Reflections on Black and White

We’ve been having a much-welcomed break from the rain for nearly a week now. I’ve been out birding almost every day except for New Years. These shots were taken on the 29th down the street from my house on Ruston Way. I’m not unaware of the irony that all the birds pictured here are black and white, birds that really don’t benefit from sunshine as much as birds with more colorful plumages.

Still, this Surf Scoter’s colorful bill certainly appears more striking in the sunshine,

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and you’re not going to get those beautiful reflections with overcast skies.

Although Barrow’s Goldeneye seem more photographic than the Common Goldeneye, I’ve been focusing on the Common lately since they seem to be getting rarer and rarer. It’s easy to forget that their head has a green tinge to it, especially when I seldom see it in sunshine.

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Like most Goldeneye, they don’t seem to do much other than float around, and dive, so it’s a photographic treat when you can catch them doing something more than just floating.

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The reflection was a nice bonus.

I caught this Goldeneye feeding on a small Crab.

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Even this Male Bufflehead was more striking with a little sunshine on his head.

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Finally, I’ve seen this odd little fellow several times, and still can’t figure out what it is.

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The eye would certainly suggest Goldeneye, but the plumage and, especially, the bill suggest that it is a merganser. Apparently there are Goldeneye-Merganser hybrids, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one before. IDing birds is anything but simple, which might be one reason it continues to appeal to me.

Feeling Blue

Though I’m sure we’ve had a little more than two hours of sunshine here in the Puget Sound area in the month of December, that’s all I’ve had to photograph in so far this month.

It’s hard to deny that even the black and white ducks, like this female Bufflehead, seems much more striking in sunlight,

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not to mention this Horned Grebe with its distinctive red eye.

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Certainly the female Red-Breasted Mergansers with their rufous heads and bright orange beaks stand out with a little sunshine,

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though not as much as the brilliantly colored beak of this Surf Scoter.

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Around here, sunshine gives an entirely different meaning to feeling “blue.”

Between trying to get ready for Christmas and unrelenting rain, all the birding I’ve managed to get in so far in December is a couple quick trips to the nearby trail at Point Ruston because I can get there between showers.

It’s a popular place for Barrow’s Goldeneye,

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an occasional Common Goldeneye

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and Surf Scoters.

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Best of all, it seems to be the new home of the female Belted Kingfisher I haven’t seen for a year or so at the Point Defiance Marina.

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It made my day when she landed on the fence a mere 12 feet away from me and posed long enough to get several shots.

Much More than Just a Rose Garden

I’m pretty sure I’ve made it clear my favorite part of the Pt. Defiance Rose Garden is the dahlia beds, but I can never resist the temptation to try to photography the many insects that visit the dahlias while I’m there

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and visit all the other sections of the garden, including the larger rose garden.

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I’m generally frustrated trying to photograph the fuchsias because they’re so low to the ground and I refuse to lay down on the path to take shots, but they definitely have their own beauty.

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Although I’m often struck by the different varieties of flowers lining the paths, I seldom know what they are, though I think this is some form of Zinnia.

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Sorry, but I find it hard to resist beauty wherever I find it.

The Rhodies are in Full Bloom

Judging from the number of flowers I see in neighbor’s yards, Rhododendrons must be the most popular flower in the Puget Sound region, and one of the best places to see them is the Point Defiance Rhododendron Garden where you can see them in their natural habitat, and by “natural habitat” I mean a well maintained forest/garden.

The thinned forest canopy provides a delightful play of shadow and light for the photographer.

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My favorite part of the garden is seeing brilliant colors splashed against a green palate,

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but the meandering paths also make it easy to see the rhodies from different perspectives, as they might appear in your garden

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or up-close as individual bouquets.

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Anyway that you look at them they are beautiful.

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It may only be May on the calendar, but everything around me tells me I’ve lost track of time and summer has already begun. After I saw the wild roses blooming at Belfair, I knew I needed to get down to check out the Pt. Defiance Rose Garden, especially the Iris portion of the garden.

I was surprised that nearly all the roses are blooming, even the ones that usually bloom later in the summer. There are lots of new rosebuds,

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but most roses are already in their prime.

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Some are even already showing wear around the edges.

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The Iris Garden is even ahead of the Rose Garden. Though many of the iris are still in their prime

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like these two,

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others have already faded.

If you live in Tacoma, this is a great time to visit the Gardens, especially since the Rhododendron Garden is also in full bloom.

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.