The Gulls at Dufferin Islands

Just past the glitz of Niagara Falls (on the Canadian side) are the Dufferin Islands.

850_1316 gull chasing anotherThese islands were created early in the 20th century during the construction of a generating station by Ontario Power Generating (OPG).

The area has been a government-administered nature area since 1999, when power was no longer produced there.

The islands are rather small and easily traversable.  Paid parking is nearby, and there are benches near the water for those of us who want to check our gear for the proper settings before we begin.

850_1404 gull in flightI met my friend and mentor, Andy, there yesterday for a lesson on birds-in-flight.  Photographing birds – period – is hard enough, since they never really stay put for every long.  You never know when they will take off, leaving just a blurry spot in your photo as evidence of their existence.

Birds-in-flight, though, is particularly challenging. . .for me, anyway.  Part of the challenge is that I’m easily distracted by bird behavior, even when they are fairly static and just hanging around.

They’re so funny!

850_1613 juvie gullSo, while most of the lesson was learning how to pay attention, I did get quite a few useful pointers from Andy, who I swear is the original Bird Whisperer.

Armed with a stockpile of suitable bird food, Andy threw it towards the water, which immediately attracted flocks of Canada geese and ring-billed gulls.

The geese were lazy, not hungry, or both, because only a few of them chased after the food.

In fact, they mostly preferred to gather around our feet, waiting for us to scatter it on the ground.

850_1375 food fightEven so, they pretty much ignored it.

The gulls, however, were different.

They battled each other, winging and splashing, until the triumphant victor rose above the fray and flew off with the tasty morsels.

And woe to the poor goose who dared to venture out and capture a snack!

It would get a scolding from an infuriated gull for sure!

So, it was a great opportunity for catching some birds-in-flight!

I850_1463 food fightt was sunny at mid-day, so we shot  wide open (for me, that was f/5.6) at 1/1600 or 1/2000 with a low ISO.

Andy advised a 4-stop difference if filling the frame with gulls (all that white would drive the meter crazy!)

But that would be a rarity for me.

At this point, I’m happy just to get a bird in the frame that is recognizable as a bird!

Unfortunately, I did get a good amount of blurry blobs but eventually managed some decent shots, especially after Andy changed my focus setting to group. . .

850_1292 gull in flight. . .and coached me to try to keep the focus pont(s) centered on the bird.

That worked a lot better!

These birds may be “just gulls,” but they are living, breathing creatures doing what they are programmed to do.

And they do it beautifully!

Maybe not as colorful or rare as other birds, but good subjects to practice on. . .and amazing creatures in their own right.

850_1425 butt shot gull and duckButt shots are not acceptable in the good-photographer community.

However, I couldn’t resist this one with his tail so strategically elevated in the perfect position for a quick takeoff after landing and grabbing.

I think the duck was utterly surprised!

I worked reallyreallyREALLY hard on focus, which seemed to elude me despite my best efforts.

Another Andy tip — when focusing on BIF, “pump” the focus button.  This will help keep a fast-moving bird acceptably sharp.

850_1603 gullBack-button focus works well here, and I was pleased that I was able to set BBF without Andy’s help.  🙂

This tip worked well, so well that I was able to crop some of my photos for close-ups.

Just before we had to leave, in flew an adult black-crowned night heron!  They call them “night herons”for a reason, so it was great to see one in the middle of the day.

Andy’s photo is much better than mine (he caught the red eye by moving to where the sun would catch the heron’s eye and light up the retinaH).

850_1634 black crowned night heronBut I am happy with mine.  The focus is good, and the heron is preening.

“Preening” sounds much better than “scratching at feather mites,” don’t you agree?

Anyway.  My next lesson will be on reading the light.

But I need some practice first!

In case you are new to this blog and don’t know who Andy is, he is a phenomenal photographer who both teaches and offers higher-end workshops.  His main interest is nature, specifically birds.

He really IS the Bird Whisperer, not to mention the Gear Guru.

Take a look at his photos, and I think you will agree.

850_1482 close upYou can see his work here:

https://www.andysphototours.com/

or here on Facebook at Wild Wings Photography:

https://www.facebook.com/AndyNguyen600

Last I heard there were spots still open on the two remaining workshops for this year, one in Africa

https://www.andysphototours.com/2022-africa-safari

and the other in Costa Rica:

https://www.andysphototours.com/2022-costa-rica?fbclid=IwAR1OoOUkzyRPbwvQOWuoKfmAOKcyeJw0c2cFdBtCnwxZLrSmsT-SXBkAphg

850_1599 gull in flight

Practice Practice Practice

Been taking my camera out ss often as I can, experimenting with manual mode.

P6120970 green heron

And lighting. That seems to be my biggest problem.

There was a particular grainy, 18% gray day this week, where everything came out fuzzy and monotone. Like this guy over here ———>

I went back on the next day, which was bright and sunny, and did much better. Like that guy down there. . .same greenie, better light so better focus.

Even phase-detection focus points need some sort of contrast to work effectively.

P6130381 green heron with fish

So, I’ve got to learn how to make the best use of available light. . .which may mean just waiting until there is enough of it to work with.

That, and birds-in-flight. Andy gave me some great tips, but it’s putting them into practice that’ the problem. . .

The first — and most important, I think — is to focus on the bird in the distance, before it takes off.

If you wait until it’s in flight and then try to focus, it’s really hard to get a good lock. . . reallyreallyREALLY hard.

P5230074 gbh hopping

Maybe not for others, but certainly for me.

Another issue: I’ve GOT to learn not to underexpose.

The lack of suitable subjects is frustrating. This has been worsening ever since I got back from Florida.

There were sooooooooooooo many birds in Florida! Here in western NY?

Not so much.

P5081470 tricolor water landing

I’ve been spoiled!

I have only two nearby wetlands, and they are not very nearby. Each takes about an hour to get to.

Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge used to be my go-to birding place.

It has a 3-1/2 mile Wildlife Drive, which used to be a rich source of wildlife. On either side of the Drive there are wetlands, a marshy pool on the west side and the Seneca Canal on the east. As the Drive curves around to the west and south there are smaller bordering pools.

P5230034 GBH in flight

Or, what used to be pools.

You see, the marsh managers think it’s a good idea to drain the marshes every spring, which dries up a vital element of the food web.

They’ve been doing this for the past 5 years.

Indeed, the last year there was any appreciable water in the marshes was 2017!

The wildlife aren’t stupid.

P5240108 juvie redwing

The herons, eagles, osprey, kingfishers, etc. who at one time frequented this Flyway stop, simply look elsewhere for better fishing grounds.

This year it’s been virtually deserted, except for a delightful sandhill crane family, who thrive searching the meadows-that-were-once-marshes for edible goodies (but usually on the bad-light side of the Drive!).

P5240180 song sparrow

Of course, there is also the occasional great blue heron, an eagle or two, and a rare pie-billed grebe. And yesterday I saw two great egrets — but way out in the main pool, where there was a decent water level.

There’s always hordes of redwing blackbirds, purple martins at the feeders (in season), song sparrows, kingbirds, and a few warblers (again in season).

And geese. There are always far too many Canada geese!

The (formerly) good variety of shorebirds, which included a pair of Wilson’s phalaropes (!) are long gone, now that their feeding grounds have dried up.

P6040120 pink

Anyway

My other go-to area is Sterling Nature Center.

No Wildlife Drive here, but certainly some very good trails, one of which takes you to a great blue heron rookery.

This is always a great place to visit!

Especially in the spring, when a variety of flora and fauna can be found and the herons are busy raising their young.

P6100015 looking down

I am going to get busy and search for new hunting grounds, some close by and some farther away.

Stay tuned!

It’s Here! It’s a GO!

The Wild Wings Photography Tour, Costa Rica 2022 is a GO!

 

This is the kind of birds we will see —

Costa Rica 1

— and I am hoping that this is the kind of photos we will take!

With Andy’s patient help and expert teachingcosta rica 2

we will no doubt bring lots and lots of good photos back home. 

CostaRica_trip_map

So, get your passports updated and your gear in order.  November will be coming all too soon!

Hoping to make some new PhotoFriends there!

 

Wild Wings Day 6: The (Final) Star

If Saturday was SuperSaturday, then I would have to say that Sunday was StupendousSunday.

I thought I was in photography heaven.

DSC00402When Andy said he was taking us to a rookery, I immediately thought of this:

Which is a fairly typical example of a great blue heron rookery up where I live.

You know, a stand of dead trees in the middle of a beaver pond, which naturally attracts herons because of the protection afforded by the water.

Beautiful, but meh.

I see this all the time up north.

P5080247 scary alligatorHowever, the rookery he had in mind was sooooooooooooo different!

It was surrounded by a protective body of water all right, but there were no groves of dead trees.

And the protection supplied by the water was amplified by. . .

. . .ALLIGATORS!

GREAT BIG ALLIGATORS, with LOTS OF TEETH!

P5080371 lovey alligatorsHundreds of them!

Which, of course, proved to be The Star of the (Final) Day of Wild Wings 2022.

At least, to me. 🙂

Everywhere you looked, there was an alligator either resting in, thrashing about, or slinking through the water!

And the “rookery” was just as everywhere as the alligators were!

Just about any tree attracted birds of all descriptions, either resting or nesting.

Rare and not-so-rare, colorful and otherwise — preening, cleaning, screaming, or just sitting still.

P5080557 snowyI can’t think of a hawk desperate enough or an eagle brave enough to  risk clashing with an alligator simply to swoop down on a nest and dine on somebody else’s eggs or young ‘uns.

Although there was the ever-present danger of an egg or maybe a fledgling falling into the dangerous waters below. . .

. . .we saw none of that.

What we did see was simply amazing!

P5081755 nesting cormorantWhen Andy pulled into the parking lot of what looked to me like a typical Florida tourist trap, I was confused.

I mean, during the entire week we had made every effort to avoid such places like the plague.

And this place looked very tourist-y, to the point that you were greeted by a huge plastic alligator head with its terrible, toothy jaws opened wide enough for even adults to walk straight through (so you could get that frightful picture to show Aunt Edith and Cousin Ned once you got home).

P5080720 egrets feedingBut this place was different.  It allowed early entry to photographers, so even though the golden hours were just beginning, we got to go in —

— long before it got too hot when the place would be crowded with tourists with their strollers, cell phones, and children asking “are we done yet?” and “can we go to McDonald’s?”

Anyway, I learned a lot of stuff.

Like, I didn’t know alligators make roaring sounds.

I thought it was thunder. . .

. . .but it was (mostly) male alligators in the midst of breeding season, warning others to stay away from their women.

P5070021 baby anhingaAndy told us to bring our tripods, which I did.

But, do you think I remembered the Swiss Arca plates?  Not a chance!  😦   This was a valuable lesson learned, reinforced by the punishment of lugging a useless tripod around with me the whole time.

Ugh.

(My THREE plates, one for each lens, are now each affixed to the appropriate lens collars regardless of when or whether I need might need them!)

I saw Arthur Morris, the legendary expert I had inadvertently insulted when I accepted his business card but not his business.

P5070440 preening tricolorHe pretty much ignored me.

But that’s okay, I really didn’t care.  Too much to see and too much to learn!

But I did meet another photographer (from Jersey) while we were both intent on capturing a couple of baby tricolored herons.

“Did you see that Arthur Morris is here?”  He was pretty excited.  “I got my picture taken with him, right by his tripod!” (whose crowning glory was the Sony Alpha 1 digital mirrorless camera — “The One,” according to Arthur’s blog).

“Yeah, I saw him, but he doesn’t like me much,” I replied.

P5070307 eret in shdow“Why, did you buy the wrong camera?” my new friend joked.

I had to laugh.  “No, I bought the wrong expert.”  (Andy uses an older Nikon that doesn’t even have IBIS —

— but with which he produces award-winning images IN-CAMERA that I would favor over Arthur’s nice and sharp but very photoshopped versions any day of the week!)

And if you don’t believe me about the award-winning photos produced in-camera, just look here:

https://www.facebook.com/AndyNguyen600

or here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/flightshots

Where you will see images like this:

andy little blue

and don’t forget this! coming up this fall:

andy workshop

Hoping to attend every single photo trip that Andy sponsors! but I have some health issues to take care of first, not the least of which is getting rid of whatever-it-is I caught in the plane.

But I digress.

Wild Wings Florida 2022 ended with me totally convinced I should move there. . .until I remembered that the cockroaches are this big <<holding hands out wide>>

Here are some more shots, some good and some not-so-good, that I took on that wonderful Last Day  of Wild Wings Florida 2022:

P5070364 two tribabies

P5070429-2preeninh tricolor

P5080182 anhinga feeding baby

P5080370 anhinga

P5081470 tricolor water landing

P5080585 alligator love

P5080495 egret babies

P5081161 blue heron with stick

P5080350 baby tricolor flexing

P5080861 alltorig

P5070003-3 twins

P5080047alligator

Wild Wings Day 5: The Star

Today was SuperSaturday, so by definition The Star of the Day would be a SuperStar.

And it was!

P5070032 - Copy editedNo doubt about it, it was babies!

Babies clearly were the Number One SuperStar of the Day!

Our morning outing was delayed by thunderstorms, severe enough to prompt lightning warnings.

But once they cleared we were off, looking for SuperStar candidates.

It didn’t take long to find one — in fact, we found it during an impromptu roadside stop when we saw a sandhill crane family feeding near a small pond.

And we didn’t just find one; we found two of them — in the delightful form of two fuzzy little sandhill crane colts.

They were a little wet but undetered by the thunder receding in the distance.

P5070262 feedingWe have a few sandhill cranes up here in western New York, most reliably found at the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, but they tend to wander just out of telephoto range.

Plus, they have a rather frustrating habit of feeding on the bad-light side of Wildlife Drive.

Not so with this sandhill crane family.  They allowed us to approach to a close but respectful distance, which permitted some great captures.

Andy says that in Florida the cranes can have two, possibly three broods in the season.

Amazing!

P5070224 sandhill crane familyLeaving the cranes was hard, but Andy had another place for us to explore.

This was at a freshwater national wildlife refuge with a Wildlife Drive at least three times the length of the one at Montezuma, and it didn’t disappoint.

There were no signs warning us to stay in the car lest we disturb the wildlife.

And there was no marsh drainage or other attempts to “simulate drought” in order to grow duck food.

(For the uninitiated, see Montezuma National Waterfowl Refuge here on this site.)

P5070494 baby alligatorApparently this refuge doesn’t really care about hunters or duck stamp dollars.

And Ducks Unlimited, Inc. is not on their list of financial partners.

They manage very well without them.

Yay!

The very first animal we saw was an alligator!

I think Andy rolled his eyes a bit while I snapped away, but by this time he was getting used to my alligator fascination.

This one, he said, was “only a baby,” but it looked huge to me!

P5070562 shorebirdWe saw a variety of shorebirds, the identification of which taxes the ability of my tiny brain to remember names.

But we also saw some “easy ones,” like black-necked stilts and killdeer.

It was pretty windy, which disturbed the birds.

And whatever I had caught on the plane was getting worse, which disturbed me.

So, I spent the harsh-light hours resting and eating lunch (two bags of Ricola cough drops).

P5070243 pair of whistling ducksThe afternoon excursion was at a walking trail.

This afforded us glimpses of a variety of wildlife, including whistling ducks (which sound like songbirds!), a delightful green heron staring intensely at nothing, a nesting osprey, and some great blue herons.

Of course, there were alligators, too, mostly of whom stayed far away from us in the water.

P5070209 whistling duck in short flightBirds-in-flight was still a challenge but I managed to get a few decent ones.

And  I got some good stills, including the aforementioned osprey,

a couple of the whistling ducks,

and a great blue heron struggling against the wind to stay safely perched in a tree top.

But the best was yet to come!  SuperSaturday had a SuperConclusion — eye-level observation of an osprey nest! 

P5070914 juvie osprey winging itThe young resident was quite engaging and joined the crane colts as The Star of the Day. 

The light was disappearing fast, so we had to work quickly.

After napping a while, the young man awoke revived and refreshed.

He repeatedly called out to mom to bring him some fish.

He also did a few other things.

P5070926 oh oh(Whenever you see a bird do this, you know what to expect next, right?)

I’ll spare you the photo of that.

Anyway.

Mom did her best, but no dinner arrived during our period of observation.

Eventually the light faded, and we had to leave.

P5071233 sunset-3A brilliant end to a very brilliant SuperSaturday.

A few more from SuperSaturday, some good and some not-so-good:

The stilts were elegant:

P5070507 two black necked stilts

I tried to convince Andy that this was a mini-alligator without eyes, but he was having none of it. 🙂

P5070411 salamander

Oh, the cranes and their babies! Just fascinating!

P5070114 sandhill crane family

Hey!  That’s no way to talk to your mother!

P5071055 mom and bby

A decent (for me) capture:

P5070753 - osprey with fish

Definitely unhappy about the wind but managing a pretty good balancing act, thanks to those wings:

P5070270 gbh fighting the wind

Wild Wings Day 4: The Star

The Star of the Day today could have been the pelicans, which were quite photoworthy.

P5062865 woodstork landingOr it could have been any of the number of small waders that ran along the shore and entertained us by pestering each other.

But The Star of the Day was none of these.

It was definitely the  wood stork.

And not just *any* wood stork.

It was THIS wood stork, whose personality outshone all the other birds we saw on Day 4.

However, we wouldn’t know that until the afternoon.

P5060391 spoonbill with beakfulThe morning of Day 4 was spent re-visiting the spoonbills at a nearby lake.

They were just as busy on Day 4 as they had been a few days earlier, gathering and delivering nesting materials.

There were other birds that caught my attention and stayed still long enough to allow me to practice and improve my focus-locking and tracking skills.

After these practice shots, I did much better on birds-in-flight, although it is clear I still have a long way to go.

At least the birds in these images are recognizable as birds!  and not the fuzzy blobs that characterized my past attempts at BIF.

P5060962 - spoonbill with nest materialsThe wifi table at McDonald’s allowed me to spend the harsh-light hours reviewing and post-processing my photos.

And it was during this time that I learned my next lesson.  Noisy images.

Since the M4/3 sensor is small (17 x 13 mm) its photo receptors are also small, especially if there are more of them.  They can absorb only so much light and not nearly as much as full-frame sensors.  So, noise can be a problem. What I learned, though, in reviewing and post processing, was that this doesn’t have to be a problem if you use every single photon of available light.

Underexposed images will definitely harbor a lot of noise, even with cameras that have larger sensors, but images that utilize as much available light as possible (without overexposing, that is)  — not so much.

P5060795 - mamma and baby limpkinIf noise is present, it will be found in the dark areas of the photo; hence, the importance of avoiding underexposure.

And it tends to affect the background more than the subject, if the subject is sharply focused.

At least, that’s what I found in my Day 4 photos.

The afternoon golden hours finally arrived, and with them the Star of the Day.

This wood stork had Personality (with a capital P!).

Not willing to expend energy in unnecessary hunting, it simply ambled up and down the shoreline looking for handouts.

P5062967 woodstock near bucketAn empty bucket must have smelled of fish, because our wood stork kept checking it out.  Disappointed, it looked for other buckets that might hold lunch. . .

. . .such as kids’ sand pails.

Disappointed again!

We turned our attention to activities of other birds, but the stork returned several times to check out the shoreline and any buckets left thereon.

It was both amusing and amazing to watch.

P5062682 2 pelicansNow, stork antics aside, I can’t forget the pelicans.

The pelicans were both numerous and interesting.

The rocks were painted with their whitewash, revealing which ones were favorite resting places.

They, too, declined to hunt for their dinner, but that’s okay.  Instead, the begged for their dinner.

There was one who performed several tricks and displays trying to entice a fisherman to hand over some dinner.

The pelican was unsuccessful, but our friend the stork did catch the fish that the fisherman had tossed its way.

P5062307 wood stork with fishBut that was it.  If either the stork or the pelican was going to eat anything more, they had to do its own legwork.

More photos from Day 4.

Some good, some not so good, but all in all a great day of learning and practice.

P5063401 wood stork and bucket

P5063079 begging pelican

woodstork head in bucket

P5062799 dancing snowy

P5062891 copy woodstork

P5062744 ruddy turnstsone

P5062600 shorebirds

P5062581 snowy in the rocks

P5062082 pelican

P5062549 wood stork in flight

P5062193 pelican on rocks

P5063500 osprey with fish

P5061871 female blackbird

Wild Wings Day 3: The Star

We went out twice on Day 3, once in the morning and once in the evening during the golden hours of sunrise and sunset.

P5050344 purple gallinuleThe choice of Star of the Day was actually quite difficult, as several lovely and not-so-lovely candidates had to be considered.

The first candidate would have to be the purple gallinule.

The morning light glistened off its iridescent feathers — definitely a contender for Star, even if it is a rather common animal.

This one entertained us by nosing around so close to us that we hardly needed a telephoto lens.

P5050446 stilt with boat taileed grackleAnd then there was the black-necked stilt who traipsed through the water, undetered by fear of alligators or fear of boat-tailed grackles.

Actually, the grackles were more of a threat, but this little one didn’t seem to mind at all.

So, if I have to choose (and I realize I do), The Star would have to be the red-bellied woodpecker family.

Definitely.  Their antics were so cute! and our nearness didn’t bother them at all.

We saw only two of them, the mom and the dad, but clearly there were young ‘uns nestled in their pole-home:

Mama:  “Don’t make me come in there!”

P5050622 don't make me come in there

Papa with a tasty morsel for the kids:

P5050603 red bellied feeding juvies

Mama’s turn to feed the children and Papa’s turn to warn them that Mama was on her way:

P5050674 mamma and papa

So, the red-bellied woodpeckers it is — congratulations!

P5051535 - plane as in rawBy 9:00 the light was getting harsh, and we headed back to the motel.

Andy spent some time showing me the wiles and ways of Adobe Camera Raw.

Another lesson:  There is a difference between Camera Raw and Photoshop.

The former helps you reproduce what you saw, the latter helps you produce what you wish you saw.  Using Camera Raw will enhance your photos.  Using Photoshop will manipulate your photos.  P5051534 plane

It’s a big difference.

Photoshopped images, Andy said, will be thrown out of any competition to which they are submitted.

However, the enhancements and corrections provided by Camera Raw are perfectly acceptable.  And it is a powerful program!  Look how I was able to recover this backlit airplane!

But I digress.

P5051383 alligatorOur second expedition was to an out-of-the-way trail with the intention of finding alligators!

Which would have earned my vote for Star of the Day hands down.

However, the weather did not cooperate.

Too hot and humid, even for alligators.  They stayed pretty much in the water.

Also, whatever illness I had contracted on the plane was taking hold.

P5051459 snowy egretI could hardly keep up with Andy as he raced (or so it seemed to me) to the best alligator spots.

Dang.  Stupid weather!  Stupid upper respiratory symptoms!

Anyway.

We did see some great things, like sandhill cranes.

They looked beautiful in the receding golden light.

P5051445 sandhill craneWe also saw some anhingas, some snowies, and even a raccoon.

Then we saw something on the side of the road.

It could be a log.

Or it could be an alligator.

We approached as slowly and quietly as we could, just in case.

With our very looooooooooooooooong lenses.

P5051482 alligatorIt was an alligator! which hurried back into the bush as soon as it sensed our footsteps.

As scary as it was seeing an alligator so close, I couldn’t help but think it was smiling in this photo.

However, even though it was a thrilling sight, the alligator simply could not compete with the little red-bellied family for Star of the Day.

Some more photos from Day 3:

P5051546 anhinga

P5051549 alliator

P5051336 raccoon

P5050908 nesting limpkin

P5051509 sunset -2

P5051568 - ]path

P5050371 purple gallinule eating

P5050206 eagle

Wild Wings Day 2: The Star

P5040132 reddish egret fishing

No problem choosing The Star of the Day for Day 2, the uncontested winner was the reddish egret.

P5040360 little blue butt“In the stately and dignified world of herons,” according to AllAboutBirds (Cornell University), “Reddish Egrets are the swashbuckling cousins.”

And right they are!

Anyone who has watched great blue herons or great or snowy egrets patiently stalking their prey will be quite surprised at the tactics utilized by reddish egrets.

P5040070 reddish egretThey put on an elaborate display, creating a sort of canopy with their wings and darting from place to place to lure fish from their hiding places.

Or they may kick up the sand with their feet and then pounce upon the frightened fish.

Or they may use a combination of these tactics.

Whatever they do, the end result is lunch (for them) and a fabulous show (for us).

The light was perfect, and my confidence had returned, so I took far too many photos o f The Star of the Day.

P5040215 - fish fightWith such good light —

and with Andy cuing me for proper settings —

I had very few problems with noise even with my beloved M4/3 gear

(Olympus EM1x wearing the 100-400 f/5.0 – f/6.3.

Oh, there was other wildlife present, including a delightful little blue heron who struggled to catch a fish.

P5040503 - pelican flyover It finally succeeded — but then dropped it!

Undaunted, it finally captured and swallowed the fish, a triumph happily appreciated by all who witnessed the event.

We were treated to much more than The Reddish Show, although I admit it was difficult for me take my eyes off the entertaining view.

But I did, and I managed to catch a pelican flyover, a godwit, and some gulls.

And our old friend from yesterday, the pink spoonbills, also made an appearance.  I even managed to capture one in flight!

P5040096 black skimmersIf there was a runner-up for Star of the Day, it would be the black skimmers.

The beach was crowded with them!

And some of them did what they do best — skimming the water for fish.

They fly very low, and you can tell when they are getting ready to skim when they circle over the intended area.

Or, you could listen for Andy warning you to get ready with the camera because here they come!

P5040286 black smikkerBoth methods are very reliable.

There was also the occasional white ibis, or what my Aussie friend calls “bin chickens.”

Despite their beauty, they will not hesitate to forage for tasty morsels in trash cans.

We even saw a rare color morph!

Juveniles have a similar color distribution, but their legs and bills are pink.

Andy knows all of these things, and I could listen to him all day talking about the birds.

P5040151 - white ibis color morph

P5040318 spoonbill flying good

P5040065 - snowy in flight

P5040437 - godwit

P5040303 gull in flight

P5040053 reddish dipping

P5040182 - Copy reddish intent on fishing

P5040614 - reddish egrets talking

Day 2, like Day 1, came to an end much too soon!

Wild Wings Day 1: The Star

P5030585 - two walking spoonbills

The Star of the Day was really hard to choose. Of course, my immediate choice, and likely the one Andy intended, would be the spoonbills.

P5031128-2 - spoonbill profileSpoonbills are large, pink wading birds with distinctive spoon-like bills — you really can’t miss seeing them!

And you really can’t miss taking photos of them, unless you are me.  😦

This being my first workshop and its first day, I was understandably a bit anxious.

Maybe too anxious.

My mind went blank as I tried to manipulate the camera.  Having just gotten off the airplane, I didn’t think to check the switches and controls to make sure they hadn’t gotten bumped around.

P5030296 - spoonbill in flight not too badThey did, and my photos proved it.  The first few were dismal failures.  The ensuing ones weren’t much better.  Andy, the true master and patient instructor, dug into the menu and re-set some vital settings, but the rest was up to me.

A hard lesson to learn, but I learned it:  Know your gear.  Be more than familiar with the settings and switches.  Train your muscle memory to know them by touch alone.

Even so, I entirely flunked birds-in-flight.  The “good” ones were those taken from a distance.  But, they were too distant to be “good.”

P5030478 - limpkins mamma and babyBut the stills weren’t so bad, even if they were only “portraits.”  Birds-in-flight skills will take time and practice.

PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE!

The second lesson learned on Day 1 was not to insult other photographers who give you their business card by telling them no thanks, you have already hired a brilliant expert to guide you.

That’s why Arthur Morris doesn’t like me.

P5031205 - cormorant with big fishThe thing is, if you are a famous photographer who has written books and all that, your work should speak for itself.

You shouldn’t have to tell strangers all about your legendary talent and then attempt to lure customers from your colleages.

Just sayin’.

Anyway.

I was amazed at the variety of Florida wildlife I saw that day.

Most amazing (to me, a Yankee from western NY) were, of course, the alligators.  They were everywhere!

P5030631 - alligatorBut, back to the Star of the Day.

Even before we arrived at the lake, we stopped roadside to see a raptor’s nest.  This wasn’t just *any* raptor.  It was the nest of a caracara, and both mom and baby posed nicely for us for several minutes of picture-taking.

Oh, how I wish I was a better photographer!

And then there were the sandhill cranes. . .again, seen simply on the side of the road.

P5031772 - sandhill cranes and sand hillsWhat was spectacular about these sandhill cranes is that they were moseying along near a group of (what else?) sand hills.

And a double-crested cormorant — not so exciting in and of itself. . .

. . .but its struggle to consume a catfish (?) nearly as big as it was made it something to see!

And the mamma limpkin with her baby, strolling for a snack.

Rounding out the category of not-so-amazing-but-truly-amazing-nonetheless was a lovely eastern meadowlark singing its heart out.

It didn’t even hear me coming.

P5031806 - forgot what bird this isIt was singing so intensely that it allowed me to get some good captures with the camera.

I took far too many photos with far too few keepers.  But it was a glorious day for wildlife!

And even though I have lots to learn, I think I can put in the necessary practice, now that I know HOW to practice.

All in all it was a wonderful first day.    

P5031404 - caracara and juvieWith lots of stars!

Wild Wings Photography

peekaboo gallinule

Having just returned from the Florida 2022 workshop, I can’t say enough good things about Wild Wings Photography and its proprietor, Andy Nguyen.

P5062164 - pelican in flightAndy is an excellent photographer – but he is much more than that. His technical and artistic skills with the camera are matched only by his extensive studies and field experience, not only with bird life but with all forms of wildlife.

Truly amazing!

There wasn’t a question that he could not answer quickly and authoritatively with explanations that were easy to understand.

egretAndy is passionate about his work, which was evident in the way he planned and conducted this workshop. He was always available for questions, and not once was he impatient or condescending.

I was sincerely impressed by his willingness to show me, a relative newbie with the camera, how to use it to produce the best in-camera results.

In fact, I can truly say that he treated me as if I was the only person attending the workshop, and the results were astonishing.

P5040251 reddishI came to Florida shooting JPGs in shutter mode with auto-everything-else. By midweek, I was shooting in raw and almost entirely manual – even using manual ISO!

Some of my photos were abject failures, but I returned home at the end of 7 days with a large number of keepers, larger than I had ever expected.

I think the two most valuable lessons I learned were these: Know your gear. Know where all the buttons and switches are and know exactly what they are designed to do. Learn now to locate them with your eyes closed.

P5040151 - white ibis color morphThe other: Know that you will always be learning. Practice may make perfect, but know that we are never perfect. There is always something new to know, and be open to that no matter how skillful you think you are with your gear.

Oh, and a third lesson – don’t forget your Swiss Arca plates!!!

This workshop was worth every penny and then some. The shooting locations Andy chose were awesome, and there was always a “star of the day.” SuperSaturday was truly super, but the final shots on Sunday were even better (which I couldn’t even imagine!).

P5040762 little blue reclaiming fishI know he has seen all these things thousands of times before, but it seemed to me like he was seeing each of them for the very first time.

Such passion and enthusiasm are contagious! as well as highly motivating, especially when you worry about never getting past the newbie stage.

I know Andy has more workshops planned, and I hope to attend each one. I think you should, too.

P5062538 - woodstork in flight

You can contact Andy at his Facebook page, Wild Wings Photography, here:

https://www.facebook.com/AndyNguyen600

Tell him Sue sent ya!

TewwwwwwSDAY

A couple of ewwwwww photos from Sterling today transformed Tuesday into a real  TEWWWWWsday.

Well, not completely.  There were some sweet photos of mamma herons, a mamma eagle, and some pretty flowers.

But definitely a good portion of ewwwww.

Sometimes when you see a dark thing sticking up from a soggy bog bottom, it’s inanimate and harmless.  Maybe it’s just a branch or perhaps a big rock or something.

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But look again.  This one has nose holes and a dark eye!

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And if it has nose holes and a dark eye, it’s probably the head of a very large, very scary snapping turtle, which definitely falls into the ewwwww category.

Of course, garter snakes are rather harmless, or so I’m told:

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But they have a forked tongue and slither through the grass.  And they are neither warm nor fuzzy.  Ewwwww.

Seen closer up, they warrant a more emphatic EWWWWW, written in all caps!

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There was much nicer nature at Sterling today, too.  The rookery never fails to delight, even though the herons are still pretty much egg-sitting.  I didn’t see any little heads popping up on the nest edges — maybe they need another week or two to fight themselves out of that shell.

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The eagle family has welcomed at least one (and quite possibly two) little hatchlings.  Now  Mamma Eagle can get up and stretch her wings. . .

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. . .while Papa Eagle keeps a close watch nearby.

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Wish he was a little closer to ME. . .and away from that fuzzy tree. . .(sigh)

Anyway, there was lots of beaver evidence along the heron trail and on the banks of the outlet stream.  This is definitely one of the more artistic beaver-carved stumps I’ve seen.

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It wasn’t long before I found the artist, or maybe a relative thereof:

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When I saw him/her, we were both intent on avoiding the snapping turtle, so s/he took a turn to the southeast, and I hurried along the path.

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I’m happy to say that we were both successful.

All this plus a little bit of flourishing flora turned this Tuesday into a good mix of ewwww and ahhhh.  Which pretty much defines every day spent at Sterling Nature Center.

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Photos courtesy of EM1x and the 100-400 Olympus f5.6 – 6.3 lens with that fantastic focus limiter switch.

Sony a7ii

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I really love my Olympus gear, but I can’t ignore the full-frame fuss any longer.   So, I took the plunge and bought a (used) Sony — not the latest model and certainly not the most expensive — but one that Digital Camera World recommended as a very capable and affordable full-frame, as long as you don’t do video (https://www.digitalcameraworld.com/buying-guides/best-full-frame-mirrorless-camera).

Although still a relative newbie to the world of photography, I’ve had enough experience with The Big Three (Sony, Canon, and Nikon) to know that I won’t mess around with either Canon or Nikon anymore, because Sony has many of the features that I love in my Olympus gear, especially the color technology.

P4200290The Big Three all sell mirrorless systems, but I was pleased to see that Sony was well represented in the list of full-frames on the Digital Camera World website.

It’s so weird.  Olympus has state-of-the-art technology packed into their camera bodies, yet they struggled financially for a couple of years before being sold to JIP (Japan Industrial Partners).  But this very technology — lightweight bodies, 5-axis IBIS, lag-less electronic viewfinders, live composite, etc. – could not keep Olympus Imaging afloat. . .ironically, this technology is precisely what the Big Three are scrambling to include in marketing their new mirrorless lines, even though such things have been around in Olympus bodies and lenses for years.

P4200531Sheesh, Sony’s a7ii is the first of its cameras to feature 5-axis  “Steady Shot,” but their gear is so heavy that it’s pretty meaningless.  You still need to use a tripod — or at least balance the camera and lens on a pillow placed strategically on a rolled-down window or the top of your car or on a nearby tree limb.

The “steady shot” technology isn’t new to Olympus.  Even their entry-level bodies (such as the EM10) have IBIS.

And their gear is light enough so that 5-axis IBIS is usable without a tripod.  With it you gain about 3-5 stops of handholding.  Tripods aren’t necessary unless you are pushing the limits of the system.

Even handheld “silky water” shots are possible! Let’s see you handhold “silky water” with a (much heavier) Sony system or worse, with a Canon body wearing a long L lens!  Or with that silly overpriced Nikon p1000 with a lens that you can’t fully extend without it jiggling and ruining your photos.

Go figure.

DSC00155Anyway,

B&H had a good, affordable used a7ii, and I also picked up the G 200-600 f5.6 – 6.3 G OSS lens.  This lens is great but very heavy (2412.5 gr) when compared to my Olympus 100-400.  The Oly lens weighs in at 1325 gr, and even when paired with a 2.0 extender it’s still almost 2 lbs lighter than the Sony lens.  Plus, you get much more effective reach from the Olympus — a whopping 1600 full-frame equivalent!

Oh, well, I guess that’s what tripods are for! (see above)

P4150992The argument against M4/3 has always been the small sensor, which measures 17.3mm x 13mm.  These proportion out to 4:3, thus the name micro 4/3.  Both full-frame (24x 36) and APS-C sensors (25.1 x 16.7), despite their differing size, proportion out to 3:2.

All of this is very nice, but what does it mean?  It’s not so much the proportions, it’s the size.  The full-frame sensor measurement of 24mm x 36mm is considered “standard.”  Everything else (for our intents and purposes, anyway) is smaller.  The APS-C used by Canon measures 25.1 x 16.7; the Nikon DX is slightly smaller at 24 x 16; the Sony cropped sensor is a tiny bit smaller than that at 23.5 x 15.6, and the Olympus is smaller still at 17.4 x 13.

(I’m not even going to consider the sensors employed in bridge cameras, which, except for the Sony RX10, measure less than an inch!)

Anyway, these smaller sensors are assigned a “crop factor” by a mathematical formula that calculates how much of an image is lost when compared to the same image produced by the standard full-frame sensor.  Nikon’s DX sensors and Sony’s have a crop factor of 1.5, Canon’s APS-C sensors 1.6, and M4/3 (Olympus, Panasonic) figure in at 2.0.

All of the above photos were taken at a safe, non-stress-provoking distance, courtesy of the Olympus EM1x wearing the 100-400 f5.6 – 6.3 lens and a 2.0 extender.

DSC03507This grainy photo of a song sparrow, though, is the reason I am not concerned with bridge cameras.  Their sensors are so small that their crop factor averages around 5.6!  In fact, the only ones with sensors smaller than that are in cell phone cameras — they are reallyreallyREALLY tiny with a crop factor that hovers around 8.  Both the bridge cameras and the cell phone cameras are great in good light but on a gloomy, dull day not so much.

Crop factors are both good and bad.

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Good:  Crop-factor sensors require less focal length to fill the frame of the image.  So, a 600mm lens used on a full-frame camera produces 600mm of focal length.  But a 600mm lens used on a Canon body with an APS-C sensor yields an equivalent focal length of 960mm (600 x 1.6).  Even better for M4/3 systems:  Their crop factor of 2.0 produces an equivalent focal length of 1200mm when you use a 600mm lens, as this decent mallard shot testifies.

Yes, I do shoot ducks — but only with a camera.  That’s how real men and women shoot animals.

So, if you are a nature photographer and want to get more focal length for your dollars, M4/3 is for you.

P4220421Bad:  Smaller sensors have smaller pixels — and if they don’t, they have less of them.  Since pixels are what admits light, smaller sensors can’t admit as much light as the larger pixels on a full-frame sensor.  Even if they have the same number of pixels, they have to be smaller to fit into the smaller cropped sensors.  That means that in low-light situations, users of smaller-sensor cameras have to fool around with the exposure triangle to make the most of the available light.  That means either increasing the ISO, opening up the aperture, slowing down the shutter speed, or using some combination thereof to make the most of the available light.  Each of these options poses its own problems. Even though I made several attempts to compensate for the distance and low light in the sandhill crane photo, it turned out blurry and just awful.  (Even phase detect AF needs some sort of contrast to work properly!)

When I reviewed the dozens of bad sandhill crane photos I took that day, I could hear a Sony full-frame calling my name.

Even worse:  The larger, full-frame sensor with its larger pixels also has a wider dynamic range that can detect and produce more color.  Which makes it even better at low-light photography than most crop sensors (except for the ones in Olympus cameras)

P4040008But it was only after getting some really bad photos of a mostly brown red-tail hawk sitting on a mostly brown nest in a mostly brown tree in a mostly brown forest on a mostly gray day with my beloved EM1x that I decided to try full frame.

Because, even after switching the 100-400 for the 300mm f/2.8 PRO I still had to bump up the exposure in the EM1x by several stops if I wanted to get any detail at all, the trade-off being a completely blown-out sky and some very pale trees. And whatever detail I managed to capture was lost if I cropped the photo even a little bit.

So, I bought the Sony a7ii and went back to visit Mamma Red-Tail.  And I found a definite improvement.

Dammit.

Compare the results (above) with my later attempt on an equally dull day (we have a lot of those here in western NY) with the a7ii (below).

DSC00013 Even at a distance, there was enough clarity to see Mamma Red-Tail sitting patiently on her eggs, her dark head rising just above the edge of the nest.  

The overall effect is sharper, and the sky isn’t blown out.

I was even able to crop the image, which I had to do because of the disparity between the full-frame 600mm lens and the 2.0 crop on the Olympus lens (see discussion about crop sensors, above).

I suppose I could get better results if I trudged into the woods and got a little closer. . .but that would be wrong.  Mamma Red-Tail deserves to feel safe in her home, and I am pleased that she is willing to tolerate my visits-from-afar.  The edge of the road is a respectful distance that allows her enough privacy to continue incubating those precious eggs while allowing me a glimpse of nature at work.

Still learning. . .

. . .but now I have some new toys!  And better photos!  Win/win!

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