Yucatan Wildlife Photography with the Tamron 18-400mm 

I hope this post is helpful for others looking to photograph wildlife near Cancun, Playa del Carmen, or Tulum. I also want to thank Tamron USA for lending me the jacknife of all travel lenses, the new 18-400mm. The broad range of this ultra telephoto All-In-One helped me image everything that moved (and a few things like ruins which did not move). I would sincerely recommend this lens to anyone looking for a versatile travel lens especially for nature which is one of my niches (addictions?).

Yucatan birding

Tropical Mockingbird in Cozumel Mexico

Tropical Mockingbird
Cozumel, Mexico
Tamron 18-400mm F/3.5-6.3 DI-II VC HLD lens + Canon SL2
Aperture Priority +2/3 exposure compensation
1/320th F/9 ISO 3200, 400mm

My first time observing this species. I could easily have mistaken this bird for the Northern Mockingbirds I often see at home. Body dimensions and wingtips do stand out to me as differing slightly between the two species.

Tamron 18-400mm bif

Turkey Vulture in flight and Caribbean Sea

Turkey Vulture in flight
Cozumel, Mexico
Tamron 18-400mm F/3.5-6.3 DI-II VC HLD lens + Canon SL2
Aperture Priority +2/3 exposure compensation
1/4000th F/9 ISO 6400, 400mm

The same vulture species we commonly see cleaning the roads in New Jersey. I like the small breaking wave of the Caribbean Sea in the background. I also like sharpness of the flight feathers now suspended in the frame. The Tamron 18-400mm VC did a very good job at tracking the action and also resolving the fine detail. Kudos to the Canon SL2 Rebel also for a clean enough shot at ISO 6400.

Tulum Mexico Nature Photography

Partially Leucistic Yucatan Jay in Tulum Mexico

Yucatan Jay – partially leucistic
Tulum, Mexico
Tamron 18-400mm F/3.5-6.3 DI-II VC HLD lens + Canon SL2
Aperture Priority +2/3 exposure compensation
1/1250th F/8 ISO 25600, 300mm

The genetic condition of leucism in birds will often cause a loss of pigment. I am not a scientist but I do know this condition varies from albininism as an albino animal should have discolored or pink eyes. Anyhow, this was quite a challenging photograph to capture as I was in the deep shade in a grove of trees, shooting almost vertically, and dealing with extreme heat. ISO 25600 is never a desirable as fine detail is sacrificed for a brighter exposure in low light.

Note that the shaded walk to the ruins of Tulum (approaching from the public beach side) has diverse trees including fruit trees making it a decent patch for birding.

Mexico Sandpiper Picture

Sanderling sandpiper in Tulum Mexico

Sanderling
Tulum, Mexico
Tamron 18-400mm F/3.5-6.3 DI-II VC HLD lens + Canon SL2
Aperture Priority +1 2/3 exposure compensation
1/250th F/9 ISO 400

A raised natural rock perch, overcast light, and uncluttered background brought this scene together for me. Sunrise Beach in Tulum is a very pleasant yet small public area. Lisa and I both enjoyed taking photographs here and you can walk on the scenic exposed rocks at low tide. It would be hard to take a bad picture in such a place.

Mexico Amphibian

Gulf Coast Toad in Coba Mexico

Gulf Coast Toad
Coba, Mexico
Tamron 18-400mm F/3.5-6.3 DI-II VC HLD lens + Canon SL2
Aperture Priority + 1/3 exposure compensation
1/25th F/10 ISO 1600, 100mm

An obliging subject at the base of a tree near ruins at Coba. Possibly my first time observing a Gulf Coast Toad, it’s dark lateral markings remind me a bit of a Wood Frog. An aperture of F/10 was selected to offer more depth of field than my typical walk-around setting of F/8. This is an uncropped image, the Tamron’s 1:2.9 (check this) macro ability is very useful for photographing small wildlife.

Yucatan Wildlife Photography

Striped Basilisk lizard at Coba Mexico

Striped Basilisk Lizard
Coba, Mexico
Tamron 18-400mm F/3.5-6.3 DI-II VC HLD lens + Canon SL2
Aperture Priority + 1/3 exposure compensation
1/320th F/9 ISO 800, 400mm

I did crop in on this, I played hide and seek with this lizard for several minutes but it was not going to sit still for me. A male Basilisk would like similar but have a large angular crest atop its head. I would have preferred a cleaner setting for the shot but my goal when I travel is to document as much wildlife diversity as I can.

Macro Insect Photography

Carmine Skimmer dragonfly in Cancun Mexico

Carmine Skimmer Dragonfly
Cancun, Mexico
Tamron 18-400mm F/3.5-6.3 DI-II VC HLD lens + Canon SL2
Aperture Priority + 0 exposure compensation
1/200th F/8 ISO 400, 400mm

I took this on a golf course during a morning walk from my resort. The Tamron 18-400mm looks like a good choice to me for dragonfly shooting. 400mm of telephoto reach, a short minimum focusing distance, and reputable Vibration Compensation (in lens anti-shake stabilization) are all very useful in the field.

Isla Mujeres birds

Cormorant and Gulls silhouette in Isla Mujeres Mexico

Cormorant and Gulls silhouette
Tortugranja, Isla Mujeres, Mexico
Tamron 18-400mm F/3.5-6.3 DI-II VC HLD lens + Canon SL2
Aperture Priority + 0 exposure compensation
1/2000th F/8 ISO 200, 227mm

I chose not to use my lens at its furthest zoom for this image to show more context. Compositionally this is a pretty basic rule-of-thirds layout. The muted scene looks rather postcard to me which is neither good nor bad, “it is what it is”. This might print well for a dentist’s office.

Ctenosaur Iguana picture

Ctenosaur (spiny-tailed iguana) in Mexico

Ctenosaur
El Ray Ruins, Cancun, Mexico
Tamron 18-400mm F/3.5-6.3 DI-II VC HLD lens + Canon SL2
Aperture Priority + 0 exposure compensation
1/250th F/10 ISO 400, 400mm

This large adult iguana is either surveying his territory, enjoying the breeze, or doing whatever else iguanas do. They are actually quite territorial and will confront other iguanas invading their turf. A good number of the iguanas we saw had tails in various stages of regeneration which is a nice evolutionary trick to have.

Fringe-toed Foamfrog

Sabinal Frog (aka Fringe-toed Foamfrog)

Sabinal Frog
El Ray Ruins, Cancun, Mexico
Tamron 18-400mm F/3.5-6.3 DI-II VC HLD lens + Canon SL2
Aperture Priority + 1 exposure compensation
1/160th F/9 ISO 800, 400mm

A very diminutive frog and hard to locate at first. I chose to show its flooded grassy environment to provide context and scale.  A big thank you to Bill McGighan for identifying my photo for me.

Cancun Crocodile Picture

American Crocodile in Cancun

American Crocodile
Cancun, Mexico
Tamron 18-400mm F/3.5-6.3 DI-II VC HLD lens + Canon SL2
Aperture Priority + 1 exposure compensation
1/500th F/10 ISO 400, 200mm

A small individual, this one was on the edge of the lagoon just behind a gift shop in Cancun. I had seen another tourist couple looking down in the lagoon and had a hunch of what they were looking at. After a couple of photographs and a quick conversation with the couple from Manchester UK we bid the reptile and the humans good day.

Mexico butterfly picture

Gulf Fritillary Butterfly in Cancun Mexico

Gulf Fritillary
Coral Beach, Cancun, Mexico
Tamron 18-400mm F/3.5-6.3 DI-II VC HLD lens + Canon SL2
Manual Exposure
1/100th F/8 ISO 1600, 227mm

The wildlife habitat at Coral Beach was less than overwhelming, however it did have more vegetation than most other parts of the tourist city. Coral Beach (also called Mirador) is a very pleasant place to walk around and a good way to avoid the crowds on the rest of the boulevard. Vibration Compensation saved the day on this shot, with a low handheld shutter speed of 1/100th at ISO 1600 I did not want to raise the ISO at the expense of fine detail.

 

Let me know if you have any questions or comments about the photographs, locations, or lens/camera setup I will do my best to help.

 

Purchase the Tamron 18-400mm F/3.5-6.3 DI-II VC HLD All-In-One Zoom through my affiliate link to help support my blog

Tamron 18-400mm for Canon APS-C

Tamron 18-400mm for Nikon

Canon EOS Canon EOS Rebel SL2 24 Megapixel Digital SLR Camera Body Only

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Wildcat Ridge WMA Hawk Watch 9/23/2017

A few quick views from one of my favorite local vistas.

NJ hiking

Photographer taking a shot of NYC in the distance. Wildcat Ridge WMA Hawk Watch, September 2017, photo by Dave Blinder.

The Wildcat Ridge Wildlife Management Area Hawk Watch also serves as an unofficial community center for nature observation and study.

NJ birding

International Hawk Week banner. Wildcat Ridge WMA Hawk Watch, September 2017, photo by Dave Blinder.

A great service to the public has been provided by Bill Gallagher and more recent NJ Fish&Wildlife Volunteers. Bill will be missed.

NJ hawk migration

Volunteer Frank Bundy tallies passing raptors. Wildcat Ridge WMA Hawk Watch, September 2017, photo by Dave Blinder.

These giving folks greet newcomers to the hawkwatch and provide birdwatching knowledge and tips to all.

Rockaway Township NJ

Visitors come to discuss migration. Wildcat Ridge WMA Hawk Watch, September 2017, photo by Dave Blinder.

The volunteers also provide raptor migration data sheets to NJF&W and other wildlife monitoring organizations.

New Jersey Nature Area

Visitors take in the panoramic view. Wildcat Ridge WMA Hawk Watch, September 2017, photo by Dave Blinder.

Visit the Wildcat Ridge WMA Hawk Watch this Fall. Parking is available at the far end of Upper Hibernia Road in Rockaway Twp NJ. Ascend the gravel road on foot 6/10 of a mile before turning for Hawk Watch access. Bring binoculars, water, and a snack.

Visit the WCR Enhancement Website for more detailed visitor information.

New Jersey Bird Photography: Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird, New Jersey wildlife photography.

This female Bluebird did not tolerate close photos, but luckily I paused upon approach to grab what I call “safety shots”.  In the world of birdwatchers, we become familiar with the terms “flushing” and “flush range”.  It infers a wildlife species’ or individual’s quantifiable tolerance for close human approach.

My “safety shot” shown here has both an uncluttered foreground and background while possessing a viable illumination.  Hence, a keeper for me.

NJ birding

A female Eastern Bluebird sits aloft a horizontal branch on the periphery of the forest. #NewJersey bird photography taken with #Tamron SP 150-600mm VC lens and #Canon EOS 60D.

Tamron Lenses​ SP 150-600mm VC + Canon 60D

https://facebook.com/daveblinderphotography

New Jersey Bird Photography: Magnolia Warbler

With a full day for photography ahead of me, I concocted a course of action to head to Sandy Hook National Recreation Area in New Jersey.  Many photographers are drawn to the area for various reasons: portrait shoots on the beach, sunrise/sunset captures, and bird photography.  Tentatively, I blocked off the time in my head… afternoon of chasing around birds and early evening to try some creative sunset images.

I did wind up with several pics that I liked, but this one really stood out to me:

NJ Birding pic

Up close and personal view of a small and vivid woodland songbird, a Magnolia Warbler. Photo taken with the Tamron SP 150-600mm VC lens and the Canon EOS 7D.

The above uncropped telephoto view was taken with the Tamron SP 150-600mm lens and the Canon EOS 7D DSLR.  Exposure settings: 1/1250 F/8 ISO 800

DSLR Nature Cinematography: Snowy Egret

I recently shot a few very short HD DSLR Video clips of one of the more common and easily recognizable wading birds in New Jersey, a Snowy Egret.  My personal goal for wildlife still photography had as been 2 archival quality captures of any subject that I found interesting.  Archival quality captures to me means focus is spot-on, exposure will not require significant post-processing, and the composition is pleasing to my eyes.  I also try to avoid repetition in my photos.  I’ve “upped the ante” on my nature shooting goals, and will now also try to film 1 or 2 quick sequences when I am in the outdoors.

Back to the point, I had been shooting all of my recent photos with a ballhead on my tripod.  Having no experience with fluid tripod heads, but realizing their importance in the video industry I started doing some research.  I already have Manfrotto RC2 quick release plates attached to most of my cameras and lenses so I wanted a fluid head that was designed for the RC2 plate.  I wound up purchasing a Manfrotto 128RC Micro Fluid Head and it has remained atop my 055x ProB tripod ever since.  This allows me to perform the steady panning motions needed for dynamic video work.

The above video was filmed using the Tamron SP 150-600mm VC Lens and the Canon EOS 7D.  Manual video mode settings include: ISO 100 F/14 and the Shutter Speed set to 1/80th.  I muted original audio from the clips in post-processing because of the loud hissing of the wind.  Guitar playing is me strumming my Washburn D10 Guitar, and I ended up recording this with my Samsung cellular phone.  Audio post-processing involved noise reduction, addition of a Phaser Effect, and overall Volume Reduction.  Video post-processing included trimming video segments, cross-fade transitions between shots, contrast enhancements, and split-tone color processing.

Expressing motion in photography: Laughing Gull in flight

Plenty of terms for the type of DSLR photography illustrated in the main image below and to tell you the truth I don’t even know what to call them.  Panning blurs may be the most logical terminology in my opinion.  Anyways, I often forget how much I enjoy looking at this type of capture.  It seems to boil the bird down to its very essence: shapes and colors.

Larus delawarensis

Photo demonstrating intentional use of a slow shutter speed along with panning of a telephoto lens.

Picture taken using a Canon EOS 7D and the Tamron SP 150-600mm VC telephoto lens.  Tripod lens collar is mounted to Manfrotto 055xProB tripod and Manfrotto junior fluid head.  Camera settings: focal length at 600mm, Manually set shutter at 1/30th, aperture at F/14, ISO 100, Camera RAW, Auto White Balance, VC On, Servo Focus Mode, High Speed Motor Drive.  Photography location: Ocean County, New Jersey.  Atlantic Ocean that is…

This type of photo can sometimes be performed in Aperture Priority mode by using a low ISO and large Aperture number to slow down the shutter.  The shutter speeds that usually work best for me are between 1/13th and 1/50th.  Your mileage may vary.  My goal when preparing for this kind of shot is to get a good amount of definition on the wildlife while emphasizing some motion (in this case the wing beats).  I also want a nice bright exposure that will retain a lot of details in the highlights but still have my histogram as far to the right as possible for maximum detail.  Compositionally speaking, I may be looking to place the bird prominently in the frame without cutting off any appendages or I may want try to include some scenery like showing the bird flying across the water’s surface.  There is a great deal of trial and error in this style of photography.  Patience, persistence, and studying other photog’s successful photos will go a long. way.

Bird Photography in Cape May – American Goldfinch

I was recently down in Cape May to do some nature photography.  Since CM is the undisputed birding capital of New Jersey, it only makes sense to take a long telephoto lens along like the Tamron SP 150-600mm VC.  Below is one of my favorite captures from this excursion.

Bird Photography

A closeup view of a female American Goldfinch at rest on a Sunflower in Cape May, New Jersey.

Shutter speed: 1/500 Aperture: F/9.0 ISO: 200 in Aperture Priority Mode +2/3 Exposure Compensation.  The Focal Length is 500mm.  Other settings: VC On, Manfrotto tripod, Spot Metering, Manual White Balance on my Canon EOS 7D

There was a flock of at least 1 or 2 dozen Goldfinches busily feeding in this Sunflower Patch, but upon my approach they retreated to the trees which is the expected response from most songbirds.  Most wildlife is genetically imprinted to flee from humans, as they were historically a food source in the days when hunting was our only means of sustenance.  Experience and literature will tell us that individual bird species have their own expected “flush range”.  Meaning different birds will typically fly away faster than others.  In my personal experience, a very slow but direct approach on a feeding Goldfinch may occasionally get you as close as you want to get.

This particular female American Goldfinch did not fly when the rest of her flock retreated, instead it appeared to me that this bird was mostly basking in the warmth of the sunlight.  She was splitting her time between preening (tending to her feathers) and plucking seeds from the Sunflower head below her.  After years of bird observation, I could tell that this bird was relaxed because it showed no intention of flying away and also lacked the nervous head movements and body twitching that comes before the songbird flushes (flying away).  I got my tripod to the desired photographic height and slowly worked my way forward, one large deliberate by quiet footstep at a time.  The photo featured on this page is not cropped whatsoever and I would not have wanted to shoot it any tighter.  After I was done making my captures I exited the scene in the same slow and deliberate manner to not cause undue stress to the passerine (songbird).

American Goldfinch DSLR video; filmed in Cape May, New Jersey

It was a real treat to get some close footage of our vibrant state bird recently.  I knew that I would want footage from several different angles to create diversity… even in a short wildlife video.  Varying the focal lengths and my angle of view on the birds was how I tackled that challenge.

Footage shot in 1080p at 30fps on the Canon EOS 7D with the tripod mounted Tamron SP 150-600mm VC zoom lens.  DSLR was set to the desired shutter speed of 1/60th of a second and I adjusted the aperture and ISO value to get as good of an exposure as possible for each clip.  Unfortunately it was a windy day so I had to strip the audio of the birds interacting and feeding.  I don’t think anyone would have enjoyed listening to the hissing and popping caused by the wind hitting the microphone outdoors.