Out and about

Our friend Jon Brazier is visiting for a few days, ostensibly to copy many family photos as digital files.  We got that work done yesterday so we’ve been roaming around and hiking in a variety of areas to look at birds, nature, people.  It’s really a shame that the government shutdown kept us out of the National Wildlife Refuges but we found decent options to visit.  We were sure glad to see that the shut down did not mean all the water in Eagle Creek as we hiked the short distance to Metlako Falls this morning.  We were racing the sun to get to the view before the sun lit up the canyon.  I was pleasantly surprised when we came around one trail corner and I saw the canyon had low fog laying in it.  The image I had envisioned or hoped to capture was of the waterfall, still leaves wtih color, drifting fog above the falls and a long expousure of the actual falls.  Bingo.  I shot and shot as the sun worked its way closer to the waterfall.  I kept waiting for the fog to light up with some directional light.  Didn’t happen the way I hoped it would as the fog dissapated as the sun came down the canyon wall.  I’m still pleased that there was no wind and the fog and long exposure all worked as hoped for.  Many other images to evaluate but this one works for now.

Metlako Falls, Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
Metlako Falls, Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
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A surprise finish

I was fortunate to be part of a Burrowing owl banding operation on the Hanford Reach National Monument last Friday.  My good friend Steve Howes introduced me the US Fish and Wildlife Service staff at McNary National Wildlife Refuge and eventually I was permitted to tag along with the crew when they met up with Dr. David Johnson who leads the Global Owl Project.  It turned out that there were several vehicles of people involved and I became part of a crew of six that headed to the northern-most Burrowing owl sites to set traps and, hopefully, catch owls to band.  Our crew was composed of three old, retired guys (me included) who drove, helped haul gear, ran the GPS to locate the burrows and took some photos while 3 young ladies did all the digging and trap placement.  I just wandered around and took photos of the operation hoping to get a chance for an up close portrait of a burrowing owl.

The routine was to set the live traps, decorate the ramp entrance area with scat to make it look like it was a natural burrow, put an mp3 player and speakers playing the territorial call of a male owl into one of the traps and then move on to repeat at other active (we hoped) nest sites.  We did this at about 6 different locations.

 

The area north of Rattlesnake mountain in which we placed Burrowing owl traps
The area north of Rattlesnake mountain in which we placed Burrowing owl traps

 

 

Keith and Steve watch as the ladies prepare the burrow trap
Keith and Steve watch as the ladies prepare the burrow trap

After about an hour we’d go back to the traps to see if a bird had been caught.  Our first sites did not yield any owls.  We finally hit paydirt at one of the last sites when two adult owls were trapped.  The ladies carefully extracted the birds and put them in what looked like a small cat carry crate.  They headed out to take the owls to Johnson who was working in an area further to the south.  We joined them at the gate to the other area and watched as Johnson measured and banded the owls.  Another fellow and a couple of assistants picked some fleas of the birds and documented them for later evaluation.  Interesting to me but I was glad I didn’t have to reach into the burrows (spiders and fleas) or handle the birds.  I did get several shots of the crew hauling materials, placing traps, removing owls from the traps and during the banding/measuring operation.  I never got the chance to take the type of owl portrait photo I had hoped to get but am quite OK with that.

Dr. David Johnson holds adult male and female burrowing owls
Dr. David Johnson holds adult male and female burrowing owls

 

We left the Johnson measuring site to return the two owls to their burrows.  It was pitch dark being nearly 11:00 at night.  I stayed at the car and used the time that it took to walk the owls back to their burrow to pack my camera gear away.  When everyone returned I heard someone say that they could see the Northern Lights.  WHAT?!?!  I’ve never seen the lights and have always wanted to photograph them.  I crawled out of the car and asked for some help locating the scene.  Yes, I did know to look north but I didn’t see anything that I expected to see.  Being fairly far south the lights were not the spectacular waves of pulsing energy that are so famous.  I was able to see some faint streaks above an extended band of fairly bright light that was mounded on the horizon.  Steve confirmed that I was seeing the lights since he knows I don’t do well with seeing greens and reds even when fairly bright.  I set the camera up and did my best to recall what I had read about the “how to” of aurora photography.  My first shot was way too bright so I dropped the ISO down to 1600 from 3200 and shot again.  It looked OK at 30 seconds f/4.  I took a few more and then realized that everyone else was waiting patiently at the cars to return to the Johnson work site.  I snuck in one more shot and headed for the car.  When we got to the Johnson area we found that some of the people were still out in the field checking traps or returning owls.  I set the camera up again and set to taking more photos to the north hoping that others would turn out well.  Since no one was waiting on me I took my time and just experimented with settings and chimped the LCD to make adjustments.  Turns out that many were out of focus.  No great loss since they kind of sucked anyway.

So, Friday afternoon and night I got to record several “firsts”… first banding operation, first time work under a permit to the USFWS and first time to see and photograph the aurora borealis.  I slept well that night.

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A brief visit to the Gorge

I originally planned to pass through Hood River, Oregon enroute to Pasco, Washington to participate in an operation to band Burrowing owls on the McNary National Wildlife Refuge.  I was to deliver a print to a friend who is giving as a retirement gift to a fellow I used to work with.  Well, the Burrowing owl operation got postponed but I went to Hood River to deliver the print anyway.  It was a chance to see some good friends and just hang out in the Gorge a bit.  The camera gear came along.

I made contact with my friends and left the print for the evening ceremonies.  I agreed to come back later to have lunch with a couple of really good friends in the group.  I left the meeting and headed down to the riverfront park in Hood River to see if I could get a decent view up or down the Gorge.  I was thinking “long exposure” since the clouds had settled in and the light was dull.  The view down the Gorge was interesting but the low clouds obscured some of the remote ridges that I know are there.  I figured I’d give it a look after lunch and see if the rains had let up and the view had opened up.

Returning after lunch I found light, spotty rain and variable views down gorge.  I opted to set the camera up inside my car and experiment a bit.  Even with the camera inside I was getting sprinkles on the lens.  I’d wipe it off and keep on taking photos.  You never really know what you have until you see the images on a computer screen so I was hoping that the cloud layers would be interesting with exposures between 30 seconds and 2 minutes.  The image below is my favorite of the bunch but, as usual, I can want more.  I think this view could be very interesting if the distant hills and ridges were not so vague due to the clouds.  An early morning light pouring down canyon into the view could be just what is needed.  Or maybe some nice clouds lit up at sunset or dusk.  Since we go past Hood River quite a bit we’ll have more chances to give it a go.

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