Three Ways To Get Closer To Birds

"The best way to get closer to birds is to make them more comfortable. More often than not, providing an extra degree of comfort by concealing yourself and your movements in some way, can be the difference between being just outside of camera range and being just within camera range. Here are three ways I used Tragopan gear to get closer on a recent trip to Montana to shoot grassland birds." ~Gerrit Vyn

Thick-billed Longspur, Montana. 600mm lens with 1.4x teleconverter, 1/2000 sec. at f/8, ISO 500.

Thick-billed Longspur

This species is one of the more difficult grassland songbirds to get close to. After locating an area with a high density of singing males I began to identify favored rocks they would land on when descending from their flight displays. I tried for several hours to approach different perched males and they always flew off well before I was in camera range. My next strategy was to wait in a lying position by a favored rock for a bird to land and that failed as well! Finally I decided to cover myself in a Tan Ghillie Blanket and I had success. It didn't take long before a beautiful male glided down to my rock. He undoubtedly still still saw me there, but the ghillie covering provided him the level of comfort he needed to consider me a fixture in the environment and not a threat and I was able to get some great stills and video of the male singing. I wish I had tried that approach from the start!

Positioned under a Tan Ghillie Blanket for longspur photography.
Long-billed Curlew, Montana. 600mm lens with 2x teleconverter, 1/1250 sec. at f/9, ISO 500.

Long-billed Curlew

For this image of an incubating Long-billed Curlew my prime concern was not disturbing the nest or stressing the incubating female. Luckily this nest was quite close to a road and a fence line so I was able to carefully crawl up to the fence and attach a 3D Camo Blanket to it. I hung the blanket so that the integrated lens snoot was positioned just above ground level for my lens. The resulting barrier provided me a hidden space to setup and film the curlew from without causing undue stress. I could see through my camera that she was breathing quite calmly and appeared at ease (stressed incubating birds can often be seen breathing rapidly). I'm glad to have the entire Tragopan 3D collection in my kit now. The accessories are small and light enough to keep in my bag and I know they'll come in handy in a lot of situations going forward.

 The 3D Camo Blanket with Lens Snoot set up for Long-billed Curlew.
American Avocet, Montana. 600mm lens, 1/1000 sec. at f/8, ISO 1000. I shot images of the avocets copulation and their post-copulatory display from a seated height in the Grouse Photography Blind because I wanted the reflection of the nice warm brown reeds.

American Avocet

Avocets are often quite confiding birds and don't always necessitate a blind but I chose to use a Tragopan Grouse Blind to film several pairs in the early stages of courtship and nesting on the edge of a prairie pond. While I could have gotten some nice shots of the avocets with a careful approach and remaining still, I knew I'd get more opportunities being hidden in a blind and that I'd be more comfortable. And while my focus was on the avocets, being in a blind also gave me opportunities with less approachable species in the pond. I chose a spot that appeared to be a center of activity for one pair in particular and over the course of an evening was rewarded with natural, undisturbed courtship and mating behavior right in front of the blind. It was a comfortable evening for both me and the birds I was shooting! (BTW I also had a pair of Avocet Tripod Waders on my tripod legs to protect the joints from the corrosive alkali mud they were seated in.)

Grouse Photography Blind set up for an evening of avocet shooting and whatever else passed by.
American Avocet, Montana. 600mm lens, 1/250 sec. at f/8, ISO 500. The Avocets actually seemed attracted to the Grouse Photography Blind and would stand right beside it!
American Avocet, Montana. 600mm lens with 1.4x teleconverter, 1/500 sec. at f/5.6, ISO 1000. I also used the ground level opening in the Grouse Photography Blind to shoot the avocets foraging at eye-level with a more blown out background.