2017—The End

It’s New Year’s Eve.  It’s the end of the year, the last day of 2017.  It’s been a great year for me and I’ve had some incredible and unforgettable photography experiences this year.  I continue to learn and grow and look forward to many more wonderful experiences in 2018 with my photography friends.

I took this photograph of a Great Blue Heron, or GBH as these huge birds are commonly referred to by many of my photography friends, at Clear Lake a couple of days ago.  It is considered a “butt shot,” an undesirable view of a bird.   I’ve long known that photographs of  birds flying away from the camera (“butt shots”) are not great photographs.  They are considered rude by some and frankly they do not draw the viewer into the shot because the bird is flying away.

As my photography changes, so do my standards for photography.  I once thought any photograph that was in focus was good.  Not true.   I am becoming more critical of my subjects and more aware of what makes or breaks a photograph.  I’m posting this photograph because it’s the end of the year, the end of the bird, and I hope, the end of my taking any more “butt shots.”

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On Friday, I accompanied my friend Barbara to her family’s cabin at Clear Lake, a place I haven’t visited in more than 50 years.  We sat on the deck in what was left of the afternoon sunlight and ate our lunch, enjoying the sounds of jays and woodpeckers and watching flotillas of buffleheads and coots.  A great egret and  a great blue heron flew by and I saw a non-breeding spotted plover, a bird I’d seen in full breeding plumage in Churchill, Canada six months ago.  A fisherman startled the flotillas of birds that we were watching and they flew off temporarily, but the view remained serene and beautiful.



While reviewing some of the Snow Geese photographs I took in Bosque del Apache, I noted that when the beak of a Snow Goose was parted slightly, usually while they were contributing to the cacophony during the morning blast off, the edges of the beak appeared serrated…almost like rows of teeth.  I know that birds don’t have teeth but in this photograph of a Snow Goose, both the bottom and top edges of the beak are lined with small black points.  The individual points are actually called tomium (pl., tomia). This unique characteristic to some birds’ beaks is for the purpose of cutting.  And, for Snow Geese, its purpose is for cutting grass.   This goose was heading to the farm fields to feed, presumably on grass or corn and putting those tomia to good use.

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2017—Merry Christmas

My fountain isn’t working as it should and the bubble that seems to attract the birds to it flattens out after just a couple of hours.  I have to keep my eye on it so I can fill it when it goes flat but I don’t always get to it when it needs to be filled.  When I looked out Christmas Eve morning, I noticed a Ruby-crowned Kinglet on the fountain and the Bushtits were congregating.  The fountain was flat but the birds were eager so instead of filling it, I grabbed my Nikon D500 with the 300mm lens and the 1.4 X teleconverter and walked outside to sit near the fountain.  I had to sit for several minutes before any of the birds ventured back down to the fountain.  My patience paid off though.  The little male Ruby-crowned Kinglet returned, warily, to the fountain.  The sound of my shutter  frightened him away as did every subsequent trigger of it for a few minutes.  Then, he seemed to acclimate and finished his bath with great abandon.  I know it’s a male because only the males have the ruby crown.  It doesn’t show in this photograph but as he bathed and contorted his body, I got little glimpses of the red feathers on the top of his head.  In this  shot, he seems to implore me to fill the fountain so his bubble will return. My birds don’t ask for much.  I guess I’d better refill the fountain.

Merry Christmas!!

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2017—Going Nuts

Although I’ve been home a week, I’ve had so much to do that I have had no time to indulge in my passion.  I’ve had fleeting glimpses of Ruby Crowned Kinglets, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Bushtits, and Anna’s Hummingbirds all bathing in my fountain but I’ve barely had time to look through binoculars for positive identification let alone had the time to set up my camera to take decent photographs. Without  the daily photography excursions I’m used to, I’m kind of going nuts, which brings me to today’s post.

I’m heading to Santa Rosa to visit my brother on Christmas Day.  We don’t exchange gifts but I can’t go empty-handed.  I decided the perfect thing would be a batch of Rosemary Maple-glazed Nuts.    When I visited Vermont in October, I of course came home with lots of maple syrup.  The jug-shaped bottles even caused my luggage to get  a closer inspection from TSA.  When I arrived home, one of the TSA “We’ve been rummaging in your luggage” notices was tucked inside.   Because I knew I shouldn’t have pancakes and maple syrup every day like I did in Vermont, I knew I needed to find a good way to use the maple syrup.  I wanted nuts with sweet-savory-spicy flavors so I combed the Internet and found a delicious recipe.   It has a little kick of cayenne for interest.  The nuts were a hit at my Thanksgiving crab feast and the friends I’ve given them to have difficulty sharing with anyone; I even took a double batch with me to Bosque del Apache so that my photography buddies could have a snack after the morning explosion of Snow Geese.  Those nuts lasted only two days.

As I look at this image, I can smell the savory aroma of the rosemary and the buttery sweetness of the maple syrup.  Oh, wait.    I can smell them  because they’re still warm and out on a rack cooling just a few feet away from where I type.  I think my brother will go nuts for my nuts.  Everybody else seems to.

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2017—Morning Take-Off

With rows of Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes as a backdrop, a pair of Sandhill Cranes takes off from the Train Pond at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge on our last morning there.  By the time I took this photograph, most of the geese had blasted off so the blanket of white I was hoping for as a background wasn’t there.

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2017—Icy Take-off

Taking off on ice is not an easy task for Sandhill Cranes.   Normally,  they splash a few  steps through the water and they’re airborne.  On the ice, it’s a totally different effort.  They don’t have treads on the bottoms of their feet to give them traction so they slip-slide across the ice as they try to run to take off.  Their antics are quite funny to watch.  This sequence of three shots, taken in the early morning glow of sunrise, shows a little of that as one Sandhill Crane hurtles across the ice in an attempt to get airborne.

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201 7—Heading Off

In the brisk mornings at Bosque del Apache, when the Sandhill Cranes left their overnight resting place at the Train Ponds to fly to the farm fields to forage during the day, they would often fly right over our heads.  Photographing them with big glass and panning vertically instead of horizontally and keeping the birds in the frame as they charged through the air was a real challenge.  I have lots of photographs of heads entering the bottom of the frame and even more of feet leaving the top of the frame when I didn’t coordinate my panning movements with the bird’s flight speed.  But, I find it exciting to try new techniques and even more exciting when I succeed.  This is one of my favorite photographs from this trip to Bosque.  The bird’s placement in the frame gives it a sense of urgency; the bird is on a mission with some place to go.  And, the morning sun lights the crane’s face and under its wings as it heads east to its feeding grounds.


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2017—Yin And Yang

There is really no way to describe the breathtaking sight of thousands of Snow Geese taking flight from one of the ponds at Bosque del Apache.    I brought a shotgun microphone with me and my plan was to capture this spectacle on video with the cacophony of sound that accompanies this explosion of white birds.  I was unable to do it this trip but when I go back next year, I will try again.  On the surface it is chaotic but at the same time there is a harmony to the sight.  Sometimes, it is so overwhelming that you just gape in awe and forget to trigger the shutter release.  This is one of nature’s true yin and yang moments…chaotic and controlled at the same time; harmony and cacophony playing off one another.


2017—Another Point Of View

Being so close to and surrounded by Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese in Bosque del Apache, it’s possible to photograph these fascinating creatures from another point of view.  As they flew toward us and over our heads, instead of ducking to avoid unwelcome droppings from the flock, we aimed our camera overhead.  For me it was a new way to photograph birds and provides interesting, and in some cases stunning, results.  This Sandhill Crane flew into my frame and quickly out again.  I never captured the entire bird in the frame because it was too close to my lens.  However, because his right wing is clipped at the wing equivalent of a wrist and the feet are clipped above the knee, this photograph does not have what is termed an awkward crop.  It is a rather dramatic depiction of the bird from a different perspective.  It’s exciting to see these birds pass overhead and to see this in the viewfinder.

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2017—Bosque 8:00 AM

Each morning at Bosque del Apache, after the Snow Geese have exploded and flown en masse to the farm fields to forage, the Sandhill Cranes begin to peel off in ones and twos and sometimes in family groups of three.  This Sandhill Crane left the Train Ponds to fly to the fields to forage for the day precisely at 8:00 AM.  About this time, the pink glow of morning sunrise begins to fade and the last of the gorgeous morning light kisses the feathers of the birds as they fly off.

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2017—Music To My Ears

One of the new “toys” I brought with me to Bosque del Apache was a shotgun microphone capable of recording the sounds of the birds as I made a video of them.  The in-camera mic is insufficient to record more than the slightest sounds so I  knew I needed a more sophisticated microphone to capture the calls of the birds.  Until now, I haven’t tried creating videos.  My first challenge was installing the AA battery into the microphone which I was unable to do before I left home.  I was so frustrated I almost returned the microphone before ever using it.  I wondered if it was that difficult to install, how could I manage using it?   I decided to wait and ask Moose to help me.  I found out that the rechargeable battery I was attempting to install was just a smidge too thick; it requires a regular AA battery which Moose gave  me and which slipped right into the slot.

Monday afternoon at the Train Pond I got to test it out.  I must give all of the credit for this video to Moose Peterson.  The only thing I did to create this video was to affix the microphone to the camera.  Moose did everything else.  First, he set my camera to the proper microphone and video settings; he found a good scene to video and composed the shot; and he started the recording. I did manage to end the recording without incident.  And, I was taking still shots of this scene before Moose intervened and urged me to start making videos.  This video features Sandhill Cranes silhouetted against the setting sun and feeding on morsels in the pond. A few birds fly into the background and one sort of photo-bombs the scene as he struts in front of the feeding pair, then reenters and joins in the feeding.  The background sounds of the Sandhill Cranes are music to my ears.


2017—White With Snow (Geese)

After the morning blastoff of geese from the farm ponds, we drove to the Train Pond at Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge just across the highway from the train tracks.  This pond still held masses of Snow Geese waiting for whatever signals them to blast off.   Unlike the much larger congregation that blasted off thirty minutes before en masse, this group seemed to lift off in ones and twos, not the entire gaggle at once.  As I looked at the scene, I realized it would be interesting to capture a few at a time with the other white geese as a backdrop.  I succeeded in my quest with a couple of images that turned out as I imaged… a pair of Snow Geese flying against a field of out-of-focus white geese.

I used the Nikon D5 and 600mm lens to capture this image.

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2017—Bosque Sunrise 2017

It was 13° at 5:30 AM Monday morning when we arrived at Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge to photograph the morning blastoff.  There were some wispy clouds and pink sky as the sun rose.  We soon heard the distant din of geese blasting off from their nighttime roost on the farm ponds at Bosque.  We were quite a ways away from the blastoff so we saw silhouettes of the birds as they flew through the morning sunrise off to their feeding grounds.  A few minutes later, the din quieted and the birds disappeared.    I took the first photograph with the Nikon D5 and 600mm lens; the second with the Nikon D500 and 18-35mm lens.

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Bosque Sunrise Day 2