Thursday, October 17, 2013

Not Every Eagle . . .

 . . . is bald, nor every bird an eagle.

Leaves are changing color, the air is cold at night.  The Tigers are playing for the pennant.

I am running out of time to post fleeting memories of the birds and stones of summer.
A turkey led her family across the road 

to disappear in the shadows of the tall grass.

High overhead, a silhouette circled, but when I looked more closely afterwards, I saw it was not another bald eagle after all.

Perhaps it was an osprey.

The light flashing off the feathers of the gull made him stall for a moment in his path across my field of vision, and months later, in another place, he still hangs there, suspended on his way to a place I never saw him reach.

 The days began twice each morning, the first flash opening the sky only to disappear again behind the clouds that fringed the horizon. 

 Only once the sun was well up would those clouds burn away and let the business of the slow build of summer heat get serious about its business. 

These days, looking back at those images, it's easy to remember the warmth that does not reach us as the late afternoon sun slants through the autumn colors.

I can hardly remember my own shadow, stretching out faintly across the water along the brightly lit breakwater

And the island floating magically at sunset.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Libertay, Fraternitay, Eagle-itay

Fall is arriving.

They say that it will be hot next week, but the Lotus Festival ended last night--the weather was beautiful, clear and cool; and overnight we received a long soaking rain that has continued all day.  It is an autumn rain, the kind that when it comes again next month will drive leaves from trees and bring colder weather behind it.

But today it is just needed.  The leaves are already yellowing, sometimes turning brown, but mostly from how dry it has been.  The wildflowers that most people call weeds have been offering their soft pastels to my yard for the last week, but black-eyed susan and other autumn flowers are done.

Yesterday, driving down the street, a flock of over a dozen turkeys crossed my path; and half a dozen young deer came out of the woods, ears pricked, trying to understand this strange invasion.  If I don't hurry it will be too late to remember the eagles of summer.

This year, there are three adult bald eagles on the beach, though it is seldom possible to get more than one in the frame at any one time.  And even harder to keep them in focus.  The one on the right above clearly looks the larger of the two, but I have yet to figure out what that means--is this sexual dimorphism, males larger than females?  Or is it older larger than younger?  Or younger larger than older?  My thoughts ran more or less in that order.

I am not sure, but I believe that the smaller one on the left in the picture above is the same one who perched for a time in the backyard.

His eyes look sunken and his face looks drawn to me.  I associate this with age rather than illness, but who can tell.  The larger eagle looks more like an adult version of the large, healthy immature I photographed in that tree last year.

They are marvelous to watch, and they hold the attention.  Sometimes, I find myself watching them until they are specks disappearing in a high clear sky.  But mostly, I find myself futilely lying in wait for them, only to find that they refuse to show up when they can see me looking for them.

And, of course, when they do show up, they move so quickly while seeming to move so slowly that my photos are almost always just out of frame or out of focus or both.

One will swoop in, pick up a piece of fish and leave me with only a piece of tail.

Or one will drop from a tree to just above the water and skim the long expanse of lake for a mile to grab a fish that he has spotted; and my image is so distant and blurred as to barely get the shape.

Or they will fly right toward me, teasing me with the promise of clarity, but tilting and shifting just enough to baffle the focus of my eye and camera.

And then, occasionally, rarely, I might catch one--even from a great distance--stooping toward the lake.

One day, the last full day in Rabbit Bay, tenacity paid off, and he gave me one clear-eyed image as he left his perch.

More often, I feel lucky if I can get just one good image of a final wave at the far edge of visibility.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Leaves of Grass

There is, especially in late afternoon on a quiet summer day, something peaceful and calming about the quality of the light.  I feel it most when my eye is drawn to the tips of long leaves of beach grass, gone to seed.

 Sometimes, I want to fiddle with the lighting of the image silhouetted against the background of still water in shadows.

More often, I marvel at how cold the image can look with the white
 sand behind, even if the photograph was taken in summer's heat.

But always, invariably, looking at these still photos reminds me of what peace feels like: a soft, almost imperceptible tremor, gently stroking the surrounding quiet.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Elemental, my dear Watson

When not photographing living things, or more accurately, photographing spaces in which living things were moving just a moment ago, or sometimes photographing the blurry outlines of living things moving out of said spaces, I get distracted and wind up taking photographs of non-living things because they are much better at remaining in focus.

My favorite non-living things to photograph turn out to be real objects in the real world that wind up looking, after I photograph them, either like abstract expressionist paintings or bathroom tiles or both.

I have no idea what the underlying reason is for the gratification that this provides for me, but I must say that I take real pleasure in it--especially when I find that what my camera has observed looks so much different than what my eye observed.

For whatever reason, I find that I am particularly pleased by the way basic elements--earth, air, water, and light--can surprise me in their conjunction.  I think it is something about diffraction--the way the world changes when waves encounter particles--that is underneath my pleasure, but it may have something to do with the way these images play with my sense of the relation between surface and depth as well.

Thursday, September 12, 2013


Enough about ducks.  Even odd ducks and lovely ducks.  It's time to move on.

How about geese?

Here, it is hot and muggy, and even though it rained this morning, it is mostly dry; and we are beginning to tire of the late summer heat.  We look forward to those crisp autumn evenings we know are coming, and try not to think about the cold sleet and snow that will surely follow.

But last month, I can recall I lived in a place where the days were long and warm and the evenings short and cool.  There is such a place, hidden in the woods, just beyond Dreamland.

And when you are there--even in mid-August--you can find the beautiful colors of fall.

 If you ever tire of eating smoked fish and pasties, there is a restaurant in the north woods in Copper Harbor, the northernmost point of Michigan's upper peninsula.  There, diners feast on Lake Trout and Venison, Whitefish and Buffalo.  And, as they do, they look out over the harbor as the ferry returns from Isle Royale, and then sets out again on a sunset cruise.

The town takes its name from the ore-carrying freighters that used to crowd here at the height of the Copper boom, when America first discovered that a thin copper wire could weave the whole country together in a single conversation.  Today, no trade remains but arts and crafts; and the only copper is the gift that floats on the water at sunset.

 As I waited for a table, I wandered aimlessly around the dock, watching the fish.  This summer was cool, unusually so, and the result was a marvelous gift to the fish--a constant horde of flies buzzing endlessly just above the water when they were not biting featherless bipeds.

So at sunset, not twenty feet from shore, the trout leapt repeatedly, clearing the water so that you could catch with your eye (if not your camera) the instant when the fish breaks free of water into another element, where he grabs a fly and disappears again into his own realm.

 It was not a frenzy, but a steady procession, singly and in pairs, over and over again, repeating the same arc and ripple with hardly a splash.  It seemed as though no diner noticed--the sudden disturbance of the surface was momentary and incidental to the surrounding panorama, like Icarus splashing into the water in Brueghel's painting.

And, all the while, the geese paddled quietly, contentedly on the rippling, undulating water that never stilled but never moved, bobbing lightly in the changing light.

Then, just before I went in to dine, and the sun went down beyond the last trees on the last rock outcropping before the far-off horizon, for a brief moment that hung suspended in the mind's eye like the trout at the apex of his leap, the quiet goose on the calm water lit up in all his copper color.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Love a Duck

Who doesn't love Harlequin?  We all love Harlequin.  That stylish, well-dressed zany from Comedia del Arte  is a favorite at every costume party where he appears.  We recognize him in an instant, and as soon as we see him, we are captivated.

 And you have to love ducks, too.

They can be cute and fluffy or loud and quarrelsome, but you have to love 'em; it's almost like a law.  My favorite duck, of course, is an Odd Duck.

Loving a duck does not preclude learning from them, and it is quite possible to both learn about them and from them.  For instance, just recently a fascinating article on Harlequin Ducks (note that clever juxtaposition) appeared in the Biology journal, Waterfowl.  Because it is so interesting, I include title and abstract here:

Pair-Bond Defense Relates to Mate Quality in Harlequin Ducks (Histrionicus histrionicus)


Previous theory to explain pairing behavior in waterfowl suggested that timing of pairing was constrained by costs to males of being paired and assumed that males incur most of the cost of defense after a pair bond is formed. An alternative hypothesis predicts that male and female partners will mutually defend their pair bond and that an individual will assume a greater share of defense when paired to a relatively high than low quality partner. Behavior of wintering Harlequin Duck (Histrionicus histrionicus) pairs was consistent with the latter hypothesis. Females and males shared equally in pair-bond defense in new pairs involving young females, while males assumed a greater share of defense when paired to an older female. Overall, males performed more aggressive displays in defense of the pair bond than females, but displays by females were more frequently of higher intensity than those of their mate. The relative share of pair-bond defense also varied between females and males depending on the target of the aggressive display. In some pairs, females performed virtually all defensive displays and bore the primary cost of pair-bond defense.  Even when sex ratios are male-biased, differences in male quality probably make females willing to protect a pair bond with a high-quality male. Mutual mate choice and shared defense of a pair bond indicated that “pair-bond defense” would be a more appropriate label than “mate-defense” for the mating system of Harlequin Ducks and likely most monogamous avian species.

There is so much that is fascinating and worth learning from in that article, beginning (I suppose) with the species name, Histrionicus histrionicus, which I personally find hysterical.  But I am also charmed by the feminist subtext in reconsidering "mate defense" as "pair-bond defense."  And the fact that males assume a greater defense of the pair bond than females when paired with an older female was certainly interesting.  It came as no surprise to me, though apparently it does to the professional duck-watching community, to learn that males may perform more aggressive displays in defense of the pair-bond, but that the displays of females were of higher intensity.  That's just the way I would have bet.

How can you not love ducks, especially Harlequin ducks?

There is another kind of duck that actually looks more like Harlequin than a Harlequin duck, and that's a Magpie Duck.  Here is what Wikipedia will teach you about the temperament of a Magpie Duck:

"Magpie Ducks as pets can be friendly. This depends on the way you raise your duck. More affection and holding of your duck will probably result in a friendlier duck. It also depends on the personality . . ."

I find this pretty funny, but also probably true.  Over this past weekend, I saw a pair of ducks who made perhaps the loveliest duck couple I have ever seen.  They were Magpie ducks (a specific kind of domestic duck originally bred, comically enough, by a man named Drake).  While they may have once been domestic ducks, these particular ducks were viewed wandering independently (but together) in an urban environment, but unconstrained.  They were definitely free-range ducks; perhaps best thought of as feral ducks--domestic ducks turned loose on the world.  And this, of course, makes them the sort of Odd Duck I love.

Part of what I loved about this couple was how close they were to each other; they were clearly a couple in the midst of the busy world around them.  And part of what I loved about them was how well matched they were, and lovely: he in his formal garb and she in pure white--they could have been models for all the happy couples who have ever been happy to be together.

I hope you find them to be as beautiful as I do.

L O O K   W H O ' S   B A C K ! ! !

Yup. After less than a year doing other things, I am back; and I am blogging.

At least, I am blogging today.

This first post will be a simple one--just to let my loyal follower(s) know that I have good intentions.  And a lot of photographs.  Most of them will be of animals, but increasingly I have found that living things move too quickly to keep up with; and I do better taking thousands of exposures of inanimate objects--usually rendering them into subjects no one can recognize.

Predictably, I take pleasure in this puzzling approximation of communication.

I will do my best to get into the habit of updating regularly--my goal is to post this morning and again later in the day with a more substantial post.  If my schedule cooperates, this might once again become an active site.  So check back soon, as I will update as soon as work allows.

But for now . . .

  . . . I've gotta fly.