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


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 😉


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.


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.


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.


Trumpeter Swan, Firehole River, Yellowstone NP

It was in Yellowstone where we photographed Trumpeter Swans for the first time, long before I documented the recovery of these swans in Iowa here in the blog. I had two blurry birds in the frame but was nevertheless very proud of my picture. During this year’s visit in the National Park, more than ten years later, we saw them again in the Hayden Valley, almost at the same spot. The last morning, while on the way out of the park to our next destination, we stopped along the Firehole River and found this beautiful Trumpeter Swan foraging in the shallow water. It took me a while, but in this shot it came all together, killer light quality, gesture, sharpness, and background.

Nikon D750, Sigma 150-600mm / f5-6.3 DG OS HSM S, @ 600 mm, 1/1000 s, f/6.3, ISO100


Osprey, Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

It is always exciting to see a nest with a raptor on it, like this Osprey, especially if we can be on eye level with the bird. The nest site was across a narrow part of the valley, not far from the road and a pull out parking lot. Other people stopped and took pictures but the bird seemed not be bothered by it. The Osprey was eating but liftet its head from time to time. The problem here in the Lamar Valley was the distance. I had the camera in DX mode, which narrows the angle of view for the 600 mm lens to the equivalent of a 900 mm lens but at the end still cropped the photo to make it work. The details and sharpness suffer but I still like the environmental, story telling aspect of the picture.


Red-breasted Nuthatch

I like to interrupt again my “OUT WEST” series here in the blog for some actual photos and wildlife encounters we had here in our woods on the bluffs of the Little Maquoketa Valley. Since a few days we have a few birds here that either migrate through or may stay for part of the winter.

The White-breasted Nuthatch calls our woods home but every fall we have at least one Red-breasted Nuthatch joining them for some time. They never stayed here all winter long. The red-breasted is much smaller than the white-breasted and their white eyebrow and orange belly makes it easy to identify.

Carolina Wren

Carolina Wrens are supposed to range all year long in this area but we see them only occasionally in fall or during the winter. Maybe they avoid our neck of the woods because our House Wrens, who are now already much further south, are too aggressive and territorial. I hardly ever show pictures that are made at a bird feeder, unless it is a species we don’t see very often or it is a first sighting. I couldn’t resist to make this click through the glass of my office window. The deer antler sits on top of the roof of a wooden seed feeder and allows the birds to perch.


Pronghorn, Black Hills, South Dakota

One of our favorite animals in the grasslands and mountains of the west is the Pronghorn. Driving through the western parts of South Dakota and the state of Wyoming in fall, well, you can’t miss them. We saw many herds or single individuals along the road during our trip. The Pronghorn is not an antelope, as many people call them pronghorn antelope, it is a unique American creature, neither in the antelope nor goat family, and has been in North America for over a million years. The pronghorn is the fastest animal in the Western Hemisphere. It can run at speeds of up to 60 miles per hour and it can run long distances at speeds of 30-40 miles per hour. (source:

Facts aside, the Pronghorn is also a very beautiful animal and I don’t know any photographers who would turn their back if this critter is within the reach of the lens. As you can imagine, the colors of their fur, including black, white, and brown, can bare a challenge during the day hours, because of too much contrast. Getting up early in the morning or staying late in the evening will lead to the results you may have in mind. This seems to be a rule that can be applied to almost any critter out in the open of the prairies and grasslands, but for the Pronghorn I would put a bet on…


Red Squirrel, Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming

It is easy to look only for the big animals in the great outdoors of the American West but aiming the lens at the small critters is fun, sometimes challenging, but can be very rewarding. At any place where you have conifers, like pines, firs, or spruces, you have a good chance to find a Red Squirrel. Usually you can hear their rattling before you even see them. That means the squirrel has seen you and may not want to pose for a picture. If you stay quite and move only slowly, and if the seed they chew on is very tasty, and in addition the light is just right, well, you may get your chance for a good shot. This picture was taken during a hiking trip to Bucking Mule Falls in the Bighorn Mountains. On the way back Joan and Cooper were way ahead of me and I dallied, making a click here and another one there… And then suddenly was there a Red Squirrel beside the trail… 😊


Morning in the Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming

So, how about the moose? The next morning after the evening we watched the Red-tailed Hawk we went back into the valley where the North Tongue River flows along highway 14A. The rock cliffs above the valley and the aspen groves below were in beautiful morning light and the colors suggested that fall wasn’t too far away. The hawk wasn’t there anymore but we watched Mule Deer and some elk far in the distance. Later, after we had packed our tent and camping gear, we drove through the valley again, and finally we found this young moose bull munching on willow leaves. Hard to beat a morning like this…

Young Moose bull


Red-tailed Hawk, North Tongue River, Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming

Two photos today that mark one of our best moments with wildlife in the Bighorn Mountains. After a long day, with early morning photography, a nice hiking tour, and scouting for moose and other critters, we stopped at the small parking lot where scenic and not very busy highway 14A crosses the North Tongue River. This is prime moose territory, with lots of small willows along the river and still full of leaves that moose like to eat. While we looked out for moose and mule deer some other hikers pointed out this Red-tailed Hawk, perching on a fence post. First the bird was too far away, but suddenly the hawk flew closer to us and perched on another post. It was clear it was on a hunt for ground squirrels or mice and didn’t pay too much attention to our presence. After a few minutes it changed location again and was even closer as before. 

The camera went on the tripod quickly and I was shooting away in the killer light before the sun sets. Although the sun was very low already the light was still very intense. I knew I had a great opportunity in front of the lens and didn’t want to screw this up. Exposure compensation was between -0.7 and -1 EV in order to keep the details on its bright chest. The hawk was concentrated on its hunting efforts and posed nicely for about thirty minutes. Ones in a while he took off but always returned to another fence post. On its last take off the Red-tailed Hawk flew right at me, as he almost wanted to tell me, you had your chance dude, I hope you used it…!

Nikon D750, Sigma 150-600mm / f5-6.3 DG OS HSM S, Induro GIT 404XL tripod, Induro GHB2 gimbal head


Wallowing bison, Badlands, South Dakota

Back in “basecamp” at home and after a few days of business related travel, I like to continue my little photo series about our trip to South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana in September.

There are pictures in my mind I would like to shoot and I know some ideas may never materialize, for some others we may come close to our ideas, and ones in a while things unfold in front of us, just the way we have imagined a long time ago. This is one of those shots for me, an American Bison wallowing in the dust of the Badlands, South Dakota. When bisons roamed by the million in the prairies of the west and midwest a scene like this was surely nothing worth noting, it happened all the time. The dust clouds were probably a good indicator where single male bison were located and helped the native people of the region to hunt them.

The dust, the flying grass, and most important the sharp eye and horn as an anchor in this photo, make for great story telling. The photo was made about mid morning, the light was still decent, and the colors are warm. I still decided to make this photo monochrome, better said black & white. Why? Well, I had this picture in my mind a very long time ago….

Nikon D750, Sigma 150-600mm / f5-6.3 DG OS HSM S, @390 mm, 1/2000 s, f/6.3, ISO 320


Burrowing Owl, Badlands National Park, South Dakota

It wasn’t until we left Badlands National Park that a long held dream became true. We stopped at the west entrance on Sage Creek Road because Joan wanted to take a picture of the National Park sign, and so did I. This entrance is not used by many visitors, there isn’t even a fee station, and traffic on this gravel road is very low.

Suddenly I saw a bird sitting on a post that marks and holds the border fence. We both couldn’t hide our excitement when we saw through the binoculars that this was a Burrowing Owl. We have tried to find this species since a long time in the Badlands and if we wouldn’t have stopped we would have missed it. This small ground-dwelling owl builds their nest in a burrow, either dug by the owl or been abandoned by ground squirrels or other small mammals. In the Badlands they find their housing mostly in the burrows of prairie dogs, who are literally their next door neighbors. It turned out that we finally saw at least five different owls. They often hunt from a perch, like this bison-proof fence post, and glide silently towards their target, which can be arthropods, mice, birds, gophers, ground squirrels, bats, reptiles, or amphibians. Burrowing Owls are most active at dusk and dawn but will hunt any time during day or night. (source: iBird PRO app)

They migrate to Texas for the winter and when we came back two weeks later for another visit at the end of our “OUT WEST” trip, they were all gone.


Bighorn Sheep, Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Most people who come to Badlands National Park may never see much wildlife because they stay on the Badlands Loop Road that leads through the park between the Northeast Entrance and the town of Wall and leave the car only at one of the numerous overlooks. It helps to know a little bit about the biology of the critters and birds to find locations where the chances to see and photograph them increases exponentially. However, Bighorn Sheep can be seen sometimes along the road and if that happens a traffic jam is often part of the game. Some of the Bighorns wear radio collars so the different groups can be tracked by the park staff for research or wildlife management purposes.

I have mentioned often in the past that I’m not an eyeball photographer. Most of the time I prefer the environmental photo of the animal that tells a story about the habitat the critter lives in. Quite often I zoom out and decrease the focal length of the lens below 600 mm in order to get the shot I have in mind. The Bighorn Sheep can move fast, sometimes they come too close (no, you don’t want to be there for your own safety if a big old ram comes right at you) and a moment later you wish a lens with even longer range is attached to the camera…


DIGNITY of Earth and Sky, Chamberlain, South Dakota

No activity for almost three weeks in my blog? Yes you guessed it, we were on vacation, a time I usually take a break from posting here in the blog. Joan and I, and of course our little dog Cooper, made an 18-day trip out west to the grasslands and mountains of South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana. If this is something that may interest you, stay tuned for the next few weeks. As I slowly work my way through all the pictures that were taken, I will try to tell a story with my photos of our journey, about the landscapes we discovered, and some of the wildlife we found.

Any time we head out west it is mandatory for us to stop near Chamberlain, South Dakota, just before we cross the Missouri River. New at this rest stop along Interstate 90 is the statue “DIGNITY of Earth and Sky”, dedicated September 17, 2016, and created by sculptor and South Dakota artist and laureate Dale Claude Lamphere.

“Standing at a crossroads, DIGNITY echoes the interaction of earth, sky, and people. She brings to light the beauty and promise of the indigenous people and cultures that still thrive on this land. My intend is to have the sculpture stand as an enduring symbol of our shared belief that all here are sacred, and in a sacred place.” Dale Claude Lamphere

Crossing the Missouri River, Chamberlain, South Dakota

It was our fourth time that we stood at this vantage point together, overlooking the Missouri River, and it is no coincidence that a truck with parts for another giant wind turbine rolls by. Many of them were on the road, telling the story about how the true decision makers in this country, the leaders in economy and business with a view beyond just local interests, understand the need for change in energy and climate policies.

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

Our first place to pitch the tent was at Sage Creek Campground in Badlands National Park, South Dakota, a campsite we have been before three times, and one of our favorite places to be. New was that the Black-tailed Prairie Dogs have now expanded their territory into the camp area. Sitting in a camping chair behind tripod and camera, having a beer or glass of wine, and shooting these funny critters in the killer light of the setting sun is a great way to start a vacation, at least in my books… 😊