Joseph V Higbee.com P & M Intro

Photos and Musings

Volume Three

Page 6
December 1, 2011

And Still Another Nice Day

Snowy Owls

I just returned from Ocean Shores and have quickly processed the photo that defines the day. Snowy Owls in all directions. Not quite enough for each photographer to have his own but with a little sharing there were plenty for everyone to get some photos. And the WEATHER was perfect.
   I spent over an hour working in on this closest one of the two shown here. In the beginning there was another owl about 6 feet to the left of it but it moved before I was this close. Not really seeming disturbed but not as comfortable with me as this one. After reaching this point and taking a number of shots with all the glass I could muster, I removed one extender and backed the telephoto off for this habitat view. I didn't even notice the furthest owl until I had the photo on the computer.
   During the three hours I was out, I was able to photograph several different birds. One bird had two photographers working him so I was careful getting a few shots and moving away rather than closing in. Some other photographers returned that favor to me when I was working this bird. Everyone seemed very courteous to each other as well as considerate of the birds. The birds that occasionally flew never seemed overly nervous and never went far. Except, perhaps, the last bird I saw on the way back to the car. It was alone and never took his eyes from me and flew well before I was at the closest point of passing. So caution is certainly still the 'order of the day'.
   For those that are thinking, "I bet he wishes he still had the 500 mm lens", I don't! I doubt that I could have carried it out there today after being down most of November with a bad cold. And even normally, it was just too heavy for me anymore. The smaller lens and lighter tripod with my extenders did pretty good and left me healthy enough to write this when I returned home.

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December 26, 2011

Taking What You Can Get

Spotted Towhee

After going to Ocean Shores and photographing the Snowy Owls, I decided to 'pace' myself. I don't want to make unnecessary or unproductive trips or even try for too many and become overly tired. My decision was to wait for the right conditions and make a trip to the Palouse for a wintry December scene. Ideally, it would be patches of snow mixed with patches of bare ground, a scene I understand to be common there this time of year. So far it hasn't happened, at least not in a way that it would be possible for me to make the trip and photograph it. Nor does it appear it will, the weather forecast being for predominant rain and above freezing temperatures. I have been trying for five years to assemble a series of monthly photos for that area and it looks like it will be at least one more year before I can accomplish it.
   On the positive side; the weather has been unusually dry with many more sunbreaks than most Decembers where I live. This has allowed me to enjoy the abundance of birds in my backyard wildlife habitat more than usual. I haven't had any unusual species this month but there has been a larger than usual number of the regulars. Never being bothered much by unwanted visitors, even the 'possums are welcome, I do put out various kinds of feed. I keep only one seed feeder, filled with sunflower seed, and two feeders for my home cooked suet mix, as well as two heated hummingbird feeders for the resident Anna's. I spread cracked corn throughout the area and wait until almost every kernal is gone before I replenish. The result of this is that I have from ten to fifty birds from about twenty different species in view at any given time of day. When those sunbreaks happen, such as the one in the photo, I can practice my photography techniques if I desire.
   It isn't the same as going to a nice area and seeing more unusual, and perhaps more beautiful, scenery but it is less tiring and I never miss.

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February 1, 2012

Almost Spring

Purple Finch

I have been suffering from the usual winter doldrums for a while now which can be evidenced by the time since I have last posted anything here. I have taken few photos this last month and the only musing I have done has been related to how I might relocate to someplace other than western Washington. But yesterday a small ray of hope of brighter thoughts came over me with the early arrival of this harbinger of spring.
   Usually by late March the Purple Finches fill the air with their song, breaking the long winter where one has to listen carefully to even hear the small sounds of the wintering birds calling back and forth. So the sight of this one reminds me that winter is a season that ends with the advent of spring, a season of beautiful sights and sounds, and it is almost here.
   I must never forget, however, to mention with gratitude the many moments of satisfaction watching the wintering birds in my yard. Five kinds of woodpeckers, four of them quite regular, the fun to watch quail, the multitude of juncos, the three kinds of sparrows, the squeaky toys (towhees), the chickadees and at least that many more kinds of visitors each day, sometimes as many as fifty here at a time. But soon there will be a 'changing of the guard' when some will leave and new ones will arrive and spring will once more be here.

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February 8,2012

Wildlife and Photographers

California Quail

I have been musing on the situation that has developed, and still is developing, regarding the interaction of wildlife and photographers. In the ten years since I began actively photographing wildlife, mostly birds, the situation has gone from a small, seldom observed, problem to one of ever increasing proportion. Presently, in the area where I live, it is being noticed in connection with this winters Snowy Owl irruption. Soon the shorebirds will be the focus of attention as they have been the last couple of years. In other areas, from the arctic to the tropics, the ratio of photographers, some ill-mannered, some not, to wildlife is growing.
   There are several reasons why this is happening, some obvious, some not so much so. One obvious reason is the increase in human population. As is always the case, when one species grows more numerous in an area, another has to 'give ground'. In this situation the area is the earth and we humans are the dominant predatory species, even when we mean to do no harm.
   Another reason for the increase in photographers is the advent of digital photography. In the days when film was the means of recording images, more money, time, and knowledge was required to be a photographer, even a poor one. Now almost everyone has some type of camera and computer and with very little effort can take relatively good photos with no further expense. For those that do have the means to afford the more expensive gear, there is still little knowledge or effort needed to obtain photos that in times past would have been professional quality. Consequently, we see an ever growing number of people engaging in wildlife photography in habitat that is, if anything, shrinking.
   When I started photographing wildlife ten years ago, I spent many hours alone in most of the popular wildlife areas in Washington. In December of 2005, during the Snowy Owl irruption then, I was at Damon Point two separate times and never saw more than a couple other photographers and I was the only one with a large lens. I never spooked an owl. During those early years I was often alone on the beach and almost always had the only large lens in sight. I didn't spook many birds but when I did it was almost like a stray dog going by, nothing to worry about. Now the analogy would be more liken to a pack of coyotes, much more worrysome. Fox Sparrow
   By 2008 the situation had started to change, and noticably so. During the Red-necked Phalarope irruption that spring, long-lensed photographers started showing up in numbers and their conduct was not at all what we were used to seeing. In 2009 I started avoiding the popular spots and spending time in some out of the way places. That allowed me to be alone but I didn't photograph many birds. After revisiting the beaches in 2010 I started thinking long and hard about the direction things were going and by fall had decided I no longer wanted to be identified with the big-lens crowd and sold mine. At this time, a year and a half later, I am pretty much just staying home and taking pictures in the wildlife habitat I created in the yard. That doesn't conclude my history, just brings it up to date.
   The history of the photographer/wildlife situation is likewise still being written. I don't have any idea where it will go next but from every indication it will not return to what once was. If one doesn't like what has happened, they probably will care less for what lies ahead. One thing is for sure, flaming someone or group of someones online won't help. Other than that I don't know. It doesn't seem to do any good to point out any behavior as wrong because, no matter how sure we are that we are right, some people do not agree. And, under the rules most of us claim to live by, unless it can be proved that their actions are causing real, as opposed to presumed, harm, they have that right. Unfortunately, it takes time for such proof to become apparent.

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March 5, 2012

More 'Taking What You Can Get'

Chukar

In December I was musing about a trip I wanted to make in order to add to a series of landscape photos I'm working on. I noted that in the meantime I was enjoying taking photos of whatever came my way in my yard. Today I've been musing over the fact that I never got around to making the trip and I continue to enjoy the happenings in my yard.
   I wouldn't be surprised if I never finish the series I had in mind. I'm not at all enjoying travel as much as I was and doing so in inclement weather has become too scary to contemplate. I did make a trip, not photo related, to southern Oregon in January during a brief spell of nice weather and that was scary enough. On the way there, I had a car pass me going the other way on my side of the freeway. On the way home, a semi-truck lost an overload spring off it's trailer which fortunately went under my car instead of through it. Unfortunately, it flattened one of my almost new tires, causing me a wait on the freeway shoulder for a tow company to change it and a stop at Costco to replace it. And, no, I didn't have the replacement insurance.
   On the other hand, the stuff in the yard just gets better and better. The photo here is a Chuker, not normally seen in western Washington, where I live. When I looked up from something I was doing and saw it in the yard, It took a moment for it to register what I was looking at. Of course the camera was locked up but fortunately he stayed around a day or three alowing me opportunity for some photos. This one was taken from my blind in the yard at a distance of about ten feet.

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March 29, 2012

Whine

Chukar in the Rain

Ever notice how some people are always cheerful, upbeat and seemingly happy? It seems like their world is always okay and they can't find a thing to complain about. What's wrong with them? Are they numb? I don't understand! Just because you can't do anything about anything doesn't mean you have to like it. Whine!!
   Start with the weather. It is never good. Either too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry, too humid, whatever, but never perfect. So, take advantage of it. Let your frustration out. Grouse a little. Or a lot, even. Make sure everyone else appreciates how miserable it is. After all, misery loves company.
   Let me demonstrate; here in the 'Puget Sound region' of the 'great Pacific Northwest' we have a dry season and a wet season. The dry season is fragmented and shows up in short spurts off and on during the year when you are least able to take advantage of it. The rest of the time is the wet season. This works out well if you need lots of time to prepare for the dry times and, conversely, keeps you from overdoing many activities that could lead to serious consequences, like sunburn or heatstroke. But you don't have to be happy with that. Let everyone know that you're tired of the rain dripping off your nose. Make caustic remarks about how summer came on your day off one year. Note frequently how this spring is shaping up to be as cold as the last two and maybe even wetter. Whine!!
   There are, of course, other things, some even just as important, to take note of, but you get the idea. You don't have to smile and 'take it'. You don't have to hold back just because everyone thinks you are an 'old grouch' or a 'crotchety old bleep'. You can live with it, I do. Whine!

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April 9, 2012

Something to Smile About

Bumblebee

Do insects smile? This one certainly seems to be. And why not? Almost three weeks after the start of spring, the sun is out, it's warming up, the current flowers are finally starting to open and release their nectar and, for this moment, life is good. I'm sure it's smiling. It must be, I am!
   As I took this photo from my 'blind' in the yard, I was able to observe the changes the sunshine brings to everything. Many of the birds that usually are bunched up feeding on the cracked corn I lay out were not there. I assume they were elsewhere using the nice weather to further some spring-like activity. The hummingbirds were at these flowers more although still using the feeders. They were also going to the water more frequently, causing me to wonder if they do that to 'water down' the nectar. Something to research.
   This is the time of year when nice weather brings new and returning birds, and bugs, to the yard. Sitting quietly in the blind with my camera, I'm able to see and photograph them at close range, sometimes. But they are shy still and often the slightest movement or sound will send them off before I can do much more than note their presence. Such was the case with the first returning Orange-crowned Warbler, although I did get a snapshot later in the day.
   Surprises are frequent when I'm out there. This day I was able to watch a Great Blue Heron land in a fir tree across the field, where it stayed several minutes before continuing on it's way. Before going into the blind, I noticed a Northern Harrier above that same field, the first of those I have seen from my yard. Also the sun brought the first Violet-green Swallows for this year, checking out the nest boxes and performing a few aerobatics just for me.
   Soon the leaves and blossoms will fill the yard with freshness and glory, the vacationers will return to sing their songs of praise and joy and start the next generation. And now, camera in hand, I'll quit whining and give thanks I'm here to enjoy it.

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April 17, 2012

A Very Good Day

American Bittern Displaying

It was a nice day and I was saying to the wife, 'It seems like we should go someplace on a day like this", or something like that. Now my wife usually doesn't make too many suggestions because I tend to not take them. This time, however, when she said something about driving down to Ridgefield NWR it just seemed like the right thing to do. So, even though it was already late morning, we did. Any one of the series of eight photos I took of the American Bittern display, seen here, shows what a fine choice we made.
   Since returning home I have been trying to determine just what this display means. On the US Fish and Wildlife site I found this:
   "The American Bittern has a remarkable, though rarely seen, courtship display. The male arches his back, shortens his neck, dips his breast forward, and "booms" at the female."
   and in Birder's Handbook:
   "Male arches back, shortens neck, lowers abdomen, displays and booms like grouse."

   and in the Audubon Encyclopedia of North American Birds:
   "...male has remarkable courtship walk and display of pair of white fanlike ruffs raised over the back and shoulders."
which seems to describe a different display than the one seen here.
   At this point, let me note that there was no other bittern in sight and no sound or call was heard, indicating something other than courtship was on it's mind. That makes this next quote, from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, seem to make the most sense:
   "Territorial males display at each other by approaching while hunkered down, head lowered to the level of its back, neck drawn in, and revealing white plumes at the shoulders."
   It seems like the white 'plumes' or 'ruffs' mentioned above as being at the shoulders are up in the air on the forward edge of the wing in this photo. As is often the case, such a 'territorial' display may be directed at other trespassers such as photographers pointing things at them. All said photographers remained in their vehicles and were at least 75 feet away across a slough. Right after this display he went back to his 'I'm a stick' pose.

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May 14, 2012

What's wrong with this?

Camas Prairie Marsh

As my Pappy would have said, "Not a doggone thing!" And as I sat there taking photos of the abundant bird population and enjoying the sunny morning and the view after finishing my coffee and visiting with my wife at home via my cell phone, I had to agree.
   But now, having returned home, I see clearly a problem not realized at first; it's too far from here, where I live, to there. I would like to be out there for a few hours again this morning but it's 600 miles away. And another 150 miles farther, there is another spot I visited that I would like to stop by, maybe this afternoon. And those miles signify not only time but money in larger amounts than available.
   Perspective: 100 years ago; What's a cell phone? You have a telephone in your home? You travelled how many miles away from home and back in 6 days? How did you take this photo and how was it developed? And what's this gadget you're showing it to me on? What planet are you from?
   On second thought, Pappy would have been right. It was a great moment and I am very fortunate to have experienced it. And very happy to be able to save and share so much of it as we are today.

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