Thursday, December 23, 2021

Red-breasted Nuthatch, in fresh plumage

A male Red-breasted Nuthatch in superb condition. This species molts anywhere from late summer through late autumn, and I'd say this one recently completed his judging by the finery of its feathers. He is in classic head-down posture and was avidly searching through lichens. Lichens are like food marts for bark gleaners, as they often hide a multitude of small invertebrates. I shot this yesterday in Pickaway County, Ohio.

Photo Notes: Nuthatches can be tricky to photograph, at least well. The smaller species tend to be hyperactive - the largest, White-breasted Nuthatch, is less frenetic in its movements - so it's generally a good idea to use a fast shutter speed. This image was made at f/8, 1/800, and ISO 200. When tracking a possible nuthatch subject, it's best not to blink - certainly don't take your eyes off it. You want to be ready for the brief lull in action, which will surely come. When I saw this nuthatch pause with its head and upper body away from the trunk with the blue sky as a bokeh, my camera's burst mode sounded like a machine gun, and I got my shot. Creepers, nuthatches, woodpeckers etc. usually don't look that great if the tree trunk is the entire backdrop. The subject looks flat and gets lost against the bark.

Old hat for seasoned photographers, I know, but if you are newer to bird photography, research back-button focusing. Separating the camera's shutter button from focusing functions is worth its weight in gold, especially with bird photography. On my Canon 5D IV (what I used for this shot) the "asterisk" center button on the back of the camera is my focus button. In AI Servo mode (another thing to research, if you aren't up on it) I just keep my thumb on the asterisk button, depressing it, and thus keep the subject in constant focus as I track it as it moves about. My forefinger hovers over the front shutter button like it is a gun trigger. When the time is right, I depress the trigger and fire away. Using back-button focusing in conjunction with AI Servo mode should net you many more keepers.

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