High Acres Nature Area–Heron Sequence

wpid928-HANA-6574.jpgI’m way behind on my image processing and blog posts.  I guess this is okay since most photography articles tell us to spend most of our time getting the shots and as little time as possible in front of the computer.

We visited High Acres for the first time in early November, located in Penfield, NY. Surrounded by suburban development, it is nice to see the towns setting aside and maintaining nature areas. It was a nice fall day, though it was a bit chilly at 35º (but nothing like the 10º that we are currently experiencing during the day). We saw several hawks above, along with the usual crows.  On the ground we saw Greater Yellowlegs and Great Blue Herons. As you can see in the photograph, above, there are several trails, most of which we hiked over a period of about 2 1/2 hours.

Most of the herons we saw on the ground were standing (you know, doing their mime acts) atop muskrat houses. Since I have countless shots of Great Blue Herons I decided to see if I could shoot a launch sequence.  On the one hand, Great Blues are easier to catch taking off than songbirds because herons are so much slower.  On the other hand, who knows when they will go? So I got the idea that if I set up my camera at the end of the levy bordering the pond where the heron was located and had my wife then cross it, that would cause him to vacate, much as was the case earlier with the other herons in the area.

Well, wouldn’t you know, she crossed and it just stood there.  She returned, he continued to stand still. My wife even waved her arms–to no avail.  Clearly, this was an avian plot to thwart the photographer.  I ended up standing behind my tripod for about half an hour. Then, he crouched–okay this is it! The heron has departed! I pressed and held the shutter button, and the proofs  of my success are below.

The launch sequence
The launch sequence

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We also saw a few Greater Yellowlegs. One bird was relatively near and “agreed” to pose for some shots before taking off.  Here is its best pose:

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Greater Yellowlegs

Shortly afterwards, it left to join a couple of its associates further out, but I managed to capture its lift-off.

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One of the features I’ve yet to take advantage of on my Canon 100mm-400mm L lens is the image stabilization setting for panning shots. The problem is that when panning shots on the wing occur, there is little time to reset image stabilization from stills to pan.  Perhaps you have developed a strategy for switching IS modes?  If so, please let me know.

My next post will feature the return of the Red Crossbills.

Iroquois National Refuge Photo Contest

This photo took 3rd place in the 2011-2012 contest. I shot this from about 150 feet away while partially hidden from the bird’s sight on the boardwalk that crossed one of the marshes. As it approached for landing I held the shutter for a series of shots–this was the best (ISO 640, Canon 100mm-400mm @ 400mm, f/7.1, 1/1600). Everything fell into place, including the sun that was from my right rear.

The bird’s underside appears green from walking through the algae, along with the current reflection off the water. Shortly after landing the bird saw me and flew further off.

Touch-down

Oatca County Park

This has to be one of the best spots around Rochester to view birds.  Aside from one large mowed field and a recreation building for summer events, the park is  undeveloped,

Stream through Oatca

with a large stream coursing through. It’s flanked by wooded areas and open wooded areas further out. The following photo shows the stream in the late afternoon this past July. This is a favorite spot of fly fishermen who can easily stand mid-stream with waders.

One of my goals this season has been to photograph an Indigo Bunting. However, since their population is on the decline they are less likely to be spotted by us non-expert birders.  Our more expert colleague, Jim Adams, sees far more varieties than my wife and I, since we don’t always know exactly where to look (you’ll find the link to Jim Adam’s site on my sidebar). In any event, my wife spotted a male Indigo Bunting in thick bush in the open woodland area (exactly where you would expect to find them). I maneuvered for a clear shot and managed the following the images in low light.

Indigo Bunting–this way (Decreasing)

Here he is looking one way, and then, with his head turned. Needless to say, I’m quite happy with the shots, but I want to get one of these birds in an action shot.

–that way

However, one of my most spectacular shots is of a juvenile Great Blue Heron that allowed us to get close enough for a whole series of shots with the 100-400mm lens at 400mm. Here he is taking off. It was late in the day, note how the light strikes his under-belly. I printed a 13 X 19 of this shot for mounting and possible submission to a local photo contest. Please let me know if you have any tips for increasing the likelihood of locating these Indigo Buntings.

Great Blue Heron (juvenile, Increasing)

Action birds

My wife heard that the Batavia water treatment plant was a pretty hot spot for birding.  And why not? Birds are attracted to water and most of these facilities are not open to the public, or only with special permission, so wildlife get a fair amount of privacy.  However, this facility is open to the public seven days a week from 7:30 AM to 3:00 PM (longer if you want to park your car outside the gate that closes at 3:00 PM). You do have to sign-in, however. This plant is also different from most in that it uses natural bacterial processes to treat the water before it is re-introduced into the environment.  Since this is a much slower process, the facility is huge with several man-made ponds. Surrounding many of these ponds are marsh areas along with their tall marsh weeds–providing perfect hiding for many wildlife species.

Each pond is ringed by a gravel road in addition to the gravel road the goes around the entire facility. We drove down to what appeared to be a good area to get out and have a closer look. We immediately spotted several Green Herons, not to mention Great Blues that occasionally flew over. There were also what appeared to be dozens of Swallows (both Tree {Stable} and Barn {Decreasing} varieties) darting around snapping bugs from the air. I’ve tried to photograph these birds on the wing in the past–to no avail. They are too small, too fast, and quick maneuvering, turning 90 degrees or more in an instant.

Nevertheless, I decided to try my hand (and camera) at this again since I’m getting better at understanding the best settings to use and my panning technique is improved. As with sports photography, the name of the game is to skillfully shoot and hope 2 or 3 percent of your shots produce a “winner.” I set my Canon 100mm-400mm zoom lens to 300mm with a shutter speed of 1/2000 secs.

The first of these to turn out, sharp at least, was a Barn Swallow swooping low over the water. Not only do you have to get the bird in the viewfinder, you’ve got to get one of the nine auto-focusing points superimposed on the bird to lock in the focus. Then press the shutter, letting the camera rattle off at 5 frames/sec.

Low Swoop: Barn Swallow

However, the “Gold” goes to the Tree Swallow image; here the bird is about to swallow what looks like a bee.  The subject was about 70 feet away as it raced towards me.  I had no idea he was closing in on breakfast. Pretty amazing–especially for me!

Intercept: Tree Swallow

After about a couple of hours we drove to Iroquois National Wildlife Preserve. It was getting to be mid-day and hot!  Not the best time for bird photography. We set out along the Kanyoo trail to one of the ponds and marsh areas.  There we saw Green Herons galore on the ground, in the air, and in trees. Unfortunately, my shots were only of documentary quality. I tried several flight shots, but I was not able to get a single one come out as anything but a blur.

Iroquois: Southwest–from the boardwalk along the Blue Loop

I did, however, get several excellent Great Blue Heron (Increasing) shots–the best one, below. Note the green undersides, this is the result of light reflecting off the heavily green-slimed water. The bird is landing in the central portion of the scene, above.

Touch-down
Touch-down: Great Blue Heron

Right now I’m behind on my image processing, however, more of these and other photos will be appearing in my gallery and other blog posts over the coming weeks.

I’ll be spending the second week of September in Adirondack State Park to capture birds on their return migration, along with some great landscape shots of their environment.