This was supposed to be a photo of a 13-lines Ground Squirrel but instead our dog Cooper took the center stage. We were at the observation parking lot at the airport again this evening. There is a burrow in the slope of the hill where I have photographed these little critters before. While waiting for an airplane to land one of the ground squirrels stuck its head out of the hole. The instinct of the Rat Terrier in Cooper (he is probably a mix of Rat Terrier and Blue Healer) took over and he started chasing the little squirrel immediately. The squirrel disappeared rapidly with a loud squeal. For the next forty-five minutes the dog guarded the hole with utmost attention but I guess the squirrel had better things to do than messing with Cooper…
During the last 2 -3 years we did not have so many butterflies up on the bluffs here as during the seven years before since we lived above the Little Maquoketa River Valley. In 2014 it seems we see a lot more again. I don’t specialize in this kind of photography but when I saw four Giant Swallowtails at the same time feeding on our Purple Coneflowers I could not resist and grabbed the D300s with the 150, f/2.8 lens attached.
The Giant’s are probably not as shy as some of the other butterflies and let me come close sometime. They are one of the largest butterflies in North America.
Peak of action, the very short breaks while they are feeding, and watching the background were the key for these shots. I hope you enjoy.
Not really happy with the outcome last Friday I had to go back to the airport yesterday and give it another try. The warbirds were still in town and continued their practice for the air show in Oshkosh next week. It was another typical Iowa mid-summer day, hot, muggy, and with a lot of haze in the air, however, I don’t want to blame the weather conditions for my low keeper rate yesterday. It is simple just the lack of practice with my panning technique.
I went home after three hours and after the sky became gray again and analyzed the pictures that I made so far. The sun came out again in the late afternoon and I went back to the airport a second time.
I started shooting with a slightly faster shutter speed since I obviously wasn’t able to handle 1/60s or 1/90s that day. It doesn’t give me a full turn of the props but still blurs their rotation and leaves no doubt about that these airplanes flew with high speed and were not just “parked on a stick” that was later removed in Photoshop…
A blog post of my friend Dave Updegraff this morning reminded me that some of the airplanes that participate in the Airventure Oshkosh in Wisconsin next week are currently at the Dubuque airport and practice for some of the air shows in this big annual event. While working in my office I heard them flying by several times this afternoon and this was another reminder for me. After work I gave it a try and went to the airport, despite a uniform gray overcast in the sky. I wasn’t even really ready to shoot some pictures when three of the planes flew close by and landed shortly after. I ripped through a series of shots and that was it! Nothing happened after that.
This is “The Rebel”, Capt. Joe Joiner, a restored airplane and a replica of a P-51D flown by WWII 4th Fighter Group veteran Captain Joseph H. Joiner. Not very flattering light but at least I got one thing right. Its prop is blurred, which gives us a sense of motion, and I can see the pilot’s face and microphone in the larger original of this photo. I made the image with 1/90s and was a little surprised that I got the shot, because I have not practiced my panning technique lately. Well, there is an old German saying, even a blind hen finds a corn from time to time…
As deeper I dive into wildlife photography as more I become aware that a simple gesture of an animal can make the difference between a great photo and a not so great photo. If the animal doesn’t “cooperate” at least some great light can make the difference. This is especially true for critters that everybody has seen before or that are relatively common.
We can find the Eastern Cottontail at several places around here and these photos were again made at Finley’s Landing down at the Mississippi River. But that doesn’t mean it is easy to make a good click. The best way to make it happen with these young bunnies is to let them come to you. Simple sit and wait for your chance.
I used my car as a blind again and after a while they didn’t run away and came very close to the vehicle. I enjoy watching the cute cottontails chewing on some fresh grass or chasing each other in the evening. And as I said, if the gesture is right or the light is killer, the click has to be made…
For a photo like this, a Fritillary butterfly on a Purple Coneflower, I would usually pull out my macro lens, the SIGMA 150 mm, f2.8, and then follow the insect like a madman. It just doesn’t always work very well, especially on a very warm day when butterflies never seem to stop in their movements. I tried to do something different by attaching a 1.4 teleconverter to my Sigma 50-500, giving it a 700 mm focal length and having the whole rig mounted on the tripod. With the teleconverter the lens does focus only manually. This is how we have done it back in the old days and I realized how much autofocus has spoiled us over the years. So, why did I use such a long focal length and put up with manual focus and a much slower lens (this image was shot at 700 mm, equivalent to 1050 mm on a full frame sensor, 1/60s, f/9, and ISO200)? The answer is, because of background control. The slow approach (camera on tripod, manual focus) made me to visualize the shot long before I hit the shutter release button. I made only a few clicks until I had what I wanted…:-)
I haven’t made a single click last week and I couldn’t wait to go out again on the Mississippi today in the kayak and with the camera in my lap. This photo is as fresh as it gets. It is the first time that I had a chance to make a photo of a Map Turtle. They are usually the first ones to dive into the water as soon an intruder appears. It took three carefully executed approaches before I was able to come close enough without that the turtle jumped off the log.
Last weekend in the Green Island Wetlands I came across this female Painted Turtle. It was obviously moving between two ponds but took a rest in the middle of the gravel road. After making a couple clicks I took the turtle and carried it off the road. The Painted Turtle can be found all over in Iowa while the Map Turtle is only supported in the larger rivers of Eastern Iowa.
This isn’t my first image of a Killdeer sitting on eggs but it is definitely the one I always wanted to make. Will talk about this later.
This is in a corner of a big parking lot in the Green Island Wetlands but these birds love to lay their eggs there since I started watching them several years ago. It makes me always very nervous watching this, even if the parking lot is not busy this time of the year. It is mainly used for the trucks and boat trailers during the duck hunting season in the fall. However, beside me other people come out there to watch birds or to fish and it is easy to destroy the eggs without even knowing it.
Quiet often one of the adult birds tries to lure you away by running in a different direction or by sitting in an empty spot and pretending to be on the real nest. This one wasn’t moving and when I approached the bird carefully it lifted its body up and I was able to snap a picture and saw at least two eggs underneath the Killdeer.
The key for the photo was to put the belly down on the gravel and support the lens with a foam roll (“boat noodle”) that I use usually as my support on the car window. I remembered that the background was always the biggest problem with my older pictures and I crawled around the bird until I found the position where I acquired a liking for background and direction of light.
A nice holiday weekend lies behind us. The weather was mild, but not hot, and we took the kayaks to the Green Island Wetland Preserve for some paddling and exploring new routes in this backwater area of the Mississippi. The water level in the river was still way above normal, which is not necessarily bad for paddling in the backwaters.
Many birds take care for their offspring and you may not see them much out in the open water. It is always a challenge to take the camera with the long lens into the boat but if everything comes together the results can be very rewarding. Shooting on eye level with a bird that swims or just sits along the shore leads to a more interesting perspective than shooting from an elevated road along the shore.
This pelican didn’t seem to be bothered by my presence as I approached it carefully and with very slow paddle strokes. I really wanted this photo because of the nice background with the blooming bushes and the story it tells about the fact that every island and peninsula is flooded.
It was about time to update my EASTERN IOWA WILDLIFE galleries. You can find them by clicking in the side bar on the left. The gallery for birds has now many of the migrating birds that came through here earlier this year and in the gallery for mammals are new additions as well. Check them out if you like…
When I go on a photo trip in the evening or during the weekends I have my eyes open for any critter out there that tries to make a living in the Mississippi Valley. Two days ago I discovered this Northern Water Snake in the marina of Finley’s Landing down at the Mississippi River. It was swimming very fast and so it was almost impossible to focus the lens on the reptile. But suddenly the snake stopped, probably because it sensed danger by my try to follow it at the edge of the water.
Northern Water Snakes are nonvenomous but they can bite if handled. They may briefly grab hold while twisting the body, producing more laceration than most other harmless snake bites. These snakes can be found in all of Iowa except the north-west and north-central parts. They eat fish, frogs, and salamanders. (source: “The Snakes of Iowa”, by Dr. J.L. Christiansen and Dr. R.M. Bailey).
Looking at the final photo on my computer screen I thought it was interesting how the snake supports its body while resting on two stems of reed. It’s the little things in nature that amaze me the most quite often…