Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Lunch in Bayfront Park

I went to Bayfront Park for lunch, almost a month ago now, having not been there for a long time.  It's a quick drive from the office meaning I have more time to wander about in my one hour lunch break. It's a trade-off though because though there is more time, it's not always that active on the bird front.  Being late spring still, I thought I'd see what might be around though.

I headed along the marina side of the park and quite quickly caught sight of a Chestnut-sided Warbler busy collecting bugs.

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Further along the path a Song Sparrow didn't notice me as it busily caught more bugs that thought they were hidden from harms way in the crevices of tree bark.

Song Sparrow

Up above, a silent but active little bird caught my attention.  It's the first clear shot I've gotten of a Warbling Vireo. It took me a while to ID this bird - what I had been expecting to see of the typical yellow flanks aren't really very evident.

Warbling Vireo

Off the trail, a little ways up is a low area which is not manicured lawn like most of the rest of the park. Here there are a number of bird houses that have been put up last year.  Most of them are now well used by a little group of Tree Swallows. A few have been commandeered by House Sparrows.  One male Tree Swallow let me approach quite close and I got this full frame picture.  Too bad it's still not terribly sharp.  I think between me zooming in too far (I try not to go past 400mm on my lens as it gets too soft) and some wind, the focus is a bit softer than it should be for such a nice close shot.

male Tree Swallow

In the same area, a pair of American Gold finches were bathing in a puddle of water.

male American Goldfinch bathing.

Walking back along the boat launch side I watched the Caspian Terns fishing in the waters below.  I kind of like how they are softly framed by the reeds in the foreground. Not often you get two terns together that close either.

Caspian Terns

Walking on a little further there was a pair of Yellow Warblers.  I managed to get a picture of both of them.

female Yellow Warbler

male Yellow Warbler
(note the barring on the breast)

While moving around the tree trying to get on the right side of the bright little yellow birds, I was scolded harshly by an American Robin.  Soon I found out why...

American Robin on nest.

As I headed back to the car, I caught the soft but high pitched notes of Cedar Waxwings and found a small group of them eating what I think are high-bush cranberries.

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing

In the end, it was a nice relaxing stroll with quite a varied find of birds.  None new, but some nice close encounters.  The Waxwings were nice a close which was great, but the photo shoot was cut short by rain. I just made it back to the car as the deluge started.

Until next time...
Keep enjoying HIS handiwork!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Mother's Day

The weather on Mother's Day was beautiful. With plans to visit my Mom later in the day, I went for a walk with the kids to the park in town to give the dear mother of my kids a quiet afternoon at home.  I took the camera along and wandered the grounds around the playground.  I did not linger long by the playground with my long lens for fear someone would call the cops reporting a strange guy with a big camera taking pictures of kids - don't laugh, it's happened before.  Another blogger I follow had it happen to him once when was in a woodlot abutting a school yard!

I watched the always present Robins combing the "grass-scape" for works and grubs, pausing for a few seconds to scan the grass below, and then hopping the next five paces to another place to search.

American Robin

I watched this Common Grackle take on a different approach to finding food, or should I say, obtaining food.  When the Robins would find a grub or worm, the Grackle would swoop in and pounce.  The undersized Robin would drop the catch and flee, leaving the Grackle to pickup the fallen prize.

Common Grackle thief.

This Grackle did it a few times while I was watching and picked up a good supply of food, likely for a nest full of young somewhere nearby.

Common Grackle with stolen meal.

The familiar high pitched notes of an American Goldfinch caught my attention up in a tree.  It was serenading a female that was calmly sitting by while the male switched from branch to branch, singing its heart out hoping to convince the lady of its worth.

Male American Goldfinch with female in background.

Although I'm doubting it now, I'm pretty sure the bird in the background is the female. Usually Goldfinches are quite camera shy but it seems this pair was quite distracted and I could get quite close. Too bad they were way up in the tree.

male American Goldfinch singing away.

female American Goldfinch

male American Goldfinch

After returning from the park, I wandered behind our place in the church yard to see if any migrants might have stopped for a rest in our little area of town.  Way up in the tops of some old spruce trees was some movement and I took some pictures with harsh mid-day lighting.  The birds were constantly moving through the branches and it was a challenge to try and get a few good pictures.  Previewing the pictures I assumed they were Yellow-Rumped Warblers and didn't think much about it till editing them recently.  I'm still not 100 percent sure, but I think they were They were Cape May Warblers (Thanks Dwayne!).  I'm pretty sure the bird pictured below is a young male.  Life bird #203.

Cape May Warbler

These little birds prefer the spruce budworm, but also have a unique feature in the warbler world.  They have a curled, semi-tubular tongue which they use to gather nectar during the colder seasons after having migrated to the West Indies islands.

Cape May Warbler

What had actually brought me to these tall spruces was a Gray Catbird which was eluding me earlier.  I was able to get one quick shot as it played cat and mouse (yes, pun intended!) between the large row of stout spruce trunk bases.  Although not a great shot, I thought I'd include it as it shows, albeit obscured somewhat, the bright rusty colour under its tail.

Gray Catbird

We headed to my parents church in Cambridge for their second service, and afterwards, my youngest brother pointed out a neatly carved hole in an aging Maple tree in the front yard of the church.  Soon enough, the curious head of a Red-bellied Woodpecker appeared, giving away location of an active nest site.

Red-bellied Woodpecker in nest cavity.

Once it got used to us standing there, it seemed content to just watch us right back.

Red-bellied Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker

However, once the curiosity of the young boys running on the other side of the church lawn brought them over, the woodpecker had enough and fled with its trademark, scolding call.  We didn't stay long after that and let it return to the nest.

Just as we were about to leave, a Cooper's Hawk soared over, nice and slowly so I could get a reasonably clear picture as it coasted west, way above us.

Cooper's Hawk

That afternoon we headed to the Huron Natural Area near my parent's place for a walk before supper.  It's a beautiful spot in an area quickly being developed with new housing.  Great to see such a large area being left for conservation.  Since the camera was in use for capturing our family time, I didn't do a lot of bird searching or photography.  I was surprised though that there weren't more birds to be seen then we did.

Spring fiddlehead in the afternoon sun.

We headed back to the home of half my childhood (after we moved) and enjoyed time with family and spent time appreciating my great Mom!!

Mourning Dove

I'd almost completely forgotten....  My outing earlier that day had been to take my first run with our new camera.  I had convinced Henry's to drop an already sale price on a Sony a65 to replace our dead a33. After quite a bit of research (online and talking to various Sony and Henry's staff), I'd determined fixing our stuck shutter was likely to be between $400 and $500.  I ended up getting the new camera for barely more than that.  On top of that, the a33's shutter had already died on us once with the camera being replaced for us under warranty.  With it having hinted at a failure earlier and then finally dying, I was nervous about spending that much money on a shutter system with known problems.

For those of you proud Nikon or Canon owners who I'm sure are right now wondering why I still went with a Sony... already owning Sony lenses meant I was not going to start over again with a whole new camera system.  There are things I really like about the Sony cameras, and then other days when I really wish I could get another stop or two of light without the "transparent mirror" in the way.

Image grabbed from Sony's website of the a65

So far from my few outings with the new a65, here are my pros and cons:

Bigger: Yes, I found the a33 too small.  I don't have huge hands, but when you're gripping a camera for a few hours on an outing, it actually is a pain having a small camera in your hands.
Faster: It can shoot 10 fps with continuous AF but AE locked after the first shot, and 7 with adjusting AE. That's nice and fast!  And when capturing while panning, the lag problem with the display of the last picture is greatly reduced.
24.3MP: Though really it's getting pretty high, if you really get the focus right, you can crop in nice and close on a distant subject.
Additional Focus Mode:  Sony has added one new focus mode which groups all the sensors in a field of three.  That limits it from hunting as much when there is varied  focus items.
Overheating: Or rather, the lack there of!!! In warm weather, the a33 would constantly overheat on me and shut off.  That was extremely annoying!!  I will not miss that.  Almost reason enough to switch just for this!
new OLED viewfinder: Sony has upgraded the digital viewfinder.  In normal lighting, you can hardly tell anymore that it's not optical.  It has almost double the pixels of the a33, and with the OLED compared to LED, it uses less power and presents much cleaner when displaying motion.

Programmable button: I changed the D-Range button on the a33 to focus mode so I could switch quickly between single point focus and wide (say a noticed a bird in flight and needed to switch quickly).  However, though the a65 does the same, the only button I don't want remove its normal mode from, can't utilize the customized mode in Manual mode.  Why, I do not know!  I usually shoot in fully manual.
Multi Shot Self Timer: This is a general gripe.  I don't know if any of the other SLR brands have this, but I can't for the life of me understand why they don't have a feature to shoot a sequence of multiple pictures on self timer.  Our old Panasonic FZ30 (now that was a great camera in its day!!) had this.

Ok, have any of you other photographers had this idea?
"Camera, ISO 400"
"Camera, Focus, Point"
"Camera, Focus, Burst"
Being able to have the camera obey voice commands to adjust functions without having to shift to another hand hold for another button and change a mode would be great!  Maybe that feature would price the camera completely out of my market I don't know, but you'd think with all the voice control on our phones, that technology has been mastered?

But to wrap it up, a post mother's day thanks to my Mom who is very dear to me.  She's a great mom and now is a great grandmother to our kids!  She throws her heart and soul into everything she does, sometimes so much that it takes a little too much out of her I fear. ;)  I love you Mom and thank God for you and your huge impact on who I am!

Until next time...
Keep enjoying HIS handiwork!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Washington State

We headed west in late April to visit family; Holly's sister and my brother and the respective (and respected) "out-laws" both live less than 30 minutes from each other in beautiful state of Washington.  Holly had assisted with a medical emergency on the flight for our recent Costa Rica trip so we received a discount voucher to fly again with Delta.  Combining that with an amazing ticket sale, we eagerly snapped up the tickets and arranged the visit.  Our youngest is under two and could fly free, so we took her along too.

The morning after arriving, everyone else had plans so I took the morning to morning to walk up into a hill behind where we were staying.  Along the way, a marshy area was full of Red-winged Blackbirds wooing mates.

female Red-winged Blackbird

male Red-winged Blackbird

As I walked towards the base of the hill, there were a few black birds in the newly leafed trees.  I almost overlooked them assuming by their size and squeaky call that they were just starlings, but good thing I checked closer. With bright yellow eyes and a slight blue and green iridescence, they were a new find and became life bird #195: Brewer's Blackbirds.

Brewer's Blackbird

As I climbed the steep road (I'm sure the grade was about 12 percent or more) a Red-tailed hawk broke the silence with it's falling, piercing call.  It circled all around the area and I got quite a few shots.  Unfortunately, I had mistakenly kept the shutter speed too low and I forgot to check.  I only got a couple salvageable shots.

soaring Red-tailed Hawk

It later perched in a dead snag and watched me for a short while.  The cliff between us was too steep and I couldn't find out how much closer it would have allowed me.

Red-tailed Hawk

Soon, a much larger form glided in from the distance and guaranteed that I'd see at least one example of the States' national bird - an adult Bald Eagle.  This was soon after my hawk shots and I still hadn't adjusted my camera settings, so I settle for a rather unclear picture of the majestic bird!

Bald Eagle

Near the top of the hill there are a number of beautiful homes and an Anna's Humming bird was zipping around between feeders and flowering bushes.  It was way up on a cliff with really bad lighting, but the cropped picture is clear enough to show it's bright purple throat. Another lifer.

Anna's Hummingbird

I wandered around on the uninhabited side of the hill a bit, not seeing much in the uncharacteristically warm 27 deg C (80 deg F) high temp of the day.  I sure was enjoying the warm weather, knowing that back home it was a cold, raining week.  Here was the view from the hillside.... great!

A typical Washington view.

At the top of the hill, I varied from the recommended route my sister-in-law had given me and found an old dirt lane which seemed to head in the general direction of "home".  It wasn't labelled with any signs of any sort so I thought with large camera lens in hand, I could plead the innocence of being a bird nerd if anyone complained about trespassing. The mix of large mature deciduous and coniferous trees shaded and soon I was hearing lots of bird songs I didn't recognize.  Unfortunately I saw none of them close enough to find out what they were.  Further down the lane, a number of trees were full of Yellow-rumped Warblers.  They were very busy feeding on also bugs enjoying the warm weather. Unfortunately, the thick trees meant low light and I couldn't get any good pictures. Even if the birds would perch in a sunlit spot, it would only be for a few seconds, too short to get a picture.

As I made my way down the trail, a vehicle came down the lane and stopped, asking for my reason of being down where I was.  The camera proved its worth and seemed to set the two slightly rough looking guys at rest.  Actually, the one guy seemed to take an interest, and offered that he knew of a large nest down in the bush, wondering if I'd like to see it.  I took him up on the offer and followed them around the bend to where a large, rambling but quite neglected house sat on the hillside completely isolated from everything else.  I was told it was about eight apartments, likely housing some less than wealthy folks who called it home.  After waiting for my guide to return from the house, he returned with a large machete in hand, casually noting to me that he could understand that I might find it a bit unnerving to have someone, in the middle of "nowhere", offer to take me for a walk into the bush while wielding a machete.  But I wasn't too worry, he assured me.  And I didn't.

The machete was to cut back the blackberry bushes which smother the hillside.  It wasn't really needed though as I followed him along a trail he obviously had traveled lately a number of times.  He mentioned that that morning they had been setting up a trail cam in an area on the opposite side of the hill where they had found what they think was Bob Cat scat.  That would be amazing to see in the wild!

Sure enough, soon we approached the edge of cliff which was part of an already steep section of the hillside and the objecting cries of two Red-tailed Hawks let us know we were not welcome.  In a tree reaching from below the cliff's edge was a large nest.  Inside I could see at least one egg, and what I believe were two fluffy white chicks.

Red-tailed Hawk nest with chicks and egg.

We sat in the midst of the brambles and hoped to hide ourselves enough with the hopes that the adults would return to the nest, but we were only fooling ourselves given their amazing eye sight.  We enjoyed the sight for a few minutes, and then left them in peace.  I'd have loved to stay longer, but the parents were obviously agitated (though we weren't terribly close) and it made me wish I had an instant pop up blind in my pocket to use.  Such an amazing viewing angle, and a blind would have been so easy to set up there to allow the adults to return un-alarmed.  But I was glad to enjoy the experience!

I thanked my willing friend and continued down the hill, only to be startled by an equally startled mule deer that had been resting in the underbrush right side the lane.  However, it didn't take off far, and let me approach quite closely.

Mule Deer

Once I got too close, it moved just into the brush and then stared at me from there.  Either it felt safer behind the leaves or had some illusion that I couldn't see it anymore, but I was able to get close enough to get the next picture zoomed all the way back (granted, still at 150mm).

Mule Deer - close.

Soon we both tired of the stare down and we both calmly went separate ways.  That was one of my more enjoyable hikes I had.

But I had run out of time as we were supposed to be heading out for a outing with the family.  We went to a great lookout where you could see great views of Mount Baker and it was even clear enough to see Mount Rainier in the distance.

Mount Baker

Mount Rainier way in the distance (blue through the afternoon haze)

My beautiful travel-mate!

Bald Eagle

The following days were filled with lots of family visiting and touristy outings - great times!  Thanks a lot to both our brother and sister's families for all the things they did with and for us!

One outing was to Deception Pass where we walked along shore of the very calm Pacific Ocean.  One of the first sights was of Surf Scoters, albeit at a distance from water's edge. Another bird to add to the list with a not so great picture but still good enough for evidence.

Surf Scoters

As we walked along the stoney beach, a group of younger Thayer's Gulls were preening on a rocky outcrop. Yet another new bird.

Thayer's Gulls

Further along we passed some sandy cliffs and a humming bird was busy meandering through the dangling grasses, roots and leaves from the cliff edge.  I'm not sure what it was doing or looking for there.  I'm pretty sure it was a female Rufous Hummingbird.

female Rufous Hummingbird

There were lots of Pigeon Guillemots swimming in the fast waters approaching the two big Deception Pass bridges.  Again, none were venturing close for a great picture, but you can see clearly enough in the photo below its distinct bright red legs and white eye ring.  This bird is from the Puffin family and lives only in the Pacific Ocean.

Pigeon Guillemot

A little further along a female Harlequin Duck was diving and searching for food a lot closer to shore than the other birds.  I was able to sneak up between dives for a few pictures before it got uncomfortable with the closeness and moved on.

female Harlequin Duck

On the way back to the car, we were met by a White-crowned Sparrow perched on a piece of driftwood, singing its heart out.  It was quite tolerant of me and I could get some nice closeups.

White-crowned Sparrow

It was a great trip out to Washington. We had lots of visiting time with our brother and sister and their families, had a great get-together with all my cousins living in that area, and enjoyed the great hospitality of everyone out there.  My only regret is not being able to do an outing with my Uncle Gord who had planned to take me out exploring at a couple great sites.  He has a very bad back, and the night before had to cancel because his back had suddenly gone out again.  He had hoped to take me to a site where there are approximately 600 heron nests.  That would have been a sight to see.  Next visit hopefully I can fit that in.

The trip did have a rather sad moment.  We visited the Seattle zoo with my brother and sister-in-law and their cute daughter.  Holly was taking pictures of their raptor show and handed the camera to me for a turn, with an off hand comment that she wasn't sure, but it didn't seem to be taking pictures any more.... much to my chagrin I confirmed it was so.  The shutter was stuck.  It had done that a few months back, and at that time a careful but firm bump had reset it. Not to be repeated and we were sans-camera for the rest of the trip.  More to come on that in a future post... 

Well, I added eight life birds to my list that trip, letting me crack the 200 mark at 202.  But more fun was enjoying the visits with the family and seeing their stomping grounds. Who knows when the next visit that way will be, but next time hopefully it will be with all the kids along... I'm know my brother will be pleased with that thought!

Until next time...
Keep enjoying HIS handiwork!