Tuesday, February 24, 2015
The only way that I could think of to try and visually portray the brutally cold temperatures was with sky shots. As is usually the case when the mercury plunges to extreme lows, the sky was bright and clear. I headed north, with a few locales in mind. The goal was to get away from city lights, and find a VERY dark spot, perhaps with some interesting scenery. As I worked north of Delaware, the temperature fell until it hit the reading above, which was at the spot where I made the following image. As an interesting footnote, the extreme cold noticeably effected the way that my car drove. It felt wooden and clunky, and fuel economy dropped to less than half of what it would normally be.
I eventually landed in this remote cemetery, and set up the camera gear to make my first stab at shooting star trail photos. There are essentially two ways to expose the camera to capture the earth's rotation, thus making the stars appear to streak across the sky. One is to take a long series of 30 second exposures (or thereabouts), and later stitch them together with editing software. I did take a long series of such shots, but have not yet stitched them. I'm curious to see the results.
The other technique is to take a VERY long single exposure, which is how this shot was made. I did learn at least two things from this exposure. One, as dark as it seemed, there still was probably too much ambient light pollution from distant cities and towns. And two, a distant farm with its attendant night lights shows up far too well - like the onset of a sunrise. I did not know these things. But I look forward to learning from my errors and trying some more star trail shooting.
This image was made with my Canon 5D Mark III firmly affixed to a tripod. For foreground interest, I placed the cedars along the right side of the image, and that small round tree in the lower lefthand corner. I used the 17-40 f/4 ultra wide angle lens, set to a focal length of 25mm. The aperture was at f/8, and ISO at 100. Here's the kicker - the shutter speed was 56 minutes. To get that long of an exposure, you must use the Bulb setting, and trigger the shutter with a locking remote release. Also, the white balance was set to the "tungsten" setting. That gives the sky a more metallic blue look. Finally, Polaris, or the North Star, is near the top left corner of the image. Focusing on or near this celestial body adds interest, is it seemingly remains stationary while the other stars appear to rotate around it.
All of this worked quite well - I just need to find totally dark areas to shoot star trails, AND wait for one of our rare cloudless nights where the moon is not full.
Wednesday, February 18, 2015
The English name of this duck is odd, and it seems that no one is quite sure of its origins or even exactly what Gadwall means. The scientific name Anas strepera is easier to interpret. Anas = "duck", and strepera = "noisy". One of the aural delights of a spring marsh packed with ducks is the comically nasal blurting quacks of drake Gadwall. CLICK HERE to listen for yourself.
Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Yes, THAT Vanilla Ice. He of the explosive 1990 hit Ice Ice Baby, complete with its unmistakable stuttering bass line. Sorry, I imagine that little rapster ditty is now incessantly circling some of your brains, and it may not soon go away. And if his big hit isn't yet wedged in your mind, CLICK HERE.
Well, it turns out that Mr. Robert Matthew Van Winkle (no wonder he goes by Vanilla Ice) is an accomplished home remodeler. That's why the Dispatch featured him on the front page of the At Home section. But as I can't help noting, below my stuff.
Sharing the page with Vanilla Ice. Wonder if this is going to be the pinnacle of my career?
Sunday, February 15, 2015
February 15, 2015
Few visitors to backyard bird feeders are as polarizing as the Cooper’s hawk.
Many songbird lovers have recoiled in horror when one of these feathered furies has barreled into the yard and plucked a cardinal from the air.
The Cooper’s hawk is the common backyard plunderer of songbirds.
Bad attitudes toward the magnificent raptor go way back. Early ornithologists disparaged them, adding legitimacy to efforts to soil the bird’s reputation and provide fuel for hawk shooters. Said William Dawson, author of the 1903 book Birds of Ohio: “THIS is the real culprit! Punish him who will (for its) . . . evil deeds/"
Waxing anthropomorphic about Cooper’s hawks is irresistible. The hawk possesses the strategic genius of Genghis Khan, the slick agility of Wayne Gretzky and a punch like Mike Tyson.
Cooper’s hawks feed almost entirely on songbirds. Their short rounded wings and long rudderlike tail allow the birds to maneuver like stunt planes. Females are much larger than males and will sometimes take down squirrels. A hawk on the hunt might sit quietly in a tree, awaiting prey. Other times, the bird will explode into a flock of potential victims, using shrubs, houses or other obstacles to hide its approach.
An adult Cooper’s hawk is beautiful. The upperparts are shaded a rich bluish-gray, and colorful orange barring stripes the underside. The head is capped with black, as if the hawk has donned a hoodie, and under that are glaring red eyes (stare into a Cooper’s hawk’s eyes and you’ll be struck by the absolute fearlessness within). Young Cooper’s hawks are clad in muted browns with bold smudgy streaking below.
While common today, Cooper’s hawks’ populations plummeted in the mid-1900s. Harvesting by gunners played a role, but environmental contamination by DDT was worse. The pesticide interfered with raptor reproduction cycles. Following the ban on DDT in 1972, Cooper’s hawks began to recover.
When one feeds the songbirds, one also feeds Cooper’s hawks. One invites them into the yard by providing a buffet of cardinals, jays, sparrows and such. Rather than excoriating the hardworking hawk for plying its trade, one should instead appreciate the hawk for what it is. A Cooper’s hawk is the pinnacle of avian engineering, an indomitable spirit of the wild in the midst of our largely domesticated lives.
As do all high-end predators, Cooper’s hawks play a vital role in creating equilibrium among populations of lesser beasts.
Some people just don’t like the way they go about it — although many folks who deride a Cooper’s hawk for doing what comes naturally would defend the nonnative house cat that slays backyard birds.
Cats are beautiful and have their place — in the house. Leave the bird-hunting to the natives such as the majestic Cooper’s hawk.
Naturalist Jim McCormac writes a column for The Dispatch on the first and third Sundays of the month. He also writes about nature at www.jimmccormac.blogspot.com
Saturday, February 14, 2015
Wednesday, February 11, 2015
I recently wrote about the upcoming Ohio Wildlife Diversity Conference, which will take place in Columbus on March 11. CLICK HERE for that post and additional conference details.
It is customary to unveil new Division of Wildlife publications at this conference, and this year will be no exception. Scroll on down...
There will be other perks for attendees as well. Be sure to attend, and get your Milkweeds & Monarchs booklet, hear a bunch of great talks, and share with hundreds of other like-minded nature enthusiasts. And please, pass the word. For conference registration, CLICK HERE.
Sunday, February 8, 2015
I was just playing the odds in order to have some fun, relying on the treetop perching habits of this beautiful raptor to prove me right. As we admired the stunning raptor, I of course came clean and divulged why my guess was what it was. And why such knowledge can make for a good party trick when with newer birders.
The bird in this photo is a light morph individual. There is also a striking dark morph of the Rough-legged Hawk that is mostly black. The color forms of Rough-legged Hawks - and other animals with distinct morphs such as Snow Geese - are often mistakenly referred to as "phases", as in "Did you see that beautiful dark phase Rough-legged Hawk?". Sorry to mount a nerdish, mildly pedantic soap box, but such forms are decidedly not phases and shouldn't be referred to as such. A phase is, according to Webster's: "a particular appearance or state in a regularly recurring cycle of changes".
The appearance of the moon at any given time is a phase. It'll change appearance in successive days, but it is still the moon, albeit with very different looks as it progresses through its phases.
Rough-legged Hawks do not change form. They are either light morphs (which most birds that appear in Ohio are), or they are dark morphs. If the bird changed appearance from a light type to a dark type over its development, then one might say that the first stage of color form was a phase. But since they don't, one cannot accurately apply the term phase in this case. Again, from Webster, the definition of morph, as the term relates to biology: "a phenotypic variant of a species". And that's what light and dark morphs of the Rough-legged Hawk are - variants of the same species, but stable variants that do not change appearance over time, or phase into other plumages.
Enough of that. A person could easily be bowled over by the dashing good looks of a Rough-legged Hawk even if they didn't know its name, let alone whether the bird should be correctly termed a phase or morph. Also of interest is that the closest breeding Rough-legged Hawks to Ohio are about 1,200 miles to the north. To these hardy raptors of the far north, wintering in Ohio is their Floridian vacation.