Saturday, March 29, 2014

Goose Goose Duck

I went to Squaw Creek to photograph Snow Geese and Bald Eagles again today. (March 12)

The geese were closer to shore today.  I used a 70-200mm lens for this shot.

Apparently the eagles were sick of goose.  Most of the Bald Eagles were gone.  I photographed this one in the early morning.

I photographed Bufflehead Ducks in the water.

The Bufflehead Ducks are tiny and fly very fast.

After taking a few shots of hundreds of thousands of geese, I decide to try to isolate individual geese.  It was harder than it should have been.  My Canon 1D Mark IV doesn't spot focus very well when it doesn't know which goose to focus on. 

I worked hard to try to isolate individual geese.  I had the best luck when I focused on a goose when there weren't any other geese around it, and then followed it as it flew into an area with thousands of geese.  This image is a good example of this selective focus.

Ground level

I decided to do some ground level bird photography in my backyard today (March 28).   I've noticed that seed that falls from my feeders to the ground attracts some different birds - like Cardinals.  Since this is my backyard, I have some control.  I placed a small log on the ground and put some leaves around it to make it look natural.  I wanted to take photos of a bird standing on the log.  To encourage the bird, I drilled a hole in the log and placed bird seed into it.

I purchased a GorillaPod a couple of years ago.  It seemed like a good idea for travel but I didn't like it so it didn't get used.  I needed it today. None of my other tripods would go as low to the ground as I needed to go.  

I used a 28 to 135mm lens for the shots.  Even when I zoomed to 135mm, I was too close to the birds.  I decided to use a wireless remote. This seemed like a perfect situation to use my newly acquired CamRanger.  Unfortunately, the camera I set up doesn't have Live View and CamRanger needs it.  I prefocused the camera on a spot on the log by placing a pill bottle where I wanted the bird to go and focusing on the fine print on the bottle.  I put a remote release on the camera so that I could sit in the background and trip the shutter when it was needed.

My favorite shot was of a Mourning Dove.  The ground level view works perfectly for it.

This White-breasted Nuthatch stopped by for some seeds.

An American Robin wasn't interested in the seeds but did enjoy scattering the leaves.

I wanted to get a shot of the Cardinal.  It came but never entered the zone that was in focus.  Perhaps next time.

A Deadly Attack

The Fontenelle Forest Wetlands were dark, damp and dreary this morning (March 28).  It was 30 degrees.  The song birds were not out yet, so I went to the lake to see what kinds of water fowl were present today.  The lake was nearly empty, but I did see several Hooded Merganser Ducks a few hundred yards away.  They don't stay for the summer so I decided to try to sneak closer for a photo.  There is very little cover on the trail, so my chances of getting closer were slim.  When I arrived at the spot I had chosen, no ducks were in sight.  I decided to wait a few minutes to see if any ducks flew in.

I couldn't see the near shore from my position.  Suddenly several ducks burst into the air.  Apparently the ducks had seen me after all.  A huge owl ascended from the hidden bank.  It was struggling to carry a heavy dark object - a duck.  It landed on a branch of a nearby tree and I attempted to photograph it.  I had problems.  There were many obstructing branches and I was so close that I couldn't get the whole owl in a single frame.  I took the best shot I could of the top of the owl and the bottom and tried to figure out where to go to get a better shot.   The Great Horned Owl saw me and decided to carry the heavy load to another branch that was even more obstructed and then flew off entirely.  I used Photoshop to assemble the two owl images into one.  The resulting image isn't anything more than a record shot, but it was better than nothing.  This is the first Great Horned Owl I've photographed in Fontenelle Forest.

There were hundreds of Ring-billed Gulls flying over the water today.

This Ring-necked Duck caught a tiny fish for lunch.

The Great Horned Owl didn't eat all of the Hooded Mergansers.  I was able to capture this image by panning the camera as it flew by.

I also panned this shot of a flying Common Merganser.

This Downy Woodpecker isn't one of the migrants.  It has been here all winter.

One Year in a Million

It's hard to explain why I feel the need to drive 2 1/2 hours to stand in the cold March air on a bridge in the middle of rural Nebraska and watch the sun come up.  It's hard to explain why I feel the need to take hundreds of additional Sandhill Crane shots when all the cranes look alike and they are doing exactly the  same things that they were doing the last time I visited.  Still, here I am again watching a spectacle that has happened in each of the last million years - the Sandhill Crane migration.

The cranes spend the night in large groups on sandbars in the Platte River.  They come every year and spend a couple of week before the head up to their summer homes in the North.

Three early rising cranes fly near the moon.

In the golden hour light of the early morning,  three cranes fly above a field full of cranes eating their breakfast.   The out of focus feeding cranes demonstrate the challenge of crane photography.  There are large groups of cranes in distant and boring groups.  Instead of focusing on groups of thousands, I need to focus on specific individuals engaged in interesting behavior.  I need to find order in the chaos.

  These two cranes are having a discussion.  Backlight  helps to make this image "pop".

This is my favorite shot of the day.  Two cranes are engaged in a ritualistic dance and three other cranes are performing in the background.  The action in the image is in the pattern of an oval so your eye tends to go in a circle from one crane to another.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Backyard in Bellevue

I would like to photograph bears in Alaska and rhinos in Africa.  I may have that opportunity someday.  If I travel there, I'll find that Africa and Alaska are huge places and I'll only see them for a few hours.  With luck and a good guide I would end up with a photo of a bear or rhino.  The best photos of Africa and Alaska are taken by people who live there and see it over and over again in all sorts of weather and times of year.  They  take wonderful photos of bears or rhinos because they live in their backyard.  
Bears don't live in my backyard.  They lived in Nebraska a couple hundred years ago.  If more than a couple return, Nebraska would "manage" them by creating a hunting season for them just like the way they recently welcomed the return of elk and mountain lions.  

I photographed birds in my backyard on March 19th.  This Tufted Titmouse dropped by for a few seconds.  I was able to get a photo of him sitting on one of my deck chairs.  I would have liked to photograph it in a more natural habitat.  My photo is sharp and perfectly exposed.  If I spend enough time, I'll be able to get a good photo of it on a more natural perch.

This Blue Jay was looking for a peanut.  It is sharp, perfectly exposed and the perch is natural.  The composition could be better - the Blue Jay is centered and the branch is horizontal.

 I photographed this American Robin sitting on a branch.  My timing was great. It has its tail fanned out in an unusual and attractive display  and it is looking directly at me.  It is exceptionally sharp and perfectly exposed.  I like the natural branch and it's diagonal slant.  It may be too perfectly centered, but I like it the way it is cropped.

When I photograph backyard wildlife I practice composition, timing, focus and exposure.  I constantly critique my work and look for ways to improve.  The more I practice, the better I become or at least I remain proficient.

If I have the opportunity to photography wildlife in Alaska or Africa, I'll be limited to a few very expensive days.  My backyard skills for composition, timing, focus and exposure will travel with me.  While my fellow travelers are fumbling with their cameras and trying to remember how to use them, I'll be taking photos that are correctly exposed, in focus and with good composition.  My backyard skills will travel with me.