Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Nature photography 104: the beginning

  To make a very long story short, I keep finding myself annoyed with nature photography. I was very worked up a few days ago, when I became quite confident that the winner of a fairly large photo contest must have edited/doctored the photo... I then look at said persons website, and found some very blatant editing along with large amounts of shameless self-promotion as a truly expert photographer. 

This really wasn't anything new, but I learned something from it: People can do whatever the heck they want, and I shouldn't care about it. If it bothers me, I can just focus on how I conduct myself and my photography! And with that said, I had the idea to reveal some of the work done on my own photos on my personal website. 

Are you ready for a look at everything you may or may not already know about nature photography? I'll post the website version first, followed by the totally un-edited original,


Here's part 1:

A look at the American Black Duck photos I currently have posted on my website. Not all versions will be this long, but since it is the first, I decided to do a quick rundown of the whole page:

Up first: 

Boom. One important thing to remember is that I shoot in neutral, with no contrast/saturation applied, so the "original" would actually be a fair bit duller than real life.  With that said, this is a pretty common thing with my nature pics. I love colour, and can't help but add a little saturation to just about everything you see on my website. 

Other than that, there has been very little editing. No cropping/moving/removing of any parts. 

Up next:

Similar to the above image, it is one I slightly under-exposed (too dark) at first, but is easily fixed when shooting in RAW (a photo format style that allows "in-camera processing" to be done after the photo is taken). Add my typical touch of colour, and you have the change shown above. 

Again, very little has been added/removed. There are dust spots (small dark spots) on the original that I removed afterwards. This is a very common practice for me, as it is nothing more than dust on the sensor of the camera, that really makes the pics look terrible (even if you don't really notice them). It is a real pain in the @$$ trying to keep dust off the censor!

Up next: 

Pretty much the same as the above images again. The "original" is duller than real life, and I added my touch of colour. I went through a phase where I seemed quite fond of blue, (as you can see in the top/left of the "final product" compared to the first image. I seem to be slowly coming out of this phase (I have a fondness for "cold"/winter things, and the blue gives it a "cold" look). But my current website collection is littered with photos that are a bit blue-heavy. 

Up next:

Again, no major changes, but this is a bit of a funny one. The original is quite underexposed, the subject/image isn't terribly interesting, yet for some reason I decided to "save it" by brightening up the bird. At the same time, I decided I liked the heavy gray of the background, so really focused on getting the birds colour more correct and tried to keep the background similar.  

But when you really look at it, the image really isn't that great in any way. Why did I do this? 

1.) it is a female ABDU, and I had few pictures of females

2.) I must have been bored, because it is not that great, and I spent too much time, when I could have just gone out and taken a better picture. 

A bit of a funny/strange exmaple.. moving on......

Up next:

More typical colour/contrast adjustment, but it shows the change. I decided to focus this first post heavily on these "minor" changes, to show that just about every single photo I present online has had roughly this level of adjustment, but some are much more dramatic. 


From here on out, I'll focus more on some moderate to major changes I've made, and will dive into some of the various methods I've used in order to get the images I wanted (even the really bad ones that may make you hate me).  But meh!

These posts will be blended in among the typical blog filler that is posted here. I hope you enjoy them, since it will become a regular thing!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Pelee area bad news #2 - down with the trees

Heard from the rumour mill (AKA my Dad) that hundreds to thousands of trees have been felled inside Point Pelee National Park this winter. Here's a pic he took from the Woodland Nature Trail a few weeks ago:

He spoke to someone at the park, who mentioned they were clearing hundreds of trees from along the park road, in order to create a "buffer" to prevent school buses from being scratched as they drove in... But what about inside the woods? Anyone know what's going on?


Ever wondered what would happen if vultures found a dead person? :


More weather network stuff--- 

Varied Thrush in ON:

Eagle with, crow? :

Black Fox:

Saturday, January 28, 2012


Something that most people know, but few people really know. A great ad! But how does this relate to nature photography?  Thanks to my darling Jenn for bringing this to my attention. 


This is likely to start a new wave of blog material, with a different focus, in the very near future. (Probably the next post) But for now, I'll leave it as this! Only interesting thing happening with me (bird-related) right now is that I just got my advanced copy of Petrels, Albatrosses & Storm-Petrels of North America for review (via Princeton). But it'll be a while before I can get a real review written! 

Friday, January 27, 2012

It may quack like a duck, but it could be a crazy birder...

Nothing like a bout with a bad stomach condition to put things into perspective.... While I was out of commission, I couldn't help but notice the rash of "early spring migrants" that hit Ontario in the last heat wave. And don't try to tell me they aren't spring migrants, because there is no logical or plausible explanation otherwise.

Unforgettably, I missed the good days... Yet I was out to catch it in reverse. A top secret site on the great lake shoreline provided me a prime place to observe several record early FALL migrants, returning southwards as the cold air returned to the province.

All from the date of Jan 27, 2012:

Canada Goose - 9000 (many were "fall migrants" but not all)
Mute Swan - 8
 - 10 (Some were "fall migrants" but not all)
American Black Duck - 100 (many were "fall migrants" but not all)
Mallard - 2000 (many were "fall migrants" but not all)
Northern Pintail - 12
Redhead - 4
Greater Scaup - 300
Lesser Scaup - 15
Red-breasted Merganser - 20
American Coot - 5 (a surprise species on the list). 

One of the coots was way out on the open lake water with a Long-tailed Duck! Birds sure do strange things on fall migration. 

Obviously a new thing, but not totally unexpected. Cold weather has caused "record early" fall migrations in Ontario pretty much continually from this time (late January) right through until late December... A pretty obvious pattern, from these ducks (Jan), to blackbirds/killdeer in February snowstorms, meadowlarks/tree swallows in March/April... to neotropic migrants fleeing cold spells in May, to shorebirds in June!


If you haven't had enough fun already, here's some food for thought:

Anyone think that is worthy of copyright infringement?

If so, I sure hope Bruce Mactavish (Nfld) doesn't sue me, as I went to Newfoundland to try and imitate his spectacular Ivory Gull photos........

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Book review: Princeton Illustrated Checklists: Birds of North American and Greenland

Book review time!

Disclaimer: Princeton provided a copy of this book for review.

Book review: Princeton Illustrated Checklists: Birds of North American and Greenland

The skinny: I decided to give this book a trial run. I didn't really have any need for an illustrated checklist, but it sounded sweet. I was curious how a small book would be able to cover 900 species, especially with a list price of only $15.95...  What did I discover? Well they really pulled it off! Let's look closer.

The good stuff:

900 species are in this tiny book. It's only 5" by 7.5".. And only 0.5" thick... Yet the drawings are really good.  I mean really good. Have a look at the warbler page:

9 species, +1 supsbecies (Audubon's), male and female of most. And they're all very accurate.  Range maps look good (i'm impressed with the N Parula map here). Is this a field guide? or an illustrated checklist? And note how Crescent-chested Warbler is squeezed nicely in there. That's not a species you'll find illustrated at all in the Sibley Guide. The inclusion of rarities makes this very exciting for me. Check this out:

This is where the species get kinda nutty (in a good way). Say you're presented with some tiny dull bird you've never seen before. The sibley provides no help at all, yet you pull out your "illustrated checklist" and suddenly you figure out you're looking at some small female "Siberian thrush".  This little book ($15.95) has the details to probably help you figure out you're looking at the first Ontario record of a female Red-flanked Bluetail - and not the 2nd record of Siberian Rubythroat. Cool stuff eh?

The bad stuff: 

I'm already sold on the book, but I'd be crazy to not point out the MAJOR flaw in this publication. (This book being Princeton Illustrated Checklists: Birds of North American and Greenland) ... There is absolutely NO checklist in this book. Maybe you could highlight the species names, but you could do that in any book.

It may not be a deal breaker, but it just seems funny to have a checklist with no checklist. I guess the good news is, you're one of the many great birders who use ebird (www.ebird.org) to save your sightings (and lists) - while having your birding observations make a real difference. SO who really worries about the lack of an old-school written checklist in the book?

--- the other expected bad part is the obvious omissions of some drawings to make the book this size. I was excited by all the vagrants listed and drawn --- but some things that were cut include many juvenile plumages (eg, Herons)... Good luck trying to ID a juv Little Blue Heron with this book! As stated though, it's not really a "field guide", but a fun thing to have in your collection. 

Final thoughts: 

Who gets this book?

Answer: everyone.... For $15.95, it is a spectacular little book. Some situations I foresee you using it: 

1. For it's small size, I have a feeling it will be the "field guide" I carry around in my car. You may rarely use it for real "problem ID's".. but that one day will come when I'm confronted with some tiny LBJ, and I'll pull out my copy and nail the ID as a female Pine Bunting - getting the word out quickly and start the ensuing mass-twitch. 

2. I will also love it for reference material. Every once in a while I see something in the field (rarity or otherwise) that strikes me as odd, and I need to learn more about it. I then go to my refrence collection and look at the species account (for the same species) in each book I own, and this will be a fine addition to the team. 

3. GIFTS... Can you say Birthday present or Christmas gift for a birder you know? This is probably a book that few people would really feel a strong urge to buy. The potential really isn't obvious when you see it sitting on the shelf. But again, at a very low price, this would be a great gift. The person you give it to will learn how useful it can be, and be very happy with you!

Sooner or later I'll get my hands on some Princeton book that I don't like........... 

One final look:

Sunday, January 22, 2012

photo edit update

Did some editing recently. Here's what's been updated/added:

Some new photos:

Northern Mockingbird

Snow Bunting

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Ring-billed Gull   -- bottom 2 pics

Some old photos, that had never been edited:

Golden-crowned Kinglet --- (1st pic)
House Wren --- (2nd pic)
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  -- (2nd pic)
Red-bellied Woodpecker

A re-edited photo:

Little gull
(first photo only)

and some old photos that I've fixed up as "rarity photo" before, but never did them proper justice on the website:

Neotropic Cormorant
Black-tailed Gull
Black Swift

--- all added and updated to my bird photo index page:


Friday, January 20, 2012


When at Netitishi Point in August, I took a ribbit-load of frog photos. Turns out, most of them were terrible.

I went through the lot, and pulled out a few of the better ones. I feel like it was more of a learning experience than anything, so next time I'm in a position to get some frog shots, they'll turn out better. But for now, here's the haul:

Northern Leopard Frog:

Spring Peeper:

Wood Frog:

American Toad. Affectionately known as the "Hudson Bay Toad" in those climes:

Any herp-photographers-extraordinaire out there want to comment on why it's hard to get good shots? I got the above with my point and shoot, so the options are obviously limited, but I was surprised at how bad many of the shots I took turned out.. Is artificial light the way to go here?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Birds so close, birds so far: part 4 (Quebec)

A detailed look at the birds Quebec has on their provincial checklist, that Ontario does not have! Not a bad way to be prepared for future CMF's in the province.

Have a look back at the other parts:   New York, Ohio and Michigan \


Diving right into Quebec, I was really surprised at some of the really crazy birds. They have 38 species you won't find on the Ontario list (37+1).

First off, it's best to deal with some species that really may never make it onto the Ontario list.

The below list is birds I fear would never be assumed wild if seen in Ontario:

Tundra Bean Goose
Tiaga Bean-Goose
Whooper Swan
White-cheeked Pintail
Eurasian Coot
Eurasian Siskin

I've heard rumours of a possible historic Bean-Goose record for Ontario, but adding it today would be very difficult with all the escaped captive waterfowl running around. The finches have been recorded all over the Great Lakes already, but I guess you need to live on the east coast to count them ;)...

(my recent whoops)


I'm going to do a separate list for a few species that are more likely to be escapes than wild birds in Ontario, but may find a way to squeak onto the list:

Graylag Goose
American Flamingo
Common Crane


That leaves us with 28 species (27+1) to deal with. Now lets dive into some of the crazy-cosmic things that would make us all go crazy in Ontario:

Common Pochard
Steller's Eider
Clapper Rail (very unlikley due to range)
European Golden-Plover
Eurasian Curlew
Western Gull
Roseate Tern
Yellow-green Vireo
Stellar's Jay
Song Thrush
Seaside Sparrow (very unlikley due to range)

I feel like the Yellow-green Vireo takes the cake in terms of nutty records, and discovered it was in the 1880's... Wish I could find more info though, does anyone know? The other species are a mix of VERY difficult ID's (Roseate Tern, Western Gull, Common Pochard), Range problems (Seaside Sparrow, Clapper Rail), or just very very crazy vagrants like Song Thrush (European) and the others...


The meat and potatoes are the remaining members of the list. Birds that we should really know, juts in case one wanders in front of the lens on some future birding adventure. The above birds are still possible, but here's the good stuff:

(17 species left - 16+1):

Mega, but do-able:

Northern Lapwing
Commn-ringed Plover
Common Greenshank
Yellow-legged Gull
Common Murre
Cassin's Vireo
Black-backed Wagtail
Hepatic Tanager

Darn overdue:

Pink-footed Goose
Cory's Shearwater
Bar-tailed Godwit
Red-necked Stint
Little Egret
Gull-billed Tern

The last species is Sooty Shearwater, which I will not really comment on right now..........

So there you have it... There was some crazy species that I wish I had more info on.. (eg,/ Hepatic tanager??) -- Also the Cassin's Vireo reports.. It seems like the 1st record is a "sight record" which I do not like.. Not at all.. Yet it also seems to list a different bird being banded....

Yellow-legged Gull, Newfoundland 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

More funny weather network stuff

Great Gray Owl on Manitoulin:


You may act like it's a wild owl.. but some of us know... oh yes, we know......


Snyder's Great-horned Owl like thing from Hamilton:


I know a natural photo when I see one:


Bohemian's in Bracebridge:


Anyone want to take a stab at the ID of this bird???


Hummingbird... but no location?


Anyone want to take a stab at this one?


Bird that looks darn good for Vega Gull from Washington State:


In my opinion (not that I've seen a "good" one) --- but they give a very strong resemblance to Thayer's Gull... Some similarities:

-- String of "pearls" like THGU and SBGU

--- darker mantle than our HEGU's (like some THGU)

--- bubble-gum pink legs (like THGU)

--- large tertial crescent (like THGU)

Not sure how you'd tell them apart from a "dark extreme" THGU -- or dare I say it, a THGUxHEGU hybrid... Here's a THGU I photographed a few years ago in ON:

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Funny things seen on the weather network photos


What the heck? Ohhh, UK.. gotcha:


Impressive goldfinch feeder:


Sure, the snow covered bird feeder is nice... but something else doesn't seem quite right.....


First Chuckar for Ontario. Ever.


Cool bird for Goderich:


Sharp-tailed Grouse as a feeder bird:


Sure honey, you explain to the kids that the darn owl is dying:


Anyways that's probably enough.......

I've been darn near totally uninspired when it comes to bird photography recently. I did take the below photography of a Snowy Owl a few days ago. I kind of like it, but I feel like the masses won't be impressed:

I guess we will see what the future holds

Monday, January 16, 2012

fun stuff

A bit of a fun post on the blog. Maybe in the horn-tooting category, but whatever! As some of you are aware, Vortex Optics and I have a fun relationship --- the short story is I help spread the word about how awesome their optical equipment is, and they help me out with gear and some photo usages. 

I asked permission, and was allowed to post a preview of some upcoming "spring" advertisements you may see in some bird-related publications. They went with one of my favourite images from last year, a Scarlet Tanager from Pelee Island. 

The reds seem to look different on everyone's computers. They look good on mine, and totally blown out on my parents. I've got my fingers crossed that they'll print correctly. Below is the french version: 

We've been working together for a while now, and I've been very happy with how things have looked. Below is an old add, with one of my favourite birds (Golden-winged Warbler), that was printed as a full page in a few places: 

(if you're looking at a new scope, look no further than the Razor shown above!)

I really enjoy photography because it gets me up close and personal with the "wild/nature" side of birding, yet you'll also be hard pressed to find a photographer who isn't extremely excited to see some of their images in print. 

Just a bit of fun on a winter day! 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Save a woodpecker, kill a tiger shark

An old story:

I found some old pictures, which could be blog material, from a few years ago in November. Here's the first one:

Juv Red-tailed Hawk! But what is it doing?  I was observing this bird when it adopted a ridiculous pose.. And held it.. The bird slimmed itself down, and was staring up into the sky... It hardly moved for the first minute or so, but began to slowly rotate (still staring into the sky).. 

So what was the deal? Well........

It was then that I noticed the 3 Golden Eagles that had appeared overhead. Circling together, and not very high... The RTHA was trying to hide from these winged kings that had arrived on scene. 

I wish there was a more interesting end to this story, but there isn't. The GOEA's left and the RTHA went back to normal.. 


Fun story about Tiger sharks and passerine migrants:


New species, Blue-eyed Junco?


If you haven't seen it already, here's a link to a pic of a Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch in northern ON recently (the rarer of the subspecies that's occurred in Ontario)... Snazzy bird:


And here's an awesome blog posting, talking about why our winter weather has been so dry (with limited snow)... 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

that nemesis bird

Remember when I said Slaty-backed Gull may end up being my nemesis bird?

Turns out, things are right on track. Guller-extraordinaire Kirk Zufelt found a snazzy adult in Sault Ste Marie on Jan 12, 2012! The 2nd local area record. Read his story and pics here:


An awesome set of pictures!

Yet if you read between the lines, it almost sounds like he was getting fed-up from not finding a Slaty-backed Gull after all those visits... Not that I think he has any right to, since he has a landfill he can check (I miss landfills)... And had Ontario's first Vega Gull in 2010!

But maybe it's just sour grapes on my part, since I've yet to tango with one of these beasts (in Ontario) myself... Nice find Kirk!

--- be sure to check out Kirk's pelagic odyssey website too! :  www.pelagicodyssey.ca


I don't really have any additional filler, and this blog post seems a little short, so I'll top it off with some hybrid gulls. I haven't had the chance to do much gull-doccumetation photography the last 2 years or so -- since my latest hotspot (Waterdown Garden Supplies) was shut down by the feds...

BUT! It used to provide me with the chance to photograph Ontario's finest Slaty-backed Gull look-a-likes... The Herring X Great Black-backed Gull hybrid!

I probably see this hybrid combo in about 50% of my visits to the river, and once had a shocking count of 4 different birds between the Control Gates and the edge of the falls at the same time. You pick them out by their intermediate dark-mantle, and then look closer. The "easy one's" are the 50% that show strong Great-Black-backed Gull influence, such as the above bird.  Smaller and more "Herring-like" birds are the ones that REALLY cause the trouble, such as this bird:

The above bird actually shows many features people associate with SBGU, including the pink legs, extensive head streaking, large tertial crescent and dark-ish mantle. Yet, it isn't. If you had a simple field guide to work with (heck, even the Sibley Guide) - the closest thing in your book is a Slaty-backed Gull!

So why do I find soo many of these hybrids, but I've yet to nail down a SBGU!? Nemesis bird anyone?? I really feel like this hybrid combo needs more attention in books. They are more common than people want to admit, and cause confusion with OTHER rarities like:

Western Gull:

Western Gull: pink legs, thick bill, dark-ish mantle - and a very useful feature is the primary mirror on P10 only! Just like this GBBGxHEGU hybrid from the river a few years ago (photo'd above)... Can they get any more difficult?

Then there's birds that look darn close to Herring Gulls, yet have visibly darker mantles (but only a shade or so)... A quick check in the field guides will tell you that "Vega Gull" is the distinct subspecies (some claim species) of Herring Gull that occurs in Asia -- which is essentially a Herring Gull with a darker mantle.. Just like this possible hybrid I photographed in Hamilton in 2004?!: 

A lot of confusion with these birds.. Someday I'll hook into the real thing... someday..... although I'd almost rather find something else at this point.. Glaucous-winged anyone?? 

A final look at another "difficult" bird: 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Freezing rain in eastern Ontario

Ran into some freezing rain while working in Eastern Ontario. I don't often do this, but was having fun taking some "point and shoot" pics out the car window, and decided to share on the blog:

must be hard living outside 24/7/365

Took me 20mins to clean off the car (and broke the scraper).. Ice everywhere, including a thick layer on the ground. 

I didn't see any major damage, but some near-misses

Hwy 401 was closed in a few places near Kingston due to crashes

A few cars and trucks from the previous night on the hwy.... 

backroads didn't look much better

a few closer looks

Not a good day to be a willow

Replica of my side mirror....