Sunday, April 27, 2014

You don't always get what you want

Twice I have gone to a nearby wildlife refuge with the expectation of getting close to some entertaining bird behavior. There have been a few close encounters such as with this pair of Ringed-neck Ducks.  Overall it has been frustrating as the birds are always distant.

The Ringed-necks are an interesting diving duck.  The male's beak is brilliant and his eye glows in direct sunlight.  Getting the pair together on the surface is a bit of luck and anticipation.  But, I wanted more and was fortunate to capture one image of the male in flight.  (Not easy.)

What is really cool is that I caught just a little of the purplish band on his neck, that early ornithologists chose to apply the "ring neck" descriptor.   It's right at the base and maybe calls for a little imagination to see.

So, why was I not getting what I wanted?  Because there were tons of other ducks, and all of them were too far and much too skittish and most days have been very windy and rainy.  Bad conditions.

So, I went off of my program and found cooperative Tree Swallows, which are as about as plentiful as American Robins.

Nice color on them but only a so-so photo, and not interesting behavior.

On the second day in the refuge, the birds were even more distant and the intermittent showers made for crummy light. We were coming along a line of flooded timber paralleling the road and  searching for a pair of Wood Ducks that might have landed in some trees.

There in a large maple tree in the flood plain was a suspicious cavity that seemed all fuzzy and hard to focus upon.  At first, it was the rump of something very hairy.  As it shifted, we discovered  something to substitute for the distant ducks.

So, I surely did not get what I wanted, but I was given something that I could not have expected. The Raccoon is pretty clearly a juvenile.  (Second one I have seen in the refuge.)  So, I have learned that the key to getting interesting natural world images is simply two fold - first is to know your camera so you can react quickly, and second is just to get out in the field. I'm pretty happy with this shot.  it encourages me to just keep trying.

So, I am abandoning the refuge and going to some private locations.  Today, as I was preparing a site for tomorrow morning, I had a juvenile Bald Eagle fly out of a tree directly overhead. I have never seen a Bald Eagle at this location in the about five years.  I'll be alert for him in the morning.  So, will it be ducks, bald eagles or even warblers? If one of these shows interesting behavior, then I will get what I want, just not always what I expect.

Paul Schmitt

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Oh Zion!

Made my first visit to Zion National Park this April (2014).  Describing Zion National Park is beyond the scope of a blog.  It changes with the four seasons and with the hour too.  It seems largely about the light, as is all landscape photography.  So, let's begin with a sunrise near the Canyon Junction.

This is on my second day. The sky on the first day was a uniform white; not very good. The rule seemed to be "if you see a good sky, shoot fast before it disappears". 

A key factor in Zion is the play between the sunlit and shaded sides of the canyons.  The rock walls take on quite different colors as the light changes, and I discovered the fine red sand in the air on windy days creates a haze on shaded walls that comes from the light diffraction around the backlit particles.  Just below the Temple of Sinawava, I found a classic example of the sun and shade sides.

To experience Zion National Park (and just about any significant landscape), you have to do some mildly serious hiking and also to slow down enough to really see what you pass on your way to the endpoint.  An early beginning allows for an uncongested trail.  A favorite hike was to Lower Emerald Pool near the Zion Lodge.  Here is my friend Patrice Kerevel standing beneath the wispy waterfall at Lower Emerald Pool.

As I said, the other key to really discovering the park is to slow down and look.  I found freshly blooming Eastwood's Paintbrush along a narrow mountain trail.  Few, hurrying past, even paused to see the brilliant flowers growing at the edge of a massive sheer wall of rock.

The above flowers were at the east end of the tunnel on the Zion-Mt. Carmel highway.  We arrived there to the most delightful surprise.  A band of Mountain Bighorn Sheep ewes and their lambs were feeding on the bushes around the ranger station. (Glad that I took a larger zoom lens!)  They were REALLY close.

They were shifting in and out of sight. At a lull, I was talking with the ranger when pebbles came bouncing down the rock wall.  There, just above us, and in beautiful light was this ewe.

The photo was easily the best part of the trip to Zion.  There was no cropping to this photo.  Very close.

Further up the highway, my photography totally shifted gears.  I just love the simple view of the Pinyon Pine growing out of a crack in bare rock.  Pretty rough place to survive.

One of the biggest draws to Zion National Park is the hike up the Virgin River above the Temple of Sinawava. Called the Zion Narrows, at about a mile it becomes a wet  hike.  There are awesome views.  A wide angle lens is the only way to portray the landscape.

At about a mile, you must enter the stream and enter a section of essentially vertical canyon walls.  I'm saving that experience for a later visit.  I've learned to stop and look behind me, and as I returned downstream I saw that I had missed a nice little falls in the river with beautiful color in the river.

I believe that one of the visually pleasing aspects of Zion is the prevalence of complementary red and green colors - red sandstone in many hues plus (at least in spring) the fresh green leaves on the trees.  And on top of that, there can be such deep and rich blue skies due to the dry climate. I am demanding in this regards; I want some nice puffy clouds among the rich blues.  My final image to share has just that combination, found at the Towers of the Virgin. (This is at the Zion Human History Museum stop on the shuttle bus line.) There was a nice shaded ramada in back of the museum that offers refuge from the strong midday sun. The combination of shade and beautiful landscape was welcome after a strenuous hike in the morning.

With all of this beautiful scenery, the sheep were still the highpoint. After all, all of these other subjects are fixed in place, but I may never find wild sheep so close.  Oh Zion, what a good time you showed me. I will be back.

Paul Schmitt

Monday, April 7, 2014

Wetland Wonders-Florida Edition

Our recent trip to Florida left me with a deeper appreciation for the diversity of life that thrives in our wetlands. How wrong was the earlier national policy that wetlands were a wasteland to be eradicated for the betterment of our nation.  So, I've pulled together some of the images that speak to the wonder seen in wetlands.

First, there is the Tricolor Heron that dances across the mudflats with wings spread to stir up small fishes.  Shall we dance?

Along the perimeters of the coastal wetlands, one finds the Phoebe on its return travel northward. It announces its name so sweetly and clearly -  Phoe---bee!  She's coming home to New York in April as the warmer weather arrives. Entertaining to watch the Phoebe catching insects.

Another  bird that I miss in  winter is the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher; it is found on the edges of the wetlands.  I am thinking she somehow makes the biting gnats less overwhelming up here in New York in May and June.  Photographing the bird is a challenge, as it is always flitting about after nearly invisible prey.  Beautiful color too!

These are all easily located and commonly found over a wide range.  While at Merritt Island, we did -- finally! -- find the elusive and threatened Scrub Jay. They have a very narrowly defined habitat that has been widely destroyed to make room for more condos and golf courses in Florida. The refuge does annual controlled burns to maintain their habitat.  It was a pretty hot midday when we finally found them.  (One actually perched on Pam's head. Best to omit any photo of that! )

Now, the wetlands also have some interesting mammals - some welcome and some, well, not so welcome.  One less wholesome example is the feral pig.  They  won't win any beauty contest unless another pig is doing the judging.  I was happy to be in the safety of my car.

I'll wrap this up with the high point of our time in Florida.  We'd stopped at the well-known Viera wetlands (a waste water treatment facility).  These are huge wetland ponds built to reduce nitrate levels before the water returns to the aquifer and are a haven for a wide variety of birds, and we learned, other wetland animals.  There, basking on a grassy bank after its morning dust bath, was a River Otter.  Oh, wow!  It was not skittish either as it lounged in the morning sun before returning to the marsh. Note the dusty blue on its nose.

I consider the River Otter to be the highlight of a wonderful visit to the Space Coast.



Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Snow Geese!

I've been  hard at work redesigning my website with little time out for actual photography.  After reading for nearly a week about the huge numbers of Snow Geese flying north through the Finger Lakes, I finally got a good day to see for myself - sunny and mild. 

The most striking thing about Snow Geese is surely the overall effect when they fill the sky with a nearly complete mass of flapping wings and fill your ears with a raucous cacophony of voices.

They often seem to become excited for no apparent reason, and waves ascend to land in another nearby marsh.

It is a challenge in such a mass of birds to concentrate on just a few at closer range. Tracking them through the viewfinder is not always easy, nor is there much time to decide which birds to include.

Another beautiful aspect of the show is the coordinated flight of pairs. I assume they are bonded pairs since it occurs so often as two, not three or five. 

Now, it is back to my work on my website.  The redesign is complete today.  I've worked to make the watermark less intrusive.  (It is only on the web pages and not any purchased images.) There are now two featured galleries at the top, one of select images suitable for decorating home or office, and another one of colorful images sized to make beautiful mouse pads. You'll find one image on the mouse pad that is a sky full of Snow Geese.  The website is:

I've listened to suggestions for this redesign, and hope I have been able to meet those expectations.  I welcome any comments.

Warm regards,
Paul Schmitt