Rich Ditch's Photography Blog

March 5, 2012

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Nikon D300, 300/2.8 AF-S Nikkor plus TC20E III (2x), ISO 800, 1/640th second at f/8, full frame, 2/29/2012, Gilbert Water Ranch

A common and widely distributed species that presents many challenges to photographers is the Ruby-crowned Kinglet, a 4.25″ dynamo that acts as if it has way too much caffeine in its diet.

The Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula) is closely related to the Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa) in North America, and to the Goldcrest (Regulua regula) and Firecrest (Regula ignicapillus) of Europe.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Nikon D300, 300/2.8 AF-S Nikkor plus TC20E III (2x), ISO 800, 1/640th second at f/8, full frame, 2/29/2012, Gilbert Water Ranch

Kinglets are fearless little birds and they often come very close to birders and photographers, so you’d think they’d be easy to photograph. But their frenzied behavior means they almost never pause in their constant search for insects and other food. Getting good images of kinglets is mostly the result of spending a lot of time following them around and tripping the shutter release any time one is within the viewfinder and hoping that focus and exposure are correct.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Nikon D200, 300/2.8 AF-S Nikkor plus TC20E (2x), ISO 400, 1/80th second at f/8, 12/4/2007, Gilbert Water Ranch

A subject as small as a kinglet is difficult to capture large in the frame, and personally I don’t think there’s a need to make them fill more than half the composition. I think this is a perfect subject to show at a smaller scale and use the habitat of the setting to complete the composition.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Nikon D200, 300/2.8 AF-S Nikkor plus TC20E (2x), ISO 400, 1/100th second at f/5.6, fill flash, 12/21/2009, Gilbert Water Ranch

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Nikon D200, 300/2.8 AF-S Nikkor plus TC20E (2x), ISO 400, 1/750th second at f/11, fill flash, 1/9/2011, Kearny Lake

It takes “extra luck” to capture the red feathers on the head that gives this species its name. The ruby crown is usually hidden by other feathers and used to display against other kinglets and even other species (a Say’s Phoebe in this case).

Hutton's Vireo

Hutton's Vireo

Nikon D70, 300/2.8 AF-S Nikkor plus TC20E (2x), ISO 400, 1/320th second at f/5.6, fill flash, 2/16/2008, Boyce Thompson Arboretum

A surprise for birders in the western U.S. is how much the Hutton’s Vireo looks like a Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

All these images were made with my trusty 300/2.8 lens and a 2x converter. I get the same magnification as a 600mm lens but the close focus ability of the 300, and that is valuable when working such small subjects that require close viewing. The downside of this set up is that I really need to work from a tripod and that cuts down on my mobility a lot. If Nikon made an auto focus version of the wonderful 400/5.6 manual focus lens I used to have it would be a good handheld lens for these birds (Canon users have had such a lens for a long time and it is the one optic I envy from their system).

March 3, 2012

Red-necked Grebe, another AZ rarity

Filed under: Birds, Kearny Lake, rarities — richditch @ 4:26 pm
Red-necked Grebe, Tempe Town Lake

Red-necked Grebe, Tempe Town Lake

Nikon D300, Nikkor 300/2.8 AF-S lens with TC20E III (2x), ISO 800, 1/1600th second at f/8.

Rarities continue to turn up in Arizona – the latest in the Phoenix metro area is a Red-necked Grebe discovered afew days ago on Tempe Town Lake. Word didn’t get out about this vagrant until Friday morning, March 2, and I couldn’t get to see it until early afternoon.

Quoting from azfo.org:

Casual fall and winter visitor.  Through 2009 there were 14 accepted records, but recently there has been a dramatic increase in reports and there have been approximately 10 reports filed with the ABC since 2009.

This is my third in AZ, and my first in Maricopa County.

Red-necked Grebe, Tempe Town Lake

Red-necked Grebe, Tempe Town Lake

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

Tempe Town Lake is a strange place: an artificial lake created in the dry bed of the Salt River by a giant rubber dam and filled with water diverted to central AZ from the Colorado River through the canals of the Central Arizona Project. The riverbed is dry for many miles around Phoenix because the natural flow is prevented by a series of dams farther to the east. A couple years ago the rubber dam failed in a spectacular event, many years before the advertised lifetime.

But it is a magnet for interesting birds. The all-time best bird was a Yellow-billed Loon – very out of range and season.

Just for fun here’s the second Red-necked Grebe on my AZ list, from Kearny Lake south of Superior, AZ, on November 23, 2006. This bird was an easier photo subject, but a lot longer drive from Phoenix.

Red-necked Grebe, Kearny, AZ

Red-necked Grebe, Kearny, AZ

Nikon D200, Nikkor 300/2.8 AF-S lens with TC20E (2x), ISO 200, 1/180th second at f/11.

January 20, 2011

A Visit to Kearny

Filed under: Birds, curiosities, favorite places, Kearny Lake — richditch @ 6:15 pm
Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Arizona is a big state, and if you poke around enough you will find some interesting places. One of those places for me is the small town of Kearny, located along the Gila River about 25 miles south of Superior and the Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

The attraction at Kearny is a small community park with a reasonable sized lake (Kearny Lake) that has attracted some surprising vagrant birds. I saw my second AZ Red-necked Grebe here one winter. And I had a very memorable encounter with a bobcat here as well.

Water birds are the primary draw at Kearny, and if you really need to see a Common Moorhen they are hard to miss by the modest boat launch. There might not be a lot of variety on any visit, but chances are there’ll be something of interest.

I also take advantage of the small land birds here as well like the Ruby-crowned Kinglet above, photographed on January 9, 2011. This tiny dynamo treated me to a glimpse of the ruby crown when it challenged a Say’s Phoebe nearby. Taken with a Nikon D200, 300/2.8 AF-S lens with TC20E (2x), ISO 400, 1/750th second at f/11. Another small bird that can be cooperative at Kearny is the Black-throated Sparrow – a desert specialty.

Kearny Cemetery Sign

Kearny Cemetery Sign

I did a little more exploring on my last visit and couldn’t resist a stop at the cemetery whose entrance is marked with the sign above (taken from the car with a Nikon D70 and 55-200mm lens at 105mm, ISO 400, 1/1600 second and f/7.1).

Not far beyond this marker I was shocked to encounter this display next to a decorated grave.

Kearny Cemetery Decoration

Kearny Cemetery Decoration

As I said, an interesting place. Taken from the car with a Nikon D200, 300/2.8 plus TC20E, ISO 400, 1/125th second at f/9.

My final treat of the day was this Bald Eagle that I noticed sitting at the top of a large power line pole on the edge of town.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

The light isn’t great, and the perch is definitely hand-of-man, but its not every day I get to photograph an eagle along a main road from the car window.

Nikon D200, 300/2.8 plus TC20E (2x), ISO 400, 1/500th second at f/11.

December 1, 2009

Black-throated Sparrow #2

Filed under: Birds, composition, Kearny Lake, style — richditch @ 6:28 pm
Black-throated Sparrow

Black-throated Sparrow

I’ve been overwhelmed by other priorities the past few days so I haven’t had a chance to post more shots of the Black-throated Sparrow encounter at Kearny Lake. But I’ve managed a few minutes to post another shot.

Taken at the same time as my previous post, also from the driver’s seat of my car with the camera gear balanced on a monopod jammed between the seat and door. This is more typical of my style, with the bird immersed in the vegetation of its preferred habitat. I know many people prefer the more sterile look of an uncluttered setting like in my previous post, but I really enjoy the details of habitat and the story told about the bird’s life style. Like other sparrows the Black-throated Sparrow looks for seed and small insects primarily on the ground.

November 27, 2009

No Bait Black-throated Sparrow

Filed under: Birds, composition, Kearny Lake, light, technique — richditch @ 6:57 pm
Black-throated Sparrow

Black-throated Sparrow

The Black-throated Sparrow is a bird of dry scrublands in the western U.S. whose colors make it at home in the browns and tans of desert expanses. They nest within a mile of our house, and we’ve had them visit our back yard a couple of times. But its taken me over 15 years to get a photo of one that I think does the species justice.

I made the 75 mile drive to Kearny, AZ, departing around 5:30 am to arrive close to sunrise. I didn’t have any specific subjects in mind; I just wanted to get out of the Black Friday madness to a remote place. It was January of this year when I’d had my first amazing contact with a bobcat at Kearny Lake park, so it seemed like a good time to visit again.

Alas, there were no bobcats to greet me, nor was there any rare birds on this isolated body of water (it has hosted a Red-necked Grebe and a White-winged Scoter in previous winters). But the large clan of Common Moorhens were still there, and the bushes around the lake had lots of sparrow, wren, and gnatcatcher activity.

A walk around the lake was good exercise, but the small birds were just too active and stayed too far away for any photos. I settled for some time with the moorhens and coots, then packed away the gear for the long drive home.

But wisely, I kept the D200, 300/2.8 and TC20E on the empty front passenger seat and grabbed my monopod from the floor behind my seat “just in case.” As I drove out I saw some activity beside the road and worked my Toyota into position beside this barrel cactus. The payoff of the trip was this sparrow that posed in good light on a nice perch with a clean background just beyond my car.

Nikon D200, 300/2.8 AF-S lens with TC20E (2x), ISO 400, 1/1250th second @ f/8, -2/3rd stop compensation, monopod from car window, 79% of frame. No bait, no setup- just patience and luck.

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