WOODPECKER OFFSPRING


Young male Downy Woodpecker

We had a bit of rain the last couple days and the air finally cooled down, but I take this any time over the heat and humidity we had recently. However, no matter what kind of weather we have the birds and critters need to feed their offspring. I had some fun this evening standing on the porch behind the camera watching two young Downy Woodpeckers. Sometimes the parents still brought them a seed from the suet feeder but most of the time they tried to figure it out by themselves. They are only a little smaller than the parents but it is the clumsy behavior that reveals who has still to learn the lessons of life.

A little fill flash helped to get the exposure right and bring some colors out because the dark overcast this evening didn’t let much light come through here in the woods.

RETURNING TO THE SAME SPOTS


Dickcissel, Dubuque, Iowa

If people ask me about a good tip for wildlife photography, there is one that will be always on my list. Get back to the same spot over and over again! Sounds boring, right? But I think it really helps to know a location well, have an idea how the light may turn out, and most important , what critters might be present and how do they approach the site.

We went this evening to the flower meadows, I just call “Behind the Mall”, at the city limit of Dubuque, Iowa, and tried to see the birds again I had reported about recently, like Dickcissel, Bobolink, and Savannah Sparrow. We saw them all, but for the most part they were not within a good shooting range today. Watching them is still fun, and making the click is the cream on the ice. Today’s photo is already a few days old. The male Dickcissels guarded the nests that were obviously deeper down between grass and flowers and this is just the gesture you may see most of the time. Did I mention that their songs sound beautiful?

LITTLE TREE SWALLOWS


It’s the time of the year when many birds raise their next generation. Food is here in abundance and we are all happy if we have less mosquitos and flies around us while spending time in the great outdoors.

Down in Mud Lake Park at the Mississippi River a pair of Tree Swallows took possession of one of the nest boxes. At least three little swallows were in the box and stuck their heads out from time to time in expectation of the next food supply.

As always, I stay away from the nest and use the long lens with its maximum focal length of 600 mm to make the click. I act fast and walk away quickly from an active nest.

BERLIN, ALEXANDERPLATZ


I knew ahead of time this was the perspective I would consider at Alexanderplatz, in the center of Berlin, for telling the story about location and the pulsating life there. I grew up in eastern Germany and Berlin was the playground during my time as a young engineering student for almost three years back in the late 70’s and early 80’s. The famous World Clock in the foreground, S-Bahn station (rapid transit train station) Alexanderplatz in the back, and the whole scene overlooked by the Berlin Fernsehturm (television tower) was the way to go. I took a few shots but wasn’t happy at first. When the yellow street car pulled into the station I knew I had my picture. The color contrast helps to overcome the harsh light of an early afternoon and draws away the eye from an almost cloudless boring sky.

STREET ART


Street artist, Berlin, Alexanderplatz, Germany

As you know, I’m not a big portrait shooter or people photographer. So let me file this image under travel photography, at least that’s how I do it in my books. This young artist delivered an incredible performance with his puppet and the music they produced was just great. I have seen a lot of street artists in many countries of the world but this was one of the best I have ever seen in my life. It was a sunny day back in May and high contrast scenes were the standard all day long. I was happy that this young artist was in the shade of a building, right at Alexanderplatz in the center of Berlin, Germany, making it easy to get a shot.

BAUTZEN / UPPER LUSATIA / GERMANY


Oddly enough we had only a few hours to visit my over 1000 years old home town Bautzen in the Upper Lusatia / Germany. It was a holiday weekend and almost all my friends were out of town for a hiking weekend (a tradition we established when our kids were little), but Joan and I used the short time for a walk across the whole city from west to east.

This photo is one of my favorite views of the old part of the city, taken just a stone throw away from where I used to live before I came to the United States fourteen years ago. The picture shows several of the landmarks always worth a visit. In the foreground is the Old Waterworks, to the left Church of St. Michael, and the tower behind it belongs to St. Peter’s Cathedral, Eastern Germany’s only historic interdenominational church edifice. The tower on the right marks the town hall, the center of the historic city.

Other than with my wildlife photography I have no problem to clone out elements in Photoshop that hurt my esthetic feelings (to say it mildly). On the balcony on the right was a satellite dish, GONE! Down at the bridge that crosses the Spree River were some new tourist information signs, GONE! And a contemporary street light disturbed the view as well, GONE! Would you have known if I hadn’t told you? 😉

THE ZWINGER / DRESDEN / SAXONY


The Zwinger, Dresden / Saxony / Germany

We are back from our trip to Germany since two weeks and I have only shown one photo made during our journey. On the day of our arrival we used the afternoon and evening for a nice walk through parts of Dresden, the capital of my home state Saxony. It was late in the day when we wandered through the Zwinger, a palace, built in Baroque style and designed by court architect Matthäus Daniel Pöppelmann. It served as the orangery, exhibition gallery and festival arena of the Dresden Court. Today, the Zwinger is a museum complex that contains the Old Masters Picture Gallery, the Dresden Porcelain Collection and the Royal Cabinet of Mathematical and Physical Instruments.

Dresden is visited by over 4 million tourist every year and it is difficult to take a picture of any of the attractions, like the Zwinger, without any people in the frame. It was almost 8PM when this shot was taken and even then we were not alone on these historical grounds. I guess a little luck is sometimes necessary…😉

CHARMING SWALLOWS


Barn Swallow

My photography friend Kevin invited me for a late morning shooting in his barn on the south side of Dubuque, Iowa today. The barn is actually the home of a couple horses but it also gives shelter to several Barn Swallows. While we watched one of them still sitting on the nest, others were feeding their offspring already. There was a lot going on and we had plenty of opportunities to experiment with our camera and flash settings in order to get some good shots. We both had a great time to work with the birds.

The barn has a few windows and the upper half of the doors were open, allowing some day light to enter the room. The challenge was to incorporate the ambient light while our speed lights were used to freeze the action without making the flash too dominant. I wanted to preserve the warm feeling and colors that we found inside the building and pair it with the charming gestures these beautiful Barn Swallows have shown to us. The current warm weather provides plenty of insects and it never took very long until the adults returned with a bill full of food for their nestlings. What a fun morning! Thank you again Kevin for this great opportunity!

NATURE CLICKS #408 - SAVANNAH SPARROW


Savannah Sparrow, near Dubuque, Iowa

While on the “hunt” for the Bobolink during the last couple evenings I also came across a Savannah Sparrow. Not a first sighting but I never have made a photo of this summer guest in a natural setting, means without a wire fence in the picture. The prairie like grassland is the perfect habitat for this small sparrow. They feed on seeds, insects, and spiders. The yellow eyebrow makes it easy to identify and distinguish from other sparrows that make eastern Iowa their home for the summer.

NATURE CLICKS #407 - BOBOLINK (FIRST SIGHTING)


Male Bobolink, near Dubuque, Iowa

I promised you yesterday another bird encounter and first sighting. The Bobolink has been on my “most wanted list” since a long time. They feed mostly on the ground and in low vegetation and their habitats include prairie and grasslands. Before I saw them I could hear them and it was not very often that a Bobolink was visible between the grass and wildflowers on this patch of grassland just at the edge of town.

Same bird as above but showing its white wing patches and rump

Yesterday evening I saw several males and two females but never got really close to the ladies. I wasn’t really thrilled with my photos from the male Bobolinks and so I went back again today to give it another try. The only chance to get close to a bird is by staying in the car and use it as a blind and invest some time and a lot of patience. There was no easy click to make this time. Many factors play a role for getting a sharp image. The grass is swaying in the wind and so does the bird. If you just see one doesn’t mean you have a clean view and moving the car in the right position was important. The roads in this area have no or very little traffic. They were built for future economical development, which I seriously hope will never happen. Larger areas with undisturbed prairie or grassland are a scarce commodity here in Iowa and if these remaining areas become a big parking lot with a store behind it, these habitats will be gone forever and so will the birds.

NATURE CLICKS #406 - DICKCISSEL (FIRST SIGHTING)


Dickcissel, near Dubuque, Iowa ------

The last two evenings have been great for bird watching and as a result I had four birds in front of my lens that are not very common anymore and two of them were first sightings for me. So let me start with today’s best encounter.

One big reason to be a member of the Dubuque Camera Club since last fall is the fact that networking with other like minded photographers benefits everybody involved. The small group of wildlife photographers stays in really close contact with each other and we all try to share locations and shooting opportunities when they occur. This time my big thank you goes to Ken, who gave me a hint last Monday about a location in Dubuque, Iowa where another bird I found today as well, but will report about later, is present. I’m sorry, I will not reveal breeding bird locations in public for utmost protection of these birds, but if you are a serious birder or wildlife photographer, please feel free to contact me through the contact form on my “ABOUT” link here in the blog, and I may share this information with you.

As already hinted, I was out for another bird but the first one that drew my attention was this male Dickcissel, singing like crazy from different perch locations. I used my car as a blind and was able to get relatively close. This was a first sighting for me and I’m more than happy about the encounter and photo opportunity. The Dickcissel prefers open habitats, hay fields, and weed patches. They feed on seeds, grass, and insects, while younger birds consume more insects. They spend the winter in southern Mexico or even further south.

GARTENROTSCHWANZ (COMMON REDSTART)


Gartenrotschwanz at nest box, Templin, Germany ---------   

During our recent travel to Germany I took just a small amount of photo gear with me. The bag contained the Nikon D750 and two lenses, the Nikkor 16-35 and 70-200. I used my feet to “zoom” if I had to fill the gap between 35 mm and 70 mm focal length. It served me well most of the time and I didn’t regret to leave a 24-120 mm lens at home. We moved around every day and traveling “light” was my aim.

As you can imagine I didn’t plan for any wildlife photography. When this opportunity of a breeding pair of “Gartenrotschwanz” in the backyard of our friends in Templin came up, I was a little short with 200 mm focal length since the nest box was high up in a giant pine tree. This is not an “every day” bird in Germany’s gardens anymore, I hadn’t seen one in ages, and the light was just great. With other words, I couldn’t let this chance go by and rather chose to crop the image in post. Both parents were feeding the offspring and this click was made when the male paused for a few seconds before he delivered the bug in its bill to the little chicks in the nest box.

RARE VIEW


Coast of Greenland ---------

Hello friends, we are back from a delightful trip to Europe. Events with family and friends were at the center stage and I took a backseat with my photography this time. It was nice to take a break from social media and everything around. Sure, some pictures were taken but I wasn’t serious beyond creating some memory shots.

On our final flight from Zürich / Switzerland back to Chicago the pilot had to take a different route than usual, due to a strike of French air traffic controllers. This gave us the chance to see the southern coast of Greenland. I have flown many times between Europe and America during the last 22 years but it was only the third time that I have seen Greenland from an aircraft. Most of the time the route runs further south. Luckily Joan and I had seats on the right side of the plane and we were able to enjoy this rare view with ice and snow covered mountains and ice floats in the water of the Greenland Sea in the North Atlantic Ocean.

TAKING A BREAK


Barred Owl ------------   

Tonight the Barred Owl used our roof ridge as a perch for its hunting efforts. I could see the silhouette against the evening sky. It was quiet and peaceful and while I watched this magnificent bird, mother raccoon ransacked the suet feeder on the balcony at the other side of the house… Did I say it was peaceful…? 😏

The photo of the Barred Owl is from last week. This is how I found the bird Friday morning in a tree at the edge of our woods. I took the time to get the tripod out. With good support I had no problem to shoot at ISO200 and 1/80s.

I’m taking a break from posting here in the blog for a little while. I’ll be back soon. Enjoy the warm and sunny weather, always take the camera with you, and don’t miss the opportunity to make the best photo of your life!

HEALTHY SNAKE?


Garter Snake -------

I have been possibly pointed in the right direction about my suspicion over the dramatic decline of snakes in our area by Pamela, who is also a member of the Dubuque Camera Club, today. Thank you Pamela! The cause could be snake fungal disease (SFD) and if you are interested to learn more about it, here is a useful link for you: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5095536/ . Oddly enough, Joan found a Garter Snake at the edge of our woods  yesterday, the first we saw in a long time. The snake just rested in the grass and gave me plenty of time to get the camera.

So how do we get a good image of a snake lying in the grass? I don’t know! I tried a low angle but din’t like the outcome. There was always a blade of grass that covered part of the head. I finally went for a picture from above, using the coil of the reptile and the soft evening light as my means for the story telling.

In a close-up view of the photo I can see that the skin of the snake is kinda flaky, however, not really visible in this size-reduced image of my blog. I will send a larger file to the people that do research on this disease and will either learn that this Garter Snake is healthy or help to pinpoint the spread of this fungus. This is all very concerning, knowing about what impact the Chytrid Fungus, in particular Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis or “Bd”, has done to amphibians, wiping out more than one third of the world’s frog species. Just reading a lot about it today, the threat to these reptiles seems to be not less…

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