SONY 200-600 G Lens with the a9 ii on the Laguna Seca Ranch: the (Crested Caracara) Bank is Open! Bosque Bad News? « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

SONY 200-600 G Lens with the a9 ii on the Laguna Seca Ranch: the (Crested Caracara) Bank is Open! Bosque Bad News?

Bosque Bad News?

It’s official. Because of the drought, neither crane pool at Bosque del Apache NWR will be filled with water this season. Photography-wise, that is an absolute crippler. Ed KranePool, the southern-most of the two (former) pools — which has been filled in recent years, has been consistently very good to fantastic in the pre-dawn for as large flocks of white geese dropped in to join hundreds of roosting Sandhill Cranes. From 7am to 8am, the cranes and geese took flight heading for the farm fields to feed. Winds with an easterly component usually provided fabulous opportunities. And just before sunset, the crane pool was the place to be as the cranes returned to their evening roost. In addition, there is presently little water on the refuge. If you visit in the next week or so, please let us know what’s going on.

As New Mexico is once again accepting a negative COVID test within 72 hours for entry, Anita and I are undecided as to whether to get tested and see what’s up at the refuge that holds a very special place in my heart.

What’s Up?

Today is Saturday, 7 November 2020. We are spending yet another morning at the raptor blind at Laguna Seca Ranch with Gene Gwin. In the afternoon, we will photograph at Estero Llano Grande State Park, also in Hildago County. On Sunday we return to Santa Clara Ranch for a farewell visit. We will spend Monday morning at Edinburg Scenic Wetlands and then head a bit north and spend a few days on South Padre Island.

Topaz Still on Sale!

Right now Topaz is offering price reductions on the Utility Bundle and the Creator Bundle. The former normally sells for $359.96. It is on sale for an amazingly low $199.95. Click here, scroll all the way down to the sale, and enter the ARTHUR15 code at checkout to save an additional 15%! The Creator Bundle usually sells for #279.97 and is now on sale for $249.99. Using the ARTHUR15 code at checkout brings the price down to $212.49!

Please Remember

With income from IPTs approaching zero, please, if you enjoy and learn from the blog, remember to use one of my two affiliate programs when purchasing new gear. Doing so just might make it possible for me to avoid having to try to get a job as a Walmart greeter and will not cost you a single penny more. And if you use Bedfords and remember to enter the BIRDSASART code at checkout, you will save 3% on every order and enjoy free second-day air shipping. In these crazy times — I am out at least forty to sixty thousand dollars so far due to COVID 19 (with lots more to come) — remembering to use my B&H link or to shop at Bedfords will help me out a ton and be greatly appreciated. Overseas folks who cannot order from the US because of import fees, duties, and taxes can always help out by clicking here if they see fit.

The BAA Used Gear Page

The Used Gear page continues to be red hot! It is BAA Used Gear Page is the place to sell your used photographic equipment. We will help you to get your gear sold quickly for 20 to 60% or more than what the big guys are offering … Doubt me? Check out the Recent Sales list for the past ten months at the bottom of the page.

Sony Alpha a7 III Mirrorless Digital Camera Body

James Paula is offering a Sony Alpha a7 III Mirrorless Digital camera body in excellent plus condition for $1098.00. But for several all scratches on the the (flash) hot shoe, the body would be near-mint. It has about 7200 activations and operates flawlessly. The sale includes the front cap, the strap, the battery & charger, the original product box, and insured ground shipping via major courier to lower-48 US addresses only. Your item will not ship until your check clears unless other arrangements are made.

Please contact Jim via e-mail.

Distinguished by its updated sensor design, the Alpha a7 III Mirrorless Digital Camera from Sony is a well-rounded camera suitable for both photo and video applications in a variety of working situations. Refined for improved speed and low-light performance, the full-frame 24.2MP Exmor R BSI CMOS sensor and BIONZ X image processor pair to realize an impressive 10 fps continuous shooting rate and improved autofocus performance for faster, more reliable subject tracking along with wide frame coverage. This updated Fast Hybrid AF System employs a combination of 693 phase-detection points and 425 contrast-detection areas for quicker acquirement of focus in a variety of lighting conditions, and also maintains focus on subjects more effectively. In addition to speed and AF, the processing improvements also help to realize greater image clarity and reduced noise throughout the sensitivity range from ISO 100-51200, which can further be expanded to ISO 50-204800. Video recording capabilities have also been extended for enhanced quality when recording UHD 4K video with the full width of the full-frame sensor to minimize moiré and aliasing. Additionally, benefitting both stills and video operation, the a7 III utilizes a 5-axis SteadyShot INSIDE sensor-shift image stabilization, which is now effective to minimize the appearance of camera shake by up to 5 stops.

Beyond just updates to the imaging system, the a7 III’s body design has also been revised to include a rear 3.0″ 922k-dot touchscreen LCD, which has a tilting design to better support working from high and low angles. A 2.36m-dot Tru-Finder OLED EVF is also featured for bright and clear eye-level monitoring. For greater shooting flexibility, dual SD memory card slots are now featured, and a larger NP-FZ100 battery is also employed to achieve up to approximately 710 shots per charge. Suiting the camera’s use in trying conditions, the magnesium-alloy chassis and weather-sealing also render the a7 III dust- and moisture-resistant. B&H and the manufacturer

This body, which sells new for $1698.00, was the first SONY body to feature a killer AF system. artie

BIRDS AS ART is registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

Great Topaz News!

Folks who use the BAA Topaz link to purchase Sharpen AI, DeNoise AI, or the Utility Bundle (or any other Topaz plugins) will receive a 15% discount by entering the ARTHUR15 code at checkout. To get the discount you must use my link and you must enter the discount code. Be sure to start with this link.

Topaz Stuff

As I said just a while back and have said often many times before, I should have listened sooner. If you, like me, are new to the Topaz party, please use this link to purchase. Right now I can wholeheartedly recommend both Topaz Sharpen AI and Topaz DeNoise AI. Though I have not yet worked with JPEGtoRAW AI or Gigapixel AI, I have installed both of these plug-ins and look forward to trying them on some I-Phone 11 images fairly soon. If you are thinking like me, consider the Utility Bundle that includes all four plug-ins mentioned above at a money-saving price.

Again, those who purchase Sharpen AI or DeNoise AI using my link, can e-mail to request a short Getting Started with Topaz e-Guide. I had a bit of trouble getting the two plug-ins installed and having them appear in the Photoshop Filter Menu. In addition, I will explain how to best learn about the two plug-ins by applying them on a Layer (in Photoshop). I amazed myself yesterday by completing this guide in the car on the way to and from Sebastian. Huge thanks to Anita for doing the driving. Please include a copy of your Topaz order when requesting the guide.

New and Better Bedfords Discount Policy!

You can now save 3% on all of your Bedfords photo gear purchases by entering the BIRDSASART coupon code at checkout. Your discount will be applied to your pre-tax total. In addition, by using the code you will get 2nd day air shipping via Fed Ex.

Grab a Nikon AF-S Teleconverter TC-14E III and save $14.99. Purchase a Canon EOS R5 and your discount will be $116.97. Purchase a Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS lens and save a remarkable $389.94! Your Bedford’s purchase no longer needs to be greater than $1,000.00 for you to receive a discount. The more you spend, the more you save.

120 sold to rave reviews.

The SONY e-Guide by Patrick Sparkman and Arthur Morris

The Sony Camera User’s e-Guide (and Videos)

Click here to purchase the guide with one Camera Set-up Video. Be sure to e-mail us by clicking here to specify your camera body so that we can send you a link for the correct video.

Click here to purchase the guide with two Camera Set-up Videos. Be sure to e-mail us by clicking here to specify your two camera bodies so that we can send you links for the correct videos.

Click here to learn more about the SONY e-Guide.

Money Saving Reminder

Many have learned that if you need a hot photo item that is out of stock at B&H and would enjoy free overnight shipping, your best bet is to click here, place an order with Bedfords, and enter the coupon code BIRDSASART at checkout. If an item is out of stock, contact Steve Elkins via e-mail or on his cell phone at (479) 381-2592 (Eastern time). Be sure to mention the BIRDSASART coupon code and use it for your online order. Steve has been great at getting folks the hot items that are out of stock at B&H and everywhere else. The wait lists at the big stores can be a year or longer for the hard to get items. Steve will surely get you your gear long before that. For the past year, he has been helping BAA Blog folks get their hands on items like the SONY a9 ii, the SONY 200-600 G OSS lens, the Canon EOS R5, the Canon RF 100-500mm lens, and the Nikon 500mm PF. Steve is personable, helpful, and eager to please.

Gear Questions and Advice

Too many folks attending BAA IPTs and dozens of photographers whom I see in the field and on BPN, are–out of ignorance–using the wrong gear especially when it comes to tripods and more especially, tripod heads… Please know that I am always glad to answer your gear questions via e-mail. Those questions might deal with systems, camera bodies, accessories, and/or lens choices and decisions.

This image was created on 5 November 2020 at the Laguna Seca Ranch in Hidalgo County, TX. I used the handheld Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens (at 600mm) and the blazingly fast AF King, the Sony Alpha a9 II Mirrorless Digital camera body. ISO 1000. Exposure determined by Zebras with ISO on the rear wheel: 1/2500 sec. at f/6.3 in Manual mode. AWB at 9:14am on a sunny morning with just a hint of moisture in the air.

Center Zone AF-C was active at the moment of exposure and performed superbly. Click the image to see a larger version.

Image #1: Crested Caracara banking

The Laguna Seca Caracara Experience

Gene Gwin, a top-gun fighter pilot, flew McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom IIs and McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagles in the US Air Force for 21 years and then worked as a commercial pilot first for America West and then for American Airlines for 15 years. He has owned and operated Laguna Seca Ranch for the past 11 years. He has developed the ranch as a superb destination for local and visiting bird photographers. Early on, he sought and took advice from Alan Murphy and other professionals; as a result, distant backgrounds and smartly designed blinds rule the roost at Laguna Seca. We have spent all four of our mornings photographing Crested Caracaras perched and in flight at the three side-by-side raptor blinds, each at a different level (including one at ground level). You can either stand or sit in each blind to achieve your desired perspective. With limited visitation due to COVID-19, Anita and I have enjoyed complete freedom to move from blind to blind at will.

Each morning we have enjoyed from 40-50 caracaras flying in to partake of a feast of frozen chicken and ground beef deftly served up by Gene. The record for a single day is more than 100 caracaras. Our host is quiet and understated, but has always been quick to share his knowledge of bird behavior and flight patterns. He is quick also to respond to requests to changes in the arrangement of the perches. In short, he is a super-host!

This image, the next frame in the sequence, was of course also created on 5 November 2020 at the Laguna Seca Ranch in Hidalgo County, TX. I used the handheld Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens (at 600mm) and the blazingly fast AF King, the Sony Alpha a9 II Mirrorless Digital camera body. ISO 1000. Exposure determined by Zebras with ISO on the rear wheel: 1/2500 sec. at f/6.3 in Manual mode. AWB at 9:14am on a sunny mooning with just a hint of moisture in the air.

Center Zone AF-C was active at the moment of exposure and performed superbly. Click the image to see a larger version.

Image #2: Crested Caracara wings down turning bank

The SONY 200-600/a9 ii Kills for Caracara Flight Photography!

In the pre-dawn light and very early light we have done well on perched birds with the tripod-mounted 600mm f/4GM lens with the a7r IV (with and without the 1.4X teleconverter). Once the sun is up, there has been a ton of great flight photography, most with the handheld 200-600 G lens and the a9 ii. This has been the first chance that I have had to give this combo a thorough flight photography test. I switched from Canon to Nikon in hopes of becoming a better flight photographer and I improved quite a bit. Then I switched from Nikon to SONY in hopes of becoming a better flight photographer and am now confident that I have. Due 100% to the amazing AF and frame-rate capabilities of the a9 ii and the versatility and handhold-ability of the 2-6.

From our first four mornings, I have at least three dozen family jewel-type images as good as the two featured in today’s blog. That despite the fact that the usually brisk (and ideal for flight photography) east wind has been missing in action, replaced by a light breeze from the northwest. With wind-against-sun conditions most of the birds have been landing away from us and away from the light. By studying the flight patterns and trying to anticipate banking birds and birds landing toward us, we have enjoyed great success. Most amazingly, out of more than three thousand flight images, I had only a handful that were not sharply focused on the bird’s eye …

If you would like to visit Laguna Seca click on the preceding link to get in touch with Gene and be sure to mention BIRDS AS ART. My understanding is that the caracara photography is best in the excellent in all but the summer months. Gene will be able to guide you on that. We love the flight photography on Gene’s ranch so much that we are already thinking about stopping by on our way back to Florida!

Click on the screen capture to view the larger version.

Image #2A: Topaz Sharpen AI on the Crested Caracara wings down turning bank image at 100%.

Topaz Sharpen AI on the Crested Caracara wings down turning bank image

Though this image was quite clean and noise-free (thanks to the lessons learn via RawDigger) I began as usual by running Topaz DeNoise AI on Auto on the whole image to clean up the remaining background noise and sharpen things up just a bit. The Auto settings were spot on for this one. Next I selected the whole bird and ran Topaz Sharpen AI. Auto set Stabilize. I left the Sharpen setting and as usual moved the Noise Suppression slider to zero. I compared various options before settling on those noted in the previous sentence.

San Diego offers a wealth of very attractive natural history subjects, including and especially the Pacific race of California Brown Pelican. With annual visits spanning more than four decades, I have lots of photographic experience there … Click on the composite to enjoy a larger version.

San Diego 2021 COVID-conscious Brown Pelican IPT

January 12 thru the morning session on January 16, 2021. Four full and one-half day: $2299.00. Deposit: $599.00. Limit: 8 photographers/Openings: 7.

Introductory Meet and Greet at 7:00pm on the evening before the IPT begins; MON JAN 11, 2021.

Join me in San Diego to photograph the spectacular breeding plumage Brown Pelicans with their fire-engine red and olive green bill pouches; Brandt’s (nesting with eggs and possibly chicks) and Double-crested Cormorants; breeding plumage Wood and Ring-necked Duck; other duck species possible including Lesser Scaup, Redhead, and Surf Scoter; a variety of gulls including Western, California, and the gorgeous Heermann’s, all in full breeding plumage; shorebirds including Marbled Godwit, Willet, Sanderling and Black-bellied Plover; many others are possible including Least, Western, and Spotted Sandpiper, Whimbrel, Black and Ruddy Turnstone, Semipalmated Plover, and Surfbird; Harbor Seals (depending on the current regulations) and California Sea Lions; and Bird of Paradise flowers. And as you can see by studying the IPT cards, there are some nice bird-scape and landscape opportunities as well. Not to mention a ton of excellent flight photography opportunities and instruction.

Please note: where permitted and on occasion, ducks and gulls may be attracted (or re-located) with offerings of grains or healthy bread.

Learning Exposure, Whether You Like It Or Not

Whether you like it or not, we will be beating the subject of exposure like a dead horse. In every new situation, you will hear my thoughts on the exposure situation along with my thoughts on both Nikon and Canon histograms and the subject of blinkies. Whether you like it or not, you will learn to work in manual mode and to get the right exposure every time as long as a bird gives you ten seconds with the light constant. And you will learn what to do when the light is changing constantly. What you learn about exposure will be one of the great takeaways on every IPT.

Though the pelicans will be the stars of the show on this IPT, there will be many other handsome and captivating subjects in wonderful settings. Click on the composite to enjoy a larger version.

It Ain’t Just Pelicans

With gorgeous subjects just sitting there waiting to have their pictures taken, photographing the pelicans on the cliffs is about as easy as nature photography gets. With the winds from the east almost every morning there is usually some excellent flight photography as well. And the pelicans are almost always doing something interesting: preening, scratching, bill pouch cleaning, or squabbling. And then there are those crazy head throws that are thought to be a form of intra-flock communication. You will be guided as to how to make the best of all of those opportunities. And depending on the weather and local conditions and tides, there are a variety of fabulous photo chances available in and around San Diego.


Did I mention that there are lots of great birds and natural history subjects in San Diego in winter? Click on the composite to enjoy a larger version.

The San Diego Details

This IPT will include five 3 1/2 hour morning photo sessions, four 2 1/2 hour afternoon photo sessions, four lunches, and after-brunch image review and Photoshop sessions. To ensure early starts, breakfasts will be your responsibility. And so that we can get some sleep, dinners will be on your own as well.

A $599 deposit is required to hold your slot for this IPT. You can send a check (made out to “BIRDS AS ART) to us here: BIRDS AS ART, PO Box 7245, Indian Lake Estates, FL, 3385, or call Jim or Jennifer at the office with a credit card at 863-692-0906. Your balance, payable only by check, is due immediately after you sign up. Please print, complete, and sign the form that is linked to here and shoot it to us along with your deposit check. If you register by phone, please print, complete and sign the form as noted above and either mail it to us or e-mail the scan. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me via e-mail. If you cancel due to COVID 19 concerns, all of your payments will be refunded.

Travel Insurance

Travel insurance for both big international trips and US-based IPTs is highly recommended as we never know what life has in store for us. I strongly recommend that you purchase quality travel insurance. Travel Insurance Services offers a variety of plans and options. Included with the Elite Option or available as an upgrade to the Basic & Plus Options you can also purchase Cancel for Any Reason Coverage that expands the list of reasons for your canceling to include things such as sudden work or family obligation and even a simple change of mind. My family and I use and depend on the great policies offered by TIS whenever we travel. You can learn more here: Travel Insurance Services. Do note that many plans require that you purchase your travel insurance within 14 days of our cashing your deposit check or running your credit card. Whenever purchasing travel insurance, be sure to read the fine print carefully even when dealing with reputable firms like TSI.


Variety is surely the spice of life in San Diego. Click on the composite to enjoy a larger version.

Getting Up Early and Staying Out Late

On all BIRDS AS ART IPTS including and especially the San Diego IPT, we get into the field early to take advantage of unique and often spectacular lighting conditions and we stay out late to maximize the chances of killer light and glorious sunset silhouette situations. We often arrive at the cliffs a full hour before anyone else shows up to check out the landscape and seascape opportunities.


In all blog posts and Bulletins, feel free to e-mail or to leave a comment regarding any typos or errors. Just be right :).

9 comments to SONY 200-600 G Lens with the a9 ii on the Laguna Seca Ranch: the (Crested Caracara) Bank is Open! Bosque Bad News?

  • I was briefly at Bosque about a week ago driving from Denver to Arizona. I camped out of truck and did one evening there and the following sunrise. Water levels were at maybe 20% of normal and not very good for photography. The main photography ponds for sunrise/evening fly in were dry or nearly dry. There are cranes and snow geese there in reasonable numbers, but no nice reflection shots and birds were staying more out in the middle of areas that did have a puddle for them to stand in. I would probably say between quarantine protocol and poor water levels that it probably is not worth the trip this year. Not to say that good shots can’t be made (birds are still flying around to go feed), but the iconic shots won’t be possible this year.

  • avatar Max Warner

    Possible typo: Does New Mexico want a POSITIVE or a NEGATIVE COVID test for entry ?

  • avatar James Saxon

    Glad to see you are having a good time on the ranches and getting great images. Hate to hear that Bosque does not have water in the crane pools. They have been going through a drought this year. Safe travels.

  • avatar frank sheets

    Hi Artie, Nice Caracaras, they are on my bucket list. I have had somewhat mixed feelings about the 200-600, but you continue to demonstrate its capabilities. It is a bummer to hear that the management has chosen to not flood the crane ponds. I have gotten some of my best shots at that location and agree, perhaps time to reconsider a trip to Bosque this winter. Last year when I was there the refuge had closed the northern loop, but if that is open to be able to get up to the corn fields, that would be good. Of coarse, there is always the option to go up to Ladds. The Cranes were thick up there last year and some good AM and PM opportunities if the wind is right. I will be curious to watch from your other readers any reports back on the Bosque status.

    All the best,


  • avatar Mike Cristina

    Sorry, I meant to ask: Do you HAVE TO KNOW what exposure compensation you are using

  • avatar Mike Cristina

    Hi Artie,
    For some of us who don’t have mirrorless yet, what I pay most attention to in your technical data below your photos is shutter speed and exposure compensation. Do you have know what exposure compensation you are using these days, or is it just visual in the viewfinder? It’s missing from the tech data.

    Mike in CT

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      With Zebras set up the way we detail in the big SONY e-Guide, there is no need to look at or know the Exposure Compensation. Even when I am (rarely) working in an automatic exposure mode, I get the right exposure via the Zebras… Turning the rear dial (with EC assigned to it), is just a way to get where I want to be.

      with love, a

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