wildlife

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

Bluebirds

I haven't had the best of luck with birds in the backyard this year, so far.  I've been plagued with some nuisance birds that think they own the place.  They have been trying their best to run off any other bird that comes into the yard.  However, my luck started to change as the month of May rolled in.  

I've seen several different species fighting for use of the bird box since then.  I've seen wrens, swallows and bluebirds all trying to claim the box as their own.  Time will tell who wins that fight.  Either way, I would be happy to photograph any of them.  Yesterday was my birthday and I started the day off with photographing those birds.

I was so worried that the bluebirds wouldn't show up this year.  They are usually here well before now.  So I am especially happy to see them in the backyard now...even if it only lasts for a few days.  This is the male Eastern Bluebird.  These bluebirds are easily one of my favorite birds to watch and photograph.  I was especailly happy to start my birthday off photographing them.

Equipment list: Nikon D500, Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD, Sirui P-324 Monopod, Sirui L-20S Monopod Head

EXIF Info: Aperture-priority, 1/1,000 sec, f/8, ISO 900, 450 mm

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.

Roseate Spoonbill

The Roseate Spoonbill is always one of the most popular wading birds among photographers.  When it is in full, breeding plumage there is no question why, either.  The vibrant pinks of this bird really make it an eye catcher!

During my visit to New Iberia recently we made a trip to Jefferson Island.  Jefferson Island is along the entrance road to Rip Van Winkle Gardens.  The birds were really just starting to nest on the island.  There were several different birds on the island, too.  There were Cattle Egrets, Little Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets and Roseate Spoonbills.  

I tried to capture images as the birds were moving around collecting sticks and other materials for their new nests.

Aperture-priority, 1/1,000 sec, f/8, ISO 1400, Compensation: +1/3

On the day I captured this image it was heavy overcast lighting.  That works out great to see all the colors, contrast and details of the bird, you just have to remember to raise your ISO a bit to make sure your shutter speed doesn't drop too low that it may cause motion blur. 

This image was captured with my Nikon D500 and Tamron 150-600mm G2 Lens resting atop my Sirui P-324S monopod.

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.

Eastern Phoebe

I got a chance to get out in the backyard and photograph some birds this past weekend.  That is something I haven't been able to do for a while.  If I have gotten a chance to get out there lately, then the birds just haven't cooperated much.  I was glad to see them cooperate a bit this weekend.

A bird that I have not photographed, or even seen, in the backyard before was this Eastern Phoebe.  It was nice to see a new bird.  This guy came in over and over and got his fill of tasty mealworms.

Aperture-priority, 1/250 sec, f/6.3, ISO 280, Compensation: +2/3, 460 mm

If you hover over the image you can see my camera settings for this shot.  I shot this image at 460mm.  I prefer to include the entire bird, and even some of it's environment, in my composition.  I often times see bird images with tails that are cut off, or cropped really tightly to the edge of the frame.  I see photographers get a telephoto zoom lens and they want to use it extended all the way out to it's maximum focal length.  Just remember, it's more important to create a compelling and interesting composition than using your lens at it's longest end.

I shot this little guy with my Nikon D500 and Tamron 150-600mm G2 Lens.  As alwyas when I am in the backyard, I was using my Sirui N3204-x 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.

More From the Female Osprey

On Sunday morning our workshop group got the opportunity to photograph both mom and dad osprey eating a fish.  

Dad brought his fish to the nest to eat.  Mom was none too happy about this.  She screamed and squawked at him the entire time he ate, until he finally left the nest with the fish.  I think she was more upset that he brought the fish to the nest than she was that he wasn't sharing.  At one point while dad was eating at the nest, a mighty brave, little kestrel came swooping in trying to steal some of dad's meal.

After dad left the nest, mom went out and got a fish of her own.  She began eating it within the cover of some trees instead of at the nest.  This worked out great for the group.  The trees were much lower to the ground allowing a much better perspective for photographing her.

Aperture-priority, 1/1,600 sec, f/8, ISO 800, Compensation: +1 2/3, 600 mm

It was very cloudy and the light was not great, so I had to increase my exposure compensation for this by 1 2/3 rds.  Shooting a dark subject on a bright background always throws your camera meter into fits, so you need to adjust your settings to compensate for this.  

This image was made with my Nikon D500 and Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 Lens mounted onto my Sirui P-324S monopod and L-20S Monopod Head.