John Deere Marsh, Dubuque, Iowa --------

Another image from my trip along the Mississippi last weekend. The prominent field mark of the Ring-necked Duck is the white ring on its bill, that makes it easy to identify them. The faint chestnut ring around their necks is very hard to see and mostly visible only at a close distance. I always wonder who gave those ducks their name…😉? The turbulent water on the left is what’s left of one of the females I had in the viewfinder as well. It just dived down in search for food while I pressed the shutter button of the camera. That’s alright, the two males were part of a team of about 20-30 ducks who used the pond at the Deere Marsh as a place for rest and feeding during their migration to Minnesota or Canada up north.

As much as I like this spot for bird watching, for photography it is not ideal. The road to the west and trail to the south are quite a bit higher than the water surface and that gives you always that unfortunate shooting angle from above, which I believe is not very flattering. Don’t even think of getting out of the car and climb down the embankment, all ducks and geese would have left the state of Iowa by the time you are down at water level… 😊


John Deere Marsh, Mississippi River, Dubuque, Iowa ---------      

If there was a prize awarded for the prettiest migrating duck, the Bufflehead would probably be ranked in the top 3. It is hard to get close to them, but it is so much fun to watch the males displaying and battling for the female’s attention. Although I just read that Buffleheads are mostly monogamous and often stay with the same mate for several years. However, they are constantly on the move and in between they also have to dive for food and will disappear from your view for a few seconds. Guess when that happens? Of course, the moment when you think you have the duck in focus for a sharp image…

It was a gorgeous weekend for bird watching and I used my time to patrol along the Mississippi River between Dubuque, Iowa and Brownsville, Minnesota. I saw thousands of migrating ducks, swans, and geese but it doesn’t mean every encounter will lead to an image. The Mississippi is several kilometers / miles wide for the most part and there isn’t always access to the water due to topography or private land ownership. As longer I live near the Mississippi Valley as more I appreciate to watch the big bird migration every year. My heart beats faster if I see thousands of little dots over the horizon, which indicates birds on the move.

Another good thing is to meet other people who enjoy bird watching as well. Yesterday, at the Brownsville, MN overlook I met Richard, another bird watcher from Iowa,. He let me look through his spotting scope and we had fun to identify birds and shared our sightings. The birds were all at a distance and I didn’t even take the camera out of the car, but spending time with like-minded people is priceless and always educating.


Red-winged Blackbird, Green Island Wetlands -------   

I’m still smiling about my first sighting of a Short-eared Owl yesterday and just a few days ago I finally made some pictures of a pair American Black Ducks, as the avid reader of my blog may recall. It looks like I have already a good bird watching year. But more often we come back from a trip with photos of wildlife that is native to the area, stays all year long, or shows up in large numbers for the breeding season. Canada Geese, Ring-billed Gulls, Mallards, and of course the Red-winged Blackbirds belong into this group here in the Mississippi Valley.

So, how can we make the photos of the ordinary creatures special? First, they have to be sharp. If we don’t nail sharpness at least on the eye of a critter we can try it again and again. The “ordinary” birds are a great subject to improve our shooting skills. Second, light and color should play a role. Nobody wants to see, not even on Facebook, a photo of a gull, sitting still on a sheet of ice that reflects the gray from an overcast sky. This rule can be broken if there is a good story telling gesture involved. Gesture is the third ingredient to make an image of a bird that everybody knows more interesting.

I hear the photo-purists saying, Andreas, why didn’t you move a little to the side to get the swaying dried up plant out of the frame? Well, I did, I moved the “mobile blind”, as I call my car, a couple feet back. It was all good, sharpness, light, and color. The only thing missing in all the other shots was the great gesture of the male Red-winged Blackbird, when he spread his wings, called, and told all competitors around, this is my territory! For my friends in Germany and those who are not familiar with blackbirds, the appearance of this species in late winter and early spring is a good indicator that the warmer season will arrive soon. They are here probably by the millions. The males claim a territory and wait for the arrival of the females. This picture may not make it into a field guide about birds but I think it tells the story about what’s going on out in the wetlands, at the Mississippi River, and along the roads here in Iowa…

Nikon D750, Sigma 150-600mm / f5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports Lens, @ 600 mm, 1/400 s, f/6.3, ISO 200


Nikon D750, Sigma 150-600mm / f5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports Lens, @ 600 mm, 1/125 s, f/6.3, ISO 800, photo is cropped,  ------------   

It was about time for me to get back into the Green Island Wetlands this evening. Beside the “regulars”, like Canada Geese, Bald Eagles, American White Pelicans, Sandhill Cranes (10), Mallards, lots of Red-winged Blackbirds, and the Northern Harrier, I watched the first pair of Wood Ducks this year. I also met my photography friend Kevin, who is the one who convinced me to join the Dubuque Camera Club last fall, and we shared our recent observations, discussed locations, and of course photography. As the sun went down and we said good bye, Kevin discovered this owl sitting in the top of a tree at the edge of the wetland area. First I thought it was a Barred Owl. We have them around our house and can hear their distinctive calls every night really close, but since they are mostly active at night we hardly see them and so I’m not so familiar how they look in detail. A closer look into the books at home revealed that this is a Short-eared Owl. The yellow eyes and the black triangle around each eye made that clear. Barred Owls have dark eyes and a different plumage.

This is a first sighting for me and even if the photo is cropped and a little noisy I’m very happy. I rather crop the image and keep a safe distance to an owl instead of moving in and become a threat. The safety and comfort for the bird come always first.


February 18, 2018

On February 18, 2018 I crossed for the first time the new bridge over the Mississippi River between Sabula, Iowa and Savannah, Illinois. I thought it was interesting to see both, the old truss bridge and the new one, side by side and so I stopped and made a few clicks. Since around 10:30AM today the same picture cannot be made anymore because the old bridge was demolished and imploded with a big BOOM and clouds of smoke and sits now in the river. I read that cutting apart the remains started immediately and the pieces will be transported away by barges.

I didn’t really plan to publish this photo here in the blog. I was a little sloppy while taking the picture, not paying enough attention to the details around the edges and a different view point would have been probably better. After reviewing my photos on the computer screen I thought even about going back and shoot it again. Well, it is too late now…😏

Below are a couple pictures I took almost three years ago when I heard for the first time that the old truss bridge will be replaced. I even wrote a blog post about it.

It’s good to have these images!

April 5, 2015


Lobster boat leaving harbor at sunrise ------   

Commitments kept me grounded today, at least photographically seen, but there is always the chance to go into the photo library and dig out an image that has not seen the light of the day yet. I have created a book about the coast of Maine some time ago, sure sign that I’m in love with this area, and I like to return to the photos I made in 2013 at the Atlantic coast of the United States.

I can ensure you this is not just nostalgic thoughts of an aging man. It was the incredible light Joan and I have experienced during early morning and late afternoon hours that made us fell in love with Maine. Well, Joan may add that 50% was the limitless availability of fresh lobster and I have a hard time to argue about that…😉

Back to the light, I think during our visit in Maine it was the first time that I started really to understand what the term “quality of light” means. The photo above is not in my “coffee-table book” (Deutsch: Bildband), but if there is ever a second edition, I will consider this picture. Light as seen makes story telling a breeze…


During a short trip to the Mississippi this evening I saw a pair of ducks that got my utmost attention. The American Black Duck is a first for me. It is not a bird you can see here in eastern Iowa every day, not even during migration. It has been on my “most wanted” list since a long time. This was a solitary pair, seen just south of the Deere Marsh behind the John Deere factory in Dubuque. This duck is not black as the name suggests but appears so at a distance.

The photography is less than mediocre but for a first sighting I will make an exception 😉. The distance between the car, which I used as a blind, and the ducks was way too big. The railroad tracks and a lot of water between us left no chance to get closer to the subject. For any other species that is more common I wouldn’t even have unpacked the camera. I don’t think I have ever cropped a photo that much to make it work. The loss of detail is obvious but the joy about today’s encounter outweighs the lament about the photographic results…


Oh boy, we had two days without any sun in the sky. It rained and snowed again but even that wasn’t fun. Reflecting the gray from the sky is just not desirable for bird photography. It’s good that we had a great weekend with lots of sun and that’s why these low flying Mallards are the stars in my blog today. They are currently present by the thousands in the Green Island Wetlands. Some may breed there this summer but most of them will migrate further north.


It was another great afternoon and evening along the Mississippi in the Green Island Wetlands. The big migration continues and I had a few more “first of the year” encounters today. Beside thousands of Mallards I saw about 20 Northern Pintails, 4 Northern Shovelers, and 2 American Wigeons. There are still large numbers of Greater White-fronted Geese flying in before sunset.

I was happy to see three Sandhill Cranes a couple days ago but was even happier today when a pair of cranes within shooting range foraged just in front of me. I heard some frogs earlier this week and I’m sure the cranes find what they are looking for. This photo shows a typical scene, while one bird is observing the surrounding area, the other one can search for food. These cranes are omnivorous and exploit subsurface food by probing with their bills. This is why we can see the bill covered with mud quite often. By the way, while I’m writing these lines and look at my pictures I realized how good the grasses and reeds from last year look. I guess this is due to the fact that we didn’t have huge amounts of heavy snow that pushed everything to the ground for weeks.

My excitement grew a little later, just before sunset, when another swoop of 12 Sandhill Cranes flew in for the night. Last year we had way over a hundred cranes in the wetlands in March and I hope the numbers will grow this year again.


Greater White-fronted Geese, Green Island Wetlands, Iowa

Over the years I have tried to grow as a photographer and have developed some standards for myself about what goes into the trash can immediately, what stays in the library for documentary reasons, but is never seen by the public eye, and what can be printed as big as the pixel count allows. Of course, the aim is always the latter but it doesn’t always work out that way.

I made a lot of clicks last night in the Green Island Wetlands and in my post from yesterday I showed a couple photos that tell together the story of this evening. And if I want to print them, I don’t have to think twice. Well, my favorite picture is nevertheless the one I show you today. It lacks sharpness and it is heavily cropped (down to 55%), to make it work. So, what’s the point? It’s the gesture of the geese in front of that superb cloud that tells the story about bird migration and the great light last night in just a single image. Usually I keep this kind of picture (heavily cropped) for myself, but I know that some other photographers who follow my blog, try to answer the same question (Where do I stand with my image quality?). Let’s keep our favorite photos, even if the technical side is not perfect. It’s the emotional part that makes us happy!


Greater White-fronted Geese in search for a resting place during their migration to the arctic. -----------

Since over a week now I’m reading in the Iowa bird forum that the geese are on the move. People report hundred-thousands of Snow, Ross, and Greater White-fronted Geese flying over or resting in marshes and wetlands here in Iowa. I saw photos and videos and the number of birds are just stunning. Yesterday I finally saw for the first time a flock of Snow Geese flying over our house and later in the evening Joan and I heard Greater White-fronted Geese in the sky. Their calls are different from the Canada Geese that we have here in the valley all year long.

Parts of the Green Island Wetlands in “killer light” this evening. These grasslands and fields around the wetlands provide food and resting places for many migrating birds.

For several reasons I haven’t been able to go out and watch the migration of the geese to the arctic and I got really antsy about it. Today I had enough and left my office a little earlier than I’m supposed to and drove down south to the Green Island Wetlands.

What a change since the last time I was there on February 18th! The snow is gone completely and probably 80% of the water is open and without ice cover. I saw thousands of Mallards and among them a few Northern Pintails. Too far away for a good photo. A dozen Trumpeter Swans were feeding or rested on the remaining ice. Three Sandhill Cranes took off just in front of me and suddenly I heard the sound of the Red-winged Blackbirds and saw them taking possession of their breeding grounds again. These are all sure signs that the worst part of winter lies behind us.

However, I didn’t see a single Snow Goose. But I met Forest, a nice gentleman who works for the Iowa DNR (Department of Natural Resources), and he gave me a hint where he had seen the Greater White-fronted Geese fly in around sunset during the last few days. And this was exactly what happened. Large numbers of geese flew in and searched for a good place to rest. Forest told me he works in the wetlands and spends a lot of time out there but still likes to watch the migrating birds after his work is done. I call this real passion and I’m always thankful for people like him, who share their encounters and knowledge with others.


I have quietly updated my gear list here on the website during the last few days.


I didn’t buy a lot of new gear lately but added some items that were previously missing. I do not like to rave about a new tool in the camera bag or write a negative statement until I have used a piece of photography gear for some time and can voice my opinion with facts that evolved from time spent behind the camera or from actively using the equipment. My gear list is here to help other photographers to find the right tools for their own photography and is not influenced and sponsored by any of the brands I mention. Feel free to check it out!


In the Green Island wetlands before sunset --------------

This photo is from yesterday and could not have been made today, because we had rain pouring down most of the day. The gravel road that goes through the Green Island Wetlands area is on the left and one of the levees that separate the different ponds and wetlands is on the right. But most important is the light from the low sitting sun that puts a warm glow on the ice and reflects in the spots with open water. It’s always worth to hang out until sunset or at least the hour before and if things line up you might get rewarded with a good picture. You don’t get this kind of shot at noon or in the early afternoon.


Virginia Opossum -----------

It was time to go down south today. I haven’t been in the Green Island Wetlands for quite some time and understandably during the winter the expectations to see a lot of wildlife are on a lower level. I enjoyed being away from the “cabin” and just wanted to get a feeling for the landscape again. To my surprise I found some critters and one of them was this Virginia Opossum. This solitary and mostly nocturnal animal is the only marsupial found north of Mexico.

This possum was in search for food between the dry reeds and along the iced over canals in Green Island. They are opportunists and eat a wide range of plants and animals. Opossums are very resistant to rabies, most likely due to a low body temperature. They also limit the spread of lyme disease, as they successfully kill off most disease-carrying ticks that feed on them (source: Wikipedia). I wish the deer would do the same...😏

My photo library shows that the last time I had a Virginia Opossum in front of the camera was already nine years ago. With other words, it was about time to make a few clicks of this actually not so uncommon critter.


Male Northern Cardinal ------------

There is one bird I really wanted to make of some new photos this winter but had no opportunity until now. This changed today when we got some fresh snow fall and a conclave of Northern Cardinals occupied the elm tree in our backyard. Usually they show up not much before sunset and this is of course not a good time for aiming a lens at them. I just read that cardinals can live up to 15 years in the wild and now I wonder if there is any of them still alive who was already here when we moved in our house…

Female Northern Cardinal

Because the birds never sat in the same spot for more than 1-2 seconds I decided to shoot not in “sniper mode”, one shot at a time with the flash light and flash extender for better color rendition. I usually do that if we have an overcast but the snow reflected enough light to get some color and keep exposure between 1/100 s and 1/400 s. It is more difficult to shoot the long exposure but it renders a nicer background and the snow flakes look like trails as you can see in the photo of the female cardinal.