Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Hurry up mum...I'm STARVING!!

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In the Field

Hurry up mum...I'm STARVING!! East Kootenays, British Columbia, Canada. July 3, 2020.

This is one of those images that is a good reminder that good old dumb luck plays a huge role in wildlife photography. What you're looking at here is a Mountain Bluebird fledgling that has just left its nest along with its siblings. At this point they can fly and find a little of their own food, but are largely still dependent on mum and dad for the bulk of their nutrition. In this shot the little tyke is looking up into a nearby tree where its mother is collecting bugs to feed it. At the time the rising sun was just peaking over the mountains to the east and still low in the sky...and the subject was quite strongly side-lit (my absolute favourite lighting!).

So where did the dumb luck come in with this shot? Well, I WAS set up at the time to photograph Mountain Bluebirds - but I was working with ANOTHER pair of Bluebirds that still had nestlings in their cavity and were "madly" feeding them. I was watching (and photographing) the male and female bluebirds as they took food to the nestlings when I suddenly noticed there were two female bluebirds near the cavity carrying food. I was more than a bit perplexed as the phenomenon of "helpers at the nest" (i.e., adult birds helping a mated pair feed and raise their young) has never been documented with bluebirds (it does occur with a few other species, but only under very narrow and rare ecological conditions). Had I discovered a previously unknown behavior in Bluebirds? Naw...seconds later this little dude landed on a fencepost very close to me and began begging for food in perfect lighting - pleasing me to no end AND making it instantly clear to me that a second family of bluebirds with slightly older young ones was passing through the area. So while there were two females near me carrying food, they were carrying it and delivering it to different young birds - MY bluebirds were feeding nestlings and the second female was feeding a brood of fledglings. And this image (which was one of my favourites of the day) came about just because I got lucky and this bold little bird - from who knows what nest - landed almost right beside me when I had the exact right combo of gear ready to go. All I had to do was swing my rig around, make a few quick camera adjustments, and fire away! ;-)

Most wildlife photographers know that when shooting songbirds you can almost never have too much focal length. You don't really get in the game (so to speak) with much less than 600mm, and if you have an 800mm lens it's even better. What did I shoot this with? The new Nikkor 120-300mm f2.8E paired with with the Nikkor TC-20EIII (2x) teleconverter mounted on a cropped sensor body (a D500 with a 1.5x crop factor). So here I was using an effective focal length of 900mm. When I laid out the cash for the 120-300mm I never dreamed it would pair up so darned well with a 2x TC that I could actually use that combination for "serious" wildlife shooting and get top-shelf results. I did have high hopes for how well it would work with the TC-14EIII (1.4x) teleconverter, but its performance with the 2x TC is a totally unexpected - but very welcomed - bonus! Very cool...

Here's a larger version of this shot (2400 pixels) of this way too cute young bluebird for your perusal:

Hurry up mum...I'm STARVING!! Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.3 MB)


1. This image - in all resolutions - is protected by copyright. I'm fine with personal uses of them (including use as desktop backgrounds or screensavers on your own computer), but unauthorized commercial use of the image is prohibited by law. Thanks in advance for respecting my copyright!

2. Like all wildlife photographs on this website, this image was captured following the strict ethical guidelines described in The Wildlife FIRST! Principles of Photographer Conduct. I encourage all wildlife photographers to always put the welfare of their subjects above the value of their photographs.

Behind the Camera

Hurry up mum...I'm STARVING!! East Kootenays, British Columbia, Canada. July 3, 2020.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 360.

Nikon D500 paired with Nikkor 120-300mm f2.8E plus TC-20EIII (2x) teleconverter at 300mm (for a total EFL of 900mm). Supported on Jobu Killarney tripod with Jobu HDMkIV gimbal head. VR on and in Sport mode. Single Point Area AF area mode.

1/400s @ f8; No compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Hurry up mum...I'm STARVING!! East Kootenays, British Columbia, Canada. July 3, 2020.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit PSD file (and JPEG files for web use), including all global and selective adjustments, using Phase One's Capture One Pro 20. Global adjustments to this shot included just a tweak to contrast (levels). Selective local adjustments performed using Capture One Pro's layers and masking tools. In this case selective adjustments were made on 8 separate layers and included one or more tweaks to exposure, shadows, structure ("structure" is a Capture One Pro thing and best thought of as a hybrid of the clarity and sharpening tools), highlights and whites, clarity, moire, and color (via the Color Editor).

Photoshop modifications were limited to the insertion of the watermark and/or text.


Hurry up mum...I'm STARVING!! East Kootenays, British Columbia, Canada. July 3, 2020.

Species Status in Canada*: This species is not designated as at risk.

The Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides) is a brilliantly coloured thrush found over much of western North America. Despite its name, it is NOT limited in distribution to mountain regions. In the early 1900's Mountain Bluebird populations plummeted due to loss of nesting habitat (natural cavities) due to the introduction of alien species, including House Sparrows and Starlings. An aggressive conservation effort in the form of the introduction of species-specific nest boxes worked and today bluebirds are common again.

This young "just out of the nest" Mountain Bluebird was photographed in the East Kootenays of BC, Canada. The area supports a strong population of Mountain Bluebirds and smaller population of Western Bluebirds.

One of the most fascinating things about the Mountain Bluebird is that the striking ultraviolet-blue coloration of feathers does not come from any type of pigment that has been incorporated into feathers. Instead, the source of the coloration is completely "structural" in that the microanatomy of the feather barbs in a way that primarily reflects ultraviolet and blue light while largely absorbing wavelengths of light that are perceived by humans as other colors (green, yellow, red, etc.). So what you are seeing is differentially reflected ultraviolet-blue light...NOT pigmentation!

*as determined by COSEWIC: The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada