Fort DeSoto May 2016

Fort DeSoto Birding Adventure

In late May 2016 I had the pleasure of attending an IPT (Instructional Photo Tour) with world-renown bird photographer Arthur Morris and my friend Joe Parisi. We journeyed up to St. Petersburg for three and a half days of instruction, photographing and fun at a premier birding site known for its shorebird habitat and springtime avian migration along the Florida Gulf Coast.

Top Down White Ibis, Willet, Dunlin, Black-Bellied Plover - Touch to Enlarge
Reddish Egret White Morph with breakfast

Canon 1Dx Mkii Sigma 150-600 Sport @600mm 1/1250 @f6.3 iso 1000

North Beach Lagoon

Canon 1Dx Mkii Sigma 150-600 Sport @600mm 1/1250 @f6.3 iso 1000

American Oystercatcher

Canon 1Dx Mkii Sigma 150-600 Sport @600mm 1/1600 @f6.3 iso 2500

Ruddy Turnstone

Canon 1Dx Mkii Sigma150-600 Sport @600mm 1/1250 @f7.1 iso 500

Dunlin - Breeding Plumage

Canon 1Dx Mkii Sigma 150-600 Sport @600mm 1/800 @f6.3 iso 1000

Sunrise view from East Beach
Touch to Enlarge
Ibis Disagreement

Canon 1Dx Mkii Sigma 150-600 Sport @600mm 1/1250 @f9.0 iso 400

Sandwich Tern

East Beach Feeding Frenzy

The first evening was a little slow for action at the North Beach turnaround and so we spent the time at the East Beach Lagoon. On the second evening action again was sparse until we discovered a feeding frenzy thanks to Artie's friend and fellow photographer Tom Pfeifer who clued us into a unique confluence of tide, baitfish and a Sandwich Tern and Pelican diving and feeding frenzy each of the remaining nights.

Coming up empty after a dive for baitfish

Canon 1Dx Mkii Sigma 150-600 Sport @250mm 1/6400 @f7.1 iso 2500

Doubleheader success

Canon 1Dx Mkii Sigma 150-600 Sport @600mm 1/4000 @f8.0 iso 800

Sandwich Tern with evening meal

Canon 1Dx Mkii Sigma 150-600 Sport @600mm 1/3200 @f6.3 iso 800

Full frame of the double-header

Canon 1Dx Mkii Sigma 150-600 Sport @600mm 1/4000 @f8.0 iso 800

Royal Tern getting into the act

Canon 1Dx Mkii Sigma 150-600 Sport plus 1.4x TC @840mm 1/4000 @f10 iso 2000

Another success!

Canon 1Dx Mkii Sigma 150-600 Sport @499mm 1/3200 @f6.3 iso 800

Brown Pelicans at work

Early Mornings at North Beach Lagoon

Morning Morsel - White Ibis

Canon 1Dx Mkii Sigma 150-600 Sport @481mm 1/1600 @f8.0 iso 500

Canon 1Dx Mkii Sigma 150-600 Sport @569mm 1/1600 @f 7.1 iso 1000

Willet

Canon 1Dx Mkii Sigma 150-600 Sport @600mm 1/2500 @f 7.1 iso 1000

Willet

Canon 1Dx Mkii Sigma 150-600 Sport @600mm 1/1600 @f8.0 iso 6400

Juvenile Laughing Gull

Canon 1Dx Mkii Sigma 150-600 Sport @600mm 1/1250 @f8.0 iso 800

American Oystercatcher

Canon 1Dx Mkii Sigma 150-600 Sport @600mm 1/800 @f6.3 iso 6400

Snowy Egret

Canon 1Dx Mkii Sigma 150-600 Sport @260mm 1/1250 @f6.3 iso 1250

Laughing Gull Tug O' War

Canon 1Dx Mkii Sigma 150-600 Sport @350mm 1/1600 @f6.3 iso 1250

Canon 1Dx Mkii Sigma 150-600 Sport @340mm 1/1600 @f6.3 iso 1250

Touch images above to enlarge

Reddish Egret White Morph

Morning Catch
Touch images above to enlarge
North Beach Lagoon
Black Skimmer

Canon 1Dx Mkii Sigma 150-600 Sport @450mm 1/1250 @f6.3 iso 2000

Observations and Camera Gear Talk

Fort DeSoto is an awesome place for birding. As this was mid-May, it seemed like the overall number of shorebirds were down but the feeding frenzy of terns and pelicans more than made up for it. As to the gear used, this was the first outing with the new Canon 1DxMkii and it performed beyond my expectations. I had it paired with my Sigma 150-600 Sport lens and even added the 1.4x teleconverter for some shots (the Royal Tern in flight).

The camera is heavy and the menus are similar to the 7DMkii. What really impressed me was not the 14 frames a second ( I often had it in silent high speed so as not to rattle the birds), but the quick auto-focus and image quality at higher iso's (2000 to 6400).

First the auto-focus. Having the 61 focus points available for use particularly for birds in flight was amazing. While I'm sure a Canon prime super-tele would be quicker, the Sigma really performed well for a $2000 lens. Only on lower contrast less than sunny times did I see any hunting for focus. Once locked onto the bird, the camera and lens combo does a great job following the bird. Because the Sigma is also not as fast as a prime telephoto lens, the ability to use all the focus points at f8 really helps this lens perform well.

Image quality at 400 or 800 iso is fabulous but 1250, 2000 and 2500 are very good. At 3200 you start to see the noise and have to really take care to expose to the right so as not to have to open up the shadows too much in post. Both at 3200 and 6400 you will have to be pretty aggressive with the noise reduction especially in the shadows. I have recently switched to Neat Image for Stills. It is a little more selective and more versatile than Nik's Define2 that I had been using or Lightrooms' noise slider. With Neat Image, I run two passes on the photo, one on the background (on its own layer in PS) and another on the bird, again on its own layer. With two passes, its possible to be much more aggressive on the background aiding in the smoothing effect and still maintain detail in the bird. Sometimes I use a luminosity mask on the bird focused on the shadow tones and concentrate the noise reduction in those troublesome areas specifically while leaving the mid-tone and brighter area full of detail.

A big thanks as always to Artie Morris for his help, teachings and critiques. This is the second IPT I have gone on with Artie and they are full of learning and fun.

Searching the Waterline

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