Archive for the ‘nature’ Tag

Can’t Make it to Bosque, Try This

2012 11 29 | 09 21 16 | 008016 E01C0295

Looking for Sandhills, find them in Indiana.

Bosque del Apache is still the supreme fall location to find Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese but Jasper Pulaski (JP) is a close second for cranes.  Located in northwestern Indiana, just south of Valparaiso, JP is a prime migration point with end of November crane counts in excess of 28,000.  The preserve does a great job of providing access to viewers and photographers with a raised viewing platform position right in front of the morning and evening gathering spots.

2012 11 28 | 17 26 29 | 004612 DR7T1592

You are limited to viewing locations (primarily shooting due west) so the time of day dictates your shots.  Evening shots are either difficult low light shots or some fantastic silhouettes as seen above. (click the images to see a high rez versions).  Learn to take what nature gives you and you’ll come away with some great sunlit backdrops as the cranes arrive from feeding in the near by fields.

2012 11 29 | 09 20 41 | 008924 DR7T4991

Get there at sunrise as the Sandhills arrive from their night time spots in the adjacent marsh and you’ll be treated to wave after wave of arriving cranes, just as the light gets really sweet.  Arrivals and departures will continue until around 10:00AM.  Just as the best light starts to slip away, you’ll get to witness a huge series of blast-offs as the cranes head out to the corn fields for daily feeding.

Weekends get a little crowded with fellow bird watchers and photographers – but weekdays are perfect for a relaxed adventure.  The main parking lot is about an 1/8 of a mile walk from the observation deck and a dedicated handicapped parking lot is available right next to the observation deck.  The deck is equipped with both stairs and an access ramp.

Crane populations have peaked but there will still be plenty of action through December.

Stay in focus,



Friday Funnies – September 28th

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Huh??  Peanuts?  You have PEANUTS!

Don’t ever forget that nature can be as close as your own backyard, you need to take the time to notice.

This little chipmunk got very comfortable with us over the summer, running right up to us as long as we didn’t’ make any sudden moves.  Bringing his family along with him, he got very used to the nuts we’d bring.

Look a little closer, and find some of the wild in your own backyard or neighborhood.

Stay in focus,


Location Review: Bosque del Apache

MCT 2011 12 09 7732 Bosque del Apache . . . a nature lovers “life list” kinda place

There are a few places that qualify as a “must do” location, but Bosque is definitely one of them.  Located just south of Socorro New Mexico, Bosque is a managed wetlands area of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and migratory home to literally tens of thousands of geese, cranes and ducks.  Comprising over 57,000 acres, the refuge is managed into areas of wet bottomlands, fields and natural landscape.  Refuge roads and “loops” provide excellent access, with most photographic opportunities within 30 yards of where you park along side the road.  Detailed site information can be accessed at Bosque del Apache NWR or the Friends of the Bosque del Apache websites.


There is plenty of wildlife to view and photograph during the morning and evening hours as the pictures above illustrate.  In fact, the shot directly above of the Blue Goose isn’t one of my best but it does illustrate the opportunity.  The Blue is trying to find a place to land in a “sea” of Snow Geese – yes, the whole shot is nothing but birds!

MCT 2011 12 08 7712  1

The best way to experience Bosque for the first time is to attend a photo workshop or nature tour.  Like most visitors, your time on site will be limited to a few days and it would take a few days just to learn the basics of where to go and when.  Workshop or tour leaders know the lay of the land and “when to be where”.  I’ll be going to Bosque myself this year – but because I attended a fantastic workshop last year, I now have the basics down.  Checkout my Bosque Workshop Review post from last December – I can highly recommend Rick and Juan’s session, great guys and they know where to go and will work hard for the best shots.  Last time I checked there were still a few spots open for this years end of November and early December sessions.  You can learn more about their workshops here.


The weather in Bosque can be unpredictable and varied.  It’s not uncommon to see a daily range of temperatures between 20 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit – and at times MUCH colder!  Last year was a little different it seems.  There was a couple week stretch of below zero weather and during my week there we had 3 inches of snow on the ground – which certainly provided some unique photo opportunities.  So the lesson here is to come prepared – checkout my Cold Weather Photography post from last year.  I’ll be doing an update to cold weather photography in a few weeks with new lessons learned.  But this post will give you the basics.


At minimum, I’d suggest 3 days at Bosque, with 5 days probably ideal.  The main support area to Bosque is the little town of Socorro, NM which is about 30 minutes north of the refuge.  Hotel space can fill up during the prime fall viewing period so plan to make reservations early.  If you sign up for one of the workshops or tours, they will usually have rooms pre reserved for you.

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If you can’t make it this year, mark your calendars now and save your pennies for 2013 – you won’t be disappointed!

Stay in focus,


Backyard Birding – Part Three

IDMkIV <untitled> 2010 09 04 6376 Original

Now let’s make some pictures!

If you’re new to photography (or bird photography in general) this will be an evolutionary process.  Take your time and have fun with it.  Here are some tips and considerations to get you started.

IDMkIV Dam Hike 4 14 10 2010 04 14 1621 Original


In Part Two of the series, we worked on setting up and planning for attractive backgrounds – but you still have to pay attention.  In the shot of the Black Capped Chickadee above, the distant background provided a nice creamy blur – but it’s not perfect.  The brown blur over the bird’s head wants to draw your attention away from the bird.  Always actively look at your background as you’re composing the shot, a step or two to the right would have improved this shot tremendously.

Ah Gotz Ma Grub

Getting Close

Most, but not all, birds will begin to get comfortable with you in their space.  To aide in this, sitting (or standing) still and generally being quiet is needed.  Limit sudden movements by being more deliberate and slow when you do move – it will ease the bird’s tension.  Also, sitting in the same spot frequently and for good blocks of time will help the birds adjust to you.  I regularly sit within 12-15 feet feet of my closest bird setup with no issues (except be aware of the minimum focusing distance of your lens.  This determines how close you can be and still achieve focus).  Oh, and one more thing – don’t think you can hide.  Trust me, the birds know you’re there!

Male Eastern Bluebird with Supper


Needless to say, you want great light for your shots.  When you were setting up your backyard birding area, you paid attention to morning and afternoon sweet spots as well as accounted for the movement of the sun over the spring and summer months – so you’re all set.  Well, not completely.  Consider one more technique as the last piece to the perfect shot – fill flash.

Now, this isn’t a requirement (you can make great shots without it) but it helps you deal with some of the inevitable shadow areas that can appear on the bird, especially around the eyes, face and breast.  In the Bluebird shot above (and many of my other backyard shots) I use fill flash along with an inexpensive adapter called a better beamer to help my light throw farther.  When you’re ready, brush up on fill flash and take your shots to the next level.

IDMkIV Dam Hike 4 14 10 2010 04 14 1660 OriginalColoring

Pay attention to the coloring on certain birds to ensure you time your shot correctly.  Similar to many ducks, some birds have an iridescent quality to them that varies depending on their angle to the light.  What appears to be almost totally black at one angle, can look quite colorful at a slightly different angle.  The Tree Swallow above is a good example.  Almost dark black over his eye but the same color behind his eye (at a slightly different angle to the sun) is amazing.  Pay attention to the light and learn the coloring traits of your birds.

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Be Considerate

Don’t endanger your birds for the sake of a picture.  When birds are very young, it can be safe (in nesting boxes only) to approach and take close-ups – but keep the following in mind:

  1. Mom and dad will fly off – but will return when you leave
  2. Be quick about it, do not leave the box open for any length of time due to temperature considerations
  3. Do not move the box around
  4. Do not move or disturb the actual nest
  5. Do not approach the box after the first week or so.  As the birds get older, you could force them into fledging (trying to fly off) too soon and endanger their life.

For birds that are naturally nesting in trees and other places, don’t even approach, you could alert predators to their location (where as properly setup nesting boxes are protected) or damage the nest by moving branches or other obstructions around.

Bluebird Brothers

Have fun with this new aspect to your photography – it’s a very rewarding experience!

Stay in focus,


Friday Funnies – March 16th

MCT 03 2012 03 16 2012 2092

Just Hanging Around . . . Waiting for a Chance to Split

Sometimes you just never know what the lens of your camera will find – so take it as it comes!

I’ve seen others create images with this pose – and have actively tried to get my own for the past several years with no success.  While chasing a Wood Duck recently (also with no success) – this little fellow decided to pose right in front of me for a few seconds.

  • First lesson learned:  All the shots you’re looking for will come your way . . . but it will be in nature’s time, not necessarily yours.
  • Second lesson learned:  That shot may come your way and only stay for a moment – so be prepared.  Understand your equipment, settings and exposure requirements intimately so you can switch on the fly – and take advantage of the beauty nature has chosen to place in front of you.

Stay in focus,


Always Look Behind You

MCT 2011 12 02 5652

I had the opportunity to visit Fossil Rim Wildlife Park south of Dallas Fort Worth recently (a separate review coming soon) and was shooting out of my driver’s window.  I was so focused on what was in front of me, that I neglected to notice the interloper behind me – until he already had my lunch in his mouth!

Now, from a serious point of view – do make sure you “look behind you” when on nature and landscape shoots.  Some of the best shots I’ve gotten were 180 degrees opposite of my primary subject that day.  For example, the light in a sunrise shoot can be just as dramatic on the landscape behind you as the sunrise itself.

MCT 10 2011 10 22 2011 1024 HDR

Use your eyes as well as your lens when out in the field.  Constantly scan the field around you and keep your eyes sharp for interesting shadows and lighting – not to mention the occasional critter!

Stay in Focus,