Before Pictures: A Photography Journey

July 4, 2022

Before I started taking pictures, there was so much I didn’t know about the world outside my own front door. I didn’t know that dragonflies came in a rainbow of colors, that turtles shed parts of their shells, or that we had cuckoos in Michigan! I didn’t know that cedar waxwings could get drunk eating fermented berries, or that great blue herons would stay here throughout our cold Michigan winters. My enlightenment all started with a Christmas wish.

A brown, white and yellow Widow Skimmer dragonfly

In the Fall of 2013, my husband, Mel, started asking me what I wanted for Christmas. I gave his question a good deal of thought and came up with the idea that I’d like to have a better camera. All I had was a pocket-sized Canon PowerShot– a lightweight and easy to carry camera with very limited capabilities.

Michigan’s Black-billed Cuckoo
A Great Blue Heron that decided to stay in Michigan for the winter!

Once I told Mel what I wanted, he went to work doing the research and came up with a bigger, better version of the Canon PowerShot that he thought might work. I loved it– and ultimately, dubbed it my “gateway drug”.

Eastern Kingbird babies hoping for lunch!
A giant snapping turtle taking a break on a very hot day!

I happily used that camera on and off for the next three and a half years; taking the usual family photos and typical vacation shots. It wasn’t until we went to Florida in 2016 for our first extended stay that my addiction to nature photography really kicked in. There were so many rookeries, sanctuaries and preserves with new and unusual birds, mammals, and reptiles that I had absolutely no trouble feeding my ‘habit’!

Florida alligator taking a siesta

Eventually though, I started wanting more. I wanted a camera with a faster response time so that the bird on the limb would still be there once I pressed down the shutter button. I wanted to get pictures of the birds and butterflies that were farther and farther away, and I wanted sharper images. Mel went back to work looking for a camera that would do all those things—without causing us to re-finance our home! By July of 2017, I had my new camera, a Nikon D3400 and a detachable 70-300mm zoom lens. I was back in business!

A bright-eyed Yellow Warbler
Common Yellowthroat

At some point along the way, Mel decided to take up his photography hobby again and assumed ownership of my D3400 after finding me a Nikon D5600 to take its place. We were both hooked!

Spiny Softshell Turtle

I loved all the beautiful pictures I could get with my D5600 and the 70-300mm lens, but there were birds and butterflies still out of reach that I wanted to capture! After a bit of research, Mel thought that a Sigma 150-600mm lens might do the trick. I was well aware of the size and weight of this lens based on what I had read, but when it actually arrived, I thought “What on earth have I done??” It looked huge! It felt heavier than I expected and I had serious reservations about my ability to carry it around for hours on end. But, I really, really wanted to take ‘far away pictures’ so off I went, camera and lens in hand.

The BIG lens!

I used that set up for a year or so before my back started telling me that it might be better to add a monopod to my camera in order to support all that weight when I stood for hours taking pictures. Adding a monopod would mean I’d have a little more weight to carry as I walked along, but I wouldn’t have to hold the camera up to my eye unsupported as I patiently waited for the ‘perfect shot’ or tried to pan the movement of a bird in flight. My back has thanked me many, many times over.

Taking pictures using the camera mounted on a monopod– a good back-saver

I used the Nikon D5600 for two or three years along with the 150-600mm lens before totally exceeding the picture expectancy of my camera with over 100,000 shots!! I decided to trade it in for a Nikon D500, a camera that was highly rated for nature photography and has totally lived up to that assessment!

Blanding’s Turtle
Barn Swallow

Before taking pictures, I had already loved going on nature walks– but there was so much I didn’t see! With my camera in hand the world suddenly opened up!! I paid more attention.  I noticed things I had never noticed before– like the subtle movement of a blade of grass that might mean a dragonfly had landed, or the tiny ‘bump’ at the top of a long-dead tree that might mean a hummingbird was resting; or the infinitesimal speck of blue on a shiny green leaf that might mean a damselfly was nearby.

Hagen’s Bluet Damselfy

All of those creatures had been there all along, but I never saw them —until I started taking pictures!

Colorado Rocky Mountain High

Mel and I have just returned from a vacation in Colorado where we both enjoyed pursuing our passions—fly fishing for him, nature photography for me.

August 28-29

Hitchcock Nature Center, Honey Creek, Iowa

Our four day, twelve hundred mile car journey from Michigan to Colorado took us through the states of  Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska. According to Google Maps, it’s only a 16 hour journey— that is if you don’t stop to sleep or eat or go to the bathroom! We did all of the aforementioned, plus took a side trip to Honey Creek Iowa where we spent two days in a cozy little cabin on the grounds of the Hitchcock Nature Center. While at the nature center, we took pictures walks along the  Fox Ridge Run Trail and the Boardwalk Trail.

Great Spangled Fritillary on Field Thistle

August 30- September 2

Ft. Collins, Colorado

From Honey Creek, Iowa we headed through Nebraska to Fort Collins, our first Colorado destination.

Fort Collins is well known for its excellent fly fishing opportunities and a multitude of natural areas to explore. Over the course of our stay in Fort Collins, Mel went fishing several places along the Cache La Poudre River, while I took picture walks along the Hewlett Gulch Trail, the Fossil Creek Reservoir (twice) and at the Colorado State University Annual Trial Flower Garden. Mel joined me for picture walks on one of my visits to the reservoir and at the university flower garden.

Cache La Poudre River where Mel was fishing
(He took this picture while he was fishing and you can see the tip of his rod in the lower right corner.)
I was surprised to find White Pelicans in Colorado!
This one, as well as hundreds of others were hanging out at the Fossil Creek Reservoir in Fort Collins
Red-legged Grasshopper– one of hundreds at the Fossil Creek Reservoir
Barn Swallows waiting to be fed!
Fossil Creek Reservoir is a huge tract of land! That’s me in the lower left corner!

Beautiful flowers and butterflies from the Colorado State Annual Trial Garden…

Painted Lady butterfly

September 3-5

Estes Park, Colorado

As soon as we arrived in Estes Park, Mel headed to the fishing shops and I headed out looking for pictures to take. Surprisingly, the Knoll-Willows Nature Preserve is right in town and only a stone’s throw from where we parked! Within a minute or so of commencing my walk, I spotted a huge bull elk lounging in the underbrush along the edge of the preserve! A little farther down the sidewalk, were several of his girlfriends. Apparently, elk are a very common sight right in Estes Park!

Bull Elk lounging around right in downtown Estes Park!
Hmmm. No dogs allowed. What’s up with that??
“Hey, good lookin’, what’s cookin’?”

In front of the Visitor’s Center at Estes Park, the Hummingbird Moths and the Hummingbirds were a delight to watch…

Sunset in the Rocky Mountains
California Poppy

September 5, 2019

Rocky Mountain National Park to Steamboat Springs

We spent the day driving through the scenic, breathtaking Rocky Mountain National Park to reach our second Colorado destination, Steamboat Springs. Mel and I stopped several times through the mountain route to take in all the spectacular views– but I never took any scenery pictures (they tend to be disappointing compared to the real thing), preferring instead to look for the smaller things like birds and butterflies and mammals.

Clark’s Nutcracker
(Clark’s Nutcrackers are mainly found in mountains at altitudes of 3,000–12,900 ft in conifer forests.)
Gold-mantled Ground Squirrel in the Rocky Mountains
This little critter looks a lot like a chipmunk but is much bigger– kind of like a chipmunk on steroids!

September 5-9

Steamboat Springs, Colorado

While Mel went fishing in the Yampa River, I went walking along the Yampa River Trail, a 7.5 mile multi-use trail that runs through the heart of Steamboat Springs and along the Yampa River. Along that trail, I found other points of interest like the Rotary Park Boardwalk and the Yampa Botanic Park, both of which were wonderful places for a quiet retreat as well as multiple picture opportunities.

Yampa River
Black-billed Magpie along the Yampa River Trail
Coronis Fritillary (I think) on coneflower

On one of the days that Mel didn’t go fishing, we took a drive up to Fish Creek Falls together for a picture walk and later spent hours at the Yampa Botanic Garden taking pictures of all the beautiful flowers, birds and visiting insects.

White-lined Sphinx Moth (or Hummingbird Moth) in the Yampa Botanic Garden
Townsend’s Warbler up near Fish Creek Falls

Stunning flowers from the Yampa Botanic Garden…

Mel fishing the Yampa River

September 9-12

Colorado Springs, Colorado

Colorado Springs was our last destination in Colorado and we made the best of the time we had. As soon as we arrived on the afternoon of the 9th, we went for a picture walk in Palmer Park on a trail that turned out to be rockier and slipperier than we expected. Not many pictures got taken—we were too busy watching our footing!

Cassin’s Vireo (I think)
One of the few pictures I took at Palmer Park because I was too busy watching my footing!

The following morning we headed out to the Garden of the Gods, which is known for its enormous, awe-inspiring geologic formations, including tall rock spires or hoodoos, and steep cliffs. It’s a major tourist attraction and well worth the visit.

Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs
Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs
Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs

After our visit to Garden of the Gods, Mel dropped me off at the Bear Creek Nature Center to take pictures all afternoon while he explored the fishing shops, bookstores and coffee shops around Colorado Springs.

Rock Wren at Bear Creek Nature Center

On Wednesday, our last full day in Colorado, Mel dropped me off at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo where I spent a delightful five and a half hours taking almost 800 pictures of the zoo animals and of the native birds that were flitting about in the nearby trees!

Baby Wallaby in his mama’s pouch– one of my favorite pictures from the zoo
This baby wallaby is around 7 months old and barely fits in the pouch anymore!
Here you see his head and legs sticking out!
Mom and baby wallaby hanging out together
The Wallaby baby hopped around for a few minutes before scurrying back to the safety of his mother’s pouch.

The meerkats were great fun to watch. They are both curious and comical!

“What’s up, buttercup??”
The meerkat on the right walked into the scene, laid down and decided to strike this rather suggestive pose!
Their antics were so much fun to watch!
Moose
I had been hoping to see a moose in the wild in Colorado, but this is the closest I got!
Parakeets in the Budgie House at the zoo.
Okapi
Also known as the forest giraffe, Congolese giraffe, or zebra giraffe, native to Africa.
A young warthog (native of Africa)
Red River Hog– native of Africa

The best part of going on vacation, besides getting away from every day routines, is finding things I’ve never seen before (and taking pictures!), eating things I’ve never tried before and meeting new people I’ve never met before.