A New Checkmark for the Birding List

As a note, I highly recommend checking out this particular set of pictures on our SmugMug page at http://eddiesoft.smugmg.com.  The reason for this is the required size reduction for this blog really takes away from the detail and coloring found on the full sized shots up on smug – you can pick any size you want to view by putting your cursor inside the border for the picture and picking from the menu that comes up on the right.

Today is the true unveiling of the capability of The Beast.  We took it out one morning to see what we could find.  For the most part, our attempts to capture some interesting sunrises fell short.  A few of our favorite locations were either weak with color or there was nothing real interesting going on in the cloud front (trust me, sunrise pictures without anything to add to the composition are pretty boring.  Striking out there, we headed over to Jubilee Park to see what kind of wildlife was out and about.  That ended up being a great shoot, but more about that in another post.  I was elated that we didn’t come away empty handed and was feeling pretty good about the outing as we drove the short distance back to home.  That’s when the day turned from great to awesome.  It is a fact I am always looking around for any interesting wildlife.  To my surprise, this little guy was busy running alongside the road!

What luck.  Not only have I not been able to capture this particular bird on camera yet, but The Beast was already attached to the camera.  I quickly yelled out our code word for “Stop the car I see something worth taking a picture” (yes, we have a secret code for that since the time it would take to say all that could spoil the whole shot).  In immediate recognition of the command, Linda pulled to the side of the road and I brought The Beast into firing position through the open car window.  The added stability of the car frame to rest the camera on turned out to be a big plus.  This was the first outing with the big glass so there was some quick learning going on to figure out how to get the focus points where I wanted on a moving animal.  The size of the glass barrel may have alarmed it a bit since it tried to keep an eye on me as it ran around in the tall grass.

Again, it is hard to really see the detail in the small pictures here, but a quick crop should give you an idea of how pleased I was with the results.  Nice to know this huge investment pays off when it comes to the quality of the glass and the ability to get close enough to wildlife to see this level of eye detail. For the record, this is a Ring-Necked Pheasant for those keeping track and more importantly, a new check mark in the bird shot list.

Hit the jump to see even more pictures of this bird and more examples of the clarity the big glass brings to the table.

Continue reading A New Checkmark for the Birding List

When Man and Nature Collide

looking back, I have probably shot at least a thousand birds over my life.  Luckily for my winged friends (with the exception of two) these shots have all been with a shutter release and not with projectiles.  However, I must confess that indirectly I have shortened the life of a few.  Call me a softie, but this always saddens me a little when I think about how much pleasure I get from watching them gather around my feeders.  The irony of it all is that the feeders are often the catalyst for their accidental demise.  To fully experience living in the country, we architected our house to provide nice views into the surrounding woods.  This translated into a large amount of glass, the evil nemesis of all Aves.  Every once in awhile we hear a loud bang in the living room.  Being familiar with the common cause of this startling noise, I reluctantly head towards the windows.  Inevitably, this is the typical scene:

A perfectly good bird cut down by the magic of sand and a small cavity for brain matter.  Actually, I’ve seen humans walk into glass doors as well, so not sure how much the brain size plays into this particular situation.  By a general rule of thumb, the survival rate is directly proportional to the volume of the impact.  Through extensive trial and error, I’ve been able to improve this rate at least a little bit.  The success is dependent on how quick you can come to the aid of the injured bird.   Upon impact, the bird often loses consciousness and drops backwards onto the porch – the reasoning behind this still needs further research.  If the bird doesn’t snap it’s neck, it will show signs of convulsions both with fluttering wings and spastic feet.  This is exactly the state I found the bird pictured above (note I had the camera in my hand already taking pictures of some other subjects).  If you can get to the bird in this state, you must immediately flip it back over on its feet/belly.  If you leave it upside down, it will die every time (my apologies to all the failed experiments before this was figured out).  Kind of reminds me of my mode of operation with my drunk friends in college, but let’s stay on topic.

Hit the jump for some good news!

Continue reading When Man and Nature Collide

A Surprise Thrashing

Since the moment we started building our house in the woods, I’ve been busy taking photos of all the birds that drop by from time to time.  After awhile the diversity of species begins to fade as the same bird types tend to inhabit the same area year after year.  Some become so familiar that their tiny imperfections allow you to actually give them names.  Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy taking their pictures – if nothing else, the light settings and perch choices are always unique so there is always a challenge.  The main point of mentioning this is it makes new arrivals a big deal around here.  As soon as I spot a new bird type, I scramble for the camera in the hopes of getting a least some sort of picture to capture the moment (and to have proof for adding another check to my watch list).   As you can probably guess, I spotted a new bird to the homestead a few days ago.  Luckily, I was able to get a few shots.  As with all my pictures, the full versions can be seen on our Photography site at eddiesoft.smugmug.com. If you go there, you can view them at any size you want up to the original size (note, I always use medium for images in this blog).

So, after dinner I looked out and noticed a strange bird a ways out from the house.  Immediately thinking this might be a new find, I grabbed the closest camera (D7000) and headed out to the porch in hopes of snapping a few shots.  Our Beast was not currently on this particular camera having stored it away after our last photo shoot.  Luckily, the 80-200 glass was attached giving me some reach into the yard.

I was fighting the light going down as well trying to steady myself while hand holding the camera – must have been all the excitement of the chance to capture a new bird.  On full manual, I had to bump the ISO up to 800 for most of the shots in order to get the shutter speed I needed to help compensate for my shaky hands.  The shot above is a full shot giving you some perspective of the distance I was dealing with (this was at full 200mm I believe).  As you learn pretty quick taking bird pictures, any distance at all causes that bird to appear pretty small.  However, with the power of crop, we can take you a little closer in.

Hit the jump to see a lot more (and better) pictures of my feathered friend.

Continue reading A Surprise Thrashing

Phoadtography Gallery: Maine Trip 2010 Pt 1

This year is quickly coming to a close, but the blog queue is still deep with 2010 photo collections.  I try to keep it fresh and maintain a balance of photos, interesting viewpoints, service complaints/rants and things that make me go huh?  Linda and I were lucky enough to go on some pretty nice trips this year which means our hard drives have been riddled with photos this year.  It is far easier to make comments on things if they are still in short term memory so rather than push this off to next year, let’s go ahead and dump the Phoadtography collection from the Maine trip we took in June.  There are a lot of them so be warned, your browser cache is going to get a workout.  For sanity purposes (yours and mine) this post will actually be a two parter.  For those who don’t know what Phoadtography is please check out my previous post… especially if you are preparing to unleash your fury on how bad some of these shots ended up being.

Starting off this set is every kid’s favorite toys and more importantly, the machines that pay both our salaries.  Guessing due to the stimulus money (that actually got spent on job creating projects), we encountered a lot of construction on our way out and back to Maine.  Most travelers probably cuss the slow downs and stoppages, but in the case of my wife and I the sound of Caterpillar machines in motion is music to our ears.  As mentioned in the introduction Cat machines are always a good target for Phoadtography shots.  This vehicle is one of our articulated trucks that, if I remember correctly, are produced in Waco TX.

Pretty cool machine if I say so myself.  Hit the jump to see the rest of the pictures in this post.

Continue reading Phoadtography Gallery: Maine Trip 2010 Pt 1

Well, It’s a Bird, but Your Guess is as Good as Mine

My typing fingers are worked to the bone, my eyes struggle to remain open and my body has become one with the office chair.  Yet, I am pleased since this post brings me to the end of the wildlife shots from the Yellowstone vacation last year.  It is slightly embarrassing to have taken this long to get this done, but we literally have thousands (yes plural) of shots from that trip.  Needless to say I haven’t even scratched the surface of all the great shots Linda took – especially the water fall silks.

This last set is an interesting one in the sense your guess is as good as mine as to what these birds are.  I probably went through the field guides about 30 times trying to pin these birds down with very little success.  As with the unknown ducks, these may be shots of females that are not sufficiently described in the guides or possibly migrated out of their standard regions and thus are not usually seen there.  If I am lucky, one of my millions of readers (you believing that?) will recognize one and drop me a comment.

Fasten your seatbelts, the mystery tour is starting.  Basically all I have to go on is the silhouette of this particular bird which is very little help when trying to identify a bird.  Based on comparing the head outline and the wider fantail, my guess is an Olive-sided Flycatcher.  Admittedly, the tail is a little wider than the guide specimen, but other than that it appears pretty close.  It also says they sit on the highest twigs.. well, that appears to match.

I spotted this particular bird out in the middle of a large field (and pretty far out).  I was unable to get a good clean shot of the bird mainly due to the impressive air acrobats that were being executed at the time.  Twisting, turning, diving, loops, it was was quite impressive.  It may have been attacking prey but it never came up with anything.  It was probably just showing off to a potential mate.  It really didn’t match exactly like any of the hawks in the various books beyond the tail striping.  There is a lot of white on the underwings which doesn’t fit with my decision to identify it as a Red-tailed Hawk.

You know, I am still not sure about this one.  The red-tailed doesn’t really have the striping this one has and in this shot, the profile looks a lot leaner.  None of the other specimens really have the whiteness shown under the wings.  There is a chance it is an Osprey, but it would be much darker on top.  Just a second, this is bugging me, let me check another reference…..  sigh, I just can’t tell.  I am less confident it is a red-tailed hawk now and now considering a juvenile Broad-winged Hawk or possibly an American Kestrel.    Note I asked Linda for her opinion and she decided it was a never before seen bird and to name it after me.  This is the kind of help I’m dealing with people 8^(

The next one is probably a Tree Swallow.  It’s a crappy shot, but decided to include it because it was clearly an inspiration for something.  Any guesses?  If you said our stealth wing planes you’re tracking with me.  It would be interesting to know if this is where they got the idea from … or maybe not interesting to know if they’d have to kill me after telling me.

If the hawk above was hard to decide, this one is downright impossible.  As with the hawk, I’ve scoured my resources looking for some clue that would lead me to the proper identification.  There were a number of these birds flying around the rising steam pools around Yellowstone.  This particular one would fly around for awhile and then land in the rocks for a brief rest.  I almost with with a White-throated Swift, but the guides says it never perches.  Never is such a definite word but my pictures never show one clinging to the rocks.

The Violet-green Swallow does nest in colonies on cliffs which checks with my visuals.  Clearly there is room for debate on this one.  Well, not such much debate as I’d probably cave in to any viable alternative (that matches that region).

Strangely enough, this bird exactly matched none of the blue colored birds in the books.  It clearly has blue wings, but the head and body are sporting a pretty solid grey.  It is this grey that makes me throw out the Mountain Bluebird (which is all blue) .  It also lacks any orange which rules out the Western Bluebird, the Eastern Bluebird, the Blue Grossbeak and the Lazuli Bunting.

I also know the Blue Jay and the Steller’s Jay so that left me with the Western Scrub-Jay.  In contrast, it is suppose to have a bluer head the picture being compared to shows fatter in the body.  It did say it likes to hang around campsites and picnic areas which coincides with where these pictures were taken.

Here are two pretty poor shots of a interesting bird.  It is actually the first bird other than the finch I’ve seen sporting the bright yellow markings.  It refused to sit still for a microsecond in order to get the lens focused, but for the most part you can see the yellow on the rump and the second one shows some yellow on the head.  Based on those weak observations, I have officially called this a Yellow-rump Warbler.

Apparently the female is a little duller in the head (coloring fools 8^)  so the above one is likely a female.  The fuzzy shot below is likely of a male because it is smarter.. I mean sharper colored.

Okay, it’s audience participation time.  Hit the jump to see more!

Continue reading Well, It’s a Bird, but Your Guess is as Good as Mine

Just About a Wrap on Vacation Birds

As promised previously, I’m cranking through the remaining photo shots from last year’s vacation.  This year’s vacation is closing fast and since we are headed to a state I’ve never been, the assumption is the shutters will be snapping non-stop.  I have already picked up that region’s field guide and perusing it from time to time in order to set my wildlife checklist.  Last year almost all the animals on the list were checked off, with the exception of the Wolf and Mountain Goat.  Time is short today so I better get to this set of birds.  The first image is of a Chickadee that is fairly common both around my house and apparently out there.

I mainly added this picture because I liked how the little one was tucked inside the evergreen branches.  The field guide actually claims this is a Mountain Chickadee, but to be honest it looks exactly like the ones outside my window as I type this blog.  It does say the habitat is coniferous forests.  Based on this photo, they nailed it.  Wow, as I looked out the window to verify with a chickadee on my feeder, I spotted a raccoon holding onto a branch above my feeder and paw over paw pulling up my bird feeder over the squirrel baffle.  Please hold while I deal with this evil spawn.  …….  the problem is solved.  Geesh, it’s 5:44pm in the afternoon, they are definitely getting bolder.

The next set of photos is from a small pond we stopped at because it had a ton of creatures flying out and diving under a bridge next to the road.  They were flying so fast I couldn’t really tell what they were, so I decided to get out and try to figure it out.  The first consideration of bats were thrown out pretty quick due to the coloring, which led to some type of swallow.  Although I clipped this one, it did show the coloring pattern that led to the identification.  Nothing like trying to look through the viewer and try to get one of these bullets in your field of shot.

I was in the process of putting the lens cap back on the camera and closing up shop when all of a sudden one of the swallows fell completely out of the sky and landed on the water.  Finding this odd, I ended up taking the cap back off in order to use the zoom to get a better view of the scene.  There the bird remained motionless just floating on the water for what must have been at least 3 minutes.

The assumption was it was dead for what reason remained a mystery.  Eventually the little guy stirred a bit and began to come to life.  Slowly it started to beat the wings to build up momentum to escape the water.

Likely due to the extra weight from the wet wings, it was quite a struggle before it was able to gain flight again.  This shot is actually one of my favorites as it was taken just a split second after reaching freedom.

I am hoping it is just a shadow, but the shot actually looks like it might have left some blood where it landed.  Based on the amount of birds flying around at break neck speeds, the odds are it collided with another swallow and lost consciousness for a little bit.  It looked fine as it gained altitude, but eventually I lost it in the swirling mass so best wishes.

Please hit the jump to see the rest of the set.

Continue reading Just About a Wrap on Vacation Birds

What the Duck Is It?

I’m about one day away from going completely nuts due to not having Internet access from my main computer.  This is suppose to be resolved on Tuesday when the new satellite dish is installed.  Until then, I am forced to use my wife’s computer which has to be the crappiest Dell (Studio XPS) I’ve ever used.  Not only is this ridiculously hot thanks to the bad engineering design to have the lid close off the back vent when the lid is open, but the scratch pad mouse will float the cursor randomly if you just wave your thumbs over it.

I do need to persevere though and get through the vacation pictures.  This particular set is essentially a set of ducks of which I have been unable to locate in any of my three bird field guides.  This is likely due to being females and for some reason a majority of the guides will show a male specimen and then simply describe the female version.  It may just be me, but I find this a very frustrating approach for identifying birds.  Usually I can luck out and snap a male with the female which allows me to simply verify the image with the text for the male, but without a starting point, you are basically trying to wade through every description.  After going through this process a couple of times, I have given up and will simply provide the images in hopes someone out there can help me out.

But first, here is one I could actually identify due to how common it is where I live.  We walked up to Nymph Lake in Rocky Mountain National Forest.  Unfortunately, the trail is actually uphill the entire way which did not win me any points with my wife.  I think she was just about ready to beat me over the head with the tripod when we finally reached the destination.  One of the first things we saw coming up to the lake was:

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen a mallard with its head in the water, but the interesting thing was how long he maintained this position.  He would literally do a beak stand in the water for over a minute before bringing his head back up.  5 seconds of rest and he would go right back to that position.  It seemed like some kind of inside duck joke on visitors (or an inside joke between Linda and I if she won the lottery which will remain a secret).  This went on for the entire time we were at the lake.  Still intrigued as to the reason, I happened to pan to the right a little and it all came crystal clear.

The dude was just showing off for the ladies.  This is probably the duck equivalent to Val Kilmer doing stupid muscle poses during a sand volleyball game (except Val was with all males by the way).  A quick funny story.  On the way back down, I saw a small little snake dart into some rocks from the side of the path.  Knowing Linda is deathly afraid of them, I calmly mentioned she should go ahead of me (while I blocked vision from the snake).  She somehow put two and two together and started freaking out which included grabbing my shirt and literally ripping it to pieces.  Next thing I know, one of my favorite shirts now has its sleeve seam completely ruined.  Let that be a lesson to myself – next time, she’s going to have wished she hadn’t stepped on one and I’m keeping her hands off my clothes.

Since there a few unknown duck shots, I’ll put them after the jump.  Again, if you recognize any of them, please drop a comment.

Continue reading What the Duck Is It?

Winged Justice

Apparently my brother has seen fit to have a multi-part post making it very apparent I need to step up my game or be lost in the dust.  To offset this recent charge, I’m reaching into my bag of tricks and pulling out one of my favorite photo sets.  Needless to say, the topic is winged in nature but with a little extra.  Our Nikons get heavy usage whether it be on photo outings with my wife, capturing the sights on vacation, dog shows or just about any event worth reliving in the future … oh, and of course potential blog posts.  Every once in awhile there are some that make it into our favorites collection.  Sometimes we luck out and the photo is stunningly tack sharp.  Other times the tipping point is a unique setting, an interesting composition or a rare sight.   You may not even be able to tell from the picture itself because the special aspect of the photo was the effort involved in capturing it or pure luck of being in the right place at the absolute right time.  I am fond of this set mainly for the latter reasons, with a smattering of interesting composition and rare sight.

For the curious, I was shooting with the Nikon D90 at the extent of a 80-200mm Nikon glass shooting at ISO 1600 in a desperate attempt to freeze flight.  This results in the age old battle of speed versus grain and in this case I opted for the noise.  I need to briefly set this up for you.  Having spent the morning at Menards loading treated lumber for the bridge, I was slightly drained on the drive back home.  About a mile from the house, something caught my eye coming from the upper left.  Turning my head, my eyes locked onto a huge red tailed hawk in a tight dive right towards my truck.  Not sure what was going on, I hit the brakes in time to see the hawk begin to raise up, extend the wings and drop the landing gear.  With claws protruding, the hawk sailed in front of the windshield and dropped with authority in the ditch to my right.  Thankfully, there was no one else on the road at that time because I just sat there stunned with my mouth open relieved I was able to stop the truck in time.  After about 15 seconds, the hawk unfurled the wings and took flight landing in some tall Hedge trees further off into the woods.  At that point the heart sank because I had no way to capture this magnificent bird.  The truck was a mile from the house and loaded down with hundreds of dollars of lumber.  Screw it, some things are just worth taking some risks.  The truck was put in gear and the accelerator floored.  There was a slight scare as I turned into the driveway (slid would probably be a better word), but it was in 4 wheel drive due to the weight and the back wheels brought it back in line.  I flew into the house, grabbed the camera (thankfully had the right glass already on it) and jumped back into the truck and made the return trek – yes, with the wood since the only alternative was to run and I didn’t want to risk the camera.  Having already resigned to the fact the moment was likely already gone, I pulled off the road and started scanning the original bank of trees.  IT WAS STILL THERE! but definitely at a ways out there.  So, the first part of the equation was good, but was the the tipping point aspect still there?  This is rhetorical, of course.

By any chance, did you take a close look at the photo and notice anything intriguing?  The reason it was worth this effort (at least in my opinion) was that the hawk was actually on a specific mission and not just randomly scaring the crap out of motorists.  Nope, this red-tailed hawk was having some lunch.  As it rose up out of the ditch, there was a snake entwined in its talons.

Hopefully the zoomed shot provides a better view of the prey.  It was pretty cool seeing the snake trying to wriggle free, but that hawk was having none of that.  To be honest, I suspected the snake’s head may already be missing and the muscles were just convulsing by the time I made it back.  It would have had a few minutes to much while hunting down the camera.  It noticed my return giving me all of 3 to 4 seconds to get the camera settings the way I wanted before it started taking flight again.

Hit the jump to see the rest of the pictures in this set – unless of course you are squeamish, have a snake phobia or a PETA idiot that thinks the hawks should be nibbling on a stalk of celery instead.

Continue reading Winged Justice

A Shot In The Face of Fear – Yep, I PANICKED

That, my friend, is the result of FEAR!

Linda and I were up an agility show in Wisconsin last weekend.  Part of the bribe to actually get me to go with her was the opportunity to head back to the Chain O Lakes Park in Spring Grove.  Well, that and the chance to stop at my favorite chocolate store in Richmond IL.  8+ hours of waiting around to watch my dogs run for a total of about 4 minutes each.  Yes, their chocolate is THAT  good – especially the dark chocolate covered pineapple- yum.  As a shout out to my littlest dog, congratulations to Kerby (and Linda) on making their TACH II Agility Title at the show.

When we made it to the park, we immediately spotted a couple of swans enjoying a swim.  After about 100 shots of them (blog foreshadowing), we packed up and started to head out of the park.  Less than a mile from the exit, I saw something move out of the corner of my eye.  On closer inspection, I still was not able to tell exactly what it was, but it was moving in the weeds and figured I’d just go have a look-see.  Linda double back and dropped me off while she tried to find a place to pull off.  My suspicions were confirmed, it was a Sandhill Crane walking in the fall weed stalks.

It was rather amazing how well it was actually camouflaged among the fall coloring.  Unfortunately, the red on the head allowed me to zero in on it once the movement was vectored.  If you recall, the last encounter with these large birds was from pretty far away on the Yellowstone trip.  Here, the distance was less than 40 feet away giving a better perspective on just how huge these birds are.  Not only was I fortunate to see this feathered beauty….

there was actually TWO of them.  Based by the coloring, it looks like a male and female, but I need to verify that with the field guides.  I was actually struggling to get the shots I wanted.  They were very aware of my presence and continued to walk back and forth and every once in awhile adding some distance.  As they did this, they would pass behind the weed stalks driving my glass autofocus nuts.  Manual focus did not help much either as they refused to stop in one spot for more than a second or two to check out something on the ground or shoot me a glaring eye.  I continued to try and close the distance to help alleviate the focus issue and both the mono and tripods were in the car – mental note, at least grab the mono the next time I rush off into the woods.

So, you are probably wondering about the whole PANIC thing.  Well, it eventually dawned on me that I really did not know anything about these birds I was openly stalking.  Couple that with the fact I was totally alone and nursing a badly torn lower quad so if they had any cheetah friends I was a gonner.   Hit the jump if you want to see what happened.

Continue reading A Shot In The Face of Fear – Yep, I PANICKED

Go Downtown and Have a Rat Gnaw that Thing Off Your Face

I hardy hello to all my readers out there!  It’s a new month and time to get going on my posts wouldn’t ya say?  I was planning to get some pre-work done on a future post today while at our dog’s Agility Trial.  Unfortunately, that didn’t happen because I ended up taking pictures all day instead.  The good news is I already had another bird set ready to go.  Actually multiple water fowl earned the post spot today.  I’m going to start with one that apparently got the short straw when it came to appearance draws.  I’m talking about the American White Pelican.

I  spotted this one contently paddling along a small river while on our Yellowstone trip.  The growth on his beak signifies this is a breeding male.  Luckily the chicks apparently dig this blemish and is used in their courtship (no, I don’t want to know how) as well as ritualized combat.  While looking through the lens at this guy, all I could think of was one of my favorite scenes from Uncle Buck when John Candy (rest in peace) lit into the grade school teacher because his niece was characterized as a sillyheart.  Maybe he meant a MUSKRAT (dundun dun dun… blog teaser…).

I was actually disappointed I did not get to see him fish.  At a later time on that trip, I came upon a couple of them out in a marshy lake.

Apparently this is their preferred setting.  It is actually a pretty nice picture with the deep color in the trees contrasted against the bright white of the pelicans.  I had to shrink it down significantly which resulted in losing some of its visual.  Let me bring it in a little for you.

As you can tell (even with the zoom fuzz residuals) that it is another breeding male with likely his trophy wife.  Once again I was unable to witness any fishing activity which sounds pretty interesting.  In one of the descriptions in the bird guide, they described the technique.  They work in groups to herd prey into shallow water or they ease into a school of feeding fish gulping ones that stray close to the surface.  This description did not align with the settings I took these shots based on the most I found together was TWO.

Hit the jump to see two more birds being featured today, the Goldeneye and the Canadian Goose

Continue reading Go Downtown and Have a Rat Gnaw that Thing Off Your Face