Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Cute Lil Varmints

Growing up a farm boy I learned from early on that the critters posted here were varmints.  Raccoons were bad news whether in the sweet corn patch or the hen house.

And groundhogs were considered a problem in both crop fields and pastures not to mention the garden.

However as the years have passed my view of these animals have changed.  Now I welcome a close encounter with either species and a typical encounter today results in a few photo and then we all go home none the worse for the wear.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Exposed: Green Heron

Although quite common around wetlands and creeks in our area, Green Herons seldom expose themselves to photographers or birdwatchers.  The most common sightings of them are when they suddenly flush from the thick brush and just as quickly drop back into it after a short flight. 

This time I was the one concealed in the thick foliage when as a green heron hunted the marsh.  A few minutes before these photos were taken I was able to observe this bird catch and swallow a good sized bullfrog however intervening leaves prevent photography. 

With neck extended the appearance of the green heron is strikingly different than when it is pulled tight against their body as seen in the image below.



Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Look at Tripod Heads

Much can be said about the different tripod heads; entire books can be written about them. However in this post I intend to only touch upon the three types of heads that I have became familiar with and point out strengths and weaknesses of each as it applies to my usage.


Pan-tilt heads are commonly found on inexpensive tripods.  When locked down they will hold a camera with up to a medium telephoto lens.  I have used this particular head/tripod combination extensively with the Canon 100-400mm as well as with shorter lenses.  I found it necessary to lock the tilt function each time I took my hand away from the rig to keep the lens from tilting forward and crashing against the tripod legs.  The constant locking and unlocking was time consuming particularly during intense photo sessions with a wildlife subject.  As I have said before any tripod is better than no tripod and if this is the only head you can affort so be it.  It will do the job as long as it and the legs are sufficient to support your camera and lens.

 Ball Head

A good ball head is a step up from the pan-tilt as its ball can be adjusted to securely hold a medium telephoto while still allowing panning and tilting.  Some of the larger top of the line models will also handle large telephotos.

A notch in the side of the head allows the ball to easily be flipped into the vertical position or any angle in between.  These heads are no doubt the gold standard for use with the shorter lenses and very good with medium telephotos.

Gimbal Head, Kirk King Cobra

For handling the large telephotos the gimbal heads are unmatched.  Gimbal heads support the lens at their balance point.  Setup with the locks loose the lens can be panned and tilted effortlessly and is ready to fire without tightening any locks.

The largest drawback I have experienced with the King Cobra is range of motion with the 600mm lens. 

Interference between the pan knob and the lens barrel greatly limits pointing down however I cannot attribute this limitation to any missed shots in the field.

And with the smaller barrel of the 100-400 lens it does not impede the range of motion.

Wimberley WH-200 Gimbal

Another popular gimbal head, possibly the most popular, is the Wimberley WH-200.  Like the Kirk it also balances the lens for effortless movement and does not require any tightening or loosening to go from shooting to pan-tilt.

Unlike the Kirk their is no issue with range of motion with the Wimberley WH-200 regardless of the the size of telephoto lens.

Gimbals heads require the use of rotating lens collars ruling out using these heads with short lenses however nothing else matches them when it comes to handling the long glass.  With their smooth effortless panning and tilting following moving subjects is a breeze.  In short if the big glass is your game a gimbal should be supporting it.  Adding a good ball head to your bag will allow you to swap heads and handle any outdoor photographic situation you might find yourself in.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

After the Sunset

A line of thunderstorms moved through our area breaking the hold of the latest heatwave.  After raining for a couple of hours the western sky began to clear about twenty minutes after sunset.  The scene of layered clouds, fog, hills, and mountain appeared totally foreign compared to the everyday view. 

Such was the scene from my front porch as the day drew to a close in spectacular fashion.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Feeding Underwater: Whitetail Buck

While fishing a few days ago I spotted a young whitetail buck feeding along the shoreline.  Wanting to get a closer shot I headed his way and he didn't seem to mind.

But what he did next was a complete surprise as he submerged his head up to his ears, feeding on the underwater grasses.  Last year this lake was lowered about seven feet throughout the growing season and the lake bed grew up in lush grasses along this area.  Although submerged this year, the grasses continue to grow.

Going a little too deep at one point he jerked his head up shaking violently in an attempt to remove the water from his ear canal.  Not exactly a "perfect pose" but a cute shot nonetheless.

The buck didn't mind my presence as I was within forty yards and slowly drawing nearer using the boats electric motor set on slow, however when my cell phone began to ring it was too much for him and he moved off.  Cell phone are certainly handy but in this situation it prematurely ended a unique experience.  Sometimes there is more to life than staying connected :)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Beaver: up Close

Until this encounter beavers have for the most part eluded my photographic endeavors.  In our area beavers are not numerous, mostly nocturnal, and few beaver lodges survive the winter trapping season if they even last that long.  Because of their tree cutting, dam building, and culvert clogging habits they are usually unwelcome on private land or along secondary roads.  When they attempt to establish a lodge in such places it frequently results in a complaint to the Pa Game Commission demanding their removal. 

Waiting near the lodge one evening I was ready when a beaver swam near the shoreline however I wasn't ready for it to come so close.  With the 600 mounted on the tripod and no other lens along I was presented with the dilemma of having too much lens.  Head shots were the only option.

The beaver spotted me but was more curious than alarmed.  After swimming past a number of time it decided to take a closer look.  This photo was taken just a moment before it was inside of the 600's focus range.  After checking me out for a few minutes at a distance of less than ten feet it appeared satisfied that I was no threat and swam off to do what beavers do.

A memorable encounter to say the least!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Sora Rail & Snapping Turtle

Sora Rail with Snapping Turtle in foreground

Hoping to photograph the resident wood ducks I set up in the willows surrounding a wetlands last evening.  However the wood ducks proved too wary picking me out easily although I was set up in camo clothing and screened by the thick willows surrounding the water.  About forty-five minutes after settling in a movement through a screen of leaves caught my attention.  Focusing my binos I was super surprised to see a sora rail feeding in the shallow water.  This was my very first ever sighting of a sora!  Cautiously moving the camera to clear the nearby foliage I noticed a V wake quickly approaching the rail, a snapper on the attack!  As the wake reached land the snapping turtle lunged at the rail and just as quickly the agile sora hopped out of the snappers reach.

The rail kept a safe distance from the snapper as it circled about.

And decided to continue it foraging elsewhere.

Pennsylvania is listed as part of the sora rail's breeding range however in all of my years spending considerable time outdoors this was my first encounter.

After the rail had left the scene the snapper hauled out on the small hump and began digging into it.  As it dug I noticed that flies were buzzing around it that there were many feathers.  It was then that I realized that I was looking at the remains of some type of bird.  Whether it was a snapper kill or a dead duck that the snapper had lain claim to I have no way of knowing however I do think it evident that the snapper was protecting his food from an intruder; in this case the secretive little sora rail.

After lying there watching for a few minutes the snapper quietly slid off into the water.  No doubt staying nearby, watchful for any other creature nearing its cache.

Friday, July 13, 2012


What could be prettier than a male goldfinch decked out in his breeding plumage?

My extended backyard encompasses a patch of ground that I maintain as a food plot for wildlife.  Last weekend I bush hogged the majority of it to encourage tender shoots of new growth to sprout.  In the middle of the plot there was a stand of thistle and mullen which I left standing.  Thistle attracts a large variety of insects and the ripened thistle seed heads are a favored food of the goldfinch.

With some of the mullen and thistle seed pods ripening I set up in a cover strip this evening to photograph the brilliant little goldfinches.  In less than an hour the goldfinches returned to feed with the ones landing closest to me perching on the dried mullen stalks.

While a closely mowed lawn appeals to the human eye allowing native plants to grow and mature where possible, along with mowing every year or two to keep down woody growth, provides a much more attractive setting for wildlife. 

Sunday, July 08, 2012


Images from the ongoing Heatwave.

Steamy Dawn

Field of Flowers

Deer Family; Beating the Heat

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Lifer: Northern Waterthrush

Our area has been sweltering under the heatwave that has enveloped much of the central and eastern United States.  I have focused much of my wildlife photography over the past week upon one particular spot along a local creek where deer frequently cross.  While focused upon obtaining "deer in the water" shots; other wildlife opportunities do arise as did this encounter with a waterthrush.

Actually, I was unaware that any waterthrush's inhabited our area until one day in April when my wife and I accompanied our niece Amy and her husband on a walk through a wildflower reserve.  Amy heard a bird calling and identified it as a Louisiana Waterthrush and soon we spotted it bobbing along a bubbling stream.  This remained my only encounter with waterthrush's until yesterday morning as I sat at the creek crossing when two birds lit along the creek and began hunting the shoreline.  At first I thought, Louisiana waterthrush, but upon researching the waterthrush I found that our area is in the range of the northern varity as well.  I think that what I have here is a northern; based upon the description.  If anyone has reason to disagree I would certainly appreciate your input in a comment. 

I was simply amazed by the number of insects, worms, etc. that these birds caught in a short amount of time.  As they searched among the rocks only a few moments passed between each catch.  Once I saw a bird with a small crayfish in its beak; however this activity was taking place in a dark shaded area.  Under those conditions my autofocus was giving me fits and no photos of the birds with a catch made the grade to be published here.  However, when one bird hopped into a shaft of sunlight everything worked perfectly.

While the waterthrushs are members of the warbler family their gait and feeding habits are much like those of the spotted sandpiper; bobbing continously while foraging near the water's edge.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Whitetails and Water

While I have a considerable collection of whitetail images, very few include water in the composition.  Attempting to remedy the deficit I have spent some time recently watching a stream crossing.  The images posted here were captured on a recent steamy morning while our area was in the grip of the continuing heat wave.   

 The fawns were obviously enjoying splashing about in the shallow water

 And seemed unaware of the young wood ducks seen here in the foreground

The lead fawn appears to have nursing in mind

Wading in knee deep water slowed the fawns momentarily as placed their feet more carefully

The calm water above the rapids reflected the deer nicely

And a moment of shared affection capped off the morning perfectly

Photographing wildlife in deep woods is difficult at best and virtually impossible at worst.  For most wildlife photography an opening in the vegetation is necessary.  Streams provide a natural opening and wildlife attraction while also making an ideal background for wildlife photographs.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Hummingbird close-up Photography

Ruby-throated Hummingbird, adult male
Canon 60D, 600mm f4 L IS USM, 25mm extension tube
ISO 800, F4, 1/800

Hummingbirds are a challening subject to photograph well.  While they are plentiful and can easily be lured in and habituated to feeders filled with a 1-4 sugar water mixture the difficulty is in capturing sharp images of the tiny fast flying birds.  Since I nearly always focus my wildlife photography upon capturing the birds and animals in a natural setting, shooting hummers at the feeder is not an option.  To make natural appearing photographs I remove the feeder and instead place a flower(butterfly weed in this instance), spritzed with the sugar water mixture nearby in a location with good lighting and a background that will be pleasing when suitably blurred by the shallow depth of field.

While I prefer to photograph using a low ISO, the shutterspeed required to freeze hummingbirds in fligh normally require the higher ISO settings. 

F4.5,ISO 250, 1/60 (same camera lens combo)

Perched hummingbirds are much easier subjects to photograph.  Even with long lenses it is still necessary to be exceedingly close to take frame filling shots of the tiny birds.