Twofer on Rails.

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I don’t see many Rails in Maine. The Sora, a least should be there, but, evidently I am not often where it is. So when a friend told me about an easy Sora in a ditch along 8 Mile road on Galveston Island while I was at Feather Fest last week, I had to go see. And wouldn’t you now, while photographing the Sora (which was as easy as promised) what should wander out in same section of ditch but a Clapper Rail. The Clapper is much more restricted in its range, and, according to the range maps, does not reach Maine at all, so it was a real treat.

Olympus OM-D E-M10 with 75-300mm zoom. 600mm equivalent. Shutter preferred. 1/800th @ ISO 640 and 1600 @ f6.7. Processed in Snapseed on my tablet. Assembled in Pixlar Express.

Nest Building Egrets

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As I mentioned yesterday, I had an amazing Sunday on the Bolivar Peninsula, starting with yesterday’s canopy feeding Reddish Egret, moving on through Skimmers, Gulls, and Terns at Rollover, and finishing up with a visit to the rookery at Smith’s Oaks on High Island. The rookery has recovered well from the almost total devastation of the hurricane. The smaller trees are growing in nicely to replace the giants that the birds used for nesting, and with a few impromptu platforms placed on the stumps of the larger trees, the birds have adapted. In many ways, from a photographer’s point of view, the rookery is a better place today than it was before the storm. The birds are considerably more visible than I remember from my last visit (but that was at least 10 years ago, so I do not count too much on the memory). At any rate, the rookery made a fitting last stop on what was already a pretty spectacular day of birding and photography.

There was a lot of nest building going on, even though most nests already had eggs in them and the birds were actively sitting. The males seem compelled to keep bringing branches and the nests are so ramshackle that they probably do need frequent repair. This pair was putting on a good show. I especially like the evident (if indecipherable) attitudes of the two birds.

Olympus OM-D E-M10 with 75-300mm zoom. 600mm equivalent. My custom flight program. ISO 200 @ 1/640th @ f10. Processed in Snapseed on my tablet.

Reddish Egret Canopy Feeding

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I saw my first Reddish Egret, and my first Reddish Egret canopy feeding, 11 years ago at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge on my first visit to the Space Coast Birding Festival. I have attempted to catch that behavior 100s of times since…on each encounter with a cooperative Reddish Egret…but, for 11 years, the image has eluded me. I have come close…but never close enough. :-) Yesterday, at my very first stop at the very tip of the Bolivar Peninsula in Texas, barely 5 minutes off the ferry, all that changed. This Reddish Egret made up for all the others. It was close, and it was actively canopy feeding. My new Olympus OM-D E-M10 with 75-300mm zoom might be just a shade more capable then the super-zooms I have used in the past. I now have a very satisfying set of Reddish Egret canopy feeding in almost every pose imaginable!

This is the classic, one-wing canopy, pose that satisfies because of its inherent grace and the elegance of the lines. It looks like the bird might hold this pose for minutes as it studies the fish in the shadow it creates with its wing…but the fact is that this is just one position, generally held for only a fraction of a second in the feeding dance…which is why it is so hard to catch. It was full overcast, and slightly foggy at distance, but it was excellent light to bring out the full detail in the bird’s plumage.

Camera as above. Shutter preferred. 1/800th @ ISO 500 @ f6.7. Processed in Snapseed on my tablet.

Tern Dive. Happy Sunday!

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My visit to Galveston Island State Park on Friday morning provided an opportunity to practice catching Common Terns in flight. There was a long boardwalk across one of the channels and the Terns were hunting on either side, often quite close to where I stood. They hover, which makes them easier than most birds to catch…but they also dive out of their hover to take fish. I only caught the dive twice in a half hour of shooting.

This is a crop from a 600mm equivalent shot. I was using my personal flight shot program on the Olympus OM-D E-M10. ISO 200 @ 1/640th @ f10. Processed in Snapseed on my tablet.

And for the Sunday Thought: Terns are among the most graceful of flyers…quick, agile…with long flexible wings, and lovely tail extensions on either side. Watching them always fills me with a mix of awe and joy…an almost giddy feeling of happiness. I got my first really good flight shots on Friday, and was able to closely study the way the wings cup the wind as they hover, how they use those tail extensions in flight, and how it is all in service of the hunt…how intent they are on the fish below, and how effortlessly they manoeuver in the air. They are incredibly focused creatures…and that is, I think, a large part of what gives them their grace. When they are in the air, everything in them flows in a single direction…to a single goal, and the goal pulls feather and muscle into forms of elegance.

Wouldn’t we all be better off if we could say the same of ourselves? If our lives lack grace and elegance, is it not because we always pulled in too many directions at once. We are anything but focused. When we meet someone who is as simply focused as a Tern in flight, and that is very rare, we immediately recognize the grace that fills their lives…and it fills us (or at least me) with that same giddy happiness to see them. If they are focused on God and the spirit, it is easy, and right, to call them saints. But, in my experience, even if the focus that collects them and gives them grace is in art, or music, or social justice, or simplicity, or simply love in its best sense…they seem to me to all be, at their hearts, a focus on the one creative spirit that animates us all.

And I have to say, it is certainly my aspiration to someday live a life as focused as a Tern in flight…and as filled with grace.

Little Green Metalic Bee in Heaven!

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I think this flower is just Spider Wort. I found it growing at Galveston State Park yesterday morning. I had my screw-on macro lens attached to the 16-50mm zoom on the Sony NEX 3NL and was taking some Wildflower shots in general before I noticed the tiny Metalic Bee working the blue flowers.

Camera as above. ISO 200 @ 1/250th @ f8. Processed in Snapseed on my tablet.

Texas Wildflower Action

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After a day of setting up the booth and then tending it from noon until 6pm at the Galveston Feather Fest yesterday, my shutter finger was getting so twitchy that I begged off on the evening’s dinner plans at Bennos Cajun Seafood in order to visit Corps Woods Nature Reserve for a hour or so while we still had light. Corps Woods is a patch of, basically, waste ground along a ditch and a seep across the road from the Coast Guard compound, with a few taller cottonwoods to justify the “woods”. There is a Bushwacked trail and two short boardwalks to observation decks along the seep. Though the birding was pretty slow…there were a few wildflowers to entertain. And I did manage a few shots of a Yellow-crowned Nightheron through heavy brush. All in all my hour there was certainly as satisfying as Cajun seafood :-)

We have here, I believe, two varieties of Blanket Flower (bottom), Cardinal Flower (upper right), and Lantana. The Lantana was a difficult shot in deep shade using my screw on macro lens on the Sony NEX 3NL. The wind was blowing the flowers around so even though I took multiple shots I did not get one that is totally sharp. The others were framed in full sun at the long end of the 600mm equivalent zoom on the Olympus. The Cardinal flower used the 2x digital extender as well for a 1200mm equivalent field of view.

Processed in Snapseed on my tablet. The Lantana has some additional processing in Photo Editor by dev.macgyver. Collage assembled in Pixlar Express.

Shaggy Pelican in Flight

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I am in Galveston Texas for a few days for Feather Fest…a birding and nature festival held on the island each April (except for the year the hurricane came through). I was here the year after the hurricane when there was still a lot of visible damage. It is remarkable how fast a thriving tourist attraction can heal from even a major disaster.

One of the things about Galveston for the nature photographer, of course, is the Pelicans. I think there are more Brown Pelicans in the air over Galveston and in the waters just offshore at any one moment than I have seen in all my trips to other Pelican hangouts. I did not get checked in at the hotel until close to 5 PM, but that did not stop me from spending an hour on the beach right across the road shooting Pelicans in the air before finding supper. I have to say, the Galveston Pelicans are a scruffy lot…or maybe it is just the time of year…or maybe it is something in the water. Given the recent oil spill in the gulf, I suppose these birds might have some light oiling. At any rate, they are not nearly as smooth and presentable as their California cousins. I hope it is not oil, but it well might be.

Olympus OM-D E-M10 with 75-300mm zoom. I used my programed “flight mode”…continous 8 point auto focus, etc. I find that it works well on big soaring birds…is more of a challenge on smaller soaring birds (Gulls and Terns), and will take a lot of practice with smaller active flyers (I tried for Swallows last week in Ohio without much success). I am still learning the camera. ISO 200 @ 1/400th @ f8. Processed in Snapseed on my tablet. Cropped for composition.

Scary Blackbird

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“If you don’t eat your spinach the Red-winged Blackbird will get you!” Nuff said! (Grange Insurance Audubon Center, Columbus OH)

Olympus OM-D E-M10 with 75-300mm zoom. 600mm equivalent with 2x digital extender foe 1200mm equivalent field of view. Shutter preferred. 1/800th @ ISO 640 @ f7.1. Processed in Snapseed on my tablet.

Goldfinches in the Thistle

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The male Goldfinches in Columbus Ohio were just coming into their breeding/summer plumage. The bright yellow was patchy and the black cap was more a salt and pepper effect…with the pepper just beginning to hold its own. While they come to our feeders in Maine, it is always wonderful too see them in their native element…in a field of Thistle like this one, working the heads for left over seed.

Olympus OM-D E-M10 with 75-300mm zoom. 562mm equivalent. Shutter preferred. 1/800th @ ISO 200 @ f7.1. Processed in Snapseed on my tablet. Cropped slightly for composition.

Tree Swallows at Play

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Yes I know it is an anthropomorphic reach to call what Swallows do around a nest box or favorite perch play,  but to those of us who have the habit it certainly looks like play. At the very least it looks like it would be a lot of fun :-). This is on the grounds of the Grange Insurance Audubon Center in Columbus Ohio.

Olympus OM-D E-M10 with 75-300mm zoom. 600mm equivalent. Shutter preferred. 1/800th @ ISO 200 @ f7.1. Processed in Snapseed on my tablet.