Thursday, February 24, 2011

Quidi Vidi Lake - A Potpourri of Photo Opportunities

 Any time of the day, any day of the week there are many species of birds milling about Quidi Vidi Lake. At this time of the year the best areas for viewing are the outflows from the Rennie's Mill and Virginia Rivers. These areas don't freeze and the birds regularly congregate there to bathe and preen.

Along side all of these different birds are almost as many spectators and photographers. Is it any wonder when you look at this great little male Tufted Duck?
 His tuft is so well defined that it almost looks like it has been braided. This one has adapted well to Newfoundland and has been seen "copying ice pans," a local children's game of copying each other as they jump from one free-floating ice pan to another.
It is not easy to stay focused on one bird as hundreds are flying by, landing, diving or just preening on shore. This Herring Gull caught my attention as it flew right in front of me. My camera now seems to just automatically turn to the action and begin firing off shots.

On this particular day, like most, the Rock Doves line off on the back of benches, on the bridge railing or even on my car door.

One sure way to stir up all the sitting birds on the shoreline is to get out of the car with a bag of some sort. They are conditioned by the sight of a bag to think food is coming. They swarm the bag holder and fight for their share of the delivery.

It is a never-ending show at Quidi Vidi and it is no surprise that many people make this spot a daily destination to  keep city life in balance with the human need to experience the wonder of nature. For many there really is no greater distraction.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Eye to Eye with an Eagle Eye

Yesterday's birding trip was a great success! Some would questions: "Oh, you got all of your target birds?"  My answer would have to be "No, none of them." So how can a birding trip be a great success if you didn't find anything that you are looking for? That is easy: For me a successful birding trip means good company, good weather and lots of birds. We had all that!
 All of the expected birds were seen and a few different ones. We saw the largest flock of American Goldfinch that I have ever seen. We found the European Starling to be much lighter in color than usual (must be a Spring thing.) We saw a Song Sparrow, American Robins, Guillimot, Great Cormorants, Common Mergansers, Common Goldeneye, a Kingfisher, Bufflehead, Evening Grosbeak, Bald Eagles, a Ringed-neck Duck, American and Eurasian Wigeons, and of course plenty of American Black Duck, Mallards and seagulls.
 It was going on to about 4:30 in Spaniard's Bay when two beautiful adult Bald Eagles quite unexpectedly showed up for the evening meal. The shear size and look of them is enough to stop time. With a little maneuvering and some quick shooting, I was able to get a few pictures before they flew off, one-by-one.
It is a pretty awesome experience to look a Bald Eagle in the eye and then....have it look right back at ya! I'm glad that I don't come in meal size.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Gone Birding!

I am about to venture out for a day of birding in an unfamiliar territory.  Birds I hope to see: Red Crossbill, close-up to Male Bufflehead, Canada Goose and Graylag Goose. Birds I will probably see: Common Mergansers, Red-breasted Mergansers, Common Goldeneye, and a Wood Duck.

I wonder if the day will hold any surprises. I will take my scope to give it a go. It takes practice to "scope" out birds. I'll let you know how it works out.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Common Snipe

 I'm sure with time that I am going to be able to better appreciate the magnitude of "raries" that show up in Newfoundland. I am quite astounded but I don't have the knowledge base to really dig into describing and explaining the visits of rare birds to this province. According to Dave Brown in his blog (that can be accessed from my page )the last documented visit from a Common Snipe was in 1927. That means that all of the birders here who have twenty to forty years of birding experience in this province have never seen one here. That is big!
 For me, it is a different experience. I am more of a sponge soaking up a ton of information about birds and taking small bits of knowledge to be my own on a daily basis. I am privileged to have seen this bird.
 I watched it as it actively fed all across the field. Its long bill was amazing. While balancing on the marshy mess, this Common Snipe continually dipped its bill deep into the marsh to find sustenance. It was healthy and busy feeding. I was really surprised that it was not greatly disturbed by the passing cars.
I stayed in my car with the window down the whole time. It was impossible to be totally quiet but neither snipe (the Wilson's nor the Common) were distracted by my movement.
 At times the snipe dipped its bill in so deep into the marsh that only its eyes were visible. A one point the Common Snipe did get a little uneasy and froze in place as the last picture shows. It stayed there for sometime until the distraction passed and then it got up and moved to a safer, more sheltered distance.
While watching these two birds, I couldn't help but remember a snippet from my youth. As young girls a group of us would often have bunking parties (sleep-overs as they are called here.) Each time we welcomed a new person into our bunking-party circuit, we would initiate them by taking them into the dark woods at night for a "snipe hunt." We all had flashlights, except for the newcomer, and we would venture a few hundred yards into the woods where we were supposed to scan and count snipe. One by one we would call out a number. At the pre-determined number we would all run out of the woods and leave the newcomer behind. Once she would find her way out of the woods, not having seen a single snipe, we would spend the night laughing and recounting the story. That was as close to having a successful snipe hunt in my experiences....until yesterday.

Please do check out Dave's blog for the real info on this bird.

Wilson's Snipe

 During the late summer and early fall, I lost count of the number of trips that I made to Backline Road in Goulds in an effort to see a Wilson's Snipe. Apparently, there were many there spotted by many people. I am sure that I ticked the residents off by being parked on the side of the road impeding the natural flow of traffic. So 2010 came and went and I never saw a Wilson's Snipe.
 In early January I participated in the Christmas Bird Count in Renews. On a brief walk over a marsh, a Wilson's Snipe flushed. I caught a glimpse of it zigzagging low across the marsh only to disappear and not be seen again. It didn't feel like I saw it at all!
Later in the month another birder and I revisited the place and there was a repeat of action in the exact same place. It is very difficult to see the snipe as they freeze in place when startled until the danger gets too close to them and then they fly, quickly. Now twice I had seen a Wilson's Snipe but not really seen it.
When I saw the post that there was a snipe in Tors Cove, I decided on the spur of the moment to take the drive. Honestly, I didn't expect to see anything because I had come up empty so many times before. When I got to Tors Cove, I began driving around the small community and came upon a very large flock of feeder birds including House Sparrows, American Goldfinch, Black-capped Chickadees, Dark-eyed Juncos and European Starlings. I stopped and began scanning the group with my binoculars to see if there might be any other species among them.

A local resident was walking her dog and looked at me with curiosity as I peered into the backyards with my binoculars. I had to explain that I was looking for unusual birds and that I had heard that there may be a rare bird in the area. She guided me toward where she had seen others looking at a grassy area the day before. I was off to the site very quickly.
When I arrived I was shocked to see a snipe right out in the open. I eased my car into a looking place and watched. Then to my surprise and delight, I saw a second snipe. I have since learned that one of these birds is a Wilson's Snipe and the other is a Common Snipe, a mega-rarity for Newfoundland. I sent my pictures to a local expert for confirmation. Can you tell the difference? The Common Snipe is on the right. I just read a very thorough and interesting article by Dave Brown on his blog linked from this site describing the history and the difference between these two birds. I wouldn't even begin to try to fully grasp or explain. Please visit his site for some great information.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Birds of Prey

 The never-ending wind and snow has dampened my birdwatching desire, somewhat. Today, I decided to venture out and see what I could see from inside my car. I made stops at two places and at each one, I had a close encounter with two birds of prey.
I decided to visit Exetor Ave. today and see if I could see the Cedar Waxwing and maybe even an Evening Grosbeak. I was willing to stay a while, after all, I was in my car. I watched the birds come and go for more than an hour with no sign of the target birds.
Finally, I noticed five female Purple Finches move into the distant feeding zone. I was straining with my binoculars to see if any one of them might have a different, big beak. I was pretty intent on the task when around the corner came this juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk. He flew through the group of small birds and came out of the flurry with a Purple Finch in its talons.
 I threw down my binoculars and grabbed my camera just in time to catch the "sharpie" land on a branch, behind the big branch. I did a quick focus to the best of my ability with all of the branches blocking my view. It is a wonder there is any focus at all. I managed to take five pictures, all shown here, before it flew off in the distance.
 It became pretty evident that the hawk had caught his lunch and the poor little finch didn't have a chance, despite its courageous fight.
 I saw my second bird of prey at Quidi Vidi Lake where seeing a Bald Eagle at this time of year is almost a given. I saw the eagle sitting out on the ice and knew it was too far to photograph. I stayed in my car with my view blocked by walls of snow.
 I had been fiddling with my camera settings to experiment with the ever-changing light effects around me - sun then cloud, then sun, then cloud! I looked up and spotted the juvenile Bald Eagle heading my way. I scrambled to get my seat belt off, grab my camera and jump out of the car. I got the the water's edge just in time to enjoy a flyby from my reviewing stand.
It's too bad my camera wasn't set to make the most of this opportunity, but that's the challenge of it.

It is really awesome to witness the power of nature up close and personal.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Digital Compensation

 I have always had an interest in outdoor photography but not the will to battle the elements. My interest in birdwatching has helped me to come to terms with the cold, snow, rain and wind, and I am out there several times a week - actually enjoying myself.

I hadn't used a SLR camera in many years but decided to jump in just over a year ago and get a D-SLR - Canon Rebel XS. It is a camera designed for the casual photographer who wants a little more than the point and shoot capabilities.
 I have experimented with all of the settings (I thought) and was not getting the results I wanted. My high-end Sony point and shoot was sometimes yielding better pictures. I figured I must be doing smoothing wrong.
 About two weeks ago I was at Quidi Vidi Lake with the sun shining brightly. I took several pictures of the Black-tailed Gull and the Mew Gull but they were terribly washed out - no matter how I changed the settings. I spotted Jared Clarke at the lake and he was also taking pictures.  I went over and asked Jared what I could do to get more definition in the pictures.  Right away he suggested that I experiment with the Compensation. Well, I paused for a moment with ISO, White Balance, F-Stop and Shutter Speed racing through my head. I wondered if Compensation was a synonym for one of these settings.

 At the risk of sounding absolutely stunned, I asked "What is Compensation?" He was very helpful. He took my camera and showed me the line across my screen and showed me how to change the setting. How was it that I never knew this before! I thanked him and went on my way.
 Over the next two weeks I have done just what he suggested - experimented with my Compensation. I worked with all of the other settings and this feature and much to my surprise and delight, my pictures got better - better lighting and better focus. How can one setting make such a difference?

Well, today I don't have any new bird to share, but I do have a number of new and better pictures that I wanted to post. When I go back and look at the other shots, there is really no comparison. These pictures stand out!
I was pondering a new camera because I thought my camera just couldn't do what I wanted it to. Now, I know that it can do so much more than it was doing because I wasn't using it right. This breathes new life into an old camera and I will hang on to continue to try to improve my pictures using ALL of the settings available to me. Then, when I top out its capability, I will step up to a new camera. Thank you, Jared.

 I included these two shots of a male House Sparrow because this bird was nearly 40 yards away from me, up in a tree. It was singing and so lively that I thought I would try to shoot. While it is far from perfect, it is amazing for the distance and the dull lighting that I was working with. This gives me a lot of hope for Spring shooting when the sparrows and warblers return to the area.
This time when choosing which pictures to post I had a different dilemma - there were too many clear, crisp shots rather than too few. What took me so long to ask for help?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Muscovy Ducks: Domestic but not dull

 I had heard last year that someone owned four Muscovy Ducks and periodically released them to mingle with the wild ducks. By accident, I happened upon one of them last year and was quite taken with this very interesting bird.
 This year I learned that they were at Lawrence Pond near Upper Gullies so I struck out to see them. Nothing prepared me for this giant, odd bird. He put on quite a show while I was there.
When he flapped his wings, much like a cormorant drying the wings, the sound of the flapping was so loud and powerful that it really took me by surprise.
 I watched as he preened and preened, quite used to people, he never even paused when I walked up.
 Along with the huge (male, I presume) Muscovy Duck were three others. I don't know enough about this bird to know if this is a young one or a female. This is the one that I saw last year and it looked the same as it does now. There is no indication that it is developing the special crest like the first one.
 I assume that these two other ducks are females. They were much calmer and spent all of the time that I was there skimming the water.
I decided to post these pictures for anyone who may not make the trip to Lawrence Pond. They are so very interesting and different!