Friday, August 31, 2012

Lemonade, Anyone?

When you are in the midst of taking photos of the action out in front of you, it is not the time to fiddle with changes in settings.  That can lead to frustration.  You may have your camera all set up for taking images of birds out in the sunlight and suddenly one flies into the shadows and your camera settings drop off the chart.

That is what happened in the series I took of this turkey vulture the other day.  It is a juvenile and apparently is stupid regarding humans because it flew in and was circling around me with no fear of my presence.  After a couple of laps, it landed on a nearby stump and stayed for a while. Only thing was, I wasn't set up for the shade and, of course, the images all came out blurry as the shutter speed dropped to 1/60th of a second.  I did salvage this one photo, though. I thought it had a good balance of impressionistic elements while still being identifiable. Trying to make lemonade out of lemons...

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Caspian Tern

Once nesting season is past, I start seeing more gulls and terns plying the river for fish.  I love to watch the terns.  They often hit the water at full speed, head first.  Being so close to shore, this one dove a little more shallow.  You would think a splash is a splash, but I guess body shape and other dynamics effect splashes.  Notice the big globules of water.  And, I don't know what was going on with the fish, but there is a spiral of water coming off of it.

Same bird, same fish. I hate to eat and run, but... They don't normally land, but eat the fish on the fly. This Caspian is in breeding plumage.  The black cap on it's crown becomes overall gray-looking in the winter, although to see it up close it is actually a mix of white and black feathers.  They have a very loud one-note call.  If they are fairly close I will film them, otherwise I just like to watch their antics.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Its a Big World After All

I'm always showing osprey in commanding shots, mostly full-frame photos.  I thought I would show you one in it's environment and how small they really are in that context. If you were there you might even miss it passing by and, believe me, many people who are doing things like fishing or kayaking do miss seeing them.  Maybe people have their mind on something else, but you would think they would notice something like a big 'old eagle flying right out in front of them.  Not.

Same shot, closer in.  Is that really a golden fish, er, a goldfish?

Why, yes it is.  I have to wonder if these gold and red carp they routinely catch are native or whether it is the result of somebody throwing the kid's pet goldfish in the river when they get tired of taking care of them.

I'm reminded of a funny story when I was a kid.  Somehow my mom got hooked into taking care of my cousin's goldfish while he was on vacation one summer.  My mom decided to keep the things in her bedroom so we chillin's wouldn't mess with 'em.  But they drove her crazy gulping air at the surface night after night. (No good deed goes unpunished.) 

The following summer, my cousin asked her to watch them again. What to do? We lived in a rural area and had a spring-fed cow pond out in the pasture where we would transplant fish we caught if they were still living when we got them home.  After a while, we had a nicely stocked pond. My mom suggested to my cousin that it would be great to put them in the pond and he could enjoy seeing them anytime he came to visit.  My cousin agreed.  So five sweaty kids and mom with the fish bowl march down to the pond where she promptly "released" them into the wild.  And IT DID promptly get wild as fish raced in from all over the pond and went after the goldfish.  I don't think any survived the first five minutes! So, just saying - it could happen...

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


I was surprised.  After almost a month of the juvenile osprey being able to get out and fish for themselves, I thought the days of the parent's feeding them was over.  Then, out of the blue, the male returned to the nest with a fish for one of the chicks, dropped it off and immediately left. The chick isn't visible, but is in the box.  I thought this was a nice shot of the outspread wings of the adult bird.

Monday, August 27, 2012

What is the subject?

I intentionally took this photo to use on the blog to illustrate something about photos that anyone taking pictures should keep in mind.  Just about the tiniest thing in the picture is that little red spot.  I couldn't tell what it was until I "zoomed in" on it on the computer.  It turned out to be a fishing bobber.  But, think about it.  Didn't your eye go immediately to it when you first looked at the photo?  And, even if you didn't see it immediately, aren't you having a difficult time looking at anything else as your eyes keep going back to that stupid little red spot?

Keep that in mind when you are taking pictures.  Sometimes it can be a colored object like this photo or sometimes it might be something like an overly bright spot in the background that keeps pulling your attention away from the main subject. Always look around the frame and make sure there are no unnoticed distractions that might ruin you image.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Chase

There is no love lost between sibling osprey.  They have spread out along the river bank and about the only time you see two of them is when one is trying to drive the other out of the area. Would they hurt the other if they had the chance?  I think they would, although up until recently I would often see two of them hanging out on the same branch.  But despite these two appearing to get along, they definitely don't like the third one, which is probably the runt of the litter.

On the other hand, these aerial arguments provide good opportunities for getting interesting shots of osprey flying.  I hope you don't think of me as a competent photographer.  I can blow it just like anyone else.  Yeah, there are some technical settings that you need to be familiar with in using a DSLR, but you can have all the settings right and still blow it.

I blew it in the series.  I don't know what my problem was.  Looking at the images on the camera, I thought everything was okay, but once I got home and looked at them on the computer, almost every one of them was slightly out-of-focus.  These opportunities don't occur that often, so I could have kicked myself.

Depth of field is one reason.  In some, one osprey is in focus; the other is not.  Sometimes there is not enough light (despite how the bright the image may look) to increase depth of field enough to get everything in focus.  In some, the osprey may not be as close to each other as they appear to be.  I am using a long lens and long lens compress distance, making it appear as though subjects are much closer together than they actually are.

How serious are they about doing each other harm?  I think that is indicated by the open talon of the one bird.  It would love to sink it into the other bird.  But there isn't much danger of that.  Anytime one gets close, the lead bird does a quick little turn-around maneuver that immediately creates a lot of distance between them.  In the images where the bird with the open talon is in the lead, this is what has happened.  The bird being pursued executed a quick maneuver and ended up behind the osprey that wants to do harm where it can keep in eye on him.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

INCOMING! Postscript

I should have posted these two photos with yesterdays blog. As I was looking through photos today, I found the rest in the series I took during the "blitz." You can tell the great blue heron is upset.  Look at the way his neck feathers are all fluffed out.  How can they even control that?  I mean really.  Can you imagine being able to fluff out individual feathers like that?

I don't want to give the impression the great blue heron was intimidated.  It didn't leave for another ten minutes by the time stamp on the two photos.

Friday, August 24, 2012


Before the osprey chicks were flying, the parents wouldn't allow birds of any stripe to congregate close to the nest.  These two great blue herons (there is one at the bottom of the image that I didn't quite get fully in the frame) were minding their own business in a nearby tree.  Momma osprey didn't like it and buzzed them and they got to calling her names.

Unfortunately, the image is a little unsharp but I wanted you to be able to see the great blue herons reactions, so despite its shortcomings, I'm posting it anyway.  I also made it a little larger so you could look at it closer.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Take a Break

It is rare to see all three osprey young of late.  I think they are all fine, but they have scattered over a larger area.  I have seen two as recently as yesterday.  In fact, they act like they would like to kill each other or at minimum drive one or the other away.  I have been assuming the one pictured, which stays close to the original nest, is the runt.  I may be wrong, however.  It successfully fended off another chick yesterday and didn't seem intimidated by it.

I watched it make eight or ten dives to try to catch a fish.  I lost track, it dove so many times.  It was thoroughly soaked and came back to the sycamore tree to rest. I can't help but think of a youngster who has stayed in swimming too long with blue lips and shivering being told by his mother to sit down for a while and warm up with a towel draped over his back and pulled in at his waist.  That is exactly what this photo reminds me of.  Of all the osprey I have seen, this is the only one that I have seen routinely hold it's wings out like this so it can dry out.  It is something you see in other species, but this is the only osprey I've seen regularly do this.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Eagles Reappear

There for a while, I hardly saw an eagle at all.  I don't know if it was the osprey that were the cause, but one day I saw the female osprey chase an eagle all the way over to the other side of the river in the same general area as this photo before returning to her nest.  I thought she was considering an awful generous portion of the river to be her territory. But the eagles pretty much disappeared for a while so, maybe that was why.

The eagle was interested in something in the marsh.  Unbeknown to me, there was an immature eagle already in the marsh grass.  I don't know what the motivation was, but this mature eagle rousted it out and sent it packing. Also what I didn't realize until I happened to spot them while reviewing the photos I took that day on the computer, was the two eagles sitting in a tree watching the goings on.

The first eagle eventually landed on a duck blind a little to the right of the area in the first photo.  It is a favorite spot for them to eat fish.  I would love to just see how many fish bones there are on the top of that blind.  It was only a few seconds later when the second eagle (probably it's mate) joined it.  I wondered where it came from so quickly that I hadn't seen it.  It was only later that I discovered it was sitting in the tree pretty close by.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Up and Out

It just occurred to me that I have never seen an osprey simply float on the water like a duck or even a seagull will.  They get in and they get out with or without a fish.  They don't tarry.  This series of photos illustrates how they emerge from the water. They aren't always successful in catching a fish, but they usually try to keep their wings out of the water so they don't become waterlogged.

The first flap of their wings gives them enough lift to almost clear the water but no speed to keep them airborne.

The next flap or two are probably the most important for getting back into the air and they are a more specialized wing beat that I have only seen when they leave the water.  Canada geese also use this technique.  Note how the wings are extended completely forward (horizontal) instead of trying to flap vertically.

There is not enough room to flap their wings normally (vertically) and they have to scoop the air in front of them until they gain enough speed and elevation to change to normal wing movements.  In this last photo you can see the wings are at more of a vertical angle and by the next flap, they will be back to flying normally.

Monday, August 20, 2012

At Home on the Marsh

The young osprey have quickly taken command of their environment, so much so that I have to study them carefully to determine whether I am looking at an adult or young bird.  This is one of the three chicks who was practicing diving for fish, talon cleaning and harassing other birds.  Like a teenager annoying someone simply because they can, it was flying too close to a great blue heron as well as a cormorant, which neither of them appreciated.  I like this intimate view which kind of gives you their perspective on their world.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


I caught an eagle trying to sneak a fish past me the other day.  Unlike osprey which almost without exception hold the fish aerodynamically in a head forward position, eagles don't much care how they hold the fish.  Backwards, forwards, by the head - it doesn't seem to matter to them at all.

Eagles weigh anywhere from ten to fourteen pounds.  While the fish isn't anywhere near that heavy, it is still a pretty heavy load to be carrying.

My wife and I have done a lot of fishing over the years and I have seen most of the species that can be caught locally.  Species in this section of the river consist (at this time of year) mainly of catfish, carp, white perch and small striped bass.  This fish is none of those.  My brother did catch a red drum the other day, but they have a rather large spot on the tail, and I think you would be able to see it if this were one.

I like the shadow of the eagle on the roof of the house.  While that wasn't planned, I did react fast enough to get a picture of it, which surprised even me.  It almost looks like the eagle is getting ready to land, but it didn't.  It continued on until it reached this side of the river where it landed in a tree.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Osprey Young

It is incredible to me how quickly the osprey young have mastered flight; not just learned, but mastered.  I have watched them do maneuvers I have not even seen their parents perform.  Sometimes, it is out of a lack of experience, but still, they succeeded at what they were attempting. I would have thought they would be up in the air practicing almost constantly, but that has not turned out to be the case.  They spend long periods of inactivity just like their parents (sigh) sitting in trees preening, sleeping, and simply looking around scanning the horizon, hoping to spot a parent returning with a fish.

Their cry is one way to tell that a parent is headed in their direction and I will look for the small dot in the sky that they spotted thirty seconds earlier with their keen eyesight. They have spread out more too as the days have passed since leaving the nest.  They use to stay fairly close to the nest, but now they are just as apt to be found in the treeline a quarter mile down the river or up the river as to be near the nest.  Except for one who still sits in the sycamore tree and whom I assume is the runt.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Golden Days

I wish you could experience the beauty of the river at sunrise.  The sun spills out over the water through gaps in the treeline and spotlights an area here and there. Since it is confined to one area and the surrounding space is in shadows, the effect is very much like watching a play where a spotlight is used to draw your attention to a character. The golden light emphasizes the areas of the marsh where the growth, once so green and vigorous, has already begun to decline. The frontal lighting is beautiful, but the high contrast lighting coming from the side can be even more dramatic.

The light in this image is coming in over Fishing Creek to the right.  The lighting isn't quite as dramatic as it is at other times, but you still get the idea.  One of the young osprey is in the water having just attempted to catch a fish. It wasn't successful, but success is often built on a foundation of failure.  I don't know what you call it, but one of the chick's parents is sitting on the metal swing arm on the other side of the dock and appears to be watching the babies efforts. I think the metal arm is used for transferring a heavy load from the dock to a boat. I am always enamored by this view and have taken many pictures of it.  I love the way the pine tree in the back leans out over the marsh. Even the tool shed doesn't look too out of place.

Here is the same view under more dramatic lighting. Notice the big pile of sticks under the light post from the osprey's unsuccessful attempt to build a nest there a couple of years ago.

This pine grows just to the right of the image area in the last two photos.  This is such a beautiful sight at sunrise with the sun striking the trunk.  It demonstrates how dramatic side lighting can be.  Early this spring, I thought the tree was dying.  A pine beetle infestation has been killing a lot of pines in the region, but it turned out to be a pine close by and not this one.  This is the only time I have seen two great blue heron sitting here. It just seems so strange to see heron perched in trees.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Double-crested Cormorant

I guess most people would consider this bird to be u-g-l-y.  Despite their looks, they are fascinating creatures. I don't know of any other bird that has a emerald/blue eye AND a bright yellow/orange bill.  Most fish-eating birds hunt at the interface between the aquatic and atmospheric worlds.  Eagles, osprey, great blue herons, kingfishers and more, all hunt no more than maybe a foot below the surface.  Cormorants, on the other hand, enter the world of the fish, sometimes staying submerged so long, I begin to wonder if they havent' drowned!  They meet fish on their own turf, so to speak.  Can you imagine being a fish and coming face-to-face with a bird deep in the water where you think you are safe from such predators?

The reason I posted this photo is because you can get a good look at their feet which are so well-designed for underwater propulsion.  Those are some big honking feet when you consider them in proportion to the rest of the bird. Some diving birds also use their wings for propulsion, but cormorants mostly use their feet.

In the area where I film, I have seen them almost exclusively catch catfish between about eight and twelve inches long.  That downturned "nail" on the end of the upper beak makes it difficult for the fish to escape - and, actually, I have never seen a fish get away once caught. All they can do is spin around on that nail.

So, they dive below the surface, catch a fish with their mouth, bring it to the surface, reposition it so that they can swallow it - all without the aid of anything but their mouth.  If you enjoy a watermelon eating contest or dunking for apples, you'll love watching them catch fish.

When you see one just sitting on the water, don't be fooled.  They may look like they aren't doing anything (and occasionally they are not), but most of the time they are resting for a minute and catching their breath before making another dive.  Wait for them to resurface and see if they have caught a fish.  It is fascinating to watch.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens IV

Toward the back of the park is a nature walk (boardwalk) through a marsh along side the Anacostia river.  It is not planted by the park, but is made up of naturally occurring marsh habitat. The water is tidal, so depending on the when you get there, there may or may not be water in the marsh.

You are apt to easily see many species of birds such as geese, ducks, egrets, herons, sandpipers and much more.

All kinds of flowers that love wet conditions bloom in the marsh and can be seen from the walkway which meanders nicely until it reaches an area where there are bleacher seats under some trees. You can spend as much time as you like watching birds.

I love the way the sunlight was lighting up just the purple flowers in the background.

The great egret in the opening between the two wider water areas is like seeing a classic image of the kind of place you would expect to see such a handsome bird.  Note the geese that are swimming around too.  There were a lot more earlier in the series of pictures I took at this spot.

If you love water lilies and you live in the area, you owe it to yourself to visit this park.  You won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens III

There are plenty of traditional lilies in the park.  Most of the ponds have some trees around the edges so photographers can find spots where the lighting is better for taking photographs.

This is my favorite photo of a lily that I have taken.  I liked it so much, I had it printed large and it hangs in my living room.

Here is another photo of the gorgeous lotus blossoms.

The park sits on the edge of the Anacostia river which, believe it or not, is one of the nation's most polluted rivers. You have to wonder how much more beautiful could this place be if it were not polluted.

I'm going to do one more post tomorrow on this unusual park.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens II

This is probably the peak time of year for visiting this one-of-a-kind park.  There is a lot more to see than water lilies, although the various ponds do make up a significant part of the park.

The park opens early during the peak flowering season to accommodate photographers and those who would like to see the park before the real heat of the day. Water lilies close over night, so they don't open again until the sun hits them.

The park is open, so there is nothing to stop birds and other wildlife from entering and poking around in the ponds.  The birds that do inhabit the park, like this great egret, are much more tolerant of humans than "in the wild."

They have some very unusual lilies like the ones pictured here.  These things are huge - three or four feet across.

Here is one that is just beginning to open up.  I'll post a few more pictures of this scenic park tomorrow.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sacred Lotus

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens has a series of ponds with a variety of waterlilies. This pond, close to the entrance of the park, doesn't contain any lilies.

The "sacred lotus" may not actually be a water lily. It is indigenous to Asia and is the national flower of India.  When the blossoms newly open, they are a lovely pink color and the seed pod in the center is a beautiful yellow.

As the blossom ages, it turns a light pink and yellow while the seed pod slowly dries out.

The petals fall leaving the seed pods which eventually turn brown. I have seen them used decoratively.  They are kind of cool and look like a salt shaker.

The lotus leaves are huge.  If you could turn them down, they would probably make a pretty good umbrella.  More on this park tomorrow.