2016—Just Clouds

We spent Thursday night in Pampa, TX again and Friday morning took up the chase into southern Oklahoma.  We encountered several huge potential supercells but conditions changed often so we drove on to more promising storms.  We found out that the first storm we abandoned did produce a small, short-lived tornado but because the twister was in a high precipitation supercell, in which heavy rains surround tornadic activity and mostly obscure the funnel cloud, we likely wouldn’t have seen it anyway.  We did see a video of the tornado filmed by another storm chaser who is known to be dangerously daring and who drives much further into the storms than our chase team would allow.  The tornado formed, touched down, and dissipated in a few seconds so it is probable that even if I had been in a position to photograph it, I probably would have been looking away during the few seconds it was considered a tornado.

Throughout the day, we would pull over on a side road and watch the clouds gather, look ominous, then lose their tornado potential.  Then, after reviewing the various storm models, we’d take off again.  Even a couple of our “pit stops” were cut short so that we could race to the next potential location.  That didn’t dampen our spirits.  The chase itself is certainly a huge part of the appeal of storm chasing.  On this day, we encountered dozens of other chase vehicles and usually, when we stopped, we were not alone at our observation posts.

The weather changed abruptly from sun to clouds to gray skies to pounding rains to pummeling hail to thunder and lightning to clouds with blue skies and repeated this sequence again and again as the day wore on.  The storm clouds were spectacular and worth the chase just on their own.

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2016—Storm Chasing

On Thursday afternoon, we finally got a real taste of storm chasing.  We were in the Texas Panhandle waiting for a couple of storms in opposite directions to develop.  Late in the day the chase was on.  When Bob, one of our meteorologist guides, realized the storms were developing into major potential, he jumped onto the hood of the van so that his GoPro, up and running in a time lapse sequence in the windshield, could capture his enthusiasm.  Richard and I both captured it as well.

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As we drove in search of the best angle to view the storm, on-line  models and real time information guided our chase.  Chris, on the left, another staffer from Tempest Storms, and Bob, made predictions and guessed where to position ourselves, in consultation with the meteorologists on the other van.

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This storm had the potential for a twister but one did not materialize while we watched.  It did develop a bit of a rotation but only briefly and it was considered a super cell with heavy precipitation.  It was fascinating to watch the evolution of the cloud formations and the changing patterns.  I didn’t realize I had captured a cloud to cloud lightning bolt until I downloaded the  day’s photographs, seen in the second shot below.  None of these are particularly great shots but we had an exciting day buffeted by high winds us as we braced ourselves to photograph the storm and, pummeled by golf ball sized hail as we drove from one viewing spot to another.  There is the potential for more excitement tomorrow.

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2016—The Windmills Of Your Mind

The expansive plains of Oklahoma are dotted with seemingly countless wind farms that are home to rows of huge windmills.  A single blade is more than 150 feet in length.  I took some shots from the van as we traveled to our next potential storm center on a bright sunny Wednesday with some puffy clouds.  Before we left Oklahoma and entered the  Texas panhandle, we stopped at an abandoned farm house to explore photo opportunities.  I was captivated by the aging windmill, such a contrast to the sleek modern ones I’d photographed earlier.  It still worked but the blades creaked and groaned as they turned in the afternoon breeze.

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More Windmills

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2016—Stormy Weather

Tuesday’s thunderstorm storm reports, tornado watches, tornado warnings, and severe hail advisories teased us for about eleven hours as we drove from Pratt, Kansas to Wichita  to Emporia and north toward Manhattan and back.  At times, the rain was so heavy that visibility was dangerously hampered and lightning struck  uncomfortably close to the road we were driving on.  We drove mostly on back roads across what I envision as typical and flat Great Plains topography as the tornado possibilities appearing  on the computer screens in the van tantalized then dissipated.  We covered more than 400 miles on Tuesday, all in Kansan.  I didn’t take many photographs until late afternoon when the clouds billowed with promise.  I took most from the moving vehicle until we stopped and were buffeted by the high winds making it difficult to steady the camera.  As it got dark, we pulled off the highway and a couple of us tried to set up to take some lightning shots but no sooner had we set up tripods than the heavy rains reached us and we were forced to return to the van without any photographs.

The first shot below was taken from the moving van, the second when we stopped.

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2016—A Step Back In Time

We left Oklahoma City Monday morning with the knowledge that the day would be mostly a travel day.  Briefly, late in the afternoon, a few storm clouds teased us but dissipated before developing into anything.  Tuesday holds a strong possibility for storm activity.  We stopped for about a half hour or so in Ames, Oklahoma.  The highway runs through the center of Ames which has a US Post Office, an American Legion Post, a tiny War Memorial park, and several abandoned structures including two former service stations.  The broken windows, warped doors, and dusty remnants of a Texaco Service Station intrigued me.  I took the interior photograph through a large hole in the glass front window.  A large, weathered calendar is from 1991, about 25 years ago.  That doesn’t seem like a very long time ago but neglect has taken its toll on the building and its contents.  It is a step back in time.

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2016—Air To Air: Texas Style

We cut our Galveston visit short by a day because I was given the opportunity to get a ride  with Sandy McNabb, my friend Connie’s husband, in SHEEPDAWG, the SeaRey Amphibious airplane that Sandy built.  Sandy is a former fighter pilot and Wing Commander in the Texas Air National Guard and a retired United Airlines pilot as well.  And, as it turned out, I got to ride in SHEEPDAWG on Saturday evening and on Sunday afternoon before I had to leave to fly to Oklahoma City for my next adventure.  And, I even got to fly the plane!  I was a nervous wreck when I had the controls so I relinquished the stick to Sandy after about 10 minutes  so I could resume my efforts to photograph eagles and other flying birds.  What a thrill it was to taxi down the driveway into Lake  Conroe, skim over the water, lift off, and soar with the birds for a couple of hours.

We did what I’m calling “Air to Air: Texas Style.”  I wasn’t photographing one aircraft from another but I WAS photographing a flying subject from an aircraft so I think that counts.  Sandy is an excellent spotter of birds and is gracious and extremely accommodating to his passengers who are photographers.  Once he spotted a bald eagle, sitting in a tree or flying, he’d fly by over and over so I could try to get photographs.  It is not an easy task to focus on a bird, either flying or sitting in a tree, when you’re flying at close to 100 MPH with the canopy open, wind whipping, trying to find the bird in your viewfinder, then focusing.  At least with the Nikon D5’s 12 frames per second speed, I had some chance of getting a few successful shots. And I did.   But only a very few!  I had a great time and I’d love to try this again.  Even the flying part!!

Thanks to Connie, my trips were documented.  She stood on the balcony with her 800mm Canon lens and photographed us as Sandy flew at balcony level past the house.  Here are two of the shots I managed to get.  First, a flying eagle taken from above late Saturday afternoon.  I took the eagle sitting in the dead tree on Sunday afternoon but Sandy made about six or seven passes  by this eagle in that tree and I took a dozen shots at each pass.  This is the only acceptable shot of all.  Credit for the photos of me, Sandy, and SHEEPDAWG goes to Connie McNabb.  First, I’m getting a pre-flight briefing; second, I’m ready; third, flying; and fourth, I survived!

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PreFlight Briefing

Thumbs Up

 

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2016—A Cardinal Rule

Late Friday afternoon, Connie and I visited Boy Scout Woods on the Bolivar Peninsula near Galveston.  We saw very few birds.  We saw more birders than birds and the birds we did see were obscured by leaves and twigs and shadows.  As we walked back from one of the viewing platforms with no bird photographs from that site, Connie pointed out a lone cardinal, singing from the tip top of a dead branch.  The late afternoon sunlight was gorgeous on his cardinal feathers.  I have decided that a cardinal rule of bird photography is “when you least expect it, you’ll find the perfect bird shot.”

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2016—Galveston Wild Life

I’ve been in Galveston, Texas since Thursday morning and have taken thousands of photographs of birds, as I expected and planned to do, but Friday evening, as Connie and I drove back to our condo in Galveston following our second day of nonstop bird photography, we stopped at the Galveston seawall to photograph the colorful lighted Ferris wheel on the Pleasure Pier that juts out into the Gulf of Mexico.  I couldn’t resist putting into practice some of the ideas suggested by Jerry Berry at the last Place Camera Club meeting.  His ideas included using intentional camera movement as a way to add interest to a photograph, so I used it to depict the  wild life in Galveston.

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2016—Just Hangin’

It’s interesting to me how the hummers just seem to hang in the air, their feet just dangling.  I thought this series was interesting, especially the last one that captured the hummer “eliminating, ” to put it politely.  I was a bit further away from the feeder when I took these shots than I was when I took the photograph for yesterday’s post.  And, I used the high speed crop setting to get me closer without moving closer.

 

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2016—Who Wants To Lick The Beater?

I am a chocolate chip cookie purist.  That is to say, my preferred chocolate chip cookie, and the only kind I bake, is the Nestle’s Tollhouse Cookie recipe.  I grew up eating them, watching my mom bake them (dipping my finger in the dough when she wasn’t looking) and, once I learned how, I baked them myself.   The recipe that was originally printed on the bag called for half butter and half Crisco but years ago, the recipe changed to all butter…a decided improvement over an already sublime thing.   On a visit home, years after I moved away, I ran across a food diary I had kept when I was about 15 and in need of dropping a few pounds.  The diary contained only a single day’s food entries and that day’s log stopped before dinner.  It read:

Breakfast:  1 poached egg; 1 slice unbuttered toast; 1/2 grapefruit.
Lunch:  1/2 cup cottage cheese; sliced tomatoes; Ry-Krisp.
Snack:  13 chocolate chip cookies

I don’t remember keeping the diary (for it’s short lifespan) but at least then I recognized the futility of dieting in the face of a new batch of chocolate chip cookies.  I suppose there may be a correlation between my love of Nestle’s Toll House Cookies and my constant need to lose a few pounds but I haven’t baked any in years so for now, at least, something else is obviously to blame.  I volunteered to bring treats to the April meeting of the Placer Camera Club.  I found a recipe for Toll House Cookies made in a half sheet pan so that all the cookies are baked at once saving lots of time.   The recipe called for different kinds of chips so I added semi-sweet and white chocolate and butterscotch chips.  The jury is still out on whether this recipe will hold a candle to the original.   Now that they’re baked, I wish I’d put in all semi-sweet chocolate chips but I’m going to try not eating any so I’m telling myself it doesn’t matter.  I didn’t even sample the dough.

I did think to take some photographs, though, but not until I had finished mixing the dough.  I thought it might be a good idea to mix things up a little on my blog so readers won’t have to look at hummingbirds every day. And, with all my photography travels, I have taken thousands of photos, and my supply of blog-worthy photos is immense so I haven’t been relying on my daily Flickr challenge group for blog post ideas.   In fact, I have neglected that group so long they unceremoniously removed me for lack of participation. But while my focus of late has been on wildlife and nature,  I still enjoy other kinds of photography.  Don’t get me wrong.  These are not great photographs and I didn’t spend the time I should have to “style” the food.  But I think it’s a nice change of pace.  The finished cookie bar looks a bit darker than the usual chocolate chip cookie perhaps because I baked them a bit longer and I used dark brown sugar.  They smell good.  I hope they taste as good as they smell.

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2016—Trust?

The female hummer seems to be trusting me because she doesn’t immediately fly off when I approach the feeder with my camera when she is there.  She stayed at the feeder, eyeing me but keeping her feet on the perch, while I switched from High Speed Crop back to FX mode and walked closer to get this shot.  In the past, she would have left when I walked out the door, let alone when I approached the feeder.  I was only about 4 feet away from her when I took this.

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2016—Odd Hummer Behavior

The other day when I went out to take photos of the hummingbirds at midday, I noticed that the feeder that the female hummer had just vacated had what appeared to be a large brown leaf curled around the perch.  When I approached to remove whatever it was I was startled to see that the “leaf” was the hummingbird hanging upside down from the perch. I was so surprised that it was the hummer, and that it didn’t immediately fly off, that I didn’t step back far enough to compose and focus the shot properly.  I took 6 shots in 2 seconds (I could have gotten off 24 in that time if I’d been determined) and all of the shots are unfocused and ill-composed but I thought the behavior was so odd I wanted to share it.  I have never seen a hummingbird hanging upside down like this.  And, even though I was just a couple of feet away when I realized it was the bird and not a leaf, it didn’t move.

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A few minutes later, she flitted around the yard and appeared to be examining the dried leaves on the dead branch below.  Whether she was seeing webs or lichen or tiny bugs, I don’t know.  She even approached a rosebud and checked it out (for aphids?).

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When she perched at the feeders, she stayed longer than usual, oblivious to my presence, and seemed not to be extracting nectar but instead poking her beak into the various openings for what purpose, I don’t know.  In this shot, she is hunkered down with her beak pointing away from the tube leading to the nectar.

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2016—D5 Hummer

On Tuesday at noon, I had a few minutes before I had to leave for an appointment and because I’d seen one of the hummers at the feeder I decided to take the Nikon D5 outside for some hummer activity.  This is one of the first successful hummer shots I’ve taken with the D5.  The hummers haven’t been around much until today.  And, I think they’re nesting because their behavior today was very different from what I’ve witnessed in the past and, while I haven’t located the nest, I’m fairly certain I know which tree and about where in the tree the nest might be.  I took this shot with the 300mm lens with the 1.4x teleconverter attached.  I was sitting about 6 feet away from the feeder.  420mm focal length, ISO 640, f/5.6, 1/320 (handheld).  It was slightly overcast.  The only processing I did to this shot is the landscape preset adjustment I apply to all my photos.

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2016—Devil’s Falls

Devil’s Falls is a year-round water feature on Yankee Jim’s Road.  Here is a view of the falls, the taken at 86mm.  The sun was shining on one spot making a good exposure difficult so  I bracketed exposures (a first for me) and combined 5 exposures into one in Photoshop by stacking them.  I tried combining them into an HDR image but didn’t like the results.  It looked too unrealistic.

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2016—Fast Food

I originally decided against including this photograph when I posted egret photos from the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge because the subject matter might be offensive or repulsive to some.  But, in nature, survival of the fittest continues to prevail and this great egret was merely hungry.  It is just nature, after all.  This kind of scene airs on PBS’ “Nature” all the time.  The egret stood frozen as it stalked its prey moving through the deep grasses.  As I watched, it occurred to me that the vole was literally “fast” food for the great egret.  The egret managed to stop it, then quickly devoured the little creature.   It was high noon when I took this shot so the shadows are very stark and the photograph is contrasty but I think the subject matter makes this shot  fascinating.

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2016—White-fronted Geese

As it turns out, these white-fronted geese also have white rears.  Butt shots are not the kind of bird photographs I try for but these were Nikon D5 practice shots and since the faces of 3 of the 4 geese are visible, and the birds are in focus, I decided to post the shot.  I took these at the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge.

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2016—Fremont’s Tidy-tips

When we went to photograph the wildflowers in Bear Valley near Williams the other day, this fenced field greeted us at the start of the road off Highway 20.  These are masses of Fremont’s Tidy-tips, a pretty spring wildflower that grows in grasslands and has a lovely fragrance.  I took the closeups leaning over or poking my lens through the wire fence.

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2016—Old Sunset Rose And Friends

About 3 years ago, my brother John gave me a cutting from an old rose that graced the grounds at Sunset Line & Twine Co. in Petaluma.  When the plant closed and the building was sold, John took some rose cuttings from the many old rambling rose bushes there.   Until the rose finally bloomed for me, I didn’t know what color or shape the blooms would be and I didn’t remember what the rose looked like at Sunset. A little Internet sleuthing revealed that the rose is called “Veilchenblau,” a mauve hybrid multiflora rose cultivar and the best known violet rambler.  The cultivar was bred by Hermann Kiese in Germany in 1909.  The rose was probably planted at Sunset about 100 years ago.

I was thrilled to get the cutting but I let it languish, still in its original pot, a lone stick with a single leaf cluster barely hanging on.  I didn’t have much hope for it.   When my friend Honora came for a visit and saw the pathetic plant leaning against the fountain where it had managed to survive despite my negligence for months, she insisted on planting it in a proper pot.  After several months, a couple more leaf clusters grew.  Last year, the rose, a climber, sent out dozens of long branches covered with leaves but without a single flower.  That’s changing.  This year, the plant is once again covered with leaves but now there are hundreds of clusters of small rosebuds.  I can’t wait until they all open.  John tells me that this rose blooms once in the season but it looks like that one bloom will be a spectacular one.

Saturday, during the rain storm, I noticed a couple of the buds had opened so Sunday I went out to memorialize the plant’s first official bloom.  I noticed a hover fly feeding on the flower pollen but didn’t notice the second bug until I downloaded the photos.  The legs of both are covered in pollen.   This rose blossom is about one and a half inches in diameter.

I used my macro lens and attached the 1.4x teleconverter to it so I didn’t have to cram the lens right into the flower to get this close and the bugs stayed where they were.  Focal Length 150mm; ISO 1000; f/20; 1/80 second shutter speed.

 

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2016—Smokin’ Fast

I took this shot of the  road winding through Bear Valley from an overlook further up the road.  A few minutes after this red car entered my viewfinder, it drove past us.   I was happy that the car was red but sorry it wasn’t a hot sports car.  Still, the dust on the dirt and gravel road that it kicked up makes it appear to be traveling smokin’ fast.

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