Monday, December 29, 2014

The Christmas Dog

My wife needed a skirt for our small Christmas tree. We have down-sized the last couple years and the Christmas tree could fit on a small table. Our dog, Jojo, had a "Ho, ho, ho" blanket perfect for the task. He wasn't any happier with her using his blanket this year than he was last year. Worried; very worried. 

Annabelle wonders if she has been naughty or nice. She puts on a sweet face, but don't ask my wife whether she was naughty or nice. If she treated the lasts owner's wife they way she treats Judy, I can see why she was found wandering the streets. She is a one man gurhl.

Maybe if I sit by a festive Christmas basket they will forget how bad I can be...

Here is Mr. Sweetness himself — as long as you don't mess with his feet. (He has so much tongue, he has to fold it over to keep it all in his mouth.)

Let me go hide this thing so they don't try to regift me.

Touch this blanket and you will pay dearly! This is his camo blanket. We don't get him toys; we get him blankets.

Jojo was so distressed about his blanket that my wife went and bought another skirt for under the tree.

The waiting can seem interminable. She thinks every day is Christmas. Whenever you come in with a bag, she wants to know, "What did you get me?"

Friday, December 26, 2014

Blown Away

No, I'm not talking about goose hunters taking their limit. I am talking about something surprising I saw on one very windy day. I have never seen geese lose control of their flight like they did on this day when a sudden gust of wind hit them. Some briefly ended up completely upside down.

While I was filming geese the other day, two fighter jets from the DC Air National Guard did a fly by, circled around and came through again. Nothing new there; I see them all the time. Sometimes they are so loud, you feel like rolling out of bed and hitting the floor because it sounds like they are going to hit your house - and I don't live anywhere near the base! Speaking of bases, it looks like they have all the bases covered with the selection of missiles they carry.

The geese reacted oddly when they flew over. Before hand, the geese were scattered all over the large field. When I looked back after taking the above picture, all two hundred geese had jumped into the small pond and there were almost no geese in the surrounding field.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014


The first three photos continue the series from yesterday. Together, they represent one of the best series of photos I can remember taking where everything remained in focus and the heads of geese were not being hidden by the bodies of other geese. Plus, when I think of geese, these are pretty much what comes to mind - geese against either a marshy background (yesterday) or against a woodsy background (today).

This is not the kind of background I usually have in mind, but I like this image I took a few days ago. There is a marina beyond the trees, which is where the tall masts are located. What I thought was cool and not planned was how none of the geese block anything in the background with the exception of the one on the right blocking a little bit of the tree. I didn't plan that, but I'll take it.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Chatting it Up

Yesterday's blog was about how Canada Geese will take turns acting as sentry for the flock as seen in this image. Science has trouble explaining this type of altruistic self-sacrifice in animals since it is out of the realm of the physical.

I enjoy filming geese. They are almost always studies in grace unlike some other birds. Great Blue Herons come to mind. One of the nice things about geese, unlike almost all other birds, is they will begin to chat it up when they are ready to fly away. A 'gaggle' of geese is actually recognition of the cackling that takes place in the flock and it increases significantly just before they fly. The reason I say "nice" is because this behavior warns you they are going to fly so you can be ready with your camera.

Geese do not have to open their bill very much to vocalize. Tundra Swans are the same way. They have a beautiful flutey voice, but you can hardly tell which one is making the noise because they barely open their mouths. If you look carefully in this photo, you can make out at least three geese that are cackling when the shutter closes.

The volume of chatter actually increases as they begin to get airborne and continues until the flock becomes settled in flight. Then the chatter gets dialed back with, usually, only a couple of geese honking. Or the flock can fall completely silent.

Canada Geese are among the waterfowl that need a little bit of runway to get airborne. Some birds can burst directly into the air from land or water, but many need to run along the ground for a few steps.

This is the time of year when geese gather into large flocks and I love to film them, especially in flight. I'm always looking for that defining standout shot. So, if you read this blog regularly, you can expect to see more goose photos over the winter.

Monday, December 22, 2014

On Duty

If you have a chance to watch a flock of geese in a field or even on the water, you will notice there is always at least one bird with head held high standing sentry for the flock.

If the flock is large, there can often be several keeping watch and scattered throughout the flock.

Cooperative watchfulness allows most of the flock to relax and graze while the duty of guarding the flock falls to a few. After a time, another goose will take up the duty and relieve the first from guard duty. How that transfer of responsibility takes place, I am not sure.

The guards are very often on the edges of the flock where they can see a threat approaching more easily.

They are not the only birds to do this, but it is easy to recognize with geese because of their size. Mixed flocks of song birds may not all understand each other's vocalizations, but they all recognize the one-note alarm call of any bird that is present and will dive into the nearest bush at it's sound.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

One for All and All for One

Canada Geese are very social creatures. A lone goose is a very nervous and unhappy goose. They will not stay away from the flock for very long.

Many birds are social in nature, traveling together in flocks. Geese, however, take it one step further in their behavior. They also have a tendency to be very regimented.

They can often be seen doing the exact same thing in striking uniformity. Don't take my word for it; here is some proof.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Goose on the Loose

Wait, I Think I've Been Shot

Until a couple of years ago, I had never seen geese take a bath like this. It is comical to watch. Once one gets started, it is as though they all have to do it.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Where Have All the Mallards Gone, Long Time Passing?

I have mentioned that a friend of mine and his wife allow me to use their dock in the winter months to film ducks on the Chesapeake Bay. I ran into the lady of the house a couple of weeks ago and she was complaining about how few ducks have been out on the Bay in front of their home. She agreed to email me when the ducks began to show up. I didn't get an email after a couple of weeks, so I thought maybe she had forgotten.

In this image of a container ship I took a couple of days ago, you can see all the way across the Bay to the Eastern Shore. Notice the water. There is nary a bird in the entire image. I think at this point in the Bay, it is roughly seven miles to the opposite shore.

Here is another photo I took pointed north towards the Bay Bridge near Annapolis. That is a distance of about ten miles as the duck flies from where I was standing. Again, few, if any, birds.

I found a Ducks Unlimited website where you can key in your zip code and read comments from hunters in the immediate area about what they have seen and experienced. It is very up-to-date. Some of the comments were from today. Many of them were complaining of the paucity of pochards and other ducks.

I don't have a lot of personal experience with what the Bay looks like in winter. These photos taken in previous years, though, are pretty indicative of the numbers of ducks that normally migrate to the area.

Maybe the migration has simply been delayed for reasons unknown. Or, perhaps, there has been a change of some kind in the Bay itself. A loss of submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) or a lack of shellfish or poor water quality or —  It is worrisome.

I have been to another location several times recently where I have filmed Tundra Swans in the past. I have yet to see one swan. It is very unsettling not to know why there is such a lack of waterfowl this season.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Information versus Art

If it wasn't for my wife, I probably would take a lot less photographs. I got in the habit a long time a go of taking photos that were only meant to provide information about my outing to be shared with her, then thrown out. It was my way of telling her what I had seen while I was out. There was little intent in trying to creative.

It turned out many of those same pictures were good for explaining things on my blog. Of all the pictures I take on an outing, only a couple go beyond simple information to  create something more imaginative.

This image, taken on my last outing, depicts a boat duck hunting on the Bay, but it is also an attempt to show it in a more artful fashion. I want to bring this photo into a future conversation also.

I cropped the same picture to zoom in and show you the horizon. I mentioned recently on my blog how a digital image will break down in the distance. That is what causes the water along the horizon to look almost like ice piled up. With a higher pixel count, the horizon would appear as it really is - a straight line. But, I thought it looked kind of cool and I thought you might like to see it too.

Here was another attempt on the last outing to make something more from the situation at hand. The mallard duck was swimming into the area where the light from the sun was brightest and I knew by using a smaller aperture, some of the light reflections would be rendered as little stars. I also knew that if I exposed for the bright water, the duck would be underexposed, creating a silhouette. The light edge along the head and upper back were more than I hoped for. These things happen in real time, so you have to be able to anticipate what the subject is going to do. If I had a little more time to fidget with settings, I would have cranked the aperture to an even smaller setting which would have made even more twinkly stars.

This is a photo that I took simply because my wife has never been to the spot where I was filming and I wanted her to be able to see some of sights that can be seen from there. I thought the large number of craft in this marina interesting. It is another photo that begins to look very crunchy due to the distance and the amount of atmosphere between the far shore and the camera.

Here is another image taken to let my wife see what had happened. Just because it isn't an "arty" shot doesn't mean I can't give it a "treatment." I processed the photo to look similar to a cross processed photo and applied a subtle vignette to keep the viewers eye within the photo. It kind of gives it an "olden" type feel.

I watched a Bald Eagle fly straight out into the Bay. It flew a long ways and, as I often do, I simply watched it through the telephoto which is very much like looking through a pair of binoculars. It had almost reached a sailboat plying the Bay when it wheeled about, dove and then started flying back to shore. Two seagulls started chasing it initially, so I thought there was a good chance it had caught something. I am not sure the two guys on the boat ever saw the Eagle.

When the Eagle finally got back to shore, I took a couple more pictures hoping to get some idea of what it did or didn't pick up out there. It was quite a ways away when it passed me, so it isn't so easy to determine what it picked up. I can say it does not appear to be a fish. It appears to be something vegetable rather than animal.

Almost the first thing I saw when I initially arrived at the location, was an Eagle returning from out over the Bay. It was carrying something which I couldn't make out until after I got back home and looked at it on the computer. My guess is that it is the body of a seagull. whether the Eagle had killed the bird itself or was simply retrieving a body floating out on the water, I don't know. I'm sure seagull is on their menu.

So, seven photos, but only two were an attempt to make something more than just a straight snapshot. Seven photos out of 175 I kept from the morning. I also threw sixty in the trash for one reason or another. Most were not "art." Some will become material for future blogs.