“To consult the rules of composition before making a picture is a little like consulting the laws of gravitation before going for a walk. Such rules and laws are deduced from the accomplished fact; they are the products of reflection.” – Edward Weston
Took this photo of a Mule Deer Buck drinking water during last Wednesday’s Morning Bird Walk.
In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks. – John Muir
I’m taking a class in Birding this year. One of the first things we did was find our Bird Mentor. The instructor, Kristi, presented me with a bag that had several names in it of year-round birds in our area. I pulled out the one that read Black-capped Chickadee. The experience was kind of like using the Sorting Hat at Hogwarts!
The first chapter for the class had several sections and lessons about being present in Nature as unobtrusively as possible. There was a section about Approach, Stalking the Wapiti, Sits Spot and the idea of blending into and becoming a part of the preexisting story of the natural world. Chapter one reminded me of an experience that took place many years ago near Bear Mountain in extreme northwestern Connecticut. At the time I was a graduate student in Biology at the University of Hartford. One year, during Spring break – as others headed South to places like Florida – I reserved four nights at a remote rustic cabin nestled into the pines on the flanks of Bear Mountain, the highest point in the state of Connecticut. The Appalachian Trail – of which I am intimately familiar – runs over the top of Bear Mountain.
The best way for me to access the cabin was to drive into Massachusetts and then drive south until I hit a road called the Mt. Washington Road. It was not plowed so I had to park my car and from there backpack along the road for a ways until I picked up the trail that went to the cabin.
My notes from my fifth day are as follows: “On my last day as I was heading back towards my automobile on hard packed snow, I paused for a moment beside a field. It was snowing a big heavy Springtime snow and I leaned on my ski poles not wanting to leave. How long I lingered there I have no idea. It could have been ten minutes. It could have been two hours. I stood there suspended in time and transformed into the landscape.
I know that it sounds crazy, but I became a part of that field filling up with snow. Every nerve and fiber in my body told me so. And – after a while – a chickadee came and landed on my snowshoes that were lashed to the pack on my back and started singing. When I became aware of what was happening, I laughed out loud.
The bird flew away, but the magic remained. It is good to go solo for a while. Mysteries and magic tend to reveal themselves at such times and the fields may perhaps yield a bountiful harvest.” (I took these photos a few years ago – at my bird feeder – to recreate the event)
I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine by staying in the house. – Nathaniel Hawthorne
Despite the many pressing needs and responsibilities demanding our attention now that we are back home from Scotland, Marilyn, Duffy and I decided to take most of the day off on Tuesday and venture up into the mountains. The air was fresh and alive. The Fall colors were resplendent and there was some snow from a recent storm. The sky was mostly cloudy with patches of sunshine trying to shine through from time to time.
So here’s a few photos from Durango’s back yard. Most of these images need to be viewed larger. Double click on each one to make it so. Onward.
“All this is perfectly distinct to the observant eye, and yet could easily pass unnoticed by most.” Henry David Thoreau’s second to last sentence in his last journal entry (03 November 1861)
Since the neighborhood disruption last week, I have been carrying my Canon 7D camera with a 100-400mm lens on both my morning and afternoon walks. These slow paced walks are definitely not cardio workouts and I’m not sure how much it is benefiting my health. It has, however, opened up a new world to me. This secret world has been going on around me for years and I really have been mostly ignorant of its existence.
While I’ve always been aware of the “seed eaters” (the ones that come to the bird feeders – chickadees, nuthatches, towhees, finches, jays, grosbeaks, goldfinches, etc.), I really haven’t been very aware of the “insect eaters” (warblers, vireos, flycatchers, gnatcatchers, etc.)
Over the summer – and even more so in the last few days – I’ve become keenly aware of the LGBs (little gray birds) that are flitting through the ponderosa, oaks and PJ. While they may appear to be LGBs, they are actually – upon close examination – really stunning in their colors, variety and numbers. The diversity is astonishing.
A number of these photos are not of publication quality. They did, however, make it possible for me to identify birds that I could never have identified in the field.
The Loggerhead Shrike (which is really not an LBG) caused a bit of a discussion with some local birders because several field guides state that the black mask does not meet over the bill in the Northern. This appears to be the case in these photos. Also, the bird is very pale which would favor the Northern although it was probably an immature Loggerhead which (according to the Cornell Lab website) are gray and not brown. The fact that it was here in La Plata County at the end of August would indicate that it was a Loggerhead.
One other note about the Loggerhead Shrike photos – they were taken at ISO 1250!!! When I began looking at my photos at the end of the day, I noticed that there was a lot of noise. That’s when I noticed the high ISO in the metadata. I never photograph at that high an ISO when out photographing birds. The highest I might go might be 800.
Earlier that day, I was showing some of my bird photos that were still in my camera to the folks on the Wednesday morning bird walk. A couple of the people were holding my camera and scrolling through the various images. Someone must have also hit the ISO button while they were scrolling and changed the settings. Lesson learned. Always check your camera settings before a photo session – and especially after someone else has been holding your camera.
And check out those little insect eaters. It will open up a whole new world to you.
It was my fault that there was a disturbance in the neighborhood last Thursday. It all started when I walked down to get the paper with Duffy, the dog. Maybe if I had my camera with me things might have gotten even more disruptive.
Lately, I’ve taken to carrying my binoculars with me when I go for my morning and afternoon walks. I do this so that I can better see – and hopefully identify – the birds that I observe along the way. A number of times recently I’ve taken my camera and 100-400mm lens with me. At 400mm and with the 1.6x magnification factor of the Canon digital camera, I can obtain the equivalent of a 640mm telephoto lens. Blowing up the resulting image even larger often results in some fairly good photos which makes the bird identification much easier. I am by no means an expert at identifying birds with binoculars. If it is a bird that is fairly common and I am familiar with it, I can usually identify the bird. If it is not common or I am not familiar with the bird, I often struggle to observe and recall all of the field marks that might be necessary for a positive identification.
The bird had a bright red chest and black body and showed a flash of white when it flew. I only saw it for 5-10 seconds and then continued on. When I got back to the house and looked in Sibley’s Western Field Guide. The bird that came closest was a Painted Redstart, but it was not supposed to be seen in our area.
That afternoon I emailed Susan, the premier bird expert living in our area and told her what I saw and described the habitat and location. She got excited because it must have been a Painted Redstart and it is a rare bird for our area and Colorado in general.
Apparently, one had been seen in Mancos (about 30 miles West of here) three years ago in similar habitat. She asked if it would be okay to notify the statewide birder hot line and a few of the serious local birders (the types that have life lists that might include seasonal lists, county lists, state lists, country lists and world-wide lists).
I told her to hold off on the state notification and just tell a few of the locals. About a half-hour later, I headed for town to run an errand and encountered two birders walking along the road. When I returned home there were several cars parked along the road and more birders searching the area. Some of the neighbors went out and inquired what was going on. One thought that an elderly man must have been lost as it looked like he was wandering around aimlessly.
Late that afternoon Susan showed up. In the first half hour, she had identified a number of birds that I had never seen before on my walks. In the morning, Susan and her husband, Pete showed up. We all went out to look again. Later that morning, after meeting with a contractor, I went out and caught up with Susan. I showed her some similar habitat where I take my afternoon walks.
Susan was a great teacher, I learned a few new birds and with her help I was able to photograph a couple of birds I had not previously photographed: a Plumbeous Vireo and a Cordilleran Flycatcher.
Sadly – or maybe happily for the neighbors – no one has seen the bird again in the area.
Very sad news. I just learned that Kenya’s largest elephant has been killed by poachers. In 2010 I stayed at the Satao Camp in Tsavo East and photographed a number of the large elephants. I’m not sure if I ever saw or photographed the big one named Satao, but will attach an image I made at the waterhole at Satao Camp.
I’ve seen this quote credited to Elephants Awara Masai Mara and/or Mark Deeble
“I am appalled at what that means – that the survival skills that the bull has painstakingly learned over half a century have been rendered useless by the poachers’ use of mass-produced Chinese goods; GPS smart-phones, cheap motorcycles and night vision goggles.
I think the old bull knows that poachers want his tusks, and I hate that he knows.
More than anything, I hate the thought that poachers are now closing in on one of the world’s most iconic elephants.”
When we come to an edge we come to a frontier that tells us that we are now about to become more than we have been before. – William Irwin Thompson.
Hi! My name is Robert Winslow and this is a photo taken of me on the summit of Mount Katahdin in Maine. The date is August 8th, 1971 and I had just completed my 130-day journey from Springer Mountain in Georgia along the entire 2000+ mile length of the Appalachian Trail.
Back then I was only the 36th person to have hiked the entire Trail in one year. Some folks do it in sections over a number of years and currently five to six hundred hikers complete it each year.
As I stood there on top of Katahdin it was a time of ending and completion and a time for new beginnings.
And now over four decades later, after recently retiring from teaching and leading photo tours and workshops, I have reached another ending and another beginning. Adventures, animals and images past and present will comprise this blog.
In a two volume book – no longer in print – Hiking the Appalachian Trail published in 1975 by Rodale Press I wrote about that last day on the Appalachian Trail.
Katahdin is without a doubt the most beautiful mountain on the entire trail, and the day I climbed it was one of the most memorable of my journey. The Appalachian Trail passes through Katahdin Stream Campground, which lies at the base of the mountain, 5.2 miles from the summit. There is a climb of 4,163 feet. Along the trail we had heard that it was necessary to have reservations to stay at the campground, and that camping was not permitted in the park outside of the campground. We had been told by hikers coming south that it was impossible to find a place to stay, and that if we showed up at the campground the rangers would throw us out. Mark, Jim Bruce and myself were not enthusiastic about being hassled at the campground, or for that matter even staying in it, so we didn’t. The day before we climbed Katahdin, we did our laundry and swam in the nearby Nesowadnehunk Stream. Then we stretched out naked on some boulders (we heard only two ladies scream all afternoon) and soaked up the first sun we had seen in over a week.
We camped that night a few miles south of Daicey Pond. In the middle of the night I awoke. The moon was almost full, the stars shone like diamonds. Almost automatically, since one of my hobbies is astronomy, I looked for an aurora borealis, but there wasn’t any. Jim was moving around. I sat up and poked him, “What do you think?” He shrugged his shoulders and we lay back down. A minute later he was jabbing me in the leg, “Let’s go.” We woke Mark and got ready. It was 2:30 A.M. We had to jump from rock to rock to cross a stream in order to get back on the trail. It then took us over two hours by flashlight to get through the swamps to the campground. We talked about the stars, Francis Marion, and how crazy we were, but most of the time we walked in silence.
No one was awake at the campground. We left our packs leaning against the flagpole outside the ranger station with a note saying we would pick them up that afternoon. I tied my jacket around my waste. Carrying sandwiches that had been made the night before, candy bars, water, and my camera, all in a stuff bag, we turned toward Katahdin just at dawn. After half a mile we no longer needed our flashlights. We ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches by a stream, and if I felt a little sleepy here, I was wide awake once we got above timberline. After a brief rest at Thoreau Spring I scrambled ahead, and then quite suddenly I was on the summit.
I had always known that I would reach Baxter Peak (Katahdin’s high point) and the end of the Appalachian Trail, but it was tough to comprehend, just as death is tough to comprehend. I wished that the Appalachian Trail would continue on. I did not want it to end. But why? Walking 2.000 miles from Geogia to Maine, fording rivers, climbing mountains, walking through rain and mud, carrying a 32- to 40-pound pack, watching clouds, and listening to the early morning symphony of bird and wind songs might be considered senseless acts – at least they serve no practical purpose. But back down there to the south someplace hidden in the trees, winding through the hills, and wandering over the horizon, was the Appalachian Trail and at the other end, 2,000 miles away, was Springer Mountain, Georgia, and in between lay a path of unforgettable experiences and wonderful beautiful people. This may sound foolish, but I walked the trail for the simple joy of it and if I gained anything it was the reaffirmation and the strengthening of my belief that despite all the hate, greed, and mixed-up priorities there are on this earth, it is still a fantastically beautiful planet that we live on. There is a constant poetry that flows through all of Nature, and if we open our eyes a bit, we can see miracles. It is an incredibly exciting world; I love it for what it is and am glad to belong to it.
A friend of mine, who is an astronomer, once told me that he had figured out that it was possible for us to travel through space in at least thirteen different directions at the same time. Through this timeless universe we are all relatively transient individuals. The Appalachian Trail had been my home for 130 days and at that moment on Katahdin it seemed like a lifetime to me. Everything that had occurred in my life prior to this hike seemed like it had happened in another incarnation. Standing along on the highest point in Maine, a monadnock, an ancient granite monolith sculptured by glaciers ages ago with timberline 2,000 feet straight down, I know what it was like to be tired at the end of a day, but I also knew that I would sleep soundly because of it. In a few minutes Mark and Jim would join me. It was 7:45 in the morning of another incredible day.
Hope to have you along for the journey. Just now the Winter sun is streaming in through my East facing office window. It is the morning of another incredible day.