When it comes to getting a good exposure, here is my #1 tip: Expose for the highlights - the brightest part of the scene. In the above photograph, I did just that.
The best way to ensure that the highlights are not overexposed is to check the histogram on your camera's LCD monitor, and to make sure you don't have a spike on the right.
In the photograph below, I didn't exposure for the highlights, and you see what happened: the detail in the leading edge of the bird's wing is lost.
Sure, you can recover up to about a stop of overexposed areas in Camera RAW, Lightroom and Aperture. But in this case, the details were too far gone.
Below are two more examples of why it's so important to look for the brightest part of the scene and to exposure for that area. Learn how to see the light, and expose for the light, and you'll be much happier with your exposures.
Of course, all rules are meant to be broken, as illustrated by the image below. :-)
Explore the light,