Grateful, but humbled

Being red-green colorblind used to be slightly inconvenient but an entertaining affliction that I repeatedly tried to explain or discuss with color-normal people. Being colorblind became an annoyance in the later years of my working career due to an increased use of, and reliance on, GIS technology. The color palettes that ArcView provides are subtle variations of colors that are troublesome to me. Maps codes with such colors were useless to me.

Being a colorblind photographer has not been much of an issue for me. For the most part, I am able to compose and expose without any reliance on colors. Digital processing has helped me ensure accurate colors in my photos except when I venture out to places in Photoshop or Lightroom that I should not enter without a trusted escort. Our recent trip to Ecuador to see and photograph a sampling of the 1600+ species of bird took my colorblindness to a totally new level.

It seems that many of the birds in Ecuador incorporate “red”, “rufous”, “cinnamon”, “crimson” or other red-related adjectives in their names. After studying several field guides, I knew going into the tour that I was in for a challenge. My usual technique, such as it is, is to locate birds by movement and then work to capture a photo. That technique worked well most of the time in Ecuador since the birds are pretty active and frequently move around. Every once in awhile, though, I’d be faced with a dense, dark jungle while everyone around me was raving about the magnificent red bird in our view. I contained my frustrations – mostly. Dianne came to my rescue many times and led my gaze to the bird(s). Others in our group developed an awareness and sensitivity to my situation and offered help when they could.

For example, we were traveling to a new lodge on our route through the Andes when the bus stopped and began backing up. Our guide, Edwin, was already out of his seat and explaining that there was an Andean Cock-of-the-Rock sitting on a nest above the road. We all exited the bus and walked down the road for a view. I heard all sorts of exclamations from my friends as they brought their binoculars up to see the bird. Picture, if you will, a nearly vertical wall about 50 feet tall rising above you. The wall is shaded and partially vegetated. Your job is to locate a red bird sitting on a nest in the deep shade. Dianne jumped in to help and I still could not find the bird. Others began guiding my view using a variety of landmarks on the wall… dangling vines, bright horizontal stems, etc. I finally found the nest in my viewfinder and locked in the location in my mind. After moving around a bit to clear the view, this is the scene I captured.

Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, female. Wildsumaco area.

I was grateful for the patience my companions showed and for their help finding the bird. But there is one more situation that prompted this blog entry. I am still torn about how to phrase the description of the event. The title of the blog is purposeful, as I will try to explain.

Most of our group had departed from the lodge at Wildsumaco to hike the trails with our expert guide, Edwin Perez. Three of us (John Winnie, Tom Sparlin and I) remained on the deck outside the restaurant and were enjoying a great variety of hummingbirds and other birds. An employee of the lodge came abruptly onto the deck and asked if we would like to see the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock. Well, YES!! Off we went, following this fellow down the trail. He stopped and pointed into the darkest jungle. John and Tom got very excited to see a male Cock-of-the-Rock and began hastily setting up their tripods to take photos. I scanned the scene over and over looking for the bright red bird in a sea of green. I got nothing. I heard shutters clicking near me and knew that my friends were making photographic moments of this iconic Ecuadorian bird. I continued to scan and continued to get nothing. Nada. Zero. I must of groaned. Perhaps I screamed in frustration about not seeing the bird. John, the ever-professional tour leader, took pity on me and stepped behind my tripod, grabbed the camera and centered the bird in my viewfinder. As he stepped away he told me to lock the tripod down, that the bird was dead center in my view. I did as he suggested, and began adjusting the focus point to center on the birds eye. My camera zooms 10x when I manually focus so I was working hard to ensure that the eye was sharp. The bird is basically a rounded object with little contrast on which to focus. The eye was basically all I could see. I clicked away and then made a point to refocus. More clicking and focus checking. I knew that there was a bird attached to that eye.

I was very grateful to have the help – but, I had to admit that I needed help to make a photograph. That had never happened to me before. Colorblindness crippled my ability to take a rewarding photo. Without John’s understanding and assistance I never would have gotten the images. I’m grateful, but humbled. I still have a hard time seeing the bird in the photos but I know it is near the eye. I’ve never been more grateful to see a bird’s eye.

Quito, Ecuador

We arrived in Quito late last night and were transported to our lodging at the Puembo Birding Gardens 25 minutes from the airport.

We met the owner of this home-like small guest lodging and crashed for the night. We woke to the sounds of dogs and kids next door, few, if any, bird songs or calls.

We walked into the community eating area and began to see feeders and fruit stations. The birds were there. We quickly picked up Blue-and-yellow Tanager, Saffron Finch and Sparkling Violetear. The owner, Mercedes, joined us and we began planning the day after several cups of very nice coffee, granola and yogurt with banana and a lovely omelet.

Mercedes took us across the street to her cousins home area and showed us around. Vermillion Flycatcher, White-bellied Woodstar, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird and a remarkable Black-tailed Trainbearer. Right now I am trying to learn birds and document with photos. I hope to do better photography as I get my legs under me.

Sparkling Violetear males having a discussion about individual rights.

Black-tailed Trainbearer and Sparkling Violetear.

Blue-and-yellow Tanager.

Tomorrow we head to a nearby volcano and hope to see an Andean Condor. Mercedes says we will and we aren’t going to argue. Stay tuned.

Preparing for Ecuador

We take off soon for Ecuador. We’re traveling with friends from Wenatchee and some folks we don’t know yet. The tour is organized around bird photography and hiking. We’ll be in South America and high in the Andes. Our preparation seems as complex as ever and emphasizes appropriate clothing and camera gear. Our goal is to use carry-on luggage only and we are confident we can do that. Our traveling companions kind of give us a side-eye at the notion of no checked baggage. We’ll see how it goes.

I haven’t packed a tripod since our trip to India. Our group leader, John Winnie, has convinced me to pack one this time. I anticipate a lot of time near feeder stations and, while I can easily hand hold the camera and long lens, a tripod will be an advantage over several long day of shooting.

I’ve described my super light travel camera setup before. This trip will require a few more lenses and a totally new item – a video microphone and a mic for my iPhone. I am impressed by the ability to extract single frames from 4K video. The image below is an example. Shooting video adds new challenges but offers new opportunities too. I still plan to shoot mostly still photos but expect to generate numerous short videos as well.

Being new to video means I have been trying to learn how to edit as well as shoot. It’s been a trial. Editing 4K on my PC has just recently become possible. Nothing like a new computer and updated software to add to the experience.

But what to do on the road? It would be nice to be able edit stills and video on the trip so I’ve stepped up my game. I replaced my Western Digital My Passport Pro wireless with their new, SSD model. What a difference. Let’s just say things happen MUCH faster.

Another new capability is editing video on an iPad Pro using an app called LumaFusion. This app accesses the WD drive via the drive’s WiFi and allows me to preview clips quickly. Once the clip is selected it is transferred to the timeline for editing. LumaFusion is fast and capable. Adding Lightroom CC on the iPad for RAW files rounds out the full editing studio.My conclusion is that any lack of field reports here or on social media will be my fault, not technology. I’m cautiously optimistic.

My hope is to upload a sample video of a Booted Raquettail hummingbird. Time will tell.

Morning on the Plateau

I really thought that I’d focus on landscapes or streets after the rush to produce the Bird Tales book. I was wrong. After several days of teaching grade school kids about birds and a short, but rewarding, trip to bird around the Tri-Cities with Steve Howes, I took today and ventured out on my own.

My ultimate target was the vernal pond area south and east of Mansfield, WA. I was hoping that Heritage Road was no longer flooded and access to the ponds on its sides was possible. I was envisioning Avocet and Stilt and hoping for Phalarope. I left after dawn and was on the Rock Island Grade shortly after. The first bird to greet me was announced by its song. Yellow-breasted Chat. The first time I’ve seen one on this route.

Shortly up the road I got a nice view as 10 Chukar scurried for cover to my left. I made a couple of lame attempts to catch a frame but these ground-runners foiled my plan. Next time.

As is usual, I heard the Western Meadowlark before I saw it. Over the next 30 minutes it teased me and mocked my efforts to gather a photo. It led me up the road, always about 30-50 yards from the lens. I played along. It finally played nice.

I can’t imagine a world in which I can’t hear the Meadowlark’s song.

I moved on and found a Mountain Bluebird pair tending to their young in a box. I can’t argue with success, but being hatched and raised in a box seems extreme. I could hear their cheeps as I watched the adults provide. I slowed down. Being alone, I had the option to sit and enjoy the show.

There was rarely more than 10 minutes between parental visits. The female usually approached from my left, paused nearby or on top of the box and then darted to the hole with a morsel. The male approached from the right and paused on sage or a fence wire before delivering his goods to the kids. After a couple of hundred shots I learned that my angle to the box prevented images that showed the birds coming in. Way too many butt shots. I relocated.

The semi-profile view of the nest worked much better. A few hundred images later I moved on.

A good friend introduced me to the vernal ponds near Mansfield, WA. I found Avocet and Stilt close to home that first year and each year since.. That’s a very good thing. This year, the road into the area has been flooded for a long time. It still is.

I approached a secondary pond hoping for a repeat of Phalarope. What I got was Northern Shoveler and coot. Damn. I was happy to see a few Yellow-headed Blackbirds but their numbers were low compared to previous years. It’s a strange year.

I walked in from the “road closed” sign to the currently flooded road area. A couple of Black-necked Stilt, 4 Killdeer and a bunch of Shovelers and Coot greeted me. No Avocet. I retreated to the truck.

I had to drive beside the previous pond area to access my route home. I decided to eat lunch beside the pond and see if a Shoveler would give me a gift. As I finished my tuna sandwich I saw movement along the roadside water. The binoculars showed me Wilson’s Phalarope. Could it be? They are SO small. Repeated views proved the birds. I was content, mostly. Idling the truck forward I settled in to make photos. The 3 Phalarope were on the move through grass and other obstructions. I knew that a good shot was not going to happen but I wanted “proof of view”.

I returned home having seen 24 species. Avocet were the biggest disappointment. Time will solve that problem.

From little to big

Yesterday was focused on small Nashville Warblers. Today saw us appreciating an adult Great Horned Owl and an owlet. It’s always nice to nature winning the challenge to succeed with reproduction. It seems the odds are stacked against wild critters – but that’s the cynic in me.

I just returned from a lengthy stay at an Osprey nest located on the Apple Capital Loop Trail and next door to a busy public market. A new hotel is nearing completion in the same area. And yet Osprey have successfully nested on this platform each year since we arrived. They seem to be totally at ease in this setting.

People are interesting. Some walk by and hardly glance up from their phones. Others do a double-take to try to figure out what the camera is pointed at. Some stop to ask questions about the camera or the birds. I try my best to mimic my friend John Barta and smile as I answer them. I think it’s nice to have the interactions as I wait for some activity at the nest. There’s a lot of waiting involved.

Having winds and the sun both coming from the west means I set up with the camera facing east. I wait and watch the sky. The bird in the nest starts calling and I know the mate is near. The bird arrives and lands without my seeing it approach. A low level arrival blocked by trees in the park. Oh well. Back to waiting for one of the birds to depart. It didn’t take long.

Soon the parents will be bringing fish for the young bird(s) and I hope to grab a few shots of the bird approaching with a fish and the chick squawking with anticipation. Time will tell.

Spring bird’s

I’ve been patrolling the canyon above our house expecting to hear and see Lazuli Bunting and Yellow-breasted Chat. I parked today at a spot that has been productive in the past. I sat quietly and scanned the serviceberry and other shrubs with my binoculars. Lowering the binoculars I looked for any motion. I heard a faint “cheep” nearby. Not bunting or chat. A new sound for me this year. I saw motion and brought the binocs up to see a yellow flash deep in the shrub layer. I immediately thought “chat”. Then I got a decent look at the bird and knew I was wrong. This was a Nashville Warbler. Then I picked up a couple more. I studied field marks and confirmed the ID with my Sibley guide. Then I sat back and prepared the camera to begin what is always a VERY humbling photography experience.

Photographing warblers of any kind will challenge any bird photographer. The bigger the lens, the harder it is to find these fast-moving birds. Finding one in the frame and gaining focus is an advanced skill that benefits from a large dose of luck. I set my camera to 20 frames per second and set about the task of locating birds that were somewhat open to view and not in total, deep shade. Several hundred shots later I retreated to our house and the computer. Both of these images were shot at high ISO and 1/1000 second at f/8. The sun angle was less than ideal (mostly back-lit). It is what it is. I’ll go back this evening when the sun will be favorable. For now, though, I’m happy to have a decent record of a species I had not seen in Wenatchee before today.

Bird Tales – an update

First, my sincere thanks to those of you who have purchased a copy of the book. It means a lot to us to see a committed interest.

Next, the delivery process has been interesting. We’ve mailed several and hand delivered many. The online printing is slower than I expected but still gratifying to see work by those who followed the links to Lulu.com. Thank you.

We hosted a gathering to thank many people who contributed time and content to the book. 20 people linked to a common effort. Our thanks to all, again.

A week from today we will be present at a Book Buzz at our local public market. It will be interesting to see what kind of conversations we have as people wander through.

Following that we are fortunate to be able to make the books available at our local Wild Birds Unlimited store. Patrick Bodell generously offered to provide space and make sales for me. I truly appreciate his generosity and support.

And then today I get a text from the US Postal Service that they were finally able to deliver the book to our son’s family in Bozeman. Snow had prevented delivery for a week. Glad it got there in good condition.

Another text followed shortly after. This one from our son with this photo attached. I readily admit, this melted me. Granddaughter Kendyl reading the book. She is responsible for my commitment to make the series of 100 bird blogs and, ultimately, the book. I’m extremely happy with the way the book has been received but I have to say, this photo puts it all in perspective. I couldn’t be happier or more proud. Thanks Kendyl. Thanks everyone.

Bird Tales – now available

Many people helped me in the preparation of the book “Bird Tales – One Hundred Photo Essays.” I’m more than slightly amazed by the talents and creativity of many of the people we have inherited as friends in Wenatchee. They responded quickly when I asked for help or suggestions. They all helped make the book better than it would have been without their assistance.

We held a short open house event yesterday to thank them. It was the largest gathering we’ve had in this house and we were pleased that the great room worked out as it did. Most people knew each other. Our friends, Steve and Suzanne Howes, traveled here from Pasco and were pleased to meet people that they had heard us talk about. Everyone from Wenatchee knew Steve by name since I frequently share our adventures with our Wenatchee friends. People mingled, talked, caught up and shared. It was a very rewarding experience for us to know that they all had made time in busy lives to be here. Their toasts to us and the book were humbling and appreciated.

We waited to make the book available online until we had properly thanked these people. With that done, we are really happy to announce that the book is now available for on-demand printing if you want to purchase a copy.

You can access the on-line store here:

www.lulu.com/spotlight/bpmccammon

Or you can simply go to www.lulu.com and search for Bruce McCammon on the home page. Either way will direct you to a page where you can order a book. It will take about 2 weeks to print and be delivered.

If you want a signed copy of the book please send me an email and I will sign a copy and ship it to you.

I have contacted many of you through Facebook or text/email and have your copies of the book set aside for you. PLEASE, if we have communicated about your copy, DO NOT order another copy. I will ship your book as soon some packing materials arrives. Hopefully I will be able to get the book in the mail by this time next week. Thanks very much to those of you who have already sent a check for the purchase.

We hope that you enjoy the photos and stories. It’s been fun to create the images, write the words and put them all together in book form.

Getting close

I have had travel books printed in the past. They were simple collections of photos with some text that were printed by a variety of commercial printers. For the last month I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time assembling a book that contains the 100 Birds blog entries and photos. Sort of. I decided to substitute new photos and text for all duplicate species except Snowy Owl and Bullock’s Oriole. The easy way was to just absorb the duplicate species and use existing text. However, everyone who reviewed the drafts picked up on the duplication and asked, “Why?” I also added new photos of many species when there was enough white space on page 2 or 3 of a write up.

Speaking of reviews, I did the page layout in InDesign using a master Word file containing the blog entries. Susan Blair, good friend that she is, edited the text and improved it many times over without changing my folksy style. Joe and Merry Roy looked at draft page layouts and offered great suggestions. Bill Layman went through the book draft and gave me wonderful ideas for layout and photo quality based on his experience as a self-published author of a few great books. Susan Blair went through the second version and, once again, found phrasing and grammatical errors. It’s been a bit of a long-haul project.

I just sent a clean PDF version of the whole book to friends Steve Howes and Mark Oswood to do a final pass through the book. I hope to submit the file to the printer for a beta-book trial next Sunday. Once Dianne and I do a QA/QC review and make any needed corrections I will resubmit the book for printing. I plan to print a limited run to give copies to several people as a thank you. The book will be available to order on demand. I’m getting suggestions to have a book signing at our local Wild Birds Unlimited and a book release party at the Wenatchee Museum. Whew, that sounds like a lot of exciting opportunities. Time will tell if we go forward with those events.

So, soon there will be a new book to hold. It will be full color, 196 pages and 6″x9″ in size. It will be a soft cover and perfect bound. I think it will look a lot like a book.

What now?

The last installment of the 100 Birds series has been published. Whew!

I’m not done with it, though.  I need to replace at least one duplicate bird and may do as many as 5. Once the series is complete and minimally redundant, I will begin laying out a book to be published on-demand.  I’ll edit all the text to grammar check and remove time-specific references that are out of place.  I’ll lay it out for printing and prepare the necessary PDFs.  I’m thinking of adding the camera metadata for each image.  My friend, Steve Howes, who is featured in many of the entries, has consented to write a forward for me.  He is a writer with wit and a good knowledge of me and my photographs. Another friend, has agreed to grab her sharpest red pencil and edit the text.

Once the book is ready I’ll send it off to http://www.lulu.com for printing and on-demand orders.  Yes, it will be for sale on-line at a modest price. I really look forward to holding a copy in my hands. Maybe by June? Maybe.

Thanks for all your comments and encouragement.

Onward….