Tuesday, January 28, 2014

1/28/14 No Elk in Boxley Valley Today

No elk visible this morning in Boxley Valley.

1/28/14 4 Uncollared Trumpeters in Boxley Mill Pond

Before the collared trumpeters, the migration experiment, there were only uncollared trumpeters at the Boxley Mill pond. After a long respite, 4 have taken up residence in the mill pond. My guess is that they won't be there long, but who really knows. The 2 collared trumpeters remain -- the 2 groups don't appear to be connected.

If you want to see them, I would not wait to visit.

Uncollared Trumpeter Swans
Uncollared Trumpeters Visit Boxley Mill Pond

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

1/22/14 Elk Herd Locations -- Bugling Bull Today & Herd

Aside from small groups of bulls in the mid-valley area, a large herd showed up today in the south end just north of Smith Creek.

This herd is headed up by the second tier bull I call Chaos, a truly strange looking bull. He bugled this morning 5 times in the span of about 2 minutes. This is the latest bugling bull I have ever observed in the valley. His herd is about 40 elk.

Elk and Herd Bull by Smith Creek

2014 Wildflower Season Just Weeks Off

The annual spring wildflower season is now just over a month away. There are many outstanding Ozark wildflower venues in the Buffalo River region, probably too many to list. Virtually every feeder creek and river access point is pretty good.

Spring Beauty, Ponca Access
One reliable sign of the arrival of the wildflower season is when you first see daffodils popping up. I use the appearance of daffodil foliage as the signal to hit the trails to map out flower locations and estimate the timetable of the blooms.

The spring wildflower season is pretty long. If you wish to create a "bucket list" of species, you will have to visit often. Some species bloom across the entire spring season, others bloom only a couple of weeks. I like them all, and I enjoy the unfolding of the bloom across the roughly 3 month season.

Learning to take great wildflower photos will strengthen your photography because it forces you to understand the interplay between light, shadow and color to achieve what some call "cinematic lighting".

Cinematic lighting is what I seek when I stalk wildflower pictures. Master this lighting strategy and your creative expression will really improve with every photographic subject you tackle.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Eye Contact & The Critical Moment

We have an armadillo that hangs around our place we call Armondo. Many days I see Armondo hacking around the back woods dining on grubs and worms. When our chickens lay too many eggs, Armondo lives the dream dining on our surplus. He is dumb as a hammer, just north of an insect brain. 

Anyway, if you have seen armadillo pictures, you will note 2 things. They are shot at a high angle, and generally the armadillo is head down and sideways. To stand out from the crowd consider getting on your belly and waiting for eye contact and an unusual posture. This frame is 1 of about 50 I shot of Armondo. At most, I was 8 feet away from him. 

This is not your typical armadillo picture. Getting it is about observation, patience, and thinking through possible poses. In there somewhere is the willingness to lay down on the ground up close and personal. 

Armadillo Closeup
Armondo the Armadillo Checks Me Out

1/19/14 Elk Herd Location Map

Just a few bulls today, but they were close to the road and some photographers enjoyed shooting. Beautiful weather to hike, bird and just enjoy the day.

Elk Herd Locations 1/19/14

Photographing Trumpeter Swans in Boxley Valley, Touchdown Trumpeter Swan

Patterning trumpeter takeoffs and landings on the Boxley Mill Pond is pretty easy. When they are ready to take off they act nervous and don't feed much. You will notice they bob their heads and do a little honking, often pretty faint, but audible. Suddenly the takeoff happens and they skitter across the water and they are off. They will fly around the valley for a few minutes before landing back at the pond. You have time to prepare -- use it.

The great thing in Boxley Valley is that the trumpeters return after takeoff. This morning I shot the takeoff in kind of dim light as the sun was rising. I knew from experience the trumpeters would fly the length of the valley and land back at the mill pond, typically in 5 minutes or so. There are 2 narrow strips where the trumpeters might land. I chose the one that was just lighting up from the sunrise, guessing that they might prefer it to the still dark portion of the pond. It turned out to be the correct choice.

Trumpeter Swan Landing in Boxley Mill Pond
Touchdown Trumpeter Swan, Boxley Mill Pond
A couple of tips. First, observe. Pay attention and think about what you see. Getting the above photo was based first on a way of thinking. Don't necessarily adopt my thinking, adopt my habit of thinking and concentration during a shoot. I want you to find your own patterns, your own approach.

Second tip. These guys are moving fast when then land. When you scope out your anticipated landing spot, do some pre-focusing testing, think about the landscape behind the subject. Choose your angle for the shot to setup the background to complement your composition.  Your composition is both the subject and its context. This photo would be pretty good if it were only the swan. I think it is much better with the brush along the pond illuminated by the sunrise, and added to the composition. This strategy of placing the subject in context could be the difference between a "wall hanger" and just a pretty good photo.

Third tip. I try to shoot these shots at f8 or more to add depth of field, especially when the subject is approaching me as in this photo almost straight on.  It provides a margin of error for good focus. I also pre-focus and let the swan fly into the focus. To get to this aperture, and still have a decent shutter speed I shot this at ISO 2000 and 1/1580th of a second. In reasonably bright light the noise is not too bad.

I hand-held the entire shoot. At this shutter speed hand holding my camera is a non-issue. In many ways, hand-holding the camera allows me to make the quick adjustments needed to get the shot in wildlife photography.

Friday, January 17, 2014

1/17/14 Elk Herd Locations -- Elk Viewing Poor for 2 Days

My guess is that moonlit nights and the high river conditions have affected elk viewing negatively. It would be nice to have some stable weather patterns to settle things out. This morning and last evening there were only a few bulls visible at the south end of the mill pond.

I think with high river conditions otter feeding in the mill pond are far more likely than under normal conditions. Definitely pay close attention to the pond when you visit. The river has been running pretty hard now for a while.

The 1/17/14 map is below.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

1/12/14 Elk Herd Locations, Waterfalls Flowing Pretty Well

Not much has changed in Boxley Valley.  2 small bull herds are kicking around the middle valley, a cow herd with a small bull is down by Smith Creek on the south end.

Waterfall fans will find the flows pretty good now. The water table remains up and will for a few days.

Today will be a perfect day to hike.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Morning Frost Ponca Access

Winter photography is not as austere as it looks. There are plenty of subjects, I like to shoot frost as well as frost flowers or frost blossoms. Even though today was on the warm side, there was delicate frost to photograph.

To get these pictures, you need a cold night and to shoot early, before 9 AM most days.

Taking pictures of frost is good practice for wildflower photography. To get the best pictures you must control your exposure to avoid blowing out details. Preserving texture in flower petals is all about focus and exposure, and it is fundamental to great flower photography. Shooting in raw and underexposing a bit are good starting points.

Shot in Raw, Exposure Adjusted in Post

1/1/14 Elk Herd Location Map

Elk showed up for new years day.  With the exception of an all bull herd just north of the mill pond, the elk were near the Buffalo River in the south end, and again in the deep south end past the trailhead.

No otter today when I was around the pond, but there is no reason to believe they are not there for a stay. There are a lot of fish in the pond, and the river is running relatively hard and has less fish. I would definitely check for otter in the pond in any visit to the valley. There has been an eagle hanging out around the mill pond as well recently.