These grebes may not be the most colorful of fowl but they are certainly an agile and active bird making for some entertaining bird watching. They’re almost always in motion weather they’re diving under water making the observer guess where they’ll surface next or preening their feathers providing a show to those watching. If there’s a flock of ducks around, there’s probably a grebe or two in the mix as well.
Spending some time sitting quietly will bring these birds a little closer so you can watch as they contort into positions that appear quite uncomfortable or even a little painful. These birds can amaze the observer with how they can fluff their feathers in an effort to dry them further after diving. It almost looks as though they are just out playing around in the water.
From time to time I would watch as a grebe spread its wings while swimming. Is this a simple act of drying them after spending time underwater, using them as a sail to move across the surface of a pond, or do they think they’re flying while swimming? A fun grebe game perhaps.
At other times a grebe would begin flapping its little wings so hard water would begin flying everywhere. Again I wondered why it would do this. Is it taking a shower this way or just playing around and motor boating? Maybe it’s showing off for other ducks around it. Either way it provided some interesting entertainment.
It wasn’t until I saw one of these grebes surface with a fish in its mouth that I realized what they eat. Often ducks dive for aquatic plants so that’s what I thought these were doing. They eat so fast it can be hard to tell what’s in their mouths. Fortunately cameras can photograph rather quickly allowing me to capture the photo below confirming that they eat fish. A grebe is certainly an interesting bird to watch for awhile if the opportunity presents itself. By the way, I believe these are Pied billed Grebes however their distinctive bill color is missing during the migration.
Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been in pursuit of ducks beginning to move south stopping by local lakes to rest and feed before moving on. In this particular area there have been flocks of hundreds of ducks making it very enticing to set up the camera and wait for them to move closer.
It’s been fun to photograph them and then try and identify what type of duck it is afterwards. This particular flock of ducks has included Widgeons, Gadwall, Mallards, Wood ducks, and one immature pintail. They sure are pretty to watch with the different colors and patterns as well as listen to. Each with a unique sound identifying the species further.
While most of the ducks on this particular lake seem to be widgeons there are some gadwalls mixed into the flock. I wasn’t sure at first if it was a different duck or if it was just an immature widgeon still coloring up. Looking further I noticed the bill on the gadwalls is darker than with widgeons. Also the white spot on the back of the duck is different and the head has slightly different colorations confirming a different species later identified as gadwalls. Ohh and they make a different sound which helped figure this out.
Included in all these ducks are, of course, mallards which tend to be very plentiful on most bodies of water in Minnesota and elsewhere. One of the nice things of having mallards around is other ducks see them and figure it’s a safe place to land with food available so join them. The mallard below was shaking off water after spending time under the surface looking for food.
One of the unique ducks in this particular flock is an immature pintail. I wasn’t completely sure of this immediately because the coloration is different from the others but not as well defined as the photos I was comparing it too. A couple of things that helped I.D. it was when it tipped into the water in search of food the tail was more of a point and more pronounced than the widgeons and gadwalls but still lacked the characteristic long pin tail giving these there name. Also the colors on it’s head, while not completely developed, still matched well with the pictures I was comparing it to leading me to figure out this is a young pintail. This duck has continued to stay with this flock for the past couple of weeks with no other pintails in sight.
I’ve definitely been enjoying photographing each of these different species and hopefully will be able to catch a few more before these lakes freeze over.
As fall has taken a strong hold of the Upper Midwest there are still some plants blooming away providing much needed food for bees and migrating butterflies. Mums are probably the most well known of these and are springing to life with their cool weather colors on a beautiful sunny day.
Another of fall’s splendors are cold hardy sedums producing small individual blooms massed together to form striking clusters of flowers able to attract pollinators from longer distances away.Their pointed petals and long anthers blend together giving a much softer appearance to those viewing from a distance.
Showing off their beautiful pinks and purples are asters coming to life this time of year bringing smiles to those searching for the few remaining blooms of the growing season. These seem to withstand the coldest of temperatures before succumbing to winters dominance arriving soon after. While the trees seem to be confused with ample rain and warmer than average temperatures combined with decreasing sunlight, the fall flowers are certain it is their time to bloom.
Another method of macro photography is to use a larger telephoto lens and zoom in until you get the composition you’re looking for. For the photograph above I set up a tripod with the camera and focused on this grouping of flowers. After taking a few test shots to make sure I liked the composition and the lighting was adequate for a fast enough shutter speed I just waited for a bee to come along in the exact position I was looking for. Seems simple enough, right?
But there’s a little more to the story. In order to get a picture with this composition the lighting needed to be right which only occurred for about an hour just before sunset so it took me two nights of setting up in this location to accomplish my goal. Setting up involved getting to this location about an hour before the light would hit these flowers, hiking into this spot which took about 15 minutes, and getting the tripod, camera, and lens put together in the same location with the right height. Above you see a test shot to make sure I liked the set up.
What’s not shown is there were multiple test shots where I adjusted the focus and shutter speed until I got to this point. While doing this there was a lot of second guessing. Would I even be able to get a bee in focus in the small area of focus to make this an interesting image? Was my shutter fast enough? How fast should it be? Do I want to stop the wings in flight or is it ok to have them blurry from their fast movement? Those questions were answered with a little patients. Once the sunlight moved to this area it didn’t take real long for a bee to make its way to these flowers. Using a remote shutter I started shooting away as the bee moved in and around these flowers. You can see it doesn’t take much to have the bee out of focus.
After reviewing those photos I determined I would stick with my setup and wait some more. Thankfully a few minutes later another bee entered my photograph and again it was out of focus plus this time it pulled the whole flower stem down changing the whole composition. I wasn’t going to adjust the camera for this because once this bee left and the flower stem bounced back up I would be going through the whole focusing again so I just waited for another bee.
Over the course of an hour several bees visited. Some where in focus and others were not but eventually I captured the photograph I was looking for – a bee hovering in front of an in focus flower. There was actually quite a bit of work involved but it was fun just to be out there amongst the bees and flowers watching as they moved from one flower to the next. It was also a good learning experience with a successful photo that matched what I had imagined ahead of time. In addition it was a nice summer evening on both nights and hummingbirds kept me entertained, or distracted depending on how you look at it.
Recently I’ve been out having fun with macro photography. Certainly this presents some different challenges but provides some great images. There’s multiple ways of accomplishing some of these close-ups and each provides a little different result. You can use macro lens designed for this type of photography or telephoto lenses zoomed in. Some people even use microscopes to get really close. My method of choice is to use a small telephoto lens with extension tubes for these images. Extension tubes allow you to get quite a bit closer to whatever you are photographing for some really close-up photographs.
Some of the challenges for this type of photography are getting adequate lighting, acquiring the right focus as the focus area becomes substantially smaller, and maintaining your desired composition. Lighting can be a challenge because your lens is so close to your subject that it blocks out light. Be careful of your camera placement or your own shadow may be in the picture.
For these images of Black Eyed Susans, here’s my setup: I move my camera around using the screen to compose a potentially interesting photograph until I find where I want to take the picture from and then I set up a tripod to position my camera in that location. Once I’m all set up I plug in a remote release so there is a little camera shake as possible and wait for good light as on this day there were clouds passing by. There was also some wind blowing around the flowers so I waited until they would stop moving after a gust. Also, I did this in the middle of the day as morning or evening light would reduce the amount of light for a sharp picture. I snapped the first photo and checked to see that the focus is where I want it. If it’s not, an adjustment to the shutter speed or aperture can help especially if your lucky and an insect enters the flower such as a couple of them seen here.
A few weeks ago the Perseid meteor shower was expected to peak providing a possible meteor every minute burning through the night sky. For the best viewing, the darkest sky possible is required so we took a road trip to the North Shore of Minnesota and settled in for a great, however short, astronomical show as a near full moon would be rising about an hour after total darkness descended across the horizon. As the sky grew increasingly dark I worked the camera to capture this annual event. Yes, the Perseid meteor shower occurs every summer near the beginning of August.
While taking in the meteors buzzing across the blackened sky I wanted to make another attempt at photographing the Milkyway as I’ve spent some time earlier in the summer trying to get a photo showing the arc produced across the sky by the Milkyway if there is enough darkness. Finally I successfully accomplished that with a photo that shows some of the amazing colors available in the night sky with the help of distant northern lights glowing on the horizon and a few city lights off in the distance.
While photographing the Milkyway, many of these photos caught a meteor or two and sometime more streaking across the sky. They may be a little difficult to see in these photos but if you look hard enough, especially in the one directly above here, you can see them. I can see as many as four in the photo just above but the sky is a little too bright to make them out easily. Unfortunately the best ones were not caught by my camera. There were a few that crossed almost the entire visible night sky leaving a trail of light for more than a second. In what seemed like a matter of minutes the moon began rising lighting up the whole star filled sky making it much more difficult to see these meteors however the brightest ones still left a bolt of light as they flew through the universe. While this may not produce the same excitement as a total solar eclipse it is still worth trying to view on a nice summer night. Just be prepared for mosquitoes if they exist where you are.
While getting ready to enjoy an evening of Fireworks to end the day of Independence Day celebrations another type of fireworks began. Storms off in the distance began displaying beautiful cloud lighting which became a distraction from fireworks being set off from the ground. It was a difficult choice deciding which one to watch as they were going off at the same time and both were interesting and beautiful to watch.
Most of the time I tried to pay attention to those being set off by nearby cities anticipating these approaching storms would continue after their fireworks were done. I did keep an eye on local radar just to make sure we weren’t in danger of storms catching us before the ground fireworks were complete. Once they ended I decided to drop off the family in the safety of our home and head out with the camera and try to capture this amazing display in the sky. Expecting rain to begin within 20 minutes of setting up I moved quickly to get the camera settings and focus correct and attempted to photograph some of this lightning. As it turned out the rain stayed away for over an hour while the lightning continued to flash in the sky resulting in some nice images.
I couple of weeks ago I was awakened by a bright flash of lightning. After watching out the window for a few minutes I realized the storms were passed us and then I saw a light flash. Being still partially asleep I wasn’t sure I saw that little flash of light as it was 12:30am and fireflies are typically done lighting up by this time.
Becoming a little more awake I continued to look outside only to confirm fireflies were indeed flashing in our back yard. A few minutes later I was out on the deck watching them flash repeatedly. More than we’ve ever had in our backyard. The following night I decided to head out to more wooded areas to see if the fireflies were putting on a show. The first location I tried really wasn’t providing as many fireflies as I wanted so I decided to try another area close by.
Luckily they were putting on a nice show but then another issue arose with a nearly full moon lighting up the landscape making it difficult to see any fireflies flashing. I was able to find a shaded area and get some nice pictures of the fireflies that night. Over the next couple of weeks I’ve been going to different spot when I can and photographing these interesting beetles as they displayed different flashing sequences and colors. Hopefully you can see their trails in the photos in this post. My next goal is to photograph a single beetle lighting up. We’ll see as that is a difficult task as they don’t like to stay in one place very long.
During the past several weeks I’ve been out enjoying the active wildlife and taking hundreds of photographs. Some of the most prevalent subjects have been dragonflies which are fun insects to photograph with all of their different colorations and patterns. People tend to get a little bored with dragonfly photographs as there are a lot of them.
In the main photo above I believe that is called a widow skimmer which is also in the second to last photo from the bottom. Directly above is a four spotted skimmer. After photographing a dragonfly it can be a bit of a challenge to identify it but fun to try and fun to learn what each one is.
These insects are amazing fliers often able to out fly birds to keep from being eaten and also catch insects for their next meal which is a great thing for those that don’t like mosquitos. Their acrobatics can entertain and amaze for hours on a nice summer afternoon.
Above is a blue damselfly hiding amongst the grass. While many people consider it a dragonfly it is actually a different insect in a group known as damselflies. Damselflies have their wings behind them while at rest and are not as skilled at flying as dragonflies. Also they typically are not as big.
During my time attempting to photograph these fun insects, one of my goals was to capture them in flight which proved more difficult than expected. Most of my pictures of dragonflies in the air out of focus or have a portion of their body cut out of the photo or missed them entirely as my reaction time is slower than their takeoff time.
In the picture above rests a 12 spotted skimmer. These didn’t seem to rest much while I was there so there is only a picture or two of them.
Above is another widow skimmer and below is an ebony jewelwing damselfly. These are probably my favorite damselflies because their coloration changes depending on the light they’re in and because of their black wings which flutter softly from leaf to leaf. There will probably be more dragonfly photos yet this year as I continue to have fun capturing them with a camera.
A year ago I was able to wonder around in a nearby forest taking in wildlife. You can read about it here if you would like. There have not been as many opportunities to get out with my camera this spring but recently I did get to spend some time taking in the ever greening forest in search on new life. On this particular outing my goal was to see if a mother coyote had taken up residence in a familiar spot to raise her little ones again and to find out if Eagles had once again laid eggs in their nest from last year.
While slowly making my way in the woods attempting to make as little noise as possible I heard a low growling sound coming from nearby. Scanning the area I saw a head hanging out of a hole in the tree. Watching for a minute or two I noticed this raccoon ever so gently resting its head in this hole looking exhausted from the day.
Enjoying this raccoon for a short time I heard a noise in leaves up the hill from me but couldn’t see what was making the noise. Shortly after a little deer made its way near me but hadn’t noticed me yet. Fortunately I was standing on a log right next to another tree so there was no shuffling of leaves to slowly turn to watch it. As I began to rotate, the deer spotted my movement causing us both to stop immediately. It was so dark in the woods that taking pictures of moving animals was a challenge and I was in a poor position to steady my camera so all I could manage was a few blurry shots and it was gone. This was ok because I wanted to focus more on the raccoon.
Once the deer had disappeared I hopped onto another fallen tree nearby trying to keep the noise down as I moved closer to this hollow tree being used for a home. Once on this tree I quietly removed my backpack and took out the tripod in order to steady my camera in hopes of getting sharper photos. While doing this out pops a bunch of tiny heads trying to figure out what I was doing. Now I understand why this larger raccoon appears to be so tired as to be almost lifeless. It was a mother with several little ones to tend to.
Almost settled in with my backpack and tripod, there was another rustling in the leaves near where the first noise came from but this time it sounded slightly different. I quickly frozen, standing on this log trying to look for movement and then I heard a sound – a turkey. Wow I’ve never had turkeys walk up to me. I always seem to come up on them and scare them away before getting a decent picture. Now what do I do? In order for me to get to cover so they wouldn’t recognize me I would have to move significantly. I decided to concentrate on these baby raccoons but tried to remain steady as to not disrupt the turkeys too much. They did eventually move on away from me so I could once again focus on these little critters right in front of me.
Now I was able to get the camera set up on the tripod and sit comfortably on the log I was just standing on and shoot away as this family would pop in and out of this larger hole in the tree. Enjoying my time watching these little fury creatures I heard another noise off in the distance. It sounded like thunder! I didn’t think there was really any storms in the area so I dismissed it as possibly an airplane overhead or something. Than I heard it again with a much longer rumble. That had to be thunder so I pulled out my phone all while being watched and check the radar. Now what should I do? I can pack up and try and get out of hear or wait it out since it appeared I was on the edge and may only get a little rain. Waiting it out seemed like the better idea as I could see sun near the horizon so this couldn’t last very long. Back to taking pictures of the raccoons.
While sitting there defying the weather, the thunder got closer and more numerous causing me to question my decisions to stay. Finally when it was almost overhead I decided it was time to pack up and leave. It must have been the right decision as the raccoons had all retreated back into their tree as well. Getting out to the edge of the woods I could see the storm which appeared to have just passed overhead. Now the wind was picking up at my back so the approaching cold front must have just came through. Do I go back to the raccoons or continue on to the eagles nest or keep going towards the car? My answer came in the form what sounded like a strong wind gust. But it wasn’t wind. I new my time was up and my choice now was to seek shelter among a clump of large maple trees just as heavy rains began pounding down. After a short downpour I decided to continue to the car and enjoyed watching the sun set behind this small spring storm. Definitely worth getting wet for.