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Posts from the ‘Birds’ Category

Herons Along the Blackstone River

It is very hard if you’re out in nature in New England on a routine basis to not develop a fascination with herons. These wonderfully large and patient birds are actually quite easy to photograph. Working stiffs, they only get annoyed with you if you get so close that you screw with their fishing. Can’t say that I blame them. Their markings and scars give each bird a distinctive purpose. For whatever reason, it has been a great year for heron along the Blackstone River. I thought I share a few environmental and reflective portraits as the season wanes.

hunt_160620_1120624-edit-editBlackstone River Heritage Park, Upton, Massachusetts

hunt_160815_1020843-edit-edithunt_160831_1130459-edit-edithunt_160831_1130468-edit-editBlackstone Valley Bicycle Path, Millbury, Massachusetts

hunt_160814_dsc4192-edithunt_160814_dsc4216-edit-editWoonsocket Falls, Woonsocket, Rhode Island

hunt_160831_1130586-edit-editBlackstone Valley Bicycle Path, Millbury, Massachusetts

Contemplating the Water

Last week I posted a series of images of the water flow at the South Natick Dam, along the Charles in Natick, Massachusetts.  Using long exposure techniques I’ve enjoyed studying the way the water flows around its various obstructions.  My interest in the water, and enjoyment of being at the water is hardly new or unique of course.  The flow of water has been providing sustenance and soothing to humanity for as long as we’ve been here (though it doesn’t seem to help us much in weeks like this one).  Focus on water is of course also not unique to humans.  I was reminded of this recently while continuing to photograph here.

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Of course this fellow does it for a living.  Note that these are long exposures.  But he’s not moving. Those who photograph wildlife routinely will generally confirm that wild animals never actually stand still.  They may be quite, but not still.  He’s staring at the water and continued to do so for a good 20 minutes.  He then changed positions and continued his focused attention.  A young couple nearby struck up a conversation and reminded me that he’s doing that because he has to.  We listen to the water because we like it.  How did it all start?  We’ll see this fellow again soon.

Technical note:  These images were shot on film, TMAX 100 and Pan F 50.  Both are wonderful films, still available.  There is very  little grain visible except under a magnifying glass.  I sometimes shoot with film just to make me think about things in a more contemplative fashion.  I found it most helpful here.

The Wildlife of Eastern North Carolina

I’ve made it clear in the past that I am no wildlife photographer.  The hours are terrible.  The equipment required weighs even more than mine.  Perhaps even more daunting, there has been so much good wildlife photography out there for so long that I’m not sure I’d ever have anything to add.  I have had some luck creating fine art imagery that involves birds, but have not devoted sufficient time to pursuing that area.  I do enjoy seeing wildlife though.  It says something about the state of nature and the land, subjects in which I am quite interested.  In general, the presence of wildlife suggests I think that we’re doing something right and that at least something from nature hasn’t bee obliterated by our footprints.  The later point though is always subject to change but I’ll save that rant for another day.

The Outer Banks and the area of eastern North Carolina that lies to on the western side of Croatan Sound is inhabited by a surprisingly wide array of wildlife species and I thought that some of you might enjoy seeing some of the associated imagery.  This is shared purely in the interest of fun, with a bit of education thrown in.  Art this is not, as you will quickly see, though some of the images, as usual of birds, are I think worthwhile.  When to begin?  Large to small I think.

Just over the bridges from Manteo to the mainland and eastern North Carolina you’ll find the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, a fascinating place.  We asked one of the volunteers at the Refuge Visiting Center in Manteo the best location for seeing some bears.  He pointed us in that direction, and we were not disappointed.  We arrived there at about 5:30 in the evening, just before sunset.  As you probably know, most bears are off duty during the middle of the day.  This one was just punching in.  Here’s looking at you kid.

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One can’t help but be impressed with their size.  There was an article in the Boston Globe this past Sunday, page one, discussing the fast growing population of black bears throughout New England and particularly in Massachusetts.  After reading the article I could only conclude that it is just a matter of time before we confront a bear at the Quabbin Reservoir.  Did I mention how big they are?  They are big.  Of note, there are supposedly no bears actually on the Outer Banks or in Manteo.  It would be a very long swim, even for highly aquatic bears.

Sea otters populate the coast line, adding their usual upbeat perspective.

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There is a second, smaller mammal of interest, the Nutria.  These little guys can be found under the docks.  I saw several, but only had my camera this time.  This is not a great shot, my apologies.

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We have to then get to my favorite, the birds.  The White Egret.  These are hardly unique to this area but they are still so interesting to watch, we spent a fair amount of time doing just that.

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We had so many encounters with Egrets that I actually had a chance to create a video about one fishing.  This is a very short video, just over a minute, but you may find it interesting.  Make sure you view it in HD.

Ospry are quite welcome throughout eastern North Carolina.  Indeed, power poles and taller moorings often have a platform on which they can build their nests.  They can often be seen this time of your hunting and fishing to feed their offspring.  They fish at top speed just feet off the ground.

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Ospry mate for life and live for quite a few years.  They return to their nests year after year.  This nest is in the water just off of Nags Head, behind Basnight’s Restaurant, a famous location.  You can eat dinner and watch them feed.  The Outer Banks are of course subject to horrific storms.  Several years back, this family’s nest was destroyed.  With a bit of human assistance however, the nest was rebuilt and the family returned.

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In terms of size ranking, or sizish ranking I really should say since I’ve not strictly adhered to that protocol, we should probably raise the issue that would even make Indiana Jones anxious, “snakes, why did it have to be snakes?”  They seemed to be everywhere on this trip, far more that we’d ever seen.  I do not know the reason.

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Want to know what snakes eat, at least some of the time?

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As it turns out, other snakes.  I would guess that the winner in this contest didn’t start out that much bigger than the loser.  Some of these snakes are quite poisonous as it turns out, though I was never able to find out for sure if this one was.

The bird population stands out as I said.  From Cape Hatteras to inland, the variety of size, shape, color, attitude and behavior seems endless.  My best bet is that this is King Snake though the markings are quite right.

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Yes, even the gulls have an appeal, though perhaps less so to the farmers.

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Last but certainly not least to those who love them, we need to thank the custodians of the beach, the folks who keep it clean.

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So just a brief amateur’s overview.  It is hard not to be grateful though for what the presence of so much wildlife means for the environment.  Yes, much has been lost, but not all.

Randomness at the Intersection with Nature

(There are quite a few images in this post.  If you find that some seem to be missing, hit the refresh on your browser.  Some have to do it a couple of times to get the images to load properly.  Sorry about that!)

I have been thinking about urban nature for a number of years now, trying to understand why it so frequently surprises me.  You see species where you least expect it.  You see beauty where no one intended it (of course, that’s just like actual nature).  Changes in the light, weather, time of year, etc. can all create a drastically different experience.  But the later, like much of nature, is actually quite predictable.  Nature works by a fairly clear set of principals, albeit complex ones.  You can predict with some degree of success a lot of what you’ll see (except the weather of course) based on those principals.  They are well understood.  When nature surprises us, it is often, though not always, because we just don’t understand it.  When humans surprise us on the other hand, well that’s just another day at the office.  So, my wife and I are heading home from the morning walk when, in our driveway, we see this fellow.

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Seriously.  Are you kidding me?  Check out the beautiful colors and check out the talions.  Oh, and this bird, wants to come right at you.

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I am, at this stage, very surprised and uncertain how to proceed as we all were. (Our neighbors actually were the first on scene.)  Were we in some kind of danger?  Look at those feet!  I made the assumption, turns out correctly, that this bird had somehow flown the coop and is domesticated.  A quick e-mail to Molly and Lou, the professional biologists in the family, and we had an ID.  This is a Silver Pheasant.  Was it some rare bird?  A few more googles revealed, you guessed it, you can buy a pair online at Efoul.com (you can’t make this up) for the sum of $99.00.  Were we in danger if the bird actually came right up to us?  We were probably only in danger of being kissed.  That bird had bonded with people somewhere who lost this wonderful creature, or tried to make sure the creature was lost.  This was an unpleasant surprise.  We were all very concerned about the bird, who unfortunately ran off not to be seen again.  We didn’t know who to call.  The Dog officer?  In a big city, I’m guessing no.  Turns out that there are people around who do know what to do, so we’re ready to swing into gear should we have another sighting.  Why in the name of whoever would someone have an animal like this in the city?  Pretty random as they say.

We humans inflect a level of randomness on the world, with which nature most contend.  One of my favorite locations for observing human randomness and natural reality is the Blackstone Valley Trail that runs under Route 146 in Worcester, Massachusetts.  There you see humanity (the underbelly of it) and nature coming face to face.  The results can be startling interesting, much like our Silver Pheasant.

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For those who do not know, the Blackstone River was once a major navigable connection between Worcester and Providence, Rhode Island.  In fact, a Canal based on the River was built in the early 1800’s to promote commerce.  The railroad, however, quickly made the Canal irrelevant.  Route 146 was ultimately built between the two cities and upgraded considerably over the past decade.  In the process of rehabbing the road, the Commonwealth, wisely, created a wonderful path for hiking and biking.  Nature has reclaimed quite a bit of territory and the River still flows.  However, it flows underneath a busy superhighway, next to a major rail line, in the middle of a big city.  There is all manner of human activity around this small oasis.  What we see is the interaction of all that, and while beautiful, is anything but pristine for the most part.

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As anyone who follows nature knows, it’s a tough world.  Animals and plants fight for their survival everyday.  Of course, billions of people do as well.  Perhaps we’ll never know what happened to our Pheasant friend.  We’d like to think that his owner actually tracked him down and that he’s safe at home.  Perhaps.

New Bird in Town – D810 Comments

I’ve blogged here on numerous occasions about urban wildlife such as the blue heron’s that frequent Elm Park.  (Elm Park is located in downtown Worcester, Massachusetts).  Today, however, we found ourselves confronted with a heron of a different color, white.

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I did a bit of quick research upon returning home, looking at questions such as “what is the difference between a heron and an egret?” and “what is the range of the white egret, or heron?”  Alas, my efforts were somewhat frustrated.   According to Wikipedia the difference between heron and egret is largely terminological rather than biological.  Egrets tend to be white.  If you google the two terms and check on images, you’ll see the same kinds of images.  My bottom line question really was:  are they new in town?  Memory tells me yes.  They are very common in the mid-Atlantic and further south, but I don’t recall seeing too many in New England.  Someone educate me if my memory is off, it wouldn’t be the first time.

Photographing these birds is relatively easy.  You can get quite close if are are respectful and quiet. After all, this was in a downtown park, not exactly the middle of the marsh.  Herons also don’t seem to be easily distracted from their work, which is fishing.  Unfortunately for this fair specimen, he was having little luck.  We watched him for quite some time and he was coming up empty beaked, every time.  Herons are usually better at their jobs than that.  This one may need to step up his game.  The best shot is often one with them flying in or out, or exhibiting their catch.  This guy stood there and though his forays into the water were very graceful, if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.

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It was tough to get another interesting shot until a well timed flock of geese flew across the scene.  He was actually startled for a second, but the incident did give me some background that was badly needed.

 

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It will be interesting to see if his presence in the Park is a trend or an outlier.  Or, as I mentioned above, is only of interest because of my failing memory.  Regardless, I do wish him good luck fishing.  He needs it.

Tech Note:

Much as I dislike the kind of photographic gear discussions that take place on the internet, I did want to mention that these shots were taken with Nikon’s newest DSLR, the D810.  I’ve been a Nikon user for many years, and really enjoyed the image output from the D800.  If you print large for exhibitions, all those pixels are useful.  Plus, the D800 has incredible dynamic range, very useful for nature work.  However, it always felt to me like it was really a studio, tripod camera, and handled more like the medium format cameras it has been replacing.  I also like to shot more spontaneously from time to time.  The D810 now makes that possible.  In many different ways, Nikon fixed things that weren’t broken, but made it hard to really relax with the D800.  The grip is better, the shutter is much quieter, the shutter mechanism does not create vibrations that undermine the high resolution power of the images, the video features are improved, etc.  In this case, all those pixels allowed me to crop heavily into the image.  These are all the equivalent of a 100% crop.  Obviously I should have had a longer lens, but alas, I did not.  I could go on and on, but others are doing a much better job of actually reviewing this piece of gear.  If you have a D800 though, it may not look like a worthwhile upgrade.  It actually may be for some people, particularly those desiring to make the D800 a real “go to” camera.  Again, I dislike tribal gear discussions.  All cameras these days are quite good.  It really boils down to trying to find the one that does the job you need, and with which you can be most comfortable.  That is likely to vary from person to person.