Saturday, December 31, 2011

Nature's camouflage

American Bittern
Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge is a popular place on New Year's Eve. I spent some time there last year too. Winter is a wonderful time for bird watching in the Nisqually delta. Fewer leaves make it easier to see a variety of birds and many winter here.

The bittern was right next to the boardwalk and stayed very still. I have never seen one before. It reminded me of a kiwi bird (which I've seen in a zoo).

The red-tailed hawk was tough to see until he or she flew right over my head, then merged right into a camo background again.

Red-tailed hawk

I photographed fishing bald eagles for a couple of hours. I'll post some of those tomorrow. Gulls followed to eagles waiting for fish to drop their way. This guy found something right under the surface or maybe he was hiding.

Favorite images from the other seasons in Nisqually can be found in my DuPont-Nisqually galleries.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Solstice Hummers

"Jim," one of the Anna's hummingbirds wintering with me.
There are three Anna's hummingbirds–one female and two males–visiting my feeders and the birdie spa tree every day. "Jim" and "Buzz" alternate time guarding the feeders.

Jim and Buzz, Anna's hummingbirds
Sometimes they are in the tree at the same time. Maybe winter weather makes them a bit less territorial–a bit. Sharing the tree was brief, although one didn't chase the other off. Sometimes one will land on one feeder, leave, and a split second later the other will land on the second feeder. The girls have a different routine. When a female feeds, she will often sit on the feeder for several minutes. Jim or Buzz will guard from the tree but don't approach her.

More favorites in my Hummer Gallery.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Harrier on the hunt

Even though northern harriers were the first hawks I photographed at Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, I still don't know much about them.

I misidentified this female hawk as a red-tailed hawk. I still remember my first raptor field guide that told me: "when in doubt, call it a red-tailed hawk." Many raptors look like red-tailed hawks at various times in their maturity.

Harriers have a pretty distinctive flight pattern, low to the ground, watching and listening for small prey. They often fly with their wings in a "V" pattern. 

We tend to see harriers in the winter in western Washington, although they are year-round residents in the rest of the state. I thought the harrier flying behind these gulls was a brown gull until she flew past them to hunt in the meadow.

Visit my Talons Gallery for more favorites.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Giant eagle bird bath

A local newspaper recently reported that snowy owls have been spotted at Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. I decided to try my luck at spotting them myself yesterday. I checked in at the visitor center and learned there were no reports for Saturday but there are two that have been spotted fairly frequently in the past week.

I headed toward the boardwalk that takes you almost a mile into the Nisqually River delta. En route there, I saw a few photographers and bird watchers interested in something in the lagoon. What looked like either a very large bird or maybe a bird-like stump rose from the center of the lagoon.

Looking through my 300 mm lens, I saw that it was a juvenile bald eagle fishing, probably for clams. After conferring with some bird watchers, we decided it's a "she" (large bird with a large beak) about 2-3 years old.

Bald eagles look like golden eagles, osprey, and other birds of prey until they develop their characteristic white heads and tails when they are fully mature at 3-4 years old. This youngster eventually got tired of hunting and decided to clean up a bit. 

As I was photographing, I commented to one of my fellow bird watchers: "that's one ugly swan." Then she rose from the water and turned into a swan! Ok maybe a young swan.

It always amazes me that birds will bathe in pretty much any weather. I thaw out the iced-over bird bath next to my front porch and see finches, thrushes, and juncos taking advantage of the "hot" tub. The temp may be hovering right around 30 degrees F.

Presto chango! Voila! I am now a turkey! We all were amazed that the ducks stayed in the area. Nisqually bald eagles often pick off ducks and young geese at the refuge. Maybe this young eagle decided it was fish season and not duck season.

After about 15 minutes, she finished her bath and flew off, holding what appears to be a clam. A friend who lives in Ocean Shores pointed out the reason there are shattered clam shells along their streets is that seabirds drop them on paved streets to open them. It's probably easier to find them than if they dropped them on a rocky beach. I wonder if Nisqually birds do that?

My online Talons Gallery includes my favorites over the past year of raptor watching.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Jim the hummer and lady friend

Hummers are generally backlit when they are at the feeders in late afternoon, so it's tough to tell who's there. A lady Anna's sat on one of the feeders for several minutes today. I noticed that "Jim" was sitting in the birdie spa tree and not chasing her off like he does the boys. She wasn't feeding but seemed to be resting.

Last year, I saw a female Anna's doing the same thing. I see more male Anna's in the fall and winter and more female rufous in spring and summer. These look like two different female birds, unless the one I saw today was puffing herself out for warmth.

Visit my Hummer Gallery for more.

It's going to be a cold night here in western Washington. I cleaned and refilled my feeders. I'm keeping one in the kitchen to put out in the morning. If there's freezing fog, there might be freezing feeders too. Usually they don't freeze until the temps are below 28 degree F.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Jim the hummer is back

Now that the leaves are mostly off the birdie spa tree, I can see "Jim" (think "don't mess around with...") in his spot directly across from the two hummingbird feeders on my porch. Another male Anna's – I've named him Buzz – also frequents the birdie spa. He challenges Jim, who then chases him off. I'm sure Buzz has occasional opportunities to eat with two feeders up. I'm hoping to catch the two of them together in the next few weeks.

A reminder to my friends and neighbors on the Left Coast: Anna's hummingbirds live here year-round. Leaving your feeders up doesn't keep them in the area. They don't migrate. Maybe it's because of climate change, but the eastern U.S. states are seeing rufous hummingbirds. Those long thousand-mile-plus migrations are tough on these little birds. Perhaps a few realized they can find food in areas like ours with milder winters. 

I posted information and link to more information on my blog a couple of weeks ago - Feed Hummers. One of my holiday cards includes the same information.

For more favorite hummers, visit my online Hummer Gallery.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Gathering of eagles

It was a glorious sunny day in the Northwest, a rare and welcome occurrence. Padme the wonderdog and I took a mid-afternoon walk in the sun with our neighbors and their dog. We walked past the bald eagle roost and nest yesterday with no sitings.

Today as we were scanning their favorite trees, our favorite eagle pair and a juvenile flew in. The adults landed in the trainer tree (the eagle jungle gym tree next to the nest tree). From the top of the tree, they talked to the juvenile in that chortling conversation eagles use with their kinfolk.

We didn't see the youngster and the eagle mates just stayed a short time before heading back out.

Later, when Padme and I were headed off for an excursion to Mud Bay, our favorite pet emporium, I spotted mama flying back over our house and back toward hers.

I wonder if she recognizes us? She didn't speak to us as she was heading home but her mate certainly talked to us Friday afternoon when we saw him on the Wilkes trail. Perhaps one of his kin was nearby that we didn't see...or maybe, just maybe, we are becoming kin. Talons Gallery.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Golden autumn light

Back: Ridgeview trail
The days are much shorter as we get closer to the winter solstice. Sunrise was at 7:40 a.m. and sunset at 4:20 p.m. today. I was grateful to have this golden afternoon off today. My son, Padme the wonderdog, and I walked the Ridgeview trail, then the east end of the Wilkes Observatory trail - favorites walks any time of the year. Always a perfect way to decompress and remember what's important.

Here are some views from the trail - back, front, above, and below.

Front: Nisqually delta

Above: bald eagle
Below: great blue heron
Visit my DuPont-Nisqually and Places online galleries for more.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Feed the hummers

For this holiday season, I have created four special holiday cards. The back panel includes information about the images featured in my cards. Another blog post includes the greeting from my newest card Holiday Home.

My Solstice Hummers card includes a reminder to keep a hummingbird feeder up if you live on the West Coast or northern Arizona. Anna's hummingbirds – a male is pictured above – live in coastal Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia year-round. No one seems to know why, for sure, although climate change is sending animals to places we haven't seen them before. We have great egrets, which are rare in western Washington, here at the wildlife refuge in winter. Northern cardinals are gradually making their way westward too.

We see two kinds of hummingbirds in western Washington – Anna’s and rufous. Sometimes other varieties whiz through on their migration paths.

Keeping your feeder up in winter will not discourage hummers from migrating. We have many plants that bloom in winter in western Washington. Nectar freezes at 28 degrees F, so bring feeders in at night when it is below freezing.

To make nectar combine1 part white sugar (no honey, fructose, artificial sweeteners, or food coloring) with 4 parts water. Bring to a boil, then take off stove and let nectar cool. Clean feeders with hot water and a brush before filling.

Never use soap. If feeder is very dirty, clean with white vinegar. Change food every 2-5 days in warm weather; every day if it is over 85 degrees. In cold weather, below 40 degrees, change food every 5-7days.

Rufous hummingbirds – a female is pictured inside this card – migrate north to the Pacific Northwest in March and migrate south in September and October.

Cards are 50% off and calendars are 20% off from my supplier through November 20.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Gathering of eagles

Occasionally I glimpse one of our local eagle clan crossing the ridge near my home, but not quite as often as last spring and summer. Earlier this month, I spotted a large group of raptors very high in the sky. So high, I wasn't sure if they were bald eagles or other large raptors. Altogether there were 10 large birds, gliding on the thermals and dancing with one another. Too high to be hunting, they were clearly on a mission.

They lingered over my neighborhood just long enough for me to spot them from the window, run to get my camera, and out to the backyard to knock off a few shots. Then they disappeared into the eastern horizon.

When I enlarged one of the images to actual pixels, I could see the characteristic white heads and tails of adult bald eagles on three of the birds. The others appeared to be juveniles of varying ages.

I'm fascinated that raptors that often fight one another to death or serious injury over choice prey, will gather together for what looks very much like social time.

I have observed gatherings of eagles numerous times here. Enough so that I'm convinced they are an extended family, like an orca pod.

My favorite eagle couple is returning regularly to the evergreen grove where they roost during the times they are not nesting and rearing young. I wonder where their kids roost? They are harder to spot in the dark because juveniles are typically three or four years old before they get the white heads, tails and legs.

I have learned so much from the eagle clan this past year. By the end of the year, I hope to have most of those learnings together in a book. In the meantime, my growing visual collection can be found in my online Talons Gallery.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Editing photographs

There are a variety of fine editing tools in Photoshop that can save a special image. Some friends of mine recently lost a cherished horse named Cruz. They asked if I could edit out a fence in a photograph so they could have a large print made to frame in memory of Cruz.

Of course I said "yes." When I got the jpeg, though, I found that it was a low-resolution image, which meant they would likely get a somewhat "fuzzy" enlargement. Lower resolutions (2 megabytes and smaller) are fine for snapshots or Web uses. For enlargements of 11x14" or larger, the image needs to be at least 10 megabytes, preferably larger. Most of my 11x14" images are 35-40 megabytes. More pixels or dots per inch makes a finer image, especially at larger sizes.

The Photoshop tools I used for this project were the clone tool, healing brush, and blur tool. I cropped the image and adjusted the levels and color balance. Then I used the unsharp mask filter to sharpen the image as much as possible. Sharpening a low-res image is challenging because there just isn't enough detail to sharper, so you risk making the image appear to be coarser. In looking at the finished image, I think I would have used the blur tool more to reduce the checkerboard pattern of the fence in the background. I would also blur the right edge of the image a bit more. I took out the distracting fence but didn't "clone" in the bottom of the sapling in the photograph.

My favorite is the sepia-toned image but my friends wanted the color image, which they are printing on canvas. I can't wait to see it!

The entire project took about two hours. If I was working with a film image, these corrections would take hours, requiring air-brushing and touch-up by hand with inks and brush. I doubt, though, that it would look as natural as what we can get using Photoshop tools.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Cards and calendars

Every year I spend hours and hours designing new holiday cards and calendars. Last year I realized that people just don't send cards like they used to and don't buy calendars either. So many organizations give really wonderful calendars to contributors, that people won't spend what it cost me to produce a calendar. A couple of years, I received five free calendars in the mail – beautiful ones. So last year I donated four of my photographs to the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency for their calendar. They gave me several which I handed out to friends and neighbors. This year they can't budget for a calendar (bummer), so I'm producing my own again. I donated use of one of my most popular images – a panoramic of Ruston Way waterfront – to the agency for their efforts to reduce air pollution in Tacoma (a worthy cause).

Still, people ask me about holiday cards and calendars, so I came up with a selection of favorites. I can't afford to keep an inventory on-hand anymore though. A couple of years ago, I discovered that does a very nice job of hosting my cards and calendars which can be customized at no additional cost. Cool!

So I posted my 2012 calendar, created a new holiday card, and updated four favorites. Something new I'm doing this year is adding a description on the back of the card. All of the images I choose for holiday cards are meaningful to me. I hope you are moved somehow by the image itself, but people tell me that they enjoy hearing about the stories behind the images. This post will be a bit longer because I want to share the story that goes with the image at the top of this post.

The calendars are 25% off through Halloween when you buy two or more. Zazzle just had a half off pre-holiday sale on cards. I'm hoping they'll have another sale in a couple of weeks. Check out my Holiday Cards & Calendars.

 Anybody Home?

Ireland is the land of my ancestors. In 1984, I journeyed there, in part to
honor the memory of my parents who passed away a couple of years earlier.
 I photographed the doorway in this image in Kilkenny, Ireland – a place
that feels very much like home.

The Sequalitchew Creek woodland in DuPont, Washington – the ancestral
home of the First People of the Nisqually River delta – is also a place that
feels very much like home.

This photo illustration combines two images that fit together – if only in
my imagination – creating a visual representation of my journey
from a place of origin to a place of destiny.

Places that feel very much like home.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Getting a closer look

 I manage to spot tiny things that are extraordinary when you focus on them. Maybe it's because I have been near-sighted for most of my life. Or maybe it's because I notice something and then photograph it.

 Some are less tiny but I want to get closer. 

 Others are larger still but still beckon me to take a closer look.