Saturday, March 31, 2007

Reality Check

I've got friends who are serving as missionaries in Africa right now - Zambia to be exact. As we all do, I get caught up in my work (photography, photo contests, mail sorting, birthday celebrations, church activiites . . . the activities vary, but the busy-ness doesn't.) David and Linda's blog post reminded me of some things that are more important, lives that are much more difficult, but no less special and blessed than mine.

Even the poorest people in America have more "luxury" than the people in the bush. And yet, we are never satisfied. We ferry our children to school or they ride a bus, Linda has students who have eagerly walked all night to get to the boarding school.

I overheard some teachers talking at Schlotzsky's while I was uploading my photos. They were talking about how hard it was to get parents to come to parent teacher conferences. Single parents, working long hours, no time for conferences much less volunteering in the classroom. But so many children in Africa have no parents - and yet they have good attitudes and hope that seems beyond my comprehension in such difficult circumstances.

There is much right in America . . . and much that needs work.

What do they know that we don't? How can we foster these positive attitudes in the face of adversity in the upcoming generations? This post about one of their friend's experiences working in Africa was a good reality check for me today.

Thought for the Day

While I don't do it everyday, I like to start my morning on my porch with a cup of coffee or hot tea (when I'm on the road in the RV, I do it looking out the front window). I have a One Year Bible and I usually have one or two more contemporary books or flip calendars to feed my spirit while I'm eating breakfast to feed my physical body.

Today's reading from Alexandra Stoddard's Grace notes seems worth sharing:

Life is an opportunity, benefit from it.
Life is a beauty, admire it.
Life is bliss, taste it.
Life is a dream, realize it.
Life is a challenge, meet it.
Life is a duty, complete it.
Life is a game, play it.
Life is costly, care for it.
Life is wealth, keep it.
Life is love, enjoy it.
Life is mystery, know it.
Life is a promise, fulfill it.
Life is sorrow, overcome it.
Life is a song, sing it.
Life is a struggle, accept it.
Life is a tragedy, confront it.
Life is an adventure, dare it.
Life is luck, make it.
Life is too precious, do not destroy it.
Life is life, fight for it.
--- Mother Teresa

Friday, March 30, 2007

Photography Contests

I've been entering various photography contests now for about four years. When I first decided to try to do something with my photography, The Photographer's Market recommended contests as a good way to get started. So I entered the Apogee Photo Magazine's bimonthly contest and I joined the now defunct online site, Digital Photo Contest. I learned quickly that my photography skills were a long way from being competitive. And I figured out pretty quickly that the nice little Olympus camera was not going to provide photos that would be competitive. It was a long time before I won my first POTD at the Digital Photo Contest, but I did start winning POTD's (Photo of the Day) at some of the other sites. I participated at sites like the The Digital Image Cafe. I learned so much from my participation there.

I joined NANPA (North American Nature Photographer's Association. Although I was winning POTD's at the websites, my first portfolio reviews with the professionals taught me that I still had a long way to go. But I got to hear and see work from such great professionals and I got to go to workshops. I just kept on learning and practicing.

I've entered some of the big nature photography contests before. And while I think I made it into the final round of judging one year at Nature's Best magazine - I did not make it any further.

This is the time of year to enter some of the biggest contests: the Shell BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year. Outdoor Photographer's Magazines, Vanishing Treasures Contest, and The Nature's Best Windland Smith Rice International Awards.

While I would love to win the Outdoor Photography Vanishing Treasure Contest for that trip to Churchill to see the polar bears, I would be ecstatic to just make it into the magazine and onto the website. The same is true for the BBC contest. I would be content with the lowest honorable mention or "commended image." I would just like at least one of my images to make the book and to be displayed at the National Gallery in London.

While I hope it does not "jinx" me, I've posted the photos I entered to the BBC contest this year. I know I have fellow photographers who read this blog. I would like to encourage you to enter these big contests as well. I always told my Girl Scouts that the one way to guarantee you won't win something or be chosen is not to enter.

Oh, and by the way, the Vanishing Treasures has a People's Choice vote. I think anyone can log on and vote. My images are buried, but if you have high speed internet, you may be able to check out the photos and vote for the wildlife or landscape photo you like the best.

Monday, March 26, 2007

High Island

As part of an early birthday celebration, I've gone down to Galveston. Jane and I headed over yesterday to bird at High Island. Now, I've been to High Island before, but never to bird. Now the name "High Island" is a misnomer - it is not an island. Rather on the flat Texas coastal plains, High Island rides higher than the surrounding land due to an uplifted salt dome. The vegetation is different - trees and wooded rather than coastal grasses - so in some ways an island - and certainly when the sea was higher it would have been an island.

But High Island is a perfect rest stop for migrating birds who have just completed crossing the Gulf of Mexico in the spring as well as a rest stop to be ready to travel south in the fall. Many of the fall migrants have been buffeted by the strong winds of cold fronts and need that chance to recover before crossing the gulf where there are not any places to perch.

In true birder fashion, Jane and I kept a record of the birds we saw along the way and throughout our birding - 24 species today. Boy Scout Woods was quiet. A brown thrasher had been reported at the entry - and we found him doing his thrasher thing on the woodland floor. One of the pond, marshy areas gave us common moorhens, turkey vultures, and a crested caracara attacking the vultures. Tons of redwing blackbirds, but I had to ask myself - where were the girls? I kept seeing the beautiful black ones with the red wing patches (and some had yellow - I've got to check on the tricolored blackbirds I remember), but the females are drab - and I sure was not seeing them. Cardinals were the most common bird as we walked through the thickets.

We made it over to the Smith site near sunset. One of the observation areas was great because the cormorants, snowy egrets, white ibises, and roseate spoonbills flew right over us. We did not make it to the rookery - so, yes, at some point, I've got to go back.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Carnival

Debra has a friend who is working for a carnival. They are set up in Round Rock at the Dell Diamond. So, naturally, Debra wanted me to come and enjoy the carnival with her. Now it's been a long time since I've been to a carnival with a midway. It was a nice, comfortable evening, temperature perfect, gentle breeze, etc. While the hang gliding ride and I did not quite hit it off (my anatomy and size provoked an OUCH from my back when they tried to attach the tie downs. But later in the evening I enjoyed watching Debra "fly" high and free. Moby Dick involved going up and down in big ovals, with a minor gut wrenching drop each time around. They had a cute dragon ride whose sole purpose is for to see how fast you can spin your dragon while going around the post - a sure recipe for dizziness! We watched two ten year old boys who could really get their dragon spinning at high speed! I think the Ferris wheel was my favorite ride - beautiful right at sunset looking to the west. For two of the rides we ended up being paired with two 8 or 9 year old girls who needed someone to ride with. Turns out it was the same girls for both the bumper cars and the small roller coaster.

What struck me was the variety of people who came to enjoy the carnival. Mothers and dads with small children, teenagers with their friends. You could buy arm bands for $15.00 which gave you entry to any of the rides all evening. And, of course, there were the game booths and food booths.

When I got home, I looked up the Thomas Carnival on the internet. Since the Thomas Carnival's home base is in south Austin near where we used to live, I've been familiar with it a long time. It was interesting to note that it was founded in 1928 by Art B. Thomas whose goal was to "provide clean, safe, and wholesome family entertainment for its customers." How appropriate for today when even a trip to a movie theatre with your family can end up exposing kids to things you might rather they not see in terms of posters advertizing "R" rated movies, even "family" movies where the kids use words I did not allow my children to use. And no, I'm not against movies, I go see them, sometimes even "R" ones. But going to the carnival brought back good memories from my childhood. The fun was simple and wholesome. What an unexpected treat!

To visit the Thomas Carnival, check out their calendar.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

My Bluebirds

I am excited . . . the bluebirds are back. I definitely have a pair and they are definitely using one of my nesting boxes. I had a pair last year, but it seemed to me they were only around for a few weeks. I could not determine whether or not the nesting had been successful or if something happened that made them leave. So I am really excited that I have another pair.

It was two years ago that I put up two bluebird boxes. The people at the Wildbird Store in Round Rock assured me that we really did have bluebirds in the area. I was sceptical because I had never seen any around here. But I put up the two boxes, with snake baffles and feeding station and hoped. The first year, they were very lonely boxes. The suet treats turned into melted, dried, solid lumps.

After seeing the pair last year, to Debra's disgust I bought mealy worms and stored them in the refrigerator. After seeing them his year, I've taken some of the suet that I store in the freezer and I've put small quantities in the little feeder tray. I've seen that some other birds have found the suet, but I have not seen the bluebirds eat any yet. I have seen one of the bluebirds chase off one of the mockingbirds from the house that is currently unoccupied. It is time to make my run to the birdseed store - I'll get bluebird treats and some mealy worms.

Last year, I was amazed at how active the male was in defending the territory around his birdhouse from all comers. This morning seemed quiet, the bluebirds are spending a lot of time in the box. But I waited patiently and have had some good views through my binoculars. They are SO pretty - bright beautiful blue, russet breast, cream belly . . . They are by far the prettiest birds in my yard.

The bluebirds really give me a wonderful feeling of satisfaction. First, they are so beautiful. But they also give me a feeling of personal success. They are in my yard because I put up boxes for them. I have no control over whether their nest is successful or whether they decide to stay permanently. But I've attracted them two years now.

I would love to have reason to set out more bluebird boxes!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Musing on Grandparenting

While in Amarillo, my sister-in-law, Mary came by with two of her grandchildren. When we were busy raising our children, I learned much from watching her raise her girls who were older than my children. Now I am blessed in watching her mentor her grandchildren. I don't have grandchildren yet (and I'm in no hurry - my children will choose or not choose to have children on their own time schedule with my full blessing whatever they choose).

Mary has always been involved with her grandchildren. When the children were young and in day care, Mary was always available when they were ill. What a blessing to have someone who loves you so much be there when you are feeling sick and miserable. Halee and Kayla know that when they come to grandma's house they get to paint. I went up to Mary's workroom and saw Christian's photographs from Savannah, and Halee and Kayla's creativity with paint and footprints. Our visit coincided with spring break. The kids came to spend the night, and knew they would get to paint! Mary puts down vinyl table cloths over the carpet and the girls are free to exercise their creativity. Last year at Christmas, I saw their eyes light up when they opened their package with all sorts of art supplies - finger paint, chalk, clay, colored pencils, etc. One of her older grandchildren has followed her footsteps into the art world. She helped Mary paint one of Amarillo's quarter horse statues and went on to paint a wonderful mural (Paris themed) in a business while still in high school. Now enrolled at the Savannah College of Art and Design, she is majoring in graphic design with a minor in photography.

The relationship between grandchildren and their grandparents is so different than parent and child. While grandparents don't have the same energy that parents need, they provide a unique wisdom that comes from a lifetime of living. Relationships with grandparents enrich children's lives. 2 Timothy 1:5 "I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also." Parents have so many responsiblities- working, child care, house hold duties, chaueffer service (carting kids to their acitivities) that they are often tired. Grandparents help fill the gaps - not only do they provide care which gives parents a chance to have time for themselves, they also bring their own special talents and abilities that benefit these precious children. Sometimes they provide a special story time, or a special food, or a special hobby. But most important, they provide an unconditional love.

My grandmother played an integral role in my upbringing. She was the one who ironed all my clothes (back when you had to iron clothes). My grandad smoked cigars - so my clothes always had a special smell (that I remember fondly) when they came back. She had a sprinkling jar, sprinkled the clothes, rolled them up, and then ironed them dry. She was there to encourage me. When she broke her hip, I sat at her bedside and we played cards to pass the time. My grandad took me with him to the post office, out to the farm, out to the ranch, taught me to drive, took me fishing. He was special. My dad's mom, my Grandma Marshall - always told me how special I was because I was her only granddaughter.

My mother encouraged my children to be interested in business - probably the reason my son majored in accounting. Henry's parents lived on the lake. Gene took them out on the boat and helped them fish off the dock. There was always ice cream and ice cream cones when we came to visit. Henry's grandmother always had a fresh pumpkin pie ready when we came by to visit her.

I've watched other grandparents: one of my friends has a new grandbaby in Philadelphia. Her husband asked her how often she wanted to go visit - her answer: once a month- his reply: sounds good! Her eyes light up when she talks about that wonderful grandbaby. So she flew from Austin to Philadelphia each month that first year to bond with and enjoy that precious baby.

I dropped by another friend's house just after she had learned the news that she was to become a grandmother for the first time - she was radiant! Several people have held "grandma" camps in the summer where they invite all the kids over (or each family's kids for a week - prolonging the work) for special time to nurture the kids. This can foster relationships between the cousins - or provide special intimate time with just one set of siblings. Another family invited each of their children with their kids to spend a week with them at the Atlanta Olympics (one family group per week). Still another friend made a point of having each grandchild (and she has 9 of them) over one at a time to spend the night and have special time with each one individually.

I have still another friend whose life is filled with animals - horses, dogs, cats. Her grandchildren are learning horsemanship and animal training each time they visit.

Another benefit grandparents play is the role of passing down family history - those wonderful stories of things our ancestors did. I was always so proud of my Great Grandmother Baker who ran her general store well into her 90's. She was an amazing woman with an incredibly strong work ethic.

With people moving all over the country with their jobs, our church has even had a program for surrogate grandparents - allowing the older members to have that vital connection with young children. Spending time with children helps you remember the joy and delight of the everyday things around you. Spending time with older people gives children the opportunity to learn and grow from their wisdom and insight.

Hoorah for grandparents!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

"Night School"

Periodically I have a night where I just don't sleep well. Or at least it feels like I don't. Last night was one of those nights. I went to bed and was just slightly uncomfortable - my stomach wasn't upset . . . but it was not happy either. While I was probably more asleep than awake, I was not completely asleep either.

Some years back one of my Christian friends referred to nights like this as "night school." I have several things and people in my life that have important prayer needs right now - and their names kept going through my mind. Usually I don't try to pray about important things right before I go to sleep, because it gets my mind churning. I find myself worrying about what I'm praying about rather than releasing it. And, yes, perhaps some of these "worries" contributed to my sleeplessness last night.

But last night, after I had mentally gone through the list of people in my life that I'm praying for, I fell asleep. So perhaps that was God's way of "reminding" me to bring my worries and anxieties to him.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


I realized after my last calculation that I miscalculated. My camera's numbering turned over twice during the trip - once up at Crescent City and again down in La Jolla with the harbor seals. Instead of the 16,947 photos I thought I had taken, it is 26.947 photos. Henry made some calculations as to how many cards per day . . . I went back and double checked.

Ok, I started the trip with 2- 4 gig cards and 4-1 gig cards. If I was in a great area I photographed until I ran out of cards. But some days I did not photograph, and some days I only shot one or two of the 4 gig cards. But even so . . . . the math says I must have shot an average of one and a half 4 gig cards every day.

Now part of that was what I was trying to do. Once I had some success with the shooting out the window

and "artistic" motion blurred photos - that technique uses up a lot of shots, because most of those shots are worthless, but you get a few that end up amazing you.

And then I was fascinated by wave action against the rocks. I've got a sequence of shots with three very roundish rocks with the surf action.

I also took a number of shots of this rock, trying to catch the waterfalls as the waves hit the rock and receded.

You'll notice the black and white nature of these shots, not done in photoshop - rather the natural black and white that the ocean becomes on cloudy days.

Most of these wave and rock shots will probably not end up being used for anything but "practice." But every now and then one of them really works.

The last aspect of my shooting that uses up a lot of frames is bracketing. I bracket several f/stops in both directions of what I think is the "right" exposure. Part of that is that each scene requires slightly different exposures. I find that under exposure works best when shooting waves, because it is so easy to "blow out" the highlights on the waves. Forest scenes also seem to do better when under exposed. But white shots like snow tend to need over exposure.

I also bracket with the intention of blending images for high dynamic range photos. The theory here is to capture an image that ends up more like what your eye can see rather than the limited range that the digital camera can process.

But . . . with all of my efforts, I now have many shots that must be sorted, discarded, and processed. I know where a good part of my time will be spent once we get home. I've started on it while we're visiting my inlaws.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Sorting Photos

We've arrived back in Texas and are visiting Henry's parents in Amarillo. I've started trying to organize the photos I took these last couple of months. I'm doing some sorts right now to show Henry's parents the kinds of photos I've been taking. In the process I found a few rolls that I had not backed up.

I did a tally this morning . . . it looks like I took 16,947 photos. Two weeks in Crescent City, 5 days at Westport on the Mendocino Coast, a week or so in San Francisco, 3 days in San Simeon, 5 days at La Jolla and another 3 days in San Diego. I've read somewhere about how many shutter clicks a given camera has . . . I'm now at almost 27,000 clicks on my 5D. I think you can replace the shutter mechanism . . . but I'm not ready to switch cameras yet.

In going through the photos i find that while some sequences I remember well, I am finding some other "goodies" that I had totally forgotten. For example,

the evening shots at Castle Rock NWR where the cackling geese were coming in for the night

also had some beautiful after sunset blue beach shots.

Right now I'm sorting to try to remember what I've got and to do some presentations for the family here in Amarillo. When I get home, I'll be sorting and processing images in earnest. I'm hoping to enter three big competitions this spring: The Shell Wildlife Photographer of the Year Contest, The Nature's Best Photography Windland Smith Rice International Awards, and The Loweprow & Outdoor Photographer Vanishing Treasures Photo Contest.

As always my goal is just to place so my work will be shown, but the prize for the Vanishing Treasures Photo Contest is a trip to Churchill to see the polar bears. I can dream, can't I?

Friday, March 09, 2007

Sea Coast Inn

Every now and then you run into a "special" place. Nothing fancy mind you. Just a simple, relaxing place to spend some time. Our last night before the RV repairs were done took us down to the Imperial Beach area between San Diego and the border. We were tired, but still wanted to spend our last time by the sea. So I wove my way through National City searching for an area I remembered that had a national wildlife refuge. We found the area, we found the beach and there was a convenient hotel. It is an older hotel, but the price was right and the ambiance is wonderful.

The Sea Coast Inn is right on the beach near the pier. It has a lovely porch area that steps right down to the beach. Our room had a small kitchen (which we didn't use, but might come in handy if I ever want to spend time at the Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge. )

And best of all, the view right out of our back door was wonderful.

During our extra stranded days, i stayed busy. We went up to San Clemente and I got both sunset and sunrise shots. We explored the area for sunset shots. I found a place that looked promising for a future trip (Crystal Cove) and lo and behold the next day someone won a POTD for a sunset shot there.

But by the time we hit Imperial Beach, I was tired. I found a chair and plopped. There were dolphins feeding just off the beach. The sunset looked promising. I did bring out the camera,

but just stayed on the deck and enjoyed the sunset and watching the surfers. It was also fun to watch the cruise ships and cargo ships leaving the bay.

This hotel is in a quiet neighborhood. There are cute little restaurants witing walking distance. We ate dinner at Aroma Thai - food was great. Breakfast was at The Wave Cafe. There was also pizza, Greek, Mexican, and seafood places within about a block. Little small restaurants, quiet, peaceful places.

The next morning I took a walk along the beach. While I had walked beaches during my stay in California, I was always on a mission - find that "magic" photo. This morning, I left the camera behind. I wanted to savor what was likely my last morning by the sea. I watched the dolphins and cormorants. I watched as the surfers began arriving. I saw a new shorebird for me, the wimbrel. I walked out on the pier. I found out past the waves what looked to me like Pacific loons. I watched the fishermen, most were catching small fish, but one gentleman had a nice flounder.

On the beach were clam shells and sand dollars and a few pebbles.

This is a quiet place, on a quiet street, far from the traffic zones. I think I'd like to go back there again sometime.

A Return to the Bosque

As we left Texas Canyon this morning, we discussed which of the several routes we could take to get to Amarillo. We decided to wait until we go closer to where the choices would have to be made.

We were going to be SO near Bosque del Apache . . . and it WAS on one of the more direct routes . . . . Henry agreed so we headed north at Las Cruces.

We got in to the Bosque Birdwatcher's RV Park mid afternoon. I made sure I had camera batteries, formatted cards, all my cables and camera equipment and we headed off to the refuge.

We were wondering which of the migratory birds would still be left. As we pulled into the auto loop I saw about four sandhill cranes in the sky in the distance - that was a good sign. As we travelled the south part of the loop - the Marsh Loop, we saw the pheasant that is common here, Canada geese, northern shovelers, pintails, coots, etc. As we entered the northern loop - the farm loop, there were no sandhill cranes in the open areas. Occasionally we would see a flock fly overhead. But they were in large groups, V-shaped groups - a migratory group rather than the family groups that fly around the refuge during the winter. At the far north end we found the remnant of the snow geese that were still here.

I've been trying to keep exercising on a more regular basis - so I decided to go up to one of the trails along the marsh loop - the marsh trail. The redwing blackbirds were the predominant sounds as I walked along the tall brush next to the marsh. I think I saw an Abert Towee, a new species for me if I correctly identified him.

Sunset was a beautiful colorful New Mexico sunset - beautiful golden beams lit the clouds, the earth's shadow to the east was a beautiful deep purple - even a sun pillar.

We made one last stop at the observation deck on the farm loop. No cranes, no snow geese. Henry could hear the geese off in the distance. All I heard was the occasional quack, quack quack, quack from the mallards.

I find that I get attached to places. The Bosque is one of those places I have grown attached to. It was good to be here again.

Monday, March 05, 2007

TJ Sky's Photo Journal

I've been blessed over the last few years to participate at several photo websites. Not only have I learned so much to improve both my photography and my photoshop skills, but I've made friends all over the world.

We compete against each other for photos of the day, we critique each other's photos, and sometimes even share the joys and sorrows of life together.

One of my "friends" from the Digital Image Cafe has begun a photo blog. Based in northern Minnesota, his winter photos this year are stunning. He also participated at the now defunct Digital Photo Contest website. His work keeps getting better and better.

Check out his blog, TJ Sky's Photo Journal.

Technical Difficulties

Well . . . I just thought last night was my last night at the ocean. We got up.I cleaned up the front part of the RV and did the dishes. Henry did the dump. Basically we did all the routine stuff we do on "moving day." We were out on the road by 11:00. I was thinking maybe we would make Tucson and the Tucson Mountain Park that I love so much. As we headed east on Interstate 8, we passed the place where we stayed last summer for Henry's convention east of El Cajon. We were cruising along, climbing up the steep haul into the desert mountains . . . . . and then . . . . we weren't. The engine made some very unhappy noises, our forward progress slowed to a crawl (15 miles an hour on an interstate - not good.) Henry pulled over on to the shoulder and got out and surveyed the engine. From the passenger seat I thought I saw very faint wisps of smoke on the inside of the cab. We were near an exit, Henry took the jeep and ran into town and got some oil thinking perhaps it was low on oil. Pull cars are nice things to have with you.

He got back, added the oil. We hooked up the jeep. He tried to get back up to speed . . . then looked over at me and said,"Start calling around, we're going to have to go back to San Diego." At least it is downhill going back.

Sigh . . . this has been a trip with more than its fair share of mechanical issues.

I'm busy praying that we can indeed make it back the 40 miles to the San Diego area. I have to wait until we have Sprint signal to start using Yahoo yellow pages to start calling the Chevy dealerships to see who in the area will be willing and able to work on a big RV. First dealership . . . nope they don't do RV's. The GMC truck place . . . no, they don't do RV's. The first place they recommend . . .no they don't do that. So I call the GMC truck place back and pester them once again. They recommend Dyno Shop on Prospect. So I look them up, call, YES!!!!! they do work on RV's and we have only passed the exit by two miles. I'm still praying we get there under our own power. Yes, we have AAA for the RV, but we've only had to use it once . . . earlier this trip.

Whew! Yes, we made it to Dyno. Yes, they can work on it. In fact they start almost immediately. And we go ahead and add the air shocks to the list of things that we'd like done.

From our being stranded experiences, we load down the jeep with all the stuff we'll need for the week we're anticipating. Underwear, socks, changes of clothes, DVD's for my backups, the hard drives, the computers, the camera gear ( a limited part), my morning devotional stuff, bird books, binoculars, etc . . .

I decide that rather than being stranded over in the desert with the jeep's air conditioner being intermittent, I'd rather go back and try for sunset beach shots. I'd planned to spend some time around San Clemente so we head there.

Around 4:00 we get a call from Dyno . . . turns out we'd had some kind of fire under the hood. Three of the spark plug wires had melted together and somehow took out the engine temperature sensor. I am humbled. This is the second situation this trip where things could have been much worse - we could have had our RV on fire. I feel heavenly protection. And once again, we've been sent to a good place. They keep many of the parts in stock. They still think they'll have it ready to go tomorrow . . . including the air shocks. We'll know more in the morning.

I've driven through San Diego, I've driven up "Historic 101" looking for my spot. I'm not finding it. The 101 now rejoins the 5. I exit at the San Clemente Beach State Park exit. Hurrah, there's a hotel there. It's 4:30. I'm hot, tired, cranky.

We have a murphy bed . . . Henry pulls it down, turns on the air conditioner, finds me a pillow. I crash for about 30 minutes.

I check out the beach area below San Clemente State park . . . railroad bed . . . small beach . . . no point of interest for my sunset shot other than a few surfers . . . they'll blur out. I drive through the neighborhood following the "bike route." Another beach parking lot, but this time with palm trees and the San Clemente pier. It's going to be close. I change into my "walking" shoes, grab my gear, head over the pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks. I get there at the tail end of the pretty yellow reflections in the water. But there is still some color in the upper clouds. It is still possible to get that beautiful crimson afterglow. I'm going to wait for it . . . yes, it's starting . . . .it's growing . . . it's getting deeper and prettier and the pier is working well as my point of interest. I continue shooting until the glow is totally gone and the sky is darkening.

I won't upload the photos tonight, because we are on the second floor. Henry tells me that this repair place will let us stay in the RV. And perhaps it will be ready by noon tomorrow. No . . . i don't want to lug a bunch of stuff up and then have to haul it down tomorrow.

At dinner we see a magazine with a dawn photo of the pier on the cover and there is a photo on tile of a different angle of the same pier. Sure hope my photos came out.

Saying Goodbye to the Sea

Today is our last day at La Jolla. After the cruise yesterday, I'm tired with a few stiff muscles. I took time early in the day to sort through the images from yesterday to see what I had gotten and also to get some ready to post for the blog and website.

When it was time to head over for an afternoon shoot with the seals, it was somewhat overcast. We did the verbal checklist to help make sure I had everything and drove over. I could tell that sunset had potential because there was a break in the clouds right at the horizon.

I decided to go over first and survey what the ocean level was. The low tide today was a negative tide and the sea was at the lowest level I had seen it here. I finally figured out where "Seal Rock" was, because for the first time it was high and dry and there were seals on it. The water around the rocks was crystal clear - so pretty - no wonder people want to scuba and snorkel here.

I was also hoping to get to talk to one of the Friends of the Seals people. I wanted to check on the mother seal that had not gone over to the water with her pup. And I wanted to find out what was the current status on the lawsuit that threatened the seal's presence on the beach and the legal stay that is currently the binding document. I walked up just as one of the seals had her pups, plus this was Sunday afternoon with lots of people around their information table. I did find out that the seal and pup that I was worried about had gone out to sea and were doing well - but they had been worried as well. After realizing this was not a good time for an "interview," I walked on over to the wall and enjoyed watching the new mother. The lighting was not good and I decided that since this was my last night here, I would just enjoy being here.

The new mother was very territorial. She had not fully delivered her placenta and there were a couple of gulls that kept hanging around hoping for dinner. She kept chasing them off. She actually had moved around enough in circles around her pup that there was a big demarkation circle around her and the pup. She was very aggressive toward both seals and gulls that tried to encroach into her territory. She and the pup were bonding nicely, touching noses and interacting together. I had a chance to tell people about which baby was "newest." Yes . . . I was excited about seeing the "newest pup."

As sunset approached, I also decided that since this was my last night, it was better to just enjoy my surroundings. The sun's last rays had that beautiful rays from heaven look. The sun was hitting the lowest clouds with a flaming yellow glow. The thought passed through my head that this was such a good representation of God. God is light, the brightest light we can imagine - this light from the setting sun on the clouds was so bright that it almost hurtsyour eyes to look at it. And that was just the reflection. When the actual sun is in the sky, it is even brighter - painful to look at (and potentially damaging to the eyes.) When Moses was in the presence of God, he had to shield his eyes. Yes, for that one brief moment, I felt myself in the presence of God - or at least I could imagine God's glory.

The brilliance of the sun was also being reflected in the waves. Golden streaks in the water and in the last rays of the sun backlighting the waves with golden light.

Had I been photographing . . . yes, I might have gotten some good shots, but I also might have missed all of the glory around me.

And the final glow of the sun lit the lowest layer of clouds with that beautiful crimson strokes.

A new pup, a beautiful sunset, a quiet tranquil evening . . . yes, a great way to end this time at the sea.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Nature Cruise

This morning we headed out to the Coronado Islands located in Mexican waters. The cruise out went smoothly enough with some good viewing opportunties for Pacific white sided dolphins. When we got to the islands we had Santa Anna winds which made it very choppy. I was thinking how glad I was that for the most part I don't get sea sick in choppy conditions.

When we got over to the wildlife viewing areas, I was using my big lens. Now to get a feel for this situation . . . Remember in the original Star Wars film when Luke, Hans, Princess Leia, and Obi Wan are escaping Tatooine in the Millenium Falcon, Luke and Hans get in the gunnery bays and start shooting the Empire fighters. Well, imagine me with my big Sigma 300-800mm lens mounted on my Wimberly head mounted on my heavy Gitzo tripod which is lashed to one of the railings. Consider as well that we have bench seating not really designed for people's legs not a big tripod. And while I was one of the first ones on the boat, I did not get the best seat for setting up the tripod. Picture me trying to get the right angle on the various sea lions, elephant seals, cormorants, pelicans that came into view during the day, especially once we hit the choppy waves with the boat not only going up and down, but sideways.

As we went along one very rocky steep shoreline, I also found that I wanted to capture the wave action and the waterfalls as the water cascaded back to the ocean.

As the boat is moving up and down, sideways in the choppy seas, I'm trying to focus at 800mm for those "close-up shots." I am on someone else's tour so I'm in bright mid-day sun. Too bright to check the histograms for exposure. Plus I've got to have a fast shutter speed because I'm the one in motion. Less than a second to lock focus, shoot, and hope that the animal is still in the view finder. Planning for a level horizon . . . yes, I tried for the most part, but level horizons in this shooting situation are luck rather than planning.

When I got back to the computer, I had a lot of cut off heads in the pelican shots, lots of blurred birds and seals. However, while I was on the cruise, I was literally shooting in the "dark" and hoping that at least a few of the shots would work without being able to check and correct as I went along.

I'm also working in a little discomfort. I had set my tripod at a height that I thought would work for catching whales and dolphins at the water level. I'm short so I need the setting low enough to look down. But when we got to the sea lion and bird areas, it was set a little too low - so my legs got a good workout as I tried to get myself in the right position to look through the view finder, get my subject into view, click the shutter, before the boat bounced me out of position. I was in a partial squat with my back bent backwards and arched so that my eye could get to the view finder. At one point I tried getting on my knees on the seat (asking Henry to hang on to me so I wouldn't fall over the railing to the deck below.) That just did not work - my legs started cramping and I could not get the right position. Henry started supporting my back with his hand and that helped tremendously. Plus I kept worrying that I would bonk the head of the guy that was seated close by in the seats in front of us. (Fortunately that did NOT happen!)

Now sea sickness is a visual thing as well as a physical thing. Looking through my big lens magnifies the action. I was definitely having some motion sick dizziness. But I was seeing these wonderful photo opportunities, with fortunately some break in the action as we sailed around the islands. I would stand up, find my posture for getting the shots, take bursts of shots, and then take a break on the seat, and then stand up and go again. All the while not knowing whether any of the shots were going to work and worrying about exposure and over exposure, because even the in camera metering was hard to see and read in these conditions.

After we left the islands to head off to find the whales, I headed down to the galley to get some lunch and a carbonated drink hoping to relieve some of the sea sickness symptoms. There was enough time to eat and get to feeling better before we started spotting dolphins and finally found a couple of gray whales. And, yes, food really does help sea sickness.

I've posted some sample photos of most of the species we saw during the day on the The Nature Cruise page on my website. I have not had time to do the processing to see if any are competition quality with the sharpness needed, but they turned out much better than I expected given the conditions I was working under.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Baby's First Swim

I got out fairly early this morning headed over to Children's Pool and the baby seals. Before I gathered my equipment I went over to the wall and looked over. Was that a placenta I saw near that mom? Yep . . . there had just been two seal births minutes before I arrived. Gathering my gear quickly, I went down as close as was reasonable to give the mom's plenty of space.

One of the moms was more active. She almost immediately began leading her pup down to the water. It took some coaxing because the baby was sleepy and was really searching for that special nursing spot. But mom persevered and soon the baby was in the water. I can say for a fact, baby seals are born knowing how to swim.

But mom is right there taking care of her baby.

Mom and baby both seemed to enjoy their time together in the water.

And after enjoying their swim, they made it safely back onto the beach. The baby seemed much more awake and alert.

For more in this sequence of photos, click here: Baby's First Swim

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Wednesday - Seal Pups

We woke up to rain this morning so even though it cleared off early, I missed that early morning photo opportunity. The bulk of my day was spent catching up on burning my DVD backups and preparing some photos for my website.

But as it neared the golden afternoon hours, I was ready to get out and go check out the seals with my big lens (300-800mm). I lugged the thing over to the seawall and began seeing which babies were in range for my camera.

The one at the top of this blog was right below the seawall - it was easy to get a good look at him even without the magnification of the lens.

There are at least 12 or 13 babies here . . . so it is not hard to spot a mom and pup.

And I'm not the only one who is out today enjoying the view.