Sunday, November 14, 2010

Birds on a Stick

The sticks outside my window covered in waxwings...
I had a pile of books that I was using a tripod.

In the end of September I was hosting a birding tour at our Auld Haa Guesthouse, one of the birdwatchers had a camera with a huge lens (cha ching) and was photographing the Blackcaps and a Garden Warbler eating apples on sticks that I wire together to make a small tree. I love feeding birds and have many bird feeders and this "tree" has some wire to hold an apple in the middle of it, it works great and the birds really seem to like it. That is because Fair Isle has basically no naturally occurring trees and not much fruit!  Problem was when photographing it was hard to get a photo of a bird without a apple or a bit of wire in it?

Blackcap & Apple

 I had an Idea... between lunch and dinner I had about an hour to fiddle around with some sticks (driftwood) I had collect from the seashore. I wire them together in a way that the apple would sit an inch or 2 below the top stick and the stick with the apple on it is at an angle inconvenient for perching and eating. Then you simply crop out the apple and the other sticks. I stuck it in the ground among the honeysuckle in my garden for a nice background and when the photographer/birdwatcher came back he nailed some awesome shots before dinner and more during the next few days before leaving Fair Isle.

So I had no guest for a few days after they left... so I tried my luck? With my rubbish cameras? no can do! I just can't get close enough. So I move the sticks in front of my window and tried from there. And as luck would have it a Barred Warbler showed up soon after. OMG only 2 foot away! I set my camera on flower mode and clicked away. Sometimes I even got lucky.

Barred Warbler

eating and showing it's undertail-coverts
when the bird sits up snap and shoot!
and you can get photo like these.
Barred Warbler
I had 3 different Barred Warblers in the month of Oct. maybe I'll do a post at some point just on Barred Warblers of Oct. 2010... I've go tons of photos to sort through... Some visiting birdwatchers even had "Lifers" or life ticks on their bird lists while looking at the Barred Warbler on my stick. It's a bit geekish but this post is becoming a form of a stick list now that I think of it. Here are some of the other bird I have been able to photograph in this way.

Twisted wire sticks up through the core with side wires poked though the skin for stability.
I like using green apples as they do not reflect a unnatural red huge on the birds belly.

look closely at the eye... no it's not a pale eye of an American Rusty Blackbird...
 it's the refection of the white exterior of my house and the dark rectangle window.
 You can even see a white dot, the reflected light from the lens of my camera.

Fair Isle Rarity? no just a cool looking Starling.


Added bonus... the birds eat the flies that also are attracted to apples.

 Birds just like to perch and wait for bugs, like this Whinchat.

I'm so much cuter with that apple cut out of frame.
Why don't I get to be on Christmas Cards?

This Brambling doesn't eat apples but rested for a moment on the way to my window box.
I didn't crop this photo... yet 

Twite - ringed

change the apple to a small cup of seeds and you get different species, like this Siskin.

Now I have shown you how to get better photos of some birds in your garden even without a big lens.
I have only been doing this since Oct. 1st and I'm really enjoying the results. 
Here is an important tip put apples in more than one spot and some further away.
Once they start eating... at some point the birds will want more and then they are willing to come closer in.

This is my photographic secret, I hope you try it, have fun and success. Cheers Tommy

Waxwing Invasion on the stick outside my widow (22 sec.)
sometimes it works to good!

Added Bonus
This was feeding in my window box today while writing and posting this entry 
 Hawfinch or as I like to call them Auld Haafinch...
it was even on my stick a few times but I failed to get a photo.

New birds added below
Brambling - April 22nd 2011

Redpoll - April 25th 2011

Out side looking in... Redpoll & Twite - April 25th 2011

Siskin - Male - April 15th 2011

Waxwing at night Jan. 15th 2011

Wood Warbler - August 2011
The Fair Isle Wren - Britain's rarest ingenious subspecies


  1. I'm beyond jealousy now. Hawfinch and Barred Warblers inches from your nose... not bad!

    That apple thing is a good idea, I might try that with the Redwings- Surrey's version of Waxwings ;)

    Keep up the good work

  2. Came here from Boulmer Birder. What a treat to see all these birds and your clever set up. The gears in my brain are turning as I think of how to adapt your idea for use here ...

  3. I too found you via the Boulmer Birder and I think your idea is superb. I will give it a try this winter.

  4. Great photos Tommy we are all so jelous on Mainland Britain now. Top posts mate keep them coming.

  5. That's fantastic! Sooo Jealous...I'm lucky if I get Goldfinch in my garden!


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