Spring Trilliums


On Wednesday morning this week, I went with my friend, Ernie Sears, to photograph trilliums at Thompson Wildlife Management Area near Front Royal, Virginia. Ernie had heard Thompson WMA was a good place to see and photograph trilliums, but we had never been there and were not sure where to look for them. Trilliums are perennial flowering plants found growing wild in forests at higher elevations from Canada to Georgia.

The rarer of two species of trillium found in northern Virginia is the large-flowered trillium (T. grandiflorum). They carpet the forest floor in April and May in certain locations. Large-flowered trillium flowers start out white and turn pink before dying. The name trillium is derived from the Latin word “tres” because the flower’s parts are in groups of three.


We parked in the second parking area, got our cameras and tripods, went to the kiosk and looked at the park map, and then entered the trail. As soon as we were on the trail, we saw the trilliums. They were everywhere and in full bloom. Our timing was perfect, because the trilliums do not bloom for long.


I photographed the trilliums using a Nikon 105mm macro lens on a Nikon D810 camera body. I shot three to four images of each flower, focusing on the center and each of the flower’s petals. When processing the images, I blended the three to four images together to get a sharp focus on the entire flower. This process is called focus stacking.

This was a short article, because I wanted to share the trillium images and get back to preparing for my trip to Iceland. My next blog article will be about Iceland and contain some of the images I shoot while there. I am expecting to see and photograph many amazing and unusual landscapes while in Iceland.

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Posted in Nature, Spring Photographs | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Bulls Island in Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge


Two weeks ago, I spent three days on Bulls Island. Bulls Island is an uninhabited barrier island at the southern end of Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, consisting of over 66,000 acres and 22 miles of the South Carolina coast.


The six and a half mile long Bulls Island contains pristine maritime forest, wetlands, freshwater and brackish water impoundments, and unspoiled natural beaches. It is the home to wildlife and endangered species. More than 275 species of birds have been seen on the island.


Barrier islands line our east coast from Florida to Maine. Most barrier islands the size of Bulls Island are covered in houses, hotels, and resorts and crowded with people. Bulls Island is predominantly unspoiled and natural, making it a nature photographer’s paradise.


I traveled to Bulls Island with two friends, who are also nature photographers. We were hosted by Coastal Expeditions and their very knowledgeable guides, Gates Roll and Olivia Wilson. Our goal was to explore the island and photograph sunrises at the Boneyard, other landscapes, and wildlife. We achieved that goal.


The first three images (above) were taken at sunrise. It was very overcast and lightly raining. When the rain stopped, the newly hatched mosquitoes moved in for breakfast (me). We were told that if we had been on the island a week earlier, there were no mosquitoes. It was worth getting wet from the rain and being devoured by the mosquitoes to see and capture the unforgettable sunrise on Boneyard Beach on Bulls Island.

Bulls Island is changing shape from shifting ocean currents and waves, and the shoreline is moving inland, leaving the trees behind on the beach and in the water. The saltwater kills the trees, and over time the sun bleaches their dead bark and branches, hence the name “Boneyard Beach.” I photographed a similar boneyard beach in northern Florida on Little Talbot Island, but the boneyard on Bulls Island extends over a much longer distance, providing many more photography opportunities.




Obviously different than the other images, the below image is black and white. I do not usually shoot many black and white photographs, but sometimes they just work. This B&W image highlights the contrasting light and dark areas, the parallel lines of the ocean’s waves, and the ripples in the sand around the tidal pool at the base of the dead tree.


Another Boneyard Beach image below, but on a sunny afternoon at low tide.


Below is a very small crab, about the size of a quarter, climbing a palm tree. I have seen crabs in trees before, but it still amazes me to see them in trees rather than on a beach or in the water.



There were many birds on and around Bulls Island. Above is a Northern Parula signing loudly as I photographed it, and below is an Oyster Catcher walking among oysters at low tide.


Below is an image of a Loggerhead Turtle swimming in Bulls Bay. Loggerhead turtles are typically 36 inches in width, weigh 300 pounds, and live from 50 – 70 years. In the spring, many turtles lay their eggs on Bulls Island, and volunteers check the beaches each morning for new turtle nests. Often the eggs within the nests need to be moved to higher ground, which is done by the volunteers who then cover the nests to protect them from predators. When the eggs are moved, they are relocated so that the eggs are placed in exactly the same position as they were in the original nest. This is extremely important because the temperature of eggs within the nest determines the sex of the young turtles, and the temperature varies at different levels within the nest. Eggs incubating at 82°F become males and females at 90°F. An incubation temperature of 86°F results in an equal ratio of male to female hatchlings.


If you enjoyed seeing the images in this article and want to see more, one of the two friends that accompanied me to Bulls Island, Ernie Sears, made a video that contains some of his images, as well as mine and those of Ceasar Sharper, the other friend on the trip.

Comments on this article are appreciated and can be entered by clicking on “Comments” found below the Share this: section. You can also read other’s comments there.

Posted in Nature | Tagged , | 10 Comments

Protected Places Media Releases First iBook on the Outer Banks

This week, Protected Places Media released its first in a series of iBooks, Protected Places: The Outer Banks. The iBook is a Nature guide to the refuges, parks and preserves of the Outer Banks (OBX) and Albemarle-Pamlico Peninsula of North Carolina. All of the images in this article are from the iBook and were photographed by the author, Ernie Sears.

Sunrise copy

If you are planning to spend time at the Outer Banks, are interested in exploring more than the beach, and want to experience one or more of the many natural locations in the area, then this iBook will ensure you have that experience. Every nature park, refuge, preserve and trail in the Outer Banks area is included. Examples of what is described in the book follows.

  • A dune system that is never crowded and second in size only to Jockey’s Ridge
  • The best place to see bears and other wildlife
  • The best locations for sunsets and sunrises
  • Where you can see wildlife without leaving your car
  • Nature trails from easy to difficult, but worth the effort
  • World class birding hotspots


For every location, the iBook provides information about available facilities, hours, fees, handicap access, pet policies, websites, trails and directions. Every location was visited and photographed by Ernie Sears. The book covers over 40 locations, some of which are identified below.

  • Currituck NWR
  • Mackay Island NWR
  • Currituck Coastal Reserve
  • Kitty Hawk Woods
  • Sandy Run Park
  • Nags Head Woods
  • Run Hill Natural Area
  • Jockey’s Ridge
  • Oregon Inlet
  • Pea Island NWR
  • Buxton Woods Coastal Reserve
  • Alligator River NWR
  • Mattamuskeet NWR
  • Palmetto-Peartree Preserve
  • Gull Rock Reserve
  • Swanquarter NWR


Every page of the book includes some of Ernie’s stunning, high-quality images taken at each of the locations. The book also includes maps, active website links, and animations and pop-ups that add interest and clarity.


Protected Places Media (PPM) was established as a creator and distributor of books, video, photography and apps related to exploring, understanding and appreciating the natural world. PPM was founded by Ernie Sears, a close friend and talented artist and photographer. Ernie wrote Protected Places: The Outer Banks and has other similar books underway.


Ernie asked me to join PPM and to participate in ongoing and future projects. I am excited about this opportunity, and I will join Ernie next week as we explore and document the Low Country of South Carolina and Georgia. By sharing our appreciation for and experiences in the natural world, PPM hopes to inspire others to equally appreciate our fragile natural environment and, ultimately, help or support local, state and national efforts to restore and protect wildlife habitat for future generations.


To obtain a copy of Protected Places: The Outer Banks, you can download it from the Apple iBook Store or from the Protected Places Media website at http://www.protectedplacesmedia.com/index.html


Posted in Nature | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Shenandoah National Park Winter Views


Yesterday, after dropping my son-in-law off at Massanuttan Resort to go snowboarding, I spent the day in Shenandoah National Park, exploring and looking for either wildlife or an eye-catching view that I could make into a “keeper” landscape image. I only briefly saw a few small birds and heard a Barred Owl in the distance. It turned out not to be a good day for photographing wildlife.

Since it snowed earlier in the week, I hoped to capture an image of the snow on top of the mountains with a view of the snow below in Shenandoah Valley. I searched for a couple of hours until I found what I was looking for, as shown in the opening image. I located a group of large boulders covered and surrounded by snow at the top of a mountain with a clear view of the valley below. And, Mother Nature/the weather was cooperating. It was 22 degrees, and fortunately, the wind was not blowing, keeping everything still. To further enhance the image, a weather front was passing through, providing an interesting semi-clouded and blue sky.

One way to make a landscape image interesting and to give it depth is to photograph something in the foreground, while capturing the overall landscape in the background. As you can see in the above and below images, I moved to different locations around the group of boulders to capture different perspectives. Below are two different views.



Although I like the two above images, the opening image is my favorite. I like that the boulders are off-center, and that the clouds, blue sky and terrain provide leading lines to the subject of the image.

In the second image, although also appealing, the boulders are in the middle of the frame. From a photographers perspective, I try to avoid placing the subject in the center. In the third image, I included a small tree to the left of the boulders, which adds interest to the image. However, the tree blocks the view of the valley.

The images were photographed with a Nikon D810 and 16-35mm wide angle lens. The detail captured by the D810 is incredible. I suggest clicking on the images to see them in full screen mode.

Shenandoah-Valley-from-the-Shenandoah-MountainsI included the above image as an example of the need to have something of interest in the foreground of a landscape image. Although this image is interesting, showing an unobstructed view down the snow covered slopes of the mountains to the distant valley, it is not as appealing as the above images with the boulders.

Below is an image of Mary’s Rock Tunnel in Shenandoah National Park.  It is the only tunnel in the park and was excavated through solid granite in 1932. It is considered one of the engineering feats of Skyline Drive. I have always enjoyed seeing and driving through the tunnel. I just had to stop and photograph it as I was leaving the park to pick up my son-in-law at Massanuttan.

I bracketed the below image and processed it using HDR software. By bracketting, I captured the tunnel at five different exposures so that in post-processing I could retain the detail in front of the tunnel, as well as at the end of the tunnel. Without bracketing and HDR, or some other method of blending images, either the view at the end of tunnel would be blown out/lacking in detail, or the boulders at the entry of the tunnel would be very dark/lacking in detail.


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Posted in National and State Parks, Nature, Shenandoah National Park | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

January in North Central Florida


In early January, I spent a week in Gainesville, Florida, and while there visiting my daughter, I was able to squeeze in some photography. One afternoon, we joined my daughter with some of her friends at Mill Dam Lake in the Ocala National Forest. We stayed long enough to see a beautiful sunset across the lake.

I purposely framed the above and below images between Spanish moss hanging from a large oak tree. In the above image, the sun was dropping below the clouds and reflecting in the lake. In the below image, the sun was about to drop below the horizon, and as it was getting darker, the colors intensified and the clouds were more prominent in the sky.

The two sunset images were taken with a Nikon 1 V3 and 28-300mm lens at 28mm, 1/400 sec, f/16 at ISO 400. I like the Nikon 1 V3 as a backup camera, or when shooting family events. It is very versatile and can be used successfully for nature photography too.


The following day I captured, and previously posted, images of a young American Alligator perched on its mother’s head. Below is one of those images. This alligator behavior is not often seen and rarely photographed.


The same day I photographed the above alligators, I shot the below images of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. In the first image, the ducks were very aware of my presence. To see me more closely, they stretched up their necks and watched intensely. It was not long after spotting me, that they all flew off, as seen in the below image. Black-bellied Whistling Ducks get their name from their call, which sounds much like a whistle–they do not quack!



Two days later, my friend Ernie Sears joined me as we explored and photographed Paynes Prairie and Cedar Key. Some of my favorite images while shooting with Ernie follow.


Above is one of the many bison that freely roam Paynes Prairie. In the above image, as I was trying to get a good shot of a bison that was heading away from me and into thick reeds and undergrowth, the bison turned to at look me, eye-to-eye (and camera), before heading deeper into the reeds. Notice how the bison’s tail is raised. That behavior is a sure sign of one of two things. One the bison is potentially aggressive and could charge, or two, the bison is about to fertilize the Prairie. Fortunately, it was number 2.

Below are three images of a Green Heron that I spotted deep in a thicket surrounding a small pond. The heron sat still as we worked our way around the thick undergrowth to get a different view. While shooting, I noticed the heron reach down and snatch something. I could not tell what the heron was doing until later when I looked at the images. Then I could see the heron had caught a small Anole. Click on the second image to see the poor little Anole.




In the below image, I photographed a Great Blue Heron that flew into a Spanish moss covered, old oak tree on the edge of Lake Wauburg in Paynes Prairie. The heron perched in the tree looking over the lake for its next meal. The gray, blue colors of the heron blended in well with the similarly colored moss and background across the lake. (Click below to see the heron)


Shortly after photographing the heron, an Anhinga swam nearby with a fish that it had just speared. It was heading toward the shore to enjoy its catch. Timing with a bit of luck helps to capture such shots.


Later that day, Ernie and I walked the La Chua Trail on the Prairie heading to the observation platform at the end of the trail. Along the way, we passed a small group of Ring-necked Ducks. Below is an image of one of the ducks with its wings spread and flapping. Ducks fall into two categories, dabblers and divers, based on their feeding behavior. Ring-necked Ducks are diving ducks, and after several dives, they raise up and flap their wings to shake off water from the dive.


Although we saw and photographed many birds and some gators along the way to the viewing platform on the trail, the highlight was sunset and photographing the Sandhill Cranes as they flew onto the Prairie to roost for the evening. Below are two of those images–one with the cranes against the colorful and glowing sky, and the other a black and white image of a pair of crane silhouettes against the heavily clouded, early evening sky.



As I mentioned above, Ernie and I went to Cedar Key, which is about an hour and a half drive west from Gainesville. It is an old fishing village on the Gulf coast. Along the way, on a narrow stretch of two lane highway, I noticed an eagle on the side of the road eating some form carrion. I immediately pulled over and the eagle flew up into a nearby tree. We were able to get off a few shots before the eagle flew away. Below is one of the images.


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Posted in Bird Photographs, Nature, Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Snow Covered, Angry Bluebird

Angry-Snow-Covered-BluebirdWe are experiencing some winter weather in Virginia this week. Saturday evening, we had a little snow. Yesterday and today are very cold, never getting higher than the low 20s. The wind was blowing all day yesterday with gusts above 60 mph. Brrrr.

This evening, we are expecting up to 8 inches of snow. It will look beautiful outside my window tomorrow, even if we get half of what is predicted. In anticipation, I have two cameras ready to capture it in time-lapse video (from home, a good place to be). It should be good practice of another element of photography.

The cold winter weather and snow reminded me of one of my favorite winter images (above), shot a few of years ago. The snow covered, male Bluebird looked cold and angry. The bird’s head-on stare, irritated expression and the dusting of snow flakes made the image special. The next day, I was able to photograph the Bluebird again, but this time on a snow covered limb (below). He hammed it up for me again.

Bluebird-in-the-Snow Both of the images were photographed with a Nikon D300 and 80-400mm lens.

One of the things I love about photography is being able to see and enjoy someone or something that would only be a memory. Memories are wonderful, but when accompanied by a good photograph, the memory and experience is better remembered and seen in your mind’s eye.

Photographs also capture a moment in time and provide a slice of the ever changing detail that otherwise may have been missed. My image of the angry Bluebird is a good example. I would have missed seeing the Bluebird’s frown, if I had not captured it in my camera. Another appreciated benefit of photography is being to share what I see with others. I hope you enjoy these images as much as I do.

Comments on my blog and this article are appreciated and can be entered by clicking on “Comments” found below the Share this: section. You can also read other’s comments there.

Posted in Bird Photographs, Nature, Wildlife | Tagged | 13 Comments

Barred Owl on Lake Montclair


Some days are better than others. Today was one of the better days, because it ended with a Barred Owl flying into one of the trees behind my house. The weather today was unseasonably warm, and I was on my upper deck watching a gorgeous sunset when the Barred Owl flew into the tree. I quickly went inside and grabbed one of my cameras and took a couple of shots, but the owl was only a silhouette against the early evening sky. I quickly went back into the house and mounted a speedlight (flash) on to the camera and returned to the deck. Fortunately, the owl was still in the tree. I managed to get off a few shots before it flew away. What a great way to end a weekend!

The above image was taken with a Nikon D810, Nikon SB-910 Speedlight, 80-400mm lens at 200mm, f/5.3, 1/500 sec and ISO 800.

Posted in Lake Montclair, Nature, Wildlife | Tagged | 7 Comments