Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Birds and more birds...

This post is all about birds. Well, almost. So if you're not into birding, you can either scroll through and enjoy the pictures, or skip it and wait for next time when I'll put up some more of the off-the-wall stuff you're used to! I wanted to document my two visits to Carden this week so I made this into more of a photo essay than usual.

Carden Plain — a productive morning

I stopped by for an early season visit to the Carden Alvar last Thursday (April 21) expecting that I wouldn't see much. I was passing by, had a couple of hours to spare so I thought I'd see what's what. Besides, I had that new-to-me Tamron 150-600mm f/5.6-6.3 lens and wanted to give it a preliminary workout. Pretty well all of the shots below were handheld at 600mm.

First step, make sure everything is working. So I focused in on a pair of distant Canada Geese on the wing, and here's what I got:

Not bad, given how far away they were.
(you can click any picture to see it full sized)

First up were a couple of horses. Carden is a working farming area, there are horses and cattle there too.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that this little lady was just a wee bit pregnant.Or this is the roundest horse I ever saw!  

This little guy can't be more than a couple of days old. Already running around. Imagine a human newborn...

Here he is doing what mom is doing. Then he gives up and goes for her teat... mom is still very distended so as I said, he's a newborn. By the way, I waited patiently for them to get in this mirrored position. 

OK, off in search of avian targets! A few of the bird species are back and the first I encountered was the "woo-woo-woo-woo" of the Wilson's Snipe, the sound it makes in flight. Their behavior was different from later season, when they like to pose for the camera on a fence post. They swooped around, then landed virtually hidden in the grass. They're hard to see until they move!

It may look a bit darker than the dry grass but so do any number of rocks and clods of dirt! 

I stopped at this stand of deciduous trees because there were birds calling all around me! They were hiding, though. 

Here's one! It's a brown Thrasher hiding in the aspens. 

A little further down the road is the blind, built by the Couchiching Conservancy to accommodate birders. It was still padlocked, due to be opened any day now. By the way, if you want to know more about the Carden Plain, visit their website at http://www.cardenplainimportantbirdarea.com/, it's a very good read, although it's a few years out of date. The most commonly seen bird there is the Eastern Phoebe, as well as the tree sparrow, who often nest right in the blind. There was a mating pair of Phoebes there.

Posing on a stick out behind the blind. A pair were building a nest.

An interesting sidebar about this picture if you're a photographer... I'm new to the world of 600mm lenses. The few times I've tried one in the past (even Dr. Ron's world class Nikon 600/f4) I've had little success capturing sharp images. Practice, of course, but in the meantime I've erred on the side of faster shutter speeds. This image is no exception, it was shot at 1/1600 sec at f/7.1 (why not f/8? I dunno...), matrix metering with +2/3 stop exposure compensation, and that exposure combination bumped the ISO up to 5000.

Other than normal sharpening and a bit of cropping, the only thing I did to this image was to run it through Topaz DeNoise 6 and then I masked the effect on the bird itself, so what you see is what I got. I'm very pleased with the tonality of the image and you will be seeing it in competitions!

Why did I write this detail? Because what I didn't say was I had dragged out the tripod and gimbal mount and there was absolutely no reason to shoot at such a high speed! I probably could have shot this at 1/250 sec, ISO 1000 and pulled more detail out of the feathers.

Unfortunately, the spot they chose was on the sill in front of one of the shutters. So either it's going to get knocked down when the shutter opens, or the conservancy will latch this shutter closed for the season.  

Across the road, at the top of a cedar tree, this Brown Thrasher was singing his heart out!  

I drove down to the Sedge Wren trail and walked in just to the corner. Nothing happening. Because I had to get going, I headed back down the road. On the way out, I passed through a flock of at least four-and-twenty (red winged) blackbirds

Near the entrance to Wyllie Road, on the west side, I saw two Pileated Woodpeckers

Then finally, I saw a pair of tree swallows building a nest in a bluebird box:

Probably the male, standing guard while wifey did all the work! 

All in all, a productive couple of hours on an early season day. I'll be baaaack...

Hi, I'm Baaaack...

An early morning Facebook post from Rico Forlini saying he was at Carden Plain got me into the car and enroute there on Sunday. I did run into him and Tim — they were just leaving as I arrived. We did get a quick look at an Eastern Meadowlark but out of photo range.

Carden is interesting because you never know what you'll find. When Rico told me he saw an Eastern Loggerhead Shrike at the blind, that's where I headed! So without further ado...

This guy was quite far away, so this is a 100% crop – 1:1 – at 600mm. I tried a series of different exposures and chose what I thought was the sharpest one: 1/2000 sec at f/8, ISO 3200, a lot of sharpening and noise reduction! It's perched on top of a Hawthorne bush, it's favoured nesting tree since the thorns protect the nest from predators. 

The Eastern Loggerhead Shrike was listed as a critically endangered species in Canada back in 1991 and the population has shrunked even more since then. According to Wildlife biologist Don Sutherland (who happened to be standing beside me when we (ok, when "he"!) spotted this bird), there are fewer than a dozen mating pairs in the Alvar. He remarked that this one was not banded, so it isn't one that was re-introduced, it's native.
Don had an outstanding piece of optics with him. This is similar to the model he had...

It was astoundingly clear when you looked through it. I'll make the Swarovski shop one of my very first stops after leaving the lottery office the day I cash my winning ticket. With camera adapter, you're looking at about $5K. If you've never looked through one of these and you do, have your chequebook handy! 

OK, back to the planet Earth! The usual culprits were on hand to be photographed. Although I already have a picture of a Phoebe, I like this one for the sharpness and tonality

Eastern Phoebe with nest-building material 

You don't only see exotic and rare birds. This American Robin posed precisely so that he could be framed by the tree

Carden Plain is well known for its bluebird population. This early visitor was basking in the momentary sun as the clouds split for a minute. 

This is a female yellow-shafted Northern Flicker who popped by for a look-see but never came out far enough to give me a shot of the whole bird.  

And finally, here's another Brown Thrasher in mid-song. I thought the composition and framing of this shot was worth posting here, even though I have another couple of Thrasher shots up above. 

I'm reasonably happy with the Tamron lens, for birds at a middle-distance but not with long distance stuff. Maybe it's me, I need more practice. I seem to get less sharp results when I'm on the tripod than I do handheld, there are some techniques I need to work on, I imagine. 

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