Friday turned out to be a great day, not only for birding but photography as well. As many photographers know, some birds are more reliable than others and I found a few that proved to just plain enjoy coming out for great views.
The morning started with leading a grassland bird tour for Michigan Audubon’s Cerulean Warbler Weekend. My great group followed me through wet grassland habitat but were all rewarded with stunning views of the threatened Henslow’s Sparrow. This was a life bird for many in the group and the excitement could hardly be contained.
This bird was so great, I decided to go after him after the tour was over, this time with camera rig in hand. I went back to the spot and sure enough, the bird was up and singing his heart out. What a great session to continue the morning onward.
I then drove slowly through some great breeding warbler habitat until I found a nice area where a Hooded Warbler was singing. I set up a perch and was able to bring the bird in for a couple shots. Not but a few minutes later, a Blue-winged Warbler came in and seemed to want to be in front of the camera as well.
It was a great morning and one I won’t soon forget. I still have a couple trips with spots available and I’m toying with offering a fall perching bird workshop this year so stay tuned!
It’s another year racing for a great team (WSI Cycling) that not only encourages raising money for charity, it’s required. We have the freedom to choose the charity and the riding event. Instead of picking a race, I again chose to ride long hours and many miles in search of birds. It’s an endurance challenge with a twist and has worked well to bring in big money for a great cause.
Similar to last year, I began at 2am and the first bird was yet again, the threatened Henslow’s Sparrow. What a fortunate thing as this bird is very scarce. After that I was quickly off. Unfortunately, it was only around 40 degrees so I had to start in cold weather gear which limited my hearing. Everyone asks why I start at 2am. The answer is not only for Owls, but many other birds that call at night and rarely if at all during the day. I tallied Sedge Wren, Barred Owl, Great-horned Owl, Marsh Wren, Sora, Virginia Rail both cuckoos and many more before even a twinkle of light began to show. Luckily the riding was very uneventful with only one car seen, no flats and dogs that couldn’t catch me. Check out the recording below to hear an Eastern Whip-poor-whil calling along Otis Lake.
I do need to give a shout out to the fine folks at Team Active Cycling & Fitness who worked with me to get the gearing on my cross bike just perfect for this big ride. I absolutely love this bike and it performed flawlessly. At 4:57am, the morning chorus began to rise quickly as twilight began to erase the stars over Otis Audubon Sanctuary. By 5:45am, I was back on the bike after a float in the Kayak (which was miserably cold in darkness). I was headed for my first spot where some of my crew would join me for a long walk. The morning was beginning to warm which I had really been waiting for. Along with the warm air, the birds were darn good and we had an enjoyable walk.
From there, I began running and gunning to spots throughout Yankee Springs ticking birds off left and right. I was missing some that should have been around but I was adding unexpected species throughout. At the Paul Henry Thornapple Trail in Middleville, I found nesting Prothonotary Warblers and after lunch began my longer journeys of the day heading Northeast. The highlight of the day was a very unexpected Common Gallinule as well as a Short-billed Dowitcher at a spot quite a ways north of Hastings. My dad was with me and our excitement could hardly be contained.
I continued through the miles, had some leg issues around 75 miles in but used some nutrition to get back on track before ending up at Pierce Cedar Creek where not only my crew but my family met up with me to grill brats. Boy did they taste good and my body enjoyed the extra sodium! Another unexpected highlight was a female Northern Bobwhite which all of us were excited to see and hear.
I pedaled the last 10 miles home and ended the day with 102.5 miles ridden, three miles hiked, one mile kayaked and some wicked helmet head after 19hrs! I tallied a staggering 121 species; a Barry County big day record (five more than my record-setting number last year). I am so thankful for safe roads, an amazing crew that supported me throughout the day and great followers that donated to a great cause. I would like to especially thank my dad for providing the best sag support a cyclist could ever hope for. On top of that, he donated twice to the cause. Just awesome…
At this point we have raised over $1400 for the Barry County YMCA’s Play 60 program this summer. Because of your generosity, kids in the Hastings community are able to attend these programs and activities completely FREE where they can learn fun new ways to play outside every day. How cool is that!!! It’s not too late, please visit www.active.com/donate/joshhaas15 to read more about this program and to donate via credit/debit card.
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.
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.
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.
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 http://www.glancesatnature.com/trips.html for more information or contact Josh anytime.
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!!!
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…
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.
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.
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!
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!!
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 www.active.com/donate/joshhaas by May 31st.
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).
(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.
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.
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!!!!
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.
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.
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.
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!!!
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!!!