Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Wishing you a
Christmas Season
filled with
peace and the beauty
of God’s world.

May you be surrounded
by the love of
family and friends!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

My 2011 Calendars

I am doing three calendars this year.  The cost per calendar is $15.00.  The shipping and handling starts at $2.00.  If you are a Texas resident, there will be sales tax added. If you are a friend that I see regularly, I will hand deliver your calendar and waive shipping fees.  

Here is my Texas Wildflower Calendar:

To get a better view of the sample pages, click on the image:

To purchase my Texas Wildflower Calendar, click here:

Here is my Lighthouse Calendar.

Click on this image to get a better view of the monthly pages:

To purchase my Lighthouse Calendar, click here:

Here is my Waterscapes Calendar 2011:

You can click on these, to get a larger view of the pages of the calendar.

To purchase my Waterscapes Calendar, click here:

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Great Smokies - Planning your photography

When you are traveling through the Great Smokies, it is always so tempting to stop at every overlook. They are all so breathtakingly beautiful, regardless of the time of day.  But photographing that beauty can be challenging.  This 2010 trip had given us unusually good weather - sunny, cloudless days for the most part.  But great weather doesn't always make for great photographs.  

Here are a couple of photos from this year's trip taken at either the same or a very similar overlook.  Late afternoon sun, most of the composition is shaded.  The shrubby growth in the foreground is showing its color and is backlit, but this is just not a great image.
I changed  my composition and this one is a little better, we can see the colorful hill on the left and the exposure is dark enough that you can see the mountains in the distance.  That horizon line is a little too centered though.  But then again, I don't think the shrubby growth is that photogenic for a foreground.

Two years ago, I photographed this from the other platform, different time of day, when the weather was provided that magic lighting.  I did use HDR techniques on this one, but it all came together.  To me, this is a much more pleasing image.

Also two years ago, we caught what I think is the hill that is shadow in the first two. Different weather, different lens, different time of day . . .Plus, I think the foliage two years ago was closer to peak, this year so much was past the peak. Oh, what a difference these seemingly little things make between an ordinary photo and a "magic" one.

There are definite advantages to visiting one location over and over. Each day will have different weather and different lighting.  Some days, the photos are mundane . . . snapshots.  But some days you get lucky and end up with images to be proud of.  But at the beginning of any photography day, you never know if the light and weather are going to cooperate.  The discipline is to get yourself out there on location regularly, because you sure won't get the beautiful images if you aren't out there making the attempts.

Water Studies

 I like to sit at streams with my camera finding different compositions with the water.  Fall is such a great time because the leaves land on the rocks, blanket the banks, and flowing down the water.

I've learned to photograph streams when they are shaded. The least bit of sunlight blows out the highlights in the water.  The other nice thing about shade is that it requires longer shutter speeds that give the water a soft, silky, flowing look.

I accidently left one of my lenses at home, so I played with using my 300-800mm lens to try to get "intimate" landscapes of the streams and leaves.


These last two are the same scene, just different compositions. 

Monday, November 01, 2010

North Carolina's Outer Banks


 As we started our drive along North Carolina's outer banks and I studied the map on the iPad, I realized that I was geographically challenged again this trip.  I knew that there were barrier islands off the North Carolina shore, but I didn't realize how far out they curved from the mainland. To my defense, when you are looking at a big United States map, that set of islands is so small as to be virtually invisible.  Earlier in the trip, Henry and I had noted that we had never seen the Outer Banks and put that in our mind as a possibility for this trip.  

At this point in the journey, the Great Smokies with their fall foliage, beautiful mountains, and rocky streams had begun its pull.  But we kept to our plan to see the Outer Banks, an exploratory trip so we could better plan an extended trip later.  

We entered the Outer Banks from the north where it is really a narrow strip of land with good sized dunes and lots of houses.  We stopped briefly at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. They had references to otters - my mind immediately thought sea otters, but no, in the freshwater ponds there are river otters. We were at the refuge in the middle of the day with too much of an agenda to be able to do more than get the information and promise ourselves another visit.

By the time you get to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, you have a wild natural area that is lovely.  

We started our day at the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge. It is a long way to Cape Hatteras.  

We checked out the ferry schedules, hoping that we could take one of the 2-3 hour ferries to get back to the mainland. The Ocracoke Island-Cape Hatteras Ferry departs regularly throughout the day with a 40 minute ride.  However, to get back to the mainland,  there are two different North Carolina Ferry Routes.

The Cedar Island-Ocracoke runs six times a day from May until November, but when I called to make reservations, the schedule was full.  The Swan Quarter-Ocracoke  runs four times a day, but it was also full.  We had lunch and made it all the way to Cape Hatteras. It was interesting to see the old location for the lighthouse and how far they moved it.  

Looking at how long it took us to drive to Cape Hatteras and how long the ferries were to get back to the mainland, gave me a new perspective at how difficult it must be to evacuate this area when a hurricane threatens.   The protective dunes are large with many sand fences to keep the sand in place. 

There are warnings everywhere about staying on the boardwalks crossing the dunes to protect the fragile dune plants. 


Sometimes it helps me to have several days in a location to figure out what time of day and how to photograph it to bring out the natural beauty.  The beaches are wide and featureless and peaceful - the iconic images here include the rustic sand fences. I knew I didn't have time to wait for the right time of day or to study where would be the most interesting composition here on the Outer Banks - so I settled for some "snapshots," with the hope that some day we'll be back.

My first impressions were that this would be a great place to come and relax - to sit on the beach and read a book. There is also some great kayaking, bird watching and fishing.  There are areas where you can drive the beach in your own jeep or dune buggy or rented ones.  We were there in the quiet season, but I can picture these beaches crowded with people during the summer months.

But for this trip, the call of the Great Smokies and fall photography was now very strong, so we headed back up the islands and took the first bridge to the mainland.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge

I visited with a lady at Cape May who recommended Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge. It is located just north of the amazing Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel.  There are actually two wildlife refuges here - Eastern Shore and Fisherman Island.  Because of their location at the tip of the Delmarva Peninsula, it is an important place for migrating songbirds, monarch butterflies, and raptors.  

I was up and out for the sunrise and my first priority was to choose a sunrise spot with reflecting water.  Unfortunately the place I chose had restrictions I wasn't familiar with - and I was told by the person in charge that I had ten minutes to do my sunrise photography.  I had chosen the boat ramp area that apparently is exclusively for fishermen - commercial and recreational.

 I did the best I could with my ten minutes and went on to the bird blind at the top of a small rise. It was a beautiful morning. I saw a sharp shinned hawk and a bald eagle. I saw small unorganized flocks of songbirds finishing their night migration flight.  I saw another flock with more organization that I thought might have been blue jays, but they never got close enough for me to be sure.   The photography blind was great, but I'm not sure the openings were large enough for my Sigma 300-800mm lens to fit through.  

This area deserved more of my time, but the need to have time in fall foliage before the trip was over was weighing on me.  So after spending some quiet time at the blind we moved on south.

Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge

I first heard of Chincoteague when the North American Nature Photographer's Association held two regional events there.  I knew I wanted to visit and this trip was my first trip anywhere near coastal Virginia.  

I had heard that the auto route was only open after 3:00 P.M. so we planned for that.  It was cloudy when we arrived and lighting was not good for photography. 

When I saw the ponies, I wanted memory pictures at least so I set up my big lens.  This great egret was feeding and gave me a good opportunity to get a portrait.

 I'd been seeing yellow rumped warblers so when this one started hopping around the bushes where I was standing, I attempted to get his portrait as well.  He never gave me a clear shot.

 This double crested cormorant also swam by.

The ponies were grazing peacefully, seemingly oblivious to the people on the road. They were fenced into their pasture and separated by a canal of water as well.

 I heard something and looked up and saw a drama.  At the time I thought perhaps a predator had spooked these two. But when I looked at the pictures later, I realized that it was horse politics.

One pony was chasing the other trying to bite it.

And it was determined to get the other horse, both were racing.

Their hooves were pounding.

The horses closer to me raised their heads in curiousity and I suspect to see if there was reason for them to take flight as well.  However, they only paused a moment before returning to their grazing.

 There are two sets of wild horses here - one on Assateague Island and one on Chincogeague.  Legend says the horses arrived when a Spanish galleon carrying wild mustangs sank nearby.  Perhaps they are descendants of horses turned loose by early settlers.  Through the years, penning became an annual event with historical records dating from 1835. Pony Penning is still an annual tradition with the ponies being herded up to swim the Assatague Channel.  Beginning in 1925, a carnival was held and colts sold to raise funds for the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company.  This tradition continues each year in July when over 50,000 people watch the horses swim and colts are still sold to keep the herd at manageable numbers. 

Marguerite Henry wrote three books which made the Pony Penning known throughout the world. I read the first after I got home.  "Misty of Chincoteague"  is a sweet book about two children who do odd jobs to save money to buy the pony of their dreams, Phantom.  There are two others in the series that I'm going to order from Amazon as my local bookstore only had the first.

I would like to have had more time to spend at Chincoteague. There were many trails that beckoned, a lighthouse to explore, a beach to enjoy, but we were beginning to run out of time and I had more places that I wanted to explore this trip.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Bombay Hook National WIldlife Refuge

Our first visit to Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge was in April of 2003.  One of the first sightings was a pair of ring neck pheasants.  As I rounded the bend to the first pool, the air seemed filled with flying egrets, herons, etc - giving it a primeval feel.  The ponds had many varieties of ducks and wading birds.  One of my favorite sunset sequences was shot on that visit:

Our first destination after leaving Cape May this fall was to Bombay Hook.  While we weren't there in time for sunrise, we were there early in the morning.

When we were there in April, the snow geese had already left, but for this October visit, the snow geese had arrived!  It is amazing to be there when the snow geese are flying.  The patterns they make in the sky are beautiful, and they are all calling to each other, so it is a beautiful cacophany of sound.  We paused and watched with wonder as they flew directly overhead.  

We drove the Auto Route, but most of the other birds that I was expecting had apparently already flown south for the winter.  Different season, different feel - much quieter, except for that first flight of geese overhead.  

I want to come back to Bombay Hook again in the spring when the other birds have returned, but since I had new places to visit, we regretfully said "good-bye" and headed on down the road. 

Cape May Sunsets

A cape is a pointed piece of land jutting out into a body of water.  Therefore, you have opportunities for both sunrise and sunset on the water.  Sunset Beach is on the western side of the cape and is a wonderful place to enjoy the sunset.  There are some lovely benches set up on the beach as well as the Sunset Beach Gift store and The Grille.

Also at Sunset Beach is an interesting shipwreck.  During World War I, about a dozen ships were constructed out of concrete because steel was scarce. One of these ships, the S.S. Atlantus, was docked at Cape May after the war. A 1926 storm ran her aground at Sunset Beach.  What is left of her hulk rests out in the water. 

As I was waiting for sunset, I chatted with folks sitting on the benches with me.  One of them introduced me to Cape May "diamonds."  She even gathered some for me from the beach while I was photographing the sunset. I realized after the fact that I had captured some of these "diamonds" during my sunrise shoot.  These "diamonds" catch the light of the rising or setting sun and when they are wet, they glow.  The reality is they are water polished quartz about the size of pearls.  You can buy polished ones at the gift store at Sunset Beach, but I treasure my gifts from a generous stranger.

I shot different angles and exposures trying to capture the setting sun and the waves whipped up by the wind that day. I suspect other days have much smaller waves hitting the beach, but I had a beautiful, tranquil sunset to capture with my camera and to enjoy.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Prayer for Travelers

At our hotel today, I read this poem that was on the desk in our room.   I thought it worth sharing - it was a great way to start my day!

To Our Guests

In ancient times there was a prayer for 
       "the Stranger within our gates"
Because this is a human institution to serve people and not solely a money making organization, we hope that God will grant you peace and rest while you are under our roof.
        May our place be your "second" home.

May those you love be near you in thoughts and dreams.  Even though we may not get to know you, we hope that you will be comfortable and happy as if you were in your own house.

May the business that brought you our way prosper. May every call you make and every message you receive add to your joy.  When you leave may your journey be safe.

We are all travelers. From "birth 'til death" we travel between the eternities. May these days be pleasant for you, profitable for society, helpful for those you meet and a joy to those who know and love you best.

                             Author Anonymous

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Cape May - Raptor Banding Demonstration

Certain days of the week there is a raptor banding demonstration near the Hawk Watch at Cape May.  I found it most interesting. Since they started banding hawks, they've banded over 132,000 and gotten data back from over 2000. One of the more interesting stories was of a chick that was banded in the nest Greenland and captured at Cape May a mere three weeks later! Amazing!

Most of the time, the birds are captured, banded and immediately released. For the demonstration, the raptors are put in these tubes because it calms them down.  They are only kept in these tubes a very short time, long enough for the visitors to see these amazing creatures up close and to learn about them in a way that would not be possible otherwise. The birds are released unharmed to continue on their journey south.

In order to capture the raptors to band them, you must set a trap using bait birds. The bait birds used are pigeons, starlings, and house sparrows. However, it is amazing how these bait birds are treated. They have flack jackets tailored for each size bird. The pigeon's protective gear is made from Lexus leather car seats.

The sparrow's is made from leather jackets. The sparrow one was so tiny and actually cute.
 We got to see  sharp shinned hawks,

a Cooper's hawks,

and a peregrin falcon. 

He showed us how their feet are specially made to capture their prey and how their heads don't move during flight so they can find their prey easier.

The crowd was fascinated, as was I.  I hadn't brought my big camera, but I couldn't help myself - I pulled out my iPhone and was shooting snapshots for memories.

Middle Creek Wildlife Area

Fellow photographer, Cynthia Sperko told me to be sure and include Middle Creek Wildlife Area Kleinfeltersville, Pennsylvania on the Lebanon-Lancaster County line as a place to take bird photos during spring migration.  Middle Creek is in Kleinfeltersville, Pennsylvania. According to one website, the snow geese show up the first week in March. They are always an amazing spectacle to watch as thousands of them take off simultaneously.  The state website mentions the beautiful tundra swans  that stop by in the fall in November and in the spring in late February and early March. 

The Visit Lebanon County website mentions nine walking trails. Are We There Yet website  also has a good article about Middle Creek.

The tour road is open from March 1st to mid-September, weather permitting.

It turns out that as we drove through Pennsylvania, we stopped for lunch at Lancaster.  If we'd only known, Cynthia works very near where we stopped. I missed a chance to meet one of my online photography friends.  Sounds like I need to go back into her neck of the woods during fall or spring migration.  Check out  Cynthia's website to see more of her beautiful photography.

Thanks, Cynthia,  for the heads up about Middle Creek!

Cape May - Sea Bird Watch

The Cape May Bird Observatory counts many different kinds of birds during the fall migration. Up at Avalon along the seawall, they have a sea bird count. They have a presentation at 2:00 where they show you how they identify these birds from such a great distance.  

This is Atlantic City in the background. This image was taken with my 300-800mm at 800 mm.  That bird in the center is a northern gannet.   I've left this as shot so you can see what the bird counters are seeing.  Yes, they identify these birds when they are just specs.  It is amazing!

I've cropped down so you can see it better.  To identify northern gannets here you look for large white birds with these black tips on their wings.  The body shape is much more elongated and sharp both the body and the wings than a white pelican would be.  The smaller dots are greater black-winged gulls (which are the largest gull), so you can get an idea of how large these gannets are.

 Double crested cormorants fly by in large flocks.  They are identified by the patterns the flocks make. While they sometimes do get into a V shape, they never maintain it.  They are always rearranging the pattern and snaking out.

Here is a closer look as they flew overhead - note the elongated head and still a different pattern in the sky.

I did crop this one down so you could see the three birds in the distance - they were surf scoters. You really need a scope to make the id between white winged scoters, black scoters and surf scoters.  The sea bird counter has a high powered scope to see more detail on the wings and face to make a good id for the count.  They have a different counter for each bird that they click as they see them.

This young gull was hanging out,  not bothered by the birders nearby. 

I spent about an hour two different days at the Sea Bird Watch and saw:

Double crested cormorant
Black duck
Black bellied plover
Ring bill gull
Great black-backed bull
Black scoter
Surf scoter
Herring Gull
Northern Gannet
Greater Scaup
Brown pelican

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Cape May - Songbird Morning Flight

One of the daily events at Cape May during migration is the "Songbird Morning Flight."  There is a tower at Higbee Beach with an interpreter and on top of the nearby hill is a person who is counting the songbirds.  Officially Morning Flight begins at 8:00 A.M.  Songbirds migrate at night, so they fly in and get ready to forage and rest for the day.

I got up and out twice for morning flight. The first morning was right after the front had come through. It was pretty and sunny, but the wind was fierce.  There was only one other person besides me and the interpreter on the platform.  A few other people came and went Because of the wind, the interpreter was not expecting us to see much. The small songbirds were just getting bounced around too much. However, the large great black-backed gulls seem to sail with ease through the gusty wind.  The smaller hawks were visibly fighting against the wind. The first morning I saw the greater black-backed bulls,  yellow rump warbler, sharp shinned hawk, cooper's hawk, and a peregrin.

The second morning was a much calmer day in terms of the wind. I got to the tower at 8:00 A.M. and it was filled with people.  There were definitely more small birds in the air.  We had two interpreters in addition to the counter on the hill. I was actually a little relieved to see that even these "pros" couldn't identify all the little birds as they went zipping by.  They did identify a blackpoll warbler by its call as it went by.   The counter on the hill is expert at identifying the warblers, but apparently even so the count includes large numbers of "unidentified" warblers. We saw a number of northern flickers, a flock of kildeer.  and a lot of yellow-rumped warblers.  Crossing along the bay were double crested cormorants and a brandt.  I especially enjoyed seeing the common loon fly over us.  Two bald eagles passed over when I first arrived.  Good sightings of sharp shinned hawks and cooper's hawks.

People came and went from the platform during the hour or so I was there the second morning.  One group was an Audubon society tour from New York City.

My bird list for both days:

Yellow-rumped warbler
Black poll

Sharp Shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Peregrin Falcon
Northern harrier

Dark eyed junco
Swamp Sparrow

Ruby Crowned Kinglet
Golden Crowned Kinglet

Double crested cormorant
Great black-backed gulls
Common Loon (in flight)

Great blue heron

Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
American Robin
Mourning dove

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Cape May

We spent 4 nights at Cape May.   I was enchanted from the first day.  We started the first morning at sunrise at Cape May Lighthouse. 

The lighthouse is tall and stately, and the beam still shines brightly.  

I always try to look around at my surroundings when I'm photographing. I noted the sky away from the lighthouse was filled with these lovely pink tinted clouds. So I'm playing with a composition taken before the sun was up, with the light shining and the pink clouds.  All true to what was there that morning, but I think this version still needs work.

After taking care of trying for dawn and lighthouse shots, I headed over to where the Hawk Watch was going on.  For several years, I've heard  and read about hawk watches. During the fall migrations, people pick places with high numbers of passing raptors and count them as they go by. Some are volunteers, some are paid.  It was on my list of things to attend sometime because you can learn so much about identifying raptors when you have so many passing over you in one day. But more importantly, you are surrounded by folks who really know how to identify hawks even when they are far away and only specs in the sky. 

While the day started sunny, there was a cloud bank coming in.

You could see getting larger and larger and filling the sky.

Before too long, it was dark and hard to see the hawks.

I did have a couple of people who were helping me identify the hawks and other species flying by. I think the most amazing thing was when the gentleman next to me spotted and identified a flock of blue jays just by the way the flock was grouping as they flew.  And . . . I had NEVER seen a flock of blue jays - only individuals. The tree sparrows also came by in large flocks and looked ever so much like a swarming bunch of gnats as they crossed the sky.  The raptor identification was still hard, but I saw a sharp shinned hawk, a Cooper's hawk, a merlin, and a peregrin that morning.