Thursday, December 17, 2020

Post #189 - Shorebirds in Flight

I moved to the Bay Area (San Mateo) in May of 2017 and quickly adopted Foster City as my go-to local photography spot. I cranked out some nice shots through that winter (2017-18) and the next (2018-19), but the area experienced some bottom topography changes ahead of winter 2019-20 that rendered it less productive. Mud moves around, and the birds seemed to be favoring a newly formed bar far out into the Bay. Unable to access that, my Foster City output dropped last year. I was nervous that unproductive trend would continue this winter, but the birds seemed to have returned to their photo-friendly patterns. I've recently captured a bunch of flight images, and I'll use this post to share those and a few words about each.

Let's start with my Foster City bread and butter, the Willet. Yeah, I dropped this shot into a post a few weeks ago, but I'll double up to include it here. These guys aren't much to look at while standing still, but that changes as soon as they spread their high contrast wings. This bird would ideally be banking a bit more, but I thought the two-toned background offset that consideration. This bird was high up off the water, so I was able to get a split water-sky suggestion far behind it. 

Willet - Tringa Semipalmata
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/4000 at f/5.6, ISO 800

Marbled Godwit is another species which frequents Foster City. They tend fly low along the water, and the end of day light really brings out their cinnamon tones. The trick with these flights shots is to avoid shadows. It's mostly a luck function depending on the bird's trajectory (with the respect to the light) and the bird's wing position, but that's the goal. I have a touch of shadow on the far wing, but I think it's a negligible amount. Like the above frame, it's all about eye contact with the bird acknowledging my presence! 

Marbled Godwit - Limosa fedoa
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/4000 at f/5.6, ISO 1000

Black-bellied Plovers are present in much smaller number than Willets or Marbled Godwits. They fly faster and tend to stay a bit farther away, so they're harder to nail cleanly and with sufficient detail. Given that challenge, I was stoked to get this speedster in the full upstroke. Note that the axillaries (armpits) remain black (and diagnostic) even in non-breeding plumage. No shadows, woo hoo!

Black-bellied Plover - Pluvialis squatarola
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/4000 at f/5.6, ISO 1000

Ok, I cannot tell you how many misses it took to get this full topside frame of this Dunlin. Smaller and move elusive than the previous three species, I think this is a pretty sweet result. I was tracking the bird as it flew in front of me, and it was pure luck that I didn't clip the upper/right wing when he made an unannounced turn. This is probably my best flight frame of this species. Now I gotta get an equivalent result with the bird in breeding plumage! 

Dunlin - Calidris alpina
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/5000 at f/5.6, ISO 640

Last, and certainly not least, we have this Long-billed Curlew. This species visits Foster City in smaller numbers - maybe 1-2 flybys per visit - but they are always high overhead and not suitable for shooting. I nearly fell of my rock when I saw this guy coming in hella low, and I was stoked to get a beautifully lit frame against some calm water. I would have liked to have the wings a tiny bit higher, but I can't argue with the lack of shadows. Gotta love that beak, right?

Long-billed Curlew - Numenius americanus
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/4000 at f/5.6, ISO 800

Those paying close attention should notice I'm aiming for shutter speeds of between 1/3200 and 1/5000 for shots like this. In bright sun, that usually means f/5.6 and ISO 640 to 1250, depending on species and lighting conditions. I mention this so readers know what it takes to freeze fast-flying and rapid-flapping species like these. If you can't achieve a sufficiently fast shutter at an acceptable (depending on camera body), then you'll be working from an immediate disadvantage. Remember, you can fix noise in post production but you cannot fix blurred wings; it's therefore preferable to push the ISO to freeze the wings in the field and worry about the noise once you put the shots into the computer. Fortunately, I don't have to worry much about noise in the beaming sun in which I prefer shooting.

That's it for now. Cheers!

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Post #188 - Late Year Bay Area Bike Birding: Painful misses and redemptive gains

Long time readers (i.e. gluttons for punishment) might recall my epic battle with Parakeet Auklet from a few years back. Though that bird frequented Land's End in San Francisco for multiple consecutive summers, it took me four independent bikes rides spread across 2017 and 2019 to add that bothersome bird to my cumulative Bay Area bike list. I said I'd never pour that much into a single bird again, but - sure as you know what - I couldn't help myself when a Glaucous Gull (GLGU) appeared in San Francisco a few weeks ago. The kicker? I already had GLGU for my Bay Area bike list since I saw one in my home San Mateo County in 2017, so I was after the bird purely as a San Francisco bird!

To make a long story short, I chased the SF GLGU three times (November 20, 22, and 26) without finding it. Twice I missed by a matter of minutes, and hindsight suggests the bird gone by the time I made my third trip. I did salvage Evening Grosbeak (EVGR) for San Mateo bike bird #283 on my return ride on my second attempt and a continuing Tropical Kingbird (TRKI) for San Francisco bike bird #231 on my third, so those additions softened the GLGU misses. I say I won't chase GLGU in SF again, but that will probably change if the damn bird surfaces again.....

Summary of Glaucous Gull Failures

Digiscope shots of San Mateo EVGR and San Francisco TRKI

Undaunted by GLGU struggles, I ventured south to Santa Clara County for a continuing Barrow's Goldeneye (BAGO) on November 28th. Fortunately that bird cooperated, and I had prolonged looks at the bird as it foraged on the far side of Shoreline Lake (too far for digiscope photos). That bird added Santa Clara bike bird #214, I birded my way through Byxbee Park and the Palo Alto Baylands on my return. Scanning from San Francisquito Creek, the border between Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, I watched 3 Bonaparte's Gulls (BOGU) fly from the former to the later.  I'd seen BOGU on San Mateo pelagics, but it was good to redeem that 'dirty bird' for a long overdue San Mateo bike bird (#284). The Bonaparte's were even farther away than the Barrow's, so no photo of that bird either.

My ride to Santa Clara County on November 28

I've since undertaken my two most ambitious single-day rides of the year, but I'll save those for a future installment. I've been giving you a lot of bike-birding lately, so I'll swap in some photography for the next post. Cheers! Here's an old shot of a Bonaparte's Gull from Boston to close down for now.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Post #187 - Recent Bay Area Biking - Punctural Sandpiper and Pacific Golden-Puncture

Despite the fact we didn't have a single Pectoral Sandpiper (PESA) in San Mateo County this fall (according to eBird anyway), the species made strong showings in neighboring San Francisco and Santa Clara Counties. Don Edwards NWR in Alviso was historically productive; 60-plus birds were recorded through the first week in October, and at least 30 remained on October 13 when they were joined by at least one Pacific Golden-Plover (PGPL). PESA numbers eroded through the next week, but a handful remained through the 21st, as did the PGPL. I'd watched daily reports of both species roll in, and I was finally able to ride for them on the morning of October 22nd. 

The first hour of my pursuit ride unfolded without incident, but I skidded off Middleton Road in Atherton when a metal rod punctured my rear tire. No big deal; I swapped in a new tube an continued after a 13 minute delay (yeah, I timed it). 

Flat tire #1 - no doubt!

I hadn't covered another two miles before that replacement exploded on a patch of rough road. My subsequent examination revealed the tube had ruptured at the point of valve attachment, a sure sign of an inherent defect. Inconvenient? Of course. Terminal? Hell no! I swapped in a thrice-patched old tube and continued to Alviso after a 15 minute delay. I found a pair of PESAs and a single PGPL shortly after reaching Don Edwards, but all three birds were too far away for photos, especially looking into the morning sun. Fortunately, the PGPL took flight in the next few minutes and landed closer to the road in more appropriate light. I didn't lug the real camera, so I had to settle for a digiscope image.

Pacific Golden-Plover
Santa Clara bike bird #213 (PESA was #212)

The two shorebirds bagged, I spent another hour doing some general birding before turning northwest and heading for home. Like the southeastern leg, the return leg was uneventful until I reached Atherton, my rear tire going flat for a third time. I was barely 100 yards from where I suffered the first puncture! Depleted of intact tubes, I stripped out the thrice-patched tube and patched it a fourth time while standing on the side of the road. Thankfully it held, and I made it home without additional delay.

Flat tire #3 - also no doubt!

I'd only had 3 or 4 flats across 3.5 years of Bay Area bike-birding (6,000-plus miles), so an outing like this was unexpected (and probably overdue). They only cost me time, but I'd like to avoid similar insults moving forward.

My flat-plagued ride to Alviso on October 22

And since my one bird photo in this post was crap, I'll leave you with a proper photo of a Pacific Golden-Plover. I observed this beautiful juvenile in Pillar Point Harbor during my 2014 bicycle Big Year. Probably the best photo I took across 17,830 miles!

Pacific Golden-Plover
Canon 400mm f/5.6 lens on EOS 7D
1/1600 at f/5.6, ISO 640

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Post #186 - Rusty Blackbird Spotlight

When an out-of-range Rusty Blackbird (RUBL) was found at the southern end of my home San Mateo County (California) on October 27th, I faced mutually-exclusive choices for the morning of the 28th.

Option #1 was to pursue the bird by bike. The wandering individual was the first RUBL to stray into biking range since I moved to San Mateo in May of 2017, and the species would be a fantastic addition to my cherished Bay Area Bike List (324 species to date). With over 3,500 feet of climbing spread across 74 round-trip miles, the ride would be an exhausting undertaking and consume an entire day.

Option #2 was to pursue the bird by car so I could photograph it. RUBL would be a new species for my photo collection, and the folks who observed the bird on the 27th noted that it was very approachable. My 600mm lens is too valuable and heavy to carry on the bike; even if I was willing and able to ride with it, then I'd to need to leave at 3am to reach the the bird by sunrise. So yeah, I'd drive if I opted for photography.

Decision, or photograph?

Rusty Blackbird range (left) and hypothetical ride (ride)
Map adapted from this informative website

Extended hemming and hawing aside, the photos I captured were better than anything I imagined. I could not have asked for more from this winter plumage female, and I hope the color in these frame impresses the benefits of getting into shooting position ahead of sunrise. By the time the sun reached the optimal angle 45 mins after that event, the bird was totally cool with my presence. My amphibious belly-crawl through the creek was cold and nasty, but that's what it took to create the smooth, golden surrounds. As an aside, the bird was flushed by a Peregrine at 9:15am. It was not observed again, by me or anyone else. I would not have arrived in time to see it had I been on the bike. #carforthewin, this time anyway.

***click on the images for larger views***

Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/1250 at f/7.1, ISO 1600
Splash is from a failed stab as a small fish

Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/1250 at f/7.1, ISO 1600
I think she found this fish dead on the edge of creek

Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/1600 at f/7.1, ISO 1600
Posterior perspective exaggerates the color on the layered feathers

Canon 600mm f/4 IS II on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/2500 at f/7.1, ISO 1000
Love that yellow iris!

Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/2500 at f/7.1, ISO 1000
My favorite of the bunch. Gotta have eye contact!

These results are some of my 2020 favorites, particularly the last two. I hadn't appreciated how beautiful this species is before this encounter, so I was hella stoked to capture images which show the female so well. Most hardcore bird photographers focus on flashier subjects like waterfowl, birds of prey, and warblers, but I've always been happy to pour time and effort into species which others ignore (shorebirds, sparrows, e.g.). I guess that's my birding background coming through the camera.

On an important conservation note, Rusty Blackbird has suffered precipitous declines in the last half-century, and current estimates suggest the species persists at 10 to 15 percent of historical levels. Unlike many other blackbirds which thrive in standard-issue reeds, agricultural areas, and/or suburban environments, Rusties specifically seek the interface between woodlands and marshes. Boreal bogs in the undeveloped Canadian wilds present ample habitat during the summer breeding season, but continued development in the eastern half of the lower 48 states has hugely degraded their winter options. Rusty Blackbird isn't as iconic as some other threatened or endangered birds, and I think it's comparatively nondescript appearance has allowed many to overlook or ignore the declines the species has suffered. Unfortunately, appearances matter as much for birds as they do for people.

For those interested in learning a bit more about Rusty Blackbird biology and conservation, I offer the following links:

Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/1250 at f/7.1, ISO 1600
I really like the round body and spindly legs.

Until next time, cheers!

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Post #185 - San Francisco Bike Birding

Fall migration is slowing down, but there this year's iteration brought loads of interesting birds to the Bay Area. Several of those appeared in San Francisco between October 8 and 12, and I'll use this post to highlight three trips I made to the city in that window. Fall is usually great weather around here, so its a fun time to be on the bike!

San Francisco, October 8
This afternoon sprint targeted three species: Long-billed Dowitcher (LBDO) and Pectoral Sandpiper (PESA) at Yosemite Slough on the bayshore and Philadelphia Vireo (PHVI) at Lake Merced. The two shorebirds aren't rare in the Bay Area, the dowitcher in particular, but there's next to no habitat for them in the city; hence they're good San Francisco County birds. Contrarily, the vireo is an excellent find anywhere in California, examples often found in urban parks which receive lots of coverage. 

The vireo was the most exciting bird of the three, but I prioritized the two shorebirds since they'd occupied the same small pond for 4-5 consecutive days and would be easy to find, assuming they were present. The continuing group of 7 LBDOs was exactly as advertised when I reached Yosemite Slough (SF Bike Bird #225), but additional scanning over the next 30 minutes failed to reveal the PESA. Conceding that bird, I crossed the city for the PHVI but was unable to find it with remaining daylight. Originally found in the morning, it was last seen when I departed San Mateo at 2:30pm. Had I pursued it first, I would have spent remaining the remainder of the afternoon searching for it, failed to reach Yosemite Slough, and missed the LBDO as well. So, one outta three.....

San Francisco, October 8
Rode hella fast, so loop took 2.5 hours

San Francisco, October 9
The stealthy vireo was seen for a second morning, so I returned to Lake Merced that afternoon. The bird wasn't around when I arrived but surfaced an hour later. I don't usually drag my 7D2 and 100-400 on top of my binoculars, scope, tripod, and biking supplies, but I prioritized the camera+lens over the scope+tripod for this passerine pursuit, a wise decision given how cooperative the bird was.

Philadelphia Vireo

The vireo added as SF Bike Bird #226, I had the daylight to continue north to Sutro where I added a continuing Brewer's Sparrow as SF Bike Bird #227. Two for one - money!

Brewer's Sparrow

San Francisco, October 9
1 hour 20 mins each way

San Francisco, October 12
With Tropical Kingbird (TRKI) and Red Phalarope (REPH) reported from Lake Merced on the previous afternoon, I shuffled my schedule and made a morning run for that pair. I struck out on both, but ended up with three consolation prizes. The first was an overhead flock of Cackling Geese (CACG) for SF Bike Bird #228. The next was a completely unexpected Green-tailed Towhee (GTTO) which I found while looking for the TRKI. I was able to snap a quick digi-binoc of the GTTO (SF Bike Bird #229) before it vanished. While a number of us worked to relocated the towhee, Aaron Maizlish pointed out a Blackpoll Warbler (BLWA) for SF Bike Bird #230. I took off before the towhee was refound, but it did surface for many others that afternoon and through the following day. Frustratingly, the REPH was also seen later in the day, so I should have looked harder for that bird while I was there. Given that the towhee was a better bird than either TRKI or REPH, I chalked the morning up as a big win. I'd seen REPH in SF waters on pelagic trips, and I'm sure I'll get one by bike in SF eventually.

Digi-binoc shots of Green-tailed Towhee and Blackpoll Warbler.
Had the scope to look for REPH, so no real camera......

San Francisco, October 12
1 hour each way

OK, that's it for this installment! Cheers!

Monday, October 19, 2020

Post #184 - Solano County Photography

With international travel shut down and domestic travel dissuaded in the COVID age, I've explored more of the Bay Area in 2020 than in previous years. Much of my wandering has been on my bike, but I have ventured farther afield in the car. I'd not, for example, birded in Solano County prior to March, and I've had fun exploring that southern end of that area in the intervening months. Lagoon Valley outside Vacaville has proven particularly productive (eBird hotspot), and I'm going to use this post to share a few photos I recently captured at the park. It's worth noting Lagoon Valley barely escaped the gigantic LNU Fire which roared through nearby Vacaville in August; the fire approached the park on two sides but ultimately spared it. 

When I visited Lagoon Valley for the first time, on April 26th, the central lake was full of water and hosted a nice variety of waterfowl. It offered excellent birding but didn't strike me that it would be particularly good for photography (or at least no better than spots closer to home). Fast forward to September 8th; I returned to the park to find the lake almost empty, a giant mud puddle all that remained. A variety of shorebirds patrolled the shoreline, and I kicked myself for bringing the dog and leaving the camera. Birding with him isn't an issue, but I cannot do proper photography with him in tow. 

The evaporated lake at Lagoon Valley.
The backing hillsides were incinerated by the LNU fire.

I thought the evaporated lakebed had so much photographic potential that I returned the following day, with camera and without Beagle. I always try to arrive at a shoot before sunrise because it allows me to ready my gear, survey the situation, and get into position ahead of the best light. Among Killdeer, Black-necked Stilts, Greater Yellowlegs, Long-billed Dowitchers, and Least Sandpipers, I decided to focus on a group of five Pectoral Sandpipers. It took a bit of cat and mouse, but my crawling earned the quintet's trust through the next 90 minutes. 

I was shooting straight west -- as is best in the early morning -- and some thin forest fire smoke filtered the sun behind me to the east. Besides evening out the exposure and helping to preserved detail in the lightest parts of the subject, the smoke imparted the surroundings with some really unique colors.

Pectoral Sandpiper - Calidris melanotos
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS 1DX2
1/2000 at f/5.6, ISO 1600

Without much action/behavior to motivate this next shot, I went with a wide crop to emphasize the pastel surroundings. I think the composition imparts the frame with a pensive feel, the bird pausing to contemplate his next move as I captured him. I love these small-in-frame-type images where I can use the camera to 'paint' the surroundings.

Pectoral Sandpiper - Calidris melanotos
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS 1DX2
1/1600 at f/5.6, ISO 1600

I wish I could see at least one foot in the next shot. The problem was that the birds wouldn't give me eye contact while they were feeding, so I had to settle for a static frame where the feet were obscured by mud. Without eye contact, the frame goes in the trash!

Pectoral Sandpiper - Calidris melanotos
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS 1DX2
1/1600 at f/7.1, ISO 1600

While I was pursuing the Pecs, this guy cruised through in the background. Thankfully, I was able to reposition for a clear shot! These lighting conditions were unlike anything I'd previously experienced.

Great Egret - Ardea alba
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS 1DX2
1/2500 at f/5.6, ISO 800

The adult Black-necked Stilts were very wary of me, but this juvenile was willing to come pretty close to me. I didn't notice the flies until I returned home and put the images into the computer - bonus!

Black-necked Stilt - Himantopus mexicanus
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS 1DX2
1/2000 at f/5.6, ISO 1000

I did notice the flies in this last shot and did everything I could to get maximize their presence in the frame. I had to crawl into some hella nasty stuff, but I think I came out with a really unique shot.

Black-necked Stilt - Himantopus mexicanus
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS 1DX2
1/2000 at f/5.6, ISO 800

So yeah, this was a really productive morning of photography. I'm usually hoping to get one keeper frame per outing, so I was stoked to get these five and a few others. I'm hoping to make it back to Lagoon Valley sometime this fall. I'd particularly like to capture some Long-billed Dowitchers as that species is a weak spot in my shorebird collection at the moment.

The best part of Lagoon Valley?  There's a hose in the parking lot! I got some funny looks as I stripped down to my boxers and cleaned up, but it was totally worth it given these frames. Thanks to the kind soul who snapped this 'before' pic.....

Mud didn't smell as bad as it 
looked. Nice and cool though....

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Post #183 - Fall Bay Area Bike-birding Update

Damn, my recent blogging has been shameful! I apologize for the lack of content, and I hope at least a few readers can forgive my extended neglect. I'm going to try to rekindle the blog as shorter days approach, so hopefully some will find refuge in my silly posts these next few months. They're going to be interesting, to say the least..... 

I wrote in June that I'd established a torrid bike-birding pace through the first half of this year, and I've continued that momentum through to fall. To date, I've amassed 2,251 miles, the equivalent to driving from San Francisco to Indianapolis. I biked 2,086 miles in 2019 and 2,001 in 2018, so this year represents a significant increase. Stoked cuz though miles allow me more pizza, donuts, and ice cream.

2,251 miles from San Francisco to Indianapolis

My cumulative Bay Area Bike List is an ongoing project (obsession?), so I'll use this eBird snap to show the last five birds I've added. I'll say about a few words about the circumstances of each below.

#317 Northern Parula, Fort Mason, San Francisco County, June 30th
Northern Parula (NOPA) was not the bird I set out to find on this day. I was initially pursuing Sooty Shearwater (SOSH) and American White Pelican (AWPE) for the San Francisco County subset of my bike list, but this bird was reported at Fort Mason while I was birding at Chrissy Field, just two miles away. Folding my failed pelican search, I powered towards the parula and found it without much effort. Sadly, the bird was too fast for my lackluster digi-binoc skills.

Incidentally, I had Sooty Shearwater on my regular (i.e. petroleum powered) SF list from Alvaro's Adventures pelagic trips, so I was trying redeem that "dirty" bird. I failed on JUne 30th but succeeded a few weeks later, on August 13. I finally got the pelican on September 24, after 3 misses.

My ride Northern Parula (NOPA) on June 30th
Red = missed, Green = Found

#318 Sabine's Gull, Sunnyvale Water Treatment Plant, Santa Clara County, September 9
This bird was present for two days before I had the time to pursue it on the third. There were 4 other would-be Santa Clara bike birds in the same area, so this outing had tons of potential. My ride unfolded under apocalyptic conditions, forest fires smoke blanketing the Bay Area, but I wasn't affected because most of the soot and ash stayed in the upper atmosphere. Despite the conditions, I found all 5 of my targets: Sabine's Gull, Brandt's Cormorant, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Vaux's Swift, and Bank Swallow. The kicker? I also found a Purple Martin on the ride home to give me 6 county Santa Clara bike birds on one 54-mile swing. Talk about efficiency!

Sabine's Gull (left) and 2 Brandt's Cormorants (right, together)

Birding the apocalypse

My ride for Sabine's Gull (and Santa Clara others) on September 9th

#319 Lark Bunting, Pier 94, San Francisco County, September 14
This bird was found in the morning, but I couldn't chase it until later in the afternoon. It was a quick sprint once I departed, and the bird showed within 10 minutes of my arrival. I swung through Yosemite Slough to look for Pectoral Sandpiper (PESA, map) on the way home, but that was not to be. 70 minutes up, 80 minutes home with the extra stop - easy! Interestingly, another LABU showed at my Coyote Point patch two days later, so that was a nice San Mateo addition in the wake of the SF individual. I wasn't able to get a photo of the SF bird, so here's a digi-binoc of the Coyote Point bird.

Lark Bunting

My September 14 ride for Lark Bunting

#320 Sage Thrasher (Sept 30) and #321 Brewer's Sparrow (Oct 5), Coyote Point Park, San Mateo County
Both of these birds were found in the course of general birding at my Coyote Point Patch. The thrasher was a particular surprise because the bird wasn't remotely on my radar given how infrequently it visits the Bay Area. I was just scanning bushes when the bird appeared in my view, and I nearly fell off my bike when I realized what it was. One other birder who I didn't recognize arrived 30 mins after I posted, but the bird didn't stick overnight. Crushed it with the digi-scope on the first day though!

Sage Thrasher from Coyote Point

A week later, the Brewer's Sparrow materialized from a flock which included its White-crowned, Golden-crowned, Lincoln's, Song, and Clay-colored relatives. The bird wouldn't allow close approach, but I was able to grab a couple of crappy digi-bin shots from a distance. Others had been reporting the Brewer's to eBird before I observed it - albeit without my knowledge - so I can't claim to have found this bird. Regardless, it was pretty exciting in the moment. This was a bird I knew I'd get at some point, so it was nice to intersect it so close to home.

Digi-binoc record of Brewer's Sparrow at Coyote Point

Coyote Point convenience. This is my usual route. Takes 60-90 mins most days.

That's it for this installment! I notched an additional bird (#322) in the two days it took me to put this together, but I'll hang onto that story for another post. 

Stay safe out there.....

Monday, August 3, 2020

Post #182 - Early Summer Photography - Landbirds for a change!

Damn, this blog is on life-support right now! It's been five weeks since my last entry, and I'll confess I've had a really hard time blogging in 2020. Some of my block can be blamed on COVID-related distraction, but I'm also burned out on writing. I'm still grinding away on my book about my 2014 bicycle Big Year, and the project has consumed more than twice years I'd imagined. Without giving too much away, the book is not the traditional Big Year account of the places I visited and the birds I saw; I'm more using my bird-motivated bicycle journey - itself totally unique in the Big Year landscape - to examine my decisions, insecurities, and mistakes ahead of my adventure. So, while most Big Year authors chronicle one year, I'm treating 35! The process has been an incredible emotional drain, but I'm confident my examination will yield an engaging, inspirational, and entertaining story when it's finally done. 

With that as a preface, I'll offer a few photos with some words about each. That's about all the additional writing I can handle at this moment!

Let's start with this Grasshopper Sparrow. Most shots of this species feature brown and tan backgrounds because the bird prefers arid grasslands, so I was really happy to capture something different here, the darker background resulting from a distant coniferous hillside as I shot over the crest of a ridge.

Grasshopper Sparrow - Ammodramus savannarum
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x TC III on EOS 5D Mark IV
1/3200 at f/5.6, ISO 640

Here is another shot of the same bird with a more traditional background. This is a super heavy crop - it represents less than 10% of the original frame - but I think the detail held up well. It's sometimes difficult to appreciate subtle plumage characteristics in the field, like the thin rufous streaks on the nape, so it's really satisfying to capture a photo which reveals otherwise overlooked details. Doubtful I'll ever encounter such a cooperative individual again! 

Grasshopper Sparrow - Ammodramus savannarum
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x TC III on EOS 5D Mark IV
1/2500 at f/7.1, ISO 1000

OK, let's switch gears to this Wrentit. This shy bird likes tangled underbrush, so I was shocked when this representative assumed this exposed perched when tempted with a few cycles of playback. I see/hear this bird on many of my birding outings, but this represents my first keeper frame of the species. The sun was a bit higher than ideal, but shooting down the hillside helped minimize late-morning shadows on the subject's chest.

Wrentit - Chamaea fasciata
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS 5D Mark IV
1/1600 at f/5.6, ISO 800

This next shot is an Ash-throated Flycatcher I captured just before the Wrentit. This bird was standing on a metal post, so I decided to go with a tight headshot to keep the man-made object out of the frame. This represented another new species for my photo collection. I see these all the time, just not in photogenic proximity like this one!

Ash-throated Flycatcher - Myiarchus cinerascens
Canon 600mm f/4 IS + 1.4x III on EOS 5D Mark IV
1/1000 at f/8, ISO 800

Ok, just two more. I like to shoot birds at eye level because it maximizes eye contact, but I raised my lens a bit to capture this Spotted Towhee. He would have ideally been 18 inches lower, but I couldn't pass on the full song and beautiful view of the rufous flanks. No wonder this birds used to be lumped with Eastern Towhee as Rufous-sided Towhee. Closing down to f/9 enabled me to keep the entire bird in focus.

Spotted Towhee - Pipilo maculatus
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II on EOS 5D Mark IV
1/2000 at f/9, ISO 1000

Lastly, here is the male Anna's Hummingbird which lives in the bayshore park behind my house. He's present almost every time I visit, usually on the same perch, but it took me forever to make the effort to photograph him because I can't carry binoculars, scope, and camera on my bike when I visit. Leaving the scope and binoculars at home on this day, I was able to get super close to him for this shot. The smooth background was generated by standing on a high rock and shooting across SF Bay. Like the towhee, closing down to f/10 at close range helped keep the whole bird in focus.

Anna's Hummingbird - Calypte anna
Canon 400mm f/4 IS DO II + 2x TC III on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/1250 at f/10, ISO 1600

OK, that's it for now. I'll try to crank out more content this month to make up for the recent lack. Cheers!