Saturday

I wanted to go to the same place, on two consecutive days, at almost the same times, to see what kind of pictures are there for the taking.  So off I went to Huntley Meadows last Saturday and Sunday.  Yes, more bird pictures.

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Who Watches the Watchers

Years ago, in the third season of Star Trek the Next Generation, an episode with this strange title aired.  I had to look up the synopsis of the actual episode since I haven’t seen it in years.  Unlike my favorite Star Trek episode of all time, “The Inner Light”, I had only retained the most basic of remembrances of this particular episode.  And why bring this up now?

A few days ago, on an early Sunday morning, I took another early morning walk at Huntley Meadows.  There were quite a few photographers out there at half past six in the morning.  What were people taking pictures of?  Birds, birds, birds.  More specifically, egrets and herons.  I had the feeling that there would be quite a few people at the wildlife area.

The day before, I also took a morning walk at Huntley.  For a Saturday morning, there were more than a dozen photographers at the start of the day.  Normally, you see five or six photographers in the early morning but last Saturday was different.  Someone had taken a picture of a fox walking on a log to take a drink of water on the wetlands.  It probably happens quite a bit all over the world.  In suburban Virginia, fifteen miles from Washington, you don’t see that very often.  And someone posted the pictures in the Huntley Meadows Facebook page.  Needless to say, there were a lot of people looking for the fox.  Alas, we saw nothing that looked like a fox.  Saw quite a few birds, but the fox was AWOL.

Sunday came and I went back to Huntley to look for kingfishers.  The water is getting shallower as the rains have not come and the heat of the summer is taking its toll on the wetlands.  I heard the kingfisher’s call, but I could not find it.  There were, however, a lot of egrets and herons in the wetlands.  Like everyone else, I took a lot of pictures of a fairly large group of birds in the water.

About an hour and a half after I got to Huntley, I was looking at a group of photographers when one of them exclaimed “it got a fish!”  Instinctively, I walked over by the group of photographers and saw heron catching its morning meal (probably one of many).  A good picture taking opportunity, but the photographers were so engaged in photographing the bird that for five or so minutes, all we could look at is this heron with a fish.

The heron, with it’s catch.

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The fish was quite active and the heron wasn’t quite ready to eat its meal.  It lifted it up, as if to see if the fish was still actively moving.  It was.

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The heron turned around and started to brush the fish over the log.

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After a minute or so of this, the fish had “calmed” down and the heron was a happy fish eater.

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This was the first time I actually watched the whole sequence of “catch and eat.”  It was “fascinating.”

The (Water) Birds were there

Another Saturday, a very warm one, has come and gone.  In the early morning hours, before the first sip of coffee was even in a cup, I took my RX10IV and headed for Dunkin Donuts.  The one that’s two miles away from Huntley Meadows.  The sun had just broken through the horizon, and I needed the sun to go up just a little higher to clear the tree line at Huntley.  And I needed a little jolt to wake me up so to speak.

It was near 80F at six in the morning.  The day had barely started and the humidity was already beginning to make things a little uncomfortable.  Oh well, I was already at the parking lot, so I might as well take a walk through the woods and then into the wetlands.  As I crossed into the boardwalk, the moon was still visible in the sky.

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And the white flowers were there, just like they were the week before.  The air was heavy with heat and humidity.  As I walked further towards the wetlands, the flowers, with dew clinging to the leaves and petals, were backlit by the rising sun.  It was quite a thing to behold.  Hundreds, maybe even a thousand or so flowers, glistening in the early morning light.

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Sometimes, you need to stop and admire the things around you.  And enjoy the unexpected.  It warm.  It was humid.  The sun was up.  I was going to just quickly walk through and look for birds.  And yet.  In the heat of the rising sun, nature reminded me yet again to slow down and enjoy life.  Take the whole thing in.  The story is not just what we want it to be.  It is an entirety waiting for us, to discover, to find new things, to explore.  It is not always what we envision, but if we keep our eyes open, it can and is often better than what we imagine.

The red algae was blooming in the main wetland area.  Water was evaporating, as it always does.  The water level drops down as summer progresses.  With little rain to naturally replenish the wetland, the water was shallower, murkier.  I walked towards the observation tower, where I spied the egrets and herons wading in the shallow water.

I was amazed.  Huntley was alive this particular Saturday morning.  Two kingfishers were flying about.  Just a little bit to far to take pictures of, but you knew they were there.  A deer was foraging by some bushes.  The herons were in the water.  They were in the air.

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The herons were fishing.  And I thought that maybe, just maybe, this heron’s appetite was a little bit too much.

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And then an osprey flew by.  And caught a fish.  Not quite the magnificent catch I saw earlier.

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There were herons aplenty.  Herons grooming themselves in the “mirror.”

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Herons with unexpected visitors, like this juvenile white ibis.

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And suddenly, a flock of egrets flew by.  Land, I said to myself.  And land they did.  By the red algae bloom of the Huntley wetlands.

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It was hot.  It was humid.  That was to be expected.  The egrets in the wetland.  One or two, maybe.  A flock stopping by to rest, perhaps to cool down just a bit.  That was most unusual.  And on this summer day in July, it was most welcome.

 

A goose is a bird

On Friday night, I made up my mind to wake up early and take a walk at Huntley Meadows.  It’s been a while since I spent a few hours at Huntley.  Spring went quickly and the summer heat is oppressive.  The birds are most active in the early part of the day.

I’ve been using my Sony RX10IV for most of my photography lately.  This is a great camera.  It’s light enough to carry everywhere and it has an incredibly useful zoom range and good built in image stabilization.  Where I used to carry a tripod and a long zoom into Huntley, I just carry the RX10IV and shoot away.  It’s very liberating.

One thing about the setup that I find indispensable.  Without the tripod, you try out different angles on the same subject.  Not that you can’t do that with a tripod mounted camera, but it’s a much faster process when you use a handheld camera with a nice lens that you know can do what you want it to do.

What I really wanted to do is shoot bird pictures.  Alas, although I got up before daybreak, I hesitated long enough (about going out in the heat) that by the time I did get to Huntley, the sun had been out for almost an hour and a half.  Not great.  And so, the birds that I hoped to see were not in view (they were probably there, I just could not find them).  There were ospreys flying and diving, but they were never close enough to get good pictures of them diving.  There were herons that stood on the water, but they were just lounging around.  There were egrets, further still, also lounging around.  A bluebird sang then went into its nest.  Birds aplenty?  Yes.  The early bird gets the worm is a saying that applies to humans, especially bird photographers.  The early guy with the camera gets the birds.

Still, there was a goose that wandered into close proximity.  And with its partner, flew up into the sky in an opportune moment.  I was tracking an osprey, but saw the two large birds in the periphery of the scene, turned around and pressed the shutter button.  The RX10IV has a great AF system.  It focuses quickly and tracks the subject quite well.  Not quite as good as the top of the line Sony A9, but that’s a bigger camera and the lens I want to use with it won’t be out till next month.  And if someone wants to give me that lens, well, I’d take a picture for you.

And that’s how I managed to get a decent goose in flight picture.  Born of frustration, but given an opportunity to do something unplanned.  Sometimes (actually, most of the time), opportunity knocks.  You just need to listen for the sometime faint sound (or in this case, a momentary rush at the edge of the viewfinder).  You never know what’s out there.  And that’s a good thing.

And there were other things aside from birds.  I almost got sunburned staying out too long.  And didn’t bring enough water.  Still, it was a nice morning to sweat.  Take pictures.  And be inspired.

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So go out there.  Take a walk.  Be surprised.  And let nature rejuvenate your mind and soul.

How So

Last Saturday morning, I woke up shortly after the sun had awakened and Huntley Meadows, one of the local wildlife refuges, beckoned.  There was only one thing that made me think that maybe, just maybe, I should stay in bed.  The sky was overcast and the weather casters predicted about two inches of rain for the weekend.  I was pretty sure I wanted to just go out, go for a short hike, and take some pictures.  There was, however, something weighing on my mind.  It was grey.  It was dull.  What pictures were there to take in such a day as this?  In short, while I knew what I wanted to do, how will the reality of the on and off drizzle mesh with my idea of taking pictures of birds in spring?  My heart said go ahead.  My head asked why?  How so?

Sometimes the head wins out.  Sometimes the heart flutters too much and like the sweet smell of sampaguitas, the feeling envelops you, and the world feels new.  Is new.  The dawn of a new day.  A little muted, perhaps, but alive with possibilities.

And so it was that three hours was spent walking around in the on and off sprinkles from the sky.  And sometimes, the sun decided to tease a little warmth into the cool May morning.  The heart may be a lonely hunter at times, but then again, it can only be so.  For in the ups and downs and ups in life, we find our way to life lived, a life lived well.

How so?  The answer is simple.  Make it so.  And here are the pictures to prove it.

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Brrrr…..

After a slew of fairly warm days, I decided to take a walk at one of the local wildlife refuges in Northern Virginia.  Huntley Meadows is one of my favorite places to take walks (with a camera, of course).  There is a central wetland (fairly small) that hosts an abundant variety of birds (especially during the warm months of spring to fall).  In the midst of a relatively warm winter, there have been days that observers reported a wide variety of birds in the refuge.

Yesterday (Saturday) was not one of those days where birds were plentiful and easy to find.  I am sure that trained eyes would do better than I did, but it was barely above 20F when I left for the refuge (about ten miles away), after the sun had been up an hour.  Surprisingly, there were a fair number of people walking around the park.  And there were a fair number of disappointed photographers.

It was cold.  And for the day (at least in the morning), the birds were few in number.  Oh, there were ducks of several sorts and there was an osprey (or something like it) that flew over the boardwalk for a scant ten seconds.  Aside from that, nothing.  It was a cold day for this human.  I suppose the birds don’t really want to go out and about when the wind is brisk and the sun barely peeking out of the clouds.

Oh well.  There were still ducks.

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Our Little Planet

One of the interesting things to see at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge is the nuclear power plant in the not so far off distance.  It is a tribute to nature’s resilience and diversity that one of the symbol’s of mastery of the resources available to him is readily seen in what is a reminder of the place that we live in.  The little blue marble that hangs like a jewel in the night, that delicate ball of water, minerals, air, the third planet from a smallish yellow main sequence star, the rock that we call Earth.  To walk at Bombay Hook is to appreciate nature’s gift to man.  A place of beauty, a place teeming with life, a place that must be nurtured if it is continue to be a dwelling place for all the creatures that live and visit there.  A place that is a microcosm of the ecosystems around the world that we live in.  We have diverse environments around the world, many of which are threatened by unbridled and undisciplined human activity.  Why do we throw out so much plastic every day, every year?  What happened to water fountains?  Or at least that reusable jug that we carried water in?  We think that the most visible and egregious symbols of environmental destruction are the wanton release of hydrocarbons in the air, the precursor to an unstoppable, runaway greenhouse effect that will doom the planet into a Venus like existence.  The nuclear plants that can release dangerous radiation into the air are often seen as threats to the world we live in.  And yet, they are efficient power generators that provide the electricity to millions of people and make industry and technological advances possible.  There are arguments for eliminating or at least reducing our reliance on systems that threaten the health of our world.  Lost in the discussion is something that we see with our eyes every day.  Our disposable society has made as much of a negative impact on the health of the planet as any other man made “intervention.”

I have some training in science and engineering.  I believe that someday, we will be able to remove gases from the air to lessen the effects of global warming.  We will be able to generate power more efficiently, more cleanly (though I worry about migrating birds running into vast power generating turbines on the shores and in the open fields).  And yet, will the climatic changes that are currently under way be stemmed (or reversed) by some future scientific endeavor?  Also, the debate presupposes that we have all the facts and that the answers are already clear (when it comes to the global warming debate).  I have some questions still.  How much of the perceived global warming is an artifact of human activity and how much of it can be attributed to a natural cycle that we do not understand?  The sun’s radiation output is not uniform.  Random events that release dust and gas into the atmosphere (volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, meteor strikes) have short and long term effects on the environment.  If we pass through a “dusty” part of the galaxy, will there be a measurable drop in the amount of solar radiation that reaches the planet and what effect will it have on life?  So many questions left to be asked.  And answered.

All I know is that we must be better stewards of the world that we live in.  Higher efficiency power generation, less reliance on fossil fuels and nuclear power plants.  Less pollution, more recycling.  The mantras of today’s environmental movement.  All good things.  And yet, we can start our own revolution at home.  Use less water when washing clothes.  Use less plastics.  You say they are bio degradable?  If they take hundreds of years to degrade, is that really harmless?  Drive less, walk more.  Use the bicycle a little bit more.  This would mean that the cities and suburbs that we live in may actually look like neighborhoods again.  Accessible stores, libraries, restaurants.  And if you walk enough, you may even meet someone new and interesting.  And if you walk enough, you may see that there are a lot of things that we  individuals can do to keep our planet cleaner.  Safer.  If you walk enough, you give yourself time to think about your own life, and maybe make it better.  So, here’s a random thought.  Walk a mile or two and in your own small way, foster a revolution that will make our planet a better world for all of us.  Today.  And ensure its future as that blue marble teeming with life, a world of varied ecosystems, all in harmony with each other.

Foxes Big and Small

It’s almost spring!  With winter set to deal one more Nor’easter to the Northeast, it was a good time to visit Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge to see if there are foxes walking around.  Not quite.  The mother and kits were quite easy to spot though.  There were three cars stopped by a pond.  I figured, I’d park behind the other cars and see what was going on.  Soon, other cars parked behind my car.  It was time to listen to music and eat a granola bar.  I thought that there might be an owl nestle in the woods.  Not quite.  It was a fox and her kits.  Not the best view, and they were just basically walking around to check on the humans with the cameras and lenses.

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