Thursday, March 21, 2013

Marsh Wren

Just like last year, March is when the Marsh Wrens start singing.  Of course, a lot of birds start singing in March, it's just that it's hard to find Marsh Wren's when they aren't singing as they spend much of their time down low among the reeds of marshy areas.

It was a pretty dreary day a couple of Sunday's ago, but that didn't deter a few wrens at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge from composing their song of chirps, buzzes and warbles.

Though these shots were taken just outside my car at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge's auto tour, this is a small bird.  So I was lucky to have rented a 200 - 400mm zoom along with a 1.7x teleconverter.  That's boosts the zoom at 400mm to 680mm.  Multiply the 1.5x crop caused by the smaller sensor in my D90 and you have an equivalent 1020mm.
I really like the 200 - 400mm lens, but I prefer the 600mm Nikon offers.  Both have a wide open f-stop of 4.0, but in order to get the reach of the 600mm, I have to use the 1.7x teleconverter.  That increases the f-stop to over 6.0, slower than my current 70 - 300mm zoom.  With all the cloudy days we have here in western Oregon, I really want something faster.
Anyway, for such a tough bird to photograph, I've had pretty good luck at RNWR.  The car blind really does work out quite well.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Rough-legged Hawk

The Buteo genus of hawks can be a bit difficult to identify without experience.  One of the problems for me is that Red-tailed Hawks are so common here in the Portland area and the other species in the genus, not so much.  Another problem is that the most common place to find Buteos is sitting on roadside posts, not an easy place to stop and get a good view.
With variations within just the Red-tailed Hawk species, light-morph, dark-morph, Harlan's, etc, I have more than once tried to turn a Red-tailed into one of its relatives.
During my trip to Wallowa county last month, I found several Rough-legged Hawks along the road. It was my first sighting and I got a lot of opportunity to view them.  In the pictures above and below, you can see that their legs are covered with feathers, a trait that inspired their name.
It was interesting trying to get close enough to get a good picture.  I was on Crow Creek Road during my first encounter.  I tried driving along slowly, but the bird would always fly down to the next pole just as I was getting into range.
Finally, I gave up and decided to drive on, when I noticed that it didn't spook nearly as easily if I drove past faster.  That trick got me the pics above and below.
Being a regular reader of OBOL has kept me mindful of disturbing birds as little as possible while trying to get pictures.  I was a little concerned that I was being too aggressive as it would fly from post to post as I slowly approached.  At one point it flew off onto the grassy hillside along the road.  That made me even more concerned in that I thought I had scared it away from its watch for prey.  I was relieved a bit later while watching it with my binoculars when I discovered that the reason for flying off is that it spied prey out on the hillside and was now feasting on it.
Here's another Rough-legged, again on Crow Creek Road, but along the paved stretch.  Notice the improvement in the quality of the posts. :-)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Ring-necked Pheasant

Another case where bringing my camera along to work worked to my advantage. I was just leaving Wilsonville on 110th Ave last Thursday when I noticed a rooster Ring-necked Pheasant in the field along side the road.
I see pheasants along this stretch occasionally, but never when I have my camera. I was about to chastise myself for not having my camera, when I realized, duh, I do have it, so I turned around and hoped for the best.
Pheasants are difficult to photograph since they tend to stay hidden in tall grass. This one tolerated me for a bit as I stayed in my car, but as you can see, it soon got nervous and squatted in an attempt to hide, eventually flushing off to taller brush.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch

As I drove the county roads around Enterprise and Joseph, Oregon in Wallowa County, I was struck by how few birds I was encountering. While I tried to avoid the fantasy of birds dripping from the trees, I expected it to be much more birdie.
By the second day, I was resolved to be patient and hopefully the birds would show themselves. That was the case with a flock of Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches. 
I was driving back to the main route along Crow Creek Road when I saw a large flock of sparrow-like birds along the hillside off to one side. They would dart around, sharply changing directions several times, then suddenly drop down, disappearing into the tall grass, only to reemerge a short time later.
They didn't seem interested in coming further down the hillside to give me a closer look, so I started taking pictures, hoping that I would get clear enough images to identify them.  It wasn't long before I was able to zoom in on some images on my camera's LCD display and realized that they were Rosy-Finches.
This behavior continued for quite awhile until the flock turned towards me, flying right over my car only to reverse course as a few started landing along the road on the opposite side.  Unfortunately, I had my window rolled up on that side to help keep warm (it was probably in the teens at that time). As I rolled the window down hoping to get better pictures, the flock flushed and flew off up the road. I wasn't able to refind them.
For much closer images of Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches, follow this link on my first sighting of this species.  

Western Meadowlark

I visited Wallowa County in northeast Oregon for the first time this past January 4th & 5th. It's well know as a hotspot for winter migrants such as Bohemian Waxwings and Common Redpolls, two of my most desired targets (neither of which I saw).
None-the-less, I did see four new life birds plus a new Oregon bird.

Sometimes opportunities occur when you least expect them. As a grade schooler growing up in Minnesota, I used to see Meadowlarks regularily. Here in Oregon, though they are the state bird, I see them much less frequently and seldom up close.
One of the country tour loops recommended in the area by Birding Oregon is Golf Course Road out of Enterprise, Oregon, followed by Leap Lane and finally driving Highway 3 back to Enterprise. While I had high expectations about the first two segments, I didn't expect much along Highway 3. However, this stretch provided me the best photography opportunity of the day.
There, along the road, sitting on a fence post was a Western Meadowlark basking in the winter sun. By the time I got a good look at it, I was still traveling much too fast to stop and get a longer look, so, after debating a bit with myself for a bit, I decided to turn around and hope it was still there.
Luckily, the traffic was relatively light, allowing me to pull over on the narrow shoulder without worrying too much for my safety. The Meadowlark was quite cooperative, allowing me the chance to get my best photos of this species to date. 

When one thinks of a Meadowlark, the feature that come to mind first is its brilliant yellow breast and bold black "V" as seen in the two images above. And while I love those pictures, the one above from the side, obscuring the breast, reveals an intricate array of earthy brown feathers with delicate black markings that I find fascinating.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Great Horned Owl - Moon

On the evening of Dec 21, my wife and I were enjoying an evening together at home when we heard an owl hooting outside.  I went out to investigate, but the owl fell silent.
Then later we heard it again.
It sounded as if it were in our front yard, but as I tried to locate it by following its call, its location seemed to move.  At one point it seemed the sound was coming from the back yard, but a quick check made it clear it was in the front.
As luck would have, there was a break in the evening clouds and as I stood on our front stoop, I noticed a shape against the moon.  There, at the very top of a tall pine along our driveway, sat a Great Horned Owl silhouetted by the moon's light.
I viewed it through my camera to get a closer look.  How cool to watch it turning its head from side to side against the moon.
I did a lousy job of adjusting for exposure, but I did get this one picture, greatly brightened in post (check out all that noise), that clearly shows the Owl's silhouette.