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.

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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.

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).

 

 

 

 

November 19, 2012

Rose-breasted Grosbeak at Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Filed under: Birds, Boyce Thompson Arboretum, favorite places, surprise results — richditch @ 9:57 am
Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

This is a follow up to yesterday’s post of the Orchard Oriole at Boyce Thompson Arboretum. Seen in the same tree with the oriole was this vagrant immature male Rose-breasted Grosbeak. I wasn’t as lucky with the grosbeak as I was with the oriole in terms clean and close composition, and had to settle for these not-so-pretty documentation shots.

I did get lucky though with this shot that shows the diagnostic red feathers under the wing: the best field mark to separate this species from the very similar Black-headed Grosbeak that is its western counterpart and the expected species here in AZ.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak showing field mark

Rose-breasted Grosbeak showing field mark

I suspect that every photographer has experienced something similar – you’ve just lined up on the subject and depressed the shutter release only to have the subject move at that exact instant. Normally this results in an instantly deleted reject, but in this case it showed an important feature that I could never have captured intensionally.

Both images: 11/19/2012, Nikon D300, Nikkor 300/2.8 AF-S plus TC20E III (2x), Gitzo tripod, ISO 800, f/8. Top photo: 24% of frame; bottom image 12% of frame.

 

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