Rich Ditch's Photography Blog

December 22, 2011

Northern Mockingbird – It’s the Light

Filed under: Birds, comparisons, digital benefits, favorite places, Gilbert Water Ranch, light — richditch @ 12:38 pm
Northern Mockingbird @ 7:41 am

Northern Mockingbird @ 7:41 am

Nikon D300, AF-S 300/2.8 plus TC20E (2x), ISO 800, 1/50th second @ f/9, matrix metered, 61% of frame

As a novice photographer so long ago I always thought it was the subject that was whole point of photography. Although now I know there is little point to taking a photo if there is no subject, I also understand that the light is extremely important to the photo as well. Here are two photos of a Northern Mockingbird taken at the same spot at the Gilbert Water Ranch on the same day to illustrate the difference light can make.Nikon D300, AF-S 300/2.8 plus TC20E (2x), ISO 400, 1/1250th second @ f/8, spot metered, 74% of frame

Sunrise was around 7:28 am on December 20, 2011, and I had just started my random walk at the Water Ranch when I came upon this mockingbird in his usual spot (mockingbirds are quite territorial even in winter so I wasn’t surprised to find this bird catching the first rays of sun from a favorite perch). Since I have so many shots of this species in my files I usually just walk past, but I couldn’t ignore the pink glow that added so much go this normally gray bird. The rising sun had just broken through heavy overcast, and even at ISO 800 I could only manage 1/50th second at f/9 for my exposure.

Normally I’d reject this composition because of the distracting out-of-focus branch that crosses the tail, but I really like the pink glow and the sharpness I got even at 1/50th second.

Northern Mockingbird @ 9:52 am

Northern Mockingbird @ 9:52 am

Nikon D300, AF-S 300/2.8 plus TC20E (2x), ISO 400, 1/1250th second @ f/8, spot metered, 74% of frame

Just over two hours later as I was leaving I couldn’t resist a few frames of the same mockingbird on a different branch. Those two hours made a tremendous difference in the light – I had a lot more of it so even with a lower ISO my shutter speed was way up to 1/1250th second. This shot shows the normal colors of the mockingbird. Although the image isn’t handicapped with a branch across part of the bird it is a less interesting image because of the ordinary light.

Another plug for digital: it is a great learning aide to have the shooting parameters and date/time stamp embedded in the EXIF for each image. We take it for granted now that digital rules, but in the days of film we were very lucky if we could recall anything about an image beyond the approximate date and probable lens used for a photo.

December 20, 2011

Brown Thrasher – today’s rarity

Filed under: Birds, favorite places, Gilbert Water Ranch, rarities — richditch @ 4:14 pm
Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

 

This morning (December 20, 2011) as I was making my usual rounds at the Gilbert Water Ranch under heavy overcast skies I caught a glimpse of rusty brown movement in the brushy tangle under the trail-side bushes. I immediately suspected that I’d found a Brown Thrasher: – a species I know well from our old New Jersey backyard. I’ve been fortunate to see one that returned to Boyce Thompson Arboretum a few times over many years, but this is my first for the Water Ranch and my first in Maricopa County.

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

Typical of the species this bird was rather shy, staying in the brush and behind the twigs. It was associating with a pair of Curve-billed Thrashers.

For those who know the Water Ranch or wish to look for the bird I had it near the northwest end of the path between ponds 3 and 4, between the metal gate and the first bench. At first it was at ground level on the pond 3 side, then crossed the path (when I got these shots), and ended up about eye level not far from the path in a dense cedar wher it was impossible to take photos.

Nikon D300, Nikkor 300/2.8 AF-S lens, ISO 800, 1/200th second @ f/2.8, tripod, 25% of frame, 8:45 am on 12/20/2011

December 18, 2011

Pied-billed Grebe

Filed under: Birds, comparisons, composition, favorite places, Gilbert Water Ranch, light, style — richditch @ 9:43 am
Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

December 6, 2011, Nikon D300, Nikkor 300/2.8 AF-S plus TC20E(2x), ISO 400, 1/250th second @ f/8, tripod

I’ve always enjoyed Pied-billed Grebes as long as I’ve been birding (40+ years now). Its hard to say exactly why: they are small, nondescript water birds that can be hard to find and harder to see well. But when viewed closely and watched for a while they reward the viewer with interesting detail and activity.

Non birders (and many novice birdwatchers) refer to them as ducks because they are found on ther same small ponds as ducks. But grebes are much different from ducks structurally, with lobed toes instead of webbed feet, and legs far back on the body. This makes grebes good underwater predators but clumsy on land.

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

December 6, 2011, Nikon D300, Nikkor 300/2.8 AF-S, ISO 400, 1/1000th second @ f/8, tripod

Grebes usually are shy birds that head for the rushes on the edges of ponds when people show up. Or, they simply sink below the surface and disappear from view. But given the proper location and time of year these small birds can be seen well and appreciated.

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

December 4, 2011, Nikon D300, Nikkor 300/2.8 AF-S plus TC20E(2x), ISO 400, 1/500th second @ f/10, tripod

These images were all recently taken at the Gilbert Water Ranch. Other posts featuring this species can be seen at Pied-billed Grebe Sequence and Juvie Pied-billed Grebe.

Many photographers try to get their subjects in the open for a completely uncluttered view, as seen in the second and third images in this post. But my preference as a nature photographers is to show my subjects in habitat as much as possible, as seen in the first image. There’s room in the world of photography for both styles, and each has its own challenges. I enjoy working with the more complex habitat images even though it is difficult to show proper habitat without it becoming overwhelming and a distraction to the viewer.

December 12, 2011

Mourning Dove – common but worth a look

Filed under: Birds, comparisons, composition, favorite places, Gilbert Water Ranch — richditch @ 3:48 pm
Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove

Nikon D300, Nikkor 300/2.8 AF-S plus TC20E (2x), ISO 400, 1/320th second @ f/8, Gitzo tripod with gimbal head

I’ll admit to having once been  a “birding snob,” where I rank ordered birds by rarity or lifestyle (raptors at the top of the list). And I still get a thrill chasing after vagrants in AZ and rare birds elsewhere as recent posts (Kittiwake, Mew Gull, Glaucous-winged Gull, Eastern Phoebe) attest.

In snob mode I seldom paid attention to the lowly Mourning Dove, at least once I’d seen one for my current outing list. But I’ve grown fond of these common birds and now look more closely at them. This is probably because we have so many of them in our Phoenix backyard, but it is also because bird photography has slowed down my bird listing frenzy the more time I spend with my camera gear.

Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove

These three images were made over a three minute interval at the Gilbert Water Ranch on November 29, 2011 a little after 3:00 pm – a time of day I’m usually not at this location. My eye was immediately caught by this dove on a branch close to the parking lot when I arrived, so I decided to see what I could do with it. My first shot of the day is the second image presented here: it is usually a good practice to start taking photos as soon as you can in case the bird decides to leave. Once I’ve got an initial few frames I’ll  try to get closer or adjust my position to improve my initial composition. The lead image of this post was taken one minute after the initial shot. Ir shows that I’d moved a bit closer, and decided to clip the tips of the interesting perch to move the dove somewhat away from the left edge of the frame. I was not able to completely clear the out of focus twigs for a cleaner image, but decided I liked the dove and background enough to shoot anyway.

Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove

As I moved up the slope after getting the shot I wanted I gave the dove another look and decided it was worth a few more frames. I suuspect most viewers will find this final image too cluttered, and I understand that sentiment. but I like the variety of brown tones this gives the image.

If you have any preferences I’d like to hear them.

December 10, 2011

Verdin on Desert Broom

Filed under: Birds, comparisons, favorite places, Gilbert Water Ranch — richditch @ 4:10 pm
Verdin

Verdin

Nikon D300, Nikkor 300/2.8 plus TC20E (2x), ISO 400, 1/1000th second at f/8, Gitzo tripod with gimbal head

The Verdin is a common bird of the desert southwest, and its loud penetrating call makes them easy to locate. They are easy to find at the Gilbert Water Ranch, where these two images were made on December 4, 2011.

Verdins are very small – about the size of a kinglet – and very active. These features make them difficult subjects for nature photographers who work as I do without baiting or the use tapes to attract subjects. So, I spend a lot of time watching these active feeders, and a lot of time discarding bad photos of them.

This bird was one of those delightful exceptions. It limited its feeding activity to this Desert Broom shrub. In addition, it picked a spot in good light and without a lot of visual clutter. Finally, it was oblivious to me close presence on the path in front of the shrub.

I was able to take many frames of this bird as it moved around this small area. Even with so many favorable factors I ended up with a lot of cluttered shots and “almost” keepers that I had to discard. These two shots are my favorites.

Verdin

Verdin

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