"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

A Primer on Birds in Flight Photography

A Primer on Birds in Flight Photography
—presented by Tongue-in-Cheek Publishing

You see them everywhere, those sharp, crisp, colorful and perfect photos of birds in flight (BIF).   It is something every photographer tries, but which is accomplished only by the very expert.

Or sometimes by the lucky who accidentally get a good shot of a feathered missile flying past, which would be me.   The lucky, not the missile.  Which was a long time ago, and DISCLAIMER!!!  does not include any of the included photos.

A gorgeous male mallard in its breeding colors.   Look at the cute little curls on its tail.

Having tried my luck and found it wanting, I have a few suggestions and tips for BIF photography:

1.      Birds are under no obligation, either by their own choice or under union contracts, to notify you when they choose to fly.  However, many birds unintentionally clue you in with body language:   they poop.

2.      Therefore, you must constantly be aware of pooping birds, or, lacking that important clue, have expert hand and eye coordination.  I do not.   I think I am so entranced with the miracle of flying birds that by the time I realize what a great photo that would make, it’s too late.

So much wrong with this photo, but I really like that all three mallards had their wings in the same position.

3.     I recently had occasion to be in the right spot to observe BIF, that being water and many mallards in front of me, while behind me was another flock of mallards that wanted to be on the this side of the pond.   The sun was in the right position, being at my nine o’clock, so when the ducks took flight the first thing I saw were their shadows cast on the snow in front of me.   You would think that would be sufficient warning, right?


4.     Sometimes it was; sometimes not.  The shadows did give me time to raise the camera, but zooming in on an individual duck was near impossible.   Instead, a lot of cropping of the photos was necessary to detect what it was that I was trying to photograph.   Oh, and that cropping results in loss of quality and that's why these photos are so poor.  Yes, that's why.

5.     Sparkle.   A bit of light reflecting in the bird’s eye is essential in any photo or birds, animals, or humans, flying or not.   Otherwise, the bird’s eye is a dead dull black.  Ducks know that.   They go to great lengths to avoid eye sparkle when photographers are near.

You can see this female intentionally hid her eye so as not to have that little spark of life in her eye.

6.     You would think that with the sun over my left shoulder and the mallards flying from that angle to my one or two o’clock, all the duck eyes would sparkle.   Not so.

What would otherwise have been a nice photo is ruined by the top bird being in the frame.

7.     Instead, the ducks concentrate more on their shadows rather than their sparkles.  I witnessed this bit of duck behavior and can attest to its veracity:   the duck’s shadow on the snow marks its landing spot.  

8.     Next time you’re out watching birds, watch and see if it isn’t true.   The bird lands where the shadow marks the spot.

9.     Spot on!

10.  Uh, this mallard, perhaps blinded by the sun on snow, used water-landing techniques instead of solid surface techniques, which result in abrupt stops instead of waterskiing across the surface.  You can almost hear it saying, “OOF!”    Can’t you?

11.  It is essential, in this instance, that the mallard act as if it intended this landing, especially when a bunch of its buddies are there to critique the landing.

"Why, yes.   This IS where I intended to land."

12.  For some reason I haven’t discerned, female mallards are more cooperative than the males.

Look at that!   Nice attitude, sparkle in the eye, unobstructed background, all attention drawn to the subject.   Perfect.   Too bad it isn't in focus. 

You will find that when  a male seems to be cooperating, it will make sure the background is exceptionally cluttered, thus ruining the photo.

There's that cluttered background again, but the female's eye is visible.

Or, it hides in a group of other ducks, again ruining the shot.   Faces hidden, no eye sparkle: boo.

What a mess.

Technique, mallards.  Technique.   Our mallard that made the poor landing is just right of center.   Just remember, pal, any landing you walk away from is a successful landing.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

What makes a trip a success?

I took off Sunday afternoon on the spur of the moment and headed three hours north to go birding with a birding buddy.

I wasn't even there before I decided the trip was a stunning success!!!

Not every day you get to see a wild wolf.

But, that wasn't the last of the wild animal sightings.

She came out of an encounter with a vehicle missing some hair, but otherwise okay.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Working on It

Don't give up.   I'm working on another post.

I was on a real roll a couple days ago but then the electricity went out for six hours.

The other excuse is sun.   Sun and a frozen crust on the snow that I can walk on to find birds.

Here are a few to keep you company.

This is Dave's Creek where the American dipper lives.

Once called a water ouzel, the dipper holds onto rocks with its strong feet and can walk underwater.

Dipper is examining the menu for today.

Must have been something yummy because he's completely underwater.

Camera hog.

Common redpolls.    So darned cute.

A few more redpolls.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Wyoming Journals, Ch. 16: A Few Tid Bits

Before Chris and I leave the hunting camp in the Snowy Mountains of southeastern Wyoming, I want to share a few bits and pieces with you.


Turns out the best place to see wildlife is while sitting in the motorhome in camp.  Moose wander through or skirt the camp, and frequently stop to stare.

I quit counting at 17.   There were several more.


Before the altitude got to me and confined me to camp, I went back to the White Rocks and climbed to the top.   

I was going to see how close I could get to the notch.

I won't bother to point out the location of our camp because only a tiny piece of white is visible, right of center behind the trees.

This dead tree trunk made a great spot to catch my breath, enjoy the scenery, and try to get a focus on one of the dozens of migrating butterflies.

Some detail on that tree's roots.

One of the pillars across the valley.   This is from a blog about hiking this valley, "
To add to the interest, cowboys and adventurers have carved names and initials, dates and places, and the delicate profile of a woman’s face. Finding and deciphering the 'glyphs can make a day hike into a treasure hunt. The earliest I’ve found was left by C.M.E. back in 1878."

Closer.   At least I'm on the same level.
Getting closer.   There's a sheer crop-off in front of me, so I have to go to the right.

The two sandstone pillars across the valley.   Note the sheer drop-off below me.   It's the same on the other side.

I didn't get all the way to the notch because there was a deep crevasse that I could not cross without some serious rock-climbing skills, ropes, ladders, and pitons, none of which I had in my pockets.

This being a dead calm day by Wyoming standards, I was very careful about my footing, all in a desire to not get blown into the next county.   In fact, I set my camera down in a safe spot before I crossed the last crack that I could.   Maybe someone could use it should I tumble down the sheer sides of this sandstone edifice.

The best part of this solo journey into space is that while I was sitting on top admiring the view, a half dozen ravens flew over and circled directly above me, no doubt waiting to see if I'd be fresh lunch soon.   They soon gave up and soared away.

Here's a bird ID tip:   Hold your hand out in front of you with the fingers spread.   The fan shape is like a crow's tail feathers in flight.

Now close the fingers.   The wedge shape is like a raven's in flight, because the crow's feathers are of equal length, whereas the raven's center tail feathers are longer than the others.


It's autumn in these parts, but I found a vestige of summer.

 This old fence, one day and another.

 Rock Creek, one day and another:

Mule deer


Bud and I stayed at White Rocks while Chris and Bob hiked across the valley floor to the pillar.    I was photographing birds.

When we left, we came across a young fellow and stopped to chat a moment.  He told us this tale:

He had shot an elk.   When he approached it, it appeared to be dead so he and his dad took turns taking photos.

Suddenly the elk kicked out, knocking the dad backwards and laying a darned good bruise on the man's shin.   Junior tracked the elk "for five miles", seeing tracks of wolves and mountain lions also following the wounded animal.

Now, he was off again the track the elk.

Off goes the brave hunter, facing wolves and mountain lions.

We stopped at their tent, which they were in the process of equipping.   It was a huge tent, with an added vestibule in the back for a cook tent.

Twenty people could set up cots in this tent.

The cooking vestibule.

Dad showed us his injured shin and verified the story, not that we were skeptical, you understand.   But, this WAS a hunting camp and my understanding is that hunting ethics dictate a hunter always believes another hunter's story before trying to out-do it.   Much like fishing ethics.

Dad's "humongous" injury from the elk.

And there we are.    Just wanted to get these things revealed to the world before Chris and I visit Laramie.

Oh, wait.   How could I forget?

One of the gray jays (aka Canada jay, whiskey jack, camp robber) that came to our picnic.