Didn’t Your Mama Ever Teach You Any Table Manners?

Mid summer is a time when the Bird Buffet is inundated with fledglings – last week I wrote about a titmouse who was unwilling to cut the apron strings. I’m glad to report that I witnessed him opening and eating his own sunflower seeds today. Still, his screeching for his mama continues unabated. I have the feeling he’ll be living at home until his student loans are paid off.

Todays subject on Fledglings Behaving Badly, is not a mischievous titmouse, it’s a youngster from a fine upstanding family, known for their fine manners. They don’t screech, they don’t fight, they don’t hand upside down from the chandeliers. The Downy Woodpecker is the very picture of a well-mannered bird.

This is a Downy being a Downy - walking along a tree limb looking for bugs.

This is a Downy being a Downy – walking along a tree limb looking for bugs.

Downies are sweet birds, they become accustomed to humans very quickly and even share their feeders easily. They are likable little birds – the kind who grow up to be upright citizens. Every once in a while there’s a bad apple, a bird that no amount of parenting and discipline can manage – a hellion that upsets the whole neighborhood.

This kind of behavior cannot be tolerated at the Buffet! I suppose she thinks that if it’s alright for the hummers to dive bomb each other over this feeder that she can do whatever she likes, well she’s wrong – dead wrong (not really, I could never hurt her).

Click through this next gallery to see our stop action surveillance of the perpetrator.

After this incident, the youth in question was seen hanging upside down on the woodpecker feeder. She was last seen leaving the Buffet on a motorcycle with a sketchy looking bluejay.

She's gonna have one heck of a hangover in the morning.

She’s gonna have one heck of a hangover in the morning.

Parents – tell your fledglings about nectar. There’s nothing sadder than a young woody throwing her life away for a sugar high.

It’s a boy! An Update on the Friendly Fawn

Earlier this year I had an encounter with a yearling in the woods – it was an old friend, a friendly fawn. Last night I ran into the fawn again, but he’s all grown up!

These aren’t the best photos – I was not very close and was loosing light, but it is my fawn! I think I’ll just call him “Friendly”. He’s sporting velvet now.

His white mustache shaped marking is there - but I knew it was him because of that look!

Friendly’s white mustache shaped marking is there – but I knew it was him because of that look!

His eyes are unmistakable and the white mark on his nose is there – but that’s not what clued me in at this distance. It was his manner. He was with three other deer. The doe with him in this shot is his aunt – I have several shots of her over they years and she is not very friendly.

Here you can see the posture of the doe - she is not approachable and is not friendly. Her sister is the friendly guy's mom.

Here you can see the posture of the doe – she is not approachable and is not friendly. Her sister is the Friendly’s mom.

Looking at her in this shot she is getting ready to snort and bolt. But not Friendly – he’s watching me, tail down and calm. This was actually the first photo and you can see that his position is unchanged as I got closer. Here’s a shot of his mother with his newest younger sibling.

Doe is pretty calm as always but this baby was not - no white mark either.

Doe is pretty calm as always but this baby was not – no white mark either.

Doe typically has twins or triplets so this is a light year for her. Both her and Friendly stayed put as I got closer.

Not a great shot - but this is Friendly's new sibling, Spot

Not a great shot – but this is Friendly’s new sibling, Spot

On this evening Spot made the call and bolted, the others followed.

See Spot Run! A raised tail is a sign of danger, Spot doesn't know I'm harmless...yet.

See Spot Run! A raised tail is a sign of danger, Spot doesn’t know I’m harmless…yet.

They all bolted into the woods…except for one…

Friendly stayed behind to watch me turn and head back to the Jeep

Friendly stayed behind to watch me turn and head back to the Jeep

I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship – I think that “friendliness gene” does exist.

Shutter Speed – A Month of Hummers

Over the course of the last month I have been experimenting with shooting in Shutter Mode – a departure from my beloved and comfortable Aperture Mode style of shooting. You can read about my progress here, here, here, and here.

If you don’t want to bother with clicking all those blue words – here’s my journey in a nutshell:

1. I like to shoot birds and wish I could capture more action shots.

2. Shooting in Aperture Mode focuses on light and not speed, so while I can easily control the depth of field, I miss a lot of that action.

3. Most wildlife photogs shoot in Shutter Mode, because controlling the speed gives you a better chance at stopping motion – this prompted me to get out of my comfort zone and give it a try.

What I have learned in the last month is that great light increases your camera’s ability to get you great results, and that you need to know the limits of your camera’s ability to handle lower light with higher ISO settings. ISO is crucial in allowing more light in when you increase shutter speeds even in sunlight.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that my camera can push these settings pretty far and still yield good results. I would encourage you to find a review that assesses your camera’s capabilities to see where the experts draw the line on ISO performance. For my camera, the line seems to be at 6400 with the experts in a controlled lighting situation – in the field I find I prefer the results at 3200 and lower. That’s twice the limit I have ever been comfortable trying, and reading up on my camera convinced me that my thinking on ISO and grain was stuck somewhere in past with my first Canon Elph (circa 2002).

When starting down this road my goal was to try to get shots of hummingbirds with definition in their wings. I have hundreds of shots from the last year with eyes in focus and wings that are barely discernible – now I love some of these shots, but getting wings with actual feathers defined was a rarity. Now I am not at the point where I am completely stopping motion on a hummingbird – honestly, I think that to do that dependably would require the use of a flash, and that is way outside my comfort zone. What follows are my favorite shots from a month of shooting in Shutter Mode.

Click on any image to start the slide show!

Now I know that last shot is not really an action shot. That girl worked her heart out for me – she’s out there on the front lines everyday defending that red bottle feeder, and her exhaustion is starting to show. She’s the acrobat diving into frame in so many of these shots. Well done, my little friend, well done.

It’s Time to Leave the Nest Already

Titmice are pretty much identical. I can pick out two that I have had at the feeder for a couple of years because of scars they have. Recently I have been watching a young titmouse – he stood out from the cool grey crowd. I was pretty sure it was a youngster because it’s plumage was a bit rough and it still had the yellow edging on its beak that baby birds had. It’s about the same size as the other birds so it seemed like it should be more confident. It looked to me like it was having a hard time mastering basic titmouse routines.

A couple of days ago I witnessed an altercation. The young bird would vocalize and make lots of screeching sounds whenever a mature bird got close – I assumed that this was about a young bird proving himself. He seemed to be incapable of holding his own.

I started to notice this bird regularly. In this screen door weather it’s clear when he is on one of my pergolas. He seems to be able to screech even with his mouth full. He also puffs out his feathers – this has made him an attractive subject as I study capturing movement through setting changes.

Last night, just before sunset I saw the following interaction – as I watched I assumed it was a tussle over a peanut, but as I looked at the next to last shot I wondered if I had been looking at this all wrong…

As I watched the scene above I was sure that there was a fight over a peanut, but as I looked at the photos afterward, I wasn’t so sure.

Today I saw the two birds again and it became clear that my impressions were wrong.

Once I saw this play out I had to revisit the other photos and look at them through a different lens. I have never seen this type of behavior before, was this youngster just not ready to leave the nest? Does he just want to live beyond his means and eat peanuts all day instead of sunflower seeds? Was he the oldest child who wishes he got more time with mom and dad? Was he the middle child who grew up believing that he didn’t get enough attention? Was he the youngest who like to play the baby card to keep from having to fix his own supper? EIther way, he’s got his parents snowed.

Shutter Speed Part 4 – My Blue Heron

I’m becoming more comfortable working in Shutter Mode. There are some times when it fails me, but that most often has to do with extreme light or shadow issues, the things that make getting a good shot almost impossible. As I discovered in Part 2, my camera can handle pretty high ISO settings. I did some research on some real world reviews and found that I could push the ISO up to 3200 with little or no noise and that as high as 6400 a clean image was still possible.

On July 4th, like most people, I like to watch fireworks. I prefer to do it from a kayak out on a lake or river if possible. Since last summer we were in a drought and had no fireworks we were set for a super-sized show this year. I like to get to the lake at around 7:30 and get out on the water before it gets dark to set my bearings and get in a short paddle before sunset. Right after dusk I spotted a great blue heron. They are one of my favorite birds – standing over 4 feet tall with a six-foot wingspan, they are a sight to behold. This was my chance to push that ISO and try to keep a reasonably fast shutter speed. To be sure, there is some grain in some of the shots, but keep in mind that this is dusk – a full half-hour after sunset. Pushing the ISO let me keep the shutter speeds between 1/320 and 1/400 second, not fast enough to stop most action, but enough to capture pretty sharp images given the conditions – low light shots from a kayak.

I have found that I can get closer to these birds later in the evening and have always looked at these encounters as pictures I take only with my eyes, because I didn’t think I could get decent quality with a camera without a tripod on dry land. Pushing the limits is teaching me otherwise.

Click on the gallery – all shots were taken at an ISO setting of 3200. There is definitely some grain, but considering that I needed a flashlight to see the buttons on my camera I am pretty happy with the results.

Shutter Speed Part 3 – Happy Accidents

This is the third post in a series on migrating away from my comfort zone – shooting in Aperture Mode – to exploring the wonders of shooting in Shutter Mode. In Part 1 I talked about the trade offs of Shutter vs Aperture Modes and the search for the structure of a hummingbird’s wings. In Part 2 I discussed some simple setting changes that let me get more shots off and have more keepers in a series on a visit from a bluejay. Today I want to discuss an unexpected byproduct of shooting in Shutter Mode – Happy Accidents.

In my typical Aperture mode I might have gotten an inflight shot by accident once a month that was useable. Now sometimes I got lucky when there was so much action that all I had to do was keep snapping and hope for focus like this. Apart from this flurry of activity those times when a bird launches into the air were mostly just unreadable blurs.

Now most of these shots are not really useable, but they are readable and I think I am learning more about the way a bird flies. That information will help me take better shots of birds as they launch themselves into the air – knowing the process helps me to make better guesses of where the action will be in a split second.

I have always imagined that birds launch themselves into the air by flapping their wings and lifting off – but no – they take a leap of faith, hopping or stepping off to catch the air before they even spread their wings…

Alley oop!

Alley oop! f6.7 1/1000 second ISO 1600


Geronimo! f6.7 1/800 second ISO 3200

Cowabunga dude!

Cowabunga dude! f6.7 1/800 second ISO 3200

To infinity and beyond!f8 1/800 second ISO 2500

To infinity and beyond! f8 1/800 second ISO 2500

Like I said – not great photos, but they do give me a better feel for where to look for the action on take offs, but what about landings? I am learning that wings are much more open when a bird is landing – they flutter to catch their balance. Sometimes they even overshoot their target – it all happens in a split second and I always missed it in Aperture Mode…


Incoming! f6.7 1/800 second ISO 3200

Overshot the landing!

A real nail-biter! f6.7 1/800 second ISO 1600

All a flutter!

All a flutter! f6.7 1/1000 second ISO 1600

Knowing that the landing is the prime time to catch wing action was a huge advantage to shooting. I also noticed that certain feeders with narrower foot holds tended to require more wing flaps to land on, so this weekend I set out to try to make one good capture. I knew what was needed – bright light, fairly high ISO, fast shutter speed, a bird landing on a  tricky perch – not much to ask for – right?

A focused landing! f9 1/1000 second ISO 3200

A focused landing! f9 1/1000 second ISO 3200

I found this feeder a couple of weeks ago at Lowes and wondered if the birds would use it because of the narrow edge. It turns out that they do use it and if you can get into place before noon on a sunny day with the right camera settings you just might capture some wing action.

Shutter Speed Part 2 – Catching the Action = More Good Shots

In my last post I talked about my exploration of using Shutter Mode as a means of capturing action that was impossible when shooting in my beloved Aperture Mode. To make these shots I bumped up the ISO far outside of my own comfort level to make it possible to use faster shutter speeds in the available light. Since I am shooting a long lens, the aperture can never be exceptionally wide – there are no really fast zooms for the mirrorless platform yet. f6.7 is as fast as I can go at maximum zoom – so there are limits built in. In Aperture Mode I was shooting at around 1/250 second and I kept my ISO under 1000.

This set was shot with apertures between f6.7-f7.1 at 1/500 second and an ISO setting of 2500. Bluejays tend to be skittish, they bounce from tree to tree deciding whether or not to risk visiting the feeders.  I took these shots in the space of 10 seconds. There are 23 shots – I discarded three that were out of focus. As I mentioned in my previous post, I have disabled my preview so that I can keep shooting. If I had been shooting in Aperture Mode I would have gotten off about 6 shots hoping for one or two in focus, removing preview would have let me shoot more, but I am guessing my percentages would have been the same – 30% verses over 90%. Shooting in this mode gave me lots of options for that best shot.

I have also decided to leave my comfort zone in another way – my photos are in a gallery this time. I didn’t upload large size files because I am just using up too much storage space, but I think these work OK – on a future post I will use fewer images and try it larger. Click on the first image to see the images in the order in which they were shot – this feature shows the camera settings on the lower right of the screen for each image. If you click fast enough you will get a feel for what my encounter with the jay was like.