Travel photo gear

Camera or travel photography buffs may enjoy this blog entry more than casual visitos. Just warning you – it’s about gear, not moments or thoughts. 

When we traveled to India and Iceland I carried a full size DSLR (Nikon D800) with a Nikon 28-300 mm lens attached.  I also carried a laptop computer and 2 external hard disks for backup creation. With batteries and cables added in the gear filled a small Lowe camera backpack and weighed a little bit more than too much. Carrying the camera and lens over my shoulder or around my neck was not something I really wanted to do since the camera flopped around unmercifully and screamed “here’s a really nice camera for the taking”. It was always awkward to try to access he camera, shoot and then stow it away again. I frequently carried it in my hand which stopped the flopping around but left the camera out and subject to weather and loss.

The photo below shows the gear I am using during our 3 week trip to Europe. Most of our travel is by train but cars, boats, planes, bicycles and feet have all played major roles as we move around.  This gear packs nicely in a small pack and, thanks to the binocular strap, can be carried in front of my chest without flopping around or over my shoulder. The difference n weight between this gear and the Nikon set is a true bonus at the end of the day. The camera went everywhere with me. The Nikon frequently stayed securely stored and not available for photos.

The Fuji X-T1 camera and 18-55 lens is small, lightweight and produces great Raw files. Thrown over my shoulder the camera is accessible and secure. I opted to take a 10-24mm lens thinking about cathedral interiors and grand landscapes. Really, I did not use it but a handful of times. Given the opportunities for decent bird photos I wished that I had brought my 55-200 instead. Next time I’ll likely bring all three lenses if carry on baggage weight limits allow.

In addition to the Fuji I brought along the little Ricoh Theta S 360 camera. A novelty camera but it provides a unique view. I did not use it as much as I thought I might.

I brought along 3 batteries for the Fuji camera. Normally I use the additional battery pack but wanted to save weight and present as small a camera as reasonable. I carried 2 extra batteries with me and had to swap to a charged battery several times near the end of the day.

Storage and backup of files has always been an issue for me. As mentioned, I used to carry 2 external hard disks for backup purposes.  I’d keep one with me and the other n my luggage. For this trip I opted to use memory cards as my primary storage and a Western Digital 2tb “My Passport Wireless Pro” hard disk as my only backup. This device has an SD card reader built in and creates a local wifi network that can be coupled to an iPad or other mobile device.

I carried 4 memory cards: 2-64gb, 1-32gb and 1-16gb. As I write this blog entry I have just put the 32gb card in the camera and have used most of both 64gb cards.  I have 48gb left for the last 3 days of our trip.

The Western Digital hard drive is working perfectly for my purposes.  When I insert an SD memory card into its reader the images automatically copy to the WD hard disk.  Before we left I was unable to figure out how to access the RAW files stored on the WD disk so I shooting both RAW and JPG.  I can easily see and move JPG files from the WD drive to my iPad using the WD app on the iPad or iPhone.

The iPad has taken the place of a laptop. It is vastly smaller and easier to use for photos or email. I’m writing this blog entry on it.  Yes, I would prefer to use Lightroom but a variety of iPad apps provide a robust set of editing tools. I have been using Snapseed and PhotoGene apps to process JPG files for posting to social media as we travel. I use the RollWorld app to generate the “little planet” mages I’ve posted. While I enjoy these weird views I realize that most people just wonder what the heck they are looking at. I try to use them sparingly until I get more experience shooting images that translate into impactful photos. 

Another aspect of my travel photography involves keeping track of where images are taken so details can be researched later. Shooting 50 images from a train doing 90 mph between Passau and Munich Germany is one thing.  Being able to know where that castle is once I get home is totally another thing. I’ll write up a blog soon to let you know how I did the location-photo synchronization.  Stay tuned.

I’ll close by saying that this gear has performed well. The Fuji shutter speed/exposure dial combination is gummed up somehow and I am forced to shoot in aperture priority rather than manual. Not a loss really but it requires more thought by me since it is not my normal way of doing things. I am anxious to get the RAW files into Lightroom, append GPS data and get key wording completed. Lots of work ahead but the trip’s photos are valuable to us and worth every effort.

100 Birds – #28

I drove up Number 2 Canyon Road this morning hoping to see a “first of year” Bullock’s Oriole.  I was fairly late leaving and knew that the light would be a challenge but I was more interested in just finding an Oriole than in getting a photo. I had the camera beside me in case something just happened to present itself.

I stopped at the location where I spent an hour with Yellow-breasted Chat recently.  After waiting 15 minutes I moved on up canyon.  No birds there today.  There’s a tree about half way up the canyon that sits near the road and has a great dead top that birds seem to really enjoy.  Morning and afternoon light here sucks but can produce some decent images if the bird is positioned properly.  My plan was to go up to the tree and see what was happening.

I parked in a spot that allows me to easily see the tree and canyon vegetation nearby without leaving my truck.  Staying in your vehicle is frequently very advantageous for bird photography… a lesson I learned well at the Ridgefield Nationa Wildlife Refuge. As suspected, the light was awful and even the upper, dead branches were silhouetted. A caught a bit of motion off to my left and down the road a bit.  I saw a yellow bird fly into some low vegetation and disappear. Seconds later it reappeared in the middle of the thickest part of the shrub.  It hopped up onto a higher branch and began coaching it to an even higher branch where I might get a shot.  As I watched through the binocs I confirmed that it was a Bullock’s Oriole.  First of  year bird…  check.  Then the bird flew off up canyon.  Bye bye birdie.

Since the light on that side of the road was so much better I coasted down the road about 20 yards and parked across from the point I’d seen the bird disappear from sight.  I waited. The first bird to show up was female Lazuli Bunting. She didn’t hang around long and disappeared into the thicket.  5 minutes later this male Lazuli Bunting flew into a nicely open branch and started working his way toward the female.

I usually focus manually with the X-T2.  I proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that I can’t focus manually on my Nikon gear.  The advantage that focus peaking on the X-T2 (and X-T1,  X-T10 or other mirrorless cameras) provides is amazing.  I had been using back button focusing to get into the general zone of the bird and then fine tuning the focus manually. Today I moved the camera off manual focus and put it on Single Shot mode. I learned that if I half-press the shutter button and hold the shutter button there I can still focus manually and use focus peaking to make sure the bird is critically focused. I’ll experiment with this in the coming days.  On the surface it doesn’t seem that the technique would be a real advantage over the method I am most used to.  Then again, it may be a bit faster to gain focus on a bird.  That little bit of speed could be the difference between a useful shot and “bye bye birdie”.

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100 Birds – #27

Moving to the east side of Washington means that we get to see many different species of birds that didn’t show up on the west side of Cascades where we lived for a long time. When I roamed around the west side of Oregon I’d occasionally run into a bird that seemed out of range.  One notable encounter was a female Vermillion Flycatcher that had gotten well north of its normal range. Yellow-breasted Chat do make an appearance on the west side of the Cascades but sightings are not all that common and usually result in a rare bird alert or at least a bit of clamor on the bird sighting networks.

I heard about a Chat at Steigerwald National Wildlife Refuge a few years ago and went to see if I could locate the bird.  When I didn’t spot it I asked my friend Gerry Ellis for some ideas on how to better my chances.  He advised that they typically hide in dense shrubs and to listen for their song/call (always good advice).  Well, that didn’t result in a sighting for me so I kept the bird on my list of “birds to see and photograph”.

Gerry and Jenn were pushing for a long list of birds in 2015… kind of their own Big Year.  One of the birds that was becoming a nemesis was the Yellow-breasted Chat. It’s pretty easy to torment them with info about a species that they figure they should be able to spot easily but which proves to be evasive.  Having moved to Wenatchee I was exploring above our house last May and heard a Chat calling.  This bird has a wide variety of calls/songs but all are distinctive.  I pulled over and began the wait.  After awhile I saw the bird in the distance.  As Gerry said, the bird was about mid-level in a shrub and not clearly visible.  I did manage to get one or two reasonable photos to validate that I’d seen the bird.  I scurried home to let Gerry know that I’d found Chat in the canyon above our house… about a mile away.  You can imagine his angst.

Shortly after that my friend Steve came to town for a visit and to see some birds.  We went up-canyon and found the Chat again.  I got a couple more mediocre photos but was encouraged that bird was actually mostly in the open and easily seen.  Backlight spoiled my photos that day.

A few days ago I went back up the canyon to see if I could find the Yellow-breasted Chat that I had heard a few days prior.  I pulled off on one of the few safe turnouts and grabbed the camera and binocs and stood patiently as I listened to at least 2 Chat calling. After about 30 minutes a Chat flew into the top of nearby tree and posed as it called.  Backlight was again a problem for photographs but that didn’t stop me from firing off a couple of dozen frames.  Then the bird relocated and turned into the light.  I took photos until my arms began to cramp.  The Chat just seemed to be working poses for my benefit. I was not able to adjust my position too much but did what I could to find a clean background. I was thrilled to have a long period with this bird when the light was good and I had no reason to rush away.  This was a reward for all the times that I’ve been skunked or failed with the camera.

Yes, I sent a copy of the photo to Gerry and Jenn.  Gerry is working hard on his premiere episode of Apes Like Us on YouTube and is tied to his office much more than he likes.  Again, a photo of the Chat gave him a bit of a mental break even if it did frustrate him a bit.  The nemesis bird continues for him.  Me, I’m a happy photographer.

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100 Birds – #26

I have been taking photographs of birds for over a decade now and I am proud of many of the images. I will always look to the truly great bird photographers for inspiration and encouragement to improve my skills. Still, it is truly rewarding to have someone look at my images and take the time to provide positive or complimentary feedback. In this day of “likes” and “+1′” I find a simple comment from a respected photographer to be vastly more rewarding and meaningful.

I recently produced a bird identification poster for the North Central Washington Audubon Society. The poster shows only birds that are common to our area in spring, summer and fall. It is not a comprehensive display but it does serve well as an educational prop for Audubon’s events. The poster is printed at 11×17″ for handouts and 24×36″ for display and discussion.

If you examine existing bird ID posters you see the artwork of master bird illustrators. Sibley and Peterson both created wonderful drawings of bird species around the globe.  Stokes, on the other hand, uses real photographs in their bird ID book and many people prefer a photo to an illustration. Some others prefer to see just simplified art, like a silhouette, as the main part of an ID exercise.  All these approaches have merit.

My photographs are the foundation for the bird illustrations on the Audubon poster. I use the term “illustration” loosely.  The process I use does not rely on pen and ink or brush and canvas.  Rather, I turn a photograph of a bird into an illustration using a variety of computer software.  Specifically, I use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom to organize and process my images for any presentation, Adobe Photoshop for fine tuning images and for making specific adjustments, Dynamic Auto Painter Pro by Mediachance to make the conversion from a photo to an illustration and the Topaz Remask 5 Photoshop plugin to cut the bird out from its background. The result is a stylized bird illustration that retains color fidelity and accuracy (most times) as well important field marks used for field identification. The final file is saved as a Photoshop file and as a transpaent PNG file to allow the bird to be placed on a variety of backgrounds – white in the case of the Audubon poster.

As I was learning the process and settings in each software application I used a few friends and fellow photographers to critique and comment on the images. My thanks for your willingness to comment and for your patience with me. Other than some challenges with birds that have a white crown or breast or ones in which the color shifted during the conversion to an illustration, the birds got favorable reviews. Once I had the workflow established I began production of the separate bird illustrations.

My first effort was this Great Blue Heron.  I chose a heron because of its size and feather characteristics knowing that the painting routine would emphasize the textures and character of the feathers.

This is one of several hundred heron images I have from my visits to the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge north of Vancouver, Washington. These birds are capable of standing totally still for a very long time as they wait for a fish or frog or other food to enter their strike zone. One day I decided I would wait patiently until a heron moved from its stationary pose.  I was glad I had brought a lunch because I ate it while watching. I left after an hour and the heron was still just standing there, most likely it was asleep.

I refer to the upright pose they most commonly use as “hunter pose 1”. They will stalk their prey very slowly and extend their neck forward and down, what I call “hunter pose 2”, as they prepare to strike. Once they determine it is time the actual strike happens lightning fast. I’ve watched a heron eat moles, voles, snakes, frogs and fish in my frequent visits to Ridgefield.  I’ve seen herons miss their prey a number of times but I estimate their success rate is about 75% – much better than hitting by major league baseball players.

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My intent is to present many of the bird illustrations here in the blog and tell the backstory of the image as I originally planned to do in this “100 Birds” sequence.  Hopefully the fact that  many images are prepared and ready to go will jump start my energy to add to the series. Stay tuned, please.

 

100 Birds – #25

Some birds are almost impossible to photograph because of their behavior.  Some are nervous as soon as they see a human’s profile and fly to cover.  Others never – OK, rarely – come out to play with the lens.  You hear them and can see movement in the brush but you don’t see the bird clearly enough for a photo.  Yet others like this Ruby-crowned Kinglet are frenetic.  You can see them in the open fairly frequently but they rarely sit still long enough to compose-focus-shoot. I’ve junked hundreds of frames of these birds due to motion blur and just poor performance on my part.

The Ruby-crowned kinglet quickly became one of my “target birds”.  These are birds that sit near the top of my list of unphotographed birds.  They are at the top because I’ve seen them repeatedly and failed to bring home the goods.  Maybe I should think about the top ten birds on that list as my “frustration file”.

But occasionally luck prevails and I find a bird in the open that sits still long enough to actually get a photo. Luck plays heavily in a lot of my photography.  I’m just fine with that and can quickly make up a great story of learning about the bird’s behavior and preferences along with long periods of time spent studying them in the wild.  But the fact is that most of the time I just get lucky and have my camera dialed in (mostly) and the bird jumps in front of it.  Click.

This kinglet was busy foraging for bugs in the duff below a fir tree on the north side of Commonwealth Lake Park in Beaverton, Oregon. When nervous, it would hop up onto a branch and prepare to dive for cover.  I approached the area slowly and on a “wander around” path.  I’ve heard that birds relax if they think you are not looking at them or have something else on your mind.  I think that’s mostly bunk but I’ll do whatever I can to get a shot of a bird on my list. This bird was pretty involved with its foraging and seemed to tolerate me as I moved in. I watched a few minutes as it hopped around and pre-focused on an area that it was frequently using.  When it hopped onto the stage I’d take a few frames. Even with that amount of cooperation and preparation my failure rate was over 90%. Whatever.  I got a decent shot of the elusive Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

Males of the species have a bright red patch on the top of their heads that they show only when trying to impress a female or to defend a territory against another male.  Someday I hope to get a photo of one of these that actually shows this feature.  Yes, the bird is still near the top of my list.

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100 Birds – #24

You are asked to stay in your car and drive the 4 mile loop road when you travel through the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge’s River S Unit in the winter months.  There are a couple of distinct advantages in doing this – you get to ride comfortably in your car so you stay warm and dry but, more importantly, you are not viewed as a human by the birds and other animals.  As a result, you get much closer to the birds than you would if you were walking. This isn’t to say that they don’t see you and become wary – they do. But they get used to cars moving by and don’t feel nearly as threatened as they do when an upright human is walking nearby.  Believe me, the Ridgefield requirement to stay in your car is NOT a penalty.  It is a benefit even if you have to bend and twist at times to see out a window…a small price to pay to have birds so close.

There is one location along the driving route where you can get out of your car, use the restroom and walk a short distance to a blind overlooking a lake and its associated marsh edges. You walk through a mixed forest of shrubs and overstory trees to get the blind and will frequently see many small songbirds along the way.   For me, the photographic reward of looking out of the blind at the lake is far smaller than what I reap on the short walk out and back.  It is not uncommon to see a variety of sparrows and nuthatch along with kinglets and chickadees.

I was surprised one drizzly day to see a Red-tailed hawk sitting on a branch about 20 yards away from the trail.  It is uncommon to see one of these birds perched so low and so willing to sit as I fiddled with the camera settings to take its photo.  It was wet and did not look all that comfortable but stayed still as I juggled my position to change foreground and background characteristics and click a few portraits.

I always think there is a proper balance between “working the scene” and overdoing it.  I try to get both vertical and horizontal formats on the camera.  I tend to overshoot just to make sure that I have a few sharp images to work with. I know others who shoot more than I do and that’s just fine.  I still think I have too many similar images to sort through at home and try to avoid unnecessary clicks.  I’m rarely successful at limiting my enthusiastic trigger finger.

The image below is one of 45 that I took of this hawk on that cloudy, cool, slightly wet day.  Each file on my computer has a nuanced difference in the pose.  I think that I benefit from having to evaluate such similar but distinct images.  I’ve learned what type of pose pleases me most.  I am also quite aware of how many photos fail due to lack of focus, shadows on the bird’s eye(s), too much stuff competing for your eye or poor exposure.  Lots of experience gained through “failure”.

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First Anniversary

Today marks the one year anniversary of when we signed the papers to become property owners here in Wenatchee, Washington.  Since anniversaries are traditionally times to reflect on events and other notable things that occurred we thought it would be a good time to jot down some of our highlights. Before we get into it, be advised that this is a long text only blog entry.  You’ve been warned.

Our local friend John Barta lead us to a couple of commercial videos that showcase Wenatchee.  If you have 5-10 minutes to spare and want to see why we moved to Wenatchee you could watch one or both of these videos:

 

Now, the house.  We signed the papers and were handed keys and told to wait until the papers had been recorded to enter the house.  We went and had a bite and then sat at the base of the driveway until we got the official call. We’ve walked into a new house several times before so we weren’t entirely new to this.  But this felt a bit different in that we are viewing this place as our “toe tag” house.  We intend to stay here until something happens that says we can’t be here anymore.  So we walked the house and yard that first day and kind of breathed in all the hopes and the reality of the work that awaited us once we actually moved in. A nice bottle of wine accompanied us on our explorations… the first of many to come.

In the last year we have completed two LARGE projects:

(1) Carpet was removed from the great room and hardwoods were put down to merge with the existing hardwoods.  A great job by Artisan Flooring of Cashmere, by the way. We felt particularly good about finding a way to repurpose the carpet rather than have it go to the landfill.  Our thanks to Rick Edwards, a good friend from my Forest Service days, for pulling the carpet and pad for reuse in his son’s house.  I guess it makes sense but we were disappointed that Habitat for Humanity or Goodwill would not take the carpet.  Rick not only took the carpet, he did all the heavy lifting … literally.  Thanks Rick.

(2) We knew that the driveway would likely be an issue once it started snowing.  The drive was STEEP.  By that I mean over 40% at its steepest.  And it had a curve that meant you could not back straight down from the garage.  We thought we’d live with it and adjust as needed.  Well, between our Accord high centering (slightly) at the top of hill in front of the garage and the snow (more about that in a minute) we realized that something had to happen to minimize the shortcomings. We took advantage of anyone who stopped by the house and all our neighbors to talk about options.  After a couple of months I came up with a design that simply lowered the top of steep hill coming from the street where it flattened to enter the garage bays.  We removed the  curved eco-block stairs and replaced them with “poured in place” stairs with a handrail. The new drive now allows straight egress from the garage and there is no high center dragging of our cars or others.  It looks like other drives in the area.  It’s still steep but it isn’t “stupid steep”.  Yes, we thought about this a lot before buying the house.  Yes I tested the drive with our CR-V before we bought the house. No, we did not test the drive with the Accord…ooops.  Yes we are happy to have the project done. It took a week of excavation and layout and pouring but the end result is vastly more useful and should not present too much re-sale liability when it comes time.  Whew.

Those were the big projects.  We have also painted the ceiling and walls of the great room and begun the design of the backyard bird/yoga sanctuary.  Our goal is to create a space with a variety of native shrubs and trees to provide habitat for birds and that is consistent with the “fire-wise” emphasis of Wenatchee.  We will incorporate a platform/pagoda area for Dianne to use for yoga and which will serve as a bird photo blind as well.  All this with the criteria of maintaining our view of Castle Rock as we sit on the patio in the evenings. There is little doubt in my mind that the wonderful evenings we have spent sitting on the patio with Portland friends Jenn and Gerry has greatly influenced our thinking about what a treat it can be to have your own bird patch that brings constant entertainment and variety to your doorstep.  We planted a chokecherry, 2 elderberry, a mock orange and dwarf almond (all natives) and are hoping they all make it through the heat of the first summer. We planted a dogwood tree as a centerpiece tree only to learn that the species does much better if it is under some other trees.  We’ll monitor this tree closely and make any adjustments needed. Along with the planting we’ve been making good headway on removal of crabgrass and clover.  The grass looks alive now rather than miserable. The irrigation system is working and we appreciate having a flat rate irrigation supply for outside use.

We shoveled a record amount of snow off the drive and sidewalks this last winter. Even the long time neighbors were talking about how the snow was unusual.  Since we were raised in Colorado and lived in Bend, Oregon for 9 years, shoveling was not a new thing.  I quickly realized that we have the longest stretch of sidewalk in the neighborhood.  And the steepest driveway.  The snow was all present during the time that the original steep drive was in place. My first shoveling experience had to provide the neighbors a good show.  Slipping and sliding is not efficient when the goal is to remove snow.  So, we invested in boot chains which allow us to walk safely on the drive when it is white with snow…no small thing.  Believe me.

We spent a lot of time exploring the area and walking or hiking nearby and remote trails.  We were frequent visitors to Walla Walla Point Park that runs along side the Columbia River about 3 miles from our house. The park has a paved path and the Chelan County PUD built and maintains the park.  It’s a great place that is well cared for and offers a nice diversity of habitats for birds and venues for people to play. We were frequently the only ones walking during the winter and now share the park with visitors to town and lots of locals. Lots of activity in the area: speed boats, canoes, shells, kayaks, swimming, cycling, running, walking, sitting.  It’s a nice place and we feel fortunate to have the easy access we do.

We have been wearing Garmin smart watches since last October to monitor our steps goals and sleeping. I see that I have walked over 1,140 miles since  October 2015.  That’s over 2.2 million steps.  I’m guessing that about half of that qualifies as exercise.  The other part is incidental steps around the house or town.  There is a lot of room to do better but the statistics are still kind of impressive to me.

Birding takes us out to explore. Beside seeing 26 species in our yard since we moved in, we have seen 138 species in Washington State.  We are learning to appreciate the quail waking us up in the morning even if it is a bit too early most days. I’ve picked up 11 new life birds in Washington since we moved. I still look forward to time out with our friend Steve Howes as we explore areas with the pretense of finding birds. Traveling backroads with Steve is always enjoyable and educational.

We have new friends in Wenatchee.  We’ve met people who share interests in birds and photography. We have new friends who specialize in local flora and fauna. We took a bird ID class to meet people who enjoy birds and to find out about local bird hotspots. Dianne is now working part-time at Ila, the local yoga studio and is gathering a new set of yoga friends. I frequently share a Thursday morning breakfast with friends from my Forest Service days.  All of these guys have been remarkably helpful to me/us as we learn our way around.  Learning the history and culture of Wenatchee is a lot easier when you get to talk to people who have been here a long time. Local Facebook friends lead us to new local resources and provide everything from advice to plants that favor hummingbirds. Our network is growing virtually and literally.

Without doubt, our greatest pleasure has come from the times we’ve shared with visitors to our house.  We’ve had 15 visitors in 11 months.  They’ve come from as far away as Germany (Ricky and Klaus) and Medford, Oregon (Barb and Jon). We’ve been used as a place to meet and enjoy by friends coming from Montana and Portland to share a weekend here (Audrey and Vicke). We have had the pleasure of showing new birding areas to our dear friends Jenn and Gerry.  Steve Howes has been here a couple of times. We enjoyed a musical visit from Ross and Carrie. Last year we photographed the wedding of Lynn and Lyle in Butte, MT and they came for a weekend now that they are living in the Seattle area. We’ve had family from Montana twice…always a treat. Friend Stacia stopped by for a night as she returned from Chelan. We are looking forward to a visit from long time friends Dave and Mary next month and from KT, coming from Kentucky, in September. We’ve tried to cajole visits from others from New York to Colorado and hope that they will be able to travel west sometime soon. All the visits have given us an excuse to explore new areas and we thank our guests for their patience and flexibility.

In review, we would give our first year in Wenatchee a solid A grade. We enjoy the slower, easier life of the smaller town.  We miss our family and friends in Oregon and having access to things like good bread and a greater variety of groceries. But it’s fruit season now and we are enjoying fresh cherries, apricots, peaches and blueberries. Apples are on the horizon. What we could not find here we have found on Amazon or Wayfair. We feel mostly complete and the projects are lined up for our energy as we deem fit. Our visitors have all left with smiles and an appreciation for our town and what it offers.  We are healthy and have all our doctors, lawyers and such in place. We’re here for the duration and welcome anyone who wants to stop by to visit.  We’ll leave a light on for you.

100 Birds – #23

The Belted Kingfisher is the only kingfisher species in the majority of North America. The Green and Ringed Kingfishers have very limited ranges in southern Texas so most Americans won’t see anything but the Belted Kingfisher.  What a shame!  When we visited the Sunderbans area of India in 2011 we saw six species of kingfisher in the first hour we were on the boat. Wow.

These birds are not easy to get close to as they typically sit where they have an open view and tend to be pretty cautious when humans show up.  Many is the time that I’ve seen nothing but the bird’s back end as it flies away to another favored perch. They will perch on a branch above or near water and scout for fish.  When they see prey they will dive and catch the fish or prey in their distinctive beak.  After they get the catch they fly back up to the perch for a snack. Kingfisher seem to want to make sure that you know they are in the area.  Their call is loud and distinctive.  “Look at me”, “over here”, “LOOK AT ME”.

Belted Kingfisher are fairly common here in Wenatchee.  We walk the river path frequently and it is a rare day when we don’t hear or see a kingfisher.  Do I have any contemporary photos of a kingfisher?  Nope.  It seems that every time I see a kingfisher within distance to photograph it is on a day when I was lazy and left the camera at home. Dianne is nice to me and doesn’t chastise me for leaving the camera behind.  Really, she doesn’t have to since I do enough by myself.  This photo is a heavy crop of an image taken back in Oregon as the bird perched above Commonwealth Lake Park.

There are a couple of local photographers that I have visited with enough that I presume I can now refer to them as friends.  John Barta and his wife Linda are frequent visitors to the Walla Walla Park area where we like to walk.  Frank Cone is a prolific local photographer that I see less frequently face-to-face but with whom I communicate on Facebook.  Both John and Frank have been posting a number of kingfisher photos lately.  I enjoy their work and have a bit of kingfisher-envy.  My lesson is that I need to be out there if I am to expect to get a photo.  Oh yeah, and it helps to have a camera along… makes it a lot easier to take a photo if you have one.

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100 Birds – #22

 

When we moved to Wenatchee, Washington we knew we’d see a variety of birds that inhabit the eastside of the Cascade mountains. We were excited to see new species.  What I didn’t think about (at least not much) was the species we’d leave behind.  Some birds that we saw commonly at our Portland house or in the area just don’t seem to make it over the hill and this far north.  Or so it seems with the Lesser Goldfinch.  In Portland we saw a lot of these birds and fewer of the American Goldfinch.  Here in Wenatchee we see a lot of American Goldfinch and I have yet to see a Lesser Goldfinch in the neighborhood.  Looking at a range map for the Lesser it may be that we are too far north for the Lesser to show up.  That could change as climate change occurs.

This photo was taken about 3 miles from our house in Portland.  Commonwealth Lake Park is an urban park that has a 0.75 mile paved trail around it.  The pond lays in some the highest density urban areas in the state of Oregon and gets a tremendous amount of use by a wide variety of people.  I fell into the group of users that showed up frequently, walked a couple of laps (or more) and carried binoculars and a camera.  On this day there was a small flock of Lesser Goldfinch hanging out in a sparse tree at the west end of the park.  Busy feeding on catkins they seemed unconcerned about me and the camera.  This is as close it comes to automatic photo taking – many birds to look at, all fairly low in the tree, unconcerned and perched in even lighting.  Click, click, click.  Next?

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100 Birds – #21

A day alone in the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge north of Vancouver, Washington always reaps rewards. I tend to start such a day with a cup of coffee as I sit near the entry station listening to birds and other sounds come from the marsh and forest cover of the refuge. I take note of birds flying in and out and begin to glass the birds with binoculars.  I’ll check the camera settings, position the beanbag on the window and dial in a rough exposure so I am mostly prepared when a photo presents itself.  It always presents itself.  Ridgefield never disappoints when it comes to birds.  I really can’t think of a time when I left the refuge without at least one nice opportunity to photograph a bird, a raccoon or some scene.  The place is rich and is a treat to visit any time of the year – mosquitos and other visitors may color the experience but there are always moments when you can be alone with the place and the critters that frequent it. Watching the sunrise over a marsh full of waterfowl, blackbirds and wrens is hard to beat if you want to begin a calm, zen-like day.

The automobile route of the Ridgefield NWR S Unit is about 4 miles long and you are required to stay in your vehicle much of the year.  During a few summer months you can exit your car and walk around.  It is during this time that the Kiwa trail is open to visitors and offers a wide variety of habitats and avian opportunities. The refuge is typically quiet with the exception of the train movement on the east side of the refuge. Much of the time in the refuge can be a pretty pure “moment of nature” if you want one.

The refuge is managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service as part of the national network of refuges.  As such, activities occur within the refuge.  Seasonal waterfowl hunting is allowed.  Water levels are regulated.  Roads are graded. Vegetation is managed in a minimal way…plantings and weed control.  The refuge, like the others, is a busy place.  Management is intended to foster habitats to support the wildlife populations that use the area.  While there is always debate about what is being done, what should be done or what should NOT be done, the intent is benefit wildlife.  Humans are lucky to have access to the area. The value of the refuge is increasing rapidly in my opinion.  Housing development on the perimeter has changed the experience and influences the edge vegetation/habitats. I think the development is inevitable and something that I need to come to grips with.  I wish there was a nice buffer around the refuge to ease the immediate geographic pressures of houses against native forests and wetlands. That won’t happen now so the value of the refuge goes way up. The refuge is an island of nature in a fragmented landscape. People should recognize and appreciate the treasure they have in their back yard.

I was driving slowly around the loop and making stops when I thought a photo might be possible or when I just wanted to stop and watch, listen and feel the place. At one point I approached a culvert crossing of the road and it looked different to me.  It was.  Managers had come in with equipment and cleaned the inlet and outlet of the culvert to allow water flow.  There was a fairly large pile of what I think was some road gravels that had been pulled out of the water and piled along the road.  It was a pile of black sands and gravels and seeds and leaves had begun to accumulate on the surface. There were several Golden-crowned Sparrows hopping around gathering seeds.  The light was a fairly bright overcast.  I pulled over and parked nearby.  As I sat still watching the action, the birds adjusted to my car and me and resumed their work.  It’s always work for a bird.  Find food, preen and protect your feathers, watch for danger, find a mate… it is nonstop.

I raised the camera onto the bean bag on my window and started following birds as they feasted on the seeds that had been uncovered during the maintenance or which had fallen since the pile was placed. The setting on the dark pile of gravel/sand was different than anything I’d shot before and I still have mixed feelings about it as a stage for a photograph.  But the birds were nearby and happy.  I took about 100 photos and departed the area. I selected this photo for presentation here because I like the attitude that the bird is showing.  It looks confident, alert and a bit brash…almost challenging. Many photographers prefer the mega-birds for photography – the herons, eagles and egrets or geese.  I do too but can’t seem to resist a chance to record a small songbird. The energy and small size of these sparrows adds a challenge to the photo work.  The result, though, is that once the photo is on the computer monitor I get to take a close look at the beauty of the feathers on the bird and dramatic display of structure around the eye. So often we see birds fly by and they go virtually unnoticed.  There’s a bird.  Big deal.  Seeing a bird fly by and knowing what it is seems to be the next step in appreciating the complexity and dynamics of our birds. Studying, in an informal way, the variety and complexity of feathers on a single bird is not something that most people can or want to do. Me, I enjoy seeing the patterns and variety of feathers and wondering “Why? How?” Some may say I’m curious.  Others may say I’m nuts.  I think I’m fortunate. 20140221_104015_DSC_7395