Immature Little Blue Heron

While visiting Jefferson Island near New Iberia, Louisiana we got to watch quite a few wading birds.  The most interesting looking one of those birds was this immature Little Blue Heron.  Little Blue Herons are entirely white until their second year.  As they molt the white feathers are replaced by the darker, blue-gray feathers you see in the adults.  We happened to catch this one in the middle of that stage.  

Aperture-priority, 1/1,000 sec, f/8, ISO 2800, Compensation: +1, 600 mm

This guy was quietly observing all the other birds as they fought for nesting territory. 

This image was made with my Nikon D500 and Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD.  My camera was being supported by my Sirui P-324S Monopod.

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.  

White Pelicans

Near my house is a wildlife refuge called Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge.  Typically, in November there are a large group, or groups, of white pelicans that stop there along their migration.  They usually hang around a few weeks and then they are gone.  There are many other birds there, but the pelicans steal the show in early to mid November.

This past weekend I took the kayak out to Wheeler to see if I could find some pelicans.  These birds are pretty smart and usually stay away from the easily accessible areas.  Often times they are on the opposite bank, that is not accessible by road.  Hence the kayak. The kayak also allows me to get closer to the birds without stressing them out.  So a paddlin' I went.

Aperture Priority, F/6.3, 1/3200th second, ISO 400, Exposure Compensation -1/3

Another advantage of being in the kayak was I could pretty much place myself to be able to shoot in the best light.  So I would position myself with the sun to my back, front lighting the pelicans.  Once I was in position the camera part was pretty easy.  I shot these with my Nikon D500 and Tamron 150-600mm G2 Lens.  I made sure the camera was on continuous focus and high speed shutter.  Then I wanted to make sure my shutter speed was at least 1/1000th, which was pretty easy to do on this day.  I had my aperture wide open at F/6.3 and my ISO was set to 400.  This ended up giving me a shutter speed of 1/3200th...much faster than my desired 1/1000th speed.

I'll probably be making a few more trips out there before these birds leave, so stay tuned.

Fawns

Over the Fourth of July Weekend, a friend and I visited Berry College to photograph the deer fawns there.  They are in abundance over there and are pretty well accustom to a people presence.

I took my Sony A77ii and Tamron 150-600mm Lens.  The lighting was wonderful that morning, as it had been raining and was still overcast for most of the morning.  Usually during a light rain, or right after a rain is the absolute best time to photograph!  The colors are all more saturated, the lighting is usually even and it the weather is generally cooler.  The cooler temps kept the fawns out in the open a little longer than normal, I believe.  They are a lot like me.  When it gets hot they start looking for shade.  The whitetail deer and I both have agility skills that are almost parallel, too...or is it opposite?  Oh, well.

ISO 1250, 500mm, F/6.3 @ 1/400th second

This little guy, or girl, was laying down in the grass.  I got on the ground to get eye level with him, or her.  Getting eye level with your subject usually provides a better perspective when shooting wildlife.  I slowly inched closer and closer until I got within about 20 yards of the deer.  He had no care in the world that I was there, but I certainly didn't want to get any closer and alarm him, or her.

If you notice the settings on this image, you'll notice that typically it's not a good idea to handhold with a shutter speed slower than your focal length.  What I mean is, if I was shooting at 500mm, I typically would want my shutter speed to be at 1/500th second.  However, the in body stabilization on the Sony A77ii allows me to cheat a bit.  Also, since the subject wasn't moving, I could get away with a bit of a slower shutter speed, too.

Osprey

Over the Memorial Day Holiday Weekend, I got an invite to go over to a lake in North Georgia to shoot some osprey that were on the nest.  It was a bit of a ride from my house, but boy I'm sure glad I went.  I ended up with some stuff I'm super happy with!

Although I left happy, it didn't start out that way.  I initially tried to shoot handheld.  The osprey were flying around so much that my arms quickly got tired.  I checked my images and the majority of them were out of focus.  I decided to salvage any part of the day I was going to have to go back to the vehicle and get the tripod, which I did.  Mounting the camera on the tripod turned out to be the deciding factor.  I started getting better shots when I could focus on the photography and not my tired arms.

ISO 800, 360mm, F/7.1 @ 1/1250th second

This image was made with my Sony Alpha 77ii, Tamron 150-600mm Lens and Vanguard Photo US Alta Pro 283CT Tripod.

I knew for the shots I was going for I needed a very high shutter speed.  I was shooting for above 1/1000th of a second.  I had to raise my ISO to 800, even though it was pretty bright.  Bumping the ISO and getting the higher shutter speed allowed me to capture this shot of the osprey landing at the nest and looking directly at me.  I was very pleased with this image.

Sharp Dressed Great Egret

About a month ago I got the chance to visit the St. Augustine Alligator Farm.  And, as everyone knows, you go to the alligator farm to see the birds...everyone knows that, right?  ;)

While I was there a bit early for baby chicks, I was there at prime bird courting and nest building time.  This Great Egret was looking to attract the attention of Mrs. Great Egret.  

ISO 400, 360mm, F/7.1 @ 1/3200th second

This image was made handheld using my Sony Alpha 77ii and Tamron 150-600mm Lens.  

Snowy Egret Showing Out

Here's one of the images I was able to capture at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm.  This is a Snowy Egret.  These smaller egrets were just starting to build their nests, so many were still looking for their soul mate.  This guy (I assume he's a dude) is working hard at it.  He's showing the other birds all he has to offer, for sure.

ISO 200, 600mm, F/6.3 @ 1/250th second

I shot this using my Sony A77ii and Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 DI USD Lens.  If you notice, this was shot at a shutter speed slower than I normally prefer.  However, since the Sony A77ii has image stabilization built into the body, I was able to pull this off.

I recently did a presentation and I mentioned to them that this lens is the absolute best buy in photography right now.  I truly believe that, too.  The first thing I always get asked about the lens is "How sharp is it at 600mm?".  It's fun to watch their eyes light up when I show them images taken at 600mm.  They are always shocked at the sharpness.  For $1069 retail, it's a tough deal to beat.

More from the Tamron 16-300

I posted an image a few weeks ago from the Snake River Overlook in Grand Teton National Park that was taken with the new Tamron 16-300mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD Lens.  One of the features that is super cool about this lens is is versatility.

Let me show you what I mean with a few images.

First, I was able to shoot on the wide end for landscapes. Like this one taken at T.A. Moulton's Barn on Mormon Row.  This was shot at 26mm.  

Next, as it would happen, as we were leaving the shoot from the barn, we came across this group of bison and all of these puffy, white clouds above them in the sky.  This one was shot at 28mm.

At one point during our visit, we stumbled across a bit of a "mountain bird rookery".  On one of our visits to this special bird area I had loaned my Tamron 150-600mm Lens to one of the workshop participants so I spent that morning using the 16-300.  Here's one of the woodpeckers exiting the nest.  This image was shot at 300mm.

And here's the male mountain bluebird hanging out at their nest, which is an abandoned woodpecker nest.  Again, 300mm.

Finally, I was also able to zoom in for some "telephoto landscapes" like this one at Oxbow Bend at sunset.  This was another 300mm shot.

That's it...for now.  Hopefully this shows you some of the versatility of having a lens that reaches from 16-300mm.  I ended up using this lens for much more of the trip that I thought because of that.