Friday, February 25, 2011

American Wigeon

And to complete a hat-trick of duck photos, this male American Wigeon was also taken in TX at South Padre Island, just a lone individual mixed in with the Redheads.


Adult male Redhead, South Padre Island, TX. January 2011. Southern TX is a major wintering spot for Redhead, with thousands of the birds locally - although you can find a few Redhead on open freshwater throughout the northeast. This bird was in relatively shallow water in the early morning off the Convention Center boardwalk at South Padre Island in a group of 50+ Redheads with a few other ducks mixed in. Now if only I can find Canvasbacks that are this cooperative...

Harlequin Duck

Taking pictures of Harlequin Ducks at Barnegat Inlet in NJ is sort of cheating, because this has to be about the easiest place ever to shoot them. In winter through early spring there are perhaps as many as 30 individuals here, and since they are used to seeing people rock-hop along the breakwater they are moderately tame. So it's not particularly difficult to come up with pictures of them and over the years I have taken many thousands. In fact perhaps the biggest technical challenge is that the adult males are especially high contrast birds, so on a sunny day it's tough not to burn out the white markings while keeping detail in the darker blues.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Long-billed Curlew

This was also taken at Laguna Atascosa NWR in January (see the Caracara shot), but back in 2010 on an overcast day. What redeems the shot is the contrast of the yellow foliage with the rich buff of the Curlew. This was shot with my 5D Mark II back in the days before I bought the 1D Mark IV, but the image quality between the two cameras is similar - it's just that the 5D2 has a lot harder time acquiring focus in dark conditions on a mobile subject.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

How do I hate thee Adobe ? Let me count the ways

Every time I see Adobe praising itself over features or design of its products, I wonder if anyone buys into that pile of horsesh*t, or if I'm the only one experiencing issues with Lightroom. Lightroom has a decent UI design, but the underlying code in it does some supremely stupid things at times. I have LR set to write the sidecar files upon modification, and if I start changing the photo location, a favorite thing for LR to do is to interrupt my typing into the next text field (e.g. city) while saving the contents of another location field. It likes to do that by dropping the input focus from the text box and making the characters I've already typed correspond to commands in either the Grid view of the Develop view. Sometimes it'll just drop characters, which is at least less random. Since LR knows I'm typing into the text box, it chooses to ignore that when doing the UI update.

But I don't expect that bug will ever be fixed. Adobe's focus is on hype.

Apparently it's not just me, because I encountered a rant about Photoshop CS5 that is rather analogous to my experiences with Lightroom (which is still young, and therefore rather harder for Adobe to screw up quite as comprehensively).


I work in academia and get Photoshop (I use CS4) and Lightroom on the cheap. I'd be a lot more angry if I have to buy that sort of crap software engineering at street prices.

Alternative ways that Adobe tries to mess with you ? See the Scott Kelby blog about their new "upgrade" policy.

Yet Another Oriole - Audubon's

Audubon's Oriole is - for me at least - one of the main attractions of the Salineno feeders, since it's relatively hard to come up with elsewhere. In the Rio Grande Valley I only remember seeing one at the San Ygnacio feeders, back when they were maintained. On this visit to Salineno the Audubon's were as active as I think I've ever seen them, and particularly enthusiastic about the oranges put out.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Altamira Oriole

Keeping with the oriole theme, these are two male Altamira Orioles seen during my recent TX trip. Both these shots were at the Salineno feeders maintained by Cheryl Longton. The feeders have all three species of oriole (Hooded, Audubon's, Altamira) and are by far the most reliable place to see Audubon's in the Rio Grande Valley. Altamira is, however, the most widespread - and largest - RGV oriole and not especially difficult to find at many locations (e.g. Bentsen SP in Mission or Frontera Audubon in Weslaco or Laguna Atascosa NWR out toward South Padre Island). They're also the most numerous at these feeders and by the looks of things these are two different adult males.

Black-vented Oriole

This was taken while the bird was feeding on a Coral Bean tree at the Bentsen RV Park (although it was also seen in the neighboring state park). This is the 9th US record for this species. I only got a few shots of this bird in otherwise good lighting, due in large part to a bird "photographer" literally dragging his rattling metal tripod around in front of this bird to change viewpoint. The downside of digital SLRs and viable telephoto lenses is that every tom, dick and moron then runs up and chases birds. It was more civilized in the days of film, where it was a tougher prospect and helped keep the idiot level down.

The 600mm shrinks

I've carried the Canon 500mm f4L-IS in preference to the bigger/heavier/more expensive 600mm telephoto for some time. I use it in Central Park and like it in particular for its short minimum focus distance. Now Canon have formally announced the successor to both the 500mm and 600mm supertelephotos:

and the first thing I noticed is what I suspected might happen - the new 600mm has become as light as the old 500mm and has the same minimum focus distances as the old 500mm. Of course this new 600mm will be very expensive for a while even after it hits the streets, but it is going to be a very attractive lens. In the meanwhile I think I'll try using the 800mm plus extension tubes and see how that goes, although the 800mm will be too large a magnification for some of the bigger species of birds at it's minimum focus distance.

Spec for the old 500mm is here:

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

An unanticipated problem with Vermilion

Vermilion Flycatcher males are so intensely red they positively glow in the sun, which ultimately led me to have a very big problem with getting a decent image of them. Basically the red channel saturates and blocks up quite quickly, especially in situations with a lot of contrast between the sunlit head and the shaded breast, like the above. And once the red saturates too far Lightroom (and probably most other RAW processors) map the overexposed red to white. I did a little bit of masking on the head to get around this problem (which otherwise makes the bird look glossy).

The other thing I noticed is an apparent reduced level of detail compared to what I was expecting. This probably has a lot to do with the saturation of the red color in the first place, but I'm not sure if the Bayer sensor (which is RGGB, and therefore may be less accurate with pure reds and blues than it is with greens) had a role to play in this too. Ironically, I got better feather detail from shots in more overcast conditions than I got in sunlight. But with Vermilion Flycatcher I will take what I can get - they do not seem that willing to let me approach them very much, and they are quite a small bird.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Orange-crowned Warbler

Orange-crowned Warblers apparently have a sweet tooth. While I saw lots of Orange-crowned and Yellow-rumped down in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas recently, it was the Orange-crowned visiting the grapefruit, oranges, nectar feeders and these bottle brush plants at the convention center at South Padre Island. Yellow-rumped seemed fonder of peanut butter. This bird is probably a first winter immature (flight feathers not seen well).

Crested Caracara

Crested Caracaras usually watch me long enough to stop the car and then exit the scene. This undoubtedly reflects the tendency of bozos to shoot at them. So of course this especially tame adult at Laguna Atascosa NWR in Texas was actually a little too close for my 800mm lens, and I couldn't quite cram all of it in the frame. Nevertheless the amount of resolved detail in the full-size image is startling (not so obvious in a smaller JPG like this).