Cameras in hands and binoculars around necks, 5 young birders and their parents gathered on a brisk and breezy morning at Walnut Woods State Park for our Spring Birding and Photography Workshop. Our guest presenter was graduated young birder William Crow, now a student in Biology and Mathematics at Iowa State University and a talented nature photographer. William started our morning by presenting some tips and techniques for photographing nature and birds, including how to set up your camera and how to set up your shot. William shared with us the importance of lighting and composition and provided tips and tricks to be effective in both these areas, including using natural light to your advantage, positioning the subject of your photo in the frame using the rule of thirds, and altering the appearance of your subject using different shooting angles. These were all great tips that we were excited to master, so we set off on a photography scavenger hunt to practice our newly-acquired skills.
Cameras were hard at work during the scavenger hunt, snapping photos of leaves on the ground, mushrooms on a log, picnic tables, and even an acorn stuck in bark crevice on the trunk of a tree. One thing is certain, observation skills are just as important for finding a great photo as they are for finding birds! Once back together as a group, we took advantage of a cooperative American Robin for practicing our skills a bit more and tried to snap a few photos of a nearby Eastern Bluebird pair that was investigating one of the local bluebird houses. We then went to the bird blind to practice more on moving targets. The feeders were very active with Downy, Hairy, and Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Black-capped Chickadees and White-breasted Nuthatches as well as Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles. Dark-eyed Juncos and White-throated Sparrows occasionally appeared on the ground under the feeders as did Northern Cardinals. We were even treated with glimpses of a Fox Sparrow scratching about in the cover behind the feeders, a first of the season for many. We took a lot of photos in just 20 minutes!
After a quick warm up in the cars, we stopped at some wooded ponds near the east entrance of the park with hopes of viewing and photographing waterfowl using a technique called digiscoping, which involves taking photographs through your optics (usually a spotting scope, but digiscoping can also be accomplished through binoculars). We were lucky to find a nice flock of ducks composed of Blue-winged Teal, Mallards, Ring-necked Ducks, and Bufflehead, as well as Wood Ducks, Canada Geese, and a pair of Hooded Mergansers. While shooting some photos through our spotting scope, we observed an Eastern Phoebe foraging from tree to tree around the pond and heard a Song Sparrow singing nearby.
Young birders not only learned several photography tips and techniques on this fun morning, but also how patience and careful observation will make you both a successful photographer and birder. Many thanks to William Crow for sharing his expertise and to Phone Skope Birding for sharing one of their fantastic adapters with us to practice our digiscoping skills. You can view photos from our morning here and our bird list here.