Don’t Shoot Until You See the Yellow of Their Eyes

The Osprey have returned to Goggin’s Island off the shores of Wolf Neck State Park in Freeport.  How they manage to find their nesting spot year after year without using Google Maps is beyond me.

This pair of Osprey is particularly industrious.  Not only do they have a comfy nest, but they’ve added a 3’ x 3’ deck fabricated out of quality lumber to enhance their homestead.  Now don’t be fooled into thinking that these birds built this deck all by themselves.  No doubt they purchased it at Hammond Lumber Company and took advantage of the pre-assembly and “free delivery within striking distance” options offered by this Maine lumberyard.  What’s surprising is that the Freeport code enforcement officer didn’t require the birds to install a railing around the platform since it sits about 75 feet off the ground.

There’s a cardinal rule in bird photography (no pun intended) that the eye of the bird nearest to the camera must be sharp.  Not such a big deal when the birds are out relaxing on their deck but a YUGE challenge when the bird is flying.  Osprey can reach speeds of 30-40 mph and although their bright yellow eyes are impressive, they’re not so easy to follow with a high magnification lens.  My “keeper” rate for this shoot was extremely low.  Thankfully, pixels are free!

I plan to return to Wolf Neck again soon but first I think I’ll sharpen up my bird in flight tracking skills by practicing on seagulls.  They’re plentiful and make easy targets – especially when they’re clamming.

It’s Official

I now deem springtime officially here as I saw the first Snowy Egret in Scarborough Marsh bright and early this morning.  It’s in for a BIG surprise overnight as the forecast calls for up to a foot of heavy, wet snow.  Then again, it is called a “Snowy” Egret so it just might welcome this uninvited April Fools storm.

I’ve been studying up on the art of bird photography.  I’m presently in the “I don’t know that I don’t know” stage but I am having fun learning.  The best advice I’ve been given so far is “walk softly and carry a big lens”.  Bigger may be better, but it’s also more challenging.  Getting tack sharp bird images requires good technique, the right equipment, and lots of practice.  I’m not there yet so I don’t’ expect National Geographic to be calling me anytime soon.

Fortunately, I have a bird haven just down the street from my home – as well as a very active feeder in my backyard.  There’s no want for subject matter in this neck of the woods.  In fact, my backyard feeder is swarmed with birds daily and their healthy appetites require constant replenishing of the seed.  Somehow the word must have spread throughout the feathered community that the party is at my house.

I look forward to honing my skills in this very popular genre of photography.  If the snow ever stops, maybe I’ll get a chance to practice some more soon.

Spring Has Sprung

Click on photos to see a larger version

Even though the weather in some parts of Maine today isn’t radiating feelings of springtime, there are signs that this elusive season is fast approaching.  The wildlife have begun their return to Scarborough Marsh, my bicycle is back on the road, and the Dairy Corner ice cream stand is set to open in less than two weeks.

The geese are obviously taking advantage of the low off-season rates and have booked the marsh for an extended stay.  They don’t seemed to be bothered by the snow and ice that still covers some of the surroundings, but the seagulls who consider themselves “locals” seem to be troubled by all these visitors “from away”.  I expect a turf war anytime soon and my money is on the gulls.

As much as I enjoyed my bike ride down to the marsh on Sunday, I won’t consider it officially springtime until I spot the first Snowy Egret.  Fortunately, soon I can enjoy over 70 flavors of ice cream while waiting for the egrets to arrive.

Photo credit: The Dairy Corner

Patience, Light, Behavior

misty-morning-crossingThe above photo is copyrighted by Thomas Mangelsen.  All others by the author.

Another photographer that I truly admire is Thomas Mangelsen (website).  Long considered one of the world’s premier wildlife photographers, I’ve grown to value both his work and his philosophies.   A resident of Wyoming, Mangelsen has the luxury of stepping out his back door into Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks and for forty years he has captured the remarkable beauty of the parks’ creatures and vistas.  His book, The Last Great Wild Places (see video), is a collection of pictures filled with inspiration for the photographer and non-photographer alike.

grand-teton-04A bull moose struts along the perimeter of Grand Teton National Park

In 2013 I had the pleasure of visiting his gallery housed in his hometown of Jackson Hole. Long-time followers of this blog will recall that in the fall of that year my wife and I, along with our dog, drove across the country to visit our national parks only to be barred from entering them due to the government shutdown.  My quest to land my own Mangelsen-esque masterpiece was dealt a serious blow by the park closures but looking back on that experience now, I realize that such works of art aren’t simply waiting there for the taking.  The road to a masterpiece is long and arduous.

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emmie-snake-river-copyIt helps to bring your own “wildlife” along.  Here, our dog, Emmie, tests the waters of the Snake River

On the left hand side of this blogsite is a quote about studying life to become a better photographer.  Mangelsen has added a slight twist by stating:  “if you want to be a better wildlife photographer, study Biology”.  That’s what Mangelsen did and it is this knowledge of animal behavior, coupled with extreme patience, that allows him to make such outstanding images of creatures big and small.  Mother Nature adds the dramatic light and mood but Mangelsen knows how to recognize these signals and use them creatively.

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Mangelsen is a purist when it comes to his work.  He doesn’t manipulate his images and he steadfastly refuses to participate in “rent a beast” excursions where rare and exotic animals are kept in captivity for the purpose of photography tours aimed a faking natural habitats.  Good for him!

badlands-02Big Horns form a caravan in Badlands National Park, South Dakota
bison-1346-copyYellowstone and Grand Teton are bison country
wyoming-01Horses may not be considered wildlife but I enjoy photographing them anyway

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grand-teton-02Snow comes early to western Wyoming and Montana.  I froze my butt and fingers off in October.
grand-canyon-01That deer in the headlights look, sans headlights

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Even though I didn’t get the opportunity to explore Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks as I would have liked, the trip wasn’t a complete bust.  I’m generally pleased with the images that I brought home and although they are far from placing in the Mangelsen category, they nonetheless bring me joy.

I plan to return to the nation’s western states armed not only with better camera gear, but with a boatload of patience and maybe a Biology 101 textbook.  Hopefully, Mother Nature and the U.S. Government will cooperate.

Ogunquit

 

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The seacoast town of Ogunquit has had a bad rap on several fronts for years.  One of the first Maine communities to openly welcome homosexuals and transgenders, it has often been the butt of many insensitive jokes.  At the height of Ogunquit homophobia, a man wearing a cap or sweatshirt bearing the town’s name caused many to question his sexual orientation.  At the very least, it generated snickers and catcalls; at its worst, it might have gotten him physically accosted.  I can only hope those days are over.

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When Old Orchard Beach stopped being Canadians’ summer vacation destination of choice it was replaced by Oqunquit.  The local merchants were happy with the added influx of tourists but many Mainers adopted the attitude of the late philosopher, Yogi Berra, who rationalized “the place is so crowded now, nobody goes there.”  Any visit to this quaint town on a warm summer day will confirm that license plates sporting “The Empire State”, “The Garden State” or “Je Me Souviens” as their motto far outnumber those proclaiming “Vacationland”.   Good luck finding a parking space.

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When it comes to crowds, I frequently employ reverse “Yogi” psychology – I go when I know the chances of someone else being there are slim to none.  Ogunquit Beach at 5:30 am on a cold January morning fits the bill.  The odds are “yugely” in my favor of having the place all to myself.

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Arriving into town I didn’t spot anyone walking or driving about.  There wasn’t even a cop car patrolling the streets or vehicles in line at the Dunkin Donuts drive-thru (which technically, could be in the adjacent town of Wells).  The beach parking lot was completely deserted but silly me, I circled it several times before deciding on a spot.  Strategically aimed headlights can sometimes help illuminate a dark scene.

The beach was also abandoned and I was intrigued by the amber glow of the sand lit by the nearby street lamps.  Combined with the dramatic pre-sunrise sky, the mood was surreal.

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Later, I headed down to picturesque Perkins Cove where I finally encountered an elderly man walking his dog.  Thinking I was probably one of those crazy people from “away”, he didn’t even acknowledge me.  I ignored a few “private property” signs that were accompanied with “closed for the season” and positioned my tripod at will.

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I’ve never had a bad time in Ogunquit.  My wife and I celebrated both or first and 25th wedding anniversaries there.  Some of the beach motif decorations in our home were purchased in its shops.

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I’ll visit again next summer.  You should too!

 

Visions of Iceland

Photographing Iceland has been on my bucket list for some time now. Having watched numerous videos of photography excursions held there, Iceland’s unique blend of ice, waterfalls, mountains and caves would be a delight to digitally capture and witness first hand.

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This dream may happen someday but until it does I know of one place where I can easily get my “ice fix”: Ice Castles in Lincoln, NH. Now I won’t pretend for a minute that this man-made exhibit offers even a sliver of the spectacular beauty that Iceland affords, but it’s a cool place (no pun intended) to visit, nonetheless.  Besides, getting there allows me to travel the Kancamagus Highway – my all-time favorite scenic roadway which is beautiful any time of year or hour.

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This was my second visit to Ice Castles and quite different from my first, two years ago. For starters, the temperature was about 20 degrees warmer this year and I didn’t have to wear multiple layers of winter clothing to stay warm. Moreover, I didn’t have to change a flat tire in finger numbing weather on the roadside of the Kancamagus, then drive back to Maine in the snow relying on the cheesy “donut” spare to keep me on the road – all of which put quite a damper on my first trip there. This was a much less drama-filled endeavor.

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Ice Castles surrounds its visitors with ice, but one tell-tale sign that I wasn’t in Iceland was that I was also surrounded by hordes of people. Being Martin Luther King Day with kids off from school, the place was mobbed to the point that inside several of the ice caverns my claustrophobia meter began to register. My hunch that the crowds would disperse after the sun set was wrong. The darker it got, the more the people arrived.

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Construction of the exhibit typically begins in December. Water is first poured over a metal skeleton to form the various shapes then icicles are “grown” and grafted onto larger ice formations. More water and icicles are constantly added. Caves, tunnels, mazes and slides complete the castle. Lights imbedded in the ice provide a nighttime glow – hence the reason for the evening influx of visitors.

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Returning home via the Kancamagus, I took advantage of a scenic turnout that happened to be plowed to dabble in some astro-photography with the assistance of my car’s tail lights to illuminate the foreground trees. Later, I turned the vehicle lights off and simply marveled at the heavenly show put on by the stars shinning down on the mountains – a much more enjoyable experience than changing a flat tire.ice-castles-7752-copy

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Rines Forest

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There’s a saying among photographers that the best camera to own is the one you happen to have with you at the time.  The latest and greatest camera with a bazillion pixels is useless if you don’t have it when you need it.  Enter the cell phone camera.

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Now I’m one of those old school people who doesn’t consider a cell phone a “real” camera.  It has value at the grocery store to be able to send a photo to your wife and confirm that the panty hose you’ve chosen for her is indeed the style you’ve been instructed to purchase, but that’s about it.  Unless, of course, you happen to find yourself surrounded by nature’s magnificent beauty and want to share the experience with others.  That was the case yesterday when my wife and I took the dog for a walk in Rines Forest in Cumberland.

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This 200 acre protected parcel was a favorite of ours when we lived in nearby Falmouth.  It has 2.5 miles of trails and features three wooden foot bridges and a meandering stream complete with several waterfalls.  It is frequented by dog walkers, horseback riders, snow-shoers and cross-country skiers.

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Upon our recent arrival we were very surprised by the amount of snow still clinging to the trees from Thursday’s storm.  Tress in most areas south of Portland had already shed the fluffy covering that we awoke to Friday morning but right away we understood why many sections of Falmouth and Cumberland were still without electric power on Saturday.  The sight of bent and downed trees appeared to be the result of Mother Nature dropping a bomb and Rines Forest was ground zero.

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The trails here are very well marked but the damaged trees created quite an obstacle course to find our way to the waterfall.  Fortunately, we had our four-legged GPS with us and she blazed a new path to this picturesque destination with mom and dad scurrying to keep up.  Once there, we just stood in awe and enjoyed the solitude of this gorgeous winter afternoon.

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I hadn’t planned to take any photographs here, hence the reason I didn’t bring my camera.  Soon into our excursion I regretted that decision.  I briefly contemplated using my cell phone but quickly dismissed this idea – it’s not a “real” camera.  Finally, I succumbed to the urge and pulled the cell phone out of my pocket.

I’m happy I did!

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Rines Forest is located on Range Road in Cumberland.  Use the link below for more information.

Link to Rines Forest