Tuesday, November 10, 2015

North Santiam Raptor Route... with camera

My raptor routes are more exciting... and taking longer... now that I have a new camera to play with. Today Johnny and I did our North Santiam route. It started out pretty exciting, with a distant Bald Eagle. But even before the eagle showed up, I decided to see what this camera would do with a Red-tail on a tree in the middle of a field where we often see a Red-tail. Here is the tree. It's the one way off in the distance that has a bare top bending to the right. Another hint: it is in the center of the photo.

I brought it a little closer. Now can you see the bent top tree?

On the left side of that bent tree sits a Red-tailed Hawk. It was visible only with my binoculars... and this camera.

Okay, now for the eagle. I caught a glint of white in the distance, put up my binocs, and saw the white head of an adult Bald Eagle. I did not have the good sense to bring it in little by little with camera shots, so here it is as seen from the car without the zoom.

Back home, I cropped that photo to zero in on the eagle tree, but that doesn't help much, does it? The eagle tree is left of the tall fir on the right in the photo below.

I cropped it still more. Now can you see the eagle on the top of the middle tree?

Here it is cropped again. Pretty fuzzy.

 And now back to the photos I took today... zoomed in. I couldn't hold the camera still, even propped against the window, so it is a little blurry.

Then I zoomed it all the way and couldn't even get the whole eagle in view!

I went back out a little... better, although it was looking the other way.

I did finally get it looking to the right but shook a bit so it is still blurry. I did not notice the wing feather askew until I saw these photos.

 On the same road where we saw the eagle, Fern Ridge Rd., Johnny's sharp eyes spotted a raptor on the dead top of a tree. That tree is just left of the barn in the foreground.

I zoomed in a bit. The raptor is close to the top of the visible part of this dead tree top.

Zoomed more, it begins to look like a Peregrine Falcon, with prey.

And here it is, with some unfortunate bird in its talons.

Closer and with the camera better braced.

And then eating the prey.

That was the last of the exciting raptor photos as we needed to arrive at our lunch spot at lunch time. We stopped along Fern Ridge Rd. when we knew we were about 20 minutes away from the Chinese Dragon restaurant in Mehama that is on our route... and called in our take-out lunch order. We took it to John Neal Park in Lyons and ate out on a picnic table with the sun warming our backs. It was a lovely day. I wandered around the ponds hoping to find the Red-shouldered Hawks we saw there two years ago, but no luck. I did find a female Northern Shoveler swimming through the reflections of colorful trees .

Here she is having a scratch.

 I love the wooded ponds at this park. They are beautiful all year but especially so in the fall.

On one pond, I found a group of Gadwalls. One male turned for a picture.

The trail eventually winds its way to the North Santiam River where a gravel bar in the middle of the river often has a Dipper foraging from a rock at its edge. And so it did today. The gravel bar is at the far side of the river in the center of this photo.

Here it is a little closer.

The Dipper was feeding off a round rock to the right (upstream) of the gravel bar.

I took this photo of the Dipper's rock while the Dipper was under water. It is the round rock in the middle right with sun glinting off it.

Here it is with Dipper. Each time the Dipper dove, it came up with something to eat.

 I was thrilled that my camera could capture the Dipper from so great a distance. But we were running late now with half the route yet to drive, so we left beautiful John Neal Park and I put the camera away. We stopped, as always, at the cemetery on our route where my parents are buried. It made me happy to see that Mom's hardy cyclamen and primrose were still alive, in spite of the hot dry summer. One more non-raptor stop to say hi to friends in Gates, then we headed back for the return part of our route through fields north of the North Santiam Highway until we arrived again at Salem, our starting point.

Our total raptors were about average for this route in November: 12 Red-tailed Hawks, 15 American Kestrels, 4 Northern Harriers, 1 Bald Eagle, 1 Cooper's Hawk and 1 Peregrine Falcon. But I had above average fun taking photos of  far away birds.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Raptor Running With My New Camera

 November is the first month for the winter raptor surveys that Jeff Fleischer manages for the East Cascades Audubon Society. Johnny and I did our Grand Ronde raptor survey today, Nov. 3, 2015. I was eager to see if I could quickly capture distant birds with my new camera, the Nikon P900 with the 83X optical zoom. They have to be captured quickly because we have to keep moving to complete the 79 mile route in the time we have between morning goat milking and dusk, about 7 hours. The first bird I photographed was not far off the road so was an easy beginning... a beautiful Red-shouldered Hawk.

Then I got braver as the birds appeared farther away. This Northern Harrier was a long way off in a field. I tried to steady the camera on the window.

This little American Kestrel was even farther away.

The Red-tailed Hawk below was a ridiculous distance away and camouflaged against treees, but its red tail showed up nicely.

We had packed lunches so as not to lose any birding time and ate them at Huddleston Pond in Willamina. A Bald Eagle soared way in the distance before disappearing... too quickly for a photo. A Belted Kingfisher was more cooperative. It sat on a fence by the pond. I hand held the camera to take this shot.  

A Common Goldeneye was swimming away from the hordes of Canada Geese, American Wigeon and Coots, among others, in the fishing pond.

Afternoon birding was slow. But we did have a great.. . distant... view of a Christmas Tree operation. A helicopter was lifting bundles of trees and dropping them into trucks. Five trucks were lined up. Look closely to see the bundle of trees the helicopter is about to drop. Johnny timed it: less than one minute from picking up one load to picking up the next.

At Noble Oaks, formerly Oregon Wildlife, we saw four Harriers. This one caught something in the field and ate it while we watched.

 From up on the top of the hill at Noble Oaks, the new solar array by the highway can be seen almost in its entirety. Only a small portion (as in the first photo from up at Noble Oaks) can be seen from Hwy 18.

Here is the length that we could see from on high. That thin silvery line across the entire middle of the photo is the solar array.

Our totals (of raptors) for the count were: 21 Redtailed Hawks, 14 American Kestrels, 7 Northern Harriers, 1 Bald Eagle, 3 Cooper's Hawks (that did not hang around for photos),1 Barn Owl (heard at our farm) and 1 Red-shouldered Hawk. This is about half as many raptors as we usually get on our Grand Ronde route in November. Perhaps it's the weather. Hopefully numbers will grow as the season progresses and more raptors arrive from their northern breeding territories.

Maybe next time we will see (and photograph!) a Rough-legged Hawk. And maybe the White-tailed Kites will return. The long zoom on this camera makes raptor routes more exciting than ever... but just as, or maybe more, exhausting. Seven hours of intense concentration looking for hawks wore us both out today.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

A 70/30 Halloween

It's migration season and the witches have been crashing into the yard, as usual. They never seem to watch where they're going.

This year, we had a new one show up... the Wicked Witch of the East. Just as in the Wizard of Oz, she had a building... our woodshed... fall on her. I didn't realize we had had a tornado lift our woodshed up and drop it down on the witch, but pictures don't lie. Those are ruby red slippers for sure.

In case anyone is wondering what makes this a 70/30 Halloween...  I am 70 years old today... by some accounts (like my birth certificate). However, since time is relative, I started backward at age 50, making me 30 today. I will now start aging again as I don't care to relive my 20s or teens.

I gave myself an expensive birthday present: a new camera with an incredible zoom lens. I want to be able to take photos of the distant sea stacks where "my" Black Oystercatchers nest and see if I can find those little black birds with red bills way out on the rocks.

Johnny and I drove to Baskett Slough after my camera arrived this past week so I could try it out on distant geese. Pretty impressive.

Here is my "old" Panasonic Lumix zoomed up as far as it will zoom on geese a long way away... 

And the new Nikon Coolpix P900... (I have to work on keeping it steady at full zoom...)

Then we drove down Farmer Rd. and spotted a Red-tailed Hawk alongside the road way up ahead. I stopped and took a series of photos, zooming in closer each time.

The camera was focused on the car in this first one. The bird is on the right side of the road but not visible in this photo (to my eyes).

Now you can see the bird and maybe how far away the first photo was by the railroad crossing sign.

It's a bit blurry at the closest but isn't it amazing how close the camera can get? This hawk was eating a snake. Here's a shot where you can see the prey a bit.

I need to learn how to center my subject and keep the camera still. I had it braced on the window.

I can hardly wait to take photos on the Oregon coast and find out if I can see birds way out on those rocky island sea stacks. But the new camera is a mite heavy so I'll keep on using my trusty Panasonic for most things.

Today, before the rains hit, I wandered around the yard with the Panasonic and took photos of fall colors. More flowers are blooming than I took pictures of because heavy rain set in... breaking our long drought and giving us the kind of weather Halloween should have..

It's a beautiful world to celebrate a 70/30 birthday in... rain or shine.