Rich Ditch's Photography Blog

December 15, 2013

A nice morning at The Ranch

Filed under: Birds, favorite places, Gilbert Water Ranch, light — richditch @ 11:08 am
Clouds Over Pond 5

Clouds Over Pond 5

I haven’t been visiting the Gilbert Water Ranch as often as I did in previous years, even though the weather has gotten much better recently. That’s partly because many of the birds I expect to be there hadn’t shown up yet, or were  too far away for photos, or the views of the ponds have been obstructed by overgrown vegetation.

But my visit on December 12 was a lot better – more birds and better views. Plus, the weather was wonderful as a cold front brushed past AZ. The front brought pleasantly low temperatures and neat clouds – something we don’t see often here. Pond 5 looked so good with the early morning light and the reflected clouds that I grabbed the iPhone to record what I could of it; that’s the image above. The iPhone has an angle of view equivalent to a 35mm lens on a full frame 35mm camera, or what I could have taken with a 24mm lens on my Nikon D300 if I had brought along such a lens.

I had a chance encounter with a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk along the path between ponds 3 and 4, where the “cormorant tree” used to stand before it got taken out in one of this year’s storms. I didn’t notice it at first as I marveled at the absence of the tree, but got off a few frames before it took its unknown meal farther down the trail away from me.

Cooper's Hawk with Curve-billed Thrasher

Cooper’s Hawk

Nikon D300, Nikkor 300/2.8 AF-S with TC20E III (2x), 800, 1/100th second at f/8

The bird didn’t give me time to find a cleaner view but at least I was able to keep the hawk’s head unobstructed.

On the way out one of the resident Northern Mockingbirds selected a high perch so I took a couple shots of it as well. Nothing special, but even though I’ve got an abundance of other photos of this species I don’t like to walk past a photo opportunity.

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird

Nikon D300, AF-s 300/2.8 plus TC20E III (2x), ISO 800, 1/2500th second at f/8

Overall, a pleasant couple of hours with a couple nice photos to show for it.

December 2, 2013

One Less Thrasher

Filed under: backyard, behavior, Birds — richditch @ 4:24 pm
Cooper's Hawk with Curve-billed Thrasher

Cooper’s Hawk with Curve-billed Thrasher

Nikon D300, 300/2.8 AF-S Nikkor, ISO 800, 1/400th second at f/6.3, hand held and cropped 50%

Curve-billed Thrashers have been a staple of our backyard since we moved to AZ in 1994. Compared to the Brown Thrasher that we were familiar with in NJ, the Curve-billed Thrasher is a lot easier to see. Unfortunately for the thrasher, being easier to see isn’t always an advantage.

In all but the warmest months here our yard attracts occasional Sharp-shinned Hawks, and more often, Cooper’s Hawks like the immature in this photo. The usual victim is a Mourning Dove, of which we have an abundance. The doves feed mostly in the open yard, with another group feeding on seed scattered on the patio. The thrashers feed the patio almost all the time.

When a Cooper’s Hawk makes a pass the doves scatter in flight and the hawk usually follows one. The thrashers run on the ground for cover, which in the past has always kept them safe from the accipiters. On November 30 this strategy didn’t work for this thrasher, and the Cooper’s Hawk decided to grab it instead of chasing doves.

The remaining Curve-billed Thrasher is still visiting the patio, but is more shy. Probably a good thing, too, as we just had a visit from an adult accipiter (either a small male Cooper’s or a larger male Sharpie – it didn’t sit long enough for me to decide which it was).

October 13, 2013

Return to Planet Earth Temps

Filed under: Birds, comparisons, composition, favorite places, Gilbert Water Ranch, light, weather — richditch @ 3:56 pm
White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

Nikon D300, Nikkor AF-S 300/2.8 plus TC20E III (2x), ISO 400, 1/500th second at f/8, 7:47 am

I’m very happy to report that temperatures in central AZ have finally returned to reasonable levels for outdoor activities. Last I had heard on the TV was that we’d had 114 days of triple digit highs in Phoenix this summer, and that on average it was the hottest summer we have ever had. The 10 day forecast shows highs only in the mid-high 80’s so we might even be past the triple digits for the remainder of 2013.

Overnight temps have been very nice, and it was just under 60 degrees when I got to the Gilbert Water Ranch around 7:00 am on Friday, October 11. I spent 90 minutes re-aquainting myself wit the Water Ranch and seeing what birds were around. They included my first-of-season White-crowned Sparrows and Yellow-rumped Warblers – two species that should be around the Water Ranch in good numbers for many months.

White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

Nikon D300, Nikkor AF-S 300/2.8 plus TC20E III (2x), ISO 400, 1/640th second at f/8, 7:48 am

The two images shown in this post are of the same White-crowned Sparrow on the same branch, taken 47 seconds apart. I like them both and haven’t yet decided which I prefer.

A good friend gave me this unsolicited response after seeing the top image:

Like it. A good example of how much you can get into a supposedly simple shot. Composition balanced but not symmetric or static, with a mix of straight and curving lines for the eye to wander along; colors: muted and harmonious. mood: sunny and warm but not too hot. Sparrow, main subject: interesting pose, technically wonderful, enjoy the soft texture of breast and tiny catchlight in eye and, oddly, tail. Yellowish bill echoes yellowish tones in background and gray overall color echoes tones in the branch.  If you stop there, it’s a fine picture indeed, but there’s another layer with the calligraphic shadows and a perfect little sprig on the bird’s breast.

Blushing, I replied:

Thanks! I wish I could claim that I was aware of all that when I made this shot.

When I’m doing this I pay attention to the bird – am I focused on the face/eye?; how’s the light falling on it (especially the face); where is the bird in the frame (don’t clip it if it is big in there frame; don’t center it if possible). I also worry about the exposure when there’s important white or bright yellow/red areas, or when there’s strong back light or high contrast.

Experience makes a lot of this almost “muscle memory” level, and I’m glad I didn’t lose that over the low activity hot summer.

The gear also makes a lot of difference. Having essentially unlimited free frame capacity means I can take a lot more risky shots with no penalty, and this means I can greatly increase my chances of a good frame in the sequence. I’m not locked into a slow film speed – I can dial up the ISO to whatever I need in seconds. Nikon’s metering has always been trustworthy so I don’t have to guess and pray. And I’ve set up my auto focus so the active sensor “floats” as needed after I’ve initially locked on.

The time stamps recorded in the EXIF of both images here show they were taken only 47 seconds apart. After my initial series of shots I moved a little closer to tighten up the composition on the sparrow, but as the images show that larger subject means less of the setting. Sometimes this is a good tradeoff, while at other times I prefer to see more of the habitat.

August 23, 2013

Chipping Sparrow

Filed under: Birds, favorite places, Gilbert Water Ranch — richditch @ 5:57 pm
Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow

Nikon D200, Nikkor AF-S 300/2.8 plus TC20E (2x), ISO 400, 1/200th second at f/5.6, 1/1/2010

In my previous post I discussed Brewer’s Sparrows, and mentioned their close relative the Chipping Sparrow. As with all sparrows they can be an acquired taste.  I must admit that I’m hooked on sparrows.

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow

Nikon D200, Nikkor AF-S 300/2.8 plus TC20E (2x), ISO 400, 1/400th second at f/8, 1/20/2010

Typical sparrow habitat.

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow

Nikon D200, Nikkor AF-S 300/2.8 plus TC20E (2x), ISO 400, 1/320th second at f/8, 1/1/2013

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow

Nikon D200, Nikkor AF-S 300/2.8 plus TC20E (2x), ISO 400, 1/320th second at f/8, 1/1/2013

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow

Nikon D200, Nikkor AF-S 300/2.8 plus TC20E (2x), ISO 400, 1/1600th second at f/5.6, 1/1/2013

All photos taken at the Gilbert Water Ranch.

August 18, 2013

Brewer’s Sparrow

Brewer's Sparrow

Brewer’s Sparrow

Nikon D300, Nikkor AF-S 300/2.8 plus TC20E III (2x), ISO 400, 1/640th second at f/8, 11/8/11, Gilbert Water Ranch

Sparrows aren’t for everyone. Typically small birds that often prefer secluded locations, with markings that are often difficult to see and even harder to differentiate. Some birders choose to ignore sparrows for the most part, while another type of birder finds the challenge of this difficult group of  birds irresistable.

Sparrows form into mixed flocks in winter, a time when the most distinctive features of plumage can be obscured, making it a prime time to compare birds and look for vagrants. Here in Arizona one of the most common members of mixed flocks is the Brewer’s Sparrow, the subject of this blog post.

Brewer’s Sparrow is on the small side of sparrow size and doesn’t have any outstanding plumage feature. In winter it is very similar to Chipping Sparrow (another common bird in winter in AZ), and Clay-colored Sparrow (a vagrant here).

Brewer's Sparrow

Brewer’s Sparrow

Nikon D70, Nikkor AF-S 300/2.8 plus TC20E (2x), ISO 200, 1/60th second at f/11, flash, 2/25/06, Boyce Thompson Arboretum

I look for the small size and nondescript plumage, then check the facial pattern to separate Brewer’s from Chipping. The rare Clay-colored usually stands out – it has a “cleaner” grayer look to my eye.

Brewer's Sparrow

Brewer’s Sparrow

Nikon D300, Nikkor AF-S 300/2.8 plus TC20E (2x), ISO 800, 1/80th second at f/8, 9/18/12, Gilbert Water Ranch

Note the streaked crown and facial pattern (the dark line behind the eye does not extend in front of it).

Brewer's Sparrow

Brewer’s Sparrow

Nikon D200, Nikkor AF-S 300/2.8 plus TC20E  (2x), ISO 400, 1/320th second at f/8, 3/13/08, Gilbert Water Ranch

Brewer's Sparrow

Brewer’s Sparrow

Nikon D200, Nikkor AF-S 300/2.8 plus TC20E  (2x), ISO 400, 1/320th second at f/8, 3/13/08, Gilbert Water Ranch

This pose shows off the streaked crown to advantage.

Brewer's Sparrow

Brewer’s Sparrow

Nikon D200, Nikkor AF-S 300/2.8 plus TC20E  (2x), ISO 400, 1/320th second at f/8, 3/13/08, Gilbert Water Ranch

Typical secluded location for this species.

Brewer's Sparrow

Brewer’s Sparrow

Nikon D300, Nikkor AF-S 300/2.8 plus TC20E (2x), ISO 800, 1/60th second at f/5.6, date, Boyce Thompson Arboretum

This open location (the base of a water feature) is less typical of the species, but water is always a draw for birds.

Note the dates for these images (2/25/2006 to 11/8/2011). Gilbert Water Ranch or Boyce Thompson Arboretum. Three different cameras (D70, D200, and D300) but all with the same optics (300/2.8 and TC20E 2x).

 

 

 

 

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