I drove up Number 2 Canyon Road this morning hoping to see a “first of year” Bullock’s Oriole. I was fairly late leaving and knew that the light would be a challenge but I was more interested in just finding an Oriole than in getting a photo. I had the camera beside me in case something just happened to present itself.
I stopped at the location where I spent an hour with Yellow-breasted Chat recently. After waiting 15 minutes I moved on up canyon. No birds there today. There’s a tree about half way up the canyon that sits near the road and has a great dead top that birds seem to really enjoy. Morning and afternoon light here sucks but can produce some decent images if the bird is positioned properly. My plan was to go up to the tree and see what was happening.
I parked in a spot that allows me to easily see the tree and canyon vegetation nearby without leaving my truck. Staying in your vehicle is frequently very advantageous for bird photography… a lesson I learned well at the Ridgefield Nationa Wildlife Refuge. As suspected, the light was awful and even the upper, dead branches were silhouetted. A caught a bit of motion off to my left and down the road a bit. I saw a yellow bird fly into some low vegetation and disappear. Seconds later it reappeared in the middle of the thickest part of the shrub. It hopped up onto a higher branch and began coaching it to an even higher branch where I might get a shot. As I watched through the binocs I confirmed that it was a Bullock’s Oriole. First of year bird… check. Then the bird flew off up canyon. Bye bye birdie.
Since the light on that side of the road was so much better I coasted down the road about 20 yards and parked across from the point I’d seen the bird disappear from sight. I waited. The first bird to show up was female Lazuli Bunting. She didn’t hang around long and disappeared into the thicket. 5 minutes later this male Lazuli Bunting flew into a nicely open branch and started working his way toward the female.
I usually focus manually with the X-T2. I proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that I can’t focus manually on my Nikon gear. The advantage that focus peaking on the X-T2 (and X-T1, X-T10 or other mirrorless cameras) provides is amazing. I had been using back button focusing to get into the general zone of the bird and then fine tuning the focus manually. Today I moved the camera off manual focus and put it on Single Shot mode. I learned that if I half-press the shutter button and hold the shutter button there I can still focus manually and use focus peaking to make sure the bird is critically focused. I’ll experiment with this in the coming days. On the surface it doesn’t seem that the technique would be a real advantage over the method I am most used to. Then again, it may be a bit faster to gain focus on a bird. That little bit of speed could be the difference between a useful shot and “bye bye birdie”.