Bruce’s Birdtography: Lights! Camera! Action! in the Backyard

Backyard map by Bruce Wunderlich.

I have been asked if, as a photographer, I have a studio. My answer is always, “Yes, I do. The outdoors is my studio.”

As we have been sheltering in place for a month now, I decided to organize my backyard studio. I have 28 trees in my studio: 24 oaks, 2 shagbark hickories, 1 pine, and 1 American beech. I have numbered each tree on a map that I created for easy reference to my backyard activities. 

Yellow-bellied sapsucker. Photo by Bruce Wunderlich.

Tree #8 (shagbark): A male yellow-bellied sapsucker frequents this tree. After some research, I discovered that the shagbark is a favorite of this species! I have also learned from observing that, while the sapsucker drills holes and laps up the sap that seeps out, insects are attracted to the tree juice, and many other birds also visit his handiwork to partake. I set up my photography blind near the tree and was able to capture some images of the activities. This tree is on the west side of my backyard, so the morning sun provides great light on the action.

Tree #9 (oak): This is one of the larger trees in my backyard, and the closest tree to my deck and bird feeders. Consequently, it is the most photographed tree in my yard. I can usually find northern flickers and downy, hairy, or red-bellied woodpeckers in this tree as they wait their turn to dine at my suet feeder. Tree #9 gets excellent afternoon light, so it is a beautiful place to photograph after a day at work.

Blue jays. Photo by Bruce Wunderlich.

Tree #11 (oak): A pair of blue jays had been busy building a nest in this tree. For several days both birds worked at bringing small twigs and vines to the construction site, which is in a fork of the tree about 30 feet above the ground. Because my backyard slopes, I can capture images of the nest from my deck. I keep the sun at my back as I photograph this nest, resulting in sharp, well-lit images. Morning brings the best light on the nest.

Tree #13 (oak): Unlucky Tree #13 is home to at least five pesky squirrels who are continually wreaking havoc at my feeders. They are cute to watch, but I wish they didn’t eat so much of my birdseed!

Northern flickers (yellow-shafted). Photo by Bruce Wunderlich.

Trees #16 and #17 (both oaks): These were the site of one of the most memorable events this spring in my backyard. All winter and spring a male northern flicker visited my feeders. I assumed it was the same bird visiting each time. But on April 12, I witnessed three males and one female doing their mating dance in these trees! I was amazed as they moved back and forth and flared their yellow tails at each other.

I photograph birds in my backyard nearly every day even when there’s not a pandemic, and I am thrilled when I get a new visitor to my studio. Sometimes I feel like a sports broadcaster, giving my wife the play-by-play of the activities. Watch your backyard! You might be surprised by what’s going on out there, and by what you can learn by just observing.

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