Today marks the 2000th post I’ve made to the blog—hence the title MM.  When I started In Focus Daily on January 1, 2011, I never expected to still be blogging six years later.  I have missed posting a few days here and there but on some days I posted more than once.   Over time I think I have improved as a photographer and I’m convinced the main reason is that I take photographs every day and challenge myself to try new and different types of photography.  The blog itself has evolved into more than just random photographs.  On some days, it is more of a journal with musings about my life; sometimes it serves as a travelog; often it recounts my photography struggles and frustrations; and it has become a running pictorial for my love of birds.  It is never a chore and it is such an integral part of my routine that it is second nature to post to it and to share my photographs.

I looked back over my 1,999 previous blog posts and, by far, there are more photographs of birds than anything else in my blog.  How fitting, then, that the 2000th post features not just a bird, but one of my favorites:  the Anna’s hummingbird.  I took this shot standing inside the house through the open patio door  about 12 feet away from the feeder while the hummer moved around the feeder. I was practicing using a button I’d preset to allow me to instantly switch between focus modes.  I generally shoot in Group Area  Auto Focus mode, something new to me with the Nikon D5, a mode not available on my other cameras.  But sometimes, it is important to be able to quickly switch to another focus mode without taking my eye away from the viewfinder or my finger from the shutter release.   The D5 has lots of programmable buttons for this very purpose.  So, my Fn1 button is set to switch to Auto Area AF.  As I grip the camera with my right hand, my index finger on the shutter release, my other fingers easily reach the three programmed buttons located on the face of the body between the grip and the lens.  It didn’t take much time to train myself to find the proper button by feel.  Auto Area AF  locks onto the subject and keeps it in focus as it moves across the frame, something critical to  keeping flying birds in focus.  Nice!


2016—Bob Bob Bobbin’ Along

That old Al Jolson song, Red Red Robin came to mind every time I saw this little Eastern Yellow Robin bob bob bobbin’ along in the Australian rainforest and I wondered about his yellow breast.  I know that the American Robin of song is really a thrush and this little bird doesn’t really look much like an American Robin.  The Eastern Yellow Robin is one of about seventeen bird species in Australia that are commonly called  “robin.”  Curious about this, I found an explanation that sounds plausible.  The English apparently extended their empire to flora and fauna, giving names to species in their colonies that were similar to species with which they had familiarity.   The European Robin has a red breast and so the ubiquitous American red breasted bird was dubbed a robin even though it is a thrush.  The same happened in Australia. Many birds there were called robins, some with red breasts and some with other colored breasts.  After centuries, the common names of these birds has remained.  The bottom line, I guess, is that except for being birds, there is little similarity between the American Robin and the Australian Eastern Yellow Robin.  The little yellow bird was a common sight in the rain forest and they were not skittish or afraid of us.  They seemed curious and often hung around nearby in the trees while we were photographing other birds.  Again, I think it was because they were so used to humans and the potential for a handout that they had lost their fear of humans.


2016—Turning Gray

I know something about turning gray.  My hair has been various stages of gray for more than twenty-five  years and now little remains of my hair’s original color.  When I saw Mady for the first time after many months, I realized she is starting to turn gray on her face.  She turned 9 years old on July 4.  I can’t believe it’s been that long since I first set eyes on her as a one year old in Redding in 2008.

gray Mady.jpg


Another bowerbird ubiquitous in the Australian Gold Coast rainforest, is the Regent Bowerbird.  This bird, with its beautiful glistening black and gold feathers, is hard to miss.  We never saw his bower but both male and female Regent Bowerbirds and immature males were always first in line at the daily morning feeding ritual.   The male Regent Bowerbird in flight is gorgeous and try as I might to get a good shot of him in flight, I failed to do so.  But, I did get lots of him perched either in the rainforest or waiting for the right moment to swoop in and grab a morsel in the morning.

The females don’t look at all like the males, with black beaks, brown eyes, and brown mottled feathers.  The immature males look like females except they have the yellow irises and orange beaks of the mature male.  It takes them 2 to 5 years to develop the beautiful black and gold feathers.  The last photograph in this series is the immature male.






2016—Fox Squirrel

Sunday afternoon, Mady and I took a walk along Dry Creek.  Access to the creek was more open than in the past so we were able to walk along close to the water’s edge.  Of course Mady galloped into the water as soon as she was close enough but I reined her in before she jumped in completely.  I had a towel in the car and the back seat of my new Lincoln is protected  by a waterproof, dog friendly seat cover but I still didn’t want a dripping dog in the car.  We watched a California Gray Squirrel with its elegant tail nimbly cross a fallen log that spanned the gap between the creek edges and disappear across the creek.  I was surprised that Mady didn’t immediately plunge in after the squirrel but she waited patiently.  Then something behind us caught her attention and she sat down and refused to budge.  I heard it before I saw it.  This Fox Squirrel chattered  and scolded us for several minutes.  The entire time, Mady seemed transfixed but she didn’t attempt to get closer.  I guess if it’s up in a tree, she knows she can watch but she can’t chase.



It’s been almost a year since Mady came to visit.  My brother moved to Bend, Oregon this past November and Mady last came to stay with me in October before they moved.   After so much time, it was nice to see Mady when she arrived Friday.  I’m looking after her for a week.  It will be an interesting week.  The intense jealousy and competition for my attention between Mady, a 60 or so pound Golden Retriever and Bobo, my 12 ounce Red-lored Amazon Parrot, continues.  In a twisted moment of capricious whimsy, while I was at  PetCo Saturday morning, I bought Mady a blue stuffed parrot on which to take out some of her frustrations.  They had no green ones.  And, they don’t sell tiny stuffed golden retrievers for parrots to attack so Bobo will have to be satisfied with attacking the real Mady— that is, if Mady’s crazy enough to venture too near that beak.  She already knows what that feels like. She’s not afraid to attack her stuffed “Bobo” though.  I’m amazed that after almost two hours it is still mostly intact, although Mady does sport some telltale “feathers” in her jowls.   I’m  not sure how Bobo is dealing with this wanton”parroticide”  but as I was typing this, I heard a commotion and she somehow fell off her perch.  Mady checked out the situation from afar then went outside to continue her attack of the stuffed parrot.  Bobo climbed back up to her perch and seems none the worse for wear.    Later, Bobo peered out the (very dirty) window to watch Mady shredding the blue parrot to bits.





2016—Try to Say That Three Times

Shrike-thrush, Shrike-thrush, Shrike-thrush!  It’s a tongue twister all right.  We ran across some interesting bird names in Australia like  Currawong, Frogmouth, Gerygone, but none were quite the mouthful that Shrike-thrush is.  The Shrike-thrush is a small bird that we kept encountering everywhere we went.  It’s kind of a drab gray (“grey” in Australia)  but very endearing.

shrike-thrush-3-copyshrike-thrush-2-copyShrike-thrush 4.jpg

2016—Heavy Lifting

Taking Big Bertha on photography trips can be daunting because not only do I have to worry about whether my camera bag will fit in an airplane’s overhead compartment, but once in the field, I have to carry her around attached to my camera and the tripod.  The entire rig weighs between 15 and 17 pounds depending on what’s attached— a teleconverter and a speed light add to the weight.  I can deadlift 40 pounds and I can do 20 dumbbell row reps with each arm using 25 pound dumbbells, but to me, carrying the rig, with the tripod legs deployed ready to set down and take a photograph,  is what I consider heavy lifting.  I’ve been doing this for the past year on almost every photography trip I’ve been on but it remains a huge challenge for me in the field and I often fall behind the group.

One of the problems I’ve faced is the extreme discomfort carrying this rig because my shoulder and collar bone are two of the very few bony prominences on my body.   I struggle to balance the weight and have tried towels and other padding to alleviate some of the discomfort but couldn’t keep the padding positioned properly.  After carrying the tripod on and off for a day, the area around my shoulder and collar bone is swollen and bruised with angry red welts.  But, I may  have finally solved the padding problem.  I bought a shot gun recoil pad and substituted a dense foam kneeling pad for the padding that extends up over my shoulder.  Now I can more comfortably rest the single tripod leg with the camera and lens balanced behind me.   But I need to practice.

When I mentioned this to my long-time personal trainer, Noelle, she suggested a training session with my camera gear.  What a great idea!

Thursday morning, I spent an hour with Noelle working on this.  We train out of a small karate studio so when we use the mat, which takes up most of the area of the gym, we have to remove our shoes.  This is not an ideal situation but I think walking shoeless actually helped me pay more attention to balance.  Noelle reminded me to tighten my core while carrying the rig which is a huge help. She also noted that she could tell when I started to tire because I lifted my left shoulder with the tripod balanced on it.   So, I have to remember to keep my shoulder down.  She had me take several laps around the room and then she had me walk backwards, all with the rig on my shoulder.   Then, she had me do walking lunges and stationary squats.  Despite having the rig on my shoulder, Noelle didn’t let me get by with so-so lunges.  I had to do proper lunges and proper squats. Then, we did it all again.  In the end, my FitBit recorded that I walked slightly more than a mile with the rig.  We’re going to do it again next week.

To take the shot, I had my Nikon Df perched on a stack of risers with a step on top and triggered the camera with a wireless remote in my right hand.   I had prefocused on a spot and tried to trigger the camera as I passed the spot.  My original plan was to get Noelle in the photo, too, but she was out of the frame whenever I triggered the remote.   Having the mirror helped my posture but it is apparent in this shot, midway through a lunge, that I was tiring a bit because I seem to be listing to the right.

Tripod Training.jpg

2016—3-D Tracking

My Nikon D5 has an auto focus setting called 3-D tracking which until today, I hadn’t used.    My Nikon D800 and Df both have the setting as well but  for some reason  it just wasn’t on my radar.  A friend from my camera club sent me a video that tested the D5’s auto focus abilities and, using 3-D tracking, the photographers in the video captured some amazing motocross images.  They suggested that 3-D was also a good auto focus setting for bird photography so I thought I’d give it a try.  I hand held the D5 with the 300mm lens and sat on my patio with a glass of wine (well, it was after 5PM after all) while I listened to the male hummingbird announcing his presence and at the same time his displeasure at my presence near him.  He finally realized I wasn’t leaving so he flew to the feeder.  A tremendous help is that I finally covered  two of the four openings on each of the three feeders so that the hummers would always be in a good position for me to photograph them while they drink.  I have to give credit for this suggestion to my photography buddy Richard who, when he visited in June, commented that I still hadn’t covered the openings.  Well, Richard, now I have, and I must admit, it’s a great suggestion.

I still need to do more test shots with 3-D tracking but so far, I like it.  Here are two of the shots I got while the hummer was feeding.  There is ghosting in the wings because I used flash at 1/16 power and the shutter speed was only 1/80 on one shot and 1/100 on the other one.  In order to freeze a hummingbird’s wings the shutter speed needs to be much faster.  I’ll have to work this but I’m pretty pleased with these shots.





2016—Kings Of The Rainforest

The Australian King Parrot is one of a very few sexually dimorphic parrot species.  In most parrot species, males and females are identical and unless a parrot lays an egg, it is usually impossible to tell the difference.  As a case in point, Red Lored Amazon parrots, like my own parrot, Bobo, are not sexually dimorphic. Both males and females look identical.  For seventeen years, Bobo was a “he.” An illness some months after I adopted her when she  was 17 years old, required DNA testing to establish her sex in order to determine the appropriate treatment.  That test showed that Bobo is a female.  In the case of  Australian King Parrots, there is no question about who is the male and who is the female.  The green headed Kings are male and red headed Kings are female.  They seem to reign in the rainforest.  They are gregarious and playful and not afraid of humans.  In fact, they are so used to humans that they hang around in the hopes of getting fed.  Sometimes we encountered them at the morning feeding frenzy.  Other times, they would follow us as we entered the rain forest and would hang around in the hopes that we might share a tidbit or two.

I took the photograph of the male (green) Australian King Parrot near the morning feeding area.  The female (red)  was deep in the rainforest trying to see if someone had something to feed her.



australian king parrot (female).jpg

2016—Roulette Wheel

I’m still far from perfecting … I should be frank here… far from even knowing what the heck I’m doing with photographing water drops but my obsession with them continues.  Monday’s efforts were frustrating to say the least. But the shapes that are frozen by the camera are intriguing.  This one reminds me of a spinning roulette wheel.  Bet everything on red!



A few days ago, I mentioned that I had become obsessed with water drops.  But, it’s not just water drops that grabbed my attention.  It was the challenge of capturing one drop colliding with another drop.  This creates what looks like a little umbrella made of water.   I decided I had to try it but getting ready for this is time consuming.  Of course Google provided the how-to.   I spent a couple of hours finding pieces and setting up to make this happen.   I ended up with a Rube Goldberg kind of contraption with a frame made of PVC pipe (it originally was a free standing perch I made for Bobo) and I suspended a repurposed Sriracha bottle, filled with water and swaddled in a mesh bag, from the perch and steadied it with bungee cords.   I set the contraption up on my worktable on top of a black paper background.  A  glass 9X13 pan filled with water served as the base receptacle.  To figure out where to focus, I set a ruler across the pan with a small button setting directly under where the drops would fall and  manually prefocused on the button.   I set a backdrop with a teal colored shirt on it and aimed an SB5000 speed light at the background.  I set another SB500 speed light to the right of where the drops would fall and aimed at that space.  These speed lights were controlled wirelessly by the Nikon D5 so there were no extra cords to get in the way so I could set them anywhere.  I set manual focus on the macro lens and manual mode on the D5;  f/11, ISO 200, 1/125 sec. shutter speed and I set both speed lights to minus 2 stops.

With everything ready, I discovered the major flaw in my plan.  I thought the repurposed Sriracha bottle had the perfect nozzle for the task.  It came to a point with a small hole and an outer ring that adjusted the size of the opening, perfect to adjust the drip speed.  But, the bottle didn’t drip on its own even with the spigot open.  I had visions of a perfect 10 drops per second drip rate (something I learned was a good starting point to get the drop on drop effect) but, nothing.  Other things I tried were impossible to adapt to my needs.  So, short of going to the hardware store and finding some gizmo that would turn on and off a drip line, I went with what I had.   In the end, I had to squeeze the bottle which was very imprecise.  And, because the bottle was suspended and held by bungee cords, and not rigidly affixed, the bottle moved every time I squeezed it so the drops fell outside the focus area more than they fell within it.  Because I had my wireless remote trigger which doubles as a trigger for the speed lights, I was able to stand away from the camera and squeeze the bottle while triggering the camera.  Because my fabulous Nikon D5 camera will rip off 12 frames per second, I just held down the trigger and let ‘er rip.  I was surprised to see that the speed lights recycled quickly and didn’t miss a shot.  Only a handful of photographs I took had the magical umbrella look and of those, this was the best.  It looks nothing like the spectacular shot I sought.  But, I now know that this kind of shot is doable.  But, that’s a project for another day.

Splash on drop 1.jpg

2016—Shadowy Figure

The Grey (British spelling of gray) Butcherbird was another bird I saw only once in Australia.  Along with the Tawny Frogmouth and the Noisy Miner the Grey Butcherbird appeared briefly in the eucalyptus grove we visited late one afternoon.  I thought the shadow of the bird on the tree trunk behind it made an interesting composition.

Grey Butcherbird.jpg


I’m still following a Paleo diet and loving it.  I’ve lost 10 pounds painlessly  and the food is incredibly delicious.  I’ve given up dairy (that means no milk, yogurt, or cheese), grains (so, no bread, oatmeal, rice, or quinoa),  refined sugar, and processed foods.   I’m discovering that many foods I’d never tried now appear regularly in my daily meals and I’m learning to adapt old favorites so that they are Paleo-friendly.  I’m not fanatically Paleo because I still drink an espresso or an Americano every morning and I continue to enjoy a glass or two of red wine every now and then, just not as often as I once did.

When fall comes (it will be here in less than a week) I start to crave homemade soup, especially my favorite, butternut squash soup.  I  have several recipes for it but my all-time favorite is one I learned from a chef at the first cooking class I took about 8 years ago. But, this favorite recipe calls for heavy cream.  I set out to make it Paleo which was not too difficult because the only ingredient I needed to change was the cream.  One of the standbys of Paleo cooking is full fat coconut milk.  I have also recently discovered coconut cream which is a more concentrated version of coconut milk that is like very heavy cream.  I replaced the dairy called for in the recipe with a combination coconut milk and coconut cream.  The soup turned out perfectly.  To serve, I normally put in a dollop of Greek yogurt but that is no longer an option so I made a sour cream substitute using coconut cream, Paleo mayonnaise, and apple cider vinegar.  When I swirled it into the soup bowl I thought the result deserved a photograph.  It looks like marble.  And, the soup, which I consumed after taking a few photographs, was marble-ous!


marble butternut squash.jpg

2016—Noisy Miner

The Noisy Miner is another type of honeyeater native to Australia.  We saw only one individual Noisy Miner and that was on our late afternoon excursion in search of the Tawny Frogmouth.   As we walked through the eucalyptus grove our guide suddenly pointed to a bird perched in a tree nearby and said it was  a Noisy Miner, a bird I’d never heard of.  I set down my tripod, sighted the bird and focused the lens. I was amazed that I immediately found it in my viewfinder.  I have discovered that locating my subject in the viewfinder with a long lens can be very tricky and sometimes precious seconds are all one has to capture the shot.  But, in this case, I was so close the Noisy Miner filled the frame and it was hard to miss.   It is a much larger honeyeater than others we saw in Australia.  I took about a half dozen shots and thought I should move back because the bird filled the frame a little too much and I wanted a little more background around the bird.  I always think it interesting when I find myself too close to a subject with my 600mm lens.  I guess you can get too close with a telephoto lens.  I didn’t have time to move further away  because our guide drew our attention to a Gray Butcherbird and when I looked back, the Noisy Miner was gone.

I’m including two shots; I took six but in the other four only the beak is in focus.  These shots are very similar but I liked them both.  The first one cuts off a smidgeon of tail feather but I like the semi-profile.  In the second, the tail is just barely complete but I like the goofy-looking front facing shot.

Noisey Miner.jpg


noisy miner 2.jpg

2016—Danny’s Dollar

My post yesterday generated considerable interest about Danny and who he was or, who he is.  The actual dollar bill is going off to New York City where my nephew (yes, the same nephew who annotates my celestial photos) has offered to do some archival research.  In the mean time, I thought seeing the bill in its entirety might give a better picture of what I wrote about yesterday.  I placed the bill on a black matte board with a piece of glass on top to flatten it.  That meant I couldn’t use flash so I needed long exposures and I needed to block out any reflections from the windows. (50mm focal length; ISO 100; f/16; 15sec. [top photo] 25sec.[bottom photo].  I think the shutter speed difference resulted because I changed the angle of the shade I held to eliminate reflections.

If you are interested, you can get more information about the U. S. Army Transport Ship Octorara here and here.

Danny’s message starts on the reverse of the bill at the upper left corner and ends on the reverse at the pyramid with his signature and the date.


2016—A Message From Danny

Paper must have been in short supply on the U.S. Army Transport ship Octorara in 1946.  Based on what I found in a box of mementos that my mother kept, the most convenient and available writing surface seems to have been a dollar bill.  A post WWII radio operator named Danny (if I’m reading it right) used a silver certificate to document a couple of months of his ship’s journeys between Manila in the Philippines and Okinawa in Japan and sent it to his mother.   When I mentioned finding it,  Arthur, my brother, told me he had received it in payment from one of his paper route customers in the 1950’s and  my mother had tucked it away.  The ink has faded to brown and the bill was folded so that permanent creases prevent it from laying flat but the terse journal is still mostly legible.

I transcribed the words.  They start on the outer border of the reverse, circle the bill’s edges, then fill in the writable spaces, and continue on the front of the bill.  The account isn’t riveting and there are no details about the trips except dates and destinations.  To me the most intriguing part is the salary which, in today’s dollars would total, including bonus, $42,588.  I also got a kick out of the dyslexic switching of vowels in the word bonus.  It looks like Danny  wrote this travelog to let his mother know where he was and what he was doing…that he’d run away to sea, perhaps?  My guess is he posted the bill to his mother from Okinawa on March 7  because the ship sailed for Manila on March 8, but that’s only my speculation.  Still, I think it is an intriguing bit of history.  First is the complete  transcription followed by a couple of detailed macro shots of the bill itself:


Jan. 16/46  Signed contract with the U.S. govt. for one year service (Jan 16/46) to Jan 15/47 as Radio Operator on board U.S. Army transport “Octorara”  With a base salary of $2421, quarter and service allowance of $230 and Bunos (sic) of $800.00—
Left Manila for Yokohama, Japan. Reached Yokohama on Jan. 30/46
Jan 30, night went to the city of Omori, Japan.
Feb 1/46—Left Yokohama for Okinawa, Japan.


Feb. 5, Reach Okinawa first time
Feb. 7, Left Okinawa for Manila
Jan 16/46 Reach Manila first time from ?(
illegible) Jan 14, Left Manila for Okinawa, Olongapo, Subic Bay, Zambales
Feb. 18/46 Olongapo for Okinawa.  Reached Nabako Bay Okinawa on Feb 22. Proceeded to Yokohama on Feb 22
Reached Yokohama on 2/27/46
Went to Tokyo on Feb. 28
Feb. 28 P.M. 
Tokyo to Yokohama
March 2.  Left Yokohama for Buckner Bay Okinawa.  Reached Okinawa on 3/6/46. Leaving Okinawa for Manila on 3/8/46
Expect to arrive in Manila March 12.

Written over Pyramid is the following:


The first macro shows the start of the radio operator’s account dated Jan. 16/46.   The efficient use of writing space is detailed  in the second photograph.  The last shows to Mother, from Danny and the date.

dollar journal 2.jpg



dollar journal.jpg

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2016—Leaf Drops

I have become obsessed again with water drops—and trying to photograph splashes.  In the meantime, while I figure out how to photograph a drop-on-drop splash, which, by the way I may never manage to do, I thought I’d play with water drops on leaves using my speed light at various angles with a gel on it to warm the light.  I was outside on my patio and it was late afternoon.  I took these photographs when the sun was very low in the sky so I like to think these drops look more like they’re catching the last rays of sun just before it dips out of sight rather than lit with flash.

leaf drops.jpg


2016—Perching Close By

The male Anna’s hummer  has taken to perching in the crape myrtle tree on which one of the three feeders hangs.  I think I need to clean it up a bit if I’m going to take photos of him perching there.  The tree has lots of webs and other buggy debris hanging in it.  I took this Saturday morning  at the 600mm’s minimum focusing distance (14 feet).  The 1.4x teleconverter is attached and the camera was set to high speed crop.  I had a little help from the speed light, with morning sun coming from the right, the flash brings out a little more color on the gorget and body feathers  on the left.

perching hummer2.jpg