Friday, November 24, 2017

Curve-billed Ruby-throated Hummingbird


A homeowner on our residential island called my attention to the bird pictured below in several photographs.  The heavily curved bill suggests this bird is tropical, but after putting out inquiries on Xeno-Canto, which reached many knowledgeable people in the Americas, it was decided by all who rendered an opinion that is was a bill deformity on a Ruby-throated Hummingbird ( Archilochus colubris) a species which is fairly common on the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina in winter.

This bird has been at the homeowners residence since the height of fall migration in September, to the best of their recollection.  I was made aware of it incidentally on 23 November 2017. They had no idea it was such a novelty, and they host Ruby-throats each winter. I looked at the shape of the head, the crown, the presence of a post-ocular spot, and the shade of gray on the cheek. The white terminal portion of the tail feathers seems longer than ordinary as well. I did see the beginning of a buffy breast and belly which caused added confusion. The thickness of the bill is notable, but it does not appear heavy when observing the bird in person. 

My sources are Stiles and Skutch, Birds of Costa Rica; Howell and Webb, Birds of Northern and Central America; Williamson, Hummingbirds of North America; and Sibley, The Sibley Guide to Birds.  There were no other matches, and since there is nothing on the Web about bill anomalies in Archilochus hummingbirds, I will leave this posted. 









Sunday, November 12, 2017

Stumbling Through a Macrophotography Learning Curve

First, I am still very much in the learning mode.  Secondly, if you have an urge to try this I need to tell you to get your wallet out.  Here is what I am using:
  • High resolution digital SLR with live view
  • A 105 mm f/2.8 macro lens with an aperture ring, in manual mode
  • Rock solid tripod support, weighed down further with a beanbag.
  • Westcott Digi-tent 20 inches 
  • Five flash units
  • Six PocketWizard radios
  • Two light stands, 3 microphone bars, and one short microphone stand with telescoping boom
  • A set of 3 extension tubes; 8, 14, and 27.5mm 
  • Two or tree bean bags to balance equipment 
  • Kirk FR-2 focusing rail
  • Space for setting up all this stuff
  • Insect net
  • Plastic container with holes in the top to keep trapped specimens
  • A refrigerator to put them in where those around you will not freak out
  • Quiet, time, and patience
Are some of you still with me?

All this stuff has been assembled over at least 10 years. Let me repeat; this is what I use, not what you might need. If you want to to do small critters like frogs and insects in a studio-like environment, then you are likely to want to review my list. If your intention is to work outside, then your challenges might be different. The need for a $300 focusing rail or a photo tent becomes moot unless you want to isolate your subject as I do.

To me focusing with extension tubes is impossible without good support. The ability to trigger the camera without touching the shutter button, and jarring the whole enchilada, will also be apparent very quickly. Most extension tubes, to the best of my knowledge, will not allow autofocusing, but probably metering. However, with my lighting set-up, metering is unnecessary anyway. On the other hand, if you use the tent, and are working with something that insists on moving, then you will have to hand-hold your camera and use autofocus, and obviously no extension tubes.

My set-up requires four lights, all set 1/32 power. They need to be 8 to 12 inches froim the side walls of the tent. A fifth unit suspended on a boom arm above the tent is an excellent addition. It reduces any shadows to a bare minimum. Also, I want the background to be pure white (or black) with no texture, in the style of Joel Sartore. If you are using lens only - no tubes - 1/32 power on the flash units, camera on manual, f/16, 1/250 sec, and ISO of 200 is a good starting point. In any event, this close to your subject will leave you only a sliver of depth of field.

With tubes your camera should be set to manual or aperture mode as it may not fire on shutter preferred. Use f/8 or smaller for maximum depth of field, but that will dramatically affect how much light reaches your subject. Shutter speed at 1/250sec in manual if your subject moves, ISO 200, with exposure compensation at -.3 or 0. White balance set for flash or automatic. Fair warning,using live view will absolutely eat your battery, so have a spare, or use an A/C adapter.

The 105mm lens works really well, but if you are using extension tubes the f/2.8 - 4.0, 24-85mm macro lens is a good alternative. But, this very versatile lens is not as sharp as the 105. Tedious focusing will be required with the tubes and no focusing rail. Using live view is a must. The zoom feature with live view on modern cameras allows for examining critical focus. With the extension tubes I was able to focus the 105mm lens to about 3.5 - 4 inches from the objective end of the lens to the subject. Be aware that, at least in the Nikon line, this lens also comes in a G version. I am not sure if G lenses, or those without aperture rings will work with tubes.I

Late Autumn is finally beginning to arrive here, and I am running out of critters to photograph.

This tiny flower is 0.25 inches.  

Katydid yet to grow wings
Cloudless Sulphur on a white background

 
Some moth I found in the garage


All three shots of insects were done by chilling them in a refrigerator so they could be handled.  You have to be ready, because they warm quickly, and are gone.  The flower in the upper left was done with the tubes.  The black thing in the flower is a bug I could not see with the naked eye. 

Below is the tent set-up. I don't know how you could do this without a radio slave remote control system.  With the camera in the mouth of the tent an optical system would not work.  In the first shot below I am using a Kirk window mount and his BH1 ball head. This is great support and is solid with a bean bag for balance. The middle image, while a little confusing because of the background, shows the overhead flash on a short microphone stand, with boom arm.  It is also balanced with a bean bag. The black speck in the last shot is a very small screw I use to focus on an initial point. That shot shows the 105mm lens with the tubes, and a camera on the Kirk focusing rail. (I am not deliberately pushing Kirk.  It is coincidence, but he makes good stuff.




































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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Cooper's Hawk in the Bath

Recently an immature Cooper's Hawk took to the bird bath in the garden, more often the repose of our local Barred Owl.  The whole process took about 20 minutes. As time wore on, and the bird became comfortable, I was able to slowly open the back door, and focus a camera lens on the proceedings:


It sat on the edge of the water bath for fully 10 minutes before venturing in

Surprisingly it looked around as if to check for predators. Meanwhile song birds were in short supply, although a few did venture to the feeders while this nemesis was there


The first order of business was to bob it 's butt up and down in the water


Changed position and displayed one of those large, imposing talons 

Finally it got with the program, and went in...

and shook water all over itself

People yawn; dogs yawn. Never seen a bird yawn.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Tracking Hummingbird Development

I had the unique opportunity this past winter to follow the development of an immature Ruby-throat. I first shot the bird on December 17, but I had noticed it about one week earlier, because it perched on a single bare, and obscure twig at the top of a shrub, near a feeder.  It used this perch all through through April 14 when it finally left. Along the way I got to witness swooping courtship flight and watched it fly-catching insects, two aspects of hummingbird behavior I had not seen before.

I need to digress here, and mention that on the coast of Georgia, at least in Chatham County, we regularly have a good number of wintering hummingbirds.  I had over 70 homeowners report at minimum of 125 birds. More than 90 birds were reported from the suburban island where my home is located. It is all a matter of who had feeders out. Most were Ruby-throats of course, but Black-chins and Rufus were in the mix, and I photographed some of them. Through careful observation and examining images, a few of us realized these birds, even foraging next door to one another, are not usually the same bird.  So, there is little double-counting. Many of the homeowners told me they have had birds every year, for many several years, yet the species is still listed as rare on the coast of Georgia in winter.

Part of my interest was to observe how, and when, the bird molted into adult plumage, and developed the characteristic ruby-red gorget. Not unlike other birds which winter here, most notably American Goldfinch, the molt takes place at the end of winter.  Male goldfinches, and presumably others of that family, take about three weeks to transform themselves, and then hang out for another 2 or 3 weeks before migrating back to their breeding territory. This hummingbird changed very slowly and imperceptibly over several weeks, and then in a rush it was done.  Along the way iridescent feathers would appear, and then disappear. The gorget was nearly filled in by March 25, and surprisingly a large white patch on the chin redeveloped (March 28).  In the last of these shots on April 13, there are only a few white feathers on the chin. The next day April 14, the molt was complete.  That was the last day the bird seen.

December 17, 2016

December 28, 2016

January 24, 2017

January 29, 2017



March 22, 2017

March 28, 2017

April 13, 2017