Journal archives for September 2016

September 03, 2016

Nalle Bunny Run 2016-09-03

I spent about 3 hours on Hill Country Conservancy's Nalle Bunny Run Wildlife Preserve this morning. Here are some highlights.

Bird activity up the hill was primarily mixed groups of White-eyed Vireos, Carolina Wrens, Northern Cardinals, Black-crested Titmice, Carolina Chickadees, and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. All were very vocal. The only obvious migrants I found were a couple of Yellow Warblers, a Least Flycatcher, a heard-only Dickcissel, and two Mississippi Kites. Interestingly, no House Sparrows were observed.

Common Mestra butterflies were common west of the driveway, and I enjoyed a memorable few minutes watching three of them elegantly fluttering around me in the morning light. I got this photo of one of them:

Common Mestra - 1

Some plants that made an impression on me this morning were the blooming Bitterweed and Camphorweed. The Camphorweed was especially thick, making part of the northeast corner of the preserve very yellow:

Camphorweed (Heterotheca subaxillaris) - 2
Camphorweed (Heterotheca subaxillaris) - 3

There was also a beautiful patch of Indiangrass near the lake's edge. Was this planted?

In a mixed patch of Late Boneset (Eupatorium secotinum) and Frosted also near the lake, I was excited to find a dragonfly I've never seen before, this Flag-tailed Spinyleg. Look at his long and spiny those back legs are!

Flag-tailed Spinyleg - 1

Here's my complete eBird List.

And here are more Photos on Flickr.

Attached are my observations.

Posted on September 03, 2016 23:16 by mikaelb mikaelb | 21 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

September 04, 2016

Lake Creek Trail Bug Night 2016-09-03

These observations were made during the first ever Bug Night on Lake Creek Trail. Big thanks to Town and Country Optimist Club and Chuck Sexton!

See a summary here:

Bug Night Group

Posted on September 04, 2016 19:31 by mikaelb mikaelb | 20 observations | 1 comments | Leave a comment

September 05, 2016

Nature Photography with the Micro Four Thirds Platform

This started as an email to Cullen Hanks (@cullen) who asked me for advice for his father who is looking for a lighter camera for nature photography. The email became long enough that I thought I'd share it as a journal post. This is a summary of my limited experience using Micro Four Thirds cameras for nature photography.

Depending on how small and light a camera you want, it might be worth looking into the compact super-zoom cameras. They keep getting better and better with more and more zoom, and it’s really nice to have one lens that does everything. Of course the tradeoff is the tiny light sensor, but I see some great photos from folks using Nikon Coolpix cameras.

Most of my experience is with the Micro Four Thirds platform, which is (I think) the earliest mirrorless platform. On a mirrorless camera, when you look through the viewfinder you are not looking directly through the lens via a mirror (that flops up and down each time you take a photo). You’re looking at a little screen with a live view of what the camera sensor is seeing. You’re also seeing the effects of your settings in real time, which is handy.

Micro Four Thirds is based on a light sensor size that is larger than the sensors on compacts and smaller than the sensor on DSLRs. The major players are Panasonic and Olympus. You can use Panasonic camera bodies with Olympus lenses and vice-versa, with a few caveats. I think Olympus has taken the approach of usually implementing image stabilization in the camera body, while Panasonic puts it in the lenses. This isn’t a hard rule, but it’s something to check on specific bodies and lenses if you’re planning on mixing brands.

One of the touted advantages of Micro Four Thirds is availability of lens adaptors to most other platforms. I don’t have any first hand experience with this because I don’t think things like autofocus and image stabilization work through these adaptors.

For a long time the only big telephotos available for Micro Four Thirds were these pretty modest lenses:
Panasonic Lumix G Vario 100-300mm F4-5.6 OIS
Olympus M.Zuiko ED 75-300mm 1:4.8-6.7 II

These lenses sell for around $500 and get you the equivalent of 600mm of zoom on a DSLR in a much smaller and less expensive package. I used the Panasonic lens on Panasonic G3 and G5 bodies. The lens served me well but quit working after about 5 years. (It's likely this was due to my abuse.) I don't have any experience with the Olympus lens.

Within the last year, both companies have introduced much better big telephoto lenses. Panasonic released this 100-400 zoom which they made with Leica and which sells for about $1800:
Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmar 100-400mm F4.0-6.3 ASPH Power OIS

And Olympus released this 300mm fixed power lens which sells for about $2500:
Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 300mm F4 IS Pro

Recently I was fortunate enough to be able to acquire the new Panasonic 100-400 lens to replace my 100-300. I chose the Panasonic over the Olympus because it costs less, has 100mm more reach, and I enjoy the flexibility of a zoom lens. The Olympus is a faster lens and I've read that it's slightly sharper. Both have tripod mounts on the lens which the older lenses do not have.

My experience so far with the new Panasonic Lens has been good. I really enjoy having 400mm of reach (equivalent of 800mm on a DSLR). The 300mm lens seemed to magnify about the same amount as my 8x42 binoculars. This 400mm lens magnifies substantially more. The optics are brighter and sharper than the old lens. It's bigger and heavier, but not nearly as big and heavy as an 800mm DSLR lens. And a camera sling attached to the tripod mount on the lens works well.

The lens' autofocus seems to need help often. When I'm trying to focus on something small and close (it focuses as close as .5 meters) I often have to "prime" it by first focusing on the ground or something large at roughly the same distance away.

The big tradeoff I'm making for all this zoom in a relatively compact package is image quality when light isn't ideal. Compared with images from the big Nikon and Canon pro bodies and lenses, my images are noisy and don't have the same minute level of definition. Lightroom's noise reduction helps with this. This is a tradeoff I'm willing to live with, and the current pro camera bodies from Panasonic and Olympus might perform much better than my 2012 Panasonic G5.

Do any other iNatter's have experience they'd like to share with Micro Four Thirds or other mirrorless camera platforms?

Posted on September 05, 2016 18:39 by mikaelb mikaelb | 0 comments | Leave a comment

September 13, 2016

High Gate Ranch Tour 2016-09-11

Last Sunday afternoon Hill Country Conservancy took its EPIC group on a tour of its first conservation easement property, the High Gate Ranch just south of Dripping Springs. What a beautiful property! The land was lush from the uncharacteristically wet August we've had. Here are a couple especially scenic spots:

First View

Peach Tree Hill

From these high spots we got to see waves of American Snout butterflies migrating southeast-ish. I read that this species' migration is not so regular. It's often based on population explosions, and the migration is more often away from these high population areas than just south in the fall and north in the spring. I got this photo of one of them that stopped. You can see where the common name comes from!

American Snout

Here's my eBird list.
Here are my photos on Flicker.
And attached are my iNaturalist observations.

Posted on September 13, 2016 00:13 by mikaelb mikaelb | 16 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

September 17, 2016

Nalle Bunny Run Group Walk 2016-09-17

This morning 11 folks joined me for the monthly group walk on Hill Country Conservancy's Nalle Bunny Run Wildlife Preserve. 5 of those folks were girls aged 9-11, and they were interested in seeing and identifying everything they could! It sure was fun showing them birds and plants and insects and one turtle this morning.

Our summer resident birds are on their way south, but there were still a few Summer Tanagers on the property. This one was singing in the early morning light before anyone arrived:

Summer Tanager

In general the birding was a little slow, and we heard more birds than we saw. But a few nice looks we got at songbirds were at a White-eyed Vireo that responded to a recorded song I played, and a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. Both are summer residents that are probably on their way south. And by the water we were lucky to see an Osprey leave its perch across the lake, fly around a bit, and take a fish!

Some neat insects we saw were a couple Great Spreadwing damselflies and a pretty good-sized praying mantis. Here's one of two Great Spreadings:
Great Spreadwing

And here's the mantis:
Praying Mantis

Probably our most fun observation was of a newly hatched tiny Texas Map Turtle that Camile Knight found on the gravel road by the houses. Several of us got to hold it and photograph it, and then the girls took it down by the water and released it.

Texas Map Turtle

Here's our complete eBird list.
Here are a few more photos on Flickr.
And attached are our iNaturalist observations.
What a fun morning!

Posted on September 17, 2016 20:25 by mikaelb mikaelb | 6 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

September 25, 2016

Port Aransas Nature Preserve Bioblitz 2016-09-24

Yesterday morning @colleenm and I ended up being the only two participants in the first ever Port Aransas Nature Preserve Bioblitz! While initially a little disappointed that no one else showed up, we decided to have fun seeing what we could find out on the trails and boardwalk to the Salt Island observation tower. We ended up having an amazing morning. Too bad no one else got to enjoy it with us!

In addition to being important habitat for many species of birds and other animals, the Port Aransas Nature Preserve at Charlie's Pasture can offer magical wildlife viewing experiences. The birds aren't tame, but to a certain extent they are used to people on the trails. And even in the wide open spaces out there, some of the large birds don't mind flying right over your head. We had this experience with a female Magnificent Frigatebird, American White Pelicans, and a pair of White-tailed Hawks:

Magnificent Frigatebird

American White Pelicans

The hawks were an adult and a juvenile, and I was only able to photograph the juvenile which has a dark plumage with small light bib, very different from the adult:

White-tailed Hawk - 1

The wading birds and shorebirds will also sometimes let you get quite close, and there's no better way to try and learn the difference between the tiny sandpipers than when you have two similar species just a few feet away from you. This Least Sandpiper and Western Sandpiper offered us these close views:

Least Sandpiper

Western Sandpiper

The number of shorebirds and wading birds out on the mud flats was high yesterday, and we saw several dense mixed feeding flocks like this one that included Black-necked Stilts, Snowy Egrets, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Willets, and a few Little Blue Herons:

Mixed Feeding Flock

We often saw tight flocks of fast-flying shorebirds in the distance, flying low over the flats. Once one of these flocks flew straight towards us and split up to just miss us as we stood on the boardwalk. I finally got a photo of one flock that was sharp enough to identify the birds as Wilson's Phalaropes:

Wilson's Phalaropes

We had just started to examine a large flock of sandpipers that had let is get pretty close, when they all flushed. We looked around and saw that a Peregrine Falcon was diving at them! We saw the falcon make a couple quick maneuvers without catching anything. I got this shot of it as it circled around before deciding to move on:

Peregrine Falcon

The biggest surprise of the morning was when we ran into longtime birder Wade Strickland who pointed out a Greater Flamingo northwest of Salt Island out on the mud flats. We couldn't believe it! It turned out this was the bird that escaped from from a zoo in Kansas back in 2005. (It's identified by a band with number 492 on its left leg.) It has been spotted on the Texas coast several times, and for the past few years has been seen with another flamingo from the Yucatan Peninsula. We only saw the one flamingo yesterday, but we hope its companion is nearby.

Greater Flamingo - 1

Greater Flamingo - 2

The flamingo eventually took flight and landed somewhere south of the Birding Center. While in the air it flushed up a flock of Roseate Spoonbills, which are commonly mistaken for flamingos, and I got a few photos of these two pink birds together flight.

Greater Flamingo - 4

Greater Flamingo in flight - 3

Greater Flamingo in flight - 4

Greater Flamingo in flight - 5

Here's our complete eBird checklist.

Here are a few more photos on Flickr.

Attached our my iNaturalist observations. And here are Colleen's.

Posted on September 25, 2016 20:16 by mikaelb mikaelb | 26 observations | 1 comments | Leave a comment