Gotta Love the Ground Birds

Spring is a great time for birding as the spring migration and nesting season makes for some spectacular photo opps. I was fortunate a few years ago to be able to photograph this male Spruce Grouse up in the Arctic Circle amongst the lands Boreal Forests. For those wondering, yes it is a male as the males have a rufous tip on their tails. This one did have those markings but are not visible in this photograph. The rest of his breeding plumage hadn’t come in yet.

Spruce Grouse can be seen in the trees as well as on the ground foraging. The female chooses the site for nest usually in a depression at the base of a tree, where it has a clutch size of 4-9eggs. They brood only once a year. The males have a distinct mating behavior which is best witnessed in person or next best by video.

When working with any ground bird species you have to be very vigilant and try not to come upon an individual by surprise. Once you have found a subject be sure to be patient and slow to not scare it off or force it to move.

The Shooting Perspective

Every shooting experience tells a different story. Each one has a subject and then a bunch of supporting details. With every decision, as a photographer, you make will change the story in the final photograph. When it comes to working with wildlife, things like the foreground and background make a dramatic difference in showing the habitat of where that species lives.

This is the Tiaga sub species of the Spruce Grouse. They live in Boreal forests in the arctic, which is where we found this lone male. You can tell it’s the Tiaga by that Rufous Band on the tips of the tail feathers. This male was displaying looking for a female and was very kind to let us photograph him for a while.

I wanted to show the perspective of this bird in two ways. Since he was cooperative I choose to start with the tripod fully extended and shooting with the D5, 600f/4, and TC-17EII I got a lot of shots. Then after a while I lowered the tripod and shot at ground level. The difference is seen in the background and foreground because you’re changing the focal plane, which is changing the amount of information captured by the depth of field. So why go lower? The Spruce Grouse is a ground bird but most photographs you see are looking down at ground birds. Since this was a cooperative subject, I got low to photograph the bird at his level to show what he sees. It’s a great technique to try when you have a workable subject. Remember it comes back to the story you want to tell.

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