Monday, July 5, 2010

i interrupt the sequence of these posts

to bring you this jewel of a story. i hope you enjoy it as much as i did.

and when you're finished with that, you should read his post on the emu he had in his yard.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

nm birds 2 [song sparrow. probably.]

i was being lazy when i petitioned you all to identify the birds in my next few posts. i never even attempted to look them up; i couldn't make an educated guess when glancing briefly at the photos, so i put the burden on you.

and that's shameful, really. i'm not like that. i have an insatiable thirst for knowledge, especially when it comes to nature. i normally can't spend enough time researching birds or turtles or lizards or spiders… the list goes on. so what's happening? am i getting old? losing my passion, my drive? well, after some quick soul searching, i decided to chalk it up to laziness. pure, good ol' fashioned, 100%, grade-a, premium cut laziness.

and for that, i apologize.

so for this next post, i took a stab at identifying this on my own. i don't know my sparrows very well; only enough to know that's what i would start my search with. my first stop for bird id is always, run by the cornell lab of ornithology. in less than a minute, i came up with my assumption: song sparrow. please let me know if i am off.
song sparrow perched
(click the picture for a larger version)

if you look closely at these next two shots, you can see that he has some sort of caterpillar in his beak.
song sparrow with caterpillar
(click the picture for a larger version)
song sparrow with caterpillar
(click the picture for a larger version)

i keep referring to it as "he." i assume this because its behavior suggests that of a male. song sparrows typically forage on the ground or low in bushes, doing their best to keep out of sight. males will flit out onto exposed branches to sing, which is what this one was doing. i heard him before i saw him; in fact, that's how i found him — by following his song.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

nm birds 1 [steller's jay]

i recently went back home to new mexico for a family reunion. naturally, no trip to new mexico would be complete without my camera. in fact, clothes were a secondary consideration; as long as i had my camera with me, everything else would work itself out.

yes, i'm obsessed. i have a hard time leaving the house without my camera just to go check the mail. hey, you never know what you might see on the way to the mailbox…

anyway, this is the first of five posts featuring some birds one might see on a vist to the land of enchantment, which include steller's jay (this post), an unidentified hummingbird, an unidentified perching bird, an unidentified bird going to town on some dandelion seeds, and…well, you get the picture: i'm going to need some of my faithful readers to help me identify these ufos (unidentified feathered objects).

but on to the one bird i had no trouble identifying: steller's jay.

steller's jay posing
(click the picture for a larger version)

these aren't the greatest photos, as composing an ideal shot that morning — one where the jay actually stood still for more than a few seconds, was well-exposed, and where the background and foreground weren't so messy (or if i would have been able to dial in a shallow depth of field) — proved to be very difficult. but despite that, i liked the way the blue patch of sky matched perfectly with the color of the jay's feathers in this next pic.
steller's jay foraging
(click the picture for a larger version)

like a lot of other jays, these guys can be quite noisy when they want to be. adept at mimicry, steller's jays can imitate the sounds of cats, dogs, squirrels, chickens, certain types of machinery, and, of course, other birds. in this particular instance, however, my jay preferred not to break the peaceful morning silence while he hopped around looking for items on the breakfast menu, which can include insects, seeds, nuts, and berries. and like others in the jay family, they also rob other birds' nests for eggs and/or hatchlings.
steller's jay staring
steller's jay foraging
(click the picture for a larger version)

while that's all very impressive, i just like their "mohawk." in fact, that's one of the first dead giveaways that it's a steller's jay. since their coloring and markings can vary by region, this rebellious hairstyle makes identification pretty fool-proof.
curious steller's jay

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


whole, complete, live squirrels this time!

so, i thought after my last post, i should lighten things up a bit. in that spirit, here are some live squirrels doing what they do best, which is apparently eating, jumping, and defying gravity on the sides of tree trunks. enjoy.
squirrel in flight!
safe landing
scrambling up a tree
(click the picture for a larger version)
playing spider man
(click the picture for a larger version)
messy eater
snack time
just hangin around

UPDATE: i just found out that the gray squirrel is north carolina's state mammal. (drop that little tidbit of useless trivia at your next social gathering and watch the party come alive…)
i also just noticed that the tree trunk in the second-to-last image lines up perfectly with the line of the squirrel's back in the image below it, as though he was an extension of the trunk. weird.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

red-tailed & half-squirrel

okay! the observationist is back online!
for the time being, anyway.
i'll spare you the details of my computer resurrection adventure — i have a lot of catching up to do, so i'll just cut to the chase…

this post is not for the squeamish. or for people who really like cute little squirrels. but a hawk's gotta eat, and, lacking the shirt and shoes to gain service at subway, panera, pita delight, or other similar fine dining establishments, he opted for a fur-covered, bushy tailed, slow-off-the-draw squirrel instead.

this is not to say i enjoy dead squirrels, but this is nature — what was done was done — and i just captured it. my role of the observer keeps me detached.

squirrels always provide a source of amusement for me, put a smile on my face, and even instill a sense of wonder. i recently watched two of them chase each other up and down and around a tree in what i believe to be a courting ritual. (not that i can tell the difference between male and female squirrels. i just project human traits and behavior patterns on animals until said projections are proven to be wrong or just plain silly, at which point i retract my opinions in favor of cold, hard fact.) one would chase the other up and around a tree trunk, then they would stop, tails held at attention, ears pricked, listening for the tell-tale sounds of claws against bark, then it was off to the races again. they would always pause on opposite sides of the tree, so that at any given moment, neither squirrel could see the other. in essence, they were playing hide-and-seek. this went on for some time, and i never got tired of watching it.

yeah, yeah, the squirrels…amusing. so what about the hawk?

oh yes, the hawk. i'm too easily distracted…

as i've stated in previous posts, i rarely look ahead of me when i'm walking, opting instead to whip my head about as though it is operating on a completely different set of instructions than that of my body, constantly scanning left, right, up, and down while my body continues on, straight ahead, undeterred. this habit has ensured that my neck is left feeling as though i'd been in several consecutive car accidents, rear-ended each time. it has also ensured that i occasionally step off the trail, tripping over roots and crashing through underbrush like a drunk ox. but it has also yielded some great opportunities, as well: the barred owl (featured in a couple of previous posts), a female wolf spider carrying her egg sac (featured later on in this post), a black rat snake draped over some tree branches (he was dead, so he kind of fit in with this post, too), and, of course, the squirrel-eating red-tailed hawk.

finally, the hawk.

i know…thanks for your patience.

not-for-the-squeamish, part I
red-tailed hawk perched with meal
here is the red-tailed, perched on the branch. at this point, i had not noticed that he was sitting down at — or more accurately, standing on — a meal.

apparently, their eyesight is astounding, because, like most of the other birds i try to photograph, they see me and/or my camera coming, and they bolt. this one was what seemed like a mile away, but sure enough, he spotted me spotting him, and away he went. but first he picked up the meal that i had been unaware of all this time.
red-tailed hawk getting his meal to-go
cool! another opportunity for a flying sequence with an added bonus!
red-tailed hawk flying off
(click the picture for a larger version)
poor little squirrel. awesome little photo op.

not-for-the-squeamish, part II
i love wolf spiders. they can get quite large and scary looking, but i love the fact that they take such good care of their young. like, for instance, they don't eat them. at least, not readily.
wolf spider with egg sac - front
and they will fight to the death to defend their eggs.
wolf spider with egg sac - back
when the young have made it past the larval stage, the female bites open the egg sac and the little guys crawl out and onto her back, clinging for dear life to the tiny, bristly hairs that are found there. then they proceed to try not to fall off as the mother resumes her hunting duties. wolf spiders are predatory hunters, chasing down their prey “on foot” rather than building webs, thus the “wolf” part of their name. though i don't believe they hunt in packs.

not-for-the-squeamish, part III
i smelled it before i saw it. i was on the gibson park greenway, having taken a left where the trail splits, rather than my usual right. i take it all in when i'm outdoors: the sights, the sounds…and the smells. on this particular day, i was enjoying the smell of the crisp, cool forest air when it hit me. it was like running into a wall of foul odor, having an almost physical effect on my body upon “impact.” a couple more steps and i was out of it. the smell was immediately recognizable as decaying flesh, so why i turned back to investigate the source of that stench remains a mystery to me, but that's exactly what i did. and that's how i found this guy:
black rat snake hanging from tree

he smelled worse than he looked. in fact, for a minute there, i wondered if he was actually alive and that the smell belonged to something else close by. but his lack of response to my tromping around in the dead leaves next to the tree he was in pretty much convinced me that this was the source.

i had to wonder how he ended up here. my first thought was that he got plucked up by a hawk, then dropped in flight for some reason — maybe he whipped up and bit the hawk, and the hawk dropped him out of surprise? i don't know, but whatever happened, it wasn't a messy death. i noticed one scratch midway between his head and his midsection, but that was it for wounds…and it wasn't a life-threatening wound, at that. i took a few shots, but felt a little weird about it after a few minutes. this was kind of undignified end to his life, me taking pictures of him frozen in his final moment of consciousness on this earth, hanging from a tree. thus, only one picture posted.

well, that wraps up the “squeamish” post. from this point on, my posts will be about creatures that are still actively breathing, flying, leaping, slithering, and/or walking. i guess i was just in a mood with this post. my apologies to those who were expecting something more…lively.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

what?! no comments?

nobody seems very interested in my last two posts.

not that i blame them. i'm not very interested either. i find them quite…lacking. missing something. something that would liven them up… ah, yes… photos!

so much going on this time of year, and i've been capturing a lot of it. i'm dying to post the action, but i like to include those colorful things called photos in my posts. not only does it provide a visual reference to what i'm talking about, but it helps break up the long, boring lines of text.

along the greenway at gibson park, there is an observation deck (which is right smack dab in the middle of that map i just provided a link to). there are some tall trees off to the right (which would be down and to the left on the map), and a great blue heron has decided to make a home and raise a family in the top of one of them.

took lots of pictures of that, and will continue to visit so i can document the progress on the construction of said home.

i've seen some canada geese sitting on eggs, and documented one of them after incubation, hatching, and apparently fledging, although i thought they fledged for about a month. maybe i'm wrong. there are three or four cracked open egg shells around the nest area. i hope that a fox or something didn't get them. i was kind of wondering why the eggs were so far from the nest…

i went out on randleman lake last sunday morning at 9am, and saw an osprey. it flew right over my head. did i get a picture?
of course not. i was too busy sitting in the canoe with my mouth open, not really believing that an osprey was flying directly over my head giving me a perfect photo opportunity. and he was flying slowly, too. as if giving me a chance to put the paddle down, dry my hands, reach for my bag, unzip it, remove my camera, turn it on, get the settings in order, dial the lens to 500mm, and press the shutter release. it sounds like a lot to do while a bird (a life bird, at that) is flying over your head, but as i mentioned earlier, but probably not with enough emphasis, that he was flying s-l-o-w-l-y. and i blew it.

i drove the paddle back into the water with a small measure of annoyance, spun the canoe around, and paddled my butt after that bird. he made another pass — not as close this time, but another pass, nonetheless — and…
i missed that shot, too.
boy, i'm glad i don't shoot nature photos for a living. i'd be homeless, naked, and starving.

i did get a few keepers of some double-crested cormorants perched on the branch of a submerged tree that morning. (that is to say, the cormorants were on the part of the branch that was above the surface, not perched underwater. just thought i should clear that up.)

and later, on the greenway again, i shot some striking mallard specimens. contrary to how it usually works with birds, the female mallard is as beautiful as the male, if not more so. sure, she lacks the iridescent green head and the cool, curled feathers above the tail. but what she lacks in color and style, she makes up for in pattern and contrast. who knew that brown could look so good? the tight consistency of the brown-white feather arrangement had me staring at her intently, hypnotized, as though looking for a hidden 3-d picture in one of those magic eye books.

moths, too. the moths are out and about, and while i don't know moths like i do birds, it doesn't stop me from marveling at their unique and intricate beauty, as well.

well, this concludes today's long, boring, no-photos post. i know how much you were looking forward to it.
at least there was a link to a satellite image to break up the monotony…

Thursday, April 15, 2010

more of the same

that is to say, nothing. day after day of nothing. no working on photos. no updating my blog (with the exception of these nothing posts). no photoshop. no firefox. no facebook, twitter, or email. no hulu…no internet. computer's still dead, with no real concrete solution in the works. two month's worth of great photos, possibly lost forever. i'm trying not to think about it, though.

it's weird not having a computer. or rather, it's weird the way i realized i feel about not having a computer. i don't like to admit it, but there is a sense of freedom, of bliss, a certain elation in being liberated from the shackles of technology, emancipated from the enslaving bonds of aluminum and silicon and blinking lights and whirring fans and the glow of lcd screens.

there is more time to read. to think. to cook. to get outdoors and enjoy the life that awaits outside the four walls. i still take pictures; that won't stop. can't stop. well, at least until i run out of space on my memory card. then i'll need to download them onto a comp…

but i said i was going to try not to think about that.

i guess that's the point of this post (aside from whining about my predicament): that i realized how much time i actually spend in front of my computer. my blog heralds me as an observer of nature. how's that possible if my butt is parked in my chair and my eyes are glued to a couple of monitors? sure, i get out, but in hindsight, my excursions have been nothing more than a quick hit — hit the trails; get to the destination; snap some pictures; okay, cool; now back home to download them and look at them on my… com… pu…

i'm not saying i can do without a computer. no…can't go there. but i think i'll approach my time in front of it from a little different perspective — a perspective that will leave me outdoors a little longer. where an observer of nature belongs.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

i hate technology

in some ways, it has improved our lives significantly; in others, it has made life even more frustrating and difficult.

for instance, try updating your photo blog without a computer.

i was in the middle of composing a long overdue post, when my computer just blinked out and rebooted itself. ok. i had saved my work a few sentences ago, but i knew i lost a couple of good lines. i had my canon photo viewer app open, but wasn't in the middle of anything. i wasn't editing anything in photoshop. nothing else was going on. so i should be ok.

it never booted back into windows.

i get the ol' PAGE_FAULT_IN_NONPAGED_AREA 0x50 bsod, which means that it is more than likely hardware-related. i couldn't boot in safe mode, safe mode with networking, safe mode with command prompt; couldn't boot with my last known good configuration; couldn't run a repair booting off the xp install cd… nothing. just an endless cycle of rebooting.

i hate microsoft (a topic on which i could start another blog and have over a hundred original posts on the subject right from inception), but mac charges too much for their "eliteness" — i like fine art; i just can't afford it. no pc i've built was ever outgunned by a mac. however, this pc is 6 years old, and i'm pushing the limits of MTBF on all the hardware. come to think of it, i'm surprised it's lasted this long.

anyway, now i get to remove and/or swap different pieces of my hardware puzzle until the thing boots back up, if it even will. ram first, cd/dvd drive next, and God forbid, my boot drive last. i need my hard drive to work, need it accessible, because if it's not, i've just lost the last two month's worth of the best photos i've ever taken. this includes my high-res versions of shakespeare.

and the kicker of all of this is, i've been feeling a gnawing sensation in my gut that has nothing to do with food, or the lack thereof. a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that subtly whispered, "you should really consider backup up your stuff."

as usual, my obstinate little brain — my one-track mind, the command center that controls what my body does and when — impatiently responded with, "but i'm busy. i'll do it later. i've got time."

…and here we are.

Friday, March 12, 2010

shakespeare, revisited

i walked right past him this time, and never knew he was there. again, perched about 30 feet off the trail, he sat silent in his awesomeness. two women happened to see him and were crouched, taking pictures, oohing and ahhing — thoroughly enjoying their discovery — when i came back up the trail.

hey...wait a minute!! i'm supposed to be the observant one! i don't walk out of my front door without scanning the trees and sky for des oiseaux. i specifically look for owls in the woods when i walk the trails, spending more time looking left, right, and up, than i do focusing on the path in front of me… what's going on here?!?
i feel betrayed.
let down.

oh, get over it. he's there now, so swallow your pride and enjoy this time that you were blessed with. again.

i was without camera, so i had a critical decision to make: go get it and capture the moment on a CompactFlash card (but risk him leaving), or stay put and capture it on my grey matter?

the squishy mass of dendrites and axons that fills up the cavity in the top of my head is becoming less reliable with every passing year. that and my skull is lacking a usb port…i'll go get the camera.

20 minutes later, i came back with my camera, and…

there he was, waiting patiently for me.

shakespeare waiting patiently
what took you so long?

the sun was on him when i left to get the camera, but i was a little dismayed to find him wrapped in the cool blanket of a shadow when i got back.
shakespeare wrapped in shadow
you look vaguely familiar…

a quick turn of my head to look behind me, and i saw that the blanket was only going to get bigger — the sun had fallen behind the trees, trying its best to smile through the spaces in between the many branches, but failing miserably. i faced the owl again, whom i am going to refer to and think of as shakespeare, my pretend pet owl, first encountered over two months ago on the opposite side of the trail. is it possible that this was the same owl? i'm going to ask you to indulge my little fantasy of believing that it was.

as before, i shot plenty of pictures, the first of which i used my on-camera flash. but a rash of guilt quickly spread over me, and i turned off the flash, feeling that i just couldn't subject him to that again. in lieu of good lighting, i 'pulled up some asphalt and had a seat'. we talked. about what he was doing there on that branch so close to the trail, about where his friends were, about what he was going to have for dinner. but mostly we talked about why he remained on that branch…in the shadow. i pleaded with him to move to a nice sunny spot still within camera range.

shakespeare bathed in sun
he obliged.

now i shifted into full gear. armed with a fresh battery and an empty memory card, i snapped and snapped and snapped until my finger hurt. on his new perch, he was more alert to things happening around him. the rustle of a leaf on the forest floor, and he looked down. snap, snap, snap! something heard far off in the distance, and he looked to the right. snap, snap! a dry leaf, stirred by a gentle breeze, rattling against its branch at the top of the tree he was in, and he looked up. more snapping. i stayed there with him for a couple of hours, sometimes taking photos, sometimes letting my camera drop to my side and just staring at this wondrous creature, soaking in its intricate beauty, and the fact that i was nearly eye-to-eye with him.
shakespeare looking around
(click the picture for a larger version)

two and a half hours later, he decided that he wanted some company other than me — someone more engaging, someone able to relate to him more on his level…someone with more feathers. he leaned forward, puffed out his chin feathers, and called for companionship in that trademark hooting pattern of his: "who, who, who-WHOo. who who who-whO WHOOoo."
shakespeare calling all owls
a few seconds later, an answer, higher pitched.

two more calls, two more answers, and he was gone.
shakespeare taking flight
(click the picture for a larger version)

i really must learn to pan with the bird as it flies off. (the picture not shown in this sequence is an empty branch, the camera having not moved an inch.)

instantly i scrambled up and gave chase. a light wind noise up and to my right made me turn my head, and intuition made me raise the camera. his friend soared through the canopy of leafless limbs and out over the trail. snap, snap, snap!
shakespeare's girlfriend?

i quickened my pace and found them up ahead, each occupying a separate tree. as well as we've come to know each other, i admit with a small degree of shame that i couldn't tell one owl from the other. one was larger than the other, but which of those was shakespeare? (i learned later that the females are larger than the males.) i refrained from calling out his name; i'm afraid my fantasy is only shared by one of us.

i snapped a few more pictures, but my time with him had come to a close; my owl had given me his undivided attention for over two hours, and now it was time for him to bid me adieu. he had owls to hang out with, things to catch for dinner, and much hooting to attend to.

and i had a CompactFlash card full of images to go download.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

a taste of spring

i've been waiting for this since winter started. evidently, so have the flies, spiders, and wasps, which seemed to just pop out of nowhere with the slightest hint of warm weather. although it means my bluebirds, hooded mergansers, and woodpeckers won't be so readily visible anymore, i embrace the coming of spring with open arms and a lightened heart.

winter brings me down. i really don't like it very much. two things i do like: the snow and the new species of birds that migration ushers in. other than that, i could do without it.
snow-covered scene

as for new, or more accurately, first species sightings, this winter brought me hooded mergansers, white-throated sparrows, and yellow-rumped warblers. now, you may be thinking, "uuuhh…those are common winter birds here in the carolinas," to which i would say, yes, they are, but i have only recently become aware of the fact that not every bird is a robin or a sparrow. the sheer magnitude of the hundreds of species of birds in just this state—let alone the entire planet—is enough to make me light-headed (which often happens when i contemplate the grand scope of nature). so, common to you; a first for me.

here are two female hooded mergansers taking flight.
female hooded mergansers taking flight
the presence of me and my camera made them nervous. no surprise there…

and here are two male hoodies squabbling over territory:
male hooded mergansers defending territory

this winter also brought me a barred owl. that was one of those light-headed, awe-inspiring moments of which i just spoke.

as with all things good, though, this glimpse of spring is coming to an end after today: more rain and falling temperatures are on the way, for at least the next three days. but this taste was good, and more than enough to tide me over until the full-course meal.

Friday, February 5, 2010

bird of the week (yellow-rumped warbler)

presenting mr. butt and friends
yellow-rumped warbler - curious
of course, i'm referring to those cute little yellow-rumped warblers that are just everywhere this time of year.

yellow-rumped warbler - repose
with the underwhelming amount of insects that are frolicking about during the winter, these little foragers are resigned to gobbling up berries, which include bayberry, wax myrtle, juniper, the 'poison' plants (ivy and oak), virginia creeper, and dogwood, to name a few.

they're active little buggers, too, flitting from branch to branch, tree to tree, in search of food — but not so active that they don't allow time for me to snap a couple of decent glamour shots. they're a good-looking bird and they know it.
yellow-rumped warbler - inquisitive
that's right… i was talking about you.

here, i got his good side. well...all of his good sides, actually.
yellow-rumped warbler - surveying the scene

in spring, look for a morph of bright, contrasty colors and patterns, much more pronounced than their winter plumage. they're most easily identified by the bright yellow patch on their rump, hence their common name, and their endearing nickname of "butter-butt."
yellow-rumped warbler - backside

secondary identifying marks are the patches of yellow on either side of their breast under the wing and the dark streaking or patches that sweep down, out and away from their neck, and follow the curve of their wings. males are predominantly more gray overall, their yellow more vibrant, and their streaking can more accurately be described as dark patches. some have very pronounced "masks" around their eyes, like a raccoon, or, to deviate slightly from the wildlife theme of this post, like zorro. females resemble males, only slightly duller and sometimes having more of a dull brown cast. both sexes may also reveal a yellow patch on the top of their heads. juveniles resemble females. butter-butts have rounded tail feathers, and on the underside, dark grey, brown, or black with a thick white band above just above the tip.

you know, i started this post by introducing 'mr.' butt, but it very well could be mrs. butt. then again, it could really be 'mr.', as in 'mr. first-winter-morph butt' — turns out that males in their first winter have a dull brownish appearance. and, if this isn't enough to make positive identification a little tricky (at least where the sex is concerned), throw in the myrtle and audobon forms. a white throat patch gives away the myrtle form; a deep yellow throat patch, the audobon.

when i'm photographing them, though, they're all just butter-butts to me. i draw no hard lines. however, this is good information to know if, say, someone were to kidnap your wife and hold her for ransom, giving her back to you only if you are able to positively identify the species, sex, and form of this bird in a photograph he is holding.

Friday, January 29, 2010

anatomy of a sunset

judging by the amount of people — and lack of parking spaces — at the local grocery store, you'd think armageddon was upon us. just to clear things up: the four horsemen of the apocalypse are not riding through the air on their great steeds; the seven seals are not being opened…it's just snow. would it really kill everyone to have to eat PB&Js for a couple of days? i think the thing that bothers me the most is that, as a direct result of weather forecasts predicting 10" of snow and a 1/4" layer of ice that could possibly lead to power outages, people's shopping carts were overflowing with food they wanted, not food they needed. if the power grid decides to take a nap, how exactly are you going to cook that microwaveable pizza? human nature is as perplexing as it is frustrating.

i am, of course, referring to the winter storm that is sweeping across our great nation, from the deserts of the southwest to the eastern seaboard. heavy snowfall, sleet and ice…the works. beautiful.

but for those of you who prefer your winters on the warm side, here are some photos of the progression of a sunset to offset all of that white outside your window, from a cozy yellow-orange glow to a radiant pink & purple. (note: these are not pictures of the sky ripping open on judgement day, fire and brimstone raining down upon our fallen race…it's just a sunset.)

anatomy of a sunset 1
anatomy of a sunset 2
anatomy of a sunset 3
anatomy of a sunset 4
anatomy of a sunset 5

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

the ever-elusive red-tailed

man, those things are skittish.

hawk: perched at the very end of the very top branch of a very tall tree.
me: perched on top of the sidewalk, the tallest part of me reaching a mere 6'1" above the surface of the cement, a good 30 feet below mr. nervous nelson.

i don't know...maybe it was the eye contact. maybe it was the change in approach speed (i was walking up to the tree, then stopped). maybe it was raising my large, black rocket launcher and pointing it at him. or maybe he was trying to look for lunch and didn't need the unnecessary distraction.

i just wanted a picture. that's all.

instead, i got a chase, playing follow the leader from tree to tree; him making the effortless transition to a new territory, and probably enjoying a few laughs at my expense while i trudged through puddles down long stretches of sidewalk, finally arriving at the new destination.

stop. steady. slow movements. raise camera. fly away.

wait...what? no! that wasn't part of the sequence! come back here!

back and forth like this, three times. he ditched me on the third pass.

i hung my head and took defeat like a (hu)man, foiled again by the crafty ways of nature.

i left for southwest park, hoping to catch some jays, downys, butter butts, chickadees, kinglets, cardinals, sparrows, and nuthatches. found 'em all, but the day was very overcast, so my best shots were the ones i took next to the feeders, with flash, standing about 15–20 feet away. evidently my field craft skills leave something to be desired. thank God for feeders.

all of my non-feeder shots were at 800 ISO, 1/640 shutter, and f/5–6.3. they didn't turn out so well.

it was getting late and starting to drizzle again, so i headed home. back the way i came. past the area where the red-tailed gave me the slip. past the tree he was perched in when i first saw him. approaching the tree he glided to the first time i scared him off, and...there he was. sitting right at the top. dominating the scene. and i swear he was laughing at me, saying, "alright, big gonna stop now? polly want a picture? is that fancy camera of yours waterproof? hahahahaha!" yes, i swear i actually heard that.

i saluted him, acknowledging a job well done, and drove on through the rain.

Friday, January 1, 2010

an evening with shakespeare

shakespeare is my pet owl. (he's a barred owl, hence the name — a play on words.) the problem is that he doesn't seem too enthusiastic about that idea. i guess i can't blame him. i have 1000 sq. ft. of living space; he has millions. i have an old 1990 honda civic wagon; he has wings. i have a computer with high-speed internet, image/audio/video editing software, and my iTunes is packed with 4.4 days worth of music; i have a couple of synths, an acoustic guitar, a drum set, and microphones…he has wings. i have a nice camera; he has…well, let's just say he could care less about taking pictures of me. oh…and he has wings.

i would kill to have wings.

yeah…i guess i'm a little envious of my feathered friend. i often entertain a daydream/fantasy of being able to fly. the way birds zip through the heavily wooded landscape, deftly navigating around trees and thier branches at high speeds, then swooping up and out of the woods to soar gracefully through the vast expanse of open sky — twisting, turning, diving, they ride currents of air, effortlessly covering great distances in very small amounts of time, then accelerate suddenly and glide back to earth, where they pop open their wings, adjust the angle of their tailfeathers slightly, and alight effortlessly on a branch, window ledge, belltower, rooftop…or pretty much anywhere they feel like landing.

what freedom.

however, i would not want to give up a thick juicy, grilled bacon-onion-and-pepperjack cheese hamburger on a toasted, buttered bun, with seasoned curly fries, and a thick, chocolate malt (or an ice cold corona) for an uncooked, fur-covered rodent. no envy there.

but, to be able to fly like that…

anyway, to get back on track, i saw the strapping fellow above on one of my walks along the greenway. he was perched on a bent tree branch about five or six feet off the path. because i am constantly looking in every direction but the one in which i'm traveling, i noticed him right away. (seriously, i arrive home from some of my walks with my neck aching like nobody's business from all of the constant craning to the left and right, and from the obsessive scanning of the treetops.) i would hear the owls from time to time and wonder where they are, where do they hang out, and will i ever see one? judging from the amount of everyday common people whose flickr accounts boast nice pictures of owls of all kinds, it would seem that the odds are very much in favor of bearing witness to these solemn creatures. but walk after walk, i was beginning to lose hope. i would hear one, up ahead — sounds really close — so i would pick up the pace, only to hear him again…farther away.

sigh. maybe someday…

then, without warning — or sound of any kind — there he was. i'm not sure how long he'd been sitting there, but he seemed very content, and very confident of his anonymity. people skated by on their roller blades, zipped by on their bikes, got pulled along by their happy-go-lucky, panting dogs, briskly trotted down the path yapping loudly on their cell phones — all oblivious to the feathered wonder that was perched less than ten feet from them. anyone who did happen to notice, noticed it only because they saw me standing there with a large-lensed camera, staring into the woods with a dumb look on my face.

them: "what are you looking at?"

me: [drool, drool] "owl." [drool]

them: "an owl?!? what...? oh. wow!"

me: [drool]

it was dusk, so lighting was at a bare minimum. i was hesitant to use flash, because i didn't know what kind of damage it might cause to the structure of their eyes. but i broke down in a moment of selfishness and fired off a few anyway, praying everything would be fine. to my delight, though irresponsibly after the fact, i found out that their eyes can adapt to sudden bright flashes of light. at worst, the owl's night vision capabilities would be impaired for about an hour; at best, owls' retinas can withstand direct exposure to the sun, which, of course, is much brighter than a flash. (read more "for/against" information here: effects of flash photography on owls, just one of the many sites i visted for information on this topic.)

i need to do more research on owls, especially the barred owl, because i'd like to know more about their behavior, particularly their nest-to-hunting-area proximity: do they typically hunt away from their nests? close to their nests? etc. i'd love to be able to find a nest and observe (through my lens, of course) the behavior of these owls as they raise their young.

for now, however, i'll just be content and grateful for the unique and unexpected glimpses i'm allowed until that day.