Female Eastern Bluebird

I hope all friends and readers of my blog had a good start into the new year! I look forward to continue the exchange of thoughts and ideas about photography, nature, and nature conservation together with you in 2019 again. Your emails and messages inspire me and sharing knowledge, photo locations, and helping each other is always fun!

We had a full house during the last few days and serious photography was not on the agenda. I finally made the first few clicks at lunch time today in the “front yard studio”. We have a thin layer of snow on the ground and having some Eastern Bluebirds posing for a photo is not the worst start into a new year…😉

Male Eastern Bluebird


A couple days ago the word was spread on the internet that a large number of Bald Eagles was at Ice Harbor in Dubuque, right behind the Mississippi River Museum. I didn’t have time to go but tried to check it out yesterday instead. Bummer, there was not a single eagle at this place or any other location where we usually may have a chance to watch Bald Eagles along the big River. Because of the warm weather there is still no ice on the river and the absence of eagles isn’t really a surprise to me. Not a big deal, in January I was at lock & dam #14 in LeClaire, Iowa and had my good share of opportunities to photograph this majestic bird again. During the last days of the year I usually clean out my library, apply missing keywords, and put the last files away into the archive. And that’s where I found this image last night.


Reflections in the fog, Spring Lake Park, Cherokee, Iowa

If only sunset pictures or a rain of colors is on your mind, this one is not for you!

It is a tradition for us to make a walk around Spring Lake in Cherokee, IA at Christmas time. We have seen this park and lake with great colors, blue or gray sky, and during very low temperatures in the past. This year was probably the warmest weather we have seen so far at this time of the year in Spring Lake Park. The ice on the lake and the old snow from some time ago make the viewer believe we had a white Christmas, but it was actually warm, slightly above freezing. Different than during other years was the fog on Christmas Day. In a lot of city parks we can find “items” that are a distraction, hurt the esthetic feelings, and last but not least, can ruin any photo. From the inescapable trash can to the ugly concrete park bench (that nobody uses because they are too cold on your rear end), Americans have sometimes a “great” way to ignore their best designers and landscape architects. I still think it is a nice park, but after retouching and cloning away distracting elements these thoughts became dominant.

Because of the fog, much color wasn’t part of the picture, but I made the photo anyway with having black and white in my mind already.


I trust you had a wonderful Christmas and the photographers among the readers of my blog had a chance to make a few clicks. Perhaps for some good memories, or maybe for the best photo you ever made. I hope you did!

We spent the holidays in northwest Iowa with family again. Any time when I’m on the family farm near Remsen, Iowa, I look for light, clouds, or anything that puts some drama in the scene. One of my favorite backdrops is one of the neighboring farms. This time the sunset was right at this location, on a hill across the road. No, we didn’t have a white Christmas, but the remaining old snow and ice on the ground reflected the warm sunlight and gave the scene some depth. It’s often tricky to have the full sun in the frame. Blowing out the highlights is easy and without the snow, the foreground would have been just a dark and muddy mess.

The photo was made after we celebrated the 99th birthday of Joan’s dad Joe Kass, a humble and hard working farmer, who worked the family farm for many years. Joe lives now nearby, in an assisted living complex, but I’m sure he has seen this sunset many times before on his birthday, the day before Christmas Eve.


Horseman, Badlands NP, South Dakota

Nikon D750, Sigma 150-600mm / f5-6.3 DG OS HSM S, @480mm, 1/640s, f/6.3, ISO100

This will be the last part of my photo story about our trip through the mountains and grasslands of the west in September. I have quite a few more images but for this last post I wanted to use a couple photos that leave no doubt about where they were taken, OUT WEST. Both photos were made the morning of our last full day in Badlands National Park. A horseman, who camped in the same campground as us, went on a ride and gave his horses some exercise and a big American Bison, the iconic animal of the west, gave us a nice gesture with his tongue while interrupting grazing just briefly.

I hope you enjoyed this journey and had as much fun as I had while stitching the 30 stories together. Your echo and opinions helped me to grow as a photographer and I’m thankful for everybody who stops here in the blog on occasion or every day.

American Bison, Badlands NP, South Dakota

Nikon D750, Sigma 150-600mm / f5-6.3 DG OS HSM S, @500mm, 1/640s, f/6.3, ISO200


Canada Geese, Mississippi River, Mud Lake, Iowa,

Nikon D750, Nikkor 70-200mm / f4, @70 mm, 1/1250s, f/6.3, ISO800

During my recent presentation at the Dubuque Camera Club about storytelling in wildlife photography I stated to take the camera with us, wherever we may go. I’m sure glad I did tonight when I took Cooper, the dog, down to the Mississippi River for a walk. The sun had disappeared already behind the bluffs, light was fading away fast, and I thought there wouldn’t be much to photograph. And boy, was I wrong! Hundreds of Canada Geese crossed the river in groups, flying towards the setting sun.

There were at least two ways to make a click and tell the story, and I tried to accomplish both. In the western sky was the glow of the setting sun with some hazy clouds, and to the east, over the river, was the moon. The shot aiming the lens at the sunset was indeed predictable. The geese fly in V-formation and I wanted to bring that somehow in connection with the clouds and the sun light.

Nikon D750, Nikkor 70-200mm / f4, @70 mm, 1/500s, f/5, ISO800

The other photo, with the geese flying “through” the moon, required a little bit of luck. Many flocks crossed the Mississippi this evening and I just waited for the right moment. You can’t really pan with the camera, follow the flock, and shoot with a slower shutter speed in order to keep the ISO low and the digital noise out of the picture. This would result in an even more blurred moon. I had to set ISO to 800 for maintaining a shutter speed of 1/500s. Not that this one is perfect, but it was pretty much how I saw it with the thin layer of haze in front of it.


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” 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:


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…


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.


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…😉


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.


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…🐿


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…


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 😉