Category Archives: wildlife
It seems like only yesterday, instead of 2 months ago, that I visited this national seashore southwest of my home. I drive the 3 hours back down there last week (June 6-10) on assignment with the National Parks Traveler to photograph at least one public release of the endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle. It was a wonderful experience and I’ve written a couple of articles about this trip that will be published on the Traveler’s site. I’ll let you know when that happens.
In the meantime, here’s a sampling of what I saw and experienced at Padre Island National Seashore in the early summer.
A full moon, starry sky and sandy beach at Padre Island National Seashore.
Taking in the vast view.
Looking northeast along the beach, just before sunrise.
Looking southeast. That barricade you see on the upper far right is the divider between the pedestrian-only portion of the seashore (where I was standing) and the pedestrian/vehicle portion of the seashore, which is basically the rest of the national seashore, all 60 miles of it.
En route to the Gulf of Mexico
A Kemp’s ridley sea turtle hatchling “swimming” across the sandy beach to get to the water of the Gulf of Mexico. These little guys are smaller than a GoPro action cam.
Standing atop a dune on this morning, overlooking a hatchling release. There were about 400 people at the public hatchling release, that day. The next day after this, there were 860 attendees (weekends are usually more-attended).
Another sunny day at Padre Island National Seashore
It is. It’s almost the end of 2015 and I, for one, am ready for it to be done with. Except for my boob job in January, it’s been a pretty shitty year I’ll admit.
My 89-year old mother became ill in early February and subsequently died on the 19th, one day prior to my elder sister’s birthday. We can’t thank our lucky stars enough that we were both there to care for Mom at the end of it all. From then on, life and work went to hell in a handbasket. I’d break into tears every time I thought of Mom or thought of (or heard or saw) something that reminded me of Mom, My sister and I constantly second-guessed ourselves concerning Mom (woulda, coulda, shoulda). I found myself working for a horrible boss who made my work life miserable. I was not in the least interested in photography. And my entire life revolved around being Executrix of Mom’s estate.
Poor Mom. She thought she was leaving my sister and me with a nice little nest egg of her savings. As it was, my sister and I spent every single penny of that nest-egg savings getting Mom’s house up to snuff so we could finally put it on the market; fingers crossed that this sale goes through smoothly so we can be done with it. These upgrades included a total re-grade and re-sod of the entire front, back and side yards around the house (including the addition of what they call “French drains” to get the standing water to drain into the ditches around the house thanks to the horrid spring thunderstorms Texas constantly experienced all April and May); installation of more foundation pillars in the hallway; patching and repainting the cracks in the walls caused by the foundation work as well as the house’s normal settling issues here in southeast Texas; re-carpeting the hallway, one bedroom and the large den; getting the electrical issues worked out; installing a new roof to replace the one damaged by a freak April hailstorm; fixing the garage door, removing all of the high-tech hurricane storm shutters; and a number of other smaller issues – all required by the home inspector’s and the structural engineer’s report and the current realtor’s suggestions to make the house more – well – salable. This work has all taken two months shy of a year since Mom’s death. It’s been an albatross around my neck and I can’t thank my sister’s husband enough for all of his help – his 30 years in the construction business has enabled me to keep from going mad and throttling most of the people and businesses within this horrid little Podunk Texas town in which I currently reside. My experience this year has lead me to believe that there is absolutely no business here in this town that is totally trustworthy. At least, not when it comes to dealing with a divorced, middle-aged woman such as myself. Fuck ‘em all, I say.
As you can probably tell by now, this entire experience has given birth to the New Me: Angry White Woman.
I don’t take shit off of anybody anymore and I’m far more vocal about my feelings, opinions and beliefs (this includes my political and non-religious leanings, much to many of my Facebook friends’ annoyance). I have discovered I am also far more willing to stick my neck out at work and push back to the dirty politics I experience on behalf of myself and my friends who either cannot or will not push back themselves (it’s easier for me to do it since I’m close to early retirement and I don’t have a family for whom I must provide – this allows me to follow the courage of my convictions).
It’s taken me 54 years, and I’m absolutely certain Mom’s death was the catalyst to make me realize what is truly important in my life. Hint: it aint work. Work is not my life and never has been – it just pays the bills, pays for my camera equipment and allows me to travel. No, what is really important – to me – is family and people who love me.
I no longer have family here in Texas. They all live out in the Pacific Northwest, and sooner rather than later, that is where I will move. I am making my plans little by little. I don’t want to grow old and spend my remaining days alone in a Texas nursing home, waiting to die, far away from people I love and who love me. Besides that, I’ve never been a huge fan of Texas and am ready for the next adventure further west where the mountains and my family live.
I’m also trying to regain my photo mojo. I’ve done a few small photo projects this year, including:
Using my new 11-24mm, 100mm macro, and 500mm prime lenses at Brazos Bend State Park, Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, and around my home and my mother’s home;
Spending a wonderful sunrise photo shoot as well as an entire day in the photo pit at the 2015 Wings Over Houston Airshow;
Performing my duties as staff photographer for The Merchant Prince and capturing images for his use out at the 2015 Texas Renaissance Festival;
Photographing my newest great niece whom I have never met until last year (for only 20 minutes before getting to the airport) and who is now almost 3 years old;
And photographing my company’s annual gingerbread decorating event.
I haven’t really taken any photo holiday because almost all of my annual vacation days were spent caring for Mom and thereafter taking care of the estate. I did take a short trip to visit my sister and her family in eastern Washington over Labor Day, spent a weekend in Santa Fe NM during the Memorial Day holiday, and visited my sister and her family, again, during Thanksgiving.
My main vacation is coming up and I hope it will be the jump start to much more photography in 2016: I’m going to be spending 10 days in Europe (including Christmas and New Year): 8 days in London and 2 days in Paris. Everything is paid for, I printed out all of my tickets, and I am all packed, including my camera backpack:
- Canon 5DS body
- Canon 5DS-R body
- Canon 1DX body
- Canon 11-24mm lens
- Canon 24-105mm IS lens
- Canon 24-70mm IS lens
- Tripod, a gazillion memory cards, a small Canon flash, a couple of wireless shutter releases, and lots of extra, fully-charged batteries
I’m not taking my 70-200mm lens because it’s heavy and my backpack is already heavy enough (plus I’m taking two suitcases as well as my laptop bag with travel laptop, mouse, memory card readers, 2 external hard drives – 1 TB each, iPhone, iPad, book, and folder with all of my ticket information for the various venues I will attend). I can only take so much – don’t even ask me what I’ve packed in the suitcases (grin).
I apologize for not publishing more blog posts. I know one is supposed to do that to keep readership and to keep one’s writing skills in tip-top shape. I’ll get back into the groove, I promise. I’ll have free WiFi in my London and Paris hotels, so I know I’ll be editing photos and writing about my experiences, uploading to both my Facebook photography page as well as my Twitter account. I may even publish a post while there. For now, stay tuned to forthcoming imagery from my 2015 trip, as well as the trips I have planned for 2016. I plan on making up for lost time.
The National Parks Traveler website has just published my latest photography article: My 5 Fave Shots for 2014. Click on this link if you want to go check it out!
Just a little reminder that the Chihuahuan desert can be a dangerous place. I was driving toward the Chisos Mountains and noticed ahead of me what looked like a traffic jam. As I got closer, I noticed the truck was a National Park Service truck. I drove slowly and glanced to the right side of the road to see one very angry snake lunging at my car as I passed by (look at the lower left of this photo).
In my single-minded pursuit to photograph the beauty of the park, this was a reminder to me to be ever-observant of the more venomous side of the desert.
I noticed a number of photographers posting their favorite images taken over 2013 and thought I would do the same. I decided to choose 15 images and provide some commentary about the photo. It was a difficult choice, believe me.
These are in no particular order.
To see a higher-res rendition, just click on the photo and you will be taken to the spot where that particular photo resides on my photography website. You can order most of them for yourself, as a print in all sorts of mediums, or a coffee mug or within a 2014 calendar or photo journal creation of mine. And I even have a 30% discount on orders $30 or over on my website right now through the end of January 2014.
1. Evening in the Chisos Mountains, Big Bend National Park, Texas
I was getting a little anxious to arrive at the Chisos Mountain Lodge before it got dark (easier to find my way to my room in the daylight), but I passed this particular spot and knew I needed to turn around, park the car alongside the empty road and capture this mountain-backlit image with the wispy clouds and the century plant anchoring the foreground.
2. They Know All the Words to Her Song, Evening Pirate Pub Sing at the Sea Devil Tavern, Texas Renaissance Festival
Low-light images are difficult to capture well, even at the best of times. This was an image captured with no flash, using my trusty Canon 1-DX. Note the people around the singer, raising their mugs to her and singing along with her. Total groupies at a Renaissance rock concert as they sing along with their favorite pirates. She and her husband (for real) “Captain Basil Drake” are huge favorites out at the festival.
3. Helping the Bride with the Finishing Touches
One of my favorites of all the wedding photos I took of Maegan that day (and I have a lot of favorites from that day, believe me). The natural side lighting highlighted the bride’s excited, expectant look as she stood there while the ladies in her bridal party arranged her necklace. The looks given to her by the other ladies, in addition to each of their actions (look at the hands) make this a memorable moment for me (and I hope for the bride).
4. Park Avenue Snow Day, Arches National Park, Utah
It was a magical morning. I awoke at about 2AM to peer out of my hotel room window and see huge, feathery snowflakes falling to the ground. Talk about excited! There’s something about red rock and white snow. There’s also something about being one of the first people (actually, I think I was the second person) to enter the park and to get to a spot at which nobody else has yet arrived. That was Park Avenue. Those footprints you see in the photo are mine. A total of about 5 inches or so piled up that morning. By late afternoon, it had almost completely melted, and by the next day, only the shadowed areas of the park still sported snow on the ground.
5. Plucking at the Head Feathers
This was the first time ever, in all 8 years of photographing the little ruby-throated hummingbirds, that I had ever witnessed such aggressive (and oftentimes amusing) behavior as exhibited by these territorial little birdies as they vied for perching space on one of the three feeders my 88-year old mother and I set out for the hummers as they stopped for a month-long break during their annual fall migration further south into Central America and Mexico. This just goes to show what going out every morning and/or evening to photograph the hummingbirds during their September sojourn can bestow wonderful images upon the patient photographer using a telephoto lens, fast camera, and flash.
6. Quite A Mouthful: Ibis with Crayfish (aka Crawfish), Brazos Bend State Park, Texas
A few months prior to my Katmai NP trip in July 2013, for which I had reserved a Canon 500mm prime lens, I rented this same lens for a weekend in order to get a feel for the lens so I wouldn’t be totally clueless and clumsy during the Alaska vacation. I lugged that lens out to Brazos Bend State Park, where I knew there would be a good chance of birdlife and I also knew the birds are a little more habituated (and less skittish) to humans there than at the national wildlife refuge. There is a particular spot where the birds (and alligators) like to congregate at 40-Acre Lake and I parked myself, tripod, and lens right at that spot. My entire goal that year had been to capture a sizeable tasty morsel in a bird’s mouth, and with this shot, I nailed my goal.
7. Sunrise at the Refuge, Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, Texas
Ah yes, I love getting sunrise shots. It helps that I am a morning person. And some of the best sunrises I’ve seen in the refuge are across and to the south of the gravel auto tour road alongside Olney Pond and Cross Trails Pond. The trick here is to getting a decent sunrise shot without having your entire composition filled with sun flare spots – and that’s difficult to do if you eschew a lens hood in order to make use of your polarizer filter and grad neutral density filter. These two filters allow you to use a slow shutter speed or wider-open aperture (unless you are aiming for a starburst effect) to keep the foreground lighter and not blow out the horizon. They also help with making the clouds (if there are any) more dramatic and with adding some color saturation as well.
8. Portrait of a Brown Bear, Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska
This place is totally amazing. I had never in my entire life ever thought I would be viewing such incredible creatures as these 700+ lb brown bears….in Alaska…with a 500mm prime lens (rented). My favorite thing to do was create portraits of the bears. Sometimes the 500mm lens did a perfect job on its own, and at other times, I did a little cropping to focus the eyes more on the bear’s face. When you first look at all the bears, they sort of look alike. But even after just a couple of hours in their presence, you can begin to suss out differences in appearance, facial expressions, and little quirky movements they have when fishing the Brooks River or looking for berries. I could see that each bear has its own personality and I tried to capture that with my portrait shots. This is one of my favorites. And it’s quite cropped, actually. This bear had been standing out in the river rapids, just below Brooks Falls. It turned away to warily look behind it before resuming its steady watchfulness of the rapids with the intention of catching dinner.
9. Alaska From Above
I had the best time during my one-day bear-viewing trip to Lake Clark National Park; probably because I thoroughly enjoyed the 5-seater plane flight to the park. The windows were clean enough that I captured a number of aerial images of the Alaskan landscape. This is one of my favorites because of the landscape itself, the colors, and the lighting. This image also brings back the feelings of excitement and wonder I experienced as I viewed this remote Alaskan land. Plus, I was pretty darned pleased with my attempt at in-plane photography, since I don’t attempt this sort of thing very often. The key is to use a wide-angle lens and to put the lens as close to the window as possible without touching the vibrating plane glass. It also helps (tremendously) to have a camera with a fast frame-per-second capture – especially if your lens does not have IS (or VR or any of the other acronyms for image stabilization). I did not use a polarizing filter for this photo (or any of the other aerial images) because sometimes a polarizing filter can do wonky things to photography through an airplane window).
10. A Morning View of the Chugach Mountains, Alaska
I had just enough time that Sunday to make a morning sightseeing trip north of Anchorage before having to return the rental SUV and get ready to meet up with the rest of my fellow Katmai photo tour members. My intention was to drive up to Hatcher Pass. I noticed this scene to the right of the highway and passed right by it. All the while, I thought to myself that I really ought to turn around and capture the view before heading on. Surely I had enough time for that. So, I turned around and captured the view.
11. Icy Morning Glow, Arches National Park, Utah
By now, you can see that I have a number of favorites from this February visit to Arches. This image was sort of an afterthought. I’d driven to my favorite viewing area within the park: La Sal Mountains Viewpoint. When I realized the sunrise was going to be a bust, I turned to head back to the rental vehicle. I happened to look down to the slickrock ground and noticed several shallow potholes filled with clear water that had frozen during the night. The creative part of my brain kicked in and I captured this scene.
12. On Top of the World at Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Utah
Favorite photos don’t have to be people-less. I love this image not only because it proves I made it up the steep, sometimes ice-coated hike to such an iconic feature as Delicate Arch, but it also shows that I had that entire place all to myself! Now that was an awesome feeling! So I set up camera and tripod, then tripped the shutter with my wireless remote to capture exactly how I felt and where I was. Plus, the photo gives a pretty good scale and sense of reference.
13. Sunset Over the Chisos Mountains and Chihuahuan Desert, Big Bend National Park, Texas
I shot this image prior to capturing the image at the very top of this post. I was trying to get to the Chisos Mountain Lodge before it got dark. I’d gassed up at the small Panther Junction station and was heading toward Basin Drive when I looked to my left to see this amazing scene. Naturally I had to get a photo, so I pulled into a small turnout, grabbed camera, tripod and grad ND filter, then hoofed it across the road to get this photo. It was a little tricky to capture with as little flare spots as I got because I was not using a lens hood. You see, my grad ND filter is a 4×6 and I don’t use a filter holder; instead I just hand-hold it against the camera lens. Makes it easier and quicker to move the filter up and down.
14. An Autumn Scene on Mount Desert Island, Maine
I’d had the good fortune and the misfortune to visit this part of Maine during the government shutdown. This meant I would not have access to all the places I wanted to see in Acadia National Park, which bummed me out and really cemented my utter disdain over congress. Nonetheless, I managed to capture some beautiful images of Maine during autumn. I had just turned off the road from Bass Harbor and was heading toward Bar Harbor when I looked to my right and saw this autumnal marsh scene with this wonderful tree in the foreground.
15. The Visitor Center View at Dead Horse State Park, Utah
Ok, we know people who travel to this place, – a hop and a skip from both Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park – generally photograph that iconic scene of the canyon looming over the river oxbow. But, there are other incredible scenes to be photographed in this state park, and this view right next to the visitor center is one such area. The short rock wall provided an excellent frame to the expansive landscape beyond.
So, there you have it: my 15 favorites (actually, I have about 20+ favorites, but this is a long-enough post.
Here’s to 15 more favorites taken from the photographic possibilities I hope to experience in 2014!