Friday, January 24, 2014

Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline

Odds & Ends

January, 2014

I've been stopping by Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline on my way to work off and on over the last couple of weeks.  Stockpiling photos.  Trying things out with the new camera.  I think I've got enough interesting shots to make a post.

Burrowing Owl -- Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline, CA
I finally found the burrowing owl out there.  He seems to hang out in the same spot most mornings.  From a distance he looks like a large potato that has been stuck on a stick.  Actually, he looks a lot like that in the pictures, too.

Black-necked Stilt -- Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline, CA
There's usually a small flock of stilts hanging around.  They're funny looking birds.

Turkey Vulture -- Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline, CA
Cooper's Hawk
There was a dead bird on the road this morning.  It attracted a few vultures.  I was able to get some nice shots.

A cooper's hawk was hanging around for a while.  I saw him/her a couple of times.  I'm more convinced now than I was earlier that it was a cooper's hawk and not a sharp-shinned hawk.  What a good looking bird.

One morning a scroungy looking red-tailed hawk was hanging out in the trees.  His feet were dirty and his feathers were untidy and in general he looked like the kind of bird that worked dark alleys at night.  A bad seed, if you will.I assume it was a male only because it's hard to imagine a lady hawk letting herself go like that.

Red-tailed Hawk -- Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline, CA
California Towhee -- Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline, CA
 Ring-billed Gull-- Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline, CA

Monday, January 20, 2014

Point Lobos State Nature Reserve

A Foggy Day on the Point

January 19, 2014

The 49ers lost to the Seahawks yesterday.  Bummer.  Not that I saw any of the game.  I was down in Pacific Grove and Point Lobos.  I listened to the game on the radio while I drove around.  That's how I follow all of my sports these days.

Monarch Butterfly -- Pacific Grove, CA
I started the trip off at the Monarch Grove Sanctuary to take in the annual gathering of the butterflies.  In normal years they'll clump together in huge groups hanging from branches in the grove.  For some reason that no one knows the butterflies return to the same areas to winter every year.  I say return, but the butterflies that show up every year are four or five generations removed from the butterflies that wintered in the areas the previous year.  A monarch butterfly's life is measured in weeks, not years.  Except for the wintering butterflies, that is, they may live up to six months.  There were no large clumps of butterflies when I got there, though.  The docents that were there said there's reason for grave concern.

I should probably point out that the docents are worried every year that I've visited.  Make of that what you will.

Monarch Butterfly -- Pacific Grove, CA
On January 8, the estimated count for the monarch population at the grove was 11,000 butterflies.  That's better than some previous years, but way down from what was normal a couple of decades ago.  The bigger concern was the behavior the butterflies have been exhibiting.  They're showing mating behavior at least a month ahead of schedule.  It's been an exceptionally warm, dry winter and the docents think it's confused the monarchs.  Unfortunately, the Central Valley milkweed isn't ready for them yet and won't be for a month or two.  If they mate too early, they'll have no place for their eggs.  The life cycle of the monarch is not the most flexible of things, it seems.

Pacific Grove, CA
After visiting the butterflies I drove around Point Pinos.  The stretch of coastline from the Monterey Aquarium to Point Lobos is the most amazing stretch of shoreline that I've ever seen.  The rocks are shaped like no place else that I've ever been and are full of wildlife.  The surf can be huge in the winter.  It was pretty big on Sunday, although I've seen bigger there.

White-tailed Kite -- Pacific Grove, CA
Southern Sea Otter
Are white-tailed kite's only around in the fall and winter?  It seems that's when I see them.

After driving around Point Pinos I headed out to Point Lobos.  While Pacific Grove and Monterey had been sunny and warm, Point Lobos was socked in with fog.  That's not a problem as far as I'm concerned.  I like the fog.

Point Lobos State Nature Reserve, CA
The fog is a bit of a double-edged sword when it comes to taking pictures.  Everything comes out gray and dark.  Getting pictures of animals in the fog can be tough because they tend to be far away, meaning the fog will have a strong impact on their appearance.  However, if the fog isn't too dense it can add a lot of drama to landscape shots.

Point Lobos State Nature Reserve, CA
It was another great trip to Point Lobos.  Now, let's get that snow going up in the Sierras so I can make a trip up to Yosemite.

Point Lobos State Nature Reserve, CA

Monday, January 13, 2014

San Luis National Wildlife Refuge

Shutter Speed

January 12, 2014

I took Pongo out to the San Luis Wildlife Refuge this weekend.  I figured it would be a nice place to experiment a bit with the new camera as well as hopefully see some sandhill cranes.  I turned out to be right on both counts.

Colombian Black-tailed Deer -- San Luis National Wildlife Refuge, CA
I've already figured out that the new camera is more sensitive to lighting conditions than my old camera.  The back lit picture of the deer is a good example.  Although they're dark and a little distant, the deer are still pretty sharply in focus, at least compared to what I'd have expected with my old camera.  Things would have been more washed out and blurry with that camera.  It would have tried to compensate for the back lighting.

Northern Harrier -- San Luis National Wildlife Refuge, CA
I was mostly messing around with shutter speed on Sunday, mostly at a fairly fast speed.  I ended up with a lot of pictures of birds in flight coming out sharp enough for me to be quite happy, even if they were at a bit of a distance.  The 250mm zoom just isn't enough for a place like San Luis.  I've still got a lot to learn before I start worrying about upgrading lenses, though.

Northern Pintail -- San Luis National Wildlife Refuge, CA
Sandhill Cranes -- San Luis National Wildlife Refuge, CA
The Fugitive
Most of the birds and animals weren't too interested in letting people get close.  I don't know if that had anything to do with the fact that it's hunting season.  There was enough distance in most cases for the birds to go on about their business.  Sometimes the ducks would move away from the road when we appeared.  Pongo jumped out of the window after a duck quacked close to us, maybe the word spread around the refuge about him after that?  He couldn't go anywhere, don't worry.  I suspected he might try something and had his leash tied to the passenger chair.  He looked a little sheepish when I came around to put him back in the car.  The only animal I actually missed getting a picture of was the coyote we saw.  He took off pretty quickly.

Long-billed Curlew -- San Luis National Wildlife Refuge, CA
I was surprised to see that the male tule elk still have their antlers.  I thought they'd have dropped off by now.  Guess not.

Tule Elk -- San Luis National Wildlife Refuge, CA

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline

The Old and the New

January 6 & 7, 2014

Black-necked Stilt
I went to the estuary Sunday morning to take some pictures.  I had both cameras with me, but since I ended up mainly shooting birds and my zoom lens hadn't arrived yet I used my old camera a lot.  My new lens arrived on Monday so I went back to the estuary to try it out.  This new camera is definitely a game changer.

Again, I've got no real complaints about my old SX40.  I captured some images that I really like on Sunday, including the snowy egret and black-necked stilt photos here at the top of the page.  The funny picture of the white-crowned sparrow was also taken with my old camera.  Such a tough guy, that sparrow.

White-crowned Sparrow -- Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline, CA
The old SX40 couldn't have captured these Cooper's Hawk images, though.  It's good with stationary objects, but was never fast enough for moving targets.  There's also a delay of about a second between when the shutter button is pressed and when the picture is actually taken.  So, if it's not the shutter speed burning you it's the delay.

Cooper's Hawk -- Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline, CA
This shot of the hawk sitting on a fence?  The SX40 would have handled it fine.  I couldn't have gotten those shots of the bird landing, though.

Cooper's Hawk -- Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline, CA
I think that's a cooper's hawk, anyway.  I can't really tell the difference between a cooper's hawk and and a sharp-shinned hawk.

American Avocets -- Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline, CA
The 250mm zoom doesn't have the reach of the SX40's zoom.  The pictures are sharper, though, so even though I'm cropping more than before I think the pictures are still crisper than what I was getting with my old camera.  I can only imagine what this thing would do with a nicer lens.

Great Blue Heron -- Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline, CA

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Oakland/Alameda Estuary

Breaking in the New Camera

January 4, 2014

OK.  So, I bought a new camera.  I've been using a Canon SX40 HS for the last year and a half or so.  It's not a bad camera at all for a point and shoot.  It's got a nice zoom lens built into it with which I've taken a lot of pictures.  I've been happy with it.

Black Phoebe -- Alameda, CA
Barrows Goldeneyes
I took the pictures of the black phoebe and the goldeneyes with my SX40 this morning.  See, not bad, right?  Honestly, I'm not upgrading because I was at all unhappy with that camera.  I've been having a whole lot of fun taking pictures over the last year and a half, and it just felt like it was time to open things up a little bit.  I took my time and studied up, and I think I've got the right camera for where I'm at with photography.

Oakland/Alameda Estuary, CA
My new camera is a Canon EOS Rebel T5i.  I'll have a 250mm zoom lens for it soon.  Hopefully that lens will have enough reach to keep me satisfied for a while.  I seriously considered going with the comparable Nikon D5200.  Same price range, same basic feature set minus the flippy-swivelly touch screen monitor, which was actually a big selling point to me.  It boiled down to slightly better picture quality with the Nikon or an easier learning curve and more goo-gaws with the Canon.  I went with fun to use over superior picture quality.  I'm more of an adventurer with the camera than an artist, I guess.

Ring-billed Gull -- Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline, CA
A couple of things are obvious to me after only a day of playing with this camera.  First, I can take action shots now.  If you notice in past entries for this blog, there aren't a lot of action shots, especially where birds are concerned.  The SX40 just isn't fast enough.  The T5i can fire off five shots per second and is adept at tracking moving subjects.  It used to be sheer luck for me to get a usable picture of a bird in flight.  It doesn't look like that's going to be a problem with the Rebel.

Also, with the touch screen I can establish the focus point in any given shot just by pointing to it on the touch screen.  How sweet is that?  The SX40 is pretty good at guessing what I'm trying to focus on, but it's easily confused by branches and tall grass.  Hopefully that problem is a thing of the past.

It also looks like post-processing is going to be a whole lot easier.  I always have to monkey with the brightness and contrast with the pictures I get from the SX40.  I've only had to perform minor tweaks on the T5i's photos, and in fact most of the time I didn't need to do anything at all.  These pictures come out of the camera looking great.

Ring-billed Gulls -- Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline, CA
I guess I'm a little excited about the possibilities.  Bring on 2014!

Ring-billed Gull -- Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline, CA