Photographing birds

I was sure I had been photographing more birds lately. To confirm it I used the search function in MacOS Photos to look through my collected photos, almost 20000 of them, for ‘bird’.

Search results in Photos can be interesting. It looks at titles and any keywords as well as attempting to recognise what might be in an image. It does seem to be capable of recognising birds in images, at least those that are in the clear.

Photos with descriptions indicating they were taken at places like Birdoswald Roman fort or Bird in Hand winery were also picked up, along with some for which there was no obvious explanation. A photo I took in New Zealand of pink sheep (died to attract tourists?) against green grass was picked up. Perhaps the Photos AI sees bright coloured animal shapes against greenery as birds.

By the time I’d done my searching, I was curious about trends by years and spent a little time counting photos in each year that actually featured birds after excluding the obvious errors.

As part of a current process of weeding out duplicate and dodgy photos I had already grouped photos in albums by year so it was easy to find how many photos I had from each year. My current collection in Photos mostly dates from 2003 when I first had access to a digital camera and the number of photos in each year varies from around 100 in the earliest years to more than 3000 in 2017. Mostly the variation is related to significant events, particularly travel. Our 3 months around Europe in 2017 accounts for 2700 photos, a number of which will probably disappear as my weeding progresses to that year.

The number of bird photos varies from 1 in 2004 to 90 in 2018. Given the relatively small proportion of bird photos in most years and the wide variation in both total number of photos and those of birds, direct comparisons of absolute numbers were not helpful. I thought it more useful to look at the relative proportions. I did that in a spreadsheet that facilitated making some graphs.

The graphs make it obvious that I have become more interested in photographing birds since retirement at the end of 2017. The absolute numbers of bird photos have jumped, as have the proportion, especially in the current year. Most of those have been around the local neighbourhood and the uptick is probably a function of both a new longer lens and enforced leisure following my operation in February.

Whether my bird photos have improved is another question. My equipment has improved over that time and the software used for processing images has expanded in its capabilities. How much my techniques with camera and software may have improved, I’m not sure. This image gallery has examples from across the years with different equipment.

Whether or not the more recent images are better is debatable. There is an element of good luck in most of them, a matter of being at the right time and place with gear in hand. My more recent efforts have been more deliberate as I have gone out for walks looking for birds in places where I expect to find them. I’ve also slowed down and spend more time lingering, listening, and looking for the birds. Perhaps in time that will pay dividends and I will manage better photos of a wider range of birds.