Monday, September 29, 2014

Green Jay at Hazel Bazemore


Fall Warblers

On our birding vacation this fall, in addition to attending the Hummer Bird festival in Rockport and the Hawk Watch festival at Hazel Bazemore County Park, we hoped to see fall migratory birds such as warblers. We stayed at Goose Island State Park specifically in the hope of seeing such birds in the park. In retrospect, that choice was a mistake as we saw few non-feeder birds and suffered the onslaught of swarms of mosquitoes. On the plus side, we did learn about full-body mosquito netting and the awesome ThermaCELL repellant device.

In the end, we managed to see quite a few warblers, just not at the park we were staying in.  In identifying the warblers, I relied on The Warbler Guide, by Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle, which we acquired recently. All images below were taken with a Canon 60Da and Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS. In addition, must used a Canon Speedlite 430EX II flash with a Better Beamer flash tele-extender.

Black and White Warbler - BAWW - While watching the feeder station at GISP for several hours, this little warbler made a brief appearance to bath in the water feature, as did a White-eyed Vireo that I failed to get an in-focus picture of.  The Black-and-White is hard to miss with its distinct chain-gang convict garb.

We saw no other migratory birds in the park during our stay. After kayaking on Mustang Island on 9/24, we stopped by the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center next to the water treatment plant in Port Aransas, TX. Though Danielle had done the boardwalk last year, this was my first time. We also returned for a half day on 9/25 and a couple of hours on 9/28. At the entry way to the center is a small grouping of trees and bushes that turned out to be a warbler candy shop. I saw seven new warbler species all from the same spot ... wow!

Wilson's Warbler - WIWA - This is my first live Wilson's Warber, having previously become acquainted with the species from a bird-strike on our office building in Austin a few weeks back. The olive cheeks, yellow supercillium and black cap were unmistakable. This bird worked its way around in the low thicket growing in the boggy area adjacent to the picnic table. It hunted insect, poking around in crevices and raiding from spider webs.

Yellow Warbler -YWAR - This bird foraged in the same thicket as the Wilson's.  I had a hard time with identification due to the lack of obvious field marks. It had low contrast yellow and olive shading, a pale eye ring and muted wing bars. At first I thought it might be a female Wilson's due to its proximity to the male. However, it did not have a bright supercillium. In the end, the yellow present in the underside of the tail feathers, which I found listed in The Warbler Guide as diagnostic, convinced me that this was a Yellow Warbler in its dull Fall plumage.

Black-throated Green Warbler - BTNW - I first saw this bird on our second day at the center and did a double-take thinking it was a Golden-cheeked Warbler ... hang on, wrong season, wrong habitat.  On closer look, the check patches were olive and more spread out in the characteristic pattern identifying it as a Black-throated Green, another new species for me. Unlike the Yellow and Wilson's, this bird foraged in the lower branches of the large trees next to the picnic table. On Sunday, it remained in viewing range for nearly an hour.

Canada Warbler - CAWA - This bird was not too difficult to identify. It had a low contrast gray back with no wing bars, a yellow underside and a pronounced necklace, even in its muted Fall plumage. The bright white eye ring and yellow supralores clinch the identification. I only saw this elusive species twice; two different birds, I think. The first was in the thicket past the picnic table and the second in the thicket next to the picnic table where the Wilson's was foraging. Both times, the bird only stayed visible for less than a minute.

Northern Parula - NOPA - Yet another new species for me.


Magnolia Warbler - MAWA - This bird had me confused for the longest time. At first, I thought it was another Canada Warbler due to the eye ring, the general gray and yellow shading, and the faded necklace. However, the this bird had distinct wing bars and lacked the yellow supralores. On the other hand, it had a slightly green back, white belly and vent, and wing bars similar to the Parula. However, it did not have the broken white arcs around the eye. The clincher was the distinct pattern on the underside of the tail feathers which The Warbler Guide lists as diagnostic of the Magnolia Warbler. This bird foraged in the larger trees in a similar manner to the Parula.

American Redstart - AMRE


White-eyed Vireo - WEVI - This is not a warbler but pretty enough to be one. As usual, I heard it before I saw it with its distinct "Quick with the Beer Check" call. The bold yellow spectacles and wing bars of this bird are unmistakable. However, this one is a juvenile and lacks the bright white iris. If you look close, you can see that there is a gray iris that will brighten up next spring. The vireo only made a brief visual appearance on 9/28. Of all the birds, this is the one that seems to be most observant my presence, cocking its head to look at me as my camera flashed.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

EF 100-400 Incompatible with CPL Filter

Today, while at the Corpus Christi Hawk Watch, I tested a ProMaster 77mm CPL Digital HD circular polarizer filter with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM lens. The results were a disaster. With the camera on a stable base, I took images at 400mm of a store sign. With the filter attached, the best auto focus achievable gives the effect of motion blur.

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM, no circular polarizer

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM, with ProMaster 77mm Digital HD CPL circular polarizer

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Wafer Thin Avian Skull

A couple of weeks ago, I found another window-strike victim at my place of work. A Wilson's Warbler this time. Yes, another new species for me. Today, I walked by where the bird had been resting in the flower bed and noticed the insect-cleaned skull. I took a picture because I was so amazed by how small and paper-thin it was. The whole thing was only an inch long.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Rain Soaked Hummingbirds Guarding Feeder

It is definitely the season for Ruby Throated Hummingbirds. While the migration is in full swing along the coast, we are getting progressively more of them in our yard, judging by the number of aerial combats. I watched this resident male perched on the tree about 10 ft from the feeder. Every five minutes or so he would make a pass down to the feeder for a quick sip or simply sit and defend his territory. He always flew back up to this same perch where he would look around for trespassers and flash his colors from a higher vantage. Fluffed up to keep warm in the cool drizzle, he looks very different than usual.

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS - ISO-800, 400mm, f/8, 1/160s, +0.3
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS - ISO-800, 400mm, f/8, 1/160s, +0.3

Several branches up, this female, possibly the mate, remained perched seeming to sleep with her eyes closed most of the time. She neither guarded the feeder nor flew down to feed as frequently.

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS - ISO-800, 400mm, f/8, 1/320s, +0.3
I took these shots with a tripod setup in the living room, pointed out through the open back door, from about 20ft away. The poor lighting made it hard to get images with crisp details due to slow shutter speed. My attempts at using a flash caused unnatural iridescent sheen on patches of body feathers.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Carolina Wren in the Rain

Today was a welcome day of drizzle in Georgetown.  This little Carolina Wren was not daunted by the weather and hopped around peering under all of the flower pots looking for bugs. Not sure if this is one of the season's juveniles.  The rain makes it look cute and scruffy ... or maybe just a bad hair day.

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 IS - 365mm,  ISO-800, f/8, 1/160s, +0.3

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Ruby Throated Hummingbird Flash

More Ruby Throated Hummingbirds have shown up at the feeders this last week. Unlike the scenes from Rockport, TX, we are only getting one bird at a time at the feeder.  I found this nice article on hummingbird behavior giving me insight into just how territorial they can be. I suppose that along the migration flyway, any resident males guarding the feeders are getting overrun by the migratory swarms.

With the late morning sun to my back, the gorget feathers flashed like signal beacons, the iridescence looking more golden than ruby colored. Definitely worth trying to capture in a photo. After some patient waiting, I caught some images of a male showing a nice "flash" in the gorget. Note the black chin under the bill that distinguishes this common species from the Broad Tailed Hummingbird which is rare here in Georgetown.

I positioned myself about 9 ft from the feeder. The birds are still shy enough that they fly away if I move the camera so I used a monopod to hold the camera in position without tiring my arms while I waited. Rather then blocking select holes in the feeder, I opted to wait for one to land in the right spot.

I used a Canon 60Da camera and a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS lens. With the lens fully extended and the camera set to ISO-400, I adjusted the aperture to f/7.1 giving me enough depth-of-field to focus the full bird but keep the rock wall, about 3 ft behind the feeder, out of focus. In this light, the shutter speed of 1/1600s was adequate for perched poses. I set the camera to high-speed burst imaging to assist in getting some shots that had interesting poses. I decided not to use a flash to keep from creating either "steel eye" or "feather sheen". Like some earlier pictures, I can see details of the yard behind me reflected in the the bird's eyes! However, not using the flash required some post-processing work to raise the brightness of the head shadows and reduce the noise in those dim parts of the image.