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A Morning with Shorebirds

May 18th, 2015 · No Comments

Piping Plover

I was fortunate enough to be guided in front of some very cooperative Piping Plovers last week and pulled away some excellent shots.  The key to shorebirds is getting low.  Often times, budding photographers find themselves in-front of shorebirds and just begin shooting from the human’s viewpoint.  As always, try to resist the urge to let your excitement of the subject take over and quickly think about how best to shoot the opportunity in front of you.

Piping Plover

For a feeding shorebird, this means getting as low as possible to show the subject from their point of view instead.  For the photographs in this blog post, all were taken using my telephoto camera rig but instead of hand holding or using a tripod, I used a homemade pan set up that when placed on the sand, holds my camera rig about 12″ off the sand (away from any sand/rocks/water).  I then lay behind that on my belly and use the camera to hide as much of me as possible.  I will use my elbows to drag myself along slowly, closer and closer to the subject.  Because I’m not standing and in such a low position, I’m not so ‘human’ to the birds anymore.


At one point, the Sanderling pictured above was feeding no more than 3 feet from me as I just enjoyed watching its behaviors.  The birds were completely calm, comfortable, and at times even walked towards me.  This technique is more advanced and requires some special gear but works very well.  It’s also important to realize you are going to get wet and dirty but the photographs make it all worthwhile.

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Now It’s May…

May 8th, 2015 · No Comments

Cerulean Warbler

I spent the morning finding birds for a couple Indiana birders.  They are in a friendly competition that allows them to bird within a 100 mile radius and Barry County just so happens to be in their radius. On their way north, they took some time and birded with me this morning in hopes of adding a good list of birds to their list.

Well, we did just that.  in just 3hrs, we tallied 55 species; 26 of which were all birds needed for their year competition list.  Woohoo!!!  Gems such as Hooded Warbler, Sora, Bobolink, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Least Sandpiper, and many more were all new for their list.  It was a beautiful morning to be out.  The bird of the day was probably a cooperative Cerulean Warbler willing to pose for some quick photos.

Don’t forget about our FREE bird walk tomorrow morning (Sat, May 9).  We meet at the Wild Birds Unlimited in Portage.

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FREE Migration Bird Walk!!!

April 23rd, 2015 · No Comments


Mark your calendars!!!  We are partnering with the Wild Birds Unlimited in Kalamazoo, MI to offer a FREE bird walk in the heart of spring migration at the Asylum Lake Preserve in Kalamazoo, MI.  We will meet at the Wild Birds Unlimited at 7:30am prior to taking a short drive to the Preserve.  The walk will finish and then we’ll end back at Wild Birds Unlimited between 10 and 10:30am.

The fine folks at the Wild Birds Unlimited are also offering participants of this bird walk a 20% discount off their total purchase (May 9th only).  This is a great opportunity to get some special seed mixes, an innovative new bird feeder, and save some money while you’re at it!

Please join us.  See for more information or contact Josh anytime.

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2015 Photography and Birding Trips

November 20th, 2014 · No Comments

Trip Matrix

The 2015 trip schedule is live!!!  Whether you looking for bird opportunities, have a need for Fall color, or hoping to turn your eyes to the skies in search of migrant Raptors there is a trip for everyone.  Please click HERE to see all 2015 trip offerings and click HERE to download the registration form.

Please call or e-mail Josh if you have any questions or would like to talk more about these great trips!!!

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A Big Day of Birds By Bike

May 27th, 2014 · No Comments

Having recently completed a Barry County Big Green Year in 2013, this year I needed a new challenge combining my two passions of cycling and birding. I decided to cram it all into one day with the goal of seeing or hearing as many birds as possible in Barry County. Racing for WSI Team Active Cycling, we are challenged to think about riding for reasons bigger than ourselves whish is an incredible standard for any team. This time I would be riding for charity…

Birding by Bike

Being a new father, it’s important to me that my daughter grows up seeing healthy living and being outside and active as normal. I decided to ride for the Barry County YMCA and their Play60 program (getting kids outside daily for at least 60min). My goal was to raise $1000 and tally a bird list of at least 100 species.

Barry County YMCA

The day began at 2am and without getting on the bike, bird #1 was in the bag. The endangered Henslow’s Sparrow was doing what they do best, calling at night. You may ask why a person would get on the bike at 2am… NIGHT BIRDS!!! What a morning it was. I tallied 50 birds by the time the sun showed itself through the trees including Barred Owl, Eastern Screech Owl, Great-horned Owl, Sedge Wren and the illusive Eastern Whip-poor-whil.

 Eastern Whip-poor-will and the moon

At sunrise, a few local birders met up with me for a nice long hike through great habitat and by the time I left, my list was over 70. A lull in bird activity coupled with a nutrition problem early afternoon made for a rough couple hours but #100 came around 2pm in the form of a Red-breasted Nuthatch.  This bird should be in the UP right now and for some reason decided to stay just long enough.  With #100 in the bag, that was the encouragement I needed to continue on.  I got past my nutrition barrier and a random nesting colony of Bank Swallows presented itself. At this point, the numbers starting going up again. By the time I reached Pierce Cedar Creek Institute, my family was already there grilling some brats which really hit the spot. Lillian loves birds but she may like swinging even more!

Family Photo

I made it home at 8:30pm which meant I was on the road 18.5 hours, tallied 116 birds total (which is a Barry County record, bike or no bike), burned over 4000 calories and climbed over 4000 vertical feet.  Needless to say, I slept well that night!!

Josh riding & kayaking

Most importantly, I surpassed my charity goal of $1000 and have raised over $1400. Thanks for all who donated. I’m even hopeful by the time my donation site closes, I’ll have raised over $1500.  If you would still like to donate, please visit by May 31st.

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Still Life Photography, Part 1

April 1st, 2014 · No Comments

Have the itch to get out and take some pictures but the Polar Vortex and knee deep snow has chased you inside? Why not try your hand at some naturally lit still life’s in the warmth and comfort of your home. They are a great way to learn about lighting and can challenge your creative and compositional abilities.

Your first creative challenge begins with prop selection and “styling” of your shot. In this set-up I visualized a high key (white on white) approach with the pears being the dominant visual element. I selected a fluted white bowl with a subtle crackling in the glazing. The fluting and crackle adds subtle visual interest and sophistication without taking attention away from the pears. I then explored various arrangements of the pears within the bowl. Arrange and then evaluate from the cameras position. Experiment with and give careful thought to how everything in the shot is arranged. Don’t settle for the first thing that comes to mind. This will develop your eye for composition and encourage the habit of looking critically at and thinking about what you are photographing. Here’s the lighting set-up (description of how I made the shot below).

5 Pears Lighting Set-up

(A) is a table or flat surface moved in close proximity to a window. The red arrows show natural light illuminating the set. (B) is a white “sweep” large enough to cover the foreground and background of the image. In this case it was a flat sheet of white foam core. It could have been a white mat board or white fabric. The bowl of pears was then positioned on the set and the camera was positioned based on my “pre-visualization” of the shot (looking down at a 3/4 angle). Here is a test shot made at this point without any further modification of the lighting.

Pears in Bowl, No Fill Light

It’s not quite the white on white high key effect I wanted. The shadows are fairly strong on the left hand side and the front of the bowl is in shadow. I would also like to see a little less contrast in the pears themselves. To me, this shot is about subtlety and a soft modeling of the pears, not drama. Rather than trying to achieve this in post processing, we can make these changes in camera by MODIFYING the lighting on the set. This will be accomplished by adding reflectors to fill in or soften the shadows.

Looking back to the setup above, (C) is a folded piece of white foam core placed to bounce the window light (pink arrows) back into the shot to fill in the shadows. The slight fold (score the surface with a knife and then bend) allows the reflector to be free-standing. (D) is a smaller piece of foam core (held in place with a small clamp–these clamps are really useful in studio photography) and it fills in the shadow on the front of the bowl. The size of this reflector is critical. It has to be high enough to brighten the front shadows but not so high that it shows in the shot. The closer the reflector is to your subject the more they will lighten the shadows. Experiment with different positions but ALWAYS check in the camera viewfinder to make sure they do not show in the finished shot. Here is the finished shot with a minimum of post processing.

Pears in Bowl, With Fill Light

This simple, one light source exercise can teach you a lot about the nature of light and how to modify it to suit your artistic vision. Consider these points.

*Soft, diffuse window light (cloudy days) favors less contrast with softer shadows and more shadow detail.

*Direct sunlight streaming through the window will be much more dramatic, very contrasty and will emphasize textures.

*Direct sunlight can be modified with sheer curtains or a “POPS” folding circular diffuser.

*Shadows can by brightened by careful use of reflectors

*Natural, diffuse window light is also great for indoor portraits.

There’s a lot you can learn in the comfort of your own home that will serve you well in the field when things warm up. Have fun!!!!

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A Successful 2014 Glances Bald Eagle Trip

February 10th, 2014 · No Comments

Bald Eagle Hunting

Somehow the kings of weather allowed our trip to go and not only were the roads great for getting out to the Mississippi River, we had a diverse set of lighting conditions every day of shooting.  We arrived Friday afternoon to sunny skies which paid off nicely allowing us to shoot in beautiful golden light near the end of the day.

Bald Eagle In Golden Light

Saturday brought on cloudy conditions but a nice falling snow most the day.  These conditions made it tough for seeing the birds and tracking them in flight but on the flip side, when we got it right the images were very unique.

Bald Eagle In Heavy Snow

Sunday morning brought the coldest temperatures and with them the steam was rising off the river.  This brought out the creativity in the group where some worked hard for silhouette shots to add to their repertoire.

Bald Eagle Silhoutte

All in all, another great Glances At Nature trip is in the books.  Next up will be a trip in warmer conditions after Kirtland’s Warblers, Evening grosbeaks, Black Terns, Osprey and more in Northern Michigan.  There is still room, sign up today!!!

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A Great Article about my Big Green Big Year

February 6th, 2014 · No Comments

Josh & Cyclocross Bike

A great article hit the web today about my Big Green Big Year in 2013.  It’s very well-written, a fun read and a great snap-shot of my amazing year-long adventure.  Please click HERE to check it out!!!

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First Nice Image of 2014

January 4th, 2014 · No Comments

American Tree Sparrow

I spent some time in the picturesque falling snow on New Years Day hoping for some nice new perching bird shots.  I found some fantastic branches with berries in great shape to add interest to my perch.  Brrrr it was cold but the time ended up being worthwhile.  After getting everything situated, I returned to my hide, the birds quickly returned to the feeder area and with a little patience, I captured this nice American Tree Sparrow image.  If this photograph intrigues you and you’re curious to hear more of the “how-to” details, think about signing up for my Perching Songbird Workshop in June!!!

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And Just Like That, the BIGBY is Over

January 1st, 2014 · No Comments

Birding by Bike

Well, it’s hard to believe it but my 365 day BIGBY journey is over.  It’s been a fun evening thinking back to the many exciting moments, painful rides up never-ending hills, disappointing bird misses, and overwhelmingly fun times in the field going after many the exciting bird species.  What began as a solo journey quickly turned into a group of guys giving me support every step of the way.  Whether it was finding birds, texting and leading me to where birds might be, providing food, temporary shelter and water, my crew was there.

Entire Crew, 200th Bird

Looking back at 2013, there were many amazing days of riding and birding.  In total, I tallied 201 bird species by bike, hike or run beginning and ending at home.  I also had one species by car that I never found by bike.  That brings my total to 202.  This is a Barry County big year record (regardless of means of travel) and was such a stellar year in Barry County, the record will likely stay for quite some time.  Amazingly rare birds such as Red Crossbills, Dickcissels, and Bohemian Waxwings created unforgettable journeys.  The excitement of getting a Common Nighthawk in street clothes with only three miles total made for a quick BIGBY ride and I will never forget the experience of hearing migrating Thrushes in the black of night as Eldon and I became giddy with excitement.

Red Crossbill

We’re all a bit sad to see 2013 and this project come to a close but we’re already talking about what challenges 2014 has in store for us.  For me, I can tell you that I won’t be doing a BIGBY in 2014.  I am, however, toying with the idea of doing a Big Green Big Day in May where I bike all over Barry County in the period of 24 hours to see/hear as many bird species as possible.  While this will be a challenge in and of itself, it won’t bring the persistent need for riding at a moment’s notice all year long.  2014 will surely bring fun new challenges and great birding but for now, this chapter is closed.

I hope our readers look forward to the many speaking engagements already lining up for me where I’ll talk about this journey with photos, video, and entertaining stories from the year.  For now, happy new year and here’s to another great year of birding!

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