Tuesday, February 24, 2015
The only way that I could think of to try and visually portray the brutally cold temperatures was with sky shots. As is usually the case when the mercury plunges to extreme lows, the sky was bright and clear. I headed north, with a few locales in mind. The goal was to get away from city lights, and find a VERY dark spot, perhaps with some interesting scenery. As I worked north of Delaware, the temperature fell until it hit the reading above, which was at the spot where I made the following image. As an interesting footnote, the extreme cold noticeably effected the way that my car drove. It felt wooden and clunky, and fuel economy dropped to less than half of what it would normally be.
I eventually landed in this remote cemetery, and set up the camera gear to make my first stab at shooting star trail photos. There are essentially two ways to expose the camera to capture the earth's rotation, thus making the stars appear to streak across the sky. One is to take a long series of 30 second exposures (or thereabouts), and later stitch them together with editing software. I did take a long series of such shots, but have not yet stitched them. I'm curious to see the results.
The other technique is to take a VERY long single exposure, which is how this shot was made. I did learn at least two things from this exposure. One, as dark as it seemed, there still was probably too much ambient light pollution from distant cities and towns. And two, a distant farm with its attendant night lights shows up far too well - like the onset of a sunrise. I did not know these things. But I look forward to learning from my errors and trying some more star trail shooting.
This image was made with my Canon 5D Mark III firmly affixed to a tripod. For foreground interest, I placed the cedars along the right side of the image, and that small round tree in the lower lefthand corner. I used the 17-40 f/4 ultra wide angle lens, set to a focal length of 25mm. The aperture was at f/8, and ISO at 100. Here's the kicker - the shutter speed was 56 minutes. To get that long of an exposure, you must use the Bulb setting, and trigger the shutter with a locking remote release. Also, the white balance was set to the "tungsten" setting. That gives the sky a more metallic blue look. Finally, Polaris, or the North Star, is near the top left corner of the image. Focusing on or near this celestial body adds interest, is it seemingly remains stationary while the other stars appear to rotate around it.
All of this worked quite well - I just need to find totally dark areas to shoot star trails, AND wait for one of our rare cloudless nights where the moon is not full.
Wednesday, February 18, 2015
The English name of this duck is odd, and it seems that no one is quite sure of its origins or even exactly what Gadwall means. The scientific name Anas strepera is easier to interpret. Anas = "duck", and strepera = "noisy". One of the aural delights of a spring marsh packed with ducks is the comically nasal blurting quacks of drake Gadwall. CLICK HERE to listen for yourself.
Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Yes, THAT Vanilla Ice. He of the explosive 1990 hit Ice Ice Baby, complete with its unmistakable stuttering bass line. Sorry, I imagine that little rapster ditty is now incessantly circling some of your brains, and it may not soon go away. And if his big hit isn't yet wedged in your mind, CLICK HERE.
Well, it turns out that Mr. Robert Matthew Van Winkle (no wonder he goes by Vanilla Ice) is an accomplished home remodeler. That's why the Dispatch featured him on the front page of the At Home section. But as I can't help noting, below my stuff.
Sharing the page with Vanilla Ice. Wonder if this is going to be the pinnacle of my career?
Sunday, February 15, 2015
February 15, 2015
Few visitors to backyard bird feeders are as polarizing as the Cooper’s hawk.
Many songbird lovers have recoiled in horror when one of these feathered furies has barreled into the yard and plucked a cardinal from the air.
The Cooper’s hawk is the common backyard plunderer of songbirds.
Bad attitudes toward the magnificent raptor go way back. Early ornithologists disparaged them, adding legitimacy to efforts to soil the bird’s reputation and provide fuel for hawk shooters. Said William Dawson, author of the 1903 book Birds of Ohio: “THIS is the real culprit! Punish him who will (for its) . . . evil deeds/"
Waxing anthropomorphic about Cooper’s hawks is irresistible. The hawk possesses the strategic genius of Genghis Khan, the slick agility of Wayne Gretzky and a punch like Mike Tyson.
Cooper’s hawks feed almost entirely on songbirds. Their short rounded wings and long rudderlike tail allow the birds to maneuver like stunt planes. Females are much larger than males and will sometimes take down squirrels. A hawk on the hunt might sit quietly in a tree, awaiting prey. Other times, the bird will explode into a flock of potential victims, using shrubs, houses or other obstacles to hide its approach.
An adult Cooper’s hawk is beautiful. The upperparts are shaded a rich bluish-gray, and colorful orange barring stripes the underside. The head is capped with black, as if the hawk has donned a hoodie, and under that are glaring red eyes (stare into a Cooper’s hawk’s eyes and you’ll be struck by the absolute fearlessness within). Young Cooper’s hawks are clad in muted browns with bold smudgy streaking below.
While common today, Cooper’s hawks’ populations plummeted in the mid-1900s. Harvesting by gunners played a role, but environmental contamination by DDT was worse. The pesticide interfered with raptor reproduction cycles. Following the ban on DDT in 1972, Cooper’s hawks began to recover.
When one feeds the songbirds, one also feeds Cooper’s hawks. One invites them into the yard by providing a buffet of cardinals, jays, sparrows and such. Rather than excoriating the hardworking hawk for plying its trade, one should instead appreciate the hawk for what it is. A Cooper’s hawk is the pinnacle of avian engineering, an indomitable spirit of the wild in the midst of our largely domesticated lives.
As do all high-end predators, Cooper’s hawks play a vital role in creating equilibrium among populations of lesser beasts.
Some people just don’t like the way they go about it — although many folks who deride a Cooper’s hawk for doing what comes naturally would defend the nonnative house cat that slays backyard birds.
Cats are beautiful and have their place — in the house. Leave the bird-hunting to the natives such as the majestic Cooper’s hawk.
Naturalist Jim McCormac writes a column for The Dispatch on the first and third Sundays of the month. He also writes about nature at www.jimmccormac.blogspot.com
Saturday, February 14, 2015
Wednesday, February 11, 2015
I recently wrote about the upcoming Ohio Wildlife Diversity Conference, which will take place in Columbus on March 11. CLICK HERE for that post and additional conference details.
It is customary to unveil new Division of Wildlife publications at this conference, and this year will be no exception. Scroll on down...
There will be other perks for attendees as well. Be sure to attend, and get your Milkweeds & Monarchs booklet, hear a bunch of great talks, and share with hundreds of other like-minded nature enthusiasts. And please, pass the word. For conference registration, CLICK HERE.
Sunday, February 8, 2015
I was just playing the odds in order to have some fun, relying on the treetop perching habits of this beautiful raptor to prove me right. As we admired the stunning raptor, I of course came clean and divulged why my guess was what it was. And why such knowledge can make for a good party trick when with newer birders.
The bird in this photo is a light morph individual. There is also a striking dark morph of the Rough-legged Hawk that is mostly black. The color forms of Rough-legged Hawks - and other animals with distinct morphs such as Snow Geese - are often mistakenly referred to as "phases", as in "Did you see that beautiful dark phase Rough-legged Hawk?". Sorry to mount a nerdish, mildly pedantic soap box, but such forms are decidedly not phases and shouldn't be referred to as such. A phase is, according to Webster's: "a particular appearance or state in a regularly recurring cycle of changes".
The appearance of the moon at any given time is a phase. It'll change appearance in successive days, but it is still the moon, albeit with very different looks as it progresses through its phases.
Rough-legged Hawks do not change form. They are either light morphs (which most birds that appear in Ohio are), or they are dark morphs. If the bird changed appearance from a light type to a dark type over its development, then one might say that the first stage of color form was a phase. But since they don't, one cannot accurately apply the term phase in this case. Again, from Webster, the definition of morph, as the term relates to biology: "a phenotypic variant of a species". And that's what light and dark morphs of the Rough-legged Hawk are - variants of the same species, but stable variants that do not change appearance over time, or phase into other plumages.
Enough of that. A person could easily be bowled over by the dashing good looks of a Rough-legged Hawk even if they didn't know its name, let alone whether the bird should be correctly termed a phase or morph. Also of interest is that the closest breeding Rough-legged Hawks to Ohio are about 1,200 miles to the north. To these hardy raptors of the far north, wintering in Ohio is their Floridian vacation.
Thursday, February 5, 2015
If you're looking for a fascinating way to spend part of a day - and who isn't? - stop by the Ohio State University Museum of Biological Diversity this Saturday, February 7. From 10am to 4pm, the museum's doors will be open to all; a rare opportunity to visit the fascinating collections that reside within.
The museum's contents are robust. Get a load of these figures:
Mites & ticks (acarology): well over one million specimens
Bioacoustics (sound recordings): over 40,000 - mostly birds, but also insects, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and fish (yes, fish!)
C.A. Triplehorn Insect Collection: over 3.5 million (Million!) specimens (this is worth the visit alone)
Fishes: 10's of thousands, I think
Herbarium (plants): about 500,000
Molluscs: nearly 100,000
Birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles (tetrapods): over 2,000 species
Not only will you get to see all manner of strange and bizarre stuff you never knew existed, the museum's experts - some of the best in the world - will be on hand to answer your every question. Adding to the allure is this year's theme: venoms and poisons! Who wouldn't want to learn more about Nature's deadly toxins, in a safe, fun, and educational way?
Grab the kids, pass the word, and head down to the museum this Saturday. It is conveniently located at 1315 Kinnear Road, Columbus, Ohio 43212. For more details, CLICK HERE for the museum's website.
Tuesday, February 3, 2015
Ah, Nature. Brutal as it may be, you gotta love it.
I will assure you that this will be a fun, informative, and interesting day. For one, the event is nestled within a truly world class art museum that boasts some 54,000 individual works in its collection. There are always major exhibits; CLICK HERE for a roster of current exhibitions. I became connected with the museum in 2013, when I was invited to come and give a pictorial lecture entitled Nature as Art. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the museum, to me, is their living collections. The museum sits on 150 acres of grounds, and the plants - and animals - found there are treated as living art. Thanks in large part to the hard work and vision of Chad Franer, the grounds are heavily planted with native species.
And that's the theme of this symposium - native plants. The keynote is none other than the dean of native plants, Dr. Doug Tallamy. The symposium borrowed its title from Doug's latest book, coauthored with Rick Darke: The Living Landscape. In it, the authors lay out a plan for creating beautiful landscapes that foster a rich environment for native fauna. Those of you that attended last year's Midwest Native Plant Conference in Dayton heard Rick Darke's slant on the book. This symposium offers a chance to hear Doug's views on the same. Having heard Doug numerous times, I guarantee the talk will be outstanding.
Kevin Tungesvick will offer a program entitled Native Plants from Around Indiana, and it's sure to be full of useful information for those seeking to enrich the yardscape with beautiful natives. Irvin Etienne will give a talk labeled Nativars - Strangers in a Strange Land. We'll get the lowdown on what the horticultural industry is doing to manipulate - hopefully for good - our native plants.
And yours truly will present For the Birds, a look at some of the interesting avian visitors to Midwestern backyards, what we can do to help them, and how suburban plots can factor into a larger picture of bird conservation. Illustrated liberally with tasty photos, of course.
Again, CLICK HERE for full conference details, and I hope that you can make it out.
Monday, February 2, 2015
Yesterday was a rare blue (mostly) sky day here in wintertime central Ohio, and I took the opportunity to go to some local hotspots and point the camera skyward. While I took a lot of shots of many different things - nearly 1,000 images, most of which got chucked into the digital dust bin - I found that I was somewhat fixated on flying birds.
Shooting birds in flight isn't very easy, and requires purposeful adjustments to the camera, among other tactics. Following are a few images from yesterday, with some info on how each was made.
All the shots in this post were made with a Canon 5D Mark III hooked to a Canon 500 mm f/4 II, along with a 1.4 teleconverter, which transforms the lens into a 700 mm. That's a really good setup for flying birds, but great results can be had even with higher end point & shoot bridge cameras. The settings used for this gull photo were: 1/3200 shutter speed; f/5.6; and ISO 320. For flying birds, it is almost always best to use a VERY fast shutter speed. At the beginning of the learning curve, it's probably best to set your camera to shutter priority, and let the camera select the f-stop and ISO. On a bright sunny day, very quick shutter speeds can be used, with little penalty in the ISO department.
When shooting a flying bird, you want to pick it up in the camera as far out as possible, and track it as it moves (hopefully) closer. When it enters striking distance, begin depressing the shutter and keep smoothly tracking the bird as you fire off shots. Ideally you'll have your camera set to burst mode. This means that as long as you have your finger depressing the shutter button, the camera will keep firing shots. Burst rates vary between cameras, but mine is six shots a second. "Bursting" a flying target greatly increases your odds of a sharp image.
SEE HERE), and I think this shot shows the beauty of this species. As I was tracking the birds, firing off rapid bursts of shots, the blurred pigeon in the foreground was gaining and ended up photo-bombing the other bird in this shot, which was my target. Although I have other shots of one crisp bird, I like this one for some reason. Camera parameters were 1/3200; f/5.6; and ISO 250.
Another tip, at least for DSLR shooters, is to use Al-Servo shooting mode. Al-Servo allows the focus to constantly adjust to moving targets, so as you hold the shutter button down, the focus constantly updates to compensate for the target's changing distance. In tandem with Al-Servo, a huge positive change is shifting your camera to back button focusing. Basically, the way my camera is set up, the typical shutter button that is on the front of the camera and deployed by one's right index finger only trips the shutter. Nothing else. The focus and exposure compensation is controlled by one of the buttons at the top right rear of the camera, and this button is deployed with the right thumb. There are many advantages to this system, and I think that most DSLR cameras will allow it. Google "back button focus" and "Al-Servo mode" to learn more.
CLICK HERE). As we watched throngs of Horned Larks, the hawk ripped through the yard and landed in a thick patch of brush. Lots of House Sparrows and other songbirds frequent the thicket and adjacent garden, and Senor Cooper was intent on making a meal of one. I moved a bit closer and got into a good position, fixed the camera on the raptor, and waited until it flew. When it finally did, I was ready and hit the shutter while tracking the bird as smoothly as possible. I only got two images in which the bird was fully in the frame, but both came out quite nicely. The camera was set to 1/3200; f/5.6; and ISO 400.
One grim reality of making crisp in flight bird shots is the need for a decent tripod. I don't like lugging tripods around, and generally only do so if I'm birding in a situation where I need/want my scope, or if I know I am going to be specifically focusing on shooting images of birds. All of the shots presented here were shot with a Manfrotto tripod and an Induro head. The latter is an especially fluid swivel mount that the camera sits on, and it allows for buttery smooth travel.
Everyone, it seems, has a camera these days and the quality of shots of birds that I see is routinely amazing. Lots of great images are made with all manner of cameras, from good point & shoot bridge cameras to high end Nikon, Canon and other DSLR's. One way to try and stand out from the crowd is to shoot your subjects in poses that most people don't, such as on the wing.