Fall, the quick version

I seem to be writing one blog post per season lately. This one won’t be any different :p. Lots of shots again though :). Fall 2013 was rather short and spread out throughout a few months instead of a clear climax in colors. A bit dull unfortunately. Luckily we did have some exceptions that made it worth while to go and shoot. See below for the results. Been quite busy with learning some new techniques (photography related 😉 ) and networking. A network is just as important for a nature photographer as reliable gear as it will open up new opportunities. One of these opportunities already gave me (better) access to a large National Park so I could get to places I would normally never go. I will learn new things and contribute to studying the area and its diversity. I am sure I will capture this diversity in all its beauty as time progresses.

Anyways, here it goes:

forest abstract
You either love this one or hate it. It needs some fine tuning but I already like it quite a bit!

A very Mystical morning 🙂
forest fog

forest fog

forest fog

forest fog

King fisher

Until next time! (should be mid-end Winter 😉 ).

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It’s good to be the King!

As already mentioned in my previous post, I still have some new deer fawn photo’s to share with you. Again such an amazing moment! I went back to the usual location and already saw two young deer fawns playing along the creek bed. I slowly moved closer, playing red light – green light with them (freeze when they looked, walk when they didn’t). I came within 40 meters or so when I positioned myself behind some long grass and underneath a bush. After a while one of the fawns started running towards me trying to find a gap in the fence through which to enter the field with the high grass. It was completely focussed on finding that opening and didn’t seem to notice the guy making these clicking noises. Even though the light was pretty bad, I was able to get some nice action shots. I was very much wondering how close the fawn was going to come near me. After a few attempts to enter the meadow it kept searching for a decent opening, which happened to be around 10 meters from where I was standing. So basically that’s where the fawn went! She (I guess it’s a she because of her good looks and all) stopped no more than 10 meters from me, stared at me for 30 seconds or so (in the meantime I was shooting away, anxiously wondering for how long she was going to stand there). After nicely posing for me she disappeared through the opening and started playing in the tall grass, leaving me shaking with adrenaline and 50 good shots in the pocket.

Here she is:
Roe deer fawn
Roe deer fawn

Later that morning I went back to my Kingfisher spot where I was greeted by a Kingfisher cleaning session within a few minutes of waiting. Was able to take some action shots and left a good 3 hours later. All in all, some pretty decent weekends lately. Now I’m waiting for the grass to grow higher again as the farmers just mowed it all down down causing the deer to leave for the corn fields much earlier in the morning when there is hardly any light. Lets hope the deer fawns don’t loose their playful behavior in the next few weeks.

Kingfisher
Kingfisher

Until next time!

The Kingfisher diaries

Time for my yearly Kingfisher post! I seem to be getting better at photographing these birds every year. You need to find the nests (the hard part), find some nice looking branches, put them into the river bed, think about where the sun is going to be relative to the stick, and get out of bed early for nice and warm morning sunlight. At least, that’s what I thought until it started to rain a lot in these past weeks. After some time I realized that rain can also add some drama to the pictures and it pretty much worked out ok I’d say. The first picture of this blog must be one of my best Kingfisher shots so far. Gorgeous pose, action shot, an ice catch, all that’s missing is full frontal warm sunlight. Still, I’m very satisfied:

Kingfisher action shot

Next up is the rain shot:
Kingfisher in the rain
Really adds something special to the shot I think.

Another action shot:
Kingfisher action shot

Besides the Kingfishers, I’ve also spend a lot of my time on beavers. I was successful on quite some occasions but was never fully satisfied with the results. I have some new ideas for the coming few weeks when (or maybe I should say ‘if’) the weather clears up a bit. I want to get close, really close… but beavers seem to have quite a good sense of smell so I have to pay more attention to the direction the wind is facing. During one of my agonizingly long sessions of lying down on a hard and wet river bed (for the beaver), I was able to take a few shots of these cute little explorers who happened to be investigating their new and interesting world while I was lying flat on the ground (camouflaged of course). They must have been only a few days old! The kept biting on everything they could find to see if it was edible.
ducklings
Moments after this shot, the mother duck decided to head off in the opposite direction after hearing my loud shutter noises. I really need a new camera. Nikon, where’s my D400 with silent shutter, 16-24MP, 8fps, 1080p video at 60fps.. etc.??

Last but not least: A great spotted woodpecker. Three of these bold birds are now living in my garden and they regularly visit my bird feeding station. This one posed very nicely in the warm evening light:

woodpecker

That’s it for this post. Hope to have some nice beaver shots soon.

Until next time!

4 in 1, and where did my mojo go?

Four weeks crammed into one blog post. So it’ll be a long one. I basically had the larger part of 4 weeks to spend on nature photography since this was, or as I’m writing this, still is my spring/summer holiday. I wanted to make the most of it so I threw myself out into the field every day looking for stuff to photograph. The weather was not really super, but manageable. I needed clear skies in the morning and clear skies in the evening. Once these requirements have been met, all you need to do is look for the correct location. So, the first three weeks all went pretty bad. No beaver, no kingfisher, no bee eaters, no buzzards, no wild boar or roe deer. The Buzzards (buizerd) were my largest project. I knew a nice location where these birds of prey have a nest each year and thought I should give them a hand in raising their young by laying out some bait (roadkill) for them. In the meantime, I’d be there waiting in my tent with my camera. I picked the perfect spots with the rising sun behind me so if it would work, I could capture these amazing birds in the warm morning light. Unfortunately these birds are quite watchful which meant that I had to go into my tent in the middle of the night when it was still dark! This meant getting up at 4 am in the morning, cramming food down my throat, cycling 10 minutes to the location, arriving without lights, without making a sound, putting the bait on the ground in the dark, securing it with hooks so they don’t fly off with it, and try not to fall asleep while waiting. Thus, there I was at 4.30 in the morning awaiting an attack on my bait. No such luck :(. After 3 long mornings I gave up. The third time they clearly saw the bait, circled 2m over it, and flew off again. Now, 3 days later, the bait is still there, untouched. I could have sat there for over 3 days and nothing would have happened. Lesson learned I’d say. I guess this only works well in winter time when there is snow and it is much more difficult for them to find prey. After 2 weeks of bad luck I started to doubt myself, and realized that I might had lost my ‘photography mojo’ (watch an Austin Powers movie in case you don’t understand the word ‘mojo’, if you do understand it, watch them anyways as they are kind of fun). So this is when I resorted back to macro photography in an effort to find my mojo again as this is the more easier part of nature photography. Your subjects don’t run away and you don’t have to get up while its dark outside. A good place to start to get my mojo back again. The results can be found directly below. I’m quite happy with the dragonfly shots:

Tulips

Tulips

After some time, I realized that most of the time you don’t have to go look for photo opportunities but they’ll find you eventually. Just by going for a bike ride or taking a stroll along the riverside. That’s when I saw this cutie:
roe deer fawn
It must have been a few days old! I hit the brakes (I was cycling), immediately started unpacking my lens + camera and was able to take just a few shots before it ran of. Good to see that their fear of humans is a genetic thing.

Next day, I got a call from my king fisher ‘connection’ that he had found a nesting site which I could use to finally take some king fisher shots. And so I did:
king fisher
I’ll go back there in my last holiday days (this actually means crossing a fast flowing river in wading boots with 15kg of (rather expensive) camera gear on your back. One slip and things get pricey ;-).

The next shots were taken somewhere in the first 3 weeks or so. I had hoped for more and better but you can’t have it all, right?! We’ll see what the rest of summer will bring us. At least it seems that I have found my mojo again (or still had it all this time).
KungFu Goose
rays of light
phaesant on the move
I’ll end this post with a small bang. Our neighbors have a Little Owl (Steenuil) nesting box in their orchard and each year the young owls are ringed for study purposes (see how many there are and where they go after they leave their parents territory). Now, I usually don’t post photo’s of captive birds but as these are actual wild ones and it’s so darn cute I’ll show it anyway. Hope to get some really ‘wild’ shots of these ladies later this summer. Just look at the newborn! Melts your heart right?
Little Owl / Steenuil

Until next time!

Gone fishing..

Lately I have been busy with several different projects which took a while to pay themselves off. I’ve mentioned in some of my previous posts that I’ve been busy observing king fishers for the past few weeks and that I managed to find some pairs that are in love with each other. Now, one thing leads to another of course, and the female, as in any other relationship, starts to show clear ‘nesting’ behavior. For humans this means regular visits to the Ikea in which the male, under supervision of the female, has to pick out the right cushions for the new sofa. If the chosen color or fabric of the cushions is not to the liking of the female, the mating is postponed until the male comes up with the correct combination of both color and fabric… For king fishers, this whole selection process basically comes down to fish. If the male wants to win over the heart of the female, he basically has to present her with a dozen fish. Now the (emancipated) female, rather catches her own fish instead of accepting the gracious present of the hard working/fishing male. Were it not for persisting males (both humans and birds), both populations would be doomed of course. So after several gracious fish presentations, the (bird, not human) female gives in and the romantic mating ritual can begin. For humans, this is a little bit more complicated since the male also has to pay the restaurant bills and hold open as much doors as possible for the female. Since I don’t have any pictures of mating humans to show you (even though I would consider this to be ‘nature photography’) I will stop with the whole human – bird analogy and continue with the king fishers.

Now one of the nesting sites is situated along a small creek somewhere in the middle of a dense forest (so pretty bad light conditions!). I carefully entered the area trying not to step on any branches, most of the time succeeding in this, and pretty much always getting my Wimberley tripod head stuck in some branches.. Anyways.. first I always sit down about 50-100m from the nest to listen if there’s any activity going on. I can’t just walk in uninvited to their romantic candle light dinner now can I? So, after about 5 minutes of quietness I sneaked towards some sticks that I placed above the water for the king fishers to sit on before they would enter their nests. They often use these kind of look outs for resting or cleaning themselves. I unpacked my tent and gear and was ready for the birds. After about 10 minutes (of playing Angry Birds on my phone), I suddenly heard the unmistakable sound of an approaching king fisher. He landed on one of my branches and I was able to take a few great shots. Now, as I previously mentioned, the light conditions in the forest are really bad. After a few try-outs I noticed that I could still get amazingly sharp images at ISO 200 and 1/15s. Luckily these king fishers don’t move around that much and can sit perfectly still. I decided to focus on limiting my ISO to 250 since 1/15s produced excellent images. Having a Nikon 500mm f4 VR on an excellent Gitzo and Wimberly head II also does wonders of course! For the first shots I noticed that I was sitting too close to the branches since my lens couldn’t focus close enough (3.85 meters). All of the shots below are therefore full-frame! So I did some camouflage-tent re-decorating and was able to move it back by half a meter. Next time I have to try to increase my F-number to get some more depth of field. It is way too narrow now at f4, but I think I need some more light to do this.

king fisher

king fisher

king fisher

Whenever the birds didn’t land on either of my 2 branches, I spent the time observing their behavior. They didn’t just have 1 nest but also a freshly dug outhouse and garage. That’s 3 in a row.. a real settlement. Let’s hope that they will start with a second round of mating really soon to improve the population figures (the king fishers have had some harsh winters for the past few years). So after a few hours of taking photo’s I suddenly noticed I got several small itches all over my arms. These itches were caused by little ticks crawling over my arms to find a nice spot to dig in and suck the life out of me. Luckily I was able to get all 8!! of them off of me. These little buggers can be quite dangerous since about 15% of the ticks are carriers of the bacteria that cause Lyme Disease. So there is a realistic chance of getting this disease, something not to be taken lightly of course. So I was freaking out a little bit since they were just crawling all over me. Last year I got 8 in 3 months, in this half an hour yesterday I had already broken that record. I decided to call it a day and drove home and took a shower as soon as possible to try and wash those ticks off that I couldn’t find. I looks like I’m tick free for now.. However, I think I will go back there in the coming days since the youngsters are about ready to leave the nest. Once that happens, I can have 3 or 4 king fishers sitting on my branches at any given time. I’ll have to take even better precautions to prevent the ticks from forming a problem.

Next to my king fisher expedition I also visited a site which had a rare Melodious Warbler (Orpheusspotvogel). These are quite rare for the Netherlands and the little guy soon attracted bird watchers from all over the country (it was like last years bee eaters all over again). Here it is:

orpheusspotvogel

Until next time!

Meet the King

In order to get closer to the Kingfisher I installed my tent in the river, and yes.. I’m a little bit crazy, call it eccentric :p. It worked, but the kingfisher chose a different tree branch, to be more specific… the one half a meter behind my tent. Luckily he also sat down on ‘my’ site. Have a look. Gorgeous birds..

kingfisher

And then there’s the Nikon news!! My source for the following is Nikonrumors.com so their admin deserves all the credits for his amazing work.

Nikon D3100 (entry level DSLR)
New continuous AF in video mode/live view (great news for upcoming new models, likely also available in the D90 replacement)
11 or 12 AF points (up from 3 in the D3000, very nice for an entry level!)
10 MP CMOS sensor (10 MP is not a lot! (less noise btw). Should have been more MP’s, but then maybe the next point wouldn’t have been possible)
HD video: 1080p/24 and 720p 30/24 (finally!)
3fps (just like D3000)
No AF motor

The SB-600 flash is also reported to be replaced. Not sure about this one though. I’ll definitely buy it though.

So, all in all this is going to be one hell of an entry level DSLR. Maybe this could serve as a nice backup body.

I’ll keep you posted on the definite specs and release.

Until next time!

95% perfection on my own Halcyon River

I recently got a tip on a pair of nesting kingfishers, so the last few days have been quite busy for me. I remembered a BBC documentary called “My Halcyon River” by Charlie Hamilton James (Halcyon standing for ‘King Fisher’ in Latin) which I found to be extremely inspiring. I started out by examining the part of the river where their nest was located. After many hours of trying to stay focussed, I found several of their favorite fishing/resting spots. Because the spot wasn’t ideal for making good pictures I decided to make my own spot in the hope that they would use it. I went back this morning, installed my tent, and waited. After some time, several Grey Wagtails started to wash themselves half a meter next to my tent. They also tried out my tent as watch tower for insects, and decided to turn it into their base camp. All of a sudden I heard the distinctive sound of the kingfisher and after a while it landed on my wooden contraption I installed the day before. I took many, many shots that were 95% perfect. The last 5% was missing due to the sun. But I’m still extremely happy with the result. I was sitting at 5m when she suddenly started to barf up a pellet (in Dutch: braakbal). Amazing moment! I’ll to back next to week to try and grab that last 5%.
Have a look! Isn’t she gorgeous?!

kingfisher / ijsvogel

kingfisher / ijsvogel

kingfisher / ijsvogel

kingfisher / ijsvogel

Until next time (hopefully with my last 5%)!