Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Eve-Fly like an eagle

Olympic Sentry © Kate Lynch
Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge is such an amazing place. I see something different every time I go. Bald eagles and Canada geese are year-round residents, so I can usually count on at least one encounter. A lot of the bald eagles in the refuge also hang out up on the hill where I live. As a photographer, I usually feel somewhat "underdressed" in the equipment department at the refuge. My largest lens is a 70-300 mm zoom. There are so many 500 mm lenses being hauled around that you would think you were at the Super Bowl, where photographers make money with those things. I always wonder how so many people can afford lenses that can run $1,000-5,000 or more. That's what a good 500 mm lens runs. A Nikon 600 mm lens costs more than $10,000.

When I decide that it would be lucrative to get extreme closeups of animals far far away, I'll invest in a longer lens. Or wait until Nikon partners with Honda and comes out with a big lens that doubles as a motorcycle. To see other images from the refuge, visit my Nisqually Gallery.

Moving On © Kate Lynch
What I lack in equipment, I make up by being quick. I spent about a half hour watching and photographing this bald eagle perched on a snag at the outskirts of the refuge. I decided to head back, slowing to snap yet another image of the great egret that hadn't moved more than a couple of inches. On the way back, I chatted with a young photographer with one of those behemoth lenses.

Lift Off © Kate Lynch
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a very large bird rise into the air. I fired off several shots at what I thought was a heron. I noticed the photographer with the behemoth lens didn't have the camera up to her eye. Instead she was wearing it around her neck like some outlandish accessory (let's call it Very Large Array Necklace). She, too, thought it was a heron. We couldn't figure out where the bald eagle went, which was gone from the snag. It wasn't until I downloaded these images that I saw that I had indeed caught several nice frames of the bald eagle. The other photographer didn't get one. I have a few more images in my Eagles & Hawks gallery. I'm way behind on moving images from the blog to my website. I think that will be my New Year's resolution: update my website.

Eagle Closeup that would be WAY better with a 500mm lens - Kate Lynch

Tomorrow: Great Egret - a rare bird in winter

Thursday, December 30, 2010

December 30-Mountain Morning

Mount Rainier from Tumwater, WA © Kate Lynch

I managed to miss the vanpool this morning because my car door was frozen shut and it took me 15 minutes to de-ice. Lots of frost everywhere. I took that as a sign that I needed to take my camera to work today. I am often rewarded when I pay attention to my intuition. I drove right into this magical mountain moment. I decided I could afford a few minutes detour past the Olympia Airport, where I knew there would be an unobstructed view of Mount Rainier.

Misty Mountain © Kate Lynch
The Mountain put on quite a show for most of the morning. One of my co-workers said she was going to charge admission for all the people who stood at the window near her desk. I photographed this scene from the third floor of my office about 90 minutes after I shot the first image. Visit Mountain Gallery and Visions of Rainier Gallery for some of my favorite images.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

December 28-More Jim Hummer

Hummer Jim © Kate Lynch
I stayed home to nurse a cold and felt lots better in the afternoon. It was in the low 40s today with light winds and no rain. But gray skies, so light is challenging when photographing small quick birds like my hummer friend Jim. Well, I think we're becoming friends. He actually came to the feeder as long as I didn't have the camera up to my face.  I'm planning to spend more time getting to know Jim a bit better this weekend.

Free to be Jim © Kate Lynch

Later I experimented with fill flash. I don't like to use flash for nature photography because the colors are often harsh. In order to freeze the action, though, I had to either bump up the ISO or use flash. A higher ISO produces a coarser image. Here's an example of images with and without flash.

With flash (left) and without © Kate Lynch

Monday, December 27, 2010

December 27-Winter Hummer

Bring it on! © Kate Lynch
Three or four Anna's hummingbirds visit my two feeders on the front porch regularly. Anna's are in Washington, Oregon, and California all year long, so keep up your feeders if you live here. This guy has claimed the territory and chases off other hummingbirds. The others slip in when he's off doing something else. He spends a lot of time in the plum tree, which is about eight feet from my front porch and the feeders. More hummer images are in my Hummingbird Gallery.

If I puff myself up, I'll look at least 5" big! © Kate Lynch
I've decided to name him Jim, in honor of the Jim Croce song about Big Jim Walker: You don't tug on Superman's cape. You don't spit into the wind. You don't pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger. And you don't mess around with Jim.

Taking a scratch break © Kate Lynch
He's not quite used to me yet. The Anna's guy who wintered with me a couple of years ago would meet me at the feeder when I brought it out. This one won't approach the feeders until I go back inside the house. He also wasn't very cooperative for our portrait sessions. He reacts to the camera shutter clicks like I am a competing bird, warning me with a chee-chee-chee. Then he moves deeper into the tree behind small branches.

I am hummer, hear me chirp © Kate Lynch
He alternates between grooming behavior and aggressive displays to keep other hummingbirds away. He tolerates the seed-eating birds but keeps a very close eye on them.

Branch protection © Kate Lynch
I have been photographing hummingbirds in Washington and Arizona, where I used to live, for several years. As you may have figured out, I am fascinated by these feisty little birds. They are the only bird that can fly backwards. The sound of their wings as they whiz by your head is like a Star Wars lightsaber. Duck! The Anna's metallic magenta display is more obvious in the winter. In the summer their heads often look black. More hummer images are in my Hummingbird Gallery.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

December 26-Feast of St. Stephen

WINTER BIRDS - Anna's hummingbird & purple finch
In Ireland, St. Stephen's Day, is a holiday where many people visit friends. Also called Lá Fhéile Stiofán or Lá an Dreoilín - literally The Day of the Wren. The "wren boys" tradition was pretty gruesome. Thankfully these days it's about visiting friends. I know I have photographed a wren or two but couldn't find one, so here are a couple of favorite winter birds from the front yard birdie spa. In England and Canada, December 26 is Boxing Day. I like to remind friends and family that Christmas lasts for 12 days, ending January 6 - the Feast of the Epiphany or Three Kings. I think a reason we get so stressed out about Christmas is that we put too much emphasis on one day. We have lots of food to last at least until New Year's. 

A favorite recipe for Almond Cheese Bread is my St. Stephen's Day-Wren Day-Boxing Day gift to you.

Almond  Cheese Wreath Bread

Bread Ingredients (makes two):

3¾ to 4 cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup finely chopped (or ground) almonds
2 packages active dry yeast
¼ cup butter or margarine
½ cup sugar
¼ cup water
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup dairy sour cream
2 eggs
1 teaspoon almond extract

1.      In large mixer bowl combine 1½ cups of the flour, the ¾ cup chopped or ground almonds, and the yeast.
2.      In a saucepan, heat butter, ½ cup sugar, water, and salt till lukewarm (115-120 degrees), stirring constantly till butter almost melts.
3.      Add to mixer bowl, along with sour cream, eggs, and almond extract.
4.      Beat at low speed of electric mixer for 30 seconds, scraping sides of bowl constantly.
5.      Beat 3 minutes at high speed.
6.      Stir in as much of the remaining flour as you can mix in with a spoon.
7.      Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead in enough remaining flour to make a moderately soft dough that is smooth and elastic (3-5 minutes).
8.      Shape into a ball. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease surface. Cover and let rise till double (1½ to 1¾ hours).
9.      Punch down, divide in half. Cover and let rest for 10 minutes.
10.   On lightly floured surface, roll half the dough to an 18x12-inch rectangle.
 Cheese Filling Ingredients:
 8-12 oz. cream cheese, softened (1 to 1 ½ packages)
¼ cup sugar (a little more if using larger amount of cream cheese)
1 egg yolk
½ teaspoon almond extract
½ cup chopped almonds
½ cup light raisins

1 egg white
sliced almonds
1.      In small mixer bowl, cream together the cream cheese, ¼ cup sugar, egg yolk, and ½ teaspoon almond extract.
2.      Stir in chopped almonds and raisins.
3.      Spread half of the cheese filling on dough within ½ inch of edges.
4.      Roll up, starting from long side. Press edges together to seal. Place, seam side down, on lightly greased baking sheet, curving roll to make a wreath.
5.      Press ends of roll together. Cut short slits about 1½ inches apart around top of wreath.
6.      Brush with some egg white. Garnish with sliced almonds and sprinkle with sugar.
7.      Repeat with other half of dough and filling.
8.      Cover, let rise till double (about 1 hour).
9.      Bake in 350-degree oven for 30-35 minutes. If necessary, cover with foil after 20 minutes of baking to prevent overbrowning.
10.   Cool on wire rack.

 -       Adapted from a recipe in Better Homes and Gardens, November 1980

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

December 21-Solstice Lunar Eclipse

An eclipse of either the moon or the sun are magical in their own ways. I had the chance to see the solar eclipse in totality (5 minutes) off the coast of west Africa in 1972. Seeing a lunar eclipse is more common in most of our lifetimes.

 The lunar eclipse on Winter Solstice eve was amazing because we so rarely have clear skies in western Washington in December. The skies were mostly cloudy but parted dramatically throughout the evening. The cloud cover wrapped the sky in earnest before the moon was fully eclipsed.

Here are my favorites. The aspect is a little off for some images because the moon keeps moving. Sometimes I was looking through the viewfinder from one side or another or upside down.

Merry Solstice
Happy Yule
Blessed Christmastide 

Monday, December 20, 2010

December 20-Mt. Rainier

Photographing Mount Rainier is like photographing a sunset - no two images are alike and it is difficult to get a lousy shot. Here are two shots from the weekend taken seven minutes apart at two different vantage points.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

December 18-Sea Lions

We had a bit of a break in the rain - meteorologists here call them "sunbreaks." Padme the wonderdog and I took advantage of the break and headed down our favorite neighborhood trail.

We stopped at the overlook above the Nisqually delta. I heard some random gunfire from bird hunters just outside the refuge.

I thought I heard dogs barking off in the distance. Then I realized the barking was from sea lions in Puget Sound. We hiked down the perimeter trail below the golf course to see if we could get a better view.

There they were sunning themselves on the old wreck of a World War II concrete boat. The tide was in, so the wreck was mostly submerged. I counted 18 sea lions - loud sea lions. We often hear a few in the winter. I wondered if the transient orca pod reported farther north might be in the area. We watched for awhile but didn't see any fins.

 There's no easy way down to the wreck. If you want to check it out, be sure to check out the tidetables for DuPont Wharf before you go. Otherwise you will get stranded on the beach.

The most direct way is straight down the bluff but it's a challenging hike. Better to take the Sequalitchew Creek trail, then head south to the sand spit which, as you can see, is engulfed during high tide.

 I found a local trails site with a map - Hike to Cement Boat Nisqually Reach.

We watched a cormorant that found a bit of a post sticking up out of the water to perch on and dry its wings. More images from this area in summer and fall can be viewed in my Sky & Water gallery.


Monday, December 6, 2010

December 6-Nisqually views & wildlife

Here are a few more favorites from my weekend photo tour of the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. Winter is a really wonderful time to visit the refuge for many reasons including that wildlife is more visible. Also there are fewer human visitors. More images are in my Nisqually Gallery.

Black-tailed deer

See my Mountain Gallery for Winter Olympics II and other mountain images

Sunday, December 5, 2010

December 5-Nisqually Talons

Bald eagles stay closer to home during hunting season. "Home" is relative for these magnificent birds. There is a nest about the twin barns at the refuge that is generally occupied in spring. We see a lot of bald eagles up in my Hoffman Hill neighborhood above the refuge.

The hunting zone is just outside the boundaries of the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.

I will be creating a new gallery with images of eagles and other raptors. In the meantime, you can see some earlier work in my Eagles & Hawks and Nisqually galleries.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

December 4-Nisqually Wings

My friend Joe and I spent a couple of hours at the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. It was a glorious December day - golden sunlight, crisp with little wind.

More in the next few days...these are my favorite Canada geese images.