NATURE CLICKS #418 - EASTERN BLUEBIRD


Sure, this is only a picture taken at a bird bath but this is a favorite place of the four Eastern Bluebirds that visit our backyard frequently. They come in to drink and quite often sit at the edge of the pool and warm up a little. I have photographed them many times but this is the first time that I was able to make a photo of a female and male side by side and both birds in focus.

“DE IMMIGRANT”


“De Immigrant” Windmill, Fulton, Illinois

Yesterday, at the turn around point of my trip along the Mississippi River, in the city of Fulton, IL, I stopped at the Dutch windmill that was built on a flood control dike. “De Immigrant” was fabricated by native millwrights in the Netherlands and shipped to Fulton, Illinois. It was assembled in 1999 and grinding of wheat, buckwheat, rye, and cornmeal started in 2001. It is a great attraction but the mill and the Windmill Cultural Center were closed for the season.

I arrived about 45 minutes before sunset and it was immediately clear that I had to use the warm sunlight on the backside of the mill for my photo. The color contrast between the windmill and the dark blue sky worked well, but the thin hazy clouds didn’t nearly create the drama as I finally found in the black & white version. It was important to have an eye on all the lines and geometrical shapes the wings, ropes, and structure create. I made other images, showing more of the windmill building, but this close-up shot at 24 mm made for a stronger picture, at least in my books…

If you like to read more about the windmill, here is a link: https://mississippiriver.natgeotourism.com/content/de-immigrant-windmill/mspe125a382cb0d9770e


NATURE CLICKS #417 - RED-HEADED WOODPECKER


Red-headed Woodpecker, Mississippi River, Thomson Causeway Recreation Area, Illinois

The sun was out today and with temperatures just below freezing and hardly any wind we had great conditions for a cruise by car along the Mississippi River. I checked well known locations, like the Green Island Wetlands, but moved on further south on the Illinois side of the river all the way to Fulton, IL. My goal was to scout some new marshes and backwater areas on the east side of the big river and I found quite a few places that look promising for future bird watching and photography trips.

All images: Nikon D750, Sigma 150-600mm / f5-6.3 DG OS HSM S, @600 mm (900 mm DX mode)

This woodpecker was busy high up in an oak, right along the river banks in the campground of the Thomson Causeway Recreation Area. The Red-headed Woodpecker can be found in our area all year long but we have seen them only occasionally during migration time. This bird wasn’t alone, I could hear the “queer-calls” of at least another one and a gentleman told me that he had seen several Red-headed Woodpeckers earlier this week.

I had to employ the DX-mode of the camera for these overhead shots and still cropped both photos. With other words, the equivalent of 900 mm focal length left still too much blue sky in the frame. The woodpecker never came down to a lower branch but I’m not unhappy with the outcome. The season without campers and leaves in the trees is still long and I’m planning to go back again soon…

OUT WEST #29


Little Rock Creek, Wind River Range, Wyoming

Our last destination in the mountains of western Wyoming was the Wind River Range, an approximately 100 miles long part of the Rocky Mountains. We pitched the tent for three nights in Sink Canyon State Park, west of Lander, WY. These mountains are not so well known by the public as for example the Tetons or Yellowstone, but there is no lack of interesting geology and beautiful nature. We went on hikes and traveled off the beaten path by car, but time was too short to explore more than a small area of the range.

Wildfire smoke, Louis Lake Road, Wind River Range, Wyoming

One reason why I didn’t shoot a lot of wide landscape views was the fact that the impact of wildfires created a certain haziness, even if the fires were far away. The photo gives you an idea…

Mule Deer, Red Canyon, Wyoming

Finding wildlife is not very difficult in the Wind River Range, there was always a Pronghorn or Mule Deer somewhere, but when we saw this doe with her two fawns on a rock ledge in the Red Canyon near Lander, WY we had to stop and make the click. Mountains Lions are not uncommon and are a great danger for the young Mule Deer and this spot was obviously a good place to have control over the terrain for the mother.

Least Chipmunk, Popo Agie Falls, Wyoming

The Least Chipmunk is smaller than the Eastern Chipmunk that lives in our woods here in eastern Iowa. In areas that are more frequented by people, like along the hiking trail that leads to the Popo Agie Falls, the chipmunks have not much fear and can be easily photographed within the range of a 200 mm lens.

OUT WEST #28


T.A. Moulton Barn, Mormon Row, Grand Teton National Park

Before the year ends I like to finish my little series about our trip to the mountains and grasslands out west in September. It was the third time Joan and I visited the Grand Tetons together and it was totally different than during our last visit eleven years ago. In 2007 we were lucky to have the first fresh snow of the season while the trees still had their fall colors. This made for some great photo opportunities. This time the leaves just started changing and we were too early for new snow.

I’m almost sure every photo enthusiast pays a visit to Mormon Row for a classic shot with the T.A. Moulton Barn in the foreground and the Teton Range in the back. This did not work very well this time. There was a smoky haze all the time in front of the mountains, due to some wildfires in Bridger-Teton National Forest to the east. At all close-up shots of the barn the mountains were hardly visible. But I thought the smoky clouds were part of the story this time and went for a focal length of 24 mm. I took more of Antelope Flats into the frame, showing how the smoke impact the whole scene. The image is cropped quite a bit on the bottom, leaving the illusion that this was shot as a true panorama. The foreground was shady from a tree behind me and not that interesting. Well, even a midsize print would reveal the truth but I’m not unhappy with the photo, even without snow and fall colors…😉

A MERRY MILLWORK MARKET


I had a little break here in the blog and come back with some street photography. Dubuque had its ‘Merry Millwork Market’ during the last couple evenings. Joan and I went yesterday night to this mini- Christmas market in the Historic Millwork District. Let me go straight to the highlight 😉. It was the first time since I live in the US that I saw someone selling Glühwein. The mullen-spiced red wine is served on every Christmas market in Germany, something I have missed during the last fourteen years.

I thought the market was well done, taking place outdoors and indoors. There were a lot of local artists selling their artwork and it seems the character of the market fits the ambience of the repurposed warehouse buildings in the Historic Millwork District of Dubuque, Iowa very well.

I don’t know when I shot the last time with ISO 1250 and still hand held the camera at a shutter speed between 1/15s and 1/40s. Detail was not so important as it is in wildlife photography and I wanted to keep the mood intact by using only the ambient light.

TAKING ADVANTAGE


The last snow melted finally away today but there is more in the forecast for Sunday. I always like to take advantage of the “big reflector” and use the extra light for some shots around the house. About half a dozen Eastern Gray Squirrels (at least!) invite themselves and take advantage of the sunflower seeds at our bird feeders. They are a good subject to practice and study how the direction of light can effect the outcome. And yeah, there is always the cuteness factor that comes with these critters…🐿

GREEN ISLAND WETLANDS IN THE WINTER?


First snow in the Green Island Wetlands

I had a nice audience last night for my presentation about storytelling in wildlife photography, with some great questions afterwards and the emails and messages I received today tell me that people received some inspiration for their own photography. This made my day!

I introduced some of my favorite shooting locations, and the avid reader of my blog knows already, the Green Island Wetlands along the Mississippi River play certainly an important role in my endeavors. Actually Joan, our dog Cooper, and I went there for a little hike last Sunday. We had some fresh snow on the ground and most water bodies were covered with a thin layer of ice. I’m sure the duck hunters were not so happy about that because we didn’t see any.

Bald Eagle

So what can we find at this time of the year under winter conditions in Green Island? We saw several hawks, a few Song Sparrows, and for the first time ever a coyote on top of a levee. Unfortunately he had seen us earlier and during the two or three seconds we watched him I was not able to make a sharp image. Ten minutes earlier this Bald Eagle posed nicely against the blue sky and later we saw the bird with its mate sitting in another tree further away.

Beside all that, the lakes and backwaters had some nice blue color and the cracks in the ice and the snow painted some surreal patterns. As mentioned in my presentation, it’s difficult to come back from the wetlands with an empty memory card…

COME AND SEE MY PRESENTATION


Black-tailed Prairie Dogs, Badlands National Park, South Dakota

A year ago I joined the Dubuque Camera Club. The exchange of thoughts, ideas, and photography knowledge between members is priceless, and beside the educational aspect, it is a great group of people to socialize with and share the fun photography has to offer. We meet twice a month (first and third Monday each month between September and June) and for the 2018 /19 season we offer some member presentations about different aspects of photography. The meetings of the camera club are open to the public anyway, but these special events are advertised in local and social media.

Mobile phones made almost everybody a photographer these days and photography is as popular as never before, so we like to share our presentations with a broader audience. Maybe you guessed it, I volunteered to be the first presenter…

It’s a wrong assumption that good wildlife photos can only be made with expensive equipment. Sharing the story of your wildlife encounter, even through a technically not so perfect image, is more important for the future of our natural heritage than seeing the last detail in a critter’s eye. I will give you my thoughts on this and other aspects of wildlife photography.

If you live in or around the Tri-state area of Dubuque, Iowa, please join us for our first presentation this season next Monday. Here are the facts about this event:

Monday, November 19, 2018, at 6:30 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 after what I try to cramp into 60 minutes.

  • 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 next Monday at 6:30 PM in the E.B. Lyons Interpretive Center at the Mines of Spain 😉

OUT WEST #27


At Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone NP, Wyoming

This photo was taken at the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park. My subject wasn’t the spring itself, like in my earlier post OUT WEST #17, but the surrounding area with its beautiful patterns and subtle tones. When I made the shot I had actually a black and white version in mind for the final image but now, back home in front of the screen, the color version appeals to me as well. I may post the B&W version at a later time. I still think about the final outcome…

FALL IS OVER


White-breasted Nuthatch, Little Maquoketa River Valley, Iowa

Oh, you see some white aside from the bird’s body and between the trees in the background of this photo? You got it! We had our first snow a couple days ago and it took until today to melt it. With the snow came a bunch of Dark-eyed Juncos from the north, who will spend the winter here, and their arrival is always the best indicator that autumn is almost over. It was a gray weekend again and the best I can come up with is this photo of a White-breasted Nuthatch in its typical position on a tree trunk.

OUT WEST #25


Moose, Gros Ventre, Grand Tetons National Park, Wyoming

We are not big fans of large campgrounds but there were a couple reasons we chose Gros Ventre at the Gros Ventre River for our stay in Grand Tetons National Park. First its location, with easy access to many good viewpoints, and second, it is known for the presence of moose nearby.

And yes, we watched four moose every morning. They were easy to find, we just looked for other people with big tripods, cameras, and long lenses…😉

There was a lot communication between the big animals going on, vocal and as well by body language, in particular the ears. At 8:30AM the show is almost over, they disappear and lay down in the grass between the sage brush and willow thicket and rest.

OUT WEST #24


Oxbow Bend, Grand Tetons, 2007, Nikon D200, Sigma 18-50, f/2.8, @35mm (equiv. to 52mm FX)

Ok, I’m cheating a little bit today and show you first a photo that I made already in October 2007. The fall colors were at their peak and the Grand Tetons had the first layer of fresh snow. Not so much the second picture from September 2018. Some leaves just started turning their colors and only the summits of the Tetons had some snow and that was probably from the last winter season. There was also a certain haziness in the air because wildfires were burning east of the mountains. With all that in mind, and again no clouds within reach, I was looking for a foreground that would add some scale and interest to the photo. When we saw these horses along the road I knew I had my picture.

It was interesting to pull out one of my old RAW files from Oxbow Bend, which I never had processed previously, and apply the tools of my current post processing workflow. Comparing results I still believe the NIKON D200 was a great camera but I can also tell that the lens, a Sigma 18-50 / f2.8, was not as sharp as the lenses I own today. However, for me it’s another proof that there is more than just the gear to make a good photo.

Grand Tetons, 2018, Nikon D750, Nikkor 70-200, f/4. @110mm

NATURE CLICKS #416 - CAROLINA WREN


To say it mildly, the weather has been lousy, with a lot of rain lately. Consequently having a little bit of hazy sunlight yesterday morning felt very pleasant. Early morning has been the best time to see migrating birds recently, or at least birds that are not around our house all the time. There are still two Red-breasted Nuthatches present and during last weekend I saw a White-crowned Sparrow. Two Carolina Wrens were picking up spiders on our porch yesterday morning and when one of them posed nicely in the mild sun, I got this photo right from the bedroom window.