A guest blog from local bird photographer, Dr. Richard Davidson
Fifty million people in the U.S. plan birding outings each year. Our area is blessed with amazing opportunities for those who observe or photograph birds. The Great Florida Birding Trail (http://floridabirdingtrail.com/) includes over 500 locations for birding in Florida, with dozens in the Natural North Florida area. Two of our best-known areas are the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in Wakulla County and the Sweetwater Wetlands Park in Gainesville.
Birding is increasing in popularity for many reasons. It’s a relaxing way to enjoy the outdoors and less physically challenging than many outdoor activities. And it can be done in your own backyard. You’ll need a good pair of binoculars (search the internet for good beginner’s models), and a field guide such as Peterson’s (http://www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/peterson/birds.cfm) or Sibley’s (http://www.sibleyguides.com/about/the-sibley-field-guide-to-birds-of-eastern-north-america). However, more and more birders are using phone apps that can include photos, descriptions and even songs. Among the best are iBird (http://ibird.com/app/iphone/ibird-pro-guide-to-birds/) and the free Audubon app (https://www.audubon.org/app).
Bird photography requires more equipment, but it’s easy to start with reasonably priced cameras. Many beginners start with a special group of point-and-shoot cameras called “superzooms” that have very long zoom lenses built in. While some high-end models will cost over $1000, there are many lower cost excellent choices, including the Nikon P900, the Canon SX-60 or the Sony HX400V. Consumer model DSLR cameras will work fine; lenses should be a minimum of 300-400mm so you can keep your distance and still get great shots. Your camera should be capable of a shutter speed of at least 1/1000th of a second and it should have a “burst mode” option to take multiple pictures with one push of the shutter button.
You can find many references to help you get started, but among the best is the Audubon Society photography page (https://www.audubon.org/photography).
Like any other activity, there is no substitute for just going out, even in your back yard, and shooting a lot of pictures. If you are patient and know your equipment well, you can be shooting excellent bird photographs in a few weeks.