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Black-legged Kittiwake at Deer Creek
November, 2014

After photographing the Bonaparte's Gulls and putting the 1DX autofocus capabilities to the test in early November after the previous entry on this page, my schedule became very busy for a few weeks. Major works for the English horn such as Falla's Three-cornered Hat and Strauss' Don Quixote appeared on Columbus Symphony programs along with a major shift in the barometric pressure. That means only one thing for a double reed player. Every waking moment must be spent at the desk making new reeds. When a few free days again appeared in my schedule at the end of the month I was eager to get back out with the cameras and binoculars to see what I could find. While sunny days were forecast they never appeared.  In November a "Partly Cloudy" forecast in central Ohio can mean an entirely different thing that it may mean somewhere else like southern California. It turned out to be very fortunate that I had tested out the Canon 1D X on Bonaparte's Gulls on my previous visit because soon after entering the Deer Creek area on the gloomy morning of Nov. 26 (the day before Thanksgiving) I spotted a first year Black-legged Kittiwake along the creek where it enters the reservoir and the capabilities of the 1D X would be put to use. While Black-legged Kittiwakes are among the most abundant bird species on the planet, finding one along a creek in central Ohio is not something encountered often. Away from their nesting grounds on cliffs in the far north, kittiwakes are mostly pelagic birds. First year birds occasionally wander into the interior of the continent. In Ohio I have seen them a half dozen or so times both along Lake Erie and inland, but I had never had a chance to photograph them in this plumage.


Black-legged Kittiwake along the Deer Creek, November 26, 2014
Canon EOS 1D X, Canon 300mm f2.8 L IS II lens + 2x
f5.6, 1/2000th sec., ISO 1250

The bird spent most of its time sitting on a rock in the creek getting up to feed every hour or so in quick bursts. Most of my time was spent sitting at the edge of the creek between these bouts where it readily accepted my presence. For normal low ISO's between 200 and 500 I really see no need to use the 1D X over the 1D Mark IV. For general bird portraits the 1D4 is ideal with its 1.3x crop factor as far as I'm concerned.


Black-legged Kittiwake, November 26, 2014
Canon EOS 1D MarkIV, Canon 800mm f5.6 L IS lens
f7.1, 1/640th sec., ISO 250


Black-legged Kittiwake, November 26, 2014
Canon EOS 1D MarkIV, Canon 800mm f5.6 L IS lens + 1.4x
f11, 1/320th sec., ISO 400

The 1D X definitely proved its worth for me when the bird got up to fly in the heavy overcast. I was able to take advantage of not only the camera's ability to track the acrobatic bird, but also the clean files the camera can produce at higher ISO's than I would ever want to deal with using the 1D4.


Black-legged Kittiwake, November 26, 2014
Canon EOS 1D X, Canon 300mm f2.8 L IS II lens + 2x
f5.6, 1/2000th sec., ISO 1250

The main reason the above photo grabbed my attention from the many shots I got of the bird in flight is because I liked the bokeh. The background looks like watercolors almost. The Canon 300 f2.8 L IS II lens is well known as one of Canon's best. Adding teleconverters can sometimes make for a less flattering background blur or bokeh, but here when the distance and lighting are right it can still be nice with a 2x attached. Generally I like to stop down lenses a little bit, especially when teleconverters are added for extra sharpness and depth of field. Here I wanted the fastest shutter speed I could get, so I left the lens open. The Canon 300 f2.8 L IS II + 2x isn't at its optimum wide open, but it's certainly usable. I have had my current 300 f2.8 II and 800mm both for over three years now. Time flies, but I'm happy with them both and together they make pretty much the ideal 2 lens combination for my uses.  To begin with, I already own both and they're bought and paid for. When the latest 600mm lens came out many people sold their 800's at a significant loss, but I really never felt the need to do so. After buying and selling a couple of previous 800's, now that I have one that I really like a lot  I can't see much point of getting the new 600 and selling my 800 at a loss.  I would use a 600 mostly with teleconverters attached.  It's a lot easier to take a 1.4x off and on an 800 than to switch between a 1.4x and a 2x on a 600 and fiddle with a bunch of caps regardless of what their optical qualities may be. Likewise the 300 with the 1.4x and 2x options make for a very versatile second lens. With the hoods removed and packed in a suitcase the 800 and 300 together are small enough to fit in a backpack that fits into every airplane overhead I've come across along with a couple of 1D sized camera bodies and a couple of smaller lenses such as the 70-300L and 16-35 f4L lenses. The 300 + 2x combination makes a good handholdable 600mm lens for me. I know a lot of people out there proudly use heavier lenses handheld, but I am not comfortable doing so, especially for extended periods. The Canon 200-400 f4 zoom with a built in 1.4x might be a better way to cover the same general range for some people, but for me it would be too heavy to hand hold very long and too big for travel with an 800mm. Canon recently updated their 400 f4 DO lens which is roughly the same price new as the 300 2.8 but a little bit smaller and lighter. The original 400 DO lens never had a great reputation, but the new one is supposedly going to be much better. I'll be interested in seeing reviews once it is released, but since I already have the 300 I don't see any compelling reason to switch. Even though I don't use the bare 300 wide open at f2.8 too often, especially for birds, it's nice to have that low light option if I want it.
 
 


Black-legged Kittiwake, November 26, 2014
Canon EOS 1D X, Canon 300mm f2.8 L IS II lens + 2x
f5.6, 1/2000th sec., ISO 1250


Black-legged Kittiwake, November 26, 2014
Canon EOS 1D X, Canon 300mm f2.8 L IS II lens + 2x
f5.6, 1/3200th sec., ISO 1000
 


November 26, 2014
Canon EOS 1D MarkIV, Canon 28mm f2.8 IS lens
f13, 1/320th sec., ISO 250

In the early afternoon on the 26th a Bonaparte's Gull showed up downstream in the area above to feed. As you can see, the sun also broke through. The kittwake left its rock to join it and I followed along too of course. By the time I made it there the kittiwake was already done with its short feeding bout. I was at least able to get a few shots of the bird swimming in nice light. I really wanted to photograph it in flight in that same light, but it wasn't to be. When the Bonaparte's Gull left to join the main roost of gulls in the reservoir the kittiwake followed it. I looked for it later in the reservoir, but I couldn't relocate it. The sunlight didn't last very long either.


Black-legged Kittiwake, November 26, 2014
Canon EOS 1D MarkIV, Canon 800mm f5.6 L IS lens + 1.4x
f10, 1/2500th sec., ISO 500


Black-legged Kittiwake, November 26, 2014
Canon EOS 1D MarkIV, Canon 800mm f5.6 L IS lens + 1.4x
f10, 1/2500th sec., ISO 500



November 28, 2014
Canon EOS 1D MarkIV, Canon 16-35 f4L IS lens at 35mm
f10, 1/500th sec., ISO 400

On the 28th, the day after Thanksgiving I headed back to Deer Creek. The first rays of morning light were barely poking through the clouds and they didn't last long. The kittiwake was back on its favorite rock in the middle of the creek. Already covered in wash, the rock itself wasn't very photogenic as you can see below. I spent most of the day watching the bird in the gloomy overcast waiting for it to fly around. Unfortunately I never did get the opportunity to photograph it in flight when the sun was shining. During the time spent watching this kittiwake a long list of other species came and went along the creek including Herring, Ring-billed, and Bonaparte's Gulls, Great Blue Heron, Killdeer, Red-tailed and Cooper's Hawks, 2 Bald Eagles, Northern Harrier, Turkey and Black Vultures, Belted Kingfisher, Downy, Hairy, Red-bellied, and Pileated Woodpeckers, Northern Flicker, Blue Jay, American Crow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titimouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, Brown Creeper, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Eastern Bluebird, Yellow-rumped Warbler, American Tree, Field, Swamp, Song, White-throated, and White-crowned Sparrows, Dark-eyed Junco, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged and Rusty Blackbirds, American Goldfinch, and Pine Siskin. I couldn't help but wonder how often many of those species ever come in contact with a kittiwake. The kittiwake just sat on the rock as those other species passed by. The eagles did seem to make the bird a bit nervous when they flew overhead, but the besides them nothing caused as much alarm as the Pileated Woodpecker did. It was flying back and forth across the creek making a lot of noise most of the day and the kittiwake didn't seem to quite know what it was or how to react.


Black-legged Kittiwake, November 28, 2014
Canon EOS 1D MarkIV, Canon 800mm f5.6 L IS lens + 1.4x
f11, 1/320th sec., ISO 500


Black-legged Kittiwake, November 28, 2014
Canon EOS 1D MarkIV, Canon 800mm f5.6 L IS lens
f8, 1/1000th sec., ISO 400


Black-legged Kittiwake, November 28, 2014
Canon EOS 1D X, Canon 300mm f2.8 L IS II lens + 2x
f5.6, 1/2500th sec., ISO 1600


Black-legged Kittiwake, November 28, 2014
Canon EOS 1D X, Canon 300mm f2.8 L IS II lens + 2x
f6.3, 1/4000th sec., ISO 1250

The bold markings on the tops of the wings of a first year Black-legged Kittiwake were best appreciated when the bird went in for a dive.


Black-legged Kittiwake, November 28, 2014
Canon EOS 1D X, Canon 300mm f2.8 L IS II lens + 2x
f5.6, 1/4000th sec., ISO 1250


Black-legged Kittiwake, November 28, 2014
Canon EOS 1D X, Canon 300mm f2.8 L IS II lens + 2x
f5.6, 1/4000th sec., ISO 1250


Black-legged Kittiwake, November 28, 2014
Canon EOS 1D X, Canon 300mm f2.8 L IS II lens + 2x
f6.3, 1/3200th sec., ISO 1250

Despite the number of times I photographed the bird diving for fish, I never got any decent shots with a fish actually in its mouth. It swallowed them quickly after resurfacing.


Black-legged Kittiwake, November 28, 2014
Canon EOS 1D X, Canon 300mm f2.8 L IS II lens + 2x
f5.6, 1/4000th sec., ISO 1250


Black-legged Kittiwake, November 28, 2014
Canon EOS 1D X, Canon 300mm f2.8 L IS II lens + 2x
f6.3, 1/3200th sec., ISO 1250


For comparison below is a photo of an adult Black-legged Kittiwake. Most bird photographers at some point will have easy opportunities to photograph them on their breeding grounds such as at Saint Paul Island in the Priblofs in Alaska. The appearance of one in central Ohio along a creek is much harder to come across.


Black-legged Kittiwake, St. Paul Island, Alaska, June 15, 2009
Canon EOS 1D MarkIII, Canon 800mm f5.6 L IS lens
f8, 1/640th sec., ISO 320