Saturday, April 27, 2013

Backyard Birds

A quick post to try and catch up a bit here on the new lens binge (?) :).

I took a few pictures around the backyard a Sunday or two ago. There wasn't a lot of bird activity despite the slightly warmer temperatures, but I got some nice pictures of some of the Robins hunting the lawn.  We can tend to ignore and forget the beauty of some of the common birds we see often.

male American Robin

It's a fun challenge to try and get more than just typical shots, with more reason when you have a common bird as a subject.  I was trying very hard to get a shot of a Robin pulling a freshly caught worm from the ground, but it seemed like every time, they'd be facing away from me when they got one!  This was the best I could do.

American Robin swallowing a worm.

American Robin profile.

An alarm went up from the Robins and looking up I saw this Cooper's Hawk circling.  It likely lives somewhere in the area.  Holly and the kids have seen one a number of times over the years as it has dropped in at the bird feeder, hoping to snack on one of the seed eating birds.  It must have been out for a joy ride on the thermals of the new heat of spring... Cooper's Hawks are known more for surprise tactics rather than the Red-tailed Hawk like soaring.  Cooper's Hawks will easily surprise and eat a Robin for supper, so their alarm and fast move for cover was understandable.

Cooper's Hawk soaring

A pair of Mourning Doves were having a romantic nap on our deck bench after preening and courting each other with beak touching and a shuffle around in a circle.

Puffed up Mourning Dove pair.

I have a few more posts to come... a trip to Bayfront Park (hadn't been there in ages) and a combined trip to Valley Inn Road and Woodland Cemetery.  We'll see when I have time to do the post. :)

I hope everyone is enjoying the warmer spring weather.  Today was a beauty and I got to enjoy it with my three boys who are now old enough to all really help Dad with cutting down and hauling away tree for next winter's heat!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Mute Swan Dispute

On one of my trips to LaSalle lately, I saw two people boating from island to island, visiting them each, spending a couple minutes only, and moving to the next.  They were oiling eggs.

Oiling eggs.
(note: I've pixelated the face as I don't intend to cause anyone trouble)

I am assuming they were oiling Mute Swan eggs given the size of the white eggs I could see them holding.  I had heard that this was being done, but had never seen it before.  The pair that nests every year by the boat launch of Bayfront Park I'm sure is spared as it is a well known spot and attracts many people each year as they watch the 32-37 day incubation and then the hatching fun.  In fact, my encounter with this pair was at the beginning of my birding/photography fun and I thoroughly enjoyed the anticipation and then the slow arrival of the cygnets.  Here are those post in order:

They use vegetable oil to spray onto the eggs to close up the pores in the eggs which doesn't allow oxygen to pass through to the developing embryo/chick inside.  And they oil the eggs instead of destroying them so the swans don't re-lay new eggs, but sit through the full incubation time.  The reason for the oiling is to try and control the Mute Swan population.  It is a swan that was imported from Europe as decoration birds for large estate ponds back in the late 1800's.  But it's huge appetite and very aggressive manner have pushed out many of the other water birds, keeping them from breeding in the area it claims.  Because of their massive "through-put" (food turns into poop), they are also seen as contributors (along with Canada Geese of course) with algae bloom problems that starve the aquatic fauna of oxygen and decrease the water plants that are necessary for a balanced environment.

Now, after realizing the impact these swans have and that they were not naturally here, I think I'd support the control.  My understanding is that they are not eliminating them, but keeping them to a manageable population and in some ways, putting a "predator" in place that isn't naturally here.

There has been a big effort to reintroduce the Trumpeter Swan back into the area after it almost became extinct.  This program is going well by all accounts, and LaSalle beach in Burlington is home to a large group that seem to be well established with many over wintering there.  Here's an interesting YouTube video of Trumpeter Swans being banded and tagged.

Trumpeter Swans

Here are a few resources I found on the topic of oiling the Mute Swan eggs elsewhere...I could only find a few references to this actually being practiced in the Hamilton Harbour area:
Here is another blog post from someone in Vermont on the topic.

I don't do this often, but the egg oiling made me think of an aspect I'd like to share with you...One interesting aspect of the egg oiling, is the amazing design of the egg itself.  Until recently, I hadn't even known that eggs had these thousands of pores for "breathing".  Along with so many other wonders of the natural world around us, the egg is another very powerful evidence for seeing all the beauty and intricate systems as designed, and not the product of chance.

Consider these interesting egg facts which all have to be in place and working for a little bird chick to survive:
Strength and shape - Without both of these the egg would be crushed by the parent bird.
Holes - Thousands of microscopic holes allow for respiration during incubation.
Air pocket - At the end of the incubation period, and just prior to the massive effort to get out, the holes are not sufficient to provide enough oxygen.  There is a little pocket of air which provides just enough for the little bird to break the skin inside, and then chisel a hole in the egg with...
Egg tooth (correct, it's not part of the egg!) - the little bird has to develop with this egg tooth strong enough to break the shell.
This doesn't even include the amazing reproductive system that all has to be in the right order for embryo, fertilization, shell production to take place.  But if any of these parts of the system aren't in place, the chick would die.

Adds another dimension to the question of the Chicken or the Egg dilemma don't you think?  I believe all these amazingly complex designs all point to a God who put them there to make us wonder at how amazingly well he created everything to work.  Problem is, we live in a world that is not without breakdown and problems.  It doesn't all work perfectly.  Despite the underlying, amazingly wonderful designed world that we see, there is disease, trouble, and breakdown.  That is our fault, and along with the rest of the world He created to be good, it groans to be fixed.  It wasn't always that way.  We decided that we knew better and rebelled against the God who made us.  And we're still "benefiting" today.  Because we are part of a long line of people who continue to live our own way, and because we're "in the hole" from the start, we can't fix the problem ourselves. Thankfully God sent a rescuer - Jesus - to pay for the debt of our wrong as a representative.  All He requires is that we admit our guilt and are willing to humble ourselves and ask for His grace through the payment on the cross.  Otherwise, we can't complain about the payment we will be required to make for our less than perfect lives which is the standard of a good, but just God.

If you think I'm all wet here or differ in your opinion, please don't feel bad to let me know.  I'd be glad to discuss further or hear your view.  Please be sure that I don't share these thoughts to discourage, or to say I'm better than you, or anything like that... I'm not any better, and I'm in the same condition as everyone else is.  But I want to share the fix that I know and believe to be so true.  I want you to have the same comfort and peace that I have - to know that the the day you die, you'll have a confident answer as you stand before your Maker.   And some day, I don't want you to say, "Why did you never tell me!?"

And... as I enjoy watching and sharing the birding and wildlife photographs, I'm "afraid" I can't help but see that all these creatures declare HIS handiwork.  So, once in a while, a little "sermon" results and I hope that from it, someone some day, will see Him too.

Take care!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

New Colours - Blue and Ruby

Over the last week or so, I was eager to make a few outings with the newness of my lens still keeping me eager to see what it could do.  I made a trip LaSalle first, hoping to see an Eared Grebe which had been reported there.  But it must have travelled on, because it was not there and I saw no more postings about it afterwards.  I walked along the small boardwalk and was treated to a pair Carolina Wrens who were uncharacteristically comfortable with my presence.  Slowly I raised my lens and was greeted with the message "NO CARD".  Aghhh!  I was "forced" to enjoy nature without electronics in between!  How terrible.

The next trip out I headed to Valley Inn Road with reports of a number of interesting birds.  Unfortunately the ponds were rather quiet, at first seeming to only leave a few pairs of Northern Shovelers.  But then I spotted a GreenBlue-winged Teal which made the trip rewarding, adding life bird number 119 to the list.  It was not terribly close so I didn't get really good looks and required some cropped photos for posting.

(Thanks to Dwayne for correcting my mess-up on the bird ID! They don't really even look alike and somehow the name colour got switched in my head.)

male Blue-winged Teal (centre) with Northern Shovelor pair.

male Blue-winged Teal and female Northern Shovelor

A Ring-billed Gull was floating in the water not far from where I was sitting with the hopes that the Green-winged Teal would meander close.  Suddenly, from its floating mode, it started diving which isn't typical for gulls.  A number of times it did it and then finally came up with a catch - a big juicy snail.

Ring-billed Gull with snail catch.

My next outing I headed back to LaSalle, hoping but not really expecting to see the brave pair of Wrens again.  Not in the same location, but I believe I did in fact find them!  The male was singing its heart out as I walked the trail past the boardwalk to the east.

Carolina Wren

Carolina Wren with Northern Cardinal.

Carolina Wren in full song.

Now for a tale on learning humility.  I've been enjoying the birding/photography hobby for a long 28 months or so now.  In months it sound longer than saying it as just over two years.  A few people walking along the trail were wondering what birds I was enjoying and I gladly pointed out the wrens and White-throated Sparrow all skittering through the leaves in the underbrush at that moment.  I was glad to share my knowledge and be able to point out some of the birds I have learned to some apparently obviously novice but interested walkers.  Good of me really to be so kind! A smaller bird which I had actually noticed earlier in the background to my Wren watching was noticed by one of the ladies and she asked what it was.  I over-confidently stated it was only a female Goldfinch.  No, she was not sure that it was.  I gently, but still a confidently, told her I thought it was.  Again, she said, no, she didn't think so.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

I had taken a shot or two of the same bird out in the distance earlier, actually thinking it strange that a Goldfinch was making its way thought the lower portions of the under brush.  A grainy zoom in check on the playback had me thinking though that that is all it was.  I had gone back to watching the wrens again.

Rub-crowned Kinglet showing off its bright crown.
With the lady, I followed the bird in question as it was now closer to the trail.  A sudden bright flash of bright ruby red made my ID immediately known as completely wrong.  Ruby-crowned Kinglet we voiced together in unison.  I looked over and immediately had to acknowledge my previous identification as quite wrong.  Looking back, I should have known the olive green and less pronounced wing bands were the clues!  Humble pie!!  Turns out the lady's son is an avid birder and she's picked up the knowledge to ID a bird or two from a number of years under his tutelage...  I had to apologize for my rather bold but incorrect identification.  I admitted I didn't mind too much being wrong, as it was a new life bird for me... #120.

This little bird is one of the the smallest  North American birds and we are on the southern fringe of its nesting range.  They are extremely active little birds, sharing the characteristic of being constantly in motion with their cousins the Golden-crowned Kinglets.  They are finding insects hiding in corners and edges of buds and bark of the slender branches of trees.  This bird must have been resting for bit of a breather as I was able to get quite a few shots before it moved on again.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

The  White-throated Sparrow I had mentioned earlier was not cooperating at all for a picture.  It was carefully sticking to the densest sections of the brush.  Interestingly, it was constantly singing its "Oh Sweet Canada Canada" call, but very quietly, all along its foraging journey.  I wonder why it was calling so quietly.  I finally got a chance for a few pictures when it too stopped for a brief break.

White-throated Sparrow.

One thing I discovered I had done on this trip was to forget to turn off my SteadyShot on the camera - a feature of the Sony cameras which provides image stabilization in the body.  The new lens has its own optical stabilization which is better than the in body option.  And when the two are on together, they are actually often fighting each other.  Since this is a shared camera for the around the house photos, I'll have to remember to switch that function off and then back on for every outing.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Grass Blue & Glass New

Ok, so the title is corny, but it's hard to think of catchy lines for heading back to an oft visited location with pictures of birds you've shot before.  I called my brother Dan up on Sunday right after church, hoping he could join me on a mission to Grass Lake [Grass Blue] to inaugurate my new lens [Glass New].  Holly quickly made sandwiches for me and the boys and we met Dan and his gang there for hike around the lake.

Mallard Duck pair buffeted by the high winds.

We headed east around the lake perimeter, following the top of the ridge through the bare trees and underbrush which in the summer is not easily passable to see what we could discover at the "back" end of the lake.  With six of our own boys and a friend along, quietly approaching wildlife doesn't happen - good lessons for dads on priorities.  Sure enough, we flushed a Sandhill Crane pair from the water's edge in a noisy, protested escape and they took off into the air before we could escape enough of the branches and twigs to get any decent flight shots.  And they would have been great too - the wind was very stiff that afternoon.  Despite concerted effort on the part of the Cranes they made little headway into the brisk wind at first, staying almost directly in front of us for a short time till they dropped down and made their getaway.  I think Dan got a couple shots off, but I was still trying to get my camera out of a weird setting it mysteriously was on and only got one mildly salvageable shot.

Sandhill Crane pair

 After that, we walked onto the still stable ice left on the shadowed edge of the shallow, lake and watched the ducks which were flying in the wind.  A Red-tailed Hawk circled around and never really came very close.  This was a test for the new optics against a bright sky and the usual purple edging was nicely absent in this heavily cropped shot.

Red-tailed Hawk

 As we trooped back through a farmer's field, I caught site of a bird flying through the trees with the characteristic bounding flight of a woodpecker, though it seemed slightly larger than the typical hairy woodpecker size.  White flashes along the sides also seemed different.  I thought it might have been Blue Jay.  Later on though, I we re-found the bird and it turns out there was a reason the usual didn't fit with what we had seen - it was a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.  Thing is, I didn't figure it out completely till we got home as the picture wasn't terribly clear.  Turns out having a larger lens has it's drawbacks in windy weather.  But, it still counts as a life bird, and it just means it will be a bird I'm still glad to see again to try and get a better photo of.

male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Interestingly, many of us have probably seen the handiwork of these woodpeckers.  They make rows of holes to allow the sap to flow, stopping by their many feeding stations to drink the sap and eat the bugs that are also drawn to the food and either get stuck or don't notice the approaching predator.  They can actually kill trees with their habits if they construct enough holes close enough and all the way around the tree.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker holes.
Photo from here

We headed back to the cars, but noticed the Sandhill Cranes had meandered close to the road end of the lake, so we couldn't resist the opportunity for photos despite the time running out for the visit.  The new lens sure was nice to bring the subjects closer.  

Sandhill Crane
Sandhill Cranes preening.
Sandhill Crane pair.

After a few shots more than we should have, we had to rush off at the risk of being late for church.  It was a great outing at one of my favourite spots with great company!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Happy Birthday to Me

Not's not even close to my birthday actually, but I used birthday money this past Friday to upgrade my lens arsenal to something a little .... no, a lot more exciting!  Between a few year's worth of birthday money, some saved pennies, and lots of patience and Kijiji searching, I finally found a suitable deal on a lens I'd been hoping to get for a while.  It's SIGMA 150-500mm F5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM Lens.
I'm quite excited and have been able to use it twice, and so far, I'm very happy with it.  The pros of the lens features include:
  • A big reduction in Chromatic Aberration meaning no more purple edges on brightly lit/contrasting edges
  • Sharper, quicker, and very quiet focusing from the HSM focusing system
  • Optical Stabilization that works extremely well.  The primary OS1 mode is bi-directional, and once locked on, does an excellent job.  OS2 Mode is only vertical so that if you are horizontally panning with a moving object, you're not fighting that motion.
  • The manual focus ring is actually quite nice. It is gradual enough so that you can focus finely enough.  My Sony lens was so touchy, that it was impossible to do really.
  • Oh, and one minor point, the zoom is much larger! 66% more! :)

Here is a picture of the new lens side by side with the Sony kit lens which came with the camera.

It's a bit larger, so that makes it a bit more of a big deal to bring along, and in high winds (like most of us in Southern Ontario had this weekend) with the sun hood on, it's like trying to hold a sail still!  But I'm not anticipating most of my outings will be in wind like that!

I have two outings worth of pictures to catch up on now, but I'll give you a preview with one shot for now.  With all the rain in the forecast, I won't be out for a while anyway!

Canada Goose pair (manual focused through the grass)

Oh... and speaking of birthdays, tomorrow my dear wife Holly turns a young 35 years old..... She's my best friend, and I'm blessed richly to be married to such a beautiful girl.  She's the amazing mother and teacher of our 5 wonderful (most of the time!) children, and is way better to me than I will ever deserve. It's been over 10 years of marriage now, and I know more and more the truth of the phrase "my better half".  She's far more patient and giving and loving to me than I deserve!  I'm thankful for her good example in her daily walk as a Christian and she's such an encouragement to me in many ways.  I'd be lost without you dear - Love you so much and I hope you have a great birthday! 

And in case anyone was thinking it, no, I did not buy her the above lens for her birthday! :)