Backyard photographer charms birds out of the trees

A baltimore oriole adds a splash of orange to the backyard. Russ McPhee

Black-capped chickadees are curious birds that stay year-round and like to check out everything in their territory, including people.
Russ McPhee

Troy Shantz

Sarnia photographer Russ McPhee is proof you don’t have to venture far afield to record great wildlife photos.

In fact, when it comes to capturing the antics of birds, he seldom ventures from the comfort of his own backyard.

“I don’t tell people I’ve shot them in the backyard,” said McPhee, 68, of his growing album of avian visitors. “They don’t look like anybody’s backyard.”

In a space measuring 35 feet by 60 feet behind his home on a residential city street McPhee has set up several bird feeders, positioned so he can photograph his feathered friends from a window or the back deck.

And he likes to shoot them all, from goldfinches to grackles.

“It really doesn’t matter to me, as long as the bird is colourful,” he said.

A fruit-loving cedar waxwing tosses itself a mulberry in McPhee’s backyard.

When a visitor arrives to put on a show, as a cedar waxwing munching on mulberries did this summer, McPhee was ready to capture it “sitting out there with a cocktail and a big lens,” he said.

He has invested quite a bit in his equipment and is thankful his “wife was understanding.”

But all anyone really needs is patience and appreciation of how their camera works to be happy with the results, he said.

He uses his photos to show that anyone can find beauty in the space around them if they take the time to look. Of course, it helps that while birds make flighty subjects they never squawk back, he added.

“I don’t have to worry about somebody getting upset for getting their picture taken.”

An adult mourning dove with nestlings.
Russ McPhee

‘Why me?” this common grackle appears to be saying, as it stands on an icy branch in heavy sleet.
Russ McPhee

Downy woodpeckers eat a lot insects, including ants, caterpillers and beetle larvae that live inside wood or tree bark.
Russ McPhee

A female cardinal rests on a branch during a snowfall.
Russ McPhee