FINALLY, SOME BALD EAGLES


Crows picking up what’s left of a an eagle’s meal, Mississippi River, Sabula, Iowa

I talked to other wildlife photographers today during a meeting of the Dubuque Camera Club and everybody agreed, it wasn’t the best winter season to photograph the iconic Bald Eagle along the Mississippi River. The reasons may vary. December last year was very mild and they may have stayed up north but even during January and February we didn’t see very many, except for the ones who stay here all year long. However, last weekend, with the ice on the Mississippi breaking apart, it was no problem finding eagles along the river. This makes me believe that the birds who went further south just move back to Minnesota or Canada again, following the receding ice.

These two photos were made at the boat landing in Sabula, Iowa. Earlier, an hour before these pictures were taken, I drove over the bridge to Savannah, Illinois and saw a number of Bald Eagles feeding on the ice, or at least arguing about who owns the fish. The fish was long gone before I came back and aimed my lens at the one eagle who was still there. Two American Crows owned the spot now and ate what was left of the meal.

I used the DX mode on the Nikon D750 for the first picture and still cropped the image slightly to frame the scene closer. Not ideal, but I liked the storytelling in the photo and thought a closer crop would work better. The second pic was shot full frame (FX mode) but was cropped slightly for esthetic reasons.


All images: Nikon D750, Sigma 150-600mm / f5-6.3 DG OS HSM S

NATURE CLICKS #420 - HOODED MERGANSER


Male Hooded Merganser, Mississippi River, Green Island Wetlands, Iowa

As many times before I used my car as a mobile blind while watching for birds and taking pictures in the Green Island Wetlands yesterday. The Hooded Mergansers are usually very shy and take off quite often even before the car comes to a standstill. But love is in the air already and I watched several males competing for the attention of a female. This is our chance to make a successful click because they are distracted. The Hooded Merganser is the smallest of the three species found in North America. They find their prey underwater by sight. A third eyelid, the nictitating membrane, is clear and protects the eye during swimming. Beside aquatic insects, crustacians, frogs, plants and seeds, they feed on fish, capturing them with their serrated and hooked bill (see photo). More to come…please stay tuned!

EXCITING DAY IN THE VALLEY


Greater White-fronted Geese, Mississippi River, Green Island, Iowa

Hey, we are back from a trip to Germany but the photos made on the old continent have to wait. I’m glad to see that most of the snow is gone here in eastern Iowa, although flooding effects people in many areas. I couldn’t wait to get out today and see the state of bird migration in the Mississippi Valley. It was a gorgeous Saturday and I spent eight hours in the Green Island Wetlands and the island town of Sabula in the Mississippi River. Great bird watching, and yes, many clicks were made this afternoon!

Thousands of Greater White-fronted and Canada Geese rested in the flooded fields around the little town of Green Island on their way up north. Among them were only five Snow Geese. The best moment of the day came just a couple minutes before the sun finally disappeared behind a dark cloud at the horizon. Something flushed the Greater White-fronted Geese and many of them took off and circled in the sky for a while before they returned to their overnight roosts. It was very exciting when the loud sounds of their calls filled the air. Gosh, I wanted to make this kind of image since a long time. Can you tell I’m a happy camper today? 😊

Nikon D750, Sigma 150-600mm / f5-6.3 DG OS HSM S

LIGHT AND COLORS



Winter sun, Mississippi River, Deere Marsh, iowa

It looks like the moon behind clouds, but it is the sun, less than an hour before she disappeared behind the horizon. Last weekend I walked back to the car, giving our dog Cooper the well deserved freedom to run and rub his back on the hard surface of old snow at Deere Marsh next to the Mississippi River. He was doing his thing, I was doing mine, means looking for a good photo opportunity. Nothing exciting, just light and colors…

I’m not sure there will be much posting here in the blog in the next few days. We are boarding an airplane tomorrow. The camera is packed but time to write blog posts might not be on hand… However, stay warm, stay tuned! 😉

NATURE CLICKS #419 - MOURNING DOVE


Today was my presentation about STORYTELLING IN WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY, hosted by the Friends of the Mines of Spain, in the E.B. Lyon Interpretive Center, Dubuque, Iowa. We had a great audience and the questions at the end showed how passionate many people are about wildlife, conservation, and of course photography.

One of the topics I was talking about is how we can make better photographs of the common species. You know, the ones that are present most of the time and not so difficult to find. Well, we can look and wait for good gestures or shoot from a more interesting angle instead of pointing the camera down to the critter, but I think the most important point is to photograph the common species in interesting light. Light that really shows their colors or texture of fur or feathers.

Such a common species here is the Mourning Dove. We have usually between four and a dozen of them around here in our woods. They come to the bird feeders once in a while but most of the time they sit on a branch, expose themselves to the sun, and try to stay warm. Not really exciting action, but if they come close and there is some good warm side light from the low sun I can’t resist and have to make a few clicks of these pretty wild doves.

ALONG THE FROZEN RIVER


Mississippi River, view from the Wisconsin side to the Iowa side

I was on another business trip again. This time I went up north to La Crosse, Wisconsin. The drive along the mighty Mississippi River is one of my favorite routes. Yesterday we had an almost clean blue sky. Not really great for a good photo but it always makes an impression on me how wide the river is above the dams. We had a lot of snow and it was not so easy to find a spot where you can pull off the road to make a picture. I crossed over the bridge into Wisconsin in Prairie du Chien. From there the road follows the river below the bluffs on the east side and offers great views across the ice covered stream to the Iowa and Minnesota side. This is all part of the driftless area, the region that escaped glaciation during the last ice age and, consequently, is characterized by steep, forested ridges, and deeply-carved river valleys. Today I drove back home on the west side of the river in Minnesota and northeast Iowa. It is as pretty as the Wisconsin side but the camera stayed in the bag due to a gray overcast this afternoon. I’m glad I made the stop yesterday…

WINTER BLUES


Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Can you tell I have the “Winter Blues”, that this season is too long here in Iowa, and looking at some warmer colors is just a try to overcome it… It is always good to have some images on the hard drive that deserve a closer look during these feelings…😉

There was still a little time before the sun would set in Badlands National Park, last year in September, when this photo was created. I don’t get that much out of sunset pictures, unless there is some anchor point and relationship to the landscape in the frame. The grass covered ledges and bare slopes in the Badlands provide the elements that make a landscape interesting but quite often during the height of the day there is just no good picture. Working with the shadows and the light on the grassy tops during the last hour of sunlight can make a difference.

YEAH, GESTURE, BUT THE LIGHT…?


Unpleasant weather, to say it mildly, this weekend. From rain and temperatures above freezing on Saturday to ice cold winds and snow drifts on Sunday. I shot a lot in the front and backyard studio again. This Downy Woodpecker was briefly resting in our maple tree and gave me a gesture I really like, but throwing even a little hint of flash towards a wet branch is not such a good idea. The water on the wood reflects the light source and this is not very desirable. The reflection on top of the branch reveals that the sun was kinda behind the bird, a little to the left, and without the flash, well, the picture would look probably “crappy-gray”. Not a photo for the record books but still a nice gesture of the woodpecker…

PRESENTATION POSTPONED


I thought I let you know that my presentation STORYTELLING IN WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY, hosted by the Friends of the Mines of Spain, was cancelled this morning due to weather and road conditions. A new date has been announced. I would be happy if you can join me next 

Sunday, March 3, 2019   1PM at the

E.B. Lyons Interpretive Center, Mines of Spain Recreation Area

8991 Bellevue Heights, Dubuque, IA

ANOTHER WINTER MORNING


The skies had cleared yesterday morning and the air was crisp and clear. The snow still sticked to the trees on the ridge above our house. The branches of the little red cedar in the foreground were bent under the load of snow and the morning sun made for a nice contrast. Winter can be nice around here…

Nikon D750, Nikon Nikkor AF-S 70-200mm, f/4G ED VR,  @70mm, 1/400s, f/8, ISO100

TODAY: DEALING WITH THE SNOW, COMING UP: ANOTHER PRESENTATION


Another snow storm hit the area today and because it was snowing all day long we didn’t start shoveling until late afternoon. Instead the camera was placed on a tripod and I wanted to do some storytelling about the critters out there that try to make a living in these weather conditions.

Another layer of snow on top what’s already out there makes our Eastern Gray Squirrels desperate. If they still have food stashed away, like hickory nuts or acorns, it is probably buried deep under old frozen snow. It’s easier for them to search for dropped sunflower seeds near a bird feeder or just take possession of the whole feeder if possible.

We do not have natural grown conifers, like spruces or firs, in our woods, but we have our 2018 Christmas tree in the front yard and it makes a perfect hideaway for the Dark-eyed Juncos, finches, or sparrows.

Apropos storytelling, next Sunday I do my slideshow “Storytelling in Wildlife Photography” again. The “Friends of the Mines of Spain” have invited me to be the presenter at their Sunday program next weekend. If you missed the first one last November, or if you live in or around the Tri-State area of Dubuque, Iowa, please mark your calendar and join me for this presentation.

Sunday, February 24, 2019, at 1:00 PM

STORYTELLING IN WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY

E.B. Lyons Interpretive Center, 

Mines of Spain Recreation Area

8991 Bellevue Heights 

Dubuque, IA

My presentation will touch the questions below, and hey, we can discuss your ideas and thoughts as well afterwards.

How to start with wildlife photography, even with a small camera and lens?

What are good locations for wildlife shooting in and around the Mississippi Valley?

How to become better storytellers with our photos?

How about safety and ethics?

The program is free and I would be happy to see you.

IN THE FRONT YARD STUDIO


Female Purple Finch

As already mentioned in my last blog post, Sunday was a gray day but I spent some time in the “front yard studio” and practiced long lens shooting technique. We have lots of birds visiting our feeders with all the snow on the ground at the moment and I tried a few new things. Shooting directly from the front porch is not a valid approach right now. Sure, some “regulars” will still come close but the majority of our feathered friends stays away. I have the camera on tripod inside the bedroom (like in a blind) and since it was not as cold as earlier in January, the window was open. Because the window is 8-9 feet away from the edge of the porch I loose that much distance to my subjects, the little birds on one of the perch branches. To make up for that I attached the 1.4 teleconverter to the Sigma 150-600 S, which gives me an effective focal length of 850 mm. The best f-stop I can get is f/9 and that bares quite a challenge. The good thing is that the Sigma 1.4 and 150-600 S combination still works with autofocus, as long some contrast is provided to focus on. Both birds, the female Purple Finch and the Dark-eyed Junco have lines with contrast on their chest to lock on the focus. No, it doesn’t always work, autofocus is slow and the birds never stay long in the same spot.

Dark-eyed Junco

The rest is easy. I use the MAGMOD MagBeam flash extender to throw a hint of light at the birds in order to overcome the gray overcast and bring out their colors. The Nikon D750 is capable of separating the exposure compensation for the ambient light and for the flash and after a few tests I found the right combinations.

Junco: camera +0.33EV, flash -3EV

Finch: camera -0.33 EV, flash -3EV

Having the roof of the porch for most of the distance between camera and the birds has the advantage that the flash will not hit a lot of snow flakes if used during snow fall. I like to have falling snow in the picture but too much reflection can ruin the shot.

Both images: 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, Nikon SB 800 speed light, MAGMOD MagBeam flash extender,    @ 850 mm, 1/200s, f/9, ISO200

GORGEOUS FEBRUARY DAY


Nikon D750, Carl Zeiss Distagon T*, 35mm / f2 ZF

I’m glad Joan, dog Cooper, and I went out on a drive along the Mississippi River yesterday. It was soooo nice to have the sun out again for a few hours. Today the sky is covered with a uniform gray overcast again, it snows a little bit, and just makes the “cabin fever” raising again…

During part of the trip we went on the Illinois side of the big river and after the kiss of the polar vortex and now temperatures still below freezing the river is covered with ice for the most part. We explored some new wetlands and discussed the possibilities we would have there during the upcoming warmer seasons. I had all my lenses in the car and decided for the one I had recently most neglected. The Zeiss Distagon T* 2/35 is the only lens I own with nothing but manual focus. Most of the time I rely on autofocus for my photography. Eye sight isn’t getting better with age and I think there is nothing wrong with employing AF and the high tech we pay for if we buy a new lens or camera. However, the sharpness of the Zeiss 2/35 is fantastic but the main reason I love this lens so much is how it reproduces the colors. The snow is hard and crusty right now and I wanted to bring this out in the shot, taken at some backwaters of the Mississippi. The subtle changes of tones on the old melted and re-frozen snow in combination with the long shadows of grass in the mid afternoon sun tell hopefully the story of a gorgeous February day. Still love this lens…

ICY, ICY…


Winter holds us in its claws but every day is a little different than the one before. Yesterday we had some icy rain and most of the oaks around here were still covered with a glass-like ice layer today. This afternoon I stepped outside for a couple minutes and exposed myself to the cold wind. The low sun made the branches shining like silver and this was of course my subject for this artsy-fartsy picture.

Nikon D750, Nikon Nikkor AF-S 70-200mm, f/4G ED VR, @70mm, 1/100s, f/29, ISO100

DIFFERENT TOOL


This shot wasn’t exactly intended when it was made during the very cold days we had last week. Two Downy Woodpeckers (out of actually ten!) had an argument about who can eat first at one of our suet feeders. It was made during the late afternoon, it was snowing, and light was fading away quickly. I shot at 1/50 s, nothing unusual for me even with the long lens, but that was definitely too slow for this outburst of energy between the two birds. Stories can be told in different ways and motion blur is one tool I like to explore more. I think I I like the outcome…