One of the greatest challenges in photography is getting a good close-up shot of a bird or animal. Much of the reason that it's so difficult, of course, is that birds and animals are intensely shy and tend to avoid human company (and who can blame them). One way to get closer to wildlife of all types is to visit a local or national wildlife refuge and there are literally thousands of these around the world, from tiny neighborhood sanctuaries to the giant national parks.
While the wildlife in sanctuaries still won't walk up to you and pose for your camera, they feel much safer in a protected area and so act very naturally and also have less fear of humans. Many sanctuaries have walking trails and boardwalks that will bring you closer to the local wildlife and some of the larger ones even have wildlife drives that let you observe animals from the safety (yours and theirs) of your car. I shot the photo of the great egret here at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in Titusville, Florida from the very beautiful 10-mile Blackpoint Wildlife Drive. The drive follows a canal and tidal flats where thousands and thousands of birds gather at certain times of year and you can get great photos from inside your car. In fact, shooting from a car is a great way to get close to the birds becuase they don't see a car as a threat. As long as you remain in the car you can get within good shooting range for even moderate telephoto lenses (200-300mm in 35mm equivalents).
Just do a Google search on "wildlife sanctuaries" or "wildlife drives" and the name of your town or the towns you'll be visiting and you'll find lots of good places to shoot. Some states (like Florida and Arizona) have so many preserved areas that it's like choosing from an embarassment of riches. Always pick up a map of the local state parks, too, since most have well-established wildlife viewing areas. And be sure to make a donation at the visitor center or in the trail collection box; like everyone else these sanctuaries are hurting for donations and a few dollars from each visitor really adds up.
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