Monday, October 29, 2012

Sanderlings: Assateague Island

As I make this post Hurricane Sandy is grinding her way towards the New Jersey coast.  Her projected path is charted to bring her center to within 40 miles of my home somewhere around daylight tomorrow.  The wind is howling outside driving sheets of heavy rain before it.  So far our electric power has stayed on but with the lights flickering frequently I'm thinking that it is only a matter of time before we loose it.
Working with the photos from our weekend getaway, I cannot help but think about the kind people we met at Chincoteague and what they are going through tonight.  The causeway between the island and the Eastern Shore was closed at 7:15 this morning and those left have no choice but to ride out the storm.
Sanderlings were present along the Assateague beach in large numbers.  They are quite entertaining to watch as they rush down the beach with each receding wave rapidly probing the sand for a morsel of food.

And with each incoming wave rush up the beach again only to turn around and repeat the process time and time again. 

Sanderling probing the beach as a wave recedes

Having caught a crab or shrimp of some type this bird runs to avoid sharing its catch.

Once clear of the flock it drops the morsel 

And breaks it into smaller more manageable pieces
These sanderlings showed virtually no fear of humans frequently coming too close for my lens to focus.  The most difficult part of photographing them was trying to keep up with their rapid movement.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Surf is Up: Sunrise at Assateague Island

With Hurricane Sandy approaching, my wife views the angry Assateague Surf at dawn.
Planning a little ocean side getaway my wife and I ventured down to Virgina's picturesque Chincoteague Island on Thursday.  With wildlife photography and late-season beach bumming in mind we were keeping track of hurricane Sandy as she churned he way towards our east coast. 

Our plans called for heading home after sunrise Saturday and with the hurricane headed our way we were not tempted to linger. 

The approaching storm made for a memorable morning on the beach
I will be sharing the bird photos from the trip in future posts

Monday, October 22, 2012

Foliage and Waterfowl

Our autumn foliage colors peaked over the weekend just in time for the Fulton Fall Folk Festival.  I shot these photos Friday and already the color is beginning to fade as showers of leaves fall to the ground with each passing breeze.

 For the first time this fall I encountered ruddy ducks as they moved south. This female allowed me to approach quite closely with the boat.  The reflection of the autumn leaves in the water painted an appealing background to photograph her against.

The Pied-billed grebes were present as they have been for the past few weeks.  After hearing a commotion in the shallow I moved closer to find three grebes fighting over a bluegill.  I followed the grebes at a discrete distance, photographing them with the 100-400mm lens, trying not to interfere with their feeding.

The grebe tried unsuccessfully to swallow the good sized fish a number of times.  Finally tiring of my presence the bird took cover in the reeds lining the lake shore.  With it hidden from view I moved on not knowing if it was ever able to swallow such a large fish.

This group of ruddy ducks was shot at a distance and cropped heavily.  Note the molting male bringing up the rear.  Only a little of his breeding plumage remains on his back and sides while his bill has lost it bright color turning black for winter.

Spring is by far my favorite time to photograph migrating waterfowl as the birds slowly wend their way northward, many sporting their breeding plumage.  In contrast the fall migration finds the ducks with the afterburners turned, on wasting little time getting to their wintering areas, giving only a small window of opportunity to photograph them as they pass through. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Back on Duty

White-breasted Nuthatch
A few weeks ago while pursuing wildlife in elk country I accidentally dropped my 600mm f4 lens with camera attached.  The impact broke the camera mount loose from the rear of the lens barrel with only one small screw remaining holding it all together.  I was impressed with the quick 6 day turnaround from Canon repair and upon initial examination all looked well.
However when I began shooting it was a different story entirely.  Nothing was sharp!  No matter where I focused absolutely everything was at least slightly out of focus.  Further testing revealed that sharpness could be increased by stopping the lens down with each f-stop making an appreciable difference in image quality.  However even when stopping down to f10 the resulting images were not as sharp and a pre-accident f4 image.  Thinking that perhaps the camera may have been damaged as well, although it was working fine on both the 24-105 and 100-400, I tested the lens on my 30D and had my brother test it with his 5D Mark III.  The results between all cameras were the same.
Once again I shipped the lens to Canon repair and once again it returned on the sixth day.  Test shooting last evening in the fading light showed promise so this morning I took it out for a field trial.  The nuthatch image above was one of my many shots from the morning.  Finally after two trips to Canon the lens is again shooting tack sharp and is back on duty, just in time for the whitetail rut. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Waterfowl on the Move

Spending a few hours on a local lake Friday it was evident that the fall waterfowl migration is gaining momentum.  The number of pied-billed grebes has grown considerably in the past week.  Whereas I had been spotting just four pied-billed grebes during each visit the last few weeks on this visit as I trolled the length of the lake small groups of grebes were feeding along the entire shoreline.  Most were wary of the boat however this one allowed me to approach very closely.  

The surprise of the day came when I encountered a coot feeding near the shoreline.

 While coots are a common enough bird, finding them in my area is uncommon.  I could probably count all of my local coot sightings on one hand.  The best part of the sighting was that the coot wasn't the least concerned about my presence and continued to feed regardless of how close I approached.

By mid-day the calm morning had given way to windy conditions as dark clouds scuttled across the sky.  With the lake becoming increasingly choppy it was time to leave but not before snapping this shot of a canoe posed against a tapestry of autumn color. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Boating for Color

Our fall colors are improving each day.  While they will not reach their peak for 1-2 weeks yet a sunny morning of fishing gave me the chance to shoot autumn foliage reflections on calm water.

A little low-hanging fog still lingers over the far end of the lake as the sunrise lights the western shoreline.

Autumn's following a dry summer are less colorful than those that experienced plentiful rainfall.  With plenty of precipitation this year our 2012 fall foliage season should be outstanding.

Foliage Reflection
Not only were the colors outstanding during this outing but the fishing wasn't to be sneezed at either.


Sunday, October 07, 2012

Photographing the Photographers: Pa Elk Country

Each September a dedicated group of photographers gather around Benezette, Pennsylvania to shoot the elk rut.  This is an informal group bound together with a common interest in photographing wildlife and elk in particular.  With wildlife photography growing rapidly in popularity so to is the number photographers showing on the elk range.

 Visiting, chatting about elk, equipment, technique and catching up on each others lives during lulls in the elk activity is a big part of the elk rut experience.  For most of us this is the only time we will meet during the year while others may meet up again during the whitetail rut in Virginia.

The elk here are accustomed to people and seldom shy away as the paparazzi moves in.

As you can see in this shot where the elk in the photo graze peacefully in front of the cameras.

Other years I returned from these trips finding that I had focused my attention upon the elk and had missed photographing the people.  This year I was determined to capture the shooters.  To remind myself I carried a camera around my neck at all times with either the 24-105 or the 100-400mm lens attached just for that purpose. 
Checking my cards after this trip I was satisfied that I had captured a suitable number of shots of the photographers in action on the Pa elk range.
I mentioned in an earlier post about dropping the 600mm lens on this trip and now as Paul Harvey would say here is "the rest of the story".  I dropped the lens off with FedX last Saturday and it arrived at Canon repair on Tuesday.  Before noon on Wed. I had a repair quote and promptly approved it.  The repaired lens was delivered to my home on Saturday!  I took it out for a test run this afternoon and it appears that the lens is every bit as good as it was before the accident.  Now that is Good Service!  

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Pennsylvania, a great place to experience Elk

The Elk rut is a time of intense activity with adult bulls challenging one another, bugling, and fighting.  However in this moment, as a big bull bugled with his breath turning to steam in the frosty mountain air a cow and calf in the foreground lend the appearance of a family posed for a portrait. 

 A moment later the bull turned his head looking directly towards the lens as he again roared forth his challenge.  The bugle of a bull elk drifting across the countryside is an unmistakably beautiful sound of the wildlands.
Even during the frenzy of the rut a cow takes time out to do her duty as a mother nursing her calf.  The calves, with the exception of a few late born, have lost their spots appearing as miniatures of their mothers.
Pennsylvania offers a unique opportunity to view and photograph elk close-up with the Winslow Hill herd being acclimated to where they pay little attention to humans.  However these are wild animals in the sense that they are free-ranging and should not be approached too closely.  The first two photos in this post were taken using a 600mm lens and the last with a 500mm at distances of 80-100 yards.  A distance at which both the elk and the photographers remain safe.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Pa Elk: Limpy, the Star of the Show

The star of the show during my recent trip to Pennsylvania's elk country was a bull known to the elk photographic community as Limpy.  I first photographed this fellow in 2009 but it wasn't until he sustained an injury during the 2010 rut that he acquired his name.  The injury left him with a bad limp.  He is doing much two years later but he still retains a limp most easily observed when he walks.  This year he was my most often sighted bull as well as carrying the most massive antlers.
I captured this series of photographs of him as the sun rose during the first morning out.
A number of photographers were photographing the elk activity as Limpy protected his harem.  The scene was beautiful in the soft morning light and shutters were clicking rapidly.  As the sun began touching the far mountain side I remembered how pleased I had been with the results from a morning shoot in SNP when the sun kissed the antlers of a good buck.  With this thought in mind I hoped against hope that the same would happen with Limpy before he moved off the ridge top.

Not only did he stay on the ridge but he posed and bugled as if he were a trained model.

The cow near him was not quite as accommodating, however if she had paused from feeding to lift her head, she may have been a distraction in this photograph.

A little later, after the sun was fully up, Limpy posed like a statue testing the air.
You are free to disagree but for my taste the second and third images in this post are the best elk portraits I have ever captured.  His chances of making it through the upcoming elk season are slim and I will always be thankful that he gave me such and incredible morning of digital memories.