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Bird photography takes flight with high-end cameras

Digital cameras with big telephoto lenses bring CNET's Stephen Shankland close to Ohio warblers, California quail and other skittish birds.

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Stephen Shankland
California's state bird, the California quail, is common at Point Reyes National Seashore. This male shows off his distinctive plume.
1 of 47 Stephen Shankland/CNET

California quail

Big telephoto lenses can magnify birds that are too easily spooked to photograph up close. Here, a California quail — California's state bird — shows off his distinctive plume at Point Reyes National Seashore north of San Francisco.

American avocets at sunrise in the low-tide mudflats in San Francisco Bay in Palo Alto.
2 of 47 Stephen Shankland/CNET

American avocets at sunrise

American avocets at sunrise in the low-tide mudflats in San Francisco Bay in Palo Alto.

A ruddy turnstone looks for tasty tidbits among the rocks on the shore of Lake Erie in northern Ohio. The bird got its name from the way it flips stones over to find food.
3 of 47 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Ruddy turnstone at Lake Erie

A ruddy turnstone looks for tasty tidbits among the rocks on the shore of Lake Erie in northern Ohio. The bird got its name from the way it flips stones over to find food.

A Forster's tern looks for fish to snatch from the San Francisco Bay in Palo Alto, California.
4 of 47 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Hunting Forster's tern

A Forster's tern looks for fish to snatch from the San Francisco Bay in Palo Alto, California.

The massive objective lens at the business end of Canon's 600mm supertelephoto lens will draw stares from curious passerby.
5 of 47 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Canon 600mm supertelephoto lens

The massive objective lens at the business end of Canon's 600mm supertelephoto lens will draw stares from curious passersby. But even a lens this size — it's about 2 feet long with its protective lens hood attached — can't magnify tiny or distant birds as much as a photographer would like.

A Brandt's cormorant, a bird that dives underwater to feed on fish, flies above the Pacific Ocean.
6 of 47 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Brandt's cormorant

A Brandt's cormorant, a bird that dives underwater to feed on fish, flies above the Pacific Ocean.

A great horned owl shows fierce yellow eyes in Point Reyes National Seashore north of San Francisco.
7 of 47 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Great horned owl at Point Reyes

A great horned owl shows fierce yellow eyes in Point Reyes National Seashore north of San Francisco.

Four ducks are silhouetted against the sun, complete with a handful of sunspots, rising over the San Francisco Bay. This shot illustrates just how much reach you can get with a 600mm telephoto lens with a 1.4x extender.
8 of 47 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Four ducks eight sunspots

Four ducks are silhouetted against the sun, complete with a handful of sunspots, rising over the San Francisco Bay. This shot illustrates just how much reach you can get with a 600mm telephoto lens with a 1.4x extender.

A common murre gobbles a fish in the Pacific Ocean west of San Francisco.
9 of 47 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Well-fed common murre

A common murre gobbles a fish in the Pacific Ocean west of San Francisco.

A group of common murre fly above the Pacific Ocean.
10 of 47 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Common murre over Pacific

A group of common murre fly above the Pacific Ocean.

A great blue heron snatches breakfast out of San Francisco Bay estuary in Palo Alto.
11 of 47 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Great blue heron

A great blue heron snatches breakfast out of San Francisco Bay estuary in Palo Alto, California.

A brown pelican plunges bill-first into San Francisco Bay.
12 of 47 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Plunging brown pelican

A brown pelican plunges bill-first into San Francisco Bay.

A red-tailed hawk looks for prey from a treetop perch in Point Reyes National Seashore.
13 of 47 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Red-tailed hawk

A red-tailed hawk looks for prey from a treetop perch in Point Reyes National Seashore.

A chestnut-sided warbler looks upward at Magee Marsh in northern Ohio.
14 of 47 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Chestnut-sided warbler

A chestnut-sided warbler looks upward at Magee Marsh in northern Ohio.

A barn swallow perches atop some concertina wire alongside the the San Francisco Bay in Palo Alto.
15 of 47 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Barn swallow on concertina wire

A barn swallow perches atop some concertina wire near the San Francisco Bay in Palo Alto, California.

A western gull wades through the Pacific Ocean waves at Point Reyes National Seashore.
16 of 47 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Wading western gull

A western gull wades through the Pacific Ocean waves at Point Reyes National Seashore.

A black phoebe, a type of flycatcher, sings in the morning in Palo Alto, California.
17 of 47 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Singing black phoebe

A black phoebe, a type of flycatcher, sings in the morning in Palo Alto, California.

A great egret flies over Magee Marsh in Ohio.
18 of 47 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Flying great egret in Ohio

A great egret flies over Magee Marsh in Ohio.

A great egret catches a draft from a formation of American white pelicans headed out for a day's hunting on the San Francisco Bay in Palo Alto, California.
19 of 47 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Freeloading great egret

A great egret catches a draft from a formation of American white pelicans headed out for a day's hunting on the San Francisco Bay in Palo Alto, California.

Magee Marsh is home to a few bald eagle nests. The eagles mostly prey on fish in nearby marshes or Lake Erie.
20 of 47 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Bald eagle

Magee Marsh is home to a few bald eagle nests. The eagles mostly prey on fish in nearby marshes or Lake Erie.

Common murre roost by the thousand on the Farallon Islands 32 miles west of San Francisco. It's not a sight you'll see on the mainland, where foxes, coyotes, cats, rats and other predators eat birds and eggs.
21 of 47 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Thousands of common murre

Common murre roost by the thousand on the Farallon Islands 32 miles west of San Francisco. It's not a sight you'll see on the mainland, where foxes, coyotes, cats, rats and other predators eat birds and eggs.

A western bluebird perches on a plant in Point Reyes National Seashore.
22 of 47 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Western bluebird at dawn

A western bluebird perches on a plant in Point Reyes National Seashore.

American avocets wake up in the San Francisco Bay in Palo Alto.
23 of 47 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Waking American avocets

American avocets wake up in the San Francisco Bay in Palo Alto, California.

A palm warbler perches in the sun at Magee Marsh in northern Ohio.
24 of 47 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Palm warbler at Magee Marsh, Ohio

A palm warbler perches in the sun at Magee Marsh in northern Ohio.

A Nashville warbler looks for insects to eat in a tree at Magee Marsh in northern Ohio.
25 of 47 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Nashville warbler

A Nashville warbler looks for insects to eat in a tree at Magee Marsh in northern Ohio.

CNET's Stephen Shankland photographs birds on Lake Merritt in Oakland.
26 of 47 John Kim/CNET

Birding in Oakland

CNET's Stephen Shankland photographs birds on Lake Merritt in Oakland, California.

Big telephoto lenses help photograph birds such as this pigeon guillemot, but it's hard to frame them when the birds are flying fast, and the bigger the magnification, the harder the framing.
27 of 47 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Pigeon guillemot

Big telephoto lenses help photograph birds such as this pigeon guillemot, but it's hard to frame them when the birds are flying fast, and the bigger the magnification, the harder the framing.

A magnolia warbler perches at Magee Marsh in northern Ohio's Biggest Week in American Birding event. Birders will recognize this as the species on the cover of the popular Sibley Guide to Birds.
28 of 47 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Magnolia warbler

A magnolia warbler perches at Magee Marsh in northern Ohio's Biggest Week in American Birding event. Birders will recognize this as the species on the cover of the popular Sibley Guide to Birds.

A resting American avocet on the San Francisco Bay in Palo Alto.
29 of 47 Stephen Shankland/CNET

American avocet

A resting American avocet on the San Francisco Bay in Palo Alto, California.

A black-throated green warbler perches in Magee Marsh in northern Ohio.
30 of 47 Stephen Shankland

Black-throated green warbler

A black-throated green warbler perches in Magee Marsh in northern Ohio.

Canada geese are abundant in the US, but they like Magee Marsh, too. Here some goslings swim in the marsh's waters.
31 of 47 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Canada goose chicks

Canada geese are abundant in the US, but they like Magee Marsh, too. Here some goslings swim in the marsh's waters.

2017072A western sandpiper pokes through the shallow water for food in the San Francisco Bay.9-shankland-birding-photos-56
32 of 47 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Western sandpiper

A western sandpiper pokes through the shallow water for food in the San Francisco Bay.

Suburban birders might recognize the Cooper's hawk — especially since they often stalk smaller birds near birdfeeders.
33 of 47 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Cooper's hawk

Suburban birders might recognize the Cooper's hawk — especially since they often stalk smaller birds near birdfeeders.

An American avocet comes in for a landing in the shallows of the San Francisco Bay in Palo Alto.
34 of 47 Stephen Shankland/CNET

American avocet at Palo Alto

An American avocet comes in for a landing in the shallows of the San Francisco Bay in Palo Alto, California.

A black-throated green warbler at Magee Marsh in northern Ohio.
35 of 47 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Black-throated green warbler

A black-throated green warbler at Magee Marsh in northern Ohio.

A crested puffin takes off from the Pacific Ocean water near the Farallon Islands west of San Francisco.
36 of 47 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Tufted puffin at takeoff

A tufted puffin takes off from the Pacific Ocean water near the Farallon Islands west of San Francisco.

A black-crowned night heron attacks prey in the shallows of San Francisco Bay at dawn in Palo Alto.
37 of 47 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Attacking black-crowned night heron

A black-crowned night heron attacks prey in the shallows of San Francisco Bay at dawn in Palo Alto, California.

A killdeer with a distinctive red-ringed eye stands reflected in the San Francisco Bay in Palo Alto.
38 of 47 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Killdeer in San Francisco Bay

A killdeer with a distinctive red-ringed eye stands reflected in the San Francisco Bay in Palo Alto, California.

A black and white warbler at Magee Marsh in Northern Ohio.
39 of 47 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Black and white warbler

A black and white warbler at Magee Marsh in Northern Ohio.

A white-crowned sparrow atop a fencepost in Point Reyes National Seashore.
40 of 47 Stephen Shankland/CNET

White-crowned sparrow in Point Reyes

A white-crowned sparrow atop a fencepost in Point Reyes National Seashore.

You don't need to be miles away from civilization to see birds. This song sparrow was singing vigorously in the middle of San Francisco.
41 of 47 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Urban song sparrow

You don't need to be miles away from civilization to see birds. This song sparrow was singing vigorously in the middle of San Francisco.

A great egret lurks motionlessly in some brush, waiting for fish or frogs to come near.
42 of 47 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Great egret at Magee Marsh

A great egret lurks motionlessly in some brush, waiting for fish or frogs to come near.

A black-throated blue warbler looks over its shoulder.
43 of 47 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Black-throated blue warbler

A black-throated blue warbler looks over its shoulder.

A great blue heron strides through Magee Marsh in northern Ohio.
44 of 47 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Great blue heron

A great blue heron strides through Magee Marsh in northern Ohio.

A Caspian tern flies over the San Francisco Bay in Palo Alto.
45 of 47 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Caspian tern

A Caspian tern flies over the San Francisco Bay in Palo Alto, California.

A northern shoveler duck, so named because it shovels its bill through the muck to find food, waddles through low-tide mudflats of ​San Francisco Bay estuary in Palo Alto.
46 of 47 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Northern shoveler in the muck

A northern shoveler duck, so named because it shovels its bill through the muck to find food, waddles through low-tide mudflats of San Francisco Bay estuary in Palo Alto, California.

CNET reporter Stephen Shankland photographing birds on San Francisco Bay with a Canon 5D Mark IV camera, Canon EF 1.4x III teleconverter, Canon EF 600mm F4/L IS II lens, Gitzo tripod, and Wimberley WH200 tripod head.
47 of 47 Levi Konrad-Shankland

Stephen Shankland with supertelephoto lens

CNET reporter Stephen Shankland photographing birds on San Francisco Bay with a Canon 5D Mark IV camera, Canon EF 1.4x III teleconverter, Canon EF 600mm F4/L IS II lens, Gitzo tripod, and Wimberley WH200 tripod head.

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