Monday, August 22, 2016

Some Highlights of Summer 2016

As Labor Day approaches, I would like to return to images from the summer of 2016 which have special meaning to me. A few comments will reveal why the photo is special. 

The summer began with a trip to a state forest where a nice stand of Pink Lady's-slippers survive.  We can thank the heavy deer hunting pressure for letting this population escape the destructive browsing most places experience.  I call this image the Two Sisters.  It is a portrait.

I always get excited when I see the sensuous orchid blooms.  Even more unusual and spectacular are the Showy Lady's-slippers found at a secret location. Again, heavy deer hunting from neighboring  farmers plays a role in their survival. This image is special to me because there are, at right and at far-left, seed pods from last year's flowers.  The two blooms show an unopened bud and a fully open bloom.  It was magical to find this all in one composition.

Next is an image that fulfills a quest I've had for three years. The Black Tern is an uncommon bird, and a bit unusual in that its habitat is fresh water marsh rather than seashore.  It's flight is rapid and erratic as it dips and dives close to the water catching emerging insects such as mosquitoes.  The dark gray color makes a proper exposure difficult.  The coloration suggests this is a newly fledged juvenile learning to hunt.

Along with the outings after natural images, there was a wonderful trip to Ireland that I've written about extensively.  There is one image that I will always like to see. Up so early in Kinvara that the night clerk in our hotel had to unlock the front door for me, I found a mirror calm harbor with delightfully warm sunlight.

Back  home, it still had not rained, and the streams and ponds were getting low. The wading birds, like this Great Blue Heron, were finding fish concentrated and vulnerable.  Of course, they had young in the nest that were utterly dependent on the adult's success to survive.

Just as an athlete practices to perfect the timing for a scoring shot or difficult catch, catching the decisive moment for a wild subject requires practice.  A trip to a nearby river to practice on Killdeer as they take flight is key to getting future shots with the wings in a good position. This shot was mixed in with a lot of near misses.  Consider that the bird rapidly reaches 20 miles per hour in a few feet. To get a sharp image, the photographer has to anticipate the launch, and must have a shutter  faster than 1/1000 second, with 1/1600 second being optimum. It's fast reaction plus fast shutter.

So, I am pretty happy when one of these works out.  Killdeer are only moderately shy.  Belted Kingfishers are extremely shy (as are Great Blue Heron).  You have to find a favored perch site, set up and be invisible. Then wait.  If fortune is on one's side, the sound of a Kingfisher's rattling call announces its approach.  The fun begins as it surveys the stream from the perch.

Sometimes it makes faces and seems to show off.  The tension builds with continued concentration on every twitch and shift.  When the bird becomes intent on a location, the first indication of flight is usually seen in the wingtips.  Then it explodes towards its prey down below.

Full disclosure:  Often the bird does not appear at the perch, or it gives no hint of flight before it launches, or it turns its back and the photo is an unflattering north side of a southbound bird. But when it happens just right, it is magical.

Then there are days when nothing goes right except for a single Common Starling that appears. That is what you come home with.  And you realize that if they weren't such pests, you'd probably try to photograph them.

There are also subjects that are cloaked in negative associations such that many fail to find them interesting or beautiful.  I'm within 1-1/2 hours of a rail-to-trail that goes through some habitat for Eastern Timber Rattlesnakes.  From the safety of a wide trail, one can see them without any stress on observer or subject. I find their markings beautiful.  Watching one slowly ease across a steep bank looking for crickets or other prey reveals how it thoroughly checks every feature for its next meal.  The challenge for me has been to find a subject with both head and rattles clearly visible and unobstructed by a twig or leaf.  On the third visit this summer, I hit my target with two different snakes. This one has ten rattles.  Maybe 48 inches long.

It's not just finding the subject, but also one in good position and uniform light. The same goes for flighty little birds.  This male American Goldfinch came along when I was looking for herons.  The image is special to me because the wispy thistle seed has escaped from the bird's beak.

It seems to me that there are three parts in the making of good photos.  Understanding the technical principles of good exposure,  putting your time into the process and stealing ideas from others.  The last one is why painters go to displays of paintings, musicians listen to other performers and actors watch movies and plays. Maybe my favorites of this summer offer some ideas to steal when photographing what you care about.

Paul Schmitt

Friday, July 15, 2016

On the One Road- Towards the Sea

Away on Sunday, July 3, a wee bit later than usual, the bus arrived at a cathedral in Galway just in time for the 11 am mass; but I was a heathen and walked over to the River Corrib where the salmon were running up towards Corrib Lough.  Three fishermen were running salmon flies across the current with extremely long fly rods.  The closest one seemed particularly adept, and I concentrated on him hoping to see him hook a big one.  Only a short wait and it happened!  What a start to the day.

A short walk along the river and we came upon a vehicle free set of city streets that were rich with stores, pubs and people. I've been interested in the variety of adornments for the pubs in Ireland and found another for my collection- the Dew Drop Inn.  The 1902 date on the door labels it as a newcomer in the scheme of Irish pubs.

There is no shame in being 114 years young, nor in being irreverent.  I had my sights set on another pub but had to ask a bit to get directions to Fat Freddy's Pub.  "All children left unattended will be given an espresso and a free kitten." Should allow the patrons to have a perfect pint of stout undisturbed.

It was the first warm day, and we found a McDonalds perfect for a cold lemonade, clean restroom and quiet seating.  (The shame of it with so many pubs!)  A nice lunch of eggs benedict with lox brought us back to the proper tourist mode at Maxwells. 

Later, we wandered a bit among the crowds before settling on a comfy bench outside Sheridan's Cheesemongers to listen to the street musician doing Jimmy Buffett songs. We were awaiting the appointed hour for a wine and cheese tasting upstairs at Sheridan's.  I'd drifted into the retail store; it was hardcore exotic cheeses and sausages.  Consider the aroma of over 50 different aged cheeses.  Whooee! It was really heady stuff.  The tasting was great fun.

Back at the bus, I admit to sleeping most of the way to the ferry we'd ride out to Inish Mor for two nights. Also slept on the ferry trip and arrived on the island wanting to skip the van ride and take a brisk walk to the hotel. That was a good decision. Walking along the seawall we came upon a local horseman giving his two horses a swim. Evidently the horses had worked the day pulling carts carrying visitors around the island.  This was their reward for a good day's work. This excited me for the coming day on Inish Mor. It would be an unusual way to spend the Fourth of July.

I awoke early hoping for an explore before breakfast, looked out and went back to sleep.  Rain. After breakfast, we had a van that took us out to Dun Aengus.  It is an Iron Age defensive fort, built around the second century BC, on the edge of a 100 meter cliff over the sea. There is a long approach walk across fields divided by heavy stone walls. The stone walls were the only way to clear the land enough to have pasture or crop land. There are 7000 miles of walls on this nine mile long island.

Photo by Pam Schmitt

On a rainy, windy day  with many slippery rocks, it can be a real challenge that  calls for a few rest stops and abundant caution. No reason to risk a fall.

As we approached the fort, the wind seemed to build and mist blew on us.  We all made it, and fortunately, that  was before the first load of day visitors descended on the trail. The fort walls are about 6 meters high and arrayed in four rings with a single entrance through each wall.

One delight was the near complete absence of litter.  It seemed to be some combination of respect and housekeeping.

Once inside the walls, the view of the sea atop a high cliff was dramatic though no photo could capture the feeling.

Walking back to the van, we met the first wave of day visitors.  There were a few delightful little scenes of beauty along the trail.  There beside a carefully laid wall of stone were blooming wild geraniums, just like I might see anywhere in my native New York.  They love this misty seaside, obviously.

Back in the van, the weather became milder and we stopped at an abandoned eighth century chapel, Teampall Bhreacain.  The polite request for shutting the gate is, I expect, quite normal in Ireland.

As we extended our travel out to the end of island on what was now single track pavement, the extent of the stone walls never diminished.  It was engaging landscape, which I wished I could independently explore by bicycle on a rainless day.  Oh, to have two full days on Inish Mor for that purpose.

As we returned toward our  hotel, we paused at seaside where there is a haul-out for seals.  Predictably, they were there.

As we boarded the van, one of the horse carts approached in the clearing weather.

Our excursion over, the group had free time. Some chose to nap, some to explore the village for a lunch spot. We had a dinner planned at the Ti Joe Watty Pub nearby, and I decided to insert a brisk explore in the late afternoon that ended there. I discovered the cartman turning his horse out to pasture after the day's work.

Along the same road, I found the remains of the Lucky Star Bar just up the road from the prospering Ti Joe Watty Pub, possibly a victim of competition.  They did serve an excellent meal to us later, and had lively music with local artist Locko plus our Pat and Terri. That was another reason to wish for two full days on Inish Mor.  This trip was really on a roll!

While on Inish Mor, our bus remained on shore and our trusty driver, Con Collins, enjoyed a well-deserved rest day. The narrow roads and his attention to our needs were ample reason to let him recharge a bit. 

Up early the next day to catch the first ferry off the island, Con again took us on a different set of roads around Galway Bay, through lovely Kinvara to the rocky heights of the Burren and on to the Cliffs of Moher.  The cliffs are one of the top visitor sights in Ireland; the crowds looked like ants in the distance.

These cliffs are spectacular, but there are stone walkways and cliff-side barriers due to the number of visitors. The next day, we were at Kilkee and there were long stretches of simple hiking trails and no competition. Like Inish Mor, I'd delight to have a full day in Kilkee. No paved trails or railings. Kevin and Pat free ranged towards the edge.

Our trip was down to one full day before departing at Shannon. We went out the West Clare Pennisula arriving at the cemetery at Cross, where some of Pat Kane's relative are resting. This connection between trip participants and the names in the cemetery creates a deeper, special sense of place. The tended flowers among the graves creates a beautiful testament to family love.

At the extreme end of the pennisula we found Loop Head Lighthouse.  Look at those flags.  Windy!

The day ended with a medievil banquet at Knappogue Castle that had both good food and  entertainment.  Back to the hotel to prepare our baggage for a return flight in the morning. 

It was a satisfying trip with great companions, excellent leadership and a great variety of experiences. My final image is from the sheltered side of the wall around Loop Head Lighthouse with the flags of the Republic of Ireland, the European Union and County Clare all seen in a brisk wind.

Strange. I never saw a shamrock.


Thursday, July 14, 2016

On the One Road towards County Cork

Our  tour continued from Dublin, departing precisely on time. (We all agreed on this as a matter of policy, tho' in fact no one was ever tardy to the bus.)  Still within the city, we made a brief stop at St. Patrick's Cathedral. The floor was in itself notable, adding a warm light to the soaring stonework. I cannot recall another cathedral that achieves such a warming effect.

Kathleen and Pat have the deep knowledge of Ireland that includes both the Guinness Storehouse and lesser known gems like St. Patrick's in Dublin.

Within the cathedral were very nice statues of important personages set before colorful glass windows, portraying iconic biblical characters. It made for a nice combination of two eras.

Back on the bus, our next destination in County Kilkenny was at the Nicholas Mosse Pottery located beside the River Nore.  We learned that the pottery is totally powered by a water turbine.  That was just the beginning of the creativity we saw there.  As a visitor arrives, the stone bridge over the river speaks of the long history in this village.

The pottery begins with the mining of the clay, and carries the process thru artisan decorating to a sophisticated firing process. The decorating area was a rich combination of technology and artistry.

photo by Pam Schmitt

After a satisfying lunch at the pottery we were once again on the road, stopping for refreshment alongside the Castle Cahir.  The pleasant scenery just keeps popping up.

Soon, we were in Blarney with both the Woolen Mill outlet to satisfy the shopper, and the Castle Blarney for those wanting to spin their own fanciful yarns.  It's a long climb to the top to kiss the mythical stone.  There are also nice gardens and a peaceful Blarney River running beside the castle.

We arrived for a two-day stay at the Mills Inn in beautiful Ballyvourney.  After a bountiful dinner, it was lessons in Irish step dancing (which thankfully was not video recorded). I came to love these country inns where local musicians and friendly locals made for a pleasant evening.

I was up early before breakfast to stroll around the village, finding some nice little scenes for my camera. There was an ancient stone tower on the hotel grounds, a stone bridge over the river that was similar to the one next to the Nicholas Mosse Pottery and this charming window in the Mills Inn courtyard.

Throughout our travels we saw all sorts of roses, some cultivated and some seeming to be wild cousins.  The one below captured my interest on my morning stroll.

The next morning, our trusty driver Con Collins squeezed our bus over a narrow bridge with a kink midway across, and we got to St. Gobnait's Shrine.

photo by Pam Schmitt

Exploring these sites brings unexpected discoveries. The sign at the graveyard entrance is unexpected, suggesting burials can still be family business.The graves span centuries for many families. There is a sense of the ages and of strong family ties.

And there is a beauty that can be found just steps up the country road from the statue of St. Gobnait. Wild digitalis is reaching for the blue sky.

Our day was still young as we left St. Gobnait's shrine and toured the green countryside, with a "STOP" in Kenmare for shopping and lunch. It was a bustling town with much to explore.

Onward we traveled with our next rest stop at Molly Gallivan's Cottage and Traditional Farm. Opposite the farm was a wonderful panoramic view of the lush countryside.

The views outside the bus were balanced with narration and song. Next was Gougan Barra where one sees St. Finbarr's Chapel on a small island in the lake. 

Our travels continued with music, history, and ample Irish food. Some of our stops were unplanned, like when we pulled over at Castle Kanturk for a quick explore.

A longer stop was at the Bunratty Folk Park and Castle.  It is a fully restored castle with a mock village to discover.  At the village pub we enjoyed a pick-up concert by Pat and sister Terri.  The village musician joined them for some delightful music.  We had to pull ourselves away to be on time to the bus.

That day ended on the sea at Kinvara. Rising early, I walked to the harbor to find a beautiful scene.

A  half mile further was the Castle Dunguaire in the early light. 

The day was off to a good start. Our travels the next day will lead us to Galway, and by evening, onto the Aran Islands. This was the most anticipated part of the trip for me.