Bon Secour NWR

A follow up to my post on RVs. 

One of the highlights of our trip was exploring the nearby National Wildlife Refuge. We were about a mile down the road from it, and while route 180 is fast, there are wide margins so that it is eminantly walkable.

X marks the approximate location of Fort Morgan RV park.

I have a birding life list into the hundreds and was still able to identify five new species without serious birding. (Just walking with binocculars in hand.)  We walked there three times: first, late in the afternoon to the junction of the Gator Lake trail and the Pine Branch trail (4 miles round trip),  second, to the shore on the Pine Branch trail (6 miles round trip), and lastly to the Gator Lake trail returning via Mobile street, the shore, and the Pine Branch trail (8 miles round trip).


A Sandriling

Since pets (dogs) are not allowed in the refuge and there are not that many people who visit, the birds are quite tame. The Sandriling walked within two feet of me.

Fifteen inches (1/3 meter) of rain will flood the trails.

There were mosquitos, even at the winter solstice, so a summer visit should include insect repellent and quite possibly a face net.

Without trying, we saw:

  • Osprey
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • Brown Pelican
  • Sandriling
  • Snowy Plover
  • Willet
  • Common Loon
  • Horned Grebe
  • Double Crested Cormorant
  • Lesser Scaup
  • Common Goldeneye
  • Bufflehead
  • White-eyed Vireo

There were gulls (of course) and crows, as well as several varieties of sparrow, that we didn’t identify.  Not to mention these guys, who scared off the plover.

The Blue Angels.

Sandhill Cranes 2017.

dsc_0135
The sandhill cranes have returned. We saw the first few birds a couple of weeks ago, but now they are there in flocks. When we drove through today, they were a tad more spread out than usual. These ones (above) were hunting the early wood frogs. I could hear the frogs while I took the pictures.
dsc_0159
These were across the street from the others. During the summer this hill is a cotton field, so I’m not sure what critters there are now.
dsc_0168
However, there must be something because the flocks were spread out over several fields. These were the closest to the road where there was a convenient place to pull over and take pictures. I used a 600mm sigma lens. I’m not thoroughly happy about the sharpness.

crane_map This map shows where to look if you’re interested in seeing them yourselves. Remember they are protected birds. If you continue to Centre there are some half-decent places to eat and the petrol is about 30 cents cheaper than in Atlanta.

Curious Wild Turkeys (video)

A flock walked by recently. Not quite as cuddly as cats, but neat nonetheless.

(sorry about the repost, but wordpress would not let me fix the image. ****** ***** **** ****).

The Cranes are Back.

I was worried with the drought that the birds would skip us by. It seems they haven’t.

They were flocking over Lake Weiss this morning. Several small flocks of cranes and a huge flock of pelicans.

The featured image is from last year. More, I hope, this year to come.

Long term review of the Opteka 500mm lens

About a year ago i purchased one of these lenses to take pictures of wildlife. opteka

I now have enough experience to write a review.

DSC_0307

turkey

DSC_0147
Good points:

  • Inexpensive. $140 on Amazon. A “real” Nikon lens can run into the thousands.
  • Works. It does what it says. It will bring things into close focus. Including things you don’t want to get too close to.
  • Small, light and maneuverable A conventional telephoto lens is much longer and heavier.
  • Close focus You can focus on surprisingly close objects. This makes it great for taking pictures of things that don’t appreciate humans getting up close and personal.

Bad points:

  • Weakly coupled to the camera. Everything is manual, including exposure.
  • No autofocus. This limits its use in rapidly changing situations. Following a moving bird for example.
  • Paper-thin focus. Be prepared to take several photos to get the focus right
  • Infinity is not set at infinity on the lens. Don’t assume the stars are in focus.
  • The 2x extender leads to barrel distortions.

I generally use it with a fast shutter exposure (1/4000 s) to avoid blur and then control the exposure with the camera’s “film speed” setting. In bright light that’s about 2000ASA. In dim light, you may have to play around.

It’s also critical to make sure that the T-mount is firmly screwed into the lens. If it comes loose you won’t be able to focus.
This picture shows what I mean by paper thin focus:
DSC_0488
Note that I’ve focused on one wing of the butterfly and the other wing is completely out of focus.

This picture of an alligator and heron show the same effect at a longer distance.
DSC_0436

It should look like this:
DSC_0439

It can be an advantage to have a thin focus. The bird is clear and the reeds have disappeared.
DSC_0443

It’s great for taking pictures of things that aren’t moving too quickly, like this female cardinal.
DSC_0574

And you can get some great effects:
DSC_0186

In summary, you get what you pay for. It works. There are several things that could be better, but you have to fork over the cash. I wouldn’t use it for rapidly changing things like sports or moving creatures. But if you have the time to focus and remember to take several shots, it’s a great little lens.

Sandhill Cranes #birding

The Sandhill Cranes overwinter in northern Alabama near Weiss Lake. The flocks have been getting bigger as the word seems to be spreading among them. They concentrate on damp/flooded cotton and soybean fields where they can find various small creatures to eat.

DSC_0307

DSC_0304

While we were parked and taking photographs several flocks flew in to join the main one. They spread out in the morning and then gather together. The next few shots show the process.

DSC_0298

DSC_0299

DSC_0300

They aren’t spooked by cars, so you can quietly pull off the road, turn off your engine and take pictures. These were with a relatively inexpensive 500mm mirror lens.

Wild Turkeys #birding

They’re back, they’re bold, and they’re native.DSC_0259
The turkeys are forming up into mixed flocks with several toms and a larger number of hens. In the next month they’ll partition into individual flocks with just one tom each. After the eggs hatch, we’ll see flocks of the chicks accompanying their father.
DSC_0264

DSC_0260