Thursday, April 30, 2009

Workin' the macro

I wouldn't call myself much of a bug fan. I like butterflies because they're pretty and delicate, but most other bugs gross me out just a little bit. My perceptions may change, though, thanks to my new close-up filters. I've captured some interesting creatures. Can anyone identify any of these?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Migration Station!

As I mentioned in a recent post, we've had quite a number of spring migrants come in over the last few days, and they just keep comin'! My yard list for April is fast approaching 50 - I'm only 1 away... can I get 1 more species with 1 day left in the month?! Seems reasonable, as I've added multiple species per day for the last 4 days. Still waiting for Indigo Bunting... also, any number of warblers could stop through...

I can barely get anything done when I'm at home because I keep chasing down new bird songs - "Who's that? Who says that? I can't remember who makes that sound! Where IS that doggone bird?!" Trying to ID the birds by ear is such fun, like a game! Birding by ear is important right now because you often hear the bird before you see it, and even when you do see it, it might be so far up in the trees that it may be difficult to make an ID just on color or field marks alone... sometimes the bird's song seals the deal.

So some of the exciting new arrivals I've seen and/or heard since last Friday include:
  • Wood Thrush
  • Ovenbird (haven't seen it yet, but I hear them all over the woods!)
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  • Red-eyed Vireo
  • White-eyed Vireo (heard only)
  • Scarlet Tanager
  • Summer Tanager
  • Nashville Warbler
  • Cerulean Warbler
  • Black-throated Green Warbler (heard only, just yesterday evening)
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak (first seen yesterday evening)
  • Great Crested Flycatcher (heard only)
I should mention that, according to my field notes from the last few springs, many of these birds are all right on schedule, arriving around the same time they've arrived in years past.

We are very fortunate to live on such a wooded plot of land and that so many of these birds are attracted to our woods - I count my blessings every time I hear or see one of these beauties. I've never found evidence of any of them actually nesting here, but I've spent all of my birding time over the last few years just getting to know the birds themselves (field marks, songs, calls, habitat preferences, etc). I figure finding and knowing nests will come in due course.

Unfortunately lots of these birds hang out pretty high in the trees, so I haven't been able to get many good shots of any of them. Here are some photos, some from this year, but most from previous springs, that represent some of our common spring migrants:

Brown-headed Cowbird (male)

Brown Thrasher

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (female) - check out the tongue!

Rose-breasted Grosbeak (male)

Summer Tanager (male)

Just a reminder to any readers from Ohio and neighboring states: the Birding by Ear weekend at the Wilds is just 1 month away!! I have no idea if there are any spaces left, but if you're at all interested, call or email them to find out! (There's a link over on the sidebar.) I'd love to see some of you there!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Sacred Spaces

Well, here we are at my 150th post. It's kind of hard for me to believe. To honor this milestone, I will share photos of some very special places in the Hocking Hills, and thus conclude my series from the Shoot the Hills competition.

There are quite a few waterfalls throughout the Hocking Hills region, each with its own unique features. I only visited 2 during the competition, and luckily I got to spend some quality time with both of them. By "quality time" I mean to say that it was just me and the waterfall - no one else around. One way to achieve this is to get to the waterfall early in the morning (say, before 8:00), which is what I did at Ash Cave. Another way is by dumb luck, which is what happened at Conkle's Hollow. You have to walk back quite a bit from the trailhead to get to both of these falls, and once you do, it's almost as if you've entered another world. When you enter it alone, it becomes very sacred space. I'll refrain from too much New-Agey, hippie mumbo-jumbo, but suffice it to say that when I left both of these waterfalls, I felt cleansed, blessed and very much in touch with this planet that we inhabit.

And now, without further ado, the waterfalls themselves. It's a very cool but humid environment around both of them, with the smell of wet earth and wet rock, and a somewhat disorienting throwing of sound by the rocks that surround you. Sand and puddles underfoot, rocks and tree limbs to maneuver around or focus on... are you there with me?

The approach to the fall at Conkle's Hollow

Looking through the rocks

The falls at Ash Cave - This is actually "behind" the falls, and I stayed here for a long time, planning out how I could creatively capture its beauty. You may see the "rock" that was featured in my "Photographer's Choice" photo.

I begin to isolate my subject, trying to decide on the best angle for the shot.

Closer, but I'm still not so sure about that stuff in the foreground... (I like it in monochrome, though. Some surprise, huh?)

Okay, I've almost got something I like...

My finished submission. I took a shot with every white balance setting available on my camera, and I think the "fluorescent" setting is what gave me such a blue coloring. The "cloudy" look of the water was achieved by a slow shutter speed (6 seconds).

Slightly different postitioning, made monochrome in Picasa. I really like this one, too.

One last technical note: I used a neutral density filter on my lens for all of these shots, which limits the amount of light that comes through the lens. I don't think any of those shots would have been possible without that filter, because I was already maxed out with my other options of shutting out the amount of light that came in through the lens. (Limiting light is a necessity when shooting at the slow shutter speeds needed to get that "veiled" look of the moving water.)

And one last non-technical note: I'd like to thank all of you for reading this blog and sharing in my nature experiences. I hope we'll all still be here together 150 more posts from now!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Hocking Hills wildflowers

I thought I took tons and tons of wildflower pictures during Shoot the Hills, but in reality I took very few. Or maybe I should say: very few that were different from each other. I often stayed with the same flower for a long time, trying different angles and different exposure compensation. Unfortunately, I was not too thrilled with the composition on most of them, so that's something for me to work on in the future!

Some of you may be thinking, "Don't be so hard on yourself!" I don't see it as being hard on myself, but more as going through a learning process and knowing that I can get more from my images than I sometimes end up with. It's frustrating when you have an idea of what you want to capture, but you don't quite get it. What to do about it? Keep trying!

Anyway, enough babbling about what goes on in my head when I'm taking pictures. Here are some of the results!

Trout Lily

(All of these Trout Lily photos are shown as they were taken - no manipulations were made)

Round-lobed Hepatica (made monochrome in Picasa)

Round-lobed Hepatica (saturation and sharpness boosted in Picasa)

dew-drenched Dutchman's Breeches leaves (made monochrome in Picasa)

Dutchman's Breeches

Squirrel Corn
(I'm not making these names up folks, they are really the flowers' names)

A few technical notes on how I got such close shots of the flowers. While I dream of someday owning a true macro lens (as well as 300 or 400mm zoom lens, a fisheye lens... the list could go on and on!), I can tell you they are not cheap. Macro can be done slightly cheaper by getting diopter lenses, but even here there is an expensive option and a cheap option. (Here's a link to a helpful article spelling out the differences between the cheap and not as cheap.) Since the cheap option was SO cheap (less than $30 for a set of 3 close-up filters of 3 different strengths that can be used singly or stacked together), I figured "Hey, it can't hurt to try." And so I did. For the most part, I am happy with these little filters, but I am still getting used to what they can and can't do.

All of these close-up flower shots were taken with my 18-55mm lens with the +2 and +4 filters attached. Here's another little lens tidbit. I only just learned (like within the last month) that my 18-55mm lens (which is the widest angle lens I own) actually has a closer focusing distance to objects than my "telephoto" zoom lens (55-200mm). I've had this camera for 3 years, and I'm almost embarrassed to admit that I just learned this information. Before I learned this info, the telephoto lens was my favorite lens, but I was always frustrated by how far back I had to get from an object (over 12", I believe) before the camera/lens would get in focus. Not a plus for flower photography. Needless to say, I am very much looking forward to taking closer shots of flowers with my "shorter" lens and with the close-up filters attached.

My next post will be my 150th post - a bit of a milestone, I think. I want to share my waterfall shots from the Hocking Hills, which will wrap up my "report" on Shoot the Hills, but I'm also dying to tell you all about the deluge of migrating birds that have showed up on or near our property this weekend....! (My yard list for the month of April is over in the sidebar if you want to get an idea of what I'm talking about.) I think I need to toss a coin to decide!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Photos featured on All About Birds

While none of my photos won any prizes at the Shoot the Hills photo competition, I was just recently notified that two of my bird photos are being used on Cornell's All About Birds ID guide webpage!

This picture of a male Purple Finch can be found on the "front page", so to speak, of the Purple Finch's species account. If you scroll down to the section where it shows "Field Marks", you will see that there is a series of 10 different photos. My photo is the 7th one (you have to scroll sideways through the series to get to it).

Also, this picture of a female Purple Finch is found on the House Finch species account page, shown in the "Similar Species" category. The above photo of the male Purple Finch is also shown here.

I was very excited to learn that my photos had been selected, and I'm so appreciative to Cornell for using them!

To those of you who participate in Project Feederwatch or NestWatch, or any of the Lab's other Citizen Science programs, don't be shy to submit any photos that you take of your birds. And even if you don't participate in citizen science projects, you can still submit bird photos to Cornell via their Flickr group, called Birdshare.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Birds in the Hocking Hills

While I was taking photos during the Shoot the Hills photo competition this past weekend, I made sure that my ears were "on" so I could listen for birds. I was not disappointed.

I was absolutely delighted to hear my first Wood Thrush of the season (haven't heard any in our own woods yet), and I also heard my very first Hermit Thrush - EVER! Unfortunately I didn't see either of them, but their haunting, beautiful songs were rewarding enough. The Hermit Thrush should be preparing to head farther north to its breeding territory, whereas the Wood Thrush is just migrating into its breeding range from down south, so I imagine the window of time of being able to hear both of these thrushes on the same day is probably pretty small. How fortunate I was!

I also heard plenty of Phoebes, a Chipping Sparrow kept me in constant company at my campsite, and I was lucky to hear (but not see) the Black-Throated Green Warbler. One of the easier warblers to identify by ear, it has an easily recognizable song of "zoo-ZEE, zoo-zoo-ZEE!" I heard them all over the place, and was happy to be sharing space with them as they make their migratory way through to points farther north. Apparently there were also Blue-gray Gnatcatchers in the area, because several folks captured photos of them, but I didn't see any personally. (The Photographer's Choice winner was an wonderful photo of a Gnatcatcher perched on a blooming Redbud tree.)

One place in the area to stop for some good water bird photography is Lake Logan. The north end of the lake is quite the haven for Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Mute Swans and Canada Geese. I'm sure other birds like it there, too, but these were the most obvious species. I also heard lots of Red-winged Black Birds around, too, but did not spot any of them.

Here's a Great Egret coming in for an awkward-looking landing (please excuse the photo quality - shooting right into the sun here):

Here is a Mute Swan in the middle of flapping his (or her?) wings:

There was also a female Mute Swan on her nest:

... and in mid-preen:

Finally, I got a series of photos of a Great Blue Heron catching his dinner:

Afterward he had to shake it out and got his feathers all floofy:

Only to quickly return to his calm, cool and collected self:

Hocking Hills State Park naturalist Pat Quackenbush informed us that Double-Crested Cormorants and Red-throated Loons have also been spotted at the lake, passing through on migration.

Coming up... wildflowers of the Hocking Hills!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Captive Raptors

Late Saturday afternoon, after the Shoot the Hills competition submission deadline had passed, a "Cameras 'n Critters" program was hosted by park naturalist Pat Quackenbush. It was a chance for all us shutterbugs to get up close and personal with some of the park's rehabilitating raptors and other creatures.

First we met "Ivan" the Great Horned Owl. He was quite a handsome fellow.

Looks like Ivan's giving me the evil eye!

Park naturalist Pat Quackenbush with Ivan.
Align Center

Notice how Ivan is all hunched over? This, in combination with the chirps he was making, signaled that he'd really had enough of us all and wanted to go back to his enclosure.

The next bird he brought out was a beautiful Red-shouldered Hawk. He's only been at the park for 3 or 4 months, and they haven't named him yet. Look at that wing and the puffed up crest on his head!

Unfortunately this hawk lost 1/3 of his left wing in an automobile collision. He will never be able to fly again. The same is true for Ivan the owl, who is also missing a portion of one of his wings.

Despite the missing bit of wing, he's still quite a majestic-looking bird. I suggested that they name him Cinnamon.

We also got to check out this American Toad. We usually run across one or two of these in our yard every summer.

Nature's camouflage hard at work!

This is a male Red-tailed Hawk that did not get brought out for our close inspection. They have a male and female together in the same enclosure, and I think they are hoping for some breeding activity.

More Hocking Hills photos to come, including water birds,waterfalls, and lots of spring wildflowers!