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The Female Yellow Warbler

Last updated March 2011

Shooting the spring bird migration

I have just returned from a 1-week photo assignment in Point Pelee, Ontario. The assignment? Photographing the songbird migration. Overall a great experience. I’ve counted over 35 species of birds during my stay, including some which are considered rare, and it seems I was on the low side, as my whole strategy was to stay in one spot and wait for the birds to come in my range. Probably not the best strategy if one’s objective is to observe as many, as varied and in the shortest time, but a great strategy if you are hauling 35kg of photographic gear through a dense Carolinian forest habitat. And with such habitat, it’s a good thing wandering away from the marked trails is not allowed.

Female Yellow Warbler Preening – Point Pelee

All in all, approximately 1,300 frames were taken, all in raw format, for a total of 20GB. Around 200 photographs were deleted on the spot. The first run-through eliminated approximately 100 of them as the birds were simply missing from the frame. For the second set of 100 frames or so, either accurate focus was not achieved, or camera settings were far from appropriate for specific light conditions. As I started sorting and processing the images, a good initial selection for this post seemed to be the display of the yellow warbler, probably the most common of the wood warblers family. Throughout my many conversations with other birders and photographers, I sadly noted that, in the high concentration and variety of the sprightly and colorful subjects, the yellow warblers were hardly ever taken in consideration. Rarely could I hear a birder noting or pointing out to their party “on my left, a yellow…” Instead they were excited and quick to point out “a Canadian…”, or “a Tennessee…” In my case however, as the opportunity did arise, I have taken my sweet time following the yellow warbler through the tree tops. The female yellow warbler referenced in the above and below images simply took a break from darting from branch to branch to probe for seeds or insects and instead chose to ruffle its feathers and preen.

Female Yellow Warbler Preening – Point Pelee

I remember reading somewhere that birds will usually preen once per hour. Well I couldn’t ever envision testing that statement on warblers as they rarely remain still longer than 1 second. As restless as they are, warblers do indeed preen often as feathers get dirty. They clean their feathers with a conditioner-type of oil generated from a gland located at the base of its tail. Catch that moment, be in shooting range and remember that (most likely) you are shooting digital, so keep taking frame after frame.

Female Yellow Warbler Resting – Point Pelee

The female yellow warbler photographs were taken in the lovely warm light of a sunny morning, at 1000mm focal length, using fill flash. If you liked this story you will enjoy the rest of the Point Pelee assignment: The Male Baltimore Oriole

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