Saturday, December 29, 2018

Good Bye Tim White

I received word today that Tim White had passed away.  I didn’t meet Tim until late in his life.  I watched him struggle as time and age took away his ability to pursue his photography.  I’m told that he was a fantastic photographer but I never saw many of his images.  Time was a villain there as well – his best work as trapped in film and this is now the age of digital.

I had never photographed a Prairie Chicken until Tim invited me to travel to Big Blue Ranch in southern Nebraska.  They rent blinds to photographers.  You are taken to the Lek before sunrise.  You hear the Prairie chickens arrive in total darkness.  As it gets lighter, you need to test the limits of your camera’s ISO to capture any image at all.  The males challenge each other with random bursts of incredible speed.  Just when it is bright enough to easily stop the action, the birds leave for the day.

It is easy to take hundreds of images but it’s hard to get one that makes you are completely happy.  For me the fun is in the challenge.  I need just about everything I have ever learned about nature photography in the early morning minutes.  After that, I go home and review my work to see what I could do better next year.

As we go through life, we seldom know when one of our suggestions or rebukes changes the direction of someone else’s life.  Tim changed my life for the better.  I hope that I can pass on something I enjoy doing before I Shoot and Leave as well.

I Will Return – to Lauritzen Gardens – in 2019

Omaha has a botanical garden called Lauritzen Gardens.  Its been over a dozen years since I have photographed anything there.  At the time, I wanted to photograph the birds and bugs.  I couldn’t photograph birds because they didn’t allow tripods.  I didn’t photograph bugs because they kill anything that eats the plants.  The main reason I didn’t return was because the staff hated photographers and gave me the third degree every time I went. 

My photography has improved since then – perhaps they have made some improvements to their facility and attitude as well.  In any case, I’ve lowered my expectations and don’t expect to be welcomed as an artist.

According to their web page, Lauritzen now welcomes private non-commercial photography but they have rules that photographers need to follow for the safety of the other guests.   The rules include:
            Don’t take portraits.
            Don’t bring a tripod or Dipod (whatever that is).
            Don’t touch the plants.
            Stay out of the water.
            Any volunteer of staff member can kick you out at any time.
I need to sign an agreement that includes “ I will not use any photographs or video footage taken on THIS DAY, YEAR for anything other than the intended purpose of THEIR REASON FOR TAKING THE PICTURES.”   

Ironically, the rules for Artists are more relaxed:
            They can sell their work if they want.
They can set up an easel anywhere – but might be asked to move for garden maintenance.
They can’t litter.

I shouldn’t have any problems:
I was in the military – I have experience with people enforcing petty regulations that don’t make any sense.
The strollers and service animals will be safe from my non-existent tripod – but I might try to stand real still at times.
The kids running around can pick and trample all the flowers they want because I won’t be touching any of the plants or their labels.
I can’t imagine that any photo taken at Lauritzen would have any commercial value – let alone mine.

I'll just Shoot and Leave.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Great Day!

My day at the Fontenelle Forest wetlands didn't start out great.  I hiked to the lake and found it relatively empty.  There were a few Northern Shoveler Duck at the far side.  I checked out the prairie area.  It was quiet too - only a couple of Redwinged Blackbirds. 

As I hiked in the forest on the way to Stream Trail, I could hear birds but couldn't see them.  I spent some time trying to get a Ruby-crowned Kinglet photo but it remained deep in the branches.  I spotted several Brown-headed Cowbirds high in the trees.
I noticed a large bird fly away out of the corner of my eye.  I thought it was an owl.  I hiked near the area it had flown to and discovered a big hole in a huge cottonwood tree.  I thought I saw something move in the hole so I decided the owl was about to fly out.  Elliott Bedows walked by.  I told him about the hole and the owl.  Elliott said that Great Horned Owls don't live in holes.  He did point out that it was in plain sight several trees away.  Sure enough,  I was able to photograph it there and in a couple other places as it moved around.  I wonder if the lack of ducks on the lake had anything to do with their fear of the Great Horned Owl.

As soon as I started walking down Steam Trail, I saw many more birds.  There is more cover for them along this trail.  A group of Blue-winged Teal flew by.  It isn't easy to focus on little ducks when they are in front of trees - the camera's autofocus always picks the trees instead of the ducks.   I panned the camera and was able to get a shot of the flying ducks.

 A Redheaded Woodpecker was on a fallen log.  I seldom get to photograph them at eye level.  They are usually high in the trees.

As I proceeded down the trail, I ran into Elliott again.  Elliott had found another great thing for me to photograph - a Great Egret.  Apparently all I need to do to get great photos is to follow Elliott around.

A couple of male Cardinals were chasing each other around.  I watched them for awhile - but they didn't stay in any place long enough for a photo.  The only image I got isn't very good but it reminds me of the chase.

Canada Geese are so common in the wetlands, that I usually ignore most of them.  Today was different.  This shot is my favorite image of the day.  It isn't just a photo of geese, it shows behavior, action and the interaction between them. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

April 7 - Fontenelle Forest

The Barred Owls were out in force this morning at the Fontenelle Forest Wetlands.  I photographed two of them high in a tree.   Unfortunately, they were too distant and high in the trees for decent photographs.

 American Coots are fairly common on the lake.  I've found them difficult to photograph. If I expose for their black feathers, the white bill is overexposed.  If I expose for the bill, I lose detail in the black feathers.  Their eye often disappears  when their visible side is in shadows.

Today, a solitary Coot was extremely cooperative.  It was very overcast day and just starting to sprinkle.  The resulting light was very soft. My photos captured the Coot's red eye along with details in both the feathers and bill.

A Wood Duck couple was high up in a dead tree.  They were well out of the range of my lens and silhouetted against the sky.  This image is a crop from a fraction of the image.  The ducks are so small in the image that I would normally throw it away.  As you can see, Photoshop was able to rescue this image.

Some of the Red-winged Blackbirds have arrived and are establishing territories.  They tend to perch on the highest perches in the area.  This one is resting on an upturned log that still is covered with debris from the 2012 flood.

Friday, April 4, 2014

First In

Today, I was the first person to hike to the lake in the Fontenelle Forest Wetlands.  I found three Double-crested Cormorants were sitting on a branch next to the trail.  The only reason I was able to record the sight was my stealthy approach and super-telephoto lens.  A few seconds later the Cormorants entered the water.  The second person would only see an empty branch.
I scanned the rest of the lake after the Cormorants left.  I expected to see plenty of wildlife.  It was nearly empty.  There were a few Hooded Mergansers and Wood Ducks in the distance.  They were gone before I reached their location.

 I changed direction to leave the lake and to walk along the stream.  A couple of Red-winged Blackbirds were high in the trees.  Cardinals were calling each other.  My eye was drawn to an Eastern Phoebe that was moving from stem to stem ahead of me.  It didn't want to leave the stream and it didn't want to be very  close to me either.

A Lincoln's Sparrow didn't welcome my approach either.  Instead of moving down the stream, it moved deep into a bush on the opposite side of the water.  I could see movement but it was always obstructed by branches.  I was patient.  When it moved to an outside branch for a couple of seconds, I was ready. 

 Some of the ducks that weren't on the lake were in a small pond next to the stream.  The ducks didn't see much danger in the trail from this location because they were only visible from a couple high points on the trail.  They were protected by the stream and  tangled brush.   I was able to photograph a Hooded Merganser couple.  My telephoto was able to make some of the out of focus vegetation disappear but the female is still very blurred.

Some Green-winged Teal were in the pond as well.  They spent most of their time with their head below the water and their bottoms up in the air.  One male was more interested in sex than food.  He would make himself look as attractive as possible and then display his intentions to every female nearby.  The Teal would have left if they noticed me but the same brush that was partly hiding them obscured me as well.

Wood Ducks are extremely difficult to approach in the marsh.  I was fortunate to notice this couple before they noticed me.

There are places in the United States were a photographer can find very tame examples of each of the birds I photographed today.  A tame Wood Duck would look the same in a photo as a wild Wood Duck.  I've heard people criticize wildlife photographs saying  "How many photos of a bird do you need - they all look alike?"  It's a valid question.  I didn't NEED another photo of a Wood Duck.  I did Need to leave the sofa, brave the elements, carry heavy camera gear into the wild and then enjoy the challenge of putting everything that I know about photography a photo of a Wood Duck.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Ameristep Is In My Doghouse

I've made wildlife photography in my backyard into a personal project.  My goal is to photograph the wildlife that visit in a setting that looks as natural as possible.  This requires placing my camera in locations that would disturb the very wildlife that I want to photograph.  A couple of years ago, I decided to purchase a blind so that I could conceal myself.

I researched blinds on the internet and found that many photographers use a hunting blind called the Doghouse.  It is made by Ameristep.  The blind is spring loaded so that it can be set up quickly.  In theory, it can be taken down as quickly but I normally struggle for a while, look at YouTube videos and  struggle some more before I'm able to put it back in its bag.

Once the Doghouse is set up, I have plenty of room inside for camera, tripod, chair and much more.  It has windows on very side that can be zipped open.  Unfortunately, they are so low that they are difficult to use with my lens on a tripod.  They are too high for me to shoot lying on my stomach.  As a result, it hasn't been used as much as I intended. 

I set it up today and immediately had a problem.  When I opened the zippered window, the pull tab on the zipper broke off in my hand.  A closer look revealed that the entire metal part of the zipper pull had fractured and broken away.  There isn't any way to close the window without the zipper and I was no longer concealed.  Since I was all set up, I turned the blind so that I could use the side window.  I carefully opened the window and that zipper broke off in my hand as well.

I assumed that a blind made for hunting would be tough enough to handle wind, rain and snow.  My blind has had only light use in the backyard and has never been rained on.  The rest of the blind is fine but the weakest link (the zipper) has rendered it useless.  I decided to replace it with a Kwik Camo Photography Blind made by LensCoat. 

In the meantime, my screened in porch provides some cover.  If I prop the door open, I have a narrow view of the yard.  I decided to photograph woodpeckers today.  I used a 400mm lens so I didn't need to be too close to the door.  I used a piece of a tree trunk that had a hole drilled in it to hold some of the suet that attracts woodpeckers.

A Downy Woodpecker was the first to check out the tree trunk.  A male and female came back several times.

A White-breasted Nuthatch investigated the tree trunk several times during the course of the day.

This Red-bellied Woodpecker dropped by once.

 European Starlings were the most frequent visitors.  It was a more difficult for them to get the suet.  However, they were up to the challenge.