Shooting Peeps

Dunlin with SanderlingsDunlin with Sanderlings – 2011

On occasion, I realize that I am more interested in taking pictures of birds than identifying them and adding them to my life list. While I carry a field guide and pair of binoculars with me, I am somewhat loath to pull them out and spend the time figuring out what I am seeing.

I would much rather catch them in a provocative pose that I can sell than figure out if they are consenting adults or first-offense juveniles.

Least SandpiperLeast Sandpiper – 2011

Nowhere is this ambivalence clearer then when I am shooting peeps, those little shorebirds that never quite let me get close enough to ID them. Perhaps if I were more patient and had a steadier hand, I could define the niceties of plumage to identify a 8″ bird at 100′.

But no, I can only discern gross differences in size and color at 100′. So I use my camera to capture the details. The shape of the bill, the color of the legs, whether the breast is spotted or white. All of the little things a good birder picks up, I let my camera grab.

Yes, you might say that I am lazy.

Spotted SandpiperSpotted Sandpiper – 2011

Except for the fact that I then spend hours going over the photos, wading through field guides, discerning the subtleties, and narrowing everything down to an ID.

Because in the end, no matter what I said at the outset of this post, identifying the birds that I shoot is important to me. I really want to know what peep I saw at the beach today.

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It’s a wrap

I just put the finishing touches on my Miniatures entry and will deliver it tomorrow. For those who know me, this is several days before the deadline (it can be done)!

I am quite pleased with the entry.

If you want to know which picture I chose, come to Monterey and check out the exhibit. It runs from November 17 to December 31 at the Monterey Museum of Art’s Pacific Street Gallery. It is in an impressive collection of miniature art from 300 local artists.

If you let me know beforehand, we can schedule a birding excursion to Point Lobos or head down the Big Sur coast to look for Condors.

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And then there were three

With all due apologies to Genesis, I have narrowed down my selection for the 2011 Miniatures Exhibit to one of three photos:

Western Scrub-Jay

Western Scrub-Jay – Monterey, 2008

Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon – Point Lobos, 2011

Osprey

Osprey – Point Lobos, 2011

I have got to admit, that I am leaning towards the Osprey. It took me over a year of looking before I even saw it. And to catch it with lunch in hand (talon) was special.

Please feel free to express your views in the comments.

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Termite Hatch

Bewick's Wren
Bewick’s Wren – 2011

It is usually pretty hard to predict what you will see on a birding outing, unless you are going to the local pond looking for mallards.

But sometimes the world works like clockwork and past performance does guarantee future results. Such is the case with the annual termite hatch.

Every year, the first rain gets termites stirring in their underground chambers. After the rain passes and the ground warms, legions of termites with newly grown wings march up and take flight.

Only to be eaten by the birds who have also been waiting for the day.

This is a day to see wrens and warblers. Those little flits, you hear but never quite see, throw caution to the wind as they gobble up the termite hordes.

Yellow Warbler
Yellow Warbler – 2011

Bewick’s Wrens were out in force, grabbing termites off the ground and occasionally in the air. The Townsend’s Warblers were big on picking them out of the air. And while I tried, I was unable to catch a mid air grab.

There was also an “new” warbler for me, the Yellow Warbler. I think it fits into the category of birds that I have seen, but never noticed.

Chickadees, juncos, and quail were also filling their gullets with termites. It was an easy day to be a bird.

And as a result, an easy day to be a birder.

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Miniatures 2011

Inside and Out
Inside and Out, Miniatures 2009

I have signed up again to show a photo in the Monterey Museum of Art’s Miniatures exhibit. The exhibit is a fundraiser for the Museum, where 300 local artists donate small works for the Museum to raffle off.

The show runs from November 17 to December 31, 2011. If you are in the area, check it out.

For me, it means that I need to come up with a suitable 5×7 image before the end of October. I have started the process, by creating a set of possibilities on Flickr. I started out with about 47 images and have culled it down to 6.

This year’s submission will almost certainly be a bird shot. In fact I only have one non-bird photo in the current set. Though that may change because I have been known to change my mind and there is always a chance that I could take the perfect photo between now and the end of October.

If you would like to help in the process, feel free to make comments here, on Facebook, or on the photo’s Flickr page.

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Bird of the week or so

Ducks in flight - 2011
Ducks in Flight – 2011

There is nothing like a job to cut into your photography excursions. Not that I am complaining. After ten plus years of being self-employed, I am now working for someone else. It is a little different, but a regular income is better than an irregular one.

It will take some getting used to. For example my old boss was extremely flexible with the hours that I kept, allowing me to go out birding and taking photos nearly whenever I wanted to.

Anyway, I bring all of this up to explain why there hasn’t been a bird of the week or even a post here for the last month. I have been a little busy, applying for, interviewing for, and ultimately getting and starting a new job.

I did get out to Moss Landing last week and the waterfowl are still migrating through. There are large flocks of peeps (tiny shorebirds) in the wetlands south of highway 1, where there is no place to stop and look at them safely.

Fortunately, there were some smaller groups of peeps amongst the bigger birds at Moss Landing State Beach. This allowed me to capture the latest bird of the week (month) photo:

Semipalmated Plovers
Semipalmated Plovers and Western Sandpipers – 2011

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Is shooting at the feeder cheating?

Lesser GoldfinchLesser Goldfinch – 2011

I have a feeder that I keep stocked with an assortment of seeds. It draws an assortment of birds, some that I don’t usually see in my typical bird photography adventures.

If I shoot birds around the feeder, am I cheating? It is a valid question, because I try to capture birds in a reasonably natural setting, so having a plastic bin full of seeds defeats that.

But feeders attract birds and that is what I am trying to shoot.

And if I don’t get out on a birding trip? Well, it is time to confess, the Band-tailed Pigeon, was a feeder shot. While they are around, they don’t usually come in close enough to get a shot like that.

So what about this week’s “Bird of the Week” entry:
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk – 2011

While it was a couple hundred feet from the feeder, was it drawn to the area by the abundance of birds at the feeder? They are common in the area, so probably not, but…

Anyway, I will try to limit my feeder shots and in the future tell you when a shot was taken near the feeder.

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Bird of the Week

Forster's TernForster’s Tern, 2011

As difficult as last weeks selection was, this one was easy. I went out to Moss Landing with hope of shooting some terns. Both Caspian and Forster’s Terns are in the area and I saw a number of Caspians in the distance when I was there last week.

My hopes of getting a closer shot were dashed by construction which closed most of Moss Landing State Beach. So I had to shoot across the harbor to the jetty were the terns were hanging out. Fortunately, there were some Forster’s Terns in the air and I got a few shots.

With the State Beach closed, I crossed the highway and checked out the Moss Landing Wildlife Area. The Wildlife area sits behind a boat repair shop. It is the sort of unpretentious setting that appeals to me. There is a viewing platform a little over 0.2 miles from the parking lot. Once there I spotted a Least Sandpiper, some Caspian Terns fishing out on the Slough and a large collection of young Brown Pelicans about a quarter of a mile away.

On my way back one of them flew by allowing me to shoot this weeks Bird of the Week:

Young Brown PelicanYoung Brown Pelican, Moss Landing Wildlife Area – 2011

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Missed Falcons

Sometimes, you don’t get the shot, but the experience is what matters.

Yesterday I was shooting at Kirby Park on Elkhorn Slough. Throughout the day I had been fighting focusing issues. When trying to focus on a distant object against the sky, the camera tries to focus on something close but nonexistent.

Yes, I should switch to manual, but I am just not that fast anymore.

Then I see two birds coming toward me. Hello, who are you, I look through the viewfinder and it goes from sharp to fuzzy. Less than a second later there is a swoosh, swoosh as two falcons pull up out of dives within fifteen feet of me. I think they were going for swallows.

I watched them as they headed off across the tide flats hunting and diving as they went.

It would have been a cool shot, but even my camera isn’t going to catch a falcon coming towards you that fast.

All I have is the experience of falcons flying so close and fast that you can hear the wind on their wings.

I can live with that.

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Bird of the weak

Brown CreeperBrown Creeper, Monterey – 2011

There is nothing like giving yourself a deadline to insure a week of crappy shots. All I had to do was come up with a good bird shot by Sunday evening, and my “Bird of the Week” column could go forward. As of Saturday I had a fair shot of White Pelicans in flight and a below average shot of a Brown Creeper.

Today’s trip to Andrew Molera State Park (for a Surfrider Foundation beach clean-up) didn’t help much. A fair number of Brown Pelicans and number of Wrentits that just managed to stay out of focus or out of sight.

But I was saved by a couple of California Condors. The Bird of the Week lives on:

California Condor
California Condor, Big Sur coast – 2011

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