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Lorain Gulls and Long Live the Canon 1D MarkIV
Winter, 2011/2012


A Few of the Gulls at Lorain
Canon EOS 1D MarkIV, Canon 800mm f5.6L IS lens
f8, 1/2000th sec., ISO 500

Most winters in Ohio gulls make good photographic subjects. Large numbers congregate along Lake Erie, but the best place varies from year to year. In past years the hot water outlet at the East 72nd St. power plant in Cleveland has been the traditional good spot to photograph a good variety of gulls. This winter was warm and Lake Erie never froze. The harbor in Lorain remained opened all winter and was loaded not only with gulls, but Common and Red-breasted Mergansers as well. I'm not a huge gull freak, and would consider my ability to identify all the various plumages and ability to find rarities as being intermediate in skill level at best. Living in central Ohio gives me much less access to the great variety of gulls compared to birders who live along the lake. Close to home I always enjoy scanning inland reservoirs such as Deer Creek for rare gulls, but that really doesn't take very long and only involves a few thousand birds at most. When spending the time and gas money to drive up to Lake Erie, I want to get to work on photography and don't want to waste time just looking through the thousands if they wouldn't make a good photograph.
 
 


Bonaparte's Gulls and the Leaning Lighthouse of Lorain
Canon EOS 1D MarkIV, Canon 70-300 f4-5.6L IS lens at 300mm
f13, 1/800th sec., ISO 320

In November Bonaparte's Gulls are present in huge numbers at Lorain. The above flock shows just a small portion of the harbor and the Bonapate's Gulls that typically congregate there. Yes that lighthouse really is leaning. The horizon is perfectly level. That photo was taken in November, 2010. This November there were too many mergansers in that area to show a pure flock of Bonies. In 2010 a Black-headed Gull joined the Bonaparte's Gulls at Lorain, and in 2011 a Franklin's Gull was present. Little Gulls can sometimes be found in the Bonaparte's Gull flocks too. Franklin's Gulls are one of the few gulls that are easier to find inland in Ohio at reservoirs such as Deer Creek and Caesar Creek.


First Year Bonaparte's Gull
Canon EOS 1D MarkIV, Canon 300mm f2.8L IS II lens +2x
f7.1, 1/4000th sec., ISO 400

Although I already had plenty of photos of flying Bonaparte's Gulls in non-breeding plumage, my main reason for going back there again last November was to give the new Canon 300 f2.8 L IS II lens a real work out on flying birds. I was thrilled with it with the 2x III attached. Using the new IS3 mode and setting the focusing range limitation to 6 meters to infinity, the focusing speed was as good as any bare f5.6 lens I have ever used. I went back and forth all day between hand holding that 600mm combination to the bare 800mm on a tripod, and I can't say that I found any difference in either the focusing accuracy or the number of keepers from either lens. I should also mention that I was using the Canon 1D MarkIV. I still had a Canon 7D when I got the new 300mm. The AF speed slowed down too much and hunted much more with the 2x attached when using that camera.


Red-breasted Merganser
Canon EOS 1D MarkIV, Canon 800mm f5.6L IS lens +1.4x
f9, 1/2500th sec., ISO 500

Most of the Bonaparte's Gulls had departed by the time I had a chance to visit Lorain again in late January. Larger gulls had arrived in good variety and numbers and the mergansers were still present huge numbers. With duck and goose hunters in the harbor in the fall and early winter, these were all generally very skittish birds and being limited to a 600mm or even bare 800mm would have resulted in a very unproductive time with the camera. The birds would only get so close to the end of the piers. I never had a whole lot of success using the 2x for fast flying birds with my 600 f4L IS lens or even the 1.4x with the previous 800 f5.6L IS lenses I owned, but I gave it a try again with my current 800 anyway and was very happy with the results. It pays having two 1D MarkIV's. One I can optimize for close focusing on nearby subjects such as songbirds, and with the other I can set the microadjustment up at a much farther distance. The mergansers are contrasty subjects for a focusing sensor to latch onto, and I was pleasantly surprised at how sharp the results were on these fast flying subjects.  Generally with a teleconverter attached I like to stop down at least 2/3 stops to get maximum sharpness, but stopping down only 1/3 stop to f9 works well for flying birds when shutter speed is more important. Needless to say, a smooth panning action on a Wimberly tripod head helps a lot when using these extreme focal lengths for flying birds. Setting the AF range on the lens to 20m to infinity dramatically speeds up the focusing speed and is plenty close enough for these birds. The rate of success I have had with this 800mm f5.6L IS + 1.4x has been probably just as  good as I ever had with my old 600 + 1.4x.  Having AF with an f8 lens combination is very important for my photography.

When Canon released the EOS3 and the new telephotos with IS a dozen or so years ago, a whole new world was opened up to me for bird photography. Around the same time Fuji released their ProviaF 100 film that pushed well one stop to ISO 200 at a quality never before seen. For the first time I could begin photographing small songbirds in their natural habitats such as Ohio forests, where before I could only enjoy them with my binoculars. The EOS3 was the first Canon camera that autofocused with an f8 lens such as the revolutionary new 600 f4L IS and new 2xII. For the first time it was possible to get razor sharp photos easily and consistently with a 1200mm lens. With the non IS 600 f4 it was difficult to get sharp photos with a 1.x let alone a manually focused 1200mm lens on slow slide film. Canon kept on making AF with an f8 lens a standard feature on all their top cameras into the digital age, and I kept on taking advantage of that and relying on that feature with subsequent cameras I owned from the 1D MarkII, 1D MarkIII, to my current the 1D MarkIV's.  Having AF with the 600 f4L IS + 2x and the 800 f5.6L IS + 1.4x has given me a second career of selling bird photos and has enabled me to buy good equipment and travel. This whole website wouldn't be here without it.  It comes as a hard blow to me that the latest top cameras recently announced by Canon omit that feature without explanation or apology. Once the last 1D MarkIV's disappear from the stores, Canon will no longer offer any camera that will autofocus with a 500mm or 600mm f4 lens with a 2x added or the 800mm lens with a 1.4x added. Also a tough pill to swallow is the loss if the 1.3x crop factor of the previous 1D cameras. With the 1DX not only do you have to get 30% closer to you subject, you can't use a teleconverter on the 800mm lens either. Let's say you were photographing a warbler from 30 ft. away with the Canon 1D Mark4 using the 800mm lens + 1.4x. Take away the crop factor and you have to be about 23 ft. away. Take off the 1.4x and you have to be somewhere around 16 ft. away to keep the subject the same size in the frame. Despite the fact the the bird will have flown off long before you could ever hope to get that close, the minimum focusing distance of the 800mm lens is 20 feet. You have to add extension to get an 800mm lens down to 16 ft., and the lens will start to vignette badly and you lose about about 2/3 stop of light. Sticking with the 1D MarkIV is definitely the best option. A full frame camera would need to be 27 mp's before you could crop out the same image as the 1D4 has. The 16mp 1D4's image is 4896 pixels x 3264 pixels. Despite what you may have read on the web somewhere, multiplying 16 times 1.3 doesn't give you the dimensions of a full frame camera with the 1D4's pixel density. You have to multiply 4896 x 1.3 (6364.8) and 3264 x 1.3 (4342.2) and then mutiply that (6364.8 x 4342.2 = 27637234.56) to get the approximate 27 megapixels that you would need in a full frame camera to get the same number of pixels on the subject the 1D4 has using the same lens from the same distance. Considering that the 1DX is only 18 mp, and doesn't offer AF with an f8 lens makes it a terrible successor to the 1D4 for bird photographers like myself. Nobody knows what the future holds in the next generation of camera models. We can only hope that Canon addresses the lack of AF with f8 lenses as a serious shortfall in their line up. Meanwhile Nikon is offering AF with f8 lenses on both of their recently introduced cameras, and not only with a single central AF point (which is the best Canon has ever offered), but with a whopping eleven of them. The problem is Nikon doesn't make lenses that make me want to switch over. I don't mean to bash Nikon, but nobody who has ever used both and no test result I have ever seen show Nikon's 600 f4 + 2x to be anywhere the quality that Canon's is, and that is the older versions of Canon lenses. The new ones coming out will probably be even better. Nikon doesn't currently make an AF 800 f5.6 that would take a 1.4x to take advatage of all those 11 AF points. For now we should be happy to have the 1D Mark IV to use with Canon 500mm, 600mm, and 800mm lenses for the next few years. Technologies move on quickly these days, and in a few years I might not feel that glad to be using what might be an outdated camera. Nikon has a patent on an 800 f5.6 lens. If they start making that and Canon doesn't address the lack of AF with f8 lenses, my guess is that in a few years a lot of people will be changing brands, and I will be one of them. Switching systems is an expense and hassle I'd rather avoid and I hope Canon starts making usable cameras again.


Red-breasted Merganser (young male)
Canon EOS 1D MarkIV, Canon 800mm f5.6L IS lens +1.4x
f9, 1/2000th sec., ISO 500

These mergansers really take off quickly. 1/2000 sec. wouldn't have been enough to freeze the subject, and panning with the bird kept its body sharp.


Common Merganser
Canon EOS 1D MarkIV, Canon 800mm f5.6L IS lens +1.4x
f9, 1/4000th sec., ISO 500

Red-breasted Mergansers were the more numerous, but plenty of Common Mergansers were in the Lorain harbor this winter too. The contrast between the dark and light feathers makes them easy for the camera's focusing sensor to grab onto, but that same contrast makes them a difficult bird to photograph as far as exposure is concerned, and processing raw files of them can be time consuming to get the most out the bright and dark areas.
 
 


Adult Herring Gull
Canon EOS 1D MarkIV, Canon 800mm f5.6L IS lens +1.4x
f9, 1/2500th sec., ISO 500


Third Year Herring Gull
Canon EOS 1D MarkIV, Canon 800mm f5.6L IS lens +1.4x
f9, 1/2500th sec., ISO 500

After most of the Bonapartes's Gulls leave in the early winter, Ring-billed and Herring Gulls dominate the gull scene along Lake Erie. Those birds always make interesting photo ops, and that's fine with me. The top photo of the adult bird landing in the deep blue water in nice evening light might be a more interesting photo than the second one, but the second one is money in the bank. I sell a lot of photos of Herring Gulls. If you look in any field guide, there and more pictures of them than just about any other species. Being four year gulls with plumages that vary through the year,  more photos (or drawings) are needed to show the full variety. Third year birds are the fewest. Most birds are adults, followed by first year birds. Since the first year birds have the highest mortality, there are fewer second year birds and still fewer third year birds. Herring Gulls can live a long time, so there are always lots of adults present. Good photos that illustrate the third year birds sell the easist. I'm always surprised when I look at other bird photographers websites and don't see a full set of Herring Gulls in flight. Any good photographer can get one in a few hours at most. I suppose that now that I'm posting this everyone will start photographing them more and I will have a few hundred less dollars in my pocket every year.
 
 


Adult Great Black-backed Gull
Canon EOS 1D MarkIV, Canon 800mm f5.6L IS lens +1.4x
f9, 1/3200th sec., ISO 500


First Year Great Black-backed Gull
Canon EOS 1D MarkIV, Canon 800mm f5.6L IS lens
f7.1, 1/3200th sec., ISO 400

Great Black-backed Gulls are handsome birds in any plumage. They can be common along Lake Erie and are seen in most outings along the lake any day of the year. Inland they are very rare and seldom venture south to reservoirs in central Ohio like Deer Creek, but I do have one record of them there.
 
 


Adult Lesser Black-backed Gull
Canon EOS 1D MarkIV, Canon 800mm f5.6L IS lens +1.4x
f9, 1/2500th sec., ISO 500


Adult Lesser Black-backed Gull
Canon EOS 1D MarkIV, Canon 800mm f5.6L IS lens +1.4x
f9, 1/2500th sec., ISO 500

Primarily a European species, Lesser Black-backed Gulls were present in small numbers this winter at Lorain.  On some of my visits there always were several flying around the harbor, but they can be difficult to pick out of the throng of Herring Gulls when they're flying directly toward you. Only when they passed by did the key field marks such as the slaty colored back and yellow legs stand out. By then is was often already too late to get the camera on them. The bottom photo is obviously a crop from a horizontal. I usually think that if you want a vertical photo it's best to shoot that in the first place, but some flight shots just look better as a vertical and it's very difficult to follow a flying bird with a camera oriented that way.


Adult Iceland Gull
Canon EOS 1D MarkIV, Canon 800mm f5.6L IS lens +1.4x
f9, 1/2500th sec., ISO 500


Second Year Iceland Gull
Canon EOS 1D MarkIV, Canon 800mm f5.6L IS lens +1.4x
f9, 1/2500th sec., ISO 500

Of the unusual gulls that show up along Lake Erie in the winter, the "white-winged" birds stand out easily from the masses. Glaucous and Iceland Gull are easy to find even if only present in very small numbers. After a couple of trips to Alaska it's hard to get too excited by Glaucous Gulls anymore for me, but Iceland Gulls still rank among my favorites. The have a cuter look than the rest of the Larus gulls with their small round heads and short bills.


Adult Thayer's Gull
Canon EOS 1D MarkIV, Canon 800mm f5.6L IS lens +1.4x
f11, 1/2500th sec., ISO 500

Thayer's Gulls on the other hand are difficult to pick out from the crowd and I can only find them with close inspection under ideal viewing conditions. They're a bird most often found by the hard core gull enthusiasts and go unnoticed by the rest of us. They average slightly smaller than Herring Gulls, but still within the large range of Herring Gull sizes. Only when this bird swam close did I notice its dark eye surrounded by a purplish red ring. The first year birds look an awful lot like dark Iceland Gulls or some young Herring Gulls and can be very confusing to me. In flight they can be hard to pick out unless they're flying directly by you in good light and a really good look is offered for an extended period.
 
 


Red-breasted Merganser
Canon EOS 1D MarkIV, Canon 800mm f5.6L IS lens +1.4x
f9, 1/2000th sec., ISO 500

The above bird was flying against some nicely colored water at the mouth of the river in the harbor. Was the color from the sun at a low angle? No, if the light was that low there wouldn't have been enough light to freeeze the bird's movements.  How about some nice fall trees reflected in the water? Nope, not in February. It is actually a brick building reflected in the water, but don't tell anyone.
 
 


Sunset in the Lorain Harbor
Canon EOS 1D MarkIV, Canon 70-300 f4-5.6L IS lens at 300mm
f13, 1/320th sec., ISO 500



UPDATE 2014

Two years later in February 2014, the warm winter of 2012 seems like a distant memory. This winter has been one of the coldest that I can recall in Ohio.  Blasts of Arctic air with sub-zero temperatures (F)  across the state have left little open water. While a good variety of gulls and ducks can be found down the road at the hot water outlet at the Avon Lake Power Plant, the Lorain Harbor is frozen solid. Nevertheless, a February visit was worthwhile in 2014 also.


Lorain Impoundment in 2014
Canon EOS 1D MarkIV, Canon 28mm f2.8 IS lens
f11, 1/500th sec., ISO 200

On the other side of the harbor from where most the the 2012 photos were taken is the Lorain Impoundment. Dredge soil from the harbor built up over the years and is now an excellent place to find many birds, particularly shorebirds and sparrows in fall migration. During the 2014 winter it also hosted a Snowy Owl.


Snowy Owl
Canon EOS 1D MarkIV, Canon 800mm f5.6L IS lens +1.4x
f13, 1/640th sec., ISO 320


Snowy Owl
Canon EOS 1D MarkIV, Canon 800mm f5.6L IS lens +1.4x
f11, 1/640th sec., ISO 320