Sunday, November 10, 2013

November means Bald Eagles

November means three things to me.  I am another year older. It is time to put up the deer stands.  And, the bald eagles are congregating on the Susquehanna River at Conowingo Dam. The density of eagles there means that photography becomes akin to batting practice for baseball players.  There is a nice combination of autumn colors and a large number of exciting fly-bys by eagles at close range. 

Conowingo Dam has been providing electricity since 1928. The original powerhouse, seen to the left, houses the original seven turbines and another three larger units that were added years later to the right of the original units.

Below the dam is the fisherman's park in the left foreground.  When turbines come to life, significant numbers of fish are discharged, drawing game fish and birds to feed on the bounty.  Gulls, cormorants and eagles are predominately present plus the black vultures which clean up after the others. From mid October through January, the number of bald eagles attracts many bird photographers (and some birders, too).

Standing by the river, one sees the eagles sweeping across the river searching for a stunned fish on the surface.  Once spotted, they often execute a sharp turn and steep dive to approach from upstream.

My favorite sequence of photos shows the eagle's approach to a fish on the surface, the snatch and the flight away to a feed perch. The moment of contact is graceful.

Often, the bird will look down to make sure it has a good grasp.

And, away it will climb to a secure place to consume the catch.  It does not intend to share this with anyone.

That said, there is a lot of attempted thievery among eagles, and that makes for interesting viewing. The eagle on the right is closing in to attempt a steal, knowing that the weight of the fish makes the other less agile.

Here is one such conflict that occurred close to the powerhouse one day.

Not all of the feeding is by eagles, here is a juvenile ring-billed gull with a smaller fish in its beak.  I found gulls even more difficult to follow in flight due to more erratic flights.

Another frequent bird is the double crested cormorant, which in this case was showing some nice hues.  The beak's end is perfect for grasping its prey.  They dive underwater to find their food.

While much of this occurs directly out on the river, some real excitement happens when an eagle comes directly towards the photographer on its way to the large sycamores behind fisherman's park. It makes for some great photos and for some terrible misses. This was my favorite from my last visit.

I'm already thinking about how to get back to Conowingo one more time this year with the  knowledge that it can get brutally cold on the river in December.  It is worth the challenge on the really good days.

Hope you enjoy the story of Conowingo, and if you are ever passing that way this time of year, it is a great visit with the best time usually before 10 am.

Paul Schmitt

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Lost Alaskan Gold, Now Found

When I got home from Alaska in September and began to go through all of my photos, I realized that I was missing some photos of a grizzly bear showing some nice behavior.  I had spotted this bear traversing a slope below the bus.  Initially, it was maybe 100 yards away.

I resigned myself to the idea that I had somehow erased the wrong photos when my memory cards got near to full.  It left me in a funk that I could be so stupid.

I did have some nice photos of the bear digging up edible tubers. The power of this bear to unearth huge pieces of tundra was something that left a big impression on me. But, I was still missing another behavior that could only be a memory.

Last night, while preparing my cameras for a trip, I did my usual routine of checking batteries, camera settings and memory cards.  When I checked the backup camera's memory card, I saw it had some photos that I did not recognize.  I plugged them into my reader and to my surprise, there were the photos that I thought I had erased. I had forgotten that I also used my backup camera with a wider angle lens when the bear came really close to the bus.  So what was I so fixed upon?

The look on the bear's face speaks of a certain pleasure.  This bear had an itch, and when you have an itch, you look for some way to scratch it. This poor bush was its backscratcher.  It really got into this just like we do.

I recall that the grizzly left the bush pretty well busted up.

Now, in the future, I will practice switching the backup over to take video because this would have been quite amusing to watch.

Paul Schmitt

Friday, November 1, 2013

The End of Autumn

Yesterday was the last day of my photo exhibit at Cornell Plantation's Nevin Welcome Center. As I drove through heavy rain on my way to pack up the display, I did not expect to find any good scenes. So, I only had my cell phone camera.  As I should have expected, the rain ceased and the remaining leaves were deeply saturated in color.  It only got better and when I packed my car, I was regretting my decision not to bring a camera.  But, the camera you have is the camera you use.

So, this is what I saw from the parking lot.  I've processed it in MobilMonet to create a pen and watercolor rendition.

Looking down at the garden bed which borders the parking lot, the combination of fading asters and fallen leaves spoke of the final stage of autumn.  It makes me want to go out and plant a few maple trees in my yard. (Then I remember the work of clearing autumn leaves!)

To many, the lure of fall photos is the grand view of a landscape, but I also like to search the ground for those small arrangements of leaves.  It is much like the Where's Waldo images that are so compelling.

You may ask if I arrange the leaves.  No, the enjoyment is in discovering the random act.  This one on the concrete walk attracts me because of the stains from earlier leaves that have been scattered.

There were many other subjects that were beyond the capability of the cell phone camera.  The camera is just too wide a view to exclude bad elements such as cars and power poles. I was satisfied that I had at least caught some of what I felt at the moment.  Today, the winds are strong and most of the leaves will be gone from the trees. 

Paul Schmitt