Rich Ditch's Photography Blog

April 9, 2014

Foolproof Empid ID

Filed under: Birds — richditch @ 8:39 pm
Foolproof Empid ID

Foolproof Empid ID

This wonderful chart arrived in this morning’s email from a friend in NJ, who was forwarding it after receiving it from another birder …

I can’t name the genius who came up with this, so if you can point me to the original source I’d be very grateful.

The chart cleverly distills the essence of the Great Empid Challenge; to a large number of birders these birds look so much alike that separating them from each other in there field based only on visual observation borders on the impossible. Instead, we hope the bird will give its distinctive call and we’ll be able to put the correct name to it. This worked pretty well for me in my NJ days, when we could travel to the appropriate habitat and obverse the bird on territory and listen to its call. But here in AZ my encounters are almost always with silent migrants and I end up leaving them unnamed.

I’ve posted about this problem in various forms her before:

But before we decide that this chart answers all our questions about Empid Identification, consider this question from another recipient of the email conveying it:

How do we know that these birds are correctly identified in the chart?

 

Update: The source is a Facebook entry by Paul John

April 6, 2014

Common Ground-Dove at Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Filed under: Birds, Boyce Thompson Arboretum, favorite places — richditch @ 9:02 pm
Common Ground-Dove

Common Ground-Dove

I had a good time leading a birdwalk at Boyce Thompson Arboretum on Saturday, with a big enough group that we split it with friends Pete and Cynthia leading half of the participants. It is nice meeting old friends and new friends-to-be this way and talking about birds and birding in other locations. In addition, it is always good to have help from other experienced birders in the group in finding as many species as possible.

The most exciting bird for us was this Common Ground-Dove that was hanging out just down the slope from the gat to the lower parking area. Contrary to the “Common” in the name I don’t see this species very often in AZ, and these are the first decent photos I’ve managed of one.

I don’t carry my camera gear when I’m doing a birdwalk – too heavy, too bulky, and too clumsy to bother with. But I always have it with me in the car when I’m out at Boyce. Since I’d parked in the lower picnic lot it only took a few minutes to get to the car, set it up, and get back to the dove. There was only one position from which to shoot that gave a mostly unobstructed view.

Note the heavy scaled appearance on the breast and the bicolored bill (pink at the base).

Common Ground-Dove

Common Ground-Dove

Both images with: Nikon D300, Nikkor 300/2.8 AF-S lens with TC20E III (2x), Gitzo 1325 tripod, RRS BH-55 ball head, Sidekick.

February 11, 2014

Rare Birds of North America by Howell, Lewington, & Russell

Filed under: Birds, Boyce Thompson Arboretum, Gilbert Water Ranch, rarities, reviews — richditch @ 2:06 pm
Rare Birds of North America

Rare Birds of North America

I’ll admit right away that I’ve got a fondness for books, and especially for those about birds. So I’ve accumulated a decent library made up of of a variety of field guides new and obscure, books covering families of birds like sparrows and warblers and hummingbirds and shorebirds, bird-finding guides to places all over the U.S., encyclopedias and other collections of related material.

Once in a while a book stands out from all the others, and Rare Birds of North America by Howell, Lewington, & Russell is one of those. I can’t imagine a serious birder who would not want to own a copy of this beautiful and useful book.

The dust jacket flyleaf gives the stats:

  • covers 262 species of vagrant birds found in the United States and Canada
  • features 275 stunning color plates of occurrence by region and season
  • provides an invaluable overtire of vagrancy patterns and migration
  • include detailed species accounts and cutting-edge identification tips

All this in a clean layout on quality paper of over 400 pages.

I spent my first night with the book skimming through, looking at species I’ve already seen in the field, and the species I’ve chased and not been lucky or skilled enough to see. I’ve even read about the exact birds I have viewed in some of the distribution accounts in the book. For the record these I’ve already seen in AZ are:

Eared Quetzal, Plain-capped Starthroat, Berylline Hummingbird, Rufous-backed Thrush (aka Robin), Aztec Thrush, Rufous-capped Warbler, Flame-colored Tanager, Streak-backed Oriole, Baikel Teal, Blue-footed Booby, Northern Jacana, Nutting’s Flycatcher

And those I’ve seen elsewhere in the U.S.:

White-winged Tern (DE), Whiskered Tern (DE), Wood Sandpiper (CT), Spotted Redshank (NY).

There might be more that I missed. But that’s only 16 species out of the 262 covered in the book so I’ve still got 246 more to go!

I’ve posted  about Rufous-backed Robin before: from the Gilbert Water RanchBoyce Thompson Arboretum, and Anthem north of Phoenix. And about Northern Jacana. And even about Baikel Teal.

But I can’t find any previous posts about the Streak-backed Oriole that returned for three winters at the Gilbert Water Ranch, so here are some of my favorite shots of that bird.

Streak-backed Oriole

Streak-backed Oriole

11/24/2005, Nikon D70, Nikkor 300/2.8 AF-S plus TC20E (2x), ISO 200, 1/250th sec @ f/10

Streak-backed Oriole

Streak-backed Oriole

11/24/2005, Nikon D70, Nikkor 300/2.8 AF-S plus TC20E (2x), ISO 200, 1/200th sec @ f/10

Streak-backed Oriole

Streak-backed Oriole

12/25/2006, Nikon D70, Nikkor 300/2.8 AF-S plus TC20E (2x), ISO 200, 1/100th sec @ f/9

Streak-backed Oriole

Streak-backed Oriole

10/21/2007, Nikon D200, Nikkor 300/2.8 AF-S plus TC20E (2x), ISO 400, 1/400th sec @ f/8

January 17, 2014

Papago Park, Part 2

Filed under: Birds, light — richditch @ 1:30 pm
Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

Nikon D300, Nikkor AF-S 300/2.8 plus TC20E III (2x), ISO 400, 1/800th second at f/8

As promised in my last post here are some more photos from Papago Park in Phoenix. This is a very urban park next to the zoo, with lots of blacktop, parking lots, and picnic ramadas. The attraction for photographers is the number and variety of wild waterfowl that spend the winter months in the easy-access ponds. The birds are sometimes fed by park visitors and quickly become tolerant of people close by.

This drake Hooded Merganser has been attracting photographers since word got out on the AZ birders email list. Although mergansers can be found in multiple locations here this isn’t one of the abundant species in AZ, so having an attractive male that gets within camera range is worth checking out.

American Wigeon

American Wigeon

Nikon D300, Nikkor AF-S  70-300/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, ISO 400, 1/500th second at f/8

A more common species in AZ in winter is the American Wigeon. Although I see them in greater numbers and in more places than the Hooded Merganser I won’t pass up a shot at an attractive wigeon in good light and within range.

Mallard

Mallard

Nikon D300, Nikkor AF-S 70-300/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, ISO 400, 1/320th second at f/11

Like urban parks everywhere in the country there are always resident Mallards around. I liked the light on this drake standing beside the water, plus the chance to see the bulk usually hidden below the water’s surface.

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

Nikon D300, Nikkor AF-S 300/2.8 plus TC20E III (2x), ISO 800, 1/60th second at f/8

Even in an urban park there are often small areas with more natural aspects, and this Red-winged Blackbird was attracted to this micro habitat or water and reeds.

Palm Tree Bark

Palm Tree Bark

Nikon D300, Nikkor AF-S 300/2.8 plus TC20E III (2x), ISO 200, 1/125th second at f/8

Finally, I try to keep my eyes open for interesting subjects other than birds like the bark of this palm tree. I admit that my was first attracted to it by the red-shafted flickers coming to it to feed on hanging fruit, but they had moved on by the time I’d gotten my big lens set up. But one look at the bark in the warm morning light through my bird lens was all it took for me to forget about chasing after the flickers.

I haven’t finished editing and processing of my photos from Papago Park, so I might post another collection of shots from here sometime soon.

January 15, 2014

Papago Park

Filed under: Birds, light — richditch @ 6:44 pm
Papago Park

Papago Park

Nikon D300, Nikkor 18-70 AF-S at 52mm, ISO 400, 1/320th second at f/5.6

Since the start of 2014 I’ve been making a few early morning visits to Papago Park, between the Phoenix Zoo and the Desert Botanical Gardens, jus east of Sky Harbor Airport and near the edge of Tempe, AZ.

I’ve been there occasionally over the years I’ve lived in Phoenix to add various ducks to my annual Year List, or to take advantage of the wintering ducks that allow close approach for photos. In the past it has always felt a bit too “urban”for full outdoor enjoyment, but I’ve gotten past that this year with visits on weekdays around dawn when there’s almost nobody else present.

Papago Park

Papago Park

Nikon D300, Nikkor 18-70 AF-S at 24mm, ISO 400, 1/250th second at f/5.6

A few days ago I was blessed with unusual conditions for Phoenix – solid cloud cover in the west with breaking sun rising in the east. That gave me the chance to capture local elements in warm morning light against a dark sky background. So for a while I ignored the birds and my big lens, grabbing the other body with wide angle zoom for some scenic views. For a change I played around with a variety of compositions, like this vertical view.

Papago Park

Papago Park

Nikon D300, Nikkor 18-70 AF-S at 38mm, ISO 400, 1/200th second at f/5.6

The light was low contrast so I could also play around with exposure a bit and not worry about pushing the histogram off either end of the scale.

I’ve got lots of bird images as well, of course. I’m nowhere near finished editing and processing my favorites, but I do have a few ready to share.

Canvasback

Canvasback

Nikon D300, Nikkor 70-300 AF-S at 280mm, ISO 400, 1/400th second at f/11

This is a good example of how accommodating the ducks are at Papago Park. The vast majority of my avian photos were taken with my modest 70-300 zoom, hand held, and often at less than the 300mm setting. I must say that the freedom of using this compact and lightweight lens, compared to my usual 300/2.8 and 2x converter, is intoxicating.

For comparison, here’s another Canvasback shot, this time with the 300 and 2x.

Canvasback

Canvasback

Nikon D300, Nikkor AF-S 300/2.8 plus TC20E III (2x), ISO 800, 1/800th second at f/11

More duck species and images are yet to be processed and hopefully will show up in the next post soon.

Great Blue Heron in morning mist

Great Blue Heron

Nikon D300, Nikkor AF-S 300/2.8 plus TC20E III (2x), ISO 800, 1/1250th second at f/8

I couldn’t resist this Great Blue Heron that landed on an interesting lamp post in the warm morning light and against the dark sky.

Green Heron

Green Heron

Nikon D300, Nikkor AF-S 300/2.8 plus TC20E III (2x), ISO 400, 1/1250th second at f/8

I also managed a couple shots of Green Herons in “micro habitats” that make this urban park seem a bit more wild than it really is.

Green Heron

Green Heron

Nikon D300, Nikkor AF-S 300/2.8 plus TC20E III (2x), ISO 12500, 1/160th second at f/5.6

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