Great Horned Owl
I’ve written before about working with a cooperative subject as much as possible, so it should be no surprise that I’ve posted a photo of this Great Horned Owl here before. I don’t know any birder or bird photographer who will pass up a look at any owl and I look for this bird now on every visit to the Gilbert Water Ranch. It wasn’t all that long ago that it was discovered, its the first one any of us have seen at the Water Ranch, and there’s no guarantee of how long it will stick around in this particular spot.
Although this owl has picked a spot near a trail at the Water Ranch, it isn’t an easy bird to photograph. There are only two viewpoints – the tree is separated from the trail by a channel of nasty brown water and lots of dense thorny shrubs. IF you can see the owl from one of these access points you probably can’t see it from the other, so there’s a good chance the light will be coming from behind the bird. And since the viewpoints are small there’s little flexibility in finding a clean sight line.
I would pass this shot by if it was a cormorant or night heron, both of which use this same tree. I’ve got plenty of clean images of both of those species so I wouldn’t have much use for such an image.
But this is an owl, so I’ll work harder at trying to get a useable shot. And with an owl I can incorporate the way it blends in with the setting as part of the image and natural history. Its an effective illustration of how well they can hide because their color and feather texture is so cryptic and such a good match for the tree.
September 6, 2009, Nikon D200, 300/2.8 plus TC20E (2x), ISO 500, 1/80th second at f/8.
Rather than post just another image tonight, I thought I’d share this shot of fellow AZ birders who have all contributed to my enjoyment of time birding in Arizona. The shot was taken last week at the Water Ranch in Gilbert, AZ. The event of the day was the Purple Gallinule identified at the Water Ranch two days prior, and many of us who looked for it and missed it on the following day returned to try again this day.
After getting my shot of the gallinule on the north side of the brushy island it was residing on I took this image of others waiting for the gallinule to appear on the mudflat on the south side.
From left to right we have:
- Troy Corman, of AZ Game and Fish, Nongame Division, and editor of the Arizona Breeding Bird Atlas.
- Steve Ganley, who established the Phoenix Rare Bird Alert many years ago and ran it single handedly for many years until the internet and other technology made weekly phone lines obsolete. Steve was my first contact in the area, before I even moved from NJ, when he responded to my questions about local birding on the birdchat listserv.
- Brendon Grice, a skilled and very lucky photographer who often listens patiently to my rants about what is wrong with life on any particular day we walk around together at the Water Ranch.
- Mike Moore, who took on the job of photo editor for azfo.org and has done a wonderful job of organizing it and keeping it up to date with the overwhelming contributions of photographers documenting the flood of interesting birds being discovered throughout AZ.
I’m indebted to all of you. Thanks.
I hope all who read this blog have similar friends wherever you are, and knowing how friendly most birders are I suspect you all do.
Roseate Skimmer Dragonfly
There’s still not a lot of photogenic birds around Phoenix now, at least not close enough to shoot, so here’s another “backup subject” that I take when I can’t work with the birds.
Like many birders I know, I’m fascinated by dragonflies. There’s a lot of variety in them, they’re large enough to easily see, they show interesting behavior, and they sit still long enough for photos.
One of my local favorites is the Roseate Skimmer – the color on the males is really eye-catching. As usual, this one was taken at the Water Ranch in Gilbert, AZ, using my basic bird rig: D200, 300/2.8, 2x on a solid tripod. I get acceptable magnification from this because I’m working with the close focus of the 300. And the depth of field is so shallow that it renders most backgrounds as smooth color.
There are only three generally pleasing ays to shoot dragonflies: from above to show the detail of the four spread wings, head-on to emphasize the big eyes against the wings, and from the side as shown here to emphasize the long tail and interesting legs. This side view also allows me to feature the wonderful twig
9/6/09, ISO 500, 1/320th second at f/5.6.
Black-bellied Whistling Duck
When we moved to Phoenix from NJ in 1994 I was happy to find Black-bellied Whistling Ducks in decent numbers near my new office in Chandler, AZ. Some could be found at a pond in a small park just down the road, and in some years a few even used a tiny pond on the corporate property.
But this species has become a lot harder to find around Phoenix, and when seen they are usually in very small numbers.
Recently we’ve had a single bird hanging around the Gilbert Water Ranch, usually mixed in with a small flock of Mallards. On a visit last week while looking for the Purple Gallinule I got a chance to get a few shots of this duck separated from all the other duck species in the area.
I would like to have been a bit closer, and I struggled a little with the composition here. The horizontal shots I took had better balance, but to avoid clipping off part of the reflection I had to go with a vertical. And since I was farther away than I wanted I ended up cropping this to about 70% of the full frame to eliminate excess water.
Nikon D200, 300/2.8 plus TC20E (2x), ISO 500, 1/640th second at f/7.1.
Dragonfly on a stick
This shop of a dragonfly was “collateral damage” on my second visit to find the Purple Gallinule at the Gilbert Water Ranch. It was taken within 15 feet of where I stood for the image of the gallinule in my previous post, with the camera still set on the ISO 500 value I’d been using for the moving bird in the shadows.
It was just one of those subjects that I couldn’t pass up – the orange dragon was in direct sunlight, while the water below that comprises the background of this image was in deep shadow. I would hope that any photographer would be keeping an eye open for such unplanned subjects whenever an opportunity like this pops up.
This is 100% natural light – no flash was used here. I moved the tripod so I could point the 300 and 2x at the dragonfly, and then manually focused to bring it into partial focus so auto wouldn’t hunt too much. I engaged the spot meter in the D200 with the function button on the front of the camera – I’ve dedicated this button to the spot meter so I can switch from matrix quickly in tricky situations. No need to take my eye away from the viewfinder and fiddle with the metering pattern switch!
Once the spot meter is engaged I lock in the exposure and focus with the AE-AF lock button and am then free to swing the lens around for a better composition.
So, don’t let a pre-set goal or target subject dominate your thoughts to the point of overlooking other opportunities in front of you. Keep open to the chance encounters and discoveries that add much of the fun to nature photography.