Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Middle Creek Part III A Day Of Mixed Weather

Mixed precipitation was in the forecast for Tuesday March 25th, but as I drove toward Middle Creek the stars were shining in spots and as it grew lighter one could see a few patches of clear sky scattered here and there.  As it turned out I was rewarded with a stunning sunrise, but soon after that the sun vanished to be seen no more that day.

Middle Creek Dawn: Canon 70D-Canon 70-200mm f2.8 II L @ 115 mm-ISO 400-1/640 Sec. F 10.0
Soon a light snow began. I spent the day watching the lake and potholes and periodically driving the tour road around the upper end of the lake.   One one of these trips I saw a male ring-necked peasant and on most of the trips I saw small groups of  Canada Geese in the fields alongside the road.

Male Ring-necked Pheasant: Canon 70D-Canon 100-400mm f 5.6I L @ 100 mm-ISO 400-1/500 Sec. F 5.0
I didn't feel sufficiently motivated  to get the 500mm or the 600mm into action so I shot out of the window with the old 100-400mm IS L lens. I use this lens quite a bit for video, but seldom use it for still photography anymore.  Some criticize it for being on the soft side and I agree that it isn't as sharp as the big primes or the 70-200mm L lens, but it is very versatile and is much easier to get into action than the 500mm or 600mm.  I usually use the primes when possible, but today's experience proved the 100-400mm is still a very useful lens that provides acceptable sharpness in most cases.

Canada Geese: Canon 70D-Canon 100-400mm f 5.6I L @ 190 mm-ISO 400-1/320 Sec. F 7.1
Many of the Tundra Swans left Middle Creek on Sunday and Monday, but a few remained, either swimming in the water, or resting on the patches of ice that remained.

Tundra Swans: Canon 70D-Canon 100-400mm f 5.6I L @ 400 mm-ISO 400-1/500 Sec. F 8.0
 In mid-afternoon I was watching a pothole while seated in the vehicle with the 600mm resting on the window sill, in hopes of getting some close-up photos of ducks when a man approached me and told me that two mature bald eagles were perched in trees along the edge  of the lake behind me.  It was a bit far for even the 600mm and the 2x extender, but I was still happy to have the opportunity and wish to thank the gentleman for informing me of their presence.

Mature Bald Eagles: Canon 70D-Canon 600mm F4 L IS + 2x extender-ISO 400-1/320 Sec. F 11.0
I made a final circle around the lake just after 4:30 and found turkeys feeding in a cornfield along the tour road.

Eastern Wild Turkeys : Canon 5D MK III-Canon 500mm F4 L IS + 1.4x extender-ISO 400-1/640 Sec. F 7.1
I spent the remainder of the day filming Tundra Swans and Canada Geese as they landed on the lake to spend the night.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Middle Creek 2014 Part II-The Ducks

Ring-necked Duck: Canon 5D MK III-Canon 600mm f 4.0 IS + 1.4 extender-ISO 400-1/800 Sec. f  8.0
 I encountered several species of ducks during my recent trip to Middle Creek, but as is so often the case  they were too far to obtain the best portraits .  Most of the photos shown today are severely cropped in addition to using the 600mm F4 with 1.4x extender.  All of the photos were taken in the pothole across Hopeland Road from Middle Creek Lake. The first three were taken with  the 5D MK III, while the 70D was used for the last one.

Wood Duck: Canon 5D MK III-Canon 600mm f 4.0 IS + 1.4 extender-ISO 400-1/800 Sec. f  8.0
Most ducks at this pot hole do not fly at the sight of humans , but they tend to keep their distance when people are moving about on the roadside.  Human activity was so great on Saturday and Sunday that  waterfowl were usually some distance away, so I mostly shot video with the GH3 and the 70D, both of which can give good results on waterfowl in the far reaches of the pothole. This is because of the 3x Crop mode on the 70D, which  gives the 600mm and 1.4 extender a 35mm equivalent focal length of 4,032mm if my figures are correct.  ETC mode on the GH3 works much the same way.

There was much less human activity on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, which made still photography more feasible and it worked quite well to park the vehicle along the edge of the road and use it as a blind.  I prefer to use a tripod when possible, but it worked well to shoot handheld, resting the barrel on the lens on the window sill of the vehicle and with image stabilization engaged.  Waterfowl came to decent range at times, but mostly it was still a bit on the far side.

Widgeon: Canon 5D MK III-Canon 600mm f 4.0 IS + 1.4 extender-ISO 400-1/1250 Sec. f  8.0
I have filmed and photographed waterfowl for years, but had not gotten a decent still photo of  a Bufflehead until Monday when several came swimming by and I took the photo below of a male with the 600mm and 1.4x extender on the 70D.  It is still cropped quite a bit to get the composition that I want.  The end result isa  257 dpi 12x8 file which makes an excellent quality print.

Male Bufflehead: Canon 70D-Canon 600mm f 4.0 IS + 1.4 extender-ISO 400-1/800 Sec. f  8.0
Tuesday brought a change in the weather with a mixture of snow and rain for most of the day.  I will try to post photos of  the activity that day within the next few days.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Middle Creek 2014 Part I


Tundra Swans In Flight: Canon 5D MK III-Canon 600mm F4 IS+1.4x extender-ISO 200-1/2000 sec. f 5.6

Originally I planned to spend several days at Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area during late February-early March as this is usually the peak of the spring migration for tundra swans and snow geese.  As everyone knows the migration was delayed this year because of the severe winter and when the peak occurred the lake and potholes were still mostly ice covered.  I like to go when I can film the various species of ducks, so I waited until most of the ice was gone and  didn't go to Middle Creek until last Saturday morning, March 22nd, which meant that I missed the peak of the snow geese migration.  According to the PGC website there were about 60,000 snow geese and 5,000 tundra swans on March 17th with the number reportedly still about the same  on March 20th, but numbers plummeted over the weekend and were down to an estimated 6,000 snow geese and 2,500 tundra swans by Sunday morning, March 23rd.


There were quite a few tundra swans, snow geese, and Canada geese visible where Hopeland Road passes by the edge of the lake on Saturday Morning and many remained throughout the day.

Snow Geese and Tundra Swans: Canon 5D MK III-Canon 600mm F4 IS-ISO 200-1/800 sec. f 11.0
 In mid to late afternoon snow geese congregated in a field just up the road from where the lake is near the road.

Distant Flock: Canon 5D MK III-Canon 600mm F4 IS-ISO 400-1/1000 sec. f 11.0
Soon a large group of photographers and bird watchers gathered in that area and I joined the throng to get some close photographs and video of the flock.  This time I  concentrated on video and carried the Panasonic GH3 and GH2 the video tripod and carried the 7D with 70-200mm f 2.8 around my neck to use for flying shots.  I came to regret that I left the 600mm and 500mm in the car as there were some exceptional opportunities to capture the geese landing in the late evening light. I took several stills with the GH3 and the 100-300mm and it performed reasonably well. I love the perspective in the photo below as the geese were on top of a small rise in the field and I sat down so get a low angle which I think makes the birds more impressive looking.

Snow Geese Up Close: Panasonic GH3- Lumix 100-300mm f 4.0-5.6 @ 300mm-ISO 200-1/125 sec. f 11.0
I hoped the entire flock would take-off at once as often happens, but this was not to be or at least it had not happened by the time I left at sundown.  In several cases smaller groups took flight  and  I captured a few frames of this with the 7D and 70-200mm.

Lift-off: Canon 7D-Canon 70-200mm F2.8 IS II@ 70mm-ISO 400-1/2500 sec. f 5.0
With this the first day of the trip came to an end. I returned to photograph on Sunday morning,spent the entire day there on Monday and Tuesday, and photographed on Wednesday morning before leaving for home.

I plan to post more Middle Creek photos within the next few days.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Looking Back-Elk Photos From 2000

Friday September 29th was the last day of my 2000 trip to photograph the elk rut.  I like to get an early start for home so I decided to drive up Winslow Hill to check the viewing areas and the roadside meadows for a few hours before leaving.  Billie Cromwell, who shot a lot of the rut footage for the Game Commission's elk video, "Pennsylvania Elk: Reclaiming The Alleghenies"  rode along that morning.  I can't recall everything we saw, but the highlight  was when we found two bulls chasing cows in an overgrown meadow  near the Devil's Elbow area.


This was before the days of digital and meta-data files that records camera settings so one had to rely on memory or notes to recall what equipment was used. I was a poor record keeper, but if my memory serves me right the above photo was taken with a Canon Rebel X with Kodak ISO 800 print film.  The lens would have been either a 75-300 EF IS, or a Canon 35-350 L lens.


I began photographing in 1974 with a Minolta SRT 101 and 50mm 1.7 lens and eventually bought several low to mid-range telephoto lenses.  I used these lenses with a variety of Minolta bodies until late 1990 when I switched almost exclusively to video.  I got the Canon L2 camcorder in 1997, which accepted Canon mount 35mm lenses by use of an adapter and bought a Canon 75-300mm EF IS lens for long range work.  This move eventually led me back into still photography.  The Minolta equipment was old, battered, and outdated.  Shooting stills with it meant that one had to carry lenses and cameras for two different mounts, so it was a no brainer to get a Canon body for use on the 75-300mm.  Since my primary focus was video I bought an entry level Rebel X with kit lens for $180.00 at Walmart.  This was $70.00 less than I paid for the SRT 101 and kit lens back in 1974. The Rebel felt chintzy compared to the Minolta SRT cameras, but it was much more reliable as a lot of the moving parts had been replaced with electronics as technology advanced.  As is so often the case with me, I soon decided that I needed another camera body so that I could shoot both slow and fast color film, so in August of 200 I bought a Canon Elan II body, which I carried loaded with Kodak ISO 200 print film, while the Rebel was loaded with Kodak ISO 800 print film.

Light levels were low when this encounter began so I photographed the larger bull with ISO 800 film and then switched to the Elan II and ISO 200 to photograph the smaller bull.


 Both bulls were 7x8s if I am counting the points correctly.  The photos were scanned to digital files with a Canoscan 2710 several years ago and were reworked in Adobe camera raw with final tweaking in Photoshop CC before posting. I was searching through my files for photos of bull 36, better known as "Fred" or "Dogrope", when I came upon these photos and felt moved to share them.  One must realize that film ruled at the time. I was dreaming of better lenses and camera bodies, but the though never crossed my mind that film  would be  replaced with digital in a few short years.

Those that are relatively new to Pennsylvania elk photography may be amazed to find that high end professional lenses were rarely seen on Winslow Hill until after digital replaced film.  Ronald "Buckwheat" Saffer had his Canon 300mm f2.8 L lens, a gentleman was there each year with a Nikon 500mm and I saw well known outdoor writer Bob Steiner on a few occasions with his 500mm Nikon, but mostly one saw point and shoot cameras and entry level 35mm SLR cameras with low to mid-range lenses.  Back in those days you could draw attention shooting a 100-400mm L lens with people walking up and saying, "that's some lens you have there".  Now all of the big primes such as 300mm, 500mm, and 600mm are commonly seen and I think it is because of digital.

In the days of film a serious shooter spent a lot of their funds available for photography on film and processing. The ability to shoot massive numbers of shots and delete unwanted ones in the digital age made it possible for many more people to become better photographers and to afford to buy better equipment.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.