Studebaker Bird Photography Newsletter #4


Churchill Manitoba Research Trip Report

My small prop plane touched down in Churchill , Manitoba , Canada through dense clouds and sleet. My goal for the trip: to find and photograph northern nesting species of birds and assess the town’s potential for future photographic workshops. The humble village of Churchill situated near the arctic treeline bordering the Hudson Bay seemed very severe and lifeless with dead tundra grass and small mudflats stretching to the horizon, only occasionally broken by small groups of stunted spruce trees.


Ice finally breaking up on the Hudson Bay, halfway through my trip

Strong winds blew sheets of frozen rain into my face as I lugged 100+ pounds of camera equipment from the plane to the tiny airport. I found more than adequate lodging through a private hotel which offered me a rate of only $20 per night. Although it was June 14th, the Hudson Bay was still frozen solid and the Churchill River still harbored many giant sections of ice. It turned out that the spring there has been abnormally cold and the progression of migrants, foliage, etc is about a week behind schedule.


Red-necked Phalarope

By my second day there, the snow clouds departed and it warmed up to 60 degrees ferenheit. Giant cracking noises and thunderous booms sounded from the bay as the ice began to break up. Baluga whales were seen by the dozens entering the river mouth, flowers started to show up on the tundra, and yes, the birds began nesting.


Willow Ptarmigan in Lapland Rosebay

The bird life was not readily apparent and required days of searching and a lot of disappointing hikes to finally find the best photographic opportunities such as locating nest sites for Pacific Loon, Common Eider, a Horned Grebe, Parasitic Jeager, Whimbrel, American Golden Plover, and Semi-palmated Plover. Spending lots of time in the field paid off. There are miles and miles of desolate Tundra before a few isolated patches of active bird areas show up, at times quite a ways from the main rd. (the best Golden Plover nest I found was ¼ a mile hike off the rd).


American Golden Plover

Even though some of the species I photographed were fairly common as migrants through Ohio , by the time they actually show up in Ohio their plumage is either basic winter or severe molt. It was quite amazing to see and photograph these birds in their full and perfect breeding plumage. Other good discoveries included finding places where Willow Ptarmigan wondered out of the dense forest south of town to feed on the tundra flowers which were blooming in great numbers by the end of the week. There were almost no insects until my last day of research, June 20, when it became necessary to wear latex gloves and an insect net hat, preventing the mosquitoes from reaching my skin (a very effective method, I didn’t get a single bite despite hundreds of insects swarming at the hottest portion of the day).


Arctic Tern

In mid June in Churchill the sun doesn’t set until 10:30 at night and rises at 4:30am . For the photographer who wants to maximize good light angles, that means sleeping four hours at night and four during mid-day. The schedule was difficult the first day but then my body adapted and it became an easy schedule to follow.



All in all, the trip was amazing. Not only am I happy with my photo results, but just having the experience of wading in the Hudson Bay between chunks of ice the size of houses, seeing American Golden Plovers run through tundra flowers, and gaining the trust of a Pacific Loon family as they dove right next to me in crystal clear lake water will be times I’ll never forget.


Pacific Loon

It’s very likely that I’ll want to share these experiences with other photographers and lead a workshop to Churchill sometime in the next few years.

Excerpt from my forthcoming book “The Complete Guide to Digital Bird Photography”

Tech Tip: One Image, Different Files (this is an unedited version and will be revised for grammar and syntax in my final version)

If an image is worth the effort of processing, it deserves to be saved as a least five separate files.

1. The Original File (RAW or JPEG) – Keep this file directly from your camera in its unaltered state, whether you shoot in RAW mode or shoot JPGs, This file is like your negative in the days of film.

2. The Work File (TIFF) – Even the best photos can usually use a least minor tweaking. I try to save each correction, as much as possible, in separate layers in a TIFF file so that the corrections can be undone with out reworking the whole file. Work files can take up a lot of hard drive space, but they save me hundreds of hours each year. Back in the archaic era of film, photographers used to call these “work prints”, and would mark them up with pen or sharpie markers to show intended adjustments to be made for the final print. In the digital age, you’ll only need one master work file, but sometimes if your editing choices lead you in two different directions and you can’t decide which one to chose, go ahead and create two or more work files and save them as TIFFs. I recommend inputting all your meta data for the file at this stage of editing, as it will be the parent file for all the others that get created in the future.

3. The Final Copy (TIFF or JPEG) – this is the full-sized, perfected version of your original image. It’s usually nothing more than a work file that has its layers flattened. This is the file you send to magazine editors, contests, and so forth.

4. The Resized Work File (TIFF) – every time a file is resized, it usually requires additional adjustments, namely sharpening. If saving for the web, many photographers also add some copyright text and website URL. If you don’t save this file and post the image on the web on a critique forum or simply want to go back and change it later, you’ll be very glad you have this file. I go back to about 25% of my files and change them at some point; many photographers go back to nearly every single one, so it’s worth the extra few seconds to save the resized work file.

5. The Resized Final Copy (JPEG) – once a file has been sharpened and adjusted for printing or the web, this is the file that actually gets printed or uploaded to a website. For printing, sending to editors, contests, and saving for the web, I always use high resolution jpg files if a TIFF is not requested.

Other Bird Photography Career News this Month

Look for my work this summer published in Birder’s World, Birding Magazine, and a forthcoming book, “Important Bird Areas of Ohio”.

Where to Photograph in Ohio in Late Summer:

-Grassland Birds are still on territory, in fact, late nesters like Sedge Wrens and American Goldfinches may have just laid their first eggs of the year. The Wilds, Egypt Valley , Tri-valley, and Woodbury Wildlife Areas are wonderful places to check.

– Late July through August is a great time to find early fall migrants. Shorebirds, while few in number, may still be in decent breeding plumage. Conneaut , Ohio is a good place to look.


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