Bird photography, approaching your subject

Walk softly

Walk softly and carry a camera! Early in the 20th century, there was a US president (Theodore Roosevelt) whose approach to international relations was supposedly summed up with the phrase ‘walk softly and carry a big stick’.    Well, I’ll paraphrase that as ‘walk softly and carry a camera!’     Today’s image was captured near the St Lucia Wetlands in South Africa.    I found a small area of light forest and could hear several birds calling from the bushes and so set out to get a photo or two.

Lightweight gear

Carrying the Canon 20D and a 70-300mm zoom lens,  I slowly and quietly walked,  looking and listening as I did so.    This is an area where the wildlife,  birds included,  get to see people fairly frequently.    I found that not just walking softly but actually stopping in one spot for a few minutes was the best approach.    The birds were aware of my presence and became curious after a time, alighting on nearby twigs or branches to have a quick look at,  and assess me.   This photo was taken with precisely this approach.    The bird settled for just a moment,  I raised the camera to my eye without any sudden movement and got several frames before he/she lost interest and flew on.

In this environment, there was an advantage to carrying lightweight gear as it allowed for handheld shooting without the need to manoeuvre a tripod meaning I could respond quickly to the opportunity when it arose.

My only regret here is that I can’t identify the species,  if anyone has any idea,  let me know.

Bird perched on twig, South Africa.

As a postscript,  let me recall an experience from many years ago when I was walking along a bushwalking trail in my home state of Victoria,  Australia.    I wasn’t carrying a camera at the time (this was well pre-digital) but was walking slowly, quietly and listening as I walked.    I heard a sound in the nearby scrub and slowly crouched down to look through a gap in the bushes whereon I observed a Superb Lyrebird scratching around in the leaf litter on the forest floor.   I sat for several minutes and watched this wonderful bird, a rare privilege before he disappeared deeper into the forest out of view.   I only got this opportunity because I thread softly and quietly,  respectful of the bush.

A few minutes later,  I encountered a small group of fellow walkers,  I believe overseas visitors,  walking in the opposite direction.    They were talking loudly,  laughing and walking quickly.    I imagine they had a pleasant walk but I’m also sure that they would have seen very little wildlife/birdlife.    I wonder if they later reflected on their outing…. it was very nice but there weren’t many birds!   ~KD.