Saturday, February 8, 2014

Newts, Salamanders and Frogs.

Just working around the yard I come across the occasional newt or salamander, I use this as a photo opportunity and a way to get out of some yard work.

Rough-skinned  Newts are toxic if  swallowed and can irritate the skin, Garter snakes in certain areas are immune to this toxin.

For photographing this newt, I grabbed some moss and and an old piece of wood to make a quick setup. Its best to work quick and to not stress the subject, if you do aggravate it they can let out a powerful toxin. Its always best to wash your hands before and after handling newts and salamanders.
Wandering Salamanders can be identified by there square toes, they feed climbing up into trees at night and lay eggs under bark and protect them till they hatch.
They have mottled coloring with bronze flecks.
I put piles of sticks and small logs in the garden for the salamanders and I do find eggs under the logs, I have small frog pond for the salamanders and frogs.

For the Wandering Salamander I found some fine moss to work as the backdrop, I setup in the shade and took a few pictures then placed it in a safe place, its best to place them back where you find them but if there in danger in that spot find somewhere where they have good cover.

Long-toed Salamanders breed in ponds in late winter, you will find there eggs the same time as the Pacific Chorus Frogs.

They can be identified by there orange stripe with black sides and the long fourth toe.
For this salamander I just used a backdrop of some fall colored leaves, the orange of the leaves works well with the color of the stripe and contrasts with the black of the body. I setup in the shade took a few pictures then found a safe place to put him.

The long-toed Salamander found on Vancouver island range all but the far north of B.C.. The larvae transform into terrestrial juveniles the first year except in colder climates where it can overwinter on or two times before metamorphose.
This newt larvae was the hardest, I made a small shooting box out of glass, filled it with filtered water and rinsed the rock of a few times before placing in the box, you have to have everything perfectly clean because at macro magnifications everything will show in the picture. I setup with my flashes for this one, one on the background and one with a softbox, I was in the shade. You have to wait till the subject moves into a good positions so it does take patience.

The first week in March with out freezing temperatures is when the Pacific Chorus frogs head for the ponds, they like still water that dries up in the summer, this way there are no fish to eat the eggs.
Sometimes I just come across frogs in the garden and I go get the camera like this picture, the one below I put the hip waders on and went into the pond, you have to stand still in the water for a bit before the frogs rise up again and start croaking.

Pacific Chorus Frogs can change there coloring, during the pond seasong they have darker greens to brown color. And the nice blue color around the eyes.
The young frogs can be found hunting during the summer, still small enough to fit on a blade of grass.
Northern Red-legged Frogs adults spend most of there time on land, during breeding season they move to shallow ponds and streams.
The Red-legged Frog pictures where see them in the yard then go get the camera opportunity, had to wait for the light to change to shade other wise there is too much contrast.
We were lucky enough to have a pair of Red-legged Frogs move into the yard this year, we have had them move through before but this pair hung around the ponds all summer.
You can see the red on the inside of the leg that they get there name from. There favorite hunting spot was on the Gunnera plant.


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Photographing Pileated Woodpeckers

Photographing Pileated Woodpeckers son Vancouver Island

Pileated Woodpeckers require a forest for there habitat that has trees that are old enough that they are starting to rot on the inside, fall over, become infested with different beetle larva and has lots of ants. This type of forest has the food they need and the right types of trees for excavating there nest holes. These are called wildlife trees, it is when a tree has reached its peak and starting to decline, this is when it useful to wildlife like the woodpeckers, this is a process that can take hundreds of years.
Photographing Pileated Woodpeckers in Black Creek.

If you live in such an area and have Pileated Woodpeckers you can attract them with food like other birds, they really don't care for suet feeders, although I find with the tailboard they will use them, what they like is a log with holes drilled in it and homemade suet placed in the holes, the other woodpeckers like this along with the starlings and crows so you have to see if it will work in your area.
Vancouver Island is a good place to photograph Pileated Woodpeckers.

For me it does work and it gives me an opportunity to photograph these interesting birds, they are shy and I needed a blind or to shoot out a window at first but once they were used to my presence I could photograph from the deck.
Photograph of juvenile Pileated Woodpecker on Vancouver Island

Taking the photo in your yard allows you to control the elements in the picture, like background, foreground and what the bird has landed on. Picking the right log is important you want it to complement not be the focus of the picture.
Photograph of Pileated Woodpecker peeling bark off tree.

I usually use a 400 mm lens with a teleconverter, the reason is just to get smoother backgrounds, other wise a 300 to 400mm lens is fine, mostly I shoot birds at f5.6 and 1/125 shutter speed, iso depending on the light but as low as possible, at these settings your not going to catch any action but like most birds when feeding they will pause to check there surroundings, get them looking into the frame. You want pictures when they don't have food covering there bill so when they first land or get ready for take off are good times for the picture.
Photo of Pileated Woodpecker on Vancouver Island.

For lighting, cloudy day's are best, thinner the clouds the better. Have your back to the sun.
Photograph of juvenile female Pileated Woodpecker on Vancouver Island.

You need to focus on the eyes, if you can't see the wrinkles in the skin around the eye that is one for the trash bin, use your off center focus points to get a good composition.

Early Morning Light Macro Photography

Photograph of Bumble Bee on Lavender taken on Vancouver Island

Macro photography is not about getting a macro lens its more about putting together a set of lenses and accessories to increase magnification, a lot of photographers don't want to do macro they just want to get closer and shoot smaller subjects.
Taken on Vancouver Island two Leaf Cutter Bee's sleep vertically.

Most macro lenses shoot from macro 1:1 and bigger, with accessories like tubes and teleconverters you can increase the magnification and shoot smaller subjects.

If you don't need to shoot 1:1 but want to take photo's of Dragonflies and Butterflies a lens like the 300 f4 is ideal, use it with extension tubes and teleconverters and you have some advantages over a macro lens, one is that you have a lot longer working distance, so you don't have to get as close to the subject and you have a narrower angle of view, this gives you smoother backgrounds.

If you do want to shoot small subjects like bee's, flies and other small insects and bugs a macro lets you get to 1:1 to start with and when you add accessories like extension tubes and teleconverters you can increase your magnification.
Early Morning fly macro

Photography technique is knowing what to do in each situation, what f stop to use, what kind of lighting and lighting setup from the basic to advance there is a technique for each photography situation, the purpose of this article is to describe the technique needed for going out in the early morning and doing macro photography.

The reason to go out in the early morning is twofold, one the light is at its best before the sun comes above the trees and the subjects are cold and don't move till the sun has warmed them. The drawback is the subjects can be hard to find, you have to comb the swamp for good subjects but once you have found one you get time to work it. The quality makes up for the quantity.
Morning light macro photograph of Bee Fly.

What you will need.

- A camera and lens, I prefer long macro lenses out in the field and use a Nikon 200mm f4 micro.
- Tripod preferably with spiked feet, I use a heavy tripod with four inch spikes and don't like macro tripods, they move to easy when focusing.
- A ball head, gear head any head that doesn't move on you when setting up the shot.
- Remote release.
- Small reflector.
- Knee pads.
- Small cutters.
Morning light macro photograph of beetle on Vancouver Island.

And importantly you need a good place to hunt down critters, a swampy area, pond, fields near wetlands. My favorite spot has been the frog pond across the street, but over the years it has gone from loads of subjects to nothing, years of cold dry springs has killed of huge amounts of insects on Vancouver Island and there not coming back in the short term.

Now your out in the field and you have spent the last twenty minutes looking for something and found a Damselfly, these make great subjects so you setup, with your back to where the sun is going to rise if you can, guess how high you need your tripod and adjust it away from the subject, depending how warm out it is it could fly if disturbed enough. Now you will have to place the tripod as close as you can to almost fill the frame, going corner to corner works well for damselflies, once you have that close push down on the tripod to get the spikes onto something solid.
Macro photograph of Spread-wing Damselfly on Vancouver Island

Make your fine adjustments and then it is time to focus, but before that make sure your at the same level as the subject, you don't want that top down look. Focus is super critical, you want from the eyes to the tip of the tail in focus, eyes always have to be in focus but for damselflies eyes to tip of tail is what separates the good from the great. You may have to move your tripod over a bit to get this be patient, get a couple of shots in then go for the perfect one, keep refining as you go along.
Closeup of bumble Bee's clinging to Foxglove for the night.

Was the subject low down, good thing you have the knee pads, now your working the subject and there is a blade of grass in the way, pull out your small cutters and snip this off, make sure this isn't going to start a chain reaction and your subject gets flung across the swamp, if you forgot the cutters try to just push it out of the way.

Back to focusing, use live view with magnification, scroll around your subject and check, sometimes you have to take focus shots at different spots and combine them later, its good to bracket focus just in case. Always check focus again when every you take your hand off the lens, this is why I like a heavy tripod, if when you remove your hand from the focus ring and focus changes you keep having to make fine adjustments.
Dew covered macro photograph of Damselfly on Vancouver Island.

Now your ready to press the shutter using your remote cord and maybe your small reflector in the other hand depending if the underside is to dark. Bracket f stops and expose to the right, once you figured you have the perfect one and some more move your camera to a different angle and start again, your first choice to set up usually isn't the best one.

A lot of times your next subject is found when your down on your knees working your currant one so look around before you get up.
Macro photograph of wasp covered with dew.

One thing I didn't mention yet is and it is a drawback is that you can't have any wind, I get up and look out the window and if can tell the tree tops are moving I go back to bed, and its okay to go back to bed once you have been out, I am usually just in the yard or across the street so it can all happen quickly.

One cool thing you will see is the sun peak across the tops of the trees slowly warming your subject and they will wake up and fly off.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Pileated Woodpeckers along the Oyster River Trail

The Oyster River Trail is a popular walking trail on Vancouver Island that runs from by the old bridge to Salmon Point, it is not uncommon to see Pileated Woodpeckers when walking through the forested section, there are even old nest holes high up that I have seen Pileated's go into for the night.
Finding Pileated Woodpeckers Vancouver Island
One day after turning around and on my way back with my D200 and 300 af-s f4 lens and a small tripod I came around a corner and there was a family of Pileated Woodpeckers working an old log that was laying down right by the trail, so I set up to try for some pictures, I set up low since they were on the ground and its always good to get  at the same level as your subject. A lot of photographers don't like to use tripods but I find it is the best way to get sharp pictures, you can keep your iso down for clean pictures, it helps your composition also.
Oyster River Trail Vancouver Island Pileated Woodpeckers.
It was a female and two juveniles, one of the juveniles could forage on its own but stuck close by and the other was being fed by the adult and kept close to her. The juveniles have a washed out pinkish look to the tops of there heads compared to the bright red of the adults, juveniles also have dark eyes that slowly will turn yellow as they mature, young pileated's will stay with the parents for the summer, it takes time to teach them how to find food.
Vancouver Island woodpeckers foraging for food.
They rooted around that log for a bit and flew off, I thought that was it so I start walking down the trail again and there they were around the corner, so I set up again and watched them forage for food and took some photo's.
On Vancouver Island two Pileated Woodpeckers along the Oyster River Trail.
The other juvenile a male searched for food on his own, even a young pileated with it's sharp bill doesn't have any trouble making holes in logs.
Juvenile Pileated Woodpecker Vancouver Island.
Pileated Woodpeckers have strong muscular tongues with a sticky barb on the tip.
Woodpecker tongue
It was a bonus getting a second chance along the trail to see these amazing birds. They don't always show up on the trail in front of you, sometimes there up high or just on the other side of a tree so you don't see them, listening for there calls and the tapping noise of them excavating a feeding or nest hole is a good way to find them.
Vancouver Island woodpecker
I have plenty other pileated pictures from a different location you can check them out here.

Mason Bee Houses that are Woodpecker Resistant.

I am losing larva to the woodpeckers, I still get lots I usually have well over a thousand cocoons every year. But if I run out of suet the woodpeckers are on the bee houses right away, there is one Hairy that you have to open the door and chase him away, banging on the window does nothing.
Making better Mason Bee house.
On the left is the style I like to make now, there is no direct access for the woodpeckers, the one on the right the front of the holes would be emptied even with the screen on. This style also has a lot more room for trays.

Use good thick wood since they will try to access the larva through the side.

I still haven't cleaned my cocoons yet this year, the houses are sitting where it is dry and cold, I found out that you can clean the cocoons anytime as long as you keep them cold, its nice to do it where it is warm so best to do them before December, after December warmth will wake them up. I also found out that if they get all moldy in the fridge you can give them a wash in the weak bleach solution and they will all be fine.


Sunday, February 2, 2014

Hummingbird Photography Part 4

Over time my photography techniques and style changes, equipment changes also so I thought I would to a part 4, these can be considered more advanced  and harder techniques.

What I have been trying to do is catch the hummingbirds in the garden at the flowers, there is two ways I do this, one is sit and wait for one to come along and another is use an automatic trigger that the hummingbird trips when it goes to the flower.
Hummingbird natural light photography
Sit and wait technique
Sit and wait technique works well when there are lots of blooming flowers on and around the deck, so I am out there anyways and just have to pick up the camera when one comes by, you do have to crank up the iso for natural light shots like this, I don't worry about the thinner depth of field and wing blur myself but not every one likes it.
Humming birds Vancouver Island
Sometimes I will sit out in the blind with one or two off camera flashes pointed at a patch of flowers, iso increased and lens wide open to get enough shutter speed, the 400 2.8 adds nice blur to the background when opened right up.
Hummingbird flash photography
With all the gardening I have to do trying to attract hummingbirds I don't always have time to sit around taking pictures so what I do is set up my lighting and place a laser trigger for the hummingbird to trip the lights and shutter, works well if there is no wind and the light isn't changing all the time.
Photographing flowers and hummingbirds.

For this style I have been trying to get the whole flower stock in the picture, this style doesn't have the wow factor of the close up flight shots but they are a more complete picture, you don't just have a humming bird frozen in space there is no reason  for it being there, the new style that I have been using there is a reason for the bird being there its, feeding on the flowers and you know what it's going to do next it's going to the next flower.
Photographing hummingbird gathering nesting material.
And don't forget about other interests of hummingbirds, gathering nesting material is a good photo op as is perched, find a good perch and place it close to the feeder, if activity gets high one will try to guard the feeder and perch close.
Photographing perched hummingbirds.
This was taken through the window, very low light, I had to use a remote cord so pushing the shutter didn't blur the picture.

Keep experimenting and use what I have said for a starting point.

You can find more of my hummingbird pictures here.