Sunday, January 24, 2010

More Eagles and Some Deer

We spent a bright sunny dayon Friday along the Lackawaxen and Delaware looking for Bald Eagles.  It was a still day and Eagle activity was light.  At the end of the day we had a nice "flyover" at the Zane Grey boat launch.  He landed in a tree at the boat launch and gave us an opportunity to catch him in the "Golden Light".  Some small birds came along and tried to pester him, but he was not in the mood.  With the Bald Eagle slightly backlit, I used the 200-400 Nikor lens and a 1.4 tele-converter and aperture priority to get some good shots.  Exposure compensation was set at +1.0 to bring out the feathers and keep the head at exposure. As the light dimmed, I used the mirror up mode and the remote cable release. 

Saturday evening found us enjoying the warm front and bright skies in our favorite deer stand.  We a group of nine young ones play together before the rest of the gang came out for dinner.  We only saw one antlered deer and he was small.

The deer seemed to be watching something beyond the stand and "spooked" before dark.  .  When we left the stand we crossed a fresh set of bobcat tracks in the snow.  It had come close to the stand in a blind area for us.  After having spent so much time with the Pa Elk this fall, we had to retrain ourselves that the slightest movement or sound would cause the deer to run.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

More Raptors

We traveled to the Conowingo Power generation dam again last weekend to view and photograph Bald Eagles and Great Blue Herons.  The weather cooperated well on Friday.  We had bright skies for most of the day with the warmest weather we have experienced in months.  The Bald Eagles were not actively fishing as the dam was not being used to generate power on Friday, but we had a number of Bald Eagles sitting in the trees and doing "flyovers".  A short hike down the nature trail along the Susquehanna yielded some "sitters". 

This tree had two adults and three immatures sitting in it when I first observed them   They were right over the trail at the river's edge. A group of hikers came by and the immatures flew and this adult just continued to give everyone the "eagle eye".  He stayed on that branch for hours with a number of folks walking down the trail.

Standing at the Boat Ramp watching eagles "playing" in the distance also paid off with shots of "immies" scrapping and adult flyovers.  We stopped counting at 70 Bald Eagles when we could no longer be sure that we were counting unique eagles.

I am still working on technique for flying eagles to get crisper images. Mark Picard has been offering advise and we will be trying some new techniques this weekend.  I have tried to stay faster than 1/1000 shutter speed using aperture priority and ISO float to keep there.  However, I have also been using AF 51 point tracking and release + focus as priority for the AFC tracking.  I will be trying AF 9 and release priority this weekend and will try to control to 1/1250 or faster for shutter speed.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Winter with the Raptors

The cold and snow of winter present unique challenges to photography while at the same time providing unique opportunities to capture wildlife in their toughest time of the year.   Photographing Bald Eagles this winter has been more difficult than in recent past years.  The mass migration has been hampered a bit by water remaining open north of us until just recently.  Now that we have had a sustained cold spell and rivers and lakes are freezing completely over, Eagles are migrating to areas that have open water for fishing.  The cloudy, stormy conditions have presented challenges to photographing the eagles in flight but we have been out to enjoy viewing them as well as other wildlife over the past few weeks. I have a particular interest in raptors and we are fortunate that we have many hawks in our area that reside here year around.  Most of them are red tail hawks and it is fascinating to observe the many variations of coloring and markings on this species.

This particular one I believe is a Krider's hawk which is a variant of the Red tail Hawk.   It has the bars on the chest, but the head and tail are mostly white.

Joan captured a nice shot of a Red Tail Hawk in flight in December. Getting good crisp shots of birds in flight requires good lighting so that shutter speeds faster than 1/1000 of a second can be maintained. 

Shots like this one of a hawk emerging from its perch on top of a utility pole requires lots of patience. It is important to me to not stress a wild animal or bird while photographing them.  Hawks and Eagles will sit for extended periods resting or surveying the surroundings for food.  Patiently waiting for them to decide to fly can be rewarded by the opportunity to get a shot such as this one.

This past weekend presented many opportunities with bright skies to find hawks out looking for food.  One young hawk was so intent on his meal that he ignored me for quite some time while I was able to get some good pictures of him killing and then eating his crow.

After finishing his meal he flew to a perch to watch for more prospective meals.  I normally use aperture priority and try to keep ISO at 500 or less to maintain crispness and to be able to control depth of field.   At times-particularly for birds in flight I will use ISO 640 to 1000.  However, one must make sure that they are using a camera that can produce good images at low noise levels with higher ISO ratings (Joan and I both use Nikon D300 bodies with Nikkor lenses). Using the histograms for each picture exposure can be adjusted to keep from blowing out highlights or underexposing shadows.  Often in snow, the exposure is adjusted +.3 to +1.0 stops to keep the snow from looking gray.  One has to be careful with birds like Hawks and Eagles that contain a fair amount of white feathers to ensure that the white is not overexposed.