Saturday, June 30, 2007

this blog is G-rated

Online Dating

I just learned that is my rating for this blog. I guess that's a good thing!? -- but, I don't think I'll leave this as a permanent banner at the bottom of my blog. What do you think? I didn't make this up. The site that does the rating is here.

flowers instead

Until I catch up on work, the flowers from the yard will have to do.

No, I wasn't smokin' anything -- just messin' with the colors a little bit!

Monday, June 25, 2007

help with ID

This is from yesterday at Carlos . . .
juvenile Red-winged Blackbird maybe? any other ideas?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Canon EOS-1D Mark III

Disappointing, if true: ". . . when the lighting is full sunlight and it's a nice day outside, the autofocus is unusably poor. The camera will still produce in-focus pictures...but the ratio of crisp to blurry frames is well below an acceptable level." read more

back to Carlos nevertheless

Work has prevented me from birding the last couple of days; but, after a break this afternoon, I did head out to Carlos for a few hours. I did locate three pairs of Sandhill Cranes in the usual locations; I did not find any large flocks. Also, I did not see a single Great Egret. Some Red-winged Blackbirds have left the nest; the goslings are nearing in size to the adults. The flies are bothersome, the mosquitoes were relatively few.
Jim & I hope to make it to the Sherburne Wildlife Refuge this week.

Friday, June 22, 2007

National park contest

Are you planning to visit a National Park this summer? Win some prizes while you're at it. Here is the info.

my bookmarks

Christophers, LTD & Astronomics, depending on whether you're into birding or astronomy. Large inventory, decent prices - particularly on sale and overstock items.

Bird Pictures by Bill Schmoker -- some very nice bird photography. Check out his blog, also.

Bird Song Guide
-- I'm not personally familiar with this collection of bird songs, but if you are, let me know your thoughts on it. The number of birds is limited, but it would be good for a beginning bird watcher and the price seems OK.

For an extremely large collection of bird songs (tropical) check out Xeno-Canto.

For something more familiar to most of us, take a look at the Bird Watchers' Digest web site. Lots of information, particularly for beginners.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Weekend Shooter

In response to my complaint about not finding many Sandhill Cranes during my last trip to Carlos Avery, I heard from John Mikes who has just started a new bird, etc. photography blog, Weekend Shooter. Take a look at it; John does nice work. He suggested I check out the Sherburne Refuge where he had recently seen a large group of cranes. It's on my list for next week, John.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

keeping my day job

It's a good thing I don't do this for a living!
Yesterday evening I went to Carlos for about 3 hours and the shot on the left of Sandhill Cranes & the one below were the only ones I could bear to share.
I didn't see a single Great Egret. Where are they?
I also couldn't locate the large groups of Sandhills I've become accustomed to. Perhaps the strong wind had something to do with it.

I was told by Jim that Red Admirals are being seen in very large numbers this year. There are a lot of them at Carlos. But, of course, they are difficult to photograph. My best attempt from yesterday is below.

I think I'll try weaning myself from Carlos for a while and get back to walking (& getting some exercise) at Springbrook and Wargo.

National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America

I just ordered a copy of the new 5th edition. Jim W., on the MOU Listservice reports that Border's book stores are selling the fourth edition for $4.95. Amazon carries the new one for $16.32.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Monday, June 18, 2007

Art Morris -- LiveBooks

Check out Art Morris' newly posted portfolio on a web site especially designed for photographers by LiveBooks. As you can see from Morris' site, LiveBooks does an excellent job -- but, I think it will be attractive mostly to professional photographers. The pricing is quite high for the average birdwatcher/amateur photographer (go to the products overview section). Morris is promising a reduced price through him. I'll let you know.

It ain't just birds! Part I

As Art Morris likes to remind us, "It ain't just birds!"
Yesterday, after the U.S. Formula 1 race, Jim & I headed out to Carlos. After watching the F1 cars go over 200mph on the straight-away, the turtles below were quite a contrast. I'm not familiar with the various kinds, but Jim reminded me that there are many more species than I would have imagined. See this DNR site, as well as this other one Jim came up with.
I was happy just to be in their presence enjoying their colors; the shell below reminded me of mother-of-pearl.

"You lookin' at me?!"

Sunday, June 17, 2007

more from Carlos

My friend, Jim, and I headed out to Carlos this afternoon -- but, before sharing our trip, here are some remaining pictures from my visit there last Friday.


Common Yellowthroat

Song Sparrow

Common Loon family
This was taken from quite some distance; I've never been able to get close to them -- maybe next time.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Sandhill Cranes

Yesterday, at Carlos, I was happy to again find the cranes. This shot was taken with the car-window camera mount, as were the following photos. They were all taken with a 300mm lens; the top one is with a 1.4x teleconverter, the bottom ones are with a 2x. The relative sharpness of the images is testimony to the stability of the window mount.
Note the Great Blue Heron a little further away and to the right, together with some geese in front. The birds were at least 1/4 mi. away. That's why I was pleased to find the subjects of the next photos.

In contrast with my previous visit to Carlos with Jim, I was able to find this crane at a more comfortable photo-taking distance. It was in the Pool 7 area.

As I was busy squeezing off a bunch of shots, much to my surprise, the crane on the left popped up. The grass is getting so tall there that when the birds bow down to feed one cannot see them.

This is the same pair a little West of the previous location. Note how the grass is even taller here. No little one in sight though.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Canon EOS 1D MkIII

Another review of the Canon EOS 1D MkIII is available here.

the call of Carlos

I still don't have my replacement contact lens, but I couldn't stand it any longer -- I had to get out with my camera. My timing was not the best. I hit Carlos Avery about 4 p.m. My car thermometer read 92 degrees -- there was little wind -- and a lot of flies coming in the open windows of the car. Even the Eastern Kingbird above was panting from the heat. But, it was good to get out. I used my car window mount some more and, while it has limitations, it can be useful. More pictures to follow.
I do want to call your attention to an article in today's Star Tribune about Lyme disease. It is important that you are able to recognize the symptoms. If diagnosed early, it is easily treated with antibiotics; if diagnosis is delayed, serious illness can result. Carlos Avery is apparently at hotbed for the disease.

He really was panting! -- birds do that in extreme heat.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

immigration policies & birding

Can our country's immigration policies affect birding and conservation? Consider the following e-mail which was posted on MOU's Listserve:

From: "Nancy Millar"
Date: June 14, 2007 9:00:58 AM CDT

This is a call for help. The U.S. government is actually serious about building a wall along the Rio Grande in the Valley. For so long most of us down here ignored the idea because it is so obviously ludicrous. It's appalling to us that it's not only being taken seriously, but is actually apparently about to be funded.
* * *
... how much has anyone thought about its effect on the environment? Here we
are, famous for something positive in our country- being the most productive location for the estimated 65 to 80 MILLION birders in the U.S. to visit -- and the government is planning on building a fence, and clearing 150 to 250 feet of brush along the river to do so. Obviously the birds can fly right over the fence, but destroying their habitat along the river will make the area perhaps not hostile to them, but certainly a lot less friendly. The effects will be felt by all things migratory. And for those animals that can't fly, it will cut off their primary source of water. Environmentally speaking, this could start a downward spiral from which it could literally take hundreds of years to recuperate, if the area ever could.

If you care about these issues, and how they may affect this unique birding spot, please be part of the solution. Write your U.S. Congressmen and Senators and let your feelings be known. It's the only way to stop the fence and preserve the land at the river. And please do so quickly. This issue is upon us NOW.

Many thanks for your efforts. Any other ideas you have on what we can do would be greatly appreciated. We are moving, and organizing, but there is so much to do in a very short amount of time.

Nancy S. Millar,Vice President and Director McAllen Convention and Visitors' Bureau, McAllen Chamber of Commerce
P.O. Box 790
1200 Ash Avenue
McAllen, Texas 78505-0790
956-682-2871 x 3013 (voice), 1-877-MCALLEN (622-5536) (toll free) 956-631-8571 (fax)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Andy Rouse

Wildlife photographer, Andy Rouse, has started a new blog you may want to take a look at:
Of particular interest is his initial review of Canon's new 1D MIII.


Today's trip to Carlos turned out to be a bummer. Shortly after I took the picture on the right I lost a contact lens. After searching for it for over an hour (I was in my car when it happened) I had to give up, go home, and order a replacement (by Friday, if I'm lucky). The prescription on my old contacts is way outdated -- I may have to forgo birding until I can see again.
I intended to take some pictures of the car-window camera mount, but did not do that either. I'm not happy with the arrangement because the panning head on the mount lifts the camera too high to be comfortable. (I have a low car with a low roof; the side windows are not very tall.) I'll have to look for a different panning arrangement. The mount itself works OK - it is rather light weight - but so was the price. $28, free shipping from Eagle Optics. I bought the version without the head since I have several panning heads laying around. Looking at Eagle's head, I think mine sits almost as low.
Lots to do - so little time.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

sites I have bookmarked

Even though you will find a link to Art Morris' site on this blog and see that I mention him often, I cannot recommend too highly his books and newsletters. Check him out:
The prices on stuff he sells are quite reasonable (most of the time) and the shipping is fast and cheap.

For local flavor, take a look at
Audubon Center of the North Woods
I haven't visited there, but hope to do so soon, particularly since it is not that far away.

Then, of course, there is the National Audubon Society. The For the Birds section should be particularly helpful to beginning birders. The site led me to two nearby refuges I did not know existed and hope to visit soon: Upper Souris NWR and Horicon NWR. Note the large gift shop page.

I have bookmarked AviSys. Is it anything more than an electronic checklist? - anyone familiar with it? I haven't followed up on it since I don't keep life lists, state lists, yard lists, etc. I just take pictures of birds & what looks good. Maybe that's too simple an approach, but so far it is all I can manage. However, I can see where lists can be useful in knowing when birds will appear, nest, and so on, in your area. I sometimes go back to the pictures I have filed in Picasa and check the dates there.

Yes, I'm giving you some filler stuff tonight since I haven't been in the field; but I hope to get out tomorrow. I'll be trying out a car window mount I have jury-rigged and will let you know how it works.

Monday, June 11, 2007

secret playground

Do you have a favorite bird watching spot? You may win Canon's Secret Playground Contest.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

too busy

One of the regulars on the MOU Listservice signs off with "If you are too busy to go birding, you are too busy." I'm too busy today -- what with work around the house and some work deadlines tomorrow. Some days retirement looks really good!
But, on the list of things to come, not necessarily in this order:
1. I received the Delkin Sensorscope from Art Morris a few days ago & will report on it soon. (His web site is a little screwed up at this location; I ordered from one of his newsletters, which you should subscribe to; take a look at some back issues in the archive section and be amazed at Art's photography.) The scope is now available without the extra cleaning supplies and is about $90.
2. I'm planning on doing some lens sharpness tests comparing my 70-200mm f/2.8, 300mm f/4, & 400mm f/5.6 lenses with and without the 1.4x & 2x teleconverters.
3. I want to switch totally over to Adobe Elements 5.0 from Picasa for most of my print making and will report on this also (although I may not find time until late fall; it's more fun to go out birding).
4. Consideration to getting the Tamron 200-500mm lens.
5. Top grade spotting scope.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

searching for Sandhills

Continuing on from yesterday's post -- Jim & I were trying to find Sandhill Cranes closer than a mile or so. I was doing my best to find some on the roads on which I had previously had good luck. One of our encounters was with this Woodchuck.

As we continued our search, we came upon this mouthy (or is it billy) Catbird and an Eastern Kingbird along the Western border of Carlos Avery.

This turtle & duck on top of a muskrat house were an interesting combination.

Our main quarry of the day was the Sandhill Crane. Unfortunately, we did not see any within a reasonable picture-taking distance. We were guessing that the ones above were at least 1/2 mi. away; this was confirmed by my checking the official Carlos Avery map. They were in the same place as described in my May 26 and June 1 posts.
Jim was pleased to see his first Sandhills, even if at a distance. Anticipating this situation, I had brought along my old Bushnell Spacemaster spotting scope (from about the '70's). Since I had already obtained a T-ring adapter for my Canons, I connected the XTi to the Spacemaster. Rather than using the Spacemaster's lens as a substitute telephoto, the Spacemaster connector I have projects an image with the eyepiece in place directly on to the sensor in the camera.
Keeping in mind that I was using 30+ year old optics, the shots are viewable -- but not much more (note the purple fringing in the pictures). But it was a fun experiment which I probably won't repeat until I get a better spotting scope. The Spacemaster is fine for visual use but it doesn't compare with the top dogs today from Swarovski, Zeiss, Leica, Kowa and Nikon. At this point I just don't want to spend the money unless I decide to get into digiscoping.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Carlos Avery this afternoon

Today started with good intentions as my friend, Jim, and I headed out to Carlos Avery. I was anxious to get more acquainted with my new camera body, the Canon XTi; Jim wanted to see some Sandhill Cranes (more about the latter in my next posting).
Our trip turned into a series of small confusions.
First, is that a Mallard on the right & left? The reason I ask (and it is not that clear in the pictures) is that the head seemed black rather than the usual green (sometimes blue, depending on how the sun hits it).
Second confusion: Jim was taking some pictures of a Great Blue Heron -- but, tonight, as I'm downloading the images, no GBHeron. How come? The only thing that comes to mind is that Jim was too gentle with my camera and didn't push down hard enough on the shutter. When the image came into focus he heard the in-focus-beep & probably thought he had taken a picture. We'll just have to go back & practice till he gets it right. Maybe he'll see the light and abandon his quest for a Leica M8 which is not made for bird photos.
Third confusion: is that an immature Bald Eagle below?
Fourth confusion: why do people have to act stupid in a nature preserve and wreck roads & kill defenseless turtles?
It's a lot easier to ask the questions than come up with the answers. But it was a beautiful, sunny, cool day with a light breeze and few mosquitoes -- deer & Sandhill Cranes in the distance -- wild roses nearby.

Nothing seemed close -- the Bald Eagle was soaring very high in the afternoon sky; the Ring-necked Duck was heading away from us in a very large pond.

Day by day the goslings are getting bigger and more gangling.

Jim & I were saddened to come across this dead snapping turtle on the East side of Pool 8.
It appeared that it had been run over by some pickup/SUV trying to do donuts in a small parking area. During my most recent trips to Carlos I've run into a number of young men driving pickups and SUVs at excessive speeds. I'm going to keep my camera poised to get some license plate pictures.

Immature Bald Eagle maybe?

more pictures from
today's adventure

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

more of yesterday's birds at Carlos

As promised in yesterday's post, here are 2 shots of a Marsh Wren. Thank you Cyndy for confirming that yesterday's wren was a Sedge.
All of these shots were taken with my new XTi and a 300mm lens + 1.4 teleconverter. I would like to have had them be sharper, but I only have myself to blame since I was not using a tripod.
My next search will be for an affordable car window mount.

female Ring-necked Duck

and the male

Great Blue Heron still fishing at sunset

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

XTi at Carlos

Of course I had to go out this afternoon and try my new XTi body! I went to Carlos Avery; I mounted the 300mm w/1.4x converter on the XTi and my 70-200mm zoom on the 20D. It was sure nice to have the flexibility of not having to change lenses. The 300mm with the 1.4x converter is the equivalent of a 420mm lens; however, since the XTi has a smaller sensor than a full frame 35mm camera, the effective focal length of the combination was that of a 670mm lens on a 35mm camera. Because the 300mm lens has image stabilization, I did not use a tripod. The results (w/out the tripod) are not as sharp as my 400mm + 1.4x converter on a tripod. That's to be expected, but the convenience is sure nice.
The Sandhill Crane on the right is the only one I saw at close range (close enough to take a decent picture); the large flock of cranes is still there, but at a great distance, as discussed in our earlier posts.
All three pictures in this posting are taken with the above combination on the XTi. Our next posting will have some from the 20D as well.

I believe this is a Sedge Wren rather than a Marsh Wren; someone please correct me if I am mistaken. We'll take a look at a Marsh Wren on our next posting.

these deer were watching me as I left Carlos Avery just before sunset