COLLECTING FOSSILS (YEP, LEGALLY!)


If you look at the second photo first, I don’t blame you if you ask me, have you been back in Badlands National Park, South Dakota again? No, not at all. Joan and I stopped on our way home from Pilot Knob State Park last Monday at the incredible Fossil & Prairie Park Preserve in Floyd County, Iowa, located just a few miles west of Rockford, Iowa. The park includes an abandoned shale pit, preserved kilns, and a large area of native prairie. Our time was limited and so we just explored the former shale pit.

Shale pit at Fossil & Prairie Park Preserve, Rockford, Iowa

The rocks in the park are Devonian formations and about 375 million years old. At that time Iowa was still located near the equator and seas covered most of the land. As a result we can find many small fossils between the relatively soft limestones and shales. And here is the cool thing, fossil collecting is encouraged within the park. And that’s what we did and enjoyed (beside making a few clicks with the camera). I found mostly Brachiopods as you can see in the first photo, but Joan had also some Gastropods, little snails that scavenged the ancient sea floor.

If fossils and rocks are not “your thing”, well, the native prairie area with some wetlands and a pond looked very promising. Unfortunately time was too short to explore all of it, but we definitely “bookmarked” this area in our brains for another visit sometime.

(source used for some details provided in this blog post: Park brochure by Iowa Geological Survey)

RESTORED PRAIRIE


Three photos from our hike through Proving Grounds Recreation Area near Dubuque yesterday evening. I don’t know how this all looked when it was still a testing ground for excavators, bulldozers, and other heavy duty machinery built by John Deere Works, but the open areas have been nicely restored as a prairie and the variety of wildflowers, grasses, and other plants is really great. John Deere Works donated this land to the Dubuque County Conservation Board in 2018.

It was a little windy, which was good for keeping the mosquitos down in the grass, but less helpful for closeup photography of insects or wildflowers. Nevertheless, a few sharp pictures emerged.

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

NATURE CLICKS #434 - TIGER SWALLOWTAILS


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.

NATURE CLICKS #433 - PAINTED LADY


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

IN CAPTIVITY, BUT STORYTELLING


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.

I WISH…


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

SUMMER FUN


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

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