Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Smoky Mountains in Early November

For a third year, I attended the Great Smoky Mountain Nature Photography Summit.  From sunrise to mid-morning, there are photo outings - mostly near the Townsend side of the park. (This is a quieter option than Gatlinburg and much closer to Cades Cove.)  The rest of the day is devoted to expert presentations by high-level professionals.  There are also opportunities to slip away for photo outings, including nighttime photo locations.

This year offered poor autumn colors because of a severe drought in the region.  For the most part, I looked for other subjects.  Here are a few images that I feel are appealing, beginning with sunrise from the Foothills Parkway.  The crepuscular rays of sunlight appeared after I had given up on seeing a good sunrise, so the scramble to retrieve my tripod and camera was amusing (to others).

The lesson from this is:     Never give up!   

I admit that I love saying "crepuscular".  Sounds so scientific.

On one morning I had no scheduled outing, so I was away very early and was the third car in line for the gate to be opened at Cades Cove at sunrise.  Wasting no time, I arrived at the trailhead for Abrams Falls and was underway on the 2-1/4 mile hike with only one pair of hikers ahead of me.  I kept whistling as I walked to be sure I did not surprise a bear.  It was great to reach the falls before others.

Can you imagine how high the creek was to put that log across the top of the ledge?

I finished my photography at 9:30 am as the hoard of visitors arrived.  Perfect timing.  The parking had swelled from two cars to over fifty.

One of my favorite locations is the Tipton homestead in the cove.

It took a few visits to get images without wandering people in the scene.  This view is from inside the grain storage shed.

The ground level of the barn has a bay to unload forage wagons under cover.  The perimeter overhang provided shelter for livestock. It's a beautiful reproduction of the original.  There is a small wagon under the barn's bay as seen below.

In the early hours at Cade's Cove, I saw deer, coyote and these bachelor turkeys. You can guess which is the dominate gobbler.

Likewise, in the early hours, it is possible to capture clean images without a dozen cars on the lane. 

As the park fills, it is best to look away from the road. These sulfur shelf mushrooms were 50 feet off the loop road.  They were of little interest to people who just wanted to see a bear.

This is one fungi species that I know, and yes, delicious sauteed in butter with sweet peas. 

Leaving the Cades Cove loop road for a higher view, one finds a nice view of the Cades Cove Methodist Church. It is on my list for a more colorful year in the future. 

And, a little farther from the cove there was a black bear with  two cubs.  I watched her (at a respectful distance)  through a screen of saplings as she foraged on acorns.  Her cubs explored nearby. The gentle wind clearly told her where I was, but caused no alarm.  This is the best I could obtain.

Nearby, I finally found some autumn color that excited.

There is one other way to escape the crowds. That involves getting up at 3:00 am and joining other photographers on the heights of the Foothill Parkway overlooking Townsend toward Cades Cove.  No traffic to be sure, just the valley in a cold morning fog.  Beautiful.

At 5:00 am, there is already commercial aviation coming past on the way from Europe to the Atlanta airport.  I had to watch for them, as this is a twenty second exposure.

Even in a poor year, autumn in the Smokies is beautiful. I really like Townsend, which is distant from the Gatlinburg carnival scene and closer to the real beauty of the park.  It has great restaurants, affordable lodging and a really good coffee house. There you have it.

Paul Schmitt


Monday, October 14, 2019

Double Allium- A Sculpture in Metal and Glass

This is the first time I have devoted a post to just one photo.  It took months to make it. This one photo was the result of a visualization that combined a beautiful metal and a glass sculpture with autumn colors.  It is found in the entry to the Cornell Arboretum's Nevin Welcome Center.

As I viewed the work of Jenny Pickford, a British metal sculptor, I merged the sculpture with the arrival of autumn colors on the Cornell campus.  In the background were maple trees that promised to present some rich reds or oranges.  Some research suggested that in early October, the sun position would bathe the scene with nice side lighting.  The uncontrolled factor was weather.  I needed a day with a lingering sunrise after the sun cleared the trees to the east. It all came together on Friday, October 11 at 8:43 am.

 If the weather had not co-operated,  I guess you'd be waiting until 2020 for the photo.

Paul Schmitt

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Visual Impressions- Cornell Arboretum's Herb Garden

In summer, the Cornell Arboretum offers among the richest array of blooms in the Finger Lakes.  And, in the height of summer, the Herb Garden adjacent to the Nevin Visitor Center is a sure winner.  On two recent visits, I did some portraiture of some beautiful flowering plants.  Join me for a little explore.

Before I even reached the Herb Garden, the bioswale captured my interest. There is a new installation by Jenny Pickford.  I am looking forward to exploring the many ways this presents itself through the seasons and in different lighting.  Visualize it with red maple trees in autumn.

Double Allium

Behind the sculpture in the bioswale, I found some of richest Purple Cone Flowers I can recall ever seeing. 

Purple Cone Flowers

Understandably, I needed to remind myself that the light was excellent, and that I had to get to the Herb Garden while the sun stayed low.  What did I find? 

First on my route was dew-laden Borage.  It has s a tiny blue flower, and offers a pleasant fragrance to boot.


Sharing the raised flower bed with the Borage were some Corn Poppies which often have a white band on the rim of each petal.

Red and Blue Companions

While the Borage has its share of  bees, the Corn Poppies much offer a richer harvest for the bees. 

Feasting on a Corn Poppy

There are also larger Opium Poppies in the Herb Garden.  The bees find them equally attractive.

Opium Poppy in Among the Lilies

For my friends on the staff at the Cornell Arboretum, thank you for your dedication and creativity.  The same goes to the volunteers who add so much help.  For my fellow photographers in the Finger Lakes, don't pass this up.  It is one of the few arboretums that is open for photography in the beautiful early morning light.  For the rest of my friends, now you know one more reason I love living here.

Paul Schmitt

Monday, July 22, 2019

A Golden Delight- American Goldfinch

It's now the end of July and the male American Goldfinches are flashing their brilliant yellow form as they fly over weedy roadsides, overgrown fields and woodland edges.  I love it. They swirl through the sky with a bobbing up and down flight pattern.  Hardly any females are to be seen.

The Goldfinches have finally begun to nest.  They're a seed eater, and wait until their food supply is peaking to start nesting. July is the time, and the females are sitting tight on the nest. In the last week, I have only seen one female.  

The male is now responsible for harvesting seeds and taking them back to feed the female.  She'll stay firm on the nest to protect their four to six eggs from rain and excess heat, or a marauding chipmunk. 

Right now, their preferred seeds seem to be Spotted Knapweed.  It's the dark dried seed head the bird is perching on.  (The purple blooms are likely Crown Vetch and of no interest to foraging Goldfinches.)   It is really easy to watch them.  I find a remote country road with Knapweed close to the roadway and safely park on the side near their preferred plants.  Sit still for a while and soon their piping song announces their presence. This male Goldfinch has landed on a single stalk with a mature seed head.

The male forages through to find the best heads, and begins a two-step process.  First, he'll open the head to find a good seed.

Then he'll strip away the outer chaff to reach the heart of the seed.  Their beak is very dexterous in peeling away the chaff.

The males waste no time with a seed head that is not perfect, and will quickly move to sample another plant.

You've got to be quick to keep up with their movements.  When their crop is full, they're off to feed their female.  Right now, they can quickly find enough seeds and the feeding is not continuous.  Once the eggs are hatched, the males are feeding their partner plus up to a half dozen small chicks. Feeding will pickup with the females initially staying on the nest, and then as the demand of the growing chicks increases, I will see females joining in the harvesting of the seed. 

Overall, it will be about four weeks from the start of incubation until the nesting is complete and large flocks of Goldfinches will then appear.  It's truly a whirlwind from start to finish.  By autumn all the adults will have molted, and there will be no brilliant yellow finches to be found until next spring.

Paul Schmitt

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

More Birds of Spring

Here are a few more beautiful birds I found this spring. Perhaps some of these are new to you, and you'll now watch for them.

Let's begin with a Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Many people list this as their favorite bird.

This male posed for me after singing his flute-like song.  Most birds throw their beak wide to cast a loud voice, but grosbeaks barely crack their beak.  Soon, the male jumped out to an end branch of this walnut tree and twisted about like a corkscrew to pick out a tiny larva.  I love it when I see some behavior like this.

The  next bird is an entirely new sighting for me.  I happened so quickly that I only got this one image of the Wilson's Warbler.  It was very secretive and uncommon. Hope to find him again.

A few days later I was walking a woods trail in a nearby state park and happened up several Ovenbirds.  Like the preceding  warbler, it was in deep shade.  Unlike the grosbeak, it opens up wide to make its song carry.

Just today I found a number of American Redstarts along an abandoned railroad track bed.  The sun really catches the ribbing on the black feathers.  They rarely stay on a given perch for long, so I have to be fast to line up the shot.

Overall it has been a productive season, although several subjects have been difficult to locate or hidden inside deep cover. That is just the nature of bird photography.

Paul Schmitt

Monday, May 20, 2019

Signs of Spring

After being away for most of May in 2018, I vowed to stay close to home for the spring of 2019.  It's been a good month in terms of birds, and of blooms. Here a few of the birds that offered good views.

Orchard Oriole singing.  Male first spring

I've learned that a large number of birds feed on the blooming Crab Apple trees. Black-capped Chickadees hang upside down when feeding on the lower flowers.

Black-capped Chickadee.
Another participant in the feast is the Yellow Warbler.

Yellow Warbler, male

Away from the apple trees, another striking bird that arrives in May is the Scarlet Tanager.  They are a bit more difficult to locate since they prefer the extreme treetops.

Scarlet Tanager,  male
Enough of the birds, the blog is also about "blooms".  Besides, wildflowers are much easier to photograph - only if the flowers happen to be in good bloom (and the winds are calm and the light is good).  I have a list of wildflowers for which I  need a better example.  Highest on the list was Blue Cohosh.

Blue Cohosh in bloom

The colors are really challenging to get correct, and the Cohosh has a tall, spindly stalk that moves in the slightest breeze. 

For the next bloom, breeze is again a challenge; however, just getting extremely low and finding a clear, uncluttered view is added. So, I checked bellwort off my list.

Large-flowered Bellwort

And, there are some whose beauty just drives me to get a new result.  Once again, my knees got dirty getting low for the trillium.

Trillium grandiflorum

I never tire of photographing trillium. 

So, May has been a good month for photos, and there is still time to add some more.  There's a small warbler that I am researching now for a good setting.

Thanks for your interest.

Paul Schmitt

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Patagonia and a Bit More in Chile

The drive from El Calefate, Argentina to Torres del Paine National Park in Chile is pretty much a full day over a mix of paved and gravel roads.  No reason to hurry, and anyway, the day began pretty wet.  Our hotel, Rio Serrano, was a welcome sight.  It was pretty luxurious and very near to the south entrance of the national park.  The next morning, breakfast was early; you could quickly take a short walk from the hotel to the Rio Serrano for a sunrise view of the Paine massif.

A long exposure transformed the flowing river into a smooth mirror reflecting the mountains' sunrise colors. El Chaltén is to the right peeking through a gap in front range of mountains. It was going to be a good day.

We wasted no time getting underway in our autobus. (Think miles of washboard roads.)   Once through the park entrance, the road heads directly for the massif.  The first stop offers a beautiful view with clear reflections of the mountains.  It was a must stop for all visitors entering the park.  (What draws people to this view?  There are multiple subjects - the massif, its reflection, foreground grasses and an expansive mid-range plain.  Oh, be sure to keep it level. )

This was a quick stop, and we moved on to a closer view with a fascinating foreground that resulted from massive wildfires a decade or more ago.  The compositions here were endless. Loved it.

While the burned trees at our feet were compelling,  there was a message of the sheer brutality of Torre del Paine.  Taking out a longer lens, the granite peak to the right deserved singular attention.  It is simply a smack-down to the viewer seeing the mountain for the first time.  That vertical wall of granite seen in the preceding image as a rather minor part of the composition is on a level with images from Yosemite in California.

Patagonia is not just about mountains, there are also birds, for instance, that thrive in this place.  At our lunch break, the Chimango Caracara appeared looking for food. It is common from southern Bolivia all the way down to Tierra del Fuego.

Later in the afternoon, another notable bird made an appearance, the Andean Condor.  Think of a bird with a wingspan of 10.5 feet (3-1/4 meters) and weighing up to 30 pounds, that can soar with little effort.  This was one of the most exciting sightings of the trip. It's a bird I'd never expected to actually see, and it was really close.  There were several condors, but this one made a low pass on a nearby ridge.  Wow!

After the excitement of an Andean Condor's fly-by, it's hard to engage subjects in the same way.  Guanacos are not unusual, so what's of interest?  The markings flowing bands of cinnamon and white are attractive.  Also notable to me is their steady alertness. The head pops up often, checking for any sign of danger from Puma. Looking closely I noted that the wind has blown up hair tufts on the back. The animal is feeding downwind, so its nose is alert to scent carried from the rear, and the eyes are aware of  the trail ahead.  Alert fore and aft.  Clever.

We ended the day with a calming sunset, plus another great dinner. 

It was quick to bed for very early departure to photograph the night sky before sunrise.  As Mario negotiated the washboard sections of the road that morning, he abruptly stopped to the shouts of "Puma!"  In the headlights' beam we counted four cubs working across the road.  No photos, just memories. Once on location, we had to carefully set up in the darkness while being very aware of a sharp drop-off in front of us.

Even after my eyes adjusted to the dark, I could not see what the camera captured at 25 seconds.  An hour later, the early morning light presented a more typical vision.

We were seeing yet another composition of the massif.  Notice that the two spires at the left are black tipped.  In some cases, the granite is topped with remnants of older rock.

Did we ever tire of the views?  No. It did become confusing as the arrangements shifted, and perhaps that creates something analogous to a musical composer's themes, such as J. S. Bach's Goldberg variations.  And, of course, the reflections in these two images create variations.

After a rest stop at a different entrance to Torres del Paine National Park, our leader, Randy Hanna, spotted a sheep ranch offering a wonderful foreground fronting the spectacular mountains.  We exited the bus eagerly to explore the many compositions presented.  Here is the one I chose as my favorite.

This image has two good teaching points.  First, isn't the image better when there are some clouds mixed with blue sky? This is a reason to savor changeable weather.  The second point is to avoid confusing intersections.  Notice the many buildings in the fore- ground of the image above.  Randy used this as a teaching example where the objective was to have separation between each.  For example, the barn in the front should not intersect with the ranch house to its right. If it did, the viewer would be confused as to what is there. Shifting around to get separation was a challenge but it yields a clearer image.

Here is another example where an interesting sky adds more interest to complement the two mountains that also have different textures.  The cloud blowing off the rear mountain catches some evening light too.

Soon, it was time to leave Torres del Paine. Arriving in Puerto Natales, it was extremely windy with occasional rain.  We had some time before dinner to explore.  I'd yearned for a coffee americano that would be closer to my coffee at home. All the coffee I'd had so far needed a little hot water to bring down the strength.  We wandered into a tiny coffee shop, and this guy knew just what I wanted.  He moistened the grounds for two minutes and then slowly poured the remaining hot water into the cone.  Perfect.

The next morning we visited a boat yard adjacent to the fishing harbor before continuing to Puerto Arenas.  The yard was a resting place for worn-out boats.  It was a feast of interesting relics.

How many years did this boat fish the sea?
 How did this pilot house get this graffiti?

What does AUX.STA.NORMA mean?  Perhaps it is a dinghy for the Norma.

The boatyard is a graveyard for the smaller boats of the local fishermen displaced by larger commercial operators.  It paints a dismal future for fisherman such as this man now living in the hulk a small boat.  

We departed Puerto Natales on our way to a final night in Punta Arenas before departing Chile.  Once in Punta Arenas, Mario headed the bus farther south on the route to El Fin del Mundo, the end of the earth.  It is the farthest south one can drive on the South American continent.  Pulling into a small fishing harbor, we had arrived as two fishing boats were unloading their catch of sea urchins from a ten day outing.  What good fortune!

Every plastic crate in the dinghy was full of sea urchins picked  individually by a diver and hoisted to the surface in a basket.

 They were filling a large truck with tall stacks of crates.

My last view was of a line of small fishing boats tied up in a row and tethered to shore by a spread of mooring cables.

The next morning we spread our wings to return from a dream trip.

Thanks to all who made it such a grand adventure.

Paul Schmitt