Monday, June 30, 2008

Frisco Wildfire Part II

All over the Rocky Mountains, pine bark beetles are taking their toll on lodge pole pine forests. The red trees in this picture are dying. I'm planning a group of posts about the pine bark beetle, but the fire Saturday in Frisco illustrates the danger that many communities in the Rockies face.

This was really a small fire. Probably started by campers, it burned in a green and moist aspen and cheat grass area rather than hitting the dead pines nearby. However, you can see how close those dead pine trees were to the fire. And the fire started in an area where the firefighters had to hike in to get to it.

Traffic in I-70 was warned that a fire was near and that there might be smoke on the road. I was parked south of I-70. There was a steady stream of residents who pulled up to check on the fire. They were worried. The predictions are that Summit county will lose 95% of the lodgepole pines. While in Breckenridge, the law is requiring homeowners to remove the dead trees, the people I talked with seemed to think there was no plan in place in the national forests to remove the dead trees. The research I've done so far indicates that there is a small window when the trees that are harvested can be used. If you miss the window, the wood has deteriorated too far.

This was the scene at the worst part of the fire. Thankfully, the firefighters were helped by a helicopter with a 100 gallon bucket. By Sunday, only wisps of smoke were left. The damage from the fire was invisible from town. But this is fourth of July week, people are nervous about fireworks and are expecting a burn ban.

From the Summit Daily News comes this warning from Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue Deputy Chief Jeff Berino: "we want people to really be aware of the dangers we are facing this season, and that it is now a matter of when, not if, we will have a big wildfire.”

The fire Saturday only burned a couple of acres. But this is early in the season. As the snow melt ends, and everything dries out in the warmth of summer, the Rockies are a powder keg waiting to erupt.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Frisco Wildfire

My next blog post was going to be the beginning of a series about the issues in Summit County, Colorado dealing with pine bark beetles. However, as I went into Frisco to do some shopping for my condo, I saw a small fire on the mountain just north of I-70. After I made my purchase I went over to investigate. After finding a good vantage point, I spent the next several hours watching the fire, talking with people who live in the area, and photographing the event.

Tomorrow I'll post more of the photos of the fire. I was most impressed with the helicopter pilot. He first carefully surveyed the scene - making several sweeps. Then his first drop intentionally watered the area around the fire. And then he progressively got closer and closer to make very accurate drops where the fire was the hottest.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Tiger Road

One of my favorite areas around Breckenridge is Tiger Road. In the summer it is one of the routes to get high in the backcountry as it goes from pavement to graded dirt to jeep trail.

One winter, I spent a lot of time photographing the creek and a dipper (a small mountain bird that literally walks the bottom of creeks looking for its food) that frequented the area. My photo, Winter Stream, came from the Swan River as it gurgles its way beside the road.

This summer I've been up it a couple of times. I've been rewarded by the evening peaceful time of watching the trout surface, creating small ripples on the beaver ponds. When my kids were growing up, we spent time on our vacations fishing beaver ponds near Silverton. Part of the allure of fishing is getting to be out in a beautiful place, enjoying your surroundings while you are waiting for the fish to bite. While the fish you catch at beaver ponds are small brook trout - they sure taste good at the end of the day.

On our first drive up Tiger Road this year, I just enjoyed being on a jeep trail. I eyed the back country campsites, remembering how much fun it was to camp in a tent, right next to the babbling, gurgling creek. We were also rewarded with two beaver sightings, but they were far enough away that I did not try to bring out the big lens, instead I just watched the first beaver chew off branches of the willow lining his pond and finally take a bunch across the pond. He took that bunch and dove down under water presumably to his home-it was not as obvious as other beaver homes I've seen.

The second night I headed up to the beaver ponds. I pulled out the big lens, hoping a beaver would show. While I was waiting, I was enjoying the fish coming to the surface.

I decided to see if I could actually capture a fish surfacing with the big lens. Amazingly, I did - actually in one of the earlier frames.

Now this is cropped way down, ISO was something like 1600 to get a fast shutterspeed - so image quality is poor. But this is the kind of shot that luck really plays a role. You never know where they're going to surface, so you are never really set up for the shot. And for a memory picture, this is worth a lot to me. But it will never be submitted for publication, contest or stock photography.

I was finally rewarded when the beaver came out.

The original shot had a lot of digital "noise" from the high ISO needed for the lighting conditions. I used the noise reducing filter in photoshop and then went back using the art history brush and brought back out detail in the beaver. It came out better than I expected.

The beaver realized I was there and went under the water. I was at an angle and the water was so clear I could see him swimming below the surface.

He decided to move to some of the other ponds and headed off down one of his trails. I was getting eaten by those wonderful mosquitoes the fish were feeding on. The light was also fading, so we headed back down to civilization.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Value of Open Spaces

I grew up in the Texas Panhandle - an area known for its wide open spaces. My grandfather bought and sold land regularly, but I still have two of the pieces of land - one a working farm and one native grassland, never plowed. My children grew up making yearly visits to visit both sets of grandparents in Amarillo. My mother always took them to see the farm and to visit the ranch and the cattlemen who leased the grasslands and their feedlot. I promise you, their feedlot was not smelly . . . my memories include the smell of cooked sweet feed.

When you are out in the rural areas of the Texas panhandle you can hear the wind blow. You can hear the windmill as it goes about the business of pumping water for the cattle. There are birds up there. I want to go and spend more time photographing some of them. It is quiet and peaceful in a way that is hard to explain. The land is so flat, it feels like you can see forever. At night due to the dry climate and lack of city lights, the stars are incredibly beautiful.

The passing of time always brings changes. Amarillo is growing to the west, swallowing up ranchland slowly but surely. My farm is east of Amarillo. Growth is coming, but slowly. My farm is right on the highway, so I know that some day, perhaps twenty or thirty years from now, it will likely be commercial property, but that is a long way off. I remember when my grandfather bought the farm, I was about five - so it's been in the family for fifty years. The ranch was the third ranch I remember my granddad buying. He tended to buy land when the interest rates were low and sold it when a good buyer came along. The Vega ranch and the farm he kept. WInd farms are springing up all over the panhandle. The land just to the north of mine has recently installed them. Because the panhandle is an area with consistent winds, a lot of open space will look different. Hopefully, the birds the antelope, and the small critters will be able to coexist with these gently moving blades.

When I was at NANPA when it was in Denver, I got to hear John Fielder talk about things being done in Colorado to preserve the open spaces. The Colorado Conservation Partnership has found unique ways to preserve open space in Colorado. If I understand correctly, they have raised funds and purchase development rights from farmers and ranchers. The land is protected and the land owners still receive the value comparable to what they might have received if they had developed the land for commercial or residential uses.

I've been working on a project with ranchers in the Central Texas area, The Texas Hill Country Nature Photography Alliance. There are number of ranchers who have dedicated their land for conservation purposes. They are providing habitat for some of the endangered species that are present in the hill country. They have set things up for photographers and perhaps birders to help fund their conservation efforts. I have been privileged to visit two of these ranches,The Petersen Ranch and Block Creek Natural Area. I hope to visit more and spend some time photographing the beauty in nature found there.

David Langford is one of the owners of the Block Creek Natural Area. This land has been in his family longer than my land and he has been a good steward of the land. He has written an editorial about the value and importance of the preserving open spaces, 'Land Stewards understand Value of Open Space.. The link he sent is from the Amarillo paper, my hometown. But it is appearing in newspapers around Texas. I live in Williamson county where open space has been disappearing very rapidly over the last twenty years. In fact, at one point I had heard that we were the county in Texas losing farmland the fastest. Because I've watched so much farmland and grassland turn into small tract lots, I think that what he says is worth reading and thinking about.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Water studies

One of the field trips for the NANPA Colorado Regional Event was to the forks at Chicago Creek near the base of Mount Evans. Usually Colorado clouds up in the afternoon, but during the regional event we had good sunny weather the whole time. So I waited for a cloudy day and made my own trip to Chicago Creek.

The creek is surrounded by forest. When I first got there I was afraid it was going to be too dark. Even after the sun peeked out, the valley floor was still pretty dark. But I decided I would see what I could do even with the dark conditions.

I wanted to take several kinds of shots. I wanted the big picture shots, where you could see the creek and its surroundings. You can see what I mean about it being dark - to get the proper exposure, the water is very silky.

Then I wanted to zoom in and see what I could do with the cascades.

I had only taken my 24-105mm lens and I wondered if that was going to be enough to get the intimate landscapes in the creek that I was hoping for. I begin to zoom in closer more detailed shots of the water and the rocks.

It is amazing how going vertical changes the image.

I then zeroed in on a couple of rocks to get an even more intimate landscape. I also played with saturation on this one.

I was fascinated by the natural scallops in the water here.

I stayed in one location quite a while, but decided that I need to check out some of the other areas along the creek to see what else I could find. I followed some of the same techniques - shooting both the larger view and trying to get those intimate landscapes.

Tips for stream and water photography:

Shade or cloud cover is best to avoid getting blown out whites in the water.

Set your camera for aperture priority for the maximum sharpness of your lens. For me that is F/16. The amount of available light will determine how much water blur you will get. In very bright situations you can use a solid neutral density filter to reduce your shutter speed to make the water silkier. For this day I played with the ISO. Normally for landscapes I set the ISO to 100 which is the lowest possible on my camera to avoid noise. However, because the water was getting so blurred out I tried higher ISO's to see if I could get the look I wanted for the water.

Use a polarizing filter. I forgot on some of my shots, but it takes away some of the shine on the rocks bringing out their true color as well as giving more detail in the water.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Mount Evans Goats

When I was with the NANPA group in the afternoon session, there was only one billy goat that showed up at the summit of Mount Evans. Fortunately, we got to hang around another day or so. On one of several visits to the top, a small herd of nannies and kids showed up at the bathroom area. The work crews put a de-icing salt on the walkway and the animals come in to get their salt intake. The top of Mount Evans is made up of piles of rocks - so the setting just behind the pathway is a natural setting for them.

This particular group had some yearlings as well as some new kids.

This year's kids are small, soft and look cuddly (no, I would not try it!) They stay pretty close to their moms and have a cute clear bleat when mom is too far away.

They get interupted from their salt lick as people need to go to the bathroom and retreat up the pile of rocks.

Because I was shooting in the morning, the light was coming from behind the goats, so I tried a different technique using fill flash. I did not want an obvious flash look to the photos. I'm still working on being able to use fill flash consistently. What I've learned so far is that you want your exposure settings as they would be if you were not using flash, but you have to have a shutter speed that will work with your flash unit. I was varying my shutterspeed hoping to do some stop motion - I checked and the shutter speed varied from 1/125 to 1/300. I was shutter shutter priority and I'm pretty sure I played with the exposure compensation to make sure I was not blowing out the whites. I used the ETTL (Evaluative through the lens flash metering) and I set the compensation on the flash to minus 1 1/3. Granted my batteries were probably old, but I think the fill flash worked in this situation. You don't see harsh lighting, but you do see good details in the faces in spite of the back lighting. Photo Notes has a good section on flash photography that is worth studying. I've looked at it before, but I need to keep studying this so I can have fill flash figured out better than I do now.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Photo Contests

Several years back one of the photo reviewers recommend that I start entering the large, prestigious photo contests. So each year I pick out what I think are my best images and submit to contests like the Shell BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year and the Nature's Best Windland Smith Rice International Awards. The first couple of years my photos did not succeed. However, the last couple of years, they at least made it up the ladder to semi-finalist or finalist rounds.

I was recently notified by the BBC Contest that while my photos had "not succeeded" that I could log in and check on their website to see if any had made it to semi-final or finalist levels. I was pleased that three of them did make the semi-finalist level. You can see them on website.

One of these days . . . one of these days . . . I hope to make the exhibition. I'll keep trying.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Ruth Dillard, a special person

There are people in your life who are very special. Ruth Dillard was one of those folks. She was an inspiration to me on gracious living in old age. She was always smiling, always had a joke to share and always had a great attitude. Everyone at church knew Ruth and loved her. I am so glad that I saw and spoke with her at church the Sunday before we left. She will be missed!

Photo Credit: Richard Tyler


Over the last few years, I have a morning routine of things to read on the internet. My Yahoo provides my news. Sometimes I'll head over to one of the larger newspapers or a local newspaper to check on news. This morning I checked out the to read about the storms that went through last night. My mother-in-law is in a nursing home and they had to take cover in a hallway last night.

I use RSS feed that shows me on my bookmark bar when there is a new entry. That eliminates the need to open each of the blogs separately each day. I have some blogs I read that are primarily news about friends and family. I have some blogs that I read almost every day and others that I read occasionally. Here are some links (in a random order - not based upon which are my favorites) that I think would appeal to some of my readers:

Henry's Idle Thoughts, is my husband's take on what is going on around us. Partly a travel journal, partly his reflections on life, and a look at the publishing world, I read his posts not only because he is my husband but because I find it interesting to see his view of what we've been doing.

Secrets of a Lazy Trainer is written by my friend, Bettye Baldwin. She has been working with horses most of her life and is an expert animal trainer. Her blog contains amusing stories as well as practical advice about training animals which can cross over into how the same application works well with humans as well. She is also a writer of both fiction and non-fiction. She writes books about horses and articles at

I met Julie Zickefoose at the Festival of the Cranes. I enjoy her National Public Radio broadcasts about raising hummingbirds. Her blog varies between stories about her dog, Chet Baker, her children, her birding trips, and life in Appalachian Ohio. Her book, Letters from Eden is a delight from her beautiful artwork to the stories of life in the natural world.

I just added Mike Murphy to my RSS feed. He has retired as photo editor for Texas Highways magazine and has set up his Texas ranch for nature photographers. Currently he is in Alaska on a photo expedition. Having been to Alaska, I'm enjoying hearing about what he is seeing and doing.

David and Linda Gregersen moved from the Austin area to Zambia three years ago. I am enjoying reading about their adventures in the mission field, Africa. I especially love the application stories from their chicken coop!

Bill Crider is a mystery writer that Henry and I have known for a long time. When you set his blog up in RSS feed, expect to find lots of short posts throughout the day. He is interested in many things from mystery books, science fiction, alligators and crocodiles, movie stars. When he finds something interesting on the web, he posts the link so we can enjoy it as well.

Carolyn E. Wright is an attorney whose speciality is photographic law. Her blog is worth browsing through the entire history as there is much to learn about the legal issues related to photography.

Bill Thompson, III is editor of Bird Watcher's Digest. He is married to Julie Zickefoose. They are invited to many birdwatching events and not just in the United States. Anyone interested in birding will enjoy his blog.

Chris Nystrom is the son-in-law of one of my closest friends. His blog is ecclectic ranging from stories about his family, to the techworld, to interesting movies, and his viewpoint on current news.

Susi Lawson does not post often to her blog, but her photographic art is so beautiful that I am always interested in what she posts.

Travis Novitsky is a photographer in beautiful Minnesota. I especially love his winter scenes, but I am always inspired as I watch what he finds to photograph.

Sheila Finch is a science fiction writer we see regularly at the conventions we attend. Her books about The Guild of Xenolinguists are both fun and thought provoking.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Mount Goliath Natural Area Revisited

Bright and early Monday morning, I went back to Mount Goliath Natural Area. Henry and I were the only ones there - so different from when I went with the event. When I was there before I had done some visualization and I had some images that I wanted to try. I also wanted to explore the area at my own pace and not have to struggle to find compositions without other people or their belongings in them.

One of the images I wanted to try again was the rows of mountains against the hazy morning colors of dawn.

This one is hard to get "right" because it is hard to get the distant mountains sharp in the camera. Also each day will have different atmospherics which either provide beautiful color and great separation or the sky will be clear and the mountains in the distance are not so well defined.

This mountain bluebird couple were doing their morning preening and allowed me to get fairly close.

This chipmunk scurried around trying to get breakfast.

This yellow rumped warbler finally perched near enough for me to get a photo.

This snowshoe hare was very skittish. Most of the time, when I caught sight of him, he was already making his departure.

He did give me one clear shot. But most of the time, he was in a hurry, scampering through the rocks and around the bristlecone pines.

By myself, I was in no hurry, so I had time to examine the beautiful patterns in the bristlecones. The swirls of the grain and the knots in the wood offer an infinite possibility of abstract images. Amazingly the patterns also create face-like patterns.
My what a long nose we have . . . hummmm is your name Pinnochio?

Can't you see the old man smoking his pipe here? Come on . . . use your imagination!!!!!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Summit of Mount Evans

My afternoon excursion at the NANPA Regional Event was the summit of Mount Evans, one of Colorado's 14,000 peaks. The highest auto road in the United States winds its way to the top of the peak. Photographers know it as one of the most predictable places to photograph mountain goats.

Mountain goats and big horn sheep like to lick the de-icing salt off the path to the bathrooms. While people going to and from the bathrooms disturb them from their salt lick, they usually come right back for more. I was fortunate in getting a seat on one of the large rocks and happily spent time photographing first a billy mountain goat and then a group of big horn sheep ewes and yearling lamb.

At this time the billy goats hang out by themselves. this particular billy was skittish and left shortly after I set up.

Shortly after he left, I heard a voice cry out, "Here come the sheep!" A group of about five big horn sheep ewes and a couple of yearlings came over and began to get their salt intake. They were not perturbed by the people, but would startle onto the more photogenic rocks above the pathway.

Apparently big horn sheep bleach out their color in the winter giving them this whitish appearance and then their coats darken during the summer.

Occasionally they would scatter in the opposite direction, giving me some opportunities for photographing "wildlife in their environment." This photo gives you one of the panoramic views from the top of Mountain Evans.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Mount Evans' Bristle Cone Pines

On the first morning of the NANPA Regional Event in Colorado, my group headed up to the Mount Goliath Natural Area. We left a little after 4:30 with the intent of getting there at sunrise. The view to the east of the mountain ranges and foothills was beautiful.

Sometimes when I am at a new location, I enjoy soaking up the surroundings and figuring out what will catch my attention. I was also going a little slow as this was my first day at high elevation. It was so much fun watching all the photographers as they worked their way through the bristlecone forest, but it also made getting a composition without someone in it a little difficult. I tried some people shots, but they did not come out as well as I would have liked.

These two are my "best" of the day. I shot for high dynamic range (HDR) as the things that caught my eye seemed to be shooting into the sun. The goal of HDR is to create an image that is more as the human eye sees it. Both digital and film cameras have a limit to how much they can capture between bright and shadowed areas. Film actually has a deeper range than digital. But with photoshop and other programs, I can shoot several exposures of a scene and then combine them. While there are programs that automate this process, I do my HDR manually using layers and layer masks in photoshop. Being a control freak, this allows me to choose what I want to leave as a silhouette and where I want to bring detail out of the shadows.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Mount Evans - Sunday

I'm going to be posting things "out of order." After the Regional Event we checked out of our hotel and headed over to a different hotel in Idaho Springs. I can't say that my photos today are "great." But I enjoyed identifying the American Pipet.

I had a lot of fun with this marmot:

Another marmot peaked its head over the rock to check on things:

As we were driving down the mountain, we noticed several cars stopped and were thrilled to see a herd of mountain goats. I counted at least 12. I got to watch a lone billy cross the road. It was fun to watch him jump out of the snowbank. My camera was pointed up the mountain so I missed that shot.

The lighting was not great, but I had fun taking the shots of the goats. Here is one of the better ones - cropped down:

Saturday, June 14, 2008


I'm up in Colorado at the North American Nature Photographer's Regional Event. It is so much fun to be around a group of photographers. They are very passionate about what they are seeing and the beauty of what they are trying to capture with their cameras.

I enjoy the photographic opportunities, but I also enjoy getting to meet new people and hearing their stories.

Photos to follow . . . .

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Early Morning Wakeup

We got into Evergreen, Colorado this afternoon. I'm here for the North American Nature Photographer's Colorado Regional Summit, "The Alpine World of the Colorado Rockies."

Tomorrow I'll be going with Craig Lewis to the top of Mount Goliath to photograph the bristlecone pines. We are driving away from the hotel at 4:30 in the morning to be at the top of the mountain before sunrise. My wakeup call comes at 3:00 in the morning.

I've brought long sleeved t-shirts, my wool sweater, corduroy pants, wool socks, gloves, and my wool hat. I got off without my winter coat, but I borrowed a jacket from my mother-in-law's house.

Yes, I've come into this event tired, but I am looking forward to getting out tomorrow. I'm hoping for a gorgeous sunrise!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


As I've been reading my daily psalms recently, I've found several that have beautiful blessings. I often use the psalms or other scriptures as a basis for prayer.

Here are two that I encouraged me recently:

Psalms 122:6-9
May those who love you be secure
May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels
For the sake of my brothers and friends, I will say, "Peace be with you."
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your prosperity.

Psalms 128
Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in his ways.
You will eat the fruit of your labor;
Blessings and prosperity will be yours.
Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house;
Your sons will be like olive shoots around your table.
Thus is the man blessed who fears the Lord.
May the Lord bless you from Zion all the days of your life
May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem,
and may you live to see your children's children.
Peace be upon Israel.

When I think on these beautiful blessings, I find it useful to make them more meaningful in my prayers by substituting my family's names or my city or country.
For example:
May I see the prosperity of my country and prosperity for the world. . . Peace be upon the world!

May those who love me be secure: my mother-in-law, my children, my friends, etc.

I wish these beautiful blessings on all my readers today.

Update on Yellowstone's Bison and Montana's cattle industry

Sigh . . . Despite all the effort of the state of Montana and the cattle industry, Montana has lost its brucellosis-free status. From the Bozeman Daily Chronicle comes the information that the owner of the cow did everything "right." The cow had been vaccinated twice and was part of a herd management plan. For the unfortunate owner, the entire herd may have to be slaughtered. For all of Montana, all cattle over 18 months old shipped out of state must be tested for brucellosis thirty days before shipping. For cattle owners on tight budgets this will be costly. Plus there had been plans to ship cattle to Russia that will now have to be scrapped costing Montana ranchers a new market for their livestock.

But, what is worse, to me it means that all those Yellowstone bison were slaughtered "for nothing." Montana still lost its brucellosis-free status. Bison were not the cause of this latest case.

From Robert Hoskin's comment on "Ralph Maughan's Wildlife News," the bison census numbers seem to show that from a population last summer of 4300, the current population may only be as few as 1300-1400 left after the natural winter kill and the slaughter. If my math is correct that means we lost 67% of Yellowstone's bison this past winter!

Brucellosis is truly an issue for the cattle industry.The Bozeman Daily Chronicle has another excellent article about how it will affect the ranchers. And not all ranchers are "big business." Many are just small family ranches with a few hundred head. But killing 2300 bison did not prevent the problem. With winter conditions still present in the park (Hayden Valley still had snow cover as of last week with minimal grass growth) more bison may die of natural causes. Bison are herd animals and the social groups have certainly been disrupted by the slaughter of family and herd groups. It will take awhile for their numbers to increase.

Further, I've read stories of property owners near the park who wanted to allow the bison on their lands. However, despite their efforts, their property rights were violated as helicopters and horsemen hazed the bison through their lands to get them back in the park.

Folks, this is just not a pretty picture anyway you look at it.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Memorable People

My mother-in-law has been in a skilled care facility for about a month now. This is our second run up to the panhandle to visit and hopefully give moral support to the family here. We have begun to meet some of the people that are in her unit. Most are elderly.

There is one lady there who seems close to my age. I generally see her with her husband pushing her wheel chair around. What impresses me is her attitude. When we greet people, we usually say, "Hi! How are you today?" She always answers you with a big smile and says, "I'm wonderful!"

I don't know her story. I can tell her husband is very attentive (which also impresses me). I don't know if she is in rehab because of a car accident, an illness, a fall, or whether she is living there as a long term resident. But that bright smile, that friendly look in what don't seem to me to be the best of circumstances for someone my age, tells me she sees the world differently than I do sometimes. She seems to be very happy.

Phillippians 4 tells us to "Rejoice in the Lord always!"

From Habbakuk: 3:17-19
17Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,

18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

19 The Sovereign LORD is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.

This happy lady in the wheel chair is a blessing and an inspiration to me. I hope I can find that deep well of joy when it becomes my time to deal with physical problems.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Yellowstone's Wolves

I keep browsing the Yellowstone sites as part of my heart is there. On The Yellowstone Net Discussion forums today I found these amazing photos of wolves on a "kill." Jaime and Lisa Johnson came across these wolves very near the road. These are some of the best wolf shots I've seen.

Wish I could have been there.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Old Tunnel Wildlife Management Area

Henry and I have both been feeling a little cooped up so we decided to go out for a drive on our anniversary. I had some business I needed to take care of in Fredericksburg so we headed in that direction.

The highlight of the day was sunset at Old Tunnel Wildlife Management Area. Amazingly enough this is the smallest wildlife management area in Texas (16.1 acres) with the most mammals of any wildlife management area. At the peak of the summer bat season, over 3 million Mexican Free tailed bats live in the old railroad tunnel. Each night volunteers give a presentation about the bats before it is time for the bats to leave for the nightly hunt. Thursday through Sunday there is a lower observation area open for a small fee to get a closer look at the bats during the exodus.

We arrived early and I got a front row seat with my big lens. There were a couple of hawks, one a red tailled hawk, who were cruising the area. The volunteer thought the presence of the raptors might be a signal that the bats would leave early. I was watching the hawk soaring when all of a sudden it tucked its wings in and did a spectacular nose dive. Sure enough the first bats were exiting the tunnel!

When I first set up my big Sigma lens, I was afraid it was going to be too big. Light was not great, so I chose a high ISO so I could keep my shutter speed fast enough to get stop motion on the bats. My goal was to get some close shots as they exited the tunnel. I was also hoping to get shots of the big picture - the patterns of the bats as they spiraled up in the sky before dispersing for their feeding.

The females and young have not yet taken up residence in the tunnel, so the spectacular show of the bats lasted only about 13 minutes. When we were there later in the year, I think it took 45 minutes for all of the bats to leave the tunnel.

I was actually glad we were on the upper deck, because I think i got better shots of the bats and the surrounding landscape. But i would also like to go back with the Canon 100-400 lens and get some shots from the lower deck. No flash is allowed, so I'm hoping to go in July or early August and hope that the bats will be leaving before it gets too dark.

Truly an amazing spectacle to see the sky so filled with these small amazing creatures.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Our thoughts matter!

As you know, I try to start my mornings outside with my binoculars, my bird book, my devotional books, and my Bible. Often the thoughts from the books work together to remind me of some important truths that relate to what is going on in my life right now.

My readings today:
Mary Engelbreit, Just Be Happy!

If you observe a really happy man, you will find . . that he is happy in the course of living life twenty four crowded hours of each day.

“We are what we think.
All that we are arises
With our thoughts.
With our thoughts,
We make our world.”
-- The Buddha

From Grace Notes by Alexandra Stoddard:

Inaction snaps the vigor of the mind . . .:
Leonardo da Vinci

Nothing makes one more tired than just sitting around purposelessly. That's quite different from sittig in solitude when we can daydream in peace and then spring into action. Our minds need to be occupied not to feel sluggish.

Often unrelated actions or thoughts trigger concentration. Something kicks in, like an electrical charger. The mind is an amazing electrical appliance. Plug it in and it goes.

From a few days ago in Nancy Rotenberg's Photography and the Creative Life:
"Television, artificial ingredients, polyester, and email to mention a few, can all narcotize creativity and immobilize any artist. Consider limiting these benumbing environments."

I have always believed that what we say to ourselves matters. If we tell ourselves that we can do something, we probably will be able to do it. If we tell ourselves that something is impossible, that we can't do it, that often becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. Many years ago when I was a girl in Girl Scouts, my troop leader had a saying: "Can't can't do anything but fall in a bucket of paint." Needless to say, we were not allowed to say "I can't do it - it's too hard, " in Girl Scouts.

Now obviously, it won't work if I tell myself I can jump off a cliff and fly, but I think we often contribute to our failures by negative thinking. I also think that we have some measure of control over our attitudes.

Lately, I've found myself being pessimistic. I know I'm not getting everything done that "needs" to be done. I've also found myself doing the kinds of mind numbing things that Nancy talks about - checking my email too frequently, browsing websites repeatedly during the day, playing cute but repetitive internet games. Plus, there have been legitimate things to grieve over, things that are unlikely to get better. But I don't want to live my life as a pessimist. I want to cultivate positive attitudes. I want to be a "can do" person. Today's readings were certainly helpful to me.

Further research on the internet (for this blog) brought these gems:

“We become what we think about.”
-- Earl Nightingale

“Our lives are defined by our convictions of who we are.”
-- Anthony Robbins

“Man is what he believes.”
-- Anton Chekhov

"Dwell in thought upon the grandest,
And the grandest you shall see;
Fix your mind upon the highest,
And the highest you shall be.''

Christian minister, Norman Vincent Peale, wrote The Power of Positive Thinking, an entire book and built his ministry around the benefits of being positive and upbeat.

Going to the scriptures validated this line of thought:

For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he , , ,
Proverbs 23:7 (King James Version)

We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ . . .
2 Corinthians 10:5

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things . . .
Philippians 4:8,9


I want to be remembered as someone who is cheerful, fun to be around, and capable. I don't want to be remembered as a pessimist, a grouch, or a negative person. I believe I have a choice and I choose joy!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Mining Issues

I suspect you could call me a voracious internet reader, but I suspect that there are others who really spend more time than I do. I generally only read blogs from people that I have met or with whom I am friends. I met Julie Zickefoose at the Festival of the Cranes at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. I was fascinated with her stories of caring for hummingbird chicks and swift chicks. I have enjoyed the beautiful artwork and the stories in her book Letters from Eden. So I added her to my list of blogs that I regularly read. Her last two posts are important to share: Mountaintop Removal Mining and How it all works.

I've been a regular visitor to Colorado since I was a young girl. I have enjoyed the rustic old mining ghost towns with their dilapidated houses and sluices. It represents a time in history when we thought everything was unlimited. We were not as aware of what the process of digging out ore did to the streams. There are a number of streams that still run red and orange from mining in the past. To our credit, there are a few areas that have really been cleaned up and revegetated. There is even one stream that used to be red that is now clear. But the residue remains on the stream bed.

In my local area in Texas, Alcoa runs a big mining operation near Rockdale. I know that one of the leaders in Girl Scouts used to set up tours. Historically this area has produced lignite, oil, and aluminum. It claims: "Today not only does the mine produce more than six million tons of lignite annually, it manages an extensive, award-winning reclamation program in the effort to restore the land to a condition that is equal to or better than it was before mining."

Texas rolling blackland prairie is going to be much easier to reclaim and revegetate than West Virginia mountain tops.

I foolishly thought we had more protections in place to protect our environment. I don't see any of our presidential candidates taking stands and talking about what they would do to protect our environment.

I realize that this is still "heresy" but part of me wishes that we had done more with nuclear energy. There has only been one major accident (Chernobyl) and a minor incident at Three Mile Island. I know that we have not figured out what to do with the waste, but so much of the research ended as well. The other issue is certainly what developing countries would do with nuclear power plants and waste with their much more limited budgets. There is a part of me that wonders whether global warming would be as much of an issue if our power plants were nuclear rather than coal and if we had developed a way to run our cars with clean electrical batteries or hydrogen fuels.

There are so many jokes about technologies that "big business" has buried to protect their own interests. I so want to believe that we as humans are smarter than that.

Wind power is clean with at least 30 years of research. We still have to be careful to protect view corridors and migrating birds, but I am hearing good things about the possibilities ahead of us with wind energy. It seems to me to be a lot better than tearing down mountains and fouling streams.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

La Meute de Druides

From the Yellowstone Net Discussion groups, I found this link: Wolf footage, "La Meute de Druides." This is an amazing short film showing wolf behavior from the hunt seeking an elk, the chase of the herd, and final success. Note the magpies and ravens that benefit from the kill. A coyote comes in showing how much difference in size wolves and coyotes are. Nine minutes of amazing closeup footage of the wolves. Technically I wonder how they did it - was it digiscoped - do they make digiscoping equipment for video cameras? If not what kind of lens would that require to get such marvelous closeups?

Note: I, for one, did have an emotional reaction when the wolves finally got an elk, but . . . it is part of the natural cycle. And there is vegetation that is returning along some of the stream beds because the elk have altered their behavior because of the wolves. For nature lovers, this clip is well worth watching.