Thanks for the complements and suggestions, guys. Jrista, I was reading a recent thread about back button focus and have started to look into that. I'm not exactly sure yet how to achieve the desired effects. There have been so many shooting opportunities lately that I'm hard pressed to find time to read up on technicalities. Winter will change all that up here. And thanks for the pointers on AI servo, I'll make a point of trying to personally evaluate all three modes to see how they behave relative to my situations.
Yes I only use the center point with what I've been doing lately. Once I noticed other points going momentarily red when a bird moved (I did not have them enabled), would that have been due to AI Servo operation?
The other points lighting would probably just be because you are using all AF points. You should manually select just the center point to guarantee focus occurs where you want it to. AI Servo simply continuously reevaluates focus at the given point...it won't switch to using other points. In the 7D, 5D III, and 1D X you have flexible point selection modes...you can select an expansion, which will include the points surrounding the selected one, or zone, which will include even more points, which is useful for tracking subjects (which is only really possible with AI Servo, no other mode will track effectively.) A single selected point, usually center, is best for learning, however.
For me personally I appreciate the shortcomings being pointed out since otherwise I'll go on blindly doing the same old thing. In DPP one can brighten or darken the raw file and as I've fiddled with that I've wondered just how I would judge if it's over-exposed - just comes with experience or are there any guidelines??
Experience definitely helps. The goal is to reproduce reality, but also avoid subjects becoming too bright such that they start to look washed out or otherwise unnatural. The wood perch in the last waxwing photo is what gives away the overexposure. Colors are also richest when they span the high shadows, midtones, and low highlights. Push them too deep into shadow or highlight, and you start losing color fidelity.
My friend printed one of the nicer hummingbird shots of mine with his Canon printer 13x19 tonight and I was pretty pleased. You can look from 5 inches and not see a flaw or grain - thrilled actually. However, it seems when a picture is physically there in front of you that it somehow presents differently. For example, the background that I thought was fine on the computer monitor doesn't seem quite so wonderful - any thoughts?
Print tends to have a lesser gamut than computer screens. Color extent is usually similar, or even higher, with Canon and Epson printers these days. Maximum bright white and deepest dark black tend to be much less than on a computer screen, however. Detail in the blacks, and crispness of the highlights, will usually be lost in print unless you are using a high dMax (black point) paper with a bright white point. Papers with the broadest range from black point to white point are usually more on the glossy side, and usually have OBAs, or optical brightening agents. Such papers usually result in very vibrant prints, however prints with OBAs have shorter lifetimes than natural fiber papers that have low acid and no OBA.
Print is a whole 'nother hobby in and of itself. There are a huge variety of papers, various types of canvas, a wide range of printers with different types of ink (Epson has UltraChrome, UltraChrome K3, UltraChrome HDR, UltraChrome HDR+White; Canon has Lucia, Lucia EX, ChromaLife). The quality of output from a printer depends on how well the selected paper is calibrated with that ink set (each printer only supports one ink set, btw). Noise in photos is usually not a real problem in print. Print pixel density is usually at least 3x higher than it is on a normal computer screen, assuming a 300ppi (360ppi for Epson) print resolution. Even if noise is visible on screen, it is usually invisible in print, and often helps smooth gradients and blurry backgrounds, eliminates posterization that might occur during color space conversion, etc. I always try to keep a little bit of noise around in my photos when I print them, and if I denoise, I'll add just a small amount back into the backgrounds to ensure my prints come out best.
There is a lot to know about print. If you really want to get into it, there is some good material out there. Otherwise, you can let a professional take care of it for you.