Monday, April 27, 2015

Details Make a Difference

I began this last week scouting for a good location to photograph Eastern Bluebirds.  I quickly found them, plus the usual abundance of Tree Swallows competing for their nest boxes. The light was good, but I did not have time or tools to prepare the location for the best results. At right is what I captured for a Tree Swallow. The light is good; the bird is in an active pose.  The background is nice too. BUT, the white plastic pipe is plain ugly.  The technical details were fine, yet more is needed.

I returned a few days later with a pocket tool in hand, so I could add a natural perch to the nest box pole.  Swallows and Bluebirds frequently perch above the nest box that they are defending from interlopers.  The first Tree Swallow to approach immediately chose the dead stick over a plastic pipe.  I positioned the camera so that the background was very distant and entirely featureless.  Isn't that a lot more pleasing to view?  

There was also a tangle of briars that had been brush hogged in the fall.  Some of the briars had remained.  Noting that the Bluebirds were hunting from a perch on a briar stem, I jammed another dead stick into the pile to add another option for the birds.  That, too, brought immediate results.

It only took me fifteen minutes to find some nice branches and stick them into place.  The results were pretty immediate.


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A Bluebird Day

I've sometime wondered if we use the term "bluebird days" because the sky is the same as the male bluebirds rich color, or if we associate sunny days with a lot of bluebird activity.  Yesterday had a brilliantly blue sky, and I found overflowing bluebird activity. (Today is rainy and I saw only one distant bluebird.) Going with the first explanation, the birds put on a nice show for me.  This male bluebird quickly became accustomed to my proximity.

Center of interest for the male bluebird is the female who is checking out the available nest boxes.

Anytime you are around bluebird nest boxes in the spring, there is a conflict with the ever- present tree swallows, that greatly outnumber them. So, the bluebirds often take up a perch on a box and withstand the fly-bys from their antagonist. I've seen the male bluebird spread his wings to appear larger in face of the harassment. Yesterday, I saw a new behavior as the pair stood together with some degree of solidarity. 

I mentioned a second meaning to "bluebird days" relating to the sky color.  So, as I was photographing the birds, I became aware of an unusual aircraft sound.  It approached slowly with a broad seemingly widespread rumble. I realized it was directly overhead and looked up to see this. The sky really was close to the bluebird color.

It was a KC-10 wide body Air Force tanker with six A-10 Warthog fighters at a modest altitude performing a refueling exercise.  (The KC-10 is a modified DC-10.)  In a few seconds, one of A-10s moved into position under the tail of the tanker. The muffled sound I was hearing was the combined noise from fifteen engines. 

In my previous blog, I noted to expect the unexpected.  So true. 


Friday, April 17, 2015

Expect the Unexpected

I just learned, or relearned, a lesson about being prepared.  Made a short drive to a nearby park to scout an abandoned road known to have a lot of birds.  I wasn't seeing a lot of birds, until I was nearly back to my car.  A beautiful Redtail Hawk flew in over my head and landed in a willow tree beside the road. I admired him with my binoculars and continued toward the bird, as a single crow fussed at the hawk. As I drew closer, the hawk flew very low over me and landed beside the road. Binoculars revealed that the hawk was returning to a rabbit kill. All I had was my cell camera. I had not expected the unexpected.

The Redtail Hawk held its ground, feeding eagerly, and allowed me to approach to a mere 12 feet.  It showed no concern with me, but that was my limit. I got low and attempted a photo with a very inadequate, wide angle lens.  My cropped image is below. Not very good.

I felt pretty stupid.  Not wanting to stress the bird which I decided was a juvenile, I walked back to the car  hoping that in the early morning, I could be there with a "real" camera when it returned. I was in the car with the key in the ignition when I felt pretty silly.  My full camera kit was in the trunk.  But, I also was elated to reverse course.  Now, birds don't see you in a car, so that greatly reduces any stress on the bird. I slowly drove back with my big lens and true to form, the bird ignored the car. Here is what I got for my effort.

It is a beautiful bird in nice warm light.  Soon, I backed out and went home with the idea that the hawk would again be there in the early morning.  Sure enough, I arrived to see it perched in a large tree next to the road.

I eased the car to the place I'd seen the rabbit, but it was not there.  I thought, "not a good sign", and backed  the car to where I could watch the hawk; it was attracting a chorus of Blue Jays and smaller birds.  It was a mob.  The hawk seemed to tire of this and swooped away into the dense brush near the kill.  After a wait, I eased there to see it pulling the rabbit back out. It had hidden its kill for the  night. Interesting. The hawk just about finished off the rabbit, and then "posed" for one last photo.

Hopefully, I learned my lesson.  My good fortune revealed some very close details on a glorious bird, and some greater understanding of hawk behavior. I'm hoping this juvenile will stay in the area and have continued success. The first year is pretty tough on a predator.

Be prepared.


Monday, April 6, 2015

The NEW Corning Museum of Glass

Living in Corning, New York keeps one constantly aware of  the events at the Corning Museum of Glass.  From a first visit in 1971, the CMOG has been a fascinating place. My favorites are in two dissimilar genres.  I love the intricate detail of the Venetian glass and the beauty of their forms. Their collection of whiskey bottles from early Americana has also captured my attention.  And watching hot glass forming is always exciting.

During my forty-four years in the community, the CMOG has evolved in several steps. Each time, the museum has become much more than before.  This March, the CMOG opened a new wing that brings huge display spaces for large works of art plus a greatly expanded hot glass theater, where state of the art facilities allow visitors to watch the creation of amazing glass forms not previously possible.

Entering the new gallery of contemporary art and design, the beautiful natural light displays the installations in the best possible way. There is no glare on the brilliant glass surfaces that would come from direct lighting. While easily missed, this is the result of very sophisticated ceiling panels. Throughout, one sees great attention to the details.

The exhibits engage the viewer in many opportunities for discovery. A close look at this large glass platter reveals an intricate detail reminiscent of Venetian glass from centuries earlier.  It differs from that genre in the color of the glasses brought forward.

There is also room for large display pieces that engage the mind in an exploration of deeper meaning.  The work below combines a fallen chandelier of ruby red glass with apparently ravenous crows.

The  gallery of contemporary art and design leads one to the second great addition to CMOG, the hot glass theater. This is where the visitor gains a full appreciation for the artistry seen in the rest of the museum. You see the skill required in a spiral of color in the image above, or in the hundreds of red forms in the assembly at left. For a family, the hot glass show is sure to be a highpoint of the visit, as the children's attention will be complete. 

On the day of my visit, a team was creating a large oval platter in a ruby red glass.  At the high forming temperatures, the color of the glass is not apparent. The gaffer began with a large gather of glass attached to an iron pontil.   Bringing the glass out of the "glory hole" where it is reheated when it has cooled,  he sets to forming a precise shape.

While the gaffer is responsible for the overall creation of the object, there is a team of comparably qualified individuals devoted to supporting the lead gaffer. They will form smaller pieces to be attached to the main body and simultaneously work portions of the object as the gaffer directs.  It is a team effort, especially when large objects are being worked.

Below you can see the teamwork required to lay a different color glass on the rim of the platter as it nears completion.  There are often parallel tasks being done to prepare for future steps in the creation of a piece.

After about an hour's work, the final form is achieved with three skilled gaffers coaxing the platter into shape.

All that is needed is to release the platter from the iron pontil, so the team member can carry it to the annealing oven for a very slow cooling to room temperature.

The visitor to CMOG consistently leaves the hot glass show with a sense of awe, and a new appreciation for the many glass objects seen in the museum.  It is a perfect combination of art and technology. This show gives me a greater appreciation of what I see whenever I go into the museum's collection of ancient glass.

As I leave the hot glass show, I think of the challenges to making a simple glass bottle before the age of science. It seems unfathomable that such complex objects were made without thermocouples, chemical analysis, gas furnaces or exotic refractories. This is what makes the Corning Museum of Glass so interesting to me. It is a must see for everyone. If you were there ten years ago, go again.  It is so expanded, that it will be like a first visit, again.

Paul Schmitt