Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Weekend Trip To Whitewater Draw

As noted in our last post, we made our second, and likely last trip this season to visit with the Sandhill Cranes at Whitewater Draw. They usually depart mid-February, so they'll be headed north very soon. We made a slight detour on the way down and visited Dave, who lives near Sierra Vista. He was on our first trip what, 3 years ago, and indicated that a lens of his, a 400mm F/4 might be available to borrow. Well, we finally got a chance to make good on that deal. He wasn't up to join us on the trip, but the lens did!

We've been chasing birds for a couple years now, both here in Arizona and up in Illinois, but my "premium" lens has always been either a Nikon 500mm F/8, or a Meade 480mm F/6 - a small telescope, really. The problems with both is that they are manual focus, and birds rarely want to wait around while you spend time focusing on the glint of sunlight off their eyeball! So it is a joy to use one of these "super-telephoto" lenses that not only have auto focus (in a small fraction of a second) and image stabilization to boot! All pictures from our last post, as well as this one, (except the sunset pic in Sunday's post) were taken with the 400 F/4 either alone or with a 1.4 converter. He is also allowing me to keep it for a week or two for some astronomical imaging, but we're in the middle of the rainiest weather we've had in years! We'll see if I get to try it at night...

Like we said in our last brief post, it was a little blustery upon our arrival at Whitewater, and while there were a lot of cranes and Snow Geese, they were mostly hunkered down from the wind, without any opportunities for "close encounters" with the big lens. I took a few shots from the viewing stands, but nothing spectacular. A little closer to sunset, from a different perspective, I was able to get some birders and cranes with the bright glint from the Large Binocular Telescope atop Mount Graham, 85 miles to the north.

I did have some success though with some of the smaller birds in the lagoons there. Even with the windy conditions, they gotta eat, so I followed a little Black Phoebe and managed some nice closeups with the 400+1.4. Their behavior is very much like the Vermillion Flycatchers mentioned a few posts ago. They fly off to catch a bug, but almost always return to the same roost between flights.

While waiting for the wind to die down, we did have some Northern Shovelers drift past, but they seemed more concerned feeding underwater than pay any attention to the birders. Mostly got lots of pictures of their butts in the air. Note the wind-induced waves - surfs up!


We always spot some new birds with every trip there. At least 3 this time including a pair of Common Snipe (pics only from a distance) and a female Northern Harrier. The Harrier was quite spectacular in it's behavior. It came gliding in very slowly, almost hovering over some of the marshy islands looking for mice and prey. She made multiple passes over 15 or 20 minutes, though none very close. She was amazing to watch and you can see why they named a jet aircraft that hovers a harrier!






Another new one for us at Whitewater were a couple of Pied-Billed Grebes. The first approached us closely, though was almost directly up-sun, daring us to take photos of it. The second was nearer to sunset and was much more cautious. It was getting dark enough that I even used the on-camera flash to pull out a little more detail,and the reflection can be seen in it's eyeball. This one shows the more characteristic black stripe on it's bill displayed during breeding season.


The last picture to show off is of the crowd of Yellow-Headed Blackbirds. As I posted from our last trip, they appeared minutes before sunset, though seemingly sensing the big lens I was carrying, they kept their distance. But even from a distance, the flock collecting on the bare trees seemingly transformed them into flowering shrubs.

The visit was a classic - even with the wind and lack of close-up opportunities, it was a beautiful late afternoon and sunset, and a great time just to sit and watch nature happen. As the sun set, the cranes gathered in the growing darkness. I took a few shots - my favorite shot of them was in our last post. But as the stars came out, it was hard to leave, but the 2 hour return drive demanded it...

1 comment:

David A. Harvey said...

About time you started using some decent Canon equipment! See the difference it makes! Dump the Meade and Nikon garbage - go Canon!