I am guilty of under-appreciating bluebirds. I had little experience with them until we moved to North Central Washington and I discovered the Waterville Plateau. Miles of bluebird boxes line the road across the top and down into Waterville. The first spring and summer woke me up to the beauty of the Mountain Bluebird.
These birds stay near their nest box once they set up shop. I’ve spent many hours watching their comings and goings to set up the nest or feed the babies. Time like that is zen-like and quite rejuvenating – not that a retired guy needs a lot of recovery time, right?
The bird in the photo above has a story. We had been photographing hummingbirds at Calliope Crossing for a couple of hours and it was time to head home. Our gracious host, Wayne Graevell, walked us out to our truck. As we approached the truck he said “I’m sorry”. They have a bluebird box along the drive and the male bluebird seems to have a thing for mirrors and shiny surfaces. It was sitting on the passenger side window frame and arguing with itself in the side mirror. The whitewash on the door told us it had been there awhile.
I moved closer and snapped a couple of silly record shots. The bird flew off the truck and headed for its nest box. As I turned to the truck Dianne alerted me to bird behind me. I turned to see it posing on top of this stem. Nice light and a background that was a few hundred yards away. I heard the camera go click. Several times. Sometimes the birds just present themselves for a photo. Not often, but when it happens, it’s magic.
I looked at photos of Avocet long before I saw one. I studied the photos because I was stunned by the bird’s beauty. The upward curved beak made me pause to consider “why”? The rich breeding colors on the head and neck added another dimension to a beautiful bird. I went for years like that – looking and wondering.
I was on a Fall road trip to Colorado with my friend, Steve, when we pulled into the Bear River National Bird Migration Refuge near Brigham City, Utah. Shortly after we started around the driving loop we saw our first group of Avocet wading and foraging. The birds moved with few stops. With the tips of their beaks submerged, they moved the beak side to side to stir up insects and invertebrates. I remember being surprised by their size – smaller than I had envisioned. I crept down a bank to sit at water level and proceeded to watch as the birds adjusted to me. I hardly noticed the swarms of mosquitoes as I began to take photos. Any time I have a new bird in front of my camera I’m overtaken by the feeling that I should just sit and enjoy the bird. I don’t do that. I shoot a lot if images simply because I never know if I’ll have another chance.
Utah is a long way to travel to see and photograph these birds. I was happy to learn that Steve was seeing them near his home in the Tri-cities area of Washington. I traveled there to have another chance to see them. It was nice to see them in their breeding colors. More digital files for the bird library. More opportunity to study the bird’s behavior.
Last year I was introduced to a set of small ponds about 1.5 hours from Wenatchee. The ponds were supporting not only American Avocet but Black-necked Stilt, Wilson’s Phalarope and American Pipit. I made many trips out there last year and never tired of watching Avocet.
A few days ago I heard that the ponds had filled again and that the birds were increasing in numbers. Once again, I found pairs of Avocet wading the shoreline to feed. I sat near my truck and watched for about 30 minutes as the Avocet and Stilt adjusted to me. Then I started taking photos. I stayed long enough to fill a 64gb memory card. I wanted more poses and different light. You’d think I would be content. I’m not. I just heard that White-faced Ibis were seen mixed in with the Stilts. I will probably see the sunrise over the ponds tomorrow.
I try to carry the camera with me when we walk. Really, I do. Of all the ways I’ve used to carry the body and lens along – by hand, in a pack, on a strap – none really work well for me. I’m a big fan of Mindshift bags/packs. The Rotation 180 Pro is amazing. The Rotation 180 Panorama is an abbreviated version of the Pro and is my go to bag for hikes. Both are just too big for daily walks along the river. Enter the Mindshift Photocross 10. This sling bag lets me safely carry the Fuji X-T2 and 100-400 lens and provides quick access. It was this bag and camera kit I was carrying when we heard the Hairy Woodpecker shown here.
I swung the bag to the front and off loaded the camera as the bird worked away in a tree next to the path. We stalked and photographed this bird against a variety of backgrounds for about 30 minutes. I was frequently inside my minimum focal distance. Such a problem.
The bird is now a member of our local Audubon bird ID poster. It will be used to help teach bird ID to school kids in our area. A nice reward for the camera and me.
Anyone who knows me knows that I always get a bit excited when I get some new camera kit. In the last year I have made a sincere effort to slim down the optics and to switch from Nikon DSLRs to Fujifilm mirrorless DSLRs. The mirrorless is smaller, lighter, cheaper and equal to (or nearly so) my Nikon’s file quality. I sold several Nikon lenses before we left Portland and banked most of the proceeds to wait for the arrival of the new Fuji 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 lens. It is the entry of Fuji into a fairly long focal length lens. Initial reviews were excellent even if they came from sponsored users for the most part. I was excited to get the long waited for lens. It came to our door just as our dear friends, Jenn and Gerry, arrived in town to spend the weekend with us. And so the convergence of good times began… new glass and good friends in town when the weather forecast was great and there were recent reports of birds that would help populate all of our life or year lists. Off we go…
Jenn and Gerry are the most purposeful and deliberate birders I know. They work at it and even though Gerry is frequently out of country they still rack up more bird species seen than others I know who are in the birder camp. Me, I’m still mostly a guy who enjoys the pursuit of a decent bird photo and who is learning the complexities and joy of birding. When we get a chance to venture out birding with Jenn and Gerry we plan a route based on recent bird observations and the desire to add either life birds or additions to other lists. Regardless of what happens, we are outdoors and enjoying the time. As we planned for this visit we hoped to see snowy owls (year bird), gray partridge (life bird for Jenn, year bird for Jenn and Gerry), bohemian waxwings (same as the partridge) and a variety of sparrows that would have all been life birds for me. Gerry has a habit of predicting that we will see at least 70 species over a day or two. The history of his success at meeting this target is quite good.
We met up with J and G shortly after they got skunked looking for the Bohemian waxwings that had been in an East Wenatchee neighborhood for weeks. It’s all part of the game to miss birds that one expects or hopes to see. Whatever. On we go. We headed to the river path that Dianne and I walk frequently. The goal was to ease into the birding with a casual walk on the path that would be punctuated with an IPA endpoint at a nearby pub. We found the usual wigeon, geese, mallards, golden eye and crows. Not a rousing start but a decent warm up. This single female Common merganser was preening nearby and became the first real bird target for the new lens. Gerry, who is a great photographer, and I both looked at the LCD and concluded that the lens was OK if not good. Not a fair test really until the image hits the computer screen but the magnified screen on the back of the camera showed a sharp image. That is exactly what I expected and hoped for.
We shared a pint at the pub and headed for home and dinner. A few more pints disappeared as the evening matured. We laid out our game plan for an extended auto loop on the Waterville Plateau the next day and hit the hay.
After a cup of tea or two and breakfast we set out to find the targeted birds and any others that we could glass and record. Our cameras were ready and the scopes were positioned for easy access. We started up the canyon from Orondo to Waterville and stopped as Gerry began itching to give a listen to and scan a couple of small canyons for canyon wrens or others. Gerry jumped ahead and was listening intently for birds in a small canyon. We soon saw him waving for us to join him and he had all of us listening for the sound of a Canyon wren he’d heard. No luck audibly or visually so we headed on.
The fields of unbroken snow on the plateau looked wonderful below a blue sky as we headed east through Waterville. We saw our first Rough-legged hawk along the way to Withrow.
We had seen frequent reports of Gray partridge at the Withrow grain elevators so we pulled in to take a look. I’d been there a couple of times without success. I honestly believe that other, more accomplished birders like my friend Steve Howes or Jenn and Gerry bring me good luck. Their experience always teaches me how to more effectively participate in this chase. We had all but given up after scouring the area with binoculars and were readying to leave when a single Eurasion Collered Dove stopped us for some reason. Once stopped, two partridge flushed and headed away from us. We backed up and set out to get a better look at them that would qualify for a legitimate sighting. As we walked around several more flushed and we tracked them as they flew and settled in among the weed and rills. Gerry set up his scope and placed it on a pair of Gray partridge. Bingo. Life bird for Jenn. Year bird for J and G. Dianne and I had seen some a few weeks earlier when we drove a similar route with Steve Howes. All of us enjoyed the sight of these pretty birds. The photo below was taken on the previous trip with Steve.
We drove on to the town of Mansfield and stopped at the cemetery that Steve and I had explored a few months prior. We hoped for owls in the big trees and sparrows in the hedge rows. What we got was good viewing of a Swainson’s Hawk flying away from us (life bird for Bruce), a fleeting glimplse of a Moutain bluebird and a clear view of a Snow bunting flying directly overhead. That bird was so white it stuck out vividly against that clear blue sky. Our lists were growing as we headed east of Mansfield to search for Snowy owls.
We drove several roads in the area where the owls had been reported and glassed every pile of rock and hummock that we saw. Actually, I drove and glanced, Gerry, Jenn and Dianne did the real scanning. Nada. We stopped in an intersection for lunch. Gerry made use of the time by walking down the road to look into other areas with his scope. Nada. He did see a Northern shrike but it stayed off our lists since the rest of us were slackers and stayed near the car… and food.
As we approached our lunch spot we saw what we thought was a red-tailed hawk sitting on a power pole. As I drove by Jenn started voicing second opinions and was thumbing through the Sibley’s guide as she convinced us to go back for a better look. The bird was not realy cooperative but we got to see the under-wing feather pattern that led to identifying the bird as a Broad-winged hawk (lifer for Bruce). Identifying a bird can frequently be a challenge with all the seasonal variations they experience, hybridization, morphs and natural variability. Size, shape, flight patterns and plumage are key diagnostics. But sometimes you just have to go back and check again with an authoritative book for reference. We were all glad that Jenn’s doubts resulted in our circling around for a few more views of this bird. Lesson learned.
We headed north toward the Columbia River. Along the way we saw other raptors like this Red-tailed Hawk.
Once on the river we recorded many waterfowl… scaup, bufflehead, geese, ring-billed ducks, golden eye and others. All are beautiful birds but their common presence dulls the thrill of the check mark on the list. We kept moving south to the Beebe Springs Natural Area near Chelan, Washington. I’d driven by there a number of times with Dianne and Steve Howes but had not stopped due to snow packing the access. We all wandered the area to see what it offered. A few sparrows showed up as did a couple of Killdeer. The variety of habitats and proximity to water suggest that this place will be a rich location to visit in a month or two. It’s always nice to have a path through a rich area and I’m betting that if we get there early in the day we will have the area largely to ourselves.
We headed south out of Chelan toward Wenatchee as the sun started to lower to the horizon. Jenn had not seen Bighorn sheep in the wild and I was hopeful that the herd just north of Wenatchee was still hanging around and visible. Gerry spotted them about 100 yards upslope from the highway so we parked and set up a scope to scan them and give Jenn the chance to add another mammal to her list. The photo below is from a previous trip that Dianne and I made about a month ago. Same animals and location, different time.
Once we were back to the house we sat with an adult beverage and Jenn and Gerry went through their routine of documenting the birds seen for the day. Honestly, I was a bit surprised at this process even though I had heard about it several times. The list isn’t official until it is written while enjoying a pint. Gerry pointed out that going through the Sibley book page by page and bird type by bird type allows you to see the birds again which helps reinforce their field marks and relation to others. Good thought I think. Me, I use an app on my phone to log birds during the day. I was hoping that I’d gotten all of the birds entered. I hadn’t and added 2 or 3 more as G and J called out their notes. At the end we’d seen 51 species during the day. There were a few more that Gerry knew were out there but couldn’t count… the Canyon wren he’d heard but not seen and that noone else heard or saw and the Northern shrike he saw at lunch and which we’d not seen because I’m a slacker. We didn’t hit the 70 mark which was a bit of a disappointment only to Gerry.
The next day we added Great Horned Owl to the list as we drove Colockum Canyon south of Wenatchee. Once again, this area will be worth a visit in a month or two. We then retreated to the house and said farewell to J and G as they headed back to Portland. Of course they continued to bird as they drove and added a couple more “first of year” birds to their growing list. The last I heard, Wild Turkey was number 161 for the year.
I opted to go the river park to continue to practice with the new lens. There is always a learning curve with a new lens and this large lens is no different. I practiced panning and shooting as geese, wigeon and goldeneye flew by. A few of the images tell me that I have potential to get decent images if I can catch up to the lens quality. I’ll keep after it.
Life will be busy between now and mid-October. We were fortunate to quickly sell our house in Portland and twice fortunate to buy a beautiful house in Wenatchee, Washington. Located 5+ hours northeast of Portland, Wenatchee puts us more equidistant (time wise) between our kids and offers smaller town perks and challenges. 25 years in the big city is enough. I know, Portland is still considered a smaller city but the traffic rivals Seattle for my impatient character. So, small town here we come after debating and evaluating our move for at least a decade. By the end of August we will reside next to foothill slopes on the east side of the Cascade mountains. The dry side. The side with snow. The side with more sun than gray stratus layers.
Shortly after the move we will be locking the place up and taking a train trip across Canada – Vancouver, BC to Toronto. This is a refresher trip for us in many ways since we have cycled through the northern Rockies and I took an abbreviated train trip with my sister and mother shortly after I retired. The train part will be all new for Dianne and once we set out across the plains of Canada it will be a fresh experience for us both. We look forward to the time to see Canada and relax. Once in Toronto we meet up with our nephew and his wife for a weekend at their family cottage. This is a place my sister always wanted to share with us but which we have not visited. Her passing last fall means that she will never have the joy of showing us a place she loved so much. We regret that but know that Doug and Laura will do her proud. They always have. After Toronto it’s back on the train to Rochester, NY to visit Dianne’s brother and his lady on their beautiful farm. I doubt we will be able to continue to be coddled once we arrive. I’m pretty sure Vince suggested that I bring some work gloves. We’ll fly back to Vancouver from Rochester and find our way back to Wenatchee in time for the fall bird migration and cooler temperatures. Then we settle in for the long haul.
I started this blog entry as a means to test the process of moving photos from our little Fuji XT10 camera to the iPad for use in the blog we will maintain on our trip. I’m surrounded by boxes and know my afternoon is dedicated to the office and packing camera gear. We will keep the Fuji cameras at hand but all the rest will be boxed for the move. Withdrawal? I’ll deal with it.
As part of preparing the house for sale we removed most of our bird feeders. We kept the bird bath and one seed block just to make ourselves feel better about abandoning our friends. The good news is that the hummers are doing just fine with our flower blossoms and the chickadees and nuthatches are frequenting the seed block along with this Downy Woodpecker and an occasional Western Scrub Jay. It will be fun to create a backyard environment that emphasizes native plants in favor of birds and photo staging.
There are so many ways that I could organize this blog post. I could center on my continuing evolution as a photographer/birder. I could focus on relationships. I could describe my learning process. Honestly, it likely does not matter since all the structures are valid and useful. I’ve mentally debated this post for a few days now and have concluded that I just need to begin and hope that the words and thoughts follow with some sense of meaning and organization.
I took a road trip with my good friend, Steve Howes, last week. Traveling with Steve is always fun and rewarding. This trip started, for me, when I ran into a fellow at the Steigerwald National Wildlife Refuge near Washougal, Washington a few weeks ago. Charles had driven down from the Everett, Washington area with hopes to see a White-tailed Kite. I was in the area for the same reason. When I do things like this the goal of seeing a specific bird becomes a mixture of the “hunt” and just “being out there”. I don’t mind wandering an area and appreciate the chance to watch what is going on and see an endless variety of nature’s ways. I approached Charles in the parking lot and struck up a conversation. We made introductions and then walked the trail from the lot to the first stand of trees. Charles was determined to maximize his time looking for the Kite so he stayed where he could view that area in which it had been reported. I wandered on and returned about 45 minutes later. There was a group in the lot all waiting for the bird to magically appear. I suspect that behavior may sound a bit silly to anyone who is not a birder. I admit I have limited patience with such a speculative activity. I reconnected wtih Charles and we shared stories and tales of birds. I asked where he liked to bird around his home and he listed several locations. One, Eide Road, on the way to Camano Island was getting a lot of attention on the bird-web for a collection of Short-eared Owls and a few Long-eared Owls and harriers. My friends Jenn and Gerry had been there recently and teased me with images of the owls and the crowds observing and photographing them. Charles and I shared information and went our separate ways. Neither of us got to see the Kite but the idea of visiting Eide Road had taken root in my mind.
I contacted Steve and suggested that we might want to head that way. We’d been talking about a trip to the northern WA coast and plans began to take form. We got dates on the calendars and began planning the logistics. Actually, Steve did all the leg work as I will explain as I type the trip report. Steve and I agreed that we ought to contact Charles again for some up to date info and to pick his brain about specific areas to visit and what might be seen. I got in touch with Charles and set up a lunch appointment with him in Mukeltio on a Monday afternoon. Charles left us with a great set of maps that he had annotated with locations and access instructions. Our trip was taking form.
Steve contacted his uncle who lives in the Everett area and arranged a visit. Steve also contacted a couple of friends from our working past and called me to say that Don and Debbie had not only been excited to hear that we were coming their way but that they offered their house to us for the time we wanted to be in the area. Between Steve’s uncle and our firiends we were well cared for on our trip. Let me explain.
Steve has mentioned his uncle, Frank and his aunt, Betty many times. Steve forwards my photos or blogs to Frank on occassion and I got feedback that Frank really enjoyed both the photos and words. How can I resist an opportunity to meet a guy who appreciates my efforts… such as they are. Frank wanted to meet up over dinner so Steve and I met with Charles for lunch, birded around the Mukeltio area for a few hours and then headed to Frank’s place. Shortly before we left the Portland area Steve called to tell me that Frank so appreciated our intent to visit that he wanted to take us out to dinner and get us rooms nearby. Say what? Really? I began to think of Frank as my new best friend. We enjoyed a great meal at a local restaurant and got to know each other a bit. The generosity that Frank and Betty showed us was remarkable and it meant a lot to me to be welcomed into their home and have a chance to meet two such nice people. I tend to be pretty cynical so it is good for me to get an in-your-face reminder that the world is full of nice people who do nice things. Charles, Frank and Betty were all unknowns to me weeks before and yet they shared their time and experiences without reservation. Good lesson for me and a perfectly wonderful way to start a week long trip.
And then we moved north toward Bow, Washington which is just south of Bellingham. Our taget that night was the home of our friends, Don and Debbie. But first we needed to pay a visit to Eide Road. We drove to the parking lot and talked briefly to another guy setting up his camera to photograph the owls and others as opportunities came. He was a regular to the area and helped orient us to the action. We struck off through the mud and quickly had a Short-eared Owl do a fly by. Click, click, click. Drab light did not diminish my excitement to get shots of this bird.
We spent a few hours onsite and got other opportunities to see and photograph the Short-eared but never did see a Long-eared Owl. We met another local lady who was there to take photos and fell into a natural conversation about the birds, cameras and how nice it was to be there. Then we moved on toward Bow with frequent stops to scope rafts of birds or watch a murmuration in the distance. No decent photos but fun to watch and the birds added to our trip list.
Steve called Don to alert them to our arrival time and we headed toward the remarkable house and hosts that we would enjoy for the next three nights. Steve and I worked with Don and knew Debbie but I had not seen either of them in years. I had gotten bits and pieces of the story of building their barn and house each Monday after they returned to Porland for a work week and another weekend of work on the property. I had no idea. These two showed us photos of the multi-year construction process in which they did the bulk of the work. Their neighbors chipped in frequently but Don and Debbie worked their tails off for the duration. The end result is a house that fits the land and the personalities of the owners. Their attention to details is unbeliveable. There is a sense of feng shui everwhere… from the view of a large Doug fir tree framed at the end of entry hall, to the curved path leading to the front door so you get a clear view of the whole house on approach. Not a direct path but one that says alot about the vision these two had for their house and the experience they (and it) would allow them and their visitors. Everything in the house is quality and pains-takingly done. Perhaps you’d like a view of the bay from their living room….wish you could see it in person.
People have asked them when they plan to fall the trees and open the view. A simple but perfect answer… never. The trees give them 4 seasons of change and provide habitat for birds and other creatures. The pond they built, the wood fired pizza oven, the rooms wired with sound, a fireplace that heats the upstairs and serves as a small oven on the backside, the list of quality features goes on. To say it was nice to see smiling faces on friends after such a long time is a vast understatement. That they catered to our trip’s goals by guiding us to birding areas near the Canada border and taking us out for a day on their boat to have lunch on an island in the San Juans is just, well, kind of numbing. I don’t think that Steve or I ever thought something so wonderful would come from a half-baked idea to go see some shore and ocean birds.
Here are a couple of photos from our trip out on the boat.. our own little pelagic tour. I aplogize for any out of focus or blurry shots… darn ocean.
We left our friend’s house somewhat reluctantly but we were both anticipating being reunited with our wives and there were other birding locations to visit before we got home. We headed to the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge north or Olympia, Washington. We were surprised by the number of cars parked at the visitor center but, like most tourist areas, the people thin out quickly as you move farther from your car. Soon we were walking nice trails and got good views of a Peregrine Falcon and Great Horned Owl. We also got some decent photo opps of a Yellow-rumped Warbler.
We ended our trip with a quick visit to the 4 mile driving loop at the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. We didn’t dawdle there as darkness was coming on. Seeing two more Great Horned Owls was a nice treat.
All together, Steve and I saw 77 species of birds, 13 of which were Life Birds for me. The geek in me paid off as I kept a running tally of the birds on an iPhone app. It’s nice to be able to not only see the birds listed but to see the locations on a map is pretty neat too.
My experience with travel with Steve told me that this trip would be another memorable time. I’m sure it would have been even without the extraordinary kindness show us by Charles, Frank and Betty and Don and Debbie. I gained a lot by interacting with these nice people. My life is better for the experience. I came home with a few decent photos (remarkably few for a trip this length) and was greeted by my loving wife who appreciated put up with my absence. I’m truly humbled by the friendship shown to us during our trip and stand in awe of what two determined people can do when they have a vision of how and where they want to live the rest of their lives. Once again, thanks Charles, Frank, Betty, Don and Debbie. And I can’t quit without saying thank you to my friend Steve who has so many things in common with me and who adds to the value of time together. May we have many more such trips.
GEEK ALERT! This entry tends toward the gear end of things and may not be what everyone enjoys. For anyone who is using mirrorless cameras and has a bunch of DSLR lenses laying around the post may find some merit. Just sayin’.
Anyone who follows this blog knows that I really enjoy the quality of my Nikon 300 f/4 lens. It’s small, easy to maneuver and brilliantly sharp. Once I got the Fuji X-T1 camera the Nikon lens sat in the case more often than not. I’d get it out occassionally and mount it to the trusty Nikon body. The familiarity of that setup is always comfortable in my hands. The trade off for use of the Nikon D800 body is shot burst rate. Clanking along at 5 fps in DX mode is trying at times. I want more so that I have the option to select images where a bird’s wings are in better position or the degree of overlap between birds is minimized. 5 fps is not terrible but once you’ve shot with an 8-10 or 12 fps camera you realize what a real burst feels and sounds like. Of course, you get to sort through many more images on the computer but that process is not bad when using Lightroom.
The Fuji X-T1 can shoot 8 frames a second and does so almost silently since it has no mirror. Lots less noise from the sensor at high ISO too. The little camera body has a lot going for it and I am using it more and more. I know others who have said goodbye to their DSLR gear and cast their fate to the mirrorless genre. I’m not quite ready to do that yet. If for nothing else, birds in flight photos are, for me, nearly impossible using the Fuji. It may be an aquired skill but so far my experience is dismal. But for sitting birds or landscapes the Fuji just rocks. The problem there is that Fuji does not make a long lens…yet. I used to own a Fuji DSLR and always loved the file quality I got out of it. I could use my Nikon lenses on it without any issues at all. Not so for the Fuji X-T1. The small Fuji has a totally different lens mount and my Nikon investment simply won’t work directly. Can you feel my frustration?
My friend Gerry used to be a Canon shooter… before that it was Nikon. He shoots and writes for a living and does both really well. He’s one who said goodbye to Canon, sold much of his gear and went to a micro-four thirds mirrorless camera. A bold move. When I visited him recently he showed me a few images he’d shot using the Olympus camera body and a Canon 100-400 lens that he’d kept. Wonderful images. I think they even surprised him with their clarity. The 100-400 is not known as one of Canon’s sharpest lenses but the proof was there to see. To mount the Canon lens to his Olympus body Gerry purchased a Metabones adapter. I’m guessing that he got one of the higher end adapters since he talked about how you actually GAIN a stop of light when using it. Usually, putting glass between the lens and the body results in a LOSS of light by 1-2 stops. The idea of gaining light is counter intuitive but I have read at least one Metabones review that swears it is true. The result of our conversation and looking at his images was that I purchased a Metabones adapter so that my Nikon lenses mount to the Fuji body.
Metabones adapters are notorious for being very tight to mount the lens and to mount the camera. When I got mine I mounted a 50mm lens without a problem. I tested a 105 macro and, again, no problem. Same for the 200-400 and the 300. I was relieved. Then I started to try to take photos with it. Gulp. I’ve grown lazy with the modern camera capabilities and the shock of going back to manual exposure and focus was (is) a bit intimidating. There are a couple of tricks to mounting a lens to the adapter and to making the Fuji body work at all when the adapter is in place. But once it is all set up properly, the lens works great. It’s just that you have to maually focus and set exposure. I think. I still need to test the camera in Aperture priority where it may gain some flexibility. So far I’ve shot only using manual mode.
Setting the exposure is pretty straightforward but requires a mix of ISO adjustment along with the usual method of turning an aperature ring on the adapter. I’ve found that I need to leave my F-mount lenses set to the smalles aperature (or one to two stops open) in order to be able to make adjustments to the exposure using the aperture ring on the adapter. I’ll get faster at this but I’m still pretty awkward in the moves. It’s all so demanding when you are used to shooting with virtually everything being done for you. But it works.
Focus, the title of this blog, is another thing all together. I proved to myself years ago that I can not adequately manually focus on a scene. I’ve tried and tried in tightly controlled situations. Nope. Just no good at it. Auto-focus allows me to be a photographer at all. So the idea of having to manually focus the lens mounted to the little Fuji body was scary. I quikly learned that VERY small movements of the focus ring create large changes. Yikes. I’m more of a percussionist than a violin player. I do better with a hammer than I do with a saw. Could I do this at all?
The new cameras offer technology that you won’t find in Nikon and Canon DSLR bodies (yet). One feature that I really enjoy and rely on is known as “focus peaking”. Imagine you are looking through a camera’s viewfinder or at the screen on the camera’s back. As you twist the focus ring you see the subject come into focus. As you continue to improve the focus the subject gets sharper. And then it happens. With focus peaking, anytime the subject is in focus, you see a bright band appear on every edge. It’s like it’s telling you… YEA! YOU FOUND THE SWEET SPOT. You can easily tell when the critical part of an image is in sharp focus. It’s a miracle I’m telling you. At least to me it is. Of course when you are trying to maintain focus on a moving object it gets a bit more challenging. I thought that a trip to the duck pond would be a nice way to see if I have any hope of doing this at all. Let’s just say I learned a lot but I have a few shots that prove it can be done. Now I just need to learn to think like the photographer of years ago. At least I have the benefit of being digital and have access to a little feature known as focus peaking.
I woke before sunrise on the day when we said goodbye to my sister, Betsy. The night before had been long as Dianne and I waited for our family to arrive. We both worried as they drove north from Denver’s airport in a driving rainstorm after dark and long days beginning hours ago. Di and I sat quietly and shared good wine and thoughts. We were both relieved when our kids and their families arrived. Hugs, a bit of food, a toast… all looking to the next day.
Sleep did not come easy so I woke with the first light of day. I have a miserable track record of being able to maintain compsure at ceremonies in which I am saying “farewell” to a person I loved. Today we’d likely say I “choke”. I’ve tried to rehearse and work mind control. Fact is, I am just wired to choke when the emotions run high. I can’t predict when it will happen… or if it will happen. I was anxious about the two times I would speak. Sleep did not come easily.
I dressed and walked downstairs to see the sun coming up and shining on the Rocky Mountains to my west. There was frost on the grass as I put on my shoes for a walk. I felt the cold morning air and felt fresher for it. I walked along the fence line and watched as the sun brightened the Rockies peaks. I thought about what the day would bring, my family, my gratitude for being able to worrry as I was and the inevitable showdown with emotions as I spoke. I tried to rehearse knowing full well that it would only freeze my thougts and stifle sincerity. I walked until I found a gate to the pasture. After unclipping the chain lock I entered the pasture and started walking toward what I thought would be a decent composition with the full moon and Long’s Peak. I just walked and thought about the day. I heard geese and looked up to find them. I locked focus and waited, hoping that they would not veer away. Click, click, click… three images to the memory card.
I heard my friend cough a bit behind me and turned to see his beautiful dogs running full steam toward me. They ran past me and came back to get a bit of petting. Great dogs, running free.
We talked a bit and my friend returned to the house to start coffee and breakfast. I’ve known Steve since I was in kindergarten and think of him as my brother. His generosity is unbelievable. Deep thanks Steven.
I wandered around a bit more and started to head back to the house. As I walked I looked south and saw beautiful clouds forming. The formation continued to morph as I walked so I stopped to shoot a few frames.
Living in the Pacific Northwest I am always appreciative of clouds that have some character. These are not on par with the famous “Sierra wave” featured by Galen Rowell but the texture and patterns appealed to me.
As I turned east I saw steam coming off the pond and stopped to shoot again.
As I looked north I saw another cloud formation that grabbed my attention so I took another few frames knowing that I’d convert them to black and white to emphasize the textures of the clouds.
The short time I spent wandering, even with the short interlude with my friend, seemed to help me relax. I remembered that I am a very small part of the world in which I live. I was fortunate to have not only my blood family around me but also many of my wife’s family were traveling to attend my sister’s Celebration of Life that afternoon. I headed for the smell of freshly brewed coffee. A day of emotion and memories had begun. I was ready.
Yesterday I spent 5 hours at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. Things have been pretty hectic around our house as we travel, prepare to travel and had new flooring put in over the space of 3 weeks. All it took to convince me to head to my favorite local refuge was a series of posts by friends about a White-faced Ibis being seen. White-faced Ibis are not rare birds and I’ve seen them a few times before when at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Utah. But they are not common at Ridgefield. This may be the first sighting of the species at this refuge. Climate change? Bird confusion? A bird with a sense of adventure? Who knows? But the fact is that an individual bird showed up a couple of weeks agon and is entertaining locals on a daily basis.
So I created a “mental health day” and set out for Ridgefield before sunrise and was sipping hot coffee by the first marsh pond as the sun came up. As I registered my visit at the entrance I heard geese, cranes and Red-winged Blackbirds singing. It’s been some time since these sounds teased me with sighting prospects. As the sun lit the marsh I saw dozens of Red-winged Blackbirds perched on the cattails. A very good sign after a bird drought all summer. I know that shooting into a rising sun creates silhouettes but I use these birds to “warm up” my shooting and to dial in the camera. Yes, it felt good to make a few clicks and see a bird nicely perched in a frame full of noise due to underexposure. What ever.
I knew that the Ibis had been seen about post #11 or #12 on the 4 mile loop so I headed out slowly. I saw a lot of sparrows hopping on the road and flying into the low brush as I approached. Another good sign. I stopped to put the binos on a couple of birds and heard 3 owls hooting… 2 to my left and one to my right. I scanned the trees to the left and saw a nice Great Horned Owl sitting there looking at me. Too dark for photography but a great image in my brain. I did not see the other two but enjoyed their calls as I finished cup #1.
Shortly up the way I saw a group of birds on a mudflat and heard a Killdeer calling. The binos revealed several Killdeer, a few Greater Yellowlegs and a group of about 10 Wilson’s Snipe. The day was already feeling rich and the sun was hardly up. Clouds kept the light dim but the forecast was for clearing so I moved on toward post #11. As I approached the small, shallow lake that runs alongside the road by post #11 I saw the Ibis in the center of the water, head jack-hammering away. I moved up slowly. The bird did not care. I sat and watched as the bird foraged and moved around in the pond. A couple of other cars came by, stopped briefly and moved on. I waited for the light to come up. It finally did and shot numerous frames as the bird moved around. I kept repositioning my car so the light was in my favor and felt needlessly frustrated by the incessant up and down movement of the bird’s head as it walked around. I tried to learn its pattern and anticipate a moment when its head was up and the sun was properly on its face and eyes. One shot out of 10…. maybe. Still, a lot of fun to be sitting in a beautiful place, fresh coffee nearby and a lot of birds to see and photograph.
The Ibis finally moved into a position that was partially obscured by roadside grasses and began preening. I hastily moved my car a few feet and got a better view. This was the only 2 minutes that the birds head was not jack-hammering. It preened and stretched as it stayed stationary. I did my best to time the shots for interesting moments of behavior and decent light. Here are two of my favorites. Please click on the images to see a larger view.
One friend asked if there isn’t a named yoga pose for the second image. My in-house yogi confirms that there isn’t but it could become “ibis-asana”.
I moved on to the section of road that has the sun at my back as I drive. I have had good luck with sparrow photos along this stretch and saw birds in the blackberries ahead of me. I pulled into a space where I got coverage with the camera and waited. I did not have to wait long for this Savannah Sparrow to land and pose nicely. This is an “alert” pose as it responded to other birds making a lot of alarm noises nearby. But it stayed on the branch and let me shoot for about 5 minutes. How may photos of a Savannah Sparrow does one really need?
I’ve been looking forward to trying to get a bird-in-flight shot with the little Fuji X-T1 camera and saw a flock of geese in a field ahead of me. Large groups of geese were coming in and landing and I thought it would be good to start easy and just see if I could stop some brids flying in. I set up the camera, focused on the birds on the ground and waited for the next group to come in. Coffee cup #2. Soon the birds came and the camera proved it can be done even if the lag and viewing through the electronic viewfinder is still very foreign and frustrating for me.
I played with different groups as they came in to feed and was pleasantly surprised when I found a small group of Greater White-fronted Geese in focus and flying by. This photo is a step up in difficulty since it required panning with the birds while shooting. Panning is a common and very successful technique but I find it VERY challenging with the electronic viewfinder and shooting in burst mode. So, I’m happy with this photo even if the birds are rather distant and, therefore, relatively easy to keep in focus. Shooting birds in flight that are closer may come later and may prove to me that the Nikon is a much better tool for the job. I don’t ever expect the Fuji to take the Nikon’s place but I want to fully understand my limitatons with the little camera so I don’t waste time and energy when it is the only camera along.
As I was following one group of geese and shooting away I heard a group of cranes calling. I found them in the sky and began panning with their flight. Bingo. Another shot that proves it CAN be done.
I noticed that small groups of geese were lifting off and flying south. I thought it would be nice if an eagle came by to inspire the whole flock into flight. I didn’t see the eagle but something caused about a thrid of the birds to fly. That was fun.
As I was following along with a few of the last geese lifting off I heard another crane. I lowered the camera to find the bird and saw it coming right toward me. Now, a Sandhill Crane is a big bird and the odds were in my favor that I’d be able to catch focus of the bird against the sky due to the contrast between bird and sky. By the time I knew it was in focus it was on me. Click. The second frame in the burst made my day. I left Ridgefield with a smile knowing that the games are just beginning and that I will be there many times in the coming months. Bring ’em on…
I always look forward to the time when the dahlias bloom in Portland. My friend Eric has teased us with photos from a family outing to the Swan River Dahlia Gardens in Canby, Oregon and I knew it was only a matter of time before Dianne and I paid a visit. Even with the prospect of harsh, near-noon overhead sun we decided to pay a visit with the cameras. We hauled a diffusion panel and tripod along. My main goal was to exercise the new little Fujifilm camera a bit more and to continue to become familiar with the camera and the TriggerTrap camera release I purchased a bit ago. I have to say that the diffusion panel should have been about 3 times the size we took as we were frequently unable to shade the backgrounds sufficiently. Drat. I walked away from several shots just because I could not find a way to tone down the brightness in the background. I also failed with the TriggerTrap device because I forgot that the camera was set to Continuous Low burst mode when it should have been on Single frame. My bad. Even after having an exchange with a Hong Kong friend, Andrew Hardacre, about zeroing out the camera prior to or after a shoot I forgot to go over all the various settings and ended up frustrated as the result. After a few shots that were made with the diffuser and the tripod I bailed on the exercise, put the tripod in the car along with the diffuser and went “hand held” as we walked through the acres of blooms. I tried to capitalize on any available shade as a background and waited for the pesky winds to die down to shoot. It was not an ideal shoot for me but I continue to learn the camera and we came back with a few nice images. I’ve been entirely impressed by the flower images that Stephen Gingold presents and strive to attain the quality he attains with remarkable frequency. Some day, maybe.