Noisy Neighbor

Baby Mockingbird

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Baby Mockingbird

There’s been a baby Mockingbird outside the front window and for the last few days he’s been cheeping and cheeping. He’s not in a nest and he’s super hard to find, especially since he stops cheeping when we go outside to look for him. I finally located him and was able to shoot the above picture using the nifty Sony 100mm Macro lens. He was pretty fearless and just watched me as I put the lens within a few inches of him. If you click to see the larger image you can see the intrepid photographer reflected in his eye.

To Photograph A Mockingbird

One of the more elusive visitors to the backyard feeders. This guy paused for a few photos before deciding that no amount of suet was worth risking an extended visit. Both shot with the vintage Minolta 500mm f/8 Reflex. Note the smoke ring-like circular bokeh in the second picture, a characteristic of this kind of lens that can either be really interesting or really annoying.

Mockingbird

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Mockingbird

Mockingbird

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Mockingbird

Backyard Bird Report – May 25, 2009

Gus (the guy over at swamplot.com who keeps “borrowing” content from baldheretic.com) has dubbed me the “Stay At Home Nature Photographer” which I suppose is in reference to the number of pics I take around the house of the birds and so forth. All in good fun, I’m sure.

This holiday weekend we had the usual suspects. House Finches, a mob of House Sparrows and numerous doves rule the day.

The Carolina Wren has been getting braver and braver, especially since we discovered his weakness for Orange Delight suet.

Mr Blue Jay continues to be elusive. He zips in and out pretty quickly. Seems awful skittish for such a well known bully of a bird.

In a revolting turn of events, a few lowly and undesirable Grackles have broken with the Westheimer tradition and have begun wandering into the residential areas and have found there way into our yard.

They seem to be raiding the neighbors dog food bowl and bringing the food to our birdbath for processing.

All of today’s shots were taken using the Sony 70-300G 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.

Stop Making All That Racket!

Sapsucker or Woodpecker?

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Sapsucker or Woodpecker?

Sapsucker or Woodpecker?

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Sapsucker or Woodpecker?

I was in my home office this morning and heard this guy outside. He was pecking to beat the band. I believe him to be a sapsucker as spotted previously but I could be mistaken. More likely a Downy Woodpecker which seems more common. He’s very high up in the neighbor’s tree, but the SAL-70300G did a fine job in the bright, early morning sun.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

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Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

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Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Migratory Ruby-crowned Kinglet. I originally thought they were Orange-crowned Warblers, but further research and a reader tip indicates I may have mis-identified them.

You can compare here:
Orange-crowned Warbler
Ruby-crowned Kinglet

The wing-bars seem to be the tell….

They visit our yard each winter and are extremely elusive in terms of getting a photo. Today there were two of them in the front yard and they seemed oblivious to my presence. So oblivious, one nearly landed on my arm while I was shooting the pictures. Even so, they dart around so quickly and erratically they are not easy to photograph.

Life In The Aftermath

As Hurricane IKE approached, we left one hummingbird feeder out until sunset as two of the little guys kept feeding till the bitter end. We were pretty sure they were enjoying their last meal with no knowledge of what was about to hit them.

Oddly enough, we lost power around 8:00 pm Friday night. Wind was not blowing, no rain, nothing. Just a distant “poomph” as the transformer that fails with some regularity failed for apparently no reason. The lights in the houses across the street continued to glow warmly. Curse them.

As the sun was going down Cynthia and I were sitting outside marvelling at the wind as it started to build. The trees were swaying and rustling in the wind. I was pretty sure this was going to be a bad night. We had our supplies and Dooley and Mr. Zippers had been moved into the interior hallway so as to protect them should a window break.

At one point (long before the storm) the trees in front of our house got hit by a strong gust of wind and bowed to 45 degree angle. At that point we moved inside to ride it out.

As you might imagine, things continued to deteriorate. The wind picked up and was pretty much a constant howling as it whipped around the corners of the house and tried to find its way inside through any seam or crack. This went on for hours and hours.

With no power we only had out battery operated radio to keep us informed. It’s one of those radios that receives TV band so we could tune into the network news stations and get an idea of what was going on. That thing was our lifeline and the best hurricane supply in our arsenal.

About the time the storm was hitting us full on I fell asleep, just exhausted. Cynthia was not so fortunate. I felt bad abandoning her to my own slumber, but knew I would need my strength the next day during the cleanup.

When the sun came up, the wind was still gusting pretty strong but definitely dying down. Cynthia looked out the back window and exclaimed “there’s a birdy out there!” I braved the outside to go into the garage and get the feeders and re-hang them. As I was looking around I noticed a large branch from our flowering Pear tree had broken off and landed in the yard. the house was fine as was the garage. The fence was down in the back and along the driveway.

As I was hanging the seed feeders and the hummingbird feeders a wren zipped in an landed on the door to the garage to watch me.

Wren

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Wren

And literally within minutes there were dozens of sparrows up on the roof of the garage

Sparrows

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Sparrows

After I went inside the house the sparrows moved in

Refugees

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Refugees

And most surprisingly, TWO hummingbirds!

Wet Hummer

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Wet Hummer

Wet Hummer

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Wet Hummer

Wet and bedraggled, you know they had a rough night. I can’t even imagine how they survived, but they did.

After awhile, Ricky and Lucy put in an appearance

Ricky

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Ricky

lucy

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lucy

Watching them has been a HUGE moral boost. With no TV or Internet the bird show has enjoyed some high ratings at our house.

It’s Tuesday and we’re still without power. The neighbors across the street got theirs back on last night so we’re hopeful. The neighborhood HEB opened and we were able to get some ice and some more supplies. We’re holding on. The cold front has been a GODSEND! Lows in the upper 50’s last night with low humidity. It’s bearable.

Obviously we’re anxious to put this behind us and grateful it was not a whole lot worse for us.

At work now. Internet access and air conditioning is good for the soul.

I want a hamburger.

Mistah Jay

Mistah Jay

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Mistah Jay

This guy is VERY skittish and he doesn’t tend to hang around for very long.

Fortunately his call is loud and quite distinctive so when he is in the yard, you know it. I just happned to have the camera ready when I heard him this evening and was able to fire off a few shots before he dashed off.

Through the kitchen window with the SAL-135F18Z. Not too shabby.

Parting Shots

This should be the last of the hummingbird photos I post this season. Unless I manage to get something that trumps all of the previous shots but I don’t see that happening right now.

On Saturday I experimented with shooting the birds in flight. To do this I put some distance between myself and the feeder to put the birds at ease. While I got some great shots, I ended up having to crop-zoom to get something that would fill the frame.

Hummingbird

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Hummingbird

That means as good as that shot above is, that’s also it in terms of resolution and file size. It’s not printable but makes good web copy.

Same for these

Hummingbird
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Hummingbird

Hummingbird

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Hummingbird

But today I moved in closer to the feeder. The birds were quite a bit more wary and were reluctant to come in close. They did come and I imagine they will become braver if I keep it up.

What a difference a few feet make, though.

Hummingbird

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Hummingbird

The above image is resized for the web, but the full res version is 2148×1432. That’s quite a difference for just a few feet, some serious sweat equity and a lot of patience.

I’ve learned quite a bit via this exercise about focal length and shooting fast moving targets, not to mention the capabilities and the limitations of my gear. And best of all, I had a ton of fun doing it!

Hopefully my handful of readers are not sick to death of seeing hummingbirds and haven’t abandoned all hope and moved on to less feathery region of the Internet.