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Posts from the ‘Worcester’ Category

More Snow….

When given lemons, make lemonade, right?  What if one is given a freight train loaded with lemons.  Such is our situation here.  Nothing else to do but try and create some interesting art.  The lemonade I’ve come up with so far.  My strategy here was to isolate and simplify, while still capturing the kind of art that only nature, sometimes in interaction with humans and sometimes on her own, can create.  My most recent batch of lemonade:

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Enjoy the snow.  Fourteen more inches of it in the next two days.  Is that really necessary?

Before the Storms Begin

The weather in New England of course deteriorates after Thanksgiving.  We already had a brief taste of winter snow, and today it is very cold.  The landscape changes under those conditions of course.   I had the urge to hold on to the fall just a little bit longer.  These were taken in Institute Park, downtown Worcester, Massachusetts, right before Thanksgiving.  The leaves are now gone of course.

_DSC7132-EditThis family of Swans was doing some final business before dispersing.

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The sky gave a hint of what is to come.

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Events of recent days remind me that, as John Prine says, “all the news repeats itself.”  Here we go again.  Perhaps we’ll learn something this time.

 

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.

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.