Flickr album link: July Dawn Birding II
Birding at dawn in the Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge definitely is the way to go when the heat of summer rolls around. Not only are the birds and all sorts of wildlife more active this time of day, the cooler temperatures make it easier to carry water, binoculars or a huge telephoto lens camera without breaking a sweat. Because the sun rises behind the towering mountains to the east, the early morning light is cast as a soft glow, which is perfect for reducing glare.
A fast camera lens will be needed for the dim early light, but after morning glow commences practically any camera lens combination will do, but a long telephoto lens will definitely be needed to shorten the distance. This is especially true when doing the wetlands loop tour, because there is a 20 to 30 yard wide buffer zone between the road and the water. The wildlife is wary of the human presence in this wilderness and the birds tend to move to the other side of the ponds when viewers are present.
Since setting out on foot along the shoreline nesting areas is taboo, using a telephoto lens that is in the 300mm to 800mm focal length range will enable the opportunity to capture more keeper images. A telephoto can also fill the frame with subject matter without having to crop the image to enlarge. For the photos in this article I used a 1.5 crop sensor Nikon D7500 with a 200-500mm ƒ/5.6 zoom lens, so the field of view at maximum length was equivalent to looking through a 750mm lens. Crop sensor camera/lens combos are budget friendly and they definitely get the job done when birding.
Dawn birding at Arapaho will present an opportunity for a photographer to use all sorts of techniques that are rarely needed anywhere else. Fast panning for flying birds and waterfowl landing on the water is one skill that will be tapped all morning long. Artistic high key and low key images are worth messing around with this time of day too. Choosing between using a wide aperture to create soft bokeh or using stops between ƒ/8 and ƒ/11 to keep the entire scene in focus will be a decision made every time the camera is pointed at a subject, so a lot runs through the mind while trying to keep the hands steady. Since a super telephoto lens/camera combination usually weighs well over 7 to 10 pounds, the arms will feel like rubber after being busy for a few hours straight. Not to mention the carpal tunnel syndrome that will likely occur when processing hundreds or even thousands of images on a computer later in the day.
Bird and wildlife photography is a lot of work and it can be an expensive hobby, but it is all worthwhile, especially after a once in a lifetime image is captured. Previous articles feature the Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge and other good viewing spots in the Walden, Colorado area. Part one of the dawn birding excursion is listed in the Colorado index page too. All it takes is one look to get hooked, so be sure to give it a go at Arapaho!
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