Sunday, September 15, 2019

Odds and Ends - 15 Sep 2019

This Red-eyed Vireo was just one of several fall migrants moving through the woods this morning after a brief rain shower.

An early morning drive to Lake Erie Metropark took me to the woods around the Marshland Museum. Mallard and Wood Ducks are congregating in the waters west of the museum and took flight at the first notice of my presence. The camera somehow got switched to ISO 320 instead of the usual Auto-ISO 100-6400 w/ minimum SS 1/2000 sec. As such, the 1/160 sec exposure was not enough to stop the mallard in flight. But, it made for a nice image and highlighted the onset of fall colors beginning along the shoreline.

A small flock of warblers were foraging near the east side of the woodlot next to the museum. Nashville Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, American Redstart, and this apparent Bay-breasted Warbler were foraging in thick cover, so I was lucky to get any photos (especially at ISO 320 in the shade). Note the under tail pattern, Buffy chest and flanks, and bright eye-arcs with a dark line through the eye. White wing-bars are also consistent for Bay-breasted. But, this IS a fall warbler, so it could be a condor...

A suspected Least Flycatcher, but Empid sp. may be a better ID.

I tried walking the Cherry Trail south of the Hawk Watch but flooded paths turned me back. This Double-crested Cormorant juvenile was severely backlit by the rising Sun, but still made for a nice pic.

This little guy came by the Hawk Watch and posed for a few minutes before looking for a fisherman with food to offer. Ring-billed Gull molting into 2nd-year plumage (note gray back feathers).

Back home I played with settings on the Sony 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS Lens. I set up the button on the lens to switch between AF/M so that I could work on macro photos or just manually focus when I need to. The porch Mums made for a nice subject in the evening light.

Monarch Butterflies continue to swarm the Prairie Ironweed out back in the Quinlan Prairie behind Brownton Abbey. I did find a single Red Admiral, but she flew off before I could raise the camera.

A pair of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds continue to come to the feeder. This female and a juvenile male were seen tussling in flight above the grass.

While playing with the Sony a7iii and 90mm f/2.8 Macro GM OSS lens this morning in the rain I spotted a small flock of warblers moving along the trees next to the woodlot out back. I ran into the house to grab the big lens, and managed a few pics of a Red-eyed Vireo, but missed the Magnolia Warbler nearby. A quick walk through the woods gave me brief glimpses of a Gray Catbird, another pair of Magnolia Warblers, an American Redstart, and this (presumed) Eastern Wood-Pewee > below!

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Monarch Migration - 09 Sep 2019

Monarch Butterflies are migrating across the region. This past weekend dozens were flying across the channel at Lake Erie Metropark and heading west. I spent some time trying out the new Sony 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS Lens by practicing on the tiny butterflies as they bounced in the winds. Focus-tracking helped tremendously and allowed me a few flight photos.

I then returned home and spent the next couple of evenings exploring the lovely Quinlan Prairie out behind Brownton Abbey. The Prairie Ironweed (Vernonia fasciculate) is in bloom and the Monarchs are flocking to them by the dozens. With the late afternoon Sun in the west the butterflies and flowers glowing!

A couple of additional beauties in the form of Painted Lady and Pearly Crescent Butterflies were also found, and I relished the chance to photograph them. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Weekend Highlights - 09 Sep 2019

Our juvenile Eastern Towhee is growing some grown-up feathers.

A quick trip to Lake Erie Metropark and the Detroit River Hawk Watch yielded few raptors, but I did get a few pics of the local Ring-billed Gulls, Bald Eagles, and migrating Monarch Butterflies. A single Sharp-shinned Hawk was our only raptor.

A hovering Osprey gave me the chance to generate a composite image.

A flock of Lesser Yellowlegs needed photos to be identified. Luckily the Sony a9 and 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 was up to the task.

Back home the afternoon was pretty slow here at Brownton Abbey until 5 Common Nighthawks made a fly-by.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Digiscoping Threat Just Got Real - 05 Sep 2019

This past June Sony announced the Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS Lens along with its big brother the 600mm f/4. At $2000 the 200-600mm is aimed at sports and wildlife photographers who can't afford the much more expensive ($14,000) prime. At f/5.6 - 6.3 (let's just call it f/6.3) the lens is not considered a bokeh buster. However, it did get rave reviews for autofocus speed and sharpness. So, knowing that it would go quick (when released early August) I put one on pre-order with B&H Photo.

Naturally, August came around and I got the first of many "sorry, its still on backorder" emails. The most recent came on Thursday before Labor Day. Then, minutes later, I got notice that the lens had shipped! It will be here Tuesday.

The first thing I did was to see how its 840mm focal length (w/ the 1.4TC) compared to the digiscoping rig at 875mm (Swarovski STX85+Sony a7III+Zeiss 35/2.8 @ 25X).

Sony a9+200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 @ 840mm
Digiscoped @ 875mm
Sony a9+200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 @ 1260mm
With the 1.4TC on the 200-600mm lens I have an effective focal length of 840mm. This is just lower than the 875mm I get with the digiscoping rig. Edge-to-edge sharpness is clearly superior in this case, and, if I hit the 1.5X crop mode (APS-C button) on the Sony a9 I can bump my image size to 1260mm! I wasn't only impressed by the new lens, but actually how good my digiscoping rig is compared to it.

Next, a House Finch on the thistle feeder. Despite the pink-eye, for which the bird appears to be recovering from, the image quality from both systems is very impressive. Advantage to the Sony, of course, for having extremely fast AF capabilities while I need to focus-peak manually using the scope in order to get the equally-sharp image from the digiscoping rig.

Digiscoped House Finch
Sony 200-600mm House Finch
At f/9.0 the Sony 200-600mm will not give the background separation that its larger brother the 600/4 will give but its a sacrifice I'm willing offer for being able to autofocus while hand-holding a much lighter system.

I had no problem acquiring focus-tracking with the lens on this Chimney Swift that flew over the deck. Despite its erratic flight path I was able to keep it in my viewfinder for dozens of sharp images.

Even the male Ruby-throated Hummingbird gave me a chance to test the AF capabilities of the lens. Very sharp! I did quickly have to learn the three focus-distance modes on the new lens: Full, 10m - 2.4m, and Infinity - 10m. Leaving the camera on Full with give the widest range, but the AF is not snappy and the camera will hunt. So, I make sure to pre-focus at an object / distance in the same range as my intended subject to the AF will snap-in much faster.

All in all, this new Sony 200-600mm f/5-6.3 is making me seriously contemplate the need for the 100-400mm f/5.6 lens that is now tucked back into the cabinet.

Will it be the death of my digiscoping days? Not hardly. Yes, it allows me much more versatility in the field for capturing those avian moments, but I won't stop carrying my scope in the field, and digiscoping is just too much of a challenge to give up. After all, I feel much more comfortable photographing the moon and Jupiter using the scope than I do trying to do so with a telephoto lens.

Bring on the hawks!

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