Miguel and I have been trying to get some better in-flight shots of the Short-eared Owls that use the wet prairies at BK Leach CA for their winter homes. Tonight, preparations and fortune came together and we wound up with a few that we can be satisfied with. The lighting wasn’t great, as the nice sunlight was blocked by heavier and heavier clouds as soon as the action began, but sometimes you take what you can get.
Seven of us made the long drive to our destination on the morning of the 23rd . The week of
Thanksgiving can be an excellent choice for visiting Loess Bluff NWR, but always depends on the
weather. We were a bit concerned with the early cold snap our region experienced this autumn.
However, in the week or so preceding the trip, the weather warmed so we were not hampered by ice
that can completely cover the shallow waters of the wetlands. Having open water affords very close
views of our photographic subjects and the primary reason we drove such a distance – the blizzard.
Typically, one million to two million Snow Geese will make this location a stop over during spring
and autumn migration and numbers of over 500,000 birds on a single count are not uncommon.
During our visit, the official counts were slightly over 100,000 birds, but the feeling with the group
was that this was grossly underestimated.
If conditions allow, getting the moon behind the Snow Geese can make a nice composition.
On our first day of the trip we were faced with mostly cloudy weather. As I told the group, this provides an opportunity to more easily try panning motion shots like the one pictured below. This is not my most successful attempt at such an image, but I wanted to share it here to demonstrate the multitude of opportunities for a diversity of photos to be made.
Snow Geese are not the only subjects that make this trip worthwhile. The refuge also provides
important habitat for birds such as Bald Eagles, sparrows, a variety of ducks and wading birds, as
well as mammals like white-tailed deer and muskrats. On our initial entry to the park, Dave and Bill
found a Merlin on a relatively good perch above the road. We spent some time photographing the
bird, but regretted that the rest off our party were on the other side of the refuge and would not
likely be able to get the looks we did. Fortunately, a Merlin – likely the same bird, was spotted on
our second day and was viewable by all.
With subjects in the hundreds of thousands to the millions, making a purposeful image can be challenging. It is quite natural to want to shoot at everything that moves, but try and focus. Finding smaller action scenes is one way the photographer can focus on the individuals and their stories that make up the grander scheme.
Although we experienced skies with periods of heavy overcast, we were presented with fantastic
sunsets on both days. Being able to make the birds part of the story made these images all the more special.
The WGNSS Photo Group is committed to an overnight trip to this and similar locations within the Midwest on Thanksgiving week. If you’d like to join us next year, please let me know!
I’m so glad I spent some time at home this afternoon. This gave me the opportunity to find the first Red-breasted Nuthatch that I have found visiting our backyard feeders. I so wanted to some how tell this little one that I would have seed available all winter long as it consistently went back and forth from the big oak to the feeder, each time carrying a sunflower seed to hide in the bark. I am pretty certain that this bird visited the feeder more than 50 times in the couple hours I watched.
I have been given a lot inspiration lately by a number of Facebook friends to photograph the great birds that visit our feeders, or to put it another way, make these models work for their supper. On a recent birding trip, Sarah and I collected some great drift wood that I turned into horizontal and vertical branches in the backyard, not too far from the feeders and our sun-porch.
I drilled a few extra holes towards the rear of some of these to act as unseen cavities to place my homemade bark butter. It only took the Juncos a couple of hours to find their favorite food. These guys go crazy trying to figure out how to get to this stuff. I made sure to place a few feeding spots near horizontal perches that they could access without too much difficulty as they cannot grasp vertical perches very well. These guys are so tame that they were my primary subjects, other species being a little more timid to visit the close perches and seed deposits that I sat close to.
For a first attempt, I’m pretty pleased. These were shot hand-held in mixed lighting with my 100-400 mm lens and I shot through the not-so clean windows of the sun-porch. I tried sitting behind the open windows, but this must have made me much more conspicuous. I sat for an hour or more with few birds coming in to feed. Within seconds of me closing the windows, the Juncos came to the feeding stations.
I’m a little concerned that my resident Downy Woodpeckers might have a little too much of the rich food I am providing. They now have access to the peanut and tree nuts in the no-mess mix I provide, beef tallow suet blocks, and now the bark butter. But, I suppose it would take a lot for a wild bird to over indulge.
Anyone who feeds their wild birds and has an interest and access to photography should give this a try. I’m looking forward to more cold mornings spent outside trying my hand at this.
One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.
With the help of a friend, over the last few weeks I’ve been able to get a good start at finding and photographing as many of the 35 +/- orchids that can be found in Missouri. The yellow-fringed orchid (Platanthera ciliaris) is known from only a handful of threatened locations in the state. I was really thankful to be shown these in full bloom where they reside in acidic seeps in St. Francois County.
I had seen rattlesnake plantain (Goodyera pubescens) before, as its wonderful evergreen leaves stand out during winter hikes. This was the first time I’ve seen them in bloom. Photographed in Ste. Genevieve County.
Not the greatest photo of the greatest specimen, but this seemed to be the absolute last grass pink orchid (Calopogon tuberosus) to be found in bloom for the season at this location in St. Francois County.
A huge thank you to Danny Brown, without whom I most likely would have stayed at zero Snowy Owls for the great Snowy irruption of the 2017/2018 winter. Because of travel and just poor luck, I had missed out on finding the Snowy Owls that had salted the state this winter and would never have imagined that we would have another chance a week into April. But, since the weather to date suggests little of spring, I suppose we should have not been too surprised.
The birding on Saturday was seemingly great everywhere and Steve, I and others were having good luck finding interesting species at RMBS when we received the messages from our phones about Danny’s find. I think Steve and I would have been satisfied with our usual views from a football’s field or two away, but were ecstatic to find the bird perched at an optimal viewing distance, resting after a nice meal that others had documented earlier in the day.
We left the bird still on its perch shortly after sunset. On the way out of the conservation area we had a Short-eared Owl and American Bittern flyovers. Thanks again, Danny.
The WGNSS Photography Nature Group met at Cuivre River State Park on Saturday the 2nd in hopes to find members of Limacodidae (slug moths). Perplexing to me, we struck out in the same time and place I found them in numbers and diversity a year ago.
It was still a good time. We found a number of other macro subjects and explored a couple of new places. I also got to give a first spin to my new lens. A wide-angle macro – the Laowa 15mm f/4 Wide Angle Macro. A rather new lens design and one with a pretty steep learning curve, these photos are really just practice. With time and strategy, I think I can get better at this.
Two areas to focus on in improving with this lens:
1) Getting a better handle on exposing for the environment (background) while getting the right amount of light from the flash to properly expose the foreground macro subject. I think this should be easier to predict with practice. I’m not at all sure that I can ever get it on a first try.
2) Figuring out how much dof is just right. Sometimes getting more detail in the background will be desirable. Other times, it is best to blur it out to bring focus on the primary subject.
This is a funnel web or grass spider (Agelenopsis spp.) that we found protecting her egg sack on the leaf of poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans). She will likely guard the eggs here until the winter takes her.
One of the nice finds of the day was this Black-waved Flannel Moth (Megalopygidae – Lagoa crispata (4644)). One of the key features of this lens is being able to focus close enough to the primary subject for macro-level detail while capturing so much more in the subject’s environment. In this case, I tried to give the perspective of what it may be like for the bug when being discovered by entomologists or nature photographers. Pictured left to right are WGNSS members Rich Thoma, Dave Seidensticker and Casey Galvin.
After the group disbanded at Cuivre River SP, Miguel Acosta and I decided to visit and explore Little Lost Creek Conservation Area near Warrenton. We hiked about 6 miles and I camped there the following evening. I took a quick photo hike in the morning and found these two Brown Stink Bugs (Pentatomidae – Euschistus servus) in copulation. They didn’t like that lens being so close and kept moving to the opposite side of the boneset (Eupatorium) blooms.