WGNSS Nature Photo Group Outing – Swans of RMBS

ƒ/8, 1/1250 sec, ISO-320, 1120 mm focal length equivalent

In December, 2018 the WGNSS Nature Photography Group met at Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary with hopes of making some memorable images of our giant white residents that spend their winters here. Trumpeter and Tundra Swans will spend their evenings at roost in the bodies of water at RMBS and will then typically leave to forage in surrounding agricultural fields, picking up the wasted grain from harvest.

A good strategy for placing yourself in the most appropriate position for making photographs of these birds is to pay attention to the direction of the sun. If the birds are found in Ellis Bay during the golden hours of morning light (during winter in St. Louis, this can be up to three hours after sunrise), then getting close to the shore with the sun behind you can produce some satisfactory results. Try getting closer to the ground and shooting the birds from a low angle. This will give your photographs an eye-to-eye perspective that is a much more intimate view into the birds’ world. Shooting at low angles will also tend to provide a more pleasing, out-of-focus background to your subject that will cause the bird to appear to be larger than life. We photographed both species of swan as they lounged in Ellis Bay for the first couple hours of the morning. Can you pick which is the Tundra and which is the Trumpeter Swan in these first two images?

ƒ/8, 1/800 sec, ISO-250, 1120 mm focal length equivalent

We then moved on to another place within the refuge that the Swans can often be found on winter mornings. At Heron Pond, these birds are typically too far away from the observation areas to get closeup photographs while roosting. However, the patient photographer on the ready can often be rewarded by standing and waiting around. During this morning, the Swans were a tad tardy in lifting out of Heron Pond, so our group was in the right place at the right time. Getting proper positioning with the angle of the sun is a bit more difficult here in the morning but is still critical. We placed ourselves in the best places available on this busy morning and took advantage of the swans as they left the pond, which often flew right over our heads.

Photographing these mostly bright-white birds on a bright sunny day is not necessarily simple. While on the ground or the waters of the bay, it is common to have the camera’s light meter expose for the darker and more prominent background. This will often lead to the white feathers of the birds being overexposed. Remember to check the histogram of your camera and use the “blinkies” while reviewing your images to ensure you are not clipping your whites. If this is the case, make the proper adjustments to your exposure. Saving your whites may result in your blacks and shadows being bunched up at the other end of the histogram. Since the big white bird is your subject of concern, this should be nothing to worry about.

ƒ/5.6, 1/1600 sec, ISO-160, 594 mm focal length equivalent

Changing directions and the angle of sunlight are challenging for proper exposure. Get as close as you can in the field – much can be recovered in post-processing.

Shooting these large birds in flight presents a different set of challenges. Although these birds move relatively slower than most other birds during flight, the photographer will still want a relatively fast shutter speed. This is particularly true the closer you are to your subject. I recommend no slower than 1/1000 of a second. Start at this setting and increase shutter speed if you notice blurring or softness to your image due to subject movement. As these birds get closer during flight, they will naturally fill more of your frame, thereby increasing the number of pixels seeing the bright white values. This can often lead to a case of the camera’s meter overcompensating, thereby causing an underexposed image. In this case, the birds may come out looking grey instead of white and the black colorations of their feet and faces will be much too dark and lack sufficient details.

ƒ/5, 1600 sec, ISO-200, 272 mm focal length equivalent

In the above image, a swan can be seen with a significantly crooked neck. I typically see one or two birds with this condition every season. I do not know how it affects the birds or what their ultimate fates may be.

In the case of constant sunny skies, fully manual exposure settings are most called for. Here I will present a good starting point for setting the exposure for capturing swans in flight. Shutter speed – As I mentioned earlier, start with a minimum of 1/1000 sec. This may likely be too slow to capture a sharp image, depending on what position the bird’s wings were captured. Often, shutter speeds of up to 1/2500 sec or higher might be necessary. Aperture – This will depend on how close you are to the swan. Remember, these are large birds and when shooting at a profile there is a lot of distance from wingtip to wingtip. If the bird is significantly close, or if you have multiple birds in the frame, you will be unlikely to capture the entire subject(s) in critical focus if shooting wide open. I recommend no wider than ƒ/5.6 – you may need to stop down significantly smaller. However, always remember that getting the animal’s eye in sharp focus is critical. Many images will work fine if other parts of the bird are not in critical focus. ISO – Remembering that photography is a compromise, shooting at a fast shutter speed and smaller apertures might require that a higher ISO value be needed to obtain the proper exposure. Several latest digital camera models have a useful “auto ISO” setting. I know, technically this is not fully manual, but ISO does not necessarily have the input it once did. Know the highest ISO setting for your camera that you are comfortable with and don’t be afraid to shoot there. This will vary by camera model and by the photographer’s taste.

Here is a photo of “crooked neck” as it flew directly over my head. In cases like this a telephoto-zoom lens is really beneficial for capturing birds in flight.

ƒ/5, 1/1600 sec, ISO-400, 216 mm focal length equivalent

The majority of this material was originally published in Nature Notes (The Journal of the Webster Groves Nature Study Society) February 2019, Vol. 91, No. 2.

-OZB

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White-tailed Deer

Something is in the air

Until this autumn, I never considered targeting our abundant white-tailed deer as a photo subject. When my friend, Miguel, brought up the idea along with a place with a lot of potential, I asked him to lead the way. We set up in a copse of trees located near the center of a scrub field in an area that does not allow hunting and Miguel’s predictions of worry-free males still on the hunt came to fruition.

Buck and Foxtail

Although I cam ill-prepared, leaving my tripod and any other means of support at home, the light was just sweet enough to allow for proper hand-holding the big 500mm. Once I took off the unnecessary teleconverter, it worked even better.

Spike

We counted at least two larger bucks that patrolled the area, but found this young spike buck as well. He was not quite as confident as the other two.

Doe

Females walked the area as well, but were more skittish. The bucks were more curious when they first heard the sounds of our shutters slapping and picked up our sent in the light morning breeze. The does, however, tended to trot away at first sign that something different lurked in our copse.

White-tailed Deer

This spot turned out to be quite nice. With the rising sun to our backs, the trees at the far edge of the field provides for a nice backdrop for that warm light to hit against. These guys have probably, or will soon be dropping these nice racks. With any luck we can try more of this next year.

Thanks for paying a visit!

-OZB

 

Birds of Australia – Black Kite

Soaring Black Kite

Considered by some to be the most abundant member of the family Accipitridae, the Black Kite is found throughout the old world. Populations of this species winter in the tropics and spend their summers in northern Europe, Asia and in Australia. Their diet is varied and consists of whatever they can catch, including carrion. This was one of the first Australian species I came to know. One morning I watched a group of at least 15 of these birds roosting in freshly plowed fields within the Monsanto research station we were visiting. I assume they were attracted to this area due to the mice and other rodents that were finding food and shelter among the large dirt clods.

Fievel’s no good horrible very bad day

 

The original carry out

 

Black Kite juvenile

 

Black Kite juvenile (I think)

Council Bluff Lake Insects – Part One

Elderberry Borer – Cerambycidae – Desmocerus palliatus

Members of WGNSS Entomology and Nature Photography Groups met on June 24th, 2017 to see what interesting insects could be found.  In this post I am sharing a few of the more interesting that I was able to get photographs of during the day.  The find of the day had to be the Cerambycid pictured above that was, by no surprise, found by Ted MacRae.

Delta Flower Scarab

We found that blooms were a great way to find beetles.  It is easy to see how the delta flower scarab (Trigonopeltastes delta) got its name.

Flower Longhorn

Cerambicids like this flower longhorn can readily be found on blooms.

Banded Netwing

The banded netwing beetle (Calopteron reticulatum) are easy to find, often located in the open atop vegetation.  They rely on aposematic coloration to advertise that they carry aboard chemical compounds that make them a distasteful meal.

Agapostemon sp

The Hymenoptera were well represented on blooms of wild hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens), Queen Ann’s lace (Daucus carota) and as pictured above, fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica).  I find the native bees to be tricky to identify by photographs, but I believe this can be placed in the genus  Agopostemon.  These bees nest in the ground and to promote them, leave patches of soil exposed somewhere in your yard.

Cuckoo-leaf-cutter Bee – Megachilidae – Coelioxys sp

This cleptoparasitic Coelioxys exclusively parasitizes the nests of bees in the Megachile genus.

Scaly Bee Fly – Bombyliidae – Lepidophora lepidocera

Besides being a bizarre little pollinator, this scaly bee fly is a cleptoparasite of cabronid wasps.

Double-toothed Prominent – Notodontidae – Nerice bidentata

Not to leave out the Leps, this double-toothed prominent moth larvae was found.  These guys have developed very effective camouflage that allows them to blend in and resemble the toothed, wavy margins of their elm (Ulmus) host plants.

 

 

 

 

 

Northern Fence Lizard

Northern Fence Lizard

During our search for insects at Council Bluff Lake, the WGNSS Nature Photography Group stumbled upon this cooperative and gravid female northern fence lizard (Sceloporus undulatus hyacinthus).  She allowed our close inspection as she attempted to bask and warm herself on a rock.

Northern Fence Lizard
Northern Fence Lizard