Saturday, April 24, 2010

Funny Stuff

Found this video on youtube.  This bird really loves Ray Charles! Frostie the Cockatoo dancing to "Shake your tailfeather"

Monday, April 12, 2010

5 sure fire tips for better Bird photography

Being There
I know this is stating the obvious but if you aren't there, you can't get the shot.... profound! Let me expand on that before you click away from me! Most people that look at my photos say "you must be outside a lot" or "you must have a lot of patience". Well, yes to both statements! Although I call it laziness rather than patience.

I spend a lot of time outside, even in my own backyard. If you are inside watching TV you won't get very many pictures of birds!

The other things that go into being "there" is to be aware of what is around you. This can be anywhere you go. I got a nice picture of a Red-shouldered Hawk while waiting in the parking lot at the mall. I got a Bald Eagle on my way to the gas station. I take my camera with me everywhere I go!

Be Ready
Always have fully charged batteries and a freshly formatted CF or Sans disk. Again, another obvious tip but overlooked by most casual photographers. And, take your camera everywhere! How many times have you said to yourself "I wish I had my camera". If we could predict when there will be a photo op then everybody would be a professional photographer! The key to getting great photos is to do your prep work. Then, when you see that Pileated Woodpecker in the tree 30 feet away, you just need to click!

Use a tripod
This is the one tip that I will always put in any "tips list" I make about photography. It is especially important with bird photography since most of the time you will probably be using the longest/heaviest lens in your bag. My camera is very rarely off a tripod or monopod.

I've heard of and seen many photos that where taken by hand-holding a camera. Most have been great photos and the photographers are very pleased and proud to tell me they were handheld shots. As well they should be! But most people don't share the missed/blurry shots and boast that they handheld for this blur!

I know my limitations and would not go out in the field without a tripod or monopod. I would rather miss a shot entirely than to have a blurry reminder of what might have been! The other benefit of a tripod; you don't have to carry that heavy camera/lens all day long! I will normally find a promising spot, set up the tripod and just wait for the birds to show up. The tripod is doing the heavy lifting and I'm enjoying the surroundings! My tripod adds about 3lbs. to my carrying load. About the same as a few bottles of water. Not a very high price to pay in my opinion.

Take lots of shots
I think most people that look at my photos think that I only take one shot and that's the one that they are buying/looking at. Far from the truth! I take at least 6 shots of each subject at a time. Rapid fire is my friend! It does make it boring when going through a days shooting but I like having the odds on my side. On a good day my 'keeper' ratio is maybe 1:75. Really, the more the better! You will become more critical and not want to save as many photos as you gain experience.

Get Close
Just as in Real Estate, Location, Location, Location! The closer the better! I have a 500mm lens and I thought that would be enough to get the shots I wanted. Well, it did get me closer but not with the clarity I was striving for. I have that 500mm lens on the camera most of the time and still use blinds to get as close a possible. I don't think I've ever said that I was too close to a bird. I try to get so close that I have to adjust my lens or position to be able to focus. Try to fill that frame with nothing but bird! You'll love the results!

I hope these tips have helped you a bit. I know they are pretty basic but you must start with the basics to get a good base line to start with. Just remember to Be There, Be Ready, Use a tripod, Take Lots of shots and GET CLOSE!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Northern Flicker Nest

I watched a Northern Flicker working on a dead tree in my front yard for about an hour and a half today. I am hoping that it will complete the nest and I'll get to see some youngsters! The tree is about 50 feet from my computer room (on the second floor of my house). The nest cavity is a little above eye level from that window.

 In the picture above you can see the wood chips it was scooping out of the cavity. This cavity faces almost exactly west. Lots of afternoon sun! The only thing I'm concerned about is that Crows and Hawks like to perch in the tree right next to this one. I hope they nest there but I'm afraid they will abandon it. I'll just have to see how this plays out. For now I'm just enjoying watching the work!

Check back here to keep an eye on the progress of the nest. I'll try to post pictures everyday but that will depend on a lot of things that are out of my control. At any rate I'll be posting more.....

Sunday April 11, 2010
Ok, I've got good news and bad news.
The good news is that the Flicker is still working on the tree. The even better news is that today it's the female. It's the first time I've seen her there! Although I've only been watching the nest since yesterday! I'm almost ready to call it a nest for sure!

The bad news is the lighting. I'm looking almost directly into the morning sun. That will make getting photos very difficult in the morning. I'm hoping that when the sun gets higher in the sky it will shine on the nest for most of the afternoon.

I've removed the screen on the window of my computer room and will have a perfect line of site to the cavity. It also allows me to be about 20 feet closer and 10 feet higher. Should be perfect! I'm going to try to get some flash units out there to help with the lighting conditions. I don't know how well that will work but it's worth the effort!

Here's some pictures from this morning of the Female at the cavity. As I said, the lighting conditions were tough so I did a little fooling around with Photoshop to try to get them a little clearer.

You can see her tongue in the photo below:

Both Flickers have been working on the nest all day. I've mostly seen the Female but the male was working a little also. I can see that this is going to disrupt a lot of things I really should be doing! I didn't want to scare them off today so I'll just have to find another time to mow the lawn! Hmmmm, do I have the right priorities? Yep!

Here's a couple of photos from this afternoon. I used a 1.4x converter to get a little closer. I don't really like to use the converter but this is a more controlled and consistent subject so I get a little more time to get things set right! Below are the shots, both of the female:

Monday April 12, 2010
Not much to report today as I was out all day and didn't get home until after sunset. I did see the male this morning, perched in an adjacent tree. I've done a little research on the internet and will share the information with you. I did a cut-n-paste from other web sites which I give credit and links to for further reading if you are so inclined:

"Nest Sites and Shelter
Northern flickers excavate nest sites in dead or dying trees, aging utility poles, fence posts, and house siding. They will also use specially designed nest boxes.

The birds use their stout beaks to chisel down 6-18 inches, making a wide bottom for the egg chamber.

Nest holes may be started but never completed, possibly due to poor location or quality of the wood. Occasionally flickers will re-use a nest hole after doing some minor work to it.

Both male and female flickers excavate the nest, the male doing substantially more than the female. Complete excavation may take only a few days in soft wood, but averages 14 days.

Eggs are laid on wood chips created during excavation of the nest.
The breeding season for Northern flickers is from March to June, with young leaving the nest as late as mid-July.
Both male and female flickers incubate the 5 to 8 eggs for about 11 days, then brood the newly hatched young for about 4 days.

Both sexes feed the young, which leave the nest after 24 to 27 days.

The parents continue to feed the young once they fledge, and soon the young begin to follow the adults to foraging sites and gather their own food.

Individual flickers return to the same area to breed year after year. " ~ Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Tuesday April 13, 2010
This morning I didn't see any activity at the nest but the Female was perched in the adjacent tree keeping watch over the nest (I guess).

This evening when I returned home there was still no activity at the cavity but the male was watching over the nest. I guess the construction has been completed (I hope so anyway!)

Here's a shot I really like for some reason. It's a silhouette of the male keeping watch over his home!

Wednesday April 14, 2010
I'm going to call it a nest! I just got home and checked out the tree. The male (I think) was sitting in the opening. Unfortunately, it was too dark to get any photos. But I think the fact that it was in the hole tells me that it's going to be their nest. Either the male or female have been there or perched in the tree somewhere for the last two days.  If they are successful, I hope to see some youngsters. I probably won't be able to see them until they are about ready to fledge but I'll keep watching! If all goes well it should be about a month.

Saturday April 17, 2010
Work continues on the nest. I've only seen the male working on the nest today. He was working most of the day on digging out the nest cavity. He would go into the nest and grab some wood chips and drop them out of the nest. As seen in the drawing above he appears to be digging down in the trunk of the thee. It must be getting pretty deep in there as I cannot see any movement in hole after he goes in. I can see his tail feathers occasionally while he is digging out the bottom of the nest. Here is a shot of the male with a mouth full of wood chips he is about to drop out of the nest cavity.

He then drops the wood chips out of the nest. The picture below shows the wood chips falling from the tree.

If anyone can identify the tree I would be greatly thankful! I'm not the best a tree identification but would love to know what this tree is/was.

I've also entered this nest into Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Nest Watch program. If you have seen any nesting activity in your area, you might want to enter the information into this database. The more data the better! They are at

You can also follow them on twitter at: @NestWatch

Saturday May 01, 2010
Not much to report on for the last few days. I haven't seen (but have heard) the Flickers. I'm hoping this is a good sign as they may be deep in the nest cavity. But I sure would like to see one of them somewhere around the nest cavity! I'll keep looking and hoping!

Monday May 10, 2010
Well, I haven't seen any Flickers at the nest cavity for the last 9 days. I think they may have abandoned it! I'll keep watching but my fears of them abandoning it may be coming true. Bummer! I still have a little hope though... why, I don't know!

Sunday May 23, 2010
Fantastic NEWS!
I've been watching the Flickers nest cavity for any activity for the last three weeks without seeing any activity. I was almost going to declare the nest abandoned but, kept hoping!

Well, today when I got home I saw the male and female at the nest! The most activity I've seen in three weeks! I guess things are happening deep in the cavity where I can't see. Here's a few shots from this evening. First one is the female flying out with the male keeping guard.

the next photo is mom and dad in the adjacent tree

Mom in the nest

Mom at the entrance of the nest cavity

I am very happy to see that they didn't abandon the nest! I'll try to keep posting picutres of the progress!

Larger versions of most photos can be seen on my web site in the Flicker Gallery:

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Do as I say, Not as I do!

First off, let me thank the patient and very nice people at Ampcus and the entire Ampcus Metro Tigers team for a great time on Sunday! The weather couldn't have been better and you couldn't have been more welcoming. THANK YOU ALL!

Having said that, I owe you all a big apology! I should have done my HOMEWORK!

When I was asked to take pictures at a Cricket game (or is it a match?), I jumped at the offer. I didn't know the first thing about Cricket but I did know it was a sport and I've always heard it was a lot like baseball. Here's the kicker, I always preach, "DO YOUR HOMEWORK BEFORE YOU TRY TO SHOOT ANYTHING". I didn't do this for my Sunday shoot. I figured, it was "a lot like baseball" so how hard could it be to figure out where to stand for the best angles of the action. I learned very quickly that I was WAY out of my comfort zone on this shoot!

First off, when someone tells you that Cricket is a lot like baseball, look them straight in the eyes and give them one, quick, slap in the face while saying, "Are you on drugs?". Just kidding, but the only similar thing I saw was, a ball and a bat (not even shaped the same way).

When I arrived at the field I saw 'my team' out warming up in the middle of the field. I quickly went out to say my good mornings and announce I was ready to shoot. We took a team photo and they went back to warming up. I was making sure all my camera settings where set and started to scout out the perfect angles for the shoot. I checked the angle of the sun, the backgrounds and looked for any annoying structures to try to avoid. OK, now I was set for the days shooting. I ploped myself down just outside a blue line painted on the grass just about a three quarters angle to the main 'deck' (where the pitcher and batter stood). PERFECT spot! Beautiful dark green background with no other structures or annoying objects. I began clicking away at the team warming up. It was great! I was sure to capture all the action from this vantage point!

About 5 minutes before the scheduled start of the game (or is it match? I still don't know) the manager of the Metro Tigers came over and told me that they were going to be the ballers or maybe he said bowlers. I said, "OK", not knowing what that meant. He then informed me that I needed to be on the outside of the cones.

I had noticed a man had come by earlier placing cones about 10 feet behind me in a big circle around the entire field. I said, "OK" and moved my camera bag behind the big circle made by the cones. I'd be about 10 feet further away from the action but I brought the big lens so it was not that big of deal. He then politely said, "No, behind those cones", pointing to another set of cones that were set up about 50 yards farther back. I sheepishly said, "Oh". I knew I was not in Kansas (make that Virginia) anymore. Way out of my comfort zone now!

The Tigers took the field, 11 of them I think. In a huge circle around that main deck in the center. Then a few more people from the other team came out with the bats and I guess the game was on. I won't try to go into too much depth of the game (because I can't) but I saw the pitcher and the batter so I started shooting that interaction.  The pitcher would throw the ball and the batter would try to hit it. The fielders would catch the ball and throw it back to the center. Every now and then the batters would run from one side of the center deck to the other. I had no idea of what was going on! This went on for over an hour and a half.

Then, all the players ran off the field and sat on picnic tables that were scattered around the field. I walked over to where the Tigers were sitting on the table, drinking water and talking about the game. They saw me walking up and started asking me if I got any good shots. I said, I think so, but I didn't know what I was shooting. The manager said that they were not playing well and they where down by 123 runs! 123 runs???? Where was I when all these runs were scored. Did I get a picture of a run being scored? MAN, I wish I had done my homework!

Anyway, the next time they went out on the field they were the batters. This went on for about another hour. I took pictures of them batting from the opposite side of the field. I wasn't very happy with the background or back lighting but what can you do? A great cheer went up and the two teams went to the center of the field and shook hands. The game appeared to be over. I went out to the celebration and was informed that the Tigers had won! Was this a great comeback? Or is that the way it goes? I have no idea.

Let this be a lesson, Do as I say, Not as I do! I can't help but feel I let the team down. I didn't do my homework. I know I missed lots of shots because I had no idea of what I was shooting. The rest of this week I'm going to study up on Cricket! The next time I shoot at a Cricket match (or is it called a game?) I'm going to get a shot of a run being scored!

As I said, everyone was very nice and welcoming. They seem to like the shots that I got but I can't help but feel I could have done so much better if I would have known what was going on!

If you would like to see what I shot, here's the link to the gallery. I can only get better! And I WILL practice what I preach from now on!!!!!