Rich Ditch's Photography Blog

April 6, 2014

Common Ground-Dove at Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Filed under: Birds, Boyce Thompson Arboretum, favorite places — richditch @ 9:02 pm
Common Ground-Dove

Common Ground-Dove

I had a good time leading a birdwalk at Boyce Thompson Arboretum on Saturday, with a big enough group that we split it with friends Pete and Cynthia leading half of the participants. It is nice meeting old friends and new friends-to-be this way and talking about birds and birding in other locations. In addition, it is always good to have help from other experienced birders in the group in finding as many species as possible.

The most exciting bird for us was this Common Ground-Dove that was hanging out just down the slope from the gat to the lower parking area. Contrary to the “Common” in the name I don’t see this species very often in AZ, and these are the first decent photos I’ve managed of one.

I don’t carry my camera gear when I’m doing a birdwalk – too heavy, too bulky, and too clumsy to bother with. But I always have it with me in the car when I’m out at Boyce. Since I’d parked in the lower picnic lot it only took a few minutes to get to the car, set it up, and get back to the dove. There was only one position from which to shoot that gave a mostly unobstructed view.

Note the heavy scaled appearance on the breast and the bicolored bill (pink at the base).

Common Ground-Dove

Common Ground-Dove

Both images with: Nikon D300, Nikkor 300/2.8 AF-S lens with TC20E III (2x), Gitzo 1325 tripod, RRS BH-55 ball head, Sidekick.


February 11, 2014

Rare Birds of North America by Howell, Lewington, & Russell

Filed under: Birds, Boyce Thompson Arboretum, Gilbert Water Ranch, rarities, reviews — richditch @ 2:06 pm
Rare Birds of North America

Rare Birds of North America

I’ll admit right away that I’ve got a fondness for books, and especially for those about birds. So I’ve accumulated a decent library made up of of a variety of field guides new and obscure, books covering families of birds like sparrows and warblers and hummingbirds and shorebirds, bird-finding guides to places all over the U.S., encyclopedias and other collections of related material.

Once in a while a book stands out from all the others, and Rare Birds of North America by Howell, Lewington, & Russell is one of those. I can’t imagine a serious birder who would not want to own a copy of this beautiful and useful book.

The dust jacket flyleaf gives the stats:

  • covers 262 species of vagrant birds found in the United States and Canada
  • features 275 stunning color plates of occurrence by region and season
  • provides an invaluable overtire of vagrancy patterns and migration
  • include detailed species accounts and cutting-edge identification tips

All this in a clean layout on quality paper of over 400 pages.

I spent my first night with the book skimming through, looking at species I’ve already seen in the field, and the species I’ve chased and not been lucky or skilled enough to see. I’ve even read about the exact birds I have viewed in some of the distribution accounts in the book. For the record these I’ve already seen in AZ are:

Eared Quetzal, Plain-capped Starthroat, Berylline Hummingbird, Rufous-backed Thrush (aka Robin), Aztec Thrush, Rufous-capped Warbler, Flame-colored Tanager, Streak-backed Oriole, Baikel Teal, Blue-footed Booby, Northern Jacana, Nutting’s Flycatcher

And those I’ve seen elsewhere in the U.S.:

White-winged Tern (DE), Whiskered Tern (DE), Wood Sandpiper (CT), Spotted Redshank (NY).

There might be more that I missed. But that’s only 16 species out of the 262 covered in the book so I’ve still got 246 more to go!

I’ve posted  about Rufous-backed Robin before: from the Gilbert Water RanchBoyce Thompson Arboretum, and Anthem north of Phoenix. And about Northern Jacana. And even about Baikel Teal.

But I can’t find any previous posts about the Streak-backed Oriole that returned for three winters at the Gilbert Water Ranch, so here are some of my favorite shots of that bird.

Streak-backed Oriole

Streak-backed Oriole

11/24/2005, Nikon D70, Nikkor 300/2.8 AF-S plus TC20E (2x), ISO 200, 1/250th sec @ f/10

Streak-backed Oriole

Streak-backed Oriole

11/24/2005, Nikon D70, Nikkor 300/2.8 AF-S plus TC20E (2x), ISO 200, 1/200th sec @ f/10

Streak-backed Oriole

Streak-backed Oriole

12/25/2006, Nikon D70, Nikkor 300/2.8 AF-S plus TC20E (2x), ISO 200, 1/100th sec @ f/9

Streak-backed Oriole

Streak-backed Oriole

10/21/2007, Nikon D200, Nikkor 300/2.8 AF-S plus TC20E (2x), ISO 400, 1/400th sec @ f/8

December 22, 2013

A Walk in the Park

Filed under: Boyce Thompson Arboretum, favorite places, light, technique — richditch @ 1:45 pm
Boyce Thompson Arboretum Demonstration Garden

Boyce Thompson Arboretum Demonstration Garden

Let me say up front that I love my high end DSLR’s and my collection of lenses from a 12-24mm zoom to my 300/2.8 plus 2x converter. This gear gives my lots of control when I’m shooting seriously, and I can’t imagine being a photographer without the flexibility and quality of this kit.

But when I’m out for birds with my big rig (a Nikon D300, the 300/2.8 AF-S lens, the Nikon TC20E III 2x converter, a Gitzo carbon fibre tripod with Really Right Stuff ball head and Wimberley Sidekick), I rarely have the energy to drag along another D300 and short zoom lens for any other type of subject.

As I’ve written before, I’ve started to rely upon the simple camera in an iPhone more and more when I would have otherwise used an 18-70mm zoom on the D300. I am lucky enough to have a friend who donated his old iPhone 3GS a while back when he upgraded to give me access to the useful applications. And another friend just passed on an iPhone 4 when it was replaced by a 5C.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum Demonstration Garden

Boyce Thompson Arboretum Demonstration Garden

So when I visited Boyce Thompson Arboretum state park earlier this week to work with some vagrant birds I had the iPhone 4 in my pocket “just in case.” Conditions were so pleasant that morning in the Demonstration Garden that I reached for the iPhone so I could show my wife when I got home.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum Demonstration Garden

Boyce Thompson Arboretum Demonstration Garden

I admit at first I was skeptical about taking photos with a cell phone, thinking that the results just couldn’t be all that good. And also lamenting the lack of control such a camera has, with no way to select focal length, or aperture, or ISO, or to be able to shoot in raw format.

But then I realized that I still had control over how I composed the scene on the display, and that I still selected the subject and the point of view for the image: these are fundamental aspects of photography that no amount of  automation has been able to displace. And I also recalled that I still had some control over point of focus (by tapping on the image) and that by doing so I could control where the iPhone camera made its exposure determination.

The lesson of all this is important: the photographer’s vision still trumps the technology. Even the tiny sensor in a smart phone camera can capture some interesting images if only the photographer is willing to treat the simple camera properly.

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.

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.

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