"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Rats! Foiled Again

A Mini-Story from My Front Deck:

Three feather, the juvenile Steller's jay who is molting and has only three feathers left for a topknot, was hunkered down on my front deck railing on this gloomy, windy day, an unusual place to take a nap considering the raptors around here.  I walked out onto the deck to see if it was okay--just in time to see a raptor attack a jay perched in a nearby tree top.

It was a clumsy attempt and I wonder if the jay in the tree was a secondary target once I appeared.  A couple jays squawked their loudest and the raptor flew around until it landed in a nearby tree.

Thereupon, it commenced to consider its failed strategy.   This isn't the first time I've seen this sharp-shinned hawk and a merlin fail to grab their prey in the vicinity of  my deck where the bird feeders host jays, juncos, chickadees, and nuthatches.   In fact, there have been several times I've almost been hit by the raptors as they zoomed in on a bird.

The jays retreated to the inner branches of the large spruce tree just off my deck where they were safe from a surprise attack.

The hawk watched for another opportunity, but all the little birds were hiding and the jays were safe.

A couple minutes after the hawk left, a lone red-breasted nuthatch landed on a spruce top, where he carefully surveyed the area for danger.

Hawks can attack small birds in flight with incredible swiftness, which goes a long way towards explaining why I often see the little birds flying between branches of trees rather than circling the trees.

For now, all are safe.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Birding Mission Accomplished

When you suddenly realize that something special is going on here, in a field of five dozen or more magnificent sandhill cranes:

Friday, August 18, 2017

Princess Jeanne and the Book of Adventures

My granddaughter Carol said Disney needs to make (me) a Princess after I posted this video on Facebook:

"Oh, God, no," I replied.   "Anything but a princess."

Her reply and drawing:

Princess Jeanne lives in the woods of Alaska, communing with the animals and hunting them with her camera. Follow along as she travels the world and adventures into the unknown, armed only with her intelligence, humor and a sense of mischief.

Image may contain: drawing 

The drawing (note I'm packing a pistol) shows various places I've been and things I've done.    Yes, I've had a dog team, safari'ed in Africa, been to China to see the terra cotta warriors and other things, been to Antarctic, and been really, really close to bears.    Not to the pyramids yet, but I was close and it remains on the list.   The bag at my feet represented the thousands of bags I've filled with roadside litter over many years.

The bird on the hand is the Steller's jay, like the one in the video.   The jays are gorgeous birds, but the poor thing in the video is a molting juvenile and looks pretty ragged.

I guess being a princess in this world is okay.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

In Pursuit of LYB

From on high, came the message:

Friends, especially the photographers in South Central. It’s that time of year to really concentrate on the small migrants. They are starting to gather in flocks to begin the migration. It’s been my experience over the years that once they begin [to] flock most will be gone in 2 weeks. If you have Elderberry patches in your birding area concentrate on them. If you don’t have Elderberrys concentrate on Alders that have a rusty look to them now and lots of worm holes…
—Doug Lloyd, host/administrator/photographer par excellence of Birds of Alaska on Facebook

I recently realized that I am in love with Little Yellow Birds (LYB), known to birders as warblers.  Yellow warblers, yellow-rumped warblers, orange-crowned warblers, Wilson’s warblers, and on and on and on.

Yellow-rumped warbler at Dave's Creek.

Male yellow warbler in fall plumage in my yard.

Thus, when the day dawned with rare sunshine, I ventured out to find LYB and perhaps an alder flycatcher or two.  I checked the elderberry bushes and the elderberry tree on my property and saw nothing.  I have seen yellow birds flit through here over the years, but they rarely landed for a photo or two.

I drove north on the Seward highway where there are lots of elderberry bushes and alders.

I stopped often and inspected the bushes.   Not a sign of birds, yellow or otherwise.  I saw bushes with boughs so laden with gorgeous red berries that they drooped almost to the ground.   I saw alders so chewed by bugs that the leaves were mere skeletons of themselves.

No LYB on this elderberry.

Fireweed, daisies, and berries on an elderberry bush.

I walked through fields of sweetly-scented clover as I looked for LYB.

I stopped in places where I’d seen birds earlier in the summer.   Nada, zilch, zip.   I drove more than 20 miles, to the Hope cutoff.   Then I drove back.  The only birds I saw were four magpies, and one of the them was dead along the roadside.

When I got home, I sat on the front deck for a while to watch the jays and nuthatches and chickadees and juncos that gather there.

And wouldn’t you know!    A Wilson’s warbler, bright, bright yellow with a spectacular black cap landed in the willow just a few feet off my deck.

I guess it’s true:   the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence.

On the other hand, while I was out pursuing LYB, I filled eight big yellow bags with litter, plus a bunch of larger stuff that wouldn’t fit in bags, yellow or otherwise.

The drive was not a total loss.

My litter find of the day.   Two fillet knives within this scabbard.

An unidentified flower.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Shooting with Jamin

During last year’s tumultuous political campaign when social media was replete with hateful, scurrilous memes and extremely differing opinions, my own Facebook page was transformed into a thing of beauty as photographers posted pictures of the birds of Alaska.  

One photographer in particular caught my eye with his stunning photos and his unusual first name of Jamin.   This guy has a gift, I thought, and avidly followed his work.

So, when I recently saw a note that he was going to host a birding photography workshop, I signed up immediately.  It was to be held the weekend of Aug 12 and 13 at the Eagle River Nature Center.   I made a hotel reservation as Eagle River is about 120-plus miles from where I live.

Jamin is an engaging young man who was born and raised in Talkeetna and now lives in Eagle River with his wife and two young children.  During lunch hour at his job in Anchorage, he visits the various birding areas and usually returns with very special photos that he shares that evening on a Facebook site called Birds of Alaska.

Eagle River Nature Center

Saturday evening, the 12th, I arrived for the first part of the workshop, an informal lecture on the basics of bird photography, or as  Jamin called it, Bird Photography Bootcamp.  In the following hour and a half, he covered photo composition, appropriate attire (during which he modeled his 3-D camouflage jacket), gear, how to lure birds with bird calls, etiquette, and how to approach birds without frightening them.   He offered a number of tips based on his personal experience.

Inside the Nature Center

Jamin Taylor

The next morning in a not-quite-pouring but nonetheless wet rain, we assembled at the Nature Center. My camera was outfitted in its latest version or a raincoat:  an 11-gallon Hefty extra strong black trash bag with a small hole cut into one corner for the lens to extend through and a lavender rubber band securing the bag to the lens hood.  Another trash bag was draped over the gear bag that hangs from a shoulder strap.

An attempt at luring dark-eyed juncos to the flower bed at the center did indeed bring juncos, but they remained high in the trees.   We marched onward into the forest.

The juncos appeared, but they wanted nothing to do with posing out in the open in the rain.

This is the forest primeval.   The murmuring spruce and the cottonwoods,
Bearded with moss and in garments green, all dripping with rain.
 (Sorry, Mr. Longfellow.)

When we reached a small boardwalk viewing area, he set his Bluetooth speaker (protected within a plastic bag) near a meadow of drying cow parsnip, selected the appropriate bird calls on his smart phone, and waited.

It didn’t take long before we saw small birds coming to investigate.   My first shot was an experiment to check exposure, something that is my bugaboo with the camera I was using.   The photo was a bust, but I liked the tones in it.

An experimental exposure photo with intervening vegetation and the subject far away.   However, all was not lost as I learned what great perches the cow parsnip make.

A boreal chickadee appeared, followed by a handsome dark-eyed junco.

A boreal chickadee.   I call these birds the blue-collar version.   The black-capped chickadee looks like it's in formal attire, as opposed to the boreal, which dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt.

The very under-appreciated junco.

Then we were rewarded with a golden-crowned kinglet, a bird I’d never seen before in my admittedly limited experience.

Jamin soon turned off the bird calls, so as not to annoy the birds.  Limited use, he emphasized.

He found a downy woodpecker on a large cottonwood trunk right beside the trail.

 We passed a very cool cottonwood tree, and I lagged behind for photos.  As usual.

By the time cottonwoods get this large, the inside is usually rotten.

One way to get out of the rain.

At another boardwalk/viewing platform, we tracked speedy and showy kingfishers as they flew from perch to perch, and waited in vain for American dippers to appear.

Enough grain in this one to fill a silo, a result of extreme cropping.

We moved away from the boardwalk to get closer to one of the kingfishers’s preferred perches, and a curious weasel tried to crash the class.

Now attired in brown and white, the weasel will change to pure white with a black-tipped tail and be known as an ermine.

On the way back, we saw a teal dabbling along a marshy shoreline…..

An orange-crowned warbler….

And a black-capped chickadee in the cow parsnip.

A black-capped chickadee on cow parsnip branch in the rain.  Learning experience:   cow parsnip makes an excellent perch.

The final portion of bootcamp was a learning session held in a yurt.   Jamin set up his laptop and projected some of his photos onto a screen.   Then, he showed us how he edits the photos and refines them, using Lightroom and Photoshop.

I was so impressed with how adept he was with that software that I proclaimed I would never again post a photo on Facebook.   I lied.   Posting photos and getting comments is a valuable step in learning.

One of the most important things I learned was how to watch for ideal perches for the subject and then hope it lands there.    One advantage, according to Jamin, is that birds have favorite perching spots and will often return to that perch if you miss it the first time.

Thanks to Jamin’s excellent bootcamp, I am more confident than ever in this continuing learning experience called photography.   

Not so much with Lightroom, though.