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Pileated

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

I had great fortune to be allowed to photograph this Pileated Woodpecker the other day. Pileated Woodpecker is one of those birds that captured my attention as a young person and I’ve enjoyed them ever since. To have one come in close enough (perhaps too close) to photograph was a great gift.

Ecuador 2012

Green-crowned Woodnymph

Green-crowned Woodnymph

Five of us birded northwest Ecuador for seven days this past March. We hired a guide and driver through Tropical Birding. Our guide was Gabriel Bucheli and our driver was Wilson. Both were excellent.

This was mostly a birding trip, but I brought my camera and bird lens (Nikon D700, 300mm f/2.8 with 2x converter) and tripod. Unfortunately American Airlines neglected to put my checked luggage on the plane in Chicago. I’m not clear why that happened, but my tripod was in that bag so I missed two days of photography at Tandayapa Lodge, which probably had the best chances of the trip. As I didn’t have an agenda to make any photographs, but rather just enjoy the birds it was fine.

Green Thorntail

Green Thorntail

All images from the trip can be seen here.

Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

I set up a bird feeder at a spot in the country, a little outside of Madison with the hopes of being able to photograph interesting birds this winter. I would love a chance to photograph a Northern Shrike or a Red-headed Woodpecker, but since we live in the city and don’t get a lot of birds in our back yard, anything will do. So far it’s mostly chickadees and goldfinches, but I’ve just begun. I was able to spend a few mornings over the Christmas and New Year’s weekends photographing and came away with a few photos I really like. The Black-capped Chickadee photo above is one of my favorite photos I’ve made even though it’s of a common bird that is easy to photograph. I wasn’t even using a blind, just standing near the perch. The American Tree Sparrow below also came in while I was standing there. While they’re quite common in winter here, too, they are a really beautiful bird.

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

Pewit’s Nest

Pewit's Nest

Pewit's Nest

Pewit’s Nest is a small, protected State Natural Area just outside Baraboo, Wisconsin. I learned about it a couple weeks ago at the Madison winter art fair where I saw an intriguing photo at one artist’s booth. I went up the next weekend and made this photo. It’s a challenging area to photograph as the sides of the gorge are nearly vertical and there isn’t much room to stand. I’d like to try it again after a fresh snow, but I’m not sure I’ll survive the experience. I saw a photo of this place a few days later at the UPS store on a calendar made by the USGS. It’s funny how once something gets in my consciousness I run into it time and time again. More info is here.

Regal Fritillary

Regal Fritillary

For two years I’ve been helping with prairie and oak savanna restorations at various places in southern Wisconsin with an organization called The Prairie Enthusiasts. One of our largest contiguous restorations is almost 600 acres in eastern Iowa County, Wisconsin that we’ve dubbed Mounds View due to its proximity to Blue Mound State Park, which can be viewed from the preserve. Currently, Mounds View is comprised of land acquisitions from four different land owners and is surrounded by working farmland.

There are a number of “remnant” prairies here — areas that were never plowed and experienced light to severe grazing over the years. These remnants contain a large diversity of plants and support state endangered insects, birds and mammals. One of those state endangered insects is the Regal Fritillary (Speyeria idalia), a species I’ve written about previously. It’s a spectacular butterfly and the population seems to be doing quite well at Mounds View and other grasslands in the area.

I photographed this individual at the end of July this year but it was quite a fresh butterfly. It was a cold spring so blooms and butterflies were late this year. The area I photographed this particular butterfly in used to be a smooth brome field and probably a corn field before that. It is just below a remnant area that supports a large number of Regal Fritillaries. We started restoring this valley about four years ago, but it’s been a difficult process. Last year it seemed like it was solid Wild Parsnip, but with timely mowing and removal of the parsnip it has become a spectacular prairie and now supports many threatened and endangered plants and bugs.

The photo below is of this area in July, 2011. It’s mostly Yellow Coneflower and Wild Bergamot, showy species that are easy to get started, but it also has Prairie Blazing-Star (Liatris pycnostachya), Wild Quinine (Parthenium integrifolium), Compass Plant (Silphium laciniatum) and other long-lived prairie species.

Schurch-Thomson Prairie

Schurch-Thomson Prairie

In order to make this photo I had to stand on a tall step ladder, balance my tripod on the top step and use an 85mm Nikon PC-E (perspective control or tilt-shift) lens. The camera was about 10 feet above the ground in order to achieve this perspective above the tall flowering plants.

I photographed this Monarch (Danaus plexippus) caterpillar in the same area just a few days ago. It was busy feeding on Common Milkweed and the light was low, so it took a number of tries to get a sharp image with my 200mm micro lens and a tripod.

Monarch Caterpillar

Monarch Caterpillar

Violets

Bird's-foot Violets

Bird's-foot Violets

Late April and early May is violet season. The two species I like the most are the prairie species — Bird’s-foot and Prairie Violets. The photo above is a 10-exposure in-camera multiple of Bird’s-foot Violets (Viola pedata) with Yellow Star Grass (Hypoxis hirsuta) and Bastard Toadflax (Comandra umbellata). This may be my favorite “multiple” to date.

Bird's-foot Violet

Bird's-foot Violet

Prairie Violet (Viola pedatifida) isn’t quite as showy as Bird’s-foot but I like it equally well. It’s probably the number 1 host plant for the endangered Regal Fritillary butterfly. It’s harder to photograph than the Bird’s-foot as it is more three-dimensional making it more difficult to get all the bits in focus, so I have to make compromises.

Prairie Violet

Prairie Violet

Lupine

Wild Lupine

Wild Lupine

I photographed this field of Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis) and Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea) at an oak savanna in Dane County, Wisconsin this spring. The property, owned by The Prairie Enthusiasts, is only nine acres in size, but has been managed with prescribed burns and weed control for over 30 years and is a spectacular spot.

To make these photographs I used a Nikon 85mm PC-E tilt-shift lens which allows me to set the plane of focus to the field and enables me to get the flowers sharp from front to back. I wouldn’t be able to do this with a standard lens, regardless of how small an aperture I used. I still need a tripod, cable release, mirror lockup, and a windless overcast day to have a successful photograph.

Wild Lupine

Wild Lupine

The photo below is a 10-exposure in-camera multiple. A few of these goes a long way, but they’re easy to make so why not?

Wild Lupine

Wild Lupine, multiple exposure