Sax-Zim Bog near Lake Superior in Minnesota is a truly unique place. In the winter it’s cold and snowy and filled with birds. While owls seem to be the biggest attraction there, you can’t overlook the tiny birds like this Black-capped Chickadee fluffed up against the biting chill that was somewhere about negative 16 or lower.
In past years, the Central Valley in California has been infamous for its dense winter fog, sometimes called tule fog, that hugs the ground and limits visibility to just a few feet. Driving in tule fog is incredibly dangerous and multi-car freeway pileups especially during commute hours are not uncommon. Dense tule fogs have been mostly absent the past few years possibly due to the drought and overly dry conditions that have kept this fog from forming. We do still get the occasional foggy day and this past week, on a couple of days for a few hours during my morning walk, the fog returned. It’s a dense fog but it’s not nearly the dense tule fog that can so dangerous. Visibility was limited but it’s still possible to see three Valley Oaks in a row.
The foggy morning mist makes these large Valley Oaks appear like ghost trees, kind of eerie and foreboding. I’ve been taking my tiny Nikon Z50 with me on morning walks and when it’s foggy like this, I can get some interesting shots in Antelope Park. The equally tiny Nikkor 18-50mm lens, the crop sensor equivalent of a full-frame 24-70mm lens, makes it easy to have this combination camera and lens with me all the time.
My Christmas bouquet of all white spider mums turned out to be an experiment in light painting for me. I really enjoy light painting and the unique effects that I can create but maybe I should say “backlight painting” because although I started light painting this flower from the front and side, I realized as I viewed the images that those with backlit petals were more interesting and unique. So I decided to create an image where most of the petals were backlit. Since the light source for this technique is a hand held flashlight, no two images will be the same. Slight nuances can make a huge difference in an image. It’s absolutely necessary to view what you’ve done as you’re working because you will see subtle changes depending on where the light is directed. Some work; some don’t. What I’ve learned is that once I open the shutter, I start to develop a rhythm and a pattern so it becomes easier to duplicate a look and build on that. Each image is a long exposure so you can take as much time as needed to light paint an image so long as you’re in a very dark environment. For this image in my dark garage, I set my Nikon Z7 with the 105mm Micro lens to f/16, ISO 64, and the shutter to “Bulb” so I could hold the shutter open as long as I needed. This image took 20 seconds to create. This was a relatively short light painting because the subject was only about 6 inches in diameter and it took just a few movements to direct light through the translucent petals without overexposing them.
Yuletide greetings, everyone! This is, in fact, Yuletide, one of my favorite camellias that grows in my garden and that blooms bright this time of year in Northern California. In this light-painted image, I changed the image size in my Nikon Z7 to make it a 1X1 ratio resulting in a square image. With the aperture set to f/16, the ISO to 64, and the shutter to bulb, I was able to take my time in my darkened garage to decide just where to shine the LED pen light I used and for just how long. I set the white balance to 10,000 Kelvin to offset the blue tinge caused by the light I used so that the resulting red was the actual color of the flower.
While many are anticipating Santa’s visit tonight, this young White-crowned Sparrow was anticipating that the feeder above its head would miraculously refill itself. I got the hint and right after I took this photograph the feeder was full again.
The Track Ponds at Bosque del Apache are often the nighttime roost for hundreds of Sandhill Cranes and a few are visible in the lower right settling in as the sun sets. Since I’m still reminiscing about Bosque and missing it, I have been looking at some of my photographs from past years, this one taken last December. Besides the glorious colors of the sunset, what caught my attention was the large star in the upper right and if you look closely, you see a smaller star to the right. Since I’m not much of an astronomer, I’m not sure but I think this is Jupiter and Saturn. Since I haven’t been able to see this year’s great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn because of fog in my area, I’ll settle for last year’s sighting before they got so close together.
Bosque del Apache was not on my travel list this year and I miss it. The Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes are everywhere. It is such a unique experience and seeing thousands of birds in the air at once and hearing the roar of their calls and their wingbeats is unforgettable. When the cranes fly into their nighttime roost, like this one backlit by the setting sun, those New Mexico skies make for some spectacular visions. Bosque is calling to me. I’m glad I have some gorgeous memories in my photographs and hope to return again to see this wonder of the natural world.
Flaming Gorge is simply gorgeous. Even when the colorful hues of the mountains surrounding the area are changed to black and white, its beauty shines.
Pine Siskins are tiny finches with a nomadic propensity. According to Cornell Labs, although Pine Siskins are fairly common to see, the species is considered to be in steep decline. It is estimated that their numbers have decreased by 80% in the past fifty years. The siskin population can be difficult to estimate because of their nomadic movements throughout the year. The decline can’t be attributed to any one thing but it is thought that domestic cats, red squirrels, hawks, jays, and crows that prey on adults and young alike are contributing factors. Because they travel in large flocks and swarm feeders, they can be vulnerable to outbreaks of salmonella transmitted at feeders that are not kept clean and by pesticides and other chemicals they ingest in fields and on roadways. These little birds are gregarious and fun to watch and they certainly didn’t seem to be in decline last August when I watched a flock numbering in the hundreds in Montana.
The rain storm a few days ago brought down most of the remaining leaves from the Red Oaks that line the route on my morning walk. A few tattered hangers-on, almost unrecognizable as oak leaves, caught my attention with the morning light shining through them yesterday. For once I had a camera other than my phone camera so I stopped to capture the moment.
Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park in late fall is at once very hot and very cold. The water that bubbles through the springs is heated to more than 160 degrees Fahrenheit and the surrounding snow where there is no hot water running is below freezing. The disparate elements create a stunning scene.
Spending time in Yellowstone National Park watching a Red Fox going about its business and ignoring those of us who were there documenting it, was an incredible and memorable experience. This vixen was gorgeous and her red fur was dazzling in contrast to the white snow. You couldn’t miss a move she made. We were lucky that she had become acclimated enough to people that if those people did not harass her, she acted as if we weren’t there. What a privilege it was to observe this gorgeous wild creature in her natural habitat.
The colony on Bird Rock at Cape St. Mary’s in Newfoundland is a cacophony of calls and a mass of white and gold as tens of thousands of Northern Gannets congregate there during nesting season. It’s an incredible sight especially because the birds are packed together so closely that there is little space between them. Nevertheless, these large sea birds, who mate for life, find their mate and their nesting sight and stick the landing with the precision of a gymnast. This bird is preparing to do just that.
The boreal forest is the world’s largest land biome and is comprised mainly of coniferous tree species such as pine, spruce and fir with some broadleaf species such as poplar and birch. Boreal forests grow in high-latitude environments where freezing temperatures occur for 6 to 8 months of the year. This past February, I visited just such a boreal forest in Minnesota called Sax-Zim Bog. One of the denizens of Sax-Zim Bog is the aptly named Boreal Owl. While we were there, the temperatures dropped to a bone-chilling negative 31 degrees in the daytime. The owls, including this Boreal Owl, were often perched in trees, feathers fluffed against the cold, dozing in the daylight and occasionally opening their eyes to peek at the groups of photographers watching them and to watch beneath them where uncrusted snow under the trees facilitated access to prey.
Despite the horrific state of the world in 2020, I have had many memorable photographic journeys this year! Among my many fantastic adventures was my first visit to the beautiful state of Maine where I fell in love with the lighthouses there. I saw and photographed eight of them, including the Portland Headlight. This is a view of that lighthouse from the back. I took most of my favorite shots of this lighthouse from the opposite side using long exposures but for this shot, there weren’t many clouds to blur and there were no crashing waves. What caught my attention was the light reflecting off the structure onto the water and I took the photograph with my Nikon Z7 set to the monochrome picture control.
Red Foxes are quite graceful as they leap into the air prepared to plunge head first into the snow after a tiny vole they have sensed is burrowing there. We watched this vixen leap over and over as she roamed the large meadow in Yellowstone National Park last month. Most of the time she emerged with a snow-covered muzzle and jaws grasping her meal. She was so successful that she didn’t eat most of the voles we saw her catch. Instead, she cached them around the meadow, pushing her quarry into the snow to keep it hidden and safe for her to retrieve later.
When the sun rose above the horizon on Caddo Lake, the entire sky turned a brilliant orange. With the orange color reflected in the water and surrounding the Bald Cypress trees which were silhouetted by the sun, the resulting effect was a striking with only two colors, orange and black.
This Great Egret was on a mission, stalking something to eat in the shallow bayou water. The egret’s neck and body show reflected patterns from the water as it surveys the area. The surface of the water is covered by a noxious plant, the Giant Salvinia, an invasive species from Brazil discovered in the lake less than 15 years ago. It can double its biomass in days and threatens the health of the ecosystem in which it thrives so potentially this Great Egret could be adversely affected by it. There are currently modestly effective efforts underway to control the weed.
The early morning colors of the sunrise over Caddo Lake are breathtaking. Slowing drifting by on the water gives an up close view with Bald Cypress silhouetted against the glorious backdrop of reds, oranges, and maroons.