Beyond the Backyard

Tip for Photographing Little Birds in Leafy Trees

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I photographed this White-Eyed Vireo this weekend on the Alligator Alley trail of the Circle B Bar Reserve. I used fill flash to illuminate him deep within a tree. I recently started training myself to use a new technique for focusing on these little birds who love to flit in and out of small trees. Using autofocus can be challenging, as the camera often chooses the leaf or branch in front of the bird as its autofocus point, leaving the bird nice and fuzzy in the shot. I set up my Canon 7D camera to allow me to push the * button to freeze the focus. Now I get the focus where I want it, then leave my thumb on the * button as I take my picture. Fewer fuzzy birds!It’s getting to be second nature to do this, although I suspect it’s easier on a tripod than if I was hand-holding.

Beyond the Backyard

Beautiful Morning at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

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After hearing  time after time about how great the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is, Dyeyo decided that he wanted to go with me and see it.  It was a pretty foggy morning, but the sun burned off the fog just as we arrived at the refuge around 8:30.  The Birdbrains have been saying that the Peacocks Pocket drive has been fairly active, so we headed there first.  We found Black-Necked Stilts and a small variety of shorebirds.  Then we went over to the Scrub Jay trail and found a Scrub Jay!  Finally we ended up at the Visitor’s Center, where they have a little boardwalk.  We found a pair of White-Eyed Vireos building a nest, and we stood and watched and photographed for probably over half an hour. Dyeyo and I are used to walking the trails at the Circle B Bar Reserve, so it was strange for us to drive Peacock’s Pocket.  The car works as a bird blind, but the birds at Merritt Island are also more skittish than our birds at Circle B. Our first bird of the day was this White Ibis, who probably had no idea that he was casting such a great reflection […]

Beyond the Backyard

Frosty Morning at the Circle B Bar Reserve

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It was probably not a good morning to be a bird at the Circle B Bar Reserve.  The temperature was around 28 when I arrived at 7:30 in the morning.  The ground was covered in frost.  Skies normally covered in American White Pelicans were empty.  But it was pretty in an eerie way, and by mid-morning, the frost was gone and the birds were back. I enjoyed experimenting with HDR shots this morning.  It was very foggy, and at times you could not even see the horizon for the fog.  I knew that I either needed to pull out the split neutral density filter for some pictures, or use HDR.  HDR was more fun. :) The frost was thick on the vegetation on both sides of the trail.  It was sad and pretty all at the same time.  Gone are the gorgeous yellow flowers that covered the marshes a month ago!  Many of the pools along Heron Hideout have dried up because of our lack of rain.  The black mud stands out against the rest of the colors of the marsh. Very few birds were in the water when I arrived.  Maybe the birdbrains are a little smarter than I […]

Beyond the Backyard

Cold Sunset at Oakland Nature Preserve

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I couldn’t resist the itch to try out my 500mm lens any more!  It was pretty windy today, so rather than going to Circle B, Rich and I went up to Oakland Nature Preserve at sunset. Maybe I’m just very spoiled by Circle B, but Oakland doesn’t seem to have as many birds as it used to.  We used to see dozens of Ospreys sitting high in the trees, usually with fish.  We didn’t see a single one today.  But we did see little birds, especially at one point in the boardwalk.  There were tons of Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers, several Ruby-Crowned Kinglets, one Black-and-White Warbler, and a White-Eyed Vireo. I used my 500mm lens plus my 1.4x teleconverter today.  With my 7D body, that makes an effective focal length of 1120mm!!  I didn’t have any trouble locating birds with just the 500mm, since I’m using to using my 400mm plus my 1.4x teleconverter.  But when I added the 1.4x teleconverter to the 500mm, I did have a bit of trouble finding the birds in the frame.  I’m sure I’ll get used to it.  :) A Gray Catbird hopped in front of me and started to devour some red berries.  I didn’t […]

Beyond the Backyard

Chased by an Otter at the Circle B Bar Reserve

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I’ve been called the Birdie Paparazzi. But today I was the one being followed! An otter came bounding up the path after me at least twice. He was cute! This morning I decided to hike Alligator Alley, since it was foggy and I felt like taking sunrise pictures. It’s also been a while since I’ve walked that way and I wanted to see what birds are around these days. The sunrise was gorgeous. I got to the dock just after the sun came over the horizon. I was told that if I’d been there half an hour earlier, I would have seen thousands of birds taking off in the early morning glow. I’ll have to remember that! I spent about an hour on the dock, photographing the birds flying by as the sun came up. The light was very bright and the birds were quite backlit. One of these days I’ll have to head to the lake at sunset. A lone Brown Pelican was out fishing for his breakfast. I caught him diving for fish a couple of times. He was pretty stubborn and always seemed to swim with his head in the shade instead of the sun… But bright […]

Beyond the Backyard

Circle B Migrants

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I felt like playing with Photoshop today, so I made another warbler and migrant bird collage. These little birds are usually high in the oak canopies, and it’s hard to get great pictures of them. They also hop around really fast. You come home with a stiff neck and then squint at your pictures, asking “is there really a bird in there?” So this is combination of a bunch of pictures from the last month, severely cropped. I think I have them all identified correctly, but they are the “confusing fall warblers”, so please tell me if you notice a mistake. Click on the image above for a higher-resolution version.

Beyond the Backyard

Springtime at Bok Tower

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Last year Rich and I went to Bok Tower a few weeks after the azaleas bloomed, and I was mad to have missed the blooms.  So this year we went while the azaleas were in bloom.  They were pretty, but not as dramatic as what we expect to see at Callaway Gardens in a few weeks. The paths were so pretty lined with flowering bushes. Dyeyo, Rich, and I had fun bird-watching at Bok Tower.  We saw the most birds over by Window by the Pond, near the bird feeders.  I was amazed  to see several painted buntings!  One of the caretakers said that the painteds had arrived last winter and returned this winter.  There were several males hopping around.   I didn’t get a good picture of the buntings, but I did get a decent one of this black and white warbler: The caretaker also told us about another feeder near the visitor center, and when we found it, we saw this red-bellied woodpecker eating his breakfast.  He didn’t appreciate the strangers watching him eat!  He’d hop to the feeder, grab a bite, then fly higher to eat it.  He’s really a bit big to eat from a tube feeder, […]