About Me

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Spofford, New Hampshire, United States
Jeff Newcomer had been a physician practicing in New Hampshire and Vermont for over 30 years. Over that time, as a member of the Conservation Commission in his home of Chesterfield New Hampshire, he has used his photography to promote the protection and appreciation of the town's wild lands. In recent years he has been transitioning his focus from medicine to photography, writing and teaching. Jeff enjoys photographing throughout New England, but has concentrated on the Monadnock Region and southern Vermont and has had a long term artistic relationship with Mount Monadnock. He is a featured artist in a number of local galleries and his work is often seen in regional print, web publications and in business installations throughout the country. For years Jeff has published a calendar celebrating the beauty of The New England country-side in all seasons. All of the proceeds from his New England Reflections Calendar have gone to support the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program at the Cheshire Medical Center. Jeff has a strong commitment to sharing his excitement about the special beauty of our region and publishes a blog about photography in New England.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Bird Feeder Photography

In my long tradition of writing about things I know little to nothing about, I thought it would be appropriate to briefly recount the fun I have been having photographing the sturdy little birds that have been frequenting the feeders on our deck.

Given the relentless severity of this winter's weather Susan and I
have tried to be especially diligent at keeping our two feeders full of Black Oil Sunflower Seeds. We are not experts on the selection of the best food for the long cold winter, but the sunflower seeds seem to be popular with a variety of birds. In the past, when we tried mixtures of various seeds and grains, but it always seemed that the sunflower seeds were a favorite, while the others were indignantly kicked onto the ground. My plan is to try adding suet to our station, but birders are always generous with their recommendations and I expect I will hear all about the best selection of feeds. Just please be kind.

Over the years I have tried to grab occasional shots of the birds visiting our feeders, usually with little success. These little creatures tend to flit in and out spending little time around the 
A Cardinal, Duh
feeder and on the rare occasions when I have caught one of our visitors it is usually a struggle to identify the species. This explains why most of my bird images carry titles such as "Yellow Bird", "Big Red" or simply "Fluff". A few weeks ago I happened to catch a beautiful bird next to the feeder that I, surprisingly, recognized as a Cardinal. I was sufficiently excited to decide that I would try to be more systematic with my feeder photographs. Of course the fact that I could shoot through the glass from the warmth of our cozy sun room probably contributed a bit to my enthusiasm.

Tufted Titmouse
After cleaning the sun room window, I slowly crept up to the glass cradling my 100-400 lens. It took a healthy dose of the patience, a trait that I don't routinely posses, to keep the nervous birds from flitting away, but I began getting some acceptable shots. With the long lens I could get up close to see the personalities of the birds and by zooming in I was able to crop away some of the background distractions.

Still I have much to learn about getting natural appearing images of 
these fascinating creatures, but I thought I would share a few of my early images. Hopefully, in a future article I will be able to recount more of what I have learned and show better quality images. To date I have seen the Cardinal just once, but frequent visitors have included Chickadees, Tufted Titmouse's (what is the plural of Titmouse?), Juncos, Pine Siskins and American Goldfinch. Or at least that's what I think I've seen. Did I mention that I'm really new at this bird stuff.
 Junco, Fluffed Against the Cold

For now, I can only list a few early lessons and goals for future work.

Watch the Background

Unfortunately, given the location of our feeders, most of the available viewing angles suffer from background distractions such as the deck railing, the gazebo and the other feeder. I have tried to find narrow angles of view that limit these problems and I used wide apertures to soften the background contamination, but I still find the frequent need to apply some editing to the backgrounds.

Chickadee in the Evergreen

Rapid Shutter

Most of the birds tend to be quite high strung and nervous, making rapid shutter speeds necessary to freeze their movement. The quick shutter is also necessary to reduce the effects of camera shake when trying to hand hold my long lens. A wide aperture helps, but I still need to increase the ISO when the light is low. The use of a tripod adds stability, but it also limits the ability to quickly respond to the birds as they jump about.

Goldfinch Perch

Focus on the Eyes

As with any portrait photography, the key to proper focus is to concentrate on keeping the eyes sharp. With my subjects incessant movement, continuous focus settings such as AI Servo on my Canon, are helpful to follow the action.

Mine !

Foreground Interest
I have to remind myself that the only reason that the birds are there is to feed, but it is easy to become tired of always capturing them with the feeder in view. Not a very natural setting. I have been able to catch a few among the branches of a nearby evergreen, which is a favorite secure roosting place, but I have also experimented with the placement of a number of more photogenic perches around the feeder. Early on it seemed that a branch stuck into the snow made some of the birds skittish, but a piece of tree bark and a old Barn Swallow nest placed on the railing next to the feeder seemed to be more attractive.  With time, the branch has also become a favorite perching spot.

Titmouse in the Nest

Goldfinch on the Branch

Birds in Motion

I found it especially challenging to catch these swift erratic birds in 
flight. I needed a shutter of at least 1/2000th to begin to capture
Titmouse Flight
their motion and that required a boost in the ISO to 1600. These little guys move incredibly quickly and are impossible to anticipate. The only thing predictable about the nervous Chickadees is that they seldom hold still for more than a second, but that behavior actually made them somewhat easier to catch in flight. At least I knew that when they landed on the perch they would be taking off a second later and I could fire a burst of images. The rest of the birds tended to dawdled around the feeder making their launch times impossible to predict. Thank goodness for digital photography. I didn't worry about the fact that I got one decent image for everything 20-30 exposures.

Chickadee Take-Off, While a Pine Siskin Watches

The Squirrel Issue

Please Sir, May I Have Some More?
We have our share of Grey and Red Squirrel in the yard. In the past we had tried various "Squirrel-proof" feeders all with little effect. Their greatest value has come from the entertainment of watching the ingenious long tailed rodents figure out how to defeat each device. Actually the Squirrels have seemed less bothersome since we stopped trying to thwart them. They seem to be concentrating more on the seeds on the ground, and, after all, their struggle to survive the harsh winter is no less perilous than our glutinous winged visitors.

Titmouse on the Bark

 I love the special photographic opportunities that a New England winter provides, but we are reaching the inevitable "Enough is Enough" part of the season. I'm ready for some signs of spring and this year our bird feeders have provided an especially welcome distraction from the record breaking cold and snow. I have a lot to learn, but eventually I may even be able to identify most of our winged friends.


And speaking of avian harbingers of spring, I discovered yesterday that the Eagles are back on the Connecticut River in Chesterfield, NH.  They seemed to be focusing on nest renovations, so hopefully we will see some action this year.  It is a long reach to the nest on the Connecticut and I've discovered that It is much easier to get sharp images when the birds are only a few feet away.

Jeffrey Newcomer



  1. I like your blog and photos! I found the descriptions and names helpful to identify the birds that show up at the feeders hanging over my deck in New Hampshire (I was Googling "Birds of New Hampshire and found your page.) Great photos! Thanks.
    -Josh in Rye NH