North America's Warblers come in all sorts of vibrant colors. These small passerines are possibly the most exciting birds to photograph in this part of the world. The are very quick, active and each sing its own original song that can be differentiated with a trained ear.
Every spring season here in the maritimes these beautiful birds make their way back for the breeding season. As they find their mates and territory that they will call home for the summer, they arrive in mixed groups, which makes the first few weeks for the birdwatcher very exciting. Photographing these birds is always a challenge but is a great practice to hone your skills and learn to identify this varied bird species. A certain warbler species can be found by knowing its preferred habitat. They are very reliable in taking up residence in a common area and there has been plenty of observational research completed to provide information for anyone in search of a specific species. Yellow Warblers and Common Yellowthroats are consistently found together near water and swamp/marsh environments. Black-throated warblers (blue and green) can be found in mixed forests singing their distinct songs.
When I plan to photograph warblers I most often choose a specific background that works well and go from there. They respond well to song recordings so that is an option. I don't use this method often as I feel it stresses birds quite a bit. Although certain bird studies that I've been involved in for many years require such a technique for drawing birds in so I always take the opportunity to capture a few images during these studies. Warblers tend to stay busy through the day unless they are taking a rest period, so most often I set up on a tripod with a gimbal head and take as much time needed in a certain area. When these birds are active they move quick and often so camera motion stability is key to sharp photos. I like to shoot against a background that has all the important elements of a good image. Battling light and a chaotic scene in post editing is a nightmare and usually doesn't work in the end. This requires spending more time in a certain area and waiting for birds to come into your scene. When you find an area with feeding warblers the chances of them spending some time in your selected area is good. Patience obviously plays a huge role in capturing images using this method, but I often resort to this when photographing forest birds because the outcome is guaranteed, quality photos.
Learning warbler songs will help a great deal when spending time locating birds. I remember starting out in bird photography and chasing very common birds around for hours before I could get my binoculars on it to identify them. Knowing the sounds will save you a lot of needless searching and free up your day to chase the species your looking for. When you are in the field always take time to visually study the way different warblers move around. This will help aid in understanding how to properly setup for the photo shoot. Many warblers stay high in the tree canopy so choosing a proper location to achieve proper angles is often a good idea. Redstarts are one of these birds that I find can stay high in the forest top singing their variable songs for hours, so locating this species from a raised platform with trees on much lower ground will give you better opportunity to see and photograph this species. Over the years I have investigated my surrounding community enough to know places where I can get easy access to the forest canopy. By revisiting these places often I get a chance to photograph a variety of birds that use the area over time. One of my favorite spaces is a bridge that runs over a large river close to my house. Here I have great access to the very top of 40-60 foot high mixed forest. Over the years I've encountered many bird species using this area ranging from Bald Eagle to Belted Kingfisher to many different small passerines.
Warblers don't feed much from bird feeders as they are built for catching insects, so deciding to spend the day photographing this bird family means spending the day in the wild. I'd recommend gearing up for a days adventure on your favorite trails, spending time setting up at different locations along the way, practicing patients. The time you spend waiting and watching is time spent analyzing and studying nature and this is where photography started for me. Warblers have a lot of very interesting behaviors and survival techniques that are best understood by honest observation. As always, explore, learn and conserve wildlife of all sorts and allow nature to give you new understanding with every encounter.
Robbie P. Gallant
As a naturalist, I spend a great amount of time in personal study. Discussion and research is key to exploring new and intelligent ideas and furthering our understanding of our natural surroundings.