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Shooting Birds!

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Male House Finch

I’ve owned a Vello Freewave wireless remote shutter release for a few years now.  It’s been almost the same amount time since I’ve used it.  Lately, I’ve been motivated to learn to ID all those birds that look like sparrows to me.  I thought the best way to do this would be to use the ‘Vello’ to photograph the birds at my feeder.  That way I could ‘kill two birds with one stone’ so to speak.  Was that inappropriate?  Birders may now distrust me 😉

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Female House Finch

I’ve had a feeder set up at my new house in Colorado for about a month.  I also put a device on the ground by the feeder that holds water and keeps it from freezing.  I thought in this dry terrain (high desert), where little water is available and what is available (local reservoirs) is frozen, that if I could provide them with it they would come.  Casually I’ve noticed that the diversity of birds at my feeder is fairly low.  Since I’ve began to spend more time watching it (with the camera) I’ve learned that this diversity is pretty slim – so far.  I know it may take much more time and consistency with what I’m offering the birds to draw them in.  Other things like safe shelter from which to perch will also be something I need to work on.  In the end, my deductions were supported by my results.  All I have so far are house finches.

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Birdfeeder setup with camera and heated water

Back to the photography side of this exercise.  I haven’t taken the opportunity to use my Nikon 200-400 F4 VR Lens this winter.  I had initially purchase it a few years back to use in photographing outdoor sports when I lived back in Michigan.  Since coming to Colorado, I’ve largely used it for capturing images of wildlife (coyotes, mule deer and Elk) in Rocky Mountain National Park.  The remote setup would allow me to take pictures of the birds at a much closer distance (about 8 ft) and with a tripod.  Realizing this would affect the depth of field I wanted to practice to see what fstop I would need to use.  Some of my early shots used an fstop of f4 – f8.  I found that this resulted in way too shallow a depth of field.  I wanted to get almost all of the bird sharp and still have a pleasing, out of focus background.  The shots of the included male and female house finch were a result of moving the fstop to f14.

I hope to solve a couple of problems with this experiment in the near future.  The first, looking at the image of the female house finch one can tell it’s not as sharp as the male image.  This was a result of the feeder rotating when the female landed on it.  Bringing it forward to the near edge of the depth of field.  Restricting the movement of the feeder will eliminate the problem.  Secondly, I would like to experiment with larger fstops.  Hopefully, allowing the whole bird to be sharp.

Please excuse the shape of my blog.  I haven’t posted in quite awhile and it looks terrible.  I will be working on updating the look soon.  Please come back once and while and join me!

Any input on this topic is welcome!

Google’s PhotoScan

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Old black and white from the 50s of me and my sisters all dressed up for Easter.

If like me, you have boxes and boxes of pictures stored is secret places in your house, Googles new app, PhotoScan may be for you.  With the word ‘Scan’ in it’s name you might think that it’s just another ‘Scanner app’.  But, Photoscan is just optimized for images, not documents.  It’s meant to be a sister app to Google photo (which also just got an upgrade).  The new app is meant to get those old family photos out of the attic and into your Google photos.  Or Apple photos.  But, I must say, that if your an iPhone user like me you really should consider using Google photos (or Amazon photos) to back up the photos on your phone.  I like both of them better than Apple’s iCloud solution.  Here’s a link to the iOS version and the Android version.

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In starting the app, it prompts you to position your photo into the frame.  Once it senses your image is completely within the frame, five circles will appear.  One in the middle, and four at the corners of your screen.

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It will direct you, with an arrow, to move the middle circle (by moving the phone) over each corner circle in sequence.  In doing this, the app takes four images of your picture and then seamlessly sews them together.  This allows it to correct the angle (in case you’re not perfect like me) and eliminate any glare from the surface of the photo.  It then optimizes the images automatically (color corrected) including rotating it.  My experience was that the auto-rotation did not always occur.  But that was simple enough to correct in post within the app.  After you have captured the picture you can trim the sides (crop).  I found this difficult, but that may be due to my fat fingers?  Another problem I ran into at this point was when using their cropping tool, what I finished with was not always the same as what I was left with in the final product. One side frequently was cropped much more than what I saved.  To avoid this problem, I cropped the image in my photo app when I was done.  You can save it at this point or continue scanning images and save them all at once when finished.  If you’re an Android user, you can find your saved images but searching for under ‘scans’. Final note on the PhotoScan app, if you use a Photography Scanning Bed for your photos now, this app will probably not do as well.  But, it does do a good job and definitely speeds the task up.

Google’s Photo App also just received a significant upgrade.  They have changed and improved their Auto Enhance feature.  Auto Enhance now makes different adjustments based on what it judges to be the content of the image.  These are called ‘Looks‘.  Also, it now has slider controls for ‘light’, ‘color’ and ‘pop’ tools.  It is expanding the number of automatically generated movies from your pictures.  It will soon add three more types of movies;  1. New born, 2. Formal occasions (like weddings) and 3. ‘Through the years‘ which include annual events like Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc.

 

 

El Matador State Beach, Malibu, CA

 

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This state park, located along the coast, is popular with photographers for it’s large, accessible rock formations located on the beach.  It is somewhat difficult to access due to the steep stairs one must use to gain access.

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My two adult children and I had decided to take a quick trip to Cali to see a couple of hockey games in the L.A. area (LGRW).  Between the games we hoped to do some hiking, but due to the recent rains decided to forego the muddy trails for the beach.  I had brought my camera with me, but not my tripod (we went as light as possible so as not to check any bags on the flight).  I had brought a JOBY Gorillapod Focus + Ballhead that I’ve owned for a couple of years, but never used.  So, for the pictures here I struggled with it.  Not using it to hang off a tree branch, but to support the camera from the ground proved awkward at best.  But, it worked in a pinch. I have since purchased a Vanguard VEO 235AB Tripod which will be perfect for hiking in the Rockies where I live.  It will fit into my day pack nicely as it folds up to just 15 inches high and supports up to 13.2 lbs.

Above is a Time Lapse I took with my iPhone 6+s using the app Hyperlapse.  This is me following my son and daughter down the steep trail and steps to the beach.

The conditions for photography were not great in that it was overcast with gray skies and somewhat foggy.  But we had fun and I got a couple of ‘travel photos’ to mark the occasion!

 

Spiking it in Rocky, Testing Kahtoola’s MICROspikes







_VEE0190Today was the first day I had time and weather to get out into the mountains.  I was excited to try out my new MICROspikes from Kahtoola.  I had tried several hikes in winter mountains last year without them and it was difficult and scary!

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So here they are (above), trying them on for the first time in the parking lot!  Just navigating the ice in the Parking Lot had me thinking that I had spent my money wisely!

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My test for them was to take place in an area I was familiar with, Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park.  Bear Lake has a number of spurs off of it one can take up into the mountains.  But, it also has a relatively level hike around the Lake that is only about a mile.  Well, the initial trial went so well I was easily drawn in to do an uphill test.

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One of the spurs off the lake has a trial that after .4 miles splits and heads up to the top of Flat Top Mountain.  It’s 4 miles (as you can see from the sign) and goes gradually uphill, high above the lakes on a trial below that leads to Emerald Lake.  Now, I didn’t pretend that I would go that to the top of the mountain on my initial test, but I knew there was a nice overlook of one of the lakes below (Dream Lake) just less than two miles away.

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So, I was off.  It was a beautiful day.  Blue skies and temps in the mid to upper 30s at the elevation I was hiking at.  There was 2.5 to 3 feet of snow on the trial.  But, it had been well packed down by snowshoers and traction footwear hikers like me.  Even though I have been walking and jogging to stay in shape, I soon learned the difference that altitude and snow can make!  The MICROspikes worked well though and I felt confident going across some fairly steep areas along the way.  I only ‘telephone poled‘ it a couple of times.  That’s a term I learned at lunch in town.  That’s when you sink into the snow up to your butt!

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The only real downside to my hike was the occasional garbage and defacing of trees I found along the trail.

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Usually when you get more than 100 yards from the parking lot one does not find these type of problems.  The hikers that have worked to get this far are usually very aware of how their behavior can detract from the beauty of this area.  Leave No Trace is their mantra.  I guess this area (near the beginning of the spur) was low enough that some newbie hikers had made it this far.  I only hope they learn quickly the negative effect their careless behavior has on the experience of other hikers and the environment.

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The view along the way was beautiful and I was rewarded when I got to the Dream Lake Overlook with a beautiful azure blue sky.  You could look over the edge and see hikers walking along the frozen lake below.  As for photography, my only complaint was that I could have used a few clouds to make the sky more interesting.  But, hey, who’s complaining when this is the view from their office?

Doggie Photoshoot!

Jess and ZoeyMy daughter has a 5 yr old rescue dog (looks like a cattle dog).  This critter will play fetch with anything.

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It is tenacious, never tiring.  We decided to take her dog (Zoey) down to the local park and get some shots of her in action.  Today, we are using a fabric frisbee.  I find this a great way to practice for my sports shooting.

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I love the myriad of facial expressions Zoey provides.  In the one above she appears to be looking straight into the camera asking ‘Did you get this one, I caught it!’.

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Great fun for sure.  The best part is that she never asks ‘Is that enough’ and is always ready for more!  Great Practice!


Hike to Lake Isabelle in Indian Peaks Wilderness Area

Indian Peaks Wilderness AreaIndian Peaks Wilderness Area is missed by most visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park.  It is located about 25 miles south of the National Park and has some fantastic hiking opportunities.If you don’t have the energy (or are simply not in good enough shape) to hike into the sub-alpine and alpine areas of the Rockies, one can drive to trailheads here that begin around 10,500 ft!  In this post, I would like to describe a hike I’ve done a number of times.  It’s a hike up to Lake Isabelle (as sub-alpine lake).

Lake Isabelle

Lake Isabelle

The distance to Lake Isabelle is a 2.5 mile hike from the trailhead.  It is rated as easy as it remains nearly flat for the majority of the hike.  Toward the very end you’ll go through a couple of switch backs, but nothing too steep.  From trailhead to the lake there is only a 388 ft gain in altitude, topping out at 10,868 ft.  It’s a fee area, but if you have your National Park Pass you can use it to get you in free!  Brainard Lake MapThe picture on the left is of my hiking buddy, Steve, looking at a map of the Brainard Lake Area.  It has plenty of camping sites (first come, first served) on paved interior roads.  There are no services available.  They do have nice bathrooms available, but no flush toilets or running water.  This is typically a wet area, so plan on muddy boots and bring rain gear.

Brainard Lake

The area is so named for a dammed lake (Brainard Lake)  You are able to drive across the dam on the way to the trailheads.  Take time to look around the lake and it’s dam.  It’s a beautiful area.  The dam feeds a stream that runs off toward the campgrounds.  Moose frequent the area.  They are fun to watch, but keep your distance, especially from cows and their calfs!

Brainard Lake Dam

Brainard Lake Dam

The Trailheads provides ample paved parking and information concerning trail conditions and recent animal sightings.  Before taking off on your hike, be sure to visit the park volunteers at the information booth to check trail conditions.

Lake Isabelle Trailhead

Lake Isabelle Trailhead

Steve and I at the Trailhead

Steve and I at the Trailhead

The trail is shaded for much of your journey as you will be hiking through Engelmann Spruce and subalpine fir.  The first mile of your hike will have you walking beside Long Lake (which not surprisingly is a long lake!).  It won’t be visible most of time as it is hidden by the trees.

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There are two ways around the lake.  The trail on the north side is the most direct and most traveled (Isabelle Glacier Trail).  If you choose to take the south trail (Jean Lunning Trail), you will cross a small bridge and go around the lake meeting back up with the main trail at the west end of the lake.  It is about 4 miles to circumnavigate Long Lake.

This is a worth while hike on it’s own as many wildlife sightings have been reported in the area.  The day we hiked, there had been moose, bear and mountain lion spotted in the area over the past week!  Unfortunately, the only animals we encountered were noisy marmots up by Lake Isabelle.  There are many wild flowers along the trail in June and July.  So, don’t be surprised to come across the scene below often!

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Stopping to photograph wild flowers and water falls can lengthen the duration of your hike quite a bit.  So, be sure to plan the time into your schedule for ‘stopping to smell the roses’,  as it’s well worth it.  Below are some of the flowers we found along the path on our hike.

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Paintbrush

Shooting Stars

Shooting Stars

Shrubby Cinquefoil

Shrubby Cinquefoil

Bluebells

Bluebells

After hiking past Long Lake you will begin to notice the area up ahead  appears to be significantly higher in elevation than you are currently at.  You are about to travel up a few switch backs to climb up to Lake Isabelle.  This will prove to be  the most picturesque part of the your hike.

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Indian Peaks Wilderness Area

You are soon rewarded with a view of Lake Isabelle.  At the north end you may notice a large snow cap across the escaping water that cascades into the valley below.  Keep an eye and an ear out for the Marmots playing in the rocks to your right.

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This lake serves as a reservoir for some of the towns east of the foothills in Colorado.  The day we were there, it was half drained to permit some work on the outlet.  But, as you can see below, it still is a beautiful subalpine lake.

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If you’re adventurous, you may want to continue your hike up through the pass.  There is plenty more to see if you’re in shape and properly equipped!

May trip to Rocky Mountain N. P.

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Following the near 15″ snowfall we had in Fort Collins earlier this week, I took a trip up into Rocky Mountain National Park to see what the state of the park was.  The sun had melted most of the snow in Fort Collins over the last couple of days and to my surprise their wasn’t much snow left in the lower parts of the park either.  All the pictures here are from Moraine Park.  A friend and I (Steve) were returning down into Moraine Park from a drive up to Bear Lake (where there is still substantial snow!  Also, be forewarned that this road is under construction and is dirt for about half of it.).  Upon entering Moraine Park we spotted four Coyotes running together.  Being caught with my 24-70 lens on the body of the D4, I hurriedly stopped and ran to the back of the truck and threw my 300 mm, f2.8 on.

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By this time the Coyotes were moving quickly through the trees left to right.  I took several shots, but only managed to capture no more than three of them in the lens at a time.  Steve said that they seemed to be chasing (or at least spooked) several Mule Deer that were now further up on one of the hills.  As you can see the coyotes still look healthy in the winter coats.  A lesson here was re-learned.  While at a Moose Peterson workshop in Yellowstone back in 2009 I observed that he always drove through the park with a his camera attached to a long lens on his lap!

_VEE8121-EditA little further along the road that goes down into Moraine Park there were 30-40 Elk spread out over a couple hundred yards.  Unlike the coyotes, these animals looked like it had been a long winter. They appeared to have begun the process of loosing their winter coats (along with their winter fat stores)

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.   Hopefully with the snow melting they will be able to fatten up.  A few of the Elk had a few riding buddies.  A couple of Magpies were hopping from back to back on some of the Elk.  They appeared to eating bugs from around the necks.  But, to be honest, this is just a guess on my part as I was unable to actually see this occur.

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If you look closely at the picture above, you can see a Magpie on the closest elk.  On the way out of the park we stopped at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center.  Steve noticed a Mountain Bluebird near the parking lot.  There have been a number of reports this week that large numbers of them had been found dead following the snow storm in the Fort Collins area.  One of the possible reasons was that many of these birds had just arrived in the area with depleted fat reserves from their migration.  The record cold temperatures during the day and half storm may have been too much for birds and were unable to keep themselves warm.  So, this Bluebird was a welcome sight.

_VEE8154-EditI apologize for messy look of the blog.  It appears that many of the links have broken in the outside columns.  I will try to clean these up over the next few days!