28 April 2009

Sinking in fire

That's a leafing tree reflected in a puddle, and the wet tarmac around the puddle doing a good imitation of many little mirrors for a particular slanting angle of sunlight.

Practically abstract, but I thought it was neat.

27 April 2009

A diversity of creatures

Aoife is an indoor cat. This is in part because her mean, cruel, heartless monkey can read mortality stats concerning outdoor cats, for both the cats and diverse songbirds, and it's in part because she is a territorial creature, and when in the grip of such notions apparently believes she could pound the stuffing out of a brace of Kodiak bears. Since I disagree with this assessment, and since I expect a number of the local outside cats would, too, not to mention cars and coyotes, she stays in.

She does get out on the balcony; even under severe provocation, she seems unwilling to leap the nine or so feet to the ground, which is why she continues to be allowed out there. This results in a certain amount of hopeful lurking inside the open door, just in case some songbird is very, very stupid. Being inside the door when something interesting happens therefore results in a sequence like this:
I am a descendant of Egyptian gods, and your external doings are beneath my notice. (Pay no attention to the deployed tail.)
Something of interest may be occurring outside of my oversight!
I will let it think I am ignoring it.

The mean, cruel, heartless monkey continues to tell himself that the tail fluffing, foot stomping, and darting about for angles of view (with her noggin stuffed out betwixt the rails of the railing as far as ever it might go) is healthful exercise and much better for her than attempts to exercise actual territorial imperative.

25 April 2009

Commence Singing

Birds generally do one major thing at a time. Each of moult, breed, and migrate is energetically demanding enough that doing anything else at that time increases the failure rate enough to be selected against.

So I can safely conclude—from this all-done-moulting fellow—that I am going to be hearing more singing goldfinches, soon.

22 April 2009

Predator-Prey Interaction

More or less the instant—for values of "more or less" that equate to "about a week before"—the weather supports the possibility, Aoife wants out on the balcony; it gets her full-resolution smell-o-vision and the opportunity to hunker down and glare at the world in the approved feline way.
As a result, I wind up wearing sweaters, turning the heat off, and opening the balcony door. Little miss cautious then lurks inside the door in a fit of predatory hope. (Since she appears to know that squirrels don't taste like food, that is to say, ocean fish, I don't worry about this. If she ever catches one there's going to be a full parasitology workup, which is going to make no-one happy.)
All that said, it's an excellent predatory glare.
Which is duly taken note of by a local arboreal rodent. (Who in fact spends a good chunk of his time doing chittering, foot-stamping, and other indications of a willingness to prove he's perfectly capable of beating her up at Aoife.)
When Aoife actually moves out on to the balcony, though, the vestiges of good sense reassert themselves and our local arboreal rodent relocates himself.
To a properly distant and elevated vantage from which to engage in some further sustained cat-mocking.
Aoife spent long enough making predatory jaw-of-doom noises back that all she wants to do now is curl up under the couch-cover and snooze. The house comes back up to non-sweater temperatures in a couple hours, once the door is closed, and all is well with the world.

Leaves and Flowers

Every now and again, I get something crisp from trying to do distant macro shots with the DA 55-300. Taken hand-held off the balcony at 300mm, 1/500, f8.

20 April 2009

Facts and Truth

I run into various arguments containing assertions of the form "natural selection is true" and it makes me want to scream.

There's an essential distinction being missed when someone makes an argument like that. Facts are things which can be agreed on independent of the contents of any particular person's mind; truth is a function of some specific mind.

Human brains construct minds with no ability to inherently distinguish these two cases; memory has no footnote or citation facility, to allow remembering why something is labelled a fact, to warn that the fact nature is old and the associated field of study rapid, or to warn that the fact is isolated from context properly understood by this possessing mind.

This doesn't mean language shouldn't make the distinction.

Facts are what we can agree on by material, quantified, repeatable means, independently of anyone in particular; natural selection, the speed of light, the mass of a litre of water, how much in rained yesterday in a location with an in-service rain gauge, thermal efficiency of a specific, tested device.

Truth is what somebody, some specific person, believes. That isn't constrained to be factual and will in no case entirely be factual. (That peer review step? It's a check for "is this really independent of your specific mind?" It can't be left out.)

Making this distinction lets the argument use words like 'contrafactual'; it lets the argument point out something that everyone knows from experience, that no amount of intensity of belief will alter facts. There's some chance of getting somewhere with an argument like that.

There's no chance of getting somewhere when you're trying to make an argument that something isn't true, when the person you're arguing with knows with complete certainty that it is true; they know their own mind and know what they believe.

More Redwings

Not a good photo; I didn't manage to get the focal plane actually on, as distinct from near, our full-spring-plumage example Mr. Glowy Bird, here. But for a "what bird is that?" shot it's more than sufficient, it's what they more typically look like, and I like the overall sense of thicket. (Which I won't be able to get when it stops raining; things are leafing out.)
Mrs. Red-winged Blackbird is a better example of the focus-through-the-vegetation technique; there's less vegetation, the shot is from a tripod, and I've actually got her in the plane of focus, so we have feather detail rather than just colours burning against the sunlight.
The more I use the Rokinon 800mm/f8, the more I want a Pentax DA version, or at least some version with SMC coatings. This is an extremely useful bird lens, despite its considerable technical limitations.

18 April 2009

Green Is Almost the Colour

Tree swallows are shiny, zoomy little birds. The zoomy goes with the swallow catch-insects-on-the-wing lifestyle, and the shiny just seems to have happened.

Flight pictures will have to await a substantial increase in skill on the part of this photographer.

Taking wing

Working my way up slowly to birds-in-flight pictures.

17 April 2009


Uses for that focus like a microtome -- focus past the relatively thick standing dead grass from last year, and get a usable picture of a killdeer acting like a plover and wading in the water.

One can even see that the iris is red, which makes me happy.

Mirror Bokeh

500mm Tamron SP2 lens, ISO 400, 1/400
Bokeh is an Anglicization of a Japanese term for "out-of-focus blur".
Generally speaking, mirror lens (catadioptric, strictly) iris bokeh is considered icky awful wretched bad, in significant part because what would be points with a refractor lens turn into tiny toruses.
Now, I seem to be prone to liking mirror lenses already; the combination of being able to afford them and being able to carry them (which is really "can shoot this handheld") makes me very happy for bird photography purposes.
This shot, though, I don't think one can sensibly complain of the bokeh. Not like it, sure, but I do not see how it could be considered aesthetically objectionable in this instance.

Walking on Water

They are really very pretty birds, despite lamentable impulses and temperaments.
And of course this particular mallard drake is finishing up a sequence of preening, rather than actually attempting to walk on the water.

16 April 2009

Sing, sing a song!

Same sparrow, but from two different positions on the path.

Pretty sure it's a song sparrow.
Pretty sure identifying sparrows is hard.

15 April 2009

The Sunny Side of the Swan

The short version is that I didn't know ufraw could do that.
The slightly longer version is that the sunny side of the swan and the shaded side of the swan are by default much further apart in brightness than you're seeing here, but I have learned a new trick and can now rescue myself from situations where the sunny side feather detail is only visible at -1 stop without resorting to single-exposure HDR techniques.
So with any luck you can see the feather detail on both sides and my current sense of accomplishment is justified.

Long-tail ducks

White head, bright bright sunlight = highlight problems, I'm afraid, but these are at least recognizable.

I presume they're stuffing themselves on zebra mussels before heading back to the summer ocean habitat; I would normally have expected all the longtails to be gone by the end of the second week in April, but there's quite a large flock there still.

The first three pictures are from the offshore/upwind side, and there were metre-fifty waves coming in, which tended to obscure the ducks as they vanished into troughs. The last two pictures are from the the inshore side, which was calm, but the ducks were mostly too far out for a useful picture with this lens. (800mm Rokinon; I clearly need a longer lens. :)

And quoth the grackle, "Nevermore!"

It's amazing what water reflections can do to the colour balance of a sunny spring day.

14 April 2009

Blue and Cyan

Didn't pay any careful attention to what species these are; I'm fairly sure they're not an example of sexual dimorphism in one species, but beyond that, I cannot say.

12 April 2009


Despite their being rather more of the male red-wings visible, they were harder to photograph; both generally further away and less likely to be holding still, rather than daring at one another, going into mantling displays, and looking for a spot with better acoustics.
Usually, I'm reasonably pleased with a bird photo if I can tell reliably what bird it is; that doesn't hold up so well as a criteria with male red-winged blackbirds in breeding plumage, since even at the level of blurred blobs one can often tell what it is. Still, these will do.

11 April 2009

In praise of tripods

The Canada Domain pond at the Metro Zoo is one of my favourite places to try tripod photography, as long-suffering readers of Dubious Prospects are probably already well aware. This has a lot to do with the elevated observation platform with roof. The wood floor does bounce up and down as particularly enthusiastic people pass by, but still; the basically dry, basically flat, and definitely shaded spot is a most helpful thing to have.

This time of year, the frogs have just started chorusing, the male trumpeter swan is wildly territorial (actually launched after the geese yesterday, of course while I didn't have a sufficiently short lens on the camera to attempt to record the event), and the red-winged black birds are quite mad with spring and the prospect of nesting.

So mad that I could actually photograph a female, complete with the traditional "is that some sort of giant sparrow?" moment, without a mess of reeds in front of it. I'm quite pleased with these, and glad I took the tripod and the cable release.

Rokinon 800mm/f8, ISO 200, 1/80
Rokinon 800mm/f8, ISO 200, 1/100
Rokinon 800mm/f8, ISO 200, 1/100
Rokinon 800mm/f8, ISO 200, 1/40

The tripod is a real help. Have to go try for some ducks down by the lake sometime soon.

10 April 2009

Firmware Upgrade

So Pentax has released firmware 1.03 for the K20D.

It is alleged that "The following content have been improved in Version 1.03 Improved the accuracy of SR (Shake Reduction) function."

Well, perhaps it has; I have no idea how to test that. (Ride on really rattly machinery?)

What does show is that the autofocus is much faster; my historical rate for getting "point camera with autofocus lens at flying gull; mash button" to produce a focus lock and trip the shutter is about 1 in 5, maybe 1 in 6. Today, post-upgrade, it got them all.
Continuous autofocus is doing rather better, too. It's not getting confused by all that stuff behind the gull.
Tracked this one behind the out-of-focus branches. That would have lost the lock on the 1.01 firmware.
Slightly past straight up.

I've been very pleased with the increased speed of the focus confirmation, too; it makes using the manual focus mirror lenses much more straightforward.

09 April 2009

Noisy birds

Not, I hasten to add, that the cardinals themselves make a lot of noise; they don't. (Even without the starlings and house sparrows for comparison, they wouldn't make a lot of noise.) But the pictures were taken at dusk, in falling snow, at ISO 1600, and are rather noisy in consequence.
Still, not entirely bad, and I very much hope that's the last of the snow for this season of the year.

07 April 2009

April is the Cruelest Month

Playing with depth of field (and ISO that's higher than I thought; 3200 instead of 1600, hence rather a lot of noise), in part due to a certain amount of ranting currently occurring on a Pentax mailing list I read.

Icicles on the bird feeder in April; I don't know how small feathery creatures convey disgust so well, but they do. (Our plumage is all beautiful, and we want to sing! But instead we must eat oil-seeds like mad things, or we will freeze! Sulk! crunch Sulk! crunch, and I need refill the finch feeder.)

Stretching a point

My actual first observed robin of spring was a succession of eight or nine robins along a grassy verge on the way back down from Markham on the bus; that happened last Tuesday.
But this is the first robin I've seen in my actual yard, so I suppose it gets to be the official First Robin of Spring, there in its blowing snow.

I'm getting better at picking birds out of thickets; it helps that the contrast is much better (male robin against pale branches, rather than brown sparrow against brown branches) and the range a good bit shorter. (10m versus 30m.)

Both ISO 800, 1/15s, 800mm/F8, hand-held. So, yes, these are the best two of ten, but I'm going to be pleased with myself anyway. Even for the K20D and anti-shake, that's pushing the envelope at least medium-hard.

Spectacled Owl

Every now and again the cage mesh condescends to not be a problem. The florescent light fixture eye highlights, well, there are limits to all things.

Quite the beak, too, even for an owl.

06 April 2009

Diversity of Greens

With a title like that it really ought to be a picture of eleven varieties of swiss chard, but it's the back wall of the Americas Pavilion at the Metro Zoo. Not generally visible once the trees leaf out, and I thought the diversity of greens on the glass—whether paint, algae, or other, I wot not—was interesting.


Normally I curse the weird reflective properties of the enclosure glass[1] at the zoo; this one is an exception.

The mesh is a different side of the enclosure, where they have enough space for the second barrier, not actually behind the jaguar.

[1] I'm pretty sure it's plexi or polycarbonate or similar "sneers at rhino charges" material, rather than glass as such. It was also unusually clean; I may have been fortunate in my choice of day. Especially since I could stand where I was without wading in small children.

Actual focus

Same Rokinon mirror lens; it can focus properly, it's just a bit of a trick. (Focal plane like a microtome and the whole barrel rotates, so one must, without a tripod, hold it by the focus adjustment.)
It's possible I am slowly getting better at this.