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

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

Mother and Baby Alligators

Mother-and-Baby-Gators

A couple of weeks ago, I posted the above and below images on my blog. I was in Gainesville, Florida, at the time I took the photos. My friend, Ernie, was meeting me there within a few days to do some wildlife and landscape photography. The day before Ernie arrived, I photographed the mother and young gator in a rarely seen and photographed behavior.

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I returned to Virginia, and Ernie stayed in Florida for three more weeks photographing wildlife at a number of refuges and parks. Little did I know that Ernie was on the hunt for a similar gator image. As a guest contributor to my blog, Ernie explains his success in the below article.

Guest Article by Ernie Sears:

I first saw Steve’s mother and child alligator image as an email attachment sent to me a few days before I was to meet him at Paynes Prairie State Park in Florida. Like everyone else I know who has seen the image, I was blown away. It is an incredible image, the kind you might see in National Geographic.  Right away I wished that I had taken it. It is perfect in every way, except that I was not the photographer who made the once in a lifetime shot.

As you may have picked up from Steve’s previous blog posts, he and I shoot together often. We share advice and experiences, and yes, there is a bit of friendly rivalry. It doesn’t happen often, but I do get a kick out of it when I get a better shot of a subject than he did. But how was I going to top his great gator shot?

Steve and I shot at Paynes Prairie, Cedar Key, and Crystal River State Park during the three days that my wife and I were in Gainesville. Steve captured a bison image that was much better than mine. I got lucky and got some bald eagle shots that were better than his. Good “keeper” shots, but nothing that special. Paynes Prairie has hundreds of gators – but none with a baby on its mother’s head, at least while I was there.

My wife and I left Gainesville and headed for Captiva for two weeks of exploring refuges and preserves in Southwest Florida. I will not say I was consumed with getting the gator shot, but I did check the dark tannin stained waters of every swamp, pond, and ditch wherever we went searching for the prize shot. I was hoping that lightning would strike again and I could get what was becoming my holy grail.

I found and shot a pair of outlandishly beautiful painted buntings, wood storks, ten of the heron and egret species, warblers, ducks, eagles, sandhill cranes, spoonbills, hawks, owls, 30 other species of birds, deer, butterflies, wild horses, snakes, nine-banded armadillos, turtles, and more. And I saw a lot of gators, but not a single baby, let alone one taking a ride on mom’s head.

It was also getting a little dangerous – for people in my way. At Six Mile Cypress Slough, I thought I heard someone say they saw baby alligators on the shoreline I had passed on the lakeside boardwalk. Without thinking of anything except getting the shot, I charged back on the one-way boardwalk, even though it was filled with a busload of people from a retirement home. Those walkers and wheel chairs take up too much room on the narrow walkways. No one was hurt, but my wife had to repeatedly apologize for my rude behavior. Of course there were no baby alligators to be seen.

We left Captiva and moved on to Lake Kissimmee State Park in central Florida to continue the quest. No luck there either, so it was on to St. Augustine, our last stop in Florida. My last chance to get the mother/child gator shot. Would I be successful?

It did not start well and I was about to give up, when I remembered that St. Augustine is the home of the mecca of gator lovers – the Alligator Farm! Here you can find hundreds of American Alligators including a rare albino gator. But how would I get one with a baby on its head? As you can see from the images below, it turns out not to be that hard at the Farm, if you think outside the box a little.

Now please excuse me. I need to go sit by the phone. After seeing these images I am expecting a call from National Geographic.

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Click here to visit Ernie’s websites: AmericanWildBird.com and FromWaters Edge.com

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Stephen Tabone:  You can tell from the above article that I have a very special, talented friend with a great sense of humor. Thank you Ernie.

I have recently been reviewing images from when Ernie and I explored and photographed for three days in the Gainesville area. I will be posting some of those images in a blog article I am expecting to complete this week. It was a very good three days.

Posted in Wildlife | Tagged , | 6 Comments

American Alligator with Baby Gator (on Its Head)

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I had incredible luck today, while on Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, when I was able to photograph a VERY large mother alligator with one of her young gators on her head. I had heard of such gator behavior, but I never imagined I would be able to photograph it.

Mother-and-Baby-Gators

Based on the length of the baby gator (about 12″), I estimate the length of the mother alligator to be over 10 feet. As you can see from the images, she was keeping a close eye on me.

Mother-and-Baby-Gators-croppedI shot the images with a Nikon D810 and 80-400mm lens. Since it was very overcast and the light poor and because I was hand-holding the camera, I shot the images at a high ISO of 2000 to enable shooting at 1/500 sec, f/5.6. Because the D810 produces low noise images at high ISOs, I did not need to apply any noise reduction to the images.

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 Nature, Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, Wildlife | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

Swallow-tailed Gulls in the Galapagos Islands

Swallow-tailed-Gulls

When I visited the Galapagos Islands, the second island I visited was Genovesa Island, and one of the first birds I saw and photographed on the island were Swallow-tailed Gulls. Swallow-tailed Gulls are equatorial birds that breed only in the Galapagos Islands. These gulls are unusual because they are the only fully nocturnal gull and seabird, feeding only at night when squid and small fish rise to the surface to feed on plankton. Because they are nocturnal, their eyes are very large for a gull.

Swallow-tailed-Gull

Male and female Swallow-tailed Gulls are indistinguishable, looking exactly alike. In their breeding season, their heads turn dark grey or black, and they have bright red eye rings. Normally, their heads are white and and their eye rings black. I was lucky to be there during breeding season, because not only were the gulls in their breeding plumage, but there were young gull chicks to be seen and photographed.

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Swallow-tailed Gull eggs are incubated for 31 – 34 days. After 60 -70 days, the chicks are fully grown and take their first flight.

Swallow-tailed-Gull-Chick

When breeding season ends, the Swallow-tailed Gulls fly east toward the coast of South America, feeding while over the open Pacific Ocean. They return to the Galapagos to breed and typically to the same nest with the same mate within the same colony of gulls.

Swallow-tailed-Gull-Chick-2

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, Galapagos Islands, Nature | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Late Autumn Colors at Prince William Forest

Quantico-Creek-Prince-William-Forest-fW

Early Monday morning, I met my friend, Ernie Sears, at Prince William Forest National Park. Prince William Forest encompasses over 19,000 acres and has over 37 miles of hiking trails. The northern Virginia park provides a quiet and peaceful respite from the  surrounding suburban masses and the very close and always busy Interstate 95. When deep in the forest, it is easy to forget the nearby traffic and crowded areas and imagine what native Americans and the early settlers experienced.

Early-Morning-Fog-Quantico-Creek-Prince-William-Forest

We hiked over five miles looking for places to capture what remained of the autumn colors and found a couple of locations along Quantico Creek that provided picturesque views. When we first arrived at the creek, there was a light fog that could be seen up the creek from where we stood (above image). We were there about an hour, during which time the sun rose over a ridge and the fog cleared (below image).

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As you can see from the above and below images, most of the leaves had fallen. However, there were still enough leaves left in the trees for us to enjoy and capture the autumn  colors. The fallen leaves also provided color on the creek’s banks.

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About a mile from the above location, we found a small waterfall. The amount of water in the creek and its flow were minimized by the recent lack of any substantial rain. Nevertheless, I made the best of the “trickle” by using a slow shutter speed to soften the water and to capture the swirl, as seen in the foreground of the below image.

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The above photo is a composite of two images. One image was shot at a very slow shutter speed to soften the water and to capture the swirl in the foreground, and the second image was shot at a much higher shutter speed to properly expose the background and surrounding rocks. The two images were blended together in Photoshop.

The images in this article were taken with either a Nikon D800 or D810 and either a 24-70mm or 16-35mm lens.

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 Autumn Photography, National and State Parks, Nature | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Espanola Island in the Galapagos

Galapagos-Sunrise

When in the Galapagos Islands, I traveled for eight days from island to island on an 80 foot yacht. Most of the traveling between the islands was done at night to preserve time to visit the islands. Therefore, each morning when I woke up, the yacht was at a new location and the view totally different. Above is an image I shot from the upper deck as the sun was rising. That morning’s sunrise was the most spectacular during my visit, because the sun’s morning light colored the clouds in gorgeous soft, glowing colors that framed an island’s silhouette. It was a sunrise I will always remember.

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As you can see in the above map, the islands vary in size and cover a large area of the Pacific Ocean. They consist of 18 main islands, 3 smaller islands, and 107 rocks and islets. The Galapagos Islands are about 600 miles west of Ecuador, the South American country that owns and protects them. In 1986, 27,000 square miles of surrounding ocean was declared a marine reserve, meaning the waters and islands are protected against fishing and development. In 1990, it became a whale sanctuary.

Espanola-Island-Wave-on-Volcanic-Rocks-Galapagos-wL

One of the islands I visited was Espanola. It had the most beautiful beach I have ever visited. As you can see from the above and below images, the beach was lined with volcanic rocks, causing waves to splash high into the air. The color of the water varied from shades of blue to beautiful turquoise. Best of all, the beach was totally deserted, no people, no buildings, no signs, and no litter. The beach was unspoiled and as natural as it was when Darwin visited the Galapagos in 1835. Espanola Island’s beach was breathtaking. I did not want to leave and hope that I will visit it again.

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Although I did not have to share the Espanola’s beach with people, I did share it with a  group of sunbathing Sea Lions. They, as well as most of the fauna in the Galapagos Islands, were not afraid of people. Therefore, I was able to get close while trying not to disturb them.

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While photographing the sunbathing female Sea Lions, a large bull Sea Lion kept an eye on me from the shoreline. The male Sea Lion eventually left the water and approached the females. Clearly, this was his harem of Sea Lions. As he approached them, one of the females raised her head, and the very large male stretched his head out, and they appeared to kiss. I am sure that is not what they did, but they were clearly showing affection toward each other.

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As I walked along the beach, I noticed a single female Sea Lion rolling in the surf and enjoying the warm water and sunshine. I have many images of her in the water to include one when she was floating on her back. The setting was beautiful. I could have watched her all day frolicking in the surf.

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By the way, Sea Lions are not the same as Seals. There are significant differences, such as:

  • Sea Lions have earflaps; Seals have earholes.
  • Sea Lions have long whiskers; Seal’s whiskers are crimped or beaded.
  • Sea Lions have long hairless fore-flippers; Seals fore-flippers are short and have claws.
  • Sea Lions hind flippers rotate underneath and enable them to walk on land; Seals move on land by wiggling on their bellies.
  • Sea Lions swim using their fore-flippers like wings of a bird; Seals swim by steering with their fore-flippers.

Below, a female Sea Lion watched as I photographed her among the volcanic rocky shoreline.

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A young Sea Lion pup, covered in sand, was walking along the beach, and of course, I  could not resist photographing it.

Sea-Lion-Pup

Below is another view of Espanola Island’s beach. Occasionally, there were Marine Iguanas sunning themselves on the beach. One can be seen in the below image. I have many more images of the Marine Iguanas and will do a separate blog article about them.

Espanola-Island-Beach-with-a-Marine-Iguana-Sunbathing

Hope you are enjoying seeing some of the Galapagos Island’s beauty in my photography. I have many more images to share in future articles.

Posted in Galapagos Islands, Landscape Photographs, Nature, sunrise, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments