Redstart, our smartest spring migrant?

12th June 2016
The Common Redstart is a beautiful bird; that is not open to conjecture. Although the female also has lovely subtle colours and in her own right is very attractive, it is the male that is the show stopper. His plumage is veritably stunning, that orange red tail, his slate blue back and head that black face finished off with a blazing white forehead elevate him right up to the forefront of our smartest spring migrants.
These birds can be shy and are reluctant to show themselves fully, sometimes all we see is a tantalising flash of that red tail as they disappear over a hedge or wall and then frustratingly they vanish. However, when they do show, particularly the male, he is a difficult bird to expose accurately. The main problem for a photographer lies with the Redstart’s face and forehead, if you expose for the black face then the bright white forehead is 'blown' and appears bleached right out and you can see this with most Redstart images. We all suffer with this exposure problem; conversely if you expose for the white forehead then you lose the bird’s eye in his black face. The secret is to strike a happy medium, not easy and you may be constricted by the ambient light anyway, which can limit your choices.
You can try different options, (if you have time), because these birds don’t usually hang around for too long. However, the best method I find is by shooting in RAW format, (which I do anyway). If I deliberately under-expose thereby ‘damping’ down his white forehead although I get a dark image and his eye is lost in his black face, the image when processed and ’lightened-up’ brings his eye back out of his face and there is also not too much ‘blowing’ of his white forehead.
I have been watching a nesting pair, (from a sensible distance), who have young birds and this has given me a chance to see these lovely birds in great detail.
What a smart little bird!!