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Photography from a kayak

I’ve had a kayak for about 8 years. The first one I bought was a rather large sit-on-top kayak, a pretty upscale one with an number of bells and whistles that made it perfect for fishing. I immediately fell in love with the freedom you felt while kayaking. As a sit on top, you’re pretty exposed, but that just added to the thrill.

After a couple of trial runs, I decided to head up to Lake Thompson in Kingsbury County, the largest natural lake in South Dakota. I was feeling confident! I had no issues in my initial runs, so when arriving at Lake Thompson I was determined to paddle the length of the lake (5 miles or so). It was a beautiful day…a few puffy clouds, very light winds, perfect for kayaking. Even with a light wind, there was a bit of a chop out in the open water, but I had no problems making it across the lake. I was using muscles I hadn’t used in such a way and was a bit tired, so rested on the opposite shore for a bit before heading back.

The way back was a bit harder. The wind had picked up, the chop had picked up, and I was tired. Still, I was progressing well, and was halfway across when….disaster strikes. There were a few fishermen out on the lake, and I saw one heading across the lake at pretty high speed. He did see me and avoided my position, but he didn’t slow down as he sped past about 20 yards away. I soon realized this might be trouble, as the wake waves quickly headed my way. I tried to turn my kayak into the wave, but was perhaps at a 45-degree angle when the first wave hit. I rocked with it, leaned in the direction of the wave to balance the tipping kayak, and was initially OK…until the second wave hit. Again I didn’t have time to get the kayak headed into the wave, and when the second wave hit I was unable to keep the balance. Into the water I went.

OK…no problem…I’m in the middle of the largest natural lake in South Dakota, but 1) the water was warm (it’s late August), and 2) I had on my life jacket. I thought it would be no problem getting back on top and finishing the trip back, but I just…couldn’t…do it.  I’d READ about what to do if capsized in my sit-on-top…reaching across the kayak, grabbing the opposite side and pulling yourself up…but when push came to shove, I couldn’t do it. The first few times I tried, when I reached across and grabbed the opposite side, the kayak would simply flip and turn over. It was such a buoyant, high-sittingkayak, and no matter my strategy I couldn’t get back on top. It didn’t help that I was tired from the long, hard paddle, and soon I realized I wasn’t going to be able to get back up.  I still wasn’t too concerned. The wind was blowing towards my push-off point, so I thought I’d just swim and drift with the kayak back to my car.  It was a long haul. Trying to swim with the kayak in tow was complicated by an increasing wind that seemed determined to push me off course.  Finally I just decided I needed to head to the closest, easily accessed shore rather than going across.  Exhausted, I pulled myself up, tied up the kayak, and rested for a while before trekking back to retrieve the car.

That’s a VERY long back drop to my mindset when it comes to taking my very expensive Canon camera equipment out in the kayak. Thankfully that day I wasn’t fishing, I wasn’t taking photos, so I didn’t lose any thing when I capsized (other than a water bottle), but the thought of tipping with my camera equipment has always made me a bit leery about trying to use my kayak as a photo platform. However, I thought I’d try taking my 2nd kayak (a very stable high-end, 2-person inflatable that I will take out with my son) out on Lake Vermilion, a rather large reservoir west of Sioux Falls. It was a nice sunny morning with relatively low wind, but even so, I was paranoid about losing my equipment, and kept my camera equipment in a dry bag until needed! It’s not the greatest photography strategy in the world, as you’re fumbling for access to your equipment if you unexpectedly come across a bird, but at least I felt safe and secure.

It wasn’t a great day in terms of the birding. I didn’t really come across any waterfowl, and other than some far away American White Pelicans and some flocks of Franklin’s Gulls that would occasionally stream overhead, it was pretty quiet. However, when returning to my push off point, I spotted a Great Blue Heron prowling the shoreline.  I kept my distance for a while, and was rewarded when he plunged his head down and caught a large bullhead catfish. I missed the moment of the catch, but was able to grab a number of photos as he took off with his catch and slowly flew across the lake right in front of the kayak.

I can definitely see the advantages of shooting from the kayak You can get to locations you simply can’t get to by foot, and when you’re sitting right on the water, you can get some wonderful, low-angle, natural looking shots. I love the photos here of the Great Blue Heron. After my one “dunking” incident, however, I’m still leery of doing this on a regular basis!  With winter approaching, South Dakota’s climate will soon make the choice easy, but hopefully I can get back out in the kayak with the camera one or two more times before the cold weather hits.

Great Blue Heron - Ardea herodias

The Great Blue Heron and his catch at the moment of liftoff from his hunting spot on the shoreline.

Great Blue Heron - Ardea herodias

Perhaps one advantage of the kayak is birds aren’t as scared as they are of an upright, walking human being? It’s a sample size of one, but instead of flying directly away from my position, the Great Blue Heron flew right in front of me with his catch.

Catching up…A mere 8,391 photos to process, upload, display

Photo processing - the long slog

One of two directories worth of “good” photos that I just need to finish processing, and put somewhere where they’ll see the light of day.

Uh…yeah. I’m running a bit behind in terms of processing photos.  Starting in around, oh…2012…I got lazy. Instead of processing photos from a trip rather quickly to ensure I actually DID it, I let them languish. I’d occasionally go back and revisit old shoots, but the photos kept piling up.  Now I didn’t just completely ignore photos from a trip. For all of these photo shoots since early 2014, I DID go in and thin out all the bad photos. I converted the remaining photos from RAW and did some basic image processing. All these photos are thus “good” shots that I’ve just never done anything with. I haven’t cataloged them.  I haven’t put them on my own website. I haven’t put them on any of the photo sites where I have accounts. No Facebook, no Twitter…these are photos that are almost ready to go, but have never seen the light of day.

I’m now finding that on days I don’t go birding, I can pretty much do some virtual birding in my upstairs office, perusing all these unprocessed photos and getting them out on my website and elsewhere.  I’m finding SO many photos that I didn’t know I had! Species I didn’t remember shooting!  Wonderful scenes and settings that have since slipped my mind! So, I’ve decided to take a break. Take a break from going out quite as often as I’m used, and instead, catching up on the photos that I DO have.

Two directories worth of photos…one with 4,491 photos, one with 3,900 photos, all in need of polishing and uploading to somewhere that people can actually see them!  I’m going through it rather randomly, going back to some trip from 2012, back to 2018, etc. Not only am I “discovering” some nice photos, I’m finding photos that may be some of my favorite photos of all time!

No idea how long this will take, but it’s a nice way to spend days I don’t go out birding. Here’s a more recent photo, from Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado earlier this summer.

Woodhouse's Scrub Jay - Aphelocoma woodhouseii

 

An anniversary POTD – Saving my sanity with macro photography

In the summer of 2015, I was having a tough time. I was diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome a few years before, but I was dealing with it and the symptoms weren’t crippling yet.  That changed that summer, when my eyes were getting so dry that not only was I miserable, but it was affecting my vision. Typically it just got worse as the day went on, although the severity of symptoms varied each day.  Some days, I simply couldn’t see well at all by late afternoon (or earlier), to the point I couldn’t really use a computer well.  Ever since that summer, my work hours have been very early (typically 6-3), but it all started that summer as I couldn’t work very well after mid-afternoon..

It wasn’t until later that winter that I started investigating scleral contact lenses (more in a bit).  But that summer, I was struggling. I soon discovered that if I wore goggles, the dryness was still uncomfortable, but the moisture accumulating in the googles was enough to allow me to maintain my vision.  The problem? I HAD TO WEAR GOGGLES!!  And my eyeglass prescription is so off-the-charts weird, that nobody would make custom goggles with a prescriptions.  That thus meant I wore very big motorcycle goggles over my regular prescription glasses.  It’s a WONDERFUL look!  But not one I felt like sharing in public.

My days that summer were as follows…go to work, use eyedrops literally every 15 minutes, go home, and as soon as my vision started to leave me, I’d throw on the goggles and stay home the rest of the day.   It was…depressing. I wasn’t doing any birding, I wasn’t doing many of the things I loved, because I either felt miserable, or my vision was horrible. But just by chance, earlier that summer, I had bought a very nice macro lens for my Canon DSLR.  I hadn’t really played with it much…until my vision started to go and I didn’t want to leave the house much.

I spent quite a bit of time that summer and fall, just walking through the backyard, and learning to appreciate the tiny little world that had been there all along. I knew nothing about insects (ok, I still don’t know a lot), but I did QUICKLY discover the incredible variety, and incredible beauty, of the little critters roaming my backyard. Many nights I’d come home from work, not be feeling well, and I’d go out in the back yard with the camera. It helped me feel normal. It helped me feel connected to my old hobbies.  It gave me a bit of much needed joy.  As my eyes seemingly got drier and my vision deteriorated, I’d even don the goggles and walk around the yard.  If no neighbors were out, that is.  Pride and vanity is a tough thing to overcome, even when you’re miserable…

It was later in the winter that the scleral lenses (a lens that gives your eyes a nice day-long bath in saline) literally saved my sanity.  Heck, they saved my JOB, as when the scleral lenses are in, my eyes feel almost normal, and my vision is awfully damned sharp. I can still only wear them 12 hours a day at most, so my evenings are still often spent at home, with my lovely fashionable goggles on. However, with the scleral lenses and the return of my vision, I resumed more of a normal life, and resumed my bird photography. I haven’t used the macro lens a lot since that summer, but I will always appreciate the distraction macro photography gave me that summer, a period that helped bridge the period to the salvation of the scleral lenses.

With that…today’s POTD is a macro photo of a meadowhawk (dragonfly) in my yard from that summer. The second photo is simply a crop of the first photo, showing the incredible fine detail the macro lens can resolve.

Meadowhawk - SympetrumMeadowhawk - Sympetrum

Rather slow (but enjoyable) winter raptor search

I treasure my trips to the central part of South Dakota in the winter. Given the bleakness and bitter cold that a South Dakota winter often brings, it’s a true joy to head to the area near the Fort Pierre National Grasslands and generally find it so incredibly full of life. Winter on the Grasslands means raptors, often in numbers that boggle the mind.  Rough-legged Hawks by the dozens, huge Golden and Bald Eagles, Ferruginous Hawks, Prairie Falcons, and the occasional Gyrfalcon, Snowy Owl, Short-eared Owl, or other “goody”.

That’s the normal winter day on the Grasslands. A recent trip unfortunately wasn’t “normal”.  It’s been a hard last year or two for grouse and pheasants on the Grasslands, with drought and some cold winters taking a bit of a toll.  It’s the grouse, pheasants, and other prey that attract the winter raptors, and with the lower prey numbers, raptor numbers have been far below what they normally are.  In a full day’s worth of birding, I “only” came across 15 or so Rough-legged Hawks, about half-a-dozen eagles, and some scattered Red-tailed Hawks and Northern Harriers. I usually find multiple Prairie Falcons and an occasional Merlin or Gyrfalcon, but no falcons of any kind were seen on this trip. A quiet day, but still enjoyable, thanks to the occasional raptor sighting, and VERY large numbers of Mule Deer, Pronghorn, and even 4 or 5 (normally very shy) coyotes.

Not only were the birds rather sparse on this day, but photo opportunities weren’t great.  Here are a (very) few photos from the day, including the highlight…a gorgeous, pure white Snowy Owl.

Snowy Owl - Bubo scandiacus

The definite highlight of the day, an absolutely stunning, pure-white Snowy Owl, found on the Fort Pierre National Grasslands. Clearly a mature male with the lack of black barring. Most birds we see around here in winter seem to be younger and/or female birds with substantial black barring. Unfortunately he was pretty shy, and preferred to observe from a distance on a high point in a nearby corn field.

Golden Eagle - Aquila chrysaetos

I love Golden Eagles, particularly when you get to see them at such close range such as this. Such massive, massive birds.

Pronghorn - Antilocapra americana

Pronghorn are something you don’t always see on the Fort PIerre National Grasslands, but they are around. On this day, I saw multiple large groups, including this group (there were about 30 animals in all) moving quickly through a field.

Mule Deer - Odocoileus hemionus

A quite common sight on the Grasslands, Mule Deer were bunched up and quite common on this day. I saw several very large bucks such as this. Shouldn’t be long before they lose their antlers and start growing next year’s.Mul

Fall Sparrows and More…

A wonderful, crisp, sunny fall morning, the perfect morning to sparrowing!! Not too many people get excited about sparrows, but this time of year in South Dakota, there’s such a wonderful variety of species that are moving through. One of my favorite kinds of birding trips…finding a weedy field in the fall, setting up in a quiet spot, and sitting back and enjoying all the sparrow species that are feeding on grass and weed seeds. Some are species we have during the summer as well, such as Savannah and Song Sparrows, but we also get some wonderful migrants such as Harris’s Sparrows and Lincoln’s Sparrows.

The crème de la crème though…Le Conte’s Sparrows. They’re a bird many birders haven’t seen, and even when they’re around, they can sometimes be hard to find as they prefer to hide in dense vegetation. In fall around here though, they are often quite bold.  This morning I saw more Le Conte’s Sparrows than I think I ever have in one day.  One weedy field west of Tea, South Dakota was chock-full of them. They were feeding on weed seeds near a gravel road, and there were times I’d have half a dozen in sight at one time.  A great treat, and I did get some good photos as well.

Photos from this morning:

Le Conte's Sparrow - Ammodramus leconteii

A gorgeous little Le Conte’s Sparrow, basking in the early morning sun along a weedy fenceline.

Lincon's Sparrow - Melospiza lincolnii

Probably my 2nd favorite sparrow, a Lincoln’s Sparrow. They have a touch more color and pattern than many sparrows, and just always look so elegant.

Swamp Sparrow - Melospiza georgiana

A Swamp Sparrow perched among the cattails.

Savannah Sparrow - Passerculus sandwichensis

The most numerous of the sparrow species seen this morning, a Savannah Sparrow.

Song Sparrow - Melospiza melodia

One of our summer breeding residents, there’s a ton of Song Sparrows around right now as well, including many first-year birds.

Sedge Wren - Cistothorus platensis

Seems like Le Conte’s Sparrows and Sedge Wrens often go hand-in-hand when I see them in the fall. The same weedy field with the many Le Conte’s also had several Sedge Wrens.

Franklin's Gull - Franklin's Gull October 7th, 2017 Minnehaha County, South Dakota

Other than sparrows, the most plentiful birds this morning were gulls. The skies were full of gulls, as were the areas near the dump (no surprise) and the bigger water bodies in western Minnehaha County. I didn’t pan through all the massive flocks to look for rarities. Ring-billed Gulls and these guys, Franklin’s Gulls, were present by the thousands.

Ring-billed gull - Larus delawarensis

Thousands of Ring-billed Gulls were around. Here one lounges at the beach at Wall lake.

Bird Photography 101 — Getting close enough

Birders or photographers new to birding sometimes ask me how I get some of my bird photos. Sunday was a great example of one tool I use! It’s not the camera. A LONG, expensive lens is definitely a huge asset in bird photography, but no matter what lens you’re using, the challenge is to get close enough to a wild bird for a frame-filling photograph.  With “only” a 400-mm lens (the lens that 99+% of my bird photos have been taken with), if means I typically have to be about 15-20 feet away from a songbird for it to fill a large portion of the image.  How does one get close to a wild bird that’s often skittish and shy around human  beings?

Hide yourself.  Often for me, that’s meant using my car as a blind, but on Sunday when I was shooting shorebirds, that wasn’t an option.  The shorebirds were all foraging in the shallows in a portion of a wetland that was far from the road.  In the back of my pickup I always have the perfect piece of equipment to help in a situation like that…a chair blind.  It has a low profile and doesn’t spook the birds once you’re set up, and it’s actually quite comfortable inside. In this case, as I approached the shoreline, all the birds scattered. No worries…set up the chair blind, make yourself comfortable inside, and after a little while, the birds will forget you’re there and will come back.

The photo below is one a birding friend took of me and my chair blind on Sunday.  Note shorebirds are calmly foraging in the shallows RIGHT in front of the blind.  They were actually too close for my camera to focus on many occasions (my 400mm lens has a 12-foot minimum focusing distance). A great tool, and one of many ways to get close enough to birds to get great photos. For more help on how to get great bird photos, click below to check out a “Bird photography tips” page from my main website:

Bird Photography Tips – South Dakota Birds and Birding

Chair Blind - Photographing Birds

My “chair blind”, one invaluable tool that allows you to get close enough to birds for photography.

Shorebirds Galore – Southeast South Dakota – April 23rd

What an utterly fantastic spring day of birding! It was one of those patented, windy South Dakota days, but the wind certainly didn’t keep the birds from showing off for the camera. I headed out this morning and spent a bit of time at Newton Hills State Park in Lincoln County, before deciding to spend most of my time looking for shorebirds. It was the right choice, as I ended up finding hundreds of shorebirds at Weisensee Slough in western Minnehaha County. It was the perfect set-up for my chair blind, a hunter’s blind I use as a photography blind.  It’s got a little folding chair with short 8-inch legs, and then a camouflaged shell that pulls over the top. There are multiple zippered openings for views, and with the low profile, birds don’t seem spooked by it, once they forget about the guy who set it up and crawled inside.  I ended up spending almost 3 hours in my chair blind as shorebirds of many species paraded in front of me.  Some species would venture so close to the blind that my camera wouldn’t focus (my long lens has a 12-foot minimum focusing distance)!  Others didn’t get quite as close, but I certainly couldn’t complain about a lack of photo opportunities. Fantastic birding day, and fantastic photo day!  Some photos from the day…click on any for even larger views.

Hudsonian Godwit -  Limosa haemastica

A male Hudsonian Godwit coming in for a landing. One of my favorite shorebirds, and one I don’t see all that often. However, today I saw at least 20 at Weisensee Slough, the most I’ve ever seen at one time.

Eastern Towhee - Pipilo erythrophthalmus

I didn’t spend much time at Newton Hills State Park, but while there I saw (and heard) many Eastern Towhees. Here a (chunky!) male hangs out in a cedar tree in the warm dawn light.

Sora - Porzana carolina

While driving past a cattail-filled wetland in Lincoln County, I heard the distinctive call of at least 2 Sora. One eventually gave me a peek…ANY peek of a Sora is a welcome sight, given how secretive they are!

Pectoral Sandpiper - Calidris melanotos

A Pectoral Sandpiper strutting its stuff mere feet in front of my chair blind. This bird certainly had no idea I was sitting inside, as at times he was too close to the blind for my camera to focus!

Baird's Sandpiper - Calidris bairdii

A Baird’s Sandpiper foraging in the shallow right in front of my blind.

Long-billed Dowitchers and Hudsonian Godwit

There were DOZENS of Long-billed Dowitchers and at least 20 Hudsonian Godwits foraging at Weisensee Slough. Every once in a while something would spook them and they’d take flight…usually RIGHT when they were starting to get within photo range of my blind! Sigh. But I did get some flight shot as they whirled around after a spooking event.

Wood Duck - Aix sponsa

A male Wood Duck, trying to blend in and hide from the camera. This was along “Ditch Road” just north of Sioux Falls. That was once one of my favorite birding locations. However, in the last year or two, they’ve cut all the trees along the ditch, and the birding is just a shadow of its former self.

Semipalmated Sandpiper - Calidris pusilla

A Semipalmated Sandpiper. There were a few Least Sandpipers mixed in as well, but overall these guys were by far the most common “peep” on Weisensee Slough today.

Hudsonian Godwit -  Limosa haemastica

Another Hudsonian Godwit at Weisensee Slough. These guys were a bit shyer than the other shorebirds and didn’t approach my blind as closely, but I still got some very nice looks at them.

 

Out Duckin’ Around…

South Dakota weather can be absolutely perfect in the spring, even on occasion when spring has only been with us for a few days.  South Dakota can also have stretches of several days where the sun doesn’t make an appearance. Unfortunately, this weekend fell into the latter category. Given my long photographic drought, I had been looking forward to the weekend, and was pretty disappointed that we didn’t even have a peek of the sun.  You can get some nice photos in cloudy, even gloomy, conditions, but it’s not ideal.  However, there have been so many waterfowl moving through that I had to give it a shot today.

I headed to western Minnehaha County and the wetlands and lakes in the area, and certainly wasn’t disappointed in bird numbers.  Waterfowl were using practically every spot of open water, from the bigger lakes, down to shallow pockets of water in wet fields. The massive goose migration is largely over in southeastern South Dakota, although I did run into a couple of small flocks of both Snow Geese and Greater White-fronted Geese.  Duck numbers are certainly very high however, as they have been ever since the ice went out.  I spent about an hour and a half at Dewey Gevik Nature Area west of Sioux Falls, trying for duck photos.  Dewey Gevik is really wonderful for such an activity in migration, as they have a permanent blind that sits out in the water a bit, allowing you good looks at waterfowl as they feed around the blind.  I ended the photographic streak, but given the gloom, not any award winners for the day!  Still, I really enjoy sitting in the Dewey Gevik blind, and seeing waterfowl act so naturally mere feet away.  Given our hunting-happy culture in South Dakota, it’s rare to get chances such as these.

Some photos from the day:

Common Goldeneye - Bucephala clangula

A male Common Goldeneye. They’re not a species I’ve had a ton of luck getting close to around here, so gloom or not, it was nice to get a photo of one. And I mean LITERALLY one, because despite many other Common Goldeneyes being present at Dewey Gevik today, this was the only one brave enough to wander anywhere close to the blind I sat in for an hour and a half.

Ring-necked Duck - Aythya collaris

A male Ring-necked Duck. Yeah…me neither. I know what you’re thinking. “Ring-necked”? Don’t you mean “Ring-billed”? The males do have a dark brownish ring around their neck, but it’s rarely something that really stands out. They are quite beautiful ducks though, and it was nice to get a crisply plumaged male at close range.

Lesser Scaup - Aythya affinis

I guess it’s fitting that on a gloomy, dreary day, the ducks I were able to photograph were all of the black-and-white variety (at least for males). I did see Northern Shovelers, Redheads, Green-winged Teal, Blue-winged Teal, Mallards, and Ruddy Ducks as well, all species with at least SOME other colors, but alas, none came within range of my lens. Thus to break up the monotony of yet another black-and-white male duck, here’s a female Lesser Scaup.

Lesser Scaup - Aythya affinis

The “colorful” duck of the day, a male Lesser Scaup. If the light is just right, you typically see a greenish tone in the dark feathering on their head. Despite the gloom today, you do see a bit of that color. Despite the black-and-white tones on all of these so far, they really are some beautifully plumaged ducks. It’s great to see them at such close range.

Bufflehead - Bucephala albeola

I love Buffleheads. They’re just so fun to watch this time of year, as they’re usually so energetic. Who DOESN’T probably appreciate that “energy” are the female Buffleheads such as this, as it’s hard for them to find a moment of peace at times, with all the male Buffleheads showing off and bothering them. Typical guys…

Hooded Merganser - Lophodytes cucullatus

Crappy photo from a much longer distance than the others on this page, but that’s the luck I have with these absolutely gorgeous birds. Hooded Mergansers aren’t the most common waterfowl we have around, and you never see them in large numbers. It’s typically a pair or two, such as this pair at a wetland in western Minnehaha County. With that crest, they’re such cool looking birds. After 15 years though of doing bird photography, this pretty much matches the best I’ve gotten of the species so far.

Gadwall - Anas strepera

Just a small part of “Weisensee” slough in western Minnehaha County, a shallow wetland that was covered wall-to-wall today with ducks. The vast majority were Gadwalls, more Gadwalls than I have ever seen before. The entire slough was populated similar to this, with Redheads, Mallards, Blue-winged Teal, and other ducks present as well. Gloom or not, it was wonderful to see so many birds today, a welcome change after a (actually rather mild) South Dakota winter.

Another Northern Lights display

Northern Lights, South Dakota

Northern Lights on the early morning of November 7th, 2015 in southeastern South Dakota.

What would I do without my cell phone?  How did people survive without them?  OK…I DO have a nice iPhone.  I would bet I use it less than 99% of all other human beings with a cell phone.  But there are times it comes in handy.  At about 10:00 last night I was about to go to bed, when the phone beeped with a notice. I have an app called “Solar Monitor” that you can use to track solar weather, and it said that a “moderate storm” was in progress.

Since it was a Friday night and I could sleep in this morning, I grabbed my camera and went out to try to take some shots.  I would say that the Northern Lights this time were much better than they were several weeks ago when I was able to see and photograph them for the first time ever.  Last time, it was a glow on the horizon, without much appearance of movement or any distinct features.  Last night, there was a short stretch where you could see them with the naked eye quite well, and could see the changing patterns of the “curtain” of light.

I’m still not the greatest at photographing them however!  Part of it is my equipment.  I just never shoot landscapes and the like so don’t really have a great wide-angle lens.  But who am I kidding, it’s not just equipment.  I have no idea what I’m doing trying to shoot them!  After a lot of experimentation last night I came up with something that at least produced a decent looking image.

A nice unexpected night of photography!!

Birds & the Bees – Identification challenges

Carpenter Bee species

A (new favorite!) photo of a Carpenter bee on a bloom. The species of Carpenter Bee? Uh…WHOA…would you look at the time…uh…I gotta run, I’ll catch up to you later!!

When I started photography 15 years ago and started shooting birds, I knew absolutely nothing about my subject matter.  Species identification?  Hah!  For the first several months I was constantly bugging my friend Jim at work with identification questions, showing him photo after photo while he patiently helped me identify birds.  After this much time, I’ve photographed most birds you could expect to find in South Dakota, and I have very little trouble identifying birds from sight or from a photo (by ear is another matter…).

It did take a while though to become proficient in bird identification.  After all, there are about 430 species that have been seen in South Dakota.  Now as I’m getting into macro photography, i”m having the same issue with insects and spiders, but the magnitude of the problem is MUCH worse!  In the continental U.S. and Canada, there have been over 900 different bird species sighted, including many stray birds, and many pelagic birds you’d never see unless you were off the coast some distance.  In the U.S. alone, there are over 4,000 BEE SPECIES ALONE!!! Many insect species are also differentiated from each other by only very small ID keys. In other words…it’s DAMNED hard to nail many insects down to a given species.

I’m not satisfied taking a bird photo, but not knowing the exact species.  With macro photography and insects…I’m going to HAVE to be satisfied in most cases not knowing the exact species, but perhaps only arriving at the basic genus that species belongs to.  The photo above of a Carpenter Bee (I think!!) is a good example.  There are over 500 species of Carpenter Bees worldwide. .But as soon as I took this photo and looked at it on my screen yesterday, I knew it was instantly one of my favorite  photos!

And that’s going to have to be good enough, as I may NEVER know the exact species shown here…

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