A Few Song Birds

Having already been to Theler last week and faced with another sunny day, I decided it was past time to visit Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. It turned out to be the perfect day to visit as I was greeted by a chorus of Golden-Crowned Sparrows,


Black-Capped Chickadees,


Yellow-Rumped Warblers,


and, John who I usually see at Theler, but always enjoy birding with.

Back to Theler

My 100-400mm lens proved its versatility on its first trip to Theler. As it turned out, birding was slow, and I ended up focusing more on the flowers than on the birds. Though I love the challenge of photographing birds, I also enjoy the beauty of flowers. For me, the first Trillium I see of the year


is almost as delightful as the first Tree Swallow.

Of course, it’ s also impossible to ignore the beauty of al the apple, plum, and cherry trees in full bloom,


even if I still can’t tell them apart.

No wonder so much Chinese and Japanese poetry revels in their spring beauty.


I can’t see lilacs


without being reminded of Whitman’s masterpiece “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.”

It wasn’t until I near the end of my trip that I finally saw a few birds, like this male Tree Swallow


and the first Barn Swallow I’ve seen this year.


I’ll have to wait until a later trip to see how well the lens handles birds in flight, but so far it has done everything I’ve asked of it, despite the inconvenience of hauling around a heavier lens than I’m used to.

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.

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,


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.


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,


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.

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