Finding gesture, finding the story

Fish in the bill  

I remember when I made my first photo of a Bald Eagle sitting in a tree somewhere along the Mississippi River. The picture was taken from far away and I had to crop the heck out of the image to make it work and spent a lot of time in post process. Now, a few thousand shots later, I still have room for improvement, a process that will probably never end. But it isn’t anymore so much about getting all the technical aspects right, that has moved to a different level of consciousness, but it is about to find a good gesture or to catch the right moment that tells the story about the eagles better than the last photo.

The first image makes us believing that an eagle catches the fish with its bill, but they don’t, they still use their talons to get the fish out of the water. I caught the brief moment right after the catch when the Bald Eagle picked up the fish from the talons and started eating it. They don’t do that with the bigger fish but a little one is gobbled down immediately like a snack.

Coming down


The gesture of the bird in the second photo tells the photographer, you better be ready and lock the focus on, if you want to make the click during the moment the eagle makes a catch. It also shows where the difficulty lies at a location like lock and dam #14 in LeClaire. There are many structures in the background that can ruin an otherwise perfect shot but sometimes they also can help to tell the story.

Big surprise, a pelican in January


As mentioned yesterday we had ideal shooting conditions at lock and dam #14 in LeClaire, Iowa at the Mississippi River. It is always depending what direction you point the lens but in some instances the sky appeared in an almost unreal blue. I don’t tinker with colors in my wildlife photography and in that regard it’s true WYSIWYG what you see here in the blog or elsewhere.

I enjoyed the company of our friends Jeanne and Dave at dam #14. It is nice to shoot together with someone who has the same or similar interests and Dave likes to make photographs about nature, farm buildings and equipment, as well as portraits. He writes about different aspects of life and posts his photos in a blog almost every day, check it out if you like.

It was the first time that I saw an American White Pelican in January here in Iowa. Burt Gearhart, the photographer who made a presentation about the wildlife around LeClaire yesterday, had some pictures of pelicans in his slideshow and it was new to me that they come up that far north during the winter. What a pleasure to see that majestic bird flying in!!! I know most of my American friends have a biased view if it comes to the Bald Eagle, the National bird of the United States, but hey, the pelican isn’t bad either… ;-) I can watch them soaring for hours with their incredible wing span of up to 110 inches (bis zu 2,79 m) and never get tired of it. The pelican’s fishing frenzy has been documented a few times here in the blog ( ) but making this photo of a single pelican in flight in January here in Iowa is priceless… :-)



Cardinals conclave

Northern Cardinal  

It is bitterly cold here in Iowa at the moment but on the positive side the cold weather brings lots of Northern Cardinals to the yard and its feeders. I don’t think we have ever seen so many at the same time. I counted 20 birds on one side of the house today but there were probably some more on the other side and up in the trees. Cardinals are monogamous and solitary nesters during the summer but in the winter time they flock obviously together to larger “conclaves”.

The cardinals show up at the feeders before sunrise and they are the last ones that leave the feeders in the evening. Catching them with the camera at these times requires the use of a flash light. I try to keep my shutter speed slow so that there is a little light in the background left and it is not just all black. The bluish snow cover in the background of this photo helps to tell the story about what season and time this picture was made. It doesn’t say ‘summertime’, doesn’t it? Under these circumstances not every shot is a keeper but the contrast between the black face mask and the bill helps to maintain focus.


Bluebirds, still here!

  Female Eastern Bluebird

About two weeks ago I reported about the frequent visit of several Eastern Bluebirds at our bird bath and that we have never seen them here in December before. I thought the relativ mild weather played a role at that time, but now, after we had some snow and the temperatures dropped below freezing, we still see them coming to the bird bath.


Male Eastern Bluebird


I shot a lot of pictures today and my goal was to keep as much as possible of the ugly water bowl out of the frame. I wanted to show both, the female and male bluebird, and for this blog post I chose photos that show them in an almost identical pose, with the head turned to the side.

As I write this the temperature is still dropping and we expect for tomorrow -4ºF (for my friends in Germany, this is -20˚C) and this does not consider the wind chill… I will watch very close how the bluebirds can handle this…


Nature clicks #252 - Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing  

I’m still in process to clean the photo library. Remember, last December (long time ago, isn’t it? ;-)  ) I reported about some unusual bird traffic in our “backyard studio”. The Cedar Waxwings were also part of the gang that took advantage of the heated bird bath. We have never seen them here before during the winter. Thank you for stopping here and enjoy your weekend!


Good start into 2015

Common Mergansers  

I wish all visitors, friends, and followers of my blog a happy, safe, and creative year 2015!! Thank you for stopping here during the last year. Your comments, critique, and encouragement mean a lot to me and keep me writing this little journal about nature and photography.

We had a nice start into the new year with our friends Jeanne and Dave. Good conversation and playing some games made for a fun New Year’s Eve. Unfortunately Joan had to work today so I dragged myself out of the house on my own this morning. ;-) I went south along the Mississippi and just tried to spot some wildlife. The temperatures were way below freezing during the last few days and there was a lot more ice on lakes and rivers.



I found what I was looking for in Sabula, Iowa, a small town on an island in the Mississippi River. There were lots of Common Mergansers in the water. I positioned the “mobile blind” (my car) near the narrow entrance to the city’s marina. The marina was frozen over while the main channel of the river was still free of ice. The mergansers were hunting for fish by diving underneath the ice. It was fun to watch how they approach the edge of the ice in groups, dive under, and return, with or without fish, after a few seconds.

For me there is no better start into a new photography year than coming back already from the first trip with a memory card full of bird images. I wouldn’t mind if this continues throughout the year… ;-)


Nature clicks #251 - Trumpeter Swans

Trumpeter Swans 1  

I did not want to end this year without having another visit in my favorite wildlife area here in eastern Iowa, the Green Island Wetlands. I have not been there since July and it was good to be back. It is the most quiet time of the year now after the duck hunting season is over. Due to the mild temperatures lately there was only a thin layer of ice and even spots with open water. With some patience you may see a few Bald Eagles and some hawks flying over. I could tell that I’m out of practice shooting birds in flight. It is probably a little like playing golf, if you don’t practice all the time your results suck, and my pictures of two hawks and an eagle were definitely just good for the trash can today…

Trumpeter Swans 2


The best surprise was the encounter of a “school” of 27 Trumpeter Swans. They were in company with 16 Canada Geese. These numbers are a great example of successful wildlife restoration. I remember when I wrote here in the blog about the first pair of swans that raised successfully a cygnet a few years ago. They all seemed to enjoy the sun today and I watched them for an hour and a half at the same spot.

Trumpeter Swans 3


Beside resting on the ice the swans moved slowly around and you could hear how they cracked the thin layer of ice in order to keep the water open and feed on aquatic plants.

As soon as the sun disappeared behind the hills all Trumpeter Swans got out of the water, lined up in a queue, and finally took off towards the Mississippi River. The river is not frozen over at all, although the temperature dropped quite a bit last night for the first time in weeks.

I strictly exposed for the highlights and rather let the shadows go instead of having the white feathers blown out completely or in part. I do not like the look of wildlife pictures where the shadows are overly restored like in an HDR image. A little bit is ok but too much looks unnatural to me. Unfortunately it is a trend these days to make photos look like paintings… Well, I’m glad trends come and go… ;-)


Nature clicks #250 - European Starling

European Starling 1  

Surprise number three during this week’s backyard observations was the presence of several European Starlings. I counted up to ten starlings. We see a starling occasionally during the summer but never had them as a visitor during the winter months. They seem also to flock together with the American Robins in order to have bigger survival chances. The behavior of the birds shows that there is more than one hawk in the area. If a hawk or Bald Eagle is detected, the birds fly panicky into the higher trees or just freeze motionless, for example the woodpeckers, at their current position. Starlings have a bad reputation in my home country Germany as “cherry thieves”. There are just so many over there. I never realized actually how pretty they are until I started photographing them here in eastern Iowa.

European Starling 2


Nature clicks #249 - Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker  

The second big surprise this week was the presence of a juvenile Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. I have no doubt about that it is the same that was raised this summer here in our woods by its parents. A look into all of our bird guides (iBird 7.2 PRO app; Smithsonian Handbooks - Birds of North America, Eastern Region; National Geographic - Complete Birds of North America) reveals that this woodpecker spends the winter usually south of central Missouri. What’s going on? Don’t they know the rules? ;-) We will see what happens if the temperature may drop much deeper sometime later this winter…