Sunday, September 28, 2014

Adirondack High Peaks in Autumn

Upon hearing that there had been freezing temperatures in the Adirondack Mountain high peaks region in the third week of September, I got the lust to photograph there.  Here is a summary of what I found.

It was a beautiful day when I arrived around midday.

Connery Pond near Lake Placid- panorama using iPhone 5S

In the later afternoon, I hiked 1/2 mile into Round Pond off NY 73, near Keene Valley. The trail in had some nice asters and golden birch trees.

The day was mostly calm, so reflections at Round Pond were nice.

Love the play of glacial boulders and colorful trees at the pond.

As the light faded, beavers appeared. I needed my headlamp to see the trail back to the car.  I decided to return there in the morning.  There was more to see.

In the morning, I discovered another small pond nearby.  It, too, was colorful.

As you can tell, reflections add a lot to an image. They create two levels to explore.

After a hearty lunch (and lots of coffee) at the Noon Mark Cafe in Keene Valley, I explored a bit before an evening climb of Owl's Head for a panoramic view of the mountains and valleys. This is a shadowy self portrait.

The trees atop Owl's Head must stand against some pretty hard winds and cold.

Naturally, the blue skies faded as the sun dropped behind the mountains.

I had saved the most strenuous outing for the next morning.  My goal was the Ausable River below the Lower Ausable Dam.  Leaving the private access road onto the trail towards Gothics, I first found the foot bridge across the river. It is a beautiful setting.

Looking upriver is a nice view of a distant mountain and the warm reflection of fall colors.

Spent nearly an hour at the bridge before taking the trail up the east side of the river. 

I try to see both the big picture and the more intimate one.  Found this. Wow!

And found this, too.

 Now is when I say something like ".. when I reflect on my day..."

All puns aside, there can be a lot of experimenting with a scene before the composition works.  I was away from the car for a little over five hours and hiked maybe 8 miles.  That's a pretty slow pace, and indicative of how long I was working a scene for the right color and composition.  The less I hurry, the more I see.

I hope this inspires you to look outside and to slow down and really see.

Paul Schmitt

Monday, September 22, 2014

Little Rock City

Traveling the roads in the Kentucky, Tennessee and much of the American southeast, as a child I saw these huge signs covering the entire sides of the barns. They signs simply said "SEE ROCK CITY".  It is near Knoxville, Tennessee. Never got there, but I've found another one much nearer.  I have been to it around five times and always see something to fascinate me. And, it is free.

This one is called Little Rock City. It is near Salamanca, New York in the beautiful hills of western New York.  Located in the Rock City State Forest, you take US 219 north from NY 417 for 2.1 miles.  Turn west on Hungry Hollow Road for 4.0 miles.  Then at the sign, turn left on Little Rock City road for a final mile.

As we were packing up to leave on our last visit, a family arrived and the kids headed off to discover the site.  We were  hearing young voices saying "Oh, wow!" and laughing as they followed a thin crack in the rock hilltop that opened into a giant crevasse.   I so clearly remember having the amazement on my first visit.

When you arrive at the end of the road, there is an ample parking area plus picnic and sanitary facilities.  There are two routes into the rocks; I recommend the left route for the dramatic way the ground opens up.

The working theme for Little Rock City is BIG. The scale of the monoliths dwarfs people.

The geology of this creation is interesting.  The "recent" glacial period bulldozed valleys in western New York, sometimes leaving the cap rocks lining the valley.  Water evidently got under these thick cap rocks and removed their support, so that they broke away and gradually slid down the valley slope. (I'm no geologist, so I've probably missed some fine points of this process.)

The jumble of huge rocks creates a multitude of small (and sometimes larger) openings.  These attract the younger and even the older kids.

I'm writing this in late September with one major intent to alert people to a fine location to see the autumn colors among an amazing landscape. On a precious year, I was there when there was a bit of nice color.

The tops of these rocks are so large that small forests can become established quite apart from the surrounding forest. The trees seem to walk their way up to the top, and their roots crawl down to the richer water source.

The size of the features can so awe the visitor that the smaller aspects are missed.  I find the forms seen in the roots fascinating.

I've found the best days to visit are the cloudy days.  Misty days would be even better for the rich colors when it is damp.  Expect some wet spots.  There is a marked  trail that parallels the road.  This is a good way to begin, since it is possible to become a bit lost among the rocks.

So, my recommendation is to:   

See Little Rock City

You will love it.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Early Autumn- Fungi and Flowers

Early autumn brings out some beauty in both the fungi and the flowers. Found a few favorites today. Old growth forests have a diverse population of fungi.  Found a neat little coral fungus today.

On the remnants of a tree from long ago, was a cluster of small fungi like so many little umbrellas on the side of a steep mountain peak.   Wonderfully rich colors.

Wanting some variety, I went to a field of aster and goldenrod to find a more rare flowering plant.  The fringed gentian (Gentiana crinita) grows in a very limited geology exhibiting a very shallow soil that is poorly drained.  It is in danger of disappearing.  Its color is beautiful, but also very difficult to capture accurately.

The flowers only open in full sun (to only share pollen when insect pollinators are active).  But, when the sun comes out, the winds kick up. It becomes a challenge to show the sharp detail on the petals when the winds are gusty.  Getting good results becomes a test of patience.  This pair of blooms are basically shouting to the bees "Come and get it!"

I found the fewest fringed gentians of any year, so I just wonder how many more years I will find them.  Seems the same can be said of the Monarch butterfly.


Friday, September 12, 2014

Atlantic Puffins

Few birds attract the fascination like Atlantic Puffins. These seabirds' appearance is endearing.  They are only seen readily when they come to isolated islands to nest in late spring.  Once fledged, they disappear for years until ready to join the nesting cycle. We've sponsored a pair of puffins through the Lab of Ornithology for several years, and read each year's report on the success of our birds. So, we were intent to find some puffins on this trip, even though it is late, and we were likely to only see the fledglings.

While we saw a few puffins around the Bonavista lighthouse, they were nesting on the hidden side of the island near the light.  The advice to us was to go to nearby Elliston, billed as the root cellar capital.  That's a new one.

So, puffins like a rocky island with some turf to burrow in. The sites look like this one a few miles from Elliston. But, unlike this island, the one in Elliston is separated from land by a very narrow channel.

Arriving at the location, we spotted the first of many root cellars. They dotted the hills, indicating where homes once stood. Inside the outer door is a passage to a second door protecting the stored veggies from the hard winter's cold. The abandoned cellars are a testament to both the decline of the traditional cod fishery and to the limited growing season in Newfoundland.  Only root crops are practical in the garden.  

The town of Elliston has an annual puffin festival and welcomes puffin watchers in good style. A local resident welcomed us and briefed us on the best path and safety.  It ended up being an easy 10 minute walk towards the sea and across a narrow neck of land. This is pretty nice.  A lot of puffin sites require a boat ride and a wet landing from a bouncing tender.

So, what did we find?  Joining three pro photographers on a grassy knoll, we were maybe 150 feet from a gang of juvenile Atlantic Puffins. Their burrows were easily spotted.

There seemed to a cycle among many of the birds wherein they would gather along the edge of the  island and launch into flight from there.

So, I just isolated on those birds and waited to see the wingtips move.  It worked pretty well.

The folks at Elliston were really accommodating. Well, truthfully that was true for everyone we met during our nine days in Newfoundland.  Here, they even provided a nice relaxing puffin chair to rest in after the hike back from seeing the birds. Very creative, eh?

Now, allow me to provide some details for the photographers about these birds-in-flight photos. I used a Nikon Series 1 mirrorless V2 camera with the FT1 adapter attached to a Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. I shot at 15 frames per second! The exposures  were 1/1000 second at  f/8, ISO 800.  At 200 mm, the equivalent focal length in a 35 mm DSLR is 540 mm. This rig weighs about 4 pounds and is easily hand-held.  An equivalent full frame 35 mm camera, tripod and telephoto lens weighs over 22 pounds. I would never have carried the 22 pound rig onto an aircraft, nor to some of the locations where I used the Nikon V2. I am sold on the benefits of this little camera for travel.

Paul Schmitt

Newfoundland Seabirds- Northern Gannets

August is the end of the nesting season for seabirds in Newfoundland, so most species are gone.  Two spectacular birds are still present - Northern Gannets and Atlantic Puffins. Our first outing for seabirds was a long drive from Heart's Delight down the Avalon Peninsula to Cape St. Mary's where we were to walk 1.6 kilometers out to the Bird Rock. As you can see at right, the trail goes out a neck of land that faces a huge lump of rock. On it is a mass of white dots, all nesting birds.  Visitors are to stay within the red lines, or else.

Along the way we passed free-range sheep that were completely habituated to people. Some of the sheep were even down on the steepest slopes of the mountain, presumably where the grass is greenest. But, we were more interested in seeing Northern Gannets.

As we hiked out the trail, Bird Rock (or many bird rocks)  came into view. From sea level up to the top are distinct zones where different bird species nest. It begins with Cormorants at the bottom and tops out with Northern Gannets.

At the top left in the green areas are some oblong white objects. Sheep. Sure-footed sheep I presume.

As we reached Bird Rock, we came upon a rock crown nearly covered with Gannets.  They  have lovely coloration.

Opposite the above rock crown was another steep slope which was more interesting. The birds would fly in from the seaside directly over our heads and make a 180 turn for a landing into the wind. It was just like an airplane approach.  The  visitor center was visible in the distance as this Gannet lowered flaps for a landing.

We became fascinated with the beauty of these large, graceful flyers.

As the bird approached its nesting area, the strong up-slope let it virtually hover in place and gently settle down the steep slope to an exact spot. We'd never seen this before.  My photography evolved from birds-in-flight to birds-in-stasis.

The object of all this activity is the nest, and raising young.  There were still some late hatching chicks present, and even a few were still downy white as below.  It is questionable if this chick can grow fast enough to be ready for winter.

Now, a graceful landing is not always paired with a graceful launch, so some attention was paid to observing the exit. It was, to some surprise, efficient and graceful.  Perhaps it is easier when the launching pad is 100 meters or more above the sea.

After such success, the drive did not seem quite so long.

Two days later, we found some juvenile Atlantic Puffins.  That will be the next installment.

Paul Schmitt

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Stormy Side of Newfoundland

One of my long-held wishes has been to be on a rocky seacoast when a large storm passes offshore. Our recent trip to Newfoundland began with Hurricane Cristobal somewhere off the middle Atlantic coast of the US.  Over the first two days, the weather in St. John's turned very windy, and misty rain settled in.  On the third day, the morning was rainy and very windy, but just after noontime, the clouds lifted and the rain ceased.  We headed for Signal Hill overlooking the harbor entrance.  The Fort Amherst lighthouse across the Narrows was a dramatic scene.

The wind was certainly in excess of 40 miles per hour on the promontory.  Pretty nice view from overhead, but it was now time to find some exposed beaches where we could get down to sea level. Our next stop was Middle Cove. 

We found that we had lots of company on the same mission to see the waves. Soon afterwards, the woman below had to retreat up the beach to avoid a larger swell that came ashore.

The biggest limitation to such a close approach was the salt that would get on the camera lens and body. (I was nestled beside a large boulder using it to steady my camera.)

From there we went further up the coastal road to Torby Bight. Each rocky shore creates its own visual cacophony.  The power of the waves was best presented, for me, in a simple black and white form.  Color seems to distract from the message of the wave's powerful strike on the shore.

Our final stop was at Flat Rock Cove.  There, long inclined shelves of rock face into the oncoming seas to  create a huge swelling of the waves.  Note the two small boats moored out in the onrushing seas. They often disappeared behind huge breaking waves.

We returned to our little house perched over the Narrows with some great memories.