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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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


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.


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.)


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.


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.


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.

Wren It’s Spring

If you’re a bird photographer, Spring must be the best time of year because so many birds are desperately trying to call attention to themselves, none more-so than the small Marsh Wren. Although you might not always get this close-up of a shot, it’s easy to get a clear shot of them because they hang on the top of reeds loudly proclaiming their desirability.


This is a “classic” Marsh Wren pose,


and I’ve got an awful lot of them over the years. These were taken a little over two weeks ago.

When I returned a little later to Theler I immediately noticed that most of the reeds where I got my first shots had fallen over. In fact, there were so few reeds left standing that I didn’t expect to see the Wren at all. I was wrong; although the wren (or wrens) weren’t singing, one was frantically building new nests.


In fact, it was so busy dashing about that most of the time I found it nearly impossible to keep it in frame.


The last time I visited, though, the wrens were neither singing loudly nor frantically building a nest. There was an awful lot of tail flashing, though,


particularly when another wren would fly by. I don’t read Wren well enough to know whether the bird was trying to get its mate’s attention or whether it was warning other wrens to stay away from it’s much smaller kingdom.

A Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah Kinda Day

It’s always a Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah kinda day for me when I can walk the boardwalk at Theler Wetlands surrounded by darting Tree and Barn Swallows. It’s a little too early for that kind of experience, but a few Tree Swallows have returned, and I always marvel at how close you can get to them before they fly off.

Not sure if this one was greeting me or complaining that I was disturbing his attempts at finding a mate, but it’s pretty unusual for one to actually vocalize while sitting on the boardwalk railing.


Maybe they’re a little grumpy that the weather has been so variable, in the mid-60’s one day and in the high-30’s the next , but for whatever reason this one seemed annoyed that I was walking by.


Judging from the number of carvings in the railing on the boardwalk out to the Sound I’m pretty sure that the boardwalk is a favorite of human young lovers, and it seems to serve the same function for the Tree Swallows.


My favorite moments are when the swallows seem perfectly oblivious to my existence, whether resting on the rail


or rocketing through the air seemingly inches away from my head, diving so fast that all you see as they pass is a blur.