Unannounced Southern Ohio Warbler Workshop Report

A participant and I did a “test” weekend workshop in some southern Ohio forests and had wonderful success with various species. A beautiful two day workshop was had based out of the Lake Hope State Park cabins. The cabins are anything but primitive – they have several rooms, full kitchen, AC and heat, porch; they are like free standing hotel suites for a mere $65 per night. Our star birds were a cooperative Scarlet Tanager, Prothonotary Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, White-eyed Vireo, and Louisiana Waterthrush. We were also able to photograph a Black-and-white Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, American Redstart, Common Yellowthroat, Eastern Towhee, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and others. Despite the occasional showers, we managed excellent photos and incredible experiences with some of the country’s most beautiful songbirds. Here are a few of my favorite shots from the trip:

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Worm-eating Warbler | May 2008 | Canon 40D | Canon 500mm f4 IS |

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Prothonotary Warbler | May 2008 | Canon 40D | Canon 500mm f4 IS |

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White-eyed Vireo | May 2008 | Canon 40D | Canon 500mm f4 IS |

Northern Ohio Warbler Workshops Report

Weekend 1 – We started the trip with a sunny morning and a Scarlet Tanager who poses for our group on the same weekend every year. He only is cooperative for the first couple days he arrives in Ohio , and then hides in the treetops for the rest of the season. Our timing was perfect as he sang within a few feet of us several times, landing on some rustic old stumps down low in beautiful light, taking his time, allowing us all to get hundreds of shots. The rest of the day a front moved in and prevented us from getting much more in the way of photographs after our mid-afternoon slideshow. Requests from the participants to get Cerulean Warbler, Henslow’s and Grasshopper Sparrows were yet to be met. Day 2 was very rainy and still the birds were most accommodating. We had a Cerulean Warbler landing almost at our feet singing in the rain with a Yellow Warbler joining him shortly. We also had a blue winged warbler land on a set-up perch of flowers several times along with very cooperative Grasshopper and Henslow’s Sparrows singing in a grassland where the rain turned the grass to a beautiful copper color. All three requests were nicely satisfied and our evening meal at Cracker Barrel felt like a celebration feast.

Weekend 2 – We had even light throughout the day (a nice way of describing cloudy weather) which was perfect for our first bird, an incredibly cooperative Bobolink which repeatedly landed on our perch simply because we placed it so that it was the tallest plant in his territory. Good luck followed us the rest of the day with not one but two Cerulean Warblers accommodating our group with multiple sessions of landing on nice perches with great light. We also had a couple Indigo Buntings sing for us, Blue-grey Gnatcatchers come in and investigate our group (they are very curious little birds), along with Eastern Bluebirds and a chipping sparrow allow for some shots. The next morning we drove into the heart of Prothonotary Warbler territory in Ohio and had several cooperative birds. A big front moved in Sunday we had a Savannah Sparrow in perfect plumage grace us with a long session of him singing from some rather photogenic phragmites. Rather than posting more of my photos, Greg Schneider, one of my participants, is allowing me to show off his beautiful results from our weekend workshop:

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Indigo Bunting by Greg Schneider

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Savannah Sparrowby Greg Schneider

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Cerulean Warblerby Greg Schneider

Excerpt from my forthcoming book “The Complete Guide to Digital Bird Photography”

Tech Tip: Using your Camera’s Histogram (still to be edited for final book version)

While modern digital cameras provide the photographer with the luxury of instantly previewing images on your camera display while still in the field, it can be difficult to really tell whether the images are coming out properly exposed just by looking at a 2 inch thumbnail image on the back of the camera. Most DSLR cameras today also have an option which allows photographers to view a histogram of their images along with the image preview. Histograms essentially measure the relative brightness of each pixel in an image. The horizontal axis of the histogram graph displays each pixel’s brightness (also known as tonal values or luminance) at 256 levels or categories of intensity. These 256 levels represent the entire dynamic range of the camera. In other words, the camera can only record tonal values within this range. Pixel information outside this range is simply registered as pure white or pure black. On the left we see the darkest pixels all the way to the far right showing pixels that register as bright or nearly white. The vertical axis of the histogram graph represents the relative number of pixels in the image which occur at a given level of brightness. So a tall vertical bar in the histogram means a lot of image data occurs at that given tonal value.

While there is no such thing as a perfect histogram, most scenes should show histogram data distributed over the entire dynamic range, looking something like a standard bell curve, with the tallest histogram bars falling near the center, midtone value range. If possible, it’s best if most of the image data is on the right side of the histogram, since the brightest end of the histogram has the potential to contain sixteen times more information than the dark end. Keeping the information to the right helps reduce noise and digital artifacts in the image, though exposing to the right also carries with it the risk to overexpose the image. Many cameras have blown highlight warnings in the form of blinking pixels. These blinking pixels are the ones found at level 255 and 256 which essentially are empty, unrecorded, overexposed data. Seeing blinking pixels or lots of information in the histogram at the far right is indicative that the photographer needs to use exposure compensation in order to record information in the highlights. Before approaching a subject or setting up in a blind, I usually make a few test shots and then glance at the image preview and histogram and then make the necessary adjustments (if any) so that I am confident that my exposures will be correct during the shoot. If the light changes (like during sunrise or if a cloud temporarily blocks the sun) I’ll also take test shots or look at actual shots of my subject during the photo session.

Other Bird Photography Career News this Month

  • Look for my photos in upcoming issues of Birder’s World, and Birding Magazine (look for the photos of Bobolink and Eastern Wood Pewee).
  • A forthcoming book calledImportant Bird Areas of Ohio” to be published by Audubon Ohio will also be using some of my shots of waterfowl

One of my favorite images I got this spring: Kirtland’s Warbler | May 2008 | Canon 40D | Canon 500mm f4 IS |

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Where to Photograph in Ohio in June:

-Early Summer is the perfect time to find parents feeding young birds

– Check Ira Rd Trailhead at Cuyahoga Valley National Park for Wood Duck hens with Ducklings

-Grassland Birds start breeding at places like Egypt Valley Wildlife Area or Woodbury Wildlife Area.

– Birds at nests can be fantastic subject matter for photography, just take great care not to disrupt the bird’s feeding routines, etc. It is mandatory that the photography observe the bird concealed from a distance to understand its routine behavior before moving in closer. Unless you know the bird’s routine you’ll never know if you’ve disrupted the normal routine, jeopardizing the bird’s eggs or young. Always work from a blind when shooting near nests.

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Arizona Workshop Report

With 28 species of birds coming to our water drips and feeders during the three day workshop, perfect weather (sunny and upper 70’s) and great company, the Arizona workshop this April was a trip to remember. Getting there was half the fun sometimes. The drive from the Tucson airport to our shooting locations was beautiful, as was the views of the Santa Rita Mountains out the plane window.

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A snapshot taken on my drive from Tucson to our first shooting location.

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Another snapshot of the Santa Ritas taken out my plane window.

The birds were in fresh plumage and very cooperative. Day 1 I provided a continental breakfast at dawn and then proceeded to do an introductory set-up with desert species. Hooded Orioles were on our perches before we even had a chance to get in the blinds. Day 2 we shot near the Santa Rita Lodge in Madera canyon a few miles away and were rewarded with Mexican Jays, Acorn Woodpeckers, Magnificent Hummingbirds, Lesser Goldfinches, a brief visit from two Lazuli Buntings, and much much more. Day 3 we again photographed in the desert with great sessions with Lucy’s Warblers, Broad-billed and Black-chinned Hummingbirds, Gambles Quail, Ladder-backed and Gila Woodpeckers, and others. Freddy Franzella ended up with over 8000 images in three days. I had the opportunity to meet both Tom Vezo and Joe McDonald photographing in the area as well. Before heading out for the afternoon shoots we held informative slideshows, informal critique/image review, and Photoshop demonstrations. Here are a few favorite shots from the trip:

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Hooded Oriole

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Lucy’s Warbler

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Black-throated Sparrow

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Broad-billed Hummingbird

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Acorn Woodpecker

Shawnee Workshop Report

The stars of our two day workshop were a Northern Parula who took his time singing from some Redbud Branches we set up in front of a beautiful soft background. We all got hundreds of photos of him in various poses and perches. We also had a Prairie Warbler, Eastern Towhee, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and White-eyed Vireo use our set-ups, and had some great encounters with Blue-winged Warblers and Kentucky Warblers on perches of their own choosing. This year we used the Shawnee Resort as our home base which worked out wonderfully. The lodge parking lot itself contained 6 species of warblers, a whippoorwill, towhees, lots of chipping sparrows and hummingbirds.

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Southern Ohio Forest with Redbud Trees in Bloom.

The forest was certainly in its prime with incredible concentrations of flowering trees throughout. Here is my favorite image from the weekend, as I have not had time to edit others:

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Northern Parula

Excerpt from my forthcoming book “The Complete Guide to Digital Bird Photography”

Photoshop Technique Tip: Sharpening

When digital images are resized, they lose a little bit of their crisp, sharp appearance. That’s where the Unsharp Mask comes in. The most common times photographers resize their files are when creating a print, or resizing their file for the internet. Sharpening with the Unsharp Mask in Photoshop works best with photos that are already sharp. The unsharp mask can’t help much with making photos sharp that were never sharp to begin with. Only sharpen your images after all other changes have been made, and use sharpening as the very last step before printing or saving the file for the web. Please note that while in moderation, sharpening makes an image appear to gain visual information, it actually degrades the image causing it to lose information. For this reason, I never sharpen my master work file. Sharpening also can increase “noise” in areas that appear out of focus. Because background noise should be kept to a minimum, I usually only selectively apply sharpening to my images. I simply select the bird and any other in focus elements in the frame and sharpen those elements, leaving the background alone.

Once you have roughly selected the in-focus elements of the layer of the image you wish to sharpen in Photoshop, chose Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask from the menu bar at the top of the screen. This opens the Unsharp Mask’s settings and options. When saving for the web, though it’s just a matter of personal taste, most photographers use the “amount” setting at 100%, the “radius” setting at 0.2 pixels, and the “threshold” at 0 levels. I usually apply this between 3 and 5 times as needed. When saving a file for printing after resizing it, if I sharpen it at all, I use settings of “amount” at 100%, “radius” at about 1.0 pixel, and “threshold” at 0 levels. There are some photographers who go through very complex steps to determine how much to sharpen their images, but for the most part, I believe less is more. The need for complex sharpening probably means the image wasn’t sharp to begin with and could probably be tossed out.

Once in a while I will use additional sharpening on areas of a bird where the detail can tend to get lost, for example on the breast of bright yellow or red birds. While the detail may be there in the original file, when the image is resized, the detail in these intense color areas can get lost, but regained with a little extra sharpening. The most common mistake I see photographers make is to either use too large of a sharpening radius which creates a sort of halo or glow around the edge of the bird and perch, which looks very unnatural. I also see photographers use the other sharpening tools in Photoshop such as “Sharpen More”. Unsharp mask really is the most refined tool available and the other tools tend to over-sharpen and leave sharpening halos. Remember, the Unsharp Mask should be used sparingly and only as a final touch.

Other Bird Photography Career News this Month

  • I bought a second Canon 40D and 500mm lens with while my originals were in the shop for maintenance so now have an extra of each, should anyone be in the market for equipment used only a couple times.

  • Look for my images to be used in The Wood Duck Society’s publications in the near future.

Where to Photograph Birds in Ohio during the Month of May and June:

– Crane Creek State Park (Magee Marsh) will usher through a wonderful diversity of migrants all month.

– Look for shorebirds especially from May 15-25 at local shorebird hotspots like Conneaut.

– Songbirds arrive on territory in all the grasslands and forests of Ohio . No one forest is better than another for breeding songbirds, but the trend is the larger the forest, the better for finding rarer and more diverse species. Wayne National Forest in southern Ohio needs more coverage and research, as does Mohican State Park and Salt Fork State Park in central Ohio .

– Watch backyard birdfeeders for unusual feeder visitors including Red-headed Woodpecker, Purple Finch, Eastern Towhee, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Orchard and Baltimore Orioles and Indigo Bunting. If you have an active feeder set up for orioles so that it gets evening or morning light and has a nice background behind it (mowed lawn is always good), spread the word! North Chagrin Reservation and Crane Creek State Park both have nice activity especially for Orioles but are set up all wrong for light and backgrounds. My own backyard feeders attract very little. I’m still looking for a good oriole photo location within 300 miles of Cleveland .

Good Bird Photography to All,

-Matthew


Thank you one and all for taking an interest in my work. With this newsletter I will try to give helpful photography tips, seasonal location information, trip reports, and career happenings. I welcome questions from any and all readers, and with permission will include the question and answer in the following newsletter. To unsubscribe and any time simply reply to the e-mail with a subject heading of “unsubscribe”. I intend to send out one letter every 4-8 weeks.

 

Pre-workshop report from Arizona

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Bill Forbes is on location in South East Arizona and has already planted many native flowers this season for our workshop and will purchase even more plants which our group will be able to position next to our hummingbird feeders. His role is key to the success of our workshop, and his efforts have produced one of the best bird photography set-up locations in America at his property in Green Valley. Hummingbirds on his property tend to come to the feeders with greater consistency than the flowers as less energy is required per sip of nectar. By positioning the feeders near flowers we will be able to roughly control which flowers the birds drink out of and photograph them sipping from natural blossoms. Along with the building hummingbird migration over the past few days, 3 species of orioles are visiting the feeders already, along with all the usual suspects including Gambel’s Quail, Curve-billed Thrasher, Acorn, Arizona, Gila, and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, and many others. Migration will be in full swing for our workshop in two weeks and we anticipate having many surprise species flocking to our desert oasis. There’s no predicting what migrants we may see. Hepatic Tanagers and Lazuli Buntings have even been known to stop by the ponds we’ll be shooting at each year so we’ll keep our fingers crossed.

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Workshop changes for the ’08 season.
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In depth information packets are mailed to all participants well in advance of the workshop rather than simply having the information online and handing out the printed version at the workshop.
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“Hold harmless” contract signatures are required to reduce liabilities to a minimum on my end. (thanks to the advise of one of my participants Richard Bovier)
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I also purchased a state of the art digital projector and have booked meeting rooms for each workshop location so that I can make my lectures and photoshop demonstrations more formal. This will take the place of the informal laptop and lunch instruction and the expensive printed booklets.
· One-on-one workshops are no longer available. Instead, I’ve found we actually have more fun and learn more in groups of 2-4. This will be better for some of the birds as well, since they will only be in human presence for 1/2 to 1/4 the time (with fewer total days in the field). Some opportunities are only typically possible once a year, like photographing my friendly local Scarlet Tanager. The new workshop format certainly promises to be a win-win for me, the birds, and the participants.

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Bird Houses for Bird Photography
Now is the time to have your bird houses up and ready. Make sure your bird houses are clean and well placed. A good strategy is to place them so that there is a clean background behind the bird house, and make the entrance holes face north or south so that a perch can be attached to the bottom of the feeder and lit by both morning and evening sun. Once the parents start feeding the young they’ll appreciate your perch as an easy place to land and look around before entering the nest box. This in turn provides the photographer a chance to photograph the birds to your heart’s content. Make sure you photograph nests and nest boxes from a blind or concealed location so that you don’t disrupt the normal feeding cycle and jeopardize the young bird’s lives. Some of the best species to put up nest boxes/platforms include Eastern, Western, and Mountain Bluebird, House Wren, Tree Swallow, Prothonotary Warbler, Eastern Pheobe, Wood Duck, American Kestrel. If anyone puts up a Kestrel box with a perch attached and with photography in mind (in terms of background choice and light direction) and actually gets Kestrels to move in, give me a call! I would fly cross country for such a photo opportunity.

 

Other Bird Photography Career news this Month
-My first printed version of my Ohio Site Guide will arrive in a few days. It will have updated information, new maps, updated photos, and a beautiful new design by my wife, Liza. As always, the digital version is available from Arthur Morris at http://www.birdsasart.com Both printed and digital books will be $50 (80 pages, full color, soft cover). While it may seem a bit pricey for a soft cover, I actually make zero profit after publication fees and marketing through Birds As Art but am selling the printed version primarily for the love of it. Many workshop participants come through site guide sales as well.

– My Cuyahoga Valley Photographic Society presentation was well attended and a lot of fun. It was great to finally meet many of you!

– Look for my photos in upcoming issues of Birding and Birder’s World magazines.

 

Where to Photograph in Ohio during Late March:

– Late march is the best time of year to set up a floating blind in marshes where large numbers of waterfowl congregate (especially in North West Ohio). Good spots include the wildlife areas used for duck hunting in the fall.

– Kinglets and Brown Creepers will move through as migrants. Check your local grapevine tangles and pine groves for the kinglets.

– Wood ducks and Great Blue Herons arrive in force in places like North Chagrin Reservation and Cuyahoga Valley National Park

-Check the shores of Lake Erie for late migrating grebes, mergansers, diving ducks, and migrating gulls. A good spot to start is Gordon Park Marina near E72nd St in Cleveland.

– Attach a spotlight to your camera lens and photograph at dusk at your local woodcock breeding ground. They are conspicuous as they make their “peent” calls and aerial displays. If anyone finds a good place to try this let me know as I am still searching (The Wilderness Center perhaps???).

 

 There are still two spots left for my fall Wood Duck Workshop and Shorebird Workshop.

http://www.studebakerbirds.com

 

-Your local Bluebirds and Pine Warblers will be arriving on territory now. Most counties have at least one “Bluebird trail” with a series of twenty or so nest boxes in prime habitat. Pine Warblers can be found in pine and mixed pine/deciduous woodlands in most of Ohio’s southern counties. This shot was taken yesterday by placing a perch on top of an active bluebird nest box. The birds seemed to appreciate a place to land before going into the nest hole.
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Geauga County, OH | March 28, 2008, 7:25pm | 1/60th sec, f5.6 |
Canon 40D | Canon 500mm f4 IS | 1.4xTC |

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Good shooting,

-Matthew

330-608-7882 (cell)

 

Good Bird Photography to All,

-Matthew