Birding with My 100-400mm Lens

Although I wouldn’t exactly call it “birding,” I did get a chance to get down to Ruston Way where I found three female Red-Breasted Mergansers to focus on to see how well my new 100-400 mm lens would work as a birding lens.

One of my favorite shots was this one where I captured the three in various stages of diving, something I could never have captured with my 400mm fixed lens.

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To be more exact, I would have had to take a very quick three shots and hope that they were similar enough together that Photoshop’s “Photomerge” could stitch them together (an altogether hit-and-miss affair). At 280mm all three subjects are relatively sharp, something that was a problem shooting at 400mm.

When I zoomed in on one of the ducks at 560mm (I was using a 1.4 converter) the results seemed equally crisp.

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Most of the time I prefer not to have to crop the picture very much, though I almost invariably adjust the frame a little because with a 1.5 converter on I only get auto-focus dead center on the lens, which isn’t a problem for me because when I’m shooting birds I always center the lens on the bird, especially in flight.

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Although this lens might not be as sharp as my 400mm prime lens, it’s certainly hard to tell the difference. This picture was cropped considerably and, except for the slightly blurred wings, it still seems quite sharp to me.

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I haven’t had nearly enough time to evaluate the lens, but it does seem to fulfill my needs better than any other lens I have at the moment. I’m not thrilled that its heavier than my old 400mm lens and the circumference makes it more challenging to hold, but hopefully I’ll soon become accustomed to those differences and they will be more than offset by its advantages.

First Shots with my 100-400mm Lens

So what do you do when you’ve just received the 100-400mm lens you’ve tried to buy for three months and you have to stay home so that the workers can lay the floor and carpet? Not sure what you do, but I know what I’ve always done: grab a camera and shoot pictures of flowers in the garden.

Of course, using a 400mm lens to shoot flowers is definitely overkill, precisely the reason I wanted a 100mm-400mm lens instead of my fixed 400mm lens. Too often it was impossible to get far enough away to get flowers in frame. If I go out specifically to shoot flowers, I take my 70-200mm lens, or, lately, my 100mm macro lens.

Still, it’s one way to measure the new lens against the 400mm lens I wanted to replace. This shot of the white flowers in the front yard seemed quite crisp,

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though the shallow depth of field of a telephoto lens starts to show in the slight blurriness of the flower in the upper left.

I could probably have done a little better job of framing this Jack-in-the-Pulpit, but it also seems quite sharp overall.

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It was hard to isolate just one flower, and unfortunately no lens is ever going to solve that problem.

My favorite shot was this one,

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a remarkably sharp shot considering the flower is actually smaller than shown even at the smallest size (unless you’re looking at this on a cell-phone, of course), much less than the larger size you can see by clicking on any of my latest pictures.

One of the reasons I wanted a zoom lens is because I wanted to be able to shoot both flowers and birds without carrying two lenses (or, worse, two cameras and two lenses.) I think changing lenses in the field (without a car) is asking for problems; I’ve had to clean dust off a camera sensor once and that was one more time than I wanted to do it. I have carried two camera in the summer when there are more flowers than birds, but it’s heavy and awkward and a bird always seems to magically appear when I’m carrying the camera I use to shoot flowers.

At least at first appearances, I was impressed with the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens. It will certainly be a lot more convenient than my prime 400mm lens for shooting flowers. Of course, the real test is whether it will be as good as, or, hopefully, better than the 400mm lens for shooting birds. That test had to wait until I managed to go birding.

Carpe Diem

Because it seems like there has been far fewer Horned Grebes at the Port Orchard Marina this year, because it has been quite awhile since I’d been there, and because Spring has been unusually warm, I was worried I would miss seeing the Horned Grebes in breeding colors this year. So, Sunday I decided that I wouldn’t worry about the dripping toilets (I turned them off), the unfinished taxes, the furniture still stuffed in the garage and the extra bedroom, or the weekly groceries; I would go to Theler Wetlands and Port Orchard for the day.

It’s probably a good thing I did because, I was shocked at how few birds there were at Port Orchard. In fact, not counting gulls, a Great Blue Heron flying far overhead, and a single Pigeon Guillemot, I only saw three other birds. Luckily, two of the three were Horned Grebes in breeding color.

On my first trip through the marina, I saw a single grebe at a distance, but it was immediately clear that it was in breeding colors, despite the number of white feathers on the breast.

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I felt lucky when we saw another grebe right next to the dock as we were about to leave, even though I had to shoot directly into the sun. When you get this close the direction of light seems less important.

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The grebe was either preoccupied with catching a meal or was willing to show off its new garb because it dove and resurfaced remarkably close to me several times.

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This one shot I got from the side, though, clearly shows the importance of sun direction when taking photographs, as the horns seem much more dramatic with sunlight glowing through them.

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Even if the sun manages to dispel these clouds this week I’m afraid that the Horned Grebes will be gone when I return. Perhaps it is precisely this limited time to see the grebes in breeding colors that makes them seem so precious.

Virtual Birdwatching

Lately life’s demands have gotten in the way of the truly important things. So, despite having finally gotten the new lens I’ve been trying to buy since Christmas, I’ve been at home moving furniture for the floor installers, watching workers lay floor, removing toilets from bathrooms, restoring toilets including installing new shut-off valves, and moving furniture to the other side of the house so that workers can finish their work.

The only birding I’ve managed is virtual birding, sitting in front of my computer sorting through pictures I’ve recently taken, and I’m quickly nearing having published all the shots worth showing. Luckily, I got some great shots of this Pelagic Cormorant in my last visit to Port Orchard Marina.

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Pelagic cormorants are regulars there, but very few of them will stick around like this one did to have it’s portrait taken from

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various poses.

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In fact, it almost seemed like it trying to make sure that I captured it’s breeding plumage beauty from every possible angle.

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I’ve never gotten close enough to a Pelagic Cormorant to see the white feathers on the neck.

As much as I enjoy working with photographs on my computer, I’m past ready to get back out there, at least if the weather will cooperate and provide a little sunshine. Unfortunately, we’re still waiting for the bathroom cabinet and countertop we ordered to come in, so there are several other days I’ll have to be home this month. As soon as they are cleared up, though, I plan on spending several days at the Ocean as the shorebirds migrate north, followed by a week at Malheur.

Be Dazzled

After managing to capture a gorgeous close-up shot of a male Red-Breasted Merganser bursting into flight at Port Orchard last year, I’ve been trying to recapture that moment again this year, but as the time nears for them to leave for their breeding grounds it looks like I’m not going to get that shot despite a lot of effort.

I’m amazed this male Red-Breasted Merganser hasn’t filed a restraining order as many times as I’ve pointed my telephoto lens at it this winter. In reality, though, it seems to have become somewhat indifferent to my presence as if I’ve finally faded into the background. This male also seems to have taken up permanent residence in the Port Orchard Marina, as I’ve been able to count on seeing him on nearly every visit.

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Where he used to paddle away, or fly off, as I approached, he now seems to be content to continue feeding on shrimp while I snap away.

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I was so so close when he emerged from this dive that this would have been a great portrait if the background hadn’t been so dark that the water and the head and black feathers merged into one.

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In the end, you have to appreciate the shots you do get as much as you enjoy simply sighting the bird, and this is one of many favorites.

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Luckily, I still find it impossible not be dazzled by such beauty.

Yet Another GBH Shot

Despite having a “hard-drive full” of Great Blue Heron shots, I keep taking new shots of them. For one thing, they can be counted on. When Leslie and I took Lael and Mira to Theler Friday evening the wind was so fierce all but a few gulls were hunkered down, trying to stay out of the wind. Half way through the walk, though, a heron took off a few feet from us and flew across the wetlands.

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On another recent visit when birding was also slow, this heron was so close that I had to photomerge the bird and its reflection.

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In the end, I kept it because I liked the mono-chromatic colors.

This shot also had to be photomerged; the head and tail are two separate shots.

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Though I’ll probably end up deleting this shot once I’ve blogged it because I have better shots than this, I find it nearly impossible to ignore a four-foot tall bird stalking this close to me, particularly when it

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is carrying a lethal weapon like this. I’m just glad I’m not what it is hunting.

I’d like to promise that this is the last Great Blue Heron shot I’ll ever post, but that’s probably not true. I’m always thinking my next shot will be my best shot ever, and even when it’s not I’m thinking it’s better than a blank page.

Green-Winged Teal

Although I’ve never been entirely convinced that the radical changes at Theler Wetlands will have the benefits promised, I have been closely following the effects those changes have on the bird population. An unexpected change (for me at least) has been the major increase in the number of Green-Winged Teal, a bird I used to rarely see there, and invariably tucked into a flock of Northern Pintails, Widgeons, etc. No longer, flocks of them are regulars at Theler now.

Green-Winged Teal are the smallest of the ducks, about twice as large as a Dunlin.

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There’s no mistaking the male for any other duck, but the female is much harder to tell apart from other female ducks (unless it’s with a male, of course.)

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I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen three Green-Winged Teal males together before, but it’s not at all uncommon at Theler to see males flocking together.

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This picture is cropped a little, but I’m pretty sure it’s the closest I have ever gotten to a male Green-Winged Teal.

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Overall, I’m afraid that I’m seeing less birds locally over the last few years, but it’s nice to know that at least this species seems to be thriving in Theler’s new habitat.