YEP, WINTER IS FINALLY HERE…


Pine Siskin, Little Maquoketa River Valley, Iowa

A couple notable things happened today. First, we got our first real snow storm of the season last night. About eight inches of the white stuff hit the ground here on our bluffs above the Little Maquoketa River Valley, followed by sunshine this morning and I bet there is no nature photographer that would complain about that. The second was ‘Eagle Watch Day’, one of my favorite educational events here in Dubuque, Iowa, and I will show some photos for this part of the day tomorrow.

With the fresh snow came all the birds to the feeders and the two bird baths we provide. Not always seen and only here in the winter is the Pine Siskin. This photo was taken in the ‘backyard studio’, to be more precise on our balcony. I didn’t scoop the snow on the deck because I want the gorgeous light from underneath for my bird photography. During the last few years we had actually an elm growing very close to the balcony in the backyard. This makes for a perfect perch for the birds before they enter any of the feeders and this fast growing tree has been quite often a great stage for bird photography. However, the little branch you see in this picture is mounted to the reeling of the balcony, right next to a bird bath and a feeder with sunflower seeds. Shameless trick? I don’t think so. The birds will come to the feeders no matter what, unless a hawk is around the house, but this little perch allows me to make a photo even through the glass of the balcony door with a good background. Ok, this may not be always exciting, but if we don’t practice long lens technique as much as we can, we will never make the click that we always hope to make one of these days…

FIGHTING THE CABIN FEVER


Dark-eyed Junco

I’m not the only one who complains on social media about having the ‘cabin fever’ at the moment. The gray weather and lack of sunshine wear me down, with other words, I haven’t used my camera much outdoors lately. The time with daylight is still short and there isn’t much light left after work if the sun is hidden behind a thick layer of clouds. Well, we expect some snow here in the next couple days and maybe that will be a game changer. I love shooting in the snow.

The good part is that I have time to re-organize my photo library, a project I want to get done before spring arrives, and that’s where I came across this picture of a Dark-eyed Junco in the beautiful light of a clear winter day.

Speaking of social media, I started to share some of my photos on Instagram. You can find me there  @exnerimages . This is another way to fight the ‘cabin fever’ and get inspiration from other photographers and all kinds of creative people.

INGREDIENTS


Black-necked Stilt, Bolsa Chica Ecological Preserve, California, 2017

Light, gesture, and color are still the main ingredients for a photo that may not even get more than just one second of attention span these days on social media. Ok, nothing new here, but if a picture doesn’t even have at least one of the above mentioned, it goes down the digital drain without any notice. A good photo hardly ever needs all three ingredients, one just can make the difference.

THE EXCITEMENT GROWS


Sandhill Cranes, Green Island Wetlands, March 2017

Tonight was the first meeting of the year for the Dubuque Camera Club (http://www.dubuquecameraclub.com). I’m in my second year now with the club and really enjoy the networking with other photographers. After the official program we nature photographers quite often exchange our thoughts, discuss wildlife sightings, or share locations that might be of interest for other fellow photogs. Today the question came up, when will we see the first signs of bird migration with this unusual warm weather pattern? We don’t really know yet, but I could sense that we were all excited about the upcoming season and look already forward to a hopefully busy time. The Sandhill Cranes will be part of it.

REMEMBERED: SHOOT IT NOW!


Mississippi River, Dam #12, Bellevue, Iowa

In his book “It’s Not About The F-Stop” much admired photographer Jay Maisel says, Never go back. Shoot it now, When you come back, it will always be different. This came to mind today on my way back home from a trip along the Mississippi River. While slowly driving through the town of Bellevue, IA, I saw out of the corner of my eye this scene, the dam painted with gorgeous golden light. For a second I thought, maybe another time, I’m tired, I want to go home. I have done that at other occasions and always regretted my decision because it wasn’t the same at another time later. Today I made the U-turn, changed the lens, and zoomed with my feet in order to keep branches, lamp posts, and other annoying objects out of the frame. Any time I go to the Green Island Wetlands or other locations to the south along the river, I always look briefly at the dam #12 in Bellevue, but never had experienced such a warm light on the structure. There is only a short period of time every year when the point of sunset almost lines up with the dam.

In addition, it’s warm here, the snow from last week is mostly gone, and the Mississippi has open water even above the dams. Maybe my photo helps to tell this story too…?

DELAYED START


Female Eastern Bluebird

I hope all friends and readers of my blog had a good start into the new year! I look forward to continue the exchange of thoughts and ideas about photography, nature, and nature conservation together with you in 2019 again. Your emails and messages inspire me and sharing knowledge, photo locations, and helping each other is always fun!

We had a full house during the last few days and serious photography was not on the agenda. I finally made the first few clicks at lunch time today in the “front yard studio”. We have a thin layer of snow on the ground and having some Eastern Bluebirds posing for a photo is not the worst start into a new year…😉

Male Eastern Bluebird

BALD EAGLES IN TOWN?


A couple days ago the word was spread on the internet that a large number of Bald Eagles was at Ice Harbor in Dubuque, right behind the Mississippi River Museum. I didn’t have time to go but tried to check it out yesterday instead. Bummer, there was not a single eagle at this place or any other location where we usually may have a chance to watch Bald Eagles along the big River. Because of the warm weather there is still no ice on the river and the absence of eagles isn’t really a surprise to me. Not a big deal, in January I was at lock & dam #14 in LeClaire, Iowa and had my good share of opportunities to photograph this majestic bird again. During the last days of the year I usually clean out my library, apply missing keywords, and put the last files away into the archive. And that’s where I found this image last night.

FOLLOWING A TRADITION, BUT YET ANOTHER PICTURE


Reflections in the fog, Spring Lake Park, Cherokee, Iowa

If only sunset pictures or a rain of colors is on your mind, this one is not for you!

It is a tradition for us to make a walk around Spring Lake in Cherokee, IA at Christmas time. We have seen this park and lake with great colors, blue or gray sky, and during very low temperatures in the past. This year was probably the warmest weather we have seen so far at this time of the year in Spring Lake Park. The ice on the lake and the old snow from some time ago make the viewer believe we had a white Christmas, but it was actually warm, slightly above freezing. Different than during other years was the fog on Christmas Day. In a lot of city parks we can find “items” that are a distraction, hurt the esthetic feelings, and last but not least, can ruin any photo. From the inescapable trash can to the ugly concrete park bench (that nobody uses because they are too cold on your rear end), Americans have sometimes a “great” way to ignore their best designers and landscape architects. I still think it is a nice park, but after retouching and cloning away distracting elements these thoughts became dominant.

Because of the fog, much color wasn’t part of the picture, but I made the photo anyway with having black and white in my mind already.

SUNSET FOR A SPECIAL BIRTHDAY


I trust you had a wonderful Christmas and the photographers among the readers of my blog had a chance to make a few clicks. Perhaps for some good memories, or maybe for the best photo you ever made. I hope you did!

We spent the holidays in northwest Iowa with family again. Any time when I’m on the family farm near Remsen, Iowa, I look for light, clouds, or anything that puts some drama in the scene. One of my favorite backdrops is one of the neighboring farms. This time the sunset was right at this location, on a hill across the road. No, we didn’t have a white Christmas, but the remaining old snow and ice on the ground reflected the warm sunlight and gave the scene some depth. It’s often tricky to have the full sun in the frame. Blowing out the highlights is easy and without the snow, the foreground would have been just a dark and muddy mess.

The photo was made after we celebrated the 99th birthday of Joan’s dad Joe Kass, a humble and hard working farmer, who worked the family farm for many years. Joe lives now nearby, in an assisted living complex, but I’m sure he has seen this sunset many times before on his birthday, the day before Christmas Eve.

OUT WEST #30 (LAST PART)


Horseman, Badlands NP, South Dakota

Nikon D750, Sigma 150-600mm / f5-6.3 DG OS HSM S, @480mm, 1/640s, f/6.3, ISO100

This will be the last part of my photo story about our trip through the mountains and grasslands of the west in September. I have quite a few more images but for this last post I wanted to use a couple photos that leave no doubt about where they were taken, OUT WEST. Both photos were made the morning of our last full day in Badlands National Park. A horseman, who camped in the same campground as us, went on a ride and gave his horses some exercise and a big American Bison, the iconic animal of the west, gave us a nice gesture with his tongue while interrupting grazing just briefly.

I hope you enjoyed this journey and had as much fun as I had while stitching the 30 stories together. Your echo and opinions helped me to grow as a photographer and I’m thankful for everybody who stops here in the blog on occasion or every day.

American Bison, Badlands NP, South Dakota

Nikon D750, Sigma 150-600mm / f5-6.3 DG OS HSM S, @500mm, 1/640s, f/6.3, ISO200

TWO WAYS TO TELL TONIGHT’S STORY


Canada Geese, Mississippi River, Mud Lake, Iowa,

Nikon D750, Nikkor 70-200mm / f4, @70 mm, 1/1250s, f/6.3, ISO800

During my recent presentation at the Dubuque Camera Club about storytelling in wildlife photography I stated to take the camera with us, wherever we may go. I’m sure glad I did tonight when I took Cooper, the dog, down to the Mississippi River for a walk. The sun had disappeared already behind the bluffs, light was fading away fast, and I thought there wouldn’t be much to photograph. And boy, was I wrong! Hundreds of Canada Geese crossed the river in groups, flying towards the setting sun.

There were at least two ways to make a click and tell the story, and I tried to accomplish both. In the western sky was the glow of the setting sun with some hazy clouds, and to the east, over the river, was the moon. The shot aiming the lens at the sunset was indeed predictable. The geese fly in V-formation and I wanted to bring that somehow in connection with the clouds and the sun light.

Nikon D750, Nikkor 70-200mm / f4, @70 mm, 1/500s, f/5, ISO800

The other photo, with the geese flying “through” the moon, required a little bit of luck. Many flocks crossed the Mississippi this evening and I just waited for the right moment. You can’t really pan with the camera, follow the flock, and shoot with a slower shutter speed in order to keep the ISO low and the digital noise out of the picture. This would result in an even more blurred moon. I had to set ISO to 800 for maintaining a shutter speed of 1/500s. Not that this one is perfect, but it was pretty much how I saw it with the thin layer of haze in front of it.

NATURE CLICKS #418 - EASTERN BLUEBIRD


Sure, this is only a picture taken at a bird bath but this is a favorite place of the four Eastern Bluebirds that visit our backyard frequently. They come in to drink and quite often sit at the edge of the pool and warm up a little. I have photographed them many times but this is the first time that I was able to make a photo of a female and male side by side and both birds in focus.

“DE IMMIGRANT”


“De Immigrant” Windmill, Fulton, Illinois

Yesterday, at the turn around point of my trip along the Mississippi River, in the city of Fulton, IL, I stopped at the Dutch windmill that was built on a flood control dike. “De Immigrant” was fabricated by native millwrights in the Netherlands and shipped to Fulton, Illinois. It was assembled in 1999 and grinding of wheat, buckwheat, rye, and cornmeal started in 2001. It is a great attraction but the mill and the Windmill Cultural Center were closed for the season.

I arrived about 45 minutes before sunset and it was immediately clear that I had to use the warm sunlight on the backside of the mill for my photo. The color contrast between the windmill and the dark blue sky worked well, but the thin hazy clouds didn’t nearly create the drama as I finally found in the black & white version. It was important to have an eye on all the lines and geometrical shapes the wings, ropes, and structure create. I made other images, showing more of the windmill building, but this close-up shot at 24 mm made for a stronger picture, at least in my books…

If you like to read more about the windmill, here is a link: https://mississippiriver.natgeotourism.com/content/de-immigrant-windmill/mspe125a382cb0d9770e


NATURE CLICKS #417 - RED-HEADED WOODPECKER


Red-headed Woodpecker, Mississippi River, Thomson Causeway Recreation Area, Illinois

The sun was out today and with temperatures just below freezing and hardly any wind we had great conditions for a cruise by car along the Mississippi River. I checked well known locations, like the Green Island Wetlands, but moved on further south on the Illinois side of the river all the way to Fulton, IL. My goal was to scout some new marshes and backwater areas on the east side of the big river and I found quite a few places that look promising for future bird watching and photography trips.

All images: Nikon D750, Sigma 150-600mm / f5-6.3 DG OS HSM S, @600 mm (900 mm DX mode)

This woodpecker was busy high up in an oak, right along the river banks in the campground of the Thomson Causeway Recreation Area. The Red-headed Woodpecker can be found in our area all year long but we have seen them only occasionally during migration time. This bird wasn’t alone, I could hear the “queer-calls” of at least another one and a gentleman told me that he had seen several Red-headed Woodpeckers earlier this week.

I had to employ the DX-mode of the camera for these overhead shots and still cropped both photos. With other words, the equivalent of 900 mm focal length left still too much blue sky in the frame. The woodpecker never came down to a lower branch but I’m not unhappy with the outcome. The season without campers and leaves in the trees is still long and I’m planning to go back again soon…

OUT WEST #29


Little Rock Creek, Wind River Range, Wyoming

Our last destination in the mountains of western Wyoming was the Wind River Range, an approximately 100 miles long part of the Rocky Mountains. We pitched the tent for three nights in Sink Canyon State Park, west of Lander, WY. These mountains are not so well known by the public as for example the Tetons or Yellowstone, but there is no lack of interesting geology and beautiful nature. We went on hikes and traveled off the beaten path by car, but time was too short to explore more than a small area of the range.

Wildfire smoke, Louis Lake Road, Wind River Range, Wyoming

One reason why I didn’t shoot a lot of wide landscape views was the fact that the impact of wildfires created a certain haziness, even if the fires were far away. The photo gives you an idea…

Mule Deer, Red Canyon, Wyoming

Finding wildlife is not very difficult in the Wind River Range, there was always a Pronghorn or Mule Deer somewhere, but when we saw this doe with her two fawns on a rock ledge in the Red Canyon near Lander, WY we had to stop and make the click. Mountains Lions are not uncommon and are a great danger for the young Mule Deer and this spot was obviously a good place to have control over the terrain for the mother.

Least Chipmunk, Popo Agie Falls, Wyoming

The Least Chipmunk is smaller than the Eastern Chipmunk that lives in our woods here in eastern Iowa. In areas that are more frequented by people, like along the hiking trail that leads to the Popo Agie Falls, the chipmunks have not much fear and can be easily photographed within the range of a 200 mm lens.