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How to take great spring bird photos

Jim Sinclair of Detroit Lakes took this picture of a Bald Eagle near the Chippewa Lake bridge on Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge last weekend using a consumer point-and-shoot camera. No expensive professional camera equipment is needed to take great photographs!

Welcome to my new photography column. Having taken pictures for more than 13 years in and around Becker County, I have a unique insight on where and how to make good pictures and feel many of my tips can definitely help you improve your photography skills.

I will cover such subjects as equipment, getting the correct exposure, where to find good picture subjects, what makes a good picture -- basic photography techniques that can greatly improve your own photography. I will try to keep my writing general and basic so all photographers, from the just starting out amateur to the seasoned pro, can understand what I'm talking about.

Spring birds

The winter snow is melting and spring is on its way in northwest Minnesota. When you look around right now, everything looks drab, colorless and dirty -- not exactly great conditions for taking vibrant photographs. Wild animals that have wintered in Minnesota look scruffy, even a bit mangy right now, and don't make the most beautiful of subjects.

This is the time of year that can really challenge a photographer to make good-looking images. But those great pictures are still there, you just have to know where to look.

Being on the northern end of the Mississippi Flyway, we are now experiencing the yearly return of birds, migrating north from their winter homes in Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. About 40 percent of all North American birds use the Mississippi Flyway route.

Many of our lakes have little or no open water right now, causing migrating birds to gather around what open water they can find. Sometimes these open water holes in the spring can hold hundreds or thousands of birds.

Hamden Slough, north of Audubon, is just such a place this week. I've heard reports of thousands of Canada Geese and several species of ducks swimming in the flooded fields on Hamden.

Bald eagles are returning to Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge to mate and raise their young. Good spots to find these birds close to the road are any spots of open water, especially streams and inlets and outlets of the lakes.

A spot I look for eagle pictures quite often is on the Refuge Service Road heading north off County Highway 26 at the bridge over the Ottertail River. To the west is the outlet of the river from Flat Lake as it snakes off to the east. Several old trees along the riverbank will usually hold an eagle or two, looking for fish in the river below.

Jim Sinclair of Detroit Lakes shared a picture on his Facebook page of a Tamarac Bald Eagle he photographed at the Chippewa Lake bridge last weekend. The bird of prey screeched at him while he shot a dozen photos before the eagle flew away. It is a very impressive photo taken with a simple point-and-shoot consumer camera.

Eagles are very wary birds, and don't like to be disturbed. When approaching an eagle, move slowly and try to make as little noise as possible -- essentially, don't startle the bird. Take a few pictures, then move a little closer and take a few more, then move closer again. The eagle will be able to see you before you think he will, so he already knows you're there. The trick is not to scare him away before you get your shot.

The open water between Rock and Rice lakes in central Becker County is a great place to photograph swans, Canada geese and many other songbirds returning to Minnesota this time of year. It's easily accessible, as Rock Rice Road runs right between the two lakes.

Drive your car slowly past the culvert between the two lakes and look to see where the waterfowl are. Park the car and quietly walk back to take your pictures. This time of year, the water looks deep blue on a sunny day and is in stark contrast to a white swan and white snow or ice of the lake. This combination makes for a dramatic, beautiful picture.

(If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please contact Brian Basham at Send me your successful and unsuccessful pictures, too!)