Arizona’s Salt River Wild Horses

Salt River Wild Horses, Arizona. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 500 mm, f/8.0, 1/500 sec, ISO 640, hand-held.

For those of us who live in the Phoenix, Arizona area, we have a gem right in our backyard. The Salt River wild horses roam the lower half of the Salt River in the Tonto National Forest in Mesa, Arizona and have been subject to much controversy in the recent years. In 2015, a notice was given to the public that federal officials would begin rounding up the horses to remove them from the area. The Salt River Wild Horse Management Group rallied up support for the horses and was able to get a statue passed in AZ State Congress to protect the horses and to allow them to roam the Salt River.

Continue reading “Arizona’s Salt River Wild Horses”

Memorial Day Remembrance

I hope you all have a special Memorial Day in the US, remembering those whose lives were sacrificed for our freedom. Last June, I was in arctic Norway on the Veines Peninsula out for a run in the middle of a fog. Miles from anyone, I stumbled across the remnants of a German WWII fort and gun battery that had been constructed in 1942. It was one of the most humbling experiences. At the time, I did not know what I had stumbled across and only had my iPhone with me to take photos. Later, I came across this information back at the guesthouse where I was staying. It detailed the war weapons housed at this German fort.

After exploring the outside of the bunker shown in the top photo, I entered it and saw several old photos on the walls of the bunker. Most had broken glass frames but this one was still intact. The images were quite damaged from weather over the years.

I saw that the bunker had stairs leading down into the ground. It was scary, but I decided to explore them and went down these stairs.

When I got down to the bottom, I looked back up and took a photo. You can see the top of the picture frame from the photo above that was hanging on the wall in the bunker.

When I turned back around to continue through the passageway, I came to a room.

Inside the room was a lot of debris as well as another damaged photo. I couldn’t make out most of what I saw since it was pitch black and I used flash just to capture these photos. Since I didn’t know much about this location, I didn’t want to stay down in these tunnels for long in the dark.

I had goosebumps as made it back out. I explored the area some more and found the open rings where I have since learned that 5 French 155 mm caliber guns were installed.

I came across some more entrances and decided to explore the tunnels.

Again it was dark as night and all I had was my iPhone flashlight. I found another deep tunnel.

I got a closer look and decided not to explore further. I was’t sure of the stability of anything, and since this was such a remote location in arctic Norway, I doubted that much was done to check the safety of these tunnels. Since I stumbled across this area without seeing a person around, I knew that there was no active preservation of this historical site. If I were to get in trouble at any point, I would not have anyone to rescue me. I played it safe.

As we celebrate Memorial Day in the US today, I couldn’t help but remember this experience. It was a special moment in my life and gave me a lot of gratitude for those who lost their life not only in WWII but in all the wars to help us be free. We express our appreciation and thanks to those who serve and have lost their lives, but seeing this in person gave me a greater sense of the freedoms we often take for granted.

The Many Faces of the Emperor Penguin Chicks

Image: Emperor penguin chick, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 410 mm, f/8.0, 1/1600 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

If it was possible to describe an Emperor penguin chick in one word, it would be precious. I have never seen a more innocent and beautiful animal in all my world travels. Photos do not do them justice, but I will try here with these headshots. Future posts will contain more images of their full bodies and the various activities they do on sea ice, but this blog will focus on the innocence in their eyes and faces.

Continue reading “The Many Faces of the Emperor Penguin Chicks”

Happy World Penguin Day!

Image: Emperor penguin adults watch over a very young chick near Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 200 mm, f/8.0, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

Happy World Penguin Day!

This holiday celebrates an amazing bird, of which there are 17 species in the Southern Hemisphere. I have friends who are on a life-long mission to visit all 17 species in person. After having visited the Emperor penguin colony, I can understand their passion and this goal. The holiday brings about awareness to the importance of penguins to the world’s ecosystem and encourages that each person take a little time today to learn a little more about a penguin species.

The holiday was originally created by the American research station in Antarctica (McMurdo Station) to signal the beginning of the northern migration of the Adelie penguin to get better access to food during the winter months (that are soon coming in the Southern Hemisphere). Please enjoy this day!

You can view these images individually and more not posted here in my portfolio located here.

Emperor Penguins -The Beauty in the Reality

Image: Emperor penguins after unseasonably warm weather, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 200 mm, f/8.0, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

When photographers venture out to capture images of the beauty of nature, we typically look for pristine views that grab our attention, and we edit out the pieces that detract from the overall art. This happens with both landscapes and wildlife, although it can be harder to get a nice pleasing background in wildlife photography because the animals move. :-). That’s when knowledge of animal behavior becomes important for predicting movement and being able to set up with a clean nice background.

Image: Emperor penguins after unseasonably warm weather, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 200 mm, f/8.0, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

All of the penguin images I’ve posted so far on this blog and on my website have been with the above concept in mind–clean, non-distracting backgrounds so the viewer could focus on the beauty of the penguins. I set up those shots on purpose so that I would have images that could be considered fine art. This was not the case for all of my photos at the colony. At times, I changed my mindset and focus so that my images documented the full scene before me.

Image: Emperor penguins after unseasonably warm weather, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 200 mm, f/8.0, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

I wanted to show what it looked like on the sea ice when temperatures climbed to abnormally hot 50+ degrees Fahrenheit. The ice started melting too fast, leaving areas with standing water on top of the sea ice.

Image: Emperor penguins after unseasonably warm weather, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 270 mm, f/8.0, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

The heat in combination with the lack of blizzards and fresh snow left the colony looking raw with penguin and gull feces.

Image: Emperor penguins after unseasonably warm weather, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 390 mm, f/8.0, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

This area of sea ice was their home and their colony. The colony didn’t move much from this area so the result was some very dirty sections of the colony. The heat led to many penguins lying on the sea ice not just to move from one location to another but to cool down in the unseasonably warm spring temperatures. At one point, even I had to join them lying down on the sea ice after I shed my parka and another down jacket!

Image: Emperor penguins after unseasonably warm weather, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 480 mm, f/8.0, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

The benefit of taking images for documentary purposes is that we can learn about all aspects of the colony and animal behavior. Sliding on the sea ice gave the penguins the stains on their bellies. We could tell which penguins spent time with others based on the extent of their stains.

Image: Emperor penguins after unseasonably warm weather, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 200 mm, f/8.0, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

At first glance, these images might repel you, especially when you understand the reason for the stains, but there is beauty even in the dirty, ugly scenes. The image below is one of my favorites as it represents to me the difficulty of life and the tough days that we have to trudge through and just keep going.

Image: Emperor penguins after unseasonably warm weather, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 260 mm, f/8.0, 1/1000 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

Togetherness and reliance on each other were other features of the colony that became apparent after studying and photographing these animals for 28 hours over 3 days.

Image: Emperor penguins after unseasonably warm weather, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 330 mm, f/8.0, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

I learned a lot in those hours, not just about wildlife photography. These animals don’t know what is happening in the world or how the climate is changing but they continue to push on, adapting to what nature gives them.

Image: Emperor penguins after unseasonably warm weather, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 200 mm, f/8.0, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

You can view these images individually and more not posted here in my portfolio located here.

Emperor Penguin Pals

Image: Two adult Emperor penguins walking across sea ice, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 440 mm, f/8.0, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

As I return back to processing images from Antarctica, I wanted to share several images that demonstrate the peaceful nature of these Emperor penguins. We saw so many of the adult penguins spending time with each other in pairs. I was told that typically all the males or all the females were at sea depending on the time of year, so I assume that most of these interactions were from the same gender. We were not able to distinguish if the majority of the adults were males or females at the colony during the 3 days we visited, but we enjoyed the bonds nonetheless.

Image: Two adult Emperor penguins on sea ice, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 200 mm, f/8.0, 1/1600 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

Like humans who spend a lot of time together, the adult Emperors seemed to mirror each other’s behavior for a variety of activities. If one penguin was preening, the buddy nearby also got involved in preening.

Image: Two adult Emperor penguins preening on sea ice, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 500 mm, f/8.0, 1/1000 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

Occasionally, one of the penguins stood guard and watched, but it was typically for a short period of time before both were performing similar behaviors again.

Image: Two adult Emperor penguins on sea ice, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 320 mm, f/8.0, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

They often played “follow-the-leader” with one of the adults leading the way and the second following along dutifully.

Image: Two adult Emperor penguins walking on sea ice, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 220 mm, f/8.0, 1/1250 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

Sometimes the lagging penguin found it easier and faster to slide on its belly to catch up with the leader.

Image: Two adult Emperor penguins crossing sea ice, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 210 mm, f/8.0, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

In the case below, the penguin on the left was beginning to go into a belly slide down the iceberg with its companion watching carefully before deciding to join.

Image: Two adult Emperor penguins on an iceberg, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 500 mm, f/8.0, 1/2000 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

We often saw both of the penguins on their bellies as they crossed over the sea ice. It was fascinating to see their flippers and feet become in sync as they propelled themselves forward.

Image: Two adult Emperor penguins sliding on sea ice, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 200 mm, f/8.0, 1/2000 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

Even when they took a rest, they matched their behavior to the one next to them, and I was able to capture this head-on.

Image: Two adult Emperor penguins resting on sea ice, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 500 mm, f/8.0, 1/2000 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

There was even symmetry when they were looking in different directions as their bodies mirrored each other.

Image: Two adult Emperor penguins sliding on sea ice, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 360 mm, f/8.0, 1/2000 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

Their behavior and stance also balanced well with the surrounding landscape as I caught these two in front of a beautiful light-blue iceberg.

Image: Two adult Emperor penguins on an iceberg, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 390 mm, f/8.0, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

No matter the scenario, the peace was evident.

Image: Two adult Emperor penguins on an iceberg, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 220 mm, f/8.0, 1/2000 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

I will continue with the Antarctic journey and share more posts in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!

You can view these images individually and more not posted here in my portfolio located here.

Harmony in Photography Presentation

Image: Snow Hill Island sea ice with Emperor penguins and chicks with a gull circling the colony. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 200 mm, f/8, 1/1250 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

This Thursday night I will be presenting to the Saguaro Camera Club about Harmony in Landscape and Wildlife photography. I will be sharing some of my adventures over the past year as well as some images that I have not yet shared to the public. It is an open meeting and all are welcome to come. If you are interested, please join us on Thursday, March 28, 2019 at 6:15pm at the Mesa Fire Station at 360 E. 1st St, Mesa, AZ. My presentation will follow a quick camera club meeting. Please send me a message if you have questions! Thanks!

Wondrous Wood Ducks

Image: Wood duck, Tempe, AZ. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 440 mm, f/6.3, 1/800 sec, ISO 500, hand-held.

At the end of last year, I heard rumblings on social media of a wood duck pair visiting the Phoenix area. I was unfamiliar with this duck, but after a quick google search and seeing photos of them on Facebook, I knew I had to go see this beauty in person. I went out one afternoon with a friend to a local park where this pair was temporarily residing in a small pond. We waited a long time and then walked around the pond, finally spotting the male and female hiding under some overgrown shrubbery and trees. Not wanting to disturb them, we waited some more. Finally, the couple came out of the shelter for a quick tour around the pond and we were ready! The image above is what came from the waiting game. It was well worth it.

Image: Wood duck, Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve, San Diego, CA. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 380 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

On the way to San Diego to photograph pelicans, we had heard that there were some wood duck sightings at Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve. After our brief encounter with the pair in Arizona, we didn’t hesitate on this trip to make a detour to the lakes to capture more images of these colorful ducks. I have since learned that their distribution is along the California coast year around and in the eastern United States, migrating north and south depending on the season. That’s why it was such a rare treat to see them in Arizona!

Image: Wood duck, Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve, San Diego, CA. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 270 mm, f/8.0, 1/500 sec, ISO 1000, hand-held.

Because of habitat loss and their beautiful feathers, they were once in decline, but recent conservation efforts have improved their population numbers. They like to nest in the cavities of trees along water so many parks and refuges provide nest boxes near water to encourage further nesting behavior.

Image: Wood duck, Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve, San Diego, CA. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 500 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600 sec, ISO 800, hand-held.

It took a little time to find the right lake at the Recreation Center with the wood ducks, but when we found the flock, we counted up to 9 wood ducks! In the late afternoon, the light was great and I worked on various shots of them. I wanted the male coming at me with his red eyes highlighted against the dark green feathers of his head, as shown above.

Image: Wood duck, Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve, San Diego, CA. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 450 mm, f/6.3, 1/400 sec, ISO 2000, hand-held.

As the sun went down, the light changed and softened. We slowly approached the edge of the lake so the ducks would get accustomed to our presence and continue swimming around. The reflections of various trees and shrubs across the other side of the narrow waterway allowed for beautiful colors in the water reflections.

Image: Wood duck, Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve, San Diego, CA. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 500 mm, f/6.3, 1/500 sec, ISO 800, hand-held.

For some images, I chose to have a busy background full of colors from the water reflections to complement the variety in the duck’s feathers. For other images, I chose a more muted water reflection to highlight the duck’s beauty.

Image: Wood duck, Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve, San Diego, CA. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 460 mm, f/5.6, 1/400 sec, ISO 1600, hand-held.

When the ducks slowed their swimming and went into a relaxed float, I was able to go for a headshot with a nice reflection and the sun behind us.

Image: Wood duck, Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve, San Diego, CA. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 500 mm, f/6.3, 1/800 sec, ISO 800, hand-held.

A photo shoot of the wood ducks would not have been complete without a little bit of scenery to give a sense of place for their habitat. The light was just right as this male swam through the lighted part of the lake with the reflections of the trees and shrubbery high in the image.

Image: Wood duck, Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve, San Diego, CA. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 500 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600 sec, ISO 640, hand-held.

You can view these images individually and more in my portfolio located here.

As I process more images, I will continue to post more adventures. Stay tuned…

Pelicans in Flight

Image: Brown pelican in breeding plumage soaring above the ocean, San Diego, CA. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 410 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500 sec, ISO 800, hand-held.

Brown pelicans make great subjects for practicing birds-in-flight photography, a skill in its own right. After spending the early morning hours in San Diego capturing images of these birds sitting and preening, we moved on to photographing them in flight as the light improved.

Image: Brown pelican juvenile preparing to land, San Diego, CA. Nikon D500, Nikkor 70-200 mm at 122 mm, f/8.0, 1/1600 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

The ocean made a great background for these birds and we worked on photographing them from all angles. I had wanted to capture a pelican head-on as shown in the photograph below although catching them from the side allowed for greater appreciation of the size of their wings and bodies.

Image: Brown pelican in breeding plumage soaring above the ocean, San Diego, CA. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 500 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500 sec, ISO 800, hand-held.

Because of the dark cloudy weather, my camera settings were not quite ideal for fast-moving wings. I needed a fast shutter speed for capturing the movement, but in order to have the correct exposure, I had to use a wide aperture (low f-stop) to let in as much light as possible into the camera sensor. This did not give me as great of a depth of field as I would have liked for a large bird up close like this, but it allowed me to increase my shutter speed so that I could capture the head and body in focus while it was flying through the air.

Image: Brown pelican in breeding plumage preparing to land, San Diego, CA. Nikon D500, Nikkor 70-200 mm at 145 mm, f/2.8, 1/1250 sec, ISO 1000, hand-held.

When these birds began their landing sequence, their wings flapped faster than when they were soaring, so at times, I had a little bit of blur on their wing tips. I didn’t mind this so much as long as the focus on the eye and head was sharp. The slight blur in the wings also helped to demonstrate movement in the image.

Image: Brown pelican in breeding plumage preparing to land, San Diego, CA. Nikon D500, Nikkor 70-200 mm at 150 mm, f/5.0, 1/1600 sec, ISO 1000, hand-held.

As the pelicans went through their landing sequence, we practiced capturing images of them with their wings in various positions.

Image: Brown pelican in breeding plumage preparing to land, San Diego, CA. Nikon D500, Nikkor 70-200 mm at 135 mm, f/5.0, 1/1600 sec, ISO 1000, hand-held.

We also spent time photographing the pelicans from the front as they landed on the cliffs ahead of us. This non-breeding adult, as indicated by the white head and neck, was in full landing mode with the churning sea in the background.

Image: Brown pelican preparing to land, San Diego, CA. Nikon D500, Nikkor 70-200 mm at 145 mm, f/5.0, 1/1600 sec, ISO 1000, hand-held.

It landed with perfect grace and rested along the cliffs until it decided to go back out to search for fish.

Image: Brown pelican preparing to land, San Diego, CA. Nikon D500, Nikkor 70-200 mm at 145 mm, f/5.0, 1/1600 sec, ISO 1000, hand-held.

From a slightly different angle, this breeding adult approached us head-on and I was able to capture a little of the background to add a sense of place to the image. The ocean waves were much stronger the second day we were visiting the cliffs, causing the pelicans to land higher on the cliffs, much to our delight.

Image: Brown pelican in breeding plumage preparing to land, San Diego, CA. Nikon D500, Nikkor 70-200 mm at 120 mm, f/5.0, 1/1600 sec, ISO 1000, hand-held.

Occasionally, the pelicans landed close to or on top of other pelicans, angering them as shown by this breeding adult snapping at the juvenile landing on the cliff.

Image: Brown pelican juvenile prepares to land, San Diego, CA. Nikon D500, Nikkor 70-200 mm at 190 mm, f/3.5, 1/1600 sec, ISO 1000, hand-held.

We finished up the trip with a visit to the beach to watch and photograph the shorebirds and surfers. What we didn’t realize until then was that the pelicans “rode” the waves just as the human surfers did. It was a pretty sight to see the waves crashing just behind the pelican as it moved along the shore.

Image: Brown pelican in breeding plumage soaring above the ocean, San Diego, CA. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 500 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500 sec, ISO 800, hand-held.

We even had a beautiful goodbye as these 5 pelicans soared over a wave crashing onto the beach.

Image: Brown pelicans in breeding plumage soaring above the ocean, San Diego, CA. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 290 mm, f/7.1, 1/2500 sec, ISO 800, hand-held.

You can view these images individually and more in my portfolio located here.

The Dance of the Pelican

Image: Brown pelican walking on a cliff, San Diego, California. Nikon D500, Nikkor 70-200 mm at 190 mm, f/5, 1/1600 sec, ISO 1000, hand-held.

During the two recent morning photography shoots in San Diego, we caught glimpses of the Brown pelicans walking along the cliff ledges. Their walk was more of a dance with their careful foot placement and use of their wings to steady their balance.

Image: Brown pelican walking on a cliff, San Diego, California. Nikon D500, Nikkor 70-200 mm at 190 mm, f/5, 1/1600 sec, ISO 1000, hand-held.

They gracefully lifted one foot and then the other to move forward along the edge. It was quite a display as they timed their wings and feet in a synchronous movement.

Image: Brown pelican walking on a cliff, San Diego, California. Nikon D500, Nikkor 70-200 mm at 190 mm, f/5, 1/1600 sec, ISO 1000, hand-held.

As this non-breeding adult (as indicated by the white head and neck feathers) made its way to the edge of the cliff, it kept its focus and attention on its movements.

Image: Brown pelican walking on a cliff, San Diego, California. Nikon D500, Nikkor 70-200 mm at 190 mm, f/5, 1/1600 sec, ISO 1000, hand-held.

Eventually the pelican stopped and readied its wings for its eventual liftoff.

Image: Brown pelican spreading its wings on a cliff, San Diego, California. Nikon D500, Nikkor 70-200 mm at 145 mm, f/5, 1/1600 sec, ISO 1000, hand-held.

The launch began with a squat and a stretching of its wings high overhead to generate a force when the wings descended during the liftoff.

Image: Brown pelican beginning to launch on a cliff, San Diego, California. Nikon D500, Nikkor 70-200 mm at 150 mm, f/5, 1/1600 sec, ISO 1000, hand-held.

The last bit of this sequence of images involved the feet stretching on tiptoe before liftoff. Then this magnificent bird launched into the air, flying out to sea on a hunt for a morning meal.

Image: Brown pelican launching off a cliff, San Diego, California. Nikon D500, Nikkor 70-200 mm at 145 mm, f/5, 1/1600 sec, ISO 1000, hand-held.

I’ll continue to share more about San Diego in the next few posts. They should still be around if you are in the area! 

You can view these images individually in my portfolio located here.