FEEDING A SECOND BROOD


Summer has passed its peak and most birds are done with their offspring. Not so the House Wrens. Mother wren has incubated a second clutch of eggs and is currently feeding her babies in a gourd that hangs from our porch. We have two bird boxes for the wrens in the front yard but it isn’t the first time that they use a different location for the second brood. Usually we see both parents feeding but this time the male hasn’t shown up at the nest yet, although he is still around. Maybe as the little birds grow during the next days, and more food is needed, he might support the effort.

It was raining this evening and there wasn’t much light available. I just played around with the camera for some practice and was surprised that even a halfway sharp image turned out. This was shot with 1/20s at 600mm. The female wren checks the surroundings carefully before she flies up to the entrance hole of the gourd with the much needed food.

NATURE CLICKS #412 - LITTLE BROWN BAT


Little Brown Bat (Myotis Lucifugus)

When you live in the woods it is inevitable that ones in a while a critter enters the house without a particular invitation. I have helped numerous birds over the years to reobtain their freedom after they couldn’t find the open door again through which they had entered the house. 

Knocked over decorations on a window sill told us already a few days ago that something is in the house that shouldn’t be there, but we couldn’t find any suspect. Yesterday I finally found this Little Brown Bat sitting on the floor, looking pretty powerless. I put a leather glove over my hand and a minute later the bat was in the grass behind the house. Bats are nocturnal and don’t usually fly during the day. The poor critter tried to reach a dark spot under the rack for the garden hose and moved on the ground while I tried to take a picture of it. After an hour it was gone and is hopefully in a better and safer spot.

Here are some facts I have found at different sources on the web: The Little Brown Bat (Myotis Lucifugus) is the most common bat in North America and can be found even in Alaska. As already mentioned, these bats are nocturnal and sleep or groom during the day. A single bat can eat up to 1000 mosquitos during only one hour! Bats are not aggressive by nature and unless you are threatening them they won't act aggressively toward you. Most bats are quite timid and prefer to avoid people.

Little Brown Bats are now at a higher threat due to white-nose syndrome (WNS) in eastern North America. White-nose syndrome is caused by the fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, which affects bats during hibernation. WNS is estimated to have killed more than 5.5 million bats in the Northeast and Canada. In some sites, 90 to 100 percent of bats have died (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, 2015). Many states have made special considerations with respect to the disease, including listing them as a sensitive or protected species. Canada has listed them as an endangered species. It is estimated that 94% of the population in the eastern half of the country has died over the last few years from WNS, and the disease is moving westward at a rate that may see them extirpated within as little as 12 years.

FIRST TIME CAMPERS


We are just back from another paddle / camping weekend. This time we paddled a nice tour on the Northern Raccoon River near Jefferson in Central Iowa. Last night we were joined by our grandsons and their dad in our camp at Squirrel Hollow County Park, a wooded area next to the Raccoon River. This was the first time for the twins to camp in a tent and I can tell you, they had a blast. An unwritten rule of camping is that the household chores are shared. We didn’t have to point that out this morning to Anthony and Teegan. They were eager to grab the empty water canisters, walk across the whole campsite to the location of the water faucet, and fill them with daddy’s help.

When we watched the boys walking away, the sun just appeared over the top of the oaks in the forest and made their blond hair standing out. I ran to the car, grabbed the camera, and made this early morning shot of this memorable moment.

True campers, Teegan and Anthony

The help didn’t stop there. According to their dad Danny, they insisted and carried the full jugs all the way back.

Breakfast with Oma and Opa

There is a German saying, “Wer gut arbeitet soll auch gut essen!” (Who works good, should eat good!). Oma Joan feeds the boys Pflaumenmus-Brötchen (plum jam bread). Looks a little messy but tastes soooo good!  Can’t think of a better morning…

This afternoon we were invited to an early birthday party for the boys. On Monday they will be three years old. Happy Birthday Anthony and Teegan!

ROMANCING AN UNROMANTIC LOCATION


Heritage Pond, Dubuque, Iowa

This shot with soft light and reflections on the water suggest a quiet, romantic location, just a few minutes before sunset, right? But nothing of the above was true. Behind the belt of reeds is a busy highway where people headed home from work or shopping. The noise level was not bad but definitely not quiet and the sunset was still 45 minutes away.

The steep bluffs of the Mississippi Valley make the sun disappear a little earlier, hence the blue reflections from the sky on the water. The light is nevertheless very warm and by watching the white balance settings in camera and underexpose by one f-stop we can romance the photo to the final result. Shooting from across the pond and keeping any distracting element from the highway out of the frame was possible by using the Nikon Nikkor 70-200, f/4 at 200 mm. No magic, just using what the camera has to offer…

RIVER OTTER


North American River Otter, (not a wildlife image)

Almost two weeks ago we had the grandkids here and visiting the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium in Dubuque, Iowa was fun and educating for everybody. The North American River Otter is my favorite critter in the museum. The otter sleeps most of the time but we were lucky to see the animal swimming and climbing over the rocks in its enclosure. There used to be two river otters but we learned that one of them had passed away. A few years ago we have seen an otter family in the Little Maquoketa River, down in the valley and a few miles upstream, but I never had a chance yet to make a picture of this beautiful critter in the wild. Well, I still keep my eyes open…

NATURE CLICKS #411 - YELLOW-BILLED CUCOO (A FIRST, FINALLY!!)


Yellow-bellied Cuckoo, near Durango, Iowa

We hear its distinctive , rattling call almost every day during the summer, very seldom we see the bird, and I have never had a chance to aim my glass at a Yellow-billed Cuckoo. Until today! This cuckoo spends its time high up in the canopy of the trees and it is very difficult to spot it, even if you know where the bird might be, because of the unique call. This morning, after walking with our little dog Cooper, I heard the bird again and finally saw it sitting high up in a tree above our driveway. Well, against all common sense rules, I shot against a gray sky, but I wanted at least a documentary shot of this bird so badly that I gave a damn about rules. Of course, this is not a quality image. I cropped this picture to death, but still think it is an honest shot because I had no chance to get any closer. Last night we had thunderstorms with much needed rain passing through, for more than 12 hours. It looks like the cuckoo tried to use the first hint of sun to dry its feathers.

RUNNING AROUND THE FLOWER BED


Hummingbird Moth

We have lots of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds here at the moment but seeing a Hummingbird Moth is still a rare treat. It is almost the same size as the birds and they hover from flower to flower not much slower than a hummingbird. The phlox has spread in our yard and the Hummingbird Moth is obviously attracted to its nectar.

Not the first time I have chased this moth and trying to get a new perspective was my goal, while running around the flower bed with the Sigma 150, f/2.8 macro lens on camera this time…

MISSISSIPPI RIVER STORIES 2018 #04 - TWO RIVER BOATS IN DUBUQUE


Queen of the Mississippi, Dubuque, Iowa

The tip came from Pamela, the Communications Manager of the Dubuque Camera Club. I'm thankful she let us know that two Mississippi river boats were heading north and would be today in the port of Dubuque, Iowa. The time window is not very long before they head south again and so I went to town in the morning, shortly after the “Queen of the Mississippi” had arrived. Not the best light for photographing such beautiful river boats but it was still workable. I have photographed the “Twilight” before but the “Queen of the Mississippi” was a first. Back in the port this evening, both boats were gone but the quality of light was so much better…

Twilight

CHASE THE LIGHT (AND THE CLOUDS)


While friends and family in Germany suffer under a heat wave since a while, we enjoy moderate temperatures, and even more important, relative low humidity here in Iowa. Nevertheless, small thunderstorms cross the country, with very little effect, but still with great clouds. Last night I went out to chase the light that comes with thunderheads and dark clouds and I didn’t have to go very far. Here in the Driftless Area of the Midwest, where the landscape was never glaciated, we have to drive out of the valleys and find a spot in the hills that allows an unobstructed view for such a photo. One of my favorite places is Hantelman Road, a gravel road near the town of Sherrill, Iowa. The state of Iowa has power lines that can spoil an image everywhere, but knowing the location I knew exactly where to go. Why do I call it a chase? Well, it happened before, the magic light and clouds might be gone before the photographer arrives on location. This time it worked out just right… 😊

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

LATE POST, SPINNING PROPS


AT-6, ready for takeoff

The Air Venture 2018 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin is already over since yesterday and I’m still posting photos from the practice that took place a week earlier at the Dubuque Regional Airport… Business travel and other circumstances prevented me to work on my pictures last week, but hey, here are still a few shots! I’m not really deep into aviation photography but historic aircrafts have an appeal to me and I admire the people that keep them flying. You may ask, why didn’t you post more pictures of flying planes this time? As already mentioned in my post from July 22nd, we had an ugly gray overcast on Sunday. This was OK for shooting the aircrafts on the ground because of the soft light, but when you have gray clouds without any texture the same rule as in wildlife photography applies, never photograph a bird in flight…

P-51D Mustang

Slow shutter speed is key for having all props spinning

TRYING TO STEP UP A NOTCH


Juvenile male Ruby-throated Hummingbird, near Durango, Iowa, 1/125s, f/6.3, ISO400

One of the goals I wanted to accomplish this year was to step up a notch with my hummingbird photography. The time is just right, we have probably at least a dozen birds buzzing around the house and the new generation is as aggressive as the old “bullies” in their pursue to “own” one of the feeders we provide.

I mentioned in my last post already that I started using a new light modifier, a small soft box that attaches to the speed light. It still maintains the same purpose, just to bring out the colors in the bird’s feathers. The ambient light is still the main light source for the pictures. But it takes more than a new piece of gear to make better images. First I analyzed photos made during the last few years and realized that I had very few that caught the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds during a special gesture. To make it clear, there is nothing a hummingbird does slowly and even preening is done in short intervals that last maybe a second.

1/100s, f/6.3, ISO400

This juvenile male was my main subject today. He often returned to the same branch above one of our feeders and allowed me really to work with him between the “high-speed chases” that went on all afternoon and evening. Many clicks were made, but after the sun disappeared behind the trees on our ridge, there was a brief moment when a shaft of warm light hit the hummer just perfect, and this became my favorite shot of the day.

Nikon D750, Sigma 150-600mm / f5-6.3 DG OS HSM S, Induro GIT 404XL tripod, Induro GHB2 gimbal head, Nikon SB 800 speed light, Impact Quikbox Micro Softbox

BUTTERFLIES… BELATED POST


Tiger Swallowtail

Hi friends, I was hoping to publish this blog post already a few days earlier, but the “pilot” made an error and the files didn’t make it onto his laptop. Hence, I was traveling for business, but discovered far away from home, that the portable drive with the copies of all my photos I made last weekend was accidentally left at home…

White

OK, nothing is in a hurry, here are some pictures, …. Every year , about at the same time, I make a statement here in the blog that I’m not a macro photographer and creating pictures of insects or spiders is just a side project. Well, I tested a new light modifier and as soon I have a real opinion about it I may give you my ten cents of wisdom about the experience…

Giant Swallowtail

One of the easiest pictures... We have three of them here in our flower beds  this year. They are in constant motion , but persistance pays back....

The Monarch, like many other species, is under the thread of extinction. Much has been done here in Iowa to prevent this, but the question is, if down in Mexico, where the Monarch is during the cold season, habitats can be secured in order to make it a story of success.

PRACTICE FOR THE 2018 AIR VENTURE IN OSHKOSH


Next week is the 2018 EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, WI, the world’s greatest aviation celebration with more than 10,000 aircrafts arriving and 500,000+ people attending. As every year, numerous airplanes practice for the airshow at the Dubuque Regional Airport the week before. This year the 80th anniversary of the T-6 Texan will be celebrated. This aircraft first flew on Sept. 18, 1938. Usually there are about 50 T-6 at the show but this year 80 of this historic aircrafts are expected. This airshow will feature a 28-ship T-6 formation to create a large “80” and other formations over Oshkosh.

Well, everybody who took the time to go to the Dubuque Airport during the last couple days had a chance to see how this all will unfold in Oshkosh. Both days it was a great excitement to see how the T-6s were lined up with spinning props, getting ready for take-off, two at a time.

Both days the airplanes came back in different formations, including the “80”. Today we had a strong gray overcast and all ground to air pictures just sucked. Hence the blue sky is from yesterday’s shooting while the pilots flew over the airfield.

T-6 #217 of the Royal Canadian Air Force

I positioned myself at the southern end of the runway, just outside of the fence, and it was an unbelievable spectacle when all planes arrived back at the airport.

This N134SM/44005/HM-05 Beech T-34B Mentor (BG-312) flew above the T-6 formation and seemed to direct and lead the whole show.

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.