Sunday, January 31, 2010

Indoor/Outdoor Bird Photography

With the cold temperatures descending on our area this weekend I decided to do some of my photography from a warm observation post. To get an acceptable background I attached a broken rotted limb temporarily to my deck railing near the bird feeder. Attaching a plastic cup to the backside and filling it with sunflower seed completed the setup.

Soon a male Northern Cardinal landed on a branch checking out the new accommodations.

After discovering the treasure trove of seeds the Cardinal settled in on the feeding cup with the Y branch framing him perfectly.

These images, unlike all of the other bird shots posted this winter, was shot from the comfort of our kitchen.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Tufted Titmouse

Among the various birds visiting our natural feeders this winter the Tufted Titmouse is one of the most common. These little feather bundles are constantly flitting about allowing close-up photography. With the Canon 100-400mm L lens as my primary wildlife lens it is necessary to get very close to capture good feather detail.

Getting close seems to be my only option at this time as this lens’s autofocus will not function with either of Canon’s teleconverters attached to my 30D and my budget will not permit obtaining one of the much coveted super telephotos like the 500-600mm f4’s at this time.

This Titmouse allowed me to make this capture while perched within inches of my lens’s minimum focus distance.

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Wintry Sky

As daylight fades into darkness the warm colors of sunset belie the chilling temperature of the approaching cold winter night.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Time to Heal

With the deer hunting seasons past some of the season’s casualties are making their recovery

I first observed this doe’s wound on December 2nd, the third day of our rifle season. At the time she was having considerable difficulty walking. The wound appeared to be a day or two old as there was no sign of fresh blood. It wasn’t until December 23rd that I had the occasion to photograph her wound.

A close examination of this image shows visible fragments of broken bone. This bone damage precludes any future use of the leg but as many of us are aware a deer can do quite well on three good legs.

Photographing her once again on January 20th I was pleased to see that the injury is closing and continues to shows no sign of infection. The doe walks with a considerable limp but runs nearly as well as a healthy deer although the injured leg flails about uselessly.

We will never know whether this injury was inflicted by a careless hunter, buy a hunter who didn’t know where to place a bullet for a humane kill or if it was the result of a carefully aimed shot going awry. Perhaps an unseen twig forced the bullet from its intended path, or maybe the doe moved as the weapon was fired.

What ever the cause of the muffed shot this doe has suffered considerable pain and disability from an injury to flesh and bone of this magnitude. She stands in testimony to the strength and endurance of the whitetail deer.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Winter Afternoon Woodpeckers

The beautiful weather we experienced Saturday gave me another opportunity to work with the birds at our natural appearing bird feeders. One feeding spot is in the back of this upright weathered log. I have noticed that both Downy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers prefer this particular feeding spot.

Perhaps the cover surrounding this spot is attractive to the woodpeckers or perhaps it is because they can cling vertically to the trunk while feeding but what ever the reason both species frequent this spot. Being limited with the 400mm lens, I set up a few feet away hoping the woodpeckers would allow me to capture photographs with good feather detail.

The male Downy was the first to arrive. Although it remained hidden behind the feeder trunk most of the time it did move into sight twice allowing me to click a few frames each time.

A male Red-bellied did likewise although it was not quite as trusting as the Downy.

The birding fun all ended when a different “bird” arrived to clean up the remaining bird seed.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Bird Feeder Moments

With the birds flocking to the feeders sometimes it’s possible to catch some interesting action shots.
White-breasted Nuthatches will occasionally display aggressive behavior upon their approach to a busy feeder. Fluffing their feathers and spreading their wings they attempt to drive other birds away. The aggressive behavior only last for a second or two. I seldom have time to focus, compose, and fire. To date this is my best shot

A Tufted Titmouse perched on the tree directly above a naturalized feeder decided to descend at the very moment I clicked the shutter. Capturing the bird’s free-fall was more luck than skill.

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Friday, January 22, 2010

A Different Bird

The afternoon of September 20th 2009 found me once again fishing on the local lake when a bird came swooping out of the sky passing over the lake at low altitude then pulling up in a steep climb as it approached the north end.

Seeing the unusual markings I grabbed the camera in time to click a couple of shots before it passed by.

Looking at these photos once again today I became curious about this uniquely beautiful little flying machine. Turning to the internet I soon learned that it was built and is owned by Michael J. Langford of Bettendorf, Iowa. The plane is a Model RV-4, built in 2000 and powered by a Lycoming 0-320 series engine. Further searching revealed the RV-4 began life as a kit from Van’s Aircraft Inc of Aurora Oregon and normally takes 2000-2200 hours to complete.

Now if only birds of the feathered kind were so easy to identify:)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Bonaparte's Gull?

Continuing to dig through my 2009 archives I found a series of gull shots taken at our local lake. Gulls are not frequent visitors here but each spring a few sightings do occur as migratory flocks pass through.

Such was the occasion on April 18th when I observed a flock of about twenty gulls. After they had settled on the water they allowed me to approach to within only a few feet while using the electric trolling motor on slow speed to maneuver the boat.

I have dug through my reference material and searched the web in my attempt to identify this gull. My best guess is that it’s a Bonaparte’s Gull transitioning between winter and breeding plumage. If anyone can positively identify my gull please comment. Your comments are always welcome and ID help is very much appreciated!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Forest of Dreams

Lest you think I have became strictly a wildlife photographer, I though it proper to post an outdoor abstract, Forest of Dreams.

Winter is a good time to tidy up loose ends; catching up on chores put aside during nicer weather. Thus it is time that I tidy up my computer files; deleting, organizing, and creating fresh backups. While doing this I ran across this image from back in March. It had gone mostly unnoticed until today. With my finger poised over the delete key I began to see the potential it had to offer.

This image began as a reflection shot but I though it offered more if it were properly oriented and enhanced. As I worked with it the title became clear for to me it appeared as a barren ethereal forest found only in my dreams.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Poke Perch

A large poke plant grew just a few feet from our naturalized bird feeders this past summer. When its fruit matured it became a natural feeder of its own providing numerous beautiful bird shots as they perched and fed among its branches. This male Northern Cardinal was helping himself to the fruit on October 31st.

As the autumn turned into winter the poke withered leaves turned a rich brown color making a perfect background for this pretty little White-throated Sparrow’s photograph on December 22nd.

As winter’s wind and snow has taken its toll; the poke weed is dried, sun bleached, and broken, but its potential as a photographic perch remains as good as ever as this photograph of a female Northern Cardinal illustrates.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Mid Winter Chipmunk

After an extended cold spell I was thrilled when the weather forecast called for a January thaw this weekend. With daytime temperatures forecast well above freezing I was looking forward to spending some time setup at our naturalized bird feeders.

This chipmunk was a surprise visitor when it suddenly showed up yesterday morning. I first noticed it scurrying up the trunk of the feeder, disappearing into one of the hollow feed cavities and then reappearing at the highest knot hole, and excellent vantage point for it to check for danger.

Satisfied that the area was safe for the moment the chipmunk scurried back down to the feeding cavity and began stuffing its cheeks. I found it interesting that the chippy took the time to shell each sunflower seed before stuffing it into its cheek pouches.

With cheek pouches stuffed and ready to return to its den, the little rodent makes a quick check for danger before descending to the ground and scurrying away.

Chipmunks normally do not go into deep hibernation in our area and may be seen throughout the winter on particularly mild days. This little critter is taking advantage of the nice weather to restock its larder for the cold days yet ahead.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Elk on Snow

Reviewing images from my last visit to the Pennsylvania Elk Range I am beginning to think that perhaps the best time of the year to photograph this elk herd is in winter.

The earth tones of the elk set against a backdrop of mountains and snow may even be more picturesque than that of the early autumn foliage present during the rut.

This image was taken in the morning while hoar frost still covered the vegetation.

When the herd moved near the road in late evening this husky 7x7 posed in the fading light.

Aside from the beauty of the winter countryside another plus for winter elk photography is the lack of crowds. During the day we spent in the vicinity of the Gilbert Viewing Area we only encountered two other carloads of elk viewers and with the cold wind sweeping the hill they didn’t stay long.

On the minus side the cold temperatures can make long photo sessions uncomfortable and must be dressed for. However uncomfortable the conditions may be, the images of these magnificent animals in winter are well worth the effort.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpeckers, the smallest of our eastern woodpeckers, are frequent visitors at our winter feeding station. The white feathers about this male’s head and breast appear to be stained brown. With a number of black walnut trees I am guessing that they are the source of his staining.

This male Downy visiting one of our naturalized feeders exhibits the normal coloration.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Passing the Time

Two bucks, their crowns of antlers cast aside, pass the time grooming in the waning rays of the evening sun.

With the rut & the hunting seasons past the deer are able to relax and tend to the more important chores of life. Resting, feeding, renewing friendships, and trying to stay warm will keep the deer occupied until the warmer days of spring.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Tufted Titmouse

With a home range that covers the eastern half of the United States the Tufted Titmouse is a common guest at winter bird feeders. Although not as confiding as some other species the titmice that visit our feeders are more trusting than the woodpeckers and nuthatches. This titmouse posed just a few feet away this evening as it awaited its turn at the feeder.

A sharp gust of cold wind caught this Tufted Titmouse from behind fluffing it feathers and tilting it forward toward the camera. Capturing the moment with a 1/1600 shutter speed the bird appears absolutely ferocious and ready to attack!

Photographing wildlife is always challenging and working with these small birds may be even more difficult in some respects than photographing larger creatures. Seldom do they sit still for more than a moment making it difficult to get the camera settings correct and focused before they zoom off. I am finding that I am most successful with these small birds when shooting the camera in manual exposure mode and adjusting my exposure for an evenly lighted tree trunk by the feeders. This allows me to shoot birds on the snow, against the sky, or with wood/brush background and not have to worry with adjusting the exposure compensation. By presetting the exposure focusing is the only concern when a bird poses momentarily.

The down side to shooting on manual is that one must adjust the camera settings as the light changes. Today, with the skies a clear blue, this was not a problem but on a partly cloudy day with fast moving clouds it can be enough to drive one nearly insane :)

Saturday, January 09, 2010


105mm, ISO 100, F32, 5sec

While driving a snow covered back road a tiny stream rimmed in ice caught my attention. Thinking that perhaps I could do something creative with it I attached a Tiffen 0.9 neutral density filter to the lens, grabbed the tripod and waded through the snow to the little brook.
105mm, ISO 100, F32, 5sec.

I am one who is always ready for spring, just as soon as the holidays are past, but this year I have resolved to enjoy winter and to celebrate its unique beauty.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Northern Cardinals

Spending some time at the birdfeeders today I pushed the envelope and set up even closer to the feeders than at any time in the past. Most of the birds soon accepted my presence with the exception of the red-bellied woodpeckers; they fled immediately after landing and would not return until after I had retreated to a more comfortable distance

Natural appearing bird photography requires good perches and this dried broken poke weed stem provides a photogenic perch for birds awaiting their turn at the feeder. A pretty female Northern Cardinal obliges by posing ever so nicely in the soft evening light. This may be my best ever female Cardinal image.

A male Northern Cardinal perches on a natural hollow branch feeder. A sunflower seed is visible clasp in his beak.

Making use of the naturalized feeders has improved my winter bird photography considerable. My goal now is to continue to press even closer in my attempt to capture more detailed images.

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Thursday, January 07, 2010


I captured this shot of Willard during our winter elk photography trip just before Christmas. I was trying to capture an image that would illustrate just how cold it was that morning.

With Willard all bundled standing up beside his video rig and the falling snow flakes backlit by the morning sun I believe I achieved my goal.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Natural Bird Feeders

I prefer natural backgrounds for my wildlife images whether I am shooting big game animals or small birds. With the small birds preparation for natural backgrounds begins with the design your birdfeeders.

This photo captured a White-throated Sparrow and a Northern Cardinal perched on the feeder with another White-throated Sparrow attempting to land. This feeder is made from a section of split and splintered hollow log with a plastic bowl attached to the back side. The bowl of seed remains completely hidden from the camera while the birds pose beautifully.

A Downy Woodpecker male finds an easy meal in another naturalized feeder. Willard constructed this one from a hollow branch with a number of holes in it. By packing some plastic sheeting firmly inside the hollow trunk to keep the bird seed from running through and attaching it to a tree in an upright position it provides an excellent place to capture images of our feathered friends.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Winter Feeder Birds: Woodpecker & Nuthatch

A Red-bellied Woodpecker female pauses at the hollow-log feeder

A White-breasted Nuthatch checks the safety of its surroundings

Photographing winter feeder birds is a close-distance activity. Even with the 400mm lens it is necessary to get very close to obtain good image detail. These shots were taken around 15 feet, so far that is as close as these two species will allow me to set up the camera. Hopefully as the winter progresses they will become more tolerant.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Winter Bluebirds

A few days ago during a light rain I noticed some Eastern Bluebirds sitting on a line of fence post that runs between a pasture and a hay field. Wondering what drew them there I decided to observe them for a spell.

Soon a bird left its perch and flew into an area of the hay field searching among the stubble where the snow had recently melted. Moments later it flew back to a post with something in its beak. Dropping its morsel on the top of the post he pecked at it for a few moments before swallowing it.
As I watched the birds repeatedly flew to into the field and returned. I could not get as close a look at what they were catching as I would have liked but my best guess was that they were catching slugs.

This female decided to check me out while perched on a branch nearly overhead.

The next day our weather turned cold and blustery and I haven’t seen the bluebirds since.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Wildlife Composition

When shooting wildlife I find that I am always mindful of the backgrounds, trying to avoid things like a branch or weed that pops out of the subjects head etc, items that distract the viewer from the subject. Many times I will use a wide aperture to reduce the depth of field and allow the background to blur to illuminate distracting elements.

Snow gives one the opportunity to photograph wildlife on a white background with no distracting elements, perhaps even making the image less attractive because there are no elements in the photograph other than the main subject. I composed this White-throated Sparrow image to include the dried weed stems to add depth.

Here a single broken dried grass stem is the only element other than the sparrow.

Do you think these photographs are improved by the inclusion of these elements or would they be better without? Tell me what you think.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Trusting Animals: Photographing Wildlife

Photographing wildlife is no easy task, the beauty of the creatures, their environment and photographing their interaction is what keeps drawing me back time and time again to photograph God’s untamed creatures in their free roaming habitat.

Snapping a picture of a wild creature sometimes is easy and other times not so easy but making a Photograph is an entirely different situation. A studio photographer typically is in control of his subject, the lighting and the background environment but in wildlife photography all of that control is out the window.

For lighting we are strictly at the mercy of the weather and the animal’s whims. Even if we do find our subject during the very best light of the day, if the animal or our observation post is not properly positioned to take advantage of the beautiful light, our efforts are in vain. Sure a picture can be snapped to show what we saw but a real photograph, one such as you might find on a magazine cover will be impossible if we cannot change position to take full advantage of the situation.

Backgrounds are another issue. With wildlife the animal chooses where it will be and when it will be there. Sometimes the encounter is perfect with a great natural background and other times; oh well just another snapshot to be deleted later or kept as a reference to show what was encountered, unless the photographer can move to a more advantageous shooting position.

The value of trusting wildlife for photographic purposes cannot be overstated. With wildlife that does not become overly alarmed by human presence the success of the photographer as well as of the casual viewer is greatly enhanced.

It is no secret among wildlife photographers that many if not most wildlife photographs found in publication are photographs of trusting animals. These animals normally live in areas protected from hunting pressure. Areas such as National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges, and other protected areas as well as pen raised animals are utilized extensively by wildlife photographers.

Whether the subject is a songbird conditioned to human presence by feeding or a mature whitetail in a National Park there is no shame in photographing trusting animals, this is what we need to be successful. The challenge is not in the hunt but rather in using all of the tools, our knowledge, and our creativity to produce a beautiful memorable photograph that celebrates the beauty of nature.

Wildlife images featured on my blog, Country Captures, for the most part are of wildlife that has a certain amount of trust or tolerance for humans. With some subjects tolerance can be built with only a few quiet non-threatening visits while others require a considerable effort be expended acclimating the animals to human presence, sometimes years!

One of the great values of the Pennsylvania elk herd is the almost total lack of fear of humans. The elk found around the traditional viewing areas are accustomed to human presence. Seventy years of protection and the influx of tens of thousands of visitors each year has conditioned these animals to such a degree that they simply go about their daily business regardless of human presence.

With the current tiny no kill zone the quality of available animals has been eroded over the years of the hunt and perhaps their trust will be the next to go. Some do not see the value in preserving this unique experience that thousands enjoy and consider the changes brought on by the hunt to be positive.

In my opinion reducing these majestic trusting free ranging animals to a trophy hanging on the wall, a set of number in a record book, and a hunting story does nothing positive for the image of hunting or of hunters and nothing positive for this unique Pennsylvania Treasure.