Friday, January 29, 2016

Shades of Gray

We’ve had plenty of snow the last few weeks.  The teasers are over and real winter has arrived.

Hills around the township lie pristine under pillows of snow untouched even by animal tracks.

Orchards are blanketed in this snowy white beauty too.

A lone tree stands as a sentinel over a field, stark against the gray sky.

While all my images were shot in color, they appear almost monochromatic.

Even at the Lakeshore, shades of gray predominate.

But on rare occasion, like today, the skies part and welcome in some blue sky. Moments like these help us better tolerate the winter grays.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Snowy Owl Redux

On my way home from town Thursday afternoon, I spied a Snowy Owl atop a stone chimney.  While I often carry my photography gear with me, on this particular afternoon, I only had my iPhone. 

There's a saying among photographers that the best camera is the one you have with you.  I clicked away but knew I wouldn't be satisfied with just iPhone images, as evidenced by the above photograph.  Hoping that the owl would stay put, I raced home for my good camera and long lens and raced back.

And luck was with me!  The Snowy had remained perched atop the chimney!  I could see this owl, like the one I'd photographed last week, was a female because of its prominent bands of black.  I didn't think it was the same as last week's bird, however, because the bands on its forehead were longer, giving it the appearance of having bangs.

As I photographed this beautiful bird, I did a double take when I noticed this Snowy Owl appeared to have white eyes instead of the typical yellow eyes I've seen on other Snowies.  Is that what I was seeing?  Or could this owl be blind?

I zoomed in closer and confirmed that this owl's eye really did appear to be white.  Was it asleep?  But I didn't think it was blind or asleep because it regularly swiveled its head from side to side as it does when looking for prey.  There had to be a better explanation, and that sent me to the web for answers.

I learned that besides having upper and lower eyelids, Snowy Owls have a third transparent eyelid which keeps their eyes moist.  Additionally, these eyelids act as a shade from sunlight.  That's important because Snowy Owls are one of the few owl species that hunt in the daytime.  These owls may close their eyes half-way to block out the extra light, giving the appearance that they are sleepy or half asleep, when they are wide awake and alert.

A few times, the Snowy ruffled its feathers.  In this image, the bird fluffed its upper wing feathers.  I thought it might take flight, but it stayed put.

In the end, the Snowy fully opened its piercing yellow eyes and stared down at me.  I always feel lucky when I get to see a Snowy Owl during the winter months.  My luck extends when I'm able to get off some good shots of the bird.  But how lucky can I get to have photographed a beautiful Snowy Owl twice in the space of eight days!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

In Search of the Snowy Owl

Every winter I am on the prowl for the Snowy Owl.  With cold temperatures starting so late this winter, I wondered if they would be coming to our area.  I was out photographing some snowscapes that resulted from the two winter storms we'd had the last week when my luck turned.

 I had taken back roads home and I happened to look up and see this huge snowy owl at the top of a large tree right next to the road.  It was facing away from me, but I could tell it was the largest Snowy I'd seen, probably a female from its size and markings.

I had my long lens with me and rolled down my window to begin shooting.  I didn't dare get out of the car to set up my tripod because I feared I'd scare her off.  She was looking in my general direction, but didn't appear to see me.

I snapped away as the owl swiveled its head from one side to the other watching for small pray that might be darting across the open fields below.

It was starring straight out above my head, but didn't seem to see me.  At least at first.

Then it looked right down at me.  I knew it had seen me, but I wasn't sure how it would react.  Would it stay on its perch or would it fly off?

It narrowed those yellow eyes into a squint, as if assessing the situation.  Was this human toting that long lens a danger or not?

It must have decided I wasn't a threat because it stayed on its perch watching me and watching the field for potential prey.  As the sky darkened, it was becoming more difficult to get a clear image so I drove off.  But what an experience this beautiful bird offered me!

Friday, January 8, 2016

Deer Tales

Gracie’s low growl alerted me that deer were coming to feed.  They do that every afternoon near dusk.  They start at the hill next to my property, where I have a feeding station in good weather.  But in the winter, I move the feed to the north side of my land, where it’s less hilly and easier to access.

On this day, my three regulars sauntered along at the back of my property. Two grazed along the fence; the third went through the pines.  I wondered if they were the culprits popping off my Christmas lights that I’d find in the fresh snow each morning. The deer were barely visible.

What I hadn’t realized was that another group of deer was already occupying the feeding station.   This outlier from that group intently watched the approaching interlopers.  The deer’s body was rigid and leaning forward; its ears were cupped forward.  Clearly, it was on alert.

As the interloper approached, the outlier stood its ground, but seemed to relax a bit.  The two deer came close, but their movements didn’t seem to indicate aggression.  It appeared similar to how two dogs sniff each other when they meet on the street.

I switched windows to get a clearer view of the feed block area.  One deer clearly had dominion of the block, but three others were approaching.  I noticed at least two of the deer’s ears were in drop position, laid back.  This is a lowest level of threat that deer employ against each other.  I wondered if the threat level would increase as others tried to share the feed block.

My hunch was correct.  As soon as one of the approaching deer moved toward the feed block, the deer who’d already been eating there, turned on it and chased it away.

But that wasn’t the only jousting that was going on among the herds.  Away from the feed block, another deer rose on its hind legs and flailed at another to show its dominance.

Not to be outdone, the other deer flailed back.  Luckily, little contact was made between the two deer and they didn’t spar further.

The whole encounter between the two deer groups was brief, lasting no longer than six or seven minutes.  One group finally ambled off into the woods and left the remaining group to savor the deer block among themselves.  In a typical winter I put out two different kinds of deer blocks, but I hadn’t put out the second block because this winter has been so mild.  Perhaps it’s time to widen the feeding area to accommodate the number of deer that want to feed.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

First Significant Snowfall....At Last

The storm warnings were ominous, but they didn’t deter me from feeling excited that the first real snowfall of the season was on its way.  Like everyone else, I went to Tom’s to stock up.  The parking lot was packed and I got the last two jugs of waters.

The storm didn’t turn out as bad as had been predicted.   We got the snow, but not the freezing rain and sleet.  As I headed out the next afternoon to explore, I could see the snowfall had been wet and heavy.

Even the smallest pine trees drooped under the weight of the snow.  

I drove towards the State Park trails and saw that bare bushes were coated in white too, a testament to the moisture in the snow and the force of the wind that had slapped it against the branches.

As I swung through the village, I could see the marina was deserted and the red-roofed gazebo stood out, stark against the gray sky.

  I decided to check out the interior of the peninsula at the tip.  Weaving in and out of the township, I saw several beautiful stands of pines, all covered with heavy snow.  The white snow was striking against the greenery.

But the prize capture of the afternoon drive was this red barn.  I’d not photographed it before; in fact, such were my meanderings that I’m not sure I could find it again.  I love how it stood out against the pristine snowfall in the field to the foreground.  I expect there will be more of these photographic opportunities as real winter takes a hold of the North Country.