Posted tagged ‘remote’

SPOOKY REST AREAS LATE AT NIGHT

March 17, 2015

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After miles of drizzle and fog on an early December night, I needed to stop for a break. A blue rest area sign caught my headlights, and I decided to pull over two miles ahead. Rolling to a stop in front of the restroom building with only one other car visible, I scanned the grounds for potential trouble, then got out of the car, carefully locked it, and went inside. All was quiet, and nothing untoward happened.

Tree Shadows Crossing a Snowy Winter Landscape in MichiganI took the photographs in this weblog post in three different rest areas during the winter of 2014/2015.

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Plains Indian Tipi Motif in a South Dakota Rest Area

For me, visits to highway rest areas are often like that: a little spooky and unsettlling, especially late at night. When I leave the comfort zone of my vehicle I make myself more vulnerable, but usually the short stop is uneventful and barely registers in my memories. It is worth remembering, however, that danger can sometimes lurk in quiet and remote places.

Shortly after I drove through Minnesota on my way to Michigan, I read a news story about a young man from Washington State who had been murdered execution-style around midnight by another man from the same state–in Minnesota’s Elm Creek Safety Rest Area. Someone reported the murder, and a red SUV speeding away from the rest area. That led to a 115 mph chase in which the suspect was shot and killed by police after crashing his vehicle in the median and emerging with a gun. Since both men were dead, the circumstances and motives were unknown. Apparently my apprehension about stopping at night is justified …

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Tree Shadows Crossing a Snowy Winter Landscape in Michigan

While lying in bed this morning and thinking about writing this weblog post, I remembered a story from long ago. It seems that two guys I knew in grade school and junior high had moved to the Boston area and were working in a camera store. According to the news accounts, they forced a coworker to accompany them to a rest area, where they robbed him and stabbed him to death. I had repressed this memory for decades until I started writing this story, then it popped into my mind like a nightmare. The thing was, I could understand how one of the boys could end up as a killer, because he had always been a mean little snot, but the other kid was just a sweet, normal boy who apparently followed the other into a life of horror.

Plains Indian Tipi Motif in a South Dakota Rest Area

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Tree Shadows Crossing a Snowy Winter Landscape in Michigan

Those stories and others like them feed the fear factor in my brain, but they also gave me some of the inspiration for this series of photographs. These pictures can be seen as beautiful in their own right, but they also have an edge of spookiness that is appropriate for the subject.

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Signs and Parking Lot in Rest Area along Interstate 90 in South

Tree and Photographer Shadows Crossing a Snowy Winter LandscapeAnd if you see a photographer late at night in a rest area, please let him quietly go about his work. He really doesn’t want to talk to strangers at midnight.

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To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my NEW website at Lee Rentz Photography or go to my Flickr Photostream.

PHOTOGRAPHING A BELTED KINGFISHER: A New Technology in Bird Photography

March 12, 2014

FINAL BELTED KINGFISHER

With a flurry of dry rattling calls, two Belted Kingfishers appeared to be battling over the shore of our little lake on Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula, flying back and forth, back and forth, chasing one another. This goes on late every autumn; I assumed it was a territorial battle, but perhaps it is a mating ritual. Ever since I observed this behavior, I’ve wanted to photograph these fascinating birds. Actually, I’ve enjoyed seeing them since first watching kingfishers from my family’s cabin along the Muskegon River in Michigan.

Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon, Male

Belted Kingfishers mostly eat fish, as the name implies. An individual can sit on a high perch, glaring at the water surface below, looking for a fish. If it sees a small fish below, if will instantly leave the perch, fold its wings, and dive head-first into the water with just a small splash. This is often a successful fishing technique. Alternatively, the kingfisher can hover above the water, then dive from the hovering spot. I think they can do their rattling call while diving, so I can only assume the fish can’t hear it or that it petrifies the prey like rebel yells or bagpipes were purported to scare enemy soldiers.

Kingfishers nest in burrows dug into high banks along rivers, lakes, or the ocean. I have seen a couple of nest holes that I believe were made by kingfishers here in the Puget Sound region, but I’ve never photographed a kingfisher near its nesting hole. After exiting the nest, the parents stay with the kids and teach them to fish. A parent can teach a youngster to fish by dropping dead fish onto the water surface; apparently kingfishers know a birdy variant of the old proverb give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon, Male

Every autumn and winter the kingfishers come to Fawn Lake; they are here occasionally year-round, but I’ve learned to expect them especially during the November through January period. Their appearance has been reliable enough that several years ago I set up a curving branch attached to our dock so that the kingfishers would have a place to perch. More to the point: I would have a place to potentially photograph them.

Time went by, and a couple of times each year I would notice that a kingfisher was indeed using my branch, but it happened so rarely that I could not commit the time to working in a blind down on the lakeshore. It might have been weeks and weeks of waiting; I’m a patient man, but not THAT patient.

Other birds also used the perch. I’ve had Wood Ducks, Violet-green Swallows, a Great Blue Heron, and a Bald Eagle perched there, but again not long enough or frequently enough that I could justify the time of sitting in a blind.

In the last few months, things changed. Starting in December, a male kingfisher came and sat on the perch almost every morning. It became a ritual for me each morning, as soon as it got light enough to see down to the lake, to check if the kingfisher was sitting there, and it often was.

The first couple of weeks of perching were rainy, then we had a long, dry stretch that gave me a chance to check out some new technology in the form of a CamRanger. This little electronic device attaches to the camera’s USB port and sets up a wifi network. When I set my Canon camera on “Live View,” I can view what the camera sees right on the screen of my Mac laptop.

Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon, MaleThe Belted Kingfisher has a thin head from the front view, shaped almost like a hatchet to enable it to cleanly cleave the water surface. From the front, the head looks disproportionately small for the body.

Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon, MaleFrom the side view, the head appears unusually large in proportion to the body

The CamRanger is not just a dumb box transmitting an image; the CamRanger software also allows me to control several important aspects of the camera. I can focus remotely, as well as change the exposure and ISO, so it is almost as good as being in a blind–though not quite, since I don’t have a motorized tripod head that would enable me to remotely change the composition. The best quality motorized tripod head would cost about $9,000, so I think I’ll hold off on that purchase.

Early one morning, after I had tested the technology, I set up a tripod and carefully composed the view through a long telephoto lens. I tested the CamRanger and found that it was working, then waited. Within a few minutes, the kingfisher showed up and I was able to photograph it remotely using my computer mouse as a shutter release. The first images were stunning!

Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon, MaleOne of the first photographs I took using the CamRanger

Each day, for the next couple of weeks, I dutifully set up the camera and CamRanger, but with less success than I had the first day. I found that the camera battery only lasted about two hours when working in the Live View mode. Worse, the CamRanger would shut off frequently, especially when the weather was foggy (if it was crystal clear, the unit was more likely to stay on). When this happened, I could reboot the software remotely, so it wasn’t a big problem. I also found that the location of the laptop was important. I tried to use the laptop from the comfort of a leather sofa in the living room, but the signal wasn’t strong enough. I found that I had to go downstairs to my daylight basement, and there it worked far better if I had the laptop elevated, sitting right in the doorway, with the glass door open. It required frequent attention, and keeping the door open. I was prepared that as soon as I saw a kingfisher from inside the house, I would run downstairs to try and take a photograph.

One day, after I had set up, I went downstairs to check on the computer after the door had been open for a while. While I was looking out and down to the lake, a black-and-white mammal ran between my legs and out the open door. It had come in while I was upstairs. We have no pets, and I hope beyond hope that it was a cat rather than a skunk!

Persistence eventually paid off, and one morning almost immediately after I set up, the kingfisher appeared. I ran down the stairs and saw the image on my computer screen. I proceeded to take over 60 photographs as it modelled for the camera, turning its head this way and that, sometimes looking up, other times looking down into the lake. It was magical.

Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon, MaleThe end of a yawn with its bill closing

Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon, MaleTiny water drops spraying out in an arc when the kingfisher instantly turns its head

Those were the last pictures I got this year, as the kingfisher has apparently moved on. Twice, during the period when I was watching, but not photographing, it came to the branch with a small fish. Each time, it perched for perhaps five minutes with the fish in its bill, perhaps waiting for the fish to die before downing it. I didn’t capture that behavior; perhaps next winter I’ll have another chance.

Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon, Male

To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my NEW website at Lee Rentz Photography or go to my Flickr Photostream.

If your are interested in remote photography using the technology described here, go to CamRanger.

The Old West Lingers on in the Oregon Outback

May 8, 2009

 

 

Cow skull decorates front of Frenchglen Mercantile, OregonAn old cow skull and handmade chair on the porch of the Frenchglen Mercantile

 

“Next gasoline 99 miles,” read the sign just east of Bend, Oregon.  We were on a late April trip to eastern Oregon, land of high desert and vast, sagebrush-covered distances.  There used to be several mom-and-pop gas stations along this straight stretch from yuppie Bend to cowboy Burns, 

remote oregon outbackbut these places now sport broken windows and tumbleweeds.  Just the kinds of places that Americans think of when we imagine Route 66.

 

Driving past the road to the Pine Mountain Observatory; it’s the wrong time of day to stop for sky-watching.  Passing Glass Mountain, a mountain of shiny obsidian (black volcanic glass); someday we’ll stop, but our time is limited.  A quick stop to check out the restored buildings in the historic Civilian Conservation Corps at Gap Camp Ranch, where young men labored under the hot sun and into hope.  

 

Into Burns, a small town of ranchers and loggers hit hard by the timber wars of the 1990s, that left mills without enough logs from public land to stay open.  Burns is the place to fill up with gas and groceries for the push into even more remote country.  I stop here for some quick photos of signs and an abandoned motel.  Then we push on for another 60 miles without a town along the route.

 

We pulled into Frenchglen (population 11) as twilight approached.  This town was named for Peter French, a cattle baron of the late 19th century who controlled most

 

The streetscape of Frenchglen, Oregon 

of the land in the vast valley of the Donner und Blitzen River.  He left his mark on the land with scattered ranch outposts and a spectacular round barn in the middle of nowhere.  Alas, in old West tradition, he was murdered by an outlaw.

 

Frenchglen is tiny.  There is a K-8 school that draws kids from the surrounding ranches.  Eleven of them, as counted in a photo from the Frenchglen school website, but a more recent article pegs the number at 14.  Just imagine, in our world of vast suburban sprawl, that this directOuthouse at Frenchglen Hotel State Heritage Site descendent of the one-room schoolhouse still exists!  And how different the education of these children must be.

 

Across the road, the Frenchglen Mercantile stands tidy … and empty.  As does the house next door where I believe the owner used to live.  A sign on the window of the store says you can still get gas here if you place a phone call to a nearby resident:  $40 minimum plus a $2.50 service fee; cash only, please.  I imagine this recession and high gas prices and the increasingly urban interests of our society made life difficult for the owner of this little store.

 

Just down the road is the Frenchglen Hotel, which is actually a state historic site that still offers lodging to folks passing through.  As of 2008, the price for a room was $67.  There is a colorful true story about the hotel’s manager from 1948 to 1974.  One night, after a few drinks, Kenny Pruitt decided that he needed to remove his own appendix and did some self-surgery.  It didn’t have a good outcome, as you might guess.  Read more about Pruitt and the colorful history of theFrenchglen Hotel in Frenchglen, Oregon hotel in an article by Richard Cockle at The Oregonian.

 

We drove on a couple more miles to our destination, the pleasant Page Springs Campground operated by the Bureau of Land Management.  This camp sits at the base of Steens Mountain, accessible by road in the summer but certainly not in April, when snow still blankets the nearly 10,000 foot peak.  We set up camp and crawled into our sleeping bags after I tinkered with a few night photos in camp.  

 

We awoke just after dawn, to a temperature of 22 degrees F.  You might think late April in the desert would be relatively warm, but this is high desert.  The campground is at a 4,200 foot elevation, so nights here can be cold until summer

 

Hereford cow and calf 

arrives.  From here, we spent three intense days visiting a Greater Sage Grouse lek, Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, and the Diamond Craters volcanic area.  I’ll describe these in detail in another post, but one more note about the settlements of the area.  The next day we visited the hamlet of Diamond, which sports two signs:  one says “Population 5,” and the other says “Congestion,” seemingly with a straight face.

 

Highway 205 centerline in the Oregon high desertHighway cut through a rock outcrop near Frenchglen

 

 

Cattle trails on range near Burns, OregonCattle trails on rangeland near Burns

 

Central Hotel BurnsThe classic Central Hotel sign in Burns has Art Deco touches

 

 

Western Juniper and stars near Malheur Refuge, OregonWestern Juniper in our campsite with a dazzling starry sky above

 

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

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 below to see them in a larger size, with captions.