Out on a Limb

Winter Storm Cleon has moved east and it’s finally possible to get out of the Stone House and get back to work. It’s still unseasonably cold, and today I got my first mail delivery in almost a week. During the storm I worked from home and stayed warm and mostly dry by the fire. By day two the symptoms of cabin fever were starting to set in. I was getting up every thirty minutes and walking up and down my hallway several times. I constantly stocked the indoor firewood pile. I starting to feel restless and cooped up. I decided that to clear my head that I would take a walk outside over my “lunch hour”.

I put on my Carharts and tucked my weatherproof camera and lens inside my jacket. The activity around the house was extraordinary. Cardinals were hanging onto the branches of the crepe myrtle for dear life. A fallen tree limb over the pergola was a lifeline to a small woodpecker as winds blew snow almost sideways. Birds that typically dart away held fast in hopes of spotting fallen seed below on the patio.

I came in almost soaked through and freezing, but invigorated and ready to focus – on work.

Shutterbug notes:

Shooting birds in the snow can be tricky. Your camera’s autofocus wants to focus on the nearest object in your field of view – I found that if I made my focus point as small as possible and tried to get it to lock onto a bird’s eyes or beak that I could eventually get a focus between flakes. I took all of these shots in shutter mode at 1/400 second and an ISO of 1000. The white of the snow added ambient light that made a moderate ISO setting sufficient. A slower shutter speed would make the flakes look more like streaks – a faster one would require a higher ISO and would create unnecessary noise in a limited light situation.

Coming into Focus

A couple of years ago I bought my first “bird” lens. There were a couple of options for my camera set up and budget played a big part in my decision. I read a lot of reviews and there were some who leaned towards the more expensive option as being a bit sharper, while others said that the small increase in sharpness was not worth twice the price. I went for the budget option and it served me well – until recently.

I began to have focus glitches – the lens didn’t seem to be communicating with the camera. So I sent the lens in to the manufacturer who cleaned it and told me it was fine and sent it back. Perhaps the glitch was always there and I just didn’t notice it – perhaps I just got a less than great version of the lens – these things happen. I have read of people returning a lens and buying the same model and seeing a major improvement. I decided it was time to make a change.

The higher end lens I opted not to buy has been discontinued – but they have come out with a quieter and thankfully much more economical version. I went through my bag and reviewed all of my lenses – anything I hadn’t used in a year was fair game. I put a list together and sold them to fund the purchase of that new bird lens.

My new lens arrived last weekend and I am seeing a significant change in sharpness – maybe I am the only one who sees it – but I like the look of what I’m seeing so far…

Bird on a wire

Bird on a wire

Goldfinch face off

Goldfinch face off

Posing sparrow

Posing sparrow

Cowgirl at the feeder

Cow girl at the feeder

A cardinal ignoring me

A cardinal ignoring me

Out on a limb

Out on a limb

Woody in the myrtle

Woody in the myrtle

Bringing home the bacon

Bringing home the bacon

Bluejay in the walnut tree

Bluejay in the walnut tree

Titmouse in the house!

Titmouse in the house!

Up on a roof

Up on a roof

The biggest difference I see is that I am getting more sharp shots in the trees – shooting in the trees has not always gotten me good results because of the distance. I am fascinated by feathers so seeing this detail really encourages me. I started shooting birds to teach myself to make faster decisions and I it has grown into a genuine interest in birds and their habits – this new lens looks to let me look deeper into the world just off my porch.

The Cardinal Rules of Camoflage

I have often wondered about the color differences of a female and a male cardinal. He’s so very flashy and red, he has that black mask and intense expression, he’s showy and casts an air of bravado – she does not. She practically blends into the background. Maybe it’s the lack of eyeliner, but she has a sweet face that seems mostly serene and happy. She almost disappears at times…

If I hold very still, no one will spot me.

If I hold very still, no one will spot me…

Except for this ridiculous orange beak, I'm nearly invisible.

Except for this ridiculous orange beak, I’m nearly invisible…

I see that the human has placed some fruit and sunflower seeds on that ladder - so tempting...

I see that the human has placed some fruit and sunflower seeds on that platter – so so tempting…

But if I move a muscle then she might spot me...

But if I move a muscle then she might spot me…

Even so, what harm could it do? I'm pretty hungry...

Even so, what harm could it do? I’m pretty hungry…

I'm staying put, I wonder if she delivers.

Dang – she’s already got eyes on me, still I’m staying put. I wonder if she delivers.

Cardinals Celebrate the First Day of Spring at the Stone House

Spring in the Ozarks – redbuds, dogwoods, bluebirds, snow…SNOW? You heard me right, snow.

Tonight we are under a freeze warning for the 3rd night in a row. I am heating the cellar to keep the pipes from bursting, I am wearing long-johns, I am stoking a fire – yeah, feels like Spring.

My driveway on the first day of Spring.

I suppose this view beats the bare trees, if it was warmer I would be out shooting macro shots of snowflakes on my daffodils. Before we get a mob together to take out that lying groundhog – there is an upside. My snobby cardinals come out in droves in the snow. They must know that the contrast makes them look amazing.

There’s nothing more classic that a shot of a cardinal in a tree in the snow – makes me feel like Christmas, well, maybe next Christmas…

Ignoring me in a tree...

Ignoring me in a tree…

Puffed and posing in the branches...

Puffed and posing in the branches…

Ignoring me behind a birdhouse...

Ignoring me behind a bird house…

Avoiding my glance in the crepe myrtle...

Avoiding my glance in the crepe myrtle…

Of course, they can ignore me all day out there on the limb – but when the snow stops for a minute, they feed like there’s no tomorrow.

Stomping in the snow, looking for seed...

Stomping in the snow, looking for seed…

Digging through the ice for his next meal...

Digging through the ice for his next meal…

Doing his best impression of an Angry Bird...

Doing his best impression of an Angry Bird…

Out on a ledge feasting on cracked corn...

Out on a ledge feasting on cracked corn…Is it just me, or does he look inflated?

Once the snow starts again, it’s time to take cover and wait for that next meal…

No superstition here, he's taking refuge under a ladder.

No superstition here, he’s taking refuge under a ladder.

Spring is supposed to return sometime around Wednesday. I’ll probably keep putting out that expensive songbird food they like so much. They will likely continue to ignore me. Ungrateful snobs, beautiful ungrateful snobs. I love them.

Sunny Day and an Old Lens

I’m patiently awaiting for the return of my beloved long zoom. There is never really a good time to be without a favorite lens, but I’ve been making due with an old Vivitar manual lens from 1978. I wrote about taking out this old piece of kit in desperation here.

Today I had a chance to take the relic out in almost perfect conditions. It was a sunny 50 degrees and the birds were dropping in and out of range – on my last post the images had a softness that is not typical of modern glass, they looked almost “film-like”. Today, that old bit of kit was singing. I started shooting some black and white film with it and late in the day I managed to make a few captures.

Today my favorite northern cardinal was not even considering stopping by the feeders. I spotted him in the crepe myrtle bush…

20130224-185418.jpgOf course he thew me that Johnny Bravo stare – snob…

20130224-185530.jpgI experimented with aperture settings and he looked away…

20130224-185546.jpgOne thing about focussing manually, I can focus on the bird in spite of the limbs in the way.

Back at the feeders, I got a clear shot of a pine warbler in the late afternoon sun…

20130224-185634.jpgOne key to using old glass is finding a subject that is going to stick around, and this guy was serious about feeding, not flitting…

20130224-185653.jpgLive view does give you the ability to see what the changes in aperture and shutter speed will do, so it’s not exactly like shooting a film camera from the era…

20130224-185713.jpgI love how the sun rests on the shoulders of this warbler, he has become a regular visitor and he has even brought his girlfriend to check things out too. I hope they decide to stay.

After shooting this lens on a sunny day, I have decided its a keeper! I wouldn’t choose it over my modern lens in most situations, but shooting it on my modern camera gave me to confidence to try to capture birds with it on a film camera this weekend. It’s a good bit of kit.

Calling All Cardinals!

Since I opened the backyard buffet I have been trying to attract Cardinals. Sure, there are tons of cute titmice and chickadees, but that red bird caught my eye the very first time I visited the property. I knew they were in the woods and had even used my iPhone birding app to call them forth in vain attempts to capture them with my camera. I learned early on that they didn’t care for a typical pegged feeder, they need to either feed on the ground or on a larger flat surface.

This summer I discovered the pottery of Julie Windler at the Norberta Philbrook Gallery – I wrote a post about it here. I loved the glazes and they were perfect for chickadees. I keep one filled with suet and one filled with seed on the buffet.

Julie mentioned hoping to see a shot of a cardinal at one of my feeders and I gave her a few parameters of what I thought they would need to feed. I have been seeing them on the patio or feeding in a pie plate I put out on a table. Julie said she could make me something that would work. It’s very simple, it’s a small plate with three holes to suspend it from with drain holes so that the seed stays dry after a rain. It was a little small so I was skeptical. Right off the bat the titmice loved it.

Today I filled it with songbird food – a mix of seed, fruit and nuts – it actually looks pretty tasty. I settled in with my camera hoping to get a shot or two of something feeding at the new addition. I heard the distinctive sound of larger wings flapping while I was focused on a titmouse feeding nearby. Without moving I looked up and found my first customer at the new station. I actually saw 4 cards at once, but focused on just this pair.

Mmmmmmm tasty!

This new feeder really classes up the joint.

Let me take a look around.

I think the coast is clear.

Let me double check.

No one over that way.

I’m going in!

Get your feet off our food, you moron! I can’t take you anywhere!