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June 29, 2011 / hhsiegrist

Landscapes: Lakes

As a bird photographer living close to one of the biggest lakes in Switzerland I am also very fond of landscape photography involving lakes. Lake Neuchâtel, my “home ground”, gives a natural background to my bird photos but smaller lakes in the plain or higher up in the mountains give me a lot of inspiration.

Lake Neuchâtel lagoon:

In my wider surroundings there is a peaceful lake in a large peat bog up in the Jura mountains which is called Etang de la Gruère. The black water yields wonderful reflections

and lovely details

Higher up in the Swiss Alps you can find small lakes with the mountains as a photogenic backdrop.

Lake Ritom and the Gotthard mountain range:

Or a very small lake on Alp Flix:

OK, these are not the Great Lakes of North America but I find them quite charming and worthwhile for a picture.

More on http://hhsiegrist.zenfolio.com

June 12, 2011 / hhsiegrist

The Great Egret

The Great Egret (Ardea alba or Casmerodius albus) is a large bird that can be found all over the world close to water surfaces. It is not to be confused with the Snowy Egret (Egretta garzetta) which is smaller than the Great Egret and has a black bill whereas the adult Great Egret’s bill is yellow.

Although its sheer size helps with photography as the distance to the bird can be longer, taking good photographs requires patience (tell me where it doesn’t) and unobtrusive behaviour such as using a hide.

Great Egret on frozen Lake Neuchâtel

Stretching its wings

As can be seen very easily, the best season for taking pictures of this bird is from autumn to early spring, at least in central Europe. As from early summer the birds will leave to go breeding in eastern Europe. Some colonies can be found in eastern Austria.

A bird in late winter

It is encouraging to see that a species that had virtually disappeared for a long time in western Europe is finding its way back. New breeding colonies around here would be a success for nature conservation in our country.

More wildlife pictures at http://hhsiegrist.zenfolio.com

May 22, 2011 / hhsiegrist

Kites

There a two species of kites in Switzerland, one is the migratory Black Kite (Milvus migrans), the other one is the more sedentary Red Kite (Milvus milvus). Both species can be seen living close together and flying majestically in the blue summer skies. As I live close to a big lake I have a strong population of Black Kites in my surroundings which makes them a bit less hard to photograph.

As birds of prey, both species are extremely difficult to approach and the photographs one gets are mostly of flying birds such as this Red Kite:

or this Black Kite:

Occasionally, and when food plays a role in attracting these birds, photography can be made from a closer distance. “Close” meaning 20 to 30 metres as with this Black Kite:

The populations of both species have been increasing over the last few years which is encouraging. Hopefully this is not a temporary phenomenon.

Other pictures at http://hhsiegrist.zenfolio.com

May 13, 2011 / hhsiegrist

Small Birds

Small birds, especially passerines, are a real challenge to photograph. They cannot sit still while you focus and when you are ready they already have flown away to the next branch.

Again, one of the secrets is to draw their attention with what they like most, i.e. food. Having a bird feeder installed is, although not a guarantee, a way to increase the probability to get more chances to take pictures of these attractive animals. A good time to do this is the cold season as the birds may not have enough food anyway. Ornithologists are not so happy with this idea since they tend to recommend feeding only in the most extreme situations when birds would not survive without.

With the right equipment like a long lens and converters one is able to obtain close portraits of these small creatures such as a Greenfinch:

or a Blue Tit

or a Tree Sparrow bringing nesting material

With some luck (you know that’s one of the main ingredients for successful wildlife photography) even bigger birds come to visit the feeders such as this spotted woodpecker

A hide is not necessary but enough time to let the birds get accustomed to the photographer. Avoid rapid movements and much noise. The use of flashlight is possible as animals are generally much more sensitive to noise than to light. The failure rate in this type of wildlife photography is very high so do not expect too much from even a large series of frames. Five to ten percent “keepers” would be an enormous success. One in a hundred or less is more realistic.

That’s it for now. More pictures of small birds at http://hhsiegrist.zenfolio.com/

April 30, 2011 / hhsiegrist

Small water birds (ducks and the likes)

A favourite location for wildlife photographers are the shores of lakes and ponds where they can observe and, hopefully, photograph birds and other animals. Some of the birds that are not too difficult to take pictures of are the smaller water birds like ducks. I don’t think there is anyone remotely interested in nature who has not been intrigued by the most common species, the Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos). Males and females are strikingly different as it so often happens with birds. The males have to impress and the females to hide so that both have a chance to survive as a species.

Mallard drake

The female is less spectacular although at times it can show off, too:

But most of the time you find them in pairs, even in exceptional places as here in a public fountain in the centre of the city of Basel

But Mallards are not the only water bird species one runs into when photographing close to the water. Other species are the Goosander whom the Americans call Merganser (Mergus merganser). Here’s a male bird:

and his female who is much less colourful:

There’s also the Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus)

and the Common Coot (Fulica atra)

and many others, of course, some of them on my website http://hhsiegrist.zenfolio.com. The section of water birds is being completed all the time so come back frequently.

A technical note: many of these birds can be photographed using medium telephoto lenses as they are not shy at all. As usual, some food will attract them even more. Don’t hesitate to go out and try your luck.

Another tip: try to get as low as possible when taking your pictures. Eye level would be best, of course. If you detest crawling on your belly in a wet environment carry a sheet of solid plastic for insulation. A dustbin liner works very well for me.

April 24, 2011 / hhsiegrist

Praying Mantis

Although not an insect photographer I was thrilled when some friends invited me a couple of years ago to go and photograph Praying Mantis (Mantis religiosa) in an abandoned quarry in southern Germany. The spring day was very hot and the animals could be expected to be active.

I took my macro lens and a tripod (among a few other things, of course) and walked into the quarry which abounded with tall grasses and shrubs. It took some time to see the insects as they are protected by camouflage

As the animals are able to observe their surroundings attentively as can be seen by their turning their heads following the photographer, I soon abandoned the use of the tripod and followed them around the stems shooting handheld:

Some of them were mating and the difference in size between the male and the female is striking:

It seems that females devour their mates after the act but only in captivity. Here the male managed to get away quickly enough.

Some females were ready to lay their eggs as shown by their swollen abdomen:

By the way, the colour difference appears to be based on the colour of the environment where the insects moult. Close to the ground they are more brownish whereas up in the foliage they become bright green. That’s what someone told me that day and I had to believe it. But I found a reference confirming this theory, albeit an old one: http://pubs.esc-sec.ca/doi/pdf/10.4039/Ent76113-6

All photos in the following link: http://hhsiegrist.zenfolio.com/praying_mantis

April 22, 2011 / hhsiegrist

The Common Raven

The Common Raven (Corvus corax) is a large bird whose habitat spans the whole northern hemisphere of Eurasia and North America. One of its natural advantages is that it can feed on anything. The other advantage is its high intelligence which was proved by its independent ability to solve problems. Unfortunately, this property led in the Middle Ages to the accusation that it cooperates with evil forces whereas the same phenomenon was venerated by the North American indigenous peoples.

The difference between the somewhat smaller Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) and the Common Raven ist the latter’s larger bill and a lozenge-shaped tail. Another difference is the voice of the raven which is deeper and also more varied.

In Switzerland its preferred habitat, large forests bordering on wide open areas, has shrunk over the last decades so that the raven was forced to retreat to the mountains. You find it in large numbers in the Alps as well as in the higher regions of the Jura mountains. That’s where I managed to shoot my first portraits of this fascinating bird:

It is a gregarious animal and is very often found in groups and large flocks

An excellent flyer

is not afraid of attacking gleefully larger birds of prey like the White-tailed Sea Eagle:

Taking pictures of the Common Raven is not very easy. It takes a long telephoto lens, preferably a hide, a lot of patience and some food (carrion) to attract the birds. Only then you can record its natural beauty and elegance and observe its behaviour clearly showing the animal’s intelligence and social competence.

All pictures from my homepage http://hhsiegrist.zenfolio.com

April 19, 2011 / hhsiegrist

Grey Heron

The Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) is a very common bird living close to freshwater lakes and rivers in Europe. Its impressive size and attractive plumage make it a well worth subject for nature photographers.  The species is found all year round and nests in spring high up in tall trees. It is a close relative of the American Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias).

One of my favourite sites is a small island at the port of Auvernier about 30 metres from the shore of Lake Neuchâtel containing a small forest of poplar trees where Grey Herons are abundant:

http://static.panoramio.com/photos/original/2410954.jpg

With a lot of patience you will get the right position in the right light to find a statue-like bird posing for you in a tree

As a fisherman’s shed is quite close to the island they also wait for the catch to be prepared so that they can get at the scraps and fly away

In the reeds you will find them stalking for fish and other aquatic animals

Some flying pictures are also within reach if you are ready to shoot and your autofocus is quick enough

Grey herons are relatively easy to photograph if you can find a place where they flock and are not too shy in the presence of humans. Occasionally they visit zoos to help themselves from the food of other animals, too. As they are big enough, a medium telephoto lens is sufficient for frame filling pictures.

These and more pictures at http://hhsiegrist.zenfolio.com/grey_heron

April 17, 2011 / hhsiegrist

New Theme

Dear All

The old theme was not entirely satisfactory in that it did not show clearly enough some parts of my blog information. In my opinion the new theme is much better as the text type font appears more readable and the pictures are not crushed by an extremely coloured background.

Tell me what you think about it.

Cheers!

Hans

April 16, 2011 / hhsiegrist

Birds in Flight

Birds in flight are a special discipline in bird photography. It is a trial and error thing where the error rate is usually very high. Fortunately, modern cameras make things a bit easier with their highly efficient continuous autofocus modes but the rate of keepers is still lower than 10 percent.

Last Friday I was invited by birdwatching friends to join them on one of their birdwatching towers in the Fanel nature reserve on the south shore of Lake Neuchâtel (http://www.birdlife.ch/f/saugefanel.php). The distance for photographing sitting birds was too long (not a problem for the birdwatchers, though, with their big scopes) but the tower provided an excellent opportunity for making pictures of flying birds.

Yellow-legged Gulls (Larus michahellis) are just about everywhere and some of them showed off their elegance in the air:

There were also tremendous numbers of Red Crested Pochards (Netta rufina) occasionally taking off to explore a different part of the lake:

Another bird which occurs in high numbers is the Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) whose sworn enemies are the local fishermen as they consume large quantities of fish especially in the breeding season. Colonies of these bird can be found on the artificial islands in the lake from which they go on their fishing expeditions:

They also fly away in search of nesting material

and come back with some

Other flying birds found were Greylag Geese (Anser anser):

and, of course, the ubiquitous Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea)

Multipoint continuous autofocus is extremely helpful for photographing moving objects against the sky but gets easily confused when the flying birds are in front of a structured background. With some luck you can still get nice compositions like these two cormorants:

All in all, it turned out to be an excellent opportunity to share a day out with nice people and to practice, once more, one’s skills in this difficult discipline of wildlife photography.

As usual, all pictures at http://hhsiegrist.zenfolio.com

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