Monday, October 31, 2011

Autumn on the River

Two inactive double-crested cormorants drifting with the tide set in autumn tones of brown as the marsh winds down for the year.  They are not hunted, so they do not have the worries that geese do this time of year.  Because of a display from one of them a little earlier, my guess is they are a pair, although often when I see two together, one is a parent and the other a young bird.  They are about to come upon two snow geese, a breed I don't often see down there.  Maybe I'll post one of those tomorrow.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Its not Always About the Color

There was something magical about the light falling on these "weeds."  Although the Autumn colors were also beautiful, the main thing that attracted my attention was the light, so I decided to eliminate the color.  I also added a vignette to keep the eye from wandering out of the photo. 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

In a Dream

Motion blur doesn't always produce a pleasing result, but I like this one of two ducks flying out over the Bay.  There are a number of things you can do to slow down the shutter speed on a DSLR in order to achieve a blurred effect: use a low ISO setting (formerly film speed), use a small aperature, or use neutral density filters and/or a polarizer.  Any of these can be used individually or in combination to create motion blur.  I also used a tripod so the blur was due to things that were moving in the image, not because the camera itself was moving.  If the camera had moved, it would have spoiled the effect.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Fire and Ice

I don't think I have ever taken a photo with such a marked division between cool and warm.  Most compact and DLSRs have settings to compensate for any color cast that may be present (such as sunny, cloudy, incandescent, etc.).  Our eyes have an even greater ability to correct a color cast so that when we look at fog, for example, we see it as being white.  If we looked at it carefully, however, we would realize it really isn't white, but is blueish.  That is why in the past, with film, we could be surprised and disappointed by the pictures we took after they were developed.  They would show a color cast that we didn't even realize was present when we took the pictures.

I don't use any of the settings for color correction, but choose instead to set the camera using the kelvin scale for color temperature to a daylight setting most of the time.  That means the camera won't correct for the warmth of an early morning golden sunrise or the cool blue of shade.  Since neither is compensated for in the above picture, it renders both as they were on this morning.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Boating on an Autumn Morn

I love to take photos of boats in the first light of morning.  I have been able to connect up occasionally with the boaters and email them the pictures.  That is particularly satisfying because I don't think too many people have photos of themselves enjoying their boats in a setting such as this photo.  Although these two guys spotted me (which is normally not the case), they mistook my efforts to attract their attention as a hand wave and simply waved back and kept going.  For a photo like this, you need an absolutely windless day, good light, and no previous boat traffic.  Surprisingly, the entire body of water will remain agitated and won't become settled again for fifteen to twenty minutes after a boat passes.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Dancing with the... Squirrels?

Depending on the season, squirrels are either trying to kill each other or they're "in luv."  Right now is the season of love as these two break dancing squirrels confirm.  While I was filming robins over the weekend eating berries on the dogwood, I heard a noise in the woods, which also got the attention of the robin I was filming.  I decided to take a quick glance to see what made the noise when two squirrels came running out of the woods up on to the driveway.  They were completely unaware of almost anything else except each other.  With all the rolling, jumping and hugging, you might have thought they were fighting, but you would have been wrong.  I knew it wasn't going to last long so I started taking images as fast as I could.  I didn't have time to reset the camera, but even 1/350 of a second isn't fast enough to freeze the action.  I could tell you a couple of stories about squirrels that you wouldn't believe.  At least this time, I have the evidence.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Harvest Time

The berries on the dogwoods have ripened in the last few days and robins have been taking full advantage of the food source.  One of our neighbors has a line of dogwoods along the road and I noticed the other day that they were loaded with clusters of berries.  One was so loaded, the entire tree looked berry red.  I had noticed a flock of robins on the trees while walking the dog in the morning and by evening they were comletely stripped of berries.  The flock also visited the dogwood in our yard.  This juvenile was one of many that spent the afternoon filling it's belly.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Close Encounters

 On October 3, I posted an entry about the domestic muscovy duck that wanders the neighborhood where I film on the Patuxent.  I saw it again yesterday while I was down there.  It was puttering around a little beach area.  Where the marsh grass behind it meets the bank is a natural path that I have seen various animals use to navigate the area.  I happened to glance back and saw a "stump" on the edge of the marsh grass.  I thought to myself, I don't remember seeing a stump there.  Then the stump moved.  You have to realize, the stump was up in the shadowy area on the right hand side of the above photo. 

The duck did not seem overly concerned about the fox.  The muscovy never entered any further into the water than in the photo, but I guess it was ready to escape in that direction if it needed to.  The fox approached to within ten feet or so at one point.  I got the impression it is a young animal since it seemed kind of dumb about good technique.  After about no more than two minutes, the fox spooked at the sound of a car on the road (it never saw me standing on the dock) and loped back into the woods.  Looking at time code on images, the duck came back onto the beach after only a minute and fifteen seconds, with it's back to the spot where the fox had exited.  In the other post, I speculated that the other muscovy may have been killed by a fox.  This event makes it seem even more likely.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Fall Colors

Here is another Fall image.  Nothing going on, but I'm a sucker for reflections.  The white streaks in the water are actually ripples where fish were jumping.  There have been a lot of hunters out on the river shooting at geese for the past week or two.  It makes the geese very unsettled and they don't know where it is safe to land.  They are smart enough to fly much higher during this time of year, out of the range of shotguns.  I saw some this morning on the way home that had settled on a puddle several miles from the river in lieu of being shot at.  In defense of the hunters, if it weren't for them, we would be overrun with geese.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Colors of Fall

Note how much green is still present.  Despite this, the image still says "Fall."  The golden light which occurs just at sunrise doesn't last long, so you want to be there at dawn.  Since sunrise isn't until almost 7:30 am, you can sleep in and still get there in time.  Pick a windless day, one or two days after a front so that the air is still.  This, in turn, yields pleasing reflections on the water.  The air has less humidity this time of year which also gives photos a much crisper look.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

And So It Begins

The fall foliage seems to be later than usual this year.  In past years, it has started as early as the beginning of the month.  I thought I would switch to posting autumnal images for a few days.  There are fewer birds on the river this time of year, so there is plenty of time to capture images of other subjects.  I have many photos of this same spot over the course of many trips down there.  The "cottony" look in this photo is caused by the dew clinging to the feathery heads of the marsh grass.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Thoughts on Food

Carolina wrens are not bothered by people being in close proximity to their nest.  They will continue to bring in insects even while we are sitting out on the porch.  Birds that are exclusively insectivores migrate because of the lack of insects in winter, while wrens are here year-round because of their varied diet which includes seeds and nuts.  We feed the birds throughout the year and not just in the winter.  It provides a "safety net" for those times when other sources of food might be scarce for whatever reason.  Another advantage is that the parents will bring the young to the feeder, training the next generation to accept the "unnatural" source of food.  If they need the addition to their diet, it is there for them.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

House Wren?

There is a species called a "house wren."  I not sure what their name signifies, but I don't think they could be any more housey than Carolina wrens, which love to be around houses.  They appreciate all you do for them.  We had no sooner put up the nesting platform (hanging basket) in the morning, than they started nest building in the afternoon.  And they didn't mind us sitting there watching them.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Carolina Wren 4

We live on a flag lot set in the woods, so I can point the camera in almost any direction and film against a woodsy backdrop.  I was actually standing on the porch when I took this picture.  The wren was building a nest in the cap of the propane tank on the side of the house.  Each time it left the nest, it would stop at a branch on a small tree.  After watching for a few minutes, I focused on the spot where it routinely landed.  Of course, on the next trip, it passed right on by the tree and went further into the woods, landing on this deadfall and striking a classic pose.  It stayed long enough to allow me to get a much better composition.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Carolina Wren 3

After eating three orange moths, the wren inspected the ceiling from several locations to make sure it had gotten them all. 

Carolina wrens have several characteristics which make them easy to identify.  They are a smallish bird, not much bigger than a sparrow.  They have a rather long, narrow, curved beak used for exploring crevasses.  Their tail is almost always "cocked."  They also have a long white eyebrow stripe.  Their voice is remarkably loud.  There is no difference between male and female plumage. 

In my mind they are to the bird kingdom what a chipmunk is to the animal kingdom.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Carolina Wren 2

We just returned from a few days vacation at Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia.  While there, I was amused by the antics of a little wren.  I had seen one several times in a tree just off the back porch of the cabin in which we stayed.  It seemed to have a favorite branch to which it would return after being out and about.  Moths had been attracted to the light on the porch ceiling the night before and were folded up for the day, awaiting another evening.  The wren spotted them hanging from the ceiling and would fly up, pluck them one at a time and eat them.  At least the bodies.  The wings were discarded, having little nutritional value and being rather chokey to swallow, sorta like a eating a powdered donut with nothing to wash it down.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Carolina Wren

Carolina wrens are some of my favorite birds.  They are very tolerant of humans and enjoy building  nests around homes.  They have a surprisingly loud voice for their size; you would swear it has to be a much larger bird creating the vocalizations.  They make quick moves as though they have a lot of nervous energy.  They also have a lot of curiosity.  The past couple of years, I have had a hanging basket on the porch which I designed as a roost.  Every evening shortly before dark, a pair of wrens would fly onto the porch and pop into the roost for the night.  Not only was it safe from most predators but it was also out of an often harsh winter wind.

This photo was taken at Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia, where my wife and I spent a few days earlier this week.  Computer problems on returning had me off line longer than anticipated.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Another Aerial Argument

We tend to impart human emotions and characteristics to animals.   Like the eagle, for example.  Common descriptions might include words like "noble" or "regal" because of their looks, but the truth is they are more likely to steal a fish than many other species.  Their "character" is wanting, but the bottom line is it is their natural inclination to try to take advantage of another birds good fortune.  If you click on the picture you may be able to see the osprey's fish better.

Friday, October 7, 2011


A common camera problem I have had while filming birds like this great blue heron is a major change in exposure while tracking their flight.  In this case, I started tracking the bird while it was out in open water where the light levels were high and my camera settings were right, but as the heron flew into the shadow area along the shore, the shutter speed dropped to 1/20 sec., too slow to freeze the action.  There wasn't enough time to reset the camera and a blurred photo was the result.  Most of the time, they get thrown out.  In this instance though, I liked the somewhat impressionistic effect.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Another View

The long, finger-like primary feathers on large soaring birds are an aerodynamic advantage which allows them to fly much slower without stalling.  The slight bow in it's profile is more typical of the red-shouldered hawk.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Another Other

From now through November, hawks, harriers, eagles, osprey and other birds of prey are migrating further south from their breeding range.  Places such as Cape May, New Jersey and Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania are well known sites for viewing large numbers of these birds.  These species travel during daylight hours along mountain ridges to take advantage of winds associated with weather fronts and updrafts or thermals rising off the mountains to aid them in traveling long distances.  Their penchant for traveling during daylight hours may be why many of the species they prey upon choose to migrate at night.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

An Other

What's an "other?"  It is a bird that almost instantly is recognized as something other than what you normally see in a particular location.  Birds can fly through or past you within a matter of seconds.  If you do not react immediately, all you'll have is a mental image - which are hard to share in these posts.  As soon as I spotted this hawk, I knew it was an other.  So you shoot and identify it later.  What kind of hawk is it?  I'm not sure.  I'm terrible with hawk identity.  My guess is either a redtail or red-shouldered hawk.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Muscovy Duck

One recent morning filming on the Patuxent was an almost complete washout due to persistent fog.  This domestic duck kept it from being complete.  My guess is its got a bad case of poison ivy.  Only kidding.  Have you ever seen anything so gnarly?  There were two of them wandering the neighborhood earlier this summer, but I only saw one on this morning.  They are flightless and not particularly fast on their feet either.  So, it may be that the other one met a local fox or coyote, since they tend to flock together.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A Different Perspective

The average wingspan of an oprey is a little over five feet.  The relation of body size to wing length is easily seen from a head-on perspective and gives a better appreciation of just how powerful their wings are.  And, of course, there is always that stare...

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Finch Food

Have you ever priced finch food?  The tiny niger seeds are too rich for my blood.  We feed birds, but not finches.  The seed is just too expensive to feed them regularly and if you can't feed them consistently, it is better not to feed them at all.  This American goldfinch is taking advantage of a natural source of seed - the dried pods of the trumpet vine.  The male goldfinch is the only finch that loses it's bright colors over winter.  It also loses the black cap on it's forehead (see the post showing four males from earlier this week), so it is hard to say whether this is a male or female.