Sunday, December 25, 2016

End of 2016: Why do I do this?

By this I mean blogging about birds and other things.  I have been thinking of an end of year post for the past couple of weeks.  A recent comment exchange with another "birding" blogger made me think about this question more.  Then when I opened my computer this Christmas morning, I read a new post by another birding friend - one whose blog inspired me to start my own blog so many years ago - and read the following:  "Why do I blog?  Because it allows me to generate a place for all of my photos that I take to document my adventures. And, when "both" of my backups fail, it provides a small amount of consolation for having just lost every photo I've taken the past 4 years! This was written by Jerry Jourdan whose work many are already well-acquainted with in the form of his photographs and dedication to blogging.  Oh wow!  My photos are Brownie camera shots compared with Jerry's stunning images.  I can't even imagine how horrible he feels about this misfortune. Then his beautiful photos of Eastern Screech Owl follow as he begins all over again.

Above is the first photo I took in 2016 while counting for the Detroit River CBC on January 1st.  I remember it was my first photo because I had to fumble to get my camera battery out of my pocket (to keep it warm) and loaded into my camera.  Remarkably this little bird stayed put while I did all that fumbling and I took a string of about a dozen shots - my best ever of Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus).

Above, my early summer photo of a male Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) is one of my favorites of 2016.  The way the small seed pod petals show through the dragonfly's transparent wings and with evidence of the spider web on the plant also being seen on the left lower wing of the dragonfly appeals to me. 

Above and below:  On a mid-week day off from work in the middle of December I went to see this Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides) that I had learned about several days earlier.  In 2016 I worked the equivalent of 17 months.  You can do the arithmetic and I'm not proud of it and realize this reality may be signaling the end of my career.  In the last quarter of this year I still had 11 vacation days remaining.  In my organization if we don't use our yearly allotment of vacation days we lose them.  There is no rollover.  I'll be damned if I was not going to use each and every one.  I got busy and figured out how to schedule them.  My reward on this particular day off was spending about 15 minutes alone with the wayward Mountain Bluebird.  In my prior blog entry I described this experience as one of birding's golden moments and felt I had earned it.  After that brief but adequate time, a couple of others showed up and it was back to being birderly again.  I love this bird!  Despite severe winter weather the Mountain Bluebird is still present in the same location.

So, why do I blog?  Like Jerry, I use my photos as context for my outdoor adventures and experiences.  While my primary interest has always been birds, over the years I've branched out to anything that moves or grows in the wild.  There is something very satisfying about seeing a new living thing and then trying to identify it.  In deep summer when the birds are quiet and hidden in the leaves, dragonflies, butterflies and wildflowers become my focus. When I take a trip there would be no way to remember the details if I didn't blog about it. The same is true for getting out on any ordinary weekend morning.  

Many of my blog entries also have a significant amount of narrative - in spite of my belief that when others look at blogs they are really only interested in seeing the photos.  I also use my blog to practice my writing.  This is an idea I got from another blogging friend who is a real writer and has published her research and other articles.  I've read a lot of my friend's writing and she is such a readable writer.  For my work I read a lot of medical research (definitely not readable writing!).  The kind of writing I do at work is in the form of medical documentation, as in progress notes, office visit notes, procedure notes, etc.  I can say with certainty that this is the kind of writing that would choke a horse. It's a pleasure to write words and pieces that are so different from that drudge.  I have never published anything - may one day have the opportunity - and I know my writing has improved thanks to having this blog.  So, while I believe that others are mostly interested in only the photos, the writing is for me.  If others also happen to read it, that's fine too.

I got through this whole thing without writing that I have never liked the words blog, blogging or blogger.  I can't change them but all are awful word choices.

Merry Christmas.


Thursday, December 15, 2016

Mountain Bluebird

A day off and bright sun was enough to get me out to chase a bird - something I rarely do anymore.  Generally I'm not a chaser but the Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides) was only 40 minutes from home at Harvey Ensign Memorial boat launch on Lake St. Clair in Macomb County.  Plus I have my new camera and need practice with it.

As I was arriving a birder I didn't know was leaving and he confirmed that the bird was present at the tip.  I saw and heard american goldfinches and then saw and heard cardinals.  Scanning with my bins the mountain bluebird came into view perched on a low rock at the very tip of land.

For about 15-20 minutes I had this bird to myself.  There is something special in that kind of serendipity - birding's golden moments.

It's a startlingly beautiful bird - one of my favorites.  On one of my morning walks in northern Idaho last September I found several mountain bluebirds in a farm and livestock field.  To my dismay, those birds were too far away to even fake a photo.

Not so with this cooperative bird.  It appears to be a first year male.  I think the female bird would be overall grayer.

Above and below:  In sun and shadow.

It flew from perch to perch and I tried for a flight shot by switching to 4K burst shooting.  But my fingers were too cold and, as it turned out, 4K burst was turned off.  I couldn't fiddle.  I did take video and posted it at the end.

I lost track of the mountain bluebird when it flew into the weedy center of the tip that is surrounded by a fence.  I walked around the bird's favored area twice more before deciding to leave.  By this time, it was becoming more overcast and the wind, which had been present the whole time,  worsened.  

The bird hung out with the cardinals and goldfinches for the whole time I watched it.  There were also a couple of downy woodpeckers nearby.  I wondered if the mountain bluebird could endure the winter on this small spit of land.  Our eastern bluebirds remain throughout the winter.  Mountain bluebirds breed in northwestern states but migrate south during the harshest months in their most northern breeding locations.  Northern Idaho is extremely wintery but the birds migrate south in winter.  They hang out in flocks and together search for fruit. A few photos posted on eBird show this bird perched amongst large purple berries.  If they haven't already, the berries will run out.  I feel like its chance for survival would be better if it could hook up with some eastern bluebirds.

I don't enjoy seeing wayward birds - especially ones that have landed in harsh environments.  Years ago I drove up to the UP beyond Marquette to see a first year male Vermillion Flycatcher.  It was October and already cold, but snow had not yet fallen.  As I watched the little bird flit here and there to find bugs I knew it was doomed.  A few weeks after my visit the bird's dead body was found in a nearby barn.  I no longer chase vagrants in locations that require a lot of driving unless I am going to be in the area anyway.  It's too sad and it's one less bird that will become a successful breeder at a time when we have fewer and fewer birds.  It's much more fun to see birds in their  proper habitat.

The walk back to my car was directly into the wind and my face was freezing when I finally got in and drove away.   

Monday, December 12, 2016

4K burst

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a novice's review of the Lumix FZ300 using photos that I took while visiting Baltimore for Thanksgiving. This morning it's snowing and I still have to go out to do a few things - like shoveling - but not much use in that with the snow still falling.  So ... time to play with 4K burst?  Maybe. 

I started by watching this YouTube video by Marlene Hielema with my camera in hand.  In my camera, the photos I shot in 4K burst show up as described in the video.  But when downloaded to the computer the photos show up as a video.  I can make the 4K burst photo selection work in the camera, but have not figured out how to do it on the computer yet.

When I used the 4K burst option for the photos/video of the fox trotting along the road (above), the fox was close enough to me to be completely startled by the loud, rat-a-tat sound of the shutter going off. You can see in the video that the little guy was having none of it.  When your subject is an unaware animal or bird it would be best to use the silent start/stop, represented as S/S or the second option in the 4K selection.

0.04 second 4K burst shooting.  Noisy!

Still in 4K burst I shot the fox running away from me.  From the burst series I chose the selection below - all four feet off the ground.

0.04 second 4K burst shooting (that's 30 frames per second) from which the photo below was sele

For now, when I use the 4K burst or S/S selections, and if I know I only want a single photo, I will need to make the photo selection in my camera.  I should also to be able to do this on my computer, and that would be a lot easier for me, but I haven't yet figured out that process. 

However, when done in the camera, the video and other burst photo selections were deleted and only the single shot was downloaded on my computer.  That's not good if I want both the video and another frame from the burst.

I'm trying to figure out how this will work in the field on, say, a multi-day trip.  As Marlene Hielema says, this kind of shooting takes up a lot of space on our cards.  I don't typically take my computer on trips ... too much to carry ... so even more downloading and culling would be needed upon return.

Just looking at the little fox running across the field make me want to learn this.  Practice, practice, practice.      

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.)