Backyard Birdwatching in the Midst of the Pandemic

The author photographing backyard birds from his dining room.
The author photographing backyard birds from his dining room.

Story & photos by Frank W. Baker

Here I am, in Columbia SC, where the weather has taken a turn toward Spring. The azaleas are blooming and the birds outside my windows are quite active.

I’m a big fan of shore and wading birds so, if you’re like me, you’re rather frustrated now that most of the coastline has been placed “off limits” to us as we shelter at home.

Many other bird watching sites are also closed. With nowhere to go, I’m spending more of my time at home. Perhaps, like me, you are taking time to review older images and post some online.

There’s only so much I can do before I need to spend some time away from the computer. A window in my dining room is the perfect spot now because of its unfettered view of my bird feeders.

Until I began bird watching, and nature photography, some five years ago, I would not have noticed that my area is a known sanctuary for all kinds of birds. For the past two years, House Finches have built nests in one of the ferns hanging from our front porch. Now, I regularly see Cardinals, Robins and an occasional Blue Jay as they move through the neighborhood.

The placement of my two feeders was a no-brainer: a small strip of land between my house and my neighbors.  Two years ago, the local experts at “Wild Birds Unlimited” recommended squirrel-proof feeders. I positioned two Shepherds Hooks (where the birds perch on their way to and fro) and the feeders where I could easily see them and photograph them from the dining room.

During the colder months, I shoot through the window, but now that it’s warmer, I crack open that window just a bit and lower the Venetian blinds to block the birds from seeing most of me. I’m using a Sigma 150-600 mm lens, so getting close-up shots is not a problem.

When you have bird feeders, and you are a photographer, it’s the best of both worlds because your subjects literally come to you. It’s been my experience that the birds are most active at the feeders just as the sun comes up and again just before it sets.

Lighting can be a challenge because frequently my feeders are in the shade and so backlight becomes an issue. Later in the day, the sun hits them directly and so exposure adjustments must be made Those of us who like to watch birds will have learned something about their habits. For example, the White-breasted Nuthatch (below) likes to work vertically up and down the feeder before flying away with a seed. It frequently stops long enough to pose for a picture, but quickly darts away.

Photos of two White-breasted Nuthatches at a feeder
White-breasted Nuthatch
Photo of a Carolina Wren on a feeder. The Carolina Wren, (below) the state bird of South Carolina, is another frequent visitor to our feeders, who also likes the vertical life.
The Carolina Wren, (below) the state bird of South Carolina, is another frequent visitor to our feeders, who also likes the vertical life.

A number of trees that surround the feeders have become initial landing spots for all of the birds before proceeding to feed.  From that perspective, they can see who else may be at the feeder.  Frequently they have to wait for their spot.

Photo of a White-throated Sparrow waiting. This bird does not often go to the feeder, but rather flies to the ground under the feeder picking up seeds that the other birds have dropped.
The White-throated Sparrow, above, waits. This bird does not often go to the feeder, but rather flies to the ground under the feeder picking up seeds that the other birds have dropped.
The Mourning Dove has a routine of first landing atop the Shepherd’s Hook and, like the sparrow, will fly to the ground to take advantage of the leftovers.
The Mourning Dove has a routine of first landing atop the Shepherd’s Hook and, like the sparrow, will fly to the ground to take advantage of the leftovers.

I can always count on a daily visit from both the Downy Woodpecker and the Red-breasted Woodpecker. The larger bird always scares away the smaller ones.

Photos of a Red-breasted Woodpecker (left) and Downy Woodpecker (right).
Red-breasted Woodpecker (left) and Downy Woodpecker (right).

Color has always been appealing to me, so I was most delighted to have photographed the Eastern Bluebird, the Blue Jay as well as the Goldfinch.

Eastern Bluebird
Blue Jay
Goldfinch

Recently, I introduced my four-year-old granddaughter Sadie to the world of birds. During the recent holidays, I decided a camera was the perfect gift for a budding photographer, especially since she sees me (and her parents) taking pictures all of the time.

She stands at the window with me frequently watching intently as the birds feed. So after purchasing a feeder for her house, I decided to create a bird photo book.  I printed out 4 X 6 images of most of the birds I had photographed and labeled each one. I put them into a small photo album.  Now, her parents tell me, she often pulls out the album and can identify birds easily.

The author's granddaughter holds a Discovery Digital Camera (left) and his bird book (right).
The author’s granddaughter holds a Discovery Digital Camera (left) and his bird book (right).

I hope you’re not too frustrated by the current situation we all find ourselves in. There are plenty of ways to stay connected and to continue our passion for both photography and birds.  Stay well.

Frank W. Baker regularly posts his nature photos in the NANPA Facebook Group. You can also find him on Facebook as Frank W. Baker. More of his bird photography and shots from US and international travels can be seen at http://www.frankwbaker.com/photography. He is also an education consultant, specializing in the teaching of media literacy, and is the author of “Close Reading The Media” and “Media Literacy in the K-12 Classroom,” 2nd Edition. He maintains the popular Media Literacy Clearinghouse and is a blogger for MiddleWeb.com. On Twitter, he is @fbaker.