Photo of the Week – February 16, 2018

Long-time readers of this blog know that I occasionally ask readers to tell me which of two similar photos they like best.  Usually, I don’t really have a favorite, and am struggling to decide which of two nearly identical compositions is better.  Or if I do have a favorite, I don’t say so, in order to not bias the results.

In this case, I have a clear favorite, but no one around here seems to agree with me, so I’m turning to you to prove that I’m right.  Don’t let me down…

Here are the two photos.  Both show a tiny backlit feather atop a prairie plant at Lincoln Creek Prairie here in Aurora.  The photos were taken last month.  That last part is completely immaterial to the choice, but I mention it because my word count on this post seems a little low otherwise.

Photo number 1.
Photo number 2.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy with both images.  But the second one is better, right?  Sure, less of it is tack sharp, but it’s more graceful for its softness, and the way the feather leans with the breeze is more attractive than the more upright feather in photo number one.  Right??

If you have a strong opinion, you can vote here.

Thanks for your help on this.  I will adhere to the results of the poll, no matter which way they come back.

Photo of the Week – March 24, 2016

Early spring on the Platte River is crane season.  Every one of the half million or so birds in the mid-continent population of sandhill cranes spends a few weeks along Central Platte River each spring.  They roost overnight on the river and spend their days feeding in nearby cornfields, grasslands, and wetlands.  As we go about our outdoor work, there is a constant soundtrack of crane song in the background.  It could be worse.

Those who know me best understand that while I occasionally photograph wildlife, I’m really more about photographing little things like bugs and flowers.  I have quite a few photographs of sandhill cranes, but I get as much or more enjoyment out of photographing the small signs those cranes leave behind.  Plenty of great photographers, starting and ending with Mike Forsberg, spend lots of time each spring making great images of the birds themselves.  I don’t really feel compelled to compete with them.  Today, I present a photo essay on sandhill cranes that features exactly zero photographs of sandhill cranes.

Sandhill cranes spend significant time feeding and loafing in prairie wetlands like this one we restored from cropfield back in 1999. The cranes feed on invertebrates, and whatever else they can catch, but also spend a lot of time preening and socializing in these areas.
Sandhill cranes spend significant time feeding and loafing in prairie wetlands like this one we restored from cropfield back in 1999. The cranes feed on invertebrates, and whatever other small creatures they can catch, but also spend a lot of time preening and socializing in these areas.
Last week, as I walked along a low ridge between two wetland sloughs, nearly every sharp edge of the plants held a down feather, plucked - I assume - during some aggressive personal hygiene activity (preening).
Last week, as I walked along a low ridge between two wetland sloughs, nearly every sharp edge of the plants held a down feather, plucked – I assume – during some aggressive personal hygiene activity (preening).
Not all the down feathers ended up caught on plants. Some ended up splayed gracefully on the water's surface.
Not all the down feathers ended up caught on plants. Some ended up splayed gracefully on the water’s surface.
Among the most heavily-used wetlands on our properties this spring were some sloughs we excavated last last season on former crop land.
Among the most heavily-used wetlands on our properties this spring were some sloughs we excavated last last season on former crop land.
Sandhill crane tracks feature wide-splayed toes and lack the rear-pointing toe that perching birds have (cranes have a toe there, but it's so short it doesn't reach the ground).
Sandhill crane tracks feature wide-splayed toes and lack the rear-pointing toe prints seen in tracks of perching birds (cranes have a toe there, but it’s so short it doesn’t reach the ground).
Iron deposits in our soils rust where groundwater is high at times but low at others. We use that rusty red color to help us decide how deep to excavate. Cranes, in turn, mine that rusty soil and use it to stain their gray feathers for improved camouflage.
Iron deposits in our sandy soils rust at elevations where groundwater is high at times but low at others. We use that rusty red color to help us decide how deep to excavate our wetlands. Cranes, in turn, mine that rusty soil and use it to stain their gray feathers for improved camouflage – which is particularly important when they get to their nesting sites up north.
A close-up look at a crane feather forms a fascinatingly abstract image.
A close-up look at a crane feather forms a fascinatingly abstract image.
The beauty of cranes extends to the tip of every feather.
Feathers are simultaneously fragile and strong.  When the barbs separate, a bird can easily “repair” the situation by simply running its beak along the feather to reconnect the tiny hooked barbules that hold everything together.