Monday, October 20, 2014

Pine Siskins! - 19 Oct 2014

I had a pleasant surprise this afternoon when a pair of Pine Siskins appeared in the yard here in Wyandotte! They stayed only a few moments, eyeing the niger thistle feeders, but couldn't get close enough without experiencing the wrath of a dozen House Sparrows that were covering the socks.  I managed a couple of quick pics through the back window.

Reports have been coming in from all over SE Michigan with sightings of flocks of Pine Siskins. It appears that Ron Pittaway's Winter Finch Forecast is coming true already! Bring on the winter birds!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sparrows! - 12 Oct 2014

Clear skies and 34F provided a promise of some nice birds this morning at Crosswinds Marsh in w. Wayne Co., MI. I decided to take the bike so that I could cover more ground. From the parking lot I headed north along the horse trail toward the power lines near Arkona Rd. American Robins and Blue Jays were moving through the trees in huge numbers.

Just beyond the woods I met the first wave of fall sparrows: Song, White-throated and White-crowned Sparrows. A dozen birds were moving through the brush with sounds of "tweet" and "Zer-zee-zee-zwiii". Light was still low, so digiscoping was not going to work. So I mounted the Nikon 1 V3 to my 300/2.8 VRII using the FT1 adapter (EFL=1377mm). With this rig I stood a much better chance at getting faster shutter speeds.

A Rufous-sided Towhee flew across the path up ahead and sang from the brush. A Hermit Thrush made a brief appearance, as well. Song and Swamp Sparrows bounced from tree to tree as I headed along the edge of the marsh.

I spent some time under the power lines, but had no birds nearby. Overhead Turkey Vultures were migrating south, so dozens passed slowly overhead and provided a chance for some flight shots using the Jobu Jr. 3 on the tripod. A Red-tailed Hawk also flew in overhead but landed on a distant snag for a few moments.

Another flock of White-throats, White-crowns and Song Sparrows appeared up ahead, and provided some nice pics from about 30' away. It was nice to be close enough to one White-crowned Sparrow to see the bright white orbital ring that covers only the bottom half of the eye! The top half is more buff-colored.

As I rode through the woods toward Bell Rd. I spotted the first-of-the season Dark-eyed Junco! Another flock of sparrows appeared along the west side of the marsh, and I spent some photographing more birds. Among them were several Ruby-crowned Kinglets and a single Nashville Warbler. Overhead a Broad-winged Hawk circled momentarily.

Along the south side of the marsh a flock of 15 Sandhill Cranes flew in and landed somewhere inside the marsh. As winds picked up I enjoyed distant views of several kettles of Turkey Vultures and Ring-billed Gulls over the landfill before heading back to the car.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Custom Digidapter™! - 28 Sep 2014

I've been in contact with Paul Sayegh, creator of the Digidapter™digiscoping adapter, about building a custom adapter for the 40X W Eyepiece for the Zeiss 85T*Fl Diascope.  I had managed to make a pretty good homemade adapter using PVC pipe and painter's tape so that I could my Digidapter™, but Paul believed that he could do better.  He has!

I shipped my 40X W eyepiece to him on Saturday of last week, and he received it on Monday. By Tuesday he had not only machined a new adapter sleeve, but had it anodized, engraved, and shipped. I received it Thursday. How good is it? I mounted my camera to the stage platform, positioned it for optimal image brightness and sharpness, and proceeded to rotate the stage 360 degrees. The mark of perfect machining is the ability the swivel the camera 90 degrees without any shadowing in the corners of your image, continue to swivel to 180 degrees, then 270, and finally back to 0 degrees with no hint of vignetting or image shadowing.  I was impressed!

With two Digidapters™in my possession I could mount both the Nikon 1 V3 and Sony Cybershot DSC RX-100 III for side-by-side comparison in the field. With each camera mounted to a Digidapter™it would be a breeze for me to swap back-and-forth between cameras while digiscoping the same subjects so that I could get true comparisons of camera quality.  So, come Sunday morning I grabbed the scope, Digidapters™ and cameras and headed out to play.

My first stop was Crosswinds Marsh in s. Wayne Co., MI to look for migrating sparrows. I wouldn't find any sparrows, but did spend some time playing with the cameras. I set each on Aperture-Priority and Auto-ISO 100-800 and proceeded to see how they compared.

With no birds around I did some comparison shots of nearby plants from approximately 30 - 60' away.  This Fall Dandelion was shot at 1/320s at 22mm (EFL=2376 mm) on both cameras. The Sony RX-100 chose ISO 125 at f/2.8 while the Nikon chose ISO 160 at f/5. With focus-peaking the RX-100 III was able to focus on the front of the flower while the V3 slightly back-focused. Otherwise noise properties were indistinguishable. The Sony produced a slightly cooler image while the Nikon a slightly warmer image.

Milkweed, Sony RX-100 III

A nearby Milkweed pod gave me the opportunity to photograph with the camera rotated 90 degrees. The Nikon autofocus did just as well as the focus-peaking of the Sony RX-100 III.20

Milkweed, Nikon V3
The Sony RX-100 III really shines in situations where the background is busy, or when critical-focusing is required. These daisies are a great example. I focused on the top left flower with both cameras, but with focus-peaking the RX-100 III allowed me to get a very sharp image of the flower, while the V3's center-weighted focusing produced a softer image.

After riding around to the south end of the marsh I spotted a Bald Eagle about 300 yds. away near its nest.  Long-distance digiscoping at maximum focal length (2700 - 3240 mm) is challenging, and in this case the Nikon V3 came through. Autofocus was more accurate dealing with heat shimmer / air currents than the RX-100 III and focus-peaking. But the Nikon produced a grainier image shooting at ISO 400 at 1/250s, f/5.6 compared to the Sony's ISO 125, 1/125s and f/2.8.

Greylag, Nikon V3

A pair of Greylag Geese were nearby and provided a bit of a challenge while swimming away from shore. I started w/ the V3 then switched to the RX-100. The Nikon's fast autofocus produced many more keeper images while the Sony's autofocus (w/o focus-peaking) proved to be disappointing. Focus-peaking was necessary to get sharp images, but is difficult to use with moving subjects.

Greylag, Sony RX-100 III

Nikon V3
Sony RX-100 III
Great Blue Heron, Sony RX-100 III
Later in the day I drove down to Sterling State Park in Monroe Co. to look for shorebirds. The large lagoon had low water levels, and good numbers of Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs were foraging about 50 yds. away. Some Pectoral Sandpipers and Least Sandpipers were present, as well. I may have seen a pair of Willet, but could not confirm as they were severely backlit and could have been Greater Yellowlegs.  The bike path that circles the lagoon is lined w/ hedges and brush, so only a few openings were present for me to scope the resident waterfowl. This Great Blue Heron actually permitted me to digiscope it from about 40' away, and the RX-100 III produced the best photos of this little comparison. The Nikon V3 produced equally-fine images of this bird.

Nikon V3
Wood Duck, Nikon V3

This Wood Duck was swimming in the shadows about 50' away. The Nikon V3 did a fine job autofocusing even while the bird constantly swam and fed. The Sony RX-100 III could not keep up, and failed to provide a single keeper image.

Mallard, Nikon V3

Though a touch noisier, the V3 produced a sharper image of this female Mallard, while the RX-100 III produced a softer image (most likely due to slower shutter speed at lower Auto-ISO).

Sony RX-100 III

Great Blue Heron, Sony RX-100 III

With the sun beginning to set I found another Great Blue Heron enjoying the last rays of the evening in a dark corner of the marsh. Both the Sony and Nikon produced wonderful images!

"OK, I'll leave...", Sony RX-100
Nikon V3

Wood Duck, Nikon V3
One last Wood Duck and I had to call it an evening.  Thanks to Paul Sayegh for another wonderful Digidapter™ design I'm able to enjoy digiscoping with both the Nikon 1 V3 and Sony RX-100 III cameras with my favorite eyepiece, the Zeiss 40X W. Both cameras produce wonderful images, and anyone shopping for a new digiscoping camera would be happy with either.  I will say, that in the end, I will continue to use the Nikon 1 V3 as my camera of choice for the following reasons:

Wood Duck, Nikon V3
1. Autofocus is faster and more reliable than the RX-100 III, especially with moving targets. I consistently get more keepers.

2. The V3 is easier to use in the field: The EVF is fixed, while the RX-100 III requires an extra step to  pop-up the EVF and pull it out. Plus, the RX-100 III has more confusing Menu Navigation, which makes it harder to adjust settings in the field.

3. The Power-zoom lens of the V3 provides vignette-free images throughout the entire focal range of 10-30mm. With the camera on the Digidapter™stage I can butt the lens (at 10mm) against the scope eyepiece and zoom to 30 mm without shadows or lens errors.  With the Sony 8 - 25 mm lens, the lens at 8 mm is extended at its maximum, so if you mount the camera with the lens butted against the eyepiece at 8 mm, you'll get shadowing as you zoom out to 25 mm. So I mount the camera so that the lens butts agains the eyepiece at about 13 mm for shadow-free imaging throughout the zoom range, but it requires me to slide the Digidapter™ sleeve out to avoid crashing the lens into the eyepiece should I zoom below 13 mm. Its something that I can do easily enough in the field but still requires that extra step to move the Digidapter™ sleeve in and out to avoid a lens error.

The Sony RX-100 III shines in two categories:

1. Focus-peaking is wonderful, and ensures that optimal feather detail will be obtained.
2. The Zeiss Vario Sonar 8.8-25.8  f/1.8-2.8 lens allows for faster shutter speeds and lower ISO settings compared to the Nikon V3. Though noise properties are similar between the two cameras at similar settings, these extra lower ISO settings will give cleaner images.

Either way, though, either camera is a winner.  And so is the Digidapter™!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Holiday Beach Hawk Festival - 20 Sep 2014

I gave a Digiscoping Workshop today below the Hawk Watch Tower at Holiday Beach Conservation Area in s. Ontario during the 2014 Hawk Festival. It was a beautiful day with high skies, however winds were out of the south so prospects for a big push of raptors was not looking good.

I arrived at the tower just after 10 am and spent 2 hours atop the tower scanning the skies for hawks. Blue Jays were moving by in flocks of 20-30 birds, and almost 1000 birds were counted for the day. Shooting into the sun was difficult, and the birds were moving fast.

Sharp-shinned Hawks were the big movers today, but only about 250 were counted.

Other raptors included a couple of Northern Harriers, American Kestrels, and Merlin. Three Peregrine Falcons were seen today, as well.

A Merlin was captured and displayed for the crowd at the base of the tower. I took some pics of the angry little bird as it was removed from its Pringle's can. When it was finally released it circled the trees then attacked a passing Sharpy that became the object of its anger at being banded.

My non-raptor sightings included Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Red-eyed Vireos, Palm Warblers, Great Egret, Gray Catbirds, and a myriad of ducks: Mallard, Gadwall and Blue-winged Teal.

After a quick lunch I walked around the beach looking for something to photograph, but had to settle for a pair of Black Saddlebags that were hovering in the winds above.

I was itching to digiscope something, so I decided to turn the scope on the rehab raptors in the tent nearby. A Barn Owl, Great Horned Owl, Peregrine Falcon, and Red-tailed Hawk were gathering lots of attention from interested onlookers.

My talk went well, but there was no competing with another bird-banding demo going on nearby, so I kept it short and answered questions for those interested in digiscoping.  I then high-tailed it for the bridge as storms were moving through the Detroit Area.  It was nice to get back out in the field after not birding since the end of August.  Now to pack for another out-of-town trip...

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