Goose, Goose, Yawn!

Shot of the Month – August 2017

Canada Goose - 3657

To be honest, I am not big fan of Canada Geese.  As a photographer I am drawn to capturing species that are elusive and rarely seen.  This ubiquitous waterfowl seems to be EVERYWHERE which, unfairly or not, bores me.  Also, visually, I don’t find them all that interesting.  Black and white with a side of Bleh.

On many an occasion I have been in the field and detected movement and quickly readied my camera.  But once I saw those common features, a quick sigh would follow, “Just a Goose,” and a feeling of chagrin at the false hope of something special.

They are my avian Rodney Dangerfield  — they get no respect.  (For the uninitiated, Rodney Dangerfield was a comedian that made a very successful career providing numerous examples of how no one respected him: “When I was born, the doctor came out to the waiting room and said to my father, ‘I’m very sorry.  We did everything we could but he pulled through.’ ”   Here is a small sample.  Rodney is also famous for his roles in Caddyshack, EasyMoney, and Back to School).

But I digress.

The point is, I never imagined that I would post a Shot of the Month featuring a Canada Goose.

But then this lovely little scene happened.  Usually it almost impossible to properly expose a Canada Goose due to the strong contrast between their black and white features.  On this cloudy day the light was soft and and allowed the details of the feathers to come out.  And then we have that adorable little fluff ball of a chick.  Can’t argue with that.  And I like the family moment as the ever watchful parents guard over their little one.  The bend of the neck really adds something.  I love the collection of plants in the front and then the layers of out of focus colors in the background.  The purple adds a little zip to the composition.

And voila, put all the different elements together and we get a very pleasing image.

Canada Geese are native to the arctic and temperate regions of North America, though they will sometime migrate to parts of northern Europe.  They have also been introduced to the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Argentina, Chile, and the Falkland Islands. As to WHY they would do that, I have no idea.

Normally these geese will fly south for the winter; as a child I remember seeing the large V-shaped formation of birds flying overhead — a clear sign that winter could not be far away.

But with the changing climate, the nature of human settlements, and farming patterns, many Canada Geese are beginning to shorten the distance they fly or, increasingly, becoming permanent residents of parks, golf courses, and suburban sub-developments.  Changes in farming practices leave more waste grain available for the geese making it easier to stay put.  Also the proliferation of lawns and grassy fields are ideal habitats for Canada Geese — grass is part of their diet so their buffet has grown in size, and the manicured lawns are attractive because they provide a wide, unobstructed view of potential predators.  As a result these birds are especially abundant in parks, airports, golf courses and other areas with expansive lawns.

Canada geese were not always so numerous.  In the early 1900s they were almost pushed to extinction due to over-hunting and loss of habitat.  Tougher hunting policies and other programs helped stem the tide,  and the bird’s ability to adapt to the nature of human settlements has allowed the Canada Goose to not only thrive but in some areas, become a pest. For example, just fifty geese can produce about 2.5 tons of poop in a year.  A flock of Canada Geese can turn your local park into a very icky slip and slide.  We now have about six million Canada Geese in the US.  Dat’s alotta poop.

Because of the large size of Canada Geese, they are a major concern at airports because they can cause fatal crashes when they strike an aircraft’s engine.  Remember the “Miracle on the Hudson” when a US Airways plane that took off from Laguardia Airport in New York in 2009 and had to ditch in the Hudson River?  As the plane took off it collided with a flock of  Canada Geese.  Luckily Captain Sullenberger (Sulley) managed to execute a perfect “water landing.”

So, I am still rather ambivalent about the world’s largest goose, though I do have to admire its resilience — back from the precipice to pest in just a hundred years.  Uh, well done!?

 

Until next month…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nikon D4S, Nikon 600mm, f/11, 1/200 s, 1.4x TC, ISO 800, EV +0.5

A Hoary Tale

July 2017 – Shot of the Month

Hoary Marmot, Mt. Rainier (0823)

A young marmot in search of a snack.

The tallest mountain in Washington state, Mt. Rainier, is famous for its glorious summer wildflower blooms.  In 2016, with our first summer in the state approaching, we decided that we should make the pilgrimage to catch Mother Nature’s wonderful show. Such a trip however would push me out of my comfort zone on several fronts — first, I am not a fan of mountain hiking (at least not with many pounds of camera gear); and second, I rarely shoot landscape photography so I tend to struggle to “find the the shot.”

So we cobbled together two long weekends to toil up and down mountain trails in search of colorful flora.  I lumbered under the weight of my gear and generally grumbled most of the way.  Lots of work for little reward.

However, on the next-to-last day we found a mother marmot with two youngin’s right by a popular trail.  These Hoary Marmots (HMs) were very comfortable with humans and we could readily watch them as they came and went from their burrow and explored the stream and hills nearby.  As an “Easterner” I was quite excited by my first marmot encounter.  I ran back to the car to get my big lens to allow me to photograph these guys properly.

Photographing critters, “ahhhh…back in my element.”   I love this shot in that it gives a nice view of the marmot and offers a small hint of the bouquet of flowers that were beginning to cover the meadows and surrounding hills.

I have since learned that marmots were actually not that exotic to me — in fact I had grown up around marmots my whole live while in Pennsylvania.  How so?  Turns out that what we call ground hogs (aka woodchucks) in the east are also a type of marmot.  There are 15 marmot species, classified as large ground squirrels by scientists,  and they are spread far and wide across the Northern Hemisphere in places that include Canada, the US, Europe and across parts of Asia.  Most of these species prefer Alpine habits but some can be found at lower elevations.

The hoary marmot, as photographed here, can be found in the mountains of much of Alaska, western Canada, and the extreme northwest of the United States.  The HM is a social creature that can live in colonies of up to 36 individuals — a colony can be spread across 35 acres and includes a dominant male. This group living is quite different than that of my childhood woodchucks who live solitary lives.

These cute rodents are vegetarian and live on leaves, grasses, sedges, and these rascals will devour the gorgeous wild flowers before your eyes with no shame.

Hoary Marmot, Mt. Rainier (0607)Hoary Marmot, Mt. Rainier (0432)

Hoary Marmot, Mt. Rainier (1069)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Though, in their defense, while the sign says “Stay off the flowers,” it actually says nothing about not eating them.

 

Until next month….m

 

Nikon D4s, Nikon 600 mm, f/8, 1/640 s, ISO 800, +0.5 EV

Bird Art

Shot of the Month – June 2017

Snowy Egret, Ding Darling NWR (0241)

So no, I don’t have a studio — this image was actually shot in the wilds of nature at the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge.  These lovely Snowy Egrets (SEs) had gathered en masse with a large collection of other herons and assorted egrets during a feeding frenzy along a dark mangrove channel.  In order to properly expose for the pure white bird, in bright sunlight, I had to significantly underexpose the shot — which produces this dramatic “studio” look.

This image was shot in December when the SEs are beginning to morph into their exquisite mating plumage — during this period they develop long wispy feathers on their backs, necks and heads.  As the season progresses the coloration on their faces will transition from yellow to reddish.  And those bright yellow feet will take on a richer orange-yellow hue.

In the late 19th century Snow Egrets were almost wiped out as they were decimated by hunters collecting the breeding plumes for use in women’s hats.  In 1886 these plumes fetched $32/ounce which was twice the value of gold at that time.  During the “Plume Boom” hundreds of millions of birds were killed — for example from 1901 to 1910 over 14 million tons of feathers were shipped to the United Kingdom with a value of 20 million pounds.  Wow, that’s a lot of feathers. (source)

And a lot of dead birds.

Fortunately, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 curtailed much of this slaughter and today the population of Snowy Egrets and other herons have improved quite a bit.

Snowy Egrets eat mainly fish, frogs, worms, mice, crustaceans and insects.  They typically stalk prey in shallow water, often running or shuffling those brightly colored feet, flushing prey into view.  They will also sometimes catch prey while “dip-fishing” as they fly with their feet just over the water.

Snowy Egrets are are permanent residents in most of South and Central America.  In the US they can be permanent residents along the Atlantic coast north to Virginia Beach, Virginia, along the Gulf Coast and along the Pacific lowlands from central California southward.  During the breeding season snow egrets can be found as far north as Rhode Island.

With its lovely, delicate and refined looks one could easily imagine a Snowy Egret as a runway model.  Rather ironic given that high fashion almost wiped out this elegant bird.

Silly, terrifying humans…

Until next month.

 

 

Nikon D4s, Nikon 200-400 mm (@ 200mm), f/4, 1/4000, ISO 400, -1.5 EV

 

 

Bald Eagle

A Bald Eagle catching fish at Seabeck, WA

Bam Bam

Shot of the Month – May 2017


Bighorn Sheep, Yellowstone NP (5387)This month we visit with a ram that fully embraces his name – the Bighorn Sheep (BHS).  We found this big fella in Yellowstone National Park and our guide mentioned that this was one the largest set of horns that he had seen in 30 years of visiting the park.

As I discussed in a previous post, “Bighorn Sheep” is a rather chauvinistic name for the species as the females also have horns, though they are not nearly as big, nor curved.  The lads get all the attention, a-gain.

These rams definitely know that they are impressive — this one walked by me with his shoulders back, chest out and his head raised, as if saying, “Yes, soak it in, I am magnificent.”

Those horns can way 30 pounds, equal to the weight of all the other bones in the ram’s body.  A ram can weigh from 174 to 319 pounds so those horns can make up about 10% of their total body weight.

Mature males spend most of the year as part of a bachelor flock.  Ahhh, those were the days…

The rams join the female groups in November when the mating season begins. The BHS rams are most famous for their epic head clashing battles to win the right to mate with the females.

These fellows will smash their heads together as they hurl themselves at each other at 20 mph — generating about 800 pounds of force – sixty times more force than needed to kill a human.  The rams can survive these violent collisions because their skulls have two layer of bones above the brain that act as shock absorbers.  The sound of these collisions can be heard from a mile away.

These battles can last for 24 hours until one sheep decides that he has had enough and simply walks away. Wait, that’s it??!!  I expected a denouement with a bit more operatic panache given the fury and scale of the spectacle.

Oh well.  The clash of the Mountain Titans ends with a quiet, “I’m out.”  I suppose that there is a certain civility in that.

 

You can catch the mind numbing show here.  (I wasn’t able to embed the video)

 

The prelude to the fight can be seen below (very nice footage).

 

In case you were wondering, the title of this post is a nod to Bam Bam Rubble…an adorable character from my youth that seems to capture the simple essence of a bighorn ram’s approach to life…

 

Until next month…m

 

Nikon D4S, Nikon 600mm f/4, 1/800 sec, ISO 800, +0.5 EV