Male Tiger Swallowtail, Little Maquoketa River Valley, Iowa

It has been a good year so far with the butterfly population in our woods here on top of the bluffs above the Little Maquoketa River Valley. We see a nice variety and overall numbers are better than during some other years. The stars of the bunch are always the three different species of swallowtails.

Female Tiger Swallowtail, black form

Friday night I saw a male Tiger Swallowtail interacting with another black looking swallowtail. First I thought he was fighting with a Black Swallowtail, a species we see here as well, but after it landed on one off our house plants it became clear that it was a female Tiger Swallowtail. I guess love was in the air. Males are always yellow while the females can be yellow or black. The yellow form is pretty common while black females are found more southwards according to my books. The last time I had one in front of the lens was 2015.

Both photos were made with the long lens at 600 mm (SIGMA 150-600 Sport), because I was actually on the hunt for hummingbirds. Like with my other wildlife photography I prefer to make an environmental portrait. Though I feel it is not so important to count every little hair, the insect still has to be sharp.


Our yard is the feeding ground for many different butterflies, including three different species of swallowtails. They are all here theses days but I still couldn’t resist to point my lens at one of the most common butterflies in North America and even around the world, the beautiful Painted Lady. Joan manages to grow a nice patch of Purple Coneflowers every year in the yard. The butterflies like them and they make for a nice background.

Although a little slow with focus, the 12 years old SIGMA 150, f/2.8 is still sharp as a tack and a macro lens I always have recommended. The newer models have OS (optical stabilization) and probably have faster focus, but I’m sure they are as sharp as the old one in my bag.

Nikon D750, Sigma 150mm / f2.8 APO EX DG HSM, @ 1/800 s, f/8, ISO 400


Diamondback Water Snake, Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, Dubuque, Iowa

There is at least one thing that any picture of an animal has to have in common, no matter if it was shot in the wild, or like this one, shot through the thick glass of a terrarium in the Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium. I’m talking about sharpness, in particular the sharpness of the eye. If the eye is not sharp the image goes to the trash can. Are there exceptions? Of course, as always in life. I have plenty of pictures in my library that will never see the eye of the public because they are not sharp, but I keep them for reference. The photo library is also a diary and can tell us, i.e. what day in late April or early May the migrating birds arrived from South America.

Back to this photo of a Diamondback Water Snake. Until tonight, when I sat in front of the computer screen, I didn’t realize that I had photographed this beautiful snake before in the wild but had mistakenly labeled it as a Northern Water Snake. The body part that reveals the pattern of a Diamondback is from another snake and beside that, I trust the naming of professional biologists still more than my own research. Not a big deal, that’s what museums are for, educational places not just for the young generation.

If you try to find out how the body of this snake is coiled in this picture you may get lost. What you see is the head of one, but underneath were three other snakes, hopefully enjoying location and climate as well. However, the composition of this photo is not an accident. I wanted to have the upper part of the body in a coil, knowing that the blue color of the background will still help to tell the story of a beautiful critter, even if displayed in captivity.


Spiny Softshell Turtle, Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, Dubuque, Iowa

… I can find a Spiny Softshell Turtle one of these days out in the great outdoors. This one is a resident of the Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium in Dubuque, Iowa. More “summer fun” with the grandkids again today and a visit of this great museum is always on the agenda when they visit us.

The softshell turtle’s soft, rubbery, and flat shell makes it easy to distinguish them from other turtles . The long and piglike nose gives the turtle a unique appearance. They are among my favorite critters in the museum and when the day comes I find one in the wild, you will hear from a very happy photographer…

Nikon D750, Nikkor 70-200mm / f4 @ 200 mm, 1/250 s, f/4, ISO 400


We had some summer fun with the grandkids in the backyard this afternoon. Beside “water battles” and other kids entertainment we watched our little House Wrens being fed by their parents, looked at butterflies, and collected acorns and other nature treasures. During a break this small dragonfly caught my eye. I believe it is a Four-spotted Skimmer, but I’m not sure.

I didn’t shoot the SIGMA 150, f/2.8 wide open but at f/4 it still had a very shallow depth of focus. By exposing strictly for the highlights the not so pretty background of our compost bin got thrown out and the dragonfly stands out nicely.

Nikon D750, Sigma 150mm / f2.8 APO EX DG HSM


Four-spotted Skimmer, Mississippi River, Mud Lake, Iowa

Here is another photo from our little paddle tour yesterday evening. Of course, if you see a picture of a dragonfly you may think immediately, oh we talk about macro photography today. Well, with 600 mm focal length attached to the camera this is not what it really is. Dragonflies are permanent companions during a paddle trip in the summer on the Mississippi. They are beautiful and I try to include them in my story telling if the setting is right, even if it is not a macro shot. Due to all the rain we had in spring and early summer the vegetation everywhere here in eastern Iowa is lush and green and yellow colors have a strong impact on many photos. The Four-spotted Skimmer can be found here along the river and it wasn’t the first time that I had this dragonfly in front of the lens. Handholding the D750 with the Sigma 150-600 attached is always a challenge, especially in a kayak. The low sitting sun led to a shutter speed of only 1/160s. Not really intended, but having the dragonfly sharp and the water soft and silky made this photo a keeper that I really like.

Nikon D750, Sigma 150-600mm / f5-6.3 DG OS HSM S   @600 mm, 1/160 s, f/8, ISO200


Joan and I took a trip along the Mississippi all the way up to Lansing, Iowa. The islands and many banks along the river are still flooded and with more rain in the forecast there seems no end in sight. 

I had a tip from another photography friend about a good wildflower location here in the driftless area along the river. We went there already three weeks ago but this was a little too early. Today we found a number of wildflowers, including the Jeweled Shooting Star (Dodecatheon amethystinum). This plant has its habitat in moist shaded areas on north and east-facing dolomite and limestone bluffs in deciduous forests. It is on the list of Iowa’s threatened plant species, a reason why I don’t reveal the location here in the blog.

As you know, I’m not really a flower photographer but wildflowers are part of our natural heritage and they deserve our utmost attention, if we still want to have them around for future generations. Creating awareness is one reason why I make the click anyway.


I was traveling the whole week and came back full of hope for a nice and warm weekend. Right now all the leaves come out and end of April is usually the arrival time for many migrating birds here in our woods. But it came totally different today. It rained and snowed all day long and as I’m writing this we still have some snow cover.

Chipping Sparrow

But there is always a story to tell in weather like this and that’s what I tried to do when I went out with the camera in hand. The combination of fresh green and flowers with the wet snow made for a good target. Three Chipping Sparrows were the only birds beside our American Robins that were present this evening. The male House Wrens arrived this week but except for the early morning they kept hidden during the day.

Tomorrow it is supposed to be warmer again and I’m sure the layer of snow on the ground will be history soon.


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


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…!!


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! 😉


I thought I let you know that my presentation STORYTELLING IN WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY, hosted by the Friends of the Mines of Spain, was cancelled this morning due to weather and road conditions. A new date has been announced. I would be happy if you can join me next 

Sunday, March 3, 2019   1PM at the

E.B. Lyons Interpretive Center, Mines of Spain Recreation Area

8991 Bellevue Heights, Dubuque, IA


The skies had cleared yesterday morning and the air was crisp and clear. The snow still sticked to the trees on the ridge above our house. The branches of the little red cedar in the foreground were bent under the load of snow and the morning sun made for a nice contrast. Winter can be nice around here…

Nikon D750, Nikon Nikkor AF-S 70-200mm, f/4G ED VR,  @70mm, 1/400s, f/8, ISO100


Female Purple Finch

As already mentioned in my last blog post, Sunday was a gray day but I spent some time in the “front yard studio” and practiced long lens shooting technique. We have lots of birds visiting our feeders with all the snow on the ground at the moment and I tried a few new things. Shooting directly from the front porch is not a valid approach right now. Sure, some “regulars” will still come close but the majority of our feathered friends stays away. I have the camera on tripod inside the bedroom (like in a blind) and since it was not as cold as earlier in January, the window was open. Because the window is 8-9 feet away from the edge of the porch I loose that much distance to my subjects, the little birds on one of the perch branches. To make up for that I attached the 1.4 teleconverter to the Sigma 150-600 S, which gives me an effective focal length of 850 mm. The best f-stop I can get is f/9 and that bares quite a challenge. The good thing is that the Sigma 1.4 and 150-600 S combination still works with autofocus, as long some contrast is provided to focus on. Both birds, the female Purple Finch and the Dark-eyed Junco have lines with contrast on their chest to lock on the focus. No, it doesn’t always work, autofocus is slow and the birds never stay long in the same spot.

Dark-eyed Junco

The rest is easy. I use the MAGMOD MagBeam flash extender to throw a hint of light at the birds in order to overcome the gray overcast and bring out their colors. The Nikon D750 is capable of separating the exposure compensation for the ambient light and for the flash and after a few tests I found the right combinations.

Junco: camera +0.33EV, flash -3EV

Finch: camera -0.33 EV, flash -3EV

Having the roof of the porch for most of the distance between camera and the birds has the advantage that the flash will not hit a lot of snow flakes if used during snow fall. I like to have falling snow in the picture but too much reflection can ruin the shot.

Both images: Nikon D750, Sigma 150-600mm / f5-6.3 DG OS HSM S, Sigma APO Teleconverter 1.4x EX DG, Induro GIT 404XL tripod, Induro GHB2 gimbal head, Nikon SB 800 speed light, MAGMOD MagBeam flash extender,    @ 850 mm, 1/200s, f/9, ISO200