2016—Where There’s Smoke

The other day while driving home from Monitor Pass where we photographed the Arboglyphs (coming soon to this blog) I noticed what appeared to be a cloudy, orangey brown haze underneath the dark storm clouds that portended lightning, torrential rains, and hail.  After puzzling about the color for a few minutes, I realized the brown haze was smoke from a fire likely started by the lightning strikes of moments before and not clouds.  As we drove on Highway 89, I kept looking for the source of the smoke, never finding it and suddenly it disappeared entirely.  Then, while we waited at a road construction site unable to move for about 15 minutes, Bruce alerted me to the smoke’s presence behind us.  I have no idea how we passed it when it was clearly ahead of us.  Nor can I explain  why the truck is tilted so much and the tree is straight in the second shot.  At least it straightened a little when I photographed the smoke in one of the exterior rear view mirrors.  Finally a lone fire engine made its way past us heading to the fire.  Then, the road crew directed us forward and we never did see the actual fire, only its telltale smoke.

Fire 1-HDR-1Fire 2-HDR-1


Fire 3-HDR-1


2016— Summer Mountain Storm

On Thursday, I went on an adventure with my camera club buddy Bruce.  We drove all the way past Markleeville to Monitor Pass close to the Nevada border on Highway 89, almost 3 hours from Auburn, to photograph arboglyphs, which are sort of like petroglyphs but on trees instead of rocks and from just this past century, not from thousands of years ago.  The arboglyphs were etched into the bark of aspen trees by lonely sheepherders.   More on the arboglyphs in a future post.  We were compelled to leave…or maybe I should say I retreated to the truck…when the clouds darkened, lightening stuck nearby with thunderous clamor, and the rain and hail pelted us.  We were soaked through walking back to the truck just a few hundred feet away from the grove of aspens and in just a couple of minutes.   It was almost 4PM and it poured for at least 30 minutes as we drove along one of the bumpiest dirt roads I’ve ever traveled on back to HWY 89.  Hail covered the roadway and mud and rocks washed across one area of the road for at least 50 feet as the rain eroded the hillsides and lightning repeatedly struck the hills nearby.    I didn’t have my new lightning trigger with me so I couldn’t put it to the test but here’s a feel for the storm.  The temperature dropped from the mid 80’s earlier in the day to the mid 50’s, a welcome respite from the triple digit heat we knew we were returning to in a mere three of hours of driving back down to the valley.

I took the first shot right after I climbed back into the truck.  I had my camera set to bracketing so I merged three shots into an HDR image.  The second shot is another HDR image of hail on the highway with sheets of rain visible in front of the trees.  The third shot is the hazy mountains in the distance (we were at 8300 feet elevation) when the rain calmed enough for me to open the window of the truck and take a shot but the rain is still visible.


windshield rain-HDR-1




mountain haze-HDR-1

2016—The Feeder

I was cooking dinner and looked out to see whether I needed to refill the hummingbird feeders.  There was something odd about one of the feeder cups…something greenish,  that wasn’t a hummingbird, was on it.  On closer inspection, a praying mantis was perched there.   Of course I had to photograph it.  Despite the 106° temperature at 7 PM, there was the slightest hint of a breeze so the feeder was swaying just a bit.  I used my macro lens and the tripod with the lens set to f/16 for a greater depth of field, but the breeze kept it from being tack sharp.  I noticed the hummingbirds were not in evidence but I think praying mantises eat other bugs,  not hummingbirds and this mantis was not as big as a hummer.  I have had an ant problem on the feeders when I forget to fill the top receptacle with water and the yellow jackets have been hanging around them, too.  Maybe this mantis will take care of the ant and the yellow jacket problem.

praying mantis 2.jpg

2016—Morning Light

I was practicing focusing on the hummers again Monday morning with the speed light.  The male Anna’s hummer kept moving from twig to twig.  When he landed on this twig, the morning sunlight was perfect.   The speed light reached that far, probably thirty-five feet—I had to dust off my fading memory of the Pythagorean theorem to calculate that figure— and the speed light added just enough extra illumination to give definition to his body feathers without overpowering or looking too flashy.  But then there’s the telltale pinpoint in his eye.

Focal Length 850mm; Shutter Priority 1/160; f/5.6; ISO 400; high speed crop

Morning Anna's 1.jpg

2016—Introducing Mr. and Mrs….

A few weeks ago, I photographed the wedding of a dear friend, a promise I made several years ago.  I was flattered and honored that the bride asked me to document this once in a lifetime memory for her but I was worried and nervous about whether I could do it well. She was  aware that my primary interest in photography is birds (and sometimes frogs…she is a wildlife biologist who is partial to frogs) but she entrusted me with this most important of days and I wanted to do my best.   For me, it is much more stressful photographing people than birds or frogs so I was worried that I might not meet her expectations.  In the end, though, I discovered that my initial concerns were  unfounded.  The vast majority of the photographs turned out well. And, most importantly, the bride and groom are happy with them. 

Here, with the bride’s permission, are two of  my favorite photographs from the wedding.  Allow me to introduce the bride and groom,  Carly and Justin.

C&J fave copy.jpg

Walking away copy.jpg

2016—Howling Bristlecone Wolf

The texture of the bark of the ancient bristlecone pine trees in the White Mountains in Inyo National Forest is extraordinary.  These ancient, slow growing trees, some several thousands of years old, have very distinct features.  Most have trunks that are twisted and ridged, whorled and striated.  I was charmed by the look of this stump with its burned out center and broken off top.  Even at the time I took the photograph it reminded me of a wolf howling at the moon.

Howling Bristlecone Pine Wolf.jpg

2016—Black-chinned Hummer

I’ve long suspected that there might be more than one kind of hummingbird living here but despite the hundreds (probably more like thousands) of hummingbird photographs I’ve taken, I’ve never been able to definitively identify any in my yard except the Anna’s who live here year round.  Due to the unceasing vigilance that keeps the male Anna’s hummer the dominant bird in the yard,  I know when an interloper is near because I hear his squeaky alarm sound.   Usually, when another hummer flits near the fountain or lands at a feeder, the male Anna’s is quick to dive bomb the unwanted visitor and usually succeeds in forcing it out of the yard.   I always thought that the Anna’s hummer was chasing another Anna’s hummer off the feeder, either its mate (or former mate–they don’t mate for life) or just another Anna’s from the neighborhood.  But I have noticed that sometimes the hummer at the feeder has a slightly different look—taller, thinner neck, longer beak although the colors are almost the same and with females, without a colorful gorget, they are harder for me to identify.

Saturday morning, I had Big Bertha set up facing the feeders and had been photographing the male Anna’s hummer high up in a dead branch overseeing his territory.  I noticed a female at the feeder furthest from the male hummer.  I was surprised that the male Anna’s didn’t take action to chase the bird away but it gave me a few moments to take some shots.    As I looked at the shots, I just felt there was something different about this bird so I reviewed hummers in my Sibley Guide to Birds (first edition) and realized that the bird was in fact a different species:  a female Black-chinned Hummingbird.  Now I’m going to have to keep my eye out for a male of the species.  The identifying factor for me was the tiny cluster of white feathers behind the eye.  In the Anna’s, the white feathers are almost like an eyebrow.  And the female Black-chinned hummers don’t have a small patch of red under the beak like the female Anna’s do.  Now I’m going to have to go back through my humming bird photos and see which ones I may have misidentified.

The sun was harsh and in the first shot, I hadn’t set up to use my flash which would have helped the back lit situation.  But I eventually did set the flash up and I took the second shot, with the sun higher in the sky, about four hours later using shutter priority so I could get a faster shutter speed and freeze some of the wing movement.  You can tell I used flash in the second shot because of the pinpoint dot in the eye; in the first shot, you can actually zoom in and see the sky and the roof of my house reflected in the eye.  I’d love to get one of the birds in focus and in flight without the distracting (and “hand of man”) feeder looming in the background.  A goal for me to work on.  I’ve done it before, I know I can do it again.

Black chinned hummer female.jpg

Black chinned hummer 3


2016—Waning Gibbous

When I walked out to get the newspaper Thursday morning, I noticed the full moon as it was setting in the west.  Technically, the full moon was a couple of days ago so it is really a  waning gibbous moon.   By the way, gibbous, as it relates to the moon, means “having the observable illuminated part greater than a semicircle and less than a circle.”  The moon in the early morning (6 am-ish) light was a bit lackluster so I applied the dehazing filter in Adobe Camera Raw and that helped but I decided to convert it to black and white and it became a much more interesting shot in black and white.  The shadows of the redwood tree branches to the right make me think of fingers reaching toward the moon.

Focal Length 850mm (600mm lens + 1.4xTC); ISO 100; f/5.6; 1/1000; exposure compensation: -1/3; high speed crop

Full morning moon B&W.jpg

2016—I Feel Your Pain

Well, I can’t really feel her pain.  But I’m hoping to alleviate it just a little bit with some humor.   My dear friend Susan had surgery on the tip of her nose yesterday.  I sent her get well greetings using these images in a card so she’d know she wasn’t the only one with a funny-looking nose!  I’m happy to report that the surgery, which was not cosmetic, was successful and that her plastic surgeon did a great job so she won’t have to resort to wearing one of these silly noses or contacting Michael Jackson’s nose prosthesis  guy.

red nosecreepy mask nosegroucho nose