I’ve spent the last two mornings photographing Black-billed Magpies in the midst of nest construction. These birds often re-use old nests and this is at least the third year they have used the same one. Even when “recycling” the nest like this, weeks of work go in to refurbishing it - they bring in a completely new lining of grass, mud, rootlets and even bison fur. And they add an amazing number of new twigs to the basic structure. These are industrious birds!
I’ve said before that this species is my most challenging avian photographic subject and that fact has been reinforced this week. There are several reasons for that, including:
- the deep black and bright white combination is hugely difficult to expose properly
- that aggravatingly long tail makes composition difficult and it is very easy to clip or cut off in action shots
- they close their nictitating membrane more than any other bird I’ve photographed and when they do its color is a blue-white which is almost shockingly apparent against the black head
- when they take off from an elevated perch they typically flap once and then fold their wings tightly against the body at exactly the moment when it’s easiest to get them in flight, resulting in what I call a “torpedo-bird” flight posture that is less than desirable
- the dark eye set against a black head makes it very difficult to get a good catch light in the eye
In the last two days I’ve taken over 1200 shots of these magpies and about 95% of them were garbage, largely due to the reasons mentioned above. I keep telling myself that I enjoy the challenge…
1/2000, f/7.1, ISO 500, 500 f/4, natural light
The nest is buried in this greasewood bush next to a road that has lots of human activity so these birds are accustomed to vehicles. I photograph them from my pickup and they are not disturbed in the least. The greasewood has hundreds of long vertical twigs which makes getting unobstructed take-off shots a challenge.
Occasionally when the light angle is exactly right the iridescence you get is quite spectacular on a bird that is otherwise lacking in color other than black and white. I’m becoming quite the student of the best angle to get the iridescence.
Soon I plan on doing a post on their nest-building behaviors. But this morning I only had time for this one image.