Archive for May 10th, 2010



Appointment with Barred Owl

We have to go back to Florida one last time (for now) to pick up one last image (for now).

Coming around the short loop of trails at Vaill Point Park in St Augustine FL our last morning there, a guy with binoculars, seeing us similarly attired, stopped, as birders will, to ask what we had seen, and to alert us to the presence of a Barrel Owl on the property. “Just up from the boat-launch, along the trail there, sitting pretty much out in the open.”

So, of course we went to look for it. We walked up and down that trail for 30 minutes, looking at every likely branch, but no owl. They can be really hard to see if they sit still (and they do sit still, especially in daylight), but “pretty much out in the open” gave us reason to hope. No owl. 😦

My attitude on birds is: either you have an appointment with the bird…essentially you just have to be in the right place at the appointed time…or you do not have an appointment with the bird. You can not sweat the birds you don’t have an appointment with. You should make the most of the birds you do have an appointment with. Simple philosophy. I can even follow it…most of the time. Still. A Barred Owl. I was loath to admit I did not have an appointment with that bird…especially as Carol, my non-birder wife, as with me…and nothing impresses like a sitting owl.

For an hour more I was on full owl-alert, without letting on, as we continued our walks around the trails looking for other birds and plants and pics. Gradually the owl fever faded though, as it will, and I pretty much forgot to be looking. We were well distracted by a mixed feeding flock of warblers, most of which Carol had never seen before.

Finally we felt we had gotten about all Vaill Park had for us that morning, and, though we still had plenty of time before our early evening flight, we headed back to the car for the drive to Jacksonville and the airport, birding the trail one last time. I was trying to chase down a song in the canopy, might have been a Summer Tanager, when my eye snagged on the owl, sitting on a horizontal branch in the “Y” of two trails, about 50 feet up and in from either trail, pretty much right out in the open, just like the man said. We must have walked practically right under that owl dozens of times that morning.

There is a special whisper that birders use to alert their companions to a bird that might take fright…kind of a whisper-shout…and I used it then. “Barred Owl!” It took a moment to get Carol on it, but then it sat for us as I worked around looking for better digiscoping angles as long as we wanted to stay.

It was essentially asleep. It only opened its eyes momentarily. Occasionally it stretched or yawned. Not much action, and not the best light, but an awesome bird non-the-less.  Carol was duly impressed. 🙂 I took a lot of digiscoped pics…so many the battery went dead on me before I had really finished. 😦 Ah, well. Appointment over.

Canon Powershot SD1400IS behind the eyepiece of a Zeiss Diascope 65FL. Equivalent focal length of about 650mm. Exif: f2.8 @ 1/160 @ ISO 160. Programmed auto. The camera’s f2.8 was the limiting f-stop, since the computed f-stop of the system was f1.8.

Recovery for the background. Fill Light for the owl. Blackpoint just slightly right. Added Clarity and Vibrance. Sharpen landscape preset. Cropped from landscape format to isolate the bird.

Zooming the camera up for an equivalent focal length of about 1400mm I was able to get a quick head shot with the eyes more or less open. F4.0 @ 1/160th @ ISO 160. (Computed system f-stop, f3.9). These are worst-case shots, with the bird silhouetted against a brighter background, and both required some Lightroom work to eliminate the camera lens’ Chromatic Aberrations and some Purple Fringing from the sensor. Still, I was quite happy with the results of this appointment with the Barred Owl of Vaill Point.