A Cloudy Morning at Riverlands

December 15, 2015

Last evening, I completed a print for a client at Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary so I decided to deliver it this morning instead of going to the trouble of shipping it. I checked the forecast right before bed, and was delighted to see my favorite two words:  partly cloudy! I often get my best images in partly cloudy conditions as the light is soft and forgiving, yet strong enough for stop-action shutter speeds.

Joyce decided to join me on the trip so we were on the road by 5:45 A.M. and soon battling for lane space on the treacherous super-slab known as I-270. As we crept north in rush hour traffic, I was somewhat discouraged by the persistent coating of mist on my windshield. What happened to partly cloudy? As the morning awoke we realized the weather we were expecting was not meant to be. A quick check on the iPhone confirmed my fear — it would be cloudy for the rest of the morning.

Upon arrival, we parked at the Audubon Center, unloaded our gear and headed down to the Mississippi River bank in the cool mist. It didn’t take long to ascertain the morning’s flight pattern of the trumpeter swans that winter on the area. Each morning at Riverlands, depending mostly on wind direction, the huge swans select a preferred flight path to the agriculture fields where they breakfast. I always have my best luck when I can place myself somewhere along that flight path, which often crosses the area’s main road as it did this morning. This made it nice for Joyce because she could watch all of the action from the warmth of the 4Runner while I stood ready at my tripod to the rear of the vehicle.

It was almost an hour before the wind picked up and a pair of trumpeters crossed the road at my location. Although the sky was quite gray, the ambient light was sufficient to capture a nicely exposed image of the huge birds, America’s largest waterfowl. I should mention, for the benefit of the camera buffs who read this blog, I overexposed by 1.3 stops to avoid silhouetting the trumpeters against the gray sky.



A nice group of 10 trumpeter swans in flight. I was happy to see the complete head/face of every bird in this image. Often in a shot like this there will inevitably be two or three birds with their heads hidden behind the bodies of others. Perhaps I’m revealing too much about my obsessive personality in describing this capture.



In this image, I caught a group of trumpeters before they cleared the tree line. As I reviewed the image on the computer, I counted at least seven layers from foreground to background. Such layering, which we don’t always think about, at least consciously, can make an image more compelling. I was also pleased to see that the old farm house on the bluff over Alton, Illinois, found its way into the frame. Note to photographers: Although the previous two images were taken with an exposure compensation of + 1.3, this image was captured at – 2/3 due to the dark background.



My final shot from this morning was a group of giant Canada geese. Again, I was pleased to see a clear line of sight to every bird’s head in this tight group. Often I pass on geese as they flank my location but I couldn’t resist this group’s pleasing formation, lead bird and all.

By 10:00 A.M., as we were leaving the area, Joyce and I reflected on how a miserable morning could turn out so well, at least from the standpoint of wildlife photography. I’m not saying it couldn’t have been better but I’m not complaining!

Thanks for looking,


Email:  Natureframes@Rocketmail.Com

Gallery:  DannyBrownPhotography.Com




8 comments on “A Cloudy Morning at Riverlands”

  1. I think you had a very successful morning! The pictures are perfect to my eyes.

  2. From back to front, the line of six birds against the trees is almost a time-lapse image of a wing flap.

  3. Thanks for sharing your beautiful photography.

  4. Details the amount of planning and work that goes into wildlife photograph…that beautiful image just doen’t happen by itself! The main image has a lovely feel of silk to it (I can’t articulate it any better than that)…thank you for a glimpse into the “how”, which requires weather forecast, knowledge of the subject, and mastery over one’s instruments.

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