Sunday, November 27, 2016

Study of white-throated sparrow ...

... with my new Panasonic Lumix FZ300.  This past Thanksgiving week I went to Baltimore to visit friends not seen in over a year and a half and I took my new camera.  I spent more time with my friends than I did with my camera so still have a lot of work to do to be comfortable with the FZ300.  I did manage a couple of 4K burst images, but believe it or not, I still need to get comfortable with single shot shooting!

The FZ300 is a major upgrade, both technically and operationally, from the FZ200 which I have been using for the past 4 years.  I haven't been able to put the FZ300 in my hands and just take photos, so I guess this is also an amateur/novice review of the camera.  The reviews on Amazon and elsewhere make it seem simple.  I'll admit to some anxiety when I first worked with the camera where I thought I might need to return it.  But, in truth, all technology is becoming more complex - from my hospital's EMR (truly a Rube Goldberg machine) to our phones and cameras.  Many understand these things intuitively, but for me it's all becoming less and less intuitive.  The issue is time (in my case lack of time) to learn.  Realistically, if I want to continue to take photos and blog, returning the FZ300 is not an option.     

All of the photos included here are single shot photo attempts. Comments about 4K burst shooting are at the end.  Most photos have been cropped, but no other enhancements were made.  Even single shot shooting seems different from the FZ200.  Clearly the above photo is a mistake, but I liked the effect.  I think it may have occurred when I was trying to switch to 4K burst to take photos of the young fox trotting along the edge of the road.  The first 10 photos in this blog were taken on the empty campus of Loyola University in northern Baltimore city. This area is a very nice part of the city with large properties and mature landscaping and small to medium woodlots.  Perfect for an urban red fox (Vulpes vulpes).

Unfortunately, when the photo is enlarged it is apparent that the little fox has mange on the bridge of its nose and around its eyes - surely just one of many perils for an urban fox.  Cute little thing.  Red fox is one of my favorite mammals.

Why a photo shoot of white-throated sparrows (Zonotrichia albicollis)? White-throated sparrow is the wintertime sparrow of Baltimore.  A very large number of our northern breeding white-throated sparrows end up in Maryland.  In some areas, as where I was visiting, I believe they even outnumber house sparrows.  Kinda nice.  As an added bonus they occasionally T-up nicely for photos as did the bird above and in the six photos below.

The lighting is bright and clear and I am working with a cooperative bird.  

My initial challenge with these photos was getting the bird in focus.  A bird perched on an open branch should be easy right?  I am finding that focusing takes a little extra work with the FZ300.

The thing I like about these photos is the feather detailing that can be seen.  The FZ300, as with a myriad of other such cameras, is in the point-and-shoot class and the shots are not going to be as detailed or sharp as those taken with a DSLR.  Nevertheless, I am pleased with the detail and overall sharpness of these shots.  I was not right on top of this bird.  I was using the zoom and these photos seem better overall than with my FZ200.  This is a 12.1 megapixel camera - as is the FZ200 - the same as the new iPhone!

I don't think I cropped the photo above with house sparrows on the feeder.  I include it here for all the activity captured.

On a Thanksgiving morning walk around the beautiful Baltimore neighborhood of Guilford, we came across this autumn blooming white iris.  Just one of the many very nice things about Baltimore, and the mid-Atlantic region in general, is its often beautiful late fall weather.

Above and below are a series of photos that were taken in overcast lighting conditions.  The photo above is an example of the focusing challenges I am having.

Improved slightly above.

Still not great, but lighting also much poorer.

Yet, above and below, in the leaves where it's not clear what should be in focus - not too bad.  I think I got lucky with these.  No quick moving bird in Panama or Costa Rica is going to sit around and wait for me to get the focus right.  If this were my blue-crowned manakin or provost's ground-sparrow I would be thrilled.

Above and two below, another poser in overcast but clear light.

Major miss - red-bellied woodpecker taking off from the arm of an adirondack chair.

Above and below, a first year bird perched in the low branches of a bush.

A real camera review would include aperture settings and operational features for each photo.  I may add more later, but this is a blog and it's mostly just the photo quality that readers are interested in.  All are JPEG photos taken in P mode automatic settings.

The FZ300 has some heft to it.  Definitely bulkier and heavier than the FZ200, but still very comfortable in my hands.  It is also dust and moisture proof - can't be dunked in water, but can withstand a little rain - definitely a desirable feature for me.

I have some 4K burst shots of the little fox to work with and I'll try to do another post with these.  In the meantime, I found a particularly helpful YouTube video by Marlene Hielema of ImageMaven offering 4K burst instruction.   Of the several I watched, I thought this was the best. In fact, I found The Image Maven blog to be excellent and linked it to my favorite websites.  Lots of learning needs lots of teaching.

Finally, for anyone who reads this thing all the way to the end (ha ha), Dorian Anderson of Biking for Birds fame and now writing The Speckled Hatchback blog, offered an excellent review of bird photography using his own photos at the request of a company working on a new design of camera.  Dorian Anderson certainly does not use a point-and-shoot, but he offers excellent insights into bird photography regardless of kind of camera used.  If interested read his 11/17/16 Post #82 - By request, how has my photography changed over time?  Long with lots of photos! here.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Photos with new camera

Newly arrived on my doorstep from Amazon on Monday, a Panasonic Lumix FZ300 with 4K video.  It is very different from the FZ200 which I have been using for the past 4 years.   

Without any prep at all I went around my neighborhood late this afternoon and took the following photos.  It didn't take me long to realize that I have some work to do to understand the operating features.

I just took photos of random images.

Then I went home to read the manual.  I don't even understand the technical language.  Wish me luck.

On another front, I am using Google Photos for this blog.  I fully admit to not being techy, but does it seem to anyone else that Google is making things more difficult to use.

Monday, October 17, 2016

How to Help an Injured Bird

From the New York Times:  How to Help an Injured Bird

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Belle Isle on the last Sunday in September

It was birdy at Belle Isle on the last Sunday in September but all were hidden in the still thick leaves and, although I had some close chances, no real photos ops.

Above and below:  worn common checkered skipper (Pyrgus communis).  It's been quite awhile since I've seen one and, as discussed this summer, I am out-of-practice with my skipper identification.

Above:  Great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica)* a native perennial of wet woodlands, swamps and floodplains - all three describe the woods of Belle Isle well.  Initially I called this bittersweet nightshade (Solanum dulcamara), a non-native perennial*.  I may have made this error because of the variability of L. siphilitica, and I did not check enough sources for bittersweet nightshade.  Its flower actually bears no resemblance to the flower of great blue lobelia.  Look at the name siphilitica.  In days of yore when we did not have effective treatments, this name comes from the mistaken belief that the alkaloids in the roots could cure syphilis.   Actually the alkaloids in the roots can cause vomiting.  Toxicity is also a feature of bittersweet nightshade's alkaloid roots - hence its name.  Nevertheless, both are beautiful

Spicebush berries are thick and numerous in may spots now so there is plenty of food for thrushes, waxwings and others.  Swainson's thrushes were heard in a couple of spots thick with spicebush berries.  At one point a fresh Spicebush swallowtail flew over the path.

I don't know what these berries are.  I found them in only one spot and I was tempted to try them. Hanging in clumps they looked like concord grapes.

*Wildflowers of Michigan Field Guide by Stan Tekiela, Adventure Publications, pages 23 and 125.  (A handy and portable little guide for novices like me.)

Friday, September 23, 2016

Dead common shrew

This evening, when walking along my small paver path between the garage and a tiny urban woods I created to pick some basil for dinner, I found a dead common shrew (Sorex araneus).  I was so surprised.  I don't recall ever having seen a shrew. But there it was, lying on the path, dead.  How did it get there?  How did it die?  I picked it up and after carefully looking it over, I could only think to do what I always do - take photos.  

Up close I could see that it was one of the cutest darn things.

Sometime during the early to mid-summer the neighbors who live kitty-corner behind me inquired if I had an orange cat.  I did.  They commented further that my cat had been coming around to their house because my cat liked their cat.  Really?  Quite a feat since my cat does not go outdoors.  I said as much.  Oh no, it must surely be my cat.

In addition, I found out that their cat was an un-neutered male and that, for my neighbors, this was because it was against their religion to neuter a cat.  And, it wouldn't be fair to keep their cat indoors.  My heart fell into my stomach.

Right about this time my yard and my pond were full of birds; robins teaching fledgings to hunt for food, a failed cardinal nest, blue jays, cedar waxwings and robins coming to the pond for bathing and, a real pleasure in my neighborhood, a carolina wren singing from a another nearby neighbor's yard as if on territory.

I explained the situation with a heightened level of concern to my vet. Was there any recourse?  No.   And to another indoor cat friend who commiserated but, of course, could suggest nothing.  Though I worried briefly when I hadn't heard it for a couple of days, the carolina wren continued to sing throughout the summer.  In fact, I found it at my hummingbird feeder one afternoon and I heard it just the other evening when walking back from the post office.

I checked with friends at work.  Was it true that, for religious observance, a cat could not be neutered?  No.  Their cats were neutered and indoor cats.  Why?  Because of the birds.  Made me feel better.

In this final photo, though not easily seen, there is one perfectly round puncture wound just above the shrew's left lower leg.  The white puncture scars are easily seen.  A cat killed this common shrew.  Was it my neighbor's cat?  There are other outdoor cats in my neighborhood and it's impossible to know how many birds and other creatures they kill.  But this time it was not the Carolina wren who paid the price. Rather, it was a tiny common shrew that I didn't even know I had.

I wish I could explain to my neighbors that all cats should be neutered and that all cats belong indoors.  Unfortunately, this seems impossible.   

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Finally, perched Tramea lacerata

All summer long I have seen flying and hovering Black Saddlebags (Tramea lacerate) over fields, ponds and even lakes if I can count Sherwood pond as a lake.  I never saw one perched.  Finally, this morning, I startled one as I was walking on a narrow wetland trail in the man-made wetland of Rivard Plaza in downtown Detroit.

I watched as it flew back and forth and around the wetland.  I saw it approach the spot from where I had startled it and so I backed off a bit and stood perfectly still.  That seemed to do the trick because it flew in and settled in the same area.

Thinking it was probably going to be flighty I took a couple of distant shots and continued to move forward slowly.  In this photo the long cerci are easily seen.

I kept thinking it would fly so was surprised when I was able to get right up to it - so close that I had to back off with my camera.

I think this dragonfly is an immature male.  *Paulson describes abdomen black, often showing yellow squares on S7 indicative of immaturity.

Being able to get these photographs was thrilling and the black saddlebags did not disappoint.  Its size, pattern and shape of its saddlebags and the long cerci reveal it to be a spectacular creature.

Grasshopper found a sunny perch off trail.

This T. lacerata is a different individual that perched in a drier area closer to the river.  None of my photos were as nice perhaps because of the brighter sun and the kind of vegetation selected for its perch.  In all, I saw three black saddlebags at this relatively contained location. There was a Wandering Glider (Pantala flavescens) flying around too, but absolutely no chance for photos.  The only others were Sympetrum sp.

Monarchs were migrating through the park in large numbers.  But, this is a Viceroy (Limenitis archippus) that stopped to nectar on a large white aster clump that also had a lot of honey bees.  

Rivard Plaza is part of William G. Milliken State Park.  The man-made wetland here definitely deserves attention especially in migration seasons.  But it may be not suited to all birders or naturalists.  You will share your searching with skaters, bikers, walkers, runners and, everyone's favorite, dog walkers.  The area in the photo above must be the meeting spot for a group dog walk.  There were twenty dogs in the area at the time of this photo and others still arriving.  Later I saw them all walking together in a large group in another part of the park.

When I finished at the wetland I drove down to the marina.  A single Pied-bill Grebe was diving here.    I missed my best photo of the grebe when I saw it surface beneath a pile of green weeds.  I got greedy with my advance and it dove again before I could get the shot.

As a bonus I saw a guy near the marina who looked like he could be playing Pokemon Go.  So I went up to ask and he was.  I got a little tutorial on how one catches Pokemons.  After 3 misses with some muttering between his throws, "don't leave, don't leave," he finally, using a curve ball, got the one I was watching with him.  For a quick follow-up he then easily caught another that looked like a fish.  I'm not a gamer, but I can understand how Pokemon Go could be completely addictive.  Like photographing birds or dragonflies - "don't leave, don't leave."

* Paulson, Dennis,  Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East, Princeton University Press, 2011, page 510. 

Friday, September 16, 2016

Another mosaic

My second mosaic dragonfly in September; actually my second ever and my first in Michigan.  My photo views are limited, but I had help from Darrin O'Brien to clinch the identification.  

Above and below:  I've learned the mosaic dragonflies are best identified from photos with a side view which I was unable to get of this perched dragon.

Above and below:  later in the morning I found this mating pair and it was actually the photo below from which Darrin was able to make the ID.

Lance-tipped Darner (Aeshna constricta)

I found the email comments from Darrin below helpful.  Just goes to show how tricky dragonflies can be to identify and how careful one must be.  

The male claspers are paddle-shaped which eliminates some of the more confusing Aeshnas.  This would be much easier to see with a side view.

The pattern at the top of the hind area of the thorax would lead me to believe it's a Lance-tipped Darner (A. constricta).

The abdomen is also constricted, but I don't always find this helpful.

Many times a side view of the thorax is best for ID, but this isn't foolproof.  In this case, if you have a side view of the thoracic stripes, it should clinch the ID.

With many dragonflies, even dorsal, lateral, and ventral photos aren't enough for ID.

I found these Lance-tipped Darner's at Lake St. Clair Metropark along the path between the nature center and the boardwalk area on Sunday, September 10th while leading a DAS birding trip there.  They seemed numerous flying over the path at the start of the walk around 8:15 am - 9:00 am.  When the walk ended around 11:30 am or so, I went back and saw hardly anything.  This is when the mating pair showed up and perched.