nature photography

Spring bird migration from Montana - the birds this year were flighty!

The spring bird migration in Montana has been literally, flighty. Birds came and left so fast this year if you were not in the field waiting, you missed it. The numbers, as far as I can tell are down too. While I do have a Masters Degree in Science, my counts were not scientific, purely anecdotal and based on my 15 our so years of watching the spring bird migration along Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front. I’m sure there’s a reason the birds were quick and more elusive this year, but I can only speculate.

A cloud of mostly snow geese, with a few ducks mixed. © Tony Bynum

A cloud of mostly snow geese, with a few ducks mixed. © Tony Bynum

Three white snow geese landing in a farm field, in what looks like an orchestrated ballet. ©Tony Bynum

Three white snow geese landing in a farm field, in what looks like an orchestrated ballet. ©Tony Bynum

Where did the ducks and geese go?

I have to admit, I’m not a “birder,” or even a hard core duck guy. I don’t study the numbers and I’m not watching scientific trends as some of my more ardent waterfowling friends do. I like to photograph ducks and I’ve always like the idea that good ducks populations means good habitat, and good duck habitat is good for everything. Today, there are many variables that could affect ducks populations and their habits.

Montana winters are cold, but this past February was cold even by central Alaska standards. Parts of Montana had a February average temperature of minus one degree fahrenheit! We had low’s in the negative 40 range and weeks where we never broke zero. All of this culminated in one of the deepest freezes we’ve seen in recent memory. The earth froze deeper than usual, and the lake ice thicker than average.

Canada Geese with thick ice caked on their backs from the extreme cold. Photographed at minus 40 degrees f. © Tony Bynum

Canada Geese with thick ice caked on their backs from the extreme cold. Photographed at minus 40 degrees f. © Tony Bynum

This year when the first big wave of birds arrived, all the water was frozen, except for a few stream sections on the Missouri River. The bird’s major spring resting spot, Freezeout Lake Wildlife Management Area saw foot thick ice still by mid March!

Thousands of snow geese lift off and leave the area. © Tony Bynum

Thousands of snow geese lift off and leave the area. © Tony Bynum

The birds arrived, sat on the ice and scavenged for crumbs in the surrounding farm fields but soon tired of sitting on ice and digging through snow so they left. Where exactly they went is a good question but I’m sure it was north where temperatures were not as cold nor did they last for as long. Maybe there was open water up north? I don’t know.

Video - Spring Northern Pintail Ducks in Montana

In any event, as the video shows, I photographed migrating northern pintails, snow geese, swans - tundra and trumpeter - along with a few other puddle ducks for a couple days while their numbers peaked. I hope many of them flew through, because if that was the big pintail migration this year, we’re missing thousands of birds!

Several photographers sitting among the frozen cattails. A few birds can be seen behind them distorted by the thick ground fog. © Tony Bynum

Several photographers sitting among the frozen cattails. A few birds can be seen behind them distorted by the thick ground fog. © Tony Bynum

In the meantime, while I wait to see if any more birds arrive, here are some photographs of those migrating waterfowl taken from several locations around central Montana.

Enjoy.

If you are interested in purchasing any prints you can visit my prints page here (scroll down to the bottom of the images to see recent waterfowl images: Tony Bynum Nature Photography Prints.


UPDATE BELOW - APRIL 4TH, 2019

Update April 4, 2019 - April warming temperatures, fewer ducks but more variety. Warmer temperatures and longer days brought new ducks to Montana. The pintails have mostly left but more wigeon, mallards, snow geese, and red headed ducks arrived. My last visit to the duck marshes along the Rocky Mountain Front in Montana was April 4. It was 55 degrees with a strong south west wind. The south west wind usually helps birds to fly north. On this day, the morning shoot was great but by noon there were almost no ducks. Most, I presume, headed north.

A “courtship” group of Mallard ducks lands in a prairie pond along the Rocky Mountain Front in Montana. © Tony Bynum

A “courtship” group of Mallard ducks lands in a prairie pond along the Rocky Mountain Front in Montana. © Tony Bynum

A group of drake Mallards, with on hen turns in the cloudless sky. © Tony Bynum

A group of drake Mallards, with on hen turns in the cloudless sky. © Tony Bynum

A group of wigeon ducks display their colors and their flight above a prairie pond along the Rocky Mountain Front, Montana. The lower in the center mass looks to be a Eurasian wigeon. © Tony Bynum

A group of wigeon ducks display their colors and their flight above a prairie pond along the Rocky Mountain Front, Montana. The lower in the center mass looks to be a Eurasian wigeon. © Tony Bynum

A group of Red-headed ducks with their classic red head and blue bill (breeding season) chasing a hen. © Tony Bynum

A group of Red-headed ducks with their classic red head and blue bill (breeding season) chasing a hen. © Tony Bynum

Three canada geese taking flight over a frozen pond along the Rocky Mountain Front, Montana. © Tony Bynum

Three canada geese taking flight over a frozen pond along the Rocky Mountain Front, Montana. © Tony Bynum

Is it Habitat, Clean Water, Climate Change, Over Harvest?

The simple and most likely answer is all of the above. But if we’re seeing lower numbers this year, what does it tell us about the past and what can it help us predict for the future? Probably a lot. I know bird numbers go up and down from one year to the next. But, it’s worth pondering the question, where did they go?

I’m worried about the proposed changes to the clean water act, and the definition of waters of the United States. I’m worried about what those changes might mean for habitat and water quality that the prairie ducks depend on. Some estimates are that half of the prairie pothole birds could be negatively impacted by a decision to remove them from the Clean Water Act. On the plus side, some say it’s a good decision since those ponds are not, on their surface connected to a river or steam. By removing clean water protections it will allow them to be filled, polluted, or otherwise discarded.

This article does good job of describing the issue with defining “waters of the US,” as it relates to the warmer waters of the everglades. EPA’s clean water rollback . . .

Closely related is water quantity and climate. In this great video below, duck hunters and conservationists from Arkansas tell us first hand about ducks, duck hunting and how things are changing in the south. This video is very worth watching.

The video itself does not explain, without question where the birds went or what is taking place in our environment. It does not conclude that climate is the culprit, but it is worth considering that people who care about ducks are seeing changes.

I don’t know what the future for ducks or water is for our country, or the world for that matter, but we have the power to make it whatever we want it to be. We all can get involved locally. Work on local environmental issues. In my personal life, I am involved. I also try to use less electricity, conserve water, in general, commit to being more aware of my “footprint.” What could others do? What could you do?

Podcast Hal Herring and Tony Bynum discuss photography and conservation

Podcast Hal Herring and Tony Bynum discuss photography and conservation

Podcast and blast tony bynum and hal herring talk about photography, conservation tony shares his secrets to great images and describes how he captured the "caveman" shot 

Montana Outdoor Photographers Interviewed

Montana Outdoor Photographers Interviewed

Interviews - Photographing wildlife in Glacier, birds in Montana, and Yellowstone Tours

Micro four thirds and 4k video - is it time to switch?

I've mentioned micro four thirds, aka "mirrorless," in previous posts. As fast and as far as technology has taken imagery, there still are trade-offs no matter the type of photography you choose. 35mm digital single lens reflex cameras (DSLR), along with crop sensor DSLR's are used by most outdoor photographers due to their size, availability, quality construction, quality lenses, and finally, price. I guess one could say, DSLR's today occupy the space on a graph where price and quality meet. Of course there are better cameras with bigger sensors that offer better results, but for most, me included, they are not important to my workflow.

Outdoor sports and adventure photographers, wildlife photographers, and journalists are always looking for smaller, lighter, faster tools, while maintaining a minimal level image and product quality. That minimum level for image quality is today still largely based on the demands of magazine publications i.e., print.  So, while I don't like to think I'm compromising on quality, I must in order to get my gear where I need to go - as mentioned, it's a balance between size and quality output. I use full frame Nikon cameras, and large aperture lenses when I'd prefer to use a 50 mega pixel back on a medium format camera resulting in even better files, but that's just not realistic for me, after all I'm a photographer first because I enjoy it!

Micro four thirds cameras offer that smaller size equivalent to DSLR's. But the image quality is still not there for print. I have not found a regular place in my professional photographic workflow (although I do own and use a Nikon AW-1 - a small, interchangeable lens camera - but that's for very specific purposes). The Nikon AW-1 while not a micro four thirds camera is a micro, mirrorless, interchangeable camera that fills a similar niche. The Nikon AW-1 is actually an eight to three ratio and not four thirds. I will go into more detail about this camera in a future post, but for now I'll get back to micro four thirds.

I've spent dozens of hours using the Panasonic Gh 3 and a good selection of prime as well as zoom lenses. For video, I doubt you can find a better set up, for the price, than the new Gh4. But for stills, mainly because I shoot a lot of low iso in low light, the micro four thirds, like the Gh3 still don't produce the quality of files I need for still photography.

I've heard people like Dan Cox say that micro four thirds are good enough for his work and I know there are other's that would agree. Just take a look at Dan's camera bag and read his blog posts about micro four thirds. I love the photo of his camera bag, makes me get scared of photography. In fairness, I like Dan, we are friends, so I'm not ripping on him, I'm pointing out that he's a fantastic, successful photographer and use's four thirds systems.  Here's the link to Dan's blog.

Simply put, imagine if you need the quality of a full size DSLR with wide aperture lenses and yet you have the occasion to use a smaller, lighter micro four thirds camera. If size and portability are part of the equation, packing two systems does not make any more sense than leaving the DSLR at home altogether. So, I'm not sure how it helps anyone in my business to support four thirds when it's only marginally useful and if you do any amount of travel, it's nearly useless to try to stuff both systems (or more) into your carry-on. . .  If you have a different view, or a real solution to this dilemma please share your thoughts by commenting below, we all would love to hear them.

On January 10, 2015, I'm not ready to change over to micro four thirds as my primary, commercial photography tool.  It's not time for me to switch, but it is time to take notice and work one into to my photography business more completely.

If you are interested in learning more about 4k video, and micro four thirds photography, the following video does a great job of showing the benefits of 4k and the weight and ergonomics of micro four thirds.  If you're a photographer and have been considering some video work, this video may help you make the move to owning at least one small micro four thirds camera system. 4k might well be the intersection of quality and price when it comes to high quality video.  I suggest you take a closer look.

Thank you for taking the time to visit my blog. If you're on social media, lets continue the learning and the discussion - twitter: @tonybynum, Instagram: @huntphotos, and Facebook: @Tony Bynum Photography

Photography Quotes - 10 photography quotes that you should read

Photography quotes help to remind us of the most important aspects of photography. I'm always trying to distill photography down to as simple a terms as I can. Having rules and remembering small anecdotes and quotes helps me stay focused. There is one quote that stands out to me, more than any other. I"ll share it with anyone that's inclined to ask me about photography. Here's is my favorite photography quote.

"The more you photograph, the more you realize what can be photographed and what can't be photographed. You just have to keep doing it." - Eliot Porter

 

hunting the rocky mountains (tony bynum/tonybynum.com tony bynum)

 (Tony Bynum)

Here's a list of 10 photography quotes, with author's, that I like. This list includes some quotes about capturing photos, while others are focused at the business of photography.

10. "There is only you and your camera. The limitations in your photography are in yourself, for what we see is what we are." - Ernst Haas

9. "It's more important to click with people than to click the shutter." - Alfred Eisenstaedt

8. "If I could tell the story in words, I wouldn't need to lug around a camera." - Lewis Hine

7.  "Light glorifies everything. It transforms and ennobles the most commonplace and ordinary subjects. The object is nothing, light is everything." - Leonard Missone

6.  "Look and think before opening the shutter. The heart and mind are the true lens of the camera." - Yousuf Karsh

5. "Sometimes you can tell a large story with a tiny subject." - Eliot Porter

4. "One should really use the camera as though tomorrow you'd be stricken blind. To live a visual life is an enormous undertaking, practically unattainable. I have only touched it, just touched it." - Dorothea Lange

3. "A photograph is usually looked at but seldom looked into." - Ansel Adams

2. "Photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place . . . I've found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them." -Elliot Erwitt

1. "The more you photograph, the more you realize what can be photographed and what can't be photographed. You just have to keep doing it." - Eliot Porter

If you have a quote you like, post it, with the authors name, and tell us why it resonates with you.

Tony Bynum