Sunday, February 28, 2010

Winter: A Time of Hardship

Even as winter begins to loosen its grasp the time of hardship is not past for our wildlife.

The green sprouts of spring may be too long in coming to save this orphaned fawn from death.

I have been noticing this fawn recently and have observed how its body is wasting away. Although not readily apparent in the first photograph this shot of it walking away shows it protruding pelvis well.

At no time have I observed it with an adult female. I would expect that from whatever cause that it was orphaned and has had to face the winter alone without the guidance and experience that an older deer could provide.

With the exception of a few individuals the whitetail herd in our area appears to be wintering well.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Wild Turkey Adventure: Part 4

As the fight continued it was evident that both toms were tiring. The fighting became less frantic although the serious intent of the birds did not diminish

During this phase of the fight the stronger bird expended considerable effort in attempts to force his opponent to the ground.

Once again grappling his opponent’s head the stronger bird forced its head down onto its back. Note the severe neck twist captured here

After a few moments of struggling the weaker gobbler collapsed on the snow with outstretched wings as the winner looks on.

After resting for a minute and regaining his composure the losing bird arose, walking away from the arena of combat escorted by the proud victor.

Checking the photograph’s time code revealed that this fight had raged for 19 minutes.

Brad Myers asked in one comment what I will do to top this. I don’t know Brad but I am sure that in due time another surprising and exciting wildlife experience will occur; that is what keeps me going back to the outdoors every chance I get!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Freedom Skies

Nothing symbolizes Freedom more than a soaring American Bald Eagle

I photographed this beautifully marked eagle at Conowingo Dam, near Baltimore Maryland. Take notice of the white feathers in the wings and the black fringing of the tail; this eagle is making the transition into adulthood. Bald Eagles reach full maturity by five years of age.

Earlier in the morning I observed this eagle catch a fish and then alight in a nearby tree to feed. The poor lighting precluded any acceptable images but the light improved before it took flight allowing me to capture this image of the transitioning Bald Eagle.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Wild Turkey Adventure: Part 3

I promised yesterday to show what the other gobblers were doing during the fight. Well here they are, staying close to the fight, appearing to referee but in reality being nothing more than close up spectators.

With snow flying from their feet the gobblers fought violently while another gobbler looks on, probably glad that he isn’t the one getting knocked about.

At moment when the observing gobbler wasn’t paying attention the combatant on the left nearly leaves the ground in a spray of snow kicked up as each tried to better the other. This is one of my favorite shots of the entire episode.

In shooting this fight I was using the camera in AV exposure mode, evaluative metering, and compensating +1 to +1.3 stops while pausing often to check the LCD for blinkies (over exposure) and not worrying too much if some of the snow was over exposed. I also stopped down some (F6.3-7.1) to give a deeper DOF as the subjects were moving so fast as to make exact focusing difficult.

I have enjoyed reading all of the nice comments concerning this series. Some of your comments require a reply so here goes.

First I must admit; yes I am stringing you along but the fight was such an interesting event and I captured so many images that I didn’t feel that I could do it justice with just one post.

Wild Turkeys are quite common in America and are now found in nearly all states and in some Canadian provinces. Although early settlers did put quite a dent in their population they have rebounded wonderfully. State wildlife agencies with help from private groups such as the National Wild Turkey Foundation have been instrumental in improving wild turkey habitat and in relocating birds to suitable habitat that previously held none. Much research has been done with wild turkeys and it continues as evidenced in an earlier post featuring the Pa Game Commission capturing and banding turkeys in preparation for a new four year hen survival study. You mentioned that perhaps I enjoyed this unique moment; certainly! This was by far the most exciting encounter I have ever experienced with wild turkeys.

Les (Corker2)
I have been around wild turkeys all of my adult life and have spent considerable time observing them as well as hunting them. This was the first time I have ever witnessed a fight of this magnitude. I did some searching on YouTube and found where a couple of videos are posted showing gobblers grappling each other. Wild turkeys are normally very reclusive; the best way to photograph them is to wait at a location where they frequently feed. It takes a lot of time but it can pay off handsomely, besides where turkeys frequent many other critters will as well.

I guess I have the opposite reaction when an exciting moment happens; I find that I am so busy trying to capture images that I miss a lot of the action then learn more about it later as I review the images.

Mona (Montanagirl)
As you and anyone else who photographs wildlife knows, timing is everything! I have spent hours and hours with turkeys and other wildlife that was doing absolutely nothing. Wildlife feeding or just standing/sitting around can be good for portraits but when the action breaks; that’s when the real fun begins!

Thanks everyone for all of your nice comments. Stop back later, more to come

Monday, February 22, 2010

A Wild Turkey Adventure: Part 2

As suddenly as the commotion began the landscape fell silent when from the fray two turkeys emerged locked in battle. With heads locked and breasts against one another the gobblers pushed and shoved with all of their strength.

When the head hold gave way the gobblers would grapple again trying to grab the other in the most advantageous hold all the while shoving their bodies together.

In this close-up shot the combatants are holding each other with their necks intertwined while jockeying for the head hold. As the gobblers vied for the advantageous hold their heads and necks reminded me of two vertical snakes twirling together

A close-up of the head lock with one gobblers lower beak in the mouth of his opponent and his upper over the top of the head while the others upper beak is inside the mouth with his lower below the lower beak of the other contestant.

My observation during this fight was that the gobbler with his upper beak over the top of the head of his opponent had the advantage.

In all of my years of observing wild turkey behavior this is the first time I have ever witnessed a fight between two adult gobblers where they grappled each other. Previously I had observed charges, kick-boxing, and some pecking but never anything remotely resembling this serious silent battle for supremacy.

In the next post we will take a better look at the violent action taking place here and a look at what the two accomplices were doing while these two gobblers fought their intense battle.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Wild Turkey Adventure: Part 1

The morning began like so many others with Willard and me at one of our favorite winter wildlife observation spots. During the winter we frequently photograph wildlife together and then go our separate ways during the warmer months as we pursue different wildlife photographic interest.

When a flock of Wild Turkey gobblers came into view we were a pleased to see that one gobbler was strutting, a sure sign of the first stirrings of their spring mating season. This was the first strutting either of us has witnessed this year.

As we observed the flock this gobbler badgered his flock mates attempting to agitate one into sparring with him but they seemed to ignore his aggravations. As these turkeys began to wander off gobbling was heard from over the top of a nearby ridge and soon another small flock of gobblers could be seen on the wooded hillside.

The new arrivals seemed hesitant to move any closer to the first flock and spent quite a bit of time feeding on the snow covered hillside until finally one gobbler got up the nerve to move in. The first flock had been keenly observing the intruders and as a single intruder moved in three of the first flock charged him running at top speed.

The gobblers met in a loud ruckus of putting, purring and flapping wings. I was somewhat distraught as the action was taking place nearly out of sight behind a nearby snow bank as can be seen in this photograph.

I have witnessed wild turkey gobblers strutting and charging numerous times in the past but what was to come would be a totally new adventure for me.

As the legendary radio commentator Paul Harvey would say for the “Rest of the Story” check back later.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Conowingo Eagle

Planning on an early departure Willard and I began the trip to Conowingo Dam at 3:30 to get us there at first light. After having and planned an earlier trip which was thwarted by heavy snows it was good to get on the road to a new photographic adventure.

The internet has been buzzing about the Bald Eagles that hang out around the dam during winter feeding on the fish that are killed, injured, or stunned passing through the turbines of the hydro plant and finally we were on our way to check it out for ourselves.

The trip down was quite uneventful and what looked to be a promising beautiful sunrise lost its color moments after it began but our main interest lay in the eagles and it only took a few minutes to spot the first one sitting on a power line tower.

Hydro generation began while it was still too dark for flight shots and the eagles concluded their fishing rather quickly. After photographing a transition phase eagle eating its catch high in a tree another photographer advised us as to where an adult was perched. Walking up to that location we immediately set to work photographing the accommodating eagle trying to always be ready for when the eagle decided to depart, hoping to capture its image as it launched into flight. Little did we know that it would not be until four hours and forty-five minutes later that it would soar off and at that precise moment neither of us was ready!

During the time the eagle posed there were some interesting moments such as this shot when it ruffled its feathers.

For more photographs and information on this adventure visit Willard over at Pa Wildlife Photographer.

I expected this trip to be the photographic highlight of the weekend and indeed it was a good productive trip but little did I know that it would pale when compared to what was to transpire Saturday morning. Stop back in a day or two and I will fill you in with stunning photos of a totally unexpected wildlife event.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Snow Exposure

Have you noticed that many photographs taken with snow backgrounds on cloudy days end up looking like this; dark and dingy with gray snow and an even darker subject?

If you are shooting your camera in auto mode this will be the typical result. Without going into all of the technical details the solution is to compensate the exposure. For this you will need to change modes to one of the creative ones such as AV (aperture priority) of TV (shutter priority) or switch to the manual mode and then compensate the exposure allowing more light to expose the digital sensor.

This dark shot of a Tufted Titmouse was made on AV with +.3 stop of compensation

With a compensation setting of +1.3 this image of an American Tree Sparrow is considerably improved.

A little tweaking of the image in Photoshop produced a reasonably acceptable photograph but in hindsight I should have compensated more, possibly as much as a full 2 steps.

Properly exposing a subject on a snow background is not an easy task so it’s always best to shoot some trial shots checking the results on the camera’s LCD often and compensating as needed to end up with a nicely exposed subject with white snow that retains it's detail.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Windblown Cardinal

Gusty winds can ruffle ones feathers. The cardinal’s crest is pushed forward by a gust from the rear.

A slight change of wind direction gives our bird an all new sleek “do”

And a very strong gust gives her a momentary modern punk style

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

American "Common" Crow

Ubiquitous across North America, hated by some and tolerated by others the American Crow can be seen nearly everywhere. Crows are present in the deepest wilderness as well as rural and urban environments. With a lifespan of up to thirty years these birds are considered by some as possibly the most intelligent of all birds.

The combination of excellent eyesight, high intelligence, and their habit of foraging in flocks with a lookout posted at a strategic observation post ready to call the alarm has made these birds quite successful in their coexistence with humans. A crow has no problem distinguishing between an armed and an unarmed person, even at three football field’s distance.

Crow are omnivorous and will never miss an opportunity to clean up any carcass they happen to spot, even if it is lying on a busy highway. I once worked with a man who jokingly said that among the items on his bucket list was his desire to roadkill a crow. I laughed when he said it and then paused; I had never seen a dead crow lying along the roadside! And now twenty five years later I have yet to encounter my first.

As common as the common crow is this is one species that had defied my efforts to capture a good image until this past weekend. Not only are most crows extremely wary but being a black bird with a black eye it can be difficult to capture eye detail. With this close encounter the situation was doubly difficult with the crow on the snow. Shooting on AV (aperture preferred) I over-exposed 2 stops to properly expose this bird.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

I Know That I’m A Snowbird but…….

Enough is Enough!

With two major winter storms battering our area within days of each other, road crews were kept busy around the clock trying to keep roads open for travel.
The high winds that followed last week’s snow caused many roads to become impassable. Schools and many area businesses closed on Wednesday and Thursday with the schools remaining closed Friday. The road to our family farm remained drifted closed until dusk Thursday. I captured these photographs as the road crew was pushing their way through the drifts

As darkness enveloped the landscape I was able to make this long exposure (3.2 sec) capturing the one truck sitting still as another with its lights flashing passed by.

More snow is in the forecast for tomorrow; this time only 3”-5”. I hope their right; I have had enough deep snows for one winter.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Camera Critters: Hang Time

Continuing with the Action Shooting theme from yesterday today’s shots were taken as the birds were hopping.

This little female House Finch was really kicking up the snow as she hopped hurriedly towards the feeder on my deck railing.

A Dark-eyed Junco followed suit hopping along the rail. The camera’s shutter stopped it in mid hop making it appear as though it is sitting suspended above the snow covered rail.
We are finally getting dug out from all of the snow and drifting that has occurred over much of the Eastern United States. Today I sighted my first Bald Eagle of the year when it tookoff from a roadkill it was feeding on along the roadside. No chance for a photo but it was still a thrill to see the majestic bird rise into the air.

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Action Shooting: Birds in Flight

Always looking for a new photographic challenge I decided today to focus upon capturing our feeder visitors in flight. To tell the truth the task was considerably more difficult than I had envisioned. From the afternoon’s shoot I only came away with a handful of reasonable sharp images of which I consider this female Northern Cardinal to be the best.

A House Finch leaves its snowy perch on its way to the feeder

This Tufted Titmouse is leaving a feeder with a sunflower seed gripped tightly in its beak. With its wings folded at the moment of capture it appears to be leaping instead of flying.

The first issue in capturing these flight shots was finding a shutter speed that could be depended upon to stop the motion. I have shot ducks, herons etc at longer ranges and have found 1/1000 of a second to give reasonably sharp shots while panning. With these speedy little birds at close range I needed a much faster shutter speed, 1/3000 or more.

The second issue was keeping the bird in the frame. To get frame filling shots of these small subjects requires being close, to close to pan & focus so I worked with focusing upon them while they were perched and trying to capture them as they took flight. This meant anticipating which direction they would fly and aiming the camera accordingly then attempting to read their body language to anticipate when they would take flight and firing a burst. Needless to say I captured a number of burst where the bird sat still the entire time and then flew just as I released the remote.

The third issue was focus. Focusing upon these fast moving birds was out of the question, I ended up just focusing upon them while they were perched and then hoping for the best.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Drifting Snow

Having been hammered by two major snow storms in less than a week there was plenty of snow for the high winds last night and today to work with. Heading out for work at 4am, after traveling only two miles sometimes in white-out conditions with drifts across the road in places and contemplating over thirty more miles to go, I thought better of it and returned home.

The road to our family farm was drifted closed this morning so I took the opportunity to capture some close-up images of snow drifts. A single redbud seed pod adds perspective to this gleaming snow dune

Shooting from a low angle facing the edge of a drift captured the windblown snow swirling through the air.

Moving in even closer and shooting parallel with the drift face captured the snow cascading off of the edge.

Snow, although it can hinder our planned activities, also provides us with some awesome beauty. I vowed earlier this year to embrace winter and enjoy it for its unique beauty; these two back to back storms have certainly given us plenty to embrace!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

PGC Turkey Study

The Pennsylvania Game Commission is embarking upon a multi-year study of wild turkey hen harvest and survival rates. Two wildlife management units 2F and 2G will have a three weeks fall hunting season during 2010 & 2011 followed by a two week season in 2012 & 2013. Units 2C, 2E, 4A, 4B, and 4D will have a two week fall season during 2010 & 2011 followed by three weeks during 2012 & 2013.

While roaming about our area one day back in mid January I happened to run across a location where the local PGC officers were preparing to capture turkeys.

In the foreground of this photo are the three rockets attached to a 40’ X 50’ net. The net and associated equipment is camouflaged with straw with the baited area directly in front. Once turkeys are coming regularly to the bait PGC personnel conceal themselves nearby to fire the rockets which then carries the net over the birds effecting the capture.

Photo by Andy Carbaugh
After firing the net the turkeys are rolled in the netting to secure them

Photo by Andy Carbaugh

The turkeys are processed, banded and then released at the trapping location

I wish to thank Deputy Wildlife Conservation Officer Andy Carbaugh of Rangers Adventures for supplying me with the images he captured at the trapping event.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Late Evening Snow Scene

Long after sundown an evergreen tree heavily laden with snow became the subject of this winter scene.

With the camera set at ISO-100, 1.6 sec, F/6.3, 130mm and anchored on the tripod I was very pleased with the results.

As I make this post the snow is again falling. The forecast calls for 10-20 inches followed by high wind.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Blue Jays Through the Window

Blue Jays are common enough in my area and their raucous calling can be heard frequently about the woodlands. Being quite the birdfeeder bullies most other species flee the feeders upon their arrival.

As boisterous and aggressive as they are they are also the species among the regular feeder visitors least tolerant of human presence. In my attempts to get close-up photographs of them this winter I have been thwarted by them at every turn.

With this weekend’s heavy snow covering their natural feed a few of the Jays seemed to be less cautious than normal and began visiting our deck feeder with me and my camera set up just inside our kitchen window. Most feeder visits consisted of the Jay landing directly in the feeder, grabbing a beak full of sunflower seeds and departing to an of sight perch with out giving me the opportunity to photograph it against an attractive background

Finally this bird landed where I was able to utilize the shadows cast by trees across the snowy hillside beyond to create a pleasing out of focus background.