Wildlife

American Eagle Foundation

If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you probably saw where I mentioned during a recent trip to the smokies some friends and I made a trip over to The American Eagle Foundation.  I have visited several bird rehab facilities and exhibits, but The American Eagle Foundation had the most number of birds of any I have been to.  They are doing pretty incredible things there with both rehab and education.

On our tour, they had several birds outside.  As photographers we got excited for this, because a large portion of the time these tours and/or shows are held indoors in some pretty crummy light.  Seeing that a lot of the birds were outside got us excited.  

They probably had 20 or so different birds outside, but let's face it, this is The American Eagle Foundation....we're really here for the eagles.  They probably had 4 or 5 eagles on display of varying ages.  This is Lincoln.  He is a fully mature eagle and an amazing looking bird.  Not only did we spend some time photographing him, but later we got to see him fly within a foot of us and even took our picture with him.

The folks associated with AEF were fantastic!  I'll definitely be going back anytime I head to the smokies.

Equipment list: Nikon D850 and Tamron 100-400 F/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD

EXIF Info: Aperture-priority, 1/1,600 sec, f/8, ISO 400, 400mm

Bear Cub In The Grass

No trip to The Great Smoky Mountains is complete without at least one loop around Cades Cove.  Cades Cove can get pretty crowded, and quickly.  The earlier you can get there the better off you are.  The reason it gets so crowded is it is a very popular spot for viewing wildlife.  In the Spring and Summer it is especially popular for viewing black bears.

The Cades Cove Loop Road has a gate at the entrance that does not get opened until sunrise.  The strategy of getting there early means you want to get there 30-45 minutes before sunrise to get your spot in line.  During this time of waiting on the gate to open you get to see a lot of "interesting" characters.  At least the people watching passes the time.  

On one of our visits to Cades Cove we had the pleasure of seeing several bears.  I believe we counted about 15 in one day.  That's probably no record, but that's 15 more black bears than I would've seen at home, for sure.  So, I'm glad we went.  We saw what looked to be a lot of moms with cubs.  These bears looked a little worse for the wear.  I'm no bear expert, but I'm assuming that being in the den without food and feeding young ones was the cause of this.  The big bears that we saw alone, which I assume to have been males, looked much better than the moms with cubs.

We saw several cubs on our visit.  Most of them not much taller than the grass they were feeding in.  This made getting clear shots of them pretty tough unless they stood up.  After a lot of waiting for a clear shot I decided to try and get a shot of one of the little guys "peeking" through the grass.  After a lot of waiting, and several attempts, I was able to get a shot I was happy with.

You can see what I mean when I say they weren't much taller than the grass.  It was very difficult to get good clear shots of them, so I waited...and waited...and waited until I could clearly see both eyes through the grass.

Equipment list: Nikon D500, Tamron SP 150-600 F/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2, Sirui Tripod and K-40 Ballhead

EXIF Info: Aperture-priority, 1/800 sec, f/6.3, ISO 3200, Compensation: +1/3, 400mm

Osprey at Lake Martin

During my visit to The Gulf States Camera Club Council Convention last week, I was able to take a boat tour of Lake Martin.  On the particular morning I did the tour, it was pretty chilly...around 50 degrees or so.  Due to the chill we didn't see any gators, but we did see several species of birds that hang out at the lake.

One of those birds was this Osprey.  He had just caught a bass and was sitting in the sun feasting.  This Osprey was probably the best lit bird of the morning.  It was front lit and in plenty of morning light.  Most of the other birds were in dimly lit areas so I was excited to get some good light on a bird!

Aperture-priority, 1/1,000 sec, f/8, ISO 250, Compensation: -1/3

I used my Nikon D500 and Tamron 100-400 F/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD Lens to capture this image.  Since I was on a boat with several other people and there was no room for a tripod or monopod, I relied on the VC of the lens to help with any movement from either me or the boat.

Gulf States Camera Club Council Convention

Over the last several days I had the good fortune of being able to speak to and meet tons of really great people from the Gulf States Camera Club Council in New Iberia, LA.  I had a blast talking photography with them, shooting with them and enjoying the local Cajun cuisine.  

I had arrived a day before the event started so I could visit this place I had heard so much about from other photographers, Cazan Lake.  The lake has a pretty good sized rookery that several species of Egrets use, as well as some Rosette Spoonbills.  I was excited at the chance to photograph baby birds in the nest.  It appeared I was a bit early for Spoonbill babies, but there were several Egret babies begging their parents for food.

I quickly found out that it's not just the Cajun people in the area that enjoy a good crawfish, but the local Egrets, too.  I was able to capture a few different images of Egret parents feeding the babies crawfish.  

Cazan Lake is about an hour drive North of New Iberia, so I loaded up my gear and headed out so I could be there at sunrise.  I had no idea what to expect when I got there.  There was a small building upon arrival welcoming guests.  I tried to go in and find out where I needed to go but the door was locked.  Luckily a man pulled up in his pickup truck, advised me to put $10 in the drop box and gave me directions to the rookery.  All I had was a $20, so that's what I put in there.  I hope that man got the other $10 for helping me out.

Aperture-priority, 1/1,000 sec, f/8, ISO 220, Compensation: +1/3

This is an image of one of the Egret Nests at the Lake.  I used my Nikon D500 and Tamron 150-600mm G2 Lens to capture this image.  I was moving around quick so instead of using a tripod, I went with my Sirui P-324S Monopod.  It really allowed me to move around quick and offer a bit of stability.  It also saved my arms from getting tired!

My go to formula for birds lately has been using Auto ISO.  I have my D500 setup in the menus to top the Auto ISO out at 12,800.  I have also set in the menu a minimum shutter speed of 1/1000th.  All I need to do then is set my aperture.  You can also do this using Manual Mode by simply turning Auto ISO on, then you set your shutter speed and aperture.  Using Auto ISO has saved many shoots for me that most likely would have been blurry from too slow a shutter speed.

Bighorn Sheep

During our winter workshop in Grand Teton National Park we visited the National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole to search for some images of the Bighorn Sheep that frequent the area.  We had no idea what a treat we were in for!

I had been to the Elk Refuge looking for these sheep in the past.  Two or three times prior, in fact.  I had always seen the sheep when I went, but they were often several hundred yards away along the tops of ridge lines.  The day we took the workshop group it was much different.  They were feet from the road.   It was one of the most fun experiences I had during our stay there.

Several of the sheep were approaching cars to lick the salt from the tires and bumpers.  According to The US Fish and Wildlife Service, there is a major concern about the sheep licking the salt from vehicles.  They say that pneumonia is chronic throughout the herd of sheep that live on the refuge.  They go on to say that licking these shared surfaces increases the chance of further disease spread.  For those reasons they encourage visitors not to stop along the refuge road, but instead find a pullout and walk to within reasonable distance of the wildlife for photo opportunities.  

Fortunately, for us, the sheep were very close to the pullouts, so we didn't have to go far.  We kept a safe distance from them and got some amazing images!  This is a pretty majestic looking animal and I was super excited for our group!

 Aperture-priority, 1/500 sec, f/8, ISO 640, Exposure Compensation: +1, 600 mm

This is just one of many images I'm sure you will tire of seeing.  This is a good sized male.  He posed for several minutes and I was able to capture this shot of him looking "into the frame".  

Image was made with my Nikon D500 and Tamron 150-600mm Lens.  

Top Ten of 2017

I didn't do as much traveling in 2017 as I have done in previous years, so I had initially considered it a "down" year...until I started looking through my images and trying to pick my favorite ten.  During that process I felt like I had underappreciated 2017.  Even though I spent a lot more time closer to home than usual, I still got to see a number of amazing things, and I'm always grateful for that.

Note that I said these were my favorite images.  That doesn't mean they are technically my best.  It means these mean something more to me.  It could be the subject, the stories behind the image or the people I was with at the time that made these special to me.

Feel free to browse the self-guided slideshow above.  I'll try to explain a little about why each of these images made the list.

1. Snake River Overlook, GTNP, January 2017 - This is probably my favorite scene in GTNP, although it is very tough to pick just one.  This morning it was -30 degrees Fahrenheit, the coldest weather I have ever been outside in.  There was a ton of snow in the valley and the scene was just incredible.  It was a morning I will never forget.

2. Merlin, Mobile, AL, February 2017 -  This was taken on a trip to Mobile, AL when David Akoubian and I were scouting for an upcoming bird workshop.  The sky wasn't great here, but it was the first Merlin I had ever seen, let alone photographed.  It cooperated with us for several minutes, too.  

3. Backyard Bluebird, Huntsville, AL, April, 2017 - The bluebirds are always special to me, every year.  I am no birder by any stretch of the imagination, but I'll never pass up an opportunity to photograph any bird.  It makes it easier if they live in your backyard.  I've had about 3 or 4 years in a row now that Eastern Bluebirds have nested in my yard and I am thankful for it every year.  2017 was no exception. 

4. Tree Swallow, Huntsville, AL, April, 2017 - This image is probably not very special to many people.  I was just excited that a pair of Tree Swallows decided to nest in my backyard.  I had never had that happen and I had read that is a fairly rare thing.  As soon as I saw them bringing in nesting material I grabbed the camera and headed out.  I got several shots of them bringing in straw so it was hard to pick one, but I think this was my favorite.

5. Coyote, GSMNP, May 2017 - This was the year of the coyote for me.  I got the best coyote pictures I have ever taken this year in multiple locations.  This coyote in Cades Cove was special for me.  Although I had seen many coyotes in Cades Cove before, I'd never really had a good opportunity to photograph one until this day.  It having the spring wildflowers around it was icing on the cake.

6. Double Rainbow, Mormon Row, GTNP, June 2017 - This is another one of those "I'll never forget this morning" shots.  The weather was absolute crap.  Thunder and lightning everywhere.  I looked out the hotel room and told the guys I was traveling with we were going out despite the conditions.  I wanted someplace wide open in hopes of capturing some good lightning shots over the mountains.  I picked Mormon Row.  I had no idea what we were in for.  Right at sunrise the rain stopped and the sunrise broke through creating this double rainbow.  It lasted about a minute or two and then it rained the rest of the day.  This could have been my luckiest day of the year...I probably should've bought a lottery ticket that day, too.

7. Hops Barn, Swan Valley, ID, June 2017 - Another time being out shooting in a downpour paid off.  As we were driving over to this barn, it was raining sideways.  The rain had lightened up a little by the time we had arrived, but it was still coming down steadily.  In fact, we were taking turns shooting.  We would stand underneath the rear door of the SUV with our camera ready, then one at a time, would run out grab a quick shot and run back underneath the door.  As I sat in the car looking at the images on the camera I remember thinking "These won't be horrible, you can actually see some detail in the sky."  I had no idea until I started processing how much I loved theses images.  Especially in black and white.

8. River the Bald Eagle, Teton Raptor Center, June 2017 - You might have noticed in the two previous notes that rain was in abundance while I was in the Tetons this spring.  On a whim, with the weather not cooperating, we decided to visit this place we saw advertised called The Teton Raptor Center.  We initially went over on a day that they weren't doing shows, but the people there were so friendly and inviting that we went ahead and bought our tickets then for the next show.  It turned out to be a chance to get within feet of some majestic birds.  This particular Bald Eagle was named River.  She was recovering from some wing injuries.  After all of the cool, science things they told us about the birds, they let River fly around and pose for pictures.  She did a great job.  This particular image was just after she had dipped down into a small swimming pool they had setup for her and she was just drying off.

9. Osprey, Blythe Ferry, TN, July 2017 - I had visited the Blythe Ferry area before, but never while the osprey were nesting.  I thought I had missed it again this year since I wasn't able to get up there until July.  The osprey chicks had not fledged yet, however, and the parents were trying really hard to convenience them to.  That allowed me to capture many flight shots.  This one in particular was during a quick, summer rain storm.  You don't mind standing out in these rain storms near as much in July.  The rain made for a great element in the photo, too.  Being able to get so close to such awesome birds is a real treat.  If you are close, you should certainly go when the osprey start to nest.

10. Minnehaha Falls, Lakemont, GA, October 2017 - If you;'ve followed me for any amount of time you know I love waterfall photography.  I had to include at least one of them in this list.  I've only been to Minnehaha a few times.  Although we were there before the peak fall colors arrived, the fallen leaves around the rocks did give you a bit of the feeling of fall. So did the cold water!  This was a vertical pano that I put together in an effort to keep this composition but include the entire waterfall in the scene.

That's it.  My 10 favorite from 2017.  2018 is going to be starting off with a bang and I am looking forward to getting out and creating more images.  Thanks to all of you that like, comment, share and support me and my photography.  

Bluebirds

I finally got to spend some time with the birds in the backyard again last week.  It's been a while since I've seen very many birds in the backyard, much less got to photograph any.

If you've followed me for any amount of time you know my favorite backyard birds are The Eastern Bluebirds.  Although they are my favorite, I do enjoy attracting new, and different, birds to the backyard, too.  Most people do not realize how much time and effort go into getting these bird photographs.  It's more than just putting food out.  I easily spend three times as much time watching the birds vs. photographing them.  I spend a lot of time learning their behaviors, seeing which direction the fly in from, learning their flight pattern so I can know what bird it is before I "see" it, learning which perch or tree is their favorite and other things.  This doesn't include placing feed for different species and setting up different trees and branches that will photograph better.  In short, it's a lot of work...but the rewards are pretty great!

Aperture-priority, 1/250 sec, f/6.3, ISO 360, Compensation: +2/3, 500 mm

Image made with my Nikon D500 and Tamron 150-600mm G2 Lens supported on Sirui N-3204X Tripod and PH-20 Gimbal Head.

Center Composition

Composition seems to be the component in photography that allot of people struggle with.  You are told you must stick to the basic rules of composition.  Then, sometimes, you are told that it's OK to break those rules.  So, follow the rules...break the rules...it all makes sense now, right?

I generally base most of my compositions off the "rule of thirds".  The rule of thirds, if you aren't aware of it, is a composition rule that divides your image into thirds both horizontally and vertically so you have nine parts, or squares, like a tic tac toe board.  The idea is to place your main point of focus at one of the intersecting points of the squares.  This is supposed to make your image better balanced and give a more natural viewing experience.  Like I mentioned, this is the rule I base almost all of my compositions off of.  It's what I am always thinking about when I compose a shot through the viewfinder.

There are times, however, that I want my subject in the center of the frame.  You will hear many give advice against putting your subject in the dead center of the frame.  However, when I do it, I am still thinking about the rule of thirds.

Aperture-priority, 1/250 sec, f/6.3, ISO 1000, Compensation: +2/3, 600 mm

This elk, for example, is in the center of the frame.  As I was composing this shot, I was thinking about the rule of thirds, like always, and wanted to position his eyes on the "upper" third line.  Although the eyes aren't at one of the intersecting points, they are placed along the line of thirds.  In my opinion, this still works.  Being an outdoor/nature photographer, I use this type of composition most often when photographing wildlife.  In a scene like this one, where the critter is looking straight into the lens, I think it works well.  It gives you a sense of making direct eye contact with the critter.  Personally, I don't think you would get that instant sense if this scene were composed with the elk's eyes at one of the intersecting points.

Composition rules...follow them, bend them, break them.  Do whatever it takes to make the image a pleasurable experience for the viewer.  

This elk was photographed in Cataloochie Valley in The Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

This image was made using my Nikon D500 and Tamron 150-600 G2 Lens mounted on my Sirui Tripod with PH-20 Gimbal Head.  Camera settings can be viewed by hovering over the image.

Tree Swallows

I had been away from home for the last week.  When I returned home there were a lot of things going on around the house with the birds.  First, the bluebird eggs had hatched and they were feeding the babies on a regular basis.  Then there was a robin nest in the front yard.  Finally, the tree swallows had started working on a nest in one of the other nesting boxes.

I always watch the birds with binoculars from my garage or porch.  When I was watching them Friday I saw the tree swallows bringing in nesting material like crazy.  I put the binoculars down, ran inside and grabbed the camera, which stays at the ready on my Sirui Tripod and Gimbal Head, and setup in the bird blind.

It only took a few minutes before they started bringing in more and more nesting material.  I spent the next hour or so photographing these tree swallows.  I watched as they built a nest, watched guard and even battled other birds over territory.  It was a great experience...especially for birds that have not nested in my yard before.

Aperture-priority , 1/1,250 sec, f/8, ISO 800, Compensation: +2/3, 380 mm

Click on the image to view it larger.  Hover over the image to view camera settings.

Here's an image of one of them bringing in a few items for the nest.  This went on and on the entire time I was photographing them.  At times, I was photographing them flying into the nest box, too.  So I tried to keep my shutter speed at 1/1000th of a second or faster.  That was pretty easy to do on this particular day.  I only had to raise my ISO to 800 in order to achieve that desired shutter speed.

Image was created using my Nikon D500 and Tamron 150-600mm G2 Lens mounted atop my Sirui tripod and Gimbal Head.

Dad's Role

During the week last week the backyard bluebirds really started working hard on building their nest.  They had been house shopping for quite a while before they finally decided.  Their indecisiveness was a blessing in disguise due to the fact that if they had picked a week earlier they might have been in trouble.  We had very warm temperatures followed by a week of mostly freezing temps.  If they had  moved in and laid eggs a week earlier they might have lost the eggs due to the cold.  Luckily for all, they are picky.

I spend a lot of time watching these birds.  Easily double the time I spend photographing them, possibly more.  I've been noticing during nest building that dad never really brings in any nesting material.  It appears that mom is doing all the hard work.  So I spent some time watching dad to see what his whole role was during this process.  Dad's first role was to be a watchbird.  He was always at, or near, the house watching for invading birds.  He sat on this one tree stump that is about 10 feet away from the house constantly watching and attacking anything that came near the house.  Mostly running off House Sparrows and other birds that were brave enough to investigate the situation.

Aperture-priority, 1/500 sec, f/6.3, ISO 800, Compensation: +2/3, 600 mm

Another role dad played was making sure mom didn't burn off too many calories during all of her nest building activities.  Many times mom would go to the ground in search of the perfect piece of straw and dad would follow her with a mouth full of mealworms.  He would then offer her the mealworms.  He did this over and over.  On the ground, at the tree stump and on top of the birdhouse.

Aperture-priority, 1/400 sec, f/6.3, ISO 1600, Compensation: +2/3, 500mm

Although dad didn't "look" busy and it looked like mom was doing all the hard work, dad was doing his part, too.  Heck, he might even do the dishes later.

These images were made with my Nikon D500 and Tamron SP 150-600mm Di VC USD G2 Lens.  The camera was mounted on my Sirui Tripod and PH-20 Gimbal Head.