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Posts from the ‘Wildlife’ Category

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.

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.

The Mystery of Nature

I’ve been keeping my head down, figuratively that is, more like sticking it in front of the computer. I’m working on a book about a very special place, and I’ll share more about that soon.  One of the inspirations for the work is the notion of “mystery” and what we don’t understand.  There is really so much in nature that escapes us and I’ve been looking at images from my collections that illustrate that joyous yet perplexing fact.  Here’s one from Manteo taken in 2012.

Gulls over Roanoke Sound - 2012

Obviously it’s a bunch of gulls in a frenzy.  But, what was the frenzy all about?  Normally you’d think “gulls going crazy, must be a fishing boat around here someone throwing some waste overboard.”  Good guess, but in this case, no boat.  I’m standing on the deck of a condo in Manteo, North Carolina. I felt I could practically reach out and touch them.  And no, I didn’t have anything for them to eat.  (You should never feed wildlife, even gulls, with the exception of the strategically thought out bird feeder.)  Of course, maybe they were hamming it up for the camera.  Glad I could oblige.  They were quite professional as colleagues go.

Photographers of Planet Earth

I was recently honored by having been asked to submit my favorite image and some accompany text explanation to an interesting blog, Photographers of Planet Earth.  After agonizing over the question, which one is my favorite, this one got the nod.

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It’s actually been posted here before, so I guess I really do like it.  The question though as I say got me thinking.  They wanted my favorite, not the ones that others might like.  It’s actually a useful way to reflect on your work.  If you click over there, you’ll see what I had to say the choice, so I won’t bore you here.

If you like nature oriented photography, I’d encourage you to have a look at Photographers of Planet Earth.  They don’t seem to be selling anything at this point, so you only stand to risk a bit of your time.  Thanks for stopping by.

UPDATE:  Speaking of selling something,, I just went to preview my blog, a common act before publishing it, and found that in the preview WordPress was warning me that my visitors would be seeing advertisements, over which I had no control.  So it could be some horrendous political garbage or other kinds of crap, which would for me hurt the experience of the viewer.  It’s enough that you have to put up with my rants, you shouldn’t be exposed to worse.  So, I purchased the “No Ad” upgrade.  I didn’t really mind, WordPress has been hosting this blog for quite some time for no charge, they have to make money and selling ads is the way to do it.  The bottom line is, you shouldn’t see any ads on this site.  If you do please let me know via the comments.  Thanks.

Portrait of a Hawk – Another Couple in Elm Park

In my last blog I mentioned being provoked to think about the meaning of my work in the context of the on-going reconstruction of Elm Park, in downtown Worcester, Massachusetts.  I had bumped into a couple who had questioned the value, financially and otherwise, of the Park and its reboot.  We bumped into another couple today, quite a different experience.  These two young folks, sitting on one of the benches at the Park were chatting like, well young couples do, and probably enjoying the more moderate temperatures.  We happened to be passing by, pursuing yet another reflection shot, when we were joined by the individual you see here.  He landed not too high up in a tree, perhaps thirty feet from the four of us, and commenced to screaming at the top of his/her lungs.  In case you are not aware, hawks can really let it loose when they have something to say.  I think the young couple was amused or annoyed (their attitudes may have broken down along gender lines, I’m not sure), but I had the sense that they were thinking that it would be OK if I were to act like an annoying photographer and get the hawk to fly away, leaving them to get on with their business.  The ability to be annoying is of course is a key competency in photography, so I hit the shutter.

Hawk, Elm Park, Worcester MA James Hunt copyright 2013

I’m not a wildlife photographer.  I would never want to do anything that required that much work; and the hours?  Forget about it.  But this individual’s stare got under my skin a bit.  My wife and I talked about that look, trying to figure out what it means.  What was the screaming about?  There was another hawk in the area that seemed to be working closely with this one.  Hawks scream for a few different reasons and it is a scream.  It is a basic form of communications.  It may have been part of a conversation with its mate.  There may have been another errant hawk in the area, from another family.  I can anthropomorphize almost anything, so I kept thinking about a comment by the famed wildlife photographer Frans Lanting.  I can’t remember the quote, but in effect, he was making the point that animals in the wild routinely live with the experience of desperation.  They struggle every day with the unceasing need to balance the hunt for food with the loss of energy that is required by the hunt.  If they do too little, they starve.  If they do too much, they run out of energy for the hunt and die.  All that, and they have to raise a family.  It’s a tough way to make a living.  This is an image of a hawk on duty and for me, you can see it in his/her eyes.

The hawk flew off to join its partner about 50 yards away.  The mission of the annoying photographer was accomplished. The couple returned to their chat. Another day in the Park.

Technical note for photographers:  This image was taken with a Nikon D600.  The D600 is Nikon’s cheapest and lightest “full frame” DSLR.  I rarely talk about gear in the blog.  I’m far more interested in technique and art making, and most modern cameras are so good, it really doesn’t matter which one you use.  You should use the equipment you like.  In this case though, I have to make an exception for this camera.  This is a good camera that I don’t think gets the respect it deserves.  This image was heavily cropped.  I was only shooting with a 200 mm lens, which may seem like a very long telephoto lens to some, but it is nothing for birders.  The image was not sharpened in post-production.  The level of detail that can be recovered was, for me, stunning.  The autofocus was spot on.  The bird was nearly in silhouette, against a bright sky, but I was able to recover all the detail in this ISO 400 shot, without generating any noise.  This crop has about 5 megapixels left in it.  I bet I could print it at 13 by 19 and it would look great.  The high quality of the image from the sensor, the accuracy of the autofocus and the light weight form factor lead me to recommend this camera highly. There was a notion going around the net that the sensor was always going to be dusty.  I had no such trouble and the camera store where I bought it, E.P. Levine’s in Waltham, said that dust on the sensor was not a problem.  I have no affiliation with Nikon.