Signs of spring: Tundra Swans

With reports of early migration of tundra swans, I went back to process some of my photos of them. They are a species we typically only see in early spring, as they pass through. Present year round in Southern Ontario are Mute Swans, a non-native bird which is the most common swan. Less common, but still present in large numbers in winter are the trumpeter swans, the largest of the native swans. They can still be found throughout the summer, but mostly in marshes (such as Wye Marsh) in central Ontario where they breed.

I hope to add some more photos this year!

Tundra Swan portrait

Tundra Swan Portrait - notice the distinctive yellow mark - Canon 1DIV - 800/5.6IS

Tundra Swan (foreground) and Trumpeter Swan (click to enlarge)

Tundra Swan (foreground) and Trumpeter Swan (click to enlarge) - Canon 1DIV - 800/5.6IS

Bull moose eating vegetation

Tundra Swan on calm water (click to enlarge) - Canon 1DIV - 800/5.6IS

View more, or order a print at my gallery!

Updates

With 2011 wrapped up, it’s high time I updated my blog again. 2011 was personally a great year for photography, with trips to Algonquin Park, Banff NP, and a month-long road trip that took me to Florida, WV and various other locales. In many ways I felt I improved my technique, shooting productivity, general vision and became a much more effective photographer this year, which I’m really happy about.

I’ve uploaded a new batch of photos over the last few weeks, and I’ve also launched a Facebook page. I expect it will a better way of connecting with the public, and encourage you to check it out and ‘like’ the page! Updates will almost certainly happen more often on that page.

All the best!

Bull Moose

Algonquin Provincial Park, in Ontario, Canada is a fantastic destination for moose viewing. This is especially true during the spring, when moose are attracted to the slightly salty water near the highways, caused by runoff from the winter’s salting operations. I was able to photograph this large adult bull last spring, as he munched away beside the highway, seemingly oblivious to the surrounding crowd. So far this is the largest moose I’ve found, and it would be wonderful to meet him again (at a safe distance!) in the fall when he has shed the velvet.

Bull moose eating vegetation

Bull moose chomping down on vegetation (click to enlarge) - Canon 5DII - 800/5.6IS

Bull moose in a beaver pond

Side profile view of a bull moose in a beaver pond (click to enlarge) - Canon 1DIV - 300/2.8IS

See more moose photos at my website (more photos to come)

Birding with technology

As technology has advanced, the methods used in modern birding have changed greatly. Primarily, online birding lists or forums give instant access to recent sightings, and result in many more people seeing a one day rarity, or being able to discuss birding topics with a large number of people at once.

Personally, I heavily use weather radar and other maps while in the field. It’s very helpful to know if the clouds on the horizon are simply a small shower, or a storm serious enough to warrant a retreat. Additionally, Google Maps is fabulous for making custom maps with bird locations or markers, and then being able to access it on your smartphone in the field. Satellite view is also very helpful, and as long as you have cell and GPS coverage, makes navigating through areas of forest with no distinct trails much easier and safer than without. With wireless email and internet, there have been times where I’ve seen a report of a rarity nearby, and have abandoned my current plans to go “chase” that bird. This is without even mentioning the bird identification and song playback apps available. I am content with my paper guides for now, since I don’t relish re-paying for something in electronic format, especially since I’m quite comfortable with the eastern birds and have little use for a field guide while birding in my area.

I’m curious to hear how others use technology with respects to birding – please do leave a comment!

Back from my roadtrip

For the past few weeks I’ve been on the road, concentrating on nothing but bird photography. The focus of my trip was Florida, and particularly for birds and associated activity that was more specific to this time of year. I traveled nearly 10,000km and came back with over 300GB of photos (after initial evening culling sessions). Generally, most birders visit Florida earlier in the year, but in early May there are many different opportunities for rookery activity, baby chicks of many sorts and several species that are generally only present in summer, including the black-necked stilt and least tern. I made Snowy Plover and their chicks a major target, and am happy to say I more than met my goals for capturing images of both them and Wilson’s Plover with chicks, not to mention baby burrowing owls! You can see a rough video of their antics here.

My only regret is that I couldn’t spend more time in Florida and visit a few other areas. I lost a few sessions to weather, but overall weather was conducive to bird photography, if a bit windy at times, making it difficult to achieve photos on calm water. I managed to visit most of the hotspots in Florida, including St. Augustine rookery, Viera Wetlands, Cruickshank Sanctuary, Blue Cypress Lake, Kissimmee Prairie, Merritt Island, Fort de Soto, Venice Rookery, Bunche Beach, Lido Beach, Tigertail Beach, Little Estero Lagoon and Cape Coral. Whenever I return, I would like to make a point of visiting Joe Overstreet and area (snail kites), the Everglades (earlier in the year is better), and Merritt Island (also better earlier), and Wako/Lox/Green Cay.

On my way home I spent some time in West Virginia photographing warblers with Jacob Spendelow. It was a very fun and rather productive weekend, with several lifers for me. Currently vegetation is quite advanced in southern Ontario and makes deciduous forest shooting more difficult. I plan to work on some targets locally, and perhaps warblers within a few hours of home for the next few weeks. It’s hard to believe that the peak of spring bird activity will be winding down by the end of the month.

Publication in Outdoor Photography Canada

I’m happy to share that one of my indigo bunting photos is published in the spring edition of Outdoor Photography Canada. It’s on page 10, and is a full page photo. Check it out!

Lately I have been photographing migrant ducks locally with considerable success, having taken photos of species I previously had less coverage of, including horned grebes, red-breasted merganser, redhead, american wigeon and white-winged scoter. Stay tuned for photos, and in the meantime, I have uploaded some new photos and am slowly making headway with my enormous photo processing backlog.

Indigo Bunting Singing

Indigo Bunting Singing (click to enlarge)

National Geographic Magazine cover!

To be honest, I would have never expected to be published in NG, let alone on the cover. As unbelievable as it may seem, this was also my first cover!

Thanks to all for your interest in my blog; I hope to have more images here to share with you. Check out some of the many new images I have uploaded at my website.

UPDATE: It seems Stephen Colbert featured this issue quite prominently on the March 3 episode with lots of air time with the cover showing!

 

Red Fox Portrait - National Geographic Cover March 2011

Canon’s 1D Mark IV – one year later

I’ve had the 1DIV for almost exactly a year, and 40,000 shots later I have some more thoughts on the camera. Not only is it Canon’s fastest camera, but I’d also argue it’s the best all-around camera in their current lineup. I’ve grown so accustomed to the incredible speed and control I have. Compared to previous cameras, the noise is much more randomly distributed and there is no banding, as I have noticed at higher ISOs with the 5DII. I’ve photographed birds at ISO1600 without hesitation and could probably go higher, assuming cropping was within reason and I had enough feather detail.

Initially I thought the AF was a bit slower than the MkIII. While that is probably still true for the initial lockon time, with some custom function customization the AF is incredibly fast and surefooted. While I developed more skill handling the very quick, but twitchy MkIII AF, I’d prefer the more stable and predictable, if slightly slower MkIV AF system. I’m sure some of the skills I acquired handling the MkIII have translated into better results with the IV – I’ve been able to track flying birds in conditions that I would have easily lost focus with the MkIII, and have standardized on using left/right point expansion, with the surrounding point expansion only being used with a large or slower subject, or if it was being photographed against a clean background like a blue sky.

Image quality is excellent, and the 16MP makes for a reasonable amount of resolution and more leeway with cropping. I find it rare that I’m reaching for my 5DII these days; even with the extra 5MP resolution, the IV’s out of camera file’s colour and white balance just looks so much better, and also needs almost no tweaking in post. Couple that with the amazing speed and AF advantages of the 1DIV, and you can see why I have hardly used my 5DII since then.

I do give the 5DII credit for being smaller and lighter, and having an AF system that is a bit more precise if trying to focus on a small subject against a busy background. It’s actually remarkably surefooted, and while tracking in some cases can be as good or better than the MkIV, it can’t compete for fast action. Full frame is of less importance to me when photographing birds and wildlife, although for travel or landscapes it would be an advantage.

Bottom line: anyone want to buy my 5D Mark II? :)