Sunday, December 7, 2014

Yellow Rumped Warblers in Yard

Today, we saw Yellow Rumped Warblers in outr yard for the first time. They did not use the feeders but did perch in the tree above, came down for a bath, and picked at loose seed on the patio.

Canon 100-400mm, ISO 2000-5000, no flash

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Thanksgiving Birding

This Thanksgiving weekend Danielle and I continued our search for new local birding spots.

Meadow Lake - Site 11 - On reports of a Hooded Merganser and a Western Grebe, we went to a residential park in Round Rock called Meadow Lake. No sign of either but we did see many waterfowl in the lake as well as some gulls and cormorants. Technically, this lake is listed as "Soil Conservation Service Site 14 Reservoir". Just to the west is a smaller "lake" listed as "Site 11" and which as no attached public park.


We spent an hour on Thursday and several hours on Friday exploring here. Initially, we saw a few sparrows flitting from one tree to another, evading us as we approached. At one point, I just parked myself in one spot and waited for the sparrows to drift back into view. This one below perched nearby and I noted the interesting yellow patch above the eye. I identified this as a Savannah Sparrow, a new species for us. All of the sparrows we observed closely were of this type.

Canon 7DII, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS - ISO 800, 400mm, f/8, 1/1600 sec, Flash
I next parked myself in some tall grasses next to the boggy water's edge. The trees next to me were visited by a a half dozen Yellow-rumped Warblers such as this one below ...

Canon 7DII, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS - ISO 800, 380mm, f/6.3, 1/3200 sec, Flash
... a solitary Dark-eyed Junco ...

Canon 7DII, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS - ISO 800, 380mm, f/6.3, 1/4000 sec, Flash
... as well as a hand full of female Red-winged Blackbirds. Later in the evening a flock of fifty or so blackbirds settled in the trees. I was surprised that we never saw or heard any with male coloration.

Canon 7DII, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS - ISO 800, 380mm, f/6.3, 1/3200 sec, Flash
In the later afternoon sun, I found this Orange-crowned Warbler searching for insects in the brush. Here, it has picked one out of the spider webs.

Canon 7DII, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS - ISO 400, 400mm, f/8, 1/120 sec, Flash
Canon 7DII, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS - ISO 400, 400mm, f/8, 1/250 sec, Flash
As the sun was setting, we walked back to the car and practiced taking pictures of birds in flight as the ducks and cormorants circled the pond before settling in. I am not sure if these are Redheads or Lesser Scaups as the sun gave them all an orange hue.

Canon 7DII, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS - ISO 2500, 400mm, f/9, 1/1000 sec

Doeskin Ranch, Balcones Canyonlands NWR - On Saturday, we got up early and went to Doeskin Ranch at sunrise. Given previous experiences at this site, I was surprised by just how few birds we saw. Any birds we did see were clustered in the grassy meadows near the parking lots. Our hike up the Rim Rock Loop, yielded only a single mockingbird. Even the vultures did not make an appearance until late morning. Regardless of the bird life, the foliage was wonderful, though a bit past its peak.


As we walked along the upper trails, we saw sparrows flushing out from the grass as we approached and Phoebes hunting insects from their perches. Danielle managed to get a front view of one of the Eastern Phoebes whereas I seemed to be presented with only their back sides.

Canon 60Da, EF 400mm f/5.6L - ISO 400, 400mm, f/6.3, 1/2500 sec (Danielle)
Based on earlier success at Meadow Lake, I again parked myself low in the grass and waited for sparrows to find me. It took about 30 minutes for them to start ignoring me and returning to the perch in the scraggy brush you see around me.


This strategy netted me several new species. The first to appear were Field Sparrows such as the one below. These were small and fuzzy looking with very plain heads and a complete white eye ring.

Canon 7DII, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS - ISO 400, 360mm, f/8, 1/800 sec, Flash
The next species I identified in this spot was the Song Sparrow, which I first saw at Seminole Canyon SP. I got a much closer look here.

Canon 7DII, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS - ISO 500, 400mm, f/10, 1/500 sec, Flash
This next bird was a surprise identification that I made as I was triaging my pictures. Based on the white eye ring, I had thought it was a Field Sparrow.  However, seeing the complex spotting of the back and the orange stripe over the eye, I decided it was actually a Grasshopper Sparrow, yet another new species for us.

Canon 7DII, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS - ISO 400, 360mm, f/8, 1/400 sec, Flash
In the trees near the creek, I found this fourth sparrow species of the day a Chipping Sparrow with its bold eye line.

Canon 7DII, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS - ISO 400, 400mm, f/10, 1/320 sec, Flash
Our hike around the Rim Rock Loop was not completely without excitement. As we returned down into the valley, this small American Kestrel soared overhead. I was not prepared to take birds-in-flight at the time. As I fumbled to get the camera off of the tripod and change the settings, I forgot to extend the telephoto lens. I kicked myself afterwards for having taken these images at the wide-angle setting of the lens and missing much of the detail!

Canon 7DII, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS - ISO 800, 160mm, f/8, 1/1600 sec (multiple combined frames)

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Visit to Aquarena Springs

This afternoon, we took a quick birding trip to visit the Aquarena Springs in San Marcos, TX, near where Danielle has been teaching a class this semester. This area is a spring-fed lake which that reminds me of Balmorhea SP.

On arrival we were greeted by a large kettle of vultures circling over the fall foliage and a trio of Double-crested Cormorants in the water. The first interesting bird was this male Golden-fronted Woodpecker hammering high up in the tree. I love the shot of the bird's nape which looks like a colorful punk hairdo.

Canon 7DII, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM - ISO-800, 380mm, f/8, 1/1600 sec, Flash
Canon 7DII, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM - ISO-800, 400mm, f/8, 1/800 sec, Flash
We also saw a female Belted Kingfisher diving into the lake from its perch on a weather station antenna after which I lost track of it.  When we got to the boardwalk, we saw another kingfisher but, upon closer examination, we were thrilled to see, not the same species, but rather a male Ringed Kingfisher which is rare this far north. This bird is much more bulky and has a very heavy bill.

Canon 60Da, EF 400mm f/5.6L - ISO 400, 400mm, f/5.6, 1/250 sec, Flash (Danielle)
Canon 60Da, EF 400mm f/5.6L - ISO 400, 400mm, f/5.6, 1/250 sec, Flash (Danielle)
Another new bird for us was this pair of Wood Ducks resting on the other side of the lake from the boardwalk.

Canon 60Da, EF 400mm f/5.6L - ISO 1600, 400mm, f/5.6, 1/250 sec, Flash (Danielle)
A lone Killdeer landed on the pond weeds next to the boardwalk as the light faded.

Canon 60Da, EF 400mm f/5.6L - ISO 400, 400mm, f/5.6, 1/250 sec, Flash (Danielle)
It was shortly accompanied by this sandpiper. I am not confident of the identification. The Solitary Sandpiper has been reported at this location more frequently though it is only migratory in this area. The leg color seems closer to that of a Lesser Yellowlegs and the regular spotting matches that of a juvenile LEYE. The more pronounced eye ring and shorter legs would be more indicative of a SOSA.

Canon 7DII, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM - ISO 3200, 400mm, f/8, 1/400 sec, Flash
Full list of birds on eBird.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Juvenile Rufous Hummingbird in the Yard

This morning, we saw two hummingbirds visiting our feeder that look different than the usual Ruby-throated and Black-chinned species. I watched these two birds feed for several hours as they showed up alternately every 15 minutes.

This first bird has a solid green back, rufous flanks, and chin stripes. It also has several red-orange gorget feathers. I think that this is a juvenile Rufous Hummingbird. The thing that has me puzzled is that it has the beginnings of dark throat feathers but has not yet developed brown in the tail.

Update 11/26 - Danielle got a video which, though blurry, caught the tail feathers fanned out. These have rufous bases with white-tipped, black ends. The outer feathers don't look very narrow. This further confirms the RUHU.

Canon 7DII, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS - 330mm, f/10, 1/500 sec, ISO-800, Flash

Canon 7DII, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS - 200mm, f/10, 1/500 sec, ISO-800, Flash

Canon 7DII, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS - 330mm, f/8, 1/250 sec, ISO-800, Flash

Canon 7DII, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS - 260mm, f/10, 1/500 sec, ISO-800, Flash
The second bird is even less certain. It has a very pale wash of light brown on the flanks but not nearly as pronounced. It has several red gorget feathers. I am not sure if this another Rufous or a sub-adult Ruby-throated which did not get around to migrating.

Canon 7DII, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS - 220mm, f/10, 1/500 sec, ISO-800, Flash
Canon 7DII, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS - 330mm, f/10, 1/500 sec, ISO-800, Flash

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Great Kiskadee at Berry Springs

Yet another rare bird alert from eBird has sent us to Berry Springs Park three times looking for this Great Kiskadee.  This bird is rare in Williamson County, but not nearly as out of place as the Brown Booby or Dusky-capped Flycather. Its normal range is South Texas and the lower Rio Grande Valley.

Today, we got up at the crack of dawn and got to the park at 7:00 in time to see a very picturesque layer of fog over the ponds. For two hours, we scouted along the boardwalk and around the dam where others had seen the bird. We neither saw nor heard any sign of it.


Finally, at about 9:30, Danielle wandered back to towards the dam and heard the Kiskadee's raucous single-note alert call. She quickly found it in the marshy thicket just to the east of the dam and I joined her a few minutes later. The bird repeated this call several times but we never heard the three-note Kis-ka-dee song which gives the bird its name.

Canon 7DII, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS - 400mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-800

Canon 7DII, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS - 400mm, f/8, 1/1250, ISO-800
Though grouped with flycatchers, this bird is larger and more stocky than most flycatchers. It's diet includes insects, berries, lizards, and fish. We saw it fly down into the flooded grass and back up to its perch a half dozen times. In the image below, it has found some sort of caterpillar.

Canon 7DII, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS - 400mm, f/10, 1/500, ISO-400
The coloration of the Kiskadee is very bold, combining russet and lemon colors on the body and a boldly striped black and white head.  There is also a hidden crown of bright yellow feathers which can be seen when flared.

Canon 7DII, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS - 400mm, f/10, 1/500 (f/9, 1/640), ISO-800

Canon 60Da, EF 400mm f/5.6L - 400mm, f/5.6, 1/500, ISO-125 (Danielle)
We spent the rest of the morning finding other birds in the park


Our final tally included:
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Great Egret
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • White-winged Dove
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker
  • Great Kiskadee
  • American Crow
  • Carolina Chickadee
  • Black-crested Titmouse
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Eastern Bluebird
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Orange-crowned Warbler
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Great-tailed Grackle
  • House Finch
  • House Sparrow
Danielle also posted a gallery on Facebook.

Northern Mockingbird - Canon 7DII, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS - 400mm, f/6.3, 1/6400, ISO-800
Carolina Chickadee - Canon 60Da, EF 400mm f/5.6L - 400mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-250 (Danielle)
Downy Woodpecker - Canon 7DII, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS - 400mm, f/6.3, 1/800, ISO-800, Flash
Pied-billed Grebe - Canon 7DII, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS - 400mm, f/7.1, 1/800, ISO-800
Orange-crowned Warbler - Canon 7DII, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS - 400mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-800, Flash
Yellow-rumped Warbler - Canon 7DII, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS - 400mm, f/6.3, 1/3200, ISO-800, Flash
Ruby-crowned Kinglet - Canon 7DII, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS - 400mm, f/6.3, 1/400, ISO-800



Saturday, November 15, 2014

Kenko 1.4x Extender Tradeoff

After having used the Kenko 1.4x extender this afternoon, I started wondering if that had been a good idea. Am I better using the tele-extender to increase resolution or am I better simply enlarging the image? This evening, I setup a test chart, placed at 30' from the camera, and used the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS with and without the extender. After importing the images into Photoshop, I enlarged the images taken without the extender by 140%. This gave both sets of images the same pixel resolution.

The results are shown below (you may want to click on the images to view a full-sized version). Not unexpected, the image quality is degraded by introducing the extender, whose optics are not as good as the lens. For the coarse details, the image quality is better with the enlarged, 400mm image, both in terms of sharpness and contrast. For fine-grained detail, however, the story is not so simple. The contrast is still better at 400mm but, a some point, the details are simply too fine to resolve at 400mm.

Not sure exactly how this applies to a bird image. I am thinking that for the Brown Booby images, where pixelation was noticable, I was better off using the extender. For the Osprey shots, I am not sure.

With Kenko, 560mm f/8, original resolution
Without Kenko, 400mm f/8, image size increased in Photoshop by 1.4x to match pixel resolution
Without Kenko, 400mm f/5.6, image size increased in Photoshop by 1.4x to match pixel resolution

Hunt for the Brown Booby

On a rare bird alert from eBirds, we went to the Bob Wentz Park on Lake Travis early last Saturday afternoon, looking for a Brown Booby that had been seen repeatedly around Windy Point. We hiked around the perimeter of the exposed land south of the park since most of the recent sightings had been towards the dam.

Google map with annotations
We saw a large raft of mixed duck species, a large number of coots, and a few cormorants. We even saw a formation of Sandhill Cranes flying over head. However, we were disappointed not to see the Booby. We may have been at the park too late in the day.

This morning, we got up early and returned to the park before 9:00 am, despite the cold and dreary weather. Danielle suggested we stay at the parking lot which overlooks the area and scope the area first. We immediately saw three Ospreys soaring to the south. Within ten minutes, Danielle spotted the Booby north west of the park in the direction of the marina.  It was identifiable in the binoculars but a bit out of reach for a decent photograph.


Despite the distance of over 2000, the Brown Booby was clearly recognizable with its strongly demarcated white breast and belly and huge webbed feet. The bird was plunge diving from a low height. As it fished, it slowly drifted further up-river and we lost track of it after about 30 minutes. It is hard to imagine what this bird is doing in Lake Travis in central Texas as it is a tropical bird which spends most of its time at sea, coming to nest on tropical islands during breeding season.

Canon 7DII, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS + Kenko 1.4x - ISO-1600, 560mm, f/8, 1/1000 sec

The Ospreys continued to soar in our vicinity and we were able to get some close views.

Canon 7DII, Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS + Kenko 1.4x - ISO-1600, 560mm, f/11, 1/1250 sec
Canon 7DII, Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS + Kenko 1.4x - ISO-1600, 560mm, f/10, 1/1250 sec
Canon 7DII, Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS + Kenko 1.4x - ISO-1600, 560mm, f/10, 1/1250 sec
Canon 7DII, Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS + Kenko 1.4x - ISO-1600, 560mm, f/16, 1/1250 sec