2017—Drenched By Choice

The other day I featured a drenched Anna’s hummingbird perched on a wisteria twig.  Although I know the hummers love to bathe, even in the coldest weather,  this time, he was drenched due to the weather, not because he chose to take a bath.

When they’re drenched by choice, all the birds seem cheerful at their circumstance.  The bushies were back late Saturday afternoon, filling the fountain top and splashing until they were soaked.  This drenched little male bushtit stares at the camera with an attitude, as if to say to me, “so, what’s it to ya?”  Unlike the hummer of my previous post, this bird is drenched by choice.

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2017—Welcome Sign

One of the earliest spring blooming plants at my house is the hardenbergia, a vine that produces clusters of tiny purplish flowers that cover it in a magnificent display.   It never ceases to amaze me that, almost without warning, this plant is suddenly carpeted with  flowers, a welcome sign of the coming spring.  They are tiny, no more than a quarter inch.   This cluster protruded far out from the rest of the shrub, isolating it but making it more vulnerable to the breeze which made it much harder to get a clear shot.   I was using my 105mm macro lens which has a very shallow depth of field.  I tried focusing on different parts of the cluster to see what gave the best effect.  When I focused on the unopened buds at the bottom it put the open flowers out of focus which made it look more like a mistake than intentional.  I tried getting more of the cluster in focus by using a small  aperture, but that brought the flowers in the background into focus, making the background too distracting.  Focus stacking was not an option because I was hand holding the camera and the breeze was moving the flower cluster too much.  In the end, I decided to go with one of my first shots focused on the open flowers.

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The ornamental pear tree that my next door neighbor cut down as soon as he moved into his house about three years ago has emerged in my yard from the roots that were left.  I always liked the tree because its branches arched over my yard offering beautiful flowers in the spring, extra shade in the summer, and gorgeous autumn reds and yellows  in the fall.  It now appears to  be three scraggly trees growing from surface roots on my side of the fence and they are growing up through my Xylosma which obscured them from view.  I know I should do something about them as they are too close to the fence line and I really don’t need three trees there, but for now, I’m enjoying the spring display.

Taken with my 600mm + 1.4X Teleconverter (850mm)  while watching for the hummers.




I am having trouble identifying this hummingbird that I have noticed has been in my yard during the storms this past week and that I’ve featured in my blog.  It’s not the usual male Anna’s with the colorful head and gorget but because it has the spot of magenta on its neck, I’m inclined to think it’s not a female Anna’s.  The female Anna’s tail feathers have white tips but I haven’t been able to see this bird’s tail feathers.  I’m concluding that it’s an immature male, probably an immature male Anna’s but the white spot behind the eye is more like the black-chinned hummingbird than the Anna’s.   I guess I’ll know once it matures.

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We’re getting drenching rains.  The lawn in my backyard is mostly puddles of water.  The ground is so saturated that the water doesn’t have any place to go.  I don’t have to worry about flooding (at least I think I don’t have to worry) but many valley residents have been caught off guard by the flooding of rivers and creeks, swelled by the run off from the reservoirs and steady downpour of rain.  Unprecedented orders for evacuations are occurring  everywhere in the valley.  As I write, late Monday afternoon, what they’re calling an “atmospheric river” had started to dump even more water into the area.  I’m getting emergency alert e-mails from the local power company warning about outages and offering suggestions for preparing for the storm tonight.

I wonder, how will the little creatures that live in my yard fare? A few birds are active seeking food and of course the ever present hummingbirds are out in the weather.  Before the major downpour started, I saw one of the hummers perched on a high bare branch surveying his territory.  When I heard the hummer chirping, which they usually do when they’re feeding, I saw this one sitting atop a wisteria twig near the feeder, the beads of rain lining its beak and puddling on the top of its head, looking thoroughly drenched.  The waterlogged feathers have made it a little difficult for me to identify this bird.  I think it’s the female Anna’s but I was wondering if it might be a black chinned hummingbird.  Because I used flash, the feathers appear kind of a coppery gold; the male Anna’s has a brilliant  gorget but the female has just a few colored feathers under her beak, like this one.  But they usually don’t extend around the neck like this one does and in another shot, one of those feathers on the edge was brilliant magenta.  I guess it could be a juvenile male Anna’s as well.  I can see I need to pay more attention to hummingbird idenitfication.  The drawings in my Sibley Guide to Birds just don’t include every angle and every possibility.

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2017—A Crowd On The Beach

One of the things I discovered about beach panning is that the plane of focus is so narrow that things that are between the lens and the subject are often rendered almost like giant bokeh.  This can be distracting and/or disastrous.  I have more than one shot where a small bird scurried in front of my subject just as I pressed the shutter release, becoming a huge whitish blob that spoils the shot.  Sometimes, the bird which passes between the lens and the subject grabs the auto focus away from the intended subject and the entire shot is out of focus.  I lucked out with this shot.  The sanderling on the left had scurried past the dunlin and I maintained focus on my original subject, the dunlin.  I was a bit further from my subject than would have been ideal so my subject isn’t isolated but I think it illustrates life on the beach and all of the activity surrounding these little shore birds.

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2017—Is It Soup Yet?

For years I have been on a quest to find an excellent tomato basil soup recipe.  Of course I grew up on a 1950’s kitchen staple, Campbell’s Cream of Tomato Soup but when I tasted tomato basil soup for the first time at Elephant Bar Restaurant years ago, I knew that I probably wouldn’t be eating Campbell’s again.  Elephant Bar’s recipe has changed since I first began to enjoy eating it there and it’s missing something that is what drew me to it in the first place. I decided I need to find a recipe for it that satisfies.  I can’t quite put my finger on what Elephant Bar’s recipe is missing now.  It could be the perfect pinch of chili flakes that give it zip or just the right ratio of fresh basil to fresh tomatoes for that delectable Caprese touch or the delicious savory taste with the perfect texture.  Whatever it is, I’m still looking.  I’ve tried quite a few different versions but haven’t found The One.   I found a recipe for tomato basil soup by Ina Garten (AKA The Barefoot Contessa), a Food Network chef who consistently offers excellent recipes that I make again and again, and thought I’d give it a try.  As I write, it’s still bubbling away on the stove and it looks like this…it isn’t soup yet!

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2017—Spring Bloom

With the rains come the spring blossoms.  I was out and about Wednesday morning and it was overcast and gloomy.  I noticed some scraggly bare black branches peeking through a hedge with a half dozen or so spring blossoms. The small whitish-pink blooms offered a cheery counterpoint to the gloomy, dark background.

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2017—Welcome To My Garden

An unfamiliar bird  arrived in my garden Sunday afternoon and made herself at home.  I believe it’s a female Yellow-rumped warbler.  The hummers were quite upset with her presence as she perched on some lattice too close for their comfort to one of the hummingbird feeders.  Then, horror of horrors, she flew right to the feeder, settled on the tiny perch, and stayed for a brief moment while the hummers buzzed excitedly around her. She stayed throughout the afternoon and seemed to favor perching anywhere near the feeder.  Welcome to my garden.  It’s nice to have a newcomer.



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2017—Optical Illusions

While photographing birds in the garden Sunday morning, the mockingbird hopped over to the stone bench in the back of my garden and perched on the ears of a concrete rabbit setting in front of the bench.   I liked the composition with the squirrel garden ornament directly behind the mockingbird and with its head cocked and directed the same as the mockingbird’s head.  When I downloaded the images, I realized that the mockingbird looks as if I superimposed it on top of a photograph of the squirrel.  Furthermore, it almost looks like the bird is in 3-D, ready to leap out of the photograph.

My guess is that compression from using the 600mm telephoto lens somehow created the illusion that the mocker is superimposed.  If I didn’t know better, I’d have said this was a poorly done composite.

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2017—From A Sow’s Ear

As I husked tomatillos for chile verde, it struck me that the discarded husks were really quite lovely and quite photo-worthy.  I decided a high key treatment would look better than my generally preferred black background.  Although they are from somewhat homely beginnings, these tomatillo husks have a floral appearance and seem almost orchid-like…as from a sow’s ear a silk purse, whence from a humble husk, an orchid.

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We had a much needed respite from the rain Friday.  We all want the California drought to end, and the current inundation is filling the reservoirs and coating the Sierras with deep snow but it is also causing floods, mudslides, and the threat of a dam collapse so all the rain we’re getting has its good sides and its bad sides.    On the good side, Big Bertha made an appearance to celebrate the brief respite and Homer came to feed.

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