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.

Bird of the week

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

Getting the shot

Tracks to San JoseTracks, Elkhorn Slough – 2008

Most of my photography is spontaneous. I might have an idea of what I am going to shoot, when I head down the Big Sur coast, I am going to try to shoot condors. But I don’t usually have a shot in mind.

Yesterday was different, I found myself at the right spot at the right time to get a shot that I have wanted for a couple of years.

Elkhorn Slough is a wonderful place for birding that I try to get to a couple time a year. But running through the middle of it is one of the main north south railroads in California. And every day, around noon, the Coast Starlight rumbles over the tracks.

I have taken shots of the tracks and of the train, but always wanted to get one with a train coming down the tracks. And I finally had my opportunity.

Now standing on the tracks before an oncoming train is not something you do lightly. And while I was shooting with my long lens and was well away from the tracks by the time the train arrived, you will notice that I was not perfectly centered on the tracks. I was inching my way off as I shot.

Playing chicken with a train is not my idea of fun.

Coast Starlight
Coast Starlight, Elkhorn Slough – 2011

Bird of the Week

Ok, so this site is in its infancy and I am trying to figure out things I can do to keep it current and give you a reason to come back for a visit. Another way of putting it is to throw “ideas” out and see what sticks.

So the latest idea is a “Bird of the Week” column, which covers the birds that I have shot in the last week along with a crowning of the “Bird of the Week” shot. I have no idea if this will stick.

Anyway, last week I spent sometime pulling weeds at Point Lobos and led a condor expedition down the Big Sur coast. I also refilled the bird feeder and took some shots its visitors. So there were ample opportunities to capture a “Bird of the Week”.

California Thrasher
California Thrasher

First, I went out to Point Lobos to pull invasive plants off Sand Hill. While there, a couple of California Thrashers got me to drop my trowel and pull out the camera. Both of them were timid, staying down in the brush. Finally one popped up and allowed me to get a few shots. Not my best Thrasher shot, but not bad.

On Friday, I went with my sister and nephew down the Big Sur coast to see if we could spot some California Condors. I have had a great deal of luck seeing condors since last November. On this trip, we spotted six condors, but only saw one reasonably close.

California CondorCalifornia Condor

It turns out it was Big Sur Condor #4, who I have seen repeatedly in the last eight months. According to MyCondor.org he is a 12 year old male named “Amigo”.

Finally, there has been a lot of activity at the bird feeder recently. The usual assortment of Chestnut-backed Chickadees, House Finches, and Oak Titmouses, have been joined by Western Scrub-Jays and Stellar’s Jays. The jays are messy at the feeder and dump a lot of seeds on the ground. This last week Eurasian Collared-Doves and Band-tailed Pigeons decided that the Morning Doves had a good gig cleaning up seeds on the ground. I don’t usually see Band-taileds this close, so I got a few shots.

The result was the inaugural “Bird of the Week” shot:

Band-tailed Pigeon
Band-tailed Pigeon, Monterey – July 15, 2011

Come back in next week to see if this idea sticks.

Where to crop

Tyler Skaggs (Visalia) Cal League starting pitcher
Tyler Skaggs, Visalia Rawhide – 2011

I will tell you a little secret, I generally crop my images. Often, this is out of necessity, because you can only get so close to some birds. Other times, however, you just capture more so you can make decisions about the final image.

Case in point, this shot of Tyler Skaggs. I really like the final image, but getting to it required some trade offs.

Usually cropping a bird photo is easy. You don’t have extraneous details to work out. Often it depends on aesthetics, cropping relative to background lighting, the angles of branches, where things come into the image, and the like.

But with a sports shot, you often have people in the background. And I don’t like cutting people in half, lopping off arms, legs, heads, etc. You may think that silly, because it is all in the background of the shot. But I don’t like doing it.

Sometimes, however, you have no choice and you just have to pick the crop and where to make the cut.

So I apologize to everyone in this shot who’s head is missing. If I could have gotten you in the shot and retained the image’s strength, I would have.