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Archive for February, 2012

Black-capped Chickadee in snowstorm

Winter has once again returned with two days of snow squall activity. On Friday morning I took advantage of the stormy weather to sit out in the photo blind for some additional songbird images. I just love to photograph the songbirds around my home during periods of snow. The snow streaking through the frame gives a real sense of the elements these birds face during the winter months and the activity at the feeding stations is often at its best. During snow squalls it is possible to have near white-out conditions one minute and clear conditions the next. This day of stormy activity turned out be one of my best days yet in the photo blind this winter. We have also had large numbers of Dark-eyed Juncos and American Goldfinches arriving over the last few days.

All my songbird images are photographed with the Nikon 80-400mm VR lens which I often find to be painfully slow in regards to focusing, but by pre-focusing on the perch and then adjusting the composition to anticipate where the birds may land the lens does not have to work very hard to focus on the bird when it does land on the perch. I also work the camera and lens mounted on a loose ball head with the VR function activated. Often I find this will yield the best results, however, many images are created to capture the few that I consider to be the keepers. Here is a selection of my favorites from the day.

Hairy Woodpecker – male

Black-capped Chickadee

Dark-eyed Junco

Black-capped Chickadee

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

Black-capped Chickadee

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Black-capped Chickadee on pine branch

I seem to be on an endless hunt for new perches for photographing birds at my backyard set-up. Fortunately, there are several woodlots I can easily access and during storms I tend to have lots of small dead branches fall from the Ash trees on my property. When selecting the perch I tend to avoid a plain old looking stick unless it has some interesting shape to it or other features that may prove interesting. Most often I am looking for small branches that are not much more than the thickness of a pencil. Perches with lichens, moss or small pinecones tend to work very nicely for the species I get at my feeder set-up, but I have also had luck with rose hips, mullien seed heads and even dried burdock, that are readily available along the side of the roads around my home. Occasionally larger moss covered stumps will work well, especially if they have a hollowed out area to fill with various feed, depending on the species, in your area, that you wish to attract. This year it seems like the most frequent visitors to my feeders are Chickadees and Tree Sparrows, however, the Red-bellied Woodpecker continues to arrive daily and I have been lucky with additional photos of it that I will post in the future. Here is a small assortment of additional songbirds from my backyard set-up with various perches.

Black-capped Chickadee on moss covered perch

Black-capped Chickadee on small pine branch

American Tree Sparrow on snowy, moss covered stump

Black-capped Chickadee on small pine branch

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Wimberley P-5 Universal Camera Body Plate

Most serious nature photographers know the benefits of having a quick release system for attaching their cameras and lenses to their tripods swiftly, to react to the fleeting moments that may occur. The Arca-Swiss style of plates and clamps is often the system chosen. If you are not using the Arca-Swiss style, I highly recommend you consider making the switch. In my e-book ‘A Photographer’s Guide to the Ontario Landscape’, the first-ever comprehensive guide to photographing Ontario, I briefly discuss the Arca-Swiss style quick release system as being standard gear for most serious nature photographers. Aside from being a guide to the Ontario landscape the e-book is full of tips to help you capture the best possible landscape images, wherever you live. For many years, I have faithfully used an ‘L’ bracket on my camera. ‘L’ brackets allow photographers to fasten their camera bodies onto their tripod heads in both vertical and horizontal orientations to minimize the need to recompose when photographing a scene in either of the two orientations. They are quite useful and beneficial, however, that also comes with a price. They are more expensive and much heavier than a camera body plate.

For the last two months or so I have been using a Wimberley P-5 Universal Camera Body Plate on my camera instead of the ‘L’ bracket and I can honestly say that I love it. It is light weight, at only 40.8 grams, while my ‘L’ bracket is a heavy weight at 139 grams. The P-5 plate is also one third the cost of what I paid for my ‘L’ bracket. The Wimberley P-5 plate comes with dual safety stops and is designed in such a way that it will prevent the camera body and plate from twisting. In the above photo you will see that there is thin layer of dense rubber to grip the base of the camera body, and the plate itself has been machined so that frictional force is applied on the outer portions of the plate when the plate is fastened to the camera body. This simple design prevents any twisting. Custom pates from other manufacturers do not use the textured rubber, but rather a beveled edge that prevents any twisting, however, this beveled edge is machined to fit each specific model of camera for which you have purchased the plate for. What will you do with these custom plates when you upgrade your camera bodies. With the Wimberley P-5, you simply remove it from your old camera body and fasten it to your new camera body and you are ready to go at no further expense. Click here and then on the video link for more information about safety stops and to find out more about the Wimberley P-5 Universal Camera Body Plate and click here for Wimberley’s PDF product instructions on the P-5 Universal Camera Body Plate.

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Aspen Blur

I have spent much of this week trying to rest and rid myself of a nasty chest cold, so I haven’t been out and about to capture any fresh images. Hopefully, I will be able to get over the next day or two as we have just received about 4 inches of fresh snow and it is still snowing. Yippie!

Several weeks ago, on a rainy day, I headed to my favorite Aspen Tree grove to photograph some blurs. There is something about Aspen Trees and their ability to be great subjects for creating pleasing blurs. The steady rain on this day helped to saturate and darken the tree trunks nicely. While photographing the series of blurs that I captured on this day I decided to try something a little different, I activated the vibration reduction feature on my Nikon 80-400mm VR lens. As I framed this particular section of Aspens in the above image I selected an aperture of f22 for an exposure time of 10 seconds. Next, I activated the vibration reduction feature and attempted to handhold the lens as steady as possible while the vibration feature compensated for my body movements during the lengthy exposure. The above image is the result of this experiment and it is the only image from the series of blurs I photographed on that day that had this interesting blurred movement to it. Please take a moment and let me know what you think of the end result.

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Blue Jay at rest on fresh fallen snow

When I set-up my songbird feeding station for winter songbird photography I also constructed an extension that a large section of a tree trunk is fastened to for photographing woodpeckers when they come in to feed on the suet I fastened to the back of the trunk, and out of view of the camera. I used a four foot length of 2 X 4 to construct this extension. This 2 X 4 has become a very important part of my set-up, because after a fresh snowfall it allows me to capture ‘ground-level’ images of the birds that choose to sit on the snow covered 2 X 4 while waiting their turn at the feeder. The resulting images look as though I was laying down in the snow when I was actually toasty warm, while sitting in my heated blind with a fresh brewed cup of coffee. Here are two of my favorite Blue Jay images from this year so far. They were photographed on a bitter cold morning at -20 Celsius. The Blue Jay is all fluffed up while trying to stay warm on this bitter day.

Blue Jay in winter

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American Tree Sparrow

Here is a small selection of new images from my backyard set-ups. Keeping a fresh collection of perches handy does become a bit of a challenge sometimes, as I don’t want too many photos of birds on similar branches. With the lack of snow on the ground, the activity at the feeders is relatively low as the birds are foraging elsewhere for their food sources. However, once we do get another snow fall the activity will surely pick-up again. The number of American Tree Sparrows seems to be up more this year than in previous years and the House Finch and Dark-eyed Junco are, for the most part absent from my feeders. perhaps this is due to the very unusual winter we are having. I do love being in the blind during periods of snow and in the image below, that I captured last week, the American Tree Sparrow is resting on one of the perches after a period of significant freezing rain, followed by a good amount of snow. It really illustrates the elements that these little birds endure during the winter months.

American Tree Sparrow on icy branch in snowstorm

Black-capped Chickadee

Hairy Woodpecker

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