View Full Version : How many of you started as birders?

Steve Foss
01-02-2008, 08:23 PM
I've always found this an interesting question.

Birders and avian photographers share the love of the same subjects but often approach those subjects in different ways, and clearly have different needs. Try photographing birds as the only photographer in a party of birders. Yikes!

I started birding more than 30 years ago, and worked up a life list of over 400 species before I ever picked up a camera to start expressing my interest in these creatures in a different way.

How many other avian photographers out there are birders as well, or started as birders and switched to avian photography? I don't mean to be divisive. Though I've picked up a camera, which means I've slowed down much more than the average birding group, I still am a birder, too.

Alfred Forns
01-02-2008, 09:10 PM
Hi Steve,

Not a birder Got to birds from other types of photography Do try to learn as much as I can about them and have a long ways to go !!!!

Maxis Gamez
01-02-2008, 09:15 PM
Same as Al, but I still have a LONG way to go!

Jason Vaclavek
01-02-2008, 09:16 PM
Photography started off with more wildlife for me than birds. Then we had some massive fires here in San Diego and the wildlife just hasn't been the same since, so I turned more attention to the availability of the birds and waterfowl around here.
It's still fun, but I do miss all the deer we used to have here.

Daniel Cadieux
01-02-2008, 09:24 PM
Been birding since I was a child, and have been photographing them only for a little over three years now. Bird photographers are seen in a bad way by some birders, and this pains me as they don't know that I love and respect birds as much as they do.

Try photographing birds as the only photographer in a party of birders. Yikes!

Just yesterday we were three photographers standing near a bird feeder watching Redpolls when a group of birders showed up with their scopes...we overheard them saying how our presence near the feeder was "disgusting". Being a birder at heart it was difficult for me to be viewed in such a harsh and generalized way.

Vince Pack
01-02-2008, 10:05 PM
I definitely started as a hardcore birder. Was a biosci major at a university with one of the very best ornithology professors in the world (Sid Gauthraux). It was my favorite class, so I later took his neotropical migrant class.
Kept all the nauseating lists (life, state, backyard, yada yada). Did the big days, Christmas counts (at least three every year). Yeah, I started out birding. I still get excited when traveling to a new place where I can pick up lifers fairly easily, but now I'd much rather shoot 'em than tick 'em off.

Jim Caldwell
01-02-2008, 10:13 PM
Same as Al! I've been involved in photogaphy for nearly 40 years (dating myself - but I started before I was born!!) However, I picked up a book a few years ago by Art Morris and have been fascinated by making images of birds ever since. I'm afraid most birders I have been around are more interested in their little check lists and I will happily rephotograph a bird of which I already have thousands of images - or simply sit and watch them. They are really fascinating creatures!

Judd Patterson
01-02-2008, 10:27 PM
I started mainly as a birder. I was not very proficient in those early years and so I began to take photographs so that I could study the details even after the bird was out of my view. The switch to digital aided both of these hobbies. Even now that photography is my main objective, I'll sometimes go into birding mode (usually when photography conditions are poor).

Steve Foss
01-02-2008, 11:04 PM
Thanks for all the interesting perspectives. I'm here to say there is a place in the avian photography world for a birder. There are so many bird shooters who love birds but don't know much about ID and habits. Not most of the stone pros, who realize that you have to know your subject to turn your subject into art, but many of the online photo sites that have bird categories are rife with "please ID this bird for me" posts.

For all here (and everywhere else in the U.S.) who love birds and bird photography but have a hard time identifying them, I recommend the Sibley Guide to Birds by David Allen Sibley. Simply put, no other guide comes close to the variety and level of accuracy of this guide. And for those who want to go beyond ID and learn more about the development of avian species, families, feeding, breeding and range habits, I wholeheartedly recommend The Sibley Guide to Bird Life & Behavior.

As a basic emphasis on the importance of these types of things, if you want to sell avian images to birding magazines or sell fine art prints to birders, you'd darn well better be able to title the image "immature glossy ibis basks in the sunset" rather than "bird basks in the sunset."

On perhaps a more important level, ID is only the entry into the world of birds. To spend time in their company, to learn how each behaves and how best to present them to the rest of the bird lovers is the work of a lifetime.

Sure is fun work, isn't it?

Emil Martinec
01-02-2008, 11:34 PM
My wife, a lifelong birder, got me into birding soon after we met (well, at least she got me into "interesting birds" -- hawks and herons -- not those boring little brown jobs ;) ). Then on a fifteenth anniversary birding tour of Costa Rica, one of the tour participants was a serious amateur photographer who was kind enough to send us all a CD of his best images after the trip. It took a while for the idea to percolate that I'd like to try that for myself. Started with a Panasonic FZ20, graduated a year later to a Canon 20D and began lusting after longer and longer lenses :o.

But I still enjoy birding, and sometimes just leave the camera gear at home to simply enjoy a walk through nature (especially when the light is crummy :) ). And I've come to like "boring little brown birds" :D

Bob Reimer
01-02-2008, 11:40 PM
I wouldn't call myself a birder. When we lived in Canada, we participated in the backyard bird counts that Cornell runs. When I had had time for photography I enjoyed floral macros the most but did some wildlife photography when I lived and worked in the arctic. After arriving in UAE, I had time to start doing the floral macros again. Every now and then I'd catch a bug on a flower that I'd show to the two entomologists who are in the Emirates Natural History Group. They gave me an appreciation for insects and enough behavioural knowledge that I could start taking good insect macros. From there I've really gotten into dragonflies so as not to step on the toes of the beetle expert or the fly expert :) Of course there are often birds in the same areas as dragonflies so I've gradually gotten to know the resident birders and the resident birds. Steve, you mentioned about the problems of being the only photographer in a party of birders ... You should try to be the photographer in a party of entomologists! After a while I was able to get the local entomologists to let me photograph something in its environment before they stuck it in a killing jar, but if there is a visitor, I have to watch out for the net!

Gyorgy Szimuly
01-03-2008, 06:56 AM
I have been a serious birder for 30 years now. I keep life lists but not hunting for birds as seriously as twitchers do. My target is to see as many as possible but in recent year I combine it with bird photography. What I learned in the last years is that I have to see birds with a completely different way if I am photographer. Need to have deeper look into their life cycle and behavior rather than walking along my local patch and hoping to see something nice.

I travel a lot around the world and try to see as many species as possible. Having a 'hawk-eyed' birder I was lucky to 'profit' from those trips. Currently my life list is 2003 species which definitely will improve this year with the Ethiopian trip. But since that will be a photographic tour we will avoid to visit all those areas which holds the endemic species or other specialities. In a way my birding is slowing down due to photography but still make efforts to see new beautiful species which is important for me as life is too short not to see them :) Sure if I can link both activity and having a nice collection of rarely photographed birds is the best I can do.


Ken Kovak
01-03-2008, 08:48 AM
Had been a birder for 25 years before I decided to expand my photography into the field of birds as well.

I find it nearly impossible to do bird photography while out with a group of birders, at least the one I bird with. When I decide to go out for bird photography, I either go alone or my wife comes along with me.

Ken Kovak

George DeCamp
01-03-2008, 08:58 AM
Nope I started with fish! I got back into photography after a long hiatus when I started diving. I then decided to get into more land based photography and eventually got into birds. My buddy Scott Elowitz and his wife Cyndi bought Louise and I our first bird feeder for the back yard. Been buying seeds and watching closer ever since...now we have at least 7 feeders back there and many bird friendly plants and flowers which Louise chose and planted after reading books on the subject! I just snap the shutter. :D

Terry Eddington
01-03-2008, 09:12 AM
Definitely not a birder (yet) and barely a bird photographer but I fully agree that if you want to be an avian photographer, you really need to be able to ID your subject and that learning enviornment and habitat/habits would make it easier to best capture the subject. Learning both is on my list of goals.

James Shadle
01-03-2008, 09:38 AM
I am not a bird counter, never have, never will.

I am however a birdwatcher, avian researcher and "bird photographer".

When in the field I study my subjects. I feel sometimes, I know what they are going to do before they do.
I can find subjects that many can not. I do that by knowing the habitat my subject prefers, by knowing the weather, by listening and watching other species in the area, just to name a few technics.

Bottom line is, if you love your subject more than your photography, you will be a better photographer!

I am not a "birder" I'm a bird lover (platonically of course).


Daniel Cadieux
01-03-2008, 09:58 AM
I am not a "birder" I'm a bird lover (platonically of course).


That desceibes me too even if I say I've been "birding" for a long time. Although I have a life list and yard list, I don't enjoy birding in the "new" traditional sense (driving to 12 locations in a day for 10-15 minutes each simply to check off a list without really studying and observing) I'd rather stay in a location for hours at a time and really connect with the birds and feel like I'm part of their environment for that time - camera or not. Maybe I'll rethink about labelling myself as a "birder" ! :)

Steve Roman
01-03-2008, 10:11 AM
A birder for 40 years
Lepidopterist for 50 years
Coleopterist 40 years
Photographer for 35 years

Daniel is right that a form of nature political correctness is rampant with some birders, but it is not usually the birder with knowledge of the biology and ecology of birds. As well, birders are not immune from criticism. I'm sure we have all shaken our head when confronted with the loud, large group of birders in the field that is sometime seems oblivious to the animals and world around them. I have seen the same negative reaction toward scientific researchers working in the natural world as well. Most bird photographers have strong ethics related to the field. I try to ignore those that try to provoke trouble.

Fred J. Lord
01-04-2008, 08:15 PM
In the summer of 2002, we were inundated by hummingbirds. It was a drought year and the flowers were scarce. We had put out the one obligatory hummingbird feeder on the deck of our Rocky Mountain home. The birds came… and came… and came. We were going through pounds of sugar per week. We bought three more feeders.
I had just purchased a Canon D60 that spring and digital imaging set me free. Since then, I have upgraded equipment substantially and we have become devout bird lovers. We watch when we have too but I photograph whenever possible. We don't keep a formal list but we love and enjoy birds. We feed the songbirds all winter and the hummingbirds all summer. This fall and winter has been an exceptional one with several long-term flocks of birds we had only glimpsed before. It has helped us to learn even more about the birds in our area.

A photo of one of our deck birds (Cassin's Finch Male) is attached.


Paul Davey
01-06-2008, 08:43 PM
As for me, I started purely as a photographer. This was New Year's Eve 2005 and I decided to take along the digital camera on a family boat trip around the local harbour. I found myself shooting cormorants and gulls. From then on, I've been hooked! Looking back over my progress now, I'd say I actually started "birding" from the start of 2007. This was when a rarity showed up and I was one of the first to record it. That got me started!


Becky Clark
01-06-2008, 11:12 PM
I started by feeding birds. From there I wanted to learn more about them so I went to their habitat and watched. That grew into photographing them so that I could study them more closely, and maybe more importantly for me, I found I could re-live those crisp sunny spring mornings filled with sun rise and birdsong just by viewing the images. A very pleasant way to spend a dreary, gray rainy winter day! Now I am trying to improve my images by thinking about what I want it to say. I do still catch myself on occasion though getting excited about something going on and not really thinking about it just clicking away!

Mike Poe
01-06-2008, 11:29 PM
Started out doing underwater photography. Got into bird photography as a way to extend my love for nature photography. I am more of a bird photographer than a birder. That being said I joined and attend meetings of the area bird clubs. I try to help out on counts and I have donated images for their use. I just try to reciprocate for them sharing locations, sightings and knowledge.

Harold Stiver
01-08-2008, 10:50 AM
I had been a birder for decades before taking up photography.

One day about 8 years ago in Ecuador, we were traveling in a dark canyon and were looking at a Cock-of-the-Rock dimly seen on a nest. Someone set their P&S camera on long exposure and set it on a rock to take a picture, and it came out brilliantly. That was the moment I became hooked on photography

Martin Dyer
01-08-2008, 11:43 AM
started as birders and switched to avian photography

Yep - and still go out to watch birds, take all my gear with me and if I come back with an image or two, that's a bonus!! - That way I don't get disappointed.


Jeff Nadler
01-08-2008, 03:10 PM
scenic photography to wildlife to birds to birding. Birding skills have assisted me tremendously in finding subjects to photograph. Playing CDs of songs in my car often has allowed me to memorize many songbird vocals since where I live, they are usually heard first.

Jon Swanson
01-09-2008, 01:14 AM
I have birded since i was a child. I don't do lists, but have always enjoyed observing their behavior. In regards to bird photogs getting a bad name, perhaps it is because there are alot of people not familiar with birding etiquete (but like photography), etc. and they violating some ABA rules, etc. This can give all bird photogs a bad name.

Janet Zinn
01-09-2008, 11:00 AM
This is an interesting question and one which I have pondered as well--which comes first for me, birding or photogaphy? Photography came first (since I was 8 years old I've had a camera of one kind or another)...birding came much later, and it was only natural to eventually merge the two interests. I would say I'm a serious birder and lister, and I will indeed travel to "get the bird" even when I know there is no possibility of a photograph--but I admit that I find it more and more frustrating to have those situations :) I will still happily go trekking through the woods or jungle even with little prospect of getting a great shot, if I know I am going to see 20 or 10 or even 1 new and beautiful bird species.

As for birders and photographers co-existing, it is difficult...which is why I no longer go on dedicated bird tours or birding walks and prefer to go independently or with other like-minded, hand-picked folks. On the other hand I also don't like going out with photographers who are non-birders; not all are respectful of birding ethics and most are impatient if "the shot isn't there". For me, the bird can be enough of a reward, shot or no shot. Fortunately I have some good birder/photographer friends! We are always looking for serious birder/photographers to join us on trips.

Joni James
01-13-2008, 12:22 PM
I have been a bird watcher/birder since a child. It was my interest in birds and nature that brought me to nature photography (and with a special passion for birds). I prefer to watch & photograph behaviors and learn about the subject rahter than simply list. I wanted to somehow bring home some of the beauty and special experiences I had--photography was the medium for that. Been photographing for 28 years. Love it!

01-14-2008, 04:25 AM
I had this passion for birds and wildlife since early age. As a teenager I joined the ornithology divission of the local Zoology Institute and spent a lot of time studying the birds. Then I went for a degree in General Ecology all the time keeping the passion for birds. I have spent a lot of days counting, ringing and watching birds using only my binoculars. The last 3 years I focused on another dream of mine - not only see the bird through the lenses but to capture it and to be able to see it again and again as many times as I wish. So thats my story as a bird photographer :-)

Michael Rosenbaum
01-14-2008, 04:32 PM
What a good thread, Steve! Thanks.
Upon moving to South Florida in the early 90s, I joined Audubon and began birding. I did not begin to photograph until I went on some birding tours (Costa Rica, Pantanal, etc.), and soon learned that I needed to know a great deal more about photography to capture images that documented any resemblance to what I saw in the field. Initially, using a point and shoot, I saw that I had to go to SLR; did that in 2006, and it's still a learning process (happily)....

Simon Bennett
01-14-2008, 10:39 PM
I've been birding since the age of six or seven. I got a digital slr a year ago and have since turned into an obsessed bird photographer.

Paul Lagasi
03-13-2008, 11:02 PM
I have been a birder for 45 years since I got my first bird book from a relative, when I got my first Zenit....lolol..yes Zenit.

I began photographing birds but in the days of film it proved very expensive, I began in earnest in 2002 trying to photgraph all the birds in "Golden Guide to North American Birds" 1963 edition with a Canon point and shoot and a scope...but found the quality lacking.

In 2003 I bought my first DSLR a Nikon D70 and haven't looked back since.

I know what Dan was talking about in an earlier thread because I also live in Ottawa. We've had problems between birders and photographers, to many people trying to impose their rules on others....

I am very proud of my life list of 534 birds, of which I have 506 on film, many memories of trips with my wife and family to many locations in North, Central, South America and Europe. It is now getting tougher to find new birds...but I can always improve my photo's of other birds.....which keeps me going.

I will bird for as long as I can with binoculars around my neck and camera over my shoulder and bird book in my back pocket, travelling North America looking for the next shot.

Thanks for reading

Ian McHenry
03-13-2008, 11:52 PM
Childhood bird watcher, but first photographic passions with 35mm rangefinder was motor cycle road racing in the UK including Isle of Man TT Races and flight pix @ airshows.
Think this helped for my BIF pictures.
Ian Mc

Cindy Nowlin
03-14-2008, 10:29 AM
I honestly use to think birders are so strange. Traveling all over just to see one little bird, gee get a life I thought. I enjoy photography and one day a bird caught my eye, so I took a photo and after I got home, I wanted to know what he was. And thus started me becoming a birder, traveling all over FL just to see certain birds and keeping lists and such. lol

It was fun, something I miss now living in TN. The birds here are very skittish, if they think you are even thinking of taking a photo they fly away. I do have different birds at my back deck feeder than I did in FL, but birding is the one thing I miss most about living in FL. Didn't know how lucky I was living in a birders paradise till I moved away.

Richard Stern
03-14-2008, 02:04 PM
I was a birder for years, complete with numerous lists, twitching rarities etc. I was also always interested in photography, but never any good at it, and I never attempted to take pictures of birds until after several years of birding I purchased a Tamron SP 500mm. mirror lens to go with my Canon AE-1, and started to take fuzzy pictures of distant birds with lots of donut-shaped out of focus highlights. As I became more and more involved with my career and family etc. I realized that twitching rarities just to increase one of my lists was a rather counter-productive pursuit, and I gradually became a rather casual birder, but always eager to add to the lists if the opportunity arose. I also became more involved in "citizen science" projects, such as Breeding Bird surveys, atlassing etc.

But at the same time, my interest in photography has increased, and now, when I go birding or travelling, I'm just as keen (possibly even more so) on obtaining high quality images as I am on seeing, or listing, the birds. Going digital made a huge difference. I'm also becoming more interested in other aspects of photography, e.g. people, landscapes. I think I'm slowly morphing from a birder into a photographer. I have never taken a photography workshop, but now I'm considering it, and certainly the information I am learning just from these forums is fantastic. But I haven't given up those lists yet, and this time last year I finally passed #600 for the ABA area ..............

I agree that the techniques involved in birding + casual bird photography, and bird photography+ casual birding, are quite different.


Mike Dale
03-14-2008, 03:01 PM
I've been interested in birds since I was a kid back in the UK. I got much more involved in birding in the early 70s. Around that time I was employed as a service engineer and no matter what country you were in there were always new birds to look at. As I always took a camera on my business trips around the world and it wasn't long before I started taking pictures of birds. I used to carry a Nikkormat Ftn and a huge Soligor 600mm f8 lens. As I was more of a birder than a photographer and patiently waiting for a rare bird was a hindrance to my twitching activities bird photography fell by the wayside. Nowadays I am more of a photographer than a birder but I am still very interested in birding but in a much more relaxed, mellow manner than I was in my twitching days.

Mike Moats
03-14-2008, 03:26 PM
Years ago I was really into birding and even participated for five years in the development of a Michigan breeding bird atlas. I have alot of fun watching birds, but for some unknown reason I've never had any interest in photographing them. Maybe when I tire of the macro, I'll mortgage my house and buy a monster lens, and go after the birds.

Lana Hays
03-14-2008, 05:20 PM
I really enjoy birding and will probably enjoy it long after I'm too old and decrepit to photograph them . I have used the photography to learn the birds and it gives me time to study them during the winter. When I first started photographing birds I would be upset if I didn't get an image of every bird that I saw. After a couple of years I suddenly became content to watch as much as photograph. Now I often go out and don't even get the camera out of the Jeep......just enjoy what I hear and see.

Stephen Cunliffe
03-15-2008, 09:45 PM
Was a very casual photographer before becoming a birder. Realized that photography could help me (literally) capture an observation which I could then take home and figure out. Much frowned on by birders who believe one should be able to see field marks a couple of miles away, but it worked for me. And now I can photograph birds which I have already identified! From there, the escalation into bigger and better equipment, and hopefully skill in both arenas, was inevitable.

Christopher Hill
03-19-2008, 06:58 PM
For most of my life, photography and birding have been totally separate pastimes. I think I was a birder before I was a photographer, but it depends on how you define the two terms. :)

In general, if I go somewhere to bird, the extra weight and hassle of hauling the big lenses and tons of equipment required for most bird photography is too restrictive. Also, if I were trying to do bird photography, I'd miss too much, and anyone with me also trying to bird would be slowed down unfairly. So when birding I usually don't take pictures of birds unless it can be done rapidly, discretely, and with a small light lens.

My bird photography tends to be aligned to follow up visits to places I've already been and thoroughly birded, and is solely for the purpose of bird photography. That allows me to concentrate on pictures and not on what I'm missing while my head is buried in the camera, and doesn't irritate other birders.

Robert Amoruso
03-19-2008, 07:30 PM
Though I always was fascinated with birders I never had any desire to be a birder, make lists or anything like that. When I finally started photographing them in 2003 I started to be able to ID and learn about behavior. I learn a lot just watching them with the long lens patiently waiting for the decisive moment to happen which usually happens when I am looking at my watch. :)

Chris Knight
03-19-2008, 08:54 PM
I have always been fascinated with birds, but my interest probably started with hunting in my younger days, that led to conservation and habitat projects. I have always been interested in natural sciences. I prefer my hunting with a camera now it allows me to observe and record creatures that I have great respect for. Nothing more entertaining that watching birds in their envirorment.

gary rouleau
03-19-2008, 11:38 PM
Homosapien for 52 years -Nature lover forever!

Geurt Bloem
03-20-2008, 12:17 AM
Homosapien for 52 years -Nature lover forever!That is the same for me to a T.:D