Monday, March 26, 2012

The Painterly Photos

Canadians in Flight
Interesting accidents sometimes happen, and lately, it seems more often.  I realize, part of it is the equipment I'm using-my 70-300mm lens isn't a fast lens, so it limits crisp images in lower light.  Sometimes, like above, it's okay and I like the end result.  I posted some sandhill cranes a while ago in the same way-panning as they flew by, and holding the shutter down, firing away. 

I like the very "painterly" quality of them-some parts have sharp edges, the rest blurry and with adjusting the color a bit, a nice result can happen.  I'd have to admit, in some ways, these images have become some of my favorite because they are different. 

Canadians Launching
In this image, I liked the ring in the water and the split-second-later tip of the wing hitting the surface, while they flew low over the pond escaping to a corn stubble field nearby.

*  *  *
Female Woodie Landing
I was lucky enough to have beautiful Wood Ducks around all morning and the only early warning one has is the squeal of their call when they are suprised-this female had jumped up on the far side of the swamp and then lit nearby, offering some quick shots.  Although this one doesn't have the impact of the geese pictures, I still liked seeing her head under the wing and the background color reflected in the water.

Woodie Pair
The last couple photographs here are more straight pictures I guess, but when you have birds with such wonderful spring plumage, they almost look made up.  I felt a centered composition for these two worked best.

Female Woodie Cruising
The females of most bird species are almost always drab compared with the males, and wood ducks are no exception, although one could argue that she still is a beautiful bird.  I love the white eye patch and speckled body and bright blue wing bars-as these two swam around, she would make cooing sounds and maybe was in search of a nesting site?

Colors Reflected
The painterly pictures...well, yes, I like a lot, but in looking at the hundreds of images, this one stood out, and it is just a nice crisp photograph.  The colors this overcast morning in the swamp really stood out and I liked the reflections here in the water.  Spring is three weeks early, and leaves are starting to pop out, but most of the vegetation is still bare-surprising me a bit at how much color actually was out there when I saw this.  This location, being rather small, will probably yeild few other waterfowl, but I think I'll try a couple more times and see if I get any more "interesting accidents" coming out of my camera-it can be well worth it.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Yogi in My Tree

So it's 1:45am and Yogi returns.  Okay, so yeah, it's cool seeing wildlife right out the window, but I also don't want a big bruin like this becoming comfortable setting up camp in the backyard.  He had come out of slumber 2 days ago and raided the bird feeders and I managed to scare him off twice during the night.  Knowing that bears can be a creature of habit, it was in my best interest to take down some of the feeders or keep them out of reach...or so I thought.  I set out a couple game cams as well just in case he should return.   As it turned out, he did and in the process took down a willow limb and somehow, maybe by shaking the tree, got the feeder down that was in the upper branches of the tree.  The feeder is no more-chewed up plastic is all that is left.  So plan B will be to get all the feeders down for a couple weeks and maybe his visits will cease.

It all makes for a good story-life in the country...and this time, a few pictures to go with it.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Morning in the Swamp

Sandhills Alight
My favorite time of day is the morning, and one of my favorite places to be witnessing the day wake up is in a marsh or swamp.  Marshes are the lifeblood of the land here-filtering and holding water, and providing a unique place for so much of our native wildlife.  In a way, so much of the outdoor world starts it's day here.

Nearby is a small marsh area with some open water, the perfect place for waterfowl to roost overnight and a hangout for cranes and other birds and animals.  After setting a camo tent up the previous week to photograph some eagles, I decided to just move it down the road and find a concealed place to try my luck here.  Sneaking through the swamp grass in the pre-dawn and brightening sky, already the calls of cranes and nervous cackle of geese could be heard.  Managing to slip into the tent, the tripod was set and camera functions checked.  The small zippered window provided a great view of the water and hopefully wouldn't spook the birds.  Several pairs of geese noisily staked out their claims in different corners of the pond, while a drake wood duck made a quick landing in front of me.

My plan was to be all "professional-photographery" here, ready at an instant to click off award winning images.  It was not the case in the end.  Not wanting to have too much noise, I left the ISO fairly low, which in turn gave me too slow a shutter and blurry photographs of some of my feathered subjects.   Two cranes suddenly launched out from some cattails and quickly I just panned and fired away.  Everything was motion blurred, but the image above grew on me.  It looks like a slapped on Photoshop painterly filter, but in reality it was almost stock with some noise reduction.
Blackbird in Flight
The Red Winged Blackbirds really love this place and it was so loud with the mating calls and warble songs of the males flitting back and forth taking their places in the willows.  When the waterfowl action slowed (the geese had left for nearby fields) the camera found it's way their direction-they can be stunning as well for a common bird.
Hoodies Checking In
As Jim Brandenburg once said, a photographer needs to be ready in an instant, and on more than one occasion, I missed a picture.  This pair of Hooded Merganzers made a dive bomb entry into the marsh over my shoulder and I did manage a few frames as they flew past.  In this shot, I just liked the sun being filtered through the primaries on the wings...just wish I'd had a more interesting background-it needs a secondary subject to liven things up.
Sooo, back to the Black Birds.  It's not terribly exciting, but I did like the tack sharpness of the focus here, which is surprising considering the lens really had to hunt around to lock onto anything in this photograph.  A simple picture, but it holds my interest for a little while.  No worries that it'll end up in National Geographic!

As quickly as the day wakes with a start in the marsh, it also ends....most of the interesting wildlife has moved on to daytime duties and quickly it became much too warm for a mid March day-but that seems to be the theme this year.  I'll return and keep working on that winning (in my mind) photograph here in the swamp, a place with the sights, smells and sounds blend for a perfect start of a day.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Snow Flea Ski

The day started out cold and a skim of new sharp snow on the trail.  From all forecasts it also started out as what would be my final day on skis.  Not that it was a traumatic thing, for I’d only skied five or six times this “winter.”  Yes, if I’d made the effort to drive north, I could have found better snow and spent many more hours on skis than on a fat bike.  But this is my home trail, then one I usually spend equal hours grooming as skiing, but not this year.  We really only had a week of halfway decent snow, before giving way to warm temps and dryness which prevented any semblance of a ski season.

So today was the day for the Snow Flea ski-usually taking place later in March, but temps turning to the fifties this week will end any striding or skating on real snow. The snow Fleas emerge from the buried oak leaf litter below the snow on days pushing into the 30’s and they blanketed the surface of the trail- a sure sign that the end is near.  Normally I’d be on super fast corn snow now with no worry of wax to provide glide.  Not today, that cold morning and a continued light snow, made for no glide conditions, despite a comfortable 30 degrees.  It was a day when even on the down hills, the trail seemed to grab at the bottoms of my skis and force me to break into a skate way before I should…I should be just gliding along instead.  It was decided early on that the ski pace would not be hurried then, that I had no agenda on this day, it was just to ski.

It was work to get from one trail to the next, even at this slow pace and effort and I thought about calling it a day and heading back early.  I decided to keep going, to make the circuit around Levis Mound on snow I’d groomed the previous day, to take advantage of my work.  The high sun on this day had already burned thru some spots, and more hikers than skiers had pounded the base.  Didn’t matter, I could pick my way through, dodge a rock or fallen branch here and there and continue.  I took breaks frequently.  Stopped, took in the smell of the spring forest and tried to spot any movement-deer, wolf, fisher, but nothing was out and about.  The woods were so quiet. 

On the final stretch, I paused again to look up at the towering frosted sides of Levis Mound.  On the east side, the sun had yet to claw it’s way into the snow cover and it still had that mid winter look.  I’d wished I’d seen that more this year.  Only skiers really understand the anticipation of ski season, of waiting months for that first round of softly falling flakes, of the first grooming and first glide down the fresh corduroy.  For me, this winter never went far beyond that anticipation.  At that moment, the lonesome whistle of the train headed from Black River to Merrillan echoed miles away and for whatever reason struck me as the signal that for this year, my time on skis, on this trail, were over.  The Snow Fleas, the unseen animals, would have the trail to themselves again.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Sweaty Yeti

Riding a race bike is an art - a thing that you do because you feel something inside.  -Valentino Rossi
Randy & Chris Hot Lapping
I had decided a few years ago never to run a race again.  After 14 years of being the race director of the Buzzard Buster mountain bike race, and no one getting seriously hurt or killed or sued....I figured I should count my blessings and call it a career.  Then...these fat bikes come along and a whole different "race" mentality comes along.  The fun factor was back in full force and the only way I'd step back into that race directors chair is if it was that fun and no one was too serious.

The race is On
The concept of racing fat winter, on snow, is in itself a insanely fun idea.  Conditions could be anything-bitter cold, deep sloggy snow or a perfect softly falling snowflake rock hard race course day-like we had. The plan was hatched this past fall at Gnomefest, realizing that at Levis Mound, we had the perfect venue to run an event.  A warm chalet, singletrack and ski trail and start field right out the door and if conditions changed, the equipment to handle it if needed.  Besides, it was an opportunity to show off the trail a little to anyone who maybe hadn't been here before. sounded like a crazy enough idea I had to do it.

Fatty Lumpkin's Wheels making the Rounds
  The starting line (for the LeMans start) are quite a mixed bag-racers, super fit riders and others who just love to ride with a couple friends all day (or are recruited last minute).  There is a fair amount of pre-race joking around and "hydrating" by racers and spectators alike (which numbered about the same) so although there would be some serious pedal crunching, the enjoyment of the ride would not be lost during the next three hours.  

I like this bunch of people.  They are about the friendliest bunch of folks around and any pretentiousness, that one might have to wade through in other racing, is not to be found here and in them.  I raced for a long time, ski and mountain bike, and made many friendships along the way, but in the past year or so, attending Gnomefest and now the fat bike scene, has introduced me to a whole new group of people that aren't afraid to sit down and share a few beers and talk bikes (always have to do a little of that) and about anything else.  And in this inaugural Sweaty, I got sucked in by them and switched from directors hat to pull on a helmet to give it a go.  The years of racing were buried inside somewhere, and tired my best, but lack of fitness made the laps hurt!  No matter, I rode within myself on the later laps, enjoyed the ride and knew the post race would be worth it.

In the end, the victors were crowned (with some sweet funky hats) and the "Most Fun Team" awarded, and prizes to just about everyone else, thanks to Sand Creek Brewery.  The riders seemed to think the day went well, was fun and were appreciative.  Some riders headed out while others stayed to hang out around the fire long into the night. The snow then kicked up a notch as to signal a good ending to the day with good people and I could only agree.