Category Archives: Photos

Ducks, Ducks, and More Water Fowl

Over the last few weeks I’ve been able to get out and photograph several different types of ducks and other waterfowl as they begin their migration north. Fortunately for me there has been limited areas of open water so these ducks have had to congregate into these areas making it a little easier to photograph. There have been thirteen different ducks that I’ve photographed this spring. Out of those, six are types I’ve never seen before so that’s pretty good success in my book. The top photo is a pair of wood ducks searching for a place to build their nest.  (Click on each image below to view a larger version of it.)

A pair of Mallard drakes                  Canadian Geese

In these next two pictures are the most common types of waterfowl in my area which include mallards and Canadian geese. Mallards can have some great colors but are seen all the time during the summer making them less interesting. Canadian geese are a pretty bird with their combination of brown, black, and white colors but they are kind of annoying with their constant honking.

Great Blue Heron                  A pair of Blue Winged Teal

The first image on the left is not really a waterfowl, but a bird that spends a lot of time in the shallow waters. This Great Blue Heron took me several attempts to get nice photos of because I would continually scare it away as I approached the thawing creek without knowing it was there. Finally on the third time going to the area I saw it before it took off and stopped. After awhile it didn’t seem to care that I was there so I could get close enough for some nice photos. In the second picture is a pair of blue winged teals which I’ve photographed a number of times before.

Green Winged Teal                  Ring Neck drake

During one of my outings I came across this duck on the left above which I have never seen before. Upon getting home and doing a little research I found out this was a green winged teal. A very pretty duck which would have been nice to get closer to for better photos. Not this time I guess. The duck above on the left is a ring neck duck which I’ve seen and photographed a couple of times. A fun duck to watch.

A pair of Bufflehead ducks                   Red Head duck

Above on the left are a pair of bufflehead ducks. Another duck which I had not yet seen so it was nice to add these to my collection. Fortunately I saw several of these during a weeks time span. On the right above is a read head duck which was mixed in with a flock of lessor scaups below on the left. These I’ve seen a number of different times during the spring and fall migration. They are very distinctive to pick out in a flock of ducks due to their red heads.

Lesser Scaup ducks                   Hooded Merganser drake taking off

Getting ready to fly away on the right photo above is a hooded merganser. These are another fairly common duck in central Minnesota. Moving to the pictures below, the one of the left is a red breasted merganser and the common loon on the right. Both of these are new to my photo collection and I’ve never seen a red breasted merganser before so that was fun. Very interesting and pretty ducks. While loons have been visible from time to time I’ve never actually taken a lot of time to watch them up close. They are fun to sit and watch with a binoculars or spotting scope (or in my case a zoom lens) for awhile as they fish, preen, and maintain their territory. With any luck I’ll be able to get out more this spring and observe more fowl as they prepare for the summer.

Red Breasted Merganser                    Loon on take off

The Forms of Water

Winter is beginning to lose it’s hold on the North bit by bit allowing water to run freely again. Near this running water, the ice remains showing all of the different layers together which has hidden the lakes and rivers for several months. In some areas this ice is really quite intriguing as you look closer at it. Portions of it are solid white other parts are made up of a combination of ice crystals forming together. A question I have about these different layers is were they formed during the winter or is this the result of spring weather with freezing and thawing working together to form these layers? Soon it will all be gone. Replaced by rain and thunderstorms once again.

Smiling Ice

More Snowflakes

There hasn’t been a lot of opportunities to go out and find beautiful, wintery landscapes to photograph recently. Temperatures have also been staying quite cold so I’ve taken this opportunity to capture more snowflakes under the camera lens whenever a few flakes have fallen and have been having a lot of fun doing it. A previous post with more snowflake photos can be found here.

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Some snowfalls don’t produce much for interesting snowflakes while at other times there are so many to choose from that they can’t all be photographed before blowing away or disappearing. Yes, they disappear even in very cold weather. I can only assume it’s due to the very dry air near the ground causing these delicate ice crystals to evaporate.

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The many different shapes and make up of these ice crystals continues to amaze me with each one I see. Some are so sharp and pointy while others are more rounded. It’s also fascinating to see the different stages of development of different snowflakes in each photograph that surrounds the larger one focused on. In some cases you can see the center of a developing snowflake that has fallen before growing larger. Other times seeing the different fragments that have broken off from a snowflake during its journey to the ground provide some great shapes.

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At times there are multiple snowflakes frozen together such as in the picture above. On the longest branch there is the center of another developing snowflake frozen to the larger snowflake. In addition, the branch next to this one you can see the beginning of the center of another snowflake. One theory indicates these snowflakes collided on their trip from the clouds and merged together. I wonder if it’s possible these centers formed at the tip of these branches. Fun to discover regardless of how they were created. I hope you enjoy viewing these and also find it fascinating to see the different shapes they develop into.

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The Beauty of Snowflakes

Over the past couple of weeks snow has began to fall creating a beautiful white blanket covering the landscape. When looking out at this landscape it just looks like a white fluff everywhere that we have to shovel and drive over. Examining this white that covers everything shows some amazing micro formations, each one different from one another. Once again I’ve been trying to capture these snowflakes with a camera hoping to reveal the incredible structures many of these ice crystals possess.

Each snowflake has a unique design

Photographing them can be a bit of a challenge as it can be difficult to find a single snowflake in the camera among so many others with a macro lens because it is out of focus until the camera and lens are at just the right distance and then its unique and amazing shape begins to reveal itself as long as there is enough light reflecting from it. Once I find it in the camera it’s time to set up the tripod and again get the camera as close as I can and have the snowflake be in focus. These are sometimes difficult to get in sharp focus because their clear ice crystals so you don’t always realize if the snowflake is in focus or the sharp focus is behind it. And it’s such a small subject anyway which always makes things more challenging.

A single snowflake glistening in light

Before taking too many pictures it’s a good idea to make sure the snowflake is positioned correctly so the camera can pick up the detail in each segment. Once positioned well the camera needs to be adjusted to bring it into focus and stabilized so there is no movement in either the ice crystal or the camera otherwise everything becomes a little blurry. With everything finally set up its time to take the picture. Using the camera timer or remote shutter is a good idea as just the act of pushing the shutter button will most likely result in a little movement and a blurry photo.

A single snowflake appearing verying lopsided

One other element to photographing the incredible ice crystals is that is has to be done in the cold. This alone presents challenges. You need to acclimate the camera and lenses to the cold otherwise they can fog up and your out of luck getting good pictures so a little preparation ahead of time will help. Also you need to make sure you stay warm in order to successfully accomplish the fine movements necessary to capture a beautiful snowflake without breaking it. In addition what ever surface your using to hold the snowflake must be cold or it will melt before you can take the picture. Even with that wind can ruin the shot. Snowflakes are a subject that requires fairly quick reaction as they begin to break down within a short time of landing on the ground giving an hour or two to capture this great architecture created in the sky. With all of these challenges, snowflakes are a great source of amazement to view after they’re gone making them worth the effort to capture.

Single snowflake with each side just a point

November Brings Beautiful Sunsets to the North

Temperatures begin to plummet and all that is living becomes brown and lifeless to the north in November. There begins to be less motivation to go out and enjoy the great outdoors in the cold without much to see at this time of year in Minnesota, however, there is one sight worth dressing up for the cold to see and that is sunrises and sunsets. We’ve had some spectacular days of both of these as November comes to a close. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to photograph many of these due to extra time at work but I’ve at least been able to spare a moment or two watching silently as the incredible colors begin to move across the sky. These photos may seem touched up but they are anything but. They are straight out of the camera so are as the camera interpreted them at that time. Sunsets and sunrises are just that colorful and vibrant at times in the fall months of the year.

Sunset reflecting in the ice.

 

At this time of year, with the sun so low in the sky, the show doesn’t end with this yellow source of light going below the horizon. In fact often it is just beginning! I did a post about this a year ago if you want to see how our fall sunsets progress. For sunrises the progression is reversed with the amazing rainbow of colors splashing across the sky ending with the sun rising above the horizon. In November it can begin about 45 minutes before the sunrise or end about 45 minutes after it sets in the afternoon. Yes, here it is still afternoon when the sun sets around 4:30 pm. One of the reasons for these colorful sky paintings has to do with having at least some clouds much of the time which reflect some of the suns light as it fades into night along with the low position of the sun in the sky. This happens quite quickly when we’re fortunate to have the right conditions so once the show begins it doesn’t last long.

Another stunning November sunset

Grebe Fun

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.

Contortionist Grebe

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.

Fluffing feathers

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.

Flying on water

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.

Splish splash a grebes taken a bath

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.

Catching a fish for dinner

Duck Migration is Here

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.

Widgeon coming in for a landing

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.

Widgeon swimming along

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.

Gadwall floating by

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.

Mallard stretching out of the water

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.

A young Northern Pintail

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.

The Flowers of Fall

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.

Sedum

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.

Purple Asters

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.

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Getting Close part 2

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?

Setting up the shot

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.

Just a bit out of focus

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.

Pulling the flower down

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.

Getting closer

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.

Another one almost in focus

Getting Close

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.

Almost open

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.

Full of pollen

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.

Wrapped in spiderwebs