Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Testing the Lens

With the near future calling for work through the weekend, I used my "free" day today for birding and troubleshooting some difficulties I've been having with my Canon 100-400mm II zoom lens. Since acquiring this lens in December, my results with it have been frustrating. It feels rare that I can capture the crisp images I would expect from a new lens. Considering I have rolled the lens off the car seat on the floor of my vehicle at least twice, I believe some functions might be compromised. However, before I pull the plug on sending the lens to Canon for repairs, I decided to take it for a spin at Pheasant Branch Conservancy in Dane County this morning.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Pheasant Branch Conservancy, Dane Co, WI 12April2017
I discovered with greater mindfulness focusing on steady hands and stiff postures, I can achieve sharper results with close subjects.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Pheasant Branch Conservancy, Dane Co, WI 12April2017
But at any sort of distance, especially with birds in flight, the lens appears to struggle with auto-focus more than I expect. Thus I am likely to send the lens for inspection and repair while I am still covered for free repairs.

Northern Harrier at a brief stop at Goose Lake Drumlins SNA en route home, 12April2017
Much of the same birds that have been present in recent days were also present today at Pheasant Branch. High numbers of Yellow-rumped Warblers and Ruby-crowned Kinglets have been migrating through southern Wisconsin. I've been delighting in watching the male Yellow-rumped Warblers wondering when the novelty of their presence will dissipate to that familiar attitude of "it's just another Yellow-rumped..." As spring migration waxes and wanes, the old jaded attitude toward the likes of Yellow-rumped Warbler and American Redstart seems inevitable for even the best-intentioned of birders. We thirst for novelty setting the bar higher and more grander with visions of more colorful jewels of the forest. I vow not to allow my mind to succumb to such blasphemy this year...to remember the joy of seeing my first male Yellow-rumped this year and the sheer awe I felt the first time I laid sight on an American Redstart at eye level.
Yellow-rumped Warbler (male), Pheasant Branch Conservancy, Dane Co, WI 12April2017 
The current brisk temps of early spring means many of the passerines are foraging low for insects. This affords crushing photography ops that are more difficult to come by in mid-May when the birds move higher up in the leafed-out canopy. Though Pheasant Branch Creek can lure these jewels down to the water to bathe when the temperature heats up later in migration. So the opportunities are still possible for some outstanding warbler views and photos.

I get pretty excited when I "freeze frame" any warbler singing (that's my shout out to J. Geils, RIP). There was plenty of singing happening among the Yellow-rumps and kinglets during my mid-morning birding stroll despite my having missed the dawn chorus.

Yellow-rumped Warbler, Pheasant Branch Conservancy, Dane Co, WI 12April2017
Though much drabber than their male counterpart, a female Yellow-rumped Warbler is still photo-worthy.

Yellow-rumped Warbler (female), Pheasant Branch Conservancy, Dane Co, WI 12April2017
Golden-crowned kinglet numbers have dropped off considerably, seeming to coincide with the recent uptick in the Ruby-crowns.

Golden-crowned Kinglet, Pheasant Branch Conservancy, Dane Co, WI 12April2017
Blue-jays are often considered a "junk bird" in Wisconsin. However I could not resist the morning light illuminating this striking corvid while it collected nesting material from the creek.



I saw my first of the season Hermit Thrushes today. Per usual with this species, none cooperated for photos.

Hermit Thrush, obstructed, Pheasant Branch Conservancy, Dane Co, WI 12April2017

It was late morning by the time I found the bird I was seeking for the day, Louisiana Waterthrush. I had just resigned to thinking I would not find this warbler when it flew in and announced itself with a few loud "chinks" while I was stalking a Brown Creeper.

Louisiana Waterthrush, Pheasant Branch Conservancy, Dane Co, WI 12April2017
As is often the case, my excitement with finding the bird translated into tremors through my upper extremities which prevented any sort of quality image of this difficult-to-photograph species. Once again, in low light, among the tangle, my results were "meh." But that's just fine. Observing the bird is where it's at anyway. Bird photographs are a dime a dozen these days. A photo is merely the icing and I've always preferred my cake plain anyway!

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