Bird On A Wire – Birds Of Ontario

On a trip to Ontario Canada a while back, I was able to spend some time photographing some of the area’s local birds, knowing that many of what I found there would be new species to me. I quickly found a few local residents, but as my time was short, I wasn’t able to get all of them without man-made elements in the frame.

An eastern kingbird perches on a wire fence, Wolf Island, Ontario, Canada.

The first such local was an eastern kingbird. He was perched right next to a country road, at perfect eye level with my lens, which was resting on a bean bag sitting in an open window. Often bean bags are the best supports from which to shoot from a vehicle, especially if you want the opportunity to shoot out both sides of the car. Often Kerry is kind enough to drive slowly (and as quietly as possible) down country roads while I keep the back seat to myself and move back and forth between the rear windows as required.

I usually try to capture birds in more natural environments, but there were no trees nearby, there was a perfect distant background, and I had no time to wait for a better perch.

A female bobolink perches on a wire fence, Wolf Island, Ontario, Canada.

The second bird I photographed in the same area (and yes, perched on a similar wire fence to the first bird) was a female bobolink. I saw several males in the area as well, but they stayed farther from the road and I didn’t get any worthwhile photos of them. It is always difficult identifying female species as the coloring can be quite different than the males. Since males typically have more differentiating colors, species are usually described using the males’ attributes instead of the females. To identify female birds, I often troll through hundreds of photos after guessing at the species, or at least narrowing down the family of bird.

A mute swan swims through calm water in a wetland, Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

I also got some decent photos of a mute swan, and finally without distracting “hand of man” elements! Mute swans are native to Europe and Asia, but have established sizable populations in the coastal areas of the Great Lakes. I felt lucky to see one in the wild, as I’d never find one on the west coast of the US.

An osprey flies with wings stretched, Wolf Island, Ontario, Canada.

My last bird for the day was not a new species for me, but who can’t marvel at a beautiful osprey in flight? The local area had erected several nesting towers to encourage the birds to raise their young here. This osprey had chicks in the nest, and gave me lots of great flight shots as it flew to and from the nest.

An osprey perches on the edge of a man-made nest tower, Wolf Island, Ontario, Canada.

Here the osprey is perched at the edge of its nesting tower, looking majestic.

It is always fun to travel to new areas for nature photography. While landscape photography dictates that you continually visit new areas, bird and wildlife photography can often be done closer to home. Closer to home, you often have much more time with an animal, but with traveling, nothing beats the thrill of seeing what’s around the next corner.

Gear I used to create the photos in this post:

American White Pelican

An american white pelican stands alone atop a small island in a pond.
An american white pelican stands alone atop a small island in a pond.

I’ve featured the American White Pelican in my blog before, and given their beauty and grace, I’ll likely feature them again. Of the two pelican species in the Bay Area (the other is the California Brown Pelican), this is by far my favorite. Both regal and elegant, these pelicans create an air of significance with every sighting.

An american white pelican stretches its neck forward, elongating its beak and pouch.
An american white pelican stretches its neck forward, elongating its beak and pouch.

I found one recently on a small island in shallow water, close to my location. These were perfect conditions for portrait shots – the full body standing on ground, the background very distant (so as to create a smooth out of focus area) and devoid of other birds. This allowed for a clean, simple portrait – something I’m often striving for with my bird photography.

A white pelican perches on an underwater stump in the middle of a slough, Byxbee Park, Palo Alto, CA
A white pelican perches on an underwater stump in the middle of a slough, Byxbee Park, Palo Alto, CA

Portraits can be captured on water as well, but when the pelicans are on land, I am usually rewarded with more interesting grooming shots. However, after a pelican dives, you are sometimes lucky enough to see a wild head throw, usually to whip water off of its head feathers.

Perched on an underwater stump, an american white pelican throws its head into the air, twisting it back and forth
Perched on an underwater stump, an american white pelican throws its head into the air, twisting it back and forth

When I think one of these throws in imminent, I make sure I re-frame to include plenty of sky. This way I can capture the entire action at its peak – I’ve been burned too often with a great head throw, but half the top of the head getting clipped out of frame.

Whenever I’m out doing bird photography, I look for clean portrait opportunities. But when I get one with an American White Pelican, I feel extra lucky.

Palo Alto Baylands

While I usually don’t make location specific posts about birding, I did want to call out Palo Alto Baylands as one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s great birding spots. Located in Palo Alto right along the bay, it provides the birder with a variety of species, from water birds to song birds to raptors – there is always something interesting to see here. It even holds one of the best viewing areas for the elusive (and endangered) clapper rail. Here are a few photos of what I found there on a recent morning.

A song sparrow perches on wild fennel in the morning sun
A song sparrow perches on wild fennel in the morning sun

Song sparrows are one of three most common sparrow (along with white and golden-crowned) species seen at Baylands. The ubiquity of the house sparrow in the suburbs gives way to the song sparrow this close to the water. With common birds such as this, I try to create photos that go beyond just showing the bird, but also show some behavior or interesting background. In this photo, I liked the way the sparrow is tilting downward (he was eating from the wild fennel) – it creates more of an action pose.

A white-tail kite perches on a large branch
A white-tail kite perches on a large branch

Baylands has the occasional visit from a bird of prey. Kites are seen anywhere from the water up into the foothills, hunting large, open spaces. Other birds of prey I’ve seen include fly-overs by osprey, red-tailed and red-shouldered hawks, and norther harriers.

A female yellow warbler pauses briefly on wild fennel in the morning sun
A female yellow warbler pauses briefly on wild fennel in the morning sun

The smaller passerines get me excited because they are much harder to photograph than water birds or sparrows. The are small, fast, and rarely stay in one place for more than a few seconds. The most common warbler here is the yellow-rumped, but orange-crowned and yellow warblers are not uncommon. There are many many others, from chestnut-backed chickadees to bushtits – all of them equally hard to photograph. I loved the tonality of this image – the yellow on yellow really works here, blending the bird into her background.

A domestic goose swims through still water reflecting fall color foliage
A domestic goose swims through still water reflecting fall color foliage

Palo Alto Baylands also has a man-made pond that attracts a wide variety of migrating ducks throughout the year. There are also quite a few year-round residents, including this domestic goose. Most of the resident ducks here are cross breeds of domestic ducks and mallards. But this pond is also a great opportunity to see migrants up close, including ruddy ducks, greater and lesser scaup, northern shovelers, american wigeons, and a variety of teals.

An american avocet stands in shallow water, catching the first rays of morning sun
An american avocet stands in shallow water, catching the first rays of morning sun

Finally there are the water birds. Habitat here includes plenty of tidal wetlands, so these species abound. All the usual suspects can be seen here, and there are good viewing angles in morning and evening. In this photo, the earliest morning light is lighting the feathers of this american avocet. In spring, there is a popular nesting area for avocets and black-necked stilts. Photographers line up to capture cute photos of hatchlings venturing for the first time out into the mud flats.

For birders there is always lots to see at Palo Alto Baylands. If you live near or are visiting the San Francisco Bay Area, be sure to put this on your list of bird spots to visit.

2014 Round-up – Top 40 Photos Of The Year

After a bit of thought, I have compiled my top 40 picks from the last 12 months. I selected from a variety of outings and types of photography, ranging from landscape, to wildlife, to pet photography. Unfortunately, 2014 was not the year I caught up on my backlog of photos waiting to be processed, so this list was not selected from all of my 2014 photographs (you’ll have to wait till next year’s round-up for those!)

This year included a fantastic fall color photo trip to the San Juan mountains in Colorado, as well as visits to the Sierra Nevada and of course many bird photographs, including some previously unpublished.

Please enjoy the gallery below. For best viewing (especially if viewing on a mobile device), please click on the following photo:

Gem lies on the floor, fast asleep
Gem lies on the floor, fast asleep

Or, just enjoy the gallery here on the page. To view larger photos in the embedded gallery below, click here to enter full screen mode.


If you are interested in compilations from previous years, please see the 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 lists.