Thursday, July 21, 2016

Perfect Perches, Part XII

King of the Boreal Forest                                              24 June 2016


The Black-throated Green Warbler is a beautiful representative of the boreal forest, most often requiring mature, tall conifers such as white spruce, black spruce, balsam fir, or white pine for nesting and foraging.  While they are mostly dependent upon the conifers for nesting, Black-throated Green Warblers are most abundant where deciduous trees such as quaking aspen, sugar maple, red maple, paper birch, and yellow birch outnumber the conifer component.  Perhaps this deciduous habitat provides the most consistently rich insect prey.  In some places, such as Sugar Camp Hill in the Brule River State Forest, this warbler is a common and successful breeding bird in a landscape strongly dominated by hardwoods and with surprisingly few conifers. For the most part, however, you should be expecting to hear its "zeee zee zee zoo zee" song in a classic mixed boreal forest with tall conifers, aspen and birch.

Like so many species of boreal birds, and like so many species of warblers, the Black-throated Green Warbler is a tropical migrant, departing for Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and northern South America in September.  Many Black-throated Green Warblers make a complete migration over the open expanses of the Gulf of Mexico, and they are known to complete miniature migrations in pursuit of insect prey over their wintering grounds, sometimes moving laterally from the Pacific to the Atlantic and up and down mountain elevations.

In both boreal and tropical forests, Black-throated Green Warblers form close feeding associations with permanent resident species.  As a long-distance migrant, there is great efficiency in paying attention to the locals.  John Muir has provided an excellent model of thinking concerning boreal birds and their relationships with a large and continuous landscape in his famous quote, "When one tugs on a single thing in nature, he finds it is connected to the rest of the world."

This image was made using a Canon 7D, Canon EF 400mm 5.6 L lens, a Gitzo Basalt tripod, and an Induro ball head.   

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Perfect Perches, Part XI

A Little Fireworks: Mourning Warbler                                     4 July 2016




I made this image of a male Mourning Warbler on a lichen-encrusted branch using a Canon 7D, Canon EF400 f5.6 L lens, a Gitzo basalt tripod, and an Induro ball head.  I shot the image at 1/400th of a second and opened it up about 2/3 stop to avoid underexposing the bird against a cloudy sky. 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Perfect Perches, Part X

Accents on the Bird, Beauty in the Environment                        7 May 2016


Yellow-rumped Warbler, ferns, and deadwood, Houston County, Minnesota


This image was made from an Ameristep Doghouse blind with a Canon 7D and Canon EF400mm f5.6 Lens mounted to a Bogen tripod.  

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Perfect Perches, Part IX

A Quest for Resplendent, Scintillant, Magnificent Perches               17 July 2013

Resplendant Quetzal, male, near the nest tree

The first picture here represents a dream come true all by itself.  Not only is this an iconic bird of tropical cloud forest, but Costa Rica's Resplendant Quetzal is biologically distinct as a population. As is true for this entire blog, every picture featured in a single post is from a single day in nature. The 17th of July in 2013 was incredibly generous, as is the nature of tropical cloud forest and the habitats protected by the Savegre Hotel, Natural Reserve and Spa of San Gerardo de Dota, Costa Rica.

Resplendant - very impressive in richness of color and ornament; stunning, attractive -- as in Resplendant Quetzal.

Scintillant - Of sparks, brilliant or tiny flashes; sparkling -- as in Scintillant Hummingbird.


Magnificent - Striking, complexly beautiful, awesome and breathtaking, extravagant, striking -- as in Magnificent Hummingbird.

All of these species have been aptly named.  The sparkling iridescence and endless depth of color, the deep and mysterious habitat realms of the cloud forest, make these birds biological treasures. These birds convey the essence of deep fog, lush green foliage, and crystal clear, clean, cold cascades fed by mountain springs and reliable rains.  These birds give a true sense of place.






Some places on Earth are richer than others in biological diversity.  In this place, the wealth of diversity is astounding, mind-blowing, riveting.  To see such diversity amid this beauty of landscape is to feel small, grateful, humble, and wonderfully alive.



Every day brings some rain in the cloud forest.  It is an ecosystem rich in epiphytes, diverse communities of mosses, and lianas.  The rain brings abundance, and life seems to network through all kinds of structural levels.  No longer can we apply the simplicity of thought in ground layer, shrub layer, subcanopy and canopy.  There are vastly more structural levels to the forest, with layers moving in all directions, dense vegetative volume creating opportunities for insects, birds, mammals, reptiles, fungi, and flowering plants from the ground to the supercanopy trees.


Birds occupy a baffling number of niches, and examples of competition, co-evolution, and adaptive rule-bending can be seen running along nearly vertical trunks, rippng open the nectar tubes of flowers, and fluttering out into the misty, open spaces.  A moment through the lens, I find myself focused on a single, small bird. A tiny mite crawls out onto the bill of the Scintillant Hummingbird, Costa Rica's smallest hummingbird. The tiny arthropod reaches the end of the beak, turns around, and crawls all the way back to the warmth and security of feathered skin.  The bird rouses, flies off for a second, and returns to the same perch.  I recompose and make an image...


The day has been spent in search of exceptional bird photographs, images clean and sharp, interesting in line, dazzling in color.  I have sought to capture that mysterious sense of place, to blend the lush cloud forest mystique with the iridescence of feather.  While I may have succeeded to some degree, there is nothing that compares to being there, senses fully involved in the fresh, clean, humid smells, the great height of the trees, the deepest of greens, and the gigantic, sweeping expanses of forest veiled in mysterious cloud.




To visit an eco-lodge in Costa Rica is to support habitat protection and wildlife conservation.  It is the best use of travel money, immersing yourself in the life-changing beauty of a new place while enjoying the double duty of the dollars as they directly support land trust and positive reward for preservation.  In short, the money is well spent as it empowers the people who care most about keeping Costa Rica's wild places and spaces intact and often vastly wild!

All images were made with a Canon 7D and Canon 300mm f4 L IS lens.  All images were made on a Gitzo tripod with Gitzo ball head.  I used a digital cable release for the images to reduce camera shake.  Working in a cloud forest means making the most of low light.  A tripod and cable release are essential gear. 

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Perfect Perches, Part VIII

White-breasted Nuthatch and Blue Sky             18 May 2008

White-breasted Nuthatch and Ironwood

I made this image in my second year as a digital photographer, not so long after I had parted ways with film.  Parting with film was frightening, as I doubted the permanence of electronic media.  In the previous year, I had learned that digital could be friendlier than film in many ways, especially forgiving with exposure latitude, remarkably inexpensive, and allowing for in-the-field evaluation of technique and exposure.  This photograph of a White-breasted Nuthatch is a long-time favorite.  It combines good light, a perch with character, and the bird in a posture for which it has gained fame. The old trees in the far distant background made the clear blue sky of early morning more friendly as well by creating a subtle vingette.  

This image was made with the Canon digital Rebel XT, my first digital SLR, and a Canon 300mm f4 L IS lens and Canon flourite 1.4X converter. 



Friday, March 4, 2016

Perfect Perches, Part VII

Imperfect Perfection and Black-and-white Warbler                  8 May 2010


Black-and-white Warbler in Ironwood

One of the most important differences between a nature photograph and a truly wild experience in nature is the difference in dimension.  Since our best memories from the natural world usually involve huge open spaces and often some kind of close up encounter with a living personality, perhaps a fleeting moment in time that is worth its weight in days, the memory may be defined by its depth, distance, and the size of spaces.  We remember our feet in the soil, the smells in the air, the temperature and humidity upon the skin.  We can be haunted by the echos from a nearby ravine or the way sound moves across placid water.  To match the experience with an image is a tall order.  A good nature photograph can almost hold that fleeting moment forever, conveying the feeling of the place and time.

Sometimes an image is helped along by a sense of depth imparted by blurred foreground images.  In the case of this favorite bird photograph, I didn't wrestle with my own opinions about the ironwood leaves obstructing the warbler.  To me, they make the image.  I feel the forest all around me when I look at this picture, and I am always happy that the warbler chose that perch and that I was standing right where I was.  The colors of the leaves hint at the first truly warm burst of spring. The foreground reminds me that I am there in the woods, the low brush and young ironwood brushing my arms.  I am immersed.

This image was made handheld with a Canon 300mm f4 L IS lens, Canon flourite 1.4X converter, and a Canon 30D.  

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Perfect Perches, Part VI

River Ice as Perfect Perch for a Young Bald Eagle             13 March 2009

Bald Eagle and Saint Croix River 

To photograph this cooperative, immature Bald Eagle as it picked from some fish remains frozen into the river, I crawled out onto the ice on my belly.  It had been a cold winter, and the river ice was safe, but I did push my luck a little, given the late calendar date. Laying out on the ice distributed my weight across a greater surface area, and it may have also made my behavior, form, and approach much less recognizable to the bird as "human."   The eagle was healthy, but it still allowed an unusually close approach. Perhaps my benefit was in the bird being naive. Perhaps the wild and scenic river had not yet taught the eagle to fear humans. My approach was always indirect, and I took a path that portrayed indifference, an indirect and zig-zag path made on my belly.


Photographing another living being down low, at eye level, is captivating and intimate. It creates a lot of interest for the viewer of the image, and, while this idea is commonly taught by advanced nature photographers, it is also seldom observed.  Taking this a step further, photographing animals from ground level, water level, or, in this case, ice level, creates an almost surreal image and gives a perspective of nature seldom experienced by people.  Photographing in this way can be physically challenging, making the eyes crossed, the neck stiff, and the body wet, muddy, or scraped, but I have always been startled by the successes of such images.  Making an effort to find a new perspective is always worth it, and the low approach will often allow a closer approach to wary wildlife.


All images were made with a Canon 300mm f4 L IS lens, Canon flourite 1.4X teleconverter, and Canon Rebel XTi digital SLR.  The great stage for this series was the Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway.