Grab your favorite beverage and settle in for 60 photos and my longest blog post yet. This one took a while to put together!
It’s been a good while since I last posted an episode of my “weekly” photo shoot. Since my Jan. 11 post, I’ve been out shooting on Jan. 20 and Jan. 26, and again on Feb. 1. The 20th was a very dark and dreary day and I recall the wildlife activity was quite slow, too. I took only 168 shots and came back with little to show. On Jan. 26, the refuge was socked in with fog from sun up to about 1:00 p.m., making any shots further than 15 feet almost a waste of time–and those shots required flash, which doesn’t work well in fog. I took about 250 frames on the 26th–most being after 1 p.m. when the fog had begun to lift.
I didn’t get many keepers from those two days and decided to include any shots worthy of posting withthe post for my next decent day of shooting, which came on Feb. 1. This day was bright and sunny all day with light winds. The temperature when I arrived at the RidgefieldNational Wildlife Refuge was about 29 degrees (F). Finally, a day with some light! I shot about 840 frames.
As I mentioned above, I’ll start with some shots from the last two January outings and then move on to the sunny Feb. 1 day.
Jan. 20, 2011 shots:
I believe this was at post 11, it was dark with a heavy cloud cover so I used flash. With a distant background the result is an unnatural image which looks like it was taken at night. Nevertheless, the little Golden-crowned Sparrow is a cutie.
Here’s a young Red-tailed Hawk minding his own business-also taken with flash.
Some SandhillCranes took flight as I rounded the corner at post #12. This was taken with the lens wide open (f5.6), ISO1600, and 1/400th, which attests to the relative darkness of the day.
As I rounded the final big curve past post #13, I saw a flock of at least a hundred Sandhill Cranes out in the field–WAY out in the field. Many were doing their mating dance, hopping and fluttering about–very fun to watch.
Approaching a refuge sign on the home stretch there is an RTH who doesn’t stay long. I try to grab a few shots of the take off and this is the frame with the least softness. To get a 1/1250 shutter speed, I had to bump up the ISO to 2500, resulting in a pretty noisy image.
I noticed some goldfinches working on some teasel but they were too far away for a decent capture. Here’s another hawk taken at about noon with flash fill. I was quite pleased with the shot, discounting the blah background.
The last few times to the refuge I’ve noticed a young bald eagle likes to perch in the large oak tree south of post #14. But the bird is usually obstructed by branches making it tough for any kind of shot, not to mention the less than desirable steep point of view needed to frame the shot.
Jan. 26, 2011 shots:
Taken at the beginning of the auto tour, in the fog, with flash, a little Song Sparrow is already out foraging for food to survive another day. What looks like muck to us is his buffet!
I move on to just inside the beginning of the Ash tree forest where off to the right is the reddish pink algae-covered canal. There’s a Great Blue Heron standing stationary in the water about 10 feet from the right edge of the road. It’s REALLY dark in the shade of the trees so I again call upon my flash with Better Beamer to light the way. In this first shot, the heron is in the middle of a striking action where he has clinched a small morsel in his beak that was apparently on the blade of grass. I was quite surprised that a 1/250 shutter speed stopped the action as well as it did taking into consideration the speed at which the heron’s head moves when striking. Knowing my light source could supply all the light I needed from this close range, I set the ISO to 250 hoping to get a less noisy picture. I notice that the light has cast a distracting shadow onto the top of the water. It has also given the bird some red eye, which I hopefully fixed here. This and the next photo were both taken at f7.1.
In this next shot, I bumped ISO up to 800 and turned off the flash. The resulting shutter speed in AV mode is 1/125. Luckily this bird was as still as a statue! Close review of both these raw shots reveals a much better noise situation in the flash shot where I used ISO250. But the ISO800 shot is not too bad and easily corrected in Neat Image. In the non-flash shot, the bird’s head is raised higher and further from the background (the water) than in the flash shot, so blurring of the background is done without more intervention in Photoshop from me (other than some noise reduction). Also, upon closer observation, the natural light shot is quite a but sharper than the flash shot with better feather details. This is to be expected since the bird was moving in the flash shot. Here’s the shot with no flash at 1/125 shutter speed, ISO 800.
I like the natural light shot better but if the bird had been striking at 1/125, the image would be deleted by now due to motion blur. 🙂 So I at least got the shot of the bird striking by using the flash, albeit, not tack sharp, where without the flash there would have been no photo to compare here.
Sparrows seem to be underrated by many, especially common ones like the Song Sparrow. But I really like these little guys (and gals) and especially on a dark foggy day like today (Jan.26), I will take a picture of anything that will show itself to me. It’s just past noon and the fog is still fairly prevalent in most areas. But I noticed the fog was beginning to lift toward the south end of the refuge and this is where I spotted this Song Sparrow. As current readers of this Blog know by now, my photographic style is usually to crop close to my subject and display detail. Here’s a shot I decided to back off from cropping nearly as much as normal. I left more foliage around the bird as I liked the similar angle of the branches as they point upward from left to right. I thought the green moss on the branches and the blossoms added a nice touch of color. The background also has a tinge of green. I’m the first to admit my eye for artsy photos is lacking so let me know what you think of this “outside the box” shot! No flash on this one and 1/250 of a second, ISO1000.
We’ve seen a million of them but we still can’t resist taking a picture of a raptor when it presents itself. Here’s a flash shot of this juvie Red-tail. I think the flash lit him up nicely without making it overly obvious that the flash was used. Ambient light is still the primary light in the image. The background sucks but the bird is awesome.
Did I say I liked sparrows? Here’s a guy with a pose looking straight at me. I liked the fact we can see both eyes and the green on the post gives it some color. I also cloned some bird doo off the top of the post to make his perch a little more classy. 🙂 With flash, ISO250. Taken near post #11.
Here’s the same bird after it jumped down onto the metal wire. No flash on this one. This is about the time (1:00 pm) that the fog started lifting at least at the south end of the refuge. This one is also taken at ISO250.
And, one more with the bird doing a little scratching. This was taken with flash. I’m pretty sure I didn’t intentionally turn off the flash on the shot above–it must have not recycled completely so the light did not fire.
Just about halfway to post #12, I spotted a lone male Bufflehead out in South Rest Lake diving repeatedly. He didn’t seem to mind me and was probably within about 40 feet. The head and body position of these guys can make or break the shot as the irridescent colors on the head are visible only at certain angles. I took a lot of shots, hoping a few would show the coloring I wanted. This one came out decent colorwise and I also got a burst sequence of him diving. It’s amazing how little the water is disturbed when they dive.
I drive around the corner toward the three tree area and see two bitterns hunting in the canal to my left. The first of the two was in more diffused light; here’s a shot of this skillful hunter.
I couldn’t get his feet in the shot because he was too close to me! Poor me! 🙂 Here, too, is a link to a video of this awesome bird catching a small frog. I took over a dozen separate couple-minute videos in hopes I would catch some action. I also caught him snagging some small minnow-type prey but this video was a little more exciting. http://vimeo.com/19383641. This is in the videos portion of this website.
That about wrapped it up for Jan. 26. I was at the refuge for almost eight hours that day, mostly because the dang fog hung around for so long. I don’t think it ever lifted on the north end of the refuge. Now, on to a day with some SUNSHINE!
Feb. 1, 2011 shots:
I arrived at the refuge about 7:30 a.m., just as the sun was rising above the ridge to the eastern ridge. Skies were clear. I was heading toward post #7 at the blind parking lot when a huge mature Bald Eagle flew in my direction, almost over my truck and landed in the tall tree off to the right, short of the blind parking area. It landed on a branch nearest to the road so I stopped and took some shots, although it was perched high, near the top. I was almost looking straight up at her.
I probably should have stuck around and waited for her to fly but this exposure was taken with a shutter speed of only 1/200 and a flight shot would likely not have come out well.
I pull forward and as I approach the Kiwa Trail parking area I scan all the posts, rocks, and signs from afar to see if our resident Kestrel is perched on one of them. Hot diggity! There he is on the speed sign just past the parking area on the right. I pull up slowly toward the sign and veer off to the right partially into the far left end of the lot so I can shoot out my driver’s side window. The morning light is hitting him beautifully and I take a bunch of shots. Now that I have those shots “locked in,” I get braver. I start up the engine, back out of the parking area slowly, and move cautiously down the road toward the sign (about 50 feet), making sure to stay at least 12 feet away from the sign so my lens will focus. I stop and turn off the engine–and I’m so glad no one is behind me! Moving the camera to the passenger-side window, I begin taking many more shots of this beautiful raptor. He lets me get off another 50 shots and suddenly flies right toward me–fast! I don’t even have time to hit the focus button (star button on the back of my 7D). I got three frames of the flight toward me, the first of which is the least blurred. Dang, I’m in bird photographer’s heaven–a mature Bald Eagle with blue sky and a close up of an American Kestrel–all by 8:06 a.m! Here are some kestrel shots. The flight shot is soft–it’s one of those “almost got it” shots!
I move on and drive into the forest, passing post #9 at the corner. A pretty American Robin is on the road in front of me and it flies up to a fairly low branch on the left. He has his back to me but turns his head to see what I’m aiming at him. I used some fill flash here at ISO800 (I really should have reduced the ISO since the flash would have provided all the light I needed).
A few hundred feet up the road (still between posts #9 & 10) here is more of the canal with the reddish-pink algae floating on the surface. In the water is a female Gadwall holding quite still and willing to let me take pictures. Here’s the shot at f6.3, 1/1000, ISO800.
I drive on past post #11 to South Rest Lake and spot a lone Tundra Swan just poking around in the water. A good opportunity for a close up since most of the swans are usually way out in the main part of Rest Lake. f6.3, 1/2500, ISO800.
Turning the corner now at post #12 and I look ahead at the small patch of blackberry bushes on the left near where the culvert goes under the road. There’s a bird perched on the top branch and it doesn’t appear to be “just” a Starling or a Red-winged Blackbird. I stop well ahead of the location and get out the binoculars. Darned if it isn’t a Western Meadowlark! Now to approach without flushing it! I pull to within about 50 feet afraid to get any closer. I get off about a dozen shots of this side-lit beauty. Here’s the best pose of the bunch. Maybe not tack sharp but it is my first Meadowlark that is actually perched on something besides the ground!
A Pintail does a fly-by over Rest Lake. (Heavy crop)
The Red-winged Blackbirds are back in full force at the refuge. Here’s one perched as I was heading for the three trees.
A pair of Northern Pintails in the water across from Rest Lake.
This last loop around the refuge has been one of the most lucrative ones I’ve ever taken. I’m pleased with my opportunities and many of the shots. But it’s time to go around again..will my luck hold out?
On the second loop, I hit a dry spell until I get just past post #9 at the turn in the woods. I always check one of the favorite eagle perches on the refuge. This tree is about 60 feet high and about 100 feet off the road to my right. The top of the tree is recognizable by the dead, bare snag–a perfect lookout perch for eagles and other large raptors. The perch is almost too far away for anything but large hawks and eagles (for a 400mm lens), but, when they spread their wings they become twice their normal size and your frame fills up fast with eagle/hawk pixels! This is a fairly thick wooded area and you need to stop at one of just a few spots to get an unobstructed view of the top of the tree through your passenger side window. If the sky is bright or if the sun is out, the light on a bird perched there is wonderful from the vantage point of the road–as long as it’s not too late in the day.
I spotted a late-juvenile Bald Eagle up there about 9:30 a.m.–a perfect time for great light–even in bright sun. I pulled over to my favorite vantage point and luckily no one was behind me for about ten minutes. So I got a lot of shots off and I witnessed one of the coolest interactions I have ever seen, not to mention, photographed.
I’m guessing the late-immature eagle perched is a male. But for all the time I was watching him and taking shots, he was very intent on finding another bird in the sky as he tilted and swiveled his head continually. I kept the camera trained on him cutting a path through the trees to his perch. I could not see if or when any other bird was approaching from my left due to all the trees in my way. Suddenly he went ballistic and started flapping his wings and spun around on the perch and now actually faced the direction to my left (before, his body was faced to my right and his head was swiveled around facing my left).
I’m looking through the viewfinder with hardly no peripheralvision and in a split second, he has done this flapping and spinning as if to greet or brace for, whatever was approaching. I don’t know if he was afraid or excited by his visitor–but then, a fully mature (female most likely) Bald Eagle comes descending down upon this poor fellow! The male must have momentarily left the perch by jumping up a bit but the contact of the female apparently spun him around in mid-air, so that the talons of the male are now pointing to my right with the females talons interlocked on one foot and the female bird even further to the right of the male. This happened so fast and so suddenly that I didn’t do the greatest job of capturing it but I did get some shots that should help viewers understand what happened. Here is the set of shots that came out even remotely decent, including the last three action shots–thank you 8 fps burst mode! (Be sure to click on the thumbnails for larger images!)
Edit: The following shot won 3rd place in the Friends of Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge 2011 photo contest.
After recovering from the eagle encounter, I head down the road a few hundred feet and see this pretty duck in the algae. f5.6, 1/500, ISO400
I drive on a little further toward post #10 and soon the red algae disappears from the water. I see an American Wigeon and snap a few shots, hoping he would give me a little better pose and more even lighting than this. But not today…
Driving on through the auto tour, I’m back at the three tree area and spot this awesome mature Bald Eagle harassing waterfowl that are soaking up rays on Rest Lake. At this time, I’m using the auto ISO feature on my camera just to see what I get on a sunny day. I have the mode set to Manual and shutter speed set to very fast, 1/6400, ISO800.
As I was busy shooting the mature eagle out my driver’s side window, all of a sudden another eagle shows up coming from my left, and much closer to me. Another complete surprise! This is the best frame of the immature eagle.
I head on around the loop and have lost track of my loop count. But I’m back at post #9 and see another immature Bald Eagle on the same high perch as the eagle action that happened earlier. Here’s the shot of this beautiful bird.
I’m back at South Rest Lake and come across the smallest diving duck in North America, a female Bufflehead. She’s a little nervous here as you can tell she is paddling away as she is checking me out.
Soon after, I get a Northern Harrier fly-by. 1/5000, f6.3, ISO400, 400mm.
Activity has slowed down a lot over the last couple of loops, so I’m all the way around again and stopped just before getting to post #11. Off to the left an American Coot floats peacefully on the water.
I’m back now at the beginning of the tour between posts 1 & 2, and see this Killdeer walking on the grass just off the edge of the road. He had no issues with me as he walked TOWARD my truck and right by only 5 feet away. Not a good photo but wanted to give him the spotlight anyway!
On toward post #5 where a Red-tailed Hawk lands on a branch to my left. He flipped his wings a bit to assist him in turning around on the limb. This shot was taken at ISO 3200.
I’m now between posts 6 & 7 and see ahead some other cars stopped to take shots of a mature Bald Eagle that has perched fairly low in a tree off to the left. The bird is in tricky light with partial shade and sun. I decide not to drive up to the bird but hang back about 150 feet pulling over to the left side of the road. I notice that where the bird is perched makes it impossible for it to initially fly away from me because of all the branches in the tree. So I figure if I hang out here I may get an eagle fly-by of some type.
It didn’t take more than about 5 minutes when the bird decided to fly. Here are some of the shots. All of them are taken at 1/2500, f7.1, and the camera picked ISO between 400 and 800 using auto ISO.
What a cool bird THAT was! Now, I’m off to look for more as I move past post #11 and see a little Pied-billed Grebe in South Rest Lake. He’s abnormally close to the shore on MY side of the lake and he doesn’t appear too nervous. The blue sky is reflecting nicely off the water so I decide to take some shots. Here’s what it looked like.
A short ways down the road a male Northern Pintail is across the lake near the far shore. The light is nice now and even though he’s further away than I like, I take some shots. He moves around and gives me several poses. This one was my favorite of the bunch. 1/4000, f7.1, ISO800, 400mm.
I head back to the parking lot and decide to make a partial trip up to the hunter’s gate then turn around and head back to the visitor’s area. It’s about 3:30 p.m. now. I’ve been here for 8 hours and got to see quite a bit of great activity. On my trip back from the hunter’s gate there are flocks of geese in the air over the water on the north side of the road. The sky is clear, the sun is shining at my back so I decide to take a flight shot or two of these graceful fliers. These are two of the images of the Cackling Geese.
The Ridgefield Angels
A fitting end to a bright day of light and blue sky! Thanks for joining me on this trip and I hope you saw something you liked. See you next time!