Welcome Signs of Fall

Welcome Signs of Fall

Oct 26, 2018 ~ OK, little update on the new camera before we get adventuring. The first week I had my Nikon D850 we had Blinding Sunstorms™ but I went to Cullinan Park several times to test the new rig. I shot with both telephoto lenses with and without the teleconverters. Just couldn’t stay home!

And the still photos were sharp and crisp and all I could hope for. The 46MP sensor allows for huge crops without losing image quality. That is one serious advantage in this camera; the downside is that the images are YUGE. When I say huge, I mean 90-94mb each. That means the expensive XQD card fills up faster and of course requires more storage space on your computer and backup devices. You ARE backing up your work, right?

Green Heron at Cullinan Park
Nikon D850 with NIKKOR 300mm f/4E PF ED VR ~ 1/2600 sec f/6.3 ISO 1250; hand-held

The above Green Heron was about 20 feet off the boardwalk. He had been in the shade but hopped a few lily pads to this spot in the sun. The above image is a 6.7MP crop (reduced to 1500px for the blog) of a 46MP original. Technically it is 45.7MP, but let’s just round up.

Here is the original in Adobe Camera Raw:

ACR display showing adjustments and crop. He was really really small in the frame. Without the big lily pad he would be postage stamp size.

The D850’s large sensor allows for a substantial crop with very little loss of image quality. You can see the distracting dead matter was removed in post-processing. My WB is almost always set for Cloudy by default, so that had to be adjusted for the bright sunshine. And notice I had to drop the exposure some as it was shot with ISO 1250 - which I had selected when he was in the shade. And forgot to adjust after he moved. Almost all my post-processing is done in ACR; just a few slider adjustments and crop. I especially like the size of your planned crop is shown at the very bottom of the screen.

I took a lot of birds-in-flight shots that were deleted those first few days just getting used to the camera. Fast, white birds in bright light on a lake with ripples and/or vegetation are a challenge but I got better with practice. The Nikon D850 has a variety of autofocusing modes and I am still experimenting with them. For a great discussion (with cool pictures!) check out this Nikon Autofocus Tutorial by Ryan of Capetown Photo Tours. Most of it is applicable to other Nikon cameras and it has good info if you are considering moving over to the Dark Side.

Reddish Egret strutting around…
Nikon D850 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR ~ 1/2000 sec f/7.1 ISO 1600; hand-held

Then Bill Maroldo and I finally got out for the day and checked out Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge (lots more water but not a lot of birds yet) and Surfside. This good-looking Reddish Egret was too interested in the nearby fishermen and their bait; getting handouts is much less work than finding something yourself. The above image is barely cropped (36MP); I was hand-holding the big camera and standing next to the road.

Marbled Godwit
Nikon D850 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR ~ 1/2000 sec f/7.1 ISO 2000; braced in truck window

A welcome winter visitor along our Gulf coast is the Marbled Godwit and we found a small flock on the lawn of a beach house in Surfside. This is one of the group shown in the lead in photo above. Same old problem… getting them to line up nicely so most are in focus is a challenge. At least these were spread out on the grass; the background was not as distracting. Isolating ONE bird with his head UP and not buried in the grass with no overlapping out-of-focus companions took a lot of shots. There was a part of an interloper in the above image but I dare you to find where I removed him …

Young Caracara thinks we want part of his dinner!
Nikon D850 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR ~ 1/2000 sec f/7.1 ISO 1600; hand-held

There were two youngish Caracaras eating something in the brush on the side of Bay Ave and one brought part of his meal out on the road. We had a hard time keeping up with him as he flew short distances to get away from us. I can’t really tell what he has; they eat carrion but are known to hunt as well. Images are BETTER if the bird is facing you and not away, but this evokes some of the his energy and annoyance that we had interrupted his lunch.

Ospreys hovers before landing on pole
Nikon D850 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR ~ 1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 1600; hand-held

Ospreys are definitely back. We saw several that afternoon, even some with fresh fish. This is another hand-held shot. I try not to do that since the rig is heavy and hard for me to keep aloft. But, so far so good. I am also making an effort to shoot a faster shutter speed when I do have to hand-hold, but sometimes you just forget.

You know how it goes. Oh, a bird. Must get shot. Click click click. Oh, dang. That probably won’t work.


I have been mostly using the D9 autofocus mode although it is smaller than the same mode in the D810. It is a bit harder to keep it ON the bird but it works very well when the bird is in flight and against a plain sky. It seems the key with the Dynamic autofocus is making sure there is nothing behind the bird that the ‘helper’ points can catch. That could be foliage or even a wave. You have to keep the whole pattern on the bird if there is a busy background. But, that is always the challenge!

Precision work
Nikon D850 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR ~ 1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 1600; braced in truck window

Remember the ponds behind Bryan Beach that were dried up back in August? They are full to overflowing now and too deep for any waders. Soon we will have Coots and ducks if the water holds. After finding no birds at the ponds, we drove down the beach and found a nice America Oystercatcher. This female (see the extra dark spot next to her pupil?) was digging small shells out of the wet sand. You can also tell she is a young bird; her bill is still dark and her eye retains some of the juvenile brown coloration.

We have been out several times since and are finding a LOT of Oystercatchers at Texas City Dike and Bolivar. Maybe the dry summer saved a lot of low-lying nests from getting over washed?

Merlin looking at us
Nikon D850 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR ~ 1/1600 sec f/6.3 ISO 2000; braced in truck

Another sign of the season change is the presence of our winter visitor, the Merlin. We had looked for one earlier at Brazoria, but no luck. In previous years we would see one in the bare trees along the entrance road. So finding this one at Surfside (off Thunder Rd) was a surprise.

Kestrel with cricket  Nikon D850 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR ~ 1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 2500; braced in truck

Kestrel with cricket
Nikon D850 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR ~ 1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 2500; braced in truck

And we saw several American Kestrels. This female was high above and had … maybe a cricket. Hard to say. It was getting late in the day and this was shot at ISO 2500. The way Nikon handles higher ISOs is the main reason I switched from Sony. There was also a Merlin along the same road (Marlin Ave) but he was on Bill’s side and I didn’t get a shot. Sometimes you can sneak out on the opposite side and then… others you cannot. If they are busy eating you have a slightly better chance, IMO.

If you are the kind of reader that notes the EXIF data on the posted images you might notice none of them say “tripod”. When we were unloading gear after returning home, Bill couldn’t find my tripod. We were both devastated to think I had accidentally abandoned it like I did one time before. I thought back carefully to when I had used it… and came up blank. All the day’s images were hand-held or braced on the truck. The missing tripod was still in the garage; we had just forgotten to pack it in our excitement to find a cloudy day. Whew.

We have made two more trips to Texas City Dike (no more Monk Parakeets photos, although we did see them flying off) and then on to Galveston. We didn’t find any migrants at Lafitte’s but others have. The trips over to Bolivar were very productive and I will tell you about that next week. Lots more birds in flight; I am learning some new tricks with the D850.

The clouds and rain have stopped for now. Are you happy it has at least cooled off? Have you seen more hawks than usual? How about Kingfishers? And you know there are more Sandhill Cranes reported at Galveston every few days! Let me know what winter visitors you have seen in the comments below.

Bolivar Birds

Bolivar Birds

Flocks of Feathers

Flocks of Feathers