I really really enjoy bird photography for a lot of reasons, but the main reason is the satisfaction of making a really nice bird photograph. A lot more goes in to bird photography than most people imagine. You need bird knowledge, good equipment, patience, luck and a good location. While I am still working on the first 4, I do know a super location, the Elephant Head Pond near Amado, AZ. It’s a 45 minute drive south of Tucson and if you are a bird photographer it is well worth the trip.
Bill Forbes has been feeding and providing a constant water supply to the birds on the ranch for years and so there a lot of birds coming and going providing lots of photo opportunities. To make the whole thing work he has several blinds situated around the pond and the feeders. In addition, he has many perches for the birds to use that are all natural and are situated to bring the birds in close proximity to you and your camera.
If you’ve ever walked the forest looking for birds to photograph you know how tough that can be. You also know how hard it is to get the bird in nice light, in a clean background, in close range and in focus! Shooting from a blind in a bird hotspot like the Elephant Head Pond is a whole new world. You’ll often be faced with too many birds all in perfect conditions, that doesn’t often happen in a forest.
The first time you shoot from setups like this you are going to be shaking your head and mumbling to yourself, “This can’t be right, how is this going to work?” Let me show you behind the curtain. Click the images to embiggen.
I told you that you would be scratching your head! All of the perches that you see surround in the pond (yes, that is the “pond”!) are designed to be moved and changed as you see fit. All of them have hidden feeders to attract the birds to land for you. The perches are movable so that you can have a wide range of looks to your photographs, you don’t want all of the birds you photograph to be on the same perch. The second reason that you may want to move them is attract a bird to a specific perch. When the birds have a lot of choices for landing spots, it is near impossible to get the shot on the perch you want. Removing the number of choices increases your odds.
This desertscape is the one that you see in the back of the first image. Here are a couple of shots that I made using that tabletop perch.
Now you can see how the perch worked to help me photograph two very different images from the same setup and since we are only focusing on bits and pieces there is no sign that this is a perch built to make this image possible. Also, note that I am able to get the perfect eye level shot of the bird. The bonus is that I am sitting in a chair and not laying on the desert floor with the snakes and scorpions!
I only had time to spend a half day at the ranch on this trip, but the next time I’d probably do 2 or 2 and half days and really work on the perches and the setups for some added variety. I was there last week (first week of December 2012) and the full variety of potential birds wasn’t around. I did manage to photograph 17 species and if you count male and females 23 birds. Not a bad morning!
Here is my list of the birds that I photographed. I don’t think I saw any birds that I didn’t manage to photograph. Well, there was a Merlin and a Cooper’s Hawk that made a couple of passes trying for a snack (unsuccessfully) and I didn’t get those birds…
Desert Cottontail Rabbit
Antelope Ground Squirrel
It is not all feathers at the pond sometimes furry friends come to drink and be photographed as well. The squirrels were a fun diversion during the occasional lull in the bird parade…
Here is the link to Bill’s website and you can see his (incomplete) list of possible species as well as directions and rates. I can’t say enough good things about his help and just the way he runs the operation. A quality person and a quality photography location.
I am thinking of running a photography workshop there next spring or perhaps next fall. Please leave me a comment if you’re interested and I’ll keep you posted on the potential of a photography workshop at the pond.
I should also mention that I was shooting at 400-600mm (full frame) for most of the images that I took. A few of them were made at 200mm. I would think that in general you will need to be able to reach out in the 400-600 range either with crop factors or tele-converters.
Here are a few more of the images that I made at the pond.
Click any image to show full size slideshow view. Click on the X in the top left corner to exit the slideshow view.
I’ve made a collection in my portfolio of all of the images that I made while I was at Elephant Head Pond. It will give you a chance to see the diversity of images that I made during my all too brief stay. You can even order prints and browse all of my photographs from the link. Click…HERE.
I do have a bird photography workshop on my calendar in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas. We are photographing from blinds on this trip as well. Read about the details…HERE.