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Backyard Birding / Trunk on a pole - suet
« on: November 22, 2020, 09:27:21 pm »
 I decided to install my mock tree trunk now that some woodpeckers are starting to show up. A Hairy arrived first but I did not have my camera set-up at that point. After I was ready the Hairy stayed away and only a Downy visited.  After today’s snowfall had covered the ground making seed search more difficult the Juncos started to develop an interest in the suet buried within the crevice of my tree section on a pole. Juncos generally prefer feeding on the ground, or on the ground-above-my-feet.

Toronto Reports / White-winged Crossbills reported
« on: November 19, 2020, 05:45:50 pm »
Ashbridges Bay park report of three WW Crossbills (two males and a female).ATT: Ally

Backyard Birding / The Ground Above My Feet
« on: November 08, 2020, 11:50:59 am »
Photographs taken of birds are generally more satisfying when taken from very close to the ground as with a down-to-earth technique. Getting your lens just a few inches above the ground can be a challenge, especially when the circumstances force you to retain a prone position while you patiently wait for the birds to return to the scene after having vacated while you maneuvered into position.
When I see birds feeding on the ground in the backyard I am not amenable to laying in dirt while waiting for some action to develop. I much prefer to shoot through an open window, but from that elevated position I can’t achieve ground-level photographs. I know, it sucks. My solution is to bring the ground up to my viewing level.
Shooting through a window onto the ground requires a new definition of “ground”, not the real ground of course, but a mock ground consisting of a raised platform covered in what you would expect to find on genuine turf. My chosen platform is a thick piece of Plexiglass, supported by a steel pipe firmly impaled into terra firma. The connection between the pipe and the platform is by way of a rotary sanding mandrel. I left a sticky disk of sandpaper on the pad before gluing (Gorilla glue) it to the underside of the Plexiglass. The ground above my feet is covered in dirt, gravel, dead leaves, a bit of sod and some bird seed. Now the ground is near window level and I can photograph backyard birds and maintain some dignity. 

Anything Goes / HAPPY HALLOWE'EN
« on: October 31, 2020, 02:24:28 pm »

Backyard Birding / First WT sparrow in the backyard
« on: September 19, 2020, 08:44:51 pm »
I spotted a dark morph WT sparrow a couple of days ago when walking
along the street. It was located on the grass right next to the woodlot
that parallels the street. Today I saw one in the backyard, also a dark
morph. Also, three juvenile Song sparrows and a non-breeding
adult Chipping sparrow. Today also presented: Blue Jays, Cardinals, Goldfinch,
Downy woodpecker, WB nuthatch, Mourning doves, Nashville warbler and
a lot of BC Chickadees. The Nashville came and went about five times
during the day.

Backyard Birding / Nashville warbler
« on: September 19, 2020, 07:33:49 pm »
I spotted a Nashville warbler among the many weeds in the backyard.

Anything Goes / Facemasks
« on: September 18, 2020, 05:51:26 pm »
I think we need a line of face mask with colours and colour distribution that mimic
the feather pattern of specific bird species. Just saying, they might be popular.
There must be artists out there.

Nature / Fritillery butterfly
« on: September 17, 2020, 02:12:05 pm »
Saw an Aphrodite Fritillary butterfly yesterday ... twice.
No photo because I didn't have a camera with me.
It remained motionless on the ground long enough for
a photo, if I would have had a camera. RATS!
No, no ... I didn't see any rats.
Not this time.

Bird ID / Unknown bird sighting
« on: September 16, 2020, 02:55:04 pm »
Sitting on the driveway and watching the woodlot across the street when I noticed a bird move from one branch to another. I had binoculars at my side. Hey, I'm not an idjet. I saw a small bird like a large sparrow with an entirely dark gray head, from nape, across crown, face, throat and breast. What!
A Junco ... in September? But at the belly there was a well defined line of demarcation as you would expect to see on a Junco. This time the belly was not off-white but rusty. The only Junco that can have a rusty lower region (flanks that almost meet in the middle) is a Pink-sided Junco. Is that possible?
Stunned and confused. Then I saw the bird. I can't think of how to describe my state of mind after the sighting. I need expert guidance. I know that this forum has more experts than NASA.

Equipment and Technique / THE THREE DESIRABLES - Pick any two
« on: September 11, 2020, 06:23:19 pm »

There is an old adage that suggests that when everything is kept honest you will usually get what you pay for. In other words, considering the desirables: good quality, low cost and excellent service, the average consumer can pick any two desirables. The quality may be very good and the service excellent but that does not come cheap. If you need it cheap, then either product quality or customer service must be seriously eroded or cheap is not an option.
There is a similar theme to be considered in bird photography. A high quality image and one that is also very engaging to the viewer requires three ingredients: a compelling subject, a stunning composition and excellent image quality. The matter of superb image quality demands that you use photography equipment that can deliver it, generally achieved with a large sensor and well-constructed lens. That seems self-evident but many an enthusiast struggles with mediocre equipment, or photo gear that is simply not designed for bird photography. You don’t travel off-road in a Toyota Yaris. You do not explore for long before the limitations of your chosen vehicle becomes painfully obvious. So, there is a minimum level of gear quality and gear design that must be brought to bear before high image quality becomes the norm.
Even when the right stuff is in your hand you must have the right stuff in your head. Spending big bucks is not the only requirement. Your ability to use that gear effectively is the end result of many hours honing your skills and acquiring the “chops” needed to match the performance of your gear.
A great deal of fun can be had with lesser gear, although it is often accompanied by frustration as well. The ratio between the two may dictate the amount of time ultimately dedicated to the noble pursuit. Outstanding motivation and dogged persistence can confound the perceived limits of modest, or poorly adapted gear. There lies the other desirables. Finding an interesting subject is partly a matter of chance but the odds can be stacked in your favour if there is enough enthusiasm to fuel the pursuit, and enough persistence to put you in the right place at the right time. Fortunately there are well-documented “hotspots” that let the birder know where the right place is located. The right time can be devined by considering the season, and the prior dynamics of weather systems. Beyond those cursory parameters the recipe for success is to venture forth in pursuit of a subject(s) as often as you possibly can. A pro would set up camp at a designated hotspot and live there, as it were, until the right moment(s) happen. You must do the next best thing. Get there early, get there often and repeat.
To recapitulate, you need the gear to produce excellent quality images and you must apply the level of motivation and persistence needed to find a subject worthy of imaging. The third desirable is to develop a skill for subject composition. A proficiency in image composition is an asset and it can be viewed as a marriage of two things, camera position and shear timing. Both are demanding of the photographer and few are consistently capable of achieving success because of the retched sibling sirens of contemporary failure – impatience and laziness. These two demons are really the crux of the difference between a good photograph and a thrilling photograph. When your gear and your application of that formidable technology are routinely producing images with clarity, dynamic range and exquisite detail, and when you have located shiny, happy subjects, then the foundering influence of impatience and laziness will rob you of a more riveting image than the one you actually procured.
Impatience and laziness is a symptom of affluence and privilege. It is also exacerbated by the on-demand digital culture, whereby every want and desire is wrapped within an app and where there is scant devotion to an avocation, without the might and muscle needed to excel and produce an exceptional result. I’m not saying that most nature photographers absent on any payroll are not trying hard to get good images …. Ok, that is what I’m saying, but I’m including myself in that unwholesome declaration. My point is that I see plenty of top-notch equipment being deployed to the task of nature photography, much more than I would ever have imagined, and I see devotees out early in the morning and even during inclement weather spells, sometimes traveling long distances to be where the action is, cost undeterred, but then the last two desirables appear on the scene and in many instances forestall what might have been pure magic.
Laziness is expressed in the total lack of preparedness for the conditions and impatience materializes when quitting the campaign before the final battle. Showing up in a muddy location without rubber boots, failure to hit the turf for a really good shot because there is no protection in the kit, failure to achieve water-level shots because the hip waiters are still at the cottage, failure to get a good exposure because no consideration was given to the location of the sun, failure to station oneself in a primo spot because of inadequate footwear, failure to give the right-of-way to fire ants, failure to get that moody rain-day shot because the camera might get wet due to absent cover materials, failure to get the shot because of constant movement and futile relocation, failure to get the shot because there is more talking going on than photography, failure to leave your smart phone in the car where it can’t interrupt you or the other guy who is already searching for a cudgel to whack you into silence.
Impatience is also a symptom of our culture of immediate gratification. The fraternity that worships Instagram and Twitter may not have the discipline to wait it out. I’m not an advocate of those digital platforms but I’m challenged by impatience enough to lose the shot, time and time again. This has happened so many times I getting uncomfortable just recalling the instances of antsy behavior.
I once tried to photograph a Least Bittern at Cranberry Marsh. I knew it was there. I even knew approximately where it was prowling, although remaining unseen at that location. I knew where the light was coming from. I knew enough to station myself close to the ground, prone, camera at the ready. I was certain that it would eventually appear around the corner of a stand of reeds, perhaps appearing on stage in a dramatic pose, the pulse quickens just imagining it. I knew that my back might start hurting long before that miserable heron deigned to make an appearance. I knew that I forgot to take the Tylenol. Still, I waited for the quintessential moment when the Least of my worries would make my day … or would it be tomorrow?
Eventually I could bear it no longer and got up to raise my nostrils above the miasma. Still no Bittern. I started to walk toward the reeds in hopes of inspecting the other side and see if the star of the show is having a smoke or some other such disgusting activity. Just then it appeared at the EXACT spot I figured it would emerge. It had a clinging-like stance to a supporting reed like something out of National Geographic. I was now walking instead of supine and dead-motionless as I was moments earlier, half hidden behind my backpack for cover. The heron saw me fully erect (no, not that part) and immediately flew 20 meters away across the water to another clump of reeds. I was beside myself with fury. I had succumb to the siren’s call, the call of impatience and I paid the price with yet another missed opportunity.
Another time I was ensconced between consenting boulders at Sam Smith waiting for a non-breeding loon to come up from its dive. I watched it dive several times and counted the time before resurfacing so that I had some secure knowledge of how long I had to scramble down the rocks and wedge myself into a suitable crevice. I had a good spot, located right in front of where I expected the loon to emerge from the depths. I waited patiently. Nothing happened. I counted again from the beginning. Nothing happened. I waited until my legs were numb. I finally surrendered to failure. The loon probably swam far away and resurfaced where I couldn’t see. I got up and stiffly climbed up the slope from boulder to boulder to reach the pathway, turned around in dismay and then the loon surfaced exactly where I hoped that it would, a spot offering me a point-blank opportunity for my short lens. It must have been laughing at me with that iconic loon laugh but the steam coming out if my ears muffled the call. I was absolutely livid and the reprobate was thoroughly pleased with itself. Impatience foiled another super opportunity.
Many is the time that I was too lazy to bring rubber boots. I don’t have hip waiters and they are too expensive to buy. The truly devoted sometimes don a wetsuit and get into the water. I’ve tried getting into the water without adequate protection and it was no fun. Shoes sink into the mud, the cold water takes my breath away, but the composition results can be superb. I once used an aluminum stool and submerged it and then sat on it with water up to my chest. Camera and lens just a few inches above the water and a burlap camo cloth floating on the surface of the water below the lens hole. A Wood duck had no idea what was going on but knew there was something strange happening and that it might be fun to investigate. Happy with the shot, for sure, but too damn lazy to make a habit of it. The pro would get a wet suit, or even a dry suit and make it a regular thing.
Those sirens are just so seductive.

Ontario Birds / Woodlot across the street
« on: September 10, 2020, 01:57:45 pm »
I got a few this morning (late) but the entanglement of twigs is just too much
to get an isolated perch shot. Also, still very dim at that time and therefore a
struggle for non- stabilized lens.

Veery Thrush

Red-eyed Vireo



American Redstart (mature male)

Toronto Reports / Woodlot across the street - Pickering - Sept,10
« on: September 10, 2020, 01:51:42 pm »
This morning it was dismal (again) but without the hovering mist. Nonetheless,
there were birds everywhere and there was not much I could do about it when escorting
someone using a walker. I went out somewhat later after things were less exciting.
Wood thrush right off the bat. Gobsmacked! Very white breast with big round beautiful spots.
Also a Hermit thrush and several warblers, including: BT Green, Magnolia, Am. Redstart
Ovenbird, Nashville, and lots of RE vireos. There were probably many other species earlier
on but I was not in a position to assess the bonanza.

Toronto Reports / Woodlot across the street - Pickering - Sept. 9th
« on: September 09, 2020, 05:49:01 pm »
9 a.m. - A dismal start to the day with secure overcast and a delicate mist that was
undecided whether gravity needed to be obeyed. The woodlot and its associated verdure
along the side of the street was perfectly still. Not a leaf twitched and the site was
as quiet as a vacuum. I had such high hopes for the mist opportunity.

12:30 p,m, - Some twitching directly across the street right at the edge of the woodlot
entanglement. A buzzing call that I recognized as vireo (Red-eyed). It was indeed a loose
flock of REV showing no preference for height (upper story and just above the ground).
There was so little light that even with my lens wide open (f4) and the ISO cranked up
my shutter speed was way too slow (no "IS") so photography was pointless. Also spotted
a Magnolia warbler and a couple of American Redstart. A sharp cracking sound from a snapped
twig revealed a deer in the gloom about 5 meters away. Also spotted a Hermit thrush and for
just a moment was hoping that it was a Wood thrush. Also saw a Hummer.

Equipment and Technique / Inexpensive Lighting for Close-Field Photography
« on: September 07, 2020, 05:24:48 pm »
I expressed a view that my support of this forum is unsustainable with no vent for raw exploration of the GTA parks within my reach. Little likelihood of posting sightings or featuring new photography when house-bound seemed like a definition of futile. Despite this view, I was asked to write something about nature photography by Dinu. Let’s face it, it is hard to disappoint a demigod lest there be consequences beyond the immediate grasp of my impoverished imagination. Ally seemed apoplectic by my decision but she’s an artist and you know how they can be, effervescent outbursts of emotional fireworks even when they are making toast, and I don’t even know if Ally likes toast. So, here I am, fated to continue in a futile endeavor posting craft opinion to members that are already resplendent in the regalia of technical enlightenment. I feel so pretentious and I’m afraid I may get to like it. The demigods must be crazy! So, with obligatory enthusiasm (isn’t that an oxymoron?) I’ll bring up the subject of ancillary lighting for near field photography of everyone’s best friends … fungi. Without them we wouldn’t be here and we certainly would never enjoy beer, so Axeman would be very upset.

There are excellent and very effective lighting solutions available, at a price, for almost any near field photographic situation within the realm of a controlled working environment. For many amateur photographers these clever and quite exquisite solutions may only be a credit card tap away from mitigating that dismal proposition of photographing an interesting subject that is discovered wallowing in gloom by default. What kind of subject might this be? Any number of things (even persons) could be so implicated but I’m specifically thinking of fungi. Fungi are found everywhere and serve to decompose organic casualties. Their fruiting bodies emerge above ground as forms worthy of imaging even though these taxonomically challenging manifestations are like denizens of the dark, found in damp shady locations, or under expired and rotting wood. Discovering fungal subjects is a task more meretricious than the work required to photograph them, although an artistic execution of that work is not to be overlooked when points are awarded.
Photogenic fungal fruiting bodies are not nearly so easy to find despite the ubiquity of fungi as a life form. Impressive displays of different species of fungi may hang out together. Once you have devined their collective sanctuary you may set to work lighting the stage because there will very likely be several potential stages within a few meters of each other. A good site trove is like a multiplex gallery where you can view different still-life subjects without quitting the vicinity.
The feeble light from the sky is unlikely to flatter fungal architecture. Obscurity is not the preferred condition for successful photography so deploying high tech macro lighting tools can disclose unseen delights. There are cheap lighting solutions for this kind of application and they too serve to feature the beauty of these ephemeral and facile subjects. Super-bright LED devices have long been available and hence their cost has fallen to pedestrian levels. These devices also tend to be compact and therefore portable.

If cheap LED lights are not available then highly reflective surfaces can be substituted in order to redirect the light from the sky into places where the sun don’t shine. No, not there! Strategically positioning a small mirror, or other less efficacious reflector, such as aluminum foil, or gold foil for the bourgeoisie set, installed near the subject but outside the field of view can divulge previously hidden shadow-shrouded detail in your chosen subject. This direct technique eliminates the need to take multiple exposures at different shutter speeds for layering in Photoshop, a protocol that can be very tedious and best reserved for more spectacular subject material. Hands up for those with spectacular subject material. OK, not what I expected … most of you then. I must find a less spectacular forum to haunt.

Positioning tactics for reflective gobos include ground placement under the subject with a slight cant toward the gloomiest recesses, attachment to a mini-tripod, or even clamped to a well-placed stick in the mud, perhaps hand-held by your lugubrious assistant (aka … well-placed stick-in-the-mud), either way the goal is to bounce available light to where it is most needed. Ever heard of a goose-necked clamp? A perfectly acceptable placement tool that does not run a-fowl of the rules of engagement. Moreover, those rules have been relaxed in order to allow you to utilize both LED and reflective gobos. How’s that for artifice? The mind boggles!

Filters can even be placed over the LED device to create mood and these filters need not be the expensive optical variety because any cheap acetate will suffice. Filters are more of a B&W technique but that is now all achieved digitally with PS.

Fungi photography usually demands a down-to-earth perspective so it might be best to pack a mat for resting upon. Cameras that are equipped with swing-out live-view screens preclude belly down scrutiny but the camera needs a platform. A bean bag could work, thus providing a modest measure of angle adjustment but also having a pocketful of shim-sticks is very useful. Fungi fruiting bodies are usually discovered in late autumn and once you have located a good spot it may prove fruitful in most years. Look for steep wooded slopes (drainage) with detritus at the bottom. Examine rotting logs even though fungi may be found on branches situated well above the ground and even on bark. Check out amputated tree stumps (I relish in redundant syntax) even if they are located part way up the slope. Not all the action is in the gutter. October should be a good time for fungal portraiture. I feel you might succumb to frustration when you try to identify your subject(s).

On-board electronic flash can certainly be used in close-field work but the output of the emitter must be reined-in, either by dialing down the output on the camera, if it allows that sort of adjustment, or by damping the emitter lens with a diffusing screen, Fresnel screen, or makeshift material, such as a layer of tissue. Most of the time I just use a tissue wrapped around the extended emitter frame tucking the excess tissue around the support arms. When prepared, I use a diffusing plate originating from a colour transparency viewer (colour slides) called a Guckie, (German word for something to look through). I might alternatively tape on a Fresnel disc from an antediluvian Honeywell electronic flash unit.

Some cameras also have a digital neutral density filter that reduces the sensors sensitivity to an ultra-low ISO setting but without the added resolution. My old Canon G9 had such a setting and a minimum ISO of 80. Where money is no object you could use an actual high-quality ND filter, which come in a limited range of intensity to suit the application. These are great when taking long exposures that would allow too much light on the sensor even when the f-stop and ISO setting has been taken to their respective limits.

I must admit that I have never seen a fungal shot on this forum beyond the few that I may have posted before I knew better than to pass-off fungus to the spectacular set. “How was Rondeau. my dear?” “Oh, it was marvelous, darling”. “I have an absolutely smashing idea. Let’s all go to the estuary and pretend we are roughing it … whot?”

Bird ID / Warbler species
« on: September 04, 2020, 06:59:09 pm »
Is this a juvenile Wilson's warbler?

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