Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Juvenile Black Phoebe on picnic table

Crisp wing edges with cinnamon wing bars and a touch of yellow on the gape at the fleshy corner of the mouth identify this Black Phoebe as a juvenile, only a couple of weeks old.

Black Phoebe
Black Phoebe. Escondido, California. June 22, 2018.
1/1000, f/5.6 @400mm, 2000 ISO
The bird perched on a concrete picnic table, so I lowered myself until I was shooting exactly level with the table top, as you can see by the feet. This gives an intimate, eye-level perspective.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Brown Creeper on Palomar Mountain

Brown Creepers are difficult to photograph well. They love dark, heavy timber. They cling to the trunk. They bounce along as they climb, staying active.

This species is a rare resident in the highest forests of San Diego County. My new camera allows me to take photos with faster shutter speeds and higher ISO. So eventually, I should be able to get some better photos. These are not it. But I share anyway. Just because it is hard to get any usable photos.

Brown Creeper
Brown Creeper
Brown Creeper
Brown Creeper
Brown Creeper. Palomar Mountain, California. June 17, 2018.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Close Encounters of the Mountain Quail kind

Over the years I have helped many visiting out-of-state birders by giving tips on where to find certain birds on their "target list." I tend to enjoy these email requests to help far-away birders plan their trips. Some help is as easy as saying: "just look up," for abundant and widespread birds. Okay, I was more diplomatic and probably said something like: "easy; widespread in towns." Other replies could include the negative: "Sorry, not present at this time of year" or: "That species is not found here, unless you want to take a 250 mile side trip."

The difficult target birds were the owls--especially those that were found in mountains and were rare and local. One, it would not be good to have lots of birders going to some isolated spot and potentially disturbing a single known nesting pair and their young. But often, a second difficulty was that the owls weren't reliable to any specific spot, just a huge national or state forest. Oh, and nocturnal.

Another difficult request was for locations to see or photograph woodland quail and grouse. One of these is the Mountain Quail, only found in the western United States and northern Baja.

Oh, I could tell them where to go at dawn in spring to hear the loud "Quark!" bounce off the foggy hillsides of the Pacific Northwest or dry canyons of southern California. But to actually see them? Photograph them? You're kidding, right?

I have recorded Mountain Quail over 70 times in 45 years. That's less than twice per year--and I live near them! At least 85% were males crowing in spring--never seen. Most of my actual sightings consist of a startling burst of wings from underfoot as I walked a logging road or trail through a forest opening. I'd be lucky to see enough of the tail/rump coloration as it flew away to make a decision: Ruffed Grouse? Blue (Sooty) Grouse? Mountain Quail? California Quail? Not enough time to even raise my binoculars.

Sometimes a hen would be herding her flightless chicks through the tangles and I might get a glimpse. Or while driving a winding mountain road I might come around a bend to see a quail or 8 scurry off the road into the brush. Rarely could I track down a calling bird and find his concealed perch. He usually saw me first. I understand that some lucky people living in the forest have them visiting their feeders! Total myth. (Okay, maybe true. But I've never seen them that way.)

Photograph? Once. In 2005. A calling bird 200 yards away photographed with a point and shoot camera through my spotting scope. (Terrible picture here on my eBird checklist.)

So imagine my surprise when I rounded a curve on my recent hike at Palomar Mountain State Park and my path was blocked by a Mountain Quail that wouldn't let me pass! Imagine my glee as my camera was ready and I got pretty decent photos of this near-mythological creature!

I heard grating and squealing noises.

Mountain Quail
Mountain Quail
Mountain Quail

But what in the world was this bird doing? My research has provided no clues. Now Ruffed Grouse and Sooty Grouse (and Ring-necked Pheasants) sometimes aggressively protect their territories from human interlopers--even charging and attacking human legs and feet! But I found no such behavior noted for quail. So, I've got three theories.

Theory 1) At the time, I thought that it might be a distraction display. Perhaps it was guarding the trail to allow chicks to cross. Except I never saw any evidence of chicks.

Theory 2) I interrupted a territorial squabble between two males. This certainly makes sense. I thought there was another bird present, but all my photos are of just the one bird.

Theory 3) There was also a towhee and perhaps a scrub-jay involved. New crazy theory based on an encounter of mine a few days later: What if all these birds were upset at a rattlesnake? The quail was whining. Perhaps the grating I heard was the rattle of a rattlesnake? Seems unlikely, but maybe?

Mountain Quail
Mountain Quail. Palomar Mountain, California. June 17, 2018.
Whatever the cause, I'm glad I got this prolonged close views and photos.

Eventually, it walked into the brush, and circled around behind me.

Mountain Quail
Mountain Quail

Then it crossed the trail again and took up a station to keep an eye on me. On my return, 20 minutes later, all was quiet.

Mountain Quail

All these photos seem to be of the same bird. Was there only one? I'll never know. But it was an interesting and curious encounter. At least I haven't been making any mashed potato sculptures.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Western Wood-Pewee on tilted signpost

I remember puzzling out all the flycatchers in Oregon when I was a kid first starting out bird watching. As they bred in Oregon and sang and called all spring and summer, I got to learn to identify them by proportions and typical habitat, and confirm the identification with their voice.

On a cruise to Puerto Vallarta several years ago I hired a local bird guide for a morning trip, as I don't speak Spanish. He led me to a good birding area and arranged transportation (taxi and bus). I was surprised to find a Least Flycatcher (among other more typical Mexican endemics). The guide didn't know what flycatcher it was. He had no way to identify the Empidonax flycatchers--they look too much alike and don't sing there. He had no way to confirm any guesses he might make.

Fortunately for you, this isn't a post on identification. Just enjoy this Western Wood-Pewee I photographed a few weeks back!

Western Wood-Pewee
Western Wood-Pewee. Palomar Mountain, California. June 17, 2018.
Western Wood-Pewee

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Spotted Towhee at Palomar Mountain and my childhood Laboratory

I was looking at this photo of Spotted Towhee I took recently and was reminded of a similar photo I took 45 years ago when I was 14 years old. The little film camera probably only had a plastic lens, and the cartridge held film for about 20 exposures.

My family had built a home out in the country on an acre of land in western Oregon. At the back was a small creek (ditch) that I dammed up. Next to it I cobbled together leftover scraps of plywood from our home into my personal hide-out. It wasn't a "clubhouse." It wasn't a "fort." It was "The Lab." There I kept my microscope, chemistry set, science books, and my science journals. I built a blind in one corner and set up a feeder just outside to photograph birds, including the then-named Rufous-sided Towhee.

Spotted Towhee
Spotted Towhee. Palomar Mountain, California. June 17, 2018.
It's funny, 8 years later I was working in a laboratory on a mushroom farm in Ventura, California. Microscope, chemical testing, science books, and log books. No bird blinds. It would have made it feel more complete if it had one though.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Warbling Vireo at Palomar Mountain

Warbling Vireos are rather plain greenish-gray birds with an indistinct eyebrow line. As with all vireos--and unlike the hyperactive warblers--vireos move sluggishly through the tree canopy. Even though they aren't very large or active, they sing non-stop throughout the day and breeding season. In early afternoon they may be one of the few birds singing.

Two of the three photos below show the bird singing as it moves through the foliage at Palomar Mountain.

Warbling Vireo
Warbling Vireo. Palomar Mountain, California. June 17, 2018.
Warbling Vireo
Warbling Vireo

Monday, July 23, 2018

7 elements of an artistic bird photo

Artistic or Documentation? What makes a good bird photo?

I came to bird photography from bird watching. I wanted to share what I was seeing with others. I was interested in documenting identification marks and behaviors. My goal was to take photos of birds I came across while I was birding--especially rare or hard-to-identify birds. I wanted "verifiable objective evidence" more than "art." And my usual birding routine was to walk a mile or two of trails during an hour or two in the morning. Setting up a photo for artistic appeal was not a primary consideration and, in fact, was not even possible until I upgraded my camera at the end of June 2018 with the Canon 7D Mark ii.

I've been adding photos to my eBird checklists since they first allowed them. Many of my photos reached the highest, 5-star, quality level. According to eBird the 5-star rating applies to common or rare birds. They are: "The best images possible. The birds should be sharp and well-lit, have a clean background, good composition, and be posed well." Such wonderful documentation photos meeting this definition may still not necessarily be artistically great photos.

What more is needed?

Once I ordered my new camera I started watching a lot of Arthur Morris/Canon YouTube videos. Recently I've been watching the Wildlife Inspired YouTube channel. A recent upload was: "We were all Beginner Wildlife Photographers Once," Wildlife Inspired, April 25, 2018.

In this hour plus video, Ray Hennessy and Scott Keys share their photos and discuss the aspects of artistic bird photography.

One point I heard, here and elsewhere (non-photography), was that beginners over-value their (skill/knowledge/expertise). They don't know how much they don't know. Thus they think they are better than they are. This could apply to driving a car, being a doctor, or creating artistic bird photos.

"Make a decision between the birder in you and the photographer in you." It is a joy to wander around watching birds while carrying a camera to document the birds you see. However, you are unlikely to create many truly artistic bird photos without forethought and planning. It requires being in the right place at the right time, planning for the light, creating the composition, and waiting for the bird.

Most of my bird photography is opportunistic. Even if I make plans to photograph a particular species, I haven't put advanced thought into the light and pose and composition that I want to capture. And I rarely spend more than 10 minutes with any one individual bird. But I've started to learn how to do so. None of the items presented here are of my own originality. In fact, I may never actually go on a photo shooting outing specifically for artistic shots. However, when the opportunity presents itself, I can make my documentation photos more artistic following these guidelines.

These, then, are what I understand to be the 7 components of an artistic bird photo.

1) Focus--
In nearly all cases, the eyes need to be open and sharply focused. A bright spot of sun or sky should reflect as a "catch light" in the bird's eye. Even if the back half of the bird is out-of-focus, if the eyes are sharp, most people consider the bird in focus. Silhouettes and some action shots might not show the eyes, but these are an exception. Flash can cause "steel eye" in birds. It is like "red eye" in people.

2) Light--
One of Arthur Morris's mantras is "point your shadow at the bird." I find, though, that a bit of shadow on one side can make the bird look more 3-dimensional and less flat. Most wildlife photographers want to shoot in "golden hour" light--just after sunrise and just before sunset with soft yellow light without the harsh shadows of full daylight. Strong daylight causes harsh shadows--the bird's eye will be shaded from overhead sun by the bird's brow. Or, the bird may choose to shade its eyes in the shadow of a branch or leaf. On the other hand, overcast conditions can provide soft light with few shadows as long as it lasts--even all day. And inclement weather (rain or snow) can provide interesting artistic opportunities as well.

3) Foreground and background--
The background will make or break your photo. A smooth out-of-focus background is pleasing to many bird photographers. A gradient is often pleasing. Clouds in the blue sky are frequently mentioned as desirable, rather than a solid blue sky. Sometimes all it takes is moving a few feet left or right to rid the frame of a distracting element. Bright out-of-focus building colors or unnatural geometric shapes--especially in water reflections--can really detract attention from the bird. Bright spots of light in the background are also a nuisance. In general, blur the background by shooting wide open aperture for shallow depth of field. Then get the camera closer to the bird and the background farther from the bird.

4) Perspective--
Don't shoot down, or up, at a bird. Get intimate with the bird by shooting at bird's eye level and joining the bird's world. This may mean laying on your belly to get the shot.

5) Action--
The BOAS ("bird on a stick") pose can often provide that nice clean background, but tends to be boring because of its commonness. Look to record interesting behaviors--feeding, singing, mating, flying--anything that gives life to your subject and tells a story.

6) Composition and cropping--
There are a lots of bird composition "rules." Learn them and use them frequently, but look for opportunities to create an interesting composition by breaking them. The "rule of thirds" breaks your photo into thirds horizontally and vertically, with points of interest on the intersections. Your bird should not be dead center in the frame, but probably on one of these thirds intersections. Most of the photos considered best have the body of the bird and the face facing the camera. If possible, the bird should be looking at the camera. In general, if you crop closely, the bird should have more space in front and above the head than the tail. The more you crop, the poorer the photo quality. If smaller in frame, compositions often look better with the bird facing into the frame rather than looking out of the frame. Try vertical or more square crops rather than the horizontal crop. Try small-in-frame "habitat" shots. Try head-on shots, not just profile shots. Experiment.

7) Editing--
Always shoot in RAW and make minor exposure adjustments in the post-processing. But always try to set your camera to make the best possible exposure for each shot. Some lenses are notorious for sucking dust into the camera sensor. So you may do clone stamping of sky or water to remove dust spots. "Contest editing" will only allow very minor edits to the original. Some photographers will edit out unsightly branches or insert clouds into an all-blue sky to make an artistic photo. Whether you choose to make such major changes to the original is up to you. Just be sure to acknowledge it.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 

Now I'll try to objectively review some of my better photos. I'll discuss both what is right and what is not-so-good about each photo. Please remember that in most cases I wasn't trying to make artistic photos, but some turned out good anyway.

Redhead. Oceanside, California. 22 February 2015.
1/100, f/7.1 @ 400mm, ISO 400
What makes the Redhead above a good photo? Focus is sharp, even hand held at 1/100th of a second (my older camera didn't allow me to create good photos at higher ISO or wider f-stop). The day was overcast so there are no harsh shadows. The light reflection in the background is not ideal, but not overly distracting. I was able to shoot very low, eye-level with the duck. The bird is looking at me with slight head turn. This is a crop of about 80% of the original. There was another piece of a duck in the frame to the upper right that I cropped away. Other than some minor adjustments to exposure, no editing was done. Sadly, I no longer have the original RAW file.

Snowy Egret
Snowy Egret. Escondido, California. 13 December 2017.
1/500, f/7.1 @310 mm, ISO 400
This Snowy Egret is not super sharp because of the slow shutter speed, but the golden early morning light is very pleasing and desirable. Flight shots are always nice. Ideally, it would have been better for the bird to fly into the sun, so the breast wouldn't be in shadow. The background is perhaps a bit strong. Some photographers may have chosen to edit and soften the contrast of the watery background. This is not a full frame. I could have easily cropped so the bird was moved farther down and to the right to conform more to the rule of thirds, but it's not too bad the way it is.

Marbled Godwit
Marbled Godwit. Newport, Oregon. 11 September 2009.
1/1250, f/7.1 @400mm, ISO 400
If this Marbled Godwit was just standing there in the water it would not have been a very good photo. It is the open-winged pose, with the tension of anticipatory action, and splash of water on the leg, that makes this photo. The harsh light and shadow on the breast and face, in early afternoon is somewhat alleviated by sunlight reflected up from the water. There's no catch light in the eye. But it is the backlit primaries on the wing that really saves it, I think. The background fades away nicely, and is a great contrasting color. And I was as low as I could get without being in the water. The crop is more squared than most, to balance the wing. I could have cropped differently so the bird was more to the lower left of frame with more water to the right. This came from a series of photos of a rare Hudsonian Godwit (eBird checklist here) in among a flock of Marbled Godwits. I found a place on the shore and waited an hour for the tide to come in and push the bird closer to me. To get this pose was not as hard as you may think. I observed that the birds were resting on one leg. When the little tidal surge of waves came in the birds lost balance slightly and opened their wings to balance. I just waited for it.

California Gnatcatcher
California Gnatcatcher on California buckwheat. Escondido, California. 11 October 2017.
1/200, f/7.1 @400mm, ISO 400
California Gnatcatchers are an endangered species found in coastal sage scrub in the San Diego region. I actually see them quite often in the local areas I go birding. And when I do, I always try to get a photo. This one turned out quite good. I especially like the interesting foreground stalks of California buckwheat that blur quickly into the background. The plant shape and texture is as much the subject as the bird. The earth tones match the gray and black of the bird. I think the focus is sharper on the tail--slightly behind the plane of the head. So the focus is not as crisp as it could be on the face. There might also be a bit of softness due to camera shake at the slow shutter speed. The early morning light is soft, perhaps slightly overcast as the shadows are present but not obvious. The perspective is good--pretty much level with the bird's head. There's no apparent action in this photo, but the bird is constantly on the move. I've cropped fairly heavily to remove more vegetation on both sides of the present crop. The crop is taller (more square) than the other crops on this page. I've put the left side of the body on the vertical line of the left third of the frame. The bird's pose is nice, but the head is tilted slightly away, looking ever-so-slightly behind. I have another shot with better head angle, but softer focus (eBird checklist with photos here). If I think about it much longer I may actually like the other photo better, despite the softer focus only noticeable when viewed at full size. With small birds in trees or brush you don't have as much control of the artistic elements. You can be out at the right time of day and facing the correct sun angle. But other factors are only in the control of the bird. If given a choice, the bird will always make you look into the sun! You just have to take lots of photos as the bird moves around. Look for openings and cleaner backgrounds, even while taking the shots. Overcast is better than sunny when shooting birds in the brush or branches when harsh shadows will ruin the shot. Territorial singing birds in spring will often remain out in the open on an exposed perch. That's the time to plan a specific shoot.

Friday, July 20, 2018

My 600th eBird species

On July 12th I birded at Mile Square Regional Park in Fountain Valley, California, in Orange County.

There I recorded my 600th world eBird species--Egyptian Goose. At least 65 birds roamed the lawns along with almost 200 Canada geese. Egyptian geese are not countable by ABA rules, along with probably 20 other domestic or escaped birds that I have recorded on my eBird list of 545 for "North America" north of Mexico. So my ABA area tally is somewhere near 525.

Egyptian Goose
Egyptian Goose
Egyptian Goose. Fountain Valley, California. July 12, 2018.
Egyptian Goose

Because these "ornamental" birds are generally not "countable" by birders, not much is known about them in North America. Texas and Florida have large non-native populations. In southern California they seem limited mostly to Orange County (and Los Angeles County?). I have not seen them in adjacent San Diego County. But they certainly are unique!

Thursday, July 19, 2018

More new camera practice

I've spent a dozen years shooting with a camera body that left me with little choice as to ISO and aperture settings. I now have a camera that has the ability to allow me to choose more artistic expression. I can choose shallow or inclusive depth-of-field. I can choose to blur motion or stop the wings of hummingbirds. I can choose to shoot into the sun or even after sunset.

But first, I have to get used to faster focus and burst-shooting at 10 frames per second. My previous camera could shoot 3-4 frames per second of RAW, but the buffer filled with 8 shots, and took 20 seconds to recover. I can now shoot RAW at 10 frames per second for at least 5 seconds without the buffer filling, and it recovers fully within 1 second of releasing the shutter--basically, I can never fill the buffer!

I glimpsed the chipmunk and ready, fire, aim! The first shot of the burst may not have been aimed, but subsequent frames refocused with AI-Servo.

Merriam's Chipmunk
Merriam's Chipmunk. Mt. Palomar, California. June 17, 2018. 1/1250, f/6.3 @ 400mm, ISO 1200.
Because I have 1600 RAW shots available to me on my memory card now, rather than 200 as before, I am able to take many more "spray and pray" shots. I don't have to worry about running out of room on my memory card. I can take short bursts as a subject moves through the brush. Some even turn out as decent "documentation" photos!

Steller's Jay
Steller's Jay. Mt. Palomar, California. June 17, 2018. 1/2000, f/6.3 @400mm, ISO 1600.
As a default, I keep my camera settings to be prepared for quickly shooting active birds. Thus 1/1250th of a second and f/7.1 in Manual mode with Auto ISO. Spot focus and Evaluative metering. On the above jay photo I shot 1/2000 which gave ISO 1600. I could have halved the shutter speed to 1/1000 and AUTO ISO would have automatically halved the ISO to 800. Better image quality (less grainy) could have been had at ISO 400, so I could have gone to 1/500th of a second hand-held without motion blur--especially as my lens is Image Stabilized. But even blowing the image up full-sized I don't see much grain (colored spots) in the shadows.

I will take several shots at this "bird default" setting. Then, if a subject sticks around longer, I can adjust the camera settings. That might be a faster shutter speed for flight shots or twitchy birds. It might be a slower shutter speed for a still subject in order to get a better-quality result. If I'm shooting a backlit bird (not ideal) I can increase the exposure compensation or change to spot metering. I just have to remember to change the settings back, because autofocus mode and metering mode and exposure compensation do not change back on their own--not even after turning the camera off and back on. So, I must remember to check the exposure histogram regularly, and "expose to the right."

Jacaranda tree. Oceanside, California. June 17, 2018. 1/1250, f/7.1 @ 220mm, ISO 500.
Reducing the magnification from 400mm down to 220mm allowed in more light. The ISO dropped to 500. Again, I could easily have halved the shutter speed and had even better image quality.

I can shoot as close as 1.7 meters with my lens. So some "near macro" shots are possible--like this honey bee on clover. I focused on the center of the clover. It looks like the hind leg of the bee is in focus but the head and eyes less so. I could have used a smaller aperture setting to get everything in focus--maybe f/14?

honey bee on clover
Honey bee on clover. Oceanside, California. June 17, 2018. 1/1250, f/7.1 @400mm, ISO 400.
And, yes, if you were paying close attention, I birded up in the mountains in the morning, and down on the coast in the afternoon. The goal was the actual beach. But it was so crowded we couldn't even find a parking space in early afternoon. So we chose a park a couple miles inland and saved $35+ by going home for dinner rather than eating out.

A couple of days later we headed over to a park near our home after work. I was still trying to see what worked and what didn't.

Feeding the baby--Black Phoebe
Feeding the baby--Black Phoebe. Escondido, California. June 20, 2018. 1/2000, f/7.1 @400mm, ISO 2000.
Female House Finch
Female House Finch. Escondido, California. June 20, 2018. 1/2000, f/7.1 @ 400mm, ISO 800.
Oh, look! The moon. Nearly straight up. {Snaps a photo without even looking at camera settings.} If I thought about it I might have chosen something like 1/500, f/11, ISO 600? But this turned out fine.

Moon. 1/2000, f/7.1 @400mm, ISO 800. Hand-held.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Great-tailed Grackle at Dixon Lake

Grackles tend to be noisy and somewhat obnoxious residents of parks, lake shores, and parking lots. Great-tailed Grackles are found from Texas to California, never far from water... or people.

Great-tailed Grackles first arrived in San Diego County in 1977, but were not noted breeding until 1988. By the time of the publication of the San Diego County Bird Atlas (2004, Philip Unitt) birds were locally common throughout most lowland wetlands and lakes.

These birds are fairly common at the golf course across the street from my home and nearby at Dixon Lake. They were not recorded there during the Atlas project. So, they have continued to expand until it would be unusual to find a lowland lake with manicured lawns that did not support a colony of these birds.

The male pictured below was "singing" last month on the shore of Lake Dixon, in Escondido. The display is quite involved and includes spread tail, slightly open wings, and head throws with loud squeaks, rattles, squeals, and whistles.

Great-tailed Grackle
Great-tailed Grackle. Dixon Lake, California. June 15, 2018.
Take another look at the bird below. See the dark and light bands on the feathers of the tail? These are growth bars. Dark bars are daytime growth and the pale bars indicate night time. Each pair is a day of growth. How many days did it take to grow the longest tail feather? (I count over 30 pairs of growth bars in the longest feather.)

Grackles are quite unique in molting all their tail feathers at once, thus being tailless in late summer. The tails of grackles will have all feathers showing the same wear and fading, as they are all the same age. Most other birds molt the tail sequentially (or in groups of 3-4 feathers at a time), thus would show groups of feathers with differing wear and fading patterns as adults (> 1 year old).

Great-tailed Grackle

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.