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I managed to experience a number of neat yard highlights that happened so quick that I had no time to grab a camera. I'm trying to determine which one was my favorite.

A Fox Squirrel had jumped from the trees to the top of the Screech Owl box. It attempted to enter the box several times but the resident Screech Owl wanted nothing to do with it. I actually heard the owl screech several times from inside the house as the squirrel attempted to peer inside the hole. This prompted me to run out the door and through the brush to scare the squirrel away. Owl safe and sound.

A Fox Sparrow made another appearance yesterday afternoon for a few minutes.

This morning the owl box was visited by a half-dozen Eastern Bluebirds that took turns flying in to investigate the box as possible roosting sites. Each time one bird flew in it peered inside then quickly flew off, only to be followed by another bird. And so on.  They soon flew off. Owl safe and sound.

With a steady snowfall this morning the feeders were hopping! Approximately 2-dozen House Finches were at the sunflower feeder while another 2-dozen American Goldfinches swarmed the thistle feeder. Just as I grabbed the camera to photograph a pair of Pine Siskins that joined them a Cooper's Hawk flushed the entire crowd. I saw the hawk fly over the field out back.

An American Tree Sparrow visited the ground the below the feeders this evening.

And, a Red-breasted Nuthatch flew into the sunflower feeder a couple of times this evening and made for a great end to the day!
And not a single photo.
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I came home from work this afternoon and peered out the back window. Not one but three Fox Sparrows were foraging under the feeders out back of the house here at Brownton Abbey! Skies were overcast and dark, but I took the opportunity anyway to digiscope them from inside the house.

The birds were moving around quite a bit, and skittish, so the slightest disturbance would send them deep under the brush. Focus-peaking was difficult, but I managed a few nice portraits of the dark-colored birds.

I then took the opportunity to take some 4K and Slo-Motion videos of the foraging birds to compare the speed of their scratching.

Here's a Fox Sparrow scratching in the mulch at normal speed. The 4K video is captured at 30 fps.

 
Fox Sparrow Normal Speed - YouTube


Here's the Fox Sparrow scratching in the mulch at 120 fps. The action is slowed 4X normal speed.

 
Fox Sparrow Slo-Mo - YouTube


Those little legs do move at a clip that is barely perceptible to the human eye. But, when slowed down they appear quite graceful!


I also had a brief appearance by my first American Tree Sparrow of the season. Winter is officially here. It did not stick around as the birds were flushed by a juvenile Cooper's Hawk that blasted through the yard. It scattered the 14 Dark-eyed Juncos that were also in the yard.

Just before dusk the Eastern Screech Owl stuck its head out of the box in preparation for his evening hunt. Snow is expected after midnight w/ 1-2" predicted (we'd get less than ½").
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Robin had class in Ann Arbor Sunday afternoon, so I spent a couple of hours driving around looking for birds. The pond at Scio Church Rd and Parker Rd. was now frozen. The Spotted Redshank was last seen 5 days ago and is presumed long gone. Only Killdeer remain.

A Cackling Goose was reported among the thousand or so Canada Geese that were hanging out at the Avis Farm industrial park. I drove around looking for it, but failed to find it.

Meanwhile, another 1000 or so American Crows were covering the trees, grass and buildings of the industrial complex, so I tried to get some digiscoped images from inside the car while hand-holding the scope. It was a difficult go as the birds were spooking and lighting was a challenge. Still, it was better than listening to the Lions get their tails whipped by the Bears...






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Cloudy with breaks of sun made for a promising flight this morning at Detroit River Hawk Watch. I took a walk along the trails south of the Lake Erie Metropark boat launch and managed to find 5 Rusty Blackbirds roosting in the trees and 6 Horned Grebes on the lake, but otherwise had nothing to point the camera.

At 10 am I headed over the hawk count and was able to see a few Red-tailed Hawks fly over. This one came close enough for a few photos.




A Sharp-shinned Hawk came in low, as well.


As I left the count to pick up Robin at the airport I spotted a Red-tailed Hawk perched on the wires next to the freeway. I managed a few pics from inside the car, but when I tried to get the scope out of the back seat it took off.





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Robin and I were at mom's eating dinner when the phone called. Adam Byrne was on the line and all I could think was "rare bird at Pt. Mouillee!". He and Scott Terry had refound a Spotted Redshank (Tringa erythropus) that was found on November 2nd by Alan Ryff and Maggie Jewett. The bird was at the Scio Church Rd / Parker Rd pond in Washtenaw County (sw of Ann Arbor). With Robin giving me the stink-eye I knew that there was no chance chasing after the bird, after all I was 30 minutes from home and another 45 minutes from the location, and it was almost 5 pm. Luckily, we were going to Ann Arbor on Sunday (04 Nov) so I'd have a couple hours to try for the bird.

With the new Sony a7III in hand I dropped Robin off at the Yourist Pottery Studio and drove over to Scio Church and Parker Rds. It was not hard to find the Spotted Redshank. After all, there were probably 100 people with scopes and cameras locked on the bird with traffic slowed to a crawl. Within minutes I had the scope on an ashy-gray Tringa sp. sporting bright orange-red legs foraging among slightly larger and brighter Greater Yellowlegs. This represents only the 2nd State Record for Michigan with the last time one was seen was 1976!

 


For the next 2 hours the birding throngs would share scopes, directions, and answer questions of all the drivers rolling down windows wondering what was going on... It was cloudy and windy with showers threatening, but every once in a while the sun would pop out and illuminate the bird very nicely.


Compared to the Greater Yellowlegs the Spotted Redshank appeared darker and smaller. The red lower mandible, white eye stripes (supercillium) above a dark line that runs through the eyes, and gray cap is contrast to the brighter gray head and white eye-ring of the Greater Yellowlegs. The chest of the Spotted Redshank was also smudgier gray than the white belly of of the yellowlegs.




The Spotted Redshank was not completely cooperative, however. It was as far back in the pond as possible and giving only brief glimpses of its red legs and red lower mandible. The bird was swimming and foraging much like a phalarope while the Greater Yellowlegs stayed in shallower waters or shoreline.


So, while waiting for the redshank to come closer we had the opportunity to photograph some nice Greater Yellowlegs sunning themselves just 30-50' away. The Sony a7III did a wonderful job capturing a stunning beauty of a bird. Too bad the Spotted Redshank wasn't in its place.








At one point the flock of yellowlegs took off and flew right past us and landed in the pond behind us. With the dark skies there was no way to pick the redshank from the other yellowlegs in flight. I was stunned to find that my flight shots included the Spotted Redshank. I managed to put together a composite image showing the redshank in flight; Note the barred flanks vs. the white flanks of the nearby Lesser Yellowlegs, the straight bill with slight droop at the tip, and of course, the white back stripe that is absent on the yellowlegs. The yellowlegs have dark underwings while the Spotted Redshank has bright white underwings.





As they foraged in the pond behind us I managed to capture a flock of Sandhill Cranes that flew directly overhead.



The Spotted Redshank then lifted off again and flew back to the pond in front of us, and this time was a bit closer. Close enough to get some decent long-distance digiscoped images.




The Spotted Redshank is a Code-4 bird in the ABA Area. It is considered a "casual" visitor to North America with only 6-10 birds seen over a 30-year period. To see this bird in its breeding colors it is unmistakeable; black shorebird with red lower mandible and red legs, and white eye-ring. This is a striking contrast to the more common European Common Greenshank, which looks like a whiter version of our Greater Yellowlegs. The Common Redshank (T. totanus) is very similar in appearance but differentiated by having a straighter bill with both upper and lower mandibles red at their base. The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has a nice video comparing the different "shanks"

The Spotted Redshank breeds across northern Scandinavia and northern Asia and migrates south to the Mediterranean, the southern British Isles, France, tropical Africa, and tropical Asia for the winter. It is an occasional vagrant to Australia and North America. - Wikipedia


Avibirds.com has a map showing the breeding/wintering range of the Spotted Redshank. This bird in Michigan is WAY out of its range. 

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I stopped by ProCam in Livonia last evening and picked up a new Sony Alpha a7III camera body. Thanks, Chris (and Robin) for helping to pick out the camera and accessories while I rudely caught up with Jerry Sadowski and Mark Byrnes...

The Sony a7III is a full-frame mirrorless camera that is considered an entry-level camera, but it is anything but. It has been so popular that it sold out within days of its initial offering, and its been 6 months before any new copies would be available to camera enthusiast. While waiting for it to become available there were plenty of reviews to enjoy.

After spending last evening and this morning setting up menus I had a chance to give it a play. Then, Robin and I took a quick run over to Oakwoods Metropark so that I could do a direct comparison with my current digiscoping camera, the Sony Alpha a6300.

The advantage of the full-frame a7III over its smaller cousin is both size of sensor, image quality and noise properties. To compare the two for myself I set both cameras to Aperture priority and ISO Auto between 100 - 6400. The Sony Alpha a7III was paired with my Sony 35mm f/2.8 Sonnar (EFL=35mm) while the Sony a6300 was paired with my Sigma 30mm f/2.8 DN (EFL=45mm).


The high-ISO improvement of the Sony a7III is obviously and expectedly better than the a6300 as you can see in the above images. Honestly, I was more surprised at just how good the a6300 is. Most of my digiscoping (shooting 1/1000 sec. at f/2.8) tends to push ISO's to these heights so I'm looking for the any improvement. The full-frame a7III produces cleaner and tinier noise pixels without chroma coloration that tends to show up in the a6300.


I took the above image to compare corner sharpness of the two lenses. The $800 Sonnar on the a7III produced significantly sharper corners compared to the Sigma DN under same shooting conditions. There was also less CA observed with the more expensive full-frame system at right.


In the above image of the log house the Sony a6300 chose 1/15 sec exposure at ISO 100 (left) while the a7III went with a faster shutter speed at the expense of doubling the ISO. This made for a significantly sharper image under auto-focusing conditions.


I then stepped inside the Nature Center and found a dark closet where a canoe was being store. This gave me a chance to test high-ISO conditions. The a7III's built-in camera stabilization helped out significantly by producing a sharper image compared to the smaller a6300. Also note the improved dynamic range of the a7III in the upper right corners of the full images; the a6300 washed out while the a7III resolved nicely the window glare.

So how does the Sony a7III work as a digiscoping camera? I put it to the test when I got home by attaching it to my Digidapter™ and mounting it to the scope. The camera is significantly heavier than the smaller a6300, and slightly beefier feeling, but fit just fine on the Digidapter™. My initial attempts came while trying to shoot the Northern Cardinals in the hedges about 20' away from my position on the deck. Focusing with the scope, then attaching the camera and using the magnification assist allowed me to capture some sharp images of both a female and male Northern Cardinal.


 At ISO 3200 the noise properties are seriously impressive. Being able to shoot 'silently' also allowed me to avoid disturbing the birds so I could fire away at 10 fps while slightly rolling focus to ensure that some frames would be tack-sharp.



Finally, a Blue Jay, an American Goldfinch, Dark-eyed Junco and Downy Woodpecker made quick appearances and allowed some photos to be taken.





The Sony a7III is a serious contender for 2018 Mirrorless Camera of the Year in many circles, and now becomes a serious contender for digiscoping camera of the year, as well!

Tomorrow I get to put it to serious use. A Spotted Redshank was discovered in Ann Arbor today and I hope to get a chance to see and digiscope it tomorrow morning...

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My little buddy is back in his box out back of the house! Eastern Screech Owl.
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No-one got hurt.
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Robin called to say that a Cooper's Hawk had landed on the deck table and was squawking away next to the window. This evening the juvenile bird made a pass through the yard and landed on the shepherd's hook above the thistle feeder. I had just enough time to sneak up to the scope and grab a few frames through the back window before it continued on its way.

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