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Photographing The Adult Bird, Wild And Tame

( Originally Published 1902 )

Outfit required.-- Same as Part III, with addition of a graflex or some such, camera, and a telephoto lens; use the focal plane instead of lens shutter if birds in flight are to be portrayed. Reflecting-cloth, pruners, and lock saw will probably not be needed.

THE most difficult and most discouraging branch of photography is that which deals with the wild. adult bird at any other than the nesting period.. Seldom do we find a bird in its free state that will. allow us to approach to within the desired distance. Unless we use a telephoto lens we must be within five or six feet of any of the smaller birds, if we wish the bird to be an appreciable size. At ten feet a robin is a very-small object when seen through a lens of nine-inch focus, and yet it is not often that we have the opportunity of making an exposure at even that distance, while larger birds are still more difficult to approach, in proportion to their size. There are times, as, for example, when the ground is covered with snow, when through the scarcity of food birds. will allow of a near approach. Photographs can then be made with good results and with comparatively little difficulty. The white of the snow reflects so much light that very short exposures may be made, and the lack of strong colouring and usually the absence of dark shadows are all to the advantage of the photographer. Decoys in the form of food will attract many kinds of birds, and some will become regular visitors where food is habitually placed and will gradually become very tame. A piece of meat or suet secured to a branch will tempt some species, while bread-crumbs or seed thrown on the ground will attract others. Still another good bait is a cocoanut, broken in half and hung in a convenient place.

Some birds may at times be coaxed to a convenient site for photographing by the .presence of a mounted owl, but this plan works best during the nesting season. A scheme which I have long intended to try, and which might perhaps work successfully, is a portable blind in the form of an artificial cow. This should be made of a light framework of cane or split bamboo and covered with thin muslin painted in imitation of the animal. Of course it must be made light enough to be readily portable. It would be interesting to see how crude an imitation of an animal would pass the critical eye of birds. The photographing would have to be done by means of a graflex or some such camera, as, of course, a tripod would be out of the question. Whether or not this idea would work out cannot be known until it has been tried. I simply offer it as a suggestion. A device used by Mr. Frank Chapman, which works satisfactorily, is an umbrella of a greenish-drab colour. From the rib ends a cloth of the same colour is hung; this, reaching the ground, completely conceals the photographer and allows him to approach the bird unobserved.

It is unfortunate that the telephoto lens has not the speed necessary for all kinds of bird photography; if it had, our difficulties would be greatly lessened, but except under unusually favourable conditions it can-not be used with any great success. While a bird is on the move or is flying, with the sky for a back-ground, good results may be obtained, provided the magnification is not too great. From my experience 4 diameters is about the limit for instantaneous exposures when the positive element is a very rapid lens. Where birds are among trees or bushes the telephoto is not so satisfactory. The increased exposure made necessary by the scarcity and greenness of the light practically prevents the photographing of such a quick-moving object as a bird. There are exceptions, of course, as, for example, the whippoorwill, or even the ruffed grouse, which will occasionally sit motionless for the required time; but the smaller birds are ever on the move, so that even out in the open it requires a rapid lens and good light to insure a sharply defined photograph that shows any amount of detail. In places where water-fowl abound, as, for instance, in Florida, the possibilities are almost unlimited ; owing to the brilliancy of the light, even during the winter months, the telephoto lens may be used with the greatest possible advantage. Ducks of many species. can be photographed if a blind of grass and bushes is made in a convenient situation. It is best to select a place that is frequented by the birds either for the purpose of feeding or resting. In certain pools, or bends in a river, the birds will be seen nearly every day at certain hours. In such places photographs may be secured with scarcely any difficulty. Of all the places I have seen, Florida is the country par excellence for the photographer of water-fowl. The numerous rivers, the secluded cypress ponds, the open marshes, or the sea-coast, all offer facilities for the work that are perhaps unexcelled in any other State. The birds are very plentiful and remarkably tame, except in places where fiends in the guise of men spend their time on the bows of the river steamers, armed to the teeth with shot-gun and rifle, firing at every form of living creature (except men and cattle) that comes within the range of gun or rifle. Their prey may be killed or wounded, it makes no difference ; it is left where it falls, and no one is any better for the murderous deed. In this way some of the very best locations, such as the Kissimmee River, are being completely denuded of their bird population, or else the comparatively few birds that remain have become so afraid of man that a near approach is almost impossible. If this crying evil were sup-pressed, this river and many other such places would once more be the paradise for the bird photographer and the bird lover. Twelve years ago one could sit all day on the edge of some cypress pond and watch a steady stream of birds herons, egrets, curlew, wood-ibis, coots, gallinules, and ducks of many kindsócome and go. All day long, from the waking of birds at the first glimpse of dawn till after the sun had set, one's interest need never wane. The bird life could be studied and photographed at will. Animals, too, were seldom wanting: fox-squirrels playing in the cypress-trees ; otters, sometimes five or six at a time, would perform their antics with all the playfulness of kittens ; 'possums and raccoons and frequently deer would add interest to the scene. Now, thanks to the plume-hunter, the trapper, and the indiscriminate " sportsman " (so called), all this has changed, and one must search for such ponds in places unfrequented by the above-named trio.

In photographing ducks, decoys will be found most useful, as they will entice the wild birds to the place desired by the photographer. But for most of the other birds inhabiting ponds and swamps, blinds and still-hunting are the best methods. In still-hunting one may sometimes facilitate the work by making a shield of tall grass or brush, with the upper part slightly overhanging. There should be an opening of sufficient size, so that the exposure can be made without disclosing one's self. This screen, being carried very slowly, will often allow the photographer to approach to within fair distance of even the wilder birds. At almost any of the villages situated on the water many species of birds may be photographed, thanks to the local law which prohibits the shooting of birds within city limits." How well the birds understand this law is made apparent by their remarkable tameness within these prescribed limits. They realise thoroughly that the place is a sanctuary, and that there, at least, men may be trusted, and the man armed with the camera taking advantage of these conditions can secure with ease photographs that would otherwise be practically unobtainable.

In regard to photographing the smaller species of birds, so much depends on the conditions, which are endless in their variety, that it is impossible to cover the subject. Each individual bird is a study by itself, so that no rules can be laid down that would be of much use.

In photographing adult birds in captivity, the same devices may be used as recommended in Part VI; the same suggestions as to lighting and exposure also apply. When a bird is placed in any sort of cage adapted to photographing, do not be in too great a hurry to make the exposure; usually the bird will at first be very wild and excited, therefore it is best to wait until the excitement has passed. Interest the bird in some way, as by giving him something to eat. Choose something that he likes but is not accustomed to. With insectivorous birds that are in captivity, a grasshopper will sometimes attract attention ; while with fruit-eating birds, a bunch of grapes, wild cherries, or other such delicacy will frequently cause them to forget the strangeness of the situation. In nearly all cases where a large image of the bird is wanted, use isochromatic plates; as these render the colour-values so much more correctly than the ordinary plates, it will be patent to the most casual observer how much more correct will be the resulting portrait of the bird. Only in cases where gray and brown toned birds are to be photographed should ordinary plates be used.

Picturing birds in flight is perhaps one of the most fascinating branches of the work ; there is some-thing so delightful in catching a bird as it skims past, and securing it for ever on the photographic plate. A few years ago such a thing was impossible, and we had to content ourselves with drawings of the flying bird; and, as the camera has since proved, these drawings were in most cases absolutely incorrect. The position of the wing-feathers when in motion was almost unknown until the camera showed it to us. Now nearly every one has seen such excellent photographs as those made by Mr. Otto von Bargen, which show gulls and other birds on the wing. In order to secure such photographs it is of course necessary to use a very rapid shutter, the best type being the focal plane, which works directly in front of the plate. With this shutter practically no light is lost, so that with the minimum exposure you secure the greatest possible amount of illumination. Exposures of up to one thousandth of a second may thus be given when conditions are favourable. Needless to say, a camera of the graflex type is by far the best for such work, as it enables one to focus on the bird up to the instant of making the exposure. By this means a sharply defined photograph is almost a certainty, if the shutter is set at the required speed.

In order to secure photographs of adult birds by themselves during the nesting season, our difficulties are greatly lessened, for we have one point to which the bird is unfailingly attracted, the nest or' the place where the young are hidden being the attraction, that is, the point to which we should devote our-selves. If we stand near the nest, or even place an object such as the camera near it, we will notice that the birds usually select some particular twig on which to perch each time they come near the nest or their young. Here is our opportunity; focus the camera on this point, and make the exposure when the bird assumes a suitable attitude. In case there is no conspicuous perch for the birds, place a dead branch where you wish them to come, and more than likely they will take advantage if it offers them a clear view of the camera or other offending object.

Throughout this work the bird photographer must be quick to avail himself of favourable conditions and ready to overcome the endless difficulties which will at one time or another beset his path. The powers of resource combined with patience have more to do with the success of the work than the following of rules and formulas. The truest proverb to be borne in mind by the bird photographer is that necessity is the mother of invention." Being always ready with expedients does much to insure success.

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