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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.