MISSISSIPPI RIVER STORIES 2019 #05 - AN EYE FOR THE LITTLE THINGS


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

NATURE CLICKS #422 - JEWELED SHOOTING STAR


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.

SPRING PICTURES??


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.

EASTER WITH WILDFLOWERS


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

BALD EAGLES… LIGHT, GESTURE, AND COLOR


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…!!

LIGHT AND COLORS



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! 😉

PRESENTATION POSTPONED


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

ANOTHER WINTER MORNING


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

IN THE FRONT YARD STUDIO


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

GORGEOUS FEBRUARY DAY


Nikon D750, Carl Zeiss Distagon T*, 35mm / f2 ZF

I’m glad Joan, dog Cooper, and I went out on a drive along the Mississippi River yesterday. It was soooo nice to have the sun out again for a few hours. Today the sky is covered with a uniform gray overcast again, it snows a little bit, and just makes the “cabin fever” raising again…

During part of the trip we went on the Illinois side of the big river and after the kiss of the polar vortex and now temperatures still below freezing the river is covered with ice for the most part. We explored some new wetlands and discussed the possibilities we would have there during the upcoming warmer seasons. I had all my lenses in the car and decided for the one I had recently most neglected. The Zeiss Distagon T* 2/35 is the only lens I own with nothing but manual focus. Most of the time I rely on autofocus for my photography. Eye sight isn’t getting better with age and I think there is nothing wrong with employing AF and the high tech we pay for if we buy a new lens or camera. However, the sharpness of the Zeiss 2/35 is fantastic but the main reason I love this lens so much is how it reproduces the colors. The snow is hard and crusty right now and I wanted to bring this out in the shot, taken at some backwaters of the Mississippi. The subtle changes of tones on the old melted and re-frozen snow in combination with the long shadows of grass in the mid afternoon sun tell hopefully the story of a gorgeous February day. Still love this lens…

ICY, ICY…


Winter holds us in its claws but every day is a little different than the one before. Yesterday we had some icy rain and most of the oaks around here were still covered with a glass-like ice layer today. This afternoon I stepped outside for a couple minutes and exposed myself to the cold wind. The low sun made the branches shining like silver and this was of course my subject for this artsy-fartsy picture.

Nikon D750, Nikon Nikkor AF-S 70-200mm, f/4G ED VR, @70mm, 1/100s, f/29, ISO100

DIFFERENT TOOL


This shot wasn’t exactly intended when it was made during the very cold days we had last week. Two Downy Woodpeckers (out of actually ten!) had an argument about who can eat first at one of our suet feeders. It was made during the late afternoon, it was snowing, and light was fading away quickly. I shot at 1/50 s, nothing unusual for me even with the long lens, but that was definitely too slow for this outburst of energy between the two birds. Stories can be told in different ways and motion blur is one tool I like to explore more. I think I I like the outcome…

COMPETITION


Male Hairy Woodpecker

Four of the seven woodpecker species we find here in the woods above the Little Maquoketa River Valley are regular visitors to our bird feeders. At times with lots of snow and very cold temperatures, as we have right now, the competition over the food and feeding times is always on.

Female Northern Flicker

Size matters and if a Northern Flicker with its long bill wants to eat, everybody else has to wait in line. We count at least four different flickers.

The Hairy Woodpeckers do not visit as often as the other species and they are the most difficult ones to photograph. They are high in the ranks with their long bill and they can be very vocal. We see at least one pair and an immature bird.

Female Red-bellied Woodpecker

Since we live here up on the bluffs the Red-bellied Woodpeckers have been a pleasure to watch every year. They may argue with a Hairy Woodpecker about the best spots, because they are similar in size, but if a flicker wants to feed, they go back to a waiting position. We see two adults and a couple immature red-bellies, who were born last year.

Male Downy Woodpecker

The smallest one of the bunch is the Downy Woodpecker. They look very similar to a Hairy Woodpecker but they are much smaller in size. As you can imagine the downys always have to leave a suet feeder if one of the bigger birds decides to eat. They are the first ones in the morning and still feed when all the other woodpeckers are gone at dusk. Usually we see 5-6 birds at the same time around the house but a week ago, when we received the first big snow of the season, we counted 10 different Downy Woodpeckers, which is a new record this year.

31ST BALD EAGLE WATCH , DUBUQUE IOWA


European Barn Owl

Yesterday I promised you to show some pictures from the 31st annual Bald Eagle Watch at the Grand River Center in Dubuque, Iowa. This family event celebrates the American Bald Eagle with bird programs, children’s activities, and a lot of information. I attended the event at the information table of the Dubuque Camera Club but also tried to educate myself and network with members of other conservation and nature organizations.

This year the World Bird Sanctuary from Valley Park, Missouri showed their program ‘Live birds of prey!’. Their mission is to preserve, protect, and inspire to safeguard bird species as part of the global community for future generations. They had a variety of owls, hawks, and eagles from Europe, Africa, and America. Most of them are unable to live on their own in the wild, mostly due to human interference in their earlier part of life. We heard stories about illegal animal trading and a mortality rate of 90% as a result. Much needs to be done to educate people about the fatal consequences of wild animal trading.

Bald Eagle

You can take as many pictures as you want during the program but using a flashlight is not permitted. I used the Nikon D750 with Nikon Nikkor 70-200, f/4 lens attached, wide open at f4 and camera set to ISO1600 the whole time. My shutter speed was between 1/15s and 1/80s for the most part. The young presenters of the bird sanctuary moved slowly around with the birds and of course the birds don’t sit still either. With other words, a great challenge and opportunity to practice handholding technique for photographers. I was at Bald Eagle Watch for the third time and it was again an interesting and joyful event. If you missed it, take your whole family next year…