Little Miss Yellow

Greetings All!  Once again I have to face the shame from lack of blogging production.  I’ll spare you the details since I’ve already mentioned my current workload in previous posts.  Taking a positive position I was able to break away from the toils of the day (or rather the wicked humidity of the day) to put out a quick post.  Back to the birds for today’s featured critter.

Female Common Yellowthroat shot at Jubilee State Park IL August 2014

Kind of cute don’t you think?  This little girl comes to us from a few years back.  I was doing some hiking in my favorite park – Jubilee College State Park all the way back in August of 2014.  I’ve featured this park in numerous posts being as it is where I spend a good part of my spare time either training for runs (every other day) or catch a bit of hiking or birding.  Safe to say I am familiar with just about every inch of that park.  Oh, and it doesn’t hurt it is only a mile from my house.  From a birding perspective, there are several good spots in the park depending on what you happen to be looking for.  Want Eastern Bluebirds or Indigo Buntings head up to the flats near the pavilion areas and simply close your eyes and take in their sweet songs from every direction.  Prefer raptors or woodpeckers, hang at the edge of the tree lines along the fields or make your way through the wooded trails.  It pretty much has an ideal environment for every Midwestern bird species somewhere in its 3,200 acres.

Female Common Yellowthroat shot at Jubilee State Park IL August 2014

Hit the jump to find out what kind of bird this is.

Continue reading Little Miss Yellow

Little Boy Blue is a Lucky Dude

Not exactly lighting up the stage when it comes to posting this month.  Seems like one thing after another as of late.  This weekend was mainly focused on the Illinois’ Toughest 15K race in Peoria.  I’ll leave the details for the race recap post, but I can safely say that race owned me this year.  Made it through, but the body let me down in the wicked humidity.  Need to retool the body a bit and hopefully get a lot more heat conditioning training runs in before the next July (expect it to be even hotter for that race ugh).  Regardless, there’s a quota to tend to and no time to waste.  Luckily I have most of the pictures processed for the rest of this month’s post so the hard part is behind me.  With that, let’s bring out the Blues.

Eastern Bluebird couple shot at Jubilee State Park in May 2015

To be more specific, that would be an Eastern Bluebird couple.  This elegant pair was captured not far from my house in Jubilee College State Park near Brimfield IL back in May 2015   That park is pretty much my stomping ground for birding and running (better bring your hill climbing muscles if you want to explore or run a lot of that park).  On that particular day I had parked at the end of the main campground road and spent most of the morning following a Kickapoo Creek feeder that runs through the heart of the park.  For the most part not a lot of birds made it into the tin that AM so decided to call it an early day and head back to the truck.

Eastern Bluebird couple shot at Jubilee State Park in May 2015

As I neared the parking lot I spotted the female (the more drab of the two if you are not familiar with this particular bird) staring intently at the ground from atop a nearby fence post.  Curious, I kept my distance and took in the scene wondering what was so interesting to Ms. Blue.  It didn’t take long to figure it out – after about 30 seconds she launched from her perch, took a low trajectory path just above the grass and scored a tasty morsel for herself.  For some reason I didn’t think to have the camera ready and missed it completely – sometimes you just have to live in the moment and simply enjoy life in motion. As if that wasn’t cool enough, not long after that, a bright blue flash came gliding through the same area of the field and demonstrated its predator ability as well.  Those two were going to eat well that day!

… but wait…

Eastern Bluebird couple shot at Jubilee State Park in May 2015

Turns out this Bluebird couple was taking care of a new brood!  The male was the first to deliver the special package while the mother looked on – between you and I, I think she was just showing off that her catch was bigger than her husband’s!  It is about this time that the male discovered The Beast pointed at it… and more importantly pointed in a threatening manner at his family.  Guessing I looked like a giant bug that would definitely one up his wife’s recent score.  Not wanting to disturb his family or cause any undue stress, the glass was lowered and officially called it a successful day.

Eastern Bluebird couple shot at Jubilee State Park in May 2015

It wasn’t lost on me that there was a bit of irony as I left the parking lot – hehehehe.

Time to hit the hay – no worries, I’ll be back soon.

Crown Me

Here I sit in absolute frustration.  The weather is gorgeous out here in the Midwest and I’m stuck inside looking out the window like a kid who broke his arm at the start of summer vacation and wondering how long he has to wait to go play ball with his friends.  Now, I didn’t break my arm so that’s good, but my evil doctor assuredly conspiring with my wife has put a stall on my training plans due to the neck surgery.  Want to drive me nuts, warm up a winter day to 70 degrees and then tell me I can’t strap on the Asics and pound some pavement.  ARRRRGGGGHHHH.  The only upside is I hit my half marathon training peak (12 miles) a few days before the surgery so hoping the fall off is minimal (fingers crossed).  Of course, there is another upside to my sit time – more opportunities for posts!

Getting right to it.. meet Mr. Golden

Golden-Crowned Kinglet shot in Jubilee State Park April 2014

Pretty cute eh!?!  This Golden-Crowned Kinglet was shot back in April of 2014.  Yes, I’m waaay behind, but slowly coming to terms with my latency.  This colorful specimen was photographed in the middle of Jubilee State Park.  For those familiar with the area, the exact location was a small clearing off the road that leads to the back part of the campground.  The easiest way to get there is to walk down the pond trail about a third of the way and then hang a left.  You might encounter some thick brush, but if you follow the deer trails it will lead you to the clearing which actually sits on a bit of a bluff.  This is usually a treasure trove of field birds enjoying the spoils of the open brush with close proximity to the safety at the surrounding tree line.  It might be a bit noisy getting to the spot, so you might have to give some time for the birds to get comfortable again – a little patience usually brings a target rich environment.

Golden-Crowned Kinglet shot in Jubilee State Park April 2014

Hit the jump to see a few more images of this Golden-Crowned Kinglet.

Continue reading Crown Me

A Walk In The Woods: Jubilee

Welcome to the new month!!  It took a little longer that last year.. and the year before that.. and the year before that, but we made it.  Yesterday was a gorgeous day here in the Midwest.  The mercury made it up to  the 63 mark which signals a great time to go birding! Although not feeling the best from a bad run the day before, I decided to head down to Emiquon and then caught Jubilee State Park on the way back.  Neither of those locations produced anything noteworthy.  The plan was to come back, process the shots and get them up on the Blog for your enjoyment.  Unfortunately, the tin was pretty thin so pulling out a birding trip to Jubilee from back on January 30th of this year.

Birding in Jubilee State Park - January 30th, 2016

The shot above is definitely my favorite of the set.  In truth, the lighting wasn’t that great forcing me to push the ISO up.  This caused a grain that ended up adding to the overall look of the scene.  It has that water color effect or even the look of a Japanese rice paper painting.  Can’t wait to get that one printed out.

Here’s another shot of the same Eastern Bluebird.

Birding in Jubilee State Park - January 30th, 2016

This Nuthatch was hanging out in the bottoms down by the Jubilee pond.  This area is usually a bog, but the cold January weather froze it up enough to traverse it without issue.

Birding in Jubilee State Park - January 30th, 2016

Hit the jump to see a few more shots from the hike.

Continue reading A Walk In The Woods: Jubilee

The Brent Chapman of the Birding World

Merry Christmas everyone!  I was sitting around on Christmas Eve and wondering what a fitting topic would be for this festive day.  I decided I’d hold off a little more before I go off on the latest gun restriction talks and it didn’t seem right to post a recent experience with a deer (it is pretty gruesome and didn’t want Santa to get offended).  There’s the Hank Williams Jr. recollection (NOT) and I am not ready yet for either the Wisconsin trip post from earlier in the year and much to soon to go with the recent Vegas birding shots.  What to do, what to do.  Hey, nothing says Christmas like a super fisher!  Okay, it is really a gift to me to help pad some year end stats but it actually has a tie in to the last post on Allerton.

While processing the statue shots from the Allerton Park shoot (link here), a pleasant surprise caught my eye.  In the middle of shooting the Loch Ness shots a familiar sound emanating out from the nearby woods.  A sound that caught my attention having heard it for the first time a few weeks prior to making the trip up to Monticello.  Imagine, if you will, a long rattle – somewhat like a cricket on steroids.  Immediately the Beast was reoriented to the location of the sound in hopes the source would show itself.  A few minutes later a now “familiar” crested blue bird flew out of the woods and took a position in the trees along the bank of the pond.    “Familiar” may be  a strong word since it was still pretty new to me, but to my credit I had taken over 200 pictures at the first encounter.  You kind of get to know a bird after staring at it for that many shots.  The original shoot was at Jubilee Park and those shots tended to come out nicer so let’s lead with those.

And here it is:

If this is new to you, you might assume a common Blue Jay from the similar coloring.  However, the beak may be throwing you off… and if not, it should be.  That beak is HUGE!.  Add to that the overall large relationship of the head to the rest of the body pretty much eliminates the Jay.  This is actually a Belted Kingfisher and a brand new bird to the Blog.  This is one of those birds that is supposed to be common to our surroundings, but was never in the right spot at the right time.  That is until Linda and I took a quick run over to Jubilee Park to see what was hanging out around the pond. This is becoming a hot spot for new birds for us.  If you recall, this is where we shot the Green Heron (link here).  Not only were we at the right spot.. we had the Beast.

Without the Beast this would have probably been a missed opportunity.  Our subject (a male) was keeping its distance and really didn’t appreciate me being in his hunting area.  He would give me about 4 shots before fluttering off to some other branch.  Even with the large glass the bird was buried in tree branches for most of the time throwing the auto-focus all over the place.  The entire time I was shooting it, my assumption is it had a white eye and the light was working in my favor giving a nice glint.  During post processing, it became apparent that this was wrong.  The Kingfisher actually has a black eye – the white is just part of the base of the beak coloring.  This is why you never trust the LCD screen on the back.  Although it could not be seen while looking through the glass, the culprit for the focus walking was the twig positioned right in front of the bird – again, too small to see in the eyepiece or the LCD screen.  The shot below gives a good view of the eye in relationship to the white spot.

Some interesting facts.  The female Kingfisher actually has a burnt orange band on the belly – odd since the male is usually the more colorful of the sexes.  They are very common in North America (could have fooled me). They are year round in our neck of the woods (Illinois).  According to our friends over at Wikipedia, they actually nest in the banks of streams/ponds making an upward slanting tunnel to help guard against flooding.  As you would expect they carry a Least Concerned conservation status – again, hard to believe this was the first time I’ve really come in contact with one.

Hit the jump to see more shots of the Belted Kingfisher

Continue reading The Brent Chapman of the Birding World

Pleasantly Planned Luck

Jumping back to the photography related posts for this entry. If you spend any time on my little off ramp here, you have probably noticed that a large portion of my time behind the glass is spent shooting wildlife – particularly my feathered friends and the larger mammals when the opportunity arises. In truth, I actually take a lot of pictures of different subjects but generally keep those to myself unless there is something unique (leopard moths) or creepy about them (think arachnids). Every once in awhile I’ll go crazy and take a picture of a perfectly still mountain or lonely tree. These choice shots I tend to leave for my wife because that is her domain and I wouldn’t want to intrude on that or we might get into competition on who has better focus principles, who has better mastery of composition or grasps the concepts of light. Everybody knows I’m not really one for competition especially when it comes between a husband and wife. Unfortunately, a certain someone has started creeping out of “her” ummm let’s go with “their” comfort zone…. maybe taking big game shots and pitting them against other wildlife shots. I’m fine with that, of course, just saying…

So today, I decided to branch out a little myself just to mix it up a little bit around here. Linda and I were out at Jubilee Park, once again checking out what the park had to offer for photo ops. The birds have been a little scarce the last few times we were there forcing me to look a little closer to ground for interesting subjects. This led me to a clump of purple wildflowers filled with activity.

As the norm these days, the D7000 was supporting both the Beast and 1.4 Tele (I need to give this one a cool name too).  What better time than to get a little practice in on using big glass on smalls.  For those who have not tried this, to characterize it as a difficult is a huge understatement.  It is hard enough trying to get a bird tack sharp while hand holding glass this heavy, but to accomplish this on a subject that is smaller than the central focus can drive you crazy.  Looking at it from a different perspective, the better you get at this level, the better you will get a pictures that matter… I mean pictures of birds – yes birds.  There is definitely one major advantage of larger glass in this arena – at open aperture it throws the background into silky smooth bliss.  A nice benefit over having to fight the extremely tight depth of field.  You can get a feel for just how tight that is in the next shot.

Taking into account the size of the bee, you can extrapolate that to the size of the flower.  Notice how the back half of the flower is fading out of focus – probably looking at a couple of inches of play at best.  Now comes the tradeoff in the field.  Do you continue the fight to keep the center focus exactly where you need it and compensate for the likely drift of the focus and any inherent movement of the subjects or do you buy yourself some contingency by stepping the Aperture down (higher f# but in truth it is inverted).  There are tradeoffs whatever decision you make, but in truth all of us amateurs have a great debt of gratitude to the inventors of digital media – I would hate to even think about the bill for developing the number of shots we actually took that day.  In my mind, the right decision is to do both – experiment, learn and hit that magical delete key on the less than perfect.

Hit the jump to continue the discussion

Continue reading Pleasantly Planned Luck

The Death Card

DeathcardI am trying to muster enough energy to make a post after an exhausting Sunday.  It started with a training run in the hills of Jubilee State Park – yep, the one our EX-governor had the historic site closed on.  They have a daunting 13% grade hill that I spend a lot of time running up to train for the Bix7 in Davenport IA.  I had planned to catch up on some outside house work, but it started raining on me in the last mile or so of the run which I should have expected, since the local weatherman forecasted the rain would not start until tomorrow.  Trapped indoors, I decided to get another task out of the way – the Endless Set for Rock Band 2 on drums.  That’s right folks, 84 songs straight for the coveted achievement.  This took me from 3:30pm until 10:30pm because I opted against the “Iron Bladder” achievement which is given for those who can do the set without pausing (crazy).  Needless to say, I think my Rock Band fix is covered for the next couple of weeks.

I’ll dig deep and get this post covered.   Last night my wife and I headed over to the gambling boat for a little fun.  We set pretty conservative limits for ourselves.  So, when the big gamblers come out to play, I often find myself simply watching them try and beat the odds.  As is almost always the case these days, the low end tables are filled with people playing well beyond the table minimums.  I’ve decided these people need the attention and like to stand out from the pack.  In the high limit areas (where they belong) they are simply just one of the regulars if not the little guy depending on the spending ratios.  I was watching my wife play a machine and noticed two guys sitting at the blackjack table across the aisle.  Table minimum was $15 and had 3 or 4 other people playing hands in the 15-25 dollar range.  As far as I could tell, both guys were playing the same card spot with the guy on the end doing the majority of the betting and the guy next to him kept augmenting the bet at various times.  They had just won a 75 dollar bet and were given their winnings in $25 chips.  Catching my attention, they did not pull the bet off the table and let it ride.  They won that hand too and stacked their 6 new $25 chips on top and let it ride again.  Another win and they let those additional 12 chips ride as well.  Amazingly, they pulled a push on a 17, but left it out there for another.  Then fate came through and the dealer pulled a 20 over their 19 putting an end to their little grab for $1200 glory.  Thinking the show was over I turned back to my wife’s machine.  Twenty minutes or so later I look back to the table to see about 10 people standing around the perimeter of table.  Glancing at the card spot, I see another high stack of green chips on the line .. but this time they have their audience.  The guy augmenting the bets starts stacking blacks ($100) under the 25’s.  A couple of wins later, they have well over $1000 out there.  Maybe this is a good time to remind everyone that the table minimum was $15.  Then next deal draws a 7 4 against a dealer 9.  Sure enough, they doubled the stack and pulled the death card – in this particular situation a 4.  Dealer turns a 10 and the pile headed toward the bank.  Immediately the crowd dispersed and the show was over.  Sheepishly they reset to a $25 bet and stared at the ground.  No more high fiving each other or glowing to the crowd.

Were those sly smiles I saw on the rest of the players at that table? It appears the pedestal has been trimmed a little.   By the way, Michael Jordan was in town last night to watch his kid (Whitney Young) play for the State Championship.  They ended up winning thanks to the little Jordan’s efforts.  Hopefully, he’ll turn out more productive that the one the Illini got.  Thanks to their pathetic showing in the NCAA tournament, they are watching from the sidelines.  I mainly bring this up because I kept hearing people wonder out loud if Michael would be showing up based on his historical affinity to gambling.  I never saw him so apparently he has that under control now.