Monday, March 31, 2008

Wildlife Science Center and Carlos Avery

On Saturday I took my niece to the Wildlife Science Center which was a very fun day. We were able to see the wolves, bear, coyotes, and even this Great-horned Owl. This owl was injured (right wing) long ago and has been a resident of the WSC for many years and used mainly for educational purposes now. If you haven't visited the WSC I would recommend it, they have tours on Saturdays at 11 and 1 (lots of information on the above website).

Carlos Avery Update: I stopped by Carlos Avery on Sunday and the gates are closed to vehicles. Due to the warm weather the roads can become quite difficult and they usually shut the gates around this time each year. I'll check again in a week or two, but if anyone heads up there before then and sees that the roads are open, I'd appreciate a note, and of course I'll do the same here.

Great-horned Owl:
Great-horned Owl

Thursday, March 27, 2008

New Equipment Review

I was asked by Ivar's Birds to post a review of my new camera equipment. So here is what I think so far.

I've taken about 300 photos so far with my new Canon 40D and Canon 100-400L lens. The majority of the shots have been hand held with an ISO range of 200-400. I haven't shot at higher ISO's yet, so I'll need to report on that at a later date. So given that context here is my review of the body and lens.

Canon 40D:
Usability - I have been shooting a Canon 20D for the past few years and the layout of controls on the 40D is very similar so the transition to the new camera body was quite natural. The back of the camera has a much larger (and brighter) LCD that is actually usable in terms of quick photo reviews versus the LCD on the 20D which was quite small and was useful only for histogram checks in my opinion. The 40D body is a bit larger and heavier but still feels comfortable in my hands. The 40D has a new feature of Auto ISO which is a nice feature, but when shooting in Manual mode it automatically sets it to ISO 400. That's fine, but I wish I had the ability to set which ISO it defaulted to when in Manual mode. It's not a big deal, but it would be nice to have that kind of control.
Image Quality - Shooting most of my shots at lower ISO settings I haven't seen any noise in my photos. I did a lot of image quality comparisons before buying this camera and I don't expect to see much noise until around ISO 1600, but again, I haven't done this yet, so we'll see if that pans out. Another item worth mentioning here is that this camera has Sensor Cleaning at startup/shutdown time. So far this has not affected me, but over the long run it should help with dust on the sensor (only time will tell though).

Canon 100-400mm:
Usability - The size of the lens is quite manageable in my opinion. Even when fully extended to 400mm the weight seems to be evenly distributed with the 40D. The lens is a push/pull zoom and I was a bit apprehensive about getting used to that, but so far I haven't found it to be a problem. The one issue I do have is with the positioning of the manual focus ring. On this lens, the manual focus ring is usable even when Auto Focus is turned on. The issue I have is that the focus ring sits just behind the main grip for the push/pull zoom and I have occasionally bumped the focus ring while framing my shot via the zoom. I think this falls more under the category of "getting used to it" than a poor design, but it is something I'll need to figure out. (I also have smaller hands which could also be a factor.)
Image Quality - I have been extremely happy with the sharpness of this lens. All of the pictures I have posted since getting my new equipment have been hand held shots, and when looking at the full resolution RAW files the level of sharpness is quite good. Compared to what I was used to with the Sigma 50-500 it is significantly better. The part I am most impressed with though is the lack of Chromatic Aberration (CA). If you look at the shots below of the Great-horned Owl where you have dark branches against a basically white sky you would normally see CA on the edges of the branches with a lesser quality lens. I see none on any of the photos that I took under these conditions and that is remarkable in my opinion. The Sigma 50-500 under these conditions would show (significant) CA.

Overall Opinion:
I am incredibly happy with this lens/body combination in terms of usability and image quality. I've only taken a small amount of photos with the camera so far, but the percentage of quality shots is much higher than what I was getting with my previous equipment. For those of you that know me, I don't normally make recommendations when it comes to items like these, but I would feel pretty confident in recommending either piece of equipment.

I hope that this all makes sense and if you have questions about any of this, please let me know.
Good birding (photography) to all!


PS The Sigma 50-500 has been a great lens for me over the last few years and has given a great deal of good service.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Great Horned Owl Update

Well, today was a pretty good day. When I looked out my window this morning just after getting up, there was a nice looking Turkey in the yard. On my drive home tonight, I saw my first Red-winged Blackbird of the year!
Over lunch though I drove over to my friends house to get some more shots of the Great-horned Owl nest. When I arrived the adult was on the nest with the owlets. The nest is so small for the 3 birds though all I could see was the adult. I snapped off a few shots and the adult eventually flew off into the woods. What was most interesting though is how fast the owlets are progressing. If you look at the last post I made on these owls, A Great Day!, you'll see the increase in feathers and a decrease in amount of white down. It's only been 5 days . . . they grow so fast these days! :)
I feel very fortunate to have started out my "spring" birding with these great owl encounters!

Great-horned Owl:
Great-horned Owl Nest

Great-horned Owlets:
Great-horned Owlets Nest

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Barred Owl Madness!

So I had a few minutes today and decided to take some "test" shots with my new camera from the deck at the birds around my feeder. So I took a few shots, and then there wasn't much activity so I was about to head back in when I caught a slight movement in the corner of my eye. I turned to find a Barred Owl about 40 feet away . . . he had been there the whole time I was on the deck! So I started to take few shots, moved a foot to my left to get a better angle and he started to fly. I thought, "Well I blew that!", except he flew directly at me and landed only about 20 feet away from me! He landed on the branch and stared down at me. To make a long story short, he spent about 1 1/2 hours sitting on the branch occasionally closing his eyes. It looked like he was quite content, and I sure wasn't bothering him. I think I was more of curiosity than a threat. As you can imagine I took a bunch of shots. I'll post a few of the ones I liked that found with a cursory look at the ones I took. It will take a bit longer to get through all of them (I might have been a bit shutter happy with such a great bird and the new camera). I'm sure I'll post more over the coming days!

You can see larger versions of these at my Flickr account if you click on them.

Barred Owl (These 2 shots are not cropped) :
Barred Owl (1 of 3)

Barred Owl (2 of 3)

Talons, Talons, and more Talons:
Barred Owl (3 of 3)

Friday, March 21, 2008

Learning about birds . . . Northern Shrike

So, as promised, here is a post on the Northern Shrike. This winter I saw more of these birds than I've ever seen. What's interesting is that many others reported seeing them more this yer than usual as well here in Minnesota. I wonder why . . .

Northern Shrike:
- The Northern Shrike, like other shrikes, kills more prey, if it can, than it can immediately eat or feed to nestlings. Such behavior was characterized by early observers as "wanton killing," but the Northern Shrike stores excess prey to eat later. Storing food is an adaptation for surviving periods of food scarcity.
- The Latin species name of the Northern Shrike, Lanius excubitor, means "Butcher watchman."
- The nest of the Northern Shrike is an open cup, but it is so deep that while incubating, the female is completely out of view except for the tip of her tail.

Northern Shrike

Here's a link to other posts I've made on Northern Shrike sightings.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Blogger Tag - Six Word Memoir Meme

I've been "tagged" by Hannibal's Animals & Minnesota Birdnerd to leave a six word meme to describe my inner birder. So here goes:

My six word meme: Birding is essential in my life.

As for an illustration, I'll let my blog as a whole speak for itself.

It appears that this Blogger Tag has made it's way around to a number of blogs because many of the blogs that I visit have already been tagged so I'm only going to tag a few.

Arkansas Birding

Birdfreak: The Bird Conservation Blog

If you want to play here are the rules:

1. Write a six word memoir and post it on your blog with an illustration if you'd like.

2. Link to the person that tagged you in your post and to this original if possible so we can track it as it travels across the blogosphere.

3. Tag 5 more blogs with links.

4. Don't forget to leave a comment on the tagged blogs with an invitation to play.

A Great Day!

I finally got my new camera and lens delivered today! It took too many phone calls, and was quite frustrating, but I believe that it was worth the wait. So not only did I get my new equipment today, a friend of mine discovered a Great Horned Owl nest in his yard! How cool is that!!! So after work I drove over to his house and took a few photos. The lighting wasn't that great, and it's going to take a bit to get used the new equipment, but here are some of the first shots on my new camera. I bought this camera to take photos of birds and I couldn't think of a better first day with it. I'm really hoping to get back there a few more times over the next couple of weeks and take more photos, I'll keep you updated.

Great Horned Owl:
Great Horned Owl-2

Great Horned Owlets:
Great Horned Owlets

You can click on the photos to see larger versions at my Flickr account.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Lochness Park

I took a walk through Lochness Park today (I drive by almost every day). I just wanted to get out and enjoy the warm weather and scout this park for future visits. It's a nice park with paved trails, although humanity is encroaching on it from all sides. I believe though that I'll likely stop here on a more regular basis this spring and summer mainly because of the convenience factor and I do believe that their is potential for some nice bird life here. Time will tell how that works out. As expected, I didn't see much of anything until I got back in my car, the camera was put away and I was driving out of the park. I had a Northern Shrike fly right in front of my truck and land long enough for me to get off a few shots. It's really a beautiful bird that I have seen many of this winter . . . more than I ever have. I think this is a good bird for the next installment of Learning about birds . . . stay tuned for that.

Northern Shrike:

Northern Shrike

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Carlos Avery Today

I took a drive through Carlos Avery today and saw about what I expected to see, Chickadees, Woodpeckers (heard a Red-bellied), Red-tailed Hawks, and a saw a couple Turkeys on my drive home. So not a whole to report bird-wise but the roads were in decent shape and it was a nice sunny day. They did open a new section for firewood gathering on the corner of Pool 10/Headquarters road. I'd guess it was about 3+ acres. They have left large piles of brush which will hopefully be good habitat for birds this spring and it is right off the road so hopefully there will be some opportunities to see some birds using the brush piles. Only time will tell. Anyway I never even picked up my camera today so I'll leave you with a picture from August of 2005.


Friday, March 14, 2008

Still waiting . . .

Well I ordered a new camera and lens about a week and a half ago. It was delivered at the end of last week but the box that it arrived in looked like it had been tossed repeatedly off the back of truck so I had to refuse the package and send it back. Yes, I was quite unhappy about this since I was pretty much like a kid on Christmas morning waiting for this package to arrive. Anyway, it looks I'll be getting it next Wednesday, give or take a day. I really can't wait for this camera setup and the Spring migration to start!

Canon 40D (photo courtesy of Canon):

Canon 100-400 f4.5-5.6L IS USM (photo courtesy of Canon):

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Learning about birds . . . Red-shouldered Hawk

Well, the signs of spring are starting to show and I hope that this year, like the last 2 years, we'll have a pair of Red-shouldered Hawks nesting in our yard again. Last year that started their nest in our yard and due to a large storm that damaged it, they moved over a few yards. Hopefully they'll choose our yard again and we'll get to see the young mature in the nest.

- Although the American Crow often mobs the Red-shouldered Hawk, sometimes the relationship is not so one-sided. They may chase each other and try to steal food from each other. They may also both attack a Great Horned Owl and join forces to chase the owl out of the hawk's territory. - We saw this happen last year!
- By the time they are five days old, nestling Red-shouldered Hawks can shoot their feces over the edge of their nest. Bird poop on the ground is a sign of an active nest. - We definitely saw this the first year!
- The Great Horned Owl often takes nestling Red-shouldered Hawks, but the hawk occasionally turns the tables. While a Red-shouldered Hawk was observed chasing a Great Horned Owl, its mate took a young owl out of its nest and ate it. - We've had both of these in our yard but I had no idea how contentious their relationship could be . . .

Red-shouldered Hawks (From last years first nest attempt):
Red Shouldered Hawks on Nest

Here's all the posts I've made on Red-shouldered Hawks.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Learning about birds . . . Green Heron

Last spring/summer I saw a number of Green Herons at Carlos Avery WMA and was able to take a lot of photographs. Below is one of the better shots that I took.

- The Green Heron is one of the few tool-using birds. It commonly drops bait onto the surface of the water and grabs the small fish that are attracted. It uses a variety of baits and lures, including crusts of bread, insects, earthworms, twigs, or feathers.
- As is typical for many herons, the Green Heron tends to wander after the breeding season is over. Most wanderers probably seek more favorable foraging areas and do not travel far. But,occasionally some go farther, with individuals going as far as England and France.
- A group of herons has many collective nouns, including "a battery of herons", "a hedge of herons", "a pose of herons", "a rookery of herons", and a "scattering of herons."

Green Heron