Monday, January 16, 2012

The many moods of Jim

Jim the hummer
This weekend,  we've had a dusting of snow and overnight deep freezes here in western Washington. At daybreak Jim, my resident male Anna's hummingbird, takes up his post in the plum tree a few feet from the feeders on my porch.

If I puff myself up, I'm bigger than you, finch!
At one point, there were three males and one female in the birdie spa, although not all at the same time. "Buzz," another male, must be kin because Jim tolerates him at the feeders for quite awhile before chasing him off. There must be a kind of winter code among normally territorial hummers. Food is scarce and no one is quite sure why Anna's winter here and elsewhere in the west. Most hummingbirds migrate south. Jim stayed in the tree until sundown, along with 2-3 dozen finches, juncos, chickadees, and pine siskins. The only time he left the area was to chase off another hummingbird that was spending way too much time at his feeders. I have been photographing hummingbirds for the past several years. To see others, visit my Hummer Gallery.

Scarf? I don't have no stinking scarf!
Now I'm really seeing red! Scram!
Time for a stretch
This is my unicorn impression.

This is my phoenix impression.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Photography-what's next?

Earlier this week, I followed a link from a Facebook friend's page to read a blog post by John Mueller, a California photographer, who posted an inspiring sunset with the admonition: this photograph is not free.


I have thousands and thousands of photographs, filling three hard drives, that took me thousands of hours to "capture," edit, refine, post so people can see them, and ultimately print. I have spent thousands of dollars on camera equipment, software like Photoshop and Lightroom, computer equipment, and advertising that includes two websites, three Web marketing sites (where I sell prints and items like mugs and cards), printing, and packaging. I am a business. I pay city and state business taxes, and I have business licenses in two cities, for which I pay annual fees.

Many people comment about how beautiful, wonderful, and inspiring these images are. Some love them so much they actually ask about buying a print. I occasionally contract with individuals and businesses to create memorable portraits or capture special events. Others love my photographs so much, they "borrow" them (giving me credit, of course, but sometimes not). I have been contacted by organizations, usually non-profits, asking if they can use–for free–a photograph of mine they have found on Flickr, Picasa, or my website. Some I want to support but they can't seem to even pick up the phone to make arrangements. Or they use my photograph (with my verbal permission) but can't seem to get my required copyright or link to my website from where they are using my photographs.

Still others pump me for information about how I got that wondrous shot–not because they are curious but because they want to get the shot themselves. It's more than a little disheartening to realize that my many years of photography training (I do, after all, have a bachelor of fine arts in photography), experience as a photojournalist, portrait photographer, and nature photographer means very little in the greater scheme of things.

My epiphany? Photographer is a dying profession. Last year, I remember being amused at a TV camera ad. A wilderness photographer with very expensive gear waited for "the shot" when some yahoo with an instant camera zipped in and got "the shot" with point-and-shoot camera.

About a year ago, I put the 300mm zoom lens I bought six years ago into almost-daily action. There are many bald eagles in and around my community, in part, because I live directly above a wildlife refuge. I finally discovered an eagle's nest that has been quite active for at least the past eight years, according to people who live near the aerie a few blocks from my home.

Anyone who is serious about wildlife photography knows that anything shorter than 400mm will result in images like these.

 What's wrong with these images, you ask? If I blow them up, they are grainy because I have an inexpensive lens that is not long enough to bring the subject close enough to be really sharp. I have joked about the many many people I've seen at the wildlife refuge with Very Large Array lenses hanging around their necks. I would like to invest in a 400mm lens, which will cost me $1,500, something I'm having trouble justifying when I also need to paint my house. The Very Large Array, however, are usually 500 or 600mm lenses, costing upwards of a small automobile. Also disheartening because it means that photography is now a rich man's sport (I usually see zero to one woman carrying one of these lenses and maybe 10-12 men).

So, I'm getting back to basics. What sets me apart from many (not all–photojournalists are essentially visual storytellers) photographers is that I'm a storyteller. I tell stories in words and pictures because I'm also a writer. My words and pictures are more powerful together than they are apart. For the past year, I have posted to this blog a few of the more than 1,000 images I now have of my favorite dedicated eagle pair and their offspring. I'm currently writing a book tentatively titled "Learning the Eagle Way" about just that: my learning from observing these fascinating birds. My hope is that someone else will want to read the book and, hopefully, think it's a good enough story to share–but not for free.

If you are reading this, I would love to know your thoughts.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Take-offs and Landings

I am fascinated with how large birds like herons, eagles, and geese lift off from ground to 50 feet up in mere seconds. My camera will shoot eight frames per second. Some of these captures (as digital photographers like to say) would be limited otherwise.

Last week, I saw my first snow goose at Nisqually. He or she appears to have lost track of the snow goose migration. Every year, thousands of snow geese winter in the Skagit County area in northern Washington. I was surprised to learn that snow geese typically live about eight years. Canada geese can live 30 to 40 years. This week, I noticed that the lone snow goose is missing some wing feathers. Perhaps that's why she's not with her own flock. The Canada geese seem to have taken her in, although she flies a little apart from the Canada geese.

The eagles seem to be leaving her alone. I would've thought a bright white bird would draw raptor attention. But maybe her color makes her look too big to bother with!

It also looks like a great egret–maybe the same one that wintered at the refuge last year–is in residence. He was a little too far away to photograph but I got some great shots of him fishing last winter. Visit my Water Wings gallery for more.

I love watching geese land. They are such big birds. I wonder if the youngsters accidentally land on other birds? There are many geese at the refuge, so it would be easy to do.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Raptor wings

There had to have been a couple dozen bald eagles of various ages at the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge today. The tide was coming in, so there were fewer eagles fishing and more harassing the Canada geese and gulls. One juvenile looked like it was going to take on a full-grown goose. The goose was not amused and the juvenile clearly misjudged his hunting abilities.

Everywhere we looked there were bald eagles. Many looked like they were settling in for a night's roost. Some were stretching and preening, most were in the company of other eagles, like the pair above with three juveniles. I wondered if they were the couple's kids. I know the nesting pair in our neighborhood often soar in formation with two or more juveniles.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

In the company of eagles

Convocation of five eagles
I can't think of a better way to bring in the New Year than in the company of eagles. With sunset coming so early – 4:30 p.m. today – eagles gather to hunt en masse a couple of hours before. A favorite spot is on the Nisqually River, where even at high tide there are shallower spots for a quick fish meal.

When eagles gather like this, it's called a "convocation." Sometimes, these gatherings are called "cauldrons." I counted a dozen in this stretch of river yesterday with at least another half dozen scattered in trees farther out into the delta. Today there were a similar number in the convocation.

Bald eagles are opportunists. Most of the eagles in this area eat fish but sometimes they steal food from other eagles, osprey, or seagulls. Seagulls and cormorants also hang around for their own opportunity, just in case an eagle drops some or all of its intended meal.

For more favorite raptor images, visit my Talons Gallery.