Monday, May 31, 2010

Bird Photography Weekly #92

Green Heron - Butorides virescens

(The frog never had a chance!)

PS - as always click on the photos to see larger versions!

To see some great bird photos from around the world, check out:

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Catching up

Wow, lots of things been happening in my little corner of the world in the last few weeks and months, and it has really left little time for blogging.  (And I have to admit, that I've spent a lot more time on Facebook than with the blog)
Some of the things that have drawn my attention away from the blog include the ever-present work (still doing two jobs - some day I'll cut it down to one) becoming an uncle for the first time, and an awesome birthday present.  Work - well, really, there is little enough to say about that.  It's nothing nature related so bears little mention here beyond that it takes away from spending time doing the things I love to do and spending time with the people I want to spend time with, but it helps to pay the bills so I can do those things.
In April, my sister gave birth to their first baby, Noah.  He was born with a congenital heart problem that they knew about well in advance, so were able to plan for immediate procedures and then surgery to correct the problem.  He was born at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, which is connected to the Children's Hospital in Boston - the best place in the world to have a baby, and especially if there are any health concerns.  And although things were rocky for the first few weeks, he had the absolute best care and was able to go home in mid-May, and everything has been great since.  I've been joking ever since the day I learned that she was pregnant that his uncle is going to throw him in the mud the first chance he gets -  this child is certainly not going to suffer from any nature deficit disorder with me as an uncle!

Honestly though, the one thing that has distracted me more from the blog more than anything else is a new items that I have in my possession (and something that might just actually add to the blog down the road).  For my birthday, my lovely wife Pamela made it possible for me to make a giant upgrade in my image capturing capabilities.  I am now the proud owner of a Canon 50D DSLR camera AND a 100-400 IS zoom lens, and all my spare time has been spent reading up on it, trying to learn how it works, researching how others have utilized this equipment for bird and nature photography, researching costs to find accessories at the best prices, etc.  You see, I have always been interested in photography, going back when I was a kid and had a camera or two that took 110 film cartridges.  Then early in high school, I got my first SLR - a Minolta X-370, and liked to play with the few lenses I had, filters, long exposures, etc. (My mother would be happy to tell you a story about how one night she woke up late, found that I wasn't home by my curfew, then a few hours later started to panic when I still didn't come home. In fact, I was had been home for hours and was just in the front yard doing long exposures to get trailing lights from the cars going by)  This led to interest in the photography club, photo position on the school yearbook, then a job at the local one-hour photo lab.  By 19, I was the second shift supervisor in the Hudson Valley's biggest pro-lab - running film, shooting copy work, mixing and maintaining chemistry, etc.  I considered majoring in photography in school, but they wouldn't let me skip the entry level classes - even though I took the 101 class tests standing at the teacher's desk and printing my portfolio at work.  When I moved to Buffalo, I got a job at the photo lab there, then started working freelance as a custom printer for many pro photographers throughout NY, and like to think I developed a pretty good reputation as one of the better printers around - everything from weddings, concert, and architectural photography, to some amazing nature photographers (several who were published in NatGeo).  That was about the time that I first started to see things going in the direction of digital, but it really hadn't caught on strong yet.  When I moved to Cambridge, working for labs in Boston, I watched as more and more work went from traditional lab to digitial, and I frankly hadn't developed the skills to make that transition - the digital techs were those kids that had gone to school for art and digital design, and at an early age, my life's work was starting to become a little obsolete.  There was still a need for wet-lab tech, but I'd long reached the ceiling of what I would make financially, and there were people who could also mix chemistry and maintain machines at a lower pay scale, so I moved to project management, since I understood what customers needs and expectations were.  All this goes to say that for the last 10-15 years, I have felt like there has been a huge gap or hole in my life where I have not had the technology to take the level of photos that I would like.  I think I have done pretty well over the last couple of years with my Sony mega-zoom point-and-shoot camera (pretty much all the photos that have been on this blog up until now.)  Now I finally feel comfortable shooting again, and I hope that the quality of the photos that I share with you here in the future improves (or at least doesn't fall off - there is a lot more to SLR photography that just pointing the lens and clicking and hopefully my swiss-cheese brain won't go mucking it all up.)

There is no doubt that there is a steep learning curve in front of me, but the main way to climb that hill is to just get out and play.  I can read plenty and pick up hints, but nothing beats just doing it.  So here is a sample of where I am with the camera after the first full weekend with it. (Yes, I know this is several days late for a weekend post)

Yellow Warbler. OK, so maybe this isn't the best photo to show off the new camera - it was dark and I was hand-holding the biggest lens I've ever used and with a relatively slow shutter speed, but this is a photo I would never had been able to take with my other camera - it would have been just too dark.

Red-winged Blackbird.  I am so excited about the prospect of being able to take flight shots.  I freely admit that any flight shots I got in the last few years were pure luck, and often poor at best.  With a real, true viewfinder - not a digital representation with some lag like the point and shoot - and some seriously fast auto-focusing, as well as focus-tracking abilities, and faster shutter speeds, I'll hopefully be able to start getting some flight shots that aren't just a blur.

Piping Plovers at what I think is a nest site.  It didn't look like there were any eggs, and both birds wandered away from this spot, but the one in front did spend some time "working" on the depression in the sand.  As close as this looks, I was pretty far away when I shot this.  Due to the much larger sensor in the DSLR, I am able to crop in a lot closer, and still maintain some sharpness.

Killdeer with chick.  Nothing particularly special about this photo, other than that I now have the capability to get greater depths of field (using lower aperture, and still pretty quick shutter speeds) even though I obviously didn't use it this time.  It's a learning process - hopefully next time...

Indigo Bunting.  One of my favorite birds to photograph as a few nest pretty close to where we live, and I can actually use the car as a blind when they are singing from a few favorite perches.  One thing I am a little disappointed about is that the original is sharper than this - I need to do a little more research now on uploading files to the web to retain original sharpness.  Maybe it has something to do with post-processing the images...

Scarlet Tanager.  OK, I admit it, I am posting this one because I just love the color of it (and especially right after the brilliant blue of the Indigo Bunting above).  Again, the original seems sharper - got to figure this one out.

Oh, and did I mention digiscoping yet?  With this new camera body, and using an inexpensive 50mm lens (and a more expensive Swarovski digiscoping adapter that I bought years ago) I ought to be able to digiscope again as well.  With any luck I'll be able to post some test shots soon.

So, this coming holiday weekend we are predicted to have some nice weather, and in-between other prior commitments, I'll hopefully be able to get out a practice a bit more before we leave on Tuesday for a 5 day trip to Oregon, where I plan to be pointing this new lens at some Pacific Northwest stunners like  Lewis' and White-headed Woodpeckers, etc.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Bird Photography Weekly #91

Ruffed Grouse - Bonasa umbellus

Up until this Sunday, pretty much every Ruffed Grouse experience that I'd ever had consisted of one of two scenarios.  I'd heard (and felt) them drumming but was not able to find the bird, or I'd only see a feathered butt exploding into the woods, as I was recovering from a minor heart attack after it had flushed from within a few feet from where I'd been walking.  (They can be notoriously hard to see, and tend not to flush right away.)  This weekend while birding with some friends locally, we were treated to long looks at a very confiding Ruffed Grouse.  I don't think there are any breeders in the area where this bird could have escaped from, but it was certainly pretty curious about us.  And frankly, we didn't complain - it's not often you can get a look like this at what can be a pretty skittish bird..

PS - as always click on the photos to see larger versions!

To see some great bird photos from around the world, check out:

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Birding Road Trip

It's been a little while since I've written much on the blog - mostly I've just been posting pics from spring migration.  Now, I've got a few really cool things going on that I want to share, but before I get too deep into it, I should talk a bit about this past weekend.  My birthday was this past Saturday and Pamela, with our friends Paul and Diana, indulged me in my desire for a birding road trip.  The goal of the trip was to see Kirtland's Warbler, which is usually most easily seen in the transitional Jack Pine forests in Michigan.  I found out about the Kirtland's Warbler Wildlife Festival in Roscommon, MI and figured a 12hour drive for a life warbler didn't seem too unrealistic, right?  Discussing it with Paul and Diana, we decided to break the trip up with a stop in Ohio both and the way there and back and check in at Magee Marsh  boardwalk on Lake Erie - it was during the Biggest Week In American Birding after all, and there was bound to be some great birding there.  We set out from Boston on Wednesday evening after work, and made it as far as Syracuse, NY where we found a place to lay our heads for the night.  Next morning we were up and on the road bright and early, and before you knew it (OK, like 7 hours later) we pulled into the parking lot at Magee Marsh, and the birding was simply amazing!  It had rained that morning and I think it had only stopped about an our before we arrived, so the activity was amazing - in under two hours, we racked up 19 species of warblers as well as quite a few other birds.  And not only were there a lot of birds, but the looks that you get there are fantastic - warblers that in Massachusetts are usually in the treetops were almost eye-level and I was able to see detail that I've only ever seen in photos before...

Cape May Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler

Bay-breasted Warbler

Then, of course, there are the warblers that are common here in New England that you are just as happy to see there:
Palm Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler

And of course, it is always exciting to see birds that you don't usually run across at home.  Each year, there are a few reports of Prothonotary Warblers in MA, and Golden-winged Warblers used to be more common, but seem to be pretty sparse around here these days.
Prothonotary Warbler
Golden-winged Warbler
Again, I want to stress that all of this and many many more were seen within two hours of arriving - it's no wonder that I was able to count license plates from at least 20 states in the parking lot!  
We had booked inexpensive accommodations just 10 minutes away from the Black Swamp Bird Observatory and Magee Marsh, so were able to get up and out early again on Friday morning.  Everybody who was watching the weather and following migration fronts were predicting that it was going to be a big morning - warm winds blowing out of the south after several nights of a front holding things up.  We got to the boardwalk by 6:30am and although there were a few birders around when we arrived, it wasn't nearly as packed as the previous day, but there was a steady stream of birders and photographers flowing in - and the birds were there too.  Walking the boardwalk, we continued to have spectacular looks at a lot ofthe birds we had seen the previous day, but it was clear that some species had decided to cross the lake overnight, while a few species that had only a few representatives the day before, had arrived in large numbers - Magnolia Warblers, which I don't believe we saw at all on Thursday were everywhere on Friday morning, and there were American Redstarts at almost every stop.
Magnolia Warbler

American Redstart

After completing our first circuit of the boardwalk, which included spotting things like Bald Eagle, Swainson's and Grey-cheeked Thrushes, Yellow-billed and Black-billed Cuckoo, as well as over 20 species of warblers, (including watching a confiding Prothonotary as it brought nesting material to a cavity, *see below- yes, a cavity, they are a cavity-nesting warbler), we happened to be walking along next to one of the guys from Tropical Birding who generously donated their time and talent to the Biggest Week in American Birding festival as guides. His radio crackled something - and he repeated "Kirtland's Warbler confirmed at the beach?"  Indeed, it sounded like there was a credible sighting at the east end of the beach, and that the birds was still there and singing.  (There had been an unconfirmed report of a Kirtland's the day before, but it was never refound and nobody seemed to be able to say who was the one that reported it) He turned right around and so did we.  We made our way to the beach, and there was no doubt that the bird was still there, as there were hundreds of birders (amazingly keeping a comfortable distance) watching the star of the week as he foraged along the scrubby habitat and stopped to sing now and again.
Kirtland's Warbler

We spent some time watching and photographing the bird, then moved out of the way so others could shuffle to the front for their turn at eye-popping looks of their own.  Throughout the day, hundreds if not thousands of birders got their best looks ever of this bird - and like ourselves, it was a "lifer" for a lot of them.  (Big thanks to Kenn Kauffman who found the bird and got the word out.) And from all the photos and videos I've seen of this bird in the last week (mostly from Facebook), I am betting that this is the single most photographed Kirtland's Warbler in history.  Certainly this was the highlight of the trip for me!
We did go back to the boardwalk for another walk-through, before packing it up and getting in the car to head to Greyling, MI.  I couldn't imagine that we were going to get any better looks at this bird there, but we had pre-paid the lodging etc, so another 4+ hours in the car and we arrived at our hotel after finding the meeting spot for the festival's 7am field trip.
Sandhill Cranes with chick in MI

The Kirtland's Warbler Wildlife Festival was a nice little festival that managed to pull in birders from all over that come to get their "life" Kirtland's Warbler.  I could be wrong about this, but I almost got the impression that it started as a local little festival more aimed at local residents, with lots of things like face-painting for kids, etc that has grown as word got out about the field trips to see the birds and their habitat.  The looks that we had from the 7am field trip were certainly not the same as what we'd had in Ohio (I certainly wouldn't have complained if they were my life looks at this bird though!), but it was nice to get some history of the birds in the area and learning what management practices were being done to protect both the birds and their habitat.  The folks that led the field trips - wildlife biologists from the forest service and US Fish and Wildlife, as well as from state wildlife departments, were enthusiastic and informative, and really seemed to be shocked to hear how many people were not local and how far some had travelled.  After the field trip, and a little time at the festival, we packed up and headed the 4+ hours back to Ohio.  This afternoon we spent some time driving the wildlife drive at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge.  
 Trumpeter Swan at Ottawa NWR
We were pretty lucky, in that this drive only seems to be open one day of the month, and we happened to be there that day so we got to see some of the refuge that is normally closed off.  We managed to tick off a few extra birds for the trip list this afternoon in the form of some of grassland and shorebirds like American Pipits, Lesser Yellowlegs, Short-billed Dowitcher, Black-bellied Dunlin, and a Marbled Godwit that spent the day in a field drawing some pretty big crowds.  We wrapped up the day as it started getting darker and found a nice restaurant for dinner to celebrate my birthday and a few days of non-stop traveling and excellent birding.
Blue-winged Teal

The next morning (Sunday) we did one last circuit of the boardwalk, though it was pretty windy which seemed to keep numbers down, then we got in the car and by 8:30am were back on the road for the long 12 hour drive home.

It was a long but (for me at least) a very satisfying weekend of birding.  Everybody from the Tropical Birding Guides to the visiting birders at Black Swamp Bird Observatory and Magee Marsh were really nice and helpful (saying a lot for a crowd that size) and the birds really were spectacular - I would highly recommend heading out there if you ever have the chance, and the Biggest Week in American Birding Festival is a really opportune time to do it.  With the success of this years festival, I can't imagine that they won't be doing it again.  And even if you don't join the festival, I know quite a few birders that have been visiting over the years and always rave about the birding.
Prothonotary Warbler with nesting material at cavity

Monday, May 17, 2010

Bird Photography Weekly #90

Kirtland's Warbler, Dendroica graciae

Photographed at the beach by Magee Marsh on May 14th, during the Biggest Week in American Birding.  With the number of birders and photographers there, I expect that this is the single most photographed Kirtland's Warbler in history.

PS - as always click on the photos to see larger versions!

To see some great bird photos from around the world, check out:

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Wordless Wednesday 5/12/10

Blue-winged Warbler

Get Wordless over at Wordless Wednesday

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Bird Photography Weekly #89

Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Pheucticus ludovicianus

PS - as always click on the photos to see larger versions!

To see some great bird photos from around the world, check out: