St. Marys Fish Hatchery in Auglaize County has been hopping lately. Several of the ponds there have been drawn down to mudflats, attracting lots of shorebirds. I headed over last Sunday to see what I could find, and attempt to make some images. Some of my photos from this foray are in the previous post.
The St. Marys Fish Hatchery lies just a stone's throw from the eastern shore of Grand Lake St. Marys. At the time of its construction as a canal feeder lake in the 1830-40's, this was the largest manmade lake in the world. Unfortunately, its construction drowned what must have been a spectacular wet prairie and swamp forest. But the lake, feeble substitute as it may be for the original prairies and woodlands, quickly turned into a bonanza for water birds. In 1970 Clarence Clark and James Sipe published their Birds of the Lake St. Marys Area, which documented an impressive cast of avifauna. The fish hatchery, which launched operations in 1913, provided many of these records. It attracts noteworthy birds to this day.
The day prior, I had stopped at a drawn-down pond near Killbuck Wildlife Area in Wayne County, on my way back from the Lorain area. The site was attracting lots of shorebirds. As soon as I saw the situation, I knew it would be pretty much a bust for photography. The birds were too distant, and/or were in terrible light and it wasn't possible to get into a suitable situation lightwise. No matter, I stayed for several hours and enjoyed studying the birds and their interactions.
I know this fish hatchery well, though, and had a strong idea as to how I could view the birds. Departing well before dawn, I arrived at the hatchery before the sun poked above the horizon. Taking my camera rig, I holed up at the base of that cement water control structure on the side of the pond, sitting on some steps right up against the structure's wall. Positioning the tripod and camera comfortably in front of me, I waited for the sun to appear.
Note how the Killdeer's head is turned slightly towards me. That's a sweet spot for bird posture - much better than if it was looking slightly away, or even straight ahead. The settings for this photo were f/6.3; 1/1250; ISO 640. Exposure compensation was dialed down -1/3rd of a stop.
I don't like shooting over ISO 800, generally, if it can be helped. The lower the ISO number, the cleaner (less grainy or "noisy") the image. The 7D holds up quite well until about 800 or so. Even at higher ISO's its OK if you don't have to crop much. If you're not familiar with exposure compensation and how to quickly alter that on your camera, study up (Google is your friend). When left in the neutral exposure position (0 compensation), you're almost certain to overexpose bright parts, such as the white of this Killdeer's underbelly.
f/6.3; 1/1600; ISO 400; -2/3rd stop exposure compensation. Notice that in spite of reducing exposure compensation another one-third stop, AND increasing the shutter speed over the settings of the previous photo, my ISO reading still dropped. That's because the sun is getting higher, and feeding more light to my position. When shooting birds, especially shorebirds, I usually want to keep the shutter speed fast to freeze movement. Especially as I was interested in trying for in-flight shots, and wanted to be ready when the opportunity arises.
Three major aids in shooting active birds: 1) AI Servo mode (in Canon-speak). This setting allows the camera to constantly remain focused on a moving object, as long as the shutter remains half-depressed. 2) Back-button focusing. The button marked with an asterisk (*) on the back of my camera sets focus and exposure, and is controlled with my right thumb. The only thing the shutter button up front does is fire the shutter. This is a MUCH better arrangement, especially for bird photography, and I thank Dane Adams for prodding me into this setup. I wouldn't go back. Google this up and read about it. 3) Burst mode. Almost an imperative for bird shooting. Set your camera to the fastest burst rate (number of images per second). The 7D Mark II can click off 10 a second, and obviously your odds of getting a great shot go up when engaging in such photographic carpet bombing.
The Semipalmated Sandpiper was shot at f/7.1; 1/2000; ISO 640; -2/3rd stop exposure compensation.
This image was made at f/7.1; 1/2000; ISO 800; -2/3rd stop exposure compensation.
Shooting flying birds is, needless to say, a bit trickier than a bird at rest. Especially when they are fast flyers prone to erratic jigs and jags. The idea is to smoothly track the bird or flock, ideally when they are far out, and keep them in your sights and in focus until they get into shooting range. Just as in skeet-shooting, smoothly depress the shutter (trigger) while all the while tracking the moving birds. This image was made at f/7.1; 1/2000; ISO 400; -2/3rd stop exposure compensation.
This shot was made at f/6.3; 1/2000; ISO 640, -2/3rd stop exposure compensation.