Tanager & Other Birds — Ecuador Photo Tours

Tanagers are one of my favorite families of birds in the tropics.  They are colorful, rather large, somewhat slow, and plentiful.  The Ecuador birding field guide lists about 66 species with tanager in their name.  We didn’t photograph that many during our Strabo Photo Tour Collections trip in March but we got a lot.

 

Black-capped tanager; Tangara heinei; Ecuador; Mindo Valley
Black-capped tanager — Mindo Valley, Ecuador
Blue-capped tanager KAC9857
Blue-capped tanager in the Mindo Valley.  This was a new bird for me.
Blue-capped tanager KAC9864
Blue-capped tanager
Blue-winged mountain-tanager KAC9997
Blue-winged mountain-tanager
Golden tanager; Tangara arthus; Ecuador; San Tadeo; Mindo Valley
Golden tanager — Mindo Valley, Ecuador
Flame-faced tanager; Tangara parzudakii; Ecuador; San Tadeo; Mindo Valley
Flame-faced tanager — Mindo Valley. What a great name!
White-lined tanager KAC9389
White-lined tanager — See the white line?

We found a nice variety of birds along the way.  These are all from the Mindo Valley of Ecuador on the western slope of the Andes Mountains.

Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch, Buarremon brunneinucha,
Chestnut-capped brush-finch
Crimson-rumped toucanet KAC9716
Crimson-rumped toucanet
Crimson-rumped toucanet KAC9740
Crimson-rumped toucanet — here you can see the rump
Dusky Chlorospingus KAC0091
Dusky Chlorospingus — Love that name!
rufous-collared sparrow KAC0035
Rufous-collared sparrow — so common but so pretty.
Swainson's thrush KAC9427
Swainson’s thrush on wintering grounds.  It will be arriving in my area of Texas in mid-April on its way to breeding grounds in the north.

 

Here are a couple more hummingbirds from the last day of the trip.  The birds in Ecuador are amazing.

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My 2018-2019 photo tour schedule is on the Strabo Photo Tours site or on my website.

Heart-shaped Lights for Valentine’s Day

Heart-sharped bokah, bokeh, blown out background, blurry background.
Let’s get romantic with some heart-shaped lights this Valentine’s Day

 

Heart-sharped bokah, bokeh, blown out background, blurry background.
Directions are below.
IMG_1441
A heart stamp from the craft store makes a nice heart.
IMG_1442
Grab a piece of black construction paper.  Cut it into this basic shape.  The circular shape should cover your lens opening.      Notice that the heart shape has been taped to the center.  That’s because my stamp doesn’t stamp very far from the edge of the paper.  I had to cut the center out of the main shape and tape a smaller piece of paper with the heart shape to the main piece. (This is good because you can remove the heart later and add shamrocks for St. Patty’s Day)

 

IMG_1443
Attach the black paper object to the front of your lens.  I use a hair tie. 
IMG_1444
You’re almost ready to go.  I’ve found that a lens in the 100mm range makes the best heart shapes.
IMG_1445
Switch to Manual focus.  Blur the scene in front of you.                  The view through the viewfinder is dark.  It might help to switch the camera to spot or partial metering.
Heart-sharped bokah, bokeh, blown out background, blurry background.
Bright lights work best.  This is a photograph is a busy street.  

Flashing Red Light On Canon Rebel

Question from a reader:  I was taking photos yesterday of my daughter at a gymnastics event.  A red light in the bottom right corner on my Canon Rebel kept flashing.  Once I saw the word “BUSY” in the viewfinder.  What was I doing wrong?

The red flashing light on your camera shows that the camera is accessing the memory card.

It’s normal to see a red light when the camera takes a photo. (Nikon users see a green light.)  The light should quickly go on-and-off  if all is well.

During a rapid burst of photos, the red light will flash as long as the camera is moving the photos to the memory card.  The camera has a memory buffer of 6-9 photos.  It’s holding those in memory and waiting to move them photos to the card.

If you take 10 photos in a row, the camera moves some to the card and then some to the buffer. Those in the buffer wait in line until it’s time for them to move to the card.

You’ll see BUSY in the viewfinder if you take too many photos and the buffer fills.  The camera won’t take any more photos until the buffer clears out and has room to store another photo.

You’re likely to see the flashing red light and BUSY in the viewfinder if you held the shutter button down and took a lot of photos.  Those photos need to process out of the buffer and through to the card.

Solution — get a memory card that records faster.  How fast?  That depends on the camera.  A 20MB camera that takes 7 fps (frames per second) is going to record 140MB worth of photos per second.  A card that records 64MB per second can record roughly three frames a second.  The other four frames are going to sit in memory.  That means you have three frames recording to the card while four photos are waiting in buffer.  That’s usually okay since the buffer will clear in a second or two.

 

The card on the left records 150MB/s.  That’s seven photos per second using a camera with a 20MB file.  This is almost more card than the Rebel needs.  Someone who shoots sport or action regularly might need this, though.

The card on the right records 45MB/s.  That’s two photos per second using the same camera.  Too slow for someone photographing sports or action.

The card you need depends on what you photograph and what camera you use.  I get my cards from Hunt’s Photo and Video.  Ask for Alan Samiljan (781) 462-2383 or email him at asamiljan@huntsphoto.com    His hours are Monday, Tuesday, Thursday & Friday, 8:30-5:00pm eastern

Let’s Bring Birds Into Our Lives

Pine warbler KAC9274

January 5th is National Bird Day.  It’s a great day to think about bringing birds into our lives.

Backyards big or small can be a haven for birds.  Birds will come to a large grassy lot with trees or a balcony with container plants.

Birds are attracted to a space that has three things:

  • Food
  • Water
  • Shelter
red-bellied woodpecker
Shelled sunflower seeds in a feeder with red-bellied woodpecker

Food is the first big consideration to bringing birds into your yard or balcony.  Shelled sunflower seeds are a favorite because the hulls have been removed and no waste falls to the ground to attract mice and rats.  Shelled sunflower seed is a bit more expensive but the food goes a long way because there is no waste.

Avoid packaged birdfeed that contains millet, milo, and wheat.  Watch for little white seeds common in bird feed that comes from a grocery store.  Northern cardinals, blue jays, and Carolina chickadee don’t eat these seeds.  Blackbird and grackles do, though.

Birdfeed from area nature stores such as Wild Bird Unlimited, feed stores, and locally owned garden centers is usually fresher than that found in big box stores.

Birds like suet.  Suet is a mixture of seeds, nuts, and fruit held together with a peanut butter matrix.  Carolina wrens, pine warblers, and red-bellied woodpeckers love suet cakes.

Pine warblerppKAC3731
In warmer climates, use suet cakes made with a nut butter matrix versus white fat.

Avoid suet cakes held together with a whitish or fat-based matrix.  These are designed for cooler, northern climates and spoil in our heat.

Bird baths are a great way to add water to your habitat.  Traditional concrete bird baths are best.  Birds only need an inch of water to drink or bath.  Concrete bird baths last twenty or more years.

Eastern bluebird. bathing in shallow pool.
Eastern bluebird. bathing in shallow pool.

 

The rough surface of a concrete bird bath gives birds something to grip in the event they need to fly quickly away to avoid a predator.  Glass or ceramic bird baths are pretty but the bathing area needs to be rough.  Toss in a few handfuls of dirt and let a bit of algae grow.  This creates a natural surface that birds prefer.

Shelter is the last item needed to create a bird habitat.  Birds need a place to hide when a hawk or cat enters the area.

Place feeders and birdbaths five to ten feet from a tree, shrub, or potted plant.  Birds won’t cross a vast open area to feed or bathe.  Place plants on two sides to create an ideal habitat.

Consider natives when planting around feeders in a yard or on a balcony.  Yaupon and American beautyberry are lovely to look at and provide berries for our birds.  Golden dewdrop  (Duranta) is a large showy plant with purple flowers in summer and golden berries in fall.  This can be grown in a container or in the ground.  Porterweed (Stachytarpheta) is another favorite.  It’s cold hardy and produces lovely purple blooms from spring to the first frost.  Butterflies also like golden dewdrop and Porterweed.

 

#nationalbirdday

 

 

Holiday Lights Through a Crystal Ball

There is still time to order a crystal ball before all the holiday lights are packed and put away.

This is the one I ordered through Amazon.  

Click here to see a gallery of my photos with a crystal ball.

Crystal ball, reflection, reverse,
Christmas tree through the crystal ball.

Crystal ball, reflection, reverse,

Magical Winter Lights KAC1400
F/stop at 22.
Magical Winter Lights KAC1419
Holding the crystal ball to see all the lights in the background.

 

Is a 50mm my next purchase?

One of my photography students wrote: 

I’ve taken a couple classes from you and have enjoyed them both. I’m still very much a beginner and still learning about my camera.

I use a Nikon d5000 and my question is, if you were going to add a lens to my kit lens which I have, would it be a 50mm (nifty fifty)? I take pictures mainly of my 4 year old daughter and have been reading about different lenses.

Any suggestions on lenses or where to buy would be greatly appreciated.

M.W.

My answer:

It’s good to hear from you.  Personally, I’d buy the 70-300mm or 70-200mm before I’d buy  the 50mm.  

Shooting with the 50mm means your daughter has to be somewhat still and you have to be close to her to fill the frame.  Use the 70-300mm or the 70-210mm and she can be running around the playground while you’re sitting on a bench and photographing her.  There’s distance between you and the subject. You don’t have to be right in her face all the time.  

The 50mm is a great lens for studio work.  It’s not the greatest for outdoor or shooting in the living room.  I know a lot of people promote it on the internet but you can get the same results with the other lenses.

I have the 50mm and I always grab my 70-200mm first.  Here’s an example why:

Holiday ornaments, Christmas, raccoons, christmas tree,
Here’s a photo of ornaments against a background with lights.  This was taken with a Canon 70-200mm lens at f/7.1.
Holiday ornaments, Christmas, raccoons, christmas tree,
The above photo is enlarged to 100%.  Notice that both of the little ornaments are in focus.
Holiday ornaments, Christmas, raccoons, christmas tree,
Same little ornament scene but this time photographed with a 50mm lens.  I had to move the camera closer to the scene with the camera and tripod.  The lights in the background have the great bokeh that makes people  want when they use the 50mm lens.
Holiday ornaments, Christmas, raccoons, christmas tree,
The above photo was enlarged to 100%.  I used a 50mm lens set at f/1.4.  Notice that both little raccoons are soft.  My focus point is the little raccoon on the left.  Its eyes are in focus but the soup can is soft.  The raccoon on the right is totally soft.  

Recapping, the 50mm f/1.4 lens gives a great bokeh or blown-out-background.  Yet, if you shoot it at f/1.4 the depth-of-field is super shallow.  The lens should be used at an f/stop appropriate for the subject.  You’ll also need to get closer to the subject than with the 70-200mm lens.

Hope that helps.  I’d let you borrow my 50mm if you used a Canon.  It doesn’t get much use.

Holiday Lights — Make a Sequence GIF

My friend, Patti Edens, and I spent the evening at Magical Winter Lights in LaMarque, Texas, last week.

The lighted displays were a lot of fun to photograph.  As you see from the slideshow below, there were huge and amazing lighted objects to photograph.  We had our cameras on a tripod and used an f/22 most of the time.

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A different display was a lighted cube.  It was pink, red, and purple outside but filled with disorienting colors inside.

Outside the cube was a huge silhouette of a potbellied man.  The words “In the city where beauty and pain integrate, I am the most perfect stain,” by Fan J.

How funny to see a huge pink cube in the middle of a lighted holiday display.  Yet the cube captivated our eyes.

Magical Winter Lights KAC1327
Patti silhouetted against the pink wall.
Magical Winter Lights KAC1329
Me against the giant pink wall.

Camera settings were pretty basic.  Camera on a tripod, set at Aperture Priority, f/22, and ISO in a moderate range like 400 or 500.  For the silhouette photos, we just stood pretty still.

Magical-winter-lights-me-walkingKAC

For this GIF, though, we used a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the walking.  That meant changing the f/stop to a f/4.5 giving a shutter speed of 1/40th.  The shutter speed gave us a bit of blur but not too much.

Fun playing with lights and our cameras.

(Instructions how to make a GIF are in December 6, 2017 blog post on this site.)