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.

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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….

100 Birds – #100 Northern Pintail

The last entry in this series is a photo I think of as the best bird photo I’ve ever taken. I was alone at the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in January 2914 and the place was loaded with birds.  There was a light fog drifting through but the temperatures were very comfortable. My thermos was full of hot coffee and I had all day to myself. 

As I saw a bunch of Northern Pintails circle overhead, I pulled over to the side of the road and positioned myself to shoot out the driver-side window.  I was trying to learn how to photograph birds in flight and I thought that these Pintails would be a good practice session.  Little did I know that they would fly through my view 4 times before landing.  It was like their gift to me, as if they knew I needed a LOT of practice. I followed them into the scene in my viewfinder and pressed the shutter for a burst of images. They’d fly off and come in on approach another time. It was an amazing few minutes.  I knew my exposure was good before I started the series and I was just hoping for the birds to be sharp and not be all bunched together with excessive overlap. I got my wish.

This image is one of 4 as the birds came in.  Two images before this one have the birds flying past the trees. While they are visible, the birds don’t stand out nearly as much as they do in this photo where they are against the foggy sky and framed between trees. The shutter speed was fast enough to stop them in flight. The sharp Nikon 300mm lens did its thing and gave me very sharp details. The last image in the sequence also shows the birds against the trees.  Nice, but not as good as the sky background.

This photo has generated some very humbling and flattering comments. It is printed at 24×36 inches in our house and most visitors think it is a painting. It has a very painterly feel to it. I credit that to the environment in which the photo was taken, the birds, and the miracle technology housed in my camera and lens. The photo had very little processing done to it.

I keep working to become a better bird photographer. I realize that success as a bird photographer comes from being in the field at the right time. Increasing my knowledge of bird behavior and camera technology is fundamental to any future successful images. They say that luck favors the prepared. All I can hope for is to be in the right place at the right time with the right stuff to bring home another image that means as much to me as this one does.

100 Birds – #99 Palm Warbler

When we visited Magee Marsh in May 2018, I had a primary species I wanted to see and photograph – Prothonotary Warbler (#65). I was really pleased to have that opportunity. Bird #98, Yellow Warbler, was another high priority to see and photograph. Check. We studied warblers for weeks before our visit and knew we were going to be treated to many new, colorful birds. I had no idea that the photos of a Palm Warbler would please me so much.

I need to go back through the bird images taken this year to be sure, but I think this may be my pick for “Best of Year” bird image. Certainly, it is in the top 5-10. There are a couple of things in the photo that are a bit troublesome to me. I wish the tip of the beak was not touching the out-of-focus leaf bud in the background. I also wish that the leaves were not concealing the lower portion of the bird. What I really like about the image is its clarity, the bird’s pose, the catchlight in the eye and the environmental context in which the bird sits.

Being a Warbler means this bird was not going to be there too long. I don’t think I ever had more than 45 seconds with a bird in one place at Magee. While that is a short time, it is actually a luxury for a bird photographer.

I have several poses from this bird. I always tend to settle on a pose that shows the bird with its head cocked to the side that allows a catchlight to be present. A slight turn either way and the light dies. The pose, to me, is dynamic. You know the bird is attentive and alert. It is engaged with its surroundings. The photo would benefit if the bird had a bug in its beak or if the beak was open during singing. Neither of those things happened while I got to appreciate the bird and the moment. Such is bird photography.

I was stopped cold when I reached this photo during my initial review of the hundreds of images from Magee Marsh. Pausing to closely look an image is always a good indicator that the image may be a keeper. A new species for me and one of several life birds that Magee produced. A tack sharp image of an engaged bird in its natural habitat. Asking for improvements to the image is greedy. Having this image float to the top (or nearly so) of the annual “selects” was a joyful surprise for me. Serendipitous beauty. I hope I am as fortunate next year.

100 Birds – #98 Yellow Warbler

I worked with my friend Mark Oswood when I created the north-central Washington bird ID poster for the local Audubon chapter. He and I selected the birds that would appear on the first draft. We used the existing bird checklist for the Confluence Park/Horan area and picked birds that are commonly seen in spring, summer, and fall. We added in the species that we use during the What’s That Bird exercise with grade school kids. Then I filtered out the species for which I did not have a photo that showed the needed field marks. One of the species that was removed was Yellow Warbler. I simply did not have any photos of the fairly common Yellow Warbler. Mark and I agreed that the bird needed to be in the poster and that we could wait until I had a photo that would work.

I started concentrating on getting a photo of this bright bird. Numerous people told me where they had seen them. I visited many of those places and came away without a photo. I actually had one framed to photograph in Bozeman, Montana but the bird flew just as I pressed the shutter. So close. No gold ring.

I watched 2 Yellow Warblers working over a marsh area near Leavenworth, Washington and got a few pictures of them in the distance. Small birds in a big space. Not the image I needed for the poster.

I kept reporting my near misses to Mark to assure him that I remembered we wanted the bird on the poster. He kept assuring me that the time would come, the stars would align and we’d have the image. Months went by and I was still sans Yellow Warbler.

We visited Magee Marsh in May 2018. One of the first bird’s I saw in this Warbler Mecca was a Yellow Warbler. My hopes went up and I asked my companions to please notify me if they saw any nearby. We enjoyed a wide variety of warblers and collected nice images of many. On our last day at the marsh, we were walking a trail back to the car. An Eastern Kingbird posed nicely. Click. Click. Then we saw a Yellow Warbler in a trail-side shrub. It was out in the open and singing. It had all the needed field marks. Click. Click….10 times. Reviewing the images on the camera back showed success. I know that an image will always look good on a tiny LCD and that some won’t measure up when inspected on a good monitor. Several of these did pass the test. After a year of deliberate effort trying to get photos of a single species, I could relax. Now, if history holds, I’ll gather many more without having to try. I’ll enjoy each one.

100 Birds – #97 Western Grebe

It was a cold November morning in 2016 as I sat on a log next to the Columbia River in East Wenatchee. Locally, the place is known as Porter’s Pond but I was south of anything I’d call a pond. I was watching both Horned Grebes and Western Grebes swim around looking for food. There were Canada Geese just upstream, a Great Blue Heron posing silently at the edge of a small point on the bank upstream and, occasionally a large flock of Bufflehead would fly upstream and drift back by me. I was there to photograph the biggest Grebe we get in Wenatchee, the Western Grebe.

In my experience here, Horned Grebe are most common followed by significantly smaller numbers of Pied- bill, Eared, and Western Grebes. I have yet to see Clark’s Grebe here.

As is usual, the Grebes moved away as I entered the area. I sat and settled in to wait. The log got harder and my hands got colder. Whine, whine, whine. I was surrounded by silence except for the bird noises. I had no deadline. My objective was to get a decent photo of the Western Grebe that showed its yellow bill and red eye. The bill was pretty easy but the eye was totally dependent on the light direction. For once, I followed more birds in the viewfinder than I took pictures of. The birds never did come as close as I would like but this photo is only minimally cropped. The sun didn’t show itself so the gray sky colored the river. I’ll try again some day soon when the river is calm and the sky is blue. Thankfully, that happens fairly frequently here.