Friday, February 25, 2011

Last Year's Florida Trip Revisited

Last March, I flew into Orlando in order to test a Canon 400 5.6L that I had pick-up used at a very reasonable price.  There was plenty of sun on Day One at Merritt Island, but Day Two saw mostly clouds and little sun. I recently went through my photos from this trip again and decided to post some here.  I had been shooting for 26 months at this time.. Some of my choices as far as aperture were questionable and my failure to use exposure compensation ruined what could have been quality images of Great Egrets feeding at the Blue Heron Water Reclamation Facility and Wetland Area. 

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
Titusville, FL

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Green Heron Hunting, Canon 50D, 400mm 5.6L, f/7.1 @ 1/1000, ISO 500.  March 15, 2010 at 2:16 p.m.

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Blue-winged TealCanon 50D, 400mm 5.6L, f/8.0 @ 1/1600, ISO 400.  March 15, 2010 at 3:05 p.m.

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Roseate Spoonbills PreeningCanon 50D, 400mm 5.6L, f/11 @ 1/1250, ISO 400.  March 15, 2010 at 3:59 p.m.

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Washing the FeathersCanon 50D, 400mm 5.6L, f/9.0 @ 1/2000, ISO 400.  March 15, 2010 at 4:00 

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Drying the FeathersCanon 50D, 400mm 5.6L, f/9.0 @ 1/1600, ISO 400.  March 15, 2010 at 4:04 

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Strutting AroundCanon 50D, 400mm 5.6L, f/9.0 @ 1/1600, ISO 400.  March 15, 2010 at 4:04 

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Male Anhinga Sunning Himself, Canon 50D, 400mm 5.6L, f/7.1 @ 1/800, ISO 320.  March 15, 2010 at 6:21 p.m.

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Female Anhinga Drying Her Wings, Canon 50D, 400mm 5.6L, f/5.6 @ 1/1250, ISO 400.  March 15, 2010 at 6:46 p.m.

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Black Vulture about to Lift-Off, Canon 50D, 70-200mm 2.8L @ 200mm, f/7.1 @ 1/500, ISO 400.  March 15, 2010 at 7:06 p.m.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
Titusville, FL

As I said, the sun was largely uncooperative on Day Two.

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Tricolored Heron on the Hunt, Canon 50D, 400 5.6L, f/7.1 @ 1/1600, ISO 400.  March 16, 2010 at 11:34  a.m.

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Tricolored Heron, Canon 50D, 400 5.6L, f/7.1 @ 1/640, ISO 400.  March 16, 2010 at 11:35 a.m.

Blue Heron Water Reclamation Facility and Wetland Area
Titusville, FL

This facility is right down I-95 from Merritt Island.  It is a small area, but the road is directly next to the wetlands and practically on the same grade. The road is short enough to be hiked.  The variety of species at such close range makes this a great spot for birding.  Just make sure to sign-in at the office upon your arrival.  Appointments are necessary for weekend visits.

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Great Blue Heron, Canon 50D, 400 5.6L, f/8.0 @ 1/1000, ISO 320.  March 16, 2010 at 1:32 p.m.

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Juvenile Little Blue Heron, Canon 50D, 400 5.6L, f/7.1 @ 1/1600, ISO 320.  March 16, 2010 at 1:26 p.m.

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Cattle Egret, Canon 50D, 400 5.6L, f/6.3 @ 1/2500, ISO 320.  March 16, 2010 at 1:38 p.m.

Gatorland Rookery
Orlando, FL

When this tourist attraction decided to expand to accommodate more alligators, the unintended consequence was the creation of a rookery. With alligators present, the natural predators of eggs and chicks avoid the area.  During my short visit, I witnessed Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Wood Storks, Roseate Spoonbills and Anhingas in various stages of nesting and breeding.  A long lens is helpful but not necessary; the birds are accustomed to people and build nests right along the boardwalk that runs through the area.  On some occasions, my 70-200 was actually too long.  

The most striking thing to me was the sound of the Snowy Egrets as they attempted to establish their ground and gain the attention of the females. They are quite noisy and sound more like alien creatures than birds of this world. They gobble like large, angry turkeys.  I also found myself less than two feet from an adult Black-crowned Night Heron.  I never appreciated how large and beautiful this species really is.  Had it not been in the shade on an already overcast day, it would have been a great photographic opportunity.     

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Mother and Child, Canon 50D, 70-200 2.8L @ 147mm, f/4.5 @ 1/2000, ISO 200.  March 16, 2010 at 3:04 p.m.

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Mother Grooming Her Chick, Canon 50D, 70-200 2.8L + 1.4TC @ 280mm, f/4.0 @ 1/2000, ISO 200.  March 16, 2010 at 3:01 p.m.

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Grooming the Breeding PlumesCanon 50D, 70-200 2.8L @ 105mm, f/6.3 @ 1/1250, ISO 320.  March 16, 2010 at 3:40 p.m.

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Mother in Full Breeding Plumage with Green Lores Adjusting NestCanon 50D, 70-200 2.8L @ 95mm, f/7.1 @ 1/1000, ISO 320.  March 16, 2010 at 4:01 p.m.

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Snowy Egret on Alligator BackCanon 50D, 70-200 2.8L @ 150mm, f/6.3 @ 1/1000, ISO 200.  March 16, 2010 at 3:11 p.m.

Book Review: The Latest & Greatest Bird ID Guide by Richard Crossley

The Crossley ID Guide
Eastern Birds
Copyright 2011 by Richard Crossley
Published by Princeton University Press

Richard Crossley, an avid birder residing in one of North America's hottest birding spots- Cape May, NJ- breaks new ground with the release of his beyond-comprehensive 529-page tome for identifying eastern birds. (The 'East' is comprised of the Rocky Mountains to the west, Mexico and The Bahamas to the south, Nuussuaq, Greenland to the east, and north of the Arctic Circle up to Boothia Peninsula.  Western birds that are known to be eastern vagrants are also included.)  

Crossley himself took over 10,000 photographs for this undertaking, and uses them in a myriad of ways.  The book starts with a size guide for the various classifications of birds- swimming waterbirds, walking waterbirds, raptors, etc.- which places a picture of each bird to scale with their alpha code and page number on which the particular species is discussed in further detail.  The 660 species in the book are illustrated by placing a number of photographs of each species atop a photographic scene akin to its natural habitat as a background.  Eastern birders will easily recognize some of the background photographs and be able to verify that the birds are indeed pictured at their usual haunts: the 2nd Street Jetty in Cape May for the Black Skimmer; the area off the 8th Street Jetty in Avalon, NJ for the Black Scoter; or, the Cape May Point, NJ breeding grounds for the American Oystercatcher.

There's not just one photograph for each species, however.  Crossley includes photos of juveniles and adults of both sexes, also providing examples of birds as they transition from breeding to high breeding plumage.  Any differences in appearance related to age are also accounted for photographically.  Nowhere is this more impressive than in the scenes featuring the various species of gulls, which even experts are sometimes unable to identify definitively, occasionally relying on probabilities to make a final determination.  There are eight identifying photographs for the Lesser Black-backed Gull alone, documenting yearly changes until the bird finally reaches adulthood.  There is also a written description, scientific name, and territorial map for each species of bird.

When one considers the amount of time and effort that Crossley must have placed into developing this guide- especially photographing the birds in flight, which can be quite challenging- the Guide is a relative steal at $35.00.  A visual masterpiece, I'd recommend it to any birder of any level of experience.   


Thursday, February 17, 2011

Mallards from Yesterday and a GBH from before the Thaw

There was over a dozen mallards in a break in the ice yesterday at Heinz NWR in Tinicum.  They didn't immediately fly away at the sight of me and my 400 5.6L, which is the usual response by the  waterfowl at the refuge.  With the exception of one, all of these photos are uncropped or 75% on the original image.  Here's some of my favorites:

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I like how the sun illuminated the head of the duck at the center of the frame perfectly, while leaving the one directly in front of it in the dark. 



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I really like the feather detail in this one.

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All but the last touch of sunlight, seen near the bird's beak, had been obscured behind the trees at this time.

I also saw several Downy Woodpeckers (Picoides pubescens):

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I caught-up with a Great Blue Heron at the behest of a client and a Northern Harrier in the magic hour a few weeks ago but never posted the images:

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Great Blue Heron Portrait (Uncropped), January 24, 2001, Canon 50D, 400mm 5.6L, f/8.0, ISO 250, EV -4/3.

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Great Blue Heron on Ice (Uncropped), January 24, 2011, Canon 50D, 400mm 5.6L, f/8.0, ISO 320, EV -4/3.

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Female Northern Harrier, January 24, 2011, Canon 50D, 400mm 5.6L, f/7.1 @ 1/800, ISO 400, 50% Crop.

Other species seen yesterday:

Canada Goose (abundant)
Downy Woodpecker (3)
Common Merganser (approx. 12)
Northern Harrier
Belted Kingfisher (also seen on 1/24/11)
Female Bald Eagle in Nest

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Day at Foysythe NWR

There were plenty of waterfowl at the refuge today, but 400mm proved to be too short to get excellent captures for most of them.  I saw two Short-Eared Owls chasing each other around just after the sun set, making it impossible to get a photo.  They flew right over my car.

Hooded Merganser (Lyphodytes cucullatus)
2010.02.10  Hooded Merganser
The sun was just over the horizon, providing perfect light.  There were a number of Hoodies hanging out at the drainage pipe at the first turn.  I captured this drake as he was swimming away from the pipe in order to get away from my car.  These ducks are very skittish.  Most waterfowl at the Refuge do not fear people in cars.  Canon 50D, 400mm 5.6L,  f/7.1 @ 1/250, ISO 400, -2/3 EV.

Northern Pintail (Anas acuta)
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In contrast to the Hoodies, Northern Pintail will hang out very close to the road.  I don't consider a photo of this duck to be a keeper unless the lighting has revealed the iridescent purple streak behind the bird's eye.  Canon 50D, 400mm 5.6L, f/9 @ 1/1250, ISO 400, -2/3 EV.

Snow Geese (Chen caerulescens)
2010.02.10  Snow Geese
This photo required a lot of cloning as the closed aperture revealed the numerous dust spots on a sensor in need of a serious cleaning.  Note the Northern Harrier flying in the background, which may be the reason why the flock took flight.  Canon 50D, 400mm 5.6L, f/11 @ 1/1600, ISO 400, -2/3 EV.

Habitat Shot of Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus)
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This raptor took a short break while on the hunt.   Canon 50D, 400mm 5.6L, f/9 @ 1/1600, ISO 400, -2/3 EV. 

The sunset was rather bland, so I did some experimenting with my 5D Mark II and 70-200mm 2.8L:

Sunset @ f/22 with Diffraction Halo
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Sunset @ f/32
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Species observed:
Northern Shoveler (numerous)
Northern Pintail (numerous)
Mallard (numerous)
Hooded Merganser (numerous)
Common Merganser (1 drake, 1 hen)
Canada Goose (abundant)
Snow Goose (abundant)
Northern Harrier (1 male, 1 female)
Red-Tailed Hawk (1)
Short-Eared Owl (2)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Canon: New L Lens Announcement

Canon Europe today announced the introduction of the EF 200-400mm f/4.0L IS USM 1.4 Extender to the venerable L-lens line-up, which looks to be a welcome addition to the arsenal of the wildlife and bird photographer.  The lens uses a mouthful of a title because it has a 1.4X TC integrated into the unit that will provide a focal length of 280-560mm when activated via a locking switch on the barrel, presumably while maintaining a relatively fast 4.0 aperture.  Otherwise, I don't see why it would be labeled as a constant aperture lens.  Regardless, a 560mm f/5.6 lens with Image Stabilization is one mean birding lens.  If you bird by kayak like I do during the summer, this lens is a dream come true.  

The price has yet to be announced, but we should know when the lens is formally introduced on February 9.  It's not going to be cheap.  While the 4.0 aperture won't allow for indoor use at concerts and sporting events, it's certainly fast enough for any wildlife and bird photographer.  The combination of aperture and IS should make the lens useful even in low outdoor light.  If I had to guess, I'd put the MSRP between $3,999 and $4,499.  

It was also announced today that the 500 f/4.0L IS and 600 f/4 IS have been overhauled and given Mark II designations.  No prices are yet available for these lenses.

UPDATE:  The 500 Mark II has an MSRP of $9,499 which is almost $3,000 higher than the original version.  The 600 Mark II clocks in at $11,999.  The differences?  The lenses are lighter, can be better used for HD video, and will reportedly resolve images at up to 40 megapixels. Looks like I will be way off in my prediction concerning the price of the 200-400 w/ 1.4X.  I'd now expect an MSRP in the $7,000 range.  It will not be accessible to the serious hobbyist except to rent or if your day job affords you a significant income.