Monday, October 15, 2012

A Fun time with fungis

I have always really like fungus and mushrooms.  When I was a Boy Scout and did a lot of hiking, tree fungi were one of the few things that I learned to identify (not that I remember anything besides Chicken of the Forest).  There is something about their colors and sudden appearance that attracts me.  I have often tried taking pictures but usually without much success.  Sure, once in a while something good will come out of my attempt but most of the time they end up blah.

A few weeks ago my wife and I were at the local botanical gardens and there was a photo show of mushrooms.  Again, only one or two really stood out as good photographs.  And there are some good photographers in that group.  As we talked about it we came up with a couple of reasons why it is so hard to get beautiful photographs of fungus.

First, while they can be striking, they are usually not the most attractive of subjects.  That immediately puts the photography in a tough situation.  You have to turn something kind of ugly, or real ugly in some cases, into something people would enjoy viewing.

Second, mushrooms usually grow in deep under stories where the light isn't good.  OK, where the light sucks.  And a lot of mushrooms don't stand out all that much from their surroundings.

And finally, they are really low to the ground.  It is hard to get that low and then not have leaves, grass, twigs, etc. get into distracting positions.

But, when you do get a good shot, it can really be something.  So here are a few of my favorites.

In this case I took advantage of all of the similar colors, placed the mushroom over in the corner and avoided distractions of trying to separate the mushroom from the leave litter.

In this case I was able to get quite close with a macro set-up (extension tube and lens) and just focus on the ribs. This again removed any distractions sticking up in the background.  I think the shallow depth of field really focuses the attention on the mushroom.

For this one I moved a few of the fallen twigs that were poking up.  The mushroom is on a rise from the trail so I could get down to it's level with my tripod. And I like the repeated slope of the mushroom cap and the moss behind it.

This one helped out by lifting the distracting element and made it an intricate part of the image.  The little sprig of grass is beside the mushroom so it adds a sense of scale instead of being distracting.  The the humor of the mushroom lifting the twig offsets any other technical problems.

And finally, my all-time favorite mushroom picture. My wife and I saw this while hiking in the Shenandoah Mountains last year. These mushrooms were growing out of the side of a bank at about waist level.  Easy to get to there level   My wife let me borrow her macro lens so I could get in really close.  they are probably no more than 1/4 inch tall.

Check out the other bloggers at Macro Monday and Our World Tuesday.

Sunday, September 30, 2012


My trip to the Pacific Northwest (See Hurricane Ridge posts) finished up with a day and a half in Seattle.  On Saturday, my wife and I left our B&B on the Olympic Peninsula and headed to the Botanical Gardens in Bellevue.  Being the intrepid gardener that she is, she really wanted to see a garden out there.  The climate for gardening is quite different from our home environment in Virginia and can support a much wider range of flowers.  We had planned on taking a ferry across Puget Sound but the GPS failed us and took back along the land route. Not only was it disappointing that we didn't get the ferry ride, and the possible birds along the way, but we hit heavy traffic in Tacoma.  When we arrived at the gardens it was Art in the Gardens day so it was quite crowded.  We did manage to get away from the main crowds and enjoy some of the flower displays and the wooded areas.  It was a nice place to visit but would have been better if we weren't already a bit stressed and overwhelmed with the crowds.  Below are a few shots from the gardens.

Sunday morning my wife headed back home.  Leaving the West Coast for the East Coast means an early flight, especially with the need for a connecting flight.  So I dropped her off at the airport about 5:30 am.  Since I was up, I decided to try to do some birdwatching.  According to the local birding trail guidebook, there was a beach in West Seattle that might offer a good chance at seeing migrating shore birds.  As I drove out there I noticed that the sunrise was going to be beautiful. There were high clouds to the east but not too dense.  Just as the sky was lightening I came across a pull-off.  I decide to turn in and see if I can get some sunrise pictures.  There were already two photographers there.  The pull-off provided a great view across the water to downtown Seattle.  The sun was creeping towards the sky just south of the city skyline.

After getting these shots I talked with the other two guys about the beautiful sunrise and my plans for the afternoon.  While neither were wildlife photographers, they did mention that there would be a lot of birds down on Alki Beach. So I head through the little neighborhood and down to the beach.

  As I reach the beach I see that the main road is closed for a 5k run and there is no public parking available.  At a loss, I turn and head towards one end hoping to find some place to park.  But there are few intercepting roads and a lot of nice apartment and condo buildings but with restricted parking.  I finally make it to the far east end of the beach where there is a boat launch and an open parking lot.  I walked about 3/4 of a mile down the beach and back.  There are a fair number of birds but almost all of them are Glaucous-winged Gulls.  The most interesting thing I saw was an adult and juvenile gull pulling apart clam or some other shellfish.
Sunday afternoon I headed downtown to see the sights.  Without really trying, except for heading downhill, I ended up at the Pike Place Market.  After grabbing lunch and taking some street photos, I headed back to the hotel to meet a friend for dinner.  I followed the waterfront to my cross-street and found this nice Ferris Wheel that looked really nice against the darkening, cloudy sky. Luckily there wasn't any rain and we had a nice dinner on the water.  The rest of the week was spent in meetings so this was basically the end of my fun.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Tuesday's Turkeys

While out driving the Colonial Parkway outside Williamsburg, VA this weekend, my wife spotted these wild turkeys feeding next to a pull-off.  They were quite calm as we watched from the car and then I got out and retrieved my camera from the trunk and captured some pictures.  A second car with a photographer pulled up behind us and joined in.  The turkeys feed for about five minutes before slowly vanishing into the woods.

After enjoying these be sure to stop by Tuesday's Tweets and Wild Bird Wednesday for much better photographs.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Olympic Peninsula - Part 2

Strait of Juan De Fuca and Dungeness Spit
as seen from Hurricane Ridge Road
My last post talked about the first day of the mini-vacation my wife and I took a few weeks ago to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State.  We stayed at a small bed and breakfast that was right on the water of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It was a lovely little place with a pond and waterfall near the front door and a wide backyard that overlooked the strait from about 30-40 feet up.  While there was a small gravel beach at the bottom of the cliff, there seemed no way down to it.  From our room we could see the water, Victoria, British Columbia and the Olympic Mountains.  On our final day, one of the other guests pointed out a tall, snow-capped mountain in the distance that we learned was Mt. Baker over on the mainland.

I was intrigued to learn that Juan de Fuca was Greek.  On our way into town the first day we stopped at an overlook that had some informational signs. Ioánnis Fokás sailed for the Spanish King and is therefore referred to by the Spanish transcription of his name. Reading a little more on Wikipedia, I learned that his reports of finding the strait bearing his name are somewhat dubious and it is unclear if he really discovered it or not.  But now knowing Juan De Fuca was Greek, I assumed he was the one that named Mt. Olympus and the Olympic Mountains and that Mt. Olympus had a strong resemblance to Mt. Olympus in Greece.  Well, we all know what assuming does to us.  Mt. Olympus was named by John Meares nearly 175 years after Juan De Fuca sailed the area.  And according to Seattle Magazine, Meares named it Mt. Olympus not in direct reference to the Greek mountain but because it looked like a god-like paradise. Interesting stuff.  And as far as I can tell, we never got close enough to actually see Mt. Olympus.
Olympic Mountains seen  from B&B
On our second morning I had arranged for a kayak trip.  We frequently kayak at home in the calm, warm waters of the lower Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. The colder and more exposed waters of the Pacific coast drove us to go with a tour instead of just try and rent boats on our own.  We were outfitted with full dry suits and paddling jackets before being driven about 20 minutes out to Freshwater Bay.  We were lucky that the winds had died over night and it was a calm day with calm seas.  The day before there had been a gale-force wind advisory and the kayak trip was moved to a nearby lake.  It had definitely felt windy in the mountains and the night before the kayak trip the B&B was pounded by winds.  But I had assumed it was just part of living on the coast there.
Waking with the mountains
We paddled out of a protected bay and along the coast of the strait towards the west.  There was a large rock at the mouth of the bay that had some shallows coming out from the coast line. The tide was about low enough that there was exposed rocks and we saw a handful of Black Oystercatchers, Heermann's Gulls and Black-belied Plovers.  Only the plovers do we see on the East Coast.  The paddling was nice but there wasn't as much wildlife as we, or the guide, expected.  We saw some Pigeon Guillemots on the water and a few Bald Eagles overhead, but that was it for most of the trip.  A few other paddlers saw a seal but we missed it.  They are a common sighting on these trips but the guide thought the shifting weather may have sent them either further along shore our out into the water to feed. There were a few small indentations in the coast that we explored but the winds from the previous day had stirred up too much debris in the water and we seldom could see more than 5 - 10 feet down.  As we returned from about three hours on the water we came across four River Otters playing on the edge right next to our starting bay.  So we settled in to watch them for about 10 minutes as they rolled and tumbled over each other and took the occasional swim.  They are like rambunctious kids at play.

After the paddling we headed to a soup restaurant our B&B hosts had recommended.  It had sounded great that morning was we were expecting to be cold after being out on the water.  But between the exertion of paddling and being in the dry suits, we were in no need of soup.  But they also had some great sandwiches and wonderful outdoor seating.

Madison Falls
Elwha River
After lunch we headed back to Olympic National Park, but this time we headed in along the Elwha River to photograph Madison Falls.  The Elwha River is undergoing a massive dam removal process with two large dams being destroyed.  One has already been removed and according to our kayak guide, the salmon are already returning. The falls are just a short walk from the road.  It is a very pretty fall dropping probably 40-50 feet before a short run to join the river.  There is also access to the river right across from the parking lot.

I'm sharing again this week at Our World Tuesday. Be sure to stop by there and read some o fthe other people's story of the world they live in. Come back soon to read about our visit to the Bellevue Botanical Gardens and my day exploring Seattle.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Olympic Peninsula - Hurricane Ridge

It has been quite a busy summer.  It seems only a few weeks ago was Memorial Day and now it is Labor Day.  The official end of summer; but we still have many more hot, humid days to look forward to here in Virginia.  This weekend has been particularly bad with humidity levels over 90% during the day.  There has been a near constant threat of rain.  And it's not like we need it.  Last week we had over 5 inches recorded at home with significant road flooding around us.  But enough complaining about the weather.  This time I actually did something about it.  Or at least changed the weather I was experiencing.

Last week I had a business trip to Seattle and since it fell right after my wife's birthday we decided to tack on a trip to the Pacific Northwest.  The weather there is much more friendly this time of year.  So if you can't change the weather then change where you are.

Hurricane Ridge Road
We found a nice place to stay on the Olympic Peninsula and planned a few hikes into the Olympic National Park as well as a kayak trip and a visit to a garden.  We had several days of adventure without work or home distractions and lots of photography time so this will be the first a several posts about our visit.

The first day we were there we headed up into the the national park to visit Hurricane Ridge.  I had a book of easy day hikes.  That seemed the right speed coming from incredibly flat Tidewater Virginia, we need supplemental oxygen to climb over the sea wall at the beach, and since we would be dragging our cameras along, short, easy hikes seemed the most enjoyable.  We both really enjoy nature photography but it does mean we usually double or triple the estimated hiking time for a trail.
Snow-capped mountains
We drove up Hurricane Ridge to start our hike.  The first stop was the park's main visitor center in Port Angeles. This is where the give out the back country passes and bear-proof food canisters.  So the parking lot was crowded with people preparing for many days of back country hiking.  We felt a bit out of place with out little day packs and freshly bought sandwiches.  I did some serious hiking when I was younger but now with photography and bird watching, I think it would be hard to pack light and put ten miles or more in a day.

Waterfall with wildflowers
The drive up the mountain was quite nice. The weather seemed to change every several minutes as we got higher and passed through another ridge.  It had started cool and sunny and turned cold, windy and cloudy by the time we reached the top.  Although the wind was nothing like the winds that are possible there.  The name is well earned.  I overheard a ranger telling some that winds have been clocked at up to 120 mph.  Glad it was more in the 20-30 mph range and then, only in gusts.

We started with a couple of the trails around the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center.  In spite of the clouds rolling in, the views were spectacular.  In spite of us being at only 5200 ft above sea level there was still snow on the north side and we could see several snow covered peaks.  The clouds started rolling in soon after we arrived and we could feel the cold, moist air coming over the top of the peaks.  It really gave me a chill as it passed by.

While out on the trails we came across several groups of Black-tailed Deer.  They are a subspecies of Mule Deer along with the well-known Sitka Deer. Their necks and faces definitely looked shorter than our White-tailed Deer at home.  It gave the young a particularly cute look.  They were well habituated to humans and even would graze only a few feet from the trails.  Even though I didn't have my wildlife lens with me I was able to get some good shots with my 15-85 mm lens.  We caught up with one small family with the mother on one side of the trail and the two fawns hidden on the other side.  They allowed us to follow slowly behind them as they moved through the trees and out into a meadow.
Black-tailed Deer along the trail side
Black-tailed Deer fawn checking us out
Field of wildflowers
One of the most striking things about the area was the abundance of showy wildflowers.  Perhaps it is a mixture of the well-tempered climate (cool summers and wet and not-to-cold winters), the elevation and the rocky, young ground but there are many openings that support flowers but not trees and shrubs.  This would probably allow the flowers to grow larger and more showy.  Back east, most areas revert to forest with mature trees and undergrowth.  This seems to lead to smaller grouping of wildflowers and less showy ones. Here we saw roadsides that looked like planted gardens.  Very beautiful.
Sharon enjoying a roadside "garden"

I hope you have enjoyed the pictures and will return soon for the next post about our kayak trip to Freshwater Bay and a hike to Madison Falls.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Morning happiness

It has been a while since I last blogged.  Between a busy work schedule and the oppressive summer heat, I haven't felt like blogging much.  Not many photos and my time outside has mainly been keeping up with yard work.

But this morning I woke up to find that the hibiscus plant in my whiskey barrel pond had bloomed.  I saw the bud over the weekend tempting me with its promise of beauty.  The humidity was reasonable this morning and with the gorgeous bloom calling out I ventured forth with my camera.  The sky was overcast giving me good light to work with. I even had a bee stop by for a visit.

I've had the pond for several years. It is a half of an old whiskey barrel (and no, I did not drink the WHOLE thing myself). It sits on the corner of the deck and grows a few things.  It has been a few years since I replaced anything so it has so sort of curvy, stiff grass and the hibiscus.  For several years it had this wonderful floating plant called snowflakes or floating hearts (Nymphoides sp.).  But it eventually died out and I haven't replaced it.  I also tried some type of elephant ears but it didn't last a winter in the pond.

So now the pond mainly provides some green texture, a drinking spot for birds and raccoons and the occasional glorious bloom.

Check out the other photographs at Macro Monday.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

House Finch Invasion

While not as flashy as some of our visitors, House Finches are surely the most numerous visitor we have to the yard.  During the summer the Red-winged Blackbirds in the marsh might give them a run for their money but I would still put my bets on the finches.  This summer there must be at least three families living nearby.  A few months ago we would see several young birds sitting in the tree near the feeder begging for food.

This past weekend the summer temperatures really hit so I didn't get out to take any pictures.  But I did set up my BirdCam by the feeder.  I wanted to make sure it was the finches that were going through a feeder of food a day and not that a squirrel or raccoon as getting to it.  So today I present our abundance of House Finches for Tuesday's Tweets and Wild Bird Wednesday.

Here is a shot of the feeder with nearly every perch occupied.  Notice the gold finch on the thistle feeder in the background.

One of the fun things about the BirdCam is the "accidental" action shots that it gets.  Like this House Finch coming in for a landing.
Or this one with two birds heading to the same perch (middle one on the right).

House finches aren't the only visitors that I get to the feeder.  There were Carolina Chickadees, Carolina Wrens and Northern Cardinals like this one.

And there were some birds that I couldn't identify.  If you know what it is, please leave a comment.

 I hope you stay cool and if in the US, enjoy your Independence Day.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Saturday morning I was playing the bachelor waiting for my wife to return from a trip, so I decided to get up early and try to do some bird photography.  I had not been out to our local nature park on the Chesapeake Bay this year so I decided to go out there in hopes of finding some Sanderlings or maybe even a few straggler plovers.  Low tide was just 30 minutes after sunrise so maybe I could get some good birds in good light.  Plus a storm had moved through Friday night and it was much cooler.  Sounded Great.  Unfortunately it was very hazy and humid, the biting flies were out in force and there were no sandpipers of any kind.  So I spent about an hour practicing getting terns and Ospreys in flight and diving while backlit.  Didn't make for great photos but it was useful practice.  I kept my camera in continuous focus, AI Servo on a Canon, while the birds flew by but once they started to hover in preparations to dive I would release the autofocus button (I use back button focus so I have control over it) and hope they stayed the same distance away as they dove.  That was a pretty good assumption and I didn't have to worry about the camera picking up something in the background to focus on or reacquiring focus if I lost the bird in the frame.
I did manage to get this series of an Osprey taking off after a dive that was decent. 

But the best was this "accident."  I was following the Osprey in the lens and didn't realize it was getting so close to the sun.  But I love the ephemeral feeling to it.
And it reminds me of the myth of Icarus who ignored his father's instructions not to fly too close to the sun.  When Icarus did, his wings, made of wax and feathers, melted and Icarus feel to his death.  But admit it, if you had wings wouldn't you fly too close to the sun?
Have a great day and enjoy some truly great bird photos at Tuesday's Tweets and Wild Bird Wednesday.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Catching up with flowers

I decided to go back in time this week for Macro Monday and pick some of favorites from the past.  A few are pretty recent and some are several years old.  

A few months ago I was preparing to go out to take some pictures when it started raining.  I delayed a little bit to let it pass and then went to get the "standard" water-on-petal pictures.  Although bordering on cliché, I really liked this one.  The flower is a purple Clematis that my wife has trained along the fence in the front garden.  The whole plant was in bloom creating an explosion of purple.  There was just enough light to highlight the petal while keeping the background quite dark.

 I'm not sure what type of flower this is, my wife is out right now and she is the garden expert, but it has a mound of this white star flowers. [She just returned and told me it is an Amsonia; thanks hon.] Similar to the Clematis above, I like how the limited light highlights the main subject.  I usually don't have the foresight to design that into my photographs but sure appreciate when it happens.  All of the vignetting is natural.

This is a rose bud from a native rose that is growing in our side garden.  The flowers are small, flat flowers but they have a wonderful scent.   If you look closely you can see little spikes coming over the green parts.  I'm sure there are technical terms for the bulge at the bottom of the bud and the covering.  Again, I'm sure my wife would know. I only wish I had caught that the back bud was up against the frame as there was room at the bottom to make a small adjustment.  I was probably just being careless.  Or this might be a good reason to use a tripod.  I don't remember if I did or not.  But I find that when handholding the camera it tends to drop slightly when I press the shutter button.  I have less of a problem with my DSLR but I went through a period where I was constantly cutting things off  at the top of the frame with my point-and-shoot camera.  I have a wonderful picture from Brussels of a full moon breaking through clouds behind St. Katherine's church that is partially ruined by having too much of the surrounding square and not the top of the steeple. 

 This native Columbine was taken last year on a trip to the Shenandoah Mountains. It was terribly foggy all weekend so I didn't get any mountain landscape pictures like I had hoped for but I was able to get a few good flowers and some great mushrooms.  

And finally this pink Poppy is from our front garden.  The year of  this photo we had a lot of poppies growing in this bed.  They looked really good with the Chamomile behind it.  Over the past couple of years they have been losing out to larkspurs.  I like the paper-thin petals of the poppies.  And the buds are quite cool in their own right.  The flowers come from large buds that grow up on tall, but thin, stems.  The stem hooks over letting the bud just hang there until it is ready to open.  And then everything stands upright and you get beautiful flowers like this.

I hope you have a great week and be sure to check out the other photos are Monday Macro.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Great Blue Heron

As you can guess from the title of my blog, and my introductory post, if you read it, Great Blue Herons are one of my favorite birds and a key instigator in my enjoyment of bird watching.  So it was a great joy this past weekend when I came across this heron that was busy feeding.  I had joined the semi-monthly bird walk with our bird club at Newport New Park.  We were just a few minutes into the first stop and it was turning out to be a pretty quite morning.  We were a small group with a few new watchers who where discussing the differences between Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets.  I wandered around the corner to get a better look at the reservoir to see if there was more to be seen; the egret discussion was being well handled already.  Just beyond the tall grasses at the water's edge I saw this heron waiting patiently as only herons can.  I like this particular picture where you can see the resting female Mallard to the right.  There is a nice echo in how they are holding their heads.
As I waited the heron saw some food in the water and started trying to scare it up.  The heron took several stabs at the poor prey, then whipped it around and dropped it only to start the cycle again.

By this time the rest of the group had caught up but the heron keep on working on it's breakfast.

The heron finally stopped hunting.  We weren't sure it it had eaten the meal or not.  And eventually it flew off and right past us.
I was able to zoom in on one of the pictures and see what it was trying to catch.  We had thought it was a frog but it now looks like a large fishing lure.  Glad he wasn't hurt by it.

Enjoy the other bird photographs at Tuesday's Tweets (also a Great Blue Heron; I didn't know until just now) and Wild Bird Wednesday.