Monday, March 14, 2016

Goose Pond, Indiana: Part I

David FitzSimmons and I co-led a photography workshop over the weekend, at an amazing place known as Goose Pond, in south-central Indiana. Read more about this site RIGHT HERE. Dave is one of the best photographers that I know, and I was flattered that he would have me along. Ben and Anna Warner also were leaders and their bird-spotting and overall trove of natural lore was indispensable. Roberts Camera of Indianapolis organized the affair and Walt Kuhn did his usual topnotch logistical work.

Back to David for a second. He's created a brilliant series of books dubbed "Curious Critters", and you can learn all about those at his website, HERE. But there's more. Dave just released another book entitled Salamander Dance, and it's great. CLICK HERE to learn about that. These books are exceptionally effective at interesting kids in nature. Think about getting some for the kids in your sphere.

We have great fun at these workshops, and everyone learns a lot. Should you be interested, Dave, myself, and Art Weber are conducting another on September 20-22, at Lakeside Chautauqua on the shores of Lake Erie on Ohio's Marblehead Peninsula. It'll be a blast, with scads of interesting photographic subjects. DETAILS HERE.

There's no predicting Midwestern weather, and  our groups were challenged much of the time by spitting rain and leaden skies. These are not ideal conditions for bird photography - which was our focus - but one should strive to make lemonade from lemons. We actually probably learned more from shooting in such weather, as good photos can still be made, but one must work harder for them.

A male Red-winged Blackbird is not deterred in the least by the rain wetting his feathers. Red-wings, needless to say, abounded in Goose Pond's nearly 8,000 acres of marshland, and they made wonderful subjects.

We were pleased to see that many Eastern Phoebes had returned, and were setting up shop under bridges. These tough little flycatchers are the first of their family to return in spring.

This female Red-winged Blackbird posed beautifully for our group, allowing everyone to practice composition, and exposure in gloomy light. We had discussed optimal head positions and postures for interesting photos, and it was cool to hear the flurry of clicks from the cameras when the red-wing canted her head to a pleasing angle.

We focused (pun intended) a lot on flying birds. This represents a real challenge to proper exposure when the bird is backdropped by the "white sky of photographic death." Without really ratcheting up the positive exposure compensation, you'll end up with a black silhouette. It's often not intuitive for people to intentionally overexpose their cameras on a subject, but that's what must be done in such situations. This light morph Rough-legged Hawk gave me a few close passes. I shot it with the Canon 7D Mark II and the 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 II, handheld. Settings were 400mm, f/5.6, ISO 320, and 1/600. Smooth panning of the subject with the camera and the lens' brilliant image stabilization makes getting a sharp shot fairly easy. The key, though, was cranking the exposure up one and two-thirds stop.

It wasn't all birds. The warm rainy weather pulled out turtles galore, and many Painted Turtles were marching overland. Turtles do not require the blisteringly fast shutter speeds that birds often do, I have found.

At one point, a bunch of us had our big rigs mounted on tripods and focused on a group of distant American White Pelicans. These pelicans are feathered jumbos indeed: weight about 16-17 lbs, with a wingspan of nine (9!!) feet! They're not too tough to locate in the camera's viewfinder. While we were shooting those, I noticed a tiny dime-sized Spring Azure butterfly flit by and land on some nearby grasses. Many of us turned our rigs to the butterfly and it was amusing to see a bunch of 500 and 600mm lens - complete overkill! - trying to focus on the tiny insect. I suspect millions of azures could fit in a pelican's pouch. But it was a great exercise in locating tough to see objects with a large lens. This image was shot with the Canon 7D Mark II, 500mm f/4 II, and 1.4x extender - a focal length equivalent to 1120mm. I was standing about 15 feet away from the butterfly.

I had never been to Goose Pond prior to this excursion, so I spent Friday scouting before the first group arrived. At one spot I saw a thick stand of cattails in the shallows of a marsh, and waded out to hide in them, camera in hand. Sort of a makeshift blind, if you will. It worked, and I got some neat images of various waterfowl. But the highlight of this locale was some curious Muskrats. Apparently I had chosen an area important to them, and they either did not appreciate my presence, or didn't know what I was and were curious. They approached closely several times, and would swim around within two feet of me, emitting soft little squeaky whistles.

Next up I'll post some interesting waterfowl photos, and other waterbirds.


Sue said...

Beautiful photos-all!
Pelicans are one of my favorites--so I was saddened that the butterfly took all the attention. Maybe next time........

Lisa Greenbow said...

You were over in my neck of the woods. Goose Pond is a treasure.