Last Day Out in 2018

Last Day Out in 2018

Jan 4, 2019 ~ On New Year’s Eve Bill Maroldo and I took advantage of the overcast afternoon and visited both Cullinan Park and Archbishop Fiorenza Park. They are close by and we have been known to stop off to do a bit of photography on the way to HEB, our fave grocery store.

And the birding can be quite good. Back in the summer there were scads of Snowy Egrets feeding in the lake at Cullinan; earlier this week we saw a Bald Eagle fly over. Ospreys are also common. There is a bit of construction going on (new trail and observation tower) but it isn’t bothering the birds any more than the planes coming in and out of the nearby Sugar Land Airport. Birds are adaptable creatures.

Butter-butts are ubiquitous this time of year
Nikon D850 with NIKKOR 300mm f/4E PF ED VR with 1.4x TC~ 1/1600 sec f/6.3 ISO 1600; hand-held

This time at Cullinan Park there were no waders or waterfowl. Oh, we saw a couple of Pied-billed Grebes and some Coots, but not much else. It was a shame since the water was smooth and reflective. We spent our time chasing little bitty flitty guys. Yellow-rumped Warblers are all over the bare trees. We both had our Nikkor 300 f/4 PF lenses; lightweight and perfect for hand-holding. The big guns will of course bring them closer but they are heavy and cumbersome for this type of birding.

It is hard to be quick while dragging a tripod around; worse trying to hand-hold a nearly 8 lbs rig and follow fast darting birds. Tripod set ups are great for feeders or drips but these guys were in the WILD!

Tiny Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Nikon D850 with NIKKOR 300mm f/4E PF ED VR with 1.4x TC~ 1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 1000; hand-held

And there were also a lot of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers darting around. This one surprised me by getting so close and my ISO was really too low for the shady brush. I was afraid this was the best I would do with such a cute little bird. Something about white eye-rings just ups the adorableness scale for tiny birds.

Cedar Waxwing high in the sky
Nikon D850 with NIKKOR 300mm f/4E PF ED VR with 1.4x TC~ 1/1600 sec f/6.3 ISO 1600; hand-held

A favorite winter visitor is the Cedar Waxwing. We had been chasing them through the tree-tops on several earlier visits. Their feathers are so fine it is difficult to get detail at high ISOs. I am not entirely pleased with this one, but it is the best so far. Bill used a much lower ISO (and shutter speed) and got a better image.

I will have to try his method; it is always good to try new techniques.

Just too cute for words
Nikon D850 with NIKKOR 300mm f/4E PF ED VR with 1.4x TC~ 1/1600 sec f/6.3 ISO 1250; hand-held

As we were leaving we spotted a few more of the tiny gnatcatchers. They were more in the open and not exactly cooperative, but with patience and diligence, we got some good shots. Looking at this I wish I had shot more wide open so the background would have blurred out more but…

OMG he is flying!
Nikon D850 with NIKKOR 300mm f/4E PF ED VR with 1.4x TC~ 1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 1250; hand-held

The f/6.3 helped with this in-flight shot. His head is sharp as well as the tail. You just have to keep firing bursts and trying to stay up with them.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet with no ruby crown
Nikon D850 with NIKKOR 300mm f/4E PF ED VR with 1.4x TC~ 1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 1000; hand-held

Over at Fiorenza, we saw a hawk dip low and disappear around the trees as we pulled up. That looked promising! Note: If you haven’t been to Fiorenza before, there are several sections. We like the part on the west side of Eldridge Road between the two lakes best.

There was movement in the foliage between the street and the pathway which turned out to be several Ruby-crowned Kinglets. Either we were following females or shy males since neither of us saw a red crown. Amazing how this one kept feeding on tiny insects among the leaves and let us get so close.

Great Blue Heron slows down crossing the lake
Nikon D850 with NIKKOR 300mm f/4E PF ED VR with 1.4x TC~ 1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 1000; hand-held

The water was high at both parks from our recent rains which was probably why we saw no small waders. There was a nice looking Great Blue Heron hunting around the edge of the big lake. Bill moved closer and of course, eventually the bird squawked and flew. I was surprised to see him drag his feet as he approached the other side of the lake.

Nikon D850 with NIKKOR 300mm f/4E PF ED VR with 1.4x TC~ 1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 1000; hand-held

Even his landing was elegant!

When he reached shore, he raised his head and struck that “I-am-bigger-than-you” pose males adopts during breeding season.

And flushed out a second Great Blue Heron who flew toward me.

Second Great Blue splashes to a stop
Nikon D850 with NIKKOR 300mm f/4E PF ED VR with 1.4x TC~ 1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 1250; hand-held

I was in the right place and fairly close when he landed all in a big splash. You can see the Great Blues are definitely getting ready for some serious courting. Look at those shaggy chest feathers, the russet upper legs and yes… the lores around his eyes are turning bright blue.

Young Red-shouldered Hawk
Nikon D850 with NIKKOR 300mm f/4E PF ED VR with 1.4x TC~ 1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 1000; hand-held

As we were walking back to the spillway a hawk flew up and landed on a utility pole. We watched him for a while and got some perched shots. Bill said… he is going to fly and he is going to come this way. And he was right. He flew over our heads and landed on a closer pole. We both thought it was a young Red-tailed Hawk, but FB informed us it was a Red-shouldered Hawk.

After that we worked on Cormorants (dang, they are fast) and then headed back up the hill. I saw a Downy Woodpecker in the trees but it was too dark and obstructed for a good shot. We both were rather pleased with the day’s work. And all were taken with the smaller lenses. The Nikkor 300 f/4 PF plus a 1.4x TC on a full frame camera gives you an effective focal length of 410 mm. Just about minimum for getting bird shots and the huge 46 mp sensor of the Nikon D850 allows for some serious cropping that still preserves the image quality.

So now we are into 2019. I have to make a new signature, and do some housekeeping on my photo files. You know, backing up all those images in at least two places. Make that one of your resolutions for the new year! What are your other photographic resolutions? Is this the year you really learn Photoshop? I am going to be working on a blog series called “Overcoming the Fear of Photoshop” so I am looking for ideas you might want to read about. And I still have that new macro lens I bought a while back to play with. Let me know in the comments below:

Overcoming the Fear of Photoshop

Overcoming the Fear of Photoshop

Favorites of 2018

Favorites of 2018