A change of place

Cooper's Hawk - Panaxonic Lumix GX1 w/ 100-300mm lens.I’ve had cabin fever. I blame it on this never-ending winter. I get out for a walk as much as I can and don’t mind the cold as long as the wind is reasonable. But for a while there I was doing more shoveling than walking.

More often than not I take a camera with me. Sometimes just my iPhone. But I had been taking the same routes over and over. And while they take me by Lake Erie, or a feeder creek, or some woods, it has become a bit repetitive. To break that routine I went to some of the parks that have trails in the adjacent county.

My walks pair well with my newish hobby of birding. On the first visit on a new trail I photographed a Cooper’s Hawk in flight (with my new used camera). That same day I just missed an owl. I saw it, heard it, and discovered it’s nest but couldn’t get a photo. Today I went back just as the snow passed through. I took camera and lens with a little more reach. When I got to the area I slowed and scanned the trees. To my left I saw a Barred Owl, about 40 feet from the path. I spent about 45 minutes trying to get the best image. It only moved once, to a new limb about 10 feet deeper in the woods.

Oh, and I scared the crap out of a jogger, who never saw me, my monopod or my ginormous lens until she was five feet from me. She actually did a little jump dance. Sorry.

So take your camera out for a walk. You never know what you’ll see.

Barred Owl - Nikon D7000 w/ 300mm lens and 1.4 extender.

Let Nature do the work

I don't make a lot of images using the tone mapping (HDR) technique. But while on a morning walk this week at a nearby nature peserve, I came across this scene. This was really a no-brainer, the light was perfect, accentuating the trees in the background. I had very little to do other than point and shoot. Nature had done all the hard work. There was so much color I almost felt bad for enhancing it.

I didn't have my tripod with me that I usually use when making an HDR shot. But I did have a small monopod I often carry when travelling light.

For the techies, it was made on my Nikon P7700, Aperture Priority, 200 ISO and a five-frame bracket, one f-stop apart. I would have gone to two stops but the camera only allows a max of one. Exposure was f5.6 with shutter speeds ranging from 1/1000th to 1/60th. Images combined and tuned in Photoshop CC.

I had a bee problem


Ordinarily, I like bees. They fill an extremely important role in nature. And lately, we appear to be in a honey bee crisis. If I had property I would consider an apiary. But I don't.

My problem was that bees had taken over a small birdhouse that rests about six feet from my sit spot at my back patio. At first I thought it was interesting. I felt no threat. As the summer progressed I watched as more bees appeared and the hive started to emerge out the house opening.

Still no problem. Until one morning I went back to sit for a few moments and noticed a spider web, nicely backlit. Having only my iPhone I tried to make an interesting photo (and failed). In the course of this, I felt something on my nose, brushed at it, and it stung. On the tip of my freakin' nose. Ouch.

So, that was almost it. I was willing to forgive and forget. But a few days later I was hammering on the frame the birdhouse is attached to, attempting to fix a whirligig post and the bees started swarming out at me. I ran like I was 40.

Online research led me to believe these were not honey bees. In fact, it indicated that it could be the rogue African bees and cited several examples of such bees overtaking birdhouses.

Sadly, I chose the chemical solution. The first spraying, with "flying insect spray," was good for a few hours but the next evening I noticed they were still going in and out. I got some stuff intended for bees, the kind that sprays like Silly String for about 20 feet. It took two dosings. But the bees were gone.

The birdhouse, at this point was worthless, with a hive built inside. So the next nice evening suitable  for a fire I set the inactive house on the flames and watched it burn. As the sides fell away I could see an entire hive-like ball within it. Sigh.


Confessions of a closet birder

I guess you’re a birder if you keep a list. A birder is the official name for a bird watcher. Like any hobby, it can be taken to the extreme. I’m definitely on the casual end. For instance, I have made no attempt to count seagulls, or gulls as I was gently schooled by Marie at BAYarts.  I think Marie keeps a list, too.

Marie did me a kindness a few weeks ago. We were chatting on the front porch of BAYarts after I had taught my Thursday class when she asked me if I had ever seen a Barred Owl. I told her I had not. “Well, there’s one right there,” she said, pointing to an oval hole about 30 feet up in a tree about 40 yards away.

Sure enough, a fledgling was sitting right in the opening. And all I had was my iPhone. So I tracked it Friday and Saturday with some better equipment and photographed it on two occasions as it waited for it’s mother to return from shopping. I never saw the mother, and I never saw the fledgling sit up in the opening again like the first night. By Sunday the nest was vacated.

But I had a solid photo, which my daughter absolutely loved because of that Harry Potter thing, I guess. And she’s 21 now. So that was nice.

When I was a kid, whenever we saw a swarm of birds flying in an aerial ballet, we called it a “wedding.” As in, “that’s my wedding.” I don’t know the origin, I don’t know why. But I know now that their performance is called a murmuration, but only if they were Starlings.

If they were Larks, for instance, it would be an Exhaltation, for Pheasants, a Nide and for Goldfinches, a Charm. Some collective nouns for birds in flight are not so kind. Like a Murder of Crows, Pandemonium of Parrots and an Unkindness of Ravens. As a Browns fan I can relate to that.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been following the progress at a Robin’s nest in my backyard. She built her nest in the most photo-opportunistic location possible, at the corner of a patio structure, surrounded by vines.

I have been posting photos on Instagram (as pixellarry) from the start, the first one showing three blue eggs in the nest, of which one bird remains. But on Sunday I set up a 300mm f4.5 lens with a 1.4 extender and settled in. Within 10 minutes I had my photo.

I already had a Robin on my bird list, but the Barred Owl was a nice addition. Oh, and I also saw a White-Crowned Sparrow.

Happy Birthday to my Dad. He would have been 89 today.