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More Backyard Songbirds

With the caronavirus lock-down keeping me home, and a red flowering currant bush in full bloom in the back yard, today was a perfect day for photographing songbirds.

I moved my suet block feeder next to the flowering currant and set up my Tragopan pop-up photo blind about 10 feet away.  In minutes the birds were on the feeder and perching in the flowering currant, just as I had hoped.

Watch the video below to join me on this backyard photo shoot, featuring Anna’s hummingbird (Calypte anna), chestnut-backed chickadee (Poecile rufescens), black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus), spotted towhee (Pipilo maculatus) and black-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis).

Male spotted towhee (Pipilo maculatus) perched on pink flowering currant bush, Snohomish, Washington, USA (Brad Mitchell Photography)

Spotted towhee (Pipilo maculatus) perched on pink flowering currant bush

Male dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis) perched on pink flowering currant bush, Snohomish, Washington, USA (Brad Mitchell Photography)

Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis) perched on pink flowering currant bush

Male spotted towhee (Pipilo maculatus) perched on pink flowering currant bush, Snohomish, Washington, USA (Brad Mitchell Photography)

Spotted towhee (Pipilo maculatus) perched on pink flowering currant bush

If you like these photos, support this blog by purchasing a print for yourself or a loved one.

Also, check out some of the equipment used to make these photos.  These affiliate links cost you nothing, but help support this blog.

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Tragopan Grouse V+ photo blind
Sony a6600 camera
Sony 200-600mm f/6.3 lens (300-900mm equivalent on a660 crop sensor)
Feisol Classic Rapid Carbon Fiber Tripod Legs
Sevenoak SK-GH02 Carbon Fiber Gimbal Tripod Head
Topaz DeNoise AI noise removal software

 

Bergamo, Italy

February 2020

Empty streets of Bergamo, Italy at night on February 21, 2020 during caronavirus outbreak (Brad Mitchell Photography)

Empty streets of Bergamo Città Alta, Italy, February 21, 2020

As I walked the empty streets of Bergamo’s medieval Città Alta (Upper City) in early morning hours of late-February, just as the caronavirus was spreading its evil way across northern Italy, I though back to all the other pandemics that its streets have witnessed over the centuries.  While Bergamo was first occupied even before Roman times, its upper city was fortified by Venetian influence in the 16th century.  These streets have seen plague, black death, smallpox and now COVID-19.

On February 29, our Anvil travel risk alert rises from a 2 to a 3 (on scale of 0-4).  Our flight home is already booked for the next morning.  Nine days later, Bergamo is under lock-down, and has become the epicenter of Italy’s coronavirus outbreak.

But as the sun rises over the city, I have confidence that it will eventually overcome this latest disaster and endure.

Bergamo Città Alta at sunset, Italy (Brad Mitchell Photography)

Bergamo Città Alta

Porta San Giacomo and Bergamo's big Venetian walls at sunrise, Bergamo Città Alta, Italy (Brad Mitchell Photography)

Porta San Giacomo and Bergamo’s big Venetian walls at sunrise, Bergamo Città Alta

Statue on top of bell tower at Church of Sant'Alessandro della Croce silhouetted against sunrise, Bergamo, Italy (Brad Mitchell Photography)

Statue on top of bell tower at Church of Sant’Alessandro della Croce above Bergamo, Italy

Statue on top of bell tower at Church of Sant'Alessandro della Croce silhouetted against sunrise, Bergamo, Italy (Brad Mitchell Photography)

Statue on top of bell tower at Church of Sant’Alessandro della Croce, Bergamo, Italy

Photographing Backyard Songbirds from Photo Blind

Female dark-eyed junco perched on vine maple branch, Snohomish, Washington, USA (Brad Mitchell Photography)

Female dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis oreganus) perched on vine maple branch

I have been having fun this winter shooting backyard songbirds from my new photo blind.  The pop-up photo blind sets up in less than 2 minutes and allows me to get within 10 feet of the birds as they feed from a suet feeder or perch on nearby branches.  Waterproof construction means I can leave it up and use it for a few days in rainy weather.

With their quick motions jumping around between branches, only about 2% of my photos come out with sharp eyes using the animal eye-tracking feature on the Sony a6600 camera.  This is further challenged by dim lighting conditions on Washington state’s rainy winter mornings.

Photo Blind:  Tragopan Grouse Photo Blind V+
Camera:  Sony a6600
Lens:  Sony 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3
Noise Removal:  Topaz DeNoise AI

Song sparrow perched on branches of gold rider leyland cypress tree, Snohomish, Washington, USA (Brad Mitchell Photography)

Song sparrow (Melospiza melodia) perched on branches of gold rider leyland cypress tree

Chestnut-backed chickadee on suet feeder, Snohomish, Washington, USA (Brad Mitchell Photography)

Chestnut-backed chickadee (Poecile rufescens) on suet feeder

Male dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis oreganus) perched on vine maple branch, Snohomish, Washington, USA (Brad Mitchell Photography)

Male dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis oreganus) perched on vine maple branch

 

Great Blue Heron – Fir Island

Great blue heron standing at edge of muddy irrigation channel, Fir Island, Skagit Country, Washington (Brad Mitchell Photography)

A great blue heron stands watch in his field, Fir Island, Skagit County, Washington
Sony a7R IV with Sony 200-600mm lens at 600mm
1/1000sec, f6.3, ISO1600, processed with Topaz DeNoise AI

A great blue heron (Ardea herodias) watches for fish or frogs in a muddy irrigation canal in a field on Fir Island.

Pine Siskin

Pine siskin (Spinus pinus) perched on branch eating winter seeds, near Nooksack River, Washington state, USA (Brad Mitchell Photography)

Pine siskin (Spinus pinus) eating winter seeds while perched on branch near Nooksack River
Sony a7R IV with Sony 200-600mm lens at 600mm
1/320sec, f6.3, ISO4000, processed with Topaz DeNoise AI

Spotted this little finch eating seeds in a shrub alongside the Nooksack River.

Pine siskin live year-round in Washington State,  and are seed-eaters closely related to gold finch.  This little guy can increase its metabolic rate by 5X in order to survive overnight temperatures as low as -85F.  They store extra seeds in a portion of the esophagus to help them make it through the night.

 

Frosty Morning in Snohomish River Estuary

Sun rises Union Slew and Spencer Island, Spencer Island, Snohomish Country Parks & Recreation, Everett, Washington (Brad Mitchell Photography)

Dawn breaks over Union Slough and Spencer Island, Snohomish River Estuary, Everett, Washington
(Sony a7R IV with Sony 16-35mm lens at 35mm, 1sec, f11, ISO100)

It was a frosty early morning of bird watching on Spencer Island in the Snohomish River Estuary. An extremely high tide (12.0 feet) flooded through breaches in the dikes and into the estuary, providing great fishing habitat for great blue heron and bald eagles. The sun rose in a spectacle of color and began melting the frost.

Great blue heron looking for fish in tidal wetland, Spencer Island, Snohomish Country Parks & Recreation, Everett, Washington (Brad Mitchell Photography)

Great blue heron fishing in tidal wetland, Spencer Island, Snohomish River Estuary, Everett, Washington
(Sony a7R IV with Sony 200-600mm lens at 600mm, 1/500sec, f6.3, ISO250)

Sun rises over tidal wetland, Spencer Island, Snohomish Country Parks & Recreation, Everett, Washington (Brad Mitchell Photography)

Sun rises over tidal wetland, Spencer Island, Snohomish River Estuary, Everett, Washington
(Sony a7R IV with Sony 16-35mm lens at 35mm, 1/320sec, f11, ISO200)

Imature bald eagle on tree branch against blue sky, Spencer Island, Snohomish Country Parks & Recreation, Everett, Washington (Brad Mitchell Photography)

Immature bald eagle, Snohomish River Estuary, Everett, Washington
(Sony a7R IV with Sony 200-600mm lens at 600mm, 1/500sec, f6.3, ISO200)

Skyline Divide Trail – Washington North Cascades

If you the to do some hiking in Washington State’s North Cascade mountains, consider the Skyline Divide trail.  This classic ridge hike is accessed from a 4400 foot altitude trailhead that quickly gets  you up into flower-filled sub-alpine meadows.  Mount Baker’s north face dominates the view to the south, while Mount Shuksan fills the eastern skyline, the Twin Sisters and Puget Sound are off to the west, and dozens of US and Canadian peaks occupy the view to the north.

Enjoy a preview of the sights on Skyline Divide in this short video of a backpacking trip made last weekend with my friend Randy.  We hiked the full length of Skyline Ridge, and beyond up onto the western shoulder of Chowder Ridge.

Magenta paintbrush and other alpine meadow wildflowers blooming on Skyline Divide, North Cascade mountains, Washington State, USA (Brad Mitchell)

Magenta paintbrush and other alpine meadow wildflowers blooming on Skyline Divide, North Cascade mountains, Washington State

Important logistics for the Skyline Divide Trail:

  • All visitors must use the toilet at trailhead or pack out (not bury) human and dog waste.
  • A Recreation Pass is required to park at the trailhead.
  • The gravel road to the trailhead (FR-37) is usually 12.9 miles of potholes, but suitable to most cars when driven slowly.  Latest road conditions.
  • Beware that continuing beyond Skyline Divide and up onto Chowder ridge is best left to those skilled & prepared to scramble rock, snow and ice.
  • There is no water available on the ridge during summer or fall.  Backpackers must carry water from home or hike down to the headwaters of Deadhorse Creek.

Venice Grand Canal

A few shots of Venice’s Grand Canal (Canal Grande or Canal Grando), Venezia’s primary transportation corridor, from my recent trip to photograph the Venice Carnival.  All photographs made with a Fujifilm X100T, some with long exposures to make boat traffic disappear.

Morning breaks over the Grand Canal, viewed from Accademia Bridge, Venice, Italy (Brad Mitchell Photography)

Dawn breaks over the Grand Canal and Santa Maria della Salute, viewed from Accademia Bridge, Venice, Italy.  Exposure:  30 sec.

Morning breaks over Santa Maria della Salute and the Grand Canal, Venice, Italy (Brad Mitchell Photography)

Boat mooring piles on Grand Canal, Santa Maria della Salute in background, Venice, Italy.  Exposure: 8.5 sec.

Goldolas tied to piles on Grand Canal below Santa Maria della Salute, Venice, Italy (Brad Mitchell Photography)

Gondolas tied to piles on Grand Canal below Santa Maria della Salute, Venice, Italy

Grand Canal, Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti and Santa Maria della Salute, Venice, Italy.  Exposure:  30 sec.

 

Venice Carnival

Woman dressed in traditional mask and costume for Venice Carnival standing in Piazza San Marco in front of Saint Mark's Basilica, Venice, Veneto, Italy (Brad Mitchell Photography)

Man dressed in traditional mask and costume for Venice Carnival standing in Piazza San Marco in front of Saint Mark’s Basilica, Venice, Veneto, Italy

He struts his way across Piazza San Marco, sauntering painfully slow through a crowd of thousands of photo-snapping carnival goers.  Step … pose for some photos … step … pose … step …  His pale expressionless hollow-eyed mask contrasts with his black and red feathery tricorne hat and deeply folded black robes.

I estimate his trajectory through the crowd and work my way to a point about 20 feet ahead of him just to his left side.  My position should put the front façade of  St. Mark’s Basilica (Basilica di San Marco) directly behind him when he reaches me.  I stand firm as the crowd shuffles around me.  His tall feathery headdress slowly works its way in my direction above the swirling crowd.

When he is 6 feet away, I kneel down on one knee, the crowd between us slowly separates to give him passage, and giving me a clear view.  He steps forward, pauses briefly to give me a contemplative pose, and I’ve got my shot.  My low angle looks up through his graceful face with nothing but Basilica in the background.

I’m at the 2019 Venice Carnival, and this is one of the recipes I follow again and again attempting to capture the colorful costumed revelers roaming and posing about the piazza, while trying to get clean timeless backgrounds absent of the crowds surrounding them.

Others pose for the crowd in front of building facades or along the waterfront to give us photographers Venetian representative backgrounds.  I patiently wiggle my way into the surrounding forest of SLRs, point-and-shoots and smartphones, wait for eye contact or a graceful pose and get my shots too.

Venice Carnival (Carnevale di Venezia), a festival of parades, masquerade balls, concerts and street performances.  It is famous for its long tradition of revelers parading around in Renaissance-era masks and colorful costumes.  The celebration is a visual extravaganza, drawing 3 million visitors to this annual 2 week event that typically spans February and March.

As I take these photos at Venice Carnival, I can’t help but ask myself:  Who are these people?  What motivates them to hide their identity behind elaborate masks, and then flaunt themselves openly in public?  What fantasies are they living out?  What lies beneath their public masquerade?

Woman dressed in traditional mask and costume for Venice Carnival standing under arch at Doge’s Palace, Piazza San Marco, Venice, Veneto, Italy (Brad Mitchell Photography)  Woman dressed in traditional mask and costume for Venice Carnival standing in Piazza San Marco, Venice, Veneto, Italy (Brad Mitchell Photography)  Woman dressed in traditional mask and costume for Venice Carnival standing under arch at Doge’s Palace, Piazza San Marco, Venice, Veneto, Italy (Brad Mitchell Photography)
Man dressed in traditional mask and costume for Venice Carnival standing at Doge’s Palace, Piazza San Marco, Venice, Veneto, Italy (Brad Mitchell Photography)  Woman dressed in traditional mask and costume for Venice Carnival standing at Doge’s Palace, Piazza San Marco, Venice, Veneto, Italy (Brad Mitchell Photography)  Man dressed in traditional mask and costume for Venice Carnival standing at Doge’s Palace, Piazza San Marco, Venice, Veneto, Italy (Brad Mitchell Photography)
Woman dressed in traditional mask and costume for Venice Carnival standing under arch at Doge’s Palace, Piazza San Marco, Venice, Veneto, Italy (Brad Mitchell Photography)  Woman dressed in traditional mask and fruit costume for Venice Carnival standing at Doge’s Palace, Piazza San Marco, Venice, Veneto, Italy (Brad Mitchell Photography)  Man looking into mirror dressed in traditional mask and costume for Venice Carnival standing in Piazza San Marco, Venice, Veneto, Italy (Brad Mitchell Photography)

Mother and daughter dressed in traditional mask and costume for Venice Carnival exhausted and sitting on bench at Doge’s Palace, girl eating ice cream cone, Piazza San Marco, Venice, Veneto, Italy (Brad Mitchell Photography)

Exhausted carnival revelers break for an ice cream cone

 


Adventure

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