Loon in murky light

Common Loon. Back Creek, Kennebunk ME

It never fails that my first few days with a camera are in murky, dark, damp weather. It does not help that is the dregs of winter here in Southern Maine either. This Common Loon was at the mouth of Back Creek where it enters the Mousam River behind the dunes. Despite the flat light, the reach of the 2000mm equivalent zoom on the new Nikon brings the bird in well.

Nikon P900 at 2000mm equivalent field of view. 1/500th @ ISO 180 @ f6.5. Processed in Lightroom on my Surface Pro 3 tablet.

Bohemian Waxwing

Bohemian Waxwing, Roger’s Pond, Kennebunk ME

I am testing a new camera…the Nikon P900 with an 83x zoom reaching 2000mm equivalent, and up to 4000mm with Nikon’s Dynamic Fine Zoom feature. After shooting some “feather birds” I bought for the purpose of testing (models), I decided to go to Roger’s Pond where the Robins have been active all winter to see if I could find some real birds :) There was a flock of what I assumed were Cedar Waxwings in the very tops of the trees by the Mousam River and, though they were at the limits of even a 2000mm equivalent lens, I took some images. When I got home and started processing, I quickly suspected that the flock had not been entirely Cedars…at least half were Bohemian Waxwings…a much rarer visitor some winters to Southern Maine…so rare that I have only seen them once before in Kennebunk in 20 years (though they are reported somewhere in the state, mostly north of here, most winters). Surprise! I have many shots, but this one shows all the field-marks very well…including the yellow wingtips.

And the camera? This shot is at 2400mm equivalent, hand-held, and cropped from 16mp to 8mp for scale. While it is not the best shot in the world (I would have had to be much closer to the bird for a truly great shot), it captures the bird well, and would have simply been impossible to get at that distance with any other camera. I am impressed. I love the Sony HX400V I have been shooting with for more than a year, but the Nikon reaches further, focuses faster, and has all the “creature comforts” (in-camera HDR, Wifi, GPS, and sweep panorama) that I have come to enjoy on the Sony. 1/500th @ ISO 180 @ f6.5. Processed and cropped in Lightroom on my Surface Pro 3 tablet.

Close Quarters

Ring-billed Gull, A beach in Kennebunk 

The other day I went down to the beach to see if there were any birds…I had seen an immature Bald Eagle soaring over the house on my way out and hoped to see the adults along the river. There was noting much to see at the beach. High tide. A few Golden Eyes in the river. And someone had been feeding the gulls. I spent a few moments playing with flight shots as the gulls came in to the bread still in the road. (There are lots of better things to feed gulls than bread…bits of cut up fruits and vegetables work well, and are certainly better for the birds.) The gulls were cooperative of course, and so close this shot was taken at just over 500mm equivalent field of view.

Sony HX400V in Sports Mode. 1/2000th @ ISO 160 @ f5.6. Processed and cropped for composition in Lightroom on my Surface Pro 3 tablet.

Flight Check

Breeding plumage Brown Pelican, La Jolla CA

The sun is shining in Southern Maine this morning, but it is only 18 degrees out, and we still have 3 feet of compacted snow in our yard…so you will forgive me if I drop back a few weeks to early March and Southern California for this pelican flexing wings shot. Warm memories on a cold day!

Sony HX400V at about 400mm equivalent field of view. 1/640th @ ISO 80 @ f6.3. Processed in Lightroom on my Surface Pro 3 tablet.

Bandelier

Carol and Anna at Bandelier National Monumnet

My wife Carol and my daughter Anna posing at the largest of the cavates (improved rock caves used for living and storage) at Bandelier National Monument. The Ancestral Pueblo peoples lived in Frijoles Canyon for hundreds of years, growing beans and corn, and improving many of the small caves in the cliffs, then building along the base of the cliff, and finally building a free-standing 400 room circular complex on the floor of the canyon. It is possible that a combination of drought and the exhaustion of the firewood supply for a day’s travel in any direction forced them to resettle closer to the Rio Grande river…either to build or to join one the pueblos that still exist. At its height, the Ancestral Pueblo culture supported a substantial population, and maintained trade routes that brought in goods from deep into Mexico and Guatemala, and across the plains to eastern North America. The ruins are testimony to the people who became the Pueblos that remain.

Sony HX400V in-camera HDR. Processed in Lightroom on my Surface Pro 3 tablet.

Comma in New Mexico

Comma Butterfly, Randell Davies Audubon Sanctuary, Santa Fe NM

I know, there is no comma in New Mexico, but I mentioned in the Mourning Cloak post a few days ago that we had also seen a Comma / Question Mark butterfly up Bear Canyon at the Randell Davies Audubon Sanctuary, but I was not sure which one. The distinguishing feature is a small mark on the back of the wing, and it certainly takes some imagination even then (or it does for me). However, in researching a bit last week I found that you can reliably distinguish Comma form Question Mark from above. This is definitely a Comma. It has the heavily fringed wings and the correct pattern of dots and dashes on the fore-wing. I think, actually, that makes it my first Comma, and certainly an unexpected butterfly for canyon high above Santa Fe, New Mexico in March.

Sony HX400V at 1200mm equivalent field of view. 1/320th @ ISO 80 @ f6.3. Processed and cropped for scale in Lightroom on my Surface Pro 3 tablet.

The Land of Enchantment. Happy Sunday!

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks, NM

We are back in Maine, “The Pine Tree State”, from New Mexico, “The Land Of Enchantment.” On the whole I have to say that whoever came up with the New Mexico nickname did a better job of capturing the essence of the state than whoever came up with Maine’s. I mean, you can market “enchantment”…”pine trees” just does not have the same effect. Don’t get me wrong, Maine is home and I am happy to be home…but New Mexico was home for 12 years, and I can still appreciate the enchantment of the landscape, the culture, and the history. This is certainly an enchanted landscape from an enchanted place. We are back at Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument and here we see two of the three land forms that meet at the Monument. The eroded tuff cliffs in the foreground, and ancient volcanic mountains in the back. The third would be the open valley of the Rio Grande River which is out of the frame well to the left. And storm clouds…life-givers…moving in over all. Enchantment!

Sony WX220 at 25mm equivalent field of view. In-camera HDR. Nominal exposure: 1/320th @ ISO 100 @ f8. Processed in Lightroom on my Surface Pro 3 tablet.

Of course, enchantment is a state of mind. All around you in New Mexico is the evidence of how fragile and wonderful life can be. For thousands of years…from pit dwellers to pueblos, to Navajo and Apache hunters, to the Spanish invaders, to the hunters turned shepherds and silversmiths, to the trading post merchants, cowboys, miners, farmers, and outlaws, to the atom chasers at Los Alamos and the artists of Santa Fe…humans have tried to make a life in this fantastic, wonderfully weathered, landscape…always poised on the edge…boom followed by bust…never quite waking from the dream. And the landscape weathers on, patient, ever changing and yet unchanged, rolling over and engulfing every change made by man. It is much the same everywhere, if you look behind the current facade, but some landscapes have almost been tamed. New Mexico, despite every effort of humanity, has not. The struggle and delicate balance…and the beauty of life on the edge…of the waking dream…is still very evident. Enchantment.

My spiritual forefathers lived in just such a landscape. The tribes of Israel herded sheep between the farming towns along the rivers. Jesus was born and lived his life among us in a place that shares this particular enchantment. For me, part of the magic of New Mexico is that I can feel something of the mindset that shaped the scriptures, that gave the words and images in which my spiritual reality was first expressed. Being there, in places like Tent Rocks, puts me into a spiritual perspective, and makes it easier to believe. This is good. Happy Sunday!

Steller’s Jay

Steller’s Jay. Santa Fe Canyon Preserve

What with one thing and another, we have not had a bird in a while here at Pic for Today :) When we visited Santa Fe Canyon Nature Conservancy Preserve earlier in the week, all the jays. and there were quite a few, were Pinion. We went back yesterday for a short hike after a day a the museums, and I was surprised to find that all the jays were Steller’s. It was a rainy day, and quite cold compared to earlier in the week, so I suppose that might have brought the Steller’s Jays down to lower elevation (and driven the Pinion Jays still lower). Steller’s Jay is a handsome bird, and even the damp cold day and dim light could not diminish it.

Sony HX400V at 2400mm (1200 optical plus 2x Clear Image Zoom). 1/320th @ ISO 80 @ f6.3. Processed in Lightroom on my Surface Pro 3 tablet.

Kasha-Katuwe Pano Panel

Three panoramas from Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks, NM

Three panoramas from Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks, NM

The fast sensors and processors in today’s digital cameras make panoramas both easy and fun. There is no need to take overlapping frames or to align and blend them after the fact. You simply sweep the camera smoothly across the landscape and the panorama is recorded as one long strip. And I love being able to capture the sweep of the landscape. I generally hold the camera vertically, so the pano is not as wide as it would be otherwise, but it makes for a more natural perspective.

However, I have never figured out what to do with the panoramas once I have captured them. Display on a standard computer or laptop monitor, no matter how large, simply does not do them justice…and you would need a very large open wall to display a print…even if you could make one. This panel of three panoramas is somewhat of a compromise. I like the amount of detail captured and it still maintains the feeling of sweep, while being, somehow, easier on the eye than the individual shots. Or that is what I think.

All three are from our visit to Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument near the Cochiti Pueblo in New Mexico.

Sony WX220 pocket camera. Processed in Lightroom and assembled in Phototastic Pro on my Surface Pro 3 tablet.

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument between Albuquerque and Santa Fe New Mexico is one of the newer NMs…designated and opened in 2001. Kasha-Katuwe means white cliffs in Keresan, the traditional language of the Cochiti Pueblo, who are partners with the Bureau of Land Management in protecting and developing the area. The cliffs are adorned with many hoodoos…conical formations weathered out of the volcanic tuff…and heavily banded with magenta layers. All in all it is a very impressive landscape. Carol and Anna climbed the Slot Canyon Trail to the top of the cliffs for a panoramic view, while I worked along the base of the cliffs on the Cave Trail, taking many panorama shots to try to capture something of the effect of the cliffs. To view this for full impact, you need to click on it and open it full screen.

I was experimenting with the little (tiny) Sony WX 220’s panorama and HDR functions. This is a simple sweep panorama with the camera held vertically. Processed in Lightroom.