Sunday, August 24, 2008

Summertime in D.C. = Swallow Photos

Summertime birding in the Washington, D.C., area can be a beast at times; it's hot and incredibly humid, and most of the neotropical migrants are somewhere up in the arctic working on that next generation.

The heat of summer, though, brings one of the rare reliable occasions for photographing swallows in our area. Not that they're not around during the spring or into the early fall, mind you--it's just that the many swallows you'll see outside of the summer are flitting about nonstop, zooming and arcing this way and that. I'm not a good enough flight photographer to catch them reliably in the air (nor, for that matter, is my Canon 300mm f4L lens up to the task, focus-speed-wise; perhaps the 400mm f5.6L, favored by many a birder for flight photos is better, but no one has fronted me the $6k to try one yet).

Last summer, I took my sister and her family out to my favorite birding spot in the D.C. area, Huntley Meadows Park in southeastern Fairfax County. It was nearly 100 degrees with stifling humidity to boot, making for fairly miserable birding--but one thing that stood out were the many swallows perched around the park's wetlands instead of zipping across the skies. Tree after tree held small flocks of the birds, many of them juveniles by their appearance, with some trees holding mixed groups of Tree and Barn Swallows.

Fast-forward to this summer, and again on a hot, stuffy morning, the swallows had come to perch in the park. Small groups of four to five Barn Swallows took to the elevated walkways over Huntley Meadows' wetlands.

I stopped to take several photos, and though the boardwalk didn't make for the most natural of backdrops, I got several fairly nice captures nonetheless. In the photo above, this youngster was begging for food from one of the adults flitting about in the air. Though he looked old enough to fend for himself to me, you can bet he wasn't about to turn down a mooched meal.

The focus point is perhaps just a bit behind where I'd have liked (ideally, on the bird's eyes), but the swallow's head is still in good focus, and the low shutter speed gave me some good blurring of the wing motion.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Making the Most of Poor Conditions

Earlier this summer, I made a brief Memorial Day weekend trip to the San Francisco Bay area, with a planned stop at the Point Reyes National Seashore, one of the best birding areas in the continental United States.

I've birded SoCal fairly extensively, with several trips to the San Diego and Orange County coasts and inland to the Anza-Borrego Desert resulting in a lot of great bird and scenic captures, but the Monterey Bay on the central coast was as far north as I'd birded previously, so I was really looking forward to the two-day trip (which I'd booked to take advantage of a frequent-flier promotion).

Unfortunately, we landed at San Francisco International Airport to totally overcast skies (not uncommon for the area), chilly temperatures in the upper-50's, and drizzle. The week prior, the Bay area had regularly been topping 90 on the mercury readings. Despite the poor birding and photographic conditions, I'd come several thousand miles, so off to Point Reyes I set.

Despite the poor weather, traffic was still a beast up the 101 and across the Golden Gate Bridge (where I stopped for a few photos and spotted several Wilson's Warblers and White-crowned Sparrows singing). Eventually, though, I arrived at the National Seashore to rain heavy enough I didn't risk taking my camera out into the elements for long--neither the Canon 30D nor the EF 300mm f4L lens I use are weather sealed.

I really want to pay another visit to Point Reyes during better weather, but at least while I was there, I saw several dozen California Quail, darting across the roads and even hanging out in a picnic spot, like this one I caught posing atop a table:

Other than a natural perch and somewhat better light conditions, I don't think I could ask a lot more of this image. Well, a longer lens, I suppose, so I could get better bokeh, but unless someone out there is willing to front me five grand or so, I'm stuck for now with my 300mm lens and 1.4x teleconverter.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Kicking Things Off

When I first stated my blog "View from the Exerda," I had intended bird photography to be one of the recurring topics there--yet even before the first post on the topic, I realized I wanted a forum where I could talk about just photography and birding, somewhere discussion of my most recent birding expeditions and favorite digital captures wouldn't be lost amidst ruminations on buying a home, brags about Didi and Chance's latest accomplishments, my favorite new recipes, and so forth.

Thus was born "Digital Feathers," a blog where I can focus on one of my favorite creative pursuits. Herein I plan to share details of my birding trips, be they to far-off, exotic locales or just around the corner to the neighborhood pond. I'll post bird photos both of what I feel to be excellent quality and also the occasional far-from-perfect, blurred & fuzzy capture of a rarity or "new lifer."

I'll post on techniques and the tools of the trade (hey, if you're willing to donate a Canon 500mm f4L lens for the cause, I'll be happy to review it here!), as well as the technologies I use in taking bird photos from the field to the screen.

And though Digital Feathers will primarily be a blog on bird photography, I won't promise not to share landscape and nature photos, or the occasional portrait of one of the many pets of our fauniferous zoo.