Saturday, August 29, 2015

Baby Least Terns!

For two consecutive years now my wife and I have timed our Florida trip around the baby Least Terns.  Last year I had some decent success.  I did get photos of the little guys running around the beach but as every photographer you are always left yearning for more and something better.  Well this year, by far surpassed my experience last year.  I made two trips out to the east coast of Florida for these little guys.  What I got to see this year that I really didn't see last year (course doesn't mean it happened) was skirmishes with the Ghost Crabs and Least Terns.  This was an interesting behavior to watch between the two. From my understanding, the crabs will go after the babies so anytime a Tern spots a wayward crab wondering to close they charge the crab with its wings raised high in an attempt to chase the crab away.  Sometimes, you will see the Terns double up on the crabs which I was able to see.

Along with the skirmishes that I saw I was able to capture more moments with the baby Terns and the Terns with their parents with some feeding shots. Something that I wasn't able to capture last year. I was fortunate to have some very sweet light in the morning as well which was something that I didn't have last year.

I was able to capture images of a Wilson Plover that had decided to set up its nest right by the boundary ropes on the beach too.  No pictures of the babies as the eggs hadn't hatched yet but I am sure some of my Florida photography friends were able to get them.

I mentioned my wife came with me on the second day.  Again she got to see what I look like in action and did her thing taking pictures of me taking pictures.  She did enjoy her time on the beach and by the ocean as we both do when we visit Florida.  

Shawnee State Park

I'm back!  Looks like it has been awhile since I have done my last blog on here.  Going to try and make a better effort of doing so in the future.
So with that I am going to be doing three blogs from three trips that I took this year.  First up was a short weekend trip to Shawnee State Park in southern Ohio to catch the early warbler migration.  Now this is a trip that I try to do every spring, I went down with two friends of mine.  Our trip was cut short on the last day due to weather so we had to head back early.  But we had some great success with several birds.  Some of the highlights from the trip are below:

Louisiana  Waterthursh - had a lot of fun with this bird.  Got a little wet too with a leaky boot as we were crouched down in a creek for it.

Cerulean Warbler - such a beautiful looking species.  Got some great looks of this guy too.

Prairie Warbler - these guys are always a lot of fun

Yellow-throated Warbler- would have liked to get this guy on something other than just a bare stick but there is always next time.

Northern Parula- this is such a beautiful looking bird.  Hard to believe something this colorful can be seen in Ohio.

As always I am looking forward to a return trip down in southern Ohio in the early spring next year!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

New Journey to Begin...

I'm about to embark on a new journey in the realm of my photography.  I'm excited, yet nervous at the same time.  Luckily, I have a great wife who has been very supportive of me.  Even more so now as this new journey begins next week.  It has to do with an image that REI recently purchased off of me for a 10 year license for a new store they are opening in Easton Ohio and a new window of opportunity that has been extended to me.    For those that may not have seen this already, the exert below is from my Facebook post earlier in the month about the initial agreement.

Back in February I was contacted by the marketing director at REI headquarters (Recreational Equipment Inc.) out in Kent Washington.  REI is much like Cabela's and Gander Mountain, specializing in outdoor gear.  They are largely located out west and in the south.  Their first store in the northeast part of the country will be in Columbus, Ohio.  I was contacted because they were searching for an outdoor landscape photo from Ohio to be used in their new store as a mural that they will be opening in May.  They were searching for something to print out 34ft x 13ft in size!  Not knowing specifically what image they were looking for I replied back with a link to my website that contained all my landscape photos from around here.  After some e-mails back and forth about the logistics of it they choose the one below.  I was ecstatic!

This photo will be displayed in their Columbus store opening next month (by the cash wrap as they call it) and will include the name of the photo with the credit given to me.   In addition, I was invited to their Community Reception Night before the Grand Opening next month, in which my wife and I will be attending!  I am EXTREMELY excited and humbled about this opportunity.  

If anything, I feel really humbled and honored for this up-coming opportunity and am hopeful that this will lead to even bigger things within the company.  Don't want to spoil too much so you'll just have to keep checking back....  :)

Below is the image they choose to use for the Easton store location.

Actual Mural from the REI store located in Easton Ohio

Friday, January 3, 2014

2013 Year In Review

Year in Review 2013
Even though we are a few days into 2014 I wanted to share some of my more memorable moments that I encountered in 2013. They are in no particular order as it is hard to place one in front of the other.  This past year was filled with memorable moments. It is the ones that stick out most in my memory that I wanted to share today.

Snowy Owl (Ocean Shores, Washington)
            Earlier last year, an “echo” irruption took place in the western United States, in what was thought of to be a rare occasion even though we are currently having a huge explosion of owls here on the east coast at present time.  I took a trip to Washington with two friends of mine for my first Snowy Owl experience.  The travel out there was, well, awful to say the least.  But that is neither here nor there.  The experience was unforgettable.  I’ll never forget how I felt when I spotted my first Snowy Owl, I was in awe.  My short two day trip out west presented me with great opportunities and picture perfect weather.   

Wilson’s Plover Nest (Flagler Beach, Florida)
            My wife and I took a trip to Florida in May as I had hoped to get some photos of baby shore birds emerging from their nests.  Well, I arrived several days too early for the little ones as it is impossible to set a target date for such an occurrence. I just have to hope for the best basing it off of previous years.  What I did find though was a VERY photographical Plover nest that a Florida photographer friend of mine and I both enjoyed several great looks at from outside the roped off area.  I was able to photograph a female Wilson’s Plover settling down onto her nest of three eggs on the sandy beach. 

Least Tern Courtship (Flagler Beach, Florida)
            Taken at the same location there were several Least Terns doing courtship behavior.  I had hoped, again, to photograph baby shore birds but none had hatched yet.  What I was able to witness though was some amazing courtship behavior of the Terns.  For some of the shots I was able to get super low, actually shooting at an upward angle that created an effect that makes it look like the Terns are placed on a cloud. 

Great-horned Owl nest (Brecksville Reservation, Ohio)
            A great opportunity presented itself close to home for me in Cuyahoga Valley National Park.  A nest of three Great-horned owlets in clear view nesting in a rotted out tree.The parents were very elusive, only coming around at night fall to feed the little ones. I visited this nest several times at various lighting conditions including rain.  The rain gave some nice color saturation, it also kept everyone else away from the nest!  J

Great-horned Owlet (Brecksville Reservation, Ohio)
            All three owlets fledged the nest above successfully and word got out that they were roaming around the area.  I took a trip up there one day to see if I could locate the owl which I was told were lattering up nearby trees until they could learn to fly. This one pose that this guy flashed me as the sun was setting always stands out in my mind.  My wife calls it the batman pose, as the owls is turned around tucking its head in its wing.  I have to agree with her assessment of the caption. 

Medina Raptor Center
            I belong to a photography group called MPEG, in which I am a group coordinator.  Coordinators are in charge of organizing photography shooting opportunities/events.  I held a first time shoot at the Medina Raptor Center, raising almost $500 for this non-profit volunteer service that takes in and rescues injured birds.   It was actually the first time I photographed captive birds as I normally prefer wild ones.   The shoot was fun and the money went to a great cause.  We set various raptors up on different perches on a stand that my dad created.  It was something that I enjoyed doing and hope to do again for years to come.

Eastern-screech Owl, Red-Morph (Brecksville Reservation, Ohio)
            Literally the first shot I took during the New Year in 2013 was this Red-Morph Screech Owl.  I had been waiting for some snow fall to return to this location to get some snow in my composition and low and behold on New Year’s Eve night we got some snow.  So New Year’s day morning off I went to try and photograph the owl.  After a couple hours of patiently waiting the owl appeared and I got my shot I had been envisioning. 

Eastern-screech Owl, Grey-Morph (Firestone Park, Ohio)
            Until this moment, I had never seen a Grey-Morph Screech Owl.  Seeing the photo below, I have to wonder how often I have walked past them before!  It was amazing to see just how well they blend in with the tree.  Something interesting that I noticed when I got home is how the owl fluffed its feathers outside the tree cavity to help it blend in better with the tree.  I have to wonder, just how does the owl know it is in the right colored tree? 

Snowy Owls, (Presque Isle State Park, Pennsylvania)

            Never thought I would have Snowy Owls on this list twice.  Truth is, the irruption this year is very unusual.  Snowy Owls are showing up ALL OVER the eastern US.  From Ohio, over to Pennsylvania and all over the east coast and even Florida, yes FLORIDA!  A report of one in Jacksonville Florida sent photographers all over the state into a frenzy during a family visit with my wife in December.  People were driving from Miami to the top of the state for a glimpse. Closer to home though  I decided to check out Pennsylvania after talking to several other photographers that had been there.  My visit was on a wind driven rainy day, making photography even more challenging.  The over 1.5 mile walk out to the location was difficult enough without even taking the weather into consideration. But I’ve had these guys burned into my brain since the first report appeared around here.  

Monday, November 4, 2013

Autumn in Ohio

As fall comes to a close here in Ohio I can’t help but reflect on how fast this year has gone by.  Hard to believe that winter is right around the corner.  It has been a fascinating fall season for me this year.  Never thought I would have spent as much time as I did this fall photographing fall landscapes, waterfalls and such.  Suppose it is just myself trying to be a better-rounded photographer.  It is nice to know that when wildlife that I commonly photography isn’t active that I have another interest in photography to fall back on.  I think the light switch flipped with my appreciation and interest in landscapes last fall.   

My friend had come up from Florida to photograph the Wood Ducks, the Wood Ducks that were largely void last year.  So I was forced to show him around some of the more scenic areas of Ohio so he didn’t go home completely empty handed.  Normally, this time of year I would spend the majority of my time photographing the Wood Ducks up at North Chagrin Reservation.  So with the presence of Duck largely not present, I took him around various places in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Bedford Reservation, and South Chagrin for autumn landscape opportunities.  As we went around the various locations listed I found myself really getting into the challenge of photographing landscapes.  More of a challenge mainly because you have usually create an interesting focal point in a vast scene, sometimes that is more easier said then done.  Definitely makes you think more and while I won’t get as excited over a landscape scene compared to a wildlife scene, I do enjoy the change of pace and challenge of it. 

This time last year, the only tool I really had for landscapes was a Hoya polarizer.  I mainly used this to create more saturation in my colors as well as decreasing about a stop of light when capturing waterfalls.  When I photograph waterfalls, I like to create a silky look of the water.  Not everyone is a big fan of this, but I like to think that it helps create a more dream like feel to the overall image.  When my friend was up here last year I noticed he had some strange looking square filters.  Not anything that would screw onto the front of a lens.  He had/has the LEE filter set.  Until then I had never heard of LEE filters before.  At the time, the only filter I really knew of was a polarizer.  It was around earlier this year that I found myself purchasing the startup kit for the LEE filters, the foundation kit.  Slowly adding to my collection of expensive but indispensable filters from them I know use a .6 and .9 ND filter.  Also a .6 and .9 ND Soft Grad filter. I have to say for the purchase of those filters, I have used all of them, and use them frequently when photographing waterfalls.    So with that I wanted to share some of my more favorite autumn landscape images from this past fall. 

Chagrin River Falls, South Chagrin

Quarry Rock, South Chagrin Reservation

Downstream Brandywine Falls, CVNP

Bridal Veil Falls, Bedford Reservation
Blue Hen Falls, CVNP

Brandywine Falls, CVNP

Friday, June 14, 2013

Timing is everything..

As any wildlife photographer knows timing is everything and sometimes Mother Nature’s timing does not sometimes coincide with us photographers.  One can have high hopes of timing a visit just right in order to see baby Burrowing Owls as they just emerge from the nest.  When I was down last year, they emerged around the last week of April.  This May however, it seemed to happen much sooner as the ones that I saw mostly had lost all their fluff but was still cool to see none the less. 

Baby Burrowing Owl
Cape Coral

Much of the trip this time around was to catch all the shorebirds in their glorious breeding plumage along the west coast of Florida.  My wife and I stayed in Sanibel Island at our favorite cottage, the Blue Dolphin Inn.  Little did I know I would find some of the shorebirds that I sought out on the beach in front of the Inn and residential area.  

Yellow-crowned Night Heron
Sanibel Island

We arrived early in the morning to Estero Lagoon which was my first visit to this location.  I timed our visit to coincide with low tide to maximize my shooting opportunity for shorebirds.  I find it is best to time these visits, when possible with low tides as many of the shooting areas along the coast are very tide dependent.  Also, some areas have been really impacted by tropical storms that have reshaped the beach.  So at normal/high tide there isn’t that much beach left exposed.  We arriving to Estero Lagoon and found the area to most void of wildlife activity which was surprising.  A couple Ospreys’ were spotted as well as a Black Bellied Plover and a couple other little shorebirds but that was about it.  I was later told that I did not go far enough south (10 minute walk from where we parked), though I did not see any other photographers on the beach that morning. 

Switching gears, my wife suggested we head over to my reliable spot that was north of Estero Lagoon, Bunche Beach State Preserve.  My previous visit to this location was last year in December and I really liked it.  One thing that I noticed about Estero Lagoon is it was more populated with beach goers then Bunche Beach is, even though both are public beaches.  I believe the big difference is that at Estero the beach is lined with hotels as well as vacation condos.  Bunche Beach on the other hand is set up off to the side of the main population and each time I visit there I find that I am largely by myself in a vast open area that is exposed during low tide.  At often times, it can be found to be overwhelming having such a large area to explore and seek out birds.  I found it is best to arrive an hour or so before low tide so you can push out towards the ocean as the tide retreats from the beach.  In any case, I made three visits to Bunche Beach all during the morning and enjoyed the peace and solitude of the area, only being joined by a couple other birders/photographers and my wife on two of the mornings.    I enjoyed great views of Wilson Plovers, Black-bellied Plovers, Skimmers, Caspian Terns, Ruddy Turnstones as well as others.  Most of the shorebirds were in breeding plumage which made me very happy to see.  I know one thing that was happy to see me, the no-seums, sandflies, and whatever else enjoyed dinning on my legs.  Remember playing connect the dots when you were younger?  Yeah, you could probably play multiple games out of the hundreds of red dots I have all over my legs from those guys.  Such the life of a nature photographer I suppose.
Black Skimmer
Bunche Beach Preserve

Ruddy Turnstone
Bunche Beach Preserve

Another place that was visited a couple times was “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge, a place that I have had great luck in past visits.  This time not so much though.    I have often heard from various people that they have visited this location and not had any luck.  Up until this visit I never believed them.  I haven’t seen the place so empty in all my visits.  Another location that is closely connected to the refuge is Bailey’s Tract.  This place consists of a walking trail (not really sure of the length).  During this visit we discovered multiple Black-necked Stilt nests.  Now of course when we were there for some reason I left my big glass back at the cottage we were staying at and only had my 70-200mm.  So after we saw all the Stilts I was kicking myself for not throwing my backpack in the car.  Luckily the cottage was a short drive from where we were so I high tailed it back there and picked up my long glass and raced back hoping they would still be in the same area, and they were.   I was able to get some shots of these guys and even a couple portrait shots as well which is something I have always been a big fan of.  In any event, this location is worth revisiting next time. 

Black-necked Stilt
Bailey Tract

One of the photographers that I met up with this trip, Bob Blanchard showed me a great spot for Scrub Jays in Cape Coral.  This was the first time I have seen a Scrub Jay in all my visits to Florida amazingly.  One would think that with all my visits down here I would have run into them by now.  These birds were so tame that they landed on my head as well as my wife’s head.  It really was a sight to see.  I was amazed at the size of them, being roughly the size of a Blue Jay.    I really hope we can do a better job at protecting these guys habitat so this does not become another endangered species.  According to what I read, they currently have a “threatened” status.  Bob was recommended to me from Troy Lim whom I had talked to.  I had hoped to meet both that day but was only able to hook up with Bob, had a great time though.
Florida Scrub Jay
Cape Coral

  Having only a short time in Sanibel I did not have time to explore and find the Scrub Jays as well as the Burrowing Owl babies (which I saw later).  Typically, I pride myself on doing my own research and exploring new areas on my own.  To me, it makes the final capture that much more rewarding.  The second place Bob and I shot at was in southern Cape Coral, the baby Burrowing Owls.  The nest that we worked had some of the younger owls.  Though, these ones were still fairly old as they had lost all their baby fluff much to my demise.  Still, I felt very fortunate to see and photograph these little guys as my last trip I had missed seeing them by one week.  What is ironic is that I ended up getting more photos of the adults then the babies, simply being because they were spending a lot of time in the burrows.

  It seems like every time I am out with these owls I have an encounter with those lovely Florida fire ants.  Much like last time, I did this time as well, looking down on the ground seeing that I had just disturbed an angry fire ant mound.  Mental note for next time to pick up those ant pant guards that go around your ankles to keep those critters from crawling up my legs.

Another location that Bob and I visited is a great location for Black-necked Stilts, nicknamed by him as “Bobs’ Mudhole” and rightfully so, the area consists of a large marsh type pond that one can wade through if so desired.  Of course I was up to getting a little dirty as always!  The water level was a bit to high still for the Stilts to nest and I was told that if the water level remains high or increases that the Stilts would not nest there this year.  The water, at most, was around knee deep and occasionally I got stuck in the thickest mud I have ever been in.  The mud, at those times seemed to resemble quick sand as it suctioned you to the marsh below and quite a bit of effort was required to remove ones footing from the bottom.  In an event, I did come away with some decent opportunities there with the Stilts, Spoonbills, and some juvenile American Pelicans
Roseate Spoonbill
Fort Myers

American White Pelican
Fort Myers

Black-necked Stilt
Fort Myers

  I found that the Pelicans seemed to mimic the Black Skimmers I encountered at Bunche Beach in that they seemed to always want to stay huddled closely together and a lot of effort was required to get a shot of one broken off of the group.  Safety in numbers I suppose.  Unfortunately my visit to this location had less than stellar light most of the time as we had some heavy cloud cover to the west.
After heading back to Ocala I paid one of two visits to Flagler Beach where I met up with Michael Libbe whom I have conversed with several times and follow his work on several photo sharing sites.  He offered to show me around the area and provided me with some great entertainment, he was a great shooting companion as was Bob.  When I awoke early Sunday morning and was packing my car up there was a large cumulous cloud looming not too far away with very frequent lighting coming from it.  Taking a look at the radar on my smartphone before I left I saw that there were storms to the north, east, and south of where I was going.  Dang!    Should I go, or shouldn’t I go.  It was a two hour drive out to the east coast from central Florida so certainly I did not want to make that drive only to sit in my car due to thunderstorms.  I called my friend Michael and he said the weather changes every 30 minutes down here and that he was still going.  So after a few moments of torturing myself on what to do I decided to head for the coast.  I got there shortly after sunrise, no thanks to a detour on Hwy 206 that added 10 minutes to my driver, grrrr…  When I arrived, meeting Michael at Marineland we had a cloud layer on the east coast so as it turns out the detour I ran into didn’t affect my morning shooting too much.  We arrived to Flagler Beach and what a beautiful beach it is.  Having only been to Daytona Beach many moons ago I was turned off by the eastern beaches from that.  I predetermined that this outing I was going to try out my Skimmer Pod that I had purchased about a year ago.

 I knew I wouldn’t be submerged in water here so this was the perfect opportunity to try this out.  It really worked well, making me even more mobile scooting across the sand compared to pushing my tripod.  As we were walking along the Least Tern colony we saw that some were nesting while others were still courting.  We noticed an extremely small roped off area up ahead and when we approached Michael spotted a Wilson’s Plover running out of the area.  We both said, “there has got to be a nest in there” and sure enough there was.  It took a few minutes to spot it but there is was a nest cradled in the sand with 2-3 eggs.  We spend some time with this Plover capturing different poses from this male or female. 

Wilson's Plover

That alone, made the trip worthwhile in my opinion having never seen or photographed a Wilson’s Plover nest that was a mere 10 feet away.   We back tracked down the beach back towards the Least Tern colony when I spotted a large gather of Terns down my the ocean. What we had was a large gathering of Royal Terns, Least Terns, and Sandwhich Terns, my Skimmer Pod came into great use here allowing me to belly crawl across the sand with much easy which allowed me to approach these birds very close without startling them.  Photographing the Royal and Sandwhich Terns I found to be an exercise in frustration as they tend to gather in groups much like the Skimmers do.  It was all worth the effort though as we spent a great deal of time working this gathering of fairly tame Terns.

Royal Tern

 Was even able to capture and witness some Least Tern courtship behavior as well. 

Least Tern courtship

Went back to this spot at the end of the week hoping some of the babies would have hatched but no luck.  When I parked in the “parking lot” another photographer approached me and asked what my name was, ended up being Jim Urbach who resides in Florida and is a moderator on Naturescapes, a nature photography forum that I frequent.  Was great to meet him that day and shoot with him.  We went over to the Wilson’s Plover nest first and had some stellar golden morning light on it.  The Royal Terns that were on the beach on Sunday were absent this visit, had better luck with the Least Terns though.  I found that it was much easier to get shots of them on the beach front rather than behind the roped off area, just a matter of timing and patience I found.  They allowed you approach fairly close when belly crawling to them across the beach.  Just keep in mind to watch out for the waves breaking behind you and catching you, which one of them did.  Luckily, it broke a little ways out and just washed up beneath me, but the water felt nice.  J 
Finished out the photography part of my trip shooting the two dozen Black-bellied Whistling Ducks that frequent a DRA (Drainage Retention Area) where my in-laws live. 

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

I like to try and get out there with these guys whenever we are in Ocala visiting my wife’s parents.  Each time I have visited this spot for these Whistling Ducks it seems I come away with some images I am really happy with that are a little different, given that that they are walking around on grass I try not to make them look to boring.  So difficult to time a trip up with hatchings as it various from year to year, guess we will just have to move down to Florida so I will have better luck then.  All in time, all in time.  J

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Everglades National Park

The Florida Everglades, a destination in Florida I have wanted to visit for several years.  Being as much into avian photography as I am I found it strange that I was actually going down there to concentrate 90% of the time into the beautiful and unique looking landscapes down there.  While my travels went much better then how they did last month when I went to Ocean Shore, the weather did not work out in my favor as I had hoped.  None the less, my friend and I made the best of it.  I was accompanied by Don Hamilton who lives in Florida and spends every other weekend in the Everglades during the winter time.  As another friend of mine said, we were “hardcore” because we were camping down there during our stay…chilly stay.  A lot of people thought I was crazy thinking I was going to be eaten by an Alligator or one of those Pythons they have all over down there.  Honestly I had those thoughts a couple times thinking, “am I crazy sleeping out here in the middle of now where?”  No cell reception down there, at least Verizon.  We had to drive to Anhinga Trail in order to get cell reception.  Up until my trip there, the furthest south I had been in Florida was Naples when my wife and I visited Corkscrew Sanctuary.  

So anyways, I flew in on Thursday to a complete overcast. My friend picked me up from the airport and we were off for some shooting for the late afternoon into evening.  We stopped by to visit the Burrowing Owls.  We spent the late afternoon into evening there.  Most of my shots I was not happy with due to the lighting that we had.  Even using flash (more so then I would usually use) I was not real please with those shots.  We headed back and crossed our fingers that the weather would improve some over the next few days.

We left the next morning at 5am for the Everglades in a drizzle.  That would be the story on and off for almost the entire weekend.  We arrived to the Everglades just before sunrise, no sunrise to be seen that day or really any of the other days with the exception of Sunday.  We set up camp in the late afternoon after exploring the area.  We were originally going to stay for two night but only ended up staying for one night due to the showers and cool weather that we encountered during our stay.  None the less, I came back with a few good shots from the area, including some stellar images of a Red-Shouldered Hawk.   Not the stellar landscape images that I had hoped for but sure can’t complain when you come home with some good wildlife images.  

A Turkey Vulture that thought he was a bus!!

Double-Crested Comorant

We did get a fairly decent sunset opportunity on Saturday evening before we left. At a favorite location of my friend in Everglades National Park is where I captured this sunset.   

Sunset at Everglades National Park

Sunday we focused on a sunrise opportunity on the east coast.  We got skunked on the sunrise (boy I thought avian photography was frustrating!)  I decided to try my hand at some timed exposures I have seen others do along the coast line.  I came away with one image that I was happy with the results.   

Ocean 'scape in Jupiter Florida, receding tide

 We then followed that up with some photos of Orchids and Sunday evening we went back to visit the Burrowing Owls and got some sweet light at the end of the evening.  Unfortunately we were in a location that did not offer us any good photo opportunities for the sunset.   It was beautiful to see none the less.  

Acker's Sweetie Orchid (hybrid)

Burrowing Owl at sunset