Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!!!

Gran Via Lights, Madrid, Spain. 2009.
Las Ramblas Lights, Barcelona, Spain. 2009.

At a Secret Pond continued...

As mentioned in the previous blog, there are other birds at this location but no doubt, the Wood Duck is the most colorful. But the others that have their own charm and were also close-shots first for me as the American Widgeon above. This duck is widespread in the USA and one of its identifying marks is the emerald green eye mask and the light brown forehead.

Another first time close shots I got are those of the Hooded Merganser. This duck is usually common in the winter time and is also seen in the marsh areas in the Tidewater Area of Virginia where I live but not easily to approach. This is really another unique bird with a white crest that he can raise and lower when threatened or during courtship.

The Hooded Merganser dives and swims underwater looking for fish. At times after returning to the surface wobbles its head up and down, this behavior that I had never seen before the visit to the Secret Pond.

A surprising find at the pond, was a Black Crowned Night Heron, it is a fairly common. It patiently waits for small fishes swimming nearby and seldom misses the prey. These herons are more active at nighttime as the name implies, but this one may have been suffering from insomnia.

The ring-billed duck was another addition to my collection of close-up photograph of waders. I was fortunate to get images of both the sexes and I let you guess who is who.
This duck nest in the boreal areas and in winters in the south mostly in fresh bodies of water. Notice the difference in color of the eyes between the male and the female below

One duck that does not get much attention due to its abundance is the Mallard duck. But the male has wonderful iridescent green and blue feathers under the right lighting conditions.

The female mallard is not as colorful. In New Mexico, where these photographs were taken, there is also a subspecies of the mallard ducks (diazi) called Mexican ducks that are very similar. The female has a less contrasting plumage and a greener bill. This is definitely not Mexican as defined by the orange-yellow bill.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

At a Secret Pond

There is a pond in New Mexico easily accessible and open to the public where common ducks lives year round and wild waterfowl visit in winter. I was sworn to secrecy by Virginia’s “non-plus-ultra” wildlife photographer, who took me there, not to reveal its location. The beauty of this place is that many species of ducks that I have chased for years, finally were accessible photograph. The Wood Duck was one of those ever eluding dreams but no longer.

As in most bird species, the males are usually the most colorful, this is to attract females. In turn these are dull in color due to their camouflage to blend with the surrounding when nesting and to protect the young. But in their own right, they are beautiful too as seen above.

We spent basically a whole day at the pond due the unusual photo opportunities
and to take advantages of light changes as the day advanced. Another advantage of spending time there was that various species of birds arrived and departed throughout the day, giving an opportunity to get different ones photographed.

One of the challenges of photographing any subject with white color is blowing away the highlights. And in the case of bird with white feathers or other parts, getting the right exposures becomes difficult, so exposing for the white areas may result in an overall darker picture.

There is a need to underexpose to get the highlights right. But digital cameras this is no longer an issue if one keeps and eye in the histogram by keeping the right end of the curve inside the chart. In the photo of the female Wood Duck, even though I reduced the exposure, the white around the does not show much detail in the image above. But additional exposure reduction would have resulted in the rest of the image looking a bit darker…all is a compromise.

Wood ducks are perhaps the most colorful ducks in North America and due to their lifestyles and habitat hard to photograph. They were there of their own desire and not captives, and enjoying the pond disregarding the presence of humans.

I am limiting this blog just to the Wood ducks but in upcoming ones, I will address other exotic waterfowl which I never had the opportunity to approach so close at this no so secret place.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Bosque del Apache II

Although Bosque is better known for the large winter migrant concentrations of Sand Hill Cranes and Snow Geese, there are other winged creatures that are considered locals, but not less spectacular. This White-Crowned Sparrow was photographed on the grounds of the Refuge Headquarters. Its range is widespread and also seen back East. It is one of those beautiful little birds that receive little attention due their abundance

The second day that I was there, I happened to go to one of the observation decks with my camera. All of a sudden a Ring-necked Pheasant flew from left to right and I was lucky to be at the right place, at the right time, with the right light conditions and with the camera settings correct for capturing the image below.

My first encounter with Gambel’s Quails. These are very shy and not easy to photograph but at Bosque’s Headquarters, there is a cactus garden where these birds are easily seen with a bit of patience. The seem to follow trails and where there is a clearing, they can be photographed. Above is a male, which as in most occasions among birds, are better dressed than the females.

The female Gambel’s Quail is less colorful but also wears a tuft of feathers on the head. These
birds are abundant in the Southwest in desert and canyon areas.

One day we found a long-eared owl perched on a tree next to the road. This owl appeared to have no fear of humans and could be easily approached. First saw the owl one early morning and when I returned in mid-afternoon, it was still perched in the same location. I am sure this was the most photographed bird in the park that day.

The Canyon Towhee was also a new bird for me. It is kind of a non-descript bird or rather not exotic. But as all towhees makes a living searching for food in the underbrush.

This image of a warbler perched on a dried up thistle seems ideal for use as a Christmas
postcard. I do not know its name, so please me know if you know what it is.

During the winter months, the abundance of wildlife at the park attracts digital hunters by the hundreds. They can be seen all over the refuge with their big telephotos but it appears
that the birds s are not concerned with these optical hunters. I was surfing the web earlier and there are hundreds of posting by photographers from all over the world who visited in November.

And finally as another day closes, there is a wonderful sunset with the Magdalena Mountains as a background. This final image is an HDR composite using 5 images.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Bosque del Apache

This refuge along the Rio Grande is the home of thousands of Sandhill cranes and snow geese migrate here during the winter in New Mexico. During peak season it has been estimated that more than 100,000 cranes, ducks and geese winter at Bosque. It is easily reached by flying to Albuquerque and driving south to San Antonio for about 50 minutes, a one traffic light sleepy town. There are two major eateries in town, the Owl and Buckhorn, tried both famous for their Chili Burgers and Fries and the later was featured in Food Network early in the year. Socorro is the bigger town about 8 miles of San Antonio where some of the Festival’s events take place. The image below does not have the best colors but that is due to the early morning light.

The refuge is a man-made complex of wetlands and farm fields where corn is raised to attract the birds. The Bosque del Apache is kind of a misnomer since there are not forests (Bosque means forest in Spanish) and no Apache Indians to be seen. It borders the Rio Grande that farther south becomes the boundary between the USA and Mexico that empties into the Gulf of Mexico. Aldo Leopold who is considered the father of wildlife management, started his career here back in the early 1910’s.
By coincidence, I arrived there Monday the week of the 22nd when the annual “Friends of Bosque de Apache” festival was taking place and departed on a Thursday just as huge flocks of of bird watchers and photographer were arriving. The event included sales of art by the local artists, tours of the refuge as well as bird seminars conducted at the Refuge Headquarter.

In the way back to Albuquerque later in the week, I stopped back at the refuge for the sunset incoming flights of geese and cranes into the water impoundments just south of the Refuge Headquarters in Highway 1. Parking was hard to find as well as a choice location to photograph in the shoreline. There were more long telephotos at this location that there were at the recent Olympic Games in China. Unfortunately the incoming flights were not as heavy as I saw early in the week.

Among the birds there the Sandhill cranes were the largest birds while the Snow geese probably the most numerous. There were several species of ducks and birds but these were not easily photographed.

The cranes were the most interesting since they seem to be in pairs with some siblings trailing alone. It was funny early in the morning since it appears that the cranes legs got frozen into the pond’s surface ice and while trying to brake the ice, they loose their equilibrium and after breaking loose, they appeared to skate on the ice and slipped all over. Some will stump the ice with the legs to break the ice to move on while others waited later into day for the ice to melt. When taking off, one could see like a ring of ice in the legs (see image below), they would beat the wings and run to get air speed and would slip, slow down and try again.

Why are they called Sandhill cranes? I research this but could not find an explanation as well as why the young ones are called colts. Fortunately one of the blog visitors provided insight into the name; it is due to the sandhills in the Platter River, I was further educated and told that the proper name is Greater Sandhill cranes or scientifically Grus canadensis. Paired cranes engage in synchronized conversation and it is said that the female calls twice for each one call of the male…how do they know this since both sexes look the same? I found out that there are 6 subspecies of which 3 are not migratory and found in Mississippi, Florida and Cuba. Below is an image at the end of the day and these group just landed to spend the night. I was told that the reason why they sleep in the impoundments is for protection against predators. While in Bosque, I witnessed coyotes trying to capture cranes while these were feeding in the cornfields with no sucess.