Wednesday, 31 October 2012
You can't fight it, you have to go with the flow. Let the salmon go up river to their death, struggling to survive, but as a photographer - learn the seasons, research the places, scout them, make friends, make visits, and over time get to know places and what works best.
I guess in a nut shell that's what I've been doing for a few years or more. Traveling mostly a hundred miles this way or that way, and when it works well either learning about a location or getting some good and new images - and on the really good days both. A day with learning but no stand out images, that's still got to be counted as a success.
Cape May New Jersey is sort of my new favorite place. Last year I went a couple times, but this year I am even more in to it.
Having gone to spots here and there at Cape May and tried sunrise or sunset at a few spots I now have more info and more local knowledge. The folks that live nearby, or visit lots, they know what's up - and it can largely be a matter of asking, and also trial and error.
The hawk landed on that fence post - I was just 20 feet away, and when I moved the camera over and started to shoot he saw me and flew off a moment later. That brief encounter, what it really highlighted for me was - hawks will do anything and land and then scan the area - IF they aren't spooked off to begin with. I was there already, but when I moved and focused on him, THAT bother him.
So, that was a couple weekends ago. What happened a few minutes later was a group of ~15 birders came up to the spot near me, and walked up and started looking around. Needless to say, no more hawks landed on the fence.
A week later I was back and it was like ground-hog-day, but I had just a little more info. I was at a similar spot along the dune and the hawks were all over the place, and migrating, and flying mostly south.
What I tried differently was to not be in a spot so often traveled by people. It was still pretty close to the beach, at a dunes spot, and basically equally good for hawks.
Here's the spot I picked and how I setup with some cover. Having shot a few places where I just made the seemingly minor choice of picking some cover to try to blend in with, it really made a difference.
The thing about shooting raptors flying by close and fast though is that shooting from a tripod - that's not so good. I couldn't move around and adjust fast enough. I wound up hand holding most of the time. I'd rest the camera and lens on the tripod, and then when something was approaching I'd hand hold the camera and get ready...
What actually happened next THREE TIMES though was I was too hidden, I blended in too much for my own good. Last year I got a camo coat, and hat, and have wrapped my lens in camo too. So, THREE times at this *other* spot a hawk landed on the fence post, so close that by the time I reached for the camera and began to adjust and move to just begin to PREPARE to take a shot, the hawk was so spooked by my new found presence that it took off before I even came CLOSE to getting a shot. Three times. Once the hawk was just on right of that tall grass perched on the fence maybe 4 feet from me and the camera.
So, I tried to learn from that, expect things, and plan and move around differently... It didn't quite work out, but I think if I had done what I did later during the earlier encounters, it could have worked. So, for me, I learned and will try new things next time.
One of the great things about this time of year and Cape May also is that there are so many knowledgeable and friendly people there. In just a few visits this year, I really learned a bunch already. I will still basically say much of the bird IDs I tell people are "guesses" because I know I have so much more to learn, but, with hundreds of raptors passing by, often per hour, I kind of feel like I know more every day of every visit I'm there.
Taking time to blend in, dress right, move slowly, and predict things is something I've picked up more in the past 2 years I'd say. It's like being a hunter... The input influences the output. If you don't know what you're doing the best you can hope for is being lucky. But there more you know, the more you can predict, the more you can steer chance in your own favor.......
Find spots and go with the seasons, learn the lay of the land, patterns, and NEVER be afraid to get info from a local or fellow visitor.
Jumping Spider (Araneae)
By Sara Lando -- So you got yourself a willing subject, everything is ready, you?re pumped up and ready to shoot. Your doorbell rings. Woo hoo!
Slowly put down that camera and breath: we don?t fire yet. Now we welcome. Read more �
But for lighting photographers, the camera has two issues that are of concern. One is minor and (sadly at this point) expected.
But the other is major and quite unexpected. Read more �
Tuesday, 30 October 2012
Were you one of those kids who used to peep through their fingers in an almost darkened bedroom and scare yourself rigid with the faces you saw in the folds of curtains? And then there were the crocodiles under the bed to contend with.
We humans have an innate capacity for making sense of the world around us and looking for explanations and patterns. From time immemorial the human race has invented whole hierarchies of gods and goddesses, demons, ghouls, djins and blithe spirits to explain the mysteries of the world around. It seems our brains are hot-wired to do this.
Not only our visual senses behave in this way, for some of us hear 'tunes' in low, continuous noises as we seek to make sense of white noise just at the limits of human hearing.
A few weeks ago I found myself in Puglie, down in Italy's far south where there are venerable olive trees that were young a 1000 years ago. Now, with the ravages of time, they have twisted, split and contorted into a plethora of shapes where those with the imagination can see the faces...tortured beings within the bark, trapped for eternity. Maybe this is where Tolkein found his "Ents" - sculptured in the bark of ancient English Oaks another species of tree that stimulate the imagination.
All Images were obtained using a Sony NEX 7, processed in Lightroom 4 and then worked with Nik Effects.
© Paul Harcourt Davies 2012
N.B. All Images and text are the copyright of Paul Harcourt Davies and may not be reproduced or used in any way whatsoever without written permission
As you might imagine, the least common visitors get the biggest hoots and hollers from me, and are most likely to find themselves in the cross-hairs of my camera lens. This is unfair to the more common visitors, such as the Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers. As I was looking for photos to illustrate this post, I noticed that I don't have very many photos of Downy Woodpeckers, and the ones that I do have all look virtually the same.
Yup, that's a male Downy Woodpecker clinging to the suet cage. We can tell that it's a male by the little note of red on the back of his head; female Downies have no red on their head.
While I may not jump up and down every time I see a Downy Woodpecker, I certainly do appreciate each appearance they make. They are easily visible year-round, and the parents will bring their begging fledges to our suet feeders once they are old enough to leave the safety of the nest. One time, about 5 years ago, they nested in a snag just above our driveway, and we were alerted to said nest by the incessant begging of the babies within. It took a few days to figure out where this high-pitched squeaking, reminiscent of a mouse with a megaphone, was coming from, and I was happy to learn that it was a clutch of successfully hatched wee Downies.
Since woodpeckers aren't songbirds, we don't really think of them making much noise except for pecking and drumming with their bills on trees or fence posts. They do emit a number of vocalizations, though. Downies make a loud "pick!" sound as well as a whinnying-type of call that descends in pitch at the end. They also make some other squeaky and churring calls, especially when several birds are in close proximity to each other. The Downy population in our woods has slowly been on the rise since I started counting them for Project FeederWatch seven years ago. At first we would only see 1 or 2 Downies at a time, but now it is common to have at least 4 within view at once. I know there are more of them around than that, but keeping them all in sight at one time is tricky! When they are not perched on a feeder, they are in constant motion, hitching up and down the trees in search of bugs in and under the bark, and during the winter it seems like they are constantly bickering, harassing each other, and shooing each other away.
A Downy at the homemade bird dough bowl, watching someone else fly by. Perhaps another Downy?
This year I have noticed an interesting trend among my Downies. Normally when I step outside to refill the feeders, or just to have a look around on the deck, all the birds scatter except for the fearless Carolina Chickadees. Now the Downies are joining the ranks as the next species to be unperturbed by my presence. I can stand right next to the suet feeders with a Downy at arm's length, munching away like it doesn't even see me. Yet another bird whose trust I have presumably earned. I feel mighty honored to stand so close to these fantastic creatures.
The Pampas deer ( Ozotoceros bezoarticus , veado-campeiro) is our easiest to see deer, because they inhabit the open grasslands. Although gray brocket deers are in greater numbers, they inhabit the bushes where they're harder to spot.
My first birding trip outside Ecuador was fantastic and added nearly 200 new birds to my list.� My wife and I spent two weeks in Brazil birding the Atlantic Forest and The Pantanal.
This unseasonably warm spring that we've had has brought lots of butterflies out already. We saw many species today, many of which were in constant motion and impossible to track down with a camera. But there were a few very cooperative specimens, which I will share here.
An Eastern-tailed Blue, Cupido comyntas. Since this one was under the shade of a leaf the colors didn't come out as brilliantly as they might have if it were in the light, but you can still see that it's a charming little butterfly.
We came across another equally charming, but much more brilliant-colored butterfly right after lunch, and this one was a first for me.
This is a Juniper Hairstreak (or Olive Hairstreak, depending on who you ask), Callophrys gryneus. It stayed in this mud puddle for a very long time while we all ooohed and ahhhed over it and shot plenty of photos. Isn't it beautiful? The colors are so saturated that the photographs of it almost look fake.
Here, intrepid blogger and stunt butterfly handler extraordinaire, Jim McCormac, holds the hairstreak on his finger to give a sense of the scale of this tiny creature. I am happy to report that Jim's finger came out of this unscathed. No naturalists (or butterflies) were harmed in the making of this photo.
More fantastic finds coming up!
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In 2009 we embarked on a project to take close-up, wide-angle photographs of African animals. To accomplish this we created BeetleCam, a small [...]
If you’re a regular traveler in Africa, and in particular in Namibia and Botswana, you could often find yourself in the most remote places with nary another soul to be seen for days.� We love this sort of traveling – it kind of makes you feel like you’re participating� in your own version of “Survivor”.� [...]
Monday, 29 October 2012
By Sara Lando -- The model is gone, your studio is a mess, you?re tired but still a bit excited about the shooting and can?t wait to see your pictures on your big monitor.
Some might call it a day and go grab a beer. But there?s still a couple of things you might want to do before wrapping it up. Read more �
Birds! I took some photos of 'em, again, finally. I spent the last ten days near Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge (nice!). I was working (no camera with me) most of the time, but managed to find a little free time in between and I spent a day when I was done working running around with the camera.
Black and white photography is nice right, but color is so much better! Well, hmmm.
These days we all shoot color. There's no "film" in the digital world anymore, and they don't make "black and white cameras" - so that's just how it is. Color.
But really, black and white can be even stronger than color. In a way it is like the power of still over motion pictures. Movies convey more info, but a still image is less and therefore more refined, the data is more concentrated on the message or specific moment, or mood captured.
I am new to thinking in black and white. I did shoot black and white film in school and did the development myself, but that was forever ago.
A handful of times I've found B&W images or digital conversions to be the way to go. Often it is for Gorillas or Giant Pandas at the zoo.
A week ago I was listening to a podcast or something and I decided to make a change to my camera, to how I shoot and maybe how I see.
On my D300s I enabled monochromatic mode, while set to RAW+JPG. This has a couple of nice benefits. Shooting RAW still allows for everything I've been used to - full color images, RAW processing, etc. But it also makes the back of the camera images all visible in black and white. And it saves a copy of the black and white iamge as a JPG.
I think I'm going to leave it like this for a while. Maybe even try to turn it in to a project. The going vertical project from a number of months ago was fun and helped kick me in a different direction, and helped me to think and see just a little differently. I shoot both ways, but restricted my posting for about 50 shots in a row to vertical only.
The effects of trying to see and shoot in black and white might be even more beneficial. Good color can make an ok image better, but if it were better to begin with the color might set it over the top. Black and white. I'm hoping it raises my composition skills, and gives me a better eye.
We'll see. Stay tuned.
The Kurrichane thrush is fairly common within the north-eastern part of the southern African region and they are often to be seen hopping about in the undergrowth. �Their preferred habitat includes woodland, riverine bush and parks and gardens that have sufficient ground cover. Its range is expanding due to its adaptation to the man-modified environment. [...]
A captive Northern Saw-whet Owl who is part of the educational display for the Back to the Wild wildlife rehabilitation center.
This past Friday, I finally got a chance to meet one of these little cuties up close. But let's back up a little bit.
I had never even heard of Saw-whet Owls until last spring. It was at the ODNR's annual Wildlife Diversity conference that I heard a presentation about Saw-whet Owls given by Kelly Williams-Sieg, an Ohio University grad student and licensed bird bander. The presentation detailed her work with Project Owlnet and how she's been banding and researching Saw-whets (and other birds) since 2004 at Earl H. Barnhart Buzzards Roost Nature Preserve in Chillicothe, Ohio. As her presentation wrapped up, I jotted down some notes and thought, "Wow, wouldn't it be cool to attend one of these banding sessions?" I left it at that, thinking it a purely whimsical notion at the time. Fast forward 6 months or so to an event at Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area, where Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalists met for a weekend of pure nature bliss, full of learning about and looking at birds, butterflies, flowers and beetles. It was here that I met Bob Scott Placer, a licensed bird bander, who also happens to live practically down the street from me. Bob has been helping Kelly band owls at Buzzards Roost from day one. After some discussions with Bob, I went out to Buzzards Roost once last year to check out the banding operation, but we struck out. It was early December, and they hadn't seen any Saw-whets for a week or so. Bob advised that we come in early November the next year for better luck.
And so we did just that. There was no pressure to see an owl or anything. It just so happened to be my birthday on the day that I chose for our owling adventure.
A group of folks from the Scioto Valley Bird and Nature Club was already there by the time we arrived around 8:15 pm. Kelly, Bob and Lisa, our banders for the evening, made several checks of the mist nets between 8:30 and 10:15, each time coming up empty-handed. By 10:30 all the bird club folks had headed home, so Dave and I were the only onlookers left. Around 10:45 the nets were checked, and still there was nothing. Bob said that during previous banding sessions so far this season the owls had been showing up pretty late, so we all hung in there for one more net check at 11:15. Lo and behold, Kelly checked a net and said she had an owl. I let out a small squeal of delight and rushed down to see for myself. Kelly deftly but gently untangled the owl from the net. It clacked its beak several times, a sound of warning. We heard plenty more of that as our time with the owl went on.
Kelly Williams-Sieg and Bob Scott Placier prepare to collect data from a Northern Saw-whet Owl.
Once the owl was freed from the mist netting, we brought it inside to band it and collect various data, such as wing and tail length, weight, and amount of fat observed.
Kelly blows the owl's feathers out of the way so she can look for fat deposits under its skin. This bird showed no fat deposits, which is typical of a bird that is in the middle of migration. Kelly also showed me how she feels along either side of the breast bone for fat, and let me feel for myself.
Kelly demonstrates how a Saw-whet bite doesn't hurt. That hooked beak looks intimidating, but that's mainly a tool for ripping the flesh of its prey. The real danger on this little predator is its talons, which Kelly experienced first-hand several times over the course of several minutes.
Normally docile and seemingly tame in the hand, this Saw-whet was an exception to the rule. She was feisty right from the start, complete with lots of bill snapping and much kicking and grabbing with those talons. Here Lisa gives the owl a momentary distraction of a pencil to hang on to while Kelly tries to reposition her for more data collection.
Taking the tail measurement. I think the owl has a most displeased expression here.
For those of you wondering how you weigh an owl (or any other small bird), this is how it's done. They go head-first into some kind of tube, which keeps them from wiggling around too much. This Saw-whet weighed in at 98.2 grams, which Kelly said was on the high side for this species. The weight, combined with tail and wing measurements suggests that this owl is a female (typically, female owls are larger than the males).
A black light is used to help age the bird. There is a certain pigment in the owls flight feathers that show up in varying degrees of pink, depending on its age. This photo doesn't do the test justice because the whole bird shows up as pink, which is not what we really saw. Based on the amount of pink we saw, and how bright the pink was, Kelly determined that this owl was born this year. That's called a hatch-year bird. So we had ourselves a fiesty, hatch-year female.
Now that we've got her vitals, let enjoy her cuteness, shall we?
Rock, paper, scissors, owl! Just kidding. Kelly's showing me how to hold my fingers as I prepare to get the best birthday present a birder could ask for...
... A loving gaze from a teeny, tiny owl. Say it with me everyone: Awwwwwwwwww.
Despite all the attitude and the feistyness, this little ball of fluff could not resist the power of a good head rub. I have read about this phenomenon from others, and she did indeed just keep pushing her head back farther and farther as I ran my finger down her head and back. She did show some signs of resistance though, as she simultaneously pushed into the head rub while snapping her bill half-heartedly. The theory behind what seems to be the owl's enjoyment of this action is that it reminds them of mutual grooming and preening that they do in the wild (especially mother with owlet).
One last pose with "my" owl before we took her outside to be released.
It took a few minutes for us to walk down to the spot where we released her, which gave her eyes time to adjust to the dark enough so that she could see to fly off to a nearby perch. Kelly placed her on my arm, and I had a feeling it wouldn't take her too long to fly off, given all the attitude she had given us while in our care. Sure enough, she took off within 5 seconds, wooshing over my head into a tree just behind me. Luckily I was able to turn around fast enough to see her outstretched wings back-lit against a sky brightened by a waning moon just before she landed.
All in all, I'd say that experience was a pretty cool birthday present. Thank you Kelly, Bob and Lisa. And thank you, little owl. I was very honored to meet you.
But wait, don't go away yet! Please be sure to check out THIS ARTICLE from the October 2008 issue of Ohio Magazine that goes into a little more detail about the Saw-whet banding project. And to see the banding process in action, watch THIS VIDEO by ODNR's Division of Wildlife.