Archive for February 2009

February 19, 2008: Birds at Our Olympic Peninsula Home

February 19, 2009

This is my season for bird photography at home.  When the winter rains stop and the lighting gets good, I often set up my 500mm lens with 1.4x extender, and concentrate on the subjects at hand.  Karen and I live on a small Olympic Peninsula lake, so there are also opportunities to photograph ducks and other water birds.  These are my favorite bird photographs so far this year. 

2009_wa_1833Chestnut-backed Chickadee

2009_wa_2256Hooded Merganser male with female and juvenile male

2009_wa_1791Purple Finch male

2009_wa_1872Purple Finch female

2009_wa_21661Merlin stretching

2009_wa_1832Chestnut-backed Chickadee

2009_wa_1829Black-capped Chickadee

2009_wa_2233Bufflehead female and male

2009_wa_1869Dark-eyed Junco

2009_wa_22041Merlin scratching an itch

2009_wa_1868Purple Finch male

2009_wa_1770Double-crested Cormorant juvenile drying its wings

2009_wa_1804Black-capped Chickadee

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com

NEW: To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website

February 11, 2009: Jogging at 175 Photos Per Hour; Part 1

February 17, 2009

I occasionally jog along the Clear Creek Trail in Silverdale, Washington. Although I am a poor jogger with knee and muscle problems, it has been my primary form of exercise for 35 years and I still enjoy each outing.  Sometimes I take a small digital camera with me and grab some photographs along the way.  This day was special, in that I took 295 photographs along my 4 1/2 mile route, stopping every time a potential photograph grabbed me.

These impressionistic photographs were not created by using filters or Adobe Photoshop tricks.  They all look pretty much as they came from the camera, with just a few tweaks of contrast and brightness and color to make them look a bit better on the internet.  They are experimental, and I intend to experiment with this technique in the future, since it gives such a transformative look to an everyday scene.  I will discuss my technique here in the future, but for now you can just enjoy the view.

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com

NEW: To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website

 

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LEWIS AND CLARK: Our Maya Lin Weekend

February 7, 2009

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When the Lewis and Clark Expedition crossed the continent in the years 1804 to 1806, they initiated a new adventure for the young American country that would knit together the coasts and Great Plains and Rocky Mountains, giving the nation a vast new identity.  Migration and settlement and displacement and wars and environmental changes on a vast scale were soon to follow.  Two centuries have now passed, and there has been a quiet reassessment of the changes that have occurred during that time.  The bicentennial of Lewis and Clark’s big adventure has now come and gone, leaving a series of new “big box” interpretive centers in Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Montana as remnants of the historical celebration that cross-country travellers can visit.  My understanding is that the Lewis and Clark tourism boom never occurred on the scale that planners hoped, so these expensive centers have not been particularly successful.

Along the west end of the Columbia River, a smaller project took hold among Native American tribes and civic groups of the region.  They had the insight in 2000 to enlist Maya Lin, a great American artist and architect, to reimagine a thoughtful celebration of Lewis and Clark’s visit to what would become Oregon and Washington. 2008_or_1592 Maya Lin is best known for her design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C.; she created the concept for that emotionally resonant granite wall when she was a 21-year-old Yale undergraduate.  Since then she has designed a variety of memorials and parks. Maya Lin is also a creative artist.  I saw a wonderful installation and exhibit of her work at the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle, in which she abstractly created maps using old books and wires and 2x4s.  You can see graphics of this exhibit at this link: Systematic Landscapes.  It was at this exhibit that I first saw her plans for The Confluence Project, and was determined to see the finished installations when I could.

In November 2008 my wife Karen and I took a Maya Lin–themed weekend trip to see the first three completed sites of the Confluence Project.  These are small and quiet installations,with nothing on the scale of the Vietnam Memorial.  But they are effective at making you think about the changes to the landscape that have occurred since Lewis and Clark made their monumental journey.

First, we visited the Sandy River Delta, where Maya Lin’s concept of a bird blind has nearly been completed.  We walked a 1.2 mile trail on U.S. Forest Service land to a site near the confluence of the Columbia and Sandy Rivers, where the blind has been built in a riverfront forest.  2008_or_1614Most of the people on the trail were out simply walking their dogs (which got me to thinking that most Americans would get no exercise at all if they didn’t have dogs!).  A gentle ramp leads up to the small cantilevered blind, where we looked out through Black Locust slats to the forest beyond. This is nominally a bird blind, but in reality it is a memorial to the wildlife that Lewis and Clark wrote about in their journals, along with the date they first observed each species and the modern name for that creature.  For example, on August 20, 1805, they observed a Moonax.  What is a Moonax?  I had no idea, but it turned out that the Moonax is now known as a Yellow-bellied Marmot. The Black Locust wood used in construction of the blind is an alien to the region planted by early settlers, but it is wonderfully weather-resistant and is sustainable, so it was a good choice for construction. My only wish was that we were visiting in spring and we could observe colorful warblers in the trees beyond the blind.

Late in the day, we drove to our second Maya Lin location.  The Vancouver Land Bridge is in Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, located in Vancouver, Washington and run by the National Park Service. The bridge is a pedestrian bridge over Washington Highway 14,

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connecting the historic fort with the Columbia River. This site has a long history: it was a Hudson’s Bay Company trading post, a campsite for Lewis and Clark, and an army fort for approximately a century. The bridge, designed by Seattle architect Johnpaul Jones, curves gracefully over the highway, and has several kiosks that interpret the history and native peoples of this confluence of the Columbia River and the Klickitat Trail. 2008_wa_1652I especially liked the artwork along the bridge. At the Columbia River end of the structure, there is a Welcome Gate designed by Native American artist Lillian Pitt. The gate consists of two crossed wooden canoe paddles, each featuring a stylized cast glass face of a woman from the Chinook Tribe. It is simply an elegant piece! There are also some wonderful metal interpretations of petroglyphs from the Columbia River corridor.  Maya Lin served as a consultant for this project.

It was getting dark, so we left Fort Vancouver and headed west along the Columbia, finally reaching our third destination, Cape Disappointment State Park, in the evening.  We set up camp in a campground filled with about 120 Rvs and travel trailers on this November night; in fact, virtually every campsite was full and we had the only tent.  Through the tent walls we listened to the crashing surf of the Pacific Ocean; the advantage of a tent is that we are more closely linked to the natural world than if we were in a hard-sided vehicle. The downside is that bears might eat us!

Cape Disappointment was named by an English seagoing captain, John Meares, who somehow couldn’t find the mouth of the Columbia River and was disappointed by his failure.

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It is miles wide here–how could he possibly have missed it?  When Lewis and Clark came to Cape Disappointment, Indians told them of ship captains who had wooden legs and eye patches. They sound just like the pirates in books of my youth!

The next morning we explored the state park, visiting several Maya Lin–designed sites.  First, we took a boardwalk to Waikiki Beach, a beautiful beach with a morning 2008_wa_1357mist hanging over the Pacific Ocean seascape and salt spray fragrance in the air.  The boardwalk itself is inscribed with places and dates from Lewis and Clark’s journals, and it represents the place where the Corps of Discovery reached its Pacific destination.  Next, we walked along a pathway studded with fragments of oyster shells to a cedar grove.  Here there are five driftwood logs sunk into the ground, each inlaid with a wide metal strip.  The logs surround an old cedar stump.  It is a place for contemplation of the forest and of the repeated refrain along the path from the Chinook Tribe praise song “Teach us, and show us the way.”  2008_wa_1344Finally, we visited a trail and boat ramp along Baker Bay, where there is an immense column of basalt that has been sculpted into a fish-cleaning station.  This Maya Lin–designed feature goes beyond its obvious functionality; inscribed on its surface is a Chinook origin legend that celebrates their interdependence with Columbia River salmon.  We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Cape Disappointment, but wish that Washington State Parks would provide better signs to these Confluence Project features.  I talked to one woman who said she had wandered around for a whole day and couldn’t find the trail (which, by the way, she was standing on when I pointed out its location to her).  Of course, she could have asked at the park office.

Our mission to see and learn from the Maya Lin sites was successful; we enjoyed all three sites and are eager to see the remaining four as they are completed in coming years. For more information about the outstanding Confluence Project go to the website for the Confluence Project.

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To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com

NEW: To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website

Click on the photographs in the gallery below for versions with captions.

February 2, 2009 Stories of Life on a Ragged Old Maple

February 3, 2009

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We awoke two days ago to dense fog over Fawn Lake. When we looked out the windows at dawn, there was a Bald Eagle perched atop the old and ragged Bigleaf Maple tree that sits along the waterfront. This tree has been just hanging on to life for the 18+ years we have lived on this little Olympic Peninsula lake, 2009_wa_23491and we desperately hope that it continues to live, because it provides so much benefit to the birds of Fawn Lake. Some of the major limbs are dead and the branches drip with mosses and lichens. Windstorms and eagles thrusting off have broken branches, and woodpeckers have excavated here and there, lending the tree a rough appearance that is anything but graceful. Yet the birds love it–and thus so do we.

During the summer of 1993, a pair of Ospreys roosted virtually every night on one of the high horizontal branches of the maple. They flew in at deepest dusk, then perched side-by-side like lovers and spent the night on their high roost. At the break of dawn, they flew off to

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go fishing. They often brought trout back to the tree for a leisurely midday meal. We really missed the Ospreys when they migrated that autumn.

Bald Eagles often land on the maple, because the bare branches at the top lend a panoramic view of the lake. When the eagle visited several days ago, it was apparently waiting for the fog to clear, and stayed several hours. At first, the eagle faced our house, where there was lively songbird activity at the feeders we maintain. The eagle appeared to take a lively interest in the small birds, moving its head when the birds suddenly flew. Later, when the lake started to clear, the eagle turned around on its perch to face the lake, then actively watched the Hooded Mergansers and Ring-necked Ducks as they courted and fed. The eagle reminded me of a cat watching the comings and goings at a bird feeder with intense interest. As the fog nearly cleared, the eagle took off.

A little over a decade ago, I installed a Wood Duck nest box and a Swallow box on the lower reaches of the tree. Actually, the installation taxed my strength and agility on a tall ladder, but I managed to get it done without breaking my neck. I don’t recall if we hosted any nesting ducks that spring, but we did have a Western Screech-owl take up residency in the nest box for a night, and I was able to photograph it at close range as it stuck only its sleepy face out of the entrance.

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That spring or the next, Violet-green Swallows nested in their designated box. I was really excited by the new family, and when I saw a Raccoon sticking its arm into the nest box in the dark and fishing around for the young, I reacted as if I was nature’s arbiter of what was fair and good, and shouted and threw stones at the Raccoon. The Raccoon 155801retreated, but I saw that it had a swallow sideways in its mouth, looking like a feathery mustache. After that, I installed a predator guard, using a piece of slick aluminum to wrap the tree at about my head height. About the same time, I also wrapped the base of a nearby cherry tree to prevent the Beavers from gnawing it down. With the predator guard, the Raccoon problems ceased, though Douglas Squirrels and Northern Flying Squirrels still have the run of the tree.

Black-capped Chickadees, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, and Yellow-rumped Warblers are among the songbirds that feed on insects tucked here and there on the tree. Probing the tree’s depths are Pileated Woodpeckers and Red-breasted152091Sapsuckers. On occasion in recent years, I have taken to yelling at a Pileated Woodpecker that hammers too long on the upper trunk, because I know it wouldn’t take much for the tree to weaken and lose one of its major limbs, which would harm the habitat of all the others birds that use the tree. It’s sacrilegious, I know, to scare away a Pileated, but sometimes it is just so rewarding to play God.

As the years went by, we began watching Hooded Mergansers and Wood Ducks 188581competing for the nest box, so I set up a second nest box on the opposite side of the tree. Then I installed an infrared camera in one nest box so that we could watch the lives of the ducks on live reality television. It was magical! That spring of 2007 we watched the nest box cam for hours at a time, and were finally rewarded by the hatching and fledging of a mixed family of young Hooded Mergansers and Wood Ducks leaping out of the nest box to the lake below. [I will recap this whole story in a blog entry soon to come]. We have now been hosting mostly Hooded Mergansers for years, and each year we see more of these beautiful ducks during the winter. There are also more Wood Ducks coming each spring, and they are simply beautiful in low morning sunshine as they perch on the mossy limbs of the tree. Some of the Wood Ducks even come to our platform feeder on the deck to nibble on sunflower seeds. We never thought we would have a duck coming to the feeder–especially an elegant Wood Duck! 

The latest birds to use the tree are Double-Crested Cormorants. There are some tall firs and cedars on a nearby lot that have been used each winter for resting and night roosting by a loose colony of cormorants that spend the day fishing the lake.
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Those trees seem to have an overpopulation problem, so several weeks ago a juvenile cormorant came and perched on the maple, and ended up staying all night. It became possessive, and after a sword fight with sharp bills, chased away a Great Blue Heron that took a liking to the cormorant’s favored branch. Soon more cormorants joined it, and we had four or five spending the night. I decided I had enough cormorants, and began harassing them so that we would not

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end up with a tree filled with cormorants–and breaking all the remaining delicate branches. My harassment campaign is not going so well; for the most part, the cormorants ignore me unless I walk directly under the tree and start waving my arms and yelling. Shouldering the task of balancing nature is such a heavy burden!

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Recently a juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk flew up to the highest limb after an unsuccessful raid on our feeders. It perched for about two hours, actively watching the comings and goings at the feeders without making an attack.2009_wa_21651Perhaps it was planning a future raid, or maybe it just wasn’t hungry. We watched it grooming and stretching and reaching up with a yellow leg and needle-sharp talons to scratch its head. Then it flew off across the lake with a fresh mission on its mind.

And the beat of life goes on …

 

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com

NEW: To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website

Click on the photographs in the gallery below for versions with captions.