Friday, December 21, 2012

Tribute to Rich Stallcup

I was shocked to hear of Rich’s passing. He always seemed so healthy to me, both physically and mentally. I think everyone that knew him felt they were in the presence of a special gifted and unique individual. He will be greatly missed by so many people, a huge lose to all. I bet birds can sense his absence and are grieving as well!  I guess only a few select people knew of his illness. I sense that he had periods of great suffering. I’m really going to miss those bird walks, I’m glad I made as many as I did.

John Owen and Rich Stallcup
 I remember well the bird walk that Rich led for the Beach Watch people at Limantour Beach on October 24th 2009. Amanda Jobbins spotted a lone peep high up on the sand dunes. Rich immediately got excited; I and several other photographers shot as many photos as we could. Rich identified the bird as a rare Long-toed Stint. Immediately birders from all over Northern California descended on the site to get a look. Many doubted Rich’s ID and thought more than likely this was a Least Sandpiper. I’m not an expert birder, so technically I could not contribute any expertise to the controversy except two things. I’ve seen enough Least Sandpipers to be somewhat familiar with their behavior and this bird was exhibiting behavior not typical of a Least Sandpiper. Many people agreed on this point. Secondly Rich has so much experience and insight on birds; if he with confidence calls a bird, that’s what the bird is!  Last year on another bird walk with Rich, I asked him about the controversy surrounding the bird and he said, “there is no controversy; the bird is a Long-toed Stint!”  I knew that!
Long-toed Stint

 Rich was a person nobody can forget, so sad to see him leave, he touched everybody who knew him; me for sure!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

View From Hawk Hill During Heat Wave Vanquishment

View From Hawk Hill During Heat Wave Vanquishment
Hawk Hill, Marin Headlands: Perhaps one of the most spectacular natural weather phenomenon is the rapid formation of fog along the west coast of the United States. When I arrived at Hawk Hill today it was about 70 degrees; it was mild, and no fog.  The last two days on the hill, the temperature had reached 99 degrees, quite extraordinary for this location. Of course on the hill, raptors are the main attraction. I saw two Broad-winged hawks at a distance as well as a juvenile Bald Eagle flying parallel to the Golden Gate Bridge and a Golden Eagle high over the eastern hills.
Most of the birds were pretty far away, some came in fairly close like the Red-winged hawks and Coopers. I was able to use some pointers on visual distinctions between sharpies and coops that a birding friend taught me. There were a good number of coops but only 2 or 3 sharpies; I could recognize some distinction.  It’s amazing how the veteran birders can call species, gender and age at what only appears as a spec in my bins!
At about 1230 the temperature started to drop and the wind picked up significantly and I saw the first finger of fog move over the Presidio toward the bridge.   The picture above was about 20 minutes later, and then in another 10 minutes the bridge and city vanished. Five minutes after that Hawk-Hill was totally engulfed and the hawkers started to pack-up. The fog never ceases to amaze me, what a wonderful gift; a heat wave is vanquished in about an hour! 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Laysan Albatross

Laysan Albatross 30 Miles SW of Half Moon Bay
Pelagic trip out of Half Moon Bay led by Alvaro Jaramillo August 25th 2012.
 A bird that's been on my list and today I saw 2 individuals on this trip.  This one has leg bands which I will show in additional photos. I added 5 birds to my Life List, Laysan Albatross, Wilson's Storm Petrel,Forked-tailed Storm Petrel, Hawaiian Petrel and Long-tailed Jaeger. The Hawaiian Petrel is very rare in this location actually so rare it's the first sighting ever in San Mateo County; it was the bird of the day for the birders on board. For me, the overcast conditions, the difficult boat photography yeilded no decent pictures for the smaller distant but exciting Petrels!

Laysan Albatross Banded Left Orange 3K1 Right Single Grey Band
Grey band on right leg, Orange 3K1 on left.
The boat trip was interesting and long, left 0700 returned 1800. The weather was heavy overcast and cold. I rarely use the word cold in reference to myself.  The good news is I was blessed with seeing my first Laysan Albatross,  actually I saw 2 separate individuals. One had bands see below. We encountered two large rafts of Petrels perhaps about 800 birds in all. Also new for me was a Long-tailed Jaeger, and a Pomarine Jaeger (I need to verify this with my photos). Also new was Forked-tail Storm Petrel, Hawaiian Petrel and a Wilson’s Storm Petrel. Also saw the usual Black-footed Albatross, the Sooty Shearwater, the Pink-footed Shearwater and the Buller’s Shearwater, plus the South Polar Skua, and a Blue Whale. Other Petrels was the Black Storm Petrel and the Ashy Storm Petrel.  All in all I was disappointed with the photos, especially the Petrels. I don’t know what I should expect considering these guys are not much larger than a Barn Swallow and rarely come close to the boat.

We traveled South-West out of HMB to deep water, a good 30 miles out. We hit warmer water, about 60 degrees and deep maybe 5000 ft. All week I had been checking the ocean and noticing the very calm waters around HMB. However over the deep water the swells get very large. This made photography very difficult and dangerous.

I think the combination of the swells and boat geometry made this the most difficult and strenuous time I’ve ever had trying to shoot pictures.  Just trying to keep your balance on such a heaving boat probably uses more calories than a half marathon…….really!  


Thursday, August 9, 2012

Capturing Birds in Flight

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Wildlife photography is challenging and bird photography ranks among the most challenging.

Birds in flight photography is the ultimate challenge for bird photographers. I will use this blog to share tips and techniques that I have found helpful over the years. Most of my discussion will be related to Canon and Olympus, but that’s easily transferred to Nikon and other cameras. The most important thing in bird photography is finding birds! You may possess the finest camera equipment on the planet and be a professionally skilled photographer, but you need to find birds. You need to stalk and study birds, know their behavior and habitat. The more you know about birds, the more opportunity you will have to photograph them well. Another point to keep in mind is any bird can make a fantastic or even award winning photo. You don’t need to seek out exotic birds in Costa Rica or Africa for that spectacular photo, any one of your backyard or supermarket birds can reveal to your camera that one of a kind photo.

The next important tip, carry you camera at all times, you have to be ready when that split second opportunity presents itself to you. Some people think their great shots were lucky because they happened to be in the right place at the right time. It’s not as lucky as you may think, you had your camera and you knew how to use it, without that there is no chance to make the shot. Some luck but a lot you. Your camera.........don't leave home without it!!!!

White-crowned Sparrow
Equipment: I'm not going to go into a lot of detail about camera equipment at this time but just a brief overview. Most bird photographers use Canon or Nikon with with a sprinkling using other brands such as Olympus, Panasonic and Sony. Both Canon and Nikon offer a wide range of bird type lenses(wish they were bird like in weight). A good bird photograph can be obtained with inexpensive equipment even an IPhone if you can get very close to the bird.  However, unless the bird is in a cage or dead, the likelihood of getting close are remote indeed. So what this means is your probably going to spend a good amount of money on equipment if you get hooked. 

Both the camera and the lens are important. In the digital photography world today, manufacturers are bringing out new camera bodies every several years with more bells and whistles and performance improvements.  Choose your lens carefully, that's one piece of equipment that will define the quality of your photos. Once you have a lens that you adore and gives you the WOW pictures, you will probably own it for life plus about 3 or 4 or more others.

Two important characteristics of lenses are focal length and aperture.  When digital cameras were designed the sensor size was changed in relationship to the 35mm camera for some cameras.  Cameras that use a sensor size the same as the 35mm film are called Full Frame Cameras.  In that case when a 300mm lens is put on a full frame camera, it's a 300mm lens just like in the film days.
Cameras with smaller sensors such as the Olympus E-1, E-3 and E-5 have a 2.0 Crop Factor. Therefor in the case of an Olympus E-3 placing a 300mm lens give it the equivalent of a 600mm lens.  You will find much technical discussion on a full frame system compared to a reduced sensor size system.
That's beyond the scope of this discussion. However, a reduced sensor size such as the Oly E-3 or the Canon 7D (crop factor 1.6) is a definite plus for the bird photographer. You gain a smaller and lighter lens with a longer focal length. Here is an extreme example. Take a full frame Canon Camera and attach the $14000 9.9 pound Canon EF 800mm F5.6 lens and you have an 800mm system.
Take the Canon 7D camera, attach the EF 1.4 extender and the EF 400 F5.6 lens and you have a 896mm system with a cost of about $2000.00 (lens + extender) and a weight of about 3 pounds.
Have you ever tried to swing a 10 pound lens around hand held to catch a bird in flight?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Pelican Die-Off, Bait Fish and El Niño

Typical Brown Pelican Fish Dive
The Brown Pelican has had a successful breeding season in 2012 and are now showing up in significant numbers along the California Coast.
Young juveniles, first year birds however are showing signs of trouble. Many are emaciated and starving and many are filling the local bird rescue stations for treatment. Scientist have not come up with an explanation yet. It could just be a successful breeding season, coupled with limited resources is just a natural culling of the weaker individuals.

Fisheries in Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay are reporting low volumes of of anchovy and sardines, bait fish that are a staple food for the Brown Pelican.

Probably unrelated, but NOAA has issued an El Niño Watch because of water temperature fluctuations in their model predictors. The last significant  El Niño event was the winter of 1996-97. Having lived on the coastside at that time, I'm seeing subtle changes in temperature and fog distribution this summer similar to what I experience in 1996.
I will continue to monitor the Brown Pelican situation on the coast and report any new information. If you come across any Brown Pelicans acting strangely or in need of help, please call this number 1-866-945-3911, Thank you!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Our Beach Watch team spotted this Luecistic Black Oyster Catcher at Franklin Point on the Northern California coast in 2009. Since then we have seen it occasionally in the same area for the last 3 years. It seems likely it was a first year or hatch year bird in 2009. It's age today is probably 3-4 years. It seems to be thriving well!

Monday, June 11, 2012

"anthropogenic fingerprint"

Practicing Nessun Dorma for Princeton Has Talent
A new study was published in Nature Climate Change finds  "anthropogenic fingerprint" (human influence) on our warming oceans. This is in line with my argument of Global Destruction most certainly human influenced, see my previous post December 14, 2011.
I'd like to start a dialog about climate change, global destruction and the role of large multi national corporations as well as cultural and political factors contributing to the rapid decline of planet earth. Please join the discussion and air you views on these issues?  

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Pillar Point Harbor

Red-breasted Merganser in Flight
Today at Pillar Point Harbor there was 5 Common Loons, 4 Red-breasted Mergansers, and a Great Blue Heron trying to snag a Whimbrel!
The Great Blue slowly crept up on the Whimbrel. I knew the intention of this stalk and was nervious for the Whimbrel. I was almost tempted to warn the Whimbrel, when it launched into flight.

I also spotted what appeared to be a stranded Northern Fur Seal pup. I called Marine Mammal Center, and they were going to investigate!

Finally the Whimbrel gets wise!
Great Blue Eyeing Whimbrel

Northern Fur Seal Pup