If you are a bird photography aficionado, I have some great news!
The proliferation of “Rails-to-Trails” conversion projects throughout our Nation has created a fantastic new modus operandi for practicing your passion. Plus, it also benefits your health by providing daily exercise. I call this activity bicycle birding and here’s how it works for me.
Four years ago as a retiree, I moved to La Jolla, California—just north of San Diego—to be near one of one of my daughters and three of my grandchildren. As an avid—but not very adventurous bicyclist—I immediately began researching local bikepaths that offered long, flat rides along vehicle-free surfaces.
First, I found a book that described all the bicycle trails in San Diego County. Then I selected those that met my desired criteria. Fortunately—as is now the case in just about every municipality—I found an array of suitable options.
Next, I started doing “test rides” to evaluate each of my selected bikepaths for bird photography opportunities. After about three months of field testing, I came up with a winner. A six-mile long, paved route paralleling the south side of the San Diego River provided me with both of my objectives—the optimal biking distance coupled with spectacular photo opportunities on almost every ride.
The other key to this endeavor was acquiring new camera gear—including a telephoto lens and camera combination that would allow me to capture high-quality, handheld images. (This was critical because—for me—biking with a tripod was not an option!) To accomplish these goals, I purchased a Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO lens and Canon EOS 7D Mark II camera.
As it has turned out, these were the best photographic purchases I have ever made. Many of the birding photos (see attached) I have taken during the past four years are among my best in more than 40 years of outdoor photography.
A long-billed curlew is preening and cleaning its feathers. (Photo Copyright Budd Titlow, NATUREGRAPHS)
A reddish egret holds a just captured fish. (Photo Copyright Budd Titlow, NATUREGRAPHS)
A snowy egret holds a freshly caught fish. (Photo Copyright Budd Titlow, NATUREGRAPHS)
A tricolored heron uses its wings to shade the water for better visibility. (Photo Copyright Budd Titlow, NATUREGRAPHS)
A male wood duck swims along while displaying its colorful feathering. (Photo Copyright Budd Titlow, NATUREGRAPHS)
A reddish dances across the water while pursuing a fish. (Photo Copyright Budd Titlow, NATUREGRAPHS)
A black-necked stilt pauses while feeding in a tidal flat. (Photo Copyright Budd Titlow, NATUREGRAPHS)
Now—on at least five afternoons a week—I throw my binoculars, camera, and lens into a sturdy backpack and I’m off to my favorite bikepath. I ride along the river until I see a bird or birding activity that I want to capture. When this happens, I pull off to the side of the path, grab my gear out of my pack, and fire away until I’m happy with my results. Then it’s on to the next photo opportunity that I see along the route. I typically make four or five stops during a 10-mile ride.
As I mentioned at the start—because of the plethora of new bikepaths all over the country—you can find similar bicycle birding opportunities no matter where you live. Of course—the extent of time you can enjoy this activity—may be limited by climate. But you’ll always have some months—for example, during seasonal migrations—during which the birds and bird behaviors will be plentiful!
So, give it a try. I think you’ll agree that better health plus prize-winning bird photographs is a combination that’s hard to beat!
Photo credits: Copyright Budd Titlow, NATUREGRAPHS (ALL)
Author’s bio: For the past 50 years, professional ecologist and conservationist Budd Titlow has used his pen and camera to capture the awe and wonders of our natural world. His goal has always been to inspire others to both appreciate and enjoy what he sees. Now he has one main question: Can we save humankind’s place — within nature’s beauty — before it’s too late? Budd’s two latest books are dedicated to answering this perplexing dilemma. PROTECTING THE PLANET: Environmental Champions from Conservation to Climate Change, a non-fiction book, examines whether we still have the environmental heroes among us — harking back to such past heroes as Audubon, Hemenway, Muir, Douglas, Leopold, Brower, Carson, and Meadows — needed to accomplish this goal. Next, using fact-filled and entertaining story-telling, his latest book — COMING FULL CIRCLE: A Sweeping Saga of Conservation Stewardship Across America — provides the answers we all seek and need. Having published five books, more than 500 photo-essays, and 5,000 photographs, Budd Titlow lives with his music educator wife, Debby, in San Diego, California.