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Flying Over Needles

Didn’t have a great experience here which is nothing against Needles.  We arrived after long day of driving, settled into campsite, and by the time I went to fly it was getting to be sundown.  The link to the youtube video is at the bottom.

Walked out to the point near the Colorado River and set up to fly but the DJI Mavic wanted a firmware update. Ok, last time I did an update it went fast and smooth.  Looked like i had good internet cell service on iPhone so I hot-spotted the iPad to the iPhone and started the download.

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Waiting and Waiting and Waiting – golden light passing fast.

And waited and waited and waited.  Meanwhile the sun crept out from behind the clouds to give me the golden light we crave whilst I waited and waited.

Finally as the sun was setting I could take off.

Drone Selfie as sun going down

Was able to take a little video.

click on link below for a quickly cobbled together video

Flying over Needles

Sedona Panorama

We were out driving the other afternoon and I took Sraddha up to the Sedona Airport for the vista.  I have been up here before in mornings.  We couldn’t stay very long as I was double parked in handicap spot so Sraddha could view and I didn’t want to pay the parking fee cheapskate that I have become (or is it budget conscious). The light hadn’t really developed yet as it was only 3 hours until sunset, but the clouds were really interesting.

Hmm.  How to photograph this?

Because we were at the airport, I couldn’t fly the quadcopter so I dug out my Olympus EM5-MKII with 12-40 lens, and shot 6 shots turning the camera to portrait mode and overlapping about 30%.  What made the colors pop is that each shot was actually a 3 shot HDR.  So I took a total of 18 photos.  Each 3 were +2,0,-2 in exposure.  I used my tripod but it wasn’t exactly level as time was of the essence.

Camera settings
focus – 22 mm (equivalent to 44mm in full frame),
F5 at around 1/2000, ISO 200.

Processing in Lightroom & Photoshop
I processed the photos in Adobe Lightroom using my usual EM1 import preset, then ran the 18 photos thru Photomatix using natural setting.  Merged the resultant 6 HDR TIF files into panorama in Adobe Photoshop, then cleaned it up a bit and brought it back to Lightroom where I did some final minor adjustments in shadows and color the cropped 3:1 to get some of the foreground out.  (below is unadjusted version for comparison)

While not my best work it was quick taking me only about 25 minutes from start to finish.

Un-adjusted Un-cropped Panorama

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Sedona Panorama Before adjustments

 

Adjusted HDR Panorama in Black & White
I made a virtual copy of the first shot in Lightroom then set it to Black and White. Sharpened it a little and adjusted blacks, whites and color.  slight contrast.

Sedona Panorama in Black and White

Flying at Sunrise

A short post this morning after I went out to fly the drone before sunrise.  Got some good video footage which I will post later as time permits.

Upper Right is a frame shot from video while flying west up the draw.
Upper Left is what I call a “drone selfie”
Lower photo is sunrise at 150 ft altitude.

Went out again this morning and flew straight up almost 400 ft (that is FAA ceiling for quadcopters).

here are some shots from Drone

First Flying Video

Received my new DJI Mavic Pro quadcopter late December and have been learning to fly.  Since I never played video games, my eye-hand coordination leaves a bit to be desired.  Still it just needs practice, and after some, I ventured up into the Catalina Mountains to the Romero Pools to fly and film.

Quite a little challenge and learned a lot including, as you will see, on very important lesson in this video.  Hope you enjoy.

 

Birds and Grasslands of Southern Arizona

Not totally about birds and grasslands but mostly. Saturday evening I feasted on a pizza at the Velvet Elvis here in Patagonia while Sraddha stayed back home resting and relaxing. Met a delightful couple who used to live in Tucson and were touring the area after his business meetings. Turns out a lot of tourists, birders, etc love to travel through here in winter time (big surprise) and also in summer because it is cooler in higher elevations of over 4,000 to 5,0000 ft.

We had a wonderful afternoon at Paton's Bird yard then awoke to gusty winds on Sunday morning. Sraddha went over to the Nature conservancy while I nursed a sore foot from our recent power walks. Getting old in body with a few of the usual aches and pains but we tend to pay more attention to them these days since the body doesn't heal as fast as it used to. My right shoulder as case in point. I had messed up the tendons last summer during our big move out of the house and it is still hurting on a daily basis. I have had the cortisone shots which have helped but cannot work out regularly to this day and when I lift arm weights, it is half as much on the right side as left. Dr. Peter says the “tincture of time” will help and it has but I still guard against further injury and favor my left side. Now a sore right foot. But enough of my whining.

I had heard that the hawks fly in the mornings up in the hills south of town so we decided to head up the road in search of them.

beautiful Sycamore tree up Harshaw road
beautiful Sycamore tree up Harshaw road

Oops. Gas guage nearly empty. Not the right time to venture out in to unknown hills. Where to get some gas? We had explored gas at the Arivaca market but it was $0.40 more than Tucson so we figured we would wait. When we drove through Nogales area we didn't see a convenient station to fill up while towing. We had anticipated fueling up in Patagonia.

Looking north towards San Canelo Pass. Sonoita beyond.
Looking north towards San Canelo Pass. Sonoita beyond.
Those of you who live in the rural areas can relate when I say the only gas station in town is closed on Sundays! And they were surprisingly more expensive than Arivaca!
Panorama of San Rafael Valley Huachuca mountains in background (Southeast)  Mexico on right horizon
Panorama of San Rafael Valley Huachuca mountains in background (Southeast) Mexico on right horizon
So off east 12 miles to Sonoita we go to find the Shell station where the gas was more reasonable and, most important, available. We had originally planned a little 90 minute drive but this ended up 4 hours and we are happy we did it. We ventured south into the Coronado National Forest over a winding road from Sonoita about 25 miles to a dirt road which took us thorugh Juniper and Pinon Pine forests up over San Canelo Pass.
View south to San Rafael Valley and  Mexico from San Canelo Pass (5300 ft elevation)
View south to San Rafael Valley and Mexico from San Canelo Pass (5300 ft elevation)

Down in to San Rafael Valley and some incredibly beautiful and sparse natural grasslands remeniscent of a bygone era when the whole of southern Arizona was grasslands prior to the cattle ranchers moving in. We saw some cattle spread all around the valley and several ranches who seem to be more conservation minded these days. Drought has hit this area harder than the rest of Arizona but wildfire has not so the grasslands remain in tact.

San Rafael Valley looking south to Mexico
San Rafael Valley looking south to Mexico

As we descended into the valley we could see the radar station used by the border patrol for monitoring the area. We saw several border patrol trucks as we drove along. A few ranch trucks too. We saw 6 or 7 Kestrals hunting or resting so we knew there was food for them around the area. Evidence of deer and other animals were seen when we looked.

Long dirt road in pretty good shape.
Long dirt road in pretty good shape.

Headed west again through Juniper and Pinon pine forests over to Mowry in the western border of the valley. Only thing there was some homesteads and mailboxes.

Harshaw - Adobe structure
Harshaw - Adobe structure
As we descended through the canyons we happened onto Harshaw, an old ghost town with one adobe shack and a cemetary. Several families were visiting the cemetary to pay respects to their ancestors. We saw this amazing old Sycamore up the canyon. Sycamore trees line the canyons at this elevation (4000-5500) and are just beginning to bloom our. Amazing trees.
Old Sycamore tree in Harshaw
Old Sycamore tree in Harshaw

Continuing down the road we made it back to Patagonia for a late lunch then over to Paton's Bird Yard one more time.

We did see a couple red tail hawks but no Grey Hawks, or Zone tailed Hawks we had hoped to see. All in all it was a fun drive and we were glad we had to drive over to Sonoita for gas, otherwise we might not have seen this incredible valley.

 

Arivaca Cienega

Anticipating high winds today, we ventured out early this morning to walk around one of the better birding places in area just west of beautiful downtown Arivaca.

Looking through Arivaca to the Bobquivari Mountains from the Cienega
Looking west through Arivaca to the Bobquivari Mountains from the Cienega
Anticipating we would see some little birds, I decided to try out the big 200-400mm zoom lens and camera. S had returned from Oregon with it's strap and assembled on the lens which weighs 8 pounds (11 with camera). I was excited to head out in search of prey to shoot (with my camera of course). I shot most of these at 560mm fully zoomed in with 1.4 extender enabled. Most were 1/1000 or more, ISO 1000 or so. F5.6.
Note: that these photos were all jpg's processed on my iPad so they aren't as rich as usual. Check my flickr page for some better ones.
As we began our walk we spotted a couple Kestrals high up in the cottonwood tree, their backs to us. As we cautiously approached they looked around, the finally the male Kestral darted over to the female and before I could raise up the camera to shoot, the mating season was over. He flew off to have drink wiht his mates no doubt, while she put her herself back together and adjusted her makeup before flying off in search of a nest.
{Photo of kestral to go here.}
Further along the path we heard the melodious sounds of a Bewick's Wren. He darted all around us, eventually landing in a high snag where I finally shot him singing merrily away. S remarked with wonder as to how so much joy and beautiful song could be sustainably emanating from such a little tiny creature tinier than a housefinch.
Bewick's Wren singing
Bewick's Wren singing in a high branch

My mistake was not taking the monopod because, upon viewing some of the photos, I immediately saw they were not as sharp as I could have liked. As we strolled, ever so slowly, around the trails of this refuge, we saw at least 15 different species.

Song Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Photographing little birds is difficult. They hide in the thickets and behind trees. ID through binoculars easier but catching them in open to photograph takes patience. I was hunting a green tailed Towhee for 20 minutes and finally spotted him out in open (see shot below) where is flitted for a bout 4 seconds. Just enough time to raise up the camera and photograph into the darkened woods.
Green Tailed Towhee
Green Tailed Towhee in thicket

We saw Red Tail hawks, Cooper's Hawk, Grey Hawk. We saw several little birds in thickets.

Even a pair of Coyotes hunting the tall grass for breakfast. We happened onto this pair out in the tall grass. Heard them yipping and digging and scurrying around. They didn't see us at first but when I popped off 4 shots in quick succession, the noise made by the high speed camera clicking alerted them we were present and they bounded off. This shot below was the only decent one I got and then some tall grass blurred its face a little.

Coyote Hunting
Coyotes hunting in tall grass
We saw these really cool butterflies, too. Can't you tell I don't know butterfly names? They fly fast and dart around in the Willow trees so it is hard to catch them. Finally one landed to feast all alone on the willows seeds and I was able to get a decent shot.
Cool Butterfly
Cool looking Butterfly

A fun 2 hour walk. next time I bring my Monopod.