2016—And The Blizzard Continues

Tuesday morning was cold, breezy, and bright with no colorful sunrise. The birds, both snow geese and sandhill cranes, were elusive, probably resting on ponds in the restricted areas of the NWR.   Basque del Apache has many such ponds and large areas of the reserve are off limits to visitors.  After driving around the Loop we stopped at one area where a fairly large contingent of snow geese was assembled.  We waited and, mid morning, we were rewarded with another explosive blast off, even more incredible and thunderous than those we witnessed on Monday.

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2016—It’s Snowing Snow Geese

Nothing could fully prepare me for the spectacle of thousands of snow geese exploding en masse into the air and swirling around in a whirlwind of flapping wings and a cacophony of honks.   I was awestruck and was a silent observer of this spectacular pageant that replays over and over throughout the day.  We witnessed this at close range several times on Monday at Bosque del Apache NWR.  It was at once breathtaking and overwhelming.  I witnessed much of the show through the viewfinder of my camera each time we were lucky enough to be in the midst of this snow-like blizzard of birds. The long lens sees nothing but furiously flapping wings, honking beaks, and beady black eyes.  What a joy it was to experience this phenomenon.

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2016—Sunrise From The Flight Deck

We met at 5:15AM to drive to Bosque del Apache NWR for sunrise and to witness the “explosion” as thousands of snow geese rise up from the water to fly to their day time feeding ground.  The temperature was a balmy 50° at that hour and the sky was filled with clouds making for a potentially gorgeous background for the morning take-off. The bad thing was that the wind was brutal.  I’m not certain what the wind speed was out on the “Flight Deck,” a viewing platform that extends over the water’s edge, but the water was very choppy.   The wind was severe enough that I was afraid something would blow into my eyes so I removed my contact lenses in favor of eyeglasses to avoid a calamity in the midst of trying to photograph the morning’s event.    I had my 600mm with my Nikon D5 on a tripod to photograph the birds and my 18-35mm lens attached to my Nikon Df hanging from a strap so I could photograph the sunrise.   New Mexico sunrises are legendary.  I was not disappointed but the gorgeous colors and god beams disappeared within minutes and because the explosion of geese had already happened,  no birds appear in this shot.

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2016—Lesser Sandhill Crane

I’m visiting Bosque del Apache in New Mexico, part of the National Wildlife Refuge System, a national network of lands and waters set aside and managed for the benefit of wildlife habitat.  At Bosque, fields in the preserve are cultivated and  flooded in rotation to provide a critical stopover for migrating waterfowl. Thousands of sandhill cranes, geese and other waterfowl winter there each year but the numbers appear to be dwindling.  In the coming days, we’re hoping to see more birds and to capture the excitement of the “explosion” as thousands of cranes and snow geese take off en masse.

I had a rocky start on Saturday morning.   The early morning sunrise was a disaster for me as I fumbled with my tripod and gimbal head and didn’t get a single decent photograph.   After some coaching and straight talk from Moose, I got my equipment in order.  Later in the morning, and by paying attention to detail, I actually managed to grab focus on some cranes and keep them in focus and in the same relative position in the frame, avoiding birds flying out of the frame and preventing clipped wings and tails.  I’m determined to improve my technique and to increase the number of good shots I get.

This is a Lesser Sandhill Crane as it came in to forage in one of the Farm Field ponds.
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2016—Introducing Homer

I’ve decided to name the male Anna’s Hummingbird who tenaciously protects his territory and who has appeared so often in this blog.  I’m calling him Homer because, as one of my friends pointed out, a hummer photograph on my blog usually means I’m home.  The Anna’s Hummingbird is the most common hummer along the Pacific Coast.  It rarely migrates except to find better feeding sources.  Because I keep my hummingbird feeders filled year around and make sure they stay thawed by taking them indoors at night during freeze warnings, I’m pretty certain I’ve been photographing the same Anna’s hummingbirds (along with the occasional Black Chinned hummer) for a few years now.  I’m not sure what their life span is but according to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the oldest documented Anna’s Hummingbird was 8.2 years when it was recaptured and rereleased during a banding operation in Arizona.

The overcast skies when I took this shot made Homer’s gorget really shimmer.   Did you know that one of the names for a group of hummingbirds is a “shimmer?”  And, I should point out that since the skies were gray, the blue in the background is my blue Weber grill and the whitish background is the pink stucco wall of my house.  I was standing only a few feet away when Homer came to one of the feeders.  I was experimenting with my 300mm lens and 2X teleconverter so it became a 600mm lens and I also had the camera set to High Speed Crop to bring him even closer so in essence I had about a 900mm lens…and almost clipped his tail out of the frame.

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2016—Grazie alla Madonna del Lume

Today, I have chosen to indulge myself with my favorite meal:  fresh cracked Dungeness crab and crusty San Francisco Sourdough bread, along with a zesty bottle of Zinfandel. I realize the Sourdough is not Paleo but sometimes you gotta go with the real deal!  I will not miss the traditional Thanksgiving turkey but I will miss family and friends who graciously invited me to join their festivities.  Because I’m leaving early tomorrow for another photography adventure and I needed to spend Thanksgiving Day getting ready for my trip,I chose to stay home and do my own thing.

And, this year, I am especially thankful because last year there was no local Dungeness crab due to harmful neurotoxins that cancelled  crab fishing south of Washington State. It’s been quite a while since I have enjoyed this delectable treat.  This year, the Patron Saint of the fishing fleet, the Madonna del Lume, came through for the fishermen and all of us who enjoy this delicious crustacean.  Mille, mille grazie alla Madonna del Lume!

 

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2016—Back To The Beach

A couple of weeks ago on North Padre Island near Corpus Christi, TX,  I lurched awkwardly across the sand on my belly like a beached walrus pushing along my D5 and 600mm lens mounted to a Frisbee in an attempt to capture some sand level views of shore birds.  When I saw a Ruddy Turnstone examining a mossy, sandy, mollusk-encrusted log high up on the beach far from the waves, I was intrigued.  Ruddy Turnstones are tenacious.  Once they fixate on a possible food source, they are persistent, leaving no stone unturned, figuratively and literally, until they have exhausted the source.   I knew I had to try to photograph it.

My problem was that I was downhill from the Ruddy Turnstone. At ground level, the smallest rise of sand created a hazy look on the bird’s legs where the lens  was blurring the foreground.  To avoid the obstructing area of sand and to get closer to the bird, I had to move up hill a little.  I practiced my “five steps forward, stop, wait, assess” approach method that I’d learned the day before when I lead the group toward another Ruddy Turnstone on another beach.  But this time, I was on the ground with no tripod so I would raise up to my knees and inch forward pushing the camera laden Frisbee in front of me at the same time.  When the bird was undeterred by my approach, I stretched out and peered through the viewfinder to determine if I was past the obstruction.  After several minutes of this exercise, I was close enough that the haze covered only the bird’s feet.  It wasn’t good enough yet but if I pushed any closer, I risked flushing the bird so I took a few shots.  Suddenly, the Turnstone placed its head at the bottom of the log, leaned in and opened its beak creating a fulcrum that pushed the log down the slope to a flatter area of sand.  The Ruddy Turnstone followed the log and I was left up the incline with the mounds and rises I’d just crawled over  blocking my view again.  A little bit of dehaze applied in ACR corrected most of the haze over the bird’s feet.  And, with regard to the slanting horizon, the Ruddy Turnstone was on an incline down which the log rolled when it was pushed.

 

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2016—Harrier

This Northern Harrier sat on a fence post for quite a long while as we watched from the vehicle.  The bird had kind of an odd look about it and kept craning and twisting its neck.  Jim and I unhurriedly exited the vehicle and began to step slowly toward the hawk, using a tree in front of us to shield our approach.  We watched and photographed the harrier for about 20 minutes as we inched slowly forward.  We stopped to watch as it regurgitated a pellet which is apparently why it was craning its neck.  I thought only owls did that but it makes perfect sense that any raptor that ingests small birds and rodents would do it as well.  After the bird flew off, Shirley and Jim tried to locate the large mouse-sized pellet but it had disappeared into the grass.  I took this shot about 15 seconds or so before it hocked up the pellet which is probably very uncomfortably in the bird’s throat and could explain the interesting posture.

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2016—Mandarins!

It’s mountain mandarin season!  There is no citrus fruit as delicious as a mountain mandarin.  They are as addictive as candy.  These juicy flavorful fruits are grown in the Foothills of the Sierra Nevada and harvested this time of year.  The mandarins in the grocery stores are okay but they don’t come close to the sweet lusciousness of a freshly picked mountain mandarin.  I usually buy my mandarins from Doug at Doug’s Xmas Tree Lot in Rocklin.  He opens the lot in early November and stocks it with mandarins from Newcastle before he gets his Xmas trees.  I’ve already gone through a 5 pound bag from Doug but Thursday, my friend Jim brought me a bag of mandarins he picked from his own tree in Auburn.  These are even fresher and more delicious than the ones I get from Doug.

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2016—Pupils In The Sunlight

The Burrowing Owl I featured in yesterday’s post was side lit.  After a few minutes of shooting, Jim pulled forward and turned the car around, putting the sun directly behind us.  As the owl kept its eyes on me, I noticed that the pupil size and shape seemed to change as it faced the sun.  In the bright sunlight, the pupils seemed almost star shaped (top photo), returning to round when it tipped its head slightly (bottom photo).  The light on the bird completely changed from that viewpoint and even the colors of the background warmed a little.  But the feet don’t show and the bird seems flatter and doesn’t have as much depth as in yesterday’s  side lit photograph.  What I learned from Jim and Shirley is that the owls are predictably at that location and I know where they are now so I can return and try again.

 

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2016—Burrowing Owl

Thursday I spent a delightful morning shooting with fellow Placer Camera Club members Jim and Shirley White who shared some of their favorite places to photograph wildlife.  I was amazed to find the sites are surprisingly close to me and, as my friend Connie would say, they are target rich environments.  We turned off the main road past Lincoln and the acres of tall grasses and pastures and sloughs and creeks and newly planted walnut orchards stretched on and on.  They  are home to White Tailed Kites and Northern Harriers and Red Shouldered Hawks and Kestrels and Burrowing Owls!  Jim knew of owl burrows on either side of a sparsely traveled road and sure enough, one owl blended into the background as it stood perfectly still atop a fence post but Shirley’s hawk eyes spotted it.  Jim stopped directly across the road from it and I aimed my 600mm lens out the back window.  The side lighting gives some depth to the bird and his steady gaze, straight at me, is a bit unsettling.

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2016—Ha Ha Ha

This laughing gull traipsed in front of my lens while I was stretched out on the sand trying to photograph sanderlings, dunlins, and ruddy turnstones, all much smaller birds.  I cropped the shot to make it a portrait because only part of the gull’s body was in the frame and it looked a little odd as it was.

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2016—Orchard

I went for a drive the other afternoon into Sutter County and through the rice fields in search of potential spots to photograph migrating  birds.  What I discovered were orchards in Nicolaus.  I think these are English walnuts although I didn’t see a single walnut.  And, I’m surprised the trees still have their leaves.  I remember the walnut tree in our backyard when I was growing up in Santa Rosa and it seems like we were constantly raking up leaves starting in October.

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2016—Reflecting On Sanderlings

Almost every time I post a photograph of a sanderling I say that sanderlings are my favorite shore birds.  So it was a real thrill to get to up so close and personal with these charming little creatures using Moose’s beach panning technique.  I especially liked this shot because of the reflection in the wet sand.  I’m wondering if its riveting gaze directly at me is because it caught its own reflection in the glass of my 600mm lens.

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2016—Turning Stones

Too often, my enthusiasm for photographing wildlife results in disappointment because I get so excited to be so close to these wild creatures that I forget that, to them, I am a gigantic, scary creature to be avoided at all costs.  Without thinking, I will lurch toward small birds, schlepping my equally intrusive camera rig and when I set it down, the birds have disappeared.    Time and time again, Moose has reminded me to slow down, take just a few steps, keep my eye on the subject continually, and assess the subject’s temperament before moving forward.  Is the bird nervously looking around or is it relaxed and feeding or preening?  Late one afternoon as the sun was setting in Corpus Christi, I wanted to photograph a Ruddy Turnstone at the water’s edge so Moose coached me.   I was in the lead, three other photographers were directly behind me, clumped together as a cohesive group.  We inched forward toward the Ruddy Turnstone who was busy turning up stones, looking for something to eat.  Five steps. Stop. Wait. Assess the bird’s reaction to the movement.  Five steps.  Stop.  Wait.  Assess the bird’s reaction to the movement again.  It took us about fifteen minutes to get close enough for a decent shot.  Our efforts paid off. Our subject  didn’t react to the group of photographers slowly approaching a few steps at a time . I hope next time I try this I’ll be as successful. 

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2016—Tern, Tern, Tern (sic)

“To everything there is a season,” With apologies to Pete Seeger for the play on words (I couldn’t resist),  these terns are out of season.  Without the black caps that they have during breeding months, they remind me of little old men who’ve lost all their hair except for just a fringe above the ears.   We came across at least four different species of terns late one afternoon in Corpus Christi just off S. Padre Island Dr. down the road from Snoopy’s Pier where we had dinner that night.

The terns spent much of the time while we were there perched on pilings warming in the late afternoon sun and jostling with some gulls for position on the pilings.  The first shot is a pair of Caspian Terns standing in the shallow edge of the water.  The second shot is a Royal Tern and the third shot has both Forster and Sandwich Terns but the only tern in focus in that shot is a Sandwich Tern, identifiable by the dab of “mayonnaise” on the tip of its beak.

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2016—Hop

I’m still reviewing my photographs from the Texas Gulf Coast and I found this shot of a Dunlin that was favoring one of its legs.  The little bird seemed content just to stand on its good leg and not move much.  Occasionally it would close its eyes for a few seconds.  Something startled it and it hopped, then returned to its previous statue-like stance.

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2016—How ‘Bout Them Cubs!

It took 108 years for the Chicago Cubs to win another World Series and it’s been almost 60 years since this vintage Chicago Cubs pennant has seen the light of day.  This mid-1950’s pennant, along with pennants from about 15 other teams, was in the last box removed from the attic in my parents’ house last year as we readied it for sale.

After the Cub’s won the 2016 World Series,  I remembered one of the pennants we found was a Cub’s pennant, so I decided to photograph it for my blog.  I wanted it to fill the frame as much as possible while still featuring the entire pennant, but it is long and narrow so there would be lots of empty space.  Then I remembered that I also have my Dad’s Scrapbook that is filled with baseball memorabilia and newspaper clippings, almost all of it related to the years my Dad played baseball, first in high school, then on a baseball scholarship at the University of San Francisco, and finally as a semi pro player in the Pacific Coast League in the San Francisco Bay Area in the early 1930’s.  Other than that they are about baseball, the clippings and photos have absolutely nothing to do with the Chicago Cubs but I thought since they’re baseball related, they might work as background for the pennant and, at the same time, be a tribute to my Dad.

Among the more fascinating items are a couple of letters from a baseball scout for, I think, the Boston Red Sox, who, 81 years ago, offered my Dad a contract to start in the minor leagues with a beginning pay of $75 per month on a D team.  The scout’s big concern was that Dad wore glasses and the scout told Dad that while he thought he had potential, he wasn’t convinced the guys in the head office would accept him without perfect eyesight.  As it happened,  my Dad turned down the offer and chose another career path.   But, the memories of his brief baseball career remained an important part of his identity along with the Scrapbook.  Whenever my Dad  attended baseball games in the 1950’s, he would pick up pennants for those teams and give them to my brothers to hang on the wall of their room.   The Cub’s pennant, like the others, is wool felt. Almost all of the other pennants are moth eaten and the tips of the pennants are ragged from being tacked to the wall in my brothers’ bedroom.  I don’t know how this Cub’s pennant remained free of damage.

All of the photos in the image are of my Dad in uniform in the 30’s, including a newspaper feature on him.  The hand written letter next to that clipping is the first letter from the baseball scout telling Dad he had potential for pro ball.  The program and the clipping in front of the pennant are from the 1934 game between the losing Southern Pacific Team my Dad played on and the winning San Quentin All Star team.  I recall a few of my Dad’s tales from that game, including  one inmate volunteering to retrieve a home run ball hit out of the prison walls into the San Francisco Bay.

I added a Nik Color Efex filter, Bleached Portrait, to emphasize the age of the photos and clippings and to tone down the bright red of the pennant.

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