Back Yard Birds

This evening I spent time in my back yard, honing my skills with my new lens and catching some of the local wildlife.  In my case, “the local wildlife” just happens to be “common birds.”  But, as I learned recently, just because these birds are common in my back yard, they are not necessarily common in everyone’s back yard, so I share what I have with you.

First is one of my favorites; the Blue Jay.  I think this is one of the prettiest birds God created, even if their attitude doesn’t match their looks.  But I’m learning that they really are the quintessential bully.  They make a lot of noise, but when it comes right down to it, they are afraid of their own shadow.  Take this shot for instance.  I have to be quick to catch a good shot of these guys because they either fly away quickly, or turn their back on me.  At least, with its back turned, I got a great shot of the details of its feathers.  Very pretty bird.

Probably the most numerous birds I have are the doves.  I have a whole flock of them that come every evening to pick up the seeds that the other birds knock out of the feeders.  They are great, but they too get flustered easily.  It is funny to watch them because around 6pm, they will start lining up on the fence.  And then, almost as if on cue, they all descend to the ground together and begin eating.  These two on the fence looked like they were discussing why the guy on the porch kept pointing the big clicky thing at them.  🙂

And last but not least, are my House Finches.  I have several of these in my back yard as well.  They are not as numerous as the Doves, but they are close.  They aren’t quite as skittish as the other birds, and they don’t seem to mind the flash of the camera.  Their coloring lends to some very pretty pictures too.

So, that’s my birds from this evening.  There was one out-of-the-ordinary thing that happened this evening.  At one point, all the birds in the yard, at one time, took off in a mass exodus from the area.  I hadn’t heard any noises or anything, and I couldn’t figure out what had happened.  Then, about that time, a Hawk flew through my back yard, right at eye level with me.  I was shocked!  It was beautiful.  And then I thought… “I have a camera right in front of me!” but it was too late.  Doh!  Maybe it will return and land long enough for me to get a picture some day.  But until then, I’ll just have to wait and practice.

Test Firing the Canon EF600mm f/4L IS + 2x

So, now that I have added the Canon EF600mm f/4L IS to the lens lineup, I just couldn’t resist trying it out with my Canon 2x TC.  Of course, I lost autofocus on my 7D due to the 2-stop light loss, but I figured “Hey, I used to focus manually way back in the olden days, so why can’t I do it now.”

All I have to say is “WOW”!  Canon really knew what they were doing when they built this stuff.  I was shooting at ISO 800 and 400, and considering I was manually focusing at 1200mm (with my almost 50 year old eyes), I’m pretty impressed with the outcome.

These are just simple birds from my back yard, but they really show off the power of this lens.  Thank you Canon!  These shots, while having been resized for the Web, have not been cropped in any way.  The EXIF data is intact on these images if you are at all curious of the settings.

To begin, I focused on my feeder and waited.  Eventually, along came one of my local House Finches.  I have lots of these guys around the house and they are always willing to model for me.

Wow, not bad.  Not quite as clear as at the native 600mm, but not bad, especially when it comes to posting on the Web!

Listening, I could hear chirping coming my neighbor’s yard, so I turn to find another one of the little fellows up in the top of one of their trees!  A distance shot!  Great test!

Not too shabby.  Looks like I might take this 2x with me to Yellowstone next month!  Might help out with those long shots of the wolves in the Lamar Valley!

Next up was a local Mockingbird that landed on my bird bath.  This was the first time I have seen him/her there so I fired away.  (One of these days I need to figure out how to tell the guys from the gals for this species.)  You can certainly tell that the depth of focus is really narrow shooting at this range.  Still, very clear! 

As I’m sitting there enjoying the early afternoon, I hear my buddies the Bluejays approaching.  They always announce their approach and all the other birds scatter.  Funny thing is though, these guys really are bullies!  They make a lot of noise and scare other birds, but they are about the most skittish birds that visit my back yard.  I have the hardest time luring them out for a photograph.  They will hide in the trees, swoop down to be a peanut or two, and then right back to the safety of the tree before the camera can even focus on them.  But not tonight!  With the big gun, I can get him even when he is hiding in the tree!  I’m really liking this lens!  (I’m starting to get redundant.)

And last but not least, there are always a few doves around sitting on the fence, all made up with their blue eyeshadow.  They seem to be able to sit there for hours, just watching me and the other birds.  Then sooner or later, a whole flock of them will descend to the ground and start picking up the seeds that the finches have knocked out of the feeders.  These guys are good models because they don’t move much, so even as the sun is setting, you can still use a pretty slow shutter-speed with them.

So that was it for the evening.  I didn’t see my Northern Cardinals around, but they can’t be far away.  Maybe by Saturday morning I’ll be able to catch the “early birds” as they are rooting around looking for those fabled worms.

Morning Walk

So, Karen has finally figured out a way to get me to walk around the neighborhood with her on the weekend mornings.  She started telling me about all the birds, squirrels, and other critters she has been seeing.  So today, I got up and “exercised” with her and took my camera along.  I didn’t see a lot of critters, but for sure I saw more than if I had stayed in bed with my eyes closed.

The first one I got a shot of was one of the local Mockingbirds.  These guys seem awful camera shy.  Every time I get close to them in the back yard, they fly away.  And if ever two of them get close to each other, look out because feathers are going to fly.  This one figured he was safe since he was in the tree, but I still got him.  Of course, as soon as I took the shot I realized I should have brought my flash along as well.  Being in the shadows of the tree branches, he was a tad underexposed.  Thankfully, I have Adobe Lightroom which can help out in just such an occasion.  I made minor touch ups of exposure and cropping today to bring out the subjects (in the interest of full disclosure).

Mockingbird

We continued around the block and finally came to a stream.  Okay, it is more of a ditch really.  It runs from our neighborhood and according to the maps, it finds its way all the way to Lake Lewisville.  It is the last area of wilderness in my neighborhood that hasn’t been gobbled up by houses…yet.  It’s not a very big patch of land, but there is still some wildlife on it amongst the scrub brushes.  I hear rumors of a coyote that lives around here but I haven’t seen him yet.

While taking a breather on the bridge, I got a few shots of this little House Finch eating some seeds from the plant (or weed) it was perched on.

House Finch

And then as we turn to the other side of the road, we find something new to add to my growing collection of bird photographs; my first shots of a Killdeer.

Killdeer

There was also an American Robin in the water catching bugs, but he was so underexposed the pictures weren’t worth saving.  Sad smile

So, was it worth it?  Absolutely!  Not only did I get to spend time with Karen, but I got shots of the elusive Mockingbird, the cute little House Finch, and the Killdeer.  And we made it back home before the temperature started climbing into the triple digits!  I’ll be glad with autumn gets here.

Another Day; More Birds

The last couple of nights we have had pretty severe storms here in North Texas and the birds have been pretty scarce.  The storm two nights ago actually broke a large limb from the tree where I have hung the bird feeder.  So this evening, Karen and I spent some quiet time out on the back porch to see if anyone would show  up, or if the broken tree had scared everyone away.  Thankfully, it looks like they are still willing to stop by, if only for a few moments.

But before that, I’ve been carrying my camera to work with me because there are some pretty birds that like to hang out around my parking garage.  After the storms of the past few days, (and since I’ve been taking my camera with me) they have been hiding.  Today however, as I was leaving, I saw several of them hanging out.  So I carefully put my camera bag in my car, remove the camera, and as stealthily as I can, I make my way to shooting distance of the first bird.  I raise the camera up to my face and as I press the button and… “No CF Card!”  Doh!  I forgot to replace the card when I offloaded my last set of pictures.  Better luck tomorrow.

So back to tonight, my friend Mrs. House Sparrow stopped by for a portrait.  She’s a pretty little thing.

And a new visitor.  Mr. American Robin stopped by.  I’ve seen him a few times, but I could never get my lens on him fast enough for a shot.  Tonight he was kind enough to allow me to take a few pictures of him.  Maybe next time he’ll even look at me.

American Robin

And of course, my old friend Mr. Cardinal.  He still doesn’t like having his picture taken.  I caught him hiding on the neighbors roof, just out of reach of a really good shot, and as soon as I took that one, away he flew.

Hiding Cardinal

You and me, Mr. Cardinal.  We’re going to become very good friends.  You’ll wish you were nicer to me when winter comes and I’m the one that still feeds you and your family!

First Visitors at Café Hampton

Today I saw the first visitors at Café Hampton!  I got a bird feeder over the weekend and have been watching it for three days waiting for the day for them to show up.  Of course, I wasn’t holding out much hope considering that it has been over 100 degrees every day lately and the wind has been blowing like it is still March.  But as they say, “If you build it, they will come.”  And come they have.

I only saw three visitors this evening, but it is a start.  And for the first time ever, I have had a Cardinal in my back yard here long enough to actually take a picture of.  Granted, they are not great pictures, but the birds are getting used to me, and I am getting used to them.  As we learn each other I hope the pictures will improve.

So, welcome to my first guests!

Mr. Cardinal.

Northern Cardinal

Mrs. House Finch

Female House Finch

Mr. House Finch

Male House Finch

I have got to get me that bird book and start learning these guys’ names.