Rich Ditch's Photography Blog

May 13, 2013

Mediterranean House Gecko

Filed under: backyard, behavior, digital benefits, light, Non Birds — richditch @ 6:35 pm
Mediterranian House Gecko

Mediterranean House Gecko

The Mediterranean House Gecko is a non native species that as been introduced in the Phoenix metro area and other parts of Arizona. They are found close to human habitation in the hotter months of the year, usually around lights at night.

We’ve had them at our house in Phoenix for many years where they can be seen occasionally near the front entrance, but usually at higher spots or in darker areas than I can easily deal with photographically. This gecko was a nice exception last night (5/12/13) just outside the front door and visible just above eye level near the outside lamp.

I decided to try for a usable photo even though it involved a lot of compromises I usually manage to avoid. My first decision was to take the shot from inside through the window glass rather than risk spooking the gecko by going out the front door. I mounted my old 105/2.8 macro lens o a D300 body – a compromise on focal length because the 200mm macro that would have been better is only an f/4 lens. With the 105 set wide open I still needed to crank the ISO up to 1600 to get a marginal shutter speed of 1/100th second. This was just fast enough to allow me to hand hold the lens (I much prefer to work from a steady tripod).

To get the proper angle I needed to shoot through the glass at about a 45 degree angle – much worse than shooting directly through the glass perpendicular to the flat surface.

The light was bright enough, but it came from a CFL bulb shining through glass with a strong yellow color, so the raw images looked like they were bright lemon yellow.

Finally, I had to make a significant crop – this is only 17% of the full frame. The 200mm lens would have permitted using 68% of the frame – a substantial improvement.

I’ve got to say that I am quite pleased with the results given all those compromises! The subject is sharp and properly exposed. I was able to correct the color in raw conversion by neutralizing the yellow out of the stucco, allowing the true color of the gecko to be revealed.

According to A Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles n Arizona by Thomas C. Brennan and Andrew T. Holycross, this is

A small (to 60 mm or 2.4″) peach or light pinkish tan lizard with dark reticulations, spots, or crossbars and translucent skin. The pupils are vertical. Whitish tubercles on the back, prominent toe pads, and lidless eyes distinguish it from Western Banded Gecko.

I don’t know why this individual doesn’t have the dark spots shown in the field guide.

If it shows up in the same spot again I’ll set up the 200mm lens and a good tripod and try to find an angle that avoids the junk my wife has hanging in the window. And if it stays put I’ll also try to get outside for an even better shot.

May 3, 2013

Doves at the Bath

Filed under: backyard, behavior, Birds, light — richditch @ 7:10 pm

White-winged Dove

White-winged Dove

White-winged Dove, Nikon D300, 300/2.8 AF-S lens plus TC14E (1.4x converter(, ISO 800, 1/250th second at f/5.6, 4/28/2013 at 4:18 pm

Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove, Nikon D300, 300/2.8 AF-S lens plus TC14E (1.4x converter), ISO 800, 1/60th second at f/5.6, 4/28/2013 at 5:27 pm

Water is a great attraction in any yard, and especially in hot dry Phoenix. Now that we’ve had three consecutive days of triple digit highs we know that the summer heat is just ahead fort us. With the heat the backyard birds make more use of both our birdbath and the water feature in these two images.

Most of the larger birds – the doves, quail, and grackles – as well as many of the smaller birds – the finches, sparrows, thrashers and mockingbirds – use the traditional shallow bowl birdbath for drinking. The water feature gets visited by the doves, starlings, and warblers for bathing and drinking – it seems the warblers are attracted by the sound of the running water.

Both shots were made on April 28 from inside the house and through the glass patio door. If I’m careful to avoid reflections of internal light on the glass, and if I keep the outside clean (a major issue) I can get reasonable quality in the image. The shots lose some sharpness and a lot of contrast, so I compensate for the flatness in post processing of the raw files by moving the black slider many points to the right.

Also note the difference in the light between these iamges. Although they were both taken on the same afternoon, the young Mourning Dove was shot over an hour later than the aWhite-winged Dove and has softer warmer tones as a result.

April 27, 2013

European Starling at the birdbath

Filed under: backyard, behavior, Birds — richditch @ 11:16 am
European Starling

European Starling

As an American birder I must confess that I have a low opinion of the European Starling, a species introduced to the United States by well meaning people in the 1800’s. An account of this introduction is contained in The Birder’s Handbook (Ehrlich, Dodkin,Wheye):

The first two attempts to introduce the European Starling into North America failed. The third did not, and what has followed since those 60 starlings were released in 1890 in New York City’s Central Park has ornithologists alternately astounded, puzzled, and infuriated.

To most birders, starlings are seen as a pest species that has displaced native species by stealing nesting locations. Starlings are so successful in the U.S. that they can be found almost everywhere that people can be found.

When we came to Phoenix, AZ, we didn’t see as many starlings as we had throughout NJ. And we never saw them in our yard until about 3-4 years ago when a single bird showed up on a large Saguaro cactus in our neighbor’s front yard. This bird quickly discovered the running water in our backyard water feature.

European Starling

European Starling

Since then the number has grown to three birds. They visit our water feature multiple times each day to bathe. I must admit that I’m growing more fond of this species as it splashes about and appears to thoroughly enjoy itself. We never noticed this behavior in NJ, but we didn’t have a water feature with running water there and we didn’t look at them other than to check them off a day list when we saw them.

We now see these birds arrive at the water feature in a group to take turns in the water. Each then flies up to a branch to shake off the excess. During migration we see an occasional warbler attracted to the running water, and sometimes the warbler will take a bath. Otherwise it is just the doves who visit the water for a drink but never bathe.

Both images were taken on April 4, 2013, between 8:00 and9:00 am with a Nikon D300 and a Nikkor 300/2.8 AF-S lens mounted on a tripod. The images are taken through the patio glass (which causes some loss of detail, and a bigger lose in contrast which can be mostly compensated for in post processing). Exposure was ISO 800, 1/125th second at f/4. The images are cropped about 20-25%.

April 19, 2013

Eurasian Collared Dove?

Filed under: backyard, Birds — richditch @ 2:43 pm
Eurasian Collared Dove?

Eurasian Collared Dove?

The most abundant species in our Phoenix backyard is the widespread Mourning Dove: we probably have 50 or so birds visit the yard every day for the seed we scatter on the ground. We used to have 8-12 Inca Doves daily as well, but in the past couple of years they have almost disappeared from the neighborhood, and we feel fortunate when one or two show up every month or so. In the warmer months we also get up to six White-winged Doves joining the Mourning Doves feeding on the seed.

Last year we had our first Eurasian Collared Dove show up. This species arrived in AZ a few years ago and has made an explosive expansion throughout the state, so we were actually surprised it took so long for one to reach our yard.

Earlier this week we had a normal plumaged Eurasian Collared Dove show up again, and Carol pointed out a curious second dove with it – the one seen in these photos.

Eurasian Collared Dove?

Eurasian Collared Dove?

It was the same size as the normal Eurasian Collared Dove, but lacked the black collar on the hind neck. The bird was more mottled as well. The wingtips looked right for Eurasian Collared Dove as did the tail.

My first thought was this was a juvie Eurasian Collared Dove, mostly from the hesitant behavior. But my field guides show juvies with the black neck collar.

So, I”m interested in opinions on this particular bird. What do you think it is?

February 5, 2013

Back Yard Abert’s Towhee

Filed under: backyard, Birds, digital benefits, light, surprise results — richditch @ 2:37 pm
Abert's Towhee

Abert’s Towhee

Nikon d300, Nikkor AF-S 300/2.8 lens with TC20E III (@x), ISO1600, 1/160th second at f/5.6, tripod

I’m not much of a backyard bird photographer, even though birds are a prominent part of our lives. We scatter seed every day for the doves and quail, and my wife has an addiction for feeding mealworms to the mockingbirds, thrashers, and towhees. This Abert’s Towhee is one of a pair that hang out all day in our yard on most days of the week.

If our yard wasn’t so cluttered with plants that block almost all my site lines I’d think about setting up some perches in good light to take advantage of these birds when I don’t have the time to visit the Water Ranch or Boyce Thompson Arboretum for more serendipitous encounters with more wild subjects.

This image is about as close as I’ve come to a baited set-up shot, even though it wasn’t set up nor baited. It was about 20 minutes before sunset when I noticed the towhee perched on a random ornamental branch on the ground a few feet from the patio. Luckily the camera was already mounted on the tripod nearby and I quickly dragged it over to the patio door, cranked the ISO to to 1600 and set the lens wide open at f/5.6. I didn’t have time to carefully frame my image (hence the unfortunately clipped tail) – I just made sure the auto focus had locked on to the head of the towhee and then got off a quick burst of three frames before the towhee moved elsewhere.

I’m quite happy with the quality of these results. ISO 1600 is two stops faster than the grainy B&W film I used to use, and three stops faster than the very grainy Kodachrome 200 I considered my high speed color option in the days of film. And yet this image looks remarkably clean with little visible noise (the digital equivalent of film grain).

More surprising is how good this looks while being shot through the plain glass of the patio door! I’m glad I risked this shot even though the odds were stacked against quality results.

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