Green Heron – From the Canoe

On my last trip out with the canoe, back in September, I came across this most cooperative Green Heron. It did not care at all that I was hanging out watching it hunt. It was a fun challenge, maneuvering around as quietly and methodically as I could in order to get the right light on the bird and the best background possible.

The benefits of wildlife photography from a boat.

Thank you for stopping by.


Euonymus americanus (Strawberry Bush)

Euonymus americanus in bloom. Strawberry bush usually blooms in mid to late May in MO. This species can be difficult to distinguish from the other bushy Euonymus in the area, including the invasive Euonymus alatus (burning bush). When not in bloom, E. americanus is the only bushy Euonymus that has five petals, all the remaining having four.

Ranked as an S2 (imperiled) species of conservation concern in Missouri, Euonymus americanus is a striking plant in more than one season. Where it grows in the Show Me State it is always threatened by white-tailed deer who absolutely love our native Euonymus spp. In areas with overpopulation of deer, the plant has been removed from the landscape. This past autumn, I planted one in the fenced-in portion of our backyard in the remaining humus and decay of an old ash stump. I’m hoping the soil here will be rich enough for its liking and that the deer will not discover it.

The unique and unmistakable fruits that give strawberry bush its name. This plant was found in Butler County, MO.

Canon R5 Video – First Look

Recently, I jumped into the world of mirrorless cameras by trading in for the Canon R5. I plan on writing a post in the near future about the pros and cons of switching to this new technology. For now, I will say that this is the beginning of a new photography paradigm, not just because they removed the mirror box and much of the remaining mechanical systems in the camera, but because of a lot of other technology that has been introduced in the latest generations of cameras. I’ve only had a few opportunities over the past ten days or so to try out the new camera. Like any new tool, it will require some time and practice before it becomes second nature but I am confident that, in time, this will be a great benefit in my nature photography.

One of the big benefits for me about the Canon R5 is that it will unify my process. Previously to the R5, I used a full-frame camera for landscapes and macro work and a cropped-sensor body for wildlife/birds (due to the extra reach these types of cameras provide). With the Canon R5, the 45mp full frame sensor allows me to shoot all the subjects I am interested in with just this single body.

On top of this, 4K video taken at 120 frames per second is now an option. This may be the most overlooked feature of this camera/technology. In my opinion, this slow-motion photography is the pinnacle of nature photography. You have the perfect blending of the freezing action of stills but with the increased action that video story telling provides. I know, this is nothing compared to the jaw-dropping speeds and quality achieved by the folks at the BBC but I really like having this option and I hope to do more of this in the future.

Photography Details
First, I want to share some of the details behind capturing the two completely different subjects and scenes in this video. Neither were taken at optimal conditions. The fish is Senator Scales. She is a long-eared sunfish that we have had for a little more than two years. She is currently sharing the tank with Major Mad Tom, the slender madtom catfish. I photographed her using the R5 and a 500 mm f/4 lens handheld. The only light was the poor old florescent in the aquarium hood fixture. I was shocked this turned out as well as it did. The Ring-necked Ducks were photographed this past weekend in Pike County, MO. These videos were shot with the same kit. Some of the panning is not very smooth because I shot on a beanbag from my car window and not a smooth gimbal head. I’m glad to see that autofocus in videography is now a legitimate option in this camera whereas it really wasn’t with dSLRs.

Technical Details
I originally setup the camera for video based on a few recommendations from photographers on YouTube. For the most part, these were right on and what I was used to from shooting video on dSLRs. However, after discovering I could not find a player or editor that would run these, I knew something was amiss. My computer is relatively new with a processor that should be more than adequate, so I was pretty sure that it could handle the large 4K files. The problem turned out to be the fancy-pants new c-log codec that everybody was talking about. I won’t go into unnecessary details, but this codec allows for better video compression and extra dynamic range in the neighborhood of one to three stops. However, what I have come to realize is that 95% or greater of the video cards and software are not built to support this codec. Because I did not know this at the time, I was forced to create a ‘proxy’ by converting the duck videos into smaller, 1080p versions. Therefore, these videos are not up to 4K standards. After troubleshooting things, I discovered that by turning off c-log, the files behaved as expected on my machine.

Did I say “as expected?” Not exactly. My usual video editing software, Power Director, would still not properly play the 4K, 120 fps clips. So, I thought this might be the perfect time to finally learn the incredible (and free!) DaVinci Resolve editing program. Definitely a step up in video editing, DaVinci is not as straight forward as what I was used to. But, after a couple very well done tutorials on YouTube, I was up to speed on the basics of the program in no time. There are tons of features in DaVinci, most of which I’ll probably never use. I can say that I’ll probably never open Power Director again! Da Vinci Resolve is that good.

Anyway, I hope this rambling wasn’t too boring and perhaps made some sense to those who might be in a similar position of learning the video side of things. Without further ado, here is the first videos I have taken with the R5. I’d appreciate any comments or questions you might have, especially if they serve to educate me!

Lone Elk Park – October 2021

The dominant bull of the park gives a glance to the group of photographers has he roams his ground.

On a crisp and beautiful autumn morning this past Halloween, the WGNSS Nature Photo Group group enjoyed the rare occasion of visiting a relatively close St. Louis County location. Part of the St. Louis County Park system, Lone Elk Park has contained herds of elk and bison in some fashion since the original introduction in 1948. This is a beloved park that offers visitors up close looks at bison, elk, deer and other wildlife. Because of the constant visitors, the animals have no fear of humans and, therefore, are an easy subject for the nature photographer.

A “small satellite male” keeps to the outer boundary of the dominant bull’s area, hoping to find a stray cow.

Due to the cooperative nature of these subjects, a long telephoto lens, typically needed for wildlife photography is not required here. However, it is a good idea to give these animals their space and use common sense to keep the proper safe distance or remain in your vehicle while photographing here. Always be aware of your surroundings and photograph in a group when possible.

I recommend a mid-range telephoto focal length – a zoom lens in the neighborhood of 100-400 mm is an ideal choice. Depending on available light, a support like a tripod or monopod may be needed. However, with modern cameras and their ability to provide acceptable results at high sensitivities, handholding is usually a viable option.

A mother cow gives her calf a reassuring muzzle nudge.

Because this is a nearby location, Lone Elk Park is a great spot to practice with wildlife while building a portfolio of a variety of images. Plan to visit during every season to include the greens of summer, the warm backgrounds associated with autumn and the snows (when available) of winter. Multiple visits will allow for photographing these animals at different life stages, such as when bull elk are in velvet in the summer or while bugling during the autumn rut. From time to time photographers have also been able to capture birthing of bison and elk and the subsequent play of the growing young. I hope to visit this location more frequently in the future.

Here are a few other images I took on this visit.

Papilio glaucus (Eastern Tiger Swallowtail)

This eastern tiger swallowtail was found in late July, preparing to pupate on an American Jointweed (Polygonella americana) at Sand Prairie Conservation Area in Scott County, MO.

Papilio glaucus (eastern tiger swallowtail) preparing to pupate.

Eastern Newt (Notophthalmus viridescens)

Eastern Newt

Casey, Dave and I found this nice little eastern newt eft in Lincoln County, MO in mid-October of this year. Did you know… Newt species like this one have a variety of options in their life stages and reproductive strategy. Typically, newts will have three stages in their development, starting with an aquatic larvae, then changing into a terrestrial juvenile, or eft, and finishing as an aquatic adult. There are examples, however, of some populations that stay and breed in both the aquatic larval stage and as efts.

Rookery at O’Fallon Park

Here are some photos I’ve been sitting too long on from a trip the WGNSS Photography Group took back in May of this year. This is a splendid rookery that hosts at least five species of wading birds in O’Fallon Park that lies in north St. Louis.

Dicerca pugionata – Witch-hazel Borer

Dicerca pugionata (Buprestidae) photographed at Victoria Glades Conservation Area, Jefferson County, MO.

Many thanks to Ted MacRae for introducing me to another stunner of a beetle. On more than one occasion Ted has taken me and others out to the field to find one of the strikingly beautiful and rare beetles that he knows so well. This time the treasure we sought was the jewel beetle, Dicerca pugionata (Buprestidae), also known as the Witch-hazel Borer. Witch-hazels (Hamamelis spp.) may be the preferred host plant but they are also found on alders (Alnus spp.) and ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius). In this opportunity, we went to a specific patch of ninebark at Victoria Glades where Ted had found them previously.

Dicerca pugionata (Buprestidae) on its host plant, ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius)