I don’t have the most powerful lens when it comes to wildlife – a Sigma 70-300 with OS – but I have often found that planning, patience and a little luck surely helps when capturing birds of various sizes.
For example, take this shot of a great blue heron at Tobyhanna State Park in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Although herons, like most birds, are wary creatures and easily spooked, those who’ve taken up residences in state or county parks where visitors are plentiful have come to an accommodation with people. They’re less likely to be easily driven away, even when on the hunt, and I tried taking that into account when “stalking” this particular specimen.
This heron flew in and lighted right on the edge of the swimming beach. Being early September, it wasn’t crowded, but there were a few folks around (including my wife and me) getting in a post Labor Day dip. The heron worked his (her?) way along the shoreline and then slowly moved to the outer edge of the beach, a sharp eye trained on the shallows for potential lunch entrees. I picked up the camera and began following him. For every cautious step forward, I took a half-step toward the water, trying to better align myself with him. It took several minutes to get into a favorable position, stepping once every few seconds; his focus on food kept him on his patrol.
The heron remained for several minutes after I took the shot and slowly backed away; I hope he got his fill.
Much closer to home, I keep a bird feeder in my yard that attracts an increasing variety of small and mid-size birds. I had tried setting up the camera on a tripod and triggering the shutter via remote, but just didn’t get the sighting/triggering timing right. So with camera in hand, I sat nearby waiting.
This blue jay swooped in and paused long enough with a seed in his bill to get a shot. Being handheld, the shot is a little soft and the OS certainly helped out. Grabbing the shot quickly meant a somewhat off-kilter angle that required straightening in post-production.
Moving from planning with the heron to patience with the blue jay, we come to pure luck on the last shot – a ruby-throated hummingbird. In my limited avian knowledge, I didn’t think hummingbirds were perchers, but I guess everybody needs a rest now and then – especially if your wings beat anywhere from eight to 100 times a second (so says Wikipedia). I was actually looking closer to the ground for bugs and other such things on leaves when I looked up to see this fellow perched on a rhododendron branch near our rain gutter.
I had time for only one shot; not the greatest exposure and the shot needed work in post to be presentable. Right place, right time – for both photographer and subject.
So you may feel somewhat limited hunting birds without a 400mm or 600mm (or longer) lens; throw in some planning, patience and luck and it just may be enough to overcome the lens limitations.