I’m not feeling terribly guilty about it. Really. It seemed like the natural thing to do today. You see I’m going to hole up for several hours in a bird blind with a relatively new friend, Eric, this coming Saturday. The blind is at the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge and I’d never been there before. Sure, I’ve driven by the turnoff several times but never took the time to go in. So, motivated to get familiar with the place before sunrise on Saturday and hoping for some practice taking photos of moving birds before our trip to Bosque del Apache next month, I grabbed the gear and headed out while it was still dry. My goals were simple: (1)get a feel for the place and the way birds move around during the day and (2) practice wing shooting birds in good light.
I was greeted by a nice lady volunteer as I put my camera pack on and grabbed the tripod for the hike out toward the blind. She advised that there was a snow goose – “first this year” right down below the visitor center. She did everything but tell me I was a fool if I didn’t go over there right then to get a look and a picture. I wandered over to the patio viewing area and gazed out at the mostly drained wetlands. Lots of geese and ducks. I suppose that there could have been a snow goose in there but, really, I wasn’t terribly excited by the view or the light. Off I went on the hike to the north and west. I ran into a guy walking out and he advised me that there was the “picture of a lifetime” waiting just ahead. He gave me directions and could barely contain his enthusiasm while sharing the location of an owl sleeping in a tree just across a creek from the trail. He told me that a volunteer, Ron, had the bird staked out with a spotting scope and that I couldn’t miss it. Well, I did. I kept walking past where the bird should have been. I scanned and looked… no dice. Pretty soon I ran into Ron and he asked if I’d seen the owl. He admitted that it really wasn’t all that unexpected to have missed it… I knew I liked this guy. He took me back and put his scope the bird. Good grief… even with the longest lens I have the bird was still a very small part of the frame. And it was like midnight dark in the area. I jacked the ISO up to 1600 and practiced what I know about “proper long lens technique”. I’m not really thrilled with the results but it is honestly one of the few owl photos I’ve ever taken.
I walked out to the wetland observation deck and located the trail to the blind I’ll share with Eric this Saturday. Since I didn’t have any reservation to the blind I turned around and headed back to the car without a vist to see what it offered. I went back to the visitor center and set up on the patio near the refuge office. I thought I’d just see if I could get any decent light on birds as they flew in. Anyone who’s been with me knows that I took a lot of shots with crappy light… just no discipline I guess. Every once in awhile the light got bright and birds were flying in the best direction to “light up”. All of the following images were taken using the 200-400 lens with a 1.7x add-on. None of the images are sharp enough to pass for a print but they are close. Poor technique.. probably. OK, most likely. I’ll try to do more shots without the 1.7x and see if the image sharpness doesn’t improve.
At one point I heard a clamor of geese and ducks in the distance as they all scattered to the skies. Then another wave of birds left from a pond closer to me. I scanned the sky for the hawk or eagle that promoted the defensive behavior of the birds. Here it came… right at me. I put the focus mark on the eagle and silently hoped that the continuous servo was engaged. I took a series of shots as the eagle flew right over me. Was I ready for this? Nope. Was I excited? Yup. Did I get anything worth showing? You decide.