Saturday, March 28, 2015

A Black and White Week

With the return of frigid temperatures and a bit of blowing snow, already gone, it was a week where gray dominated area landscapes.  I'll say no more, as hopes for spring surge in all our hearts.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Guest Blogger: Diane Drogowski

I met Diane Drogowski in the fall of 2009 at a class through NMC.  We'd both retired from our careers and had purchased new cameras, hoping to finally have the time to improve our photography skills.  Through our class, and photo shoots in our free time, we helped each other learn our new Canon digital-single-lens-reflex (dslr) cameras.  Recently, Diane sent me an image of three eagles she'd taken and I immediately thought my readers would enjoy Diane's work also.  Thank you, Diane, for sharing your eagle images, your photography story, and some interesting facts about eagles.

Diane Drogowski:  My interest in photography started many years ago when I was in high school. I had other interests as well, one being a love of the outdoors and the other a strong interest in law enforcement. Well, photography took a back seat as I combined my other two interests and accepted a job as a Conservation Officer with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.  No regrets, absolutely loved my job! I have since retired, five years ago. Oh the stories I could share!

I never gave up my interest in photography, though. I always had my camera with me on patrol, using it not only for evidence photos, but also to take photos of wildlife when opportunities arose. Then the digital era came. My old 35mm camera became obsolete so I only carried my Department issued digital point and shoot camera. I knew technology in digital photography would get better and better. A couple of years before I could retire, I starting telling (or should I say warning) my husband “hang on because when I retire, I am going to buy a very nice digital SLR camera and pursue my passion of photography”. That is what I have done!

I do senior portraits and a lot of sports photography, but the subject I enjoy photographing the most is wildlife! For the last three years during the coldest part of winter I spend lots of days trying to capture photos of Bald Eagles.

My most memorable day was in my pop-up blind. It was during a major snowstorm. The Eagles were already there when I arrived. Of course I scared them all away as I hiked out, but I didn’t let that deter me. I hustled to my spot, dropped my camera gear in a pile and popped my blind up over my gear as quickly as I could. I glanced out and saw that the Eagles were already back! Wow! 

There was one big problem; the wind was so fierce that I couldn’t let go of my blind or it would blow away. I sat there on my stool, holding onto my blind watching these beautiful majestic birds in total awe, trying to figure out how I was ever going to be able to take photos! 

Soon it dawned on me, with one hand hanging onto my blind, I pulled some rope out of my bag and tied a piece to a loop at the back of the blind wrapping the other end around my boot. Then I did the same to a loop in the front and to my other boot.

Finally my hands were free to pull out my camera! Next I realized that because my feet were an anchor for my blind that I couldn’t move my legs together or move to the window to put my lens out. I could still see the Eagles soaring, caught in the air stream within 50 feet of my blind! What an unforgettable sight!! 

I finally resigned myself to shooting from where I was. I just unzipped one window wide open. The Eagles were not concerned at all about my presence. It was totally amazing! I got many shots that day; I can’t say they are my favorite photos because of all of the blowing snow but it was definitely a day I will never forget!

There are many days I sit for hours and see nothing. Then God blesses me with another unbelievable day!

I am sharing are a few of my photos from those days. I thought I would also share a few Eagle facts.
-  Eagles mate for life
-  Eagles don’t reach maturity until they are 4-5 years old. 
-  Immature Bald Eagles are dark brown, mottled with white, and have dark
    colored beaks and eyes  (See the first three photos).
-  Immature Eagles don’t acquire their distinctive white head, tail, orange beak and
    light colored eyes until they reach maturity
-  At full maturity their goal is to find a mate
- Courting normally begins in early April
-  They can lay 1-3 eggs (usually 2)
-  Incubation period is 34-35 days
-  Incubation duty by both parents, normally 98% by female
-  Eaglets break out of egg with egg tooth (bump on top of beak),
    can take them 12-48 hours to accomplish this
-  Hatch in order layed
-  Male provides most of the food after Eaglets hatch
-  It is not uncommon for a larger/older Eaglet to kill the smaller one
   (parents will not interfere)
-  Eaglets grow rapidly – average 1 pound every 4-5 days
-  At 6 weeks they are nearly as large as their parents
-  At 8 weeks they have their greatest appetites –both parents provide food
-  Eaglets are on their own by the end of summer
-  Eagles live to be 30-35 years in the wild
-  Males are generally 9 pounds, females 12-13 pounds
-  Wing span up to 7 feet
-  An adult Eagle can pick up and carry approximately 4 pounds of weight
-  Initial nest size approximately 5 feet diameter
-  Use same nest year after year
-  Over the years this nest can get to be 9 feet in diameter and weigh 2 tons
-  Nesting territory is 1-2 square miles  (keep other Eagles out)

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Nature's Light Show

You would have thought it was a sunset, the way the cars were lined up at Peterson Park facing Lake Michigan.  But it was a different kind of nature's spectacle: the Northern Lights.

I knew from early in the day that the potential for auroras was going to be strong because on one of the three aurora websites that I check twice daily,  I saw from the Space Weather Prediction Center that we were in the midst of a G-4 level severe geomagnetic storm.  It turned out that it was the strongest storm thus far in solar cycle 24, which began January 4, 2008.

The Kp index was another indicator that the opportunity for viewing and photographing auroras was going to be high.  All day the index was between seven and eight and I had never seen it above six.  The Aurora Forecast website even crashed because it couldn't keep up with the extreme number of visitors curious about solar activity.

I headed out around 9:30 pm to see for myself what was going on in the sky.  I was prepared to wait because auroras typically appear between 10 pm and 2 am.  On my way to Peterson Park, I could see the clear starry night through my moonroof. 

I wasn't prepared, however, for the raw beauty I was about to see as I stepped out of my car into the cold night.  Nearly the whole Western sky was ablaze with huge swaths of white that are the indicator that  auroras are present.  I knew that this was going to be an exciting photo shoot and the skies did not disappoint.

The auroral colors were a vibrant mix of green and magenta.  Among the shapes, there were the traditional auroral arcs; there were also vertical auroral curtains slicing through the arcs.  It was truly an exciting night for photography!  But here's more good news: we continue to be under assault by a moderate, G-2 level magnetic storm.  The Kp index at press time is at 6.  We just may get to view auroras a second night in a row.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Big Melt

A whole week of mostly sunny skies with temperatures in the 40s and 50s!  It was just what the doctor ordered for those of us who've remained in the North Country and endured the record cold temperatures of the last month.  The constant drip of snow melting from my roof has been such sweet music.  I decided to head out and see how the warm temperatures had affected the local frozen bays and Lake Michigan.

Northport Bay still has ice on it close to shore, but it is very slushy.  It looked like there was open water farther out in the bay.  I decided to catch a view from a higher perspective.

After a muddy drive to the top of Braman Hill, I could see it was hazier, but there was clearly open water west of Northport Point.

 Down towards Omena, puddles of water surrounded the breakwater.

Dark aquamarine waters covering the rest of Omena Bay signaled thin ice.  It was a beautiful sight!

On the other side of the peninsula, looking down on Lake Michigan from the overlook at Peterson Park, I could see remnants of ice caves directly below me.  But there was still ice as far as I could see, though it appeared chunky as if it had been shifted around by the winds and waves.

Looking off to the north, patches of open water seemed to be forming.  It won't be long though until the ice breaks up.  I'd be surprised if the ice remains as long as it did last year, when ice floes were still on Lake Michigan on May 3.  So does this break in the winter weather signal that spring is here?  Haha!  Spring is often very fickle in arriving to the North Country.  But this nice break from the cold piques our hopes that spring IS on its way.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Colorful Barns Enliven the Winter Landscape

I picked up my camera bag and the dogs, ever vigilant of my actions, raced to the back door.  They've learned that grabbing my photography gear signals we're going for a ride to take pictures.  I set out headed towards the Lighthouse, thinking I might use pictures there as the subject for my next blog.  But on the way, I got sidetracked at the sweeping curve of North Lighthouse Point Road.  Beautiful red farm buildings looked  stunning against the white snow and the partly blue sky.  Suddenly, I had a firm topic; I decided to see how many red barns I might find within Leelanau Township.  Although the partially sunny skies didn't last, I found six during my afternoon jaunt.  When I got home and loaded my digital negatives onto my computer, I was surprised that all six shared a similar shade of barn red.  Turns out there are reasons why barns are often red.  Farmers used linseed oil to paint their barns and mixed either blood from a a recent slaughter or ferrous oxide (rust) to the oil to give it the reddish color known as barn red.  It was also fashionable to have a red barn in contrast to the traditional white farmhouse.  Finally, as paints began to be made using chemical pigments, red was the cheapest color to produce.

Information about barn red was taken from