Many years ago, I was walking through a lovely old-growth stand of northern hardwoods on a glacial moraine hillside in northeastern Connecticut, conducting a bird survey for a proposed residential subdivision. With each step, my mind slipped deeper into despair over sacrificing this beautiful woodland habitat for human housing. Continue reading →
Experience has taught me to exploit compositional techniques that help my nature images take on a more compelling story-telling quality. One such technique that I employ frequently is juxtaposition. This fancy word is formed by joining the Latin root “juxta”, which translates to “next to”, to the word “position”. Compositionally speaking, this means placing the subject next to some object in order to set the stage for a compare-and-contrast scenario. In some cases it is the similarity of the subject to the secondary object, whereas in other cases it may be the difference between the two that is stressed. More often than not, what results is a more inviting look and feel to the final image. In this article, I will delve into more detail about juxtaposition and highlight some examples from my own images. Continue reading →
Black skimmers are my enigma bird. Just when I think they couldn’t possibly be around, they show up in droves. Then when I think it’s a perfect day to see some, they’re nowhere to be found. Continue reading →
The brisk spring air was punctuated by a gusty wind as I stood in breathless anticipation beside the main gates. Once inside, we stealthily crept up the steps of the permanent wooden blind where we could see silhouettes of thousands of birds blanketing the riverbed’s shallow channels and naked sandbars.
The world’s oldest surviving bird species, the sandhill crane still appears curiously archaic. With legs dangling and bent in an awkward landing posture, and neck and wings extended, it is reminiscent of the ancient pterodactyl, the extinct flying reptile. Fossilized remains of the sandhill have been found in Nebraska sediments dating from the Lower Pliocene, some nine million years ago. This has led scientists to theorize that today’s sandhill crane has remained unchanged since that long-ago epoch. Continue reading →
In an earlier column I gave praise to the seaside sparrow, a species common to the salt marshes of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, but rarely sought after by nature photographers. This column is on one of my all-time favorite songsters: Cistothorus plaustris, the marsh wren, a denizen of freshwater and tidal brackish marshes with robust stands of bulrush, cattail and cordgrass.
The marsh wren is every bit as inconspicuous as the seaside sparrow, but two qualities make it stand out. It is curious as all get-out, and it loves to sing.
Marsh wrens have to figure you out, and they will approach as near as arm’s length to do so. Even when you can’t see them, they are likely watching you; sometimes closer than you think.
The other giveaway is its song. Once you hear the marsh wren’s bubbling repertoire of chattering melodies, you will have little trouble recognizing it on future ventures into its wetland domain. A marsh is not a marsh without the wren’s enthusiastic and rapid chatter resonating throughout the tidal landscape. And this little feathered ball of dynamism not only sings during the day, but also at all hours of the night. Continue reading →
Expect the unexpected. All nature photographers, regardless of skill level, have had moments when the unexpected happens. Nature provides no script beforehand or studio that we can set up the way we want. What happens is not announced ahead of time. We know from experience that unforeseen and special moments will occur, so we improvise and use what we have to make the best of the situation.
Through our knowledge of the natural world and our willingness to endure whatever challenge is placed before us, nature photographers make it work. We know that going directly from point A to point B rarely happens in nature, and we are blessed for it.
I had planned to photograph a northern harrier frequenting the marshes of Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and Assateague Island National Seashore in Virginia this past winter. For days, I watched this raptor as it swooped and glided over the salt marsh. Yet, I was never able to get set up in time to photograph it.
One picture-perfect morning I hiked along the bay side of the seashore determined that some feathered creature would not defeat me! My only challenge was that I had to be at a friend’s house for lunch at noon, and he would not appreciate my being late. The day held the promise of fun exploring this side of the coastal barrier island. Then, something unexpected happened. Continue reading →
The notes of the rail came loudly to my ear, and on moving toward the spot whence they proceeded, I observed the bird exhibiting the full ardor of his passion. Each time it passed before her, it would pause for a moment…and bow to her with all the grace of a well-bred suitor of our own species.—John James Audubon, 1840
What Audubon witnessed is something most folks will never see as this secretive marsh bird is heard more than it is seen. In 1926, ornithologist Arthur Cleveland Bent wrote this about how to see a Virginia rail: “Take up one’s station near a pond or marsh frequented by them and watch patiently, silently, and immobile….” Wow, patience. What a concept.
Virginia rail at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Maryland.
Aldo Leopold once said, “When we hear his call we hear no mere bird. We hear the trumpet in the orchestra of evolution.”
Cranes are among the most graceful and symbolic birds known to man. That they’ve been around for some 10 million years is a testament to their hardiness in the face of numerous geological events that have challenged or even lead to the demise of other, perhaps lesser, genera. Found on every continent in the world, with the exception of Antarctica and South America, the 15 species are frequently incorporated into local culture and mythology as they help humans better understand their connectedness to the natural world around them. Continue reading →
Photographing hummingbirds in flight in countries like Ecuador and Costa Rica with natural light or with just one flash can be very difficult. The reason – most of these birds live in the cloud forest where there isn’t much light due to both shade from trees and cloud cover. One solution for this, which creates beautiful flight shots, is a multi-flash hummingbird setup. By setting up several slave flashes set to 1/32 or 1/16 power around a hummingbird feeder or flower you can produce stunning images of hummingbirds in flight. The reason is that the flashes are actually synching at speeds of 1/8000 to 1/12,000 of a second changing the effective shutter speed from what is on your camera – let’s say 1/200 sec to the lightning fast speed of the flashes synching. The key to this is having the flashes produce all of the light, otherwise you will be mixing ambient light and flash lighting. In that case the 1/200 sec shutter speed will affect the image by causing blurring in parts of it. So you need to have your camera’s exposure set to at least -3 or -4 stops below the ambient lighting.Another helpful component is to have an artificial background – often a large printed photograph held a few yards behind the mutli-flash setup. Continue reading →