The American White Pelicans are back

The annual migration of the American White Pelicans to the Coralville Reservoir and Lake Macbride has begun. I hiked down towards the edge of the reservoir today where a huge pod of pelicans were resting near the shoreline. Two pelicans (see first image below) flew right at me as they came in to join the pod. For being such a large bird, they are very graceful when flying. As I waited around, taking a few videos and additional images, an immature eagle swooped over my head and over the pelicans, sending about one half of the pod into the air (see second image below).

On a side note: Today as I was hiding in some waist high bushes about 50 feet from the water the unique odor of the pelicans came back to me. Several years ago, a couple of us went up river in canoes, under HW965, into a pod that easily held several thousand pelicans. The smell was worst than a pig pen; worst than fresh manure being spread on a farm field. If you ever get close enough to smell it, you will never for get it.

I hope you get a chance to see these magnificent creatures. 

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Snow geese at Desoto Bend

Renee and I took off Monday morning for Desoto Bend Wildlife Refuge near Missouri Valley, on the west edge of Iowa. I had not been there in twenty plus years. A photography friend of mine told me last week that the snow geese were at the refuge. I contacted the refuge and was told there were between 500,000 and 750,000 snow geese on the oxbow lake within the refuge. We arrived late afternoon, drove around the refuge, took some images, got our bearings (I.e. where will the sun be rising on Tuesday morning). Walked into the visitor center which was closing in a few minutes to see to see if we wanted to come back tomorrow and visit.

The alarms were set for an early rise. We grabbed a light breakfast, and walked out to a heavy frost on the car. After scraping the windows, we were off with over thirty minutes to get to the refuge and to a spot I had picked out the afternoon before. It was much colder than we had expected, but as forecasted, the sky was cloudless. We could hear the snow geese long before we could see them. As the sun began to lighten the sky, the snow geese started flying.

The four images below are a small fraction of the hundreds of images we took yesterday morning. The first image below, I zoomed in on the snow geese as they were approaching our parking spot. The second image is a wide angle image showing hundreds, if not thousands of snow geese spiraling up into the sky searching for a field for their breakfast. The third image shows the unique groupings that occur with the snow geese, a group flying towards the north and a group flying west, at different elevations. The fourth image was taken just a few seconds before the sun broke the horizon. The moon was still visible and the sunlight was reflecting off the bottoms of the white feathered snow geese.

We had an amazing time in the refuge, long before anyone else arrived. We returned to the motel, cleaned up, and went back to the visitor center before heading home. At the visitor center we saw and read about a steamship called the Bertrand, that sank in 1865 and was discovered buried on the refuge in 1968. Over 250,000 artifacts were excavated from the wreck the following year. 


Sunset at Wickiup's bird blind

I had some surgery done on my back yesterday to hopefully reduce or eliminate the back pain I have had for nearly three years. After being stuck in the hospital and in the house for way too long, I ventured out to Wickiup Nature center just before sunset tonight. I slowly walked to the bird blind hoping to get a few images of the sun backlighting the birds. The top image is a Downy Woodpecker, the middle is a Redheaded Woodpecker and the bottom is a male Cardinal.

All of the images (below) have the beautiful glow of rim lighting or backlighting. Canon 80D, 100-400mm II lens at ISO 400 to stop the action, and at f/5.6 to create the blurry backgrounds.

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"Snowing Again!"

I keep telling a hunting friend of mine, that there is a "rafter" of wild turkeys in the forest just to the east of where we live. As I was returning home earlier this afternoon I saw at least twenty turkeys gathered under a large pine tree, trying to keeping out of the snow. However, as with all creatures, there were several that were out in the snow, on the edge of the pond (see image below). As I watched the three on the right slowly work there way towards the shelter of the pine tree, I think the last one, in the center of the image, was saying exacting the same thing everyone else is thinking: "Snowing again!"


Hampered by an abandoned fishing line.

If you look close at the image below, you will see a fishing line trailing from the beak of this goose. I saw a DNR truck later that afternoon and left a message for them.

This happens to lots of creatures that live on or in our lakes and ponds. Please be responsible. 

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Yesterday's favorite image

As I am enjoying my retirement, I try to get outside shooting everyday, of course that depends greatly on the weather here in Iowa. Yesterday was a blustery day, then some precipitation, followed by some fog in the late afternoon and evening. I was out taking some fog images, but had to be back to pick-up Renee for a meeting around 5pm. As I pulled into the subdivision, I glanced to my left and saw a young buck (see image below) stepping out of the fog. He stopped, and so did I. There were several other deer in the open field to the left, but none of them had the fog behind them. As I lowered my window and raised my camera, the young buck looked directly at me, posing perfectly. I got off a few images with my Canon 80D, Av mode, ISO 800, f/5.6, 100-400mm II lens at 349mm, using spot metering. The image was only slightly cropped in Photoshop.

p.s. We still made it to the meeting on time.

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An example of the kindness of fellow Iowans

Today, I witnessed what it means to be a true Iowan. I was down at the Macbride Nature Center, photographing the creatures at the bird blind during this morning's snow storm. After about two hours and hundreds of images, I hiked back to the car and started to return home. There are two fairly large hills near the entrance to the center and my Camry decided to pause about 1/3 of the way up the first hill. No matter what I did, I was not going anywhere. A couple of gentlemen stopped and took me up to the maintenance shed to see if anyone was working. No such luck. I called a tow truck, but they were busy and it would be at least an hour or more. The gentlemen offered to wait around with me. After about twenty minutes, another pair of drivers started into the center, we stopped them, warning them about my car and the slick road. It turns out they were part of the volunteers that work at the nature center. One of them offered me a seat in their car and said I could wait with them until the plow driver or tow truck arrived. I thanked the original rescuers and moved into another vehicle so that they could get on their way. After about another thirty minutes, another volunteer arrived and he started plowing the road. We followed them to my car, where I was dropped off. Again, I thanked them for their time. I backed down about 25 feet, sliding into the plowed lane and was able to get up the hill and out of the area to the highway. This is exactly what it means to be an Iowan. 

These two images (below) were from this morning. the squirrel was really entertaining, with lots of praying for the snow to stop. The comb on the cardinal looked like it was frozen.

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Screaming Eagle

I had to run into Cedar Rapids today and when I was done, I swung by the roller dam. There were a few eagles flying, a lot sitting on the north bank. However, there was a couple of mature Bald Eagles not 75' from my location. I took several images as the sun peaked out from some low clouds about an hour before sunset. An immature eagle landed on the same branch as this eagle creating a little action. The mature eagle (see image below) started screeching, turned to face the immature one, and flapped its wings until the immature eagle flew off. This eagle continued screeching and displaying for a good 4 to 5 minutes, i.e. 40-50 images. I really like the way the sun was sets off his angry looking eye.

Canon 80D, 100-400mm II lens at 400mm (560mm equivalent), ISO 400, 1/5000 sec at f/5.6, hand held using the car as a blind. I did crop the image and reduced it to 4x6.

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Winter means snow

By living in Iowa, we are able to enjoy all of the seasons. I have always liked Winter, from snowshoeing, cross country skiing, hiking and of course, photography. However, I don't like the extreme temperatures and windchills well below zero that we had earlier this winter.

But I do like snow. Lots of snow. After the latest six inch snowfall, I headed outside for the fresh air, with extra batteries and warm hiking boots. What I found was the Cedar River at Sutliff Bridge open with plenty of small icebergs floating down (see image below). As I headed towards Palisades-Kepler State Park, I saw this curving path going up the hill in the snow. Where was it going? With the heavy clouds to the south, it looks like someone drove right off the top of the hill into the clouds (see 2nd image below). Not finding anything I wanted to photograph at Palisades, I headed to Lake Macbride State Park. There, I walked most of the dam to beach trail, after all, it was balmy 12 degrees outside. The last image is the trail at the boat dock, before I headed out towards the dam. A crystal clean snow, with sunny clear skies, cold temperatures; what more could someone who likes winter ask! I did not see anyone else out enjoying the latest winter snow, that was unfortunate.

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Natural Framing

What is natural framing - photograph something where there is framing within the photo. ... Examples: Photograph through a tunnel, an archway, under some tree branches, through a hole in a wall, through a hole in a seashell, looking out a door as long as the doorway is the frame or find something else that naturally frames your subject. This image of the eagle (see below) is an example of natural framing. I was driving down the river road when I spotted this eagle, as I slowly approached on foot, I saw that the tree branches make a natural frame. One that was impossible not to photograph. It would have made an even better photograph if the eagle was facing me and not the Cedar River. However, I waited until it turned towards the setting sun so that the eye was easy to focus on.

From Composition 101 by Liz Masoner

When composing a photograph, there are a variety of techniques employ. Basics like the rule of thirds and leading lines can make an impact and improve your pictures, as well a technique called "natural framing."

Composing a photo with a natural frame is a great way to direct the viewer's eye to your subject and add depth and dimension to the photo. It's a very easy technique to learn; you just have to know what to look for.

Understanding Natural Framing in Photography

A natural frame is created when you place a secondary object such as a tree or a door in the scene of a photograph so that it frames your main subject. It's really that easy and you have probably done it naturally yourself at some point.

Photographers use natural framing all the time to add drama to an image. For example:

  • A photo of a statue in a courtyard is more appealing if there is an ornately carved doorway leading you into the picture.
  • An outdoor portrait of a bride and groom on the veranda is more romantic with a few autumn leaves hanging softly in the upper corner.
  • A still life of a flower arrangement is more inviting when it's framed by the afternoon window light falling on the table.

A frame can be any object, shape or light that contrasts the rest of the image in some way that draws the viewer in, grabs their attention, and makes them see what you want them to see.

How to Frame Your Photographs

Learning how to frame your images requires practice in pre-visualization. You need to be able to look around your scene and figure out what can make the photo better. Just as you seek out the subject of your photo, you need to seek out the secondary elements that can back it up.

There are a few good rules to follow when adding a natural frame:

  • Frames are typically in the foreground and lead the viewer's eye to the main subject that is behind it. However, a frame may also be a shadow or shape on the wall behind your subject.
  • Decide if you want your frame to cover all sides of the photo or come in from just one or two sides. The doorway and leaf examples mentioned above are both great for their intended purposes.
  • Determine if you want your frame to be in sharp focus or soft and blurry. Both can be effective in different circumstances. Use f/stops to control the depth of field and achieve the desired effect.
  • Give your frame a distinct shape and make sure it looks like you intentionally placed it there. It should be easy to visually separate the frame from the rest of the photograph.
  • Avoid cluttering the photo. The intention is to make the frame stand out without becoming a distraction from the main subject.

Study professional photographs and pay attention to the natural frames those photographers used. What effect do they have? Did they direct your attention to the right place?

What Can Be Used as a Frame

Natural frames are found everywhere in the world. As you begin to practice this composition technique, you will see them all around you.

  • Natural Frames - Trees, branches, tall grass, flowers, rocks, and other elements in the natural world.
  • Architectural Frames - Windows, doorways, fence posts, benches, sidewalks, and other man-made elements.
  • Shadow and Light Frames - Light coming through a window, the glow of a flashlight or streetlamp, and other contrasts between shadow and light.
  • Shape Frames - This one's really fun because you have to look close to find them. For instance, look through a tire swing to take a portrait or use a portion of a public sculpture to frame the building behind it.
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Red-bellied woodpecker

I watched this red-bellied woodpecker (see image below) the other day, when the temperature was below zero, and I wondered how many trips it made to find enough food for it to survive one day. So I went online.

"On average, birds eat approximately 1/2 to 1/4 of their body weight every day. For example, a 2 lb. cardinal, a seed-eating bird, would consume approximately 1/2 to 1 lb. of seeds per day. While precisely how much seed is eaten varies by species, birds eat more in the winter than in the summer due to metabolic needs. For example, a sparrow can only survive 15 hours without food in 5 degree Fahrenheit conditions, but three days in warm summer conditions."

When I got home I immediately refilled my bird feeders.

Lock and Dam #14

I had an appointment in the Iowa City area on Wednesday that got done a lot quicker than I thought. I took advantage of my free time to drive about 70 minutes on I80 to Lock and Dam #14. When visiting with the nearly 40 photographers there on Tuesday, I was told that some people travel for 8 or 9 hours from all directions to photograph American Bald Eagles during January and February at this amazing site.

When the Great Lake Region becomes snow covered and the streams/rivers frozen, the eagles begin to migrate south in search of food. This migration generally begins mid December through the third week or so of February.

For photographers, Lock and Dam #14 offers a large public parking lot, restrooms, handicapped facilities, a long board walk to set up tripods. You will see the eagles fishing under the dam, which at times, seem almost in hands reach. With some patience, some super images can be taken with as little as a 200mm lens. Generally, a 300 to 800mm lens is used. The image (see below) was taken with the Canon 100-400mm II lens and a Canon 80D. I was able to find a spot on the boardwalk between a Nikon photographer with a 600mm lens and a person taking photos with their cell phone.

For the Bald Eagles, the river offers great Gizzard Shad fishing. This adult eagle was carrying lunch up and into one of the many trees that are located around the area. Just next to the parking lot, there is a Bald Eagle Sanctuary where the eagles can rest without people disturbing them. If you go, be sure to dress warm as the air off the Mississippi River can chill you quickly.

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Winter is the time to photograph eagles

I have always enjoyed watching and photographing the Bald eagle. Yesterday, I spent several hours driving along the Cedar River basin south of Cedar Rapids. My goal was to find an eagle sitting on the ice, enjoying a fresh "frozen fish" lunch. 

After about an hour, I saw an eagle in an opening thru the trees and quickly parked my car on the side of the gravel road trying not get stuck in the rapidly melting snow. Moving as slowly as possible so as not to attract any additional attention, the window was lowered. Sitting still for several more minutes I very slowly raised my camera, placing it on the bean bag. There was no one else around. No other noise, not even the wind. Focusing on an eye, I fire off one shot. The eagle turned and glared at me. From over one hundred yards away, it had to have heard the sound of the shutter. I quickly fired off several additional shots while it was staring at me (see image below).

Did I get an image of an eagle eating yesterday? No, not this time. But I did get to enjoy several minutes one on one with an American Bald eagle. About 15 minutes after I lowered the camera, the eagle looked around as if scouting the area, and flew off, heading up stream. Perhaps back to the convocation around the roller dam.


2018 First Blog posting

As my family and most of my friends know, the holidays are a difficult time for me.  My father died on Christmas Eve when I was a freshman in college, a few years ago. As I have aged, I seem to miss him more and more. It occurred to me recently, that I  have not had my father in my life for nearly 50 years.

With the recent cold spell we have "enjoyed" here in Iowa, I was getting antsy and needed to get outside with my camera. A couple of days ago, I charged the batteries on my 5D, bundled up and headed to Lake Macbride with the goal of catching a sunset. There were lots of animal trails in the snow from rabbits, squirrels, deer and even a pheasant. However, there was not a lot of human activity to be seen. I walked towards a popular fishing spot that poked out into the lake with a wide view towards the setting sun. The wind was blowing powdered snow in my face, the temperature was -8 degrees with a wind chill approaching -17 degrees. I had on three layers over most of my body in an attempt to keep warm as I walked the 3/4 miles to the lookout.

There were several blue sky openings along with several layers of clouds, so I was hopeful for some color in the sunset. As I waited, I noticed over twenty contrails in the sky, I guess Iowa really is "one of the fly-over states". The sun was sinking quickly. The sky was turning. As the sky became more colorful, I suddenly realized that the sadness in my heart was fading. It was than that I remembered how my father loved to be outside as the sun was sitting.

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Fall Colors 2017

Overall, the fall colors were not what I had hoped for. Fall is my favorite time for a NE Iowa road trip. This season's dull foliage can be blamed on the above-average September temperatures and dry weather in the Midwest. Both of Iowa's DNR and Foresters officers I spoke with forecasted a delay in peak leaf colors of up to two weeks, mostly muted foliage, and, in worst case, lots and lots of brown leaves that may or may not fall quickly.

Well, they were right. The hot temperatures in September caused leaves to continue to produce chlorophyll, the pigment that gives them their green color. Some of the leaves still changed colors, but they were not as bright and colorful as they've been in previous years, and many of them did drop sooner than usual.

I walk the trails around Lake Macbride as often as possible, and on one of my hikes, I carried my Canon 5D Mark IV camera and the 24-105mm lens, hoping to see some color. It was a beautiful day with mostly clear skies and a few high level clouds. In one of the coves with the sun off to the side, with the lake calm, a light wind, this image was one of the best of this year fall colors.

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My newest toy

I saw a car show video earlier this year where the president of Toyota introduced the new 2018 Camry. He talked for several minutes about the updated features and styling changes the new Camry would have and then they showed a marketing video of the different models available. When the video got to the XSE models, I knew I was hooked. My latest toy is the exact same model (including color) of the Camry that was in the video. The power of marketing.

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Fall leaves close-ups

Before retirement, Fall was a very busy time with many clients wanting to upgrade their computer hardware/software within the current tax year. That is not to say that retirement isn't also a busy time. I was fortunate to get out and walk some of forested areas of Allamakee, Johnson and Linn counties, on my annual "Hunt for Red October". As of today, there is not much red color. A few localized red maples had started to turn, but most leaves were already brown. I picked up a few colored leaves to bring home with the hope of shooting some 1:1 macro images (see images below). The delicate cell structures of these leaves make for some great abstract images. A few paragraphs on why we can and sometimes can not have successful "Hunt for Red October" follows.

As the weather turns cooler, the trees will once again put on their show of brightly colored leaves. Many weather factors play into how intense the colors will be and how long the vivid leaves will be around.

After the leaves are fully developed on trees, they begin making and storing the carbohydrates that will be needed for the new tree growth in the following year. As the season progresses, in late summer or early fall, the trees enter a growth process that produces the colorful fall leaves.

As the tree grows throughout the spring and summer months, chlorophyll is constantly replaced in the leaves. The chlorophyll gives the leaves their green color. As the nights get longer in the early fall, the cells near the juncture of the leaf and stem divide rapidly but do not expand. This action of the cells form a layer called the abscission layer. The abscission layer then blocks the the transportation of materials from the leaf to the branch and from the roots to the leaves. As the chlorophyll is blocked from the leaves, it disappears completely from them. The lack of chlorophyll allows the yellow (xanthophylls) and orange (carotenoids) pigments to be visible. The red and purple pigments (anthocyanins) are manufactured from the sugars that are trapped in the leaf. These pigments in leaves are responsible for the vivid color changes in the fall.

Temperature, sunlight and soil moisture all play a role in how the leaves will look in the fall.

  • Abundant sunlight and low temperatures after the abscission layer forms cause the chlorophyll to be destroyed more rapidly.
  • Cool air (especially at night) with a lot of daytime sunshine promote the formation of more red and purple pigments.
  • Freezing conditions destroy the leaf's ability to manufacture the red and purple pigments. Early frost will end the colorful foliage.
  • Drought during the growing season can cause the abscission layer to form early and cause the leaves to drop before they change color.
  • The best weather for brilliant fall foliage is a growing season with ample moisture followed by a dry, cool and sunny autumn with warm days and cool but frostless nights.
  • Heavy wind or rain can cause the leaves to fall before they fully develop color.
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It became more than just a old fence.

As we were visiting the bridges of Madison County, I spotted this old fence (see image below) off to the side guarding an old cottage from the "tourist" area. The entire fence was weathered, falling apart and covered with lichens. I setup my tripod holding a Canon 5D Mark IV, with a Tamron 90mm macro/closeup lens and slowly moved around and around. Taking dozens of images, some very closeup, some more laid back with larger sections of the fence in focus. It had been a long time since I concentrated on macro photography. What I discovered was not a beautiful image, not a masterpiece to blow up to put above my fireplace, but a simple reminder of why I like nature photography. It became more than just an old fence.

"I like to take pictures of lots of things: people-such as my nephews, my dogs, and just interesting objects that I see. For instance, I might take a picture of flowers by the side of the road, an old sign or a fence." Lacy Chabert

"People take photos to capture life moments. Moments of happiness, fun, friendship, etc. We would like those moments to last, to remember them and to share them with others. People take photos wherever they go and share them with their friends and families." Mahdi Lafram

"I think that what makes a photograph successful is subjective, but for me, the most important element is that it makes you feel something. What is it about a moment that moves you enough to capture it? A wave will never crash against the shore in the same way, my kids will only have one birthday celebration a year, and the light might never touch a person’s face like that again, and the camera is there to document and preserve that moment so that it can live and move you forever. Beauty and art are everywhere.

There are days you wish you could hold on to and with your camera, you can. I’m as interested in capturing our mundane routines as I am in capturing holidays and special events. Since I had my kids I feel acutely aware of how quickly time goes and in our increasingly busy lives it’s difficult to always be in the moment. Taking pictures helps you to hang on to those memories a little longer. Hardly anyone (except me, it seems) makes photo albums anymore but remember how you felt and how your smile spread across your face when you would hold those prints in your hand? We’re looking at pictures on our screens more than ever but the feeling of wanting to hold on to memories is still the same.

Our eyes can only see so much and teaching yourself how to use them (and to actually look) is a skill you can practice. Take your camera with you and use it. Some moments happen quickly but if you’ve trained your eye to see and capture, then you can keep up. I’m trying to look at everything and I’m getting better at seeing in the process.

There are images that can transport you to a different time and place. I love being able to express myself through my camera and use it as an extension of myself to tell stories that people want to hear and that I want to remember. Take your camera and take photos of everything from your lunch to the changing leaves of the season to your vacation to your family and friends. These are the images that tell your story." Monica Shulman

"To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the with the way you see them.” Elliott Erwitt

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Uncommonly unconcerned...

Summer and fall continue to be busy for us. So much so that I had several days of photography that I had not even downloaded and reviewed until yesterday. I've always liked fog images, and several weeks ago the forecast called for a heavy morning fog. I went out early to check out some potential sites, always looking for that unique/different image. As I was meandering along, I spotted this "rafter" of wild turkeys crossing the road. They seemed uncommonly unconcerned about my car (parked in the middle of the road) or about me, as I got out of the car. I was able to take several images of the parade that included about 25 birds. Several of them, paused in the middle of the road, looked at me, and then continued on to the other side of the road. About twenty minutes later the fog lifted. I did get several other interesting fog images, so overall, it was a great day.

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