2022-09-06 SPI Convention Centre

Kentucky Warbler - Geothlypis formosa
Kentucky Warblers, with their ‘Elvis-like’ sideburns, remind me they are the rock-stars here on South Padre Island.
Ovenbird - Seiurus aurocapilla
I’ve met Ovenbirds on South Padre Island now on both their spring and fall migrations, where they keep low to the ground. But when I met them in Canada this spring on their breeding ground, they sang from perches higher in the mid-canopy.

What can I say about the South Padre Island Convention Centre I’ve not said already? For me, last Tuesday had an added enjoyable dimension to my visit, when my friend Horacio showed up to bird with us. I first met him during the long spring I spent here in 2021 and appreciated how generous he was in lending assistance to those around him. Thanks to him, I’ve learned to enjoy the birders here as much as the birds themselves.

It seemed to me the migration was ramping up quickly; the list of species I meet each day is getting longer. Tuesday’s birds included Black-and-White Warblers, Black Terns, Eastern Wood-Pewees, Hooded Warblers, Kentucky Warblers, Laughing Gulls, Northern Parulas, Northern Waterthrushes, Ovenbirds, Summer Tanagers, Wilson’s Warblers, and Yellow Warblers.

I don’t recall writing much about the photo gear I use, but I had an experience with my 16 or 17-year-old tripod that may be worth mentioning. Not everyone uses a tripod, but I’m a devotee of this tool. Yes, it mandates packing around a bulky piece of equipment, and may limit my willingness to take long walks with my gear, but I abandon the light-weight strategy when I elected to use a 400mm f2.8 lens (with a doubler, so 800mm, f5.6) and a big-bodied camera. Add in an old, heavy gimbal head and a sturdy metal Gitzo set of legs, and any hope of light-weight mobility is gone.

Despite the draw-backs, I believe a good tripod supporting my camera is critical to achieve the results I look for. Heavy gear tends to coax me into a stationary position, and use the sit-and-wait approach I often compare to the Great Blue Heron, as opposed to the Snowy Egret’s active style of foraging. I recognize one might argue that my heavy gear forces me to abandon the high-mobility style of photography that many hand-holding camera enthusiasts employ, but I believe sitting still allows my subjects to come fearlessly to me, and that chasing them on foot causes the subjects to retreat.

The reason I bring up this subject is to relate my frustration about a problem my long-in-the-tooth tripod gave me during this shoot. I was attempting a low angle to shoot between the rails of the fence at the Convention Centre’s water feature, and capture the nearby Ovenbird I had my sights on. Every time I’d get the height set and then look through my camera’s viewfinder, the center post slipped down to where I could not see my subject. As I struggled repeatedly with the problem, my subjects hopped away without me getting off any shots. Eventually, I worked out a solution, and captured my subject, but those thoughts that have been brewing about updating my camera support system, took on more significance. When I finished up shooting for the day, I disassembled the culprit pieces, and cleaned everything with Iso-Propyl Alcohol, which seemed to help, but as I get older, those few pounds saved by the carbon-fiber legs and gimbal heads seem more attractive than ever. And while the gear I’m now using has served me well, it may be time to upgrade. I’m sure it will put a sizable dent in my wallet!

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