Joseph V Higbee.com P & M Intro

Photos and Musings

Volume Three

Page 8
October 14, 2012

Weather, Seasons, Birds and Me

Varied Thrush

It's raining! For the first time in almost three months, more than a few drops of rain are falling and, for a change from recent years, it is welcome. The leaves are changing color and starting to fall, always an appreciated part of autumn. The birds that were here for the spring and summer are either gone, or almost so, from the yard and the ones that will spend the winter are still arriving.
   And Me; I am staying home and enjoying it more than I ever have. Admittedly, I am not looking forward to the gray skies that will likely be predominant for the next several months but this year I have decided to make the most of what is here. In previous years, I have visited different parts of the three state northwest as a way of breaking the tedium of late fall through early spring here at home. That has been enjoyable at times but now I find the reward isn't any longer worth the effort.
   I have reshaped the water feature in the yard and thinned and replanted some areas making everything more bird friendly as well as letting me have a clearer view of their activities. The new gazebo gives me shelter from the rain and also allows me to get some close-up photos. The changes have also increased what I can see from inside the house which is where I was when I took this photo of the Varied Thrush.
   So, now it's raining but for many weeks it wasn't. The birds are coming and going and the tree limbs that hid beneath the leaves last spring are visible once again. I'm a little older and still learning to adapt. Change, good or bad, is going to happen. I'll do my best to live with that.

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October 26, 2012

Not Always a Juvenile

White-throated Sparrow

The White-throated Sparrow in the upper right photo is a 'first winter' bird. This being only October, I suppose you could call it a 'first fall' bird but that would not serve any useful purpose and perhaps only make a difficult task even more so. The task I refer to is identifying birds as to age and related plumage.
   I have tried to put as many photos of birds I could identify as not fully mature in a gallery of their own. In doing so I have often been unsure of just what stage of maturity they were and have just lumped them together as juveniles. I have tried to label individual photos when age is obvious such as a chick or a fledgling when I can but not being very knowledgable in the matter have pretty much stuck with juvenile from that point to adult.
   This has at times caused problems. One instance was when I first posted the photo on the left. Another birder wrote and said, in what I thought was a rather definite way, it looked like an adult. I replied by sending a photo of the bird with it's mouth open and said it couldn't be. In the four years since, I have often wondered if I was right and how I might have had a more productive discussion with that individual. I realize now that had I been more aware of the way birds change as they mature and the timeline of those changes I would have replied in a much different way than I did. My apologies. White-throated Sparrow
   I don't study too much in the academic sense, preferring to look things up in reference material as the questions occur to me. Therefore, I am just now getting around to sorting out what probably should have been obvious to me before now and as I outline it here it will be from a spectator point of view, not as an authority on the matter.
   I'll start by pointing out that most birds are hatched in the spring and early summer. From when they are hatched until they fly, they are 'chicks'. In this stage they are continually growing feathers until they have enough to fly at which point they become 'fledglings'. Within a short time of fledging they lose the last of their downy feathers and become juveniles. I am not sure of the process but the feathers continue to change in appearance until they reach the 'first winter' stage, usually in early fall. They are also known as 'sub-adult' at this time, I think. Then in the late winter to early spring they assume the status of full-grown and put on their adult feathers. This gives me five labels to use on young birds; chick, fledgling, juvenile and first winter, aka sub-adult. I will try to use these five appropriately in the future. I will use first winter in the fall and early winter, switching to sub-adult in the late winter and early spring as the feathers appear worn before new ones appear. I avoid using the term 'molt', not being sure if that is the event in all cases. White-throated Sparrow
   When we look at the photos, separating the juvenile from first winter and that from an adult are the challenging ones. I'm still working on the juvenile to first winter differences but the WTSP's I have here work well for showing the changes from FW to adult. This bottom photo is an adult bird and once you know the differences they aren't hard to see.(clicking on the photos here will pop-up a larger version which will make it easier to see)
   In the young birds the yellow gape can be seen whereas in the adult it has changed to the same color as the mandibles. The mandibles themselves are darker on the younger birds. Also the stripe above the eye is dull and off-white instead of the bright white(or sometimes bright tan) of the adult. And the breast on the adult is clean and not striped or speckled as the young are.
   Not all birds make the same changes as they mature but these same areas are the ones I am learning to look at in all species. These seem to be where changes occur that help us to 'age' a bird.

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November 15, 2012

Don't Pass Up the Familiar

Great Blue Heron

Almost anyplace I go, if there is fresh water nearby, I will see a Great Blue Heron. Some places they are so common I tend to ignore them while searching for interesting subjects to photograph. Most often, if I do take a photo of one, it proves to be like many others I have and little if any attention is given to it, sometimes not even saving it in my files.
   Nisqually NWR is one of those places the Great Blue is abundant. I don't usually give them more than a passing glance and, at first, this was no exception. However, when I stopped to rest a moment after passing it by, I looked back and saw this wonderful scene. The dappled light, with one ray highlighting the heron, was not to be passed by. I took several shots as it moved about, hoping for one that would include the feet, but this was the best of the series. As it turned out, I think not seeing the feet even adds to the ephemeral ambiance of this resulting photo. Be sure and click on the photo for the large version.
   How glad I am that I looked back. I wonder how many times I may have missed similar opportunities simply because they seemed too familiar. Another lesson in learning to see. Look! Look again! Whatever you see, it's unique. You may have seen something similar but this is the first, and the last, time you will see this scene in real time. So be sure it isn't special before you pass it by. If it is, and you capture the moment, you have it to look at and remember and share over and over again.

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December 26, 2012

The Fascination of Old Barns and Homesteads

old homestead

One of the most visited pages on this site is the one in "Photos and Musings Volume One" titled 'Old Buildings'. A similar version of this photo is the first one featured on that page.
   Since I first noticed the popularity of that page, I have often wondered about this fascination most of us have for old things, especially old homes and cars. Personally, I like finding and photographing old homesteads, such as this one, just before they are gone forever. A restored homestead has very little appeal to me but one like this is like an oldtimer telling how it used to be in the not so good old days.
   Old cars, on the other hand, don't seem to communicate from their deteriorated conditions but, once restored, hold memories of things gone bye. Even so, they don't compare to the feeling I have for old homesteads.
   I have never gone out of my way to find these old buidings but now as I become more like them I wish I had. They have become so few and I have become so lacking in the time and energy it takes to find them. I do have a few years left and maybe I can focus on a few more before they and I are gone.

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December 30, 2012

A Viewpoint on Cropping

Oregon Junco uncropped

Yesterday, I read a blog post from Moose Peterson titled "The Crop Revisited" in which he discussed his viewpoint on the subject. He pointed out that some crop was neccessary when making prints in a darkroom if only because the paper sizes were not the same format as the film. He also made the point that when the slide became the accepted media, there was no way to make an acceptable crop and those that tried weren't too successful in their attempts.As a result, the photographer, such as himself, learned to get it right in the camera; the composition was done at the time on the spot. His feeling today is perhaps summed up in this quote from his blog, "arranging the elements in the viewfinder so the subject pops and the rest of the elements support the subject while telling the story, well, isn’t that visual story telling? That’s my definition of photography". He has more to say and it is well worth reading and I don't find any disagreement with any part but, as he points out, that is his discipline, his way. I would even say that it is what he learned and is still comfortable with.
   However, many persons, such as myself, may have had an early interest in photography but for several reasons weren't able to pursue it until somewhat later in life. Others are coming of age during this digital age we are in and see no reason for such self-imposed limitations. I'm going to use the photo of this junco to make a point. It's the same photo, one version cropped the other is not. I was using a 7D camera body and a 300mm f2.8 lens.Oregon Junco cropped I was less than 20' away from the bird, in plain sight. shooting from an open window. Could I have gotten closer? Not likely. Could I have used a longer lens? I no longer have one, but I could have used an extender on this one. The reason I didn't was a lack of light which would have forced either a higher ISO or a slower speed resulting in less likelihood of clean sharp photo. With the resolution of the camera and the quality of the lens and the capability of todays photo editing software, I was able to make an image that is sharp and clean and showcases this little bird perfectly for my purposes.
   Therein, I believe, is the point I make. Moose is a professional photographer and in holding to the discipline he does is ensuring his buyers of his own sterling image as well as some of the best photographic images available. A younger person, using whatever technologies are available, will develop his own discipline and image as he finds his niche in the photographic world. Thirty or forty years from now, he'll be explaining to someone how he views the light.
   As for myself, I didn't get a good start at this kind of fun until I retired. I don't have anyone I have to please commercially although a good part of what I enjoy is displaying my photos on the web for the use and pleasure of anyone interested. This cropped, digitally vignetted image of the Dark-eyed 'Oregon' Junco does that as well as anything I might have done.

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January 18, 2013, 2012

Canon SX50-A Keeper

Spotted Towhee in Brush

In 2004 I was looking for a light weight camera that would be usable for when I didn't want to have a DSLR setup along. I tried a Canon Powershot G5 with a telescope and without. Didn't work! I believe it was the next year I tried an Olympus C-60Z, it didn't work either. In 2006, I gave up on the telescope and tried a Panasonic DMC-FZ50 superzoom with a teleconverter attachment. It came close but didn't work for me. After that, I just gave up for a while and except for one brief try with a telescope again just carried my big camera and lens wherever I thought I might use them.
   Then in 2010 I decided I just didn't want to continue struggling with the large lens and sold it and decided to try a mirrorless setup, the Panasonic GH2. It was a ggod camera with many positive features but for me it didn't work. It was too large for a small camera and too slow for serious work. So I sold everything and started over with DSLR and lighter weight lens combinations that were new on the market. This has proven to be a very good move and serves the purpose for my serious photography very well.
   However I still wanted a light-weight 'casual' camera. I tried a Nikon Coolpix S9100 and it didn't work. Then this last month I read a report about the Canon SX50 that sounded like it had what I needed and the reviewer was one whose judgement has proven good in the past. So, one more time, I took the leap and bought it. IT WORKS!!
   I won't bother giving the reasons I have used this photo here but there are several things about it that speak to the ability of this camera.

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January 22, 2013

Winter Palouse

Steptoe, Washington in Winter

My first visit to the Palouse country of eastern Washington was in June of 2007. After seeing the area from the elevated viewpoints on Steptoe Butte, I decided to return and build a collection of photos from each month of the year. I did return in July of 2008, September and November of 2009, August of 2010 and October of 2011. Since the November trip in 2009, I have been trying to get the conditions needed for a successful winter trip.
   Those conditions would have to include snow on the ground, mostly clear and sunny sky, the road up the side of the butte being passable and driving conditions from my home,300 miles away, to be reasonable. Finally, this last Sunday on January 20, 2013, it all came together. On Saturday I packed the car and left home about 3:00 o'clock the next morning. The mountain pass was clear of snow but the rest of the trip was through fog, sometimes dense and freezing. Fortunately, I encountered no icy spots and arrived in the Palouse country about 8:15 where I drove out of the fog and into the sunrise. I took my first photo of of the day at that spot.
   Stopping often to take photos, it took me another hour to reach the base of the butte. There was packed snow on the road at the entrance so I installed the tire chains there and continued to the viewpoint about 1/4 of the way up. The sun was still low enough for some nice shadows and even though I missed the warm sunrise, at temperatures in the teens, I was able to get some interesting photos for my series. My original intent was to return near sundown for the late evening light but the drive down the hill was not one I wished to do after dark.
   This photo is of the town of Steptoe, about three crow miles away. Some more photos can be seen in the Winter Palouse Gallery.

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March 13, 2013

The Saga of the Sharp-shinned Hawk and the SX50

Sharp-shinned Hawk juvenile

First of all, let me add a note about a use for a good point and shoot that I didn't cover in the musing on 1/18/2013. Since having someone break in and steal an expensive camera and lens from my living room, I have kept such equipment locked up when not in use. This makes it hard to get photos of things that are unplanned happenings. Enter the SX50, a camera producing acceptable photos and still inexpensive enough to leave on the window sill. Yesterday, it proved the point, and it's worth.
   While sitting in the living room, I heard a large 'BANG!' on the dining room window behind me. I quickly got up and looked out to see a juvenile SSHA spread out on the ground below and the cat cautiously approaching. I opened the window and warned the cat away. (we've been through that before,the cat and I) I hurried outside and, as the wife coaxed the cat into the house, I was able to see the bird was starting to recover. I called to her and she handed the SX50 out the window to me. Sharp-shinned Hawk juvenile
I took off the lens cap, turned it on and, having it set to 'P' for point, I took a photo. Then, the hawk not quite having gotten it's bearings yet, I turned the articulated screen up, held the camera at ground level about 4' from it and took several shots. The ones here are the last two before it flew away into the nearby fir trees.
   I have reformatted these two into 4/5 from 4/3 but otherwise they are the full frame vertically. If I had been able to use the best equipment there is, I couldn't have a clearer picture to post on the web, nor a clearer print up to the size I can print at home. In addition, while one of my bigger cameras has an articulated screen, the size of the bigger lens/camera combination would not have allowed for the ground level shot in the time I had to work with. A blurred background would be nice, something that is not easily or often obtainable with a point and shoot, but .............
   As for the hawk, hopefully he learned something about hunting small birds feeding near dwellings. The cat has learned previously how rude and uncontrollable her servant can get when upset and exercises prudence when she thinks I am near. Otherwise, I try to be obedient to her wishes. The little birds recognized the double threat early and all escaped unscathed.
   I have posted the 8 shot series in the Photo Galleries

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May 22, 2013

The SX50 finds it's place in the bag of tools

female Boreal Bluet damselfly California Darner dragonfly

There are always trade-offs! Using the SX50 is no exception. It has, because of it's small sensor, a lot of depth of field. The photo on the left is of a very small damselfly, about 1.3 inch long. Using the SX50 I was able to get the entire fly in focus, front to back. The photo on the right is 2.25 inch dragonfly and illustrates the problem associated with the larger sensor in a DSLR camera, the shallower depth of focus. While the head and thorax are sharp, the focus becomes blurred towards the tail.
   The ideal would be to have a sharp focus on the subject and a blurred background that would not distract. Failing to achieve that, a sharp subject is the primary goal, easier to do with the SX50.
Here are some reasons why:

Four-spotted Skimmer American White Pelican landing on water    All the above having been said, the SX50 is still of only limited value. The photo on the left was taken with theSX50 and from now on it will be my 'go to' camera for dragonflies and other small, still objects such as insects or wildflowers. However, for most times, when things happen quickly and the subjects are likely to be moving about, only the big, heavy, expensive stuff will do.

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July 22, 2013

Never Out of Sorts

Juvenile Male Rufous Hummingbird

Not being a professional photographer, I haven't had income from that source to help support my thirst for new equipment. In spite of that, I have been able to update cameras frequently and have owned a variety of lenses. This has come to mind due to my ongoing reorganization of the Photo Galleries.
   What I have been working to accomplish is to have galleries that allow viewing according to interest. I have always had them sorted and arranged by subject but now I am adding galleries that sort by date, camera and lens. If one is looking for hummingbirds this photo can be found in that sub-gallery under "Birds of the Northwest". If one is more interested in photos from a certain date or camera and lens, that same photo can be found in sub-galleries under "Sorted by Date, Camera & Lens".
   If pbase, the web host for the galleries, would come up with a decent option for searching and/or sorting individual sites, this would be unnecessary and I could have avoided a lot of work. But they don't seem inclined to do any further upgrading to their programming and, with almost 4000 photos currently involved, I'm not apt to move them any time soon.
   As I say, this is still in progress, but is now quite usable. The 2003 and 2006 years are requiring extra work and the photos are not yet all in chronological order due to many of them having been posted without the exif information attached. It will take some time and work to correct that. As I enter new photos going forward, I will put them in all relative galleries at the same time.

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