Getting close

I have had travel books printed in the past. They were simple collections of photos with some text that were printed by a variety of commercial printers. For the last month I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time assembling a book that contains the 100 Birds blog entries and photos. Sort of. I decided to substitute new photos and text for all duplicate species except Snowy Owl and Bullock’s Oriole. The easy way was to just absorb the duplicate species and use existing text. However, everyone who reviewed the drafts picked up on the duplication and asked, “Why?” I also added new photos of many species when there was enough white space on page 2 or 3 of a write up.

Speaking of reviews, I did the page layout in InDesign using a master Word file containing the blog entries. Susan Blair, good friend that she is, edited the text and improved it many times over without changing my folksy style. Joe and Merry Roy looked at draft page layouts and offered great suggestions. Bill Layman went through the book draft and gave me wonderful ideas for layout and photo quality based on his experience as a self-published author of a few great books. Susan Blair went through the second version and, once again, found phrasing and grammatical errors. It’s been a bit of a long-haul project.

I just sent a clean PDF version of the whole book to friends Steve Howes and Mark Oswood to do a final pass through the book. I hope to submit the file to the printer for a beta-book trial next Sunday. Once Dianne and I do a QA/QC review and make any needed corrections I will resubmit the book for printing. I plan to print a limited run to give copies to several people as a thank you. The book will be available to order on demand. I’m getting suggestions to have a book signing at our local Wild Birds Unlimited and a book release party at the Wenatchee Museum. Whew, that sounds like a lot of exciting opportunities. Time will tell if we go forward with those events.

So, soon there will be a new book to hold. It will be full color, 196 pages and 6″x9″ in size. It will be a soft cover and perfect bound. I think it will look a lot like a book.

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What now?

The last installment of the 100 Birds series has been published. Whew!

I’m not done with it, though.  I need to replace at least one duplicate bird and may do as many as 5. Once the series is complete and minimally redundant, I will begin laying out a book to be published on-demand.  I’ll edit all the text to grammar check and remove time-specific references that are out of place.  I’ll lay it out for printing and prepare the necessary PDFs.  I’m thinking of adding the camera metadata for each image.  My friend, Steve Howes, who is featured in many of the entries, has consented to write a forward for me.  He is a writer with wit and a good knowledge of me and my photographs. Another friend, has agreed to grab her sharpest red pencil and edit the text.

Once the book is ready I’ll send it off to http://www.lulu.com for printing and on-demand orders.  Yes, it will be for sale on-line at a modest price. I really look forward to holding a copy in my hands. Maybe by June? Maybe.

Thanks for all your comments and encouragement.

Onward….

100 Birds – #100 Northern Pintail

The last entry in this series is a photo I think of as the best bird photo I’ve ever taken. I was alone at the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in January 2914 and the place was loaded with birds.  There was a light fog drifting through but the temperatures were very comfortable. My thermos was full of hot coffee and I had all day to myself. 

As I saw a bunch of Northern Pintails circle overhead, I pulled over to the side of the road and positioned myself to shoot out the driver-side window.  I was trying to learn how to photograph birds in flight and I thought that these Pintails would be a good practice session.  Little did I know that they would fly through my view 4 times before landing.  It was like their gift to me, as if they knew I needed a LOT of practice. I followed them into the scene in my viewfinder and pressed the shutter for a burst of images. They’d fly off and come in on approach another time. It was an amazing few minutes.  I knew my exposure was good before I started the series and I was just hoping for the birds to be sharp and not be all bunched together with excessive overlap. I got my wish.

This image is one of 4 as the birds came in.  Two images before this one have the birds flying past the trees. While they are visible, the birds don’t stand out nearly as much as they do in this photo where they are against the foggy sky and framed between trees. The shutter speed was fast enough to stop them in flight. The sharp Nikon 300mm lens did its thing and gave me very sharp details. The last image in the sequence also shows the birds against the trees.  Nice, but not as good as the sky background.

This photo has generated some very humbling and flattering comments. It is printed at 24×36 inches in our house and most visitors think it is a painting. It has a very painterly feel to it. I credit that to the environment in which the photo was taken, the birds, and the miracle technology housed in my camera and lens. The photo had very little processing done to it.

I keep working to become a better bird photographer. I realize that success as a bird photographer comes from being in the field at the right time. Increasing my knowledge of bird behavior and camera technology is fundamental to any future successful images. They say that luck favors the prepared. All I can hope for is to be in the right place at the right time with the right stuff to bring home another image that means as much to me as this one does.

100 Birds – #99 Palm Warbler

When we visited Magee Marsh in May 2018, I had a primary species I wanted to see and photograph – Prothonotary Warbler (#65). I was really pleased to have that opportunity. Bird #98, Yellow Warbler, was another high priority to see and photograph. Check. We studied warblers for weeks before our visit and knew we were going to be treated to many new, colorful birds. I had no idea that the photos of a Palm Warbler would please me so much.

I need to go back through the bird images taken this year to be sure, but I think this may be my pick for “Best of Year” bird image. Certainly, it is in the top 5-10. There are a couple of things in the photo that are a bit troublesome to me. I wish the tip of the beak was not touching the out-of-focus leaf bud in the background. I also wish that the leaves were not concealing the lower portion of the bird. What I really like about the image is its clarity, the bird’s pose, the catchlight in the eye and the environmental context in which the bird sits.

Being a Warbler means this bird was not going to be there too long. I don’t think I ever had more than 45 seconds with a bird in one place at Magee. While that is a short time, it is actually a luxury for a bird photographer.

I have several poses from this bird. I always tend to settle on a pose that shows the bird with its head cocked to the side that allows a catchlight to be present. A slight turn either way and the light dies. The pose, to me, is dynamic. You know the bird is attentive and alert. It is engaged with its surroundings. The photo would benefit if the bird had a bug in its beak or if the beak was open during singing. Neither of those things happened while I got to appreciate the bird and the moment. Such is bird photography.

I was stopped cold when I reached this photo during my initial review of the hundreds of images from Magee Marsh. Pausing to closely look an image is always a good indicator that the image may be a keeper. A new species for me and one of several life birds that Magee produced. A tack sharp image of an engaged bird in its natural habitat. Asking for improvements to the image is greedy. Having this image float to the top (or nearly so) of the annual “selects” was a joyful surprise for me. Serendipitous beauty. I hope I am as fortunate next year.

100 Birds – #98 Yellow Warbler

I worked with my friend Mark Oswood when I created the north-central Washington bird ID poster for the local Audubon chapter. He and I selected the birds that would appear on the first draft. We used the existing bird checklist for the Confluence Park/Horan area and picked birds that are commonly seen in spring, summer, and fall. We added in the species that we use during the What’s That Bird exercise with grade school kids. Then I filtered out the species for which I did not have a photo that showed the needed field marks. One of the species that was removed was Yellow Warbler. I simply did not have any photos of the fairly common Yellow Warbler. Mark and I agreed that the bird needed to be in the poster and that we could wait until I had a photo that would work.

I started concentrating on getting a photo of this bright bird. Numerous people told me where they had seen them. I visited many of those places and came away without a photo. I actually had one framed to photograph in Bozeman, Montana but the bird flew just as I pressed the shutter. So close. No gold ring.

I watched 2 Yellow Warblers working over a marsh area near Leavenworth, Washington and got a few pictures of them in the distance. Small birds in a big space. Not the image I needed for the poster.

I kept reporting my near misses to Mark to assure him that I remembered we wanted the bird on the poster. He kept assuring me that the time would come, the stars would align and we’d have the image. Months went by and I was still sans Yellow Warbler.

We visited Magee Marsh in May 2018. One of the first bird’s I saw in this Warbler Mecca was a Yellow Warbler. My hopes went up and I asked my companions to please notify me if they saw any nearby. We enjoyed a wide variety of warblers and collected nice images of many. On our last day at the marsh, we were walking a trail back to the car. An Eastern Kingbird posed nicely. Click. Click. Then we saw a Yellow Warbler in a trail-side shrub. It was out in the open and singing. It had all the needed field marks. Click. Click….10 times. Reviewing the images on the camera back showed success. I know that an image will always look good on a tiny LCD and that some won’t measure up when inspected on a good monitor. Several of these did pass the test. After a year of deliberate effort trying to get photos of a single species, I could relax. Now, if history holds, I’ll gather many more without having to try. I’ll enjoy each one.

100 Birds – #97 Western Grebe

It was a cold November morning in 2016 as I sat on a log next to the Columbia River in East Wenatchee. Locally, the place is known as Porter’s Pond but I was south of anything I’d call a pond. I was watching both Horned Grebes and Western Grebes swim around looking for food. There were Canada Geese just upstream, a Great Blue Heron posing silently at the edge of a small point on the bank upstream and, occasionally a large flock of Bufflehead would fly upstream and drift back by me. I was there to photograph the biggest Grebe we get in Wenatchee, the Western Grebe.

In my experience here, Horned Grebe are most common followed by significantly smaller numbers of Pied- bill, Eared, and Western Grebes. I have yet to see Clark’s Grebe here.

As is usual, the Grebes moved away as I entered the area. I sat and settled in to wait. The log got harder and my hands got colder. Whine, whine, whine. I was surrounded by silence except for the bird noises. I had no deadline. My objective was to get a decent photo of the Western Grebe that showed its yellow bill and red eye. The bill was pretty easy but the eye was totally dependent on the light direction. For once, I followed more birds in the viewfinder than I took pictures of. The birds never did come as close as I would like but this photo is only minimally cropped. The sun didn’t show itself so the gray sky colored the river. I’ll try again some day soon when the river is calm and the sky is blue. Thankfully, that happens fairly frequently here.

100 Birds – #96 Ring-billed Gull

Gulls, like Mallards, are often viewed with disdain. This probably stems from the fact that both gulls and Mallards are very common. Gulls also suffer from the fact that they can be extremely hard to identify. They inter-breed, molt and change color based on age. My hat definitely goes off to anyone who has worked to become proficient at ID’ing gulls.

Thankfully, there is the Ring-billed Gull. The field mark issues of the Ring-necked Duck are solved by naming this Gull after its distinctive dark band near the tip of the beak. See how easy that can be?

This photo was taken several years ago at Commonwealth Lake Park in Beaverton, Oregon. There are usually people in the park and the gulls have habituated to them – at least to a degree. This one flew in and landed on a deck post as I was walking into the area. I decided to see just how close I could get before the bird flew. I was using a Nikon D800 with a 300 mm lens at the time so I knew that I’d be viewed suspiciously by the bird. I stopped and raised the camera. Click. Take a couple of steps closer and repeat. I kept expecting a dog or a kid to run in and spoil my fun. Grateful that I was uninterrupted, I stopped approaching when I hit the minimum focal distance of the lens (1.4 meters). At that distance, I was filling the frame with the bird’s head. The bird tolerated my antics and, I presume, expected some food as a reward. That didn’t happen. We parted amicably.

100 Birds – #95 Ring-necked Duck

I include this photo of a Ring-necked Duck because of the species’ common name. Everyone I’ve been with, when they see this duck for the first time, thinks it should be called Ring-billed Duck. I agree. I mean, really, look at the bird and one of the first things you see is the conspicuous white ring around the bill. Someone will always correct those in error and then try to explain why the name is what it is. Good luck with that.

First described in 1809, the naming likely happened when the bird was studied in the lab and marks or colors could be easily viewed. But still, how could you not react to that white band on the bill?

It is my understanding that the duck has a nice chestnut colored band at the base of the neck that can be seen if you are close to the duck and the light is right. And if you’re not colorblind. Is that a tinge of color at the base of the neck in this photo? I am told that, yes, there is a definite band at the base of the neck. Even with that confirmation, the ring is a much less evident field mark to me.

If you are with me and we see a few of these, you will hear me pause before I say the name. That’s because my brain wants to yell “Ring-billed Duck” and I have to make the appropriate conversion to the proper name. And so, we live with the name as given until some practical, authoritative bird namer corrects it.

100 Birds – #94 Pied-bill Grebe

I had never seen a Pied-bill Grebe until I started visiting the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge on a regular basis. It was there, alongside a slough, that I met this grapefruit-sized bird for the first time. I was staring at it and trying to figure out what it was when it resorted to standard Grebe behavior. It dove under water. I’m always a bit frustrated at myself when I don’t get even a poor picture of a bird before it slams the door. In this instance, I got 3 great photos of the bird’s back end and splashing water. I seem to excel at this type of photography.

The bird surfaced about 20 feet to my left and gave me a few profile photos before swimming behind shrubs and out of view. I grabbed my Sibley’s Guide and thumbed through it to find the bird. My first Pied-bill Grebe. What an interesting bird. The term “pied-bill” refers to the stout, short, black-banded whitish bill. It’s quite a distinctive field mark for adults.

Since that time I have seen hundreds of them in a variety of locations, mostly on the west side of the Cascades. Around Wenatchee, the common Grebe seems to be the slightly larger Horned Grebe or the much larger Western Grebe. An occasional Pied-bill Grebe does show up and I’ve learned to be slow to call out the species until I get a good look at the bill. My friends here are pretty gentle as they correct me.

I’m not sure where this photo was taken. Most likely it comes from Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge or Commonwealth Lake Park in Beaverton, Oregon. I chose the file because of the light, the reflection, and the distinctive banded bill. I’m also quite confident that the bird dove as I pressed the shutter. That’s the way they are.

100 Birds – #93 Great Horned Owl

Being new to the town, the State, and the house, I had a hard time sleeping when we moved to Wenatchee. I’d wake at 03:00-04:00 and move to the room we think of as an office and, sitting in a new chair, read or layout tasks for the day. One morning I heard the familiar hooting of a Great Horned Owl. It was close. I opened the drapes and looked into blackness. I went outside but saw nothing. My motions likely resulted in the fact that I did not hear any more hoots. Yet I was thrilled to know that there was an owl in “the hood”. A day or so later I was talking to the lady across the street and her daughter. I told them the story of the owl and, as I finished, the daughter sort of snickered and looked away. I asked her “what?” She smiled and said, “they sit on your house”. Hey, I knew it was close, right?

I’d seen Great Horned Owl before and had some dismal images to prove it. I was elated to know that I lived in an area that had owls sitting on houses. That meant that they were near and my prospects of finding one in a nice setting and decent light were better than ever before.

I was reaching out to other bird photographers and birders in the area to learn where to go as well as to make new friends. One lady posted a nice photo of a Great Horned Owl that was taken the day before. I asked if she would share the general location. About 5 miles later I was standing next to the restrooms at a park known as Hydro Park east of Wenatchee. The owl was sitting in a sparse tree about 15 feet above me. It looked at me. I looked at it. I asked permission to take a few photos. It blinked. I interpreted that to mean “if you must”.

It should always be this easy.