Who Watches the Watchers

Years ago, in the third season of Star Trek the Next Generation, an episode with this strange title aired.  I had to look up the synopsis of the actual episode since I haven’t seen it in years.  Unlike my favorite Star Trek episode of all time, “The Inner Light”, I had only retained the most basic of remembrances of this particular episode.  And why bring this up now?

A few days ago, on an early Sunday morning, I took another early morning walk at Huntley Meadows.  There were quite a few photographers out there at half past six in the morning.  What were people taking pictures of?  Birds, birds, birds.  More specifically, egrets and herons.  I had the feeling that there would be quite a few people at the wildlife area.

The day before, I also took a morning walk at Huntley.  For a Saturday morning, there were more than a dozen photographers at the start of the day.  Normally, you see five or six photographers in the early morning but last Saturday was different.  Someone had taken a picture of a fox walking on a log to take a drink of water on the wetlands.  It probably happens quite a bit all over the world.  In suburban Virginia, fifteen miles from Washington, you don’t see that very often.  And someone posted the pictures in the Huntley Meadows Facebook page.  Needless to say, there were a lot of people looking for the fox.  Alas, we saw nothing that looked like a fox.  Saw quite a few birds, but the fox was AWOL.

Sunday came and I went back to Huntley to look for kingfishers.  The water is getting shallower as the rains have not come and the heat of the summer is taking its toll on the wetlands.  I heard the kingfisher’s call, but I could not find it.  There were, however, a lot of egrets and herons in the wetlands.  Like everyone else, I took a lot of pictures of a fairly large group of birds in the water.

About an hour and a half after I got to Huntley, I was looking at a group of photographers when one of them exclaimed “it got a fish!”  Instinctively, I walked over by the group of photographers and saw heron catching its morning meal (probably one of many).  A good picture taking opportunity, but the photographers were so engaged in photographing the bird that for five or so minutes, all we could look at is this heron with a fish.

The heron, with it’s catch.

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The fish was quite active and the heron wasn’t quite ready to eat its meal.  It lifted it up, as if to see if the fish was still actively moving.  It was.

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The heron turned around and started to brush the fish over the log.

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After a minute or so of this, the fish had “calmed” down and the heron was a happy fish eater.

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This was the first time I actually watched the whole sequence of “catch and eat.”  It was “fascinating.”

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A goose is a bird

On Friday night, I made up my mind to wake up early and take a walk at Huntley Meadows.  It’s been a while since I spent a few hours at Huntley.  Spring went quickly and the summer heat is oppressive.  The birds are most active in the early part of the day.

I’ve been using my Sony RX10IV for most of my photography lately.  This is a great camera.  It’s light enough to carry everywhere and it has an incredibly useful zoom range and good built in image stabilization.  Where I used to carry a tripod and a long zoom into Huntley, I just carry the RX10IV and shoot away.  It’s very liberating.

One thing about the setup that I find indispensable.  Without the tripod, you try out different angles on the same subject.  Not that you can’t do that with a tripod mounted camera, but it’s a much faster process when you use a handheld camera with a nice lens that you know can do what you want it to do.

What I really wanted to do is shoot bird pictures.  Alas, although I got up before daybreak, I hesitated long enough (about going out in the heat) that by the time I did get to Huntley, the sun had been out for almost an hour and a half.  Not great.  And so, the birds that I hoped to see were not in view (they were probably there, I just could not find them).  There were ospreys flying and diving, but they were never close enough to get good pictures of them diving.  There were herons that stood on the water, but they were just lounging around.  There were egrets, further still, also lounging around.  A bluebird sang then went into its nest.  Birds aplenty?  Yes.  The early bird gets the worm is a saying that applies to humans, especially bird photographers.  The early guy with the camera gets the birds.

Still, there was a goose that wandered into close proximity.  And with its partner, flew up into the sky in an opportune moment.  I was tracking an osprey, but saw the two large birds in the periphery of the scene, turned around and pressed the shutter button.  The RX10IV has a great AF system.  It focuses quickly and tracks the subject quite well.  Not quite as good as the top of the line Sony A9, but that’s a bigger camera and the lens I want to use with it won’t be out till next month.  And if someone wants to give me that lens, well, I’d take a picture for you.

And that’s how I managed to get a decent goose in flight picture.  Born of frustration, but given an opportunity to do something unplanned.  Sometimes (actually, most of the time), opportunity knocks.  You just need to listen for the sometime faint sound (or in this case, a momentary rush at the edge of the viewfinder).  You never know what’s out there.  And that’s a good thing.

And there were other things aside from birds.  I almost got sunburned staying out too long.  And didn’t bring enough water.  Still, it was a nice morning to sweat.  Take pictures.  And be inspired.

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So go out there.  Take a walk.  Be surprised.  And let nature rejuvenate your mind and soul.

Autumnal Beauties

The birds are still here.  And they are at Huntley Meadows.  Just look for bushes laden with berries.  Or seed bearing pods.

And with autumn in the air, in the leaves, in the sky (the sun angle is far from its summer heights), the birds remind us that season after season, life is everywhere.  And beautiful to behold.  In all its forms.

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Mid Autumn in Northern Virginia

It’s almost November and the leaves are finally getting some color in Northern Virginia.  It’s been a relatively dry summer and early fall.  As a consequence, the leaves aren’t really colorful – dull red, dull yellow, dull orange, dull brown.  Still, you will find the occasional brightly colored leaf or two.

Fall is a beautiful time of year here in Northern Virginia.  The weather is relatively mild.  A warm spell can appear like a punctuation mark, like a comma in the middle of a sentence.  On such a day in late October, the sun was shining and Huntley Meadows beckoned.

The birds are no longer plentiful, though they are certainly still flying around at Huntley.  The mallards have returned, but the swallows, egrets, most of the warblers and most of the herons have migrated southward.  Just when the thinning leaf cover makes looking for birds easier they migrate away.  The leaf covered trails, a clean boardwalk (the geese are in much decreased numbers), the cool but comfortable weather, the canopy of colors make for an irresistible invitation to spend a few hours outdoors

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Unopened Folder

I was browsing through my computer in search of pictures I can use for a new blog posting.  I noticed a folder that hasn’t been opened in a year.  A year old, untouched, pictures unprocessed – what was inside the folder?  A quick glance reminded me that I was at Huntley Meadows that August day.  In search of birds (probably hummingbirds).  I vaguely remember that after a few hours of August humidity and heat, I went home.  I copied the pictures to my hard drive and did nothing else with them.  Until today.

Browsing through the photographs, I see pictures of hummingbirds.  And dragonflies, butterflies, herons and goldfinches.  Remember the end of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, when the Ark of the Covenant is placed in a crate and stored in what seems like a never ending warehouse of similar looking crates?  Well, that crate among crates seems like an apt metaphor for all the folders sitting inside my computer.  They all look the same, but they are all different.  I am not claiming to have found the Ark, but I did find some interesting pictures.

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