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(a parallel post from Pic 4 Today)

As I have mentioned before, the Hooded Merganser is my favorite duck (or duck like bird at least). I like the bold color contrast and the flaring crest and the bright orange eye. I like its active nature…always on the move and full of energy. Of course the reasons I like it are exactly the reasons it is a hard bird to photograph, especially to digiscope (to photograph through the eyepiece of a spotting scope). The Hoody offers one of the most difficult of exposure problems. Pure white and jet black in a pattern. And it moves way to much and too fast to track easily in the narrow field of a spotting scope.

So I am always in my element at Viera Wetlands (Rich Grissom Memorial Wetlands at Viera). Viera Wetlands is a “municipal wetlands”…a waste water treatment plant that uses marsh and pools in the final stages of treatment, and which has been converted for easy access for birders. Since my last visit a year ago, they have even built a road that takes you directly to the entrance, bypassing the water treatment plant buildings. Viera is great for bird photography…certainly among the top two or three spots for Florida waders and wintering ducks, and one of the best spots nationwide. It is especially good for digiscoping as you can pull to side of the dyke roads anywhere and set up your tripod in front of or behind the car in relative safety. And the birds are very cooperative. They are secure in the habitat and will allow you to do your thing while you do yours as long as you stay on the dyke.

And that includes the 30 or 40 Hooded Mergansers that are there on every visit in January. They favor a pond near the entrance, but one that you can only reach by traveling the full circle of the one way access road. They are generally in close, feeding within 50 or 60 feet of the foot of the dyke. I spent a half hour, two different times around the loop, digiscoping them…or attempting to do so. And I got my best shots to date.

Canon SD100HS in Program behind the 40x eyepiece on the ZEISS DiaScope 65FL spotting scope. 1) and 2)  2450mm equivalent field of view, 1/500th @ ISO 100. f6.7 effective. 3) 4500mm equivalent, 1/200th @ ISO 100, f12 effective. 4) 2900mm equivalent, 1/250th @ ISO 250, f7.9 effective.

Processed in Lightroom for Sharpness.

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There is no better place than Cape May NJ during migration to photograph Ruby-crowned Kinglets. They are abundant and they are so busy feeding that, if you can catch them still, they are often very close. This shot was taken behind the Hawk Watch platform at Cape May Point Lighthouse State Park from about 20 feet using the Canon SD100HS behind the 15-56x Vario eyepiece of the ZEISS DiaScope 65FL.

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I used continuous mode, shooting at about 4 frames per second, to capture a series of shots while the bird was out in the open. The lighting could not have been better.

I took these, by the way, while standing right next to Kevin Bolton, well know NJ digiscoper. I am pretty sure he as some very similar :)

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I have a new digiscoping camera…the Canon SD100HS with a new generation 12mp BiCMOS sensor and full HD video. Results with the ZEISS DiaScope 65FL spotting scope so far have been excellent. The image above was taken under heavy overcast skies at ISO 320. The one at the left, zoomed in more, was at ISO800. Both show excellent color and detail at higher ISOs, which is the promise of the new Back Illuminated CMOS sensor technology.

(Of course the excellence of the ZEISS DiaScope also helps a lot!)

The small lake right off the observation deck of the Visitor Center at Estero Llano Grande State Park and World Birding Center near Weslaco TX is always good for dabbling ducks, grebes, herons, and ibii. Often you do not even need a super-long telephoto, but, of course, more reach makes for more intimate images. This shot of a White-faced Ibis was taken with the Canon SD100HS behind the 15-56x Vario eyepiece on the ZEISS DiaScope 65FL spotting scope for an 1250mm equivalent. The light was marginal, and there was a bit of mist in the air, but it is still a good portrait of an interesting bird.

1/100th @ ISO 100, f4 effective. Program.

Processed in Lightroom for Intensity and Sharpness.

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This is an immature Red-Shouldered Hawk that apparently thought the few leaves between us hid him from view…as he was sitting no more than 30 feet from the main access trail at Santa Anna National Wildlife Refuge where at least our whole bus-load of birders got to admire him. This shot was taken with a Canon SD100HS point and shoot camera through the eyepiece of a ZEISS DiaScope 65FL spotting scope. You can see the out of focus foliage in front of the bird, but, though I could find no clear line of sight, the highly selective focus on the spotting scope made focusing through the foliage possible. It was also a matter of timing as the brisk breeze was moving the leaves so that the head and eye of the bird were only sometimes clear and well lighted. I was shooting bursts of 4 frames per second shots and selected the best for final processing.

Canon SD100HS behind the eyepiece of the ZEISS DiaScope 65FL for the equivalent field of view of something like a 1200mm lens on a full frame DSLR. 1/100th @ ISO 100. f4 effective.

Processed in Lightroom for Intensity and Sharpness.

And another with the zoom on the camera run up to max at 4x.

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And, just for fun, a comparison shot from the Canon SX40HS at full optical plus 2x digital tel-converter for an 1680mm equivalent field of view.

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Eagle Optics and ZEISS sponsored “bus prizes” each morning as the fieldtrip buses left for the day. We donated vests, cleaning kits, and binocular harnesses, but we also put up one super-prize…an 8×30 Conquest binocular which some field trip participant would take home before the week was out. The folks from Eagle and the festival held the super-prize until Saturday, when they collected all the tickets from all the buses and drew. The winner was Bob McPherson of Chicago. Bob was on his first trip to the Valley and took home the usual 70 plus lifers…but he saw the last few through ZEISS glass.  What could be better?!

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One of the best things about using a Point and Shoot camera behind the eyepiece of a spotting scope is that you can get really really close. And, with today’s best P&S cameras you have fairly fast continuous shooting, which makes capturing action easier than it ever was. This Song Sparrow was actively feeding with a number of its fellows about 25 feet in front of me…never still for a second. I had to catch it in focus and posed enough for a moderate shutter speed to freeze the action. I shot hundreds of frames in continuous mode, at about 4 frames per second, and sorted out the best when I got home.

The camera I am using, the new Canon Digital ELPH SD100HS, also has a burst mode, which fires at 10 fps for 7 frames before writing to the SD card. I find that 10 fps is actually too fast for birds. You end up with what amounts to 7 identical shots…and since they are all taken in less than a second, the digiscoping rig has no chance for vibrations to settle out…so there is no sharpest frame advantage. 4 fps is just fast enough to capture a sequence of action, or a set to select the sharpest frame from. Here is a 4 frame sequence of another Song Sparrow picking grain.

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(If you click the image it will open in a larger version.)

Canon Digital ELPH SD100HS behind the 15-56x Vario Eyepiece on the ZEISS DiaScope 65FL for the equivalent field of view of about a 1800mm lens on a full frame DSLR, 1/100th to 1/125 second @ ISO 125. f5.9 effective. Programmed Auto with iContrast.

Processed in Lightroom for Intensity and Sharpness.

From Steve Ingraham’s Pic 4 Today. The Stare of the Kestrel.

I am just back from a few days in Irvine California where I presented Point & Shoot for Wildlife at Sea and Sage Audubon. While the clear light of Southern California is ideal for digiscoping, generally yielding great feather detail, I always forget that joy of Orange County…the marine layer…a layer of fog that shades the coast most mornings…at least in late summer and fall when I have visited…and does not burn off until 11am.

Fog is not ideal for photographing birds, and especially difficult when digiscoping, where the distances are often enough to put a significant amount of air-born moisture between you and the bird. To say that it softens detail and reduces contrast is an understatement. At the same time, at closer distances, the well filtered sun light is often excellent for bringing out the overall contours of the bird. What you lose in feather detail you make up for (if you can make that equation) in modeling, as the soft light brings out the underlying shapes of the bird.

Take this Great Egret for instance. Normally with a white bird against a relatively dark background, the challenge is maintaining feather detail…or any detail at all…in the highlights. With the marine layer in play, you loose feather detail, but you gain a really sculpted look.

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Or this Great Blue Heron. The ML had thinned and lifted a bit, but the light was still very filtered. You see more feather detail, but it is still a very modeled look.

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On the other hand, when shooting at a distance, you really see the fog effects. While you can’t hope for much detail, sometimes it is possible to play the foggy light to good advantage. Here the ML was letting a bit of direct sun through, but you can still see the fog at greater distances.

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All these shots at at San Joaquin National Wildlife Refuge…an urban oasis near the campus of The University of California at Irvine.

Taken with the Nikon P300 behind the 15-56x Vario Eyepiece on the ZEISS DiaScope 65FL spotting scope. All in Program with processing in Lightroom for Clarity and Sharpness.

1) the equivalent field of view of a 1400mm lens on a full frame DSLR. 1/800th @ ISO 160. f4.5 effective (limited by the camera).

2) the equivalent field of view of a 3000mm lens on a full frame DSLR. 1/200th @ ISO 160. f8 effective, limited by the scope.

3) the equivalent field of view of a 1500mm lens on a full frame DSLR. 1/1600th @ ISO 160. f5.3 effective, limited by the camera.

So…don’t let fog put you totally off when digiscoping. Work close and go for the modeled look…or play the fog in the distance.

@zeissbirding_us

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