Pansies are a beautiful spring flower showing off their vibrant colors when many people want to see flowers in bloom. They are striking flowers so I spent a little time photographing them and was fortunate enough to encounter some wildlife while doing so. Well, if insects can be considered wildlife. While really looking into these flowers I was setting up to take some close up abstract photos when a fly decided to enter the picture.
Already set up I quickly snapped a few photos while it was in focus under the lens just for some added interest. Below is the photo I was attempting to get before the fly flew into the frame. Seeing pansies this close makes me wonder how insects see them. Supposedly the veins, which are the darker lines, draw them into the center part of the flower where the pollen is so they can exchange this pollen in hopes of creating new seeds. But then why is the center yellow? Does that attract the insects once they are on the flower enticing them to the pollen? I like how this photo shows pollen grains sitting on a flower petal shaken from the stamen either by insects or wind. A nice contrast to the purple.
Every night as I walk into the house there have been a couple of monarch caterpillars munching away on the leaves of milkweed which we let grow specifically for them. It’s always amazing how fast these caterpillars grow. They become noticeably larger each day. There’s some debate as to if we should put these into a protected place so they can cocoon and turn into butterflies or let them find their own hiding place to cocoon and risk something eating them. Looking forward to seeing the butterflies soon floating around the neighborhood.
Cold hardy ladyslippers are in full bloom again so I’ve taken a little time to capture a few photos of them before they begin to fade. These are all plants that I have growing in containers in my yard so they can be enjoyed year after year. Well, providing I do a good job growing them and they survive each year.
There are a few different color variations ranging from all white to combinations of white, yellow, and red/brown. Some of these have a great fragrance but you have to get close to the flower to smell it while others really have no scent. A sweet perfume really adds to the enjoyment of any flower in my opinion.
The most difficult part of growing ladyslippers is they only bloom for a few weeks and then they’re done for the year and this seems to regularly occur as the heat of summer arrives which reduces their length of blooming. Unlike other flowers, ladyslippers bloom all at once so there is this mass of blooms and then it’s all over with instead of a staggered bloom extending the season. This just means you have to take time to enjoy them when they’re blooming or it will be a while before you get to see them again.
With the late spring this year migrating birds such as the Great Blue Heron were restricted in places to find food. This gave me an opportunity to get closer and get some great photos of this skittish bird. Several days earlier I was walking through this area and was only able to catch a glimpse of this heron as it flew away before I really even knew it was there. A couple of days later the same thing happened only allowing me to get a blurry photo as it few away.
Finally, the next day being a Saturday I ventured out again before sunrise. As I got closer to this little stream, which was beginning to open up after the winter, I moved more cautiously and tried to appear as though I wasn’t even paying attention to the stream by looking the other way. After a bit of surveying the landscape in the opposite direction I caught this heron out of the corner of my eye so I now knew it was there and hadn’t taken flight yet.
Returning my attention in the opposite direction from this bird I would glance back from time to time to find it was going back to its business of fishing. Slowly I retrieved my camera and attached a larger lens before turning it on this Heron over a downed log. The more I just relaxed and continued my normal movements from this distance the more comfortable this bird seemed to get even allowing me to slowly move closer over time getting even better photographs and observe its behavior. Occasionally a pair of wood ducks would swim by since the Heron deemed the area safe with me their. I had a great time and stayed there until the Heron stopped fishing and departed with another one passing by.
Once spring arrived plants began to return to life rather quickly. I took a little time to capture some of the surrounding trees as their leaves returned to life bringing green back into the landscape. In the above photo is a silver maple extending new leaves into the warming air to capture the power of the sun creating energy for life.
Oak leaves expanding with their tiny lobed leaves while still perfect in form before the tribulations of summer take its toll on them.
Here are Ginkgo leaves emerging from a long winter unfurling into the bright sunlight as they stretch out of the bud. Below are the flowers of an oak tree getting ready to create new acorns. The beginning of another oak tree?
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.