Wednesday, July 31, 2013

About the Birds and the Bees....the Pollinators

The 'birds and the bees' and the 'flowers and the trees' can have multiple meanings, depending on who you ask.  For nature photographers (and gardeners), they represent amazing wonders to be shared.

Lunching Goldfinch image
 Nikon 5100 55-300mm
Let's start with our birds.  They need protein-rich foods that come from seeds and insects.  When we plant native flowers and trees we are supporting and sustaining their food chain.   Learn more about Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants through the website and informational book.

The female goldfinch pictured to the right efficiently uses the thistle-seed for nutrition and the thistledown (soft fibers) for nesting material.  Thistle flowers are a beautiful, vibrant purple and their downy material provides wonderful, artful interest in the fall.  If you like goldfinches - plant thistle in your garden!

You and the birds will be rewarded with a frenzy of cheerful, colorful activity.  Since their food and nesting source blooms later in the season, you may also have another round of bird families in your own personal habitat.

Little bluebird of happiness, Nikon 70 - 300mm

Eastern bluebirds enjoy insects and
invertebrates. 2/3 of their diet comes from grasshoppers, crickets, katydids and beetles.  The other 1/3 is made up of wild fruits.  Pesticides, insecticides can take away their food sources quickly.

For additional insight into habitat trends and planting native plants visit Saving Birds Thru Habitat, where Kay Charter and the volunteer group live by example in "Helping to improve habitat for migrating birds one backyard at a time."

And now for our precious, life-sustaining bees.  There are many described species of native bees that pollinate wildflowers and crops.  The bad news is that the population, the honey-bee in particular, is on a serious decline.  The global impact to crop growers and ultimately consumers is and will continue to be costly.  National Geographic's article The Plight of the Honeybee shares our current state and actions being taken.

Honeybee savoring breakfast on spring morning
Nikon 105mm

There's a website where you can learn more about these colorful pollinators and how you can help including planting native plants in your garden and neighborhoods: Also, check out 18 different species of bees on this Identifying Native Bees Poster.

Sweet Sweat Bee enjoying a native Chicory flower
Nikon 600 105mm
Nature photographers have the privilege of sharing birds, animals and insects in action.

Skills of patience, discipline, creativity and anticipation of the 'next move' are crucial for images that pull the viewer in to the environment.  

Before we capture an image, the fundamental element, our environment must be managed and protected by all of us.  Let's all do our part and plant native plants this summer and fall.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

So What's in Your Camera Bag?

Whether new or established in photography, one thing is for sure.  What's in your camera bag is important.  No, we're not talking about Nikon vs. Canon, lenses, or other camera gear.  This is a bit more fundamental.  Outdoor photographers do not go out for a few minutes to take a few images and head back into the house.  We easily can spend one half hour on one tiny bird, bee or flower.
Wonderful warbler nest building discovery during 4 hour photo walk

This is about being able to stay in the field energized with the long term ability to focus on your subject and make snap (pardon the pun) decisions on f/stops, shutter speeds, ISO, aperture, etc.

This is about snacks.  Seriously?  Absolutely.

You wouldn't go out for a long hike without water and food.  With nature photography, hiking is a almost a given. Our equipment can be heavy - multiple cameras, lenses, tripods.  We exert a lot of energy before capturing our first image.

With many food products out on the market for endurance athletes, there are many snacks that are suited for endurance photographers too. They are tasty, fast to eat and help extend your energy without needing to drink caffeine multiple times per day.  Additionally, being easy to pack and not easily torn as to get ooey-gooey food on any of your gear is another important factor.  So here are some recommendations of products you can find just about anywhere.

Small compact snacks:
Sport beans are fun and you only need a few, Shot bloks - while chewy are also good. 1 or 2 will help provide sustained energy - both of these should be consumed with water to be effective.  Luna bars also work great and are a bit more fillling if you have that 'I need something substantial' feeling.  A new product ERG is a recent find, my current go-to bar  and one of my all-time favorites from a Michigan-based company - gluten free, natural ingredients, no preservatives and terrific flavors.

Female bluebird busy with her spring home
Pack your own snacks:
If you have a Trader Joe's or something similar -  there are buy in bulk fruit/nut snacks of all combinations that allow you to load your choices in a zip lock bag - reuse these whenever possible!  Dry cereal - frosted mini-wheats, your favorites - can work in a pinch.  Costco offers rice crackers that are gluten free and have a low glycemic index (which means our energy lasts longer check out Low Glycemic Information, Nutrition Data).

A snack that could defy Dr's Orders:
Beef Jerky while loaded with sodium is protein packed, comes in resealable packages and is just plain good.  Be careful, you could attract a bear or two.

And for those of us who convince our partners to join our journey for the day - a nice touch is to pack an ice-cooler of a light lunch and beverages for a surprise picnic to reward them for their patience with us.

Happy shooting!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Protect It....and They Will Come...Back...

Pure Sweetness by Sheen's Nature Photography

Pure Sweetness , a Piping Plover photo by Sheen's Nature Photography on Flickr.
Nature photographers love to get up close and personal with their subjects. In addition to lighting and location there is one crucial element that has to happen before we even get started. The thriving and surviving of our subjects' habitat.

Many articles, documentaries and environmentalists have so much information that it can be overwhelming. Throughout all of their research there is a common thread - awareness and protection.

Let's take the precious Piping Plover which has been on the Michigan endangered list since 1986.  Natural predators are foxes, crows, gulls, etc. combined with human disturbance.

Additionally, to quote Kay Charter, founder of Saving Birds Thru Habitat "It's not only humans that cause problems, an increase in many other species that predate on these ground nesters take an incredible toll. We can all help by giving them their space and by keeping our pets away from their nesting and foraging areas." The Piping Plover's protection is their camouflage - with their nests being on the ground they are exposed to many hazards. If disturbed too much, they will abandon their nests.

The Piping Plover has not been seen in the Northern Leelanau Michigan area for 8 years. Yet this year there are 2 families about 5 miles apart with chicks being born just last week.
Nap Time - Piping Plover Chick,  Sheen's Nature Photography 

So what brought them back? Hopefully, it's the optimal environment for breeding for sustained livelihood on the peninsula!

For many years, dedicated organizations like The Leelanau Conservancy are intentional about every action they take with regard to protecting land and the environment.  Over the course of time they have forever protected 10,000 acres of spectacular views, sensitive wetlands and working farms.

Members of  The Leelanau Conservancy have also been communicating frequently with Saving Birds Thru Habitat and the Department of Natural Resources on the recent return of the Piping Plover. It takes multiple organizations and individuals partnering to document activities, safeguard their environment to bring future returns.                                                                                                                

These little juveniles have a 30% chance of survival to adulthood - they need a lot of help!
Proud Papa Piping Plover, by Sheen's Nature Photography

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Not So Obvious Destinations....

We all have our favorite go-to places for nature & bird photography. When seeking photo subjects it's also energizing to find new places through travel or local jaunts. What the years of birding (before diving in to photography) taught was that some of the best nature sights are not always in the 'destination wedding' locations.

Take the Pretty In Pink dragonfly....brilliant colors along side a beautiful blue water setting. Yet, this image was captured at the Hornsby Bend Water Treatment facility in Austin, Texas. Check out the Hornsby Bend Observatory website.

Of all the lovely places to visit in the Live Music Capital of the World...a few hours were spent amidst slightly odorous waters, muddy, buggy, yet very safe conditions. Other sitings here have included Glossy Ibis, Pintail Ducks, Yellow-headed blackbirds, Black Noddy, Sora rails and amazing insects and butterflies. A definite go-to spot for nature enthusiasts.

In a Marietta business park near Atlanta last fall, there were hundreds of monarchs just flitting and hanging out in the beautiful landscapes - tremendous photo opportunities. (Sadly, a business trip so no camera). Typically, we don't think of going to a business park on the weekend. Your neighboring business parks may have created nature friendly areas filled with flowers, shrubs that attract beautiful subjects. In Birmingham, Alabama it was a pleasant walk through another business park's landscaping watching Brown Thrashers and Eastern Towhee's flitting about closely as they are not shy of the daily influx of people.

Grooved-bill Ani's hang out in a "Dump" site in SouthTexas near the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge.   Check out Friends of South Texas National Wildlife Refuges where you'll see Great Kiskadee's, Chachalaca's, etc..   On the Leelanau Peninsula in Michigan, Snowy Owls are seen on farmlands in winter.  Now, that was an awesome, chill-bump experience!  I'll share that one in a later blog.

Recently at a baseball diamond beside Crescent Lake, Monk Parakeets fussed and groomed on the chain link fence in St. Petersburg, FL.

It takes a little detective work on the internet, networking with other photographers and reaching out to local birders and nature groups. Just this week via Google+ photography networking, I discovered a nature area one hour away that is on my radar for this weekend.

You can readily find new local gems where nature all but waits for the camera. Happy shooting!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Back to the Wild - One Rescue at a Time

As nature photographers, it is a privilege to capture images of nature in the wild. Whether it is our favorite spots, a planned visit to a new location or a surprise sighting when you happened to have the camera handy - seeing nature first hand creates fast heart beats and draws out emotions.

We also get exposed to great organizations dedicated to preserving and protecting our subjects. The Castalia, Ohio Back to the Wild rescues over 2500 animals each year with a return rate of 60% back to their habitat.

In their journey, they provide the community with education and access to rescued animals. This image is from their education event at Magee Marsh during the Biggest Week in American Birding.

Every time nature photographers share an image - we are touching someone. It may be education (what type of 'bird' is that), inspiration (I want to go and see that 'bear' in the wild) and exposure (for those who cannot venture out due to health, etc).

So a special thanks to Back to the Wild and the many other volunteers and photographers who share their stories and images.