Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Big Boy Lens

I decided that what I really wanted to do is take really good photos of birds. But you need a really big telephoto lens to do that. So after a lot of research, I ordered the 400mm Canon DO lens plus the 1.4 Extender. Diffractive optics (DO) lenses are lighter than the L series lenses that Canon makes, but this one still weighs 4.3 pounds. That's better than the 8.5 or 11.8 pounds for their 500mm and 600mm lenses but you do need to use a tripod or at least a monopod with it. It works on my Rebel XSi, but to do it justice I plan to upgrade to the Canon 7D when it becomes available.

The new lens arrived on Friday, so on Saturday I was off to the San Joaquin Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary Reserve in Irvine, CA for a photo session. The sanctuary is the home of Sea & Sage, the Orange County chapter of the Audubon Society. I hadn't been there for years, but I knew it to be a pretty reliable place to find water birds at this time of year and also for being quite large. I wanted to go someplace where I could pretty much be alone and learn to use my new equipment without attracting attention. And water birds are relatively easy to photograph as opposed to the small and skittish warblers and sparrows. The sanctuary consists of ponds separated by berms so most of the birds are pretty far away. You can't make out any detail without a pair of binoculars or a spotting scope. Many times my husband and I wished that we had a camera lens as good as the spotting scope. This lens comes close.

I was very far away from the Osprey when I took this shot. Click on the photo to see a larger version and check out the expression on his face. He's a fish eater. One look from him would have the fish jumping out of the water in fright.

The Cassin's Kingbird on the right didn't budge while I took several photos of him. I was far enough away that I didn't disturb him. But I still need some practice getting set up quickly and changing settings quickly as I move from place to place. The lens magnifies almost as much as my binoculars (I'm still working on calculating the exact number) but doesn't have the same wide field of view. My one try at capturing some Green Herons in flight was fruitless. I couldn't even find them in the viewfinder.

Up top is a classic shot of a Black-necked Stilt with his reflection in the water. The stilt is such a regular visitor to the sanctuary that they use a similar pose for their logo.

No, this picture isn't upside down. That's a reflection of these Black-crowned Night-Herons in the water. The one in front is a juvenile and the one in the back is an adult. Here they are right-side up, hiding in the reeds, on the right.

I thought the lens might work for taking pictures of the moon as well and was pleasantly surprised with this shot taken last night after I got home. You can compare the detail I got here with this shot taken during the lunar eclipse of Feb. 2008 using my old lens—an amazing difference.

Now I'm dreaming about all the places I can go to take photos. But I will have to get more computer storage space for them. I'm filling up my hard drives!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Another Link Fest

Time for another link fest. Information on the advantages of a low-carb, high-fat diet has been coming in so fast and furiously that I can hardly keep up. Here are links to the best of the latest.

Dr. Michael Eades continues to astound me with a steady stream of posts, twits, and books which support his low-carb thesis. His explanations are easy to understand without sacrificing thoroughness or the science. He has recently posted two blog entries (
Part I and Part II) on the evolution of humans as meat-eaters. The main reason I have switched to low-carb eating myself is the realization that we evolved eating meat and that grains and all the other modern fruits and vegetables, not to mention "frankenfoods," are a recent addition to our diets. Dr. Eades posits that we didn't just evolve eating meat, we evolved because we ate meat. It was the addition of more and more highly-nutrient-dense meat and other protein foods that allowed our brains to grow so much larger than other primates'. But read his posts for the whole explanation.

Dr. Eades and his wife, Dr. Mary Dan Eades, have just come out with a new book, The 6-Week Cure for the Middle-Aged Middle, which I recommend to everyone not just those of us of a certain age or of a certain weight. Even if you have read their previous books, Protein Power and Protein Power Life-Plan, this book will add new insights as to how our bodies store fat and tells you how to get rid of the most dangerous kind of fat for our health, visceral fat, fat that surrounds our internal organs. You can be of relatively normal weight and still have visceral fat. I know that from my own experience. And you can have fatty liver disease without touching a drop of alcohol. And what do you suppose works like a charm to eliminate these harmful fats? Saturated fat!

The battle to get saturated fats and cholesterol recognized as healthy and not harmful continues. Here is a wonderful post from a blogger in Portugal (don't worry it's in English) on the correlation between low cholesterol levels and overall mortality. It's rather technical, full of graphs and citations, but is at times humorous. His conclusion is simply that "high" cholesterol is good!

It is quite fascinating to notice that high t-C [total cholesterol], rather than being a malignant condition that would predict a short life expectancy, is actually associated with higher longevity, and not only with longevity but also with a healthy life, which is what we all want, isn’t it?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Miracle Dark Sky

It didn't look too promising when we were setting up our scopes last night for an evening of viewing the stars at Ridgecrest School. There were wispy high clouds with fog blowing in from the west. All in all, it has been a miserable summer for stargazing. Every time there has been a new moon, we have had cloudy, foggy, even rain-threatening weather. In desperation last night, four of us set up our scopes despite the odds that we wouldn't even see enough stars to get a proper alignment. One person joked that we ought to rename ourselves the "Optimists' Club."

As the sun set, things seemed to be getting worse rather than better. At one point, we couldn't see each other any more so we all just sat down and waited. More optimism. I was set up and ready to go by 7:10 pm, but didn't even turn the scope on until 7:30. Right away I could tell there were problems with the motor in my tracking device. I use a 12v battery to run the Goto computer and keep the object I am looking at in the field of view as the Earth turns. I hadn't checked it before packing the car and it looked like it was in need of a re-charge. Fortunately, the drive can also operate on 8 ordinary AA batteries, of which I had plenty with me. But to install them meant taking the scope off the tripod and then re-aligning it after screwing it back on, something that is much easier done in daylight than after dark. Plus, the high humidity had everything soaking wet and feeling very clammy.

Suddenly, the sky cleared and everyone set to work. But I had to deal with the batteries and setting up again. By the time I was done, yes, the fog was back. But at about 10:00 pm, the wind died down, the sky cleared once more and even better, the fog stayed below us blocking the city lights. It had turned into one of those magical nights when the seeing is clear and steady, and even in the city you can see things like the Milky Way. Jupiter was spectacular, the best I've ever seen it with its red bands going across and four moons all in a line, two on each side of the planet. It was a jewel. I was able to see M57, the Ring Nebula, actually as a ring and not just a gray haze. And last but not least, M27, the Dumbbell Nebula, which I had never seen before with my little scope, shone through. After all the delays and false starts, the motor was purring like a kitten, my alignment was spot on, and the sky was dark and clear. At 1:00 am, I hated to pack up and leave.