MISSISSIPPI RIVER STORIES 2018 #03 - 4 PICS OUT OF THE KAYAK


Green Frog, Mississippi River, Mud Lake, Iowa

The last three evenings were used to paddle the Mississippi River and its backwaters, but only yesterday I took the camera with me. Aiming for wildlife during the last two hours with daylight and shooting from the low level in the boat have been often a key for success.

The mix of duck weed, algae, and aquatic plants that have reached the surface is a great habitat for many species. Don’t worry, this is usually just near the shore, the main channel in the backwaters of Mud Lake is clear and easy to paddle. This Green Frog blends right in and the reflection of its eye in an open spot of the water made me choose this image for today’s blog post.

Young Barn Swallow, Mississippi River, Mud Lake, Iowa

A new generation of swallows is learning how to catch insects in flight. I have seen all five species we can find along the big river but this young Barn Swallow posed perfectly on top of a water lily.

Painted Turtle,  Mississippi River, Mud Lake, Iowa

Painted Turtles enjoy the sun as much as we do, but most of the time they slide into the water as soon they detect some movement. This one seemed to know that I was not a thread in my kayak and stayed on this piece of drift wood until I was only five feet away.

Eastern Kingbird,  Mississippi River, Mud Lake, Iowa

The young Eastern Kingbirds were hunting for insects right at the boat ramp. Even if I’m not always in favor of a backlit situation, I still prefer this shot over the ones I took while I left the boat launch.

Sure, I could make an image of all these critters from shore, but shooting out of the kayak delivers most of the time a perspective that is almost impossible to obtain by standing on land, much higher above the water level.

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

ON THE VOLGA RIVER AGAIN


Joan and I finally paddled one of our favorite rivers here in Iowa last weekend, the Volga River, a tributary of the Turkey River. It is a very scenic stream, with cliffs on both sides, and some very secluded portions. We actually didn’t meet any other people last Saturday during our trip. It isn’t exactly a novice river tour and has a few tricky turns, a couple rapids, and several portions with ripples that require some attention, as you can see on Joan’s face while she navigates a section with pretty strong current. Kayak-dog Cooper wasn’t always thrilled about some of the bumps we went over…

We have paddled this river in high water and another time in very low water before, but this time we enjoyed it probably the most, with a good water level after some rain. The smile comes back after a difficult section, just Cooper closed his eyes and seemed to say, not another one again…

I was brave and took the camera and a couple lenses in a waterproof bag on tour with me. Both photos were made with the Nikon Nikkor 70-200, f/4. This lens is light weight and shooting it wide open at f/4 allows to catch the action on the bottom of the canyon without cranking up ISO.

NATURE CLICKS #410 - CEDAR WAXWING


Cedar Waxwing, Mississippi River, Deere Marsh, Dubuque, Iowa

The Cedar Waxwing is one of the most beautiful birds we can see here in eastern Iowa. Previously we found them along the clear streams that we like to paddle during the summer or in the fall we have them quite often on our bluffs, feeding on ripe juniper berries of the Red Cedars.

This photo was made last week at the Mississippi River, right at the end of the Deere dyke, that sticks far out into the main channel of the river. The sun was already very low and getting the right exposure pretty simple.

FOOD DELIVERY


House Wren

Yes, it’s this time of the year again when another generation of House Wrens is almost ready to leave the nest. The “snacks” the parents deliver get a little bigger every day and the noise coming out of the nest box, as soon mom or dad show up with food, gets louder as well. The wrens are pretty tolerant and don’t panic as quickly as other birds if someone is relatively close to the nest. Sure, a House Wren is not as pretty as some of the more colorful summer guests, but watching them every year to have one or two broods in our yard is always exciting.

NATURE CLICKS #409 - BLUE DASHER


Blue Dasher, Green Island Wetlands, Iowa

My German photography friend Maren had recently posted some excellent photos of damselflies and dragonflies in her blog (https://marensfotoblog.wordpress.com/2018/07/06/wow-seltene-gaeste-am-gartenteich/). Her pictures always inspire me, and while visiting the Green Island Wetlands last weekend I realized that we have plenty of dragonflies this year. When they perch on a stem of grass or any other plant, you have usually a few seconds to make the shot, and quite often they return to the same spot and may give you another chance if you missed the first shot. The only problem last Sunday was the hot wind that blew over the wetlands and what made getting a sharp image a little bit of a challenge. I thought the key for making a decent photo of the beautiful Blue Dasher was incorporating the background, at least its colors, and without having any clutter in the frame.

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

GALLINULE, FIRST TIME WITH OFFSPRING


Common Gallinule with offspring, Green Island Wetlands, Iowa

Many of the waterfowl is very secretive while they care for their offspring. In particular the Common Gallinule is sometimes hard to spot. You may hear them calling in the reeds but getting the bird in front of the lens isn’t easy. Yesterday I made a short visit in the Green Island Wetlands and for the first time I had an opportunity to see a pair of gallinules caring for two little chicks. Although already late in the day the light was still harsh, the scene was backlit, and exposure was a challenge. As you can see in the second picture, their big feet allow the birds to walk on the leaves of waterlilies and other aquatic plants. The parents did their best to feed the young gallinules and it was fun watching them. I’m not 100% happy with the quality of the pictures. Shooting from the car without a chance to get into a better position with less backlight wasn’t ideal, but I think the story of this exciting moment is still told and I like to share it with you.

Both photos: Nikon D750, Sigma 150-600mm / f5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports Lens

EYES ON THE GROUND


Two photos of mushrooms today? Well, not every day we are able to enjoy a great vista or have an interesting critter in front of the lens. Sometimes it just helps to open the yes and have a look on the ground for the details nature provides. A week ago Joan and I went on a little hike in the Swiss Valley Nature Preserve south of Dubuque, Iowa. These clusters of mushrooms drew my attention. Nothing spectacular, but an important part of the food chain in our deciduous forests here in eastern Iowa. Their untouched beauty and shape made me push the button.

Nikon D750, Nikon Nikkor AF-S 70-200mm, f/4G ED VR

THUNDERSTORM, BUT PEACEFUL VIEW


A line of thunderstorms made it through the northwest of Iowa in the evening of the Fourth of July holiday and the camera was rattling while the storm moved out. I have photographed this farm on the hill across from the family farm of my wife before, but never with so much drama in the sky. The storm was violent, trees were down in the nearby city of Remsen, Iowa, and some branches hit the ground on the farm as well, but the grazing cattle in the foreground make it look very peaceful.

Nikon D750, Nikon Nikkor AF-S 70-200mm, f/4G ED VR

 

LOVE WHEN IT ALL COMES TOGETHER…


Mississippi River, Finleys Landing, Iowa

I often struggle with scenes that are backlit, in my wildlife photography and as well with landscape work. This evening I left the Mississippi River with a smile on my face, I knew I had something. I wished light would prevail always this way and the decision how to dial in the settings in camera would match my imagination about the final image as it did today.

Waters are high in the Mississippi right now, for example, the flood gates were closed at Ice Harbor in Dubuque, Iowa, but the higher water level makes the muddy banks below the grass in this shot disappear. Knowing the location helped to anticipate the shot before I even went there. Oh, I love when it all comes together sometimes…

BIRD UPDATE


Male Baltimore Oriole

My blog has been always about a little bit of photography, some trivia about the subjects I tried to photograph, but mostly about creating awareness what does surround us in nature and how we can protect our natural heritage for future generations. When neighbors tell me, I saw the bird you were talking about the other day in your blog, but didn’t know we even had something that beautiful here, I feel inspired to continue my work.

So what’s going on these days here in our woods above the Little Maquoketa River Valley? 

We see lots of young woodpeckers, House Finches, and sparrows. The young nuthatches are in training for future challenges, and the Barred Owls , who raised an owlet right here next to the house this year, call from different places in our woods. From time to time we see a Scarlet Tanager at a suet feeder, a sure sign that at least one pair has a nest nearby. The House Wrens just started feeding their young ones in one of our nest boxes a couple days ago, while Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and American Goldfinches still have some time before they will present their offspring.

As always in early May we saw a number of Baltimore Orioles, most of them migrate further north, but usually we have at least one pair here during the summer. We are not sure about it this year, because we can’t hear their beautiful songs in the morning. We don’t worry about it too much. If all the orioles we saw this spring will have a nest somewhere north, we are perfectly fine and just look forward to see them again next spring.,,

HUMMER IN THE RAIN


Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Hard to believe that the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are here since two months already, although today I hardly saw any of them. We had very high temperatures and humidity today and it doesn’t look much better for tomorrow. But maybe this was the reason for their absence from our feeders?

The photo was made a week ago, and the drops on his bill are the result of a rain shower. Boy, I wished we would have one of those again… 😅

THE BEST LENS OR CAMERA?


Black-winged Damselfly

The answer is always the same. It’s the one you may have with you when the light is right and a subject of interest is present. I like the walks in the evening with our dog Cooper and try to go to different places every time. Today we went down into the valley below our bluffs. There is an abandoned gravel road, perfect for a quite walk, nature observations, or just to calm down after a busy day. I don’t have to take the dog on the leash since there is no traffic, and Cooper waits patiently if I stop and fiddle away with the camera.

The Nikon Nikkor 70-200, f/4 was not the perfect match for a shot of this Black-winged Damselfly but it was the lens I took with me for our walk. A real macro lens, like my SIGMA 150, f/2.8, works much better, not just because of its true 1:1 magnification, but also because of its shorter minimum focal distance (MFD). Well, not exact macro quality, but I like the light, the shadow of the insect, and overall a damselfly is just a beautiful insect...

ADDING SOME SCALE


Another photo from yesterday’s shooting at the Dubuque Airport. This little helicopter flew by several times at the new observation deck. As already mentioned, I was there for the clouds, but having a flying object in the frame may change the subject. Well, the picture is still about the clouds for me, the helicopter just adds scale to the image. Other than that, shooting aircrafts is always a great exercise for birds-in-flight-photography.

CHASING CLOUDS


I have two photos for you today, both taken during my chase for some clouds and light this evening. We had thunderstorms moving out of the area and on the south side of Dubuque, Iowa, at the local airport, I finally found what I was looking for.

As some of you may already know, I like these images where the clouds are actually the subject and the horizon line gives you just a hint where the photo may have been taken, and otherwise giving nothing but a sense of scale.

Both images: Nikon D750, Nikon Nikkor AF-S 70-200mm, f/4G ED VR

CASTLE HOTEL


Althörnitz castle hotel, Saxony, Germany

I have nothing new worth to show or talk about in the blog today but some of my faithful followers have asked to see a little more from our recent trip to Germany. As mentioned before I pursued photography not very seriously this time, nevertheless a few clicks were made.

This is Schlosshotel Althörnitz (Althörnitz castle hotel) where we stayed for my mom’s 80th birthday celebration. It is located in the southeast corner of Germany, the tri-state area between Poland, Czech Republic, and Germany. Some of the rooms are in a modern addition to the castle, that has been greatly integrated into the old structure. The big trees on the right allowed me to keep it out of the frame, although the integration of the new part into the complex is one of the best I have ever seen. The castle lies in the foothills of the mountains to the south (Zittauer Gebirge) and its setting in an old park makes it an architectural jewel. The oldest part of the castle was built between 1651 and 1654. It had many different owners over the years and it opened as a hotel in 1996.