Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Pacific-slope Flycatcher at Dixon Lake

My old camera could never have taken the photos presented in this post. The low light would have produced unusably dark, blurry, and grainy photos.

6:38 am on a totally overcast morning. Behind a hill from the sun. Along a stream, in the willows under the canopy of sycamore trees. Dark, dark, dark. And look! 1/1000th of a second. I could probably have gotten by at 1/500 and ISO 3100 for less grain.

Pacific-slope Flycatcher
Canon 7D Mark ii and Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6. 1/1000 f/5.6 @260mm, ISO 6200. Pacific-slope Flycatcher. Dixon Lake, California. June 15, 2018.
Pacific-slope Flycatcher
Pacific-slope Flycatcher

Two hours later I stopped back by and it was a bit brighter. This time there was some dappled light filtering through. 1/800, f/5.6 @400mm, ISO 4900 and also 1/800, f/7.1 @400, ISO 6200. Amazing!

Pacific-slope Flycatcher
Pacific-slope Flycatcher
Pacific-slope Flycatcher

Monday, July 16, 2018

New camera practice: Day 1

My old Canon XTi Rebel camera was state of the art DSLR back in 2006. Combined with Canon's 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 zoom lens I have obtained many thousands of wonderful bird photos over the years.

However, the camera's focus wasn't very selective--frequently focusing on landscape behind the bird, if it was small in the frame. And though the ISO went up to 1600, ISO 400 was the default, as ISO 800 was very grainy, and ISO 1600 terrible. At 400mm the lens was a bit soft in focus at f/5.6, but better at f/7.1. So, for 12 years I didn't adjust the camera. I shot Aperture Priority at f/7.1, ISO 400, and automatically took whatever shutter speed the light allowed--usually quite slow--hoping the image stabilization would eliminate camera shake.

I haven't had the disposable income in the recent few years to replace it with something better, but I saved up. I mean, it's not the $5000 camera, or even the $3500 camera, but I think my new camera is Canon's best crop-sensor camera, which makes it great for hand-holding the 100-400mm lens. The crop sensor adds 1.6x magnification compared to a camera with a full frame sensor, turning the 400mm lens into 640mm equivalent compared to a film camera.

My new Canon 7D Mark II is a marvel. It shoots at ISO 6400 with less noise than ISO 800 on my old camera, allowing me to shoot in heavy shade or clouds. Though I'll probably not shoot above ISO 3200. I'm keeping the old lens--it's still too expensive to replace it with the new version. The zoom lens still takes sharper shots at f/7.1, but now I can shoot 1/1250 of a second in shade or 1/2000 of a second to stop nearly all bird action, and use AUTO-ISO to get sharp photos without graininess--and at 10 frames per second!

On June 15, 2018 I went to Dixon Lake to try it out in various shooting modes.

Black Phoebe
So, 6:17 am on an overcast morning, at least an hour (maybe 2) earlier than I could attempt shooting with my old camera. 1/500 sec., f/5.6, ISO 4000. Not grainy. Not razor sharp, but sharp enough. Black Phoebe.

Desert cottontail
I tried back-button focus to hold focus and recompose off-center. It worked well. However, I am strongly left-eye-dominant. I just can't "see" looking through the viewfinder with my right eye. Thus, looking through the viewfinder with my left eye puts my thumb on the back button and a big thumb knuckle smear on my glasses. I've tried--but I went back to half-press shutter focus. I can still program the back buttons for 5 seconds of focus and exposure lock and accomplish the same thing for a cooperative subject... and keep my fingers off my glasses lens. Desert Cottontail.

tree tobacco and hummingbird
It was still cloudy at 7:32 am. The wings aren't quite frozen at 1/1250 sec., f/7.1, ISO 2000. Tree tobacco attracts Anna's Hummingbird.

Mariposa Lily? My wildflower identification skills are non-existent. But I shot this from 2 meters at 400mm, 1/640, f/7.1, ISO 250. Who needs a macro lens?

chamise blooms
Chamise blooms. 1/1600, f/7.1, ISO 2000 at 100mm. Any time I shoot at less than 400mm the exposure and sharpness are great. 

California Scrub-Jay portrait
1/1600, f/7.1, ISO 2500 @360mm. California Scrub-Jay at close range.

fence lizard
Fence Lizard. 1/1600, f/7.1, ISO 2500 @200mm.

White-breasted Nuthatch going for a bath
This White-breasted Nuthatch was taking a bath on this garbage can lid that was hit by the irrigation sprinkler. I could never have frozen this twitchy bird with my old camera. 1/1250, f/7.1, ISO 800.

House Finch on its nest
This House Finch on its nest under the picnic shelter roof took some work. It was very dark. I went to all Manual. 1/250, f/6.3, ISO 6400.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Nazca Booby and Masked Booby on same pelagic trip!

For the first time in 4 years I took a pelagic trip out from San Diego Bay without spotting any of the formerly rare Brown Booby. However, we made up for it with two black-and-white boobies--one each of Nazca and Masked Booby.

The first was an adult Nazca Booby within 5 miles of the mouth of San Diego Bay first thing in the morning. It was in the water and allowed great photos before flying off. The pinkish tinge to the bill separates Nazca from Masked Booby. Several Nazca Boobies showed up in San Diego Bay this winter. Perhaps they rode boats up from the south.

Nazca Booby
Nazca Booby
Nazca Booby
Nazca Booby. Off San Diego, California. June 10, 2018.
Nazca Booby

Later in the day farther north off La Jolla, another booby did a fly-over of the boat, as typical for boobies. This bird had a yellow or yellow-green tinged bill. The white collar around the neck also indicates this bird was Masked Booby and not Nazca. A Masked Booby or two had been reported recently from shore at La Jolla.

Masked Booby
Masked Booby
Masked Booby. Off San Diego, California. June 10, 2018.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Western Kingbird on barbed wire

I made a quick stop on Kitchen Creek Road this spring. I walked eastward about a half mile on the Pacific Crest Trail. This is one of the only known areas in San Diego County where one can reasonably expect the Gray Vireo.

No Gray Vireo for me this time. So I settled for this roadside shot out the car window of Western Kingbird.

Western Kingbird
Western Kingbird. Kitchen Creek Road, San Diego County, California. April 15, 2018.
Western Kingbird

Friday, July 13, 2018

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher at Agua Caliente County Park

I was able to visit Agua Caliente County Park this April during the spring migration. Oases in the desert during migration are always great for birding. I was able to see many migrant birds. Most of my best photos, however, were of the resident desert birds.

One of my favorites in the Anza-Borrego Desert is the expressive little Black-tailed Gnatcatcher. The first two photos are a male on a flowering Creosote bush.

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher. Agua Caliente, California. April 15, 2018.