Sunday, February 28, 2010

Hawk and Backyard Birds

The snow storms have kept us close to home the past couple of weeks.  Experimentation with different D300 bodies and a Nikon 200-400 lens has been the recent "focus".  We were experiencing variability in reliability of focus on one of the bodies we thought with the 200-400 lens.  After significant experimentation we determined that the one body was going bad and it is going back for warranty repair.

I have been playing with bean bag versus window mount for telephoto shots from a vehicle blind.  This hawk was taken on a BLUB (Big Lens Ultimate Bag). The bag is filled with beans to provide weight, yet not be too heavy and bulky like sand would be.

I used my left hand to dampen lens vibration and held my breathe and gradually let it out as if I was firing a rifle.

The next two shots are using a Wimberley II head on a Gitzo tripod.

The Next two pictures are doing hand held 200-400 through a window!

the Sparrow shot showed very little movement, yet the rear leg is not in focus due to the short depth of field from using f5 to keep shutter speed as high as possible for the hand hold.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Bull 66

Here is another bull from the 11 bull group we saw on Gray Hill last Friday.  His collar has been cloned out-it has what looks to be 66 on it.  He is a good mature 6x6. We are hoping that we will still be able to see antlered bulls the weekend of March 5 and 6.  Below is a pano shot of the herd that was at the Winslow Hill viewing area on Friday.  The 6x6 bull can be seen laying above the group keeping them in "control".

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Wintering PA Elk

I spent Friday with a friend touring the Benezett PA area looking for elk.  We did not see any in the normal spots, but the weather was cold and there was some hard wind.   We did observe over 80 elk from the Winslow Hill viewing area.  The herd bull was still showing rut behavior.  He was bugling and was "sniffing" the cows.  They initially were laying in the hollow below the viewing area.  The bull did his rounds and got the herd up and herded them to the top field to feed.  He was a fair sized 6x6.

We headed to Gray Hill from there and we found 11 bulls wintering together.  This is in the hunt zone and is said by some to be more remote and that the elk there are more wild.  My friend was amazed when I got out of the vehicle and set up my tripod and walked to where I could get some good pictures of some of the bulls.  The bulls remained standing or laying where they were and paid no attention to me. My friend and I stayed with them photographing them for well over an hour and they were not the least bit afraid of us. The elk in Pennsylvania have not learned to fear humans and continuing to hunt them in the scale that has been done in the past few years will only deplete the population of large bulls and will not create  real fair chase hunting.

One of the bulls had a malformed right antler.  He looked to be an older bull and had a very handsome left antler.  There were two other bulls that also had a short deformed stub for a right antler and a well formed left antler. They appeared to be younger and I would suspect that they were offspring of the larger bull with the deformed antler.

Having hunted elk in the western states, I can say that the behavior of the eastern elk is very different than those found in the western states.  The elk in the west, even those around Yellowstone Park are more wary of humans and are easily "spooked".  My friend (who is also a hunter) asked me how anyone could hunt the elk that we saw and with good conscience kill one of them in the name of fair chase.  I did not know how to answer his question.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Liberty Marsh Owls and Red Tail Hawks

We spent Sunday morning and early afternoon  at Liberty Marsh in southern New York State observing raptors.  We had an eventful morning with two female harriers scooting around but they would not come close enough for good photography.  The usual Red Tail Hawk did her routine with sitting on the wire and then diving to catch mice.  She seems to like to have her photograph taken. 

I experimented with ISO from 500 to 1250 and aperture from 7.1 to 11 to see how I could get the sharpest images of her.  I wanted to keep the shutter speed fast enough so that if she decided to fly, I could get crisp flight pictures. I found that with a hawk or eagle I set the exposure comp to at least +.7 when taking pictures against the sky-that insures that the foreground comes out correctly exposed. The coaching I have been receiving is paying off-I have upped my minimum acceptable shutter speed from 1/1000 to 1/1250 and will use ISO up to 1250 on the D300.  I use neat image noise ninja to control noise.

I even experimented to manual exposure by exposing for the bird and that way if the bird takes flight an d dips below treeline, the exposure for the bird is still correct and the background can not "fool" the meter.

While we were watching, all of the crows starting taking off and the harriers and red tails took off for the edge of the marsh.  We suspected one of the area eagles might be approaching.  However, a friend pointed out a peregrine falcon coasting around off in the distance.  Once he left, the crows and hawks returned to feeding in the marsh.    Early afternoon we took a short trip down the road to visit the long ear owls that have taken residence in an evergreen tree for the winter.    
                                                                                             One sits out somewhat in the open and naps along.  The other one likes to sit closer to the tree trunk. We used a low powered flashlight to barely light the feathers on this one.  
We ended the day by driving to the Shawangunk Grasslands NWR and walked back in to wait for the evening to come.  There were three male harriers floating around, but they stayed quite a distance away.  Five female harriers started hunting just before dark and then we were rewarded for our wait by the emergence of the short ear owls just before dark.  I spotted 16 separate short ear owls.  It was a wonderful sight.  I tried photographing them in flight, but it was too dark.  

I want to thank two mentors for their help through my journey as a "budding" photographer.  Thanks Mark Picard and Herb Houghton.