbirds he had taken in his backyard. At that moment, my passion for bird photography took flight.
I love watching and capturing different birds’ eating habits. It’s interesting to watch a house finch clean its bill after eating a sunflower seed and to see a male cardinal place seeds in the mouth of his mate. These may seem like little things, but to me they all add up to another glorious day of backyard bird photography.
My suburban backyard has a birdbath and three feeders, one each for thistle seed, sunflower seed and suet. It’s not uncommon for 30 or more birds to visit my backyard at one time.
When I’m not photographing birds in my backyard, I drive 55 miles to my favorite shooting destination, Wildwing Lake in Milford, Michigan. The lake is home to a heron rookery comprising 20 nests, which are also used by great egrets. The shoreline accommodates pairs of sandhill cranes, mute swans and Canada geese, while a large marsh in the lake’s northeast corner is home to flocks of red-winged blackbirds. I love to photograph the great blue herons and great egrets, which start arriving in late March. By mid-April the island rookery is full of nesting birds.
Though some might find sitting in a photo blind for hours on end tedious, I feel enriched and renewed after each session. Being up close and at one with nature is what it’s all about. And if I happen to leave the blind with a great bird photograph, it’s a bonus.
Spring Photo Tips from Douglas:
- Use the right lens. You need a fast lens to give you the best shutter speeds to shoot birds in flight.
- Set up a tripod. You don’t have to use it all the time, but have it ready. And make sure it will let you pan side to side and up and down.
- Get there early. Arrive at your shooting location at dawn. Both shorebirds and backyard birds get going very early in the day.
- Pick a clear day. A blue sky always makes photos look better.
- Join them at the table. Birds that are busily feeding are less likely to be startled by your presence.
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