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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Front Row Seat

I was granted a few hours last Sunday morning to go birding, so I grabbed bins, scope, and cameras and hit the road to some local hotspots. Heading towards Boulder Reservoir, I ran into swarms of runners on the nearby roads and remembered that the Boulder Backroads Marathon was in session, with the start and end at the Res. Needless to say, I changed plans to avoid the mob scene there, and diverted to Walden Ponds. That turned out to be a fortuitous choice, as some nice birds were working a patch of pond near a rocky point.

I slowly insinuated myself down to the water's edge, aiming for a small cluster of stumpy snags to sit among with my feet practically in the water. I moved very slowly, waiting when possible for birds to get to the far part of their circuit to make incremental movements until I got where I was going. Then I just sat, letting the birds get used to me (which they did in about 10 minutes.) Then it was a matter of waiting for good light on the partially cloudy day, watching for interesting behavior as the birds got close to me.

Among the birds was a small group of migrant American Avocets, now almost totally in basic plumage (a few had a wee bit of salmon coloring left.) They flew in and waded their way over towards me, staying in the same room-sized patch of the large marsh for almost two hours- must have been keying in on some extra tasty prey there. Luckily, that's where I was planted, so I got some fun shots. While they occasionally worked the muddy shore, more often they were out in pretty deep (for them) water, tipping their whole heads under water like dabbling ducks to reach the bottom. I think they were swimming much of the time instead of wading- pretty cool to see that behavior in a shorebird (I also watched a Greater Yellowlegs swim across the pond instead of wading or flying.)

The birds that drew me to the spot in the first place were 3 Snowy Egrets. I didn't really have much in the way of good Snowy Egret photography prior to Sunday so I was hoping they would cooperate, and they did! Like the Avocets, they kept looping back and forth through the same small section of the bigger marsh, snagging small fish from time to time. They completely adjusted to my quiet presence among the stumps and would come by quite close, fishing as they went. Sometimes they would squawk and chase each other, but even the ones that got run off would slowly work their way back, trying to avoid the wrath of the dominant bird. The last two pics were taken sequentailly 1/5 of a second apart- those egrets are quick! (Click to enlarge the image and you will see the fruit of the egret's labor, looking pretty bummed about the whole deal.)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Rescue Me

A couple of weekends ago I had the pleasure of teaching a photo workshop for The Nature Conservancy at their wonderful Carpenter Ranch property. What a great place to spend a long weekend!! We spent a lot of time in the amazing habitats of the Yampa River Valley photographing birds and wildlife, balanced with some time inside discussing equipment and technique. A few of the topics we dicussed included managing digital files and simple digital darkroom workflow. Whenever I teach about this I stress the importance of always keeping unedited originals somewhere and backing them up. I also mention that memory cards can sometimes wonk out, but that file recovery software may be able to rescue images that seem to be lost to the corrupt card. I never actually had to rescue images until my card went haywire as I was showing everyone how to download files quickly using a card reader (Murphy's Law, I guess.) Nothing like having a tech meltdown in front of an audience!

So I just switched to a previously downloaded photo file set for purposes of carrying on my discussion at the workshop, but when I got home I set about attempting to salvage the pics, running the Image Rescue software that came for free with one of my Lexar compact flash cards. It was able to scour 150 or so photos from the card, but that was it. I knew some great shots were missing, so I went online in search of a program that might get everything off of the bad card. I settled on trying PhotoRecovery. One of the really nice things they offer is a free demo download that you can run on a corrupt card to see what it finds. They have a watermark across the previews and you can't save them, but it is an ideal try-before-you-buy situation because you will know what you'll get off the card. In the free demo I could see that all but three images were recoverable (those three only had the top of the frame showing, with the rest just gray.) It also found images that I had trashed long ago, including some from my Utah trip in June (even when "deleted", files are still on the card until they are overwritten by new files.) $40 got me the full version to download, which let me immediately save my recovered JPEGS and NEF files- yea!!

The morning session that day targeted Sandhill Cranes. The neighboring Yampavian Ranch plays host scores of the birds that roost near the Yampa River that splits the property. One of the hay meadows is flooded for irrigation and the cranes find it irresistable, stopping there both on their way in to and out of the riverside roost. Interestingly, the cranes were dancing (not to mention cavorting, capering, and frollicking, accompanied by their gutteral bugles) a lot despite the fall season. I guess they want to keep their pair bonds going strong, and they might be teaching their fully-grown (but not red-headed yet) youngsters a little about how to boogie down. All of these shots were from the rescued batch of files- thanks, PhotoRecovery!!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Tune In

In celebration the late Roger Tory Peterson's 100th birthday, Houghton Mifflin just published the Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America. An amalgamation of RTP's original paintings and 40 new paintings by Michael O'Brien, with new range maps and re-written text, this guide supplants the Eastern & Western Peterson Field Guides and joins the growing list of recently published top-notch North American Field Guides.

I peeked at a preview copy at the ABA's annual convention in Utah last summer, and was impressed with the look and feel of the guide. But what is really cool to share with you all right now is the series of podcasts (33 episodes totalling nearly 3 hours of content) that Bill Thompson III and Jeff Gordon produced as digital supplements to the book. I am honored to have contributed photos for the project, and encourage everyone to check them out. The podcasts include family overviews, species profiles, tutorials, and RTP biography episodes. There's lots of info for birders of all skill levels. While I haven't watched them all yet I know I will- they offer a great way to review bird families quickly, kind of like video birding Cliff Notes. For beginning & intermediate birders this will be an awesome resource, distilling the decades of birding experience & accumulated knowledge of BT3 & Jeff Gyr into potent digests. Watch the intro podcast at the top of the page first- it sets the stage really well. Nicely done, gents- I know RTP would approve!