The “Willet”

If you frequent the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, you’ve probably seen this large, sandpiper-like shore bird patrolling the surf line but paid no attention because of his rather drab markings.  Until, that is,  you see him in flight and hear his piercing call.  A bold white and black stripe that runs the length of both wings is a definite eye catcher. So is his call: “pill-will-Willet” he screams while flying up and down the beac

Willets were almost hunted to extinction in the 19th century because of their size and juicy taste.  They’ve made a huge comeback and now,  it’s almost impossible to visit the Atlantic Coast from Maine to Florida, including the Gulf Coast, and not see them.  Seen above in his mottled brown breeding plumage, they’re a regular sight on the beach foraging for tiny Sand Crabs.

They can be very entertaining to watch as they drill their long beaks into the sand when they see the tell tale bubble of a Sand Crab burrowing in the sand.  The one seen below along the Outer Banks of North Carolina at Duck, seemed to be spending more time dodging the incoming breakers and globs of sea foam than looking for a snack.

The foam, by the way, is churned up by agitated sea water particularly when it contains dissolved organic elements like protein from offshore algae.

I’m posting early this week because I’ll be away over the weekend to, where else, the Atlantic Coast. Thanks for the visit. Have a good week ahead. See you next time.

Early Birds

They seemed to know something was coming so they were out early on seed patrol before the wind kicked up.  So was I in my makeshift bird blind with the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 at the ready.

This Common Grackle appeared to be waiting for his mate.  A large bronzed black bird with a large tail, long legs and an iridescent bluish glow on his head when the light is at the right angle, the smaller birds give him a wide birth.

Just getting a shot of these Carolina Chickadees is a challenge.  Very quick, flighty little birds, they grab a spot in a nearby tree, dart down to pick up a seed then fly back to almost exact same spot in the tree to break the shell and have a snack.  The trick is to focus on the bird when he first lands in the tree then hold the exposure and wait for him to return.  He almost always will.

The Chipping Sparrows strike me as very quiet, patient little birds who perch and watch for a while before going for a seed.  Then they’ll come back to the tree, hold the seed under a foot and pop it open with their bill.  After a snack, they’ll just perch and watch the action for a while.  Easy to get a shot of, we have lots of them here.

Another rather patient bird, the Dark Eyed Junkos are another of the year round residents here. I’ve always wondered why so many  people in Eastern North Carolina call them snow birds because we get so little snow every year.  I suppose it’s because, when it does snow, their dark feathers make them easy to spot.

The wind quickly began picking up as the Nor’easter took hold, the birds took cover and I headed for the house.  By late morning, the wind was clocking at 45 to 50 miles an hour as the storm began its trek up the eastern seaboard. Have a good week.  See you next time.

Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR Lens: First Use.

In my world of photography, the fast professional f/2.8 telephoto lenses  do not exist.  I can’t afford them.  For years, the sharpest telephoto lens in my bag has been Nikon’s 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G VR Lens.  I’ve been through two of the third party 400 and 500 mm offerings and none measured up at the 300 mm range, let alone 500. Nikon’s relatively new full frame 200-500 mm f/5.6 is the game changer. First the negatives. This lens is a Sherman Tank.   The lens weighs in at almost 5 pounds. Suffice to say there’s a lot of metal and glass here. And it’s big.  Fully extended, with the lens hood fitted,  it’s nearly 18 inches long. And obviously, while the f/5.6 constant aperture gives consistent performance throughout the zoom range, it has its limitations in low light situations. If you must shoot in low light, prepare to shell out some very large money.  The price for this lens, just under 14 hundred dollars, and its sharpness at 500mm is what sold me. These photos of a male Northern Cardinal provide ample evidence.

This is an honestly simple,  jpeg shot with no tweaking, straight out of a Nikon D750.  The shot below  was converted to jpeg from a  NEF image (NEF is Nikon’s version of a RAW File) in Photoshop where I applied haze reduction and a slight tweak in color curves.

 

I used a tripod on both.  The 200-500 comes with a hefty metal tripod collar.  When the lens with collar is fitted to the camera,  it makes for a perfectly balanced package.  Unlike other telephoto lenses with Vibration Reduction,  I found that leaving it on when using a tripod actually added some benefit.  The VR is snappy and provides compensation for the effects of camera shake by up to 4.5  stops. This means, yes, while this lens is a load,  you can shoot it handheld with very good results.

Since I bought this lens primarily for bird shots here on the farm and on the coast, a couple of specs that directly relate to that use.  First, the lens auto focus system is near silent and quite quick. A designated “sports mode” is well-suited to working in fast paced conditions where panning and other lateral camera movements are more common.   Also,  an electromagnetic aperture mechanism that is integrated into the lens design provides greater exposure control stability.  This is especially beneficial when working with high speed shooting rates.  This feature pretty much  limits the lens to to Nikon’s “D”  camera line.  There is also a switch that locks the lens at 200mm. This makes the lens a bit more easy to haul around.  A final note. This lens is way too big for an ordinary camera bag. I picked up a Lowe pro padded lens bag for under 40 bucks that fits this lens perfectly.  Happy shooting everybody.  See you next time.

A Rare Snowfall

It doesn’t snow here often, maybe once every two or three years, if that, so, it’s a pretty big deal when it does.  Even a few inches will close schools for a week and empty the bread and milk shelves in the grocery stores.  And, if there’s freezing rain involved, the power usually goes out for several days.  Armed with my “hunker down list”, I made a supply run to stock up on, among things, gasoline, to keep the generators running in the event of a blackout. ( The power stayed on and the gasoline wound up in my truck.) The storm which came overnight, topped out at between 3 and 4 inches.   It was more than enough to cover the ground and pile up on the evergreens.   I packed up my camera and headed out with a sack of black oil sunflower seeds in hopes of catching a few bird shots. Birds must have some sort of Twitter thing that allows them to instantly communicate with other birds.   A few scattered sunflower seeds on the ground below my favorite River Birch Tree brought them out in droves.

   

 

The smaller birds like the Dark Eyed Junkos and House Finches were first on the scene, loading up before the bigger birds muscled in.

The Northern Cardinals, male and female, who mate for life, usually show up together.  It’s interesting how they take turns swooping down to the seeds, pick one up and fly back to almost the same spot in the tree to crack it open and eat.  After about an hour, the tree was overrun by Common Grackles.  These birds appear to be all black at a distance, but are actually highly iridescent with colors ranging from blue to purple depending on how the light strikes them.

My Nikon D750 was back at Nikon in New York getting its shutter repaired in a recall so I used the trusty D700 to capture these, using a 70 to 300 mm lens which I have had for well over a decade.  I had to get close to avoid extreme cropping with the D700 which packs only 12 megapixels.  I was right pleased with the results. Maybe by the next time it snows here, I’ll have one of those big telephotos that are all the rage. Maybe! At 72, I’m not one to look too far ahead.  Thanks for the visit.  Have a good week.

 

Photo Of The Week: Back To the Birds

Big Snow storms in Eastern North Carolina are rare but this time around, the TV weather readers were pretty convincing with all their dopplers, models and statistics. Rain, they said, would turn to freezing rain as the temperature dropped.  Then sleet would pile on followed by snow.  In all, two to four inches would accumulate before the storm petered out.  Doesn’t sound like much but 4 inches here is a pretty big deal.  Snow removal here is the month of July.  I’m an aging radio news veteran from the days when news on the radio was actually quite the norm and I remember well the hype that kicks in when snow appears in a weather forecast, but this time, even I bought in.  I rushed out and bought five gallons of gasoline for our generator.  Freezing rain almost always means power outages in the rural area where I live.

The gasoline went in my truck.  The storm fizzled.  We had maybe a trace of snow and sleet but that was it.  No eye popping winter vistas.  So, I ventured down to my makeshift bird blind and spent the day with the birds.

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A little snow on the River Birch Tree would have been a nice enhancement but you dance with what brung ya.  A sack of sunflower seeds scatterred on the ground around the trees always works and soon the Cardinals and the Gold Finches et al were grabbing them and flying into the tree to crack the shells and munch away.  So I got some pretty decent shots.  One or two might find their way onto my web site.  Not bad for plan B.

Here’s the gear list on these shots:  Nikon D750, 70-300mm telephoto, Aperture Priority, Spot Metering, f/11, iso 200.  Slik tripod.  See you next time.

 

Photo Of The Week: The Cardinal In The Wetlands

Blogged 1/23/16

Blogged 1/23/16

I could almost sense the thought balloon hanging over his head. “What on earth are you doing down here in this miserable weather?”   It was pretty nasty. We’d had a good smothering of freezing rain and sleet Friday and a ton of rain overnight. Saturday brought high winds (45-50 mph gusts here on the farm) and a pretty good dusting of snow showers. The flakes were still stirring when I trudged down to my make-shift bird blind near the wetlands here with camera and a sack of sunflower seeds in tow. The bird blind is nothing to write home about. A jury rigged shack really, pieced together with old tobacco sticks, burlap and wire ties. It serves to keep me behind the curtain so to speak. My thought was the leaden sky and the random snow showers would be conducive to some bird shots. No sooner had I spread a handful or two of sunflower seeds around the river birch than Mr. Cardinal showed up and gave me that look before flapping off, no doubt spreading the word that some lunatic was giving away sunflower seeds on the edge of the swamp. .

I was using the Nikon D7100 camera with a 300mm lens, which on the small sensor D7100, lengthens its reach to 450mm, more than enough to crank in the birds which take their sunflower seed up into the River Birch to crack open.  I used the usual settings save for one change. With the high wind, and the nervous nature of the birds, I switched from Aperture priority to Shutter Priority, setting my shutter speed to 320 and the lowest ISO I could get away with. I have but two gripes with the D7100. One is the small buffer. The other, and the one that really bugs me, is the location of the quality button. I am forever hitting it by mistake during shooting unknowingly changing the quality from RAW to one of the JPEG configurations which I am loathe to use.  My other cameras have the Quality button tucked away in a less precarious spot. It’s one reason why I’m giving the just announced Nikon D500 a close look. There’s much to like, including the location of the quality button, and speed. The D500 is rated at 10 frames per second. It’s also pricey at two grand. The XQD memory card it uses is also pricey: a 32gig will set you back more than a hundred. As I said, I’m thinking about it, just as Nikon wants me too. Stay warm everybody. See you next time. Jh