Saturday, January 23, 2010

2010-01-22 Walking with woodpeckers

I took a walk around Streamwood on the river side about 1:00 -2:00 pm. It started out rather barren and uninteresting. But "you never know".

By the end of the walk, I had encountered the following:

The most interesting thing was seeing a Great Blue Heron flyover - amazing! Same place and about the same time as I had mentioned previously! Does he do it every day??? This is the third time in as many walks this happened!

Otherwise the best stuff were the woodpeckers. I shot Red-Bellied, Downy, and especially note worthy was the Hairy who demanded attention by beating on a dead stump along the trail. I was able to get several fine pics!!! (pics later...) I do not see Hairy too often!

Goldfinches - a couple dozen near feeder areas
Titmice - 2
Cardinals - 8 (both male and female)
Mallards at Upper Bend, Middle Bend, and along the river in front of Nancy's place (no doubt they like the droppings from her feeders and were just resting)
Hawk sp. (heard)
Doves - 10
Jays - several
Chickadees - a few
and a White-breasted nuthatch

Not bad at all starting with no activity! "You never know".

Saturday, January 16, 2010

2010-01-14 A Rattlin' Good Walk!

Lovely day. It hit 35 degrees and was sunny. A great time to get out for a rare winter walk. Any day above freezing with bright sunny skies and little wind is a great day for both me and the camera!

I walked along the river bank for about an hour around noon. Hey - walking in snow is great exercise! It is like walking on a very cold sandy beach.  It did not seem there was too much happening. I saw four deer straight out in back, then two more in the "Dark Forest". Lots of goldfinches and chickadees around feeder areas.

Lots of Mallards below Ann Marie's place and at Middle Bend. Some doves, a jay, and a couple of Downy Woodpeckers. Two Red-Bellied Woodpeckers at the west edge of the Dark Forest.

More interesting was another fly-over by a Great Blue Heron. I just love seeing them! It was over Middle Bend again, and heading in the same direction as the last sighting I put in an earlier blog. I wonder from whence he came, and where is he going? Is this a daily pattern?

I caught a quick glimpse of a small hawk - sharp-shinned? - in the woods behind Nancy's feeders. I wonder if he had just finished lunch. I wonder if it was the same one I saw eating lunch on an earlier walk.

The real treat came when I heard a familiar rattling sound. Kingfisher in winter? No, I must be wistful! Yet ... Yes! It was a Belted Kingfisher - a male. He rattled up and down the river for about 15 minutes, and even landed in view twice! A kingfisher is one of my hardest birds to shoot because they are so spooky. This time, I could see and shoot him through the denuded forest, and he did not seem to be aware of my presence.

He was a ways off, but I took a few decent pics because the lighting was much better than most gray winter days. What a treat!!!

2010-01-08 Cigar-smoking cardinal and other yard birds

I have not posted anything lately, and am working on my photos tonight.

We have a tulip tree in the yard that we see from our dining room. After a recent snow it was quite pretty - it looked like a tree of snow cones!

A pair of cardinals hung out on the tree for awhile picking at the dried tulip flower remains. I really love the pics where you can see the birds with the bracts sticking out of their beaks. It looks like they were smoking cigars! I am not sure if they were cracking seeds at the base of the bracts, or maybe they were finding melted snow at the base. I assume the former. Anyway, what fun pics! Tough guy - don't mess with this cardinal!

Also, I have been getting quite a few pics of deck birds - mostly the "regulars". Actually most visitors are the "trash birds"  - House Sparrows - but even they are appreciated in winter!. This year is not as interesting as last year when we had an irruption of some special northern birds (Pine Siskins and Common Redpolls), but recently I have been seeing one or two American Tree Sparrows around. They are a welcome sight not seen since last winter.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A ramble about birding optics

I just sent this to my e-mail birders list. I want to share here on my blog. I am responding to several "threads" from the e-mail list. Basically they were asking about birding optics. As usual, I ramble.

Someone asked the list about stores after Adray closed. Another store I found recently was Camera Mart in Pontiac (off Telegraph at corner of M-59). It looks like a great camera store to me. I had my DSLR sensor cleaned for free (vs. $89) on a special weekend! I liked their camera knowledge. I know nothing about their binocs – I did not look. However, the scopes for sale they had were more stellar in nature, and not more nature in purpose. I did not hear the “bird” word in conversation there, but, again, did not use it myself.

Primarily tonight, I offer another view on the subject of binocs.

I started my recent birding last year from photographic interests. With the constant pestering from the birders list (especially Allen and others) that to learn birds I needed to start with binocs, and forget the camera, I finally reached a compromise by year end. First in importance was the camera constantly slung around my neck - taking pics of critters (feathered or not) is something Judy and I share. This was always my main “focus”! By the end of the year, I added an old pair of 7x50 binocs I could sling over one shoulder and basically keep in my armpit until I wanted to see more. Yes they helped a great deal!

I am sure in the 1960s as a student in a field zoology class I would not have paid more than maybe $75 for them. I remember I had bought the brighter “50s” because of lots of fog in the SF areas I roamed on the west coast. The focus knob goes slower now (go figure) and the lenses are a bit clouded, but the added detail beyond my camera does really help in seeing birds. The used scope a birder gave me this year further extended the range of what I wanted to see. Yes, I see more now! Yes, Allen, I did need to supplement my camera! ;)

Yet, I have to ask: what will the expensive models buy anyone? Binocs or a scope gives pretty darn good views of something! And when the feathered friend gets closer, I can use the camera. I do not have “expensive glass”, but I think I can see field characteristics fairly well. Yes, I would love “good glass” – especially on my camera – but I have realized I will never be able to afford it.

Would an expensive pair of binocs make me a better birder? I truly doubt it!!! The information from the optics still has to be processed in my “CPU” and compared with my mental “database” (or time permitting, a lookup in a bird field guide). (Let’s see – in computer terminology, I guess I have a USB port somewhere in my head connecting the external device from my eyes to my CPU…).

My 7x50s rode around in my car for a few decades and still seem to be fine based on what I need to see. Well, I did keep the lens caps on when not in use…, but otherwise it seems a “cheap” pair is fine.

I have another not quite so old cheap pair (7x35s) that I use to see yard birds. They are cleaner than the 7x50s.

Yes, if I want to win a photography contest, I would need a better scope (for digiscoping) and certainly better “glass” for my less expensive XSI Canon, but for the 4x6 pics I print, or what I share on the web, it seems luck is the main factor!

I think a more germane question for those considering new optics is “what can you comfortably carry, and what can you hold still”? And what can you afford? And, what would you gain by going into the “fancy stuff”. Also, how will you maintain your equipment? And, do you want “knock around” usage (always in the car) or will you coddle it to see the “gnat’s eye” or the birdie equivalent? How much will you use it? How much per usage will it cost you? And, I guess first, at what level of birding do you consider yourself?

Are there really that many field characteristics of a bird - mostly in motion – that you can see better with expensive optics? (Please someone “come back to me” on this question!)

(While you are “coming back” to me, just what might be the birding equivalent of a “gnat’s eye”? And, please explain your words - I am still working on my annotated pic of a leghorn chicken for verbiage…)

I am just thinking – for the difference in price of expensive vs. Bass Pro/Cabelas/Gander Mtn binocs, you could afford a complete library of local field guides and a few magazine subscriptions (enhance your “CPU”!) and even a weekend trip “up north” for a few days to see something new!

I think my comments really are multiplied for scopes based on their expense! Would a good tripod-mounted hunting-type “spotting scope” serve your needs, or do you really need to move into the $2K+ bracket? (Hey, now you have “earned” a winter weekend in Florida! – Just wait a few weeks for better weather…)

[Here I just have to interject a related thought. Around our condo complex almost everyone has a barbeque grill sitting on their deck. During any year, I only notice one or two people using them regularly. They are there when they want them, and I imagine they all used them a few times the year they bought them, but what is the real cost per usage? And, as an extension, could you imagine a birder not just hoping to share their scope with someone else? Sure, they get “first looks”, but then? Sharing is one of the main joys of ownership! (For which I really appreciate the birders who have shared with us!]

Yes, probably the best answer is that it is best to try it. If it suffices, buy it. Alternately, buy it cheap and if it does not suffice, you do not have a lot invested, and you will know what you seek in the future. And you will still have a somewhat useful optical device to accompany your “adventures”.

On the subject of monocular lenses for birding while running, I think the list had all the responses you need already. What are you going to do? Try to focus a half-cigar-sized thing and expect anything? Are you used to looking at anything while winking/squinting in one eye? Could you even know where to start looking for it thru a minimal field of vision? I had a cheap (free with subscription?) monocular sitting at my kitchen table for awhile, and discarded it as not even useful for yard birds!

By the way, I just got my new Bass Pro Master catalog – usually this is a sign of spring. Go figure…

Happy New Year, Y’all! Cheers! “Dr. Bob”

8-point Great Blue flyover

I took a walk today before the snow started falling. From the weather radar I knew it would be about an hour before it started to turn white and wanted to get out while I could. I thought maybe the birds would be really active sensing it. Maybe they were - the "goldilocks" really hit the feeder hard!

I did not see much along the river, but I did see an 8-point buck on the other side. Just about the same time, I saw a Great Blue Heron fly over - heading ENE over Middle Bend. Really cool! (Silly bird should be in Florida, but then again, it is not much warmer right now...)

I saw a dozen mallards in the river by Anne Maries' place, and two dozen at Middle Bend. That's about it.

But I'll happily take a walk for a buck with a GBH flyover anytime!!!