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June 23,2010 - Bird watching ...

Bird watching is a great way to spend a day. It is also a great way to justify the purchase of those REALLY big telephoto and zoom lenses to the accounting department. Our friends Andrew and Candace told us about a heron rookery out on an island just off Manchester-by-the-Sea and asked if we would care to join them in checking it out. Looking for any excuse to get out of the office, we didn't have to be asked twice.

On the way to the rookery, we stopped off in Hamilton to get a peek at some hawk hatchlings which were big enough to venture from the nest, but had not yet taken flight. It was a good opportunity to practice with our equipment, try a few body/lens combinations, and see if we needed the TrekPod or not.

The image of the hawk on the left was taken with a D90 and the Sigma 80-400mm lens without the aid of a tripod. The one on the right was taken by Andy using his D700 and the Nikon 200-400mm on a tripod. The difference was pretty striking once we had a chance to take a closer look at the two images. The D700 w/ the 200-400mm on a tripod produced a far sharper image. So even with vibration reduction (VR) active on a bright sunny day, it is still better to put things on a tripod than to try to shoot free hand.

After we had our fill of the hawks, we packed up our gear and proceeded to our intended destination, the Coolidge Reservation. This property used to be the summer home for the family of a wealthy businessman, but is now owned and maintained by the Trustees of Reservations. It is an open grassy expanse edged by large boulders and other glacial deposits. One can clearly see the score marks on the rocks left by the glaciers. There are sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean, Manchester-by-the Sea, the North Shore coastline. On a clear day, one can see the Boston skyline and even bits of Cape Cod.

What we were interested in on this visit was the island not too far off shore where the herons were roosting. Just before dusk, the birds would head back to their nests. When conditions are right, you can see them fly overhead toward the island. We got there around 6PM, set up the gear, and waited. It was a beautiful spot and the breeze from the water kept the bugs from bothering us.

While the spotting scope gave us great views of the birds on the island, it was a bit too far for our 400mm lens to get any decent images of the herons. The TrekPod was helpful for still shots, but having the camera on it made it too cumbersome to react to the birds flying overhead. The D90 with a long zoom lens was well balanced on the TrekPod, but this combo was definitely pushing the limit. We would not recommend leaving this much gear on the TrekPod unattended as it could tip over. Still, because of it versatility, the TrekPod is definitely our tripod of choice when we go out in the field.

Since we were not able to get many shots with the camera on the TrekPod, we decided to activate the VR on the lens and practice shooting free hand. All of these images (birds, plane, moon) were shot hand-held, with vibration-reduction active, and at maximum zoom (400mm).

The 18-200mm lens was on the D40 and the 80-400mm was on the D90. This gave us a fairly wide range of framing options. The convenient thing about having multiple camera bodies is we don't have to switch lenses when we want to go from wide angle to tight zoom. It also enables us to react faster when we want to get in tight quickly. On the trek back, we spotted some egrets while shooting a scenic shot of the marsh. If we had to stop and switch lenses, we probably would not have bothered.

It was pretty clear that a large stable tripod is a must-have for these types of outings. The ones we brought were adequate for the task, but were either a bit heavy or not quite stiff enough. We would not want to trek any distance with them on our shoulders. Clearly it is time to check out some of the newer carbon-fiber units on the market. Let us know if you have any personal favorites or if there are ones you would like us to review. We hope to have something by the Fall and suggestions will help us narrow the field. [Permalink] -Bird watching


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