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.