The photos of the Trumpeter Swans in my post from yesterday were a bonus. We were actually out to find some warblers after several days with rain and very little sun. But here was the challenge, Joan recovers from a foot surgery and so hiking or walking was out of question. The search for the little neotropical birds had to be done by car only.

We saw some waterfowl that we didn’t expect to see but it wasn’t until we were on the way out of the Green Island Wetlands when we spotted this Yellow Warbler. It has a wider range than any other North American Warbler and there is a good chance that this bird will stay in the wetlands during the summer.


Trumpeter Swans, Mississippi River, Green Island Wetlands, Iowa ----------    

As the long time reader of my blog may remember, I have watched and photographed swans here in eastern Iowa since 8 years, but I don’t think I ever have been so close to a family of Trumpeter Swans. Seven little cygnets were guarded by their parents today in the Green Island Wetlands. I’m not sure if this muskrat mound at the shore of one of the canals was the actual nest site, because I don’t remember seeing any swans there a week ago during my last visit. At our arrival the whole family preened their feathers, probably getting ready for a little “Sunday cruise”. Indeed, a few minutes later they all took off and swam deeper into the wetlands and out of sight.


Allen's Hummingbird

We have not seen the sun during this weekend yet. Time to release another photo from my visit at the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary, Irvine, California a month ago.

1/320 s, f/9, ISO 200, @850 mm,

Nikon D750, Sigma 150-600mm / f5-6.3 DG OS HSM S, Sigma APO Teleconverter 1.4x EX DG, Induro GIT 404XL tripod, Induro GHB2 gimbal head



Female Orchard Oriole  --------  

I have mentioned many times before how important the story telling aspect is for me in my wildlife photography. I prefer the environmental picture of an animal over the close up view. There is nothing wrong with a close up view, it is just not my personal preference. How the female Orchard Oriole gleans little insects from underneath the fresh leaves in the light of the morning sun is such an example. The photo is pretty much straight out of camera, no crop, just a slight correction of the white balance. The fall off from the lens around the edges works for this image, so I left it as it is.

On the other hand I love when a photo has an artistic appeal. To be honest, I didn’t realize when I pressed the shutter button for the second photo that the shape of the oriole’s head is perfectly framed by the fork of the cedar branch. To pronounce this effect even more I cropped the picture on top and left hand side and removed a story telling element in the lower right corner. Yes, there was an orange half and the story was actually about how the orioles approach this source of food at our feeders. My final version of this photo the more artistic approach doesn’t need the orange. It works perfectly without it.

In a perfect world both sides, the story telling and the esthetic aspects come together. These are the rare moments because nature isn’t always predictable, but aiming for them will stay on my agenda.

Male Orchard Oriole


Red-headed Woodpecker ------

There is enough food for everybody available but today the woodpeckers acted like there was no tomorrow. It seems the “new kid on the block”, the Red-headed Woodpecker who hangs around here since a few days, wants to establish a dominance over all his cousins.

Hairy Woodpecker

Two Hairy Woodpeckers are permanent residents on our bluffs here and usually nobody messes with their long and sharp bill. They are about the same size as the red-headed but even they went out of its way.

Female Red-bellied Woodpecker

Four Red-bellied Woodpeckers are part of the gang and can be very expressive and vocal if they dislike something. However, especially the younger birds, like this female, have been chased today by the red-headed “bully”.

Downy Woodpecker

The seven or eight Downy Woodpeckers are the cool girls and boys in our woods. They are much smaller in size and wouldn’t have any chance in a fight with their cousins. They stay away from the chase and come only to our feeders when the bigger guys need a break.


Female Scarlet Tanager ----------  

The male Scarlet Tanager, with its red plumage and black wings, was already here since a few days and was yesterday joined by a female. They spent the winter in northwestern South American tropical forests. The Scarlet Tanagers feed on insects, fruits, berries, and buds, but eat readily from the suet feeders that we fill for the woodpeckers after the long journey from their winter range.

1/400 s, f/6.3, ISO 200, @600 mm, -1/3 EV, flash -4 EV;

with Nikon D750, Sigma 150-600mm / f5-6.3 DG OS HSM S, Induro GIT 404XL tripod, Induro GHB2 gimbal head, Nikon SB 800 speed light, MAGMOD MagBeam flash extender;


Red-headed Woodpecker, Little Maquoketa River Valley, near Durango, Iowa ------

It is an exiting time of the year for watching the birds, migrating ones or permanent residents. As already announced yesterday, we had a visitor in our woods that is supposed to be in eastern Iowa all year long, but we only have seen this bird four times during the month of May in the last 13 years. Well, it doesn’t matter, it is a beautiful woodpecker and making a few clicks yesterday early morning was a thrill. I saw the Red-headed Woodpecker again briefly today but wasn’t able to aim my lens at the bird again.

Making another click of a bird, days, weeks, months, or even years later bares always the question, was there any improvement? I knew from previous shootings that sharpness was kinda at the edge of acceptance in the past. This is a fact not so much visible in every picture posted on the world wide web, but the truth is revealed at the moment someone wants to print the photo on a larger scale. I know I made a step forward with yesterday’s photos, sharpness is a lot better than in the past, but as always, there is still room for improvement…


Orchard Oriole, immature male -------

It was an incredible day. We never have seen so many orioles in our yard and the surrounding woods like today. And the best thing was, it wasn’t just one species. I counted in the morning up to ten Baltimore Orioles and in addition we saw at least five Orchard Orioles of different ages and gender.

Orchard Oriole, adult male

My photography friend Kevin joined me this evening for some “porch shooting”, means we placed the tripods on our front porch and waited for the birds to come. During idle times we had good conversation about all kinds of photography questions and had a blast shooting away when the birds came close. I was happy for Kevin when even a male Scarlet Tanager showed up and he was able to make some good clicks. This wasn’t all for today. Another rare visitor showed up, but this is for another blog post, so please stay tuned…

Orchard Oriole, immature female


Northern Cardinal

Back from another road trip we enjoyed sitting on the porch and watched the birds here in our woods after the rain this evening. Joan saw an Orchard Oriole, which was only the second time in all the years that this bird made an appearance. A little later we watched a Nashville Warbler foraging by gleaning food from the leaves. Unfortunately it was too dark already for making any pictures.

A couple days ago two male Northern Cardinals tried everything to impress a female and seemed to forget my presence in the yard completely. All what I had to do was to press the shutter button when this red guy landed on a branch just in front of me.


Male and female Baltimore Orioles --------

They came a couple days later this year than other years before but we have the pleasure to watch at least five Baltimore Orioles in our yard again. Yesterday morning we had a thin overcast, giving the light a certain quality that I liked and making exposure very easy. Having the Nikon D750 and Sigma 150-600 on the tripod allowed me to shoot all the way down to 1/60s without cranking up the ISO higher than 400 (the image above was shot at 1/160s, f/6.3, ISO400, @450 mm). I always wanted to make a photo like the one above, with both, male and female oriole in the same frame. They sat there for only a brief moment and I do have just this one image with both birds. The important thing was that I had this kind of picture already in my mind and when the opportunity came I was ready for it.

Later in the evening the light didn’t have the same quality as it was during the early morning and I added a hint of fill flash to most pictures. The photo of the male Baltimore Oriole was made with 1/60s, f/6.3, ISO 320, @600 mm. Exposure compensation for the background was set to -0.7EV and flash settings were at -4EV.


Northern Water Snake, Mississippi River, Deere Dyke, Dubuque, Iowa ---------    

Wildlife photography was not on the priority list during the last two days. Joan and I had Anthony and Teegan, our twin grandsons, at our house this weekend and that was a lot of fun. Today we went on a walk to the Deere dyke at the Mississippi River. The weather doesn’t get any better than today here in the Upper Mississippi Valley. I debated with myself about taking camera and long lens with me, but the only way not making any pictures is leaving the gear at home or in the car… Sure, the bright light of a Sunday afternoon without any clouds is not a favorite, but for the first time I had a Sora and several Lesser Yellowlegs in front of the lens at this location.

I got very excited while watching the Lesser Yellowlegs, a sandpiper that I have photographed at the Green Island Wetlands before during spring migration. When this Northern Water Snake, resting on a sun flooded log in the shallow backwaters of the Mississippi, lifted its head, my attention shifted immediately. It’s mediocre light but it is the gesture of the critter that makes the difference between a documentary shot and a photo that is worth to be shown.


Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, Huntington Beach, California ---------

These Dunlins were still thousands of miles away from their breeding grounds along the arctic coast. Something seemed to scare them once in a while and they took off from the island in the background, but they always returned shortly after. Their coordinated aerial maneuvers are stunning and fun to watch. Another photo I made revealed that at least two birds were already in their breeding plumage, recognizable by a conspicuous black belly patch.


Juvenile Great Horned Owl, Mississippi River, Mud Lake, Iowa ---------    

I made an early visit to Mud Lake this morning and came back with nothing. Looking for the branchling between all the leaves is like searching a needle in a hay stack. My photography friend Linda went later in the day to the same place and spotted the owlet successfully. I finally went back in the afternoon and found the young Great Horned Owl sitting on a branch in a large cluster of maple trees, the same spot Linda had described in an email to me. I’m very thankful to her for sending me the message.

I guess we shouldn’t call the owlet “little” anymore. It’s hard to believe it was only 37 days between the photos from today and my first shot of the young bird in the picture below. The click above was made when the bird turned its head and had an eye on our little dog Cooper, who sat quietly in the grass below. Maybe there were some thoughts about a future meal… Looking at its big claws leaves me without any doubts that this owl will be a great predator.

First sighting, March 28, 2017 (image cropped)


The Male House Wrens sing and try to attract the females since April 21, 2017. Today a female wren inspected both floors at one of the nest boxes, and the male was probably praising how good of a place that would be for raising a family.

I like to photograph small birds any time of the year but spring is probably the most rewarding time. Most birds look at their best because it’s also mating season and during that time some species don’t care so much about the presence of a photographer because their mind is of course somewhere else. I love the light that we have when the first leaves just come out here in our woods. Yes, the sun can be powerful and make it harsh sometime but I love how crisp things appear under the spring sun.

Today new bird arrivals can be reported. We saw the first hummingbird at one of our feeders. The Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, males and females, are here since yesterday, and a male Scarlet Tanager was present today for the first time this season as well.

Chipping Sparrow, arrived already April, 21, 2017

So, what about the young Great Horned down at the Mississippi River? I was there Monday night during a rain shower and the nest was empty. It took me just about five minutes to find the owlet, now called a “branchling”, in a tall tree next to the nest. Other birders and photographers had sent me updates and photos today (thank you Linda and Kevin!). I will try to locate the owl tomorrow again, but with the leaves growing rapidly it’s going to be a challenge as always during an owls branch hopping stage.

Female Purple Finch, has still not left for their summer grounds up in northern Minnesota and Canada.