Saturday, August 20, 2016

A New Toy!

     I had a "treat yourself" gift to myself, especially since it was like my birthday and stuff, and also since I have been casually looking at different lenses, out of curiosity. Then at the end of July I accidentally discovered a Nikon lens with good reviews for wildlife photography and that was "affordable." I use that term, affordable lightly- it still cost a pretty penny, but was under 2k and I had secretly been saving with the intent of splurging one day.
     So I splurged on this: AF-S Nikkor 200-500mm - I ordered through Amazon after getting frustrated with B&H, and Amazon having the same prices and free shipping with prime. I picked my package up at a UPS pick-up location and like a kid on their birthday, I opened up that box and attached this lens to my Nikon D5100-- and it made for a hilarious sight. I guess the next thing I will one day do is upgrade our camera body.
     Anyway, I was very very eager to go out for a test run, so after work yesterday I did a driving tour of Green-Wood Cemetery to my favorite spots to see what I could capture. I did not bring binoculars, because the lens kind of did that and also my sole purpose was just to photo and play. The results are in- enjoy:
So here is the thing-- when I go out to explore my mind is set to "don't expect anything." Why such a "negative" vibe? Well, I know I am looking for wildlife, the animals and what they do is out of my control, they are wild, with instincts, and their own habits, it helps me not get my hopes up. It also helps me get unbelievably excited when the wildlife just does amazing things in my favor. Just after a 100 yard drive in from the main arches I see a hawk on this guy's head.
A very cooperative red tailed hawk at that. My images are still cropped but I did find that I did not always have to zoom in at 500mm, especially to get the scene set of this hawk sitting on this bust positioned over a grave site. I mostly shot in manual, and with overcast skies I set my ISO at 125 or 150. I find that with my camera the higher I set my ISO the more noise- or grainy-ness to my photos. Again, a more fancy model of camera may work better than mine.
Also a nice chance to see a nice hawk adaptation- a day-time hunter wants to keep the sun out of their eyes. Hawks have nice ridges above their eyes, like a baseball cap brim to keep their eyes shaded as they hunt.
And this hawk, he seems pretty comfortable with me staring at him. One leg up is an indicator that he is at rest on his perch. I think he was more concerned anyway with mockingbirds, notorious for pestering and chasing hawks from their perches as they aggressively fight off potential predators.
Another predatory adaptation, like humans, hawks and other birds of prey have binocular vision. Looking at them head-on, you can see them looking right back at you, as their eyes and ours are positioned as forward facing. As a hunter this helps them judge distance to their prey and get a more precise location when they swoop in for the kill.
The lucky bust to have a hawk perch upon his head, Peter Brunjes.
And of course another predatory adaptation- a hooked beak to help you rip and tear, for feeding on your prey.
In walking back to my car, I caught this view and had to grab it. If a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush-- I wonder how much a bird on the head is worth...
I drove to my next location- I opted to drive for a few reasons- I had only a little over an hour before the cemetery closed and I did not want to break my new lens in traveling by bike. And in the end, I'm glad I drove, the lens is heavy. I now have a good idea of when and when not to use it. It is best for driving with or planning to be fairly stationary with. It will be great for beach birding and hawk watching especially!
At the Sylvan water I found this Kestrel wayyyyyyy up a tree. I brought my monopod- which I should have used for this (another good way to use this lens is with a tripod or some kind of support).
These pictures are okay. With a larger zooming capacity, images shake a lot more in the viewfinder- especially when craning your neck upward to the sky, which is why I should have used my pod. This little male American Kestrel is the smallest falcon in N. America and a predator of small birds and voles.
One tool that I invested in and found useful was if I were to carry this gigundo lens around, I found a nice strap to support and carry it with. I got this cross-body strap on Amazon that makes toting a bit easier.
After the Sylvan water I was off to the Dell and Crescent waters, hoping to find an egret (and it was a mistake to hope for that, because there was no egret to be found).
While walking around the Dell water I heard some loud chewing. Turned around and found this ham of a woodchuck. Someone has been eating well. It was so funny seeing them earlier in the spring, looking so skinny after hibernating off all that winter fat. Well, it looks like if he keeps it up, he will be very well prepared for a winter underground.
Sniffing out some potential snacks and giving us a nice view of those incisor rodent teeth.
Remember how I said to never expect anything. Well, this was totally unexpected. It resulted in my melting into the grass under a tree and wasting 20 minutes of my life in a world of cute... and donating about a pint of blood to the cemetery mosquitoes.
A very young (and adorable) raccoon maybe got up a smidge too early- it was about 6:30pm- maybe the overcast skies threw off his little internal raccoon clock. I was not worried, because he was not acting "weird," he did not approach me, actually, I surprised him as he ran off from me to this tree and then with both of us in shock (one of us in shock of cute, the other more like fear), had a stare down to understand what the heck was going on.
Then, a spotted sandpiper flew in and stole my attention for a second...
After standing at the tree for 7 minutes he then brought his paws back to the ground. But continued the stare. This is very much a cropped image, FYI. I just needed to get a full frame of cute.
Then he decided I was okay, and went and walked through the grass near his safe haven tree.
It's not uncommon to see some of the young raccoons out early or during the day. They are learning and have to compete (especially in a crowded city) with other raccoons and may need to head out early to find food (which for a raccoon is dangerous). If you see a raccoon by day, it's not completely out of the question, especially in the evening or early morning- but if they exhibit abnormal behaviors, that's when you should call your local animal control for assistance. 
He looks like a kitten, I can't stand it! I know raccoons are not people's favorite animals, but I really do adore them.
I needed to get back to my car so as to not get locked into the cemetery, and this guy did the right thing. I am big and scary so he retreated to his tree.
But he did so with an ounce of curiosity for my benefit.
Those front paws are very hand-like and great for grasping. Raccoon hands are very sensitive to touch and grasp very well, and many times we mistake their "washing food" as them just being aware of their hygiene. In reality raccoons forage in the wild near water (raccoon prints and fecal evidence was all around the Dell water) where they use their extra sensitive paws to feel around for shellfish, plants, and other treats to eat- but in another case of us anthropomorphizing- we see it as washing. In captivity raccoons move their hands and food around in water just the same, doing what they would naturally do in the wild- they are not really washing their food.
So how would I rate this new toy I got myself, I'd give it a 9 out of 10, I love the quality of pictures, I love the zoom, and I am super satisfied with what I got for the price. The cons are that it is heavy, might require sitting or a mono/tripod to get a good focus on your subject,, especially if far off or high up, and it is best for very particular situations - I will not be taking it on a long hike any time soon. But overall I am very satisfied and look forward to opportunities to use it!
And super huge thanks to the hawk and raccoon for making my first outing with it a memorable one!