Blaze of glory

A summer that at times hardly felt like its promise of heat and humidity is starting to wind down.  Erratic trees are showing signs of fall colors, flowers are blossoming out as if for one last fling, migratory birds are grazing continuously as if on a time clock counting down to the trip south.  Across it all the colors of summer are brilliant.

All images around Horicon Marsh in Wisconsin.

Side of the road – someone sharing job

Pending summer end


Passing through toward south

Waiting for a bee

Purple veil

More fun from a distance

I keep returning to Horicon Marsh searching for a whooping crane.  Now that I’ve got the gear to reach out and touch this rarely seen bird, he seems to be avoiding me.  Just have to keep it up, I guess.

Not that the time there is a waste.  I’m learning more about the terrain, the roads, the wildlife.  Seems the swifts that hang around one of the viewing stands are starting to get used to me.  Not that they are any happier about my presence.

My photography colleague Steve Russell is building quite a portfolio of macro images – you should take a look the result of his effort.  His technique is usually the traditional approach – macro lens, solid tripod, lots of patience to get the subject framed and exposed to his liking.  I’m not as good as Steve at getting close nor as patient to wait for the right moment.  Fortunately with my 300mm lens I can stand back and fill the frame.  Great for getting tight with a subject you can’t easily get to.

Sure, I could have been like Steve and gotten to this with a macro lens but it would have meant wading through a foot of marsh whereas I was able to stand on the boardwalk and get just as close as I wanted.  Like I said, Steve is better at this than me.

The swifts are an interesting crowd.  They zip around the boardwalk chasing each other (or invisible insects) all the while chatting about something.  For a break, they sit on the rope banister for the boardwalk and chat with each other.  Must be lots of gossip to keep up with in the marsh.

At the other end of the activity scale are the egrets and herons.  Patiently waiting for the right snack to appear, not getting in a rush for anything.  It seems they even take their time talking with each other.  Maybe they are sticklers for using just the right sentence structure or word choice.

The marsh serves as a very large nursery each year, as parents raise kids to be a part of the huge avian world.  This time of year the youngsters are showing some post-adolescent plumage as they look forward to following their parents south to escape the chill that will cover the marsh with ice and snow.  This young sandhill crane, not yet with his red skullcap, is strolling through the fields with mom and dad.

With so much to see there are opportunities for a little abstract, countering the soft, rounded edges of the marsh with man’s insistence on linear and angular.

I’m very pleased with the performance of this lens – it stretches me to be a better photographer for composition, exposure, focus and storytelling.

Surprise – there’s more there

I’m continuing to learn the capabilities of my 300mm lens, specifically how to capitalize on the sharpness.  A long lens take practice to “dial-in” as far as technique to use it at the limits of its design.  I know a few things to look out for and am learning more about set-up and handling.  Still, even with my novice skills I get surprised.

While sitting in a marsh recently waiting for waterfowl to come by I practiced focusing on this guy:

Red-winged Blackbird

Seemed like the image turned out pretty good so while in Lightroom I zoomed in to see how much detail I could find in the bird.  That’s when I noticed this:

What are all those spots?  I thought, “Oh no, the lens has something inside it” before realizing anything in the lens wouldn’t show up for the most part.  I zoomed in a little closer and discovered these are small flies hanging around this tree.  Which is probably why the bird was hanging around as well.

This is one of the aspects I really enjoy with telephoto lenses.  You get your image downloaded and starting looking it over only to discover there are elements in the picture you didn’t see.  Lots of fun.  Especially when things are sharp enough to make sense of them.

So I discovered the lens is sharper than I expected, something to keep in mind while reaching out to pull in a subject in the distance.

Marsh scenes – summer

Continuing to learn how to get best results from a 300mm lens I recently bought.  The Horicon marsh north of us is one of the best places around to see a variety of birds and scenery so I wandered around a bit to see what I could practice on.  Most of the images below are cropped from a larger composition.  Where I used it best, the lens is sharp enough to allow significant cropping and still render detail.  Great when the subjects you want simply refuse to get any closer.

Great Egret

This bird appears to have been resting from a feeding session in the marsh just below the tree.  I was able to get closer by creeping up behind other trees and shooting through open spots in the leaves.

Sandhill crane and red-winged blackbird

Earlier I was walking a dike with a small cloud of red-winged blackbirds around me, all screaming warnings to everything within hearing distance.  Experiencing that I realized they are pretty bold but didn’t realize what they would take on.  A pair of sandhill cranes were slowly feeding across a shallow marsh when they wandered into the nesting area of a group of blackbirds.  At least a half-dozen of the blackbirds were swooping around them, driving them away.  The most effective method seemed to be landing on the crane’s butt and screaming at it, like the one above.


The swallow on the left was patiently waiting on the right one for something.  As the cleaning proceeded past the limit of the left one’s patience it reached out and grabbed the other’s wing.  That got attention.

Mallard family

Families are growing this spring, as parents have just a few months to train the kids on survival and migration.

Lily still life

Before the wind gets up there are nice opportunities for some quiet scenes.

Egret hunting party

This group of egrets slowing moved across this small marsh, vacuuming up fish, frogs and other aquatic life.


He appears to be gathering moss or reeds since he’s carrying a clump in his mouth as he makes his way back to a small island of cattails.

Great egret

Always good in a portrait session to have shots from both sides.

What you see is…what?

Speed makes all the difference

So they say seeing is believing.  But seeing what?  We want to believe the nature of reality is that it is perceiveable, that we can look out and see what is really there.  But what is really there?

The one dimension we think is unseeable is time.  The other three make themselves obvious with any three dimensional object, but time is perceived as the now, a unitary thing.  We can’t “see” the past or future, we simply see NOW.

Unless we have a camera.  Two shots above, one taken at 1/8th of a second, the other at 1/640th of a second.  Both of the same subject, within a minute of each other, both a NOW.

Which is the real fountain?  Photography enables us to “see” different versions by freezing time at a moment (or very short duration) and examine what’s happening.  I stared at this fountain for a bit and neither of these images was apparent to me – I saw something in between.  Yet here’s proof of a reality imperceptible to me.  So it must exist.

What else is going on around us that seeing doesn’t reveal?

Long lens close-ups

The Canada geese in the area are herding their goslings around showing them the ropes on survival.  It’s fun to watch the adults try to threaten a big car with hissing and advancing motion while the young blithely wander around poking their noses into everything.  In general, though, mom and dad keep the group together and moving in the same direction.

It was an overcast, rainy day and the goslings were in the tall grass, either stripping the water drops off the leaves or picking at the grass itself.

I was using a 300mm lens for my OM-1 film camera on my digital camera, shooting out the car window.  The geese were so close at times I had to wait until they walked out of my close-focus point.  It was great to be able to fill the image with the birds but handholding a long lens like this (and manually focusing) meant the images aren’t as sharp as I’d like.  Still, you can see details on them nicely.

Whenever the parents felt we’d gotten too close or had seen enough, they herded the goslings further into the grass.  With all the rain we’ve gotten the stems were tall enough to easily hide the young birds, although a few of them still were curious about all the fuss.

We expected to see sandhill cranes in this area as they use it for feeding and nesting.  And sure enough, we saw one walking along the side of the road in the grass.  He pretty much let us coast along beside him while he nosed around for bugs and periodically called out to see if anyone was in the area.  Although this was our only sandhill crane we did see a cousin.

At a nearby visitor’s center we heard a whooping crane had been sighted so we drove off in that direction hoping for the best.  Luckily, the bird was still in the field so we got to see one of our most endangered birds, just wandering around in a field behind a farm house.  What a great opportunity for us to see the “other” American crane.

We learned later whooping cranes have been transplanted to Wisconsin but the efforts are not going well.  The percentage of successful nesting and raising of young is very small.  One surprising issue is the black fly population, which harasses the adults so much they leave the nest and eggs behind.  A tactic managers are using is to get to the nest soon after the eggs are laid and remove them to be hatched by humans.  The birds will apparently lay more eggs later, which is after the black fly population drops off.  Sometimes even evolution needs a hand….

A few things about this image.  It’s an extreme crop of an image made with the 300mm lens resting on the window of my car so it’s nowhere as sharp as I’d wish for such a great occasion.  But, you use what you got as best possible.  Also, see the bird on the right?  From other images it’s obviously a crane but I can’t find anything online about whooping or sandhill cranes being this black at any stage in their life.  Either it’s been rolling in mud or it’s some other type of plumage.  Finally, if you look closely behind the white whooping crane, about an inch in this image, you’ll see a little orange spot.  This is the head of a chick that followed the adult around.  At the distance we were from the birds it was invisible – I only noticed it when zooming in on the images in Photoshop.  Hopefully this will be one of the chicks that make it to adulthood!