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Posts Tagged ‘Common Grackle’

A small flock of large black-colored birds was noisily moving about the marsh at Huntley Meadows Park one morning last weekend and if I were better at identifying bird calls, I probably would have know what kind of birds they were—I considered the possibility that they might be crows or Red-winged Blackbirds or starlings or grackles. When I got closer and the sunlight illuminated their bodies, I realized that they were probably Common Grackles (Quiscalus quiscula), because of the way that their black color became iridescent, with colorful highlights.

I spent quite a while watching the grackles as they energetically pecked about, presumably looking for morsels of food. Their heads were pointed downwards most of the time, so it was a little tough to get good shots of them.

Here are a couple of my favorite shots that help show both the beauty and the personality of a grackle.

 

Common Grackle

Common Grackle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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There were lots of Common Grackles (Quiscalus quiscula) foraging Friday at Huntley Meadows Park and I was thrilled when one of the stood still for a moment and I was able to snap off this shot. At times grackles appear to be almost pure black, but when the light is right, they shimmer with shades of green and pink.

Common Grackle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Early yesterday morning at Huntley Meadows Park this Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) seemed to be sending me a definite “Don’t mess with me” message. Fortunately the grackle eventually loosened up a bit and I was able to capture some additional images in a mini portrait session.

I captured these images around 6:30 on a misty, overcast morning. There was some light, but not a whole lot, so I was forced to set my ISO relatively high at ISO 1600. I was shooting in aperture priority mode and I didn’t realize until later that the shutter speeds for these shots was between 1/15 and 1/30 of a second. Considering that I was shooting with my lens zoomed out to 600mm, it’s surprising that these shots are not completely blurry (though they are a bit grainy). I am convinced that the built-in image stabilization of the lens really helps in situations like this.

Common Grackle

Common Grackle

Common Grackle

Common Grackle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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The tree is ablaze with vibrant fall colors and in the middle of it sits a dull black bird, a Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula), whose only touch of color is his yellow eyes. The juxtaposition of the contrasting elements, I believe, makes the image more interesting than either of them would have been separately.

Common Grackle in a tree

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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There was a lot of bird activity early yesterday morning as I walked through the cattail-filled marshy area of Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, Virginia. Many of the birds were in groups, it seemed, including large flocks of noisy black birds that several  of my fellow bloggers have helped me identify as grackles.

Most of the birds seemed to be be passing through and perched high in trees or landed too far away for me to capture them individually with my modest telephoto zoom. (Another photographer I saw had a massive 600mm telephoto lens with a 1.4x teleconverter attached and seemed to have greater success.)

However, I was able to take this photo of bird on a cattail stalk and amazingly I can identify it—it’s a male Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus).  I realize that the Red-winged Blackbird is probably one of the easiest birds to identify (along with the robin, bluejay, and cardinal), but I have had so many problems recently identifying the birds in my photos that it is satisfying to be able get one right.

There were flocks of birders present too, equipped with telescopes and binoculars, and some of them were almost as loud as the grackles. I heard lots of interesting debates, like whether a large bird soaring in the distance was a red-shouldered hawk or a redtail hawk (and I had no idea previously that there was a bird called a Coopers hawk). Most of the bird people were so intense that I didn’t dare to attempt to engage them in conversation.  One gentlemen, however, talked with me at length, periodically referring to a tattered guide that he had with him (it was a Peterson’s guide to birds east of the Rockies and he recommended it for a beginner like me). I think that I may have to break down and buy a little guide like that to start to learn more about birds.

For now, I’m happy that I can identify a Red-winged Blackbird most of the time, especially a male one!

Red-winged Blackbird on a cattail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I spent several hours completely out of my comfort zone photographically as I used unfamiliar equipment in a way that stretched my skills and knowledge. This image is one of the few that I produced that I liked. I am pretty sure that this is a grackle, probably a Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula).  It was taken at the bird feeder at a local wildlife park—not exactly a natural habitat.

Common Grackle

I was shooting with a friend’s Nikon D300 camera rather than my Canon Rebel XT. The size, weight, and feel of the camera was different and the buttons and dials were a mystery to me. It was like trying to speak in an unfamiliar foreign language. I kept having to ask my photography mentor Cindy Dyer to translate my Canon language into Nikon language as I sought to change the ISO or use exposure compensation.

More significantly, though, I was using a large, heavy 500mm Mamiya telephoto lens. Yes, I was using a lens designed for a medium format camera with an adapter for the Nikon.

The lens was really cool, so much so that it is featured (at least temporarily) in the long skinny banner of my blog.  However, it was hard to use effectively because everything was manual and took a lot of time to set up. My eyes have been so attuned to looking at subjects close up that it was hard to adjust to the new reality of a minimum focusing distance of 30 feet. It was equally startling to see a lens marking for 500 feet, which preceded the marking for infinity. Focusing was manual and I longed for the split prism viewfinder of my old SLR as I tried to figure out if things were in focus. I had to guess at aperture settings and make adjustments as I went along, checking and rechecking my images. As I stopped down the lens, the viewfinder got progressively darker, meaning I had to focus with a wide open aperture and then manually switch to the desired aperture setting. Interestingly enough, the lens had aperture settings beyond F22 up to F45.

We were testing the lens because one of Cindy’s friends is trying to sell it to her. When she asked me what I thought at the end of our little shoot, I responded that I needed at least one more session before I could come to a conclusion. We started out late in the morning and there were few birds visible in the sun and the heat. I think that I need to be able to try to capture some images of birds to determine in this lens would be of any use at all. With a little more practice, estimating exposures and getting clear images would probably get easier for me. In addition, it may be possible to input information on the lens into her D300 and enable metering and focus confirmation, if I read correctly the information in the user’s manual (yes, I am one of those guys who actually reads instruction manuals). If the camera displayed the correct aperture, it would make things a lot easier and I would be able to focus on focusing. I also learned that her Nikon has Live View, a feature that I am not sure she has used. That might also help with my difficulty in focusing.

So, stay tuned and perhaps you will see me do battle once again with a heavyweight Mamiya lens.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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