Dad's Role

During the week last week the backyard bluebirds really started working hard on building their nest.  They had been house shopping for quite a while before they finally decided.  Their indecisiveness was a blessing in disguise due to the fact that if they had picked a week earlier they might have been in trouble.  We had very warm temperatures followed by a week of mostly freezing temps.  If they had  moved in and laid eggs a week earlier they might have lost the eggs due to the cold.  Luckily for all, they are picky.

I spend a lot of time watching these birds.  Easily double the time I spend photographing them, possibly more.  I've been noticing during nest building that dad never really brings in any nesting material.  It appears that mom is doing all the hard work.  So I spent some time watching dad to see what his whole role was during this process.  Dad's first role was to be a watchbird.  He was always at, or near, the house watching for invading birds.  He sat on this one tree stump that is about 10 feet away from the house constantly watching and attacking anything that came near the house.  Mostly running off House Sparrows and other birds that were brave enough to investigate the situation.

Aperture-priority, 1/500 sec, f/6.3, ISO 800, Compensation: +2/3, 600 mm

Another role dad played was making sure mom didn't burn off too many calories during all of her nest building activities.  Many times mom would go to the ground in search of the perfect piece of straw and dad would follow her with a mouth full of mealworms.  He would then offer her the mealworms.  He did this over and over.  On the ground, at the tree stump and on top of the birdhouse.

Aperture-priority, 1/400 sec, f/6.3, ISO 1600, Compensation: +2/3, 500mm

Although dad didn't "look" busy and it looked like mom was doing all the hard work, dad was doing his part, too.  Heck, he might even do the dishes later.

These images were made with my Nikon D500 and Tamron SP 150-600mm Di VC USD G2 Lens.  The camera was mounted on my Sirui Tripod and PH-20 Gimbal Head.

Pileated Woodpecker Nest

Last week sometime I heard there was an easily accessible Pileated Woodpecker Nest in Huntsville.  I was a little late to the party, which is usually the case, but I got to go check it out on Saturday morning.

It's a good thing I got there Saturday morning, too.  I heard later that afternoon all of the babies fledged the nest.  I could tell they were about to when I was there photographing them.  They were really big.  They were getting really brave with how far they were coming out of the nest on their own.  The parents weren't feeding them very frequently either.  I think it was their way of telling them it's time to get out of the house.

While I was there dad did come in and feed once.  I didn't get a shot of him feeding all the chicks, but I did get a shot of him feeding this one. 

The leaves were really grown and in the way.  You basically had to wait on the wind and the birds to cooperate enough to get a shot without the leaves blocking the scene.

Sony A6300, LA-EA3 Lens Adapter, Tamron 150-600mm Lens, Sirui tripod and PH-20 Gimbal Head.

Aperture Priority, F/6.3, ISO 6400, 1/500th second, Exposure Compensation +0.3

Yes, more bluebirds

I know what you're thinking.  However, Saturday morning, the bluebirds and I had an extraordinary time.

See, I checked the bluebird box last week and they had quite a nest built up inside the box.  I figured I had just missed all the photographic opportunities of them building the nest.  I was pretty bummed about that, because I think those can be some of the best images.  I guess I was living right, or someone knew how bummed I was because Saturday morning, they added a few finishing touches to the nest that allowed me to get some great shots.

ISO 6400, 600mm, F/6.3 @ 1/1250th second

The light was not the best so I knew I was going to be shooting at higher ISOs.  This made me go with the Sony A7R II for my body choice.  I probably ended up missing a lot of shots because it is so much slower than the A77 II I normally use in terms of FPS, but I also might not have gotten these shots at all due to the A77 II not being able to do as well with higher ISOs.  

This was one of my favorite images of the morning.  Blondie is bringing in a little extra padding for the nest.  

I was able to capture this image with my Sony A7R II, LA-EA3 Adapter and Tamron 150-600mm Lens.  I had this setup mounted to my Sirui tripod and PH-20 GImbal Head.  The PH-20 ended up being a vital piece of this setup.  For these in flight shots, I just pre-focused on the area in front of the house, then locked the PH-20 down.  I knew this head wouldn't be slipping.  I knew once I locked it down , it wasn't moving.  So, after I pre-focused and locked the head down, I would just wait for her to come in and fire away.

 Some skill, some good timing and some good luck...

Great Blue Silhouette

Today I'm sharing another image made at Viera Wetlands down in Florida.

Many times you arrive at a location before dawn.  While you can't really shoot any action you can take advantage of the sky back lighting some of the birds and use that opportunity to get creative.  Here I used the colors of the sky before sunrise to create a silhouette of the Great Blue Heron that was tending to her nest.

ISO 640, 600mm, F/6.3 @ 1/80th second

Hover over the image with your mouse to view the camera settings.  Click the image to view it larger.

If you look at the camera settings, you'll notice a pretty "slow" shutter speed.  Especially when we normally think of shooting birds.  Shooting a 600mm lens at 1/80th second does require a stable tripod.  Bear that in mind if you are out trying this.  Handholding at that shutter speed would not result in an image as sharp as using a tripod.

Another thing to keep in mind when shooting these silhouettes is I typically shoot these in aperture priority with multi-segment metering mode.  I then shoot them at about -1EV.  This allows for more contrasty colors in the sky and we aren't really looking for detail in our subject anyway so I am not worried about that.  

One last thing to remember when shooting these is how to properly read your histogram.  When you shoot these silhouette images, your histogram will be mostly to the left indicating not much shadow detail.  Great!  That's exactly what we are looking for.  In this case, the "perfect" histogram is all the way to the left.  Don't get hung up on your histogram needing to have the "perfect" bump in the middle while not touching either side.  That maybe perfect in some situations, but not if you're looking for a silhouette.  

This image made with my Sony A77 II and Tamron 150-600mm Lens.  All mounted a top my Sirui tripod and Ph-20 Gimbal Head.


Over the Memorial Day Holiday Weekend, I got an invite to go over to a lake in North Georgia to shoot some osprey that were on the nest.  It was a bit of a ride from my house, but boy I'm sure glad I went.  I ended up with some stuff I'm super happy with!

Although I left happy, it didn't start out that way.  I initially tried to shoot handheld.  The osprey were flying around so much that my arms quickly got tired.  I checked my images and the majority of them were out of focus.  I decided to salvage any part of the day I was going to have to go back to the vehicle and get the tripod, which I did.  Mounting the camera on the tripod turned out to be the deciding factor.  I started getting better shots when I could focus on the photography and not my tired arms.

ISO 800, 360mm, F/7.1 @ 1/1250th second

This image was made with my Sony Alpha 77ii, Tamron 150-600mm Lens and Vanguard Photo US Alta Pro 283CT Tripod.

I knew for the shots I was going for I needed a very high shutter speed.  I was shooting for above 1/1000th of a second.  I had to raise my ISO to 800, even though it was pretty bright.  Bumping the ISO and getting the higher shutter speed allowed me to capture this shot of the osprey landing at the nest and looking directly at me.  I was very pleased with this image.

What I've Been Up To

I haven't been as active on the blog the last few weeks as I would like.  I've been in the process of making the switch from a Canon system over to a full Sony setup.

I've been shooting the Sony mirrorless system since the A7R was released...heck I preordered it.  So I am no stranger to Sony.  So now I have the A7R, the A7S and my newest addition the A77ii.  

Why the A77ii?  Well, The only Canon body I had left was the 7D that I was using for sports/wildife/action.  I wasn't real happy with what it was giving me noise wise...even at lower ISOs.  I noticed a Deal on the A77ii and knew what I could get for my 7D, so I had little invested in the switch.  Also, I have the Sony LA-EA4 adapter, which will allow me to mount any A Mount Sony glass on my mirrorless bodies, so the A Mount isn't an issue for me either.  In fact, I love the fact that with the A Mount, I can use old Minolta Lenses from the 80's.  Some of those lenses are super sharp and can be had for next to nothing!

I've been shooting with the A77ii and the Tamron 150-600mm Lens over the last week or so and I am very pleased with the results.  I knew the Tamron lens would be top notch, I was really curious to see how using this Sony body over the Canon would be...and, for me, it is much easier to use.

Here are a few backyard bird shots I came away with using the above combination.

Here's one of the male bluebirds in my backyard.  He looks upset.

ISO 400, 600mm, F/8 @ 1/250th second

Here's one of the female bluebirds checking out the house.

ISO 400, 600mm, F/8 @ 1/400th second

And finally here is a mockingbird from the backyard

ISO 400, 500mm, F/6.3 @ 1/500th second

And while this is no testament to the equipment...or even a great photo for that matter, I wanted to share this experience with you.  This is an Owl's nest we got to photograph with one of the owlets starring us down.

ISO 400, 600mm, F/7.1 @ 1/640th second

I really enjoyed viewing the owls even if I didn't come away with any wall hangers.  Remember this is about the experience as much as it is the photographs.

I am really enjoying using this Sony system and am about to put it through some good paces over the next several weeks....stay tuned ;)


This is one of the woodpeckers I got the chance to photograph out in Grand Teton National Park this past spring.  Although there were several woodpeckers to be photographed in this area, this was the best looking one, in my opinion, and the hardest to photograph.  He was pretty camera shy and stayed hid out most of the time in one of the nesting holes.

He was only out here for just a few minutes, but I got several shots of him.  This image was taken with the new SP Tamron 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD.  I had it mounted to my Canon 7D and they were locked down to my Vanguard Alta Pro 283CT Tripod.  I'm glad I had the tripod, too.  Not only for image stability reasons, but there was a lot of time spent waiting.  I got to spend that time not holding my camera ;)

More from the Tamron 150-600mm

This time it's not coyote pups, but Mountain Bluebirds.  We stumbled upon what happened to be a little bird nursery along Moose-Wilson Road in GTNP.  It was an area that the woodpeckers and sap suckers had carved out.  All the other birds were using their houses once they were unoccupied.  Case in point...these Mountain Bluebirds.

I quickly mounted my Canon 7D with Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD Lens on my Vanguard Alta Pro 283CT Tripod with BBH Ballhead and went to work.

There were birds everywhere...bluebirds, woodpeckers, tree swallows, sap suckers, etc...all darting from tree to tree and hole to hole.  It was a fantastic piece of nature to watch.

Today I wanted to share some images of the Mountain Bluebirds with you.  

This image of the female was taken at 552mm (no cropping in post), F/8, ISO 400 and 1/100th of a second.  Since I was mounted to a tripod, I wasn't too worried about my shutter speed being too high.  It really would only factor in if the bird was moving.  In that case I would raise my ISO up to get a higher shutter speed.

You can see their house directly behind her.  They were super quick in and out of there so most shots were them posing outside or sticking their heads out, like below.

The image above was taken at 600mm (again, no cropping), ISO 400, F/8 and 1/80th.  Again, since she wasn't moving much and I was on a tripod, shutter speed wasn't a concern like it would be if you were trying to hand hold, or there was a lot of movement.  If there was a lot of movement, at 1/80th second, it would just be blurred as fast as these jokers are!

Finally, a shot of the male.  He posed for us like this outside the house for quite a while before flying off and returning to pose again multiple times.

I had cranked up my ISO on this shot, probably due to the fact that the birds were flying around and generally just more active at this point.  My ISO was 1000.  I shot this, again at F/8 with a shutter speed of 1/160th.  This was shot at a 600mm focal length (again, full frame, no cropping).  All of these images were shot in Aperture Priority, as well.

It was a real treat to watch and photograph these bluebirds!