Making the Best of a Dreary Day

I have entered the lair of the enemy and lived to tell about it. How is that for a dramatic intro? So truth be told, for the last three days I have been in Iowa. Specifically, I have been in Iowa City, the home of black and gold and a dreaded enemy of Chief Illiniwek. Why would I subject myself to three days of Herky Hell? What would bring an Orange and Blue die hard to subject himself to an arch rival? Actually, the answer is pretty simple. Linda had the opportunity to benefit from their fine medical facilities at the University of Iowa and for that I will gladly swallow my pride and express my gratitude. I think we are now on a good path to getting some issues under control and if it takes a little humility to make that happen – well, bring it on. Just for the record, I’ll still root against them in any sports competition… although since the Illini once again suck pond water it will be done with more of an inside voice.

One impact of this is a significant reduction in available blogging time. With Project Auuuunold in full bore, another half at the end of the month and taking care of the other issues it doesn’t leave much time to tickle the keyboard. It is too early to throw in the towel, but need to warn you the focus will probably be on photography related topics since the post processing work is actually faster than the prep work for the other types of posts. As a start, here is a set taken off my porch one dreary day a few months back. There is a lot still to learn about the Beast and a little low light practice is never wasted. The Beast is a VRII 4.0f end to end glass . With the 1.4 Teleconverter on, it drops to 5.6f which thirsts for light out in the field. It was time to try out some different settings and modes to see how best to shoot birds when the light is not ideal. One bi-product of the drizzle caught me by surprise.  See anything interesting in this shot?

Nothing catch your eye?  Hmmm, how about another shot in a more traditional crop… hint, you might not associate this as a typical BoaS?

Hit the jump and I’ll zoom you into the subject.

This is quite the task for the Beast in a couple of ways.  First off, the subject is so small it is hard to keep the focus points on target.  Secondly, low light forced a high ISO which introduces noise into an already small subject.  There is definitely room for improvement, but you should be able to tell that this somewhat stationary bird is actually a Hummingbird.

Now that you know what to look for you can probably pick them out easily in the first two pictures.  As mentioned, the drizzle was keeping these birds more subdued than usual.  I am not sure if the water significantly weighs down the wings, the falling water impacts their flight profile or if there is some other reason, but they are definitely less caffeinated on dreary days which gave an unique target for my tests.   Again, the main task was keeping the Beast on target.  The center focus point (which I use about 95% of the time) was nearly as big as the bird itself so any wind movement or a crossing twig would throw the glass into seek mode.  This might have been a good time to limit the glass travel, but that would introduce too many variables into the practice plan.

An observant reader might have noticed I was flipping bird sexes on them.  The first shot and the one directly above is indeed a female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird where the second and third are actually of a male.  To quote Lucas,  “Always play with their minds”.  This bird happens to be one of the easiest birds to identify here in the Midwest.  Quite frankly, it is essentially the only Hummingbird common to the area.  Well, that and the fact when the male decides to display their ruby colored throat there isn’t much doubt.  At the time I was taking these shots, the Hummingbird season was coming to close.  They tend to arrive here around the April timeframe, but head out in the early October timeframe.  Somewhat sad to say, I have not seen a single Hummingbird in the last week.  They actually migrate to Mexico to winter which is pretty impressive for such a tiny bird to travel that far.  According to our friends over at Wikipedia, they have been known to fatten up considerably to make the journey across the Gulf of Mexico.  Based on how puffy  these two were I’m guessing they were gearing up to head out.

One particular fact on the Wiki page was definitely not new to me.  These birds are considered solitary.  This is extremely apparent if you spend any time at all observing them.  We maintain 2 to 3 Hummingbird feeders on our porch.  This allows us to keep an eye on them at different times of the day.  Our record so far is 11 Hummingbirds at one time and came last year (2011).  This year the most populous moment was only 7 (interesting enough, some other Hummingbird watchers also pointed out that the numbers seemed to be down this year).  Each feeder has 4 to 5 feeding locations on it giving at least 8-10 open slots to slurp from.  Guess how many Hummingbirds I’ve seen feeding at the same time?  If you guessed more than three then I’m sorry to say you have to return to the audience.  These birds are vicious!  Usually one or two take ownership of the feeders and refuse to let any other Hummingbird partake in the nectar.  If any other bird tries to take a sip, the self proclaimed owner will attack it.   It reminds me of jet fighters battling it out in the open sky although they put our fly by wire to shame.

All in all the day turned out to be pretty educational.  These shots could definitely be crisper, but given the conditions I’ll take the results.  For those interested, the best approach was to get the tripod locked into a position that provided the greatest focus point coverage, set the mode to Mup (Mirror Up) and then use a wireless remote to trigger it.  This reduced the slap impact but took a little bit of the shot control away since I couldn’t see the actual shot being taken without the mirror.  Luckily these little guys (and gals) were pretty happy hanging out in the branches.  Of all the shots, I think the following is probably my favorite – finally a shot without an annoying twig coming out of the head or crossing the bill in the background.  Just barely got the entire bill on the leaf in the background!

Gotta hit the hay folks – catch ya later.

3 thoughts on “Making the Best of a Dreary Day”

  1. Should the title be “Making the Beast Out of a Dreary Day”?

    I hope the trip helped Linda. Under the circumstances we can let the six-posts-per-month rule slide this month. Did I ever tell you when I was constantly nagging you about it that it’s really more of a guideline? I’ll also do my best to overlook your temporary defection to the land of the Hawkeyes. Or not.

    The hummingbird sure does look heavier than usual.



  2. I meant to say “Making the Beast of a Dreary Day”. For some reason I can’t edit my comments even though there is a link there to edit them.



  3. Eeesh, falling down on the job , two comments without a single one back from me. First off, I do like your title suggestion – bested! although my format would officially be Making the Be[a]st of a Dreary Day. GUIDELINE… GUIDELINE … I pretty much took that as a 6 posts a month or your first born. We’ll see, but for now I’m still planning on getting out the remain 5 … p l a n n i n g…

    by the way, this is a political correctness free zone .. you are allowed to call the hummingbird FAT.


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