The Common Gallinule is often confused with the American Coot, but it is easily distinguished by the red shield-like plate above its bill. This chicken-like marsh bird has unwebbed feet but is nevertheless an excellent swimmer. They are also known under the name Common Moorhen. You may hear their loud squeaks, clucks, and screams before you even have a chance to see one. It took me several years to make my first photo of a gallinule and it wasn’t until this summer that I made a few pictures that can be shown in public without embarrassment. They spend the winter in the southern Atlantic states of the US and in South America.
We have seen a steep decline in the number of snakes during recent years, not just here in our woods above the Little Maquoketa River Valley. I have no explanation for that and when I talked to an officer from the DNR a few weeks ago he didn’t know either. We have great habitat for snakes, with wood and rock piles for hiding, and over the years we have recorded five different species here. Unfortunately since about 3 - 4 years we hardly see any. However, at least near the Mississippi River I see occasionally a Northern Water Snake.
This image was made last Friday in the Green Island Wetlands on one of the dykes that I call “snake alley”, just because I have seen snakes there more often than at any other places in the wetlands. This was a very young snake, probably not even two foot long. After a couple clicks from the car I got out and wanted to get low on the ground with the camera. The snake saw obviously its chance to get some shade and squeezed itself behind the left front tire before I was even out of the car. So, what now? I started the engine and moved carefully forward in order not to harm the critter. Well, that worked, when I got out of the car again the young Northern Water Snake was already in the water next to the dyke…
Just minutes before I had my encounter with the four young raccoons (see the blog post from yesterday), I finally found the pair of Trumpeter Swans with their offspring I showed you on May 21st. All seven cygnets were still alive and well. I thought immediately that the story in this picture only works if I have all seven in the frame. They were right beside the road and in order to get them all in the picture I shot with the shortest focal length the SIGMA 150-600 offers. This was only possible at the moment just before the whole family entered the water.
When it’s time to leave the Green Island wetlands I usually drive slowly down the gravel road on the left hand side and scan the water canals, ponds, trees, and bushes for any sign of wildlife with my eyes. The camera rests in my lap, turned on, and ready to shoot. Don’t worry about me driving on the wrong side, the road is straight and wide and there is not much traffic at all. If another car shows up on the horizon or in the rear view mirror, I stop and wait until the car has passed and the dust from the road has settled again.
Yesterday evening on my way out I saw some movement in one of the trees ahead. First I thought it was a mink but as I came closer it became clear that a gang of four young raccoons had a feast on the berries of a mulberry tree.
I hate to crank the ISO at the camera beyond 400, but I had no choice and went up to ISO 640, still shooting as slow as 1/80 s at 600 mm. Noise reduction in post means loss of detail and with the fine hair of a raccoon it has its limits, at least for my own photography.
Most of my previous photos of raccoons were taken around the house, on the roof or balcony, or catching them while they robbed our bird feeders. With other words, I’m very happy to have finally some images that have no men-made elements in the frame.
The four little guys were obviously listen pretty good to their mama. I never saw her, she stayed somewhere below in the bushes, but after five minutes of watching the gang they all climbed down at the same time and disappeared in the underwoods.
The “cuteness factor” of young critters is always high and I hope you don’t mind seeing a couple more photos sometime in the near future.
June has been a “lean period” in regards of my photography endeavors so far. Not my fault, work has been in the way one more time. That has changed this evening when I finally went to the Green Island Wetlands again, and as you already know, this is one of my favorite areas for wildlife photography here in the Upper Mississippi Valley. At this time of the year, early mornings or evenings are the times when birds and critters come out of their hiding places. In addition the light is a lot more “workable” as during the times in between (of course, I’m not talking about the night… ;-) . I had some exciting moments today, but let me start with a view across the wetlands during some quick changes in the weather pattern.
Especially friends in Germany have asked before, how is this area laid out? This photo, taken from one of the levees that I call “snake alley”, (more about this in a later blog post) gives you an idea how this part of the Mississippi backwaters has been dammed up. The river doesn’t flow through anymore and the water level and flow is managed according to environmental and other requirements.
My wife Joan may tell you I’m crazy showing you a landscape picture after coming back with a memory card full of exciting wildlife moments. I like to get it settled and will post about critters and birds here shortly. So, please stay tuned…
Shortly after their arrival from Central America in early May we see the Baltimore Orioles every day. They like to feed from orange halves and drink from hummingbird feeders that we provide. They need to replenish their reserves after a long distance migration. It is not uncommon to see up to ten different birds the same day here in our woods. Now, in early June, we still can hear them and maybe spot them high up in the trees, but they hardly come down from the tree tops anymore.
Live stood in the way for any new photography during the last few days. I like to keep my blog up to date in regards of the season, but if I can’t find the time to shoot new pictures I have no reason to panic. It doesn’t hurt to dig out some images from the vault that are a few weeks or even months old.
Back in April I was in one of my favorite locations to photograph birds, the Bolsa Chica Ecological Preserve near Huntington Beach, California. By the way, a good photography friend of mine from Germany might be there in the next few days (Hi Maren!) and I wish her nothing but the best light for her time in this great location!
As I was about to call it a day, a pair of Black-necked Stilts did everything to attract my attention, just next to the parking lot. The wind from the Pacific swayed the bushes in front of the lens and almost all pictures I made have this green disturbance left and right. My favorite shot, the one you see above, was cropped to “portrait orientation” in post. This leaves all the green, left and right, out of the frame but I had to sacrifice a lot of pixels. So is this all bad? Not really, at least not for this photo in my blog today…
This is what you get at this time of the season when you go down to the Mississippi River and find a spot that has all the supporting elements for a photo. Exposing strictly for the highlights and predicting how they will effect the composition of the image is key for the outcome. Colors don’t play a big role in this picture, green and yellow dominate, but all the different tones of the lush vegetation tell the story about the transition from spring to summer.
I have to admit, it’s a love-hate relationship between our Eastern Gray Squirrels and us. After they have emptied a bird feeder with sunflower seeds within a couple hours or have ripped apart a wooden seed storage box on the balcony, my sympathy level for the squirrels is not very high, to say it mildly…
But then there are these moments, when they make these ‘innocent’ gestures, and all their ‘crimes’ are forgiven in a heartbeat… 😏 😊
While the male House Wren is singing his heart out each morning (see my last blog post), the female is doing some serious business now. The males actually start to build the nest, way before a female even makes a commitment, but it is a loose collection of grass and twigs and they usually build more than one. The females choose and finish the nest to their like before they lay the eggs. Our wren in the front yard is obviously giving it the last touch and making it soft and comfortable.
How can we tell the story about the male House Wren, who sits on a perch near the nestbox and sings and chatters like crazy to impress one of the females? Knowing a little about the biology of the critter helps to answer the question. When the wren performs, he holds the upper mandible relatively still, while the lower mandible goes up and down with lightning speed. By using a relatively slow shutter speed (between 1/60 s and 1/160 s) I was able to freeze the eye and upper mandible while the lower one has a slight motion blur. We can use a real fast shutter speed and a powerful flash light to freeze every little feather on this wren, but there is a chance it may look like the wren is yawning, and this would be a totally different story we tell with our photo. A little hint of flash was used for this image to make the color of the wren’s bill stand out, but not to freeze the action.
I just returned from a 4-days business trip to St. Paul and Duluth, Minnesota. As always, I took the camera gear with me but a densely packed schedule did not leave any spare time to get the camera out of the bag. So, today’s image is still from last weekend.
It payed back to visit a spot in the Green Island marshes where I had seen an Eastern Kingbird, a large flycatcher, last year and so it wasn’t a big surprise to find a pair of Kingbirds in the same area again. Love was in the air between the two birds and I had some good opportunities to make a click. There was some water between us and the birds and the only way to get it right in camera was to use the DX crop mode (900 mm lens equivalent).
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.
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.
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