EASTER WITH WILDFLOWERS


Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

It all comes together right now on this Easter weekend, the wildflowers in the woods behind our house can be photographed in great light as long the sun is out. Going out early in the morning or during the late afternoon gives the best chances for a good quality of natural light. Going down low to the ground with the camera or using the topography of our steep slopes for a good perspective is mandatory, but other than that, it is an easy click.

Wishing all of you a wonderful Easter weekend!

Nikon D750, Sigma 150mm / f2.8 APO EX DG HSM,   @1/1000 s, f/5.6, ISO200

NATURE CLICKS #421 - COMMON MUSKRAT


Juvenile Common Muskrat, John Deere Marsh, Mississippi River, Iowa

Here is another image from last weekend. This was shot at the John Deere Marsh, right beside the road, and about a kilometer away from the main channel of the Mississippi River. This young muskrat had absolutely no fear and kept chewing on fresh grass tips even after I just parked my car right beside it. 200 mm focal length was enough to make this picture and I employed the Nikon Nikkor 200 f/4 on the D750. I made a slight crop in post for esthetic reasons. Too many bleak sticks after the winter distracted from the subject, this beautiful little muskrat. Their fur looks great when it is dry. I saw and heard an adult calling from down below the river bank but this little bugger gave a dam and kept chewing on the first fresh grass. Some people are put off by anything that is called a “rat”, although this rodent is not a member of the genus rattus. Muskrats are smaller than beavers and they share quite often the same habitat. Their diet is 95% plant materials.

EGRET ON A HUNT


Great Eagret, Green Island Wetlands, Iowa

Yesterday I spent the last two hours before sunset in the Green Island Wetlands. The water level in the Mississippi River has dropped a little bit but many areas are still flooded. The sun came finally out and it was a good evening for wildlife observations and photography. The first Greater Yellowleg has arrived and was searching for food in one of the muddy fields that are part of the area. I saw the first pairs of Wood Ducks and numerous female Red-winged Blackbirds have joined the males , who were already present since several weeks.

But the star of this evening was the first and only Great Egret I watched this season so far. First I saw him standing almost motionless for several minutes between some flooded small trees along the dyke. After a while the bird started moving its neck forth and back and stirred the water with its feet. It was clear, the egret was hunting for a fish. It had his head turned to the east, means the setting sun lit just the back of the head. I made a few clicks anyway. Suddenly the bird turned around, now facing the sun, and moved a few feet to an area where not so many branches were obstructing the view. And than it happened very fast. The clouds opened up a little more and at that moment the egret caught a fish. The metadata of my pictures reveal, from the moment he got it out of the water until the fish was going down its throat only 9 seconds had elapsed. A piece of weed was hanging over his head. Happy egret and happy photographer!

Nikon D750, Sigma 150-600mm/f5-6.3 DG OS HSM S, @600 mm , 1/500 s, f/6.3, ISO200

THREE LIGHT SOURCES


Staircase, Meissen Cathedral, Germany

The Meissen Cathedral has many interesting architectural details. When I was ready to leave one of the chapels and stepped into this spiral staircase, I knew immediately I had a picture. The light that came through the small window and from the room behind me was complemented with light from a small lamp in the staircase. The mix of daylight and incandescent light from the bulb were actually well taken by the camera (white balance was set to Auto), but I knew only the development of the photo in black & white will do justice to the subtle impact of all three light sources.

OLD ARCHITECTURE


Alley in Meissen, Free State of Saxony, Germany

Ever since I live in North America my appreciation of interesting medieval architecture has grown. I grew up downtown in the German city of Bautzen, which is over 1000 years old. Being surrounded by old castles, towers, buildings, and structures, built 500-600 years ago, makes you not think much about it all the time.

During our recent visit in Germany we spent time in my home town Bautzen, in Dresden, Berlin, and also made a day trip to Meissen. This old city is even older than Bautzen and is the home of the famous Meissen porcelain. Here is a link for people that like to dig deeper: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meissen 

Old towns like Bautzen or Meissen, built around castles on the rocks above the river banks, don’t have many straight lines. The play of light and shadows can be very complex and a rainy day with less contrast seemed to be a good time to capture the character of the narrow cobbled streets. I like how the reflection of the sky on the cobblestones leads the eye into the picture, the only one I was able to make without people in the frame. This city attracts a lot of tourists…

Sure, I could post “candy-colored” photos of the Albrechts castle, the Meissen cathedral, or many other places, as you may find them in the latest travel brochures, but working in black and white is the way I like in order to hide the modern touch of life better and tell the story of this old architecture. I have a few more, so please stay tuned if this is your cup of tea…

FLOODING AT THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER


The Mississippi River is flooding and many places I visit frequently around Dubuque, Iowa are not accessible at the moment. I went out twice today in different weather conditions. Here are some photos.

11:20AM, Mud Lake

The park with boat ramp, campsite, and recreation areas was completely under water. The water reached the railroad tracks and I guess the park ranger had to drive through to reach his residence in the park.

11:43AM, John Deere Marsh

It rained and the fog didn’t even allow to see the main channel of the river. I have never seen the access to the trail under water. However, some ducks and geese didn’t mind it at all. The dyke leads into the marsh and finally to the main channel of the Mississippi.

4:54PM, John Deere Marsh

Same place, just five hours later. The rain and clouds went away, the sun came out and this gentleman made the best out of the situation and launched his canoe on the trail. The current was pretty strong, although the main channel is almost 1,000 meters away from this point.

5:42PM, Mines of Spain, at Julien Dubuque Monument

A freight train approaches the bridge that crosses Catfish Creek. At the bridge little Catfish Creek meets the mighty Mississippi. The high water pushed into the side valleys and flooded much of the lower parts of the valley.

FOCUSSING ON SANDHILL CRANES


Sandhill Crane, Green Island Wetlands, near Mississippi River, Iowa

Any time I go to the Green Island Wetlands in spring I see or at least hear some Sandhill Cranes. Two years ago we had about 200 cranes but this year I have not seen more than 20 at a given time. Getting close to them can be a challenge. They are not skittish, like for example most of the ducks, but they keep a distance to humans and cars that doesn’t always allow to make a decent photo of these birds. 

Last Sunday I was lucky and came close to a single pair that was searching for food. I didn’t get both cranes in the same frame but was nevertheless pretty happy about the results. Getting close is key for a sharp image. In this habitat, between the old grass and reeds, the Sandhill Cranes do not provide a lot of contrast to lock on focus all the time. The ground is still cold and the warmed up air above can lead to heat shimmer and make obtaining focus even more difficult. Going out late in the day, when the temperatures drop and the light gets warmer seems to be the best time for success.

COOTS, DOING ME A FAVOR


American Coots, Green Island Wetlands, Mississippi River, Iowa

After not making a single click in over a week for several reasons I finally went out to the Green Island Wetlands yesterday evening. The water level of the Mississippi River is still rising and also in the Green Island area it is above normal.

It was windy and many of the ducks were hiding or at least not near the shore. Every year I have seen a large fleet of American Coots at this time of the year and I always was debating with myself how to make a picture that tells the story about their presence in large numbers. Quite often the raft of coots is stretched out and it is impossible to make this kind of a photo. This time was different and they did me a great favor. While I watched them through the binoculars in the distance, the whole fleet suddenly swam towards me and didn’t stop until they all were near my “mobile blind”, the car of course.

They were feeding and goofed around like coots do. Coots are kleptoparasitic, they’ll steal their meal from other birds if they don’t feel like hunting for their own food (source: iBirdPro app). Indeed, I have seen them arguing about water plants. Maybe that’s why it is always fun to watch this raucous and quarrelsome bird.

DRESDEN - FRAUENKIRCHE


A couple pictures from our trip to Germany earlier this month. One of the world-famous landmarks in the city of Dresden, the capitol of the German state of Saxony, is the Dresdener Frauenkirche. The Baroque church was destroyed in the bombing of Dresden during World War II. From the time of my childhood I still remember the ruins and pile of rubble that was left as a war memorial for almost 50 years. If you like to read a little more about the history of this wonderful church and its restoration between 1992 and 2005, here is a link you may want to use: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dresden_Frauenkirche

It was my first time that I had a chance to see the Frauenkirche from the inside. I didn’t bring a tripod with me on this trip but handholding the camera with the Nikon Nikkor 16-35 f/4 attached and utilizing vibration reduction led to some acceptable results. It wasn’t until the late afternoon that the gray overcast of this day finally broke apart. When the sun hit the historic silhouette of the city during late afternoon, it made me quickly forget all pictures I took earlier…

BALD EAGLES… LIGHT, GESTURE, AND COLOR


Mississippi River, Ice Harbor, Dubuque, Iowa

Light, gesture, and color, it all came together this evening in the Ice Harbor near downtown Dubuque, Iowa. My special thanks goes to photography friend Kevin McTague, who send me a message this afternoon about the presence of Bald Eagles in the Ice Harbor behind the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium. I have shot there before when the ice broke during other years and knew ahead of time that this can lead to some good photography. Beside that it was the first real day of spring, with sunshine, a clear sky, and mild temperatures. The interesting part of this urban location is the fact that the brick stone building, which was as far as I know an old warehouse and is now part of the museum, reflects in the water of the marina and makes for some interesting color opportunities.

Most of the time the Bald Eagles just sat on the ice, looked around, and paid little attention to the Ring-billed Gulls, who were also hanging around. I was waiting for the gestures that were made when another eagle flew above or when the eagles communicated by calls and body language. By the way, it isn’t as static as it may look. The ice floes move around by wind and water current in the harbor and the light and reflections were different from one minute to the next. What a great way to start a weekend…!!

A LOT HAS TO HAPPEN…


Canada Geese, Green Island Wetlands, Iowa

A lot has to happen before I post a picture of Canada Geese here in the blog. We have them all year long in the Mississippi Valley and it is not really difficult to find some. However, they are always a good subject to practice and when the quality of the light is above average I can’t resist and will make the click.

This photo is still from last weekend. The sun had a very soft light and was reflected by the ice on the river. This gave the birds some additional light from underneath and in addition I liked the colors and soft appearance of the background. As I said above, a lot has to happen…😉

Nikon D750, Sigma 150-600mm / f5-6.3 DG OS HSM S, @ 600 mm, 1/500 s, f/8, +0.66EV, ISO200

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! 😉