Merced National Wildlife Refuge — 12/9

On the way back from my most recent trip to LA I was able to time the run up I-5 so I could get to Merced National Wildlife Refuge about 90 minutes before sunset. That doesn’t give you a lot of time to chase birds but you can be opportunistic and as it turned out, the main flocks were near the front observation area and not in the back. The good news about that is that it was easy to get some photography in, the bad news was that the sunset (which was rather nice) was at my back and not behind the flocks…

I also — finally — got some nice, if not in flight, shots of a Northern Harrier, one of the birds that consistently makes my life difficult in the field…

Northern Harrier

And of course the geese…

Snow Goose in Flight

And cranes…

Sandhill Cranes in Flight

But I took it also as a chance to think about Merced as a landscape location and how to show off the birds and area using wider lenses

Snow Goose in Flight

The Blackbirds were everywhere….

Red-winged Blackbird

First time I’ve been able to shoot the cranes with the new Sigma 150-600 lens.

Sandhill Cranes in Flight

I’m really liking the lens. It’s surprisingly usable handheld with the image stabilization, and while it’s clearly not canon “L” glass, the results are quite good. There’s a bit of chromatic abberation at 600mm that’s easily fixed in Lightroom, and Lightroom’s “auto” button seems to think images consistently need contrast set to -25, which confirms what I was seeing in that the lens is a bit contrasty, but very manageable.

And you know what? A good sunset makes up for lots of driving and bad traffic…

Merced National Wlidlife Refuge