2018—What an Exciting Year!

What an exciting year this has been for me !  I revisited several places I’ve been before and I’ve also had a number of firsts.  I’m  finding it impossible to decide what my favorite photograph was or which trip was my most memorable because I have favorites from each trip and each trip was unique.  I started out the year in Yellowstone National Park where I photographed a pack of Gray Wolves at a Bison kill. That was an exciting, unforgettable first for me and a photograph from that shoot won me photo of the year at my camera club.   2018 was a mix of big game, landscape, and bird photography.  A few trips focused primarily on birds, including Prairie Chickens and Sharp-tailed Grouse in Nebraska, Nenes and Red-tailed Tropicbirds in Kauai, Hummingbirds in Madera Canyon, Arizona, and Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes in Bosque del Apache.   I visited Yosemite National Park twice.  The Grand Canyon and the Grand Tetons were grand, of course.  The Palouse in eastern Washington was a first, and I hope not a last, for its hauntingly beautiful landscape.  The least visited National Park, Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota was also a first time visit for me.  It was a stunner for its Badlands beauty and grazing Bison, not to mention its quirky time zone challenges…it is in 2 different time zones but for reasons unclear to me, you never know what time zone you’re in, as it changes seemingly on a whim.  In Arches National Park, I climbed up to Delicate Arch to photograph the arch under the Milky Way, then managed to climb back down in the dark…a challenge and yet another first for me.  I had a few other memorable trips this year but I chose this photograph of a Bull Moose in Chugach State Park in Alaska for this post because I’d never been quite so close to a moose before.  So close, in fact, that I took this photograph using my 70-200mm lens set to 200mm.  I had been using my new 500mm lens but when the moose began to approach the stream that separated him from us, I had to quickly remove my 500mm lens and replace it with the 70-200mm which I thankfully had in my jacket pocket so I could get this shot.



2018—Last Take-off

On our last morning in Bosque, before we headed to the airport to fly home, we tried one more visit to the Track Pond to see if any cranes had roosted there.   We were lucky to find that a few dozen Sandhill Cranes had roosted in the Track Pond the night before. We got the pond about 7AM, after making one last run through the Refuge and seeing that the cranes at the Track Pond were closer than others areas in the Refuge.  This is the last crane I photographed taking off from the Track Pond before we packed up and left for the airport.  It was still  dark and overcast.

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Late Wednesday afternoon, I picked up my D5 with the 500mm PF lens attached and walked outside to the patio.  A male Anna’s Hummingbird immediately buzzed me and flew out of the yard, only to return seconds later to the feeders.  I watched as he darted from plastic flower to plastic flower on the feeders, then to the very real salvia and back again to the plastic flowers.  He sipped and paused to face me down several times and then returned to the feeders.   Using high speed crop, my focal length was 750mm. Sweet!  And I was hand-holding, to boot.  The hummer had quite an attitude, and when he faced me, his gorget lit up as if from within.


2018—Morning Take-off

The experience at Bosque del Apache was different from past years.  The birds we went there to photograph, both the Sandhill Cranes and the Snow Geese, were more unpredictable.  We were never quite sure where they’d be when we arrived before 6AM for the morning blast-off or at sunset for the return to roost.  One night the winds were dangerously high and they blew throughout the night.  The winds were still a factor the next morning so we didn’t go out.  That afternoon the birds didn’t return to the Track Pond to roost and that pond was empty when we drove by the following morning.  When we drove into the refuge, we found many Sandhill Cranes at the north pond and a small contingent of snow geese as well.  It was barely light as we set up near the snow geese but I’d turned to attach a lens to my camera when the blast off happened suddenly and I missed it completely.  Later in the morning, as the Sandhill Cranes began to warm and extricate themselves from their icy surroundings, they peeled off in small groups.  This Sandhill Crane took off then turned into the 8AM sunlight and cloudless sky.

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2018—Tour Jeté

Sandhill Cranes can look pretty goofy at times.  The expressions on their faces and their awkward flailings to take off on an iced-over pond can bring a smile to your face.  When I saw this image, it brought to my mind a ballet leap called a tour jeté because of the position of the feet and wings.  But what cinched the vision for me was that the spread of the tail looks like a tutu.


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2018—Meyer Lemon and Friend

Someone gave me a half dozen plump Meyer Lemons.  I wanted to do a couple of things with those lemons.  First, I wanted to make a batch of lemon bars, one of my favorite treats.  Second, I wanted to photograph one of the lemons with a black background giving it lots of negative space.  I never really got the chance.  Well, I did make the lemon bars.  On Christmas Day, I baked them and had a couple of lemons left over.  I had saved the most perfect one for the photograph.  It even had a leaf still attached at the stem end.  Since I’d already been in touch with the most important people in my life, either by telephone, text, or e-mail earlier in the day, taking some photographs was how I really wanted to spend the rest of my Christmas Day.

I had several thoughts about photographs, including hummingbirds, but the lemon was first on my list.  Often when I take a closeup of something, I use the window seat by Bobo’s cage.  The north facing window provides great light and it is convenient to set up black mat board for a backdrop.  What I forgot was that Bobo considers the window seat her territory and she must investigate anything that encroaches.  After I set up the camera and the mat board and placed the lemon, she came down immediately to see what was going on.  She usually chews on the mat board but for some reason, she focused on the lemon.  When I walked away and heard cackling, the tell-tale sound that means Bobo’s up to something, I looked and found her “beaking” the lemon.  Since the camera was already set up, I didn’t deter her actions and I was able to capture this shot.  I decided it was a much more interesting photograph than a lonely lemon.  This lemon has a friend.




2018—Merry Christmas!!

As I near the end of another year (my eighth) of posting my photographs to In Focus Daily, I want to thank everyone who visits my blog and, especially, to thank those who take the time to comment on my photographs.  I truly appreciate the effort you make to do so.  And, I want to wish everyone who visits my blog a very Merry Christmas.  Please enjoy a black and white photograph from the Tunnel View Overlook in Yosemite National Park.  When I took this shot on November 30, 2018, I knew it would be my Christmas Card to you.



2018—Close Encounters?

A visit to New Mexico is not complete without  a visit to the Very Large Array (VLA), locted about an hour’s drive from Socorro in area of high desert surrounded by mountains.  The VLA is a scientifically productive ground-based radio telescope.   Radio images enable astronomers to see things invisible to optical telescopes.  The VLA has been featured in a number of sci-fi movies including Contact, Independence Day, 2010 Odyssey, and Transformers: Dark of the Moon.  It consists of 27 dish antennas each 82 feet in diameter.  The antennas themselves are moved along a series of tracks into one of four Y-shaped configuations, the largest spanning 22 miles, the smallest less than half a mile.  While we were there, the configuration was a little over two miles so we were able to see most of the antennas.

Here is one of the three arms of the array, with 8 of the 27 dishes visible.

Nikon D5, Nikkor 500mm PF lens.

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2018—Getting Ready to Roost

The birds at Bosque del Apache were unpredictable this year.  In past years, the Sandhill Cranes would roost in the Track Pond (referred to on the Bosque del Apache official map as the Roost Pond), arriving as the sun went down and staying there during the night. We’d find them there in the morning before the sun came up.  Sometimes, it was so cold at night that the shallow pond froze around their legs.  This year, we found the Sandhill Cranes at the Track Pond only a couple of times in the morning and in the evening.  In this photograph they’re at the Track Pond, preening and feeding before settling down for the night.

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2018—Landing Frenzy

Sunday was a most spectacular day of photographing Snow Geese.  The explosions were almost non-stop in the corn field.  And, they settled down time and time again, only to explode once more into flight.  After each explosion, they would swirl around for a few moments, then they would land again, sometimes getting a bit closer to our lenses making for better shots.  These Snow Geese descended in a frenzy wings and had to find some free space to land in a sea of white.

Nikon D5; Nikkor 500mm PF lens.


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The Snow Geese at Bosque del Apache are constantly taking off and landing.  Sometimes the entire flock suddenly takes to wing, sometimes it is just at few, or even a single bird flying away from the flock.  But, they always seem to return.  From where we photograph them, it never looks like there is space enough for them to land but they always find a spot to alight.  This Snow Goose checks out the corn field below to find the ideal spot to land.


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2018—The Wait is Over

Snow Geese put on one of the most amazing and jaw dropping exhibitions in the wild that, once you’ve seen, you’ll never forget.   It is a natural phenomenon that always takes you by surprise even though you’re hoping for and even expecting it.  It begins every day, just at sunrise.  A flock of thousands of Snow Geese, seemingly without cause,  suddenly rises and fills the skies leaving the pond where they spent the night completely empty and the sky dark with wings.  The cacaphony of goose sounds becomes deafening.   The birds swirl around and around before landing again or flocking elsewhere.  The phenomenon happens over and over throughout the day, sometimes more spectacularly than others.  This past week we were disappointed that we didn’t witness any huge explosions of birds at Bosque del Apache.  We missed several blast offs when we were too slow setting up our gear or pulling on gloves to see, let alone photograph, them.  When we’d find a flock of Snow Geese, we’d wait, sometimes seeing minor explosions or just watch small groups peeling off from the main flock, gradually dimishing the numbers so that even if the remaining birds blasted off, the effect would be nothing spectacular.

On Sunday, however, our wait was over.  The first of several explosions we experienced that morning, was at sunrise from the pond near the Flight Deck as a sliver of light glowed orange between the horizon and the low cloud cover.  The sky filled with birds and the thunder of wings and the roar of their calls filled our ears.  It was the first of many we were lucky enough to experience on Sunday.  Later, at the cornfield around the loop, we spent more than an hour watching the Snow Geese explode into the air time and time again. What a thrill to see it over and over.

Nikon D5, Nikkor 500mm 5.6 PF lens.

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Nikon D500, Nikkor 18-35mm lens

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Nikon D5, Nikkor 500mm 5.6 PF lens

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Nikon D500, Nikkor 18-35mm lens

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Sometimes at Bosque del Apache,the rush to leave the ponds to head for the foraging fields results in groups of Sandhill Cranes taking off  together and flying in a tight cluster. This group of five looks to be so close together you’d think they’d collide but the telephoto lens gives that illusion.

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2018—Blast Off

It is the Snow Geese at Bosque del Apache that create the most memorable and impressive spectacle.  It is called the blast off and it occurs over and over again each day at places throughout the refuge as migrating Snow Geese congregate and fuel up for their journey north.  The blast off is anticipated by all who visit the refuge and wherever a large accumulation of Snow Geese is sighted, observers are there with cameras and binoculars to experience the event.  Thousands of Snow Geese suddenly take to wing at once in a cacaphony of honks and a thundering of wing beats.  Sometimes they swirl and settle on the pond or field only to do it again.  Sometimes they disappear to a far pond or field, leaving the observers smiling and appreciating this spectacle of nature and looking forward to the next one.

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Wednesday morning about 40 minutes after the sun came up, it rose high enough to shine directly on the Sandhill Cranes standing in and on one of the partially frozen ponds at Bosque del Apache.  As the birds began to peel off in one, twos, and threes heading to the fields to forage, they flew toward the sun which lit them perfectly.  My Nikon D5 and new 500mm PF lens with the 1.4x teleconverter attached gave me 700mm of reach and I was hand holding it, something I could never have done with my heavy 600mm lens.  This trio of cranes looks intent on their mission to find breakfast.

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2018—Flight Practice

Flight practice for me, that is … not for the Sandhill Cranes who don’t need flight practice.  In the morning of Day two of my Bosque del Apache adventure, tripods didn’t make an appearance.  Photography for me was all about hand holding the Nikon D5 and 500mm PF.  I was quite pleased with the results and am very happy with my decision to sell my 600mm lens.  With the 600mm lens, hand holding was not an option.  Weighing almost eight and one half pounds, coupled with the Nikon D5 weighing more than 3 pounds, I could  never hand hold that whopping 12 pound combo and come close to getting a sharp image.  At barely 6 pounds, the D5 and 500mm lens combo feels effortless to hold and if I used my crop sensor D500 camera, the weight would be under 5 pounds.  I am more successful panning to track birds in flight while hand holding than on a tripod so this change will be great for all my bird photography.  Flight practice was a success for me!

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