Journal

August 26, 2017 - New Mexico

The gallery posted today has all my photos from local springtime shooting, as well as a few photos from last winter that I hadn't got around to posting till now.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

A Blue-gray Gnatcatcher calls from atop a juniper.

I started off in early spring looking for Dusky Grouse in the Jemez Mountains, and after a few early morning trips I found a nice male strutting at the edge of the parking lot for the local ski area.

Dusky Grouse

A male Dusky Grouse displaying on an April morning.

The rest of the spring was mostly dedicated to songbirds. I didn't travel very much, mostly just doing local shooting in the Jemez before work, and though my subjects were all species I'd worked with before, I enjoyed the chance to improve on birds like Gray Flycatcher, Scott's Oriole, and Orange-crowned Warbler. I also got some nice photos of Red-winged Blackbirds in a cattail marsh. Despite being the most abundant bird in North America, I was never able to get any Red-winged Blackbird photos that I was happy with till this spring.

Red-winged Blackbird

A Red-winged Blackbird atop a cattail in a Rio Grande Valley marsh.

I also posted a single photo of the eclipsed sun from earlier this week. My parents and I left their home in Portland a little after 4am for a 3 hour drive to the east side of the Cascades, and though we had no problems getting to the zone of totality, we found that the viewing areas we'd picked out were covered by hazy smoke from wildfires. We spent most of the period from 7am-9:30am driving all over the highways and backroads of central Oregon looking for good viewing, and eventually found a fantastic spot with clear blue skies and panoramic views to both east and west so we could see the shadow. The eclipse was spectacular. My favorite part was during the last few seconds of totality when some confused Common Nighthawks woke up and started calling. I didn’t want to spend too much time fiddling with my camera during the totality, so I only picked it up long enough to fire off a few exposure bracketed photos, then went back to watching the eclipse. We had about 105 seconds of totality, which seemed like the shortest 105 seconds of my life.

Solar Eclipse

The solar eclipse of August 21, 2017. The corona is visible as a glow surrounding the eclipsed disk, while several solar prominences, which are explosions of superheated gases, are visible as well. The height of the largest solar prominence in this photo is about four times larger than the diameter of the earth!

July 30, 2017 - Texas

I stopped by the Upper Texas Coast for a short but very productive photo trip at the end of April, where I enjoyed three full days mostly devoted to shorebirds and waterbirds. The highlight of the trip for me was finally getting some photos of Fulvous Whistling-Duck, which I had missed on all my previous trips to the area. I also had some nice sessions with shorebirds on the beach, and with Black Skimmers in action over some sheltered lagoons.

American Avocet

An American Avocet lit up by the sweet light of the setting sun.

Black-necked Stilt

Black-necked Stilts like this one are usually found in freshwater ponds. The Upper Texas Coast has a nice mix of saltwater and freshwater shorebird habitat positioned along a major migratory flyway, making it aguably the best place in North America for spring shorebirding.

Fulvous Whistling-Duck

The Fulvous Whistling-Duck, like its black-bellied cousin, is a relatively new addition to the North American avifauna, having only colonized the southern United States in the mid-nineteenth century. Though these birds wander widely and unpredictably, they are fairly reliable on the gulf coast of Texas and Louisiana in springtime.

I spent the first night of the trip camped out on the beach on Galveston Island, where a strong and steady wind off the gulf kept the air free from mosquitoes and helped lull me to sleep. I almost always camp out under the stars when I travel, which has led to a number of adventures and interesting experiences through the years, but this is the first time I can recall being awoken by a breaking wave. Though I was camped out above the normal high water mark, this was no normal night, and as I scrambled out of my sleeping bag in the pre-dawn twilight I saw that the intensifying wind had brought the ocean right up to edge of the beach. After beating a hasty retreat from the incoming water, I headed inland for the rest of the day, but when I returned to the coast in the afternoon I found highway 87 along the Bolivar Peninsula under water and huge waves breaking right over the highway barrier. The waters receded overnight, though, and left some shallow lagoons along the beach that quickly filled up with gulls, terns, skimmers, and shorebirds. These lagoons were wonderfully photogenic, and on the second day of my trip I enjoyed a perfect evening photographing Black Skimmers and other birds plying the shallow waters.

Black Skimmer

A Black Skimmer uses its elongated lower mandible to slice through the surface of a lagoon. The lightning-fast reflexes of this amazing bird enable it to snap its bill shut the moment it contacts a fish or other prey item.

Laughing Gull

A Laughing Gull calls from a shallow lagoon, illuminated by the rosy-colored sky just minutes after sunset.

I stopped by Rollover Pass late on my second night and drove my car out to the edge of the parking area to see whether there was any good shorebird habitat for the next morning's photo session. Much to my surprise, I saw a Roseate Spoonbill frozen in my headlights. As I got closer, I saw the reason the bird couldn't fly off - its bill was tangled up in discarded fishing line that was hooked onto a piece of driftwood. I grabbed my lens from the seat next to me and snapped a few quick shots using only the light from my headlights, then hurried out to free the tangled bird. Perhaps I should have taken the time to mount a flash and wide angle lens to better document the situation - the bird had obviously been there for hours, and a few more minutes wouldn't have made much of a difference I suppose - but all I could think about in the moment was getting the bird free. Fortunately, once I caught the bird and got it untangled, it was able to fly off with no apparent injuries. Not every bird is so lucky in this situation. Through my years of birding I have found many dead birds still tangled in fishing line or nets, including a dead Neotropic Cormorant just a few miles away the morning after this photo was taken. Discarded fishing gear can continue to kill for many years.

Roseate Spoonbill

A Roseate Spoonbill tangled up in fishing line. After quickly snapping this photo I was able to catch the bird and cut it free. Most birds in this situation are not so lucky. Discarded fishing gear kills hundreds of thousands of birds every year.

I still have a lot of photos to post before I'll be fully up to date again. Next up will be photos from local shooting around Northern New Mexico this spring.

July 11, 2017 - Colorado

I traveled to Gunnison County, Colorado in mid-April of this year to photograph the rarest North American grouse, the Gunnison Sage-Grouse. I've been trying to find a way to access the highly protected lek sites of this species for several years now, and at times this seemed like an impossible task. But persistence paid off, and with a bit of help from friendly locals, I was finally able to get the photos I'd been hoping for. I now have photos of ten of the twelve grouse species found in North America, but those ten include all the most difficult species, and I don't anticipate having too much trouble photographing the remaining two (Ruffed and Sooty Grouse) as soon as I have a chance to spend some time in good habitat for those species.

Gunnison Sage-Grouse

Despite being significantly smaller and exhibiting some plumage differences, the Gunnison Sage-Grouse was not recognized as a species separate from the more widespread Greater Sage-Grouse until 2000.

July 9, 2017 - California

Photos from two brief trips to California in March are now posted. Both trips were centered around the Bay Area, though I also went south along the coast as far as Monterey. Along the way I got some nice photos of raptors and falcons, and also had a few good sessions with waterfowl and shorebirds.

Black Oystercatcher

Waves crash behind a Black Oystercatcher on the California coast.

I'm still working on getting my website updated after nearly a year of photography. Next up will be photos from a grouse trip to Colorado in April.

July 7, 2017 - O'ahu Underwater

About 71% of our planet is covered by water, but until recently I hadn't really seen what lies below the surface. I've been spending more and more time exploring the marine world since getting my scuba certification a couple years ago, though, and have also started doing some underwater photography. My first set of underwater photos, from a trip last fall to O'ahu, are now posted, and more photos from Florida and Bonaire will be coming whenever I find time to process them.

Spotted Eagle Ray

A Spotted Eagle Ray glides above the sandy ocean floor. Including the tail, these guys can reach lengths of up to 16 feet!

The gear used for underwater photography is quite different from what I use for my normal bird photography, with much shorter focal lengths and no high speed flash. Learning how to create good images underwater has been challenging, but at least my subjects have been cooperative. For a photographer used to stalking wary birds and photographing from a distance with long telephoto lenses, it's almost unbelievable to swim right up to a fish and take photos from mere inches away.

Arc-Eye Hawkfish

An Arc-Eye Hawkfish perches atop the reef, waiting for prey to swim by.

So far my approach to composing underwater photos has been similar to photographing birds, since that's what I know best. Most serious underwater photography seems to take a different style, though, which in some ways is more akin to landscape photography, with less emphasis on telephoto portraits and more attention given to close-up wide-angle photos. Perhaps I will experiment more with different compositional styles in my future dive trips.

Green Sea Turtle cleaning station

Green Sea Turtles habitually visit traditional "cleaning stations" where reef fish wait to eat algae that otherwise would collect and grow on the turtle's shell and flippers. Goldring Surgeonfish attend to a turtle in this photo.

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