A few from a trip up Black Mountain Cascades this spring.
Hello again. Although I promised myself I would get this post out on time this year, here we are on Valentine’s Day. Of course, I still have not processed everything I intend to from 2014, but I think I’ve finished the major images by now. Like last year, this is not necessarily my “best” images of the year, but a list comprised of images that captured something special to me, while being at least a competent photograph. Once again, I was nearly frozen by the list of images to choose from. I had one fewer landscape and one more wildlife image this year compared to last, for whatever that is worth. Follow the links to the posts that each image was featured in.
Although it lacked a happy ending (see original post), Steve and I were absolutely thrilled in getting an opportunity to view and photograph a sought after nesting species. The nest location was poorly lit, being well concealed in the foliage at Hawn S.P. However, with a tripod and shutter release cable, it is something to see how slow you can take the shutter speed in these situations.
This one was from our last stay in the cabins at Big Spring S.P. for a number of years (due to closing during renovation work). It turned out to be a pretty interesting sunset, with just a couple minutes of fire.
From our vernal Big Spring trip. I was quite happy with this image, although I was hoping the white dogwood blossoms behind the bird would be a little more distinct. Oh well, always room for improvement.
From our literally unforgettable day in the canoe in the waters of Mingo. This image was taken later in the day and showcases what a sun-star pattern from a nine-bladed aperture diaphragm can look like. Kudos to Canon for putting this feature in all of their new f4 zoom “L” lenses in the past several years.
I had to place at least one image from my time in Brazil from this year. I was able to make images of quite a few species, but this patient Jacamar might be the most memorable. We came across this guy in Serra do Mar State Park in Brazil’s Atlantic Rain-forest while on a birding/nature hike. It sat while we got great views and some photographs.
Although I questioned why I would want to bring up the memory of not having an appropriate lens to shoot snakes on “Snake Road”, I still love this image and the memories it contains of shooting this Timer Rattlesnake with a 500mm “bird lens”. Shoot, I bet most of you are thinking I did have the most appropriate lens for the job. 😉
Taken on Sarah and My trip out west this past September. This image was taken inside the National Elk Refuge. In the waning light, Sarah and I came across these two cottonwood with nicely shadowed foothills lying before the Tetons.
It’s a usable photograph of one of the rarest nesting birds in Missouri. What else is there to say? What a memory. My only regret is always forgetting that my dSLR cameras are capable of taking great video. Video of this guys singing would have been the icing on the cake.
Steve and I had two great experiences with River Otters in 2014. This one was taken on the Eleven Point this autumn and shows mom and all four of the kids in one tight shot.
I could have picked a dozen from the weeks spent at the nest to put into my top ten. I’m not sure why I chose this one, other than it is among my favorites of hundreds of keepers from the nest. Although mom never stayed to feed the young while we were watching, she did often bring prey to the nest as is seen in this image.
Well, that summarizes a good bit of what I was fortunate enough to capture in 2014. Thanks so much to Sarah and Steve and everyone who was part of these experiences. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for 2015!
Ozark Bill Duncan – February 14th, 2015
Hi everyone. Here we go with part two. We spent three nights in YNP and two in the Grand Tetons and National Elk Refuge. This was a sufficient amount of time to get a nice overview of these three places. Now, we just need a month at each location to really get to know them… 😉
To keep the post size down, I have picked five landscapes to showcase and discuss a little. I will be posting more on Flickr over time.
1) Dawn’s Progression
We’ll start with this one taken along the Yellowstone River on the final and coldest morning of our stay in Yellowstone. Giving Sarah a morning to sleep in a little at the Yellowstone Lake Hotel, I hit the road before sunrise with the aim of heading down Uncle Tom’s Trail to get that famous view of lower falls. Unfortunately, it soon became apparent that the cold night (~15 F in September!), brought with it very thick fog. Even if I would have made it down the stairs that lead to the falls, I and my camera would have little to view. While walking around the parking lot, wondering where I should head to instead for my last few hours in the park, I saw from the corner of my eye what looked like a small thermal feature. This turned out to be hot air escaping from the side-wall of one of my tires. Destroyed. I knew I had about three hours before checkout, so I replaced the tire with the doughnut-spare and headed directly to the nearest service station inside the park. Along the road, I spotted this scene developing and I had to capture the fight between the fading overcast, fog and the rising sun. I dared not take the time to setup the tripod and consequently there is some lack of depth of field. But, I think things are sharp enough where they need be and it turned out to be a worthy memory of my last day in Yellowstone.
2) Battle of Ice and Fire
Weather in Yellowtone changes quickly and frequently. We experienced almost every possible weather scenario during our few days in September. The next image was taken shortly after a small snowstorm. I enjoyed the texture of the snow-covered conifer forest and the steam coming off the thermal feature in the background, merging with low cloud cover.
3) Moulton’s Ghosts
Described as the most often photographed barn on the planet, the T.A. Moulton Barn lies along “Mormon Row” just east of the Grand Tetons. Of course in the short time we were visiting there were no clouds for that interesting sky, but I made my best attempt at an “original” photograph.
4) Star Trails at Jenny Lake
During our stay at GTNP, we received word of a prediction of excellent views of the Northern Lights as far south as the great plains states. Combined with predictions of clear skies during the same evening, I was definitely excited. We hadn’t done enough scouting to pick the best place for setting up for astrophotography, but I did have Jenny Lake in the GPS. This would have to do. The Northern Lights never did materialize where we were located, but I made a number of shots that were later stacked in the computer for this star trails image.
Before moving on to the final image in this post, I wanted to plug a great sandwich and coffee shop we found in the village of Kelly, not far from both the Tetons and the National Elk Refuge. Kelly on the Grose Ventre makes as good a cup of coffee as anywhere I’ve had. The owner/barista is a pleasure to talk with and he is truly concerned that you enjoy your drinks and food. It would be a crime to miss visiting this spot if you are in the area.
5) Twin Cottonwoods on Tetons
This final photograph was taken near the golden hour inside National Elk Refuge. The sun, about to drop below the Tetons, performed magic by creating nice shadows on the foothills and back-lighting the leafless pair of Cottonwoods. The National Elk Refuge has some wonderful wilderness characteristics, and I would love some more time travelling the roads and trails of this dry western landscape.
About three months ago Steve and I made a trip to southern Missouri in perfect time to catch the songbird migration near its peak. Our primary areas of focus were the two largest springs in Missouri – Big Spring and Greer Spring, two areas located within Ozark Scenic National Riverways. This National Park contains some of the best habitat in Missouri for newly arriving nesting birds as well as good stopping grounds for those birds heading to more northerly destinations.
I was very fortunate in being able to take first photos of several new species during this trip, one of which was this amazing Broad-winged Hawk – a species whose diagnostic vocalization is often heard among the treetops in densely wooded areas but is less frequently seen.
Another species that I finally captured on camera was this Yellow-throated Vireo. This species advertising song is quite similar to the Red-eyed Vireo. The difference being that the Yellow-throated will give you a chance to answer his questions, whereas the Red-eyed won’t shut up long enough for you to respond! 😉
Next up is a species that was just passing through, on its way to nest in northern Canada or Alaska. The Grey-cheeked Thrush is the least studies of North American Catharus species.
Greer Spring is always a place of great beauty, although usually stingy with pleasing compositions. On this visit we took the plunge into the first deep boil immediately outside the cave opening. An unforgettable experience!
At the trail-head on the way down to the spring, Steve found this Pheobe nest with mom on eggs. She patiently sat while I took a few photos.
Probably the most exciting find and photographs for us was this resident Swainson’s Warbler. This warbler is likely the least common of Missouri’s nesting songbirds and is considered endangered in the state. Loss of its preferred habitat of thick shrubby understory within flood plain forests has caused this species to decline across its entire breeding range. The boat dock at Greer Spring is one of the few locations that this species can be expected to be found every spring in Missouri.
This last image, which may be my favorite of the trip, shows a singing Ovenbird, a species of the understory within high-quality hardwood or hardwood/conifer forests. It’s song, often described as teacher, teacher, teacher, can be confused with the similar sounding song of the Kentucky Warbler. We have noticed the difference of habitat preference between the two species, which may aid the novice birder. The Ovenbird is most often observed in dry upland areas with sparse vegetation, whereas the Kentucky Warbler prefers lower, wet areas with dense undergrowth.
In my opinion, one has not experienced anything in the Missouri Ozarks until having spent a sunrise on an April morning listening to the newly arrived nesting songbirds and those just passing through.
There could not possibly be enough Aprils in a lifetime.
Pulled from Beveridge’s gift early after my discovery of the book, “The Gulf” of Wayne County has been on my list of desired destinations for a while now. Recently Steve and I made this our target in a winter’s outing, which is an appropriate time for nice viewing of many of the Missouri Ozarks geological features due to lack of green vegetation that blocks views and light. The Gulf is a narrow sinkhole that is approximately 100 feet long and 20 feet wide. This sinkhole is actually an opening to an underground lake that is more than 200 feet deep at its maximum depth.
Here Steve posses for a bit of reference. In periods of lower water, the entrance of the “cave” portion of the underground lake would be seen at the opposite end of the sinkhole from where Steve stands. A small boat and/or scuba equipment would provide for excellent opportunities for exploring.
Just as the Tyndall Effect explains why the sky is blue, it is also the reason that the deep bodies of water found in the Ozarks often appear blue. These carving waters carry the dissolved limestone with them. This ultra-fine suspension scatters the shorter blue wavelengths more than the other colors of natural light, giving the blue appearance in the waters, even though there are no blue pigments to be found. In fact, this blue appearance is somewhat dictated be the angle of light and the viewer’s position to the reflecting light. With a slight turn of the head, the water will often change color.
A potential practice picture for spring, here you can see some old wild hydrangea growing on the edge of the sinkhole. Can you find Steve in this image?
Entrenched meanderment? What in the world is OZB going on about now? Beveridge gives a wonderful explanation of the meandering nature of virtually all Missouri Ozark streams in “Geologic Wonders and Curiosities of Missouri”. Within, he provides a few fascinating geological hypothesis as to the hows and whys of streams forming in such a manner with some of the hardest rock on the planet as their bed. Think about it. How and why would streams form in rock like this, with very little floodplain, steep cliffs/bluffs and not be straight? Pick up Beveridge’s book to read of these hypothesis as well as learn about narrows, cutoffs and lost hills – the geologic features that are formed by these entrenched, meandering streams.
Two streams with an entrenched meandering environment on public land I have known and loved for a while. These are the Meramec River at Vilander Bluffs N.A. and Jam Up Cave/Bluff on the upper Jacks Fork. These are always worth a visit. While flipping through Bryan Haynes’ book recently, I came across a panoramic painting of his that I have admired. I saw the title: “Lee’s Bluff”. Having never heard of this feature and the fact that his image was such a dramatic scene, I assumed that this must be found in some western wilderness, far from being a day trip destination. I went ahead and searched the web, and to my surprise discovered this was in Missouri, along the St. Francis River and smack in the middle of those lovely St. Francois Mountains. With Steve wearing his best navigator’s hat, we found the location pretty easily on a blustery, winter’s day.
Here’s an overview image taken with a 15mm lens. You can see the features typical of a meandering entrenched stream, the steep bluffs formed on the outside of the bend and gentle sloping floodplains on the inside. In the direct center you can see the “incipient lost hill” as described by Beveridge. One day the “narrows” on the far side of that hill will succumb and a “cutoff” will form, straightening the river.
The sky was a constant change on this day. Here Steve poses while the sun breaks through an opening.
Climbing around on the steep, sharp rocks of the bluff we came across an ancient skeleton of an eastern red cedar. The relative youngster below looks ready to take its place in another couple of centuries.
Professional schlepper, navigator, and photo model. I’m sure glad Steve works for free! 😉 Here he stands next to the old tree to give the image some perspective.
The image below is probably my favorite from this day. One of the visual beauties of these types of entrenched stream environments is that there are two S-curves in each one. You just have to figure out where to place your camera to take advantage of it. Under the right light and weather conditions, this place holds a lot of photographic potential, not to mention the potential for reflection and wonderment.
This past June, Steve and I took a walk through one of the highest quality woodlands our Ozark hills have to offer. The short hike from the head of the spring to the Powder Mill trail-head and back offered an amazing diversity of life. Here are just a few of the things we were able to find and capture on camera.
Nothing can be mentioned about this location without first discussion of the spring itself. The Osage Indians referred to it as “Spring of the Summer Sky”, a most apt description for a spring who’s appearance defines the color blue. And in summer, when the flow is not overly encumbered by the suspension of dissolved limestone from heavy rains, the crystal-clear waters afford a look to the bottom of the spring, some 250 feet below the pool’s surface.
“Blue Spring Run”
The small nooks and crevices carved over the ages into the limestone and dolomite that overlook the spring pool make the perfect shelter for the Eastern Phoebe to make their nests. Most folks have likely seen the nests of this species under overhangs on human-made structures. It has only been within the last year that I have been fortunate enough to observe these nests in their more natural of settings. A perfectly placed snag within the spring’s pool makes for a fine resting place for a young Phoebe that is taking a break from the carrying on that was taking place near these nests. It was also a great place and time for us to take a break and take in everything this spot has to offer.
“Eastern Phoebe on a Snag“
Back on the trail a few minutes later Steve and I were pleased to find this guy. A first for the both of us, this Dung Beetle was moving this “resource” with full conviction. We couldn’t figure out where she was moving it, but she was sure not going to let us get in her way. When gently stopped she would climb to the top of her ball and let it be known that it was claimed.
“King of the Hill“
Here’s a little “motion pan” to give an idea of the speed at which she could move her grocery towards its future larder.
Our primary goals for this early summer day where to see if we couldn’t find and photograph any or all of three of the more rare warblers that are known to nest in this area. These would be the Swainson’s, Cerulean and Hooded Warbler. Although we did get a few confirmed vocalizations from a Swainson’s, we could not get our eyes on the sneaky guy through all the vegetation. A few quick and loud playbacks did, however, coax 4-5 male Cerulean Warblers to descend from the forest canopy in order to meet the new male who had apparently set up shop amidst their territory cluster.
This was a sweeter treat for us than spending time with Willy Wonka (Wilder not Depp) and Heather Graham in a chocolate factory. They seemed totally curious and intrigued as they moved among lower branches, foraging and singing as they went. Did you know this species has suffered more than 70% population decline since the 1960’s? Approximately 500,000 birds are the current population estimates and habitat destruction and fragmentation continue to threaten this species. Check out The Nature Conservancy for more information on this great bird, and consider checking out Cerulean Blues.
“Cerulean with Insect“
Finally, I present a pair of gorgeous Northern Water Snakes that were basking on some exposed rock not to far from shore along the Current River.
“Basking Water Snakes”
I’ve discussed Hughes Mountain Natural Area a few times in this blog. There is still so much I have yet to discover and photograph here, that I am always keen to pay a visit. Typically, plants go quickly dormant and animals become hard to find during summer’s dog days. The cooler, wet summer we are had this year provided an extended window of activity for many of the residents of this glade-covered knob. These images were taken during a July evening as Steve and I paid a visit to one of our mutual favorite destinations.
For a while now, I’ve know of the first citizen I’d like to introduce to you. Because I often have troubles slowing down and looking around, I had never actually seen one of these guys until this summer. Of course, they are everywhere you look. I am speaking of the Lichen Grasshopper, a species perfectly adapted at blending in with the lichen-covered exposed rocks on igneous glades such as those found at Hughes Mountain.
As I was destroying my delicate knees and elbows trying to get a shot of these weary grasshoppers I happened across this gal, a mamma Wolf Spider, out for a stroll with the kids. She didn’t seem to mind the paparazzo activity.
The Fame Flower, a member of the succulent tending, Purslane family, is also known as Rock Pink and Flower-of-an-Hour, due to the ephemeral flowers opening late in the afternoon. The flowers of this magnificent little plant are suspended on fine, wispy, leafless stalks (scape) many times longer than the short, succulent leaves. Any small breeze sets these warmly saturated blooms swaying back and forth, bringing difficulty to obtaining a nice photograph. Bravos to Steve for identifying this one!
Finally, I wanted to provide a “habitat shot” that exemplifies where these organisms can be found. Hopefully next time I can show you some of the other kind-hearted citizens of the Ozark Glades, like the Tarantula, the Black Widow and Scorpions.
I had been wishing to visit Dunn Ranch Prairie in Harrison County, Missouri for a few years. Part of the Grand River Grasslands, Dunn Ranch, along with Prairie State Park to the south is one of the two largest contiguous prairie habitats in Missouri. Fortunately, Dunn is home to about 1000 acres of original, unplowed prairie alongside parcels that are in various stages of prairie reclamation via reconstruction activities by The Nature Conservancy staff. With help from contacts at TNC (Hi and thanks Amy, Hillary and Randy!) and a recently found twin brother, Steve, who is as willing, able and interested in getting elbows deep in whatever Nature and the outdoors puts in our path, I had that opportunity as part of a five day excursion to the western half of the State. We made stops to visit other prairie and marsh remnants nearby, but Dunn Ranch and adjacent Pawnee Prairie were our base. I hope to provide tidbits of information about these endangered habitats and discuss some of the trials that TNC faces in these reclamation efforts and provide hopefully interesting accounts of Steve’s and my excursion in future posts where I plan to discuss birds/wildlife and landscape photography. This first post is dedicated to astrophotography.
Astrophotography has been of interest to me for some time now. Being born and raised in urban environments, I can count on one hand how many times I’ve been able to witness a dark, clear sky – relatively free from light pollution. Making images of this type of sky was one of the major goals for this trip. Even without the aid of telescopes and tracking mounts, astrophotography with the dSLR can be a fulfilling challenge. I scoured the web for months prior to the trip, trying to find techniques and tips for success. With so much to consider, I knew this was going to be a mostly trial and error experience.
The internet is full of great “how-to” articles on how to go about making nice astrophotographs, so I will not go into too much detail. We were fortunate in a number of ways concerning the environmental conditions for this endeavor. First, obviously, one needs clear skies. The first couple of days (and nights) were a bit overcast, but on the night all these images were taken, we had a mostly clear sky. Second, for taking photos of stars, it is optimal to have little or no moon. On this particular night, the moon was just a couple days past “new”. But, that did not matter because the moon was almost in perfect sync with the rising and setting of the sun. On this night, the fingernail moon was below the horizon by 10:00. So, we had two important factors in our favor. Other issues to consider are light pollution from ground sources. We thought we were on the winning side here, being so far removed from any city of significant size. What we came to discover is how much the camera’s sensor will pick up artificial light sources. Even well past midnight, all the images I made show glow from the horizon, illumination that was not noticeable by the human eye.
One other potential headache for consideration is aircraft and satellites moving through your frame. Depending on the specific technique you use to create a star-trail image like the one above, you will either have one long exposure of up to an hour or longer, or a series of shorter images taken in continuous fashion and combined later in the computer. Either way, in most areas of our country you will pick up the light signatures of these aircraft in your images. I was quite surprised by the numbers of these trails that were picked up on the camera’s sensor. In making the two composite-made star-trail images in this post I spent several hours painstakingly removing these by hand from hundreds of individual images used to generate these composites. The yellowish green lights are trails from lighting bugs that collected over these images. I decided to leave these alone.
Although it may be pretty, a photograph of the stars alone with normal focal lengths usually holds little lasting interest. I knew that to make something interesting and to relate it to place, I needed to find something unique and attractive to position in the foreground. This would make a complete image.
The couple of days or so before this evening, I was checking out the landscape around Dunn, looking for these potential foregrounds and asking Steve to help me remember their locations and the general directions in which they faced. These cut-steel/iron signs were quite popular with the different ranches in the area and I assume someone makes them locally. I fell in love with this one on a prairie hillside at Dunn and knew I had to try this. Unfortunately, this was getting quite late into the morning and I did not have the energy left to give it my all. I used a longer focal length because of the distance of the sign from the road. This gives a somewhat pleasant side effect of allowing for star trails to record in less time than it takes for a wide angle composition. This image is one exposure of about 11 minutes. If I had known the potential here, I would have given it more thought and probably put together a longer composite series to lessen the horrible noise and IQ observed in the RAW image. Oh well, maybe next time. Oh yeah, in this photo, the light pollution from the horizon works pretty well in back-lighting the sign and making some nice silhouettes of the prairie forbs. We tried a bit of light painting, but it came nowhere close to this.
P.S. Can you name the constellation caught in this image above?
The image above I believe is my favorite of my astrophotography attempts. I wish I could say I did my homework and knew exactly where the north star was and positioned it oh so perfectly between the gate posts. Steve and I could not say for certain (Do you know how many stars there are up there!?). All I did was try my best to center the gates in the middle of the frame as best we could in this dark night. I wish I could say I knew exactly how long (how many exposures) I wanted/needed to get the rotating perspective seen here. All I did was decide that I would try and fill an entire eight gig memory card. This equated to about 350 13-second exposures for a total “exposure time” of about 75 minutes. I did not even know how I was going to stack these together in the computer. I knew there were a few specialty software as well as a manual option in PS. I tried three different freeware apps and discovered the last one I tried, “Startrails” gave me the best results. Anyway, this image will always remind me of sitting in the road with the camera doing its work, enjoying a couple of good beers with Steve and listening to wildlife: coyotes howling on three sides of us in the distance, Henslows Sparrows singing like it was the middle of the day and a presumable deer that walked just off the road past us less than 10 feet away. I have no idea if the deer could see us or knew that we were there.
I say with all sincerity that I would trade the benefits of living in a large metropolitan area just to have the privilege of viewing night skies like this on a regular basis. How did we agree to give this up? I guess this issue ranks up there with the question of my foreskin. Nobody ever asked me and I’ll likely never have the opportunity to get it back. ;=)
Anyway, this was one hell of an experience and I can’t wait to give it another try.
Located mere feet from the Meramec River in Crawford County, I came across this natural bridge – named “Steelville NB” in Beveridge’s “Geologic Wonders and Natural Curiosities of Missouri” while visiting Zahorsky Woods. An adjoining lot’s owner invited me to hike his trails and gave me directions to it’s location. I’d love to go back following a heavy rain.