A Few Goodies

Yesterday I had to drive almost to Grants to meet a client.  It was a cold, dreary day.  On my way home I decided to stop in at Piedras Marcadas Petroglyphs so Scarlett and I could stretch our legs.

There weren’t any birds about, but there was an adorable, curious squirrel.

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Antelope Squirrel

I crept closer hoping to get a better pic.

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And closer still….. He let me take several photos before diving behind the rocks.

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Just too darn adorable!

There were some hot air balloons up while I was hiking.  One of them was landing behind the mesa.  I took this pic just before it disappeared.

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After working most of the day today, I managed to take a couple hours to hike and bird before sundown.  I wasn’t sure what I would see being so late in the day.  But surprisingly I saw few nice goodies.

Over the last few days we’ve had some cold, snowy weather.  A couple days ago while in town, I took a photo of the Sandia Mountains.  I love it when they are covered in clouds and snow.

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Stormy Sandia Mountains

Thankfully today was more sunny and warmer.  I first stopped in at a small park in Albuquerque to find a Western Screech Owl that has been seen there snoozing in a tree.  Considering 90% of the trees in the park were too small for an owl, it was pretty easy to find him.

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Western Screech Owl

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Snoozin’ the day away

I love seeing owls in the wild.  It’s always a real treat.  After taking a few pics, I moved so as not to disturb him or draw attention to him from the other folks playing in the little park.

I then headed over to Willow Creek.  I hadn’t been there in a while so it sounded like fun to go see what was about.  On my way in to the park, I spied this Western Bluebird hunting for dinner.

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Western Bluebird

As I was taking photos, he saw something on the ground and I managed to get a few shots of him getting a grub.

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yummy….

It was a good find, so he took off with it to enjoy at his leisure.  Beautiful!

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My favorite photo of the day

Along the trail I saw Lesser Goldfinches, White-Crowned Sparrows, House Finches and Spotted Towhees.  All of these birds were too shy to have their photo taken.  But there were a lot of American Robins about.  They were much more cooperative.

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American Robin

There’s one point on the trail that affords a great view of the Sandias.  I took this pic there.  You can see there’s still snow about half way up the mountain.

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To my delight I spied a Red-Tailed Hawk that was looking for a meal.  Such a beautiful bird!  And look at those claws!

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Just before leaving I saw a Say’s Phoebe looking for dinner.

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Say’s Phoebe

He too found something to eat and quickly took off with it.

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That’s about it for my short afternoon walks.  But any time hiking, birding and doing photography is a time well spent.

Perfecting Shutter Speed

Since I got my current camera last April, I haven’t had much success mastering shutter priority.  I think it’s because it acts way different from my old camera the Nikon 1.   Since the Nikon 1 was a mirrorless camera with a small sensor, I had to crank my shutter speed up to 1/2500 or higher to capture sharp pictures of birds.

Well, when I got my Olympus micro 4/3 camera, it has a much better sensor and overall is a much more advanced camera.   So when I tried shooting in shutter priority with the same settings as my old Nikon 1, my photos came out very dark.  I got very frustrated and just quit using it altogether.  I switched to aperture priority.  Sadly, I wasn’t happy with my photos if there was any movement to the subject.  I just couldn’t get a sharp photo.

So a few days ago I went out with the sole purpose of finding birds and shooting them in shutter priority.  It started out rough, but I soon realized I had to crank the shutter speed way down.  It was a beautiful February day and there was quite a variety of waterfowl at the duck ponds.  I had no shortage of subjects to practice on.

Soon I was shooting photos I was much happier with.  I realized I had a lot of sunshine to work with and was able to get nice crisp shots at 1/800 or less.

My first successful shot I was very pleased with was of a female Northern Shoveler stretching her wings.

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Northern Shoveler female

From that point forward I was changing my speed up and down to see what worked best.  In the past, even a calmly swimming duck would be somewhat soft because aperture priority just couldn’t handle the movement properly.  Here’s some more shots I got a the ponds.

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Bufflehead – female.  Still a soft pic….hmmmmm

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Canvasback

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Pied-Billed Grebe

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American Coots

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A pair of Mallards

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Northern Shoveler male

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Canada Goose

While shooting I heard someone say there was a Cinnamon Teal at the far end.  What!? I quickly worked my way along the pond to find this bird.  I rarely see them in Albuquerque.  He was a distance away from me, but I was able to get a decent photo.  It was a male, and he was beautiful!

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Cinnamon Teal

I was really pleased with the detail that was captured on this Ring-Necked Duck.

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Ring-Necked Duck

I happened to notice an American Coot and a Northern Shoveler interacting.  The Coot had pulled up a tasty morsel and the Shoveler was interested in what the Coot had.

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American Coot and Northern Shoveler

I guess the Coot didn’t want to share, because he gave that Shoveler a smackdown!  LOL!

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Uh-Oh!

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That’ll teach him to try and steal from a Coot!

I was pleased with the sharp pics using shutter priority! I worked my way north from the duck ponds to see if I could find any smaller birds to practice on.  It was a pretty quiet morning for the little guys.  Up ahead I spotted larger bird.  At first I thought it was a Cooper’s Hawk, but as I got closer I saw it was a Greater Roadrunner.

A lovely female sunning herself.  To warm up, the Roadrunner drops its wings and exposes the dark feathers underneath.  These dark downy feathers quickly capture the warmth of the sun.

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Greater Roadrunner sunning

As I was photographing this beautiful bird, it became alert with the approach of another hiker heading our way.  They had a dog with a bell on its collar.  The crest feathers came up and I was able to get a good pic showing the beautiful purple feathers of the crest.

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Beautiful crest feathers!

As the hiker and his dog got closer, the Roadrunner decided it was time to go.

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High alert pose!

I was thrilled to have a few quiet moments close to this bird to capture some nice photos.  When I think back, I realized it wasn’t afraid of Scarlett who was right next to me.  She’s so calm and just lays down while I take photos.  I find birds are rarely afraid of her.  🙂

Once the Roadrunner was gone, I looked out over the river.  I saw a lone Common Merganser female grooming on a sandbar.  She was a long ways away, but I can never resist photographing these birds.

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Common Merganser female

I finally found a few small birds foraging in the bushes.  They were deep in shadow so it was a challenge getting pics.  This is when I struggled most using shutter priority.  My photos just came out too dark. I had a lot of editing to do.  Hmmmm…I’m still going to need a lot of practice in low light situations.

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Spotted Towhee

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Eastern Bluebird

I turned around to head back to the car. I decided to walk past the fishing ponds at Tingley Beach.  There were some Neotropic Cormorants out sunning themselves.

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Neotropic Cormorants

They were quite close to me so I took advantage of that and got a nice portrait shot.  They have the most beautiful teal-colored eyes.

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Look at that beautiful teal eye!

It was such a pretty day, I decided to head over to the Botanical Gardens which are right next door to Tingley Beach.  There are always wood ducks there.  What better subject to practice on!  🙂

When I arrived I saw some Dark-Eyed Juncos feeding on the big lawn area.  They were in the shade, so I practiced taking some more shutter priority photos in low light.  I think I’m getting better.  🙂

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Got a juicy bug

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Dark-Eyed Junco

I think Albuquerque has a beautiful Botanical Gardens.  I keep an annual membership as I love to go often throughout the year.

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Main Ponds at the gardens

As expected, there were several pairs of Wood Ducks on the pond.  It was so much fun practicing on them.  Such a beautiful bird!

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Wood Duck

I especially liked the pic below.  I liked his pose and how the sun brought out all the beautiful color of his plumage.

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Beautiful colors!!!

Whenever I visit the gardens, I always have to visit the Japanese Garden section.  It is one of the newest sections of the garden and has been maturing nicely over the past few years.  I’m looking forward to visiting it in the spring when the trees are in full bloom.

I had hoped to see the Black-Crowned Night Heron that pretty much lives there at the pond.  He is missing all his toes on one foot so it’s hard for him to make it in the wild.  But here at the gardens, he gets special attention from the man that feeds the coy.  Sadly, he wasn’t in view when I visited this time.  Probably snoozing somewhere in the trees.

While there I took few pics of the beautiful waterfall.  By now it was around noon.  Not the best time for scenic photos, but I took some anyway.  🙂

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Pond and waterfall in the Japanese Garden

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Beautiful

It was a fun morning out.  It’s always a good time when when you can get out on a beautiful day with your camera.

As I was about the get into my car, I saw several Sandhill Cranes flying overhead.  I have noticed lots of them flying overhead during the past couple weeks.  They are strengthening their wings for their migration north.  I will miss them.  But I also know their leaving tells me spring is not too far off!

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Sandhill Cranes

A few days later I had to drive to Belen for work.  I stopped in at Owlville in Los Lunas.  I was hopeful there were some owls there.  And sure enough there was one hanging out.  I just had to share a few pics.  Who doesn’t want to see an owl!

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Burrowing Owl

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Such a wonderful bird!

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Those keen yellow eyes are captivating!

 

 

Blood Moon and Birds

Well…it just doesn’t get any better than that!

On January 31 there was a lunar event that hasn’t happened in 150 years in the United States:  A Blue Moon, Super Moon, Blood Moon Eclipse.  What does that mean?  A Blue Moon is a second full moon in the same month.  A Super Moon is when the moon’s orbit is closest to the earth making the moon appear 14% larger and 30% brighter.  And a Blood Moon Eclipse is when the moon moves directly behind the Earth’s shadow where it cannot receive any light from the sun causing it to appear red in our atmosphere.

Of course, seeing as I wouldn’t be around for the next one unless I lived to be 203 years old, I just had to photograph this event.  I got up a 4 am to drive into town to a predetermined location.  I was fortunate that our local camera club had scouted out a great area that gave an elevated vantage of the city below.  When I arrived, I saw the temperature was 27 degrees.  Brrrrr!  It was going to be a cold photo shoot!

As I hiked to the earthen dam at the northeast end of Albuquerque, I could see the eclipse had already begun.   At the time the moon was still white but was starting to show a hint of red.  I quickly set up my camera gear and started shooting.

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Moon over Albuquerque

The eclipse happened fast.  Just a few shots later, the moon was becoming mostly red.

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Eclipse well underway

Then it finally happened!  It was a Blood Moon.  I zoomed as far in as I could and it was a beautiful sight!

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Blood Moon

The full eclipse was to be a 6:30 am.  My last shot was around 6:15.  The sun was rising and the sky had really started to lighten.  I quickly changed lenses and took a picture of the Blood Moon hanging over Albuquerque.  As you can see, I was definitely shooting in the “blue hour” by this time.  But I thought the photo was so beautiful.

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Blood Moon over Albuquerque

After that last shot, the sky just became too light and the moon had dipped into the hazy horizon above the city.  So I packed up my gear and hoofed it back to my car.

I figured since I was already in town and it was dawn, I should take the opportunity to go birding.  Logical train of thought right???  🙂

I headed over to Alameda Open Space to see what might be around at the pond and along the river.  I had heard a Mew Gull has been sighted among the Ring-Billed Gull flock.  That would be a lifer for me if I could find it.

I started systematically taking photos of the flock as they rested on the sandbar in the Rio Grande.  I figured I could look through photos later to see if I captured the Mew Gull.

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Ring-Billed Gulls with rare visitor California Gull in the middle

I had snapped a few photos working my way down the line, when all of a sudden they all erupted into flight.  Startled me good!

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Ring-Billed Gulls

I had wondered what frightened them.  I was thinking maybe a coyote had tried to sneak up on them or something.  No sign of any ground attack, I looked up for a possible aerial attack.  And right above me was a Bald Eagle!  Beautiful!  We get them here every winter, but you just don’t see them that often.

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You can see the size difference of the gull to the Bald Eagle

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Look at that wingspan!!

He soon caught a thermal and soared higher and higher until eventually he was gone.  Since now the gulls were all stirred up, I figured my chance to see the Mew Gull were pretty much nil.  So I started hiking along the river to see what other goodies might be about.  Here’s some pics of my finds.

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Common Merganser female

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There are 3 Black-Crowned Night Herons in the trees

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Great Blue Heron

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Common Mergansers – 2 males and 1 female

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Black Phoebe

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Wood Duck pair

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Mallards with a Killdeer

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Western Bluebird – so beautiful!

We came across a giant beach along the river and Scarlett decided it was a great place to run and play in the water.  Even though that water had to be freezing she wanted to play.  I had fun capturing some photos of her while she played.  Goofy dog!

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Scarlett having fun in the water

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So much fun to run in the shallow water

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She likes to bite at the water as she plays

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My beautiful girl

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Isn’t that a look of pure joy!  LOL!

After a couple hours of hiking, we headed back to the car.  I stopped briefly at the bridge crossing the bar ditch next to the parking lot.  There’s usually some good small birds in the area.  I heard a constant buzzing noise.  It took me a minute to narrow down where it was coming from, but eventually I fount its source.  A Marsh Wren – in plain sight!  Now many of you know those Marsh Wrens can be a real challenge to photograph as they mostly live deep in cattails.  So I was thrilled to be able to watch one work along the edge of the water for a little while.  He was deep in shadows and at a little distance, so it was a challenge getting a good image.  But I was pleased with what I got.

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Marsh Wren

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Hmmmm…anything good under water?

I had a little time left before I needed to head home and get back to work.  So I stopped in at the Embudito Trail parking lot.  There’s been sighted a Golden-Crowned Sparrow among the White-Crowned Sparrows feeding at a feeder next to the parking lot.

When I arrived I saw a Cactus Wren singing in a tree.  I can never resist photographing these beautiful birds.  And their song is the epitome of desert birdsong.  I think it’s the most used birdsong in commercials and movies depicting the southwest.

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Cactus Wren

I then saw a bunch of White-Crowned Sparrows fly in to the bushes next to the feeder.  I was hopeful the Golden-Crowned Sparrow was among them.

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White-Crowned Sparrow

I searched and searched and finally! there he was!  By this time the sun was bright and trying to get a good pic was a challenge.  But finally I managed one that showed his beautiful gold crown even though it’s muted in his winter plumage.  A lifer for me!

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Golden-Crowned Sparrow

Now it was time to go home and take a nap!!! (work could wait LOL!)

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Mallard feather on the frozen beach of the Rio Grande