I needed to pick Laurie up from the airport, so I headed that way early and spent a couple of hours at the Radio Road Ponds in Redwood Shores, which are about 20 minutes from SFO. These ponds are about to be drained again, this time semi-permanently, as the water treatment plant is expanding and needs to turn this area back into a true settling basin. They need to start engineering studies of the soil, which requires draining and drying out the area. Ultimately the hope is that some areas to the North will be converted into improved habitat but that’s a few years away at best — but soon, one of the most accessible and best wintering bird photography areas around here will go away, at least for a while.
It was nice to spend a bit of time there before that happens. I’m really starting to get comfortable with the Fuji X-T2 as a birding camera, and since Radio Roads is one of the places you can see the local Black Skimmer populations, I was hoping I might get a few shots of them before the habit goes away.
So how did I do? I came home with 1100 raw images, and out of that, kept about 80. A large flock of skimmers was hanging out quite close to the road, and while most of the time they were sleeping, every so often they woke up and argued or bathed. So a good time was had, and good images were taken.
I love this shot. I think in some ways it sums up our fascination with the tech aspects of photography, in that this is an wonderfully framed, almost perfectly exposed, extremely sharp and in focus image: in other words, it’s technically about perfect, and it’s absolutely a failure in terms of the content and subject. Consider that as a metaphor for most of our nerd-talk about gear over how the image looks, will you?
But even at that, this is, to me, a wonderfully broken image, in that it perfectly portrays the ideal of a missed shot. It’s gorgeous, and I love it.
By the way, this was part of a burst, of course, and here’s the image immediately preceding it. Also… Not bad.
Skimmers, Skimmers and more Skimmers
I’ve had mixed luck with the Skimmers here in the region. They’re a funky looking bird with a lot of personality, but I’ve rarely been lucky to be in the same place as them for any length of time with good light and cooperative individuals. That changed this week. We had 45+ birds all hanging out in the shallows near the road. Mostly sleeping, but at times, a few would wake up and argue about.. well, whatever Skimmers argue about. And as the day moved on, a number of them took baths, some took short repositioning flights, and at one point, they all yelled their head off for 30 seconds, then took off as a group to circle the pond a couple of times and return to their places to nap some more.
So for someone with patience (and with a plane delayed an hour because of weather), there were definitely opportunities for some nice shots. I also had a couple of Brown Pelicans visiting, I found a single Mew Gull in among the masses of California Gulls, and the usual smattering of shorebirds like Marbled Godwits. Still a bit early for the big groups of winter ducks, but the first American Wigeons were there, along with the Nothern Shovelers and some Green-Winged Teals. And of course, Mallards.
So it was a fun, relaxing afternoon.
A few notes (X-T2 nerding and other stuff)
There’s a green tint to some of the shots because — the water here is really, really green. It’s the outflow from the sewage plant (welcome to the glorious world of birdwatching, where you voluntarily visit sewage plants — seriously, often some of the best birding in the area) so it’s nutrient rich, and then it’s supplemented with all of that bird poop, and… and so there’s a lot of algae in that water. And bird poop. don’t go swimming.
I’m starting to not worry so much about battery life on the X-T2. I’ve had some inconsistent results with how long batteries have lasted, but for this outing, I ended up shooting about 1100 images across two memory cards using one battery that had been used slightly but was basically full, and one fully charged battery that ended up with about 20% power left. That’s pretty good battery life. I also used a third battery, which got put in fully charged but failed about 20 images in; it was one of my third party batteries and one of my older ones, and I’d used it on a previous shoot where battery life was poor and I’m thinking it was on the edge of failing then and that affected those results. These results are much more satisfactory (and that battery has been summarily “retired”).
I’m becoming incredibly impressed with the speed and accuracy of autofocus on the X-T2 with the 100-400. It’s incredibly fast and it’s very hard to confuse it or get it to focus badly; it’s almost magical. Everything from this shoot was shot either in spot mode or center-region mode, and I’ve set one of the buttons on front to allow me to quickly adjust the size of the active spot/region (having a spot mode that goes from 1×1 to 3×3 is quite nice). This makes for a really fast and flexible system where you don’t need to wander into the menus much.
I figured out that the burst modes are configurable in the menus — the X-T2 has two, a slow one (default 5FPS) and a fast one (default 8FPS), but you can adjust that in the camera menus. I’ve actually slowed the slow one down to 4FPS because that’s a bit less “machine gunnery” to me, and I normally don’t need the absolute speed. If I do, it’s a switch on the camera away…
And even at that, I was finding myself constantly filling the buffer and having the camera stall while trying to write to the cards (32Gb, 633X cards) — so coming on the truck today are some newer, faster cards (64Gb, 1000X) to see how that works. Fortunately, those are so cheap now it’s almost “one use” category. I’ll let you know once I have a chance to stress test the faster cards how that worked.
Oh, and as a number of the shots show, once you start understanding how the camera thinks, it works just fine for birds in flight. I’m finding AF/Single great for standing birds, and AF/Continuous using the center region AF points works amazingly well for flight birds; much better than my 7DmkII does for a solid and accurate AF lock. This makes me happy.