Jim Williams has been watching birds and writing about their antics since before "Gilligan's Island" went into reruns. Join him for his unique insights, his everyday adventures and an open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond.

Posts about Birding equipment

New Nikon camera -- 24 to 2000mm for $600

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: March 23, 2015 - 8:33 AM

Nikon has released for preview a new camera with a built-in zoom lens that reaches 2000mm. That's 83X magnification. It's the Nikon Coolpix P900, the latest combatant in the battle for zoom superiority among major camera manufacturers. The lens is fixed, not interchangeable. Size of the camera is larger than point-and-shoot, smaller than the D-series DSLRs. Nikon calls it a compact digital camera. It weighs two pounds.

It has 16 megapixels, vibration reduction, video, Wi-Fi, connection with your iPhone if it's handy, shoots seven frames per second, has 3-inch LCD swivel screen, and will make coffee. ISO range is 100 to 6400, shutter speed 15 seconds to 1/4000.

Video demos on YouTube show very impressive sharpness at 2000mm. 

The camera will be in stores in April priced at $599.95.

Talking with Kevin Smythe at National Camera today about this machine, he said it has several special shooting settings, including one specifically programmed for birders. Switch that on, and the camera automatically chooses the settings pre-determined as being optimal for bird photography. 

My only caveat is the size of the sensor: 1/2.3 inches. One-half point three. This is much smaller than the larger sensors found in the, for example, D-700 Nikon I use. Bigger sensor, better images. The P900 uses the same sensor found in point-and-shoot cameras. A caveat, yes, but, 2000mm extension, if it produces a sharp image, should help make up for that. Nonetheless, a buyer should make certain that the quality desired for enlargements of reasonable size, say 8x10, meet expectations. 

UV liquid marks windows, alerts birds

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: March 18, 2015 - 10:22 AM

The National Eagle Center in Wabasha uses the usual choices of window decals to discourage bird strikes on the very large expanse of glass covering its south wall. We have some of those decals on our patio doors. They work, sort of. We bought something at the center during a recent visit that might do a better job, a product used by the center in addition to those decals. It’s a small container of fluid, much like a Magic Marker. The fluid rollls on, and once dry leaves an ultra-violet track, visible to birds but virtually invisible to you. It’s called UV Liquid, price $19.95 for enough to treat several windows through the year. It should be washed off and replaced every two months or so, we were told. It is visible until it dries, then all but disappears. We’re giving it a try. If it works, it’s clearly a good idea. 

Baiting wildlife for photos

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: March 14, 2015 - 2:47 PM

The magazine "Canadian Geographic" asked its readers: How do you feel about the use of baiting to capture wildlife photographs?

7% -- It's a great way to get stunning wildlife photos.

20% -- Seems a bit like cheating to me.

25% -- When used in moderation I think it's fine.

48% -- It's a selfish disruption that shouldn't be tolerated.

Purple Martin festival in June

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: March 13, 2015 - 10:26 AM

The fourth annual Outdoor Purple Martin Festival will be held in Columbia, S.D. (near Aberdeen) Saturday, June 13. Tickets can be purchased online at https://purplemartindakotas.yapsody.com/.

This is a chance to learn more about the birds and their ecological benefits. A hands-on how-to will introduce attendees to creation and maintenance of a martin colony, one box or more.

Martins are cavity nesters that need human assistance given the lack of natural cavities that would accommodate this colonial species. Martins also are prodigious consumers of flying insects. They make wonderful backyard guests, but do prefer nesting locations near water.

Breakfast and lunch socials will be available. Festival hours will be 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Overnight accommodations can be found by contacting the Aberdeen Area Convention and Visitors Bureau: http://www.visitaberdeensd.com.

Another attraction is Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge, a wonderful birding location. It’s located a few miles north of Columbia. Visit there on Sunday. Columbia is about a four-hour drive from the Twin Cities.

For more information, contact Perry D. Vogel, president of the Purple Martin Association of the Dakotas, and festival co-founder. His phone number is (218) 791-3689, email perry@purplemartindakotas.org. 

The event will take place at the residence of Paul and Joy Mammenga, 12345 396th Ave, Columbia.

You can find martin nesting equipment and supplies at www.shop.PurpleMartinDakotas.org.

Above, a pair of Purple Martins on the porch of their home. Below, a multi-cavity box hosting several pairs of martins. Martins also nest in simple gourd-shaped plastic houses hung from a pole. Examples of these can be seen at Memory Lake in Grantsburg, Wis. The box below is part of a martin colony maintained at the public beach in Wayzata.

200-600mm telephoto lens

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: February 16, 2015 - 6:08 PM

Much of my birdwatching is done through the lens of a camera. I’ve worked my way through five different cameras and several lenses in recent years. I mostly sought good telephoto lenses. I owned a Nikon 300mm f2.8 lens for a few months. It was a great lens. I work hand-held. The lens was too heavy for that. It wore me out. I sold it. In its place I bought a 500mm Tamron lens. I liked it, but could not get a sharp image. I sold it.

The camera I use most often is a Nikon D-700. It has a full-frame sensor, a real asset if you are cropping into images to enlarge the subject. For the last three years my long lens of choice has been the Nikon ED AF-S VR Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8. It’s light in weight, easy on my arms and shoulders, and gives a sharp image. 200mm is not a long reach, however, so I boosted this with a Nikon 2x teleconverter. I liked that rig, but began experiencing problems that I blamed on the converter; I think there is an issue with the electrical contacts.

So, visiting about all of this at National Camera in Golden Valley a few weeks ago, I was introduced to a Tamron 200-600mm f5.6 lens. “Well,” I said, “I’ve not been impressed with Tamron.” The salesperson said he understood. But, this one was different. It’s sharp, he said. Given National’s 30-day trial period on camera/lens purchases, I said I’d give it a try. There was one other reason, beyond supposed 600mm sharpness: the price was $1,069. You can spend many thousands more for a lens of that reach.

The lens is sharp. It’s wonderfully sharp. You probably could improve the sharpness by spending another $9,000 or so. I neither need nor want to do that. The lens is light for its size. The camera and lens together weigh seven pounds. I wouldn’t want that combo heavier, but I can hand-holding without a problem. I like the lens. I’m going to keep this one.

You could take issue with the f5.6 speed (f6.3 at 600mm). Low light levels can be a problem. The camera, though, gives me good images at up to ISO 2000. You’re not necessarily going to make posters of photos taken at that speed, but I don’t do posters.

Below are two images taken with this lens. The first is of brush at the back of our yard, distance to the subject 150 feet, image cropped by half. The cardinal in the second photo was 30 feet from me, the enlargement eliminating about 70 percent of the original image. (The photos on these blog pages are limited to five-inch width, 100 dpi.) For a thousand bucks, looks good to me.

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