The Good and the Ugly – A Wisconsin Twofor

Been a little hesitant to make another post after the blistering I took for the less that tack sharp images from the previous post.  This was mainly due to a few of the following shots being a little bit off as well.. hey, let’s go with the “style” excuse.  Actually, there is a reason for the ones below that are less than crispy.  All of these are flight shots taken while hand holding The Beast.  I’ve been working out but it’s going to take some extra reps and protein before I’ll feel comfortable chasing birds across the sky with an 8 pound glass.  I also have not committed to limiting the travel of the glass so once it focuses off the bird it is burden to get it back on target.  This isn’t so much an excuse as it is a celebration of success when one hits the tin in decent condition.  All in all, the following set isn’t that bad .. not gallery potential.. but still worth posting.

Today’s set features not one, but TWO birds and not those tiny Finch types.  When these fly over your head you take notice and every critter under 3 pounds has a near heart attack.  Although, if it isn’t already dead or prefer the water, these two birds are probably going to leave it alone.  One is a majestic bird of grace and color (the good) and one makes you wonder if they were designed by Wes Craven (the ugly).  Both were taken at Devil’s lake near Baraboo, Wisconsin.

First out of the gate is the Blue Heron.  This is not an unfamiliar bird to the blog (see here) and that is because it is one of my favorite shooting targets.  They are interesting to look at and have the photo friendly trait of remaining motionless for long periods of times – perfect for longer exposures when you want to push the ISO down as much as possible.  When we arrived at Devil’s Lake, we really didn’t see a lot of birds in the water (correction.. didn’t see ANY birds in the water) which was not the way I wanted to start the Wisconsin vacation.  The large rocks around the lake made a really nice setting.  So much that Linda decided she wanted to take a few shots of her for the business site.  With the longer glass I was standing back a ways to take the shots when all of a sudden a Heron landed on a rock about 20 feet from where Linda was sitting.   I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing – we were just about the only ones in the area with plenty of more solitaire places all around the lake.  The camera settings were manually configured for portrait mode which didn’t lend itself to bird shots.  By the time I got everything adjusted, the Heron took flight again.

The battle was on to keep the glass on the bird while it gathered air under its long wings.  There is one thing more enjoyable to watch than a Heron on the ground stalking dinner and that is a Heron taking flight.  Those long wings fold out, the neck curves back and those feet come together to complete the aerodynamics.  From afar, those legs are often mistaken for long tail feathers.  Every time I see one of these creatures sailing through the air I immediately think of my early school years when they taught us about the Pterodactylus .. my favorite member of the Jurassic Period (and probably the early seeding of my desire to become an archeologist) – editors note: I am still bitter of being taught the lie of the Brontosaurus .. I also want my planet Pluto back but I’ll save that rant for another time.

Here is another shot of the bird.  I was doing my best to pan along the flight path trying to keep the single focus point on the bird’s eye – thank god for Rear Focus allowing me to keep the focus where I wanted it.  The raised tips at the extent of both wings give a nice composition.  Not sure if I like the sand coming into the frame yet, but I was at the mercy of the bird’s flightpath.

Hit the jump to read more about the Heron and the bonus bird.

I went ahead and threw the following shot in just because it had an interesting alignment of angles – the angle of the foreground rock gives a nice balance to the takeoff angle of the bird.  I know it isn’t tack sharp, but Linda was literally sitting on that foreground rock so you can tell how close this sighting was.  Apparently I had not fully turned up the shutter speed yet – practice practice practice – it’s tough to get the exposure triangle right on the fly – Quick ISO button on back, aperture on the front dial and shutter speed on the back dial and then the focus spot manipulation on the thumb pad – the viewfinder LED meter is my lifeline.

Those easily frightened should probably consider ending the read about now or making sure the lights are on bright.  It’s time for the ugly and we do not want to be a catalyst for any therapy sessions.  I am not sure if I’m just looking up more these days due to all the photography work, but I swear there is an explosion of these birds everywhere we go.  It is a rare day when you can drive more than 5 miles around here without seeing one of the following birds spinning circles in the sky.  Turns out, these birds are pretty common in Wisconsin as well.

If you are still here (and haven’t left the room in fright) you might be relieved to know you have nothing to fear from these birds.  When they come for you really won’t care anymore – trust me.  What we have here is a Turkey Vulture and like the Heron, not a new bird to the blog (see here – you’ll need to scroll down a bit).  Short of the Condors and that butt ugly King Vulture, this has to be one of the ugliest birds in the sky.  Wait, let me clarify that a bit.  They really don’t look that bad when they are in flight thanks to their awesome wingspan and ability to simply float in the air spinning nearly perfect circles.  Now when they land and you get a good view of their head and body structure you quickly look for a bucket.

The interesting thing about these shots is they were taken at nearly eye level giving a unique perspective since they tend to take a high fly pattern while looking for carrion.  Since I couldn’t get them to fly lower, we opted to go up to them.  The bugs drove us out of the lower lake area to the cliff trail.  If you listen close you can still hear Linda complaining about me trying to kill here ONCE AGAIN!  She acts like I secretly go to these places without here, find the steepest and rockiest trails I can find, return with her and deviously trick her into taking it.  For the record (and any future police inquiries .. this is definitely not the case).  This trail did have some steep parts, but once on top of the cliffs it was a nice trail with many overlooks and bird watching opportunities.  You might want to keep to the far side of the trail if you have a fear of heights, there are a number of places where a slip may give these birds dinner for a week.  I fit into this category usually if there is nothing above my knees between me and the edge.  This has lessened some after helping to build my house but no need to take any unnecessary chances.  Once on top you could see the vultures streaking by either at eye level or lower.  My U.B. decided to hang out further down the path so it was up to me to find a good shooting location and get the gear in place (this will be extending her responsibilities at least another two months regardless of who wins the competition this year.  The spot I selected allowed me to lay down on an outcropping and use the rocks to rest the glass on (with my hand between it of course).  With the trees to the left and right my pan angle gave me about 30 degrees to find, focus and shoot the bird as it passed through.  That reads a lot easier than reality.  Vulture after vulture would pass through the field and glide out of range before even having a chance to take one single shot.  They were keeping about a 75′ distance from the rocks which gave a great viewing with the naked eye but a lightning flash through the viewfinder.  It was great practice (about 40 minutes of it) and one or two actually came out pretty nice.

Of all the Vulture shots, the following one has to be my favorite.  It isn’t often you can capture a Turkey Vulture in flight from ABOVE and the detail in the wings came out really nice.  The head and eye composition even put the viewer in the composition – it must have caught a glint off the glass as it soared by .. or there was a zombie approaching from behind me – where’s my UB!!!

If you are curious, this bird was named due to the head coloring an dark plumage similarities with the Wild Turkey.  Our friends over at Wikipedia indicate their wingspan can be in the 72″ range and clearly in the Least Concern classification for population.  Here’s a fact for the dinner table conversation – “Its primary form of defense is regurgitating semi-digested meat, a foul-smelling substance which deters most creatures intent on raiding a vulture nest” .  They also piss down their legs to kill bacteria accumulated from walking in carcasses.  Here is something I was not aware of – it is illegal to take, kill or own a Turkey Vulture – I have no idea what prompted that, but it is a benefit to have a species that takes care of dead animals for us.  Somewhere I read that the reason the head is not feathered is intelligent design to allow it to stay cleaner while digging around in carcass shells.  I’m sure you would have one of these birds as a pet if it wasn’t illegal … whose with me?  Damn the Man we want our Turkey Vulture Pets!  Oh, almost forgot, they are also referred to as Buzzards if you are more familiar with that term.

.. by the way, I am not sure if they are more intelligent than I am or not, but it is unsettling when they are circling over my head while I’m out on training runs.

2 thoughts on “The Good and the Ugly – A Wisconsin Twofor”

  1. Nice pictures! Not blurry at all at the sizes represented here. The very first Great Blue Heron photo is the best, I think. In the first picture of the vulture, I wonder if it would emphasize the sweep of the wings if you were to crop the picture into a long horizontal window just containing the bird and the amount of background on the left end as currently on the right. The photo from above the vulture is very unique and impressive.

    I thought Linda already won this year’s competition and had handed the U.B. mantle to you?! I already told Eilish you had to get an extension on the umbrella handle. In particular, that’s what I thought when Linda directed you to take photos of her, which I note you failed completely at doing.

    Nice photos of these large birds, and the one from above shows the effort you made to capture it. An American Kestral was circling the kittens when we had them outside Sunday afternoon, going kwii-kwii-kwii and coming alarmingly close to them until we brought them inside. It did not escape me that there is opportunity to exploit here in the larger interests of bird photography. 🙂



  2. First of all I DID not fail to get the picture of Linda – through great skill I was able to get both the bird shot AND her website picture! B&W here – and a further shot where she is showing off the glass she doesn’t even use – Second, there would be no need for an extension on the umbrella if I had actually lost .. which I didn’t.

    Third.. any chance I can borrow one of the tiny cats next time I go shooting eagles in Davenport?


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