Sunday, March 31, 2013


Things are not always what they seem.

This little white flower grows in the woods locally and is one of the earliest species to bloom in spring.  It can be found over most of the Eastern U.S. Often, it blooms right around Easter. The plant grows from a branching rhizome and can spread, over many years, to become a rather large colony. The colony where I took this picture covers a large area on a hillside, perhaps as much as a hundred feet at it's two farthest points.

To look at the pure white blossom, you would never know it, but it's root was used as a red natural dye by native American Indians, hence, the name Bloodroot.

Things are not always what they seem.

I was reading through the gospel of Luke recently and noticed a couple of things I hadn't noticed before. Jesus made his "triumphal entry" into Jerusalem in the same week as the Jewish nation was preparing to celebrate the Passover. The Passover, also known as the feast of unleavened bread, was the annual feast held in remembrance of Israel's final night in Egypt where each family was to take an unblemished lamb, slaughter it, and apply the lamb's blood to the lintel of the door of their house. Later in the night, an angel of death went through the land of Egypt killing all the first born, but "passed over" any household where the blood of the lamb was found on the lintel.

As popular as he was when he made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, you would have thought someone would offer to let Jesus to stay in their home. But, where did Jesus sleep during that week? Did he stay with friends or at an inn? Well, Luke simply says "at night he went out and lodged on the mount called Olivet." Lodged is putting it kindly. He slept under a tree. There were no houses on Olivet; it was an orchard. Jesus had said as much earlier - "Foxes have holes and birds have nests; but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head."

We can only speculate on what must have gone through his mind that final week as he would retreat to Olivet and try to fall asleep each night. Because, unlike most of us, he knew exactly what day he was going to die. And, he also knew it was going to be a horrible death preceded by mocking and reviling and shame and scourging and so much more pure hatred. He did not go into those final hours unaware of what was going to happen. He knew exactly what he was going to have to do to redeem you and me from eternal damnation. How could he sleep? Is it any wonder he was so distressed he sweat great drops of blood on that final evening on the mount of Olives? 

Jesus wasn't just a man. He was the innocent Lamb of God whose blood was shed so that if you apply His blood to the lentil of your life, your heart as it were, the angel of death will pass over you, honoring the sacrifice made by the Son of God on the day he gave every drop of blood he had to save you (and me) from certain death.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Splash! 2

I don't know how I ended up showing these in reverse order. Here is the Green Heron from yesterday's post as it hit the water in pursuit of a fish. The splash is pretty much shaped liked the bird.  You can see where it's wing is and where the head went in nearest the camera.  Notice it wasn't a head-first type dive but more of a belly flop because the fish were so near the surface.

Here is a closer look at the same photo. Each of the smaller ripples or disturbances are actually fish jumping out of the way. You can see the one fish that has broken out of the water and, if you look closely, you can make out another just to it's right. Each one of those smaller disturbances, though, contain and are caused by a fish fleeing from the Green Heron.

I have looked into the water from time to time while watching different heron fish and tried to look as deep into it as I could. You know - how far out from the shore can I see the bottom? I have to marvel at how they can even see fish in water that appears so murky to my eyes. It make you wonder what they can see as opposed to what a human can see. Do they have some physiologic advantage that allows them to see better?  They probably do similar to information I posted on February 21st.

Friday, March 29, 2013


This bird could teach celebrities how to dive. I don't know if I have ever published this photo before. I know I have published the frame immediately after this one where the Green Heron is seen from the side returning to the stump from which he jumped.

There was only one place to stand when this picture was taken. And even if I could have moved, it would have scared the bird. From my vantage point, however, I was shooting into the sun which creates a glare on the water and deep shadows on the bird. At this time, I hadn't learned to open up or add exposure value to the exposure so that the shadows would contain more detail.

Fortunately, I was shooting in RAW format so I was not stuck with the result as would have been true if I were shooting in the jpeg format. So there is some ability to regain detail in the shadowy areas of the photo. I am always fascinated by photos of water. It allows you to see some of the incredible things water can do that you could never see with the unaided human eye. The trail arc of water from the fish and the water pouring off the wing are just amazing.

Thursday, March 28, 2013


Before I got into photography, I had the wrong idea about how birds took to flight from branches. When a bird wants to fly from the ground, it spreads it's wings and lifts itself into the air. Not being very observant, I thought the same was true of birds sitting on a tree branch - spread wings; take off. Not. At least, not as often as you might think. 

Watch them sometime. If their destination is below the place where they are currently resting, as often as not, they don't spread their wings. It is more like a dive as in this photo of a Green Heron leaving a branch. They do spread their wings, but it isn't until they have almost reached the spot where they are going to land and it is more to break their descent than anything else.

Bottom line is, if you want to take a picture of a bird spreading it's wings, you will have to take it when they are landing rather than when they are taking off. Otherwise, you end up with odd looking photos like this.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


I love daffodils. They are my favorite spring bulb. Unlike most tulips, they take very little care and will return in glorious bloom year after year, like the miniatures shown in this photo. I have never been too happy with the photos I have taken of daffodils, however.

They are not easy to film. I mean, yeah, you can take pictures of them like this shot and the last, but despite their inherent beauty, the pictures don't move me - and they probably don't move you either.

So, how do you portray them in a meaningful way? As with many other subjects, there are some common ideas to keep in mind. Pay attention to the background. Some of the things in the first photo I wish weren't there, but I did want the fence and the white flowering tree in the background. In the second, I intentionally blurred the background because there was nothing visually interesting behind the bouquet. 

By getting down to the level of the flower in this photo, I was able to aim the lens back up toward the sky and include the complementary blue of the sky. This comes closer to capturing "the character of a daffodil" in my mind, but I'm still not pleased with it. The blurred tree trunks in the background are slightly distracting as you initially wonder what they are.

Part of what is missing in the first three photos is good framing. Composition - how you portray the subject within the confines of the frame - is not easy to relate. It has a lot to do with shapes and how well-balanced those shapes are within the frame. This image does not show the entire flower, but communicates much better what a daffodil is than the others which displayed many blooms.

Another way to portray something like a daffodil is to zoom in so close that it becomes abstracted. This takes a special lens, however. I was using a macro lens in filming this image. The trumpet is the only reason the image is recognizable as a daffodil. I like this one okay, but I think the last one captures the gist of a daffodil the best of the five photos.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

House Finches

The same pair of House Finches that nested in the hanging basket on our porch are back again this year. This is the female. It is surprising how early they began making plans. They actually started almost a month ago surveying last year's nest and discussing how they were going to fix up the digs. I wondered if they would use the same nest they built last year. The day before the snow, I watched the female out on the lawn selecting dead grass to build with. I'll have to sneak in and see if they are rehabbing the old one or building over it.

The male, shown here, doesn't do much in the way of helping except for encouraging her and pulling guard duty while she is working. One day recently, I saw him chasing another male. Last year there were two males involved with the female and that may still be true. I guess we'll find out as spring progresses.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Some Dis-assembly Required

When it comes to Pileated woodpeckers, it doesn't get any better than picking over a rotten log for ants and other insects that break down wood. One windless, storm-less evening after dark my wife and I heard a loud crash. Turned out to be this dead pine which I had apparently not been paying enough attention to. Believe it or not, it did not put even a small scratch in the deck. Branches on the lower side propped it up and stopped it just an inch or so from damaging the top rail! That happened in November, 2006 and I left it there until sometime around March and used it as a backdrop for birds and squirrels.

This photo and the next were taken in January, 2012, and shows the same trunk which I had dragged into the woods after I cut it up.

Much of the "damage" to this log was done by the Pileated woodpeckers searching for insects. I have also seen Downy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers on the log. To my way of thinking, good land management isn't removing deadfalls, but leaving them to decay naturally and provide sustenance for the critters around the house.

Walking the creek below our house one time, I came across this tree stump that the Pileated Woodpeckers had been working on.

If you were only able to look at the tree's bark, you would never guess the tree was that far gone. How many hours do you think they had worked on this stump? Trees like this are why Pileated Woodpeckers prefer mature woods.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Painting on a Photo

There is a program that doesn't get as much press as Photoshop, but is just as powerful in the realm of art rather than photography. It is called Corel Painter and it has matured, like Photoshop, into a very sophisticated and complex tool. Plus, it is just plain fun to play with. 

Speaking of playing, Photoshop and Painter play well together also. Each company has kept their software highly compatible with the other. The bottom line is you can take a photo that has been "optimized" in Photoshop into Painter and paint on it. For someone like me who can't paint or draw worth a lick but would love to be able to, it can be a lot of fun to use a photo as a guide - which is what I did with this photo of my daughter.

The "painting" can be subtle as in the first photo, or a little more energetic as in this second example. I woke up one morning at about four o'clock and knew it was over. I didn't want to just sit around until dawn, so I decided to get on the computer and paint on this photo which I had intended to work on anyway.

It took only two hours to create this "masterpiece." I'm kidding - but it was a lot of fun. If you have an artistic bent, this program is simply amazing. There are so many tools - brushes and charcoals and oils and acrylics and on and on.

Here is a close-up of part of the painting so you can see the detail. The bad news is the program is even more pricey than Photoshop.  On the upside, there is a student version that is more reasonably priced.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Consider Before You Snap

In an uncontrolled photographic situation, which would include most spontaneous picture taking, there are some things that can improve your photographs before you even lift the camera to take a picture. When I say "uncontrolled," I mean situations where you have no control over the lighting, which would include almost every type of photography other than studio lighting.

The first consideration I make in nature photography is to evaluate the type of light available, but it is also a rule that should be employed in almost any photographic situation. I cannot control the type of light, but by being there early or late in the day, I up the chances of getting the type of light I am looking for. If the light is too harsh as would probably be true of a picnic gathering in the middle of the day, it can be moderated by photographing in the shade of a tree, for example.

In the first photo, I am simply illustrating the type of lighting available on this particular morning when my brother and I were on the Patuxent River shortly after dawn. Of course, the light - especially at this time of day - is almost constantly changing, so it is something that has to be reconsidered every few minutes.

Look for a complementary background.  Nothing can spoil a photograph faster than a distracting background. Up your chance of success by considering the background before hand. If you have time, notice what is around the edges of the frame before you press the shutter. Something like a small branch sticking into the frame can be very distracting and spoil an otherwise nice image.

In this image of an osprey resting on a light pole, I knew the light would fall on only the dock shortly after sunrise, but I also knew the pine tree makes a nice silhouette at that time of morning.

I'll ask myself things like, "What am I trying to communicate in this situation? What am I hoping will happen?" "How can I capture some aspect of the personality of the subject?" 

In this image, the early morning light was wonderful and the background undistracting. I waited until both Snowy Egrets had one foot up to show how it doesn't bother them to slog through mud, but also shows their alertness as they look for fish. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Pileated Woodpecker

I see Pileated Woodpeckers around our house or hear them (they have a wild jungle-type call) almost daily, but they don't always come close enough to take pictures. They did a couple of days ago, though. This is the female. She doesn't have the red mustache seen on the male Pileated. There is little difference in size between the sexes that I can tell and they are almost the same size as an American Crow. With the exception of the Ivory-billed woodpecker, they are the largest woodpecker in North America, but the Ivory-billed is thought to be extinct.

The red crest on the female doesn't extend quite as far as the male. Her breast has more black in it than his, but that may not be an identifying difference. You almost never see one without the other.

They prefer mature woods, a plentiful source of rotted or rotting logs and the insects they are partial to eating. Because of their penchant for punky trees, you are just as likely to see them on the ground or a few feet off the ground rather than high in a tree. They and the other woodpeckers that frequent our property are why I try not to cut down dead trees. I'd rather nature takes its course - unless there is a danger of a tree falling on the house.

This is the male. Notice the red mustache and the red crown extending all the way to the bill. He also has more white on his breast. I believe they mate for life. They have a distinctive way of carving a nest cavity. It is more of a rounded rectangle than a round hole like other other woodpeckers.

Since their eyes are on the side of their head, if I hadn't taken this photo, I would have never guessed they could look forward. But, you can see that is definitely what he is doing.

Notice how the feathers on the chin extend almost half-way down the bill. When they are banging on a tree or log, their drumming is often much slower than the fast drumming of other woodpeckers. It often sounds like someone using a hammer rather than a jack hammer.

This is not a particularly good shot, but it does allow you to see the underside of their wings which shows a surprising amount of white.

Thursday, March 21, 2013


In the last half of the nineteenth century, egrets were in danger of going extinct. Harvested for their plumes, they were sold by the thousands to milliners in New York and London. They were killed by the thousands during the nesting season when they were in breeding plumage (like the snowy egret pictured) without regard to their nestlings which were left to starve or be eaten. In the latter part of the century, it was estimated that as many as fifty species of birds were being killed for their feathers.

Distressed by what they saw, two Boston socialites became activists to bring an end to the slaughter. Harriet Hemenway and Minna Hall first called for a boycott of the trade. They were joined by over 900 society ladies and, ultimately, their activism lead to the formation of the National Audubon Society and the passage 100 years ago of the Migratory Bird Act which brought an end to the market hunting of birds and their interstate transport. If it had not been for these two ladies, many of the birds we enjoy today might have gone the way of the passenger pigeon. Estimated to be one of the most abundant birds in the world, the pigeon went from numbering in the billions as late as 1850 to being extinct just fifty years later.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

  • Snapper 2!

    See yesterday's blog for more details about this event. Look at the claws on that turtle! From what I read, snappers are able to stretch their necks far enough to reach their hind feet, something you might want to keep in mind if you ever think about picking one up.

    I'm no expert, but is that a smile on it's face?

    I believe this is called the missionary position...

    I'm pretty sure this image is in focus since those around it were. I think it is just the water pouring off the turtle that makes it look out-of-focus.

    The carapace on a snapper does not totally cover the bottom as with most other turtles. It looks more like an ill-fitting, too-small breast plate. It is the reason they cannot retract their heads into their shells like other species. The diamond-shaped prominences often seen on snappers are associated with younger specimens, so the smooth shell on these two would indicate they are older turtles.

    Once they moved into the lily pads, they were not nearly as visible, though the event continued for a while longer. It was something to see.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


A couple of years ago, I went on an excursion with a lady I know to a local park. We were hoping to see and film wood ducks and this spot was suppose to be one of the pre-eminent places in the county to find them. The location entailed a steadily descending, long trail walk to finally arrive at the swamp on the edge of the Chesapeake. As it turned out, we didn't see wood duck one that day - but I did see three other fascinating species that I don't normally see. 

As we stood on the edge of the swamp scanning the area for wood ducks, my attention was drawn to a commotion in the water just a few feet to the right of where I was standing among the lily pads. I realized it was a snapping turtle and, from it's struggles, I wondered if it had gotten entangled in the lily stems. At least for a few seconds I thought that might be what I was seeing out in front of me.

I may have posted this photo before. After so many blogs, I kind of forget what I may have written about before. This is the same photo as the last, but zoomed in a little so you can see the turtle a little better. This was just happenstance, but I don't know that I could have lit the turtle any better if I had control over the lighting. The sun filtering through the trees lights up the underside of it's chin beautifully and the glint in the eye is just the touch that is needed to bring it to life. I love this photo.

As it turned out, there were actually two snapping turtles there and I'm pretty sure one was a male and the other was a female - if you catch my drift. Have you ever seen two snapping turtles mating? I can think of a lot of jokes about this...  But, we're in mixed company. One thing I did come away with, though, was the realization that mating for a snapper is not easy.

There was a whole lot of thrashing going on and once in a while you would see two heads. I had the impression they didn't know what position would work best.

I wasn't really keeping track of the time, but it seemed to me the entire event went on for a good ten to fifteen minutes. It was a privilege to see something which I don't think too many people have witnessed before.

I had kind of forgotten about these photos. I'm glad I came across them. I had a hard time choosing which ones to show you and I still have six more that I will post tomorrow. I don't think we were there more than an hour, but it turned out to be an incredible day and profitable picture-wise. We also saw a red-headed woodpecker (the only one I have ever seen) going back and forth to it's new family in a dead tree standing out in the swamp. It was a very memorable morning.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The View

Standing on my friend's dock that is directly on the Bay and where I film ducks, this is the view looking back over my left shoulder. It seems a very friendly spot with the various fences, pilings and the pelican art. That bay in the background leads back towards the main road and the spot where I saw the mergansers fishing recently. There are a pair of eagles that like to spend time on the rock jetty out in the middle of the water. I enjoy the view; I thought you might too.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

They Never Tire of Preening

This is one of my favorite images of Snowy Egrets. The random symmetry, the stark white of the birds, the deep color of the water and perfect reflections are all things I like about it.  I even don't mind the whitewall tire. Too much. The white specks you see here and there are their feathers. In August, when this photo was taken, they are molting out of their breeding plumage and developing a new coat (?) before their migration. I have seen it where the surface of the pond was almost wall to wall white with discarded feathers.

I have been considering entering this photo in an environmental photo contest. I would like to hear your thoughts on what kind of a statement the tire juxtaposed with the beautiful birds makes.

Saturday, March 16, 2013


No, this photo isn't from a visit to Asia. It was from a visit to the county seat. These were taken behind the building that was the main library at the time. I don't know the name of this type of bamboo, but I do know that it is very invasive and hard to control once it gets a foothold. We have two different types of bamboo in our yard but neither one is invasive. One is called Nandina and it is a lovely plant with no compunction to spread out. The other isn't either, but I'm not too hot on it.

There was a veritable forest of the stuff. To get a shot like this, you walk around with your head looking straight up through the camera until you see something you like. But, watch your step.  I'm just kidding. I always wanted to try a shot like this and it seemed like a pretty good place to try the technique out.

So many environmental problems in this country are caused by invasive species from other countries for which there are no natural checks. The list is long and the clean-up expensive. Think kudzu that threatens to eat the south; zebra muscles that clog up intakes along waterways; Snakehead fish that eat up all our native gamefish; phragmites that threaten to turn marshes along the east coast into a monoculture. That is to name just four.  There are hundreds more.

If we would be responsible, it behooves us to make sure we are not aiding and abetting some of these invasive, non-native plants in our yards. Another species that is a problem here in Maryland (who would have thought) is periwinkle which can get loose in woodlands and overwhelm the native plants. I use that as an example because I never would have suspected it was a problem. So a little research before planting might be in order.