It’s a bird! It’s a plane! Nope, it’s a bird

Cynthia and I went outside Friday evening and we heard a very loud, very distinctive squawk coming from the neighbor’s tree. After a minute a green Quaker Parrot flew out and landed in another tree. I tried to coax him down, but he was very timid. After I started to walk away he flew out of the tree and landed on my shoulder. Obviously this is someone’s pet. Cynthia has named him Murphy.

Murphy

Lens Lust

Size Matters

I popped in to my local crack camera dealer just to have a look around. I wasn’t really shopping all that hard. I mean, there are things I am keeping an eye out for, but mostly I like to browse and just be in and amongst the camera equipment and around other photographers. Almost always I leave empty handed. Which is good. I don’t have the budget to spend for every single piece of gear I might want.

While I was there I looked in the case where they keep the used Sony/Minolta gear. Typically, there is usually not much there. Of course there’s always plenty of second hand Nikon and Canon gear, but when it comes to high end of the Sony/Minolta equipment it is usually slim pickin’s.

But there in case was the legendary Sony 70-400mm G Lens. And not only that, it was being sold for a price that was dramatically lower than you can buy it new and significantly lower than what I’ve seen it go for used, when/if they even show up.

Initially, I dismissed it. I don’t tend to shoot in this focal range. I knew it was a good deal, I just couldn’t justify it for my type of shooting. I already had the Sony 70-300 G and the Tamron 70-200 f/2.8 so really, what’s the point? So I left, empty handed.

As I was driving around, running some errands, I kept thinking about that lens. I had read the reviews and seen all the praise. The sony 70-400 G is not just a good lens, it is (by all accounts) one of the best lenses ever made in its class. As I mulled it over more and more I decided that I should buy the lens and, if nothing else, resell if for a profit or use it as trading fodder for another lens via the photography forums I belong to. With this brilliant justification in mind I made my way back to the camera store and bought the lens. They even reduced the price a little more so it was an even better deal.

Once I had it in hand and started playing with it I started falling in love. For a lens of that range it is surprisingly light. It’s beast, but it’s a manageable beast. And the image quality has a “WOW” factor that can only be described by using sample shots. Unlike so many long zoom lenses, the 70-400 G is sharp from 70mm all the way out to 400mm. It is simply wonderful.

These are from my first workout with the lens at The Houston Zoo. All shot using this lens attached to my A850. The entire gallery can be seen by clicking here. If you chase the links back to their respective Flickr pages you can view EXIF info and look at the full sized image files which REALLY give you a sense of the sharpness and quality.

Needless to say, I’m keeping the lens. I’ve been selling some of my unused glass on Ebay to recoup the expense.

Southern ground hornbill

Chimp

Poodle Duck

Ostrich

Yawning Tiger

The People Have Spoken – Duffy Is Spared

In my previous post about Duffy, the question was asked: “Life or death?” and the majority of you voted to spare the life of Duffy. It was also suggested that we use a humane live trap and capture him and relocate him.

Bowing to the will of the public, we acquired the trap and set it. For the first week we only succeeded in trapping a poor little sparrow which was quickly released. Cynthia was just a little discouraged by the fact that she felt herself being outsmarted by a rodent. She consulted one of the maintenance workers at her office who suggested using a different kind of bait. We had been using cookies, but he suggested nuts and seeds as rodents like to eat food they can hold in their paws.

With this in mind I purchased some more bird seed and baited the trap. At 7:30 Sunday morning Cynthia woke me up exclaiming that we had captured Duffy.

Victory!

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Victory!

Personally, I could have received this news at a more “humane” hour of the day, say 9:00 or later. But I guess Cynthia’s excitement outweighed all other considerations.

Despite All My Rage

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Despite All My Rage

Poor little guy was pretty terrified. Now it was just a matter of finding a place to relocate him. As I mentioned, it was pretty early on a Sunday morning so I figured we’d drive out toward Highway 6 and find a field and let him go. As we were headed down Briar Forest I spotted some commercial construction that backed up to a vacant lot and pulled in. I thought I would drive to the back and release Duffy there.

Imagine my surprise when we spotted a Houston Police cruiser parked back there. I quickly turned around and headed back out. The cop didn’t seem to see us which was a relief. I could imagine explaining to the officer exactly what we were doing.

We found another location next to another vacant lot and released Duffy and headed home.

I'z Is Innocent!

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I'z Is Innocent!

Cynthia doesn’t think that we actually caught Duffy. She thinks this is another rat altogether. I think it’s Duffy, but the trap is reset and we’ll see if we catch anything else.

*UPDATE*

We need to stop setting the trap during daylight hours

This Is A Revoltin' Development!

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This Is A Revoltin' Development!

What Say Ye? Life Or Death?

Ok, here’s the deal. This little guy has been coming around feeding on the seeds that fall from the bird feeders. I’ve seen him come and go on and off over the last year (assuming it’s just the one).

He’s really kind of cute. He comes out from behind the garage and gets some food and then ducks back behind that brick and then darts out and gets some more food. If I go out there he will run away and I won’t see him for days or weeks. But he always comes back. He keeps to himself and doesn’t bother the birds and they sure don’t seem to mind having him around.

I knew Cynthia would not be happy about it so I never mentioned it in hopes that she just wouldn’t see him. But, as luck would have it, she spotted him a several weeks back. Needless to say, she’s not that pleased with the idea that there is a rat brazenly feeding on the back patio. Cynthia is of the mind that rats are horrible, disease ridden trouble makers. That, and they really creep her out.

Cynthia believes the rodent should die. She’s pushing for death by Rat Zapper or death by poison or even death by rat trap. I am less inclined to see him killed by our hand. I’ve even gone so far as to suggest that this may not be a rat, but a very large mouse. Cynthia happens to like mice and was even nicknamed Mouse by her father. Cynthia’s not buying it, though. She’s convinced this is a rat.

In an effort to make our interloper a little less horrifying, Cynthia has named him “Duffy” or, more formally “Duffy The Rat” which allows her to maintain her composure when discussing what is to be done. Of course naming him has personalized him and now Cynthia is softening on the issue. But we still go back and forth with me explaining that letting him live is probably no big deal and her explaining that he’s a filthy disease ridden rat that must perish as soon as possible.

Cynthia has agreed to let you decide Duffy’s fate. Comment here with whether you think Duffy should be allowed to live, or if we should actively seek to eliminate him. Duffy’s fate is in your hands. If the majority of you make a compelling argument to spare him. Duffy lives. If the majority are in favor of elimination him, Duffy goes to the great rat nest in the sky.

What say ye?

Belize – Part 2 – Arrival In San Pedro

Spindrift Hotel

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Spindrift Hotel

To say that the water taxi ride is a drag would be an understatement. Imagine an hour and a half sitting in large plastic space with the acoustic properties of a very large ice chest with the sound of a very loud engine drone reverberating inside as you go bobbing across the Caribbean ocean and you get the idea. Not romantic, not charming. Just loud and monotonous. But hey! It’s an ADVENTURE!

We pulled into San Pedro and I got off the boat. Boy, the water is BLUE!

Blue Boat

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Blue Boat

I was taking it all in and waiting for my luggage and I was approached by a man who asked me where I was staying. I pointed to the hotel which was right there (you can see it in the top photo).

I was clever enough to choose a hotel right near the landing for the water taxi. He smiled. Realizing he couldn’t hustle me for tips carrying my bags or hailing me a taxi he changed gears and offered me drugs. I politely declined. He let me know, in no uncertain terms, that he could get me just about anything I needed while on the island.

I collected my gear and headed off to the hotel to check in.

From the outside, the hotel was ok. Clean and well cared for and my mood was lifted. The view from the balcony at the front of the hotel was rather nice.

View

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View

I went to the office and checked in. They gave me my key and I headed upstairs to settle in and get my bearings. The room was hot so I looked for the controls for the air conditioning but found none. Turns out the basic room has no A/C. I went back to the office and upgraded my room for a nominal fee. Turns out it was a nominal upgrade. The new room had one very beleaguered looking window A/C unit with one of those pine tree shaped air-fresheners jammed into it. I turned it on and it roared to life, albeit reluctantly.

The room had a fridge in it which came in handy. I was only in the room a few minutes when someone knocked at the door. A woman handed me a jug of ice cold water and explained that this was safe to drink. I thanked her and put the jug in my fridge after pouring myself a glass.

Once I was settled I headed downstairs in search of a golf cart to rent. Golf carts are the primary mode of transportation on the island. My friend who was getting married was on the far southern side of the island in a house several miles from my hotel. It was also the site where the wedding was to be held. I figured I would head down there and scope it out.

Trusty #10

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Trusty #10

As I started looking for a golf cart rental shop I was approached by the man who met me at the pier and he asked what I needed. I told him and he walked me to a rental place that was still open. He still wanted to sell me drugs, but I continued to decline his offer.

I paid for my rental and as I was getting instructions on how to operate the vehicle I heard someone calling my name. It was my friend Luis and and his wife to be, Sarai. Turns out they were in the area after meeting with the pro photographer. We decided to go get some food and found a little restaurant and ate some much needed dinner.

We had a good time at dinner. The food was very good and the beer was ice cold and the breeze coming in off the water made the early evening very comfortable. I related my travel woes to my friends and they topped my bad experiences with one of their own. They had flown in the night before and checked into their rented villa and then went off to find dinner. After dinner they returned to the villa, only to find that it had been ransacked. Oddly, only the luggage had been rifled and robbed. The flat screen TV’s and the DVD players that belonged to the villa were untouched. It reeked of an inside job.

After dinner I followed them down to the south side of the island to see their place.

THANK GOD that I ran into them. Had I tried to find it on my own I would have only managed to get myself very lost and extremely terrified. It was not the straight drive down an obvoius street as I was lead to believe. It was a bit more twisty and convoluted. To make matters worse, the “downtown” area of San Pedro (such that it is) is all one-way streets. I had no idea. If I had been left to my own devices I would have trundled off going the wrong way on a one way street with no hope of finding the house.

On our way down to the villa Luis wanted to stop at the hotel his father was staying at so did so and picked him and his wife up and proceeded to the villa. Due to the “break in” there was security check point setup on the road leading to the villa.

Checkpoint

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Checkpoint

We made it to the villa and hung out for a bit and then made our way back into town with various friends and family in tow. Everyone was pretty tired so we called it quits around 11:30 pm. Luis and his entourage headed back to the villa and I headed back to the hotel.

Even after blowing full blast for several hours, the air-conditioner was not getting the job done very quickly. I lay down to get some sleep as the room slowly cooled.

On a side note, the beaches come alive at night with hermit crabs

Hermit Crab

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Hermit Crab

Next Up – Wedding Day!

Lizardo Sighting

With all the bird activity in our backyard I feared we may have lost much of our indigenous lizard population. But Lizardo smartly moved to the front yard a few years ago. Spotted him on Saturday on the Bottle Brush Tree. He let me get in quite close with the Sony 100mm macro lens. He actually seemed to be interested in his own reflection in the lens, perhaps seeing it as a rival and causing him to stand his ground.

These two images are my best shots of him to date. Click on either image to see the larger size. The detail of this lens is just spectacular!

Lizardo

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Lizardo

Lizardo

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Lizardo

Fergus

Baby Blue Jay

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Baby Blue Jay

Poor little guy. Looks like the wind blew him out of his nest which is up pretty high in the Bottle Brush Trees so I couldn’t put him back, plus it looked like he might have a hurt wing as a result of the fall.

That and the neighborhood cat combined didn’t give me a good feeling about his chances of making it through the night so we scooped him up and took him to the Texas Wildlife Rehabilitation Coalition just to be safe. His parents were frantic and dive-bombing me like crazy. I’m sure it was quite the site to see.

I felt bad. But in this scenario, everybody lives.

Cynthia named him Fergus.

Backyard Birding Report – Aug. 9th, 2009

I was sleeping in on a Sunday. Cynthia was kind enough to close the bedroom door while she worked around the house and I was snoozing quite soundly when the bedroom door was flung open and Cynthia ran in, urgently telling me to get out of bed and saying “come quickly for birdage!”

There’s a tone Cynthia gets when it’s important. I respond on a very subconscious level to this tone. I knew something was up and it was important so I jumped out of bed and followed Cynthia to breakfast room.

She pointed to the window saying “It’s an Eagle or something!!”

I looked and there was no Eagle. But there was Hawk sitting on the fence that divides the back patio from the driveway. What a sight!

The blinds were down with the slats open so you could see out the window but it was not ideal for a photograph. I knew that if we were to raise the blinds the hawk would probably just fly away. If I had any hope of getting a photo of this guy I would need to do it through the blinds without moving them at all.

Fortunately for me, my camera was on the table and already mounted with my Sony SAL-70-300G lens. This lens is pretty remarkable and I was counting on it to be able to spot focus on the bird THROUGH the blinds. It was the only chance I would have.

I grabbed the camera, switched it on and quickly made the necessary adjustments and fired off two quick shots before the hawk flew off.

This is either a juvenile Red Shouldered Hawk or a Cooper’s Hawk. I am betting it’s a Cooper’s.

The blinds make the shot a little on the soft side but all in all, it came out pretty well I think. Especially considering I went from sleeping soundly to shooting this picture in probably less than 60 or so seconds.

The last time I got a shot of a Hawk was back in 2007 at West 11th St. Park in The Heights and I have been itching to get something like this ever since I noticed him flying around the neighborhood.

Curious

Curious Squirrel

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Curious Squirrel

We hung a suet feeder in the tree outside the front windows in hopes of attracting more birds. Of course the neighborhood squirrel was interested and was perched on the branch checking it out. When we went to shoo him away he just looked at us. He seemed to know we were not a threat behind the glass. We banged and yelled and he just looked at us as if to say “neener neener neener! you can’t get me!”

Shot through the window with the Sony 100mm macro lens.

Minolta AF 500/8 Reflex

I was asked by my co-worker/friend David if I would accompany him to the crack house Camera Exchange. He had decided to purchase a digital camera and wanted my “expertise” as he entered this new and exciting realm of photography. Not being one to turn down a chance to go look at the pretty pretty camera equipment I agreed to tag along.

I introduced him to my favorite dealer sales guy and proceeded to have a look in the used equipment case. Usually they don’t have much for the Sony/Minolta platform but on this day as David and Charlie discussed the Nikon D90 and some lenses, there was a sparkling gem of used Minolta goodness.

A Minolta AF 500/8 Reflex lens and available for a very reasonable price.

I’d read a bit about this lens and it’s a remarkable piece of glass for what it is and for the price. Whereas the average 500mm reflex lens tends to be a manual focus, the Minolta/Sony 500mm Reflex lens is the only production mirror lens designed to auto focus with an SLR camera.

Very light and very compact it’s easy to carry around. Since it shoots at a constant F/8 aperture it is not a low-light performer, but @ 500mm it will literally reach out and touch someone. The re-tooled Sony version runs twice as much as what you can pic up this older Minolta version for on the secondary market and this one was priced well below even that so it was a good bargain.

In good light this lens produces good results and gives me more reach in my birding and wildlife photography. The first few test shots are quite encouraging. All of these images are un-cropped and only resized to be more reasonable for web viewing. Click any image to see a larger version.

Relex Sample Shot

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Reflex Sample Shot

Relex Sample Shot

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Reflex Sample Shot

Relex Sample Shot

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Reflex Sample Shot

Relex Sample Shot

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Reflex Sample Shot

Relex Sample Shot

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Reflex Sample Shot

It is not super super sharp, but the color and contrast is good. I think it will serve me well.

BUG

Bug

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Bug

We went for a walk on Saturday down by the bayou just to get out and get a little excercise. Of course I had the camera in tow. Not a lot of photo opportunities, but Cynthia spotted this guy on a flower no bigger than a pinky fingernail. I’m stiff today from squatting down and trying to hold the camera still as the wind blew my subject to and fro.

It looks very much like a Crane Fly (aka Mosquito Hawk) which we see all the time in and around the house. But this guy is much smaller and has a probiscus rather than mandibles. My guess is he’s either a juvenile Elephant Mosquito or just a plane old male mosquito.

This pic remonds me of the album cover of Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of The Worlds

On a side note, there’s a 30th anniversary tour in the works which (sadly) doesn’t look like it will make it here to the U.S.

This shot was done with a flash from above.

Bug

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Bug

Macro Mothra

Best shot of the day at the Cockrell Butterfly Center was of this moth as I was leaving.

Macro Mothra

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Macro Mothra

Camera: Sony DSLR-A700
Exposure: 0.008 sec (1/125)
Aperture: f/9.0
Focal Length: 100 mm
Exposure: 0.00

There was a little daylight shining right on him so I shot with fill flash which allowed me to take advantage of the natural light for the majority of the illumination.

Check it out when we zoom in a little bit.

Macro Mothra

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Macro Mothra

The detail is phenomenal!

This is a full on, un-resized 100% crop of the original image:

If you are interested in seeing the full sized image in all of it’s 6.2 megabyte, 4272 x 2848 glory you can download it here:
http://www.baldheretic.com/pics/photography/macro/moth.jpg

It’s pretty amazing and worth checking out.

Sony SAL-70300G – A Modest Review

I don’t claim to be a photography expert. I am self taught through personal experience and what I have been able to glean from various web resources and other photographers. I choose Sony over CaNikon for various reason which I won’t go into in this post. That being said, I am not a reviewer who cares to detail the technical aspects of the equipment I use in a the formal way you see at sites like Photozone where the reviewer gets into detail about distortion, light fall off, vignetting, chromatic aberrations and so forth. I leave that to the experts. Besides, why duplicate what is already there?

What I like to do is share my own personal experience as a fan of the platform and show real world examples in the hopes that others interested in this platform will benefit.

As I have mentioned before, the Sony SAL-70300G lens comes highly recommended from my fellow Sony/Minolta users and is a quality piece of glass.

I was finally able to take my own personal copy for a real test drive. Mounted on the A700 (even without a vertical grip) it is well balanced and it’s easy to use hand-held for reasonable amounts of time.

I had Tuesday off so I went to The Cockrell Butterfly Center. This was Cynthia’s suggestion as a place to try out the new macro lens but I figured I could also take the SAL-70300G along as well to see how it performed.

Butterfly 1

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Butterfly 1

Click above image for larger version
Exposure: 0.008 sec (1/125)
Aperture: f/5.6
Focal Length: 250mm
On-board flash

I am not a huge fan of shooting with a flash, but as you can see the detail is amazing and the color vivid and true.

Next I wanted to shoot without a flash. Personally, I find the colors and saturation much more appealing in available light and truth be told, I am a high speed elitist when it comes to lenses. I like f/2.8 or faster and the SAL-70300G is only f/4.5-5.6 making it unsuitable for low-light situations.

Butterfly 1

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Butterfly 1

Exposure: 0.017 sec (1/60)
Aperture: f/5.6
Focal Length: 300mm
No Flash

Fully extended to 300mm at 1/60th of a second. BEAUTIFUL! And thank you Sony for the built in image stabilization or your camera bodies. I jokingly refer to myself as Mr. Shaky McShakerson as I don’t have the steadiest of hands and that can be a real problem shooting hand-held at this focal length in less than optimal light.

Fast focus and SSM makes the the lens practically silent.

I have no buyers remorse at all. This lens does what it is designed to do and it does it extremely well. The 70-300mm focal range is a change for me, personally. But it is proving to be a fantastic and fun addition to my lens arsenal. I anticipate I will use this lens quite a lot in my daytime shooting and am even now working out the packing details in my brain for our upcoming trip.

Additional examples are in my Sony 70-300mm G gallery which I will be adding to as time goes on.