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

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Damon Point State Park, Washington - Snowy Owls Experience

Damon Point State Park, Ocean Shores Washington,  January 31st – February 3rd 2013.  That was my destination for a two day photography outing with Snowy Owls, a first for me with this species.As with new species that you first capture, the fact that I have never encountered one makes it all that more special to me.  Damon Point is a 61 acre State Park on the southeastern tip of Ocean Shores.In 2012 there was an irruption year for these Snowy Owls.  I was unable to make it out to Damon Point last year.  So when I heard this winter the area was experiencing a rare “echo” irruption I made every effort to make it out there in hopes of capturing my first Snowy.  Accompanying me on this journey were two friends of mine, Don Hamilton and Tinman Lee.  

**Before I get to my experience, I do have to disclose the travel aggravations that I endured.  The aggravations ultimately made my experience even more unforgettable in the end.**   So flashback to a couple weeks ago when I was sitting in Akron/Canton airport waiting to fly out on an undisclosed airline with a 6:30am departure time to Detroit then on to Seattle.  My plane ended up being delayed because of mechanical problems.  So I was bumped to fly into Atlanta instead of Detroit.  During the flight down to Atlanta I wondered if they had switched my luggage between the two planes.   I would have my answer to that when I land in Seattle.  So I land in Atlanta, and find out my connecting gate is on “the other side of the world”, clear across the airport and was about to begin boarding.  So here I am speed walking with my Gura Gear bag on my back fully loaded with my gear as I felt like a running back in the NFL sprinting through the airport dodging incoming linebackers for the opposing team.  Guess all the running with the heavy load would prepare me for my adventures at Damon Point though.  J  I made it to the gate in Atlanta and get my assigned seat at the check-in.  Whew!  Should be an easy ride now into SeaTac now and was relieved to finally be on the last leg of my flight into SeaTac.  My friend was to land at noon and I was originally supposed to land shortly after 11am.  We had hoped to get in a couple hours of shooting that day that would not come to be as I found out after I landed in SeaTac.  So, fast forward to SeaTac, I finally land at the airport shortly after noon PST (an hour later then I was supposed to land).  Boy was I glad to be in Washington to begin my Snowy journey.  I wonder if my bags arrived with me or if they were clear across the USA still getting snowed on??  I would come to find out from the agent at the gate that my bags were in Detroit on my original plane and would not arrive until 5:30pm!  Dang, there goes my shooting with my friend for the day as I had my tripod and head in the luggage.  Forget the clothes; I can pick up extra clothes at the store, a Gitzo tripod…well not so much.  So I was told go to baggage claim and they would deliver my luggage to my hotel.  Cool I thought, that works for me!  I should have known it would not work out like that on what was the worst traveling experience for me ever.  I come to find out Ocean Shores (where I was staying) was outside their delivery radius and they would have to go through FedEx and my luggage would not arrive until Saturday morning sometime.  WHAT!!!!!  Those were approximately my words.  Trying to contain my cursing at the poor lady that was trying to help me.  “That isn’t going to work for me, I flew across the country for Snowy Owls, to photograph them and I have photography gear in that luggage that I need, “ I said.  I might as well stay at the airport until my luggage arrives, which is ultimately what I ended up doing.  I was given a $25 voucher for airport food for my headaches, which I split with my friend since they gave him nothing because he wasn’t “affected” by the situation.  Yeah right, he was stuck there with me as the rental car was in my name.  We got something to eat with the voucher (which was another story in of itself).  Off to get the rental car, thinking to myself what are the odds I don’t have a rental car or hotel room.  In the end, I had both.  We killed time at REI (a sporting goods store) where I bought myself something to make me feel better after the day I had, an upgraded headlamp which I needed for the Snowy Owls anyways even though I had brought one with me from home.   This one is 2x brighter though,  that headlamp will always have a special place with me.  J  Finally we get to the hotel at 8:30pm. 
Off for an early start the next morning.  After a short breakfast at the hotel we were off.  BTW…if you are traveling out to Ocean Shores, I HIGHLY recommend staying at the Guesthouse Inn & Suites.  After we found were we had to park, onward we began what ended up being 4-5 miles of walking in a span of two days as we zig-zagged across the Point.  Sooooo worth all the effort and soreness that I endured and I’d do it all over again!.  We came to our first of many Snowy Owls just as the sun was rising and I breathed a HUGE sigh of relief knowing all my aggravation was going to be well worth it.  We had some clouds in the morning that burned off as the day went on.  We were lucky in that the first owl we encountered the sun seemingly broke through a clear patch in the horizon to give us that stellar light before it disappeared again for about another hour. 

Was so happy to see our first Snowy Owl on Friday morning!

We found some Snowy Owls in some interesting perches on the first day.  Found a lot of them perched atop of evergreens and found one that was almost cradled in one.  It was nice to be able to mix up different habitats with them. 

We worked around looking for some higher ground to get near eye level for Mr. Sleepy here.

Both days we left for the Snowy Owls walking to them in darkness and left them in darkness being guided by our headlamps. 

The second day there we had some strong winds.  On an open piece of land like Damon Point there was nothing to break the wind.  I would guess 25 mph winds.  Temps were warmer then Ohio so can’t complain there. J  The winds died off as the day wore on.  We found the Snowy Owls closer to the ground that day as they tried to shield themselves from the wind.  We really lucked out with the weather as this time of year in that part of the country it is usually overcast and raining.  Abundant Snowy Owls on various perches, fantastic weather, and met some great local photographers out there as well.  Can’t go wrong with that recipe!  Heeding the warnings of fellow photographers Tinman and Conrad Tan we brought lots of water with us.  What I took out with me I slimmed down on by the second day.  Ditching my backpack on the second day to cut down on some of the weight I was hauling around and only taking two lens and my fanny pack with me that was so packed it was bulging. 

We took a short rest in the afternoons.  This was taken by my one of my friends, Tinman.  A pair of Snowy Owls had just left this piece of driftwood.  I decided to take a snack break and to stretch my back where they were.  It was so a cool feeling to be in the exact location where they had just been resting.  Sounds weird, but I almost felt their presence there still. 

Photographing Snowy Owls can be exhausting!  Photo taken by my friend Tinman Lee.

The scenery around Damon Point was breath taking.  On a clear day you can take in great views of Grays Harbor, the Olympic Mountains, and Mount Rainier.

My first Snowy Owl experience will definitely go down in the books as one of my more memorable photography trips. 

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Upcoming Months

Well I booked a short trip out to Ocean Shores Washington for the "echo" irruption of Snowy Owls that is happening out there this year.  It will be my first experience with a Snowy Owl, and have been told they are a real sight to see.  I have a particular fascination with owls.  Something about the eyes, they portray a certain amount of mystery and curiosity within me I suppose.  Meeting up with a couple friends of mine out there that will share in the experience as well.  Hoping to have a great time with the owls and them. 

Then, I will be going off to the Everglades....first time there as well.  Really looking forward to that trip.  I plan to do some landscape and wildlife photography.  Never thought I'd hear myself say, "I'm going to do landscape photography."  The Everglades is a beautiful place for that and I have a good friend of mine guiding me down there.  We will be camping in the 'glades, the best way to experience them.   Should be a different and exciting experience.  I will be flying in with some shooting time to burn up before we depart for the glades so I am hoping to work on some more Burrowing Owls before we head out extremely early the next morning.  So stay tuned tuned for some upcoming posts....