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Longest-lived insect in North America – Periodical Cicadas

August 3rd, 2011 2 comments

From mid May to June, millions of Cicadas appeared in central Missouri. They are called “Periodical Cicadas.”

Here are some facts about these periodical cicadas.
The periodical cicada is a native North American species. It is the longest-lived insect in North America. They are widely distributed over the eastern half of the United States and occur nowhere else in the world.

It might have been a nuisance to some people. But their life story is simply amazing – spend 13 or 17 years underground as silent, solitary juveniles and emerge by the millions all at the same time. How do they survive such a long time underground? How do they know when to come out? How do they communicate with each other to emerge at the same time? So many are unknown to us.

For me, it was an impressive sight to see as millions of cicadas emerging from the ground and making such a loud sound all synchronized. It took several attempts to photograph their process of shedding skin. Apparently some were stronger than others. So some made it out of their skin in an hour so, but some never made it out. Also these cicadas were unbelievably loud that I had to use earplugs while photographing them.

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Categories: Insects, Photo Shooting Tags:

Three of a kind

November 30th, 2010 2 comments

 

After a successful evening with an adult red fox, I was itching to take more pictures of the fox family.  I moved my photo blind closer to the front of the den and left it there for a few days. Most animals wouldn’t care about a photo blind, but a wary animal like foxes know their environment very well. 

Of course,… things didn’t go as I planned. For the next two days, the fox kits were so wary that they didn’t even come out of the den.  As you can imagine, sitting in a photo blind for hours in a hot and humid day isn’t necessarily fun. 

The third day, I tried something different.  I sprayed myself with a scent eliminator and went into the blind well before sunrise.  The first hour I saw one kit poking its head out a few times.  The second hour I saw a second one and then a third one poke their head in and out of the den.  At last, the next hour, a magic happened.  All three of the kittens came out of the den at the same time. 

Startled at the sounds of camera shutter, they pointed their ears and looked straight into my direction. With a 600mm lens with 2x teleconverter, I decided to have more depth of field (f/stop) to get all of them in focus.  I set my f/stop at f/11 and sacrifice a shutter speed, as slow as 1/60sec.

With a new Canon 1D Mark IV, I was able to set ISO at 1600. Amazingly, this new Canon camera allowed ISO to go this high and still managed to produce sharp images.  How sharp? I made a 24×36 inches print and I could see every hair on them.

Categories: Photo Shooting, Wildlife Tags:

Prairie Birds

November 29th, 2010 1 comment

For several years some birds like Henslow’s Sparrow, Sedge Wren, and Upland Sandpiper had eluded me.  They are not the most striking-looking or the most interesting birds.  However, they are unique and important in the prairie ecosystem. 

In fact, Henslow’s Sparrow is on a watch list in many states including Missouri.  These birds spend most of their time hiding in grass and only in certain time of the year (and only if you’re lucky) you can hear their calls. 

Some photographers don’t get much excited about these birds or don’t have much desire to photograph them.  But as a conservation photographer, I feel it is my duty to document these birds and make people care and understand their importance.  

To find these birds, I have to learn to listen to their calls and watch for their movement in the prairie.  Both Henslow’s Sparrow and Sedge Wren pop up very quickly to perch on grasses or flowers.  My technique of getting close to these birds is to sit low and move slow. 

I was able to get close enough to this bird with my 600mm lens with 1.4x teleconverter.  One hot evening I spot an upland sandpiper perched on a fence post. I positioned myself directly below where the bird appeared.  

Categories: Birds, Photo Shooting, Wildlife Tags:

Prairie

November 15th, 2010 2 comments

Some people may think that prairie landscape is boring.  Some folks even teased me - “Did you see grass moving there?” 

Actually prairie is quite a sight to see, not to mention it plays a very important role in our ecosystem.  Many species including birds, insects, and plants depend on it.  Sadly, these precious grasslands are disappearing from our landscape. 

With a good amount of rain this year, flowers were thriving.  Grey-headed Coneflower and Prairie Blazing Star were blossomed as far as my eye could see.   I closed my eyes and took a deep breath of fresh air.  All I could hear was the sound of grass waving in the wind. 

One late evening thunderclouds approached from the west.  I scrambled for my wide angle lens, a polarizer filter, and a graduated neutral density filter.  The light was fading fast and I knew I had less than a few minutes to capture the scene.  In fact, I didn’t know what I had until I got home and really took a look at the image.  And it took my breath away.

Categories: Photo Shooting, Scenery Tags:

Last light on fox

October 8th, 2010 1 comment

With all wildlife subjects I’ve photographed, Red Fox is one of my all time favorites.  They are very smart and witty.  More often, they can outsmart me.  It doesn’t matter what I do to conceal myself.  The fox always knows that’s a foreign object.  

This spring I was fortunate enough to locate a fox’s den over the hill behind a residential home in the countryside.  The forest was very dense, so it was very difficult to get a good light and a fast shutter speed to freeze the movement. 

I put on my camouflage clothes and sat quietly against a tree. For hours as I waited, the fox didn’t come close enough.  Just as the sun was setting behind the hill, the female fox came back with food to feed her youngsters.  She sat over the hill covered with moss right in front of me.  The light was on her perfectly. 

I carefully rested my hand on the top of my lens in an attempt to stabilize any vibration – this technique is called long lens technique (or LLT).  The shutter speed was 1/10sec even with ISO setting at 1000 ISO – I could have gone higher with my camera ISO, but then I would have had to sacrifice details and add much noise in my image.  I held my breath as I pressed my shutter button.  I took eight shots, three of which were on focus.  The fox moved off quickly as soon as she spotted me.  But it was one of those incredible moments in my photography experiences.

Categories: Photo Shooting, Wildlife Tags:

Flowering Dogwood

September 30th, 2010 1 comment

After several sleepless nights because of my newborn baby, I was able to get out just in time to photograph these flowering Dogwood.  This Missouri state tree has such elegant flowers that I always wanted to produce good images of them.

I found that the Lake of the Ozark State Park located in Osage Beach always has a show of flowering Dogwood during springtime.  I arrived at the location well before sunrise and searched for a potential area, because I like to “really” spend time studying my subject to better understand it.  Normally, I would prefer to photograph flowers, especially white flowers like Dogwood, in overcast condition, but I decided to break my rule. Flowering Dogwood

I took this image at sunrise with a 70-200mm lens set a zoom at 150mm.  I framed it very carefully and waited until the light hit the top of the tree.

Flowering DogwoodAfter that I decided to try with a 600mm super telephoto lens (another 14 pounds to carry) to isolate the subject from the background.

Flowering DogwoodThis image was taken with my 17-40mm wide angle at 28mm.  I laid on my back pointing my lens straight up to the flowers with clear blue sky as the background.

Categories: Photo Shooting, Scenery Tags:

Sneaky Mink

December 30th, 2009 2 comments

I’ve wanted to photograph Mink ever since it had snuck up on me about 2 years ago.  It literally ran between my feet while I was sitting in my hiding spot.  Not only it was rare to spot a wild Mink, but also it was highly unlikely that this shy animal ran right towards me.

MinkA funny thing is that it always seems to have a mischievous grin on its face.

So, one day when a biologist informed me a spot where a Mink had been regularly spotted, I was quite excited about the chance to photograph them.

Many times (or most of times) successful capturing of wildlife images depend on how much you know about the species.  So I did my research trying to learn about their eating habits, living environments, etc. as much as possible.

The American Mink (Neovison vison) is a North American member of the Mustelidae family found in Canada and most of the United States.  It is related to Weasels, and Otters.  Just like their cousin, Otters, Minks are particularly fond of crayfish and spend most of time in the water searching for food.

As with any other wildlife, it wasn’t easy to photograph a Mink.  It moved quite fast and constantly between water and land.  In addition, its small body was well blended with the environment, which made it difficult to keep track while looking through my camera viewfinder.

After spending some time watching how Mink moved around, I found a temporary burrow or a tunnel, where it would carry the food in and out.  So, I sat and waited.  As I predicted, the Mink immerged from its burrow with surprise expression of its face.   I only had few seconds to capture this before it retreated back inside.Mink

With such a shy species like Mink, my choice of lens is a Canon 600mm with a 1..4X teleconverter.  I prefer ISO setting at 800, which gives me a shutter speed at 1/250 sec for the early morning light to stop any movement of the Mink.   If the light improves, I may change it to 400 ISO.  Most new digital cameras now have a good capability of high ISO.

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