Tuesday, March 31, 2009

interested in falconry?

Then check out John Trapp's blog, Birds Etcetera , March 31, post.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Sunday, March 29, 2009


To do lists, our tasks, our lives, easily become overwhelming 
when we are creative people who have ideas.

-- Catherine E. White  Life Balance 

Mike McDowell's digiscoping blog

Although I am not into digiscoping (I tried it briefly & found it too difficult for the results I was getting), Mike McDowell produces photos that are best described by one word, BEAUTIFUL. I have followed his blog for a long time and was dismayed when his site seemed to have disappeared. Thanks to Steve Ingraham , I found it again under a different name through another provider here .

Good morning!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Friday, March 27, 2009

heading home

It was our last day in Kearney. Wanting to put every possible minute to use, some of us, with Stan's encouragement, decided to walk from our motel to a nearby bridge before sunrise. We knew there would be cranes on the islands below us. But how do you take photos in the dark? You start with the moon.

Pointing the camera to the east, this was the best I could do.

As the sky began to glow brighter, we could make out large numbers of Sandhills quite close to us.

Well before sunrise, they took off. The sound of their calls cannot be described -- you have to hear it -- you have to feel it -- the word primeval comes to mind.

At sunrise, having finished breakfast, we boarded our bus to head home. Stan was good enough to drive east on the nearby country roads rather than immediately taking to the Interstate. This would be our last chance to photograph the Cranes.

The warm morning sun painted this beautiful Sandhill with a golden glow.

Some were in the fields looking for grain.

Others were busy doing their courtship rite thing -- very busy!

We saw many huge flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds and wondered whether they would beat us home.

This is our motley crew at a lunch stop in Council Bluffs, Iowa -- all except Tom, who took the photo and gave me permission to post it. It was a wonderful birding/photography trip with a congenial group of folks. The credit for organizing this successful adventure belongs to Stan Tekiela (the fellow in green with the sun glasses). For information about Stan and future trips, check out his web site here . I also want to thank Amber (2nd from the right), a graduate student and employee at the Raptor Center, for her extensive knowledge and willingness to help us identify birds (especially raptors) and learn about them.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

What do you do after seeing a Whooping Crane?

You go to a blind & look for more Cranes!

Meadowlarks are scarce around the Twin Cities (Minnesota). It was a real treat to see so many of them on the Nebraska prairies.

For our evening blind experience, Stan had arranged for us to go to Wings Over The Platte , a facility reopened by the Grand Island Chamber of Commerce, after being closed for a year. The volunteers running it are very nice and anxious to please. The video photographer in this photo joined us to shoot footage for the Chamber's publicity program to attract visitors.

The view from our blind was gorgeous. However, the blind was not designed for photography. The slits for viewing were only about 4" tall (except for one opening in the blind which was still too small for a camera on a tripod). They need to change this since many of the visitors go into the blinds to take pictures.

Across the river, these turkeys were looking for a place to roost.

There were lots of ducks on the river.

Female Common Merganser

Two male Common Mergansers paddled by our blind.

This one didn't want to stick around.

The Cranes were slow in coming in. However, the numbers increased as the sun set.

It was getting dark, and they were flying over our blind. Yet there was something wrong!

The Sandhills were flying close to us, but instead of landing on the islands in the Platte in front of our blind, many decided to land in the field BEHIND our blind, blocking the way to our bus!

It was getting dark -- we were sworn not to do anything to disturb the Cranes -- yet how would we get back to our bus? The above photo shows only the first Cranes; as the darkness deepened, more and more of them came in. After lengthy negotiations, which lasted a good half-hour or more, we convinced our guides to let us try to walk around the Cranes. The Cranes took off anyway! However, they have good night vision and often fly at night. We were sure they would find another roosting place -- particularly since we were hungry for supper at Skeeter's.
It had been an excellent day since we had seen a Whooping Crane! It had been a good day since we had enjoyed not only the Sandhill Cranes, but also a plethora of waterfowl. It was time to celebrate with a good meal and local brew on tap.
next: our final day and return to Minnesota

Whooping Cranes

Whooping Cranes dancing & migrating .

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

forget the Canon 50D - long live the Canon EOS Rebel T1i / EOS 500D

Most of the features of the 50D are included in the new Rebel T1i for 1/2 of the price.
Read about it here and also here . It even has HD video.

the search for our grail bird, the Whooping Crane

We were told that a Whooping Crane had been sighted the previous weekend in our area -- with instructions where we could find the flock of Sandhill Cranes it had joined.

This was just a small portion of the flock.

We used spotting scopes, binoculars -- I placed my camera on a tripod with my longest lens, a 400mm. Since part of the flock was hidden from us and cranes were flying in and out, we kept looking for well over an hour. I knew that Whoopers were basically white in color with black wing tips, but there were sure a lot of very light Sandhills. With 500,000 Sandhills passing through the Platte River basin and less than 300 Whoopers in the wild, could it be possible that we would really find one? 

With the passage of time, I was becoming doubtful of possible success, and started looking around. 

What's this eye got to do with anything? Nothing! I was getting bored, and, it's a beautiful eye, don't you think?

There were Sandhill Cranes in the air, and

Meadowlarks (Western?) on the ground.

It looked like waiting for the Whooper to fly in was just wishful thinking. There was nothing left to do but head back towards the Platte. Maybe we had received faulty directions -- maybe the Whooper's flock had left -- maybe . . .
Within a very short time, as we were driving past another small Sandhill flock, Stan slammed on the brakes and shouted, "There it is!" Could it really be?

There it was -- our grail bird -- a Whooping Crane -- a juvenile hatched last year. Concerned about scaring the flock, we took our first shots through the bus windows.

Now I understood what I had read -- do not worry about identifying a Whooping Crane, when you see one, you will know. Look how much taller it is -- 

-- and whiter, even as a juvenile

Since I only had a 400mm lens and the flock was quite a distance from us, I started using the 1.4x converter first, later the 2x, and eventually stacking both of them. Obviously, when you do that, your image quality suffers.

We must have been watching the Whooper for close to an hour. Other birders stopped by as well.

Suddenly, something unexpected began to happen -- the Whooper was going to take off with several Sandhills in formation.

At this time I still had the 1.4x converter on my lens -- there was not time to take it off -- and the cranes were flying directly at us. Would I be able to focus on the Whooper? Would it be too close to get a good photo?

Focusing with the 1.4x converter is very slow. Would my hands shake too much to handhold the camera?

Taking everything into consideration, I am quite satisfied with the result. Next year this Whooper will be all white with just the wing tips black and the red marking on its head.

Our grail bird, the Whooping Crane!
Thank you, Stan, for making it possible!
What do we do next? The Ivory-bill?

more to come

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

what's good for the goose was good for us

After spending the morning looking for leks and wildlife, and since we were in the area, we returned to the Snow Geese near Grand Island. 

None of us seemed to tire watching them.

A local TV station was shooting a piece on Snow Geese and Amber was recruited for commentary. The story was fed nation-wide to NBC affiliates.



Next, we search for our grail bird, the Whooping Crane

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Prairie Chickens, Coyotes, Eagles & Ducks

a week ago Saturday, our group was on the road with a guide looking for Prairie Chicken leks

many Sandhills were already in the air looking for feeding grounds

the roads looked as if they could be a challenge, but Stan's driving skills were exemplary

finally! a lek!
however, without being in a blind we could not approach close enough for photos
our looks were limited to 30x spotting scope eyepieces
we did see prairie chickens jumping high into the air doing their courtship thing
the sounds were exciting, something I had never heard before
next time, I want to be in a blind!

but I was excited to get this shot of a coyote not too far from us
it did glance our way, but otherwise ignored us

a little later, this Bald Eagle provided excitement by chasing a Snow Goose
the Eagle was not successful

a few miles later we came upon this goose that was not as lucky

while not hunting for food, Bald Eagles also like to "play around"

the many potholes in the area were full of ducks

more to follow