Content & Photos © Bill Schmoker unless noted otherwise. Thanks for visiting- drop me a comment!

Friday, June 19, 2009

North Dakota is for Bird Lovers!

Hi everyone- I've been madly birding for the last 4 days at the American Birding Association conference in Minot, ND. Up at 4am each day, out to see tons of cool birds doing cool things, and then back to network and socialize with a great group of birders, hear informative talks, and learn about sparrows in Jon Dunn's workshop. Finally slept in this AM and am packed and ready to go birding some more later today and tomorrow. Not much time for details now, but here are some favorite pics so far... More later!
Looking up at a skylarking Sprague's Pipit

Looking down at a Virginia Rail

Looking out at the bird pictured on the auto tour loop stop (Piping Plover)

Red-necked Grebe

Ruffed Grouse on its drumming log

Clay-colored Sparrow

Horned Grebe

Grasshopper Sparrow

Monday, June 08, 2009

North Woods Fun

I've been having a ball up here in NW Wisconsin despite some rainy weather. Looks like it should be clearing for the rest of the week- I'm excited to visit Crex Meadows tomorrow. I'm staying at my folk's place on a private lake with great birds, so I set up my little portable photo blind near their feeder tray and put up some picturesque branches on each side for perches. Then it was a matter of chilling out in the camp chair built into the blind and crushing birds from a few meters away as they came in. Light was low on the cloudy, rainy days yesterday and today so I was shooting at 640 or 800 ISO. I just ran these through Noiseware to counteract the sensitive ISO. Otherwise the light was nice and even- rich colors that I don't always get on the high plains or mountains of Colorado. For a topper, a Black Bear walked through the cabins after dinner tonight- I snapped a quick pic on my iPhone out the screen door but it sat down about 50 meters away at the edge of the woods to contemplate its next move- time enough for me to grab my telephoto rig and get a few nice shots.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

G1 on the Televid

Back in April, I wrote about a new camera I'm using for digiscoping, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 (hereafter the G1 for short...)

I've had the chance to test it out more on my Leica APO-Televid Scopes (angled 62 & 77mm), and I'm liking it a lot. While I can hand-hold the camera to my 32X WW eyepiece and get good results, I'm back to mainly using the threaded Swarovski DCA adapter. I find this to be super quick, secure, and it automatically centers the camera. The diameters of the adapter and eyepiece don't quite match, but since the adapter is a wee bit bigger I can use a shim to make up the difference for a secure fit. Ben Lizdas of Eagle Optics figured out how to do this- see this post on Mike McDowell's digiscoping blog to see how it works.
While the kit lens (14-45mm) works pretty well for digiscoping there are still vignetting issues. To minimize vignetting, I set the camera to the medium-sized files, which only uses the middle 6 MP of the 12 MP array. Yeah, I could also just crop out the dark when shooting full-sized files, but I like limiting the vignetting to better see what I'm getting in the viewfinder. In conjunction with the EZ zoom setting (not "easy", but Extended optical Zoom), using medium file size fills the viewfinder with the image and minimal vignetting at around 18 or 20 mm zoom on the kit lens. Here you'll see how the viewfinder position is adjustable to either fill the back of the camera, or come out to the side and pivot to whatever angle you need. It also reverses on the back of the camera so it is facing inward and protected when you don't need it. Using the electronic viewfinder emulates looking through the scope, something I like to do in bright conditions or when tracking moving birds.
The small, distant yellow highlighted area in this photo is the part of the tray feeder the rig is photographing- there's nothing like digiscoping to pull in birds!

Here are some sample pics I took at the Colorado Field Ornithologists annual convention in Alamosa, Colorado over the Memorial Day weekend. The White-rumped Sandpiper and Snowy Plover were at Blanca Wetlands, a wildlife area managed by the BLM. It hosts the state's largest concentration of breeding Snowy Plovers (a species of special concern in Colorado), and gets goodies like the White-rumped Sandpiper, rare in the San Luis Valley (it doesn't yet appear on the official Alamosa County bird list but we'll see about updating that.) The Sandhill Crane was one of a pair just south of Poncha Pass in the far northern end of the San Luis Valley. They aren't known to breed in the SLV but having a pair in habitat like this at such a late date is very suspicious. A forest service biologist is following up to see if breeding can be confirmed.
These three images illustrate the power of digiscoping, with its ability to nicely document birds without approaching closely enough to disturb them.

There is a lens promised for release later this year in the new Micro Four Thirds format (introduced in this camera) that might be ideal for digiscoping- a 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens. If and when I can test it out the I'll let you know how it works. Several folks have been experimenting with other pankake lenses using adapters with good results, but if I understand correctly they also lose autofocus when they move out of the dedicated Micro Four Thirds format. As news on what works well is rapidly changing, I suggest following the digiscoping birds list to keep abreast of developments regarding the G1 and its digiscoping applications.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Finer points of a Trumpeter Swan

Here's a collection of Trumpeter Swan pics I took a couple of weeks ago. There's a pair of resident Trumpeters on the golf course lake in Pagosa Springs, Colorado, that were brought in years ago and never left despite being free-swimming and free-flying. While not "countable", I always appreciate the chance to refresh my ID skills and to have a detailed set of reference photos. There's no doubt about Trumpeter vs. Tundra Swan ID when birds are close, but they can be maddeningly tough to figure out when conditions aren't ideal or with immature birds. Unlike my previous drive-bys of the lake, this time one of the swans was right against the near shore near Highway 160 with good light coming in from behind me. I eased onto the wide shoulder and snapped the bird from inside my truck (a most effective photo blind despite being huge and white.) I say take the easy shots when you can- there is no lack of difficult bird photography!!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

My buddy Nathan Pieplow, master bird sound recordist and all-around great guy, has started a great blog started dedicated to bird song and related analysis- give it a look!