Saturday, October 7, 2017

San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory 2017 Click-Off!

Every year I submit images to the San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory's annual "Click-Off" fundraising event.  Entries require a fee which goes to much needed bird protection programs in the bay area and it is one of the ways I like to contribute. This year, they added a World Birds category and I am very happy to be honored with joint first prize for my snowy sheathbill and gentoo penguins image from Port Lockroy, Antarctica.

I also received two Merit Awards in both the Bird Behavior and Birds & Humans categories.  The bald eagle with a ground squirrel was captured in Milpitas, California where two bald eagles set up a nest this year in a large redwood tree in the grounds of an elementary school. They certainly generated a great deal of interest and successfully produced an offspring.

The fleeing snowy plovers was captured at Seabright State Beach in Santa Cruz, California. Visitors to the beaches along the California coast many times do not notice resting birds in the sand right below their feet. Off leash dogs are also an issue as owners ignore signage posted at various access points.  This causes the birds to continually flee, using up much needed energy reserves.  To learn more about these beautiful, little birds and their plight, I have more information and images here.




Thursday, September 14, 2017

National Geographic Your Shot Selection!

Thrilled to have one of my favorite images selected today by National Geographic editors for Your Shot's "Daily Dozen".  It is quite an honor since thousands of images are submitted daily!  I don't think I would want the job however of sifting through them all on a daily basis, so I thank them for spotting and for selecting mine.

The image was taken at Port Lockroy, Antarctica while on assignment with G Adventures in March. I noticed a pair of gentoo penguins on a rocky area next to the now famous Port Lockroy post office and stood and watched them as a parent was attempting to feed it's persistently begging offspring.  Every now and then however, a pesky sheathbill would swoop down in an attempt to catch a piece of the food the parent would regurgitate.  So how to capture this?

I increased my shutter speed to 1/2000s to freeze the action and made sure I had an aperture of f/8 with a wide enough depth of field to hopefully get both the penguins and the bird in focus.  I made sure I focused on the head of the adult penguin and waited.  Each time the sheathbill flew in, I fired off a few shots.  After several attempts at capturing the repetitive behavior, I managed to get this shot.




Wednesday, September 6, 2017

An Encounter to Remember

On a recent month long assignment in Arctic Norway as Photographer in Residence with G Adventures, I had a very unique encounter with a juvenile Arctic (or polar) fox.  It took place in a beautiful area called Alkhornet and one of my favorite locations in Svalbard.

Alkhornet is a striking mountain located on the west coast of Spitsbergen, which is the largest island in Norway's Svalbard archipelago. At 428 meters in height, it towers over the tundra landscape below. It is home to a large bird population, reindeer and the Arctic fox.

In this area and as is the case in most of Svalbard, it is necessary to traverse the landscape in small groups accompanied by a trained member of staff with a firearm.  Polar bears make Svalbard home and although we may assume they are only found out on the sea ice, they are also seen on land during the summer months and at times with their young.  So before we can even go ashore, a scouting team is mobilized to explore the area both on land and in the surrounding waters. Once the area is secured, they remain at strategic locations and always on the lookout until everyone has returned safely to the ship.










As our group slowly meandered our way across the lush, green tundra of summer, a juvenile Arctic fox was spotted in the distance.  So we stopped and waited in the hope it might come closer for a better view. My immediate reaction was to eliminate my obvious presence simply by getting down low to the ground and to just sit quietly and wait. Chasing after wildlife is unethical and ultimately ends up in the animal leaving the scene. Respecting wildlife and its environment, along with a little patience can certainly reap its rewards as was soon to be the case here.  G Adventures makes sure this is adhered to and it is something I emphasize to guests in my on board lectures. 









The Arctic fox is well suited to the harsh environment it inhabits, particularly in the frigid winters when temperatures can easily drop to -58℉. With furry soles, short ears and a short muzzle, they are well adapted to the Arctic climate.  Arctic foxes live in burrows and in the winter will dig a tunnel in the snow to shelter from a blizzard.  

The coat of the Arctic fox changes according to the season and acts as a camouflage in order to effectively hunt for prey.  In winter, the coat is a stark white, so it is well hidden in the snow and ice. As the season changes, the coat adopts a brown or grey appearance in order to blend in with the summer tundra landscape.  


As we watched and waited, the little fox began to play and explore the landscape, but it would occasionally look in our direction. Maybe it saw reflective light in my lens, or was simply curious at the group of onlookers, but whatever the reason, it began to make its way toward us and in particular me!

As it drew near I was continually shooting and it was only when it became impossible to take any more images as my lens would no longer focus due to the close proximity, that I put my gear down and just sat and watched this beautiful, resilient, resident of the Arctic. 





Even though the encounter only lasted a few minutes, it is one I will certainly never forget! Being so close and making eye contact with this amazing creature was one of those moments I will carry with me for the rest of my life. It then turned and went off on its merry way.  


As this was all taking place, another group on the far side were watching this unfold and I was thrilled to receive an image documenting the encounter by Helmut Jacob, one of the guests and also a wonderful photographer.  It is rare to have images of myself in action, so to acquire this really meant a great deal!

Photograph by Helmut Jacob



Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Antarctica & Patagonia 2017 Video

Has taken me quite some time to complete, but I hope you enjoy a condensed view of my travels in Antarctica and Patagonia in March/April, 2017!

 

Friday, June 2, 2017

"Behind the Lens" - Wild Planet Magazine

Seeing one's images published is really quite exciting and validates the preparation and effort involved, especially when seen in an international publication.

In the June 2017 of Wild Planet Magazine my image of snow geese blasting off last December at Bosque del Apache in New Mexico appropriately made it to the "Behind Lens" feature detailing how I managed to capture the shot.


My explanation was as follows: During a recent visit to Bosque del Apache, I wanted to be a little more creative and experiment with motion blurs.  I also found this a useful way to extend my shooting time when lighting was not optimal.  This image was shot in the late morning in bright light. By using the lowest ISO and smallest aperture, in addition to a -2/3 EV adjustment, I was able to zoom in and capture the motion and the mayhem as a massive number of snow geese were blasting off."

Shot with my Nikon D750 and the Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6 ED VR AF-S lens, my settings were: 1/30s, f/32 @ ISO 50, -2/3 EV

Using slow shutter speeds is a wonderful way to create abstract, artistic renditions which in turn make fabulous large scale display pieces.  This one in particular is a favorite of mine as it truly captures both the scene I witnessed and the excitement and awe I felt as I watched these beautiful birds take to the skies en masse.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Sad Ending for Leucistic Hummer?

Over the past year or so, a beautiful little leucistic hummingbird has drawn quite a bit of attention at the UCSC Arboretum in Santa Cruz, California.  People have flocked to see this little beauty as it made the local news, birding sites and newspapers!  I had the unique opportunity to spend a couple of solitary hours with the bird on a gloomy, rainy morning at the arboretum.

October 2016 vs May 2017


Sadly however it appears to be on a downhill path based what I saw yesterday morning and is in a very much bedraggled state.  Once I had located the bird, I zoomed in with my telephoto lens and noticed distinct deformation to the beak. The overall appearance was not good with many feathers missing particularly on the back and wings which explained its lack of sustained or frequent flight.

video


As it rested, it exhibited labored breathing and I also wonder with the lack of plumage and the chilly, rainy morning yesterday, if it was also lacking sufficient insulation.





I am curious as to the cause of this drastic change in appearance although I am aware that leucistic hummingbirds are more prone to disease.


























Audubon California posted an informative story last October entitled "Rare White Hummingbird Steals the Spotlight at California Garden". It details the rarity and excitement of the sighting, in addition to the challenges the bird may potentially face due to the lack of pigmentation, which it now clearly is exhibiting.  Very sad to see.


























I subsequently contacted the Santa Cruz Bird Club and received this response:  We have known for some time that "Moby Dick" was not doing well.  I think everyone is surprised it has survived so long.  We don't have any avian disease doctor contacts, but ornithologists at UCSC are well aware of it's plight.  There was a good discussion a few months back about whether or not to intervene and the consensus was to "let nature take its course".

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Antarctica you did not know!

If your view of Antarctica is that of a barren and white landscape, well think again!

During my three week assignment this past March in Antarctica with G Adventures we visited one of my favorite locations, Petermann Island.  Just north of the Antarctic Circle, Petermann Island is a small low rounded island 1.8 km (1.1 mi) long and 1.2 km (0.75 mi) wide.  On the two occasions we visited, both were entirely different.

For the first visit, we were met with sparkling white snow, yet only one week later, I could not believe my eyes as the entire landscape had turned bright pink and green!  I was to learn that this was due to the formation of algae.


When I returned home and started to process my images, I wanted to learn more about the phenomenon.

Here is an explanation by Luis Georg which I came across on a website named PerfScience.

 "In a new study, researchers have described about red-pigmented, snow-dwelling algae that has turned Arctic glaciers’ snow into pink. After analyzing red snow algae present across 21 glaciers in the pan-European Arctic, the researchers have raised concerns as snow algae accelerates the melting of Arctic glaciers. 

 The algae are present all over the world in polar and alpine settings from Greenland and Antarctica to Iceland and the European Alps. In the winter, the red snow algae are present in dormant state in the snow as spores. But as the spring and summer take place and their icy habitat starts to melt, they start to produce pink landscapes.

As per the researchers, the algae are helping the snow melt faster. Glaciers are known to keep the planet cool by reflecting sunlight. But when glaciers melt, they give way to ocean surfaces having a lower albedo, which makes earth to absorb more sunlight and heat. 

 In the case of red snow algae, they reduce the albedo by 13%. Study’s lead researcher Steffi Lutz of the University of Leeds said that red snow algae blooms could quite widespread in the Arctic by summertime. 

The researchers said that current climate change models include black carbon, but they should also include algae too. For now, the researchers do not have a clear idea on the level of role algae plays in melting glaciers. 

“Based on personal observations, a conservative estimate would be 50 percent of the snow surface on a glacier at the end of a melt season. But this can potentially be even higher”, said Lutz. Now, the research team is working to find out the level of the melt because of the red snow algae. 

 It is an important aspect as Arctic has witnessed quite a hot year. A concern being raised by the researchers is that even if red snow algae have a smaller role to play on Arctic ice cover today, their role could increase has human carbon emissions warm the planet. 

In order to bloom, the algae need liquid water. Therefore, if there would be more melting, there would be more algae. It is expected that as temperatures are rising globally, the snow algae phenomenon would also increase leading to an even bigger bio-albedo effect. 

The algae are green in color, but they produce a natural sunscreen that turns the snow pink and red. The addition of color darkens the snow color, making it to heat faster and causing it to melt more rapidly. Now, the researchers are aware of what causes the snow turn pink but it was a high-latitude curiosity when Arctic explorers like the British Captain John Ross reported about it. 

In fact, when the London Times reported about it in 1818, it was speculated to be the result of meteoriciron deposits. The current study highlights the far-reaching effects of climate change."


Sunday, May 7, 2017

Survival of the Fittest

This image was taken on a bleak day at Danco Island, just off the Antarctic Peninsula. The sky was dark and overcast with sprinkles of snow as I made my way across a rocky surface on my way up to a lookout point.  En route I encountered a pair of large Brown Skuas (Stercoraius antarcticus lonnbergi) feasting on a dead Gentoo Penguin.

Skuas predate on penguin chicks, so how this adult penguin met this fate is unknown, but the scene demonstrated to me how wildlife survives in this harsh, unforgiving environment.

I got down and dirty, lying on my stomach among penguin guano in order to capture an intimate view of the behavior.




Friday, May 5, 2017

Nesting Bald Eagles of Milpitas

Today I ventured out to see a pair of nesting bald eagles on the grounds of Curtner Elementary School, in Milpitas, California.  Since the school is naturally off limits during school hours and today being a holiday, I figured it was as good a time as any and to avoid weekend visitors.  As news of the birds spreads, more and more people and photographers are showing up to get a glimpse of the pair and their fast growing chick. The school has apparently revised the times that people are allowed on the grounds limiting it to after 6:00pm during school days, as I am guessing this is becoming an issue.

I waited for about three hours as one parent remained in the nest while the other left in search of breakfast. It managed to capture a ground squirrel in the field behind the school and while a couple of other people with cameras went in pursuit, I chose to remain.

Chasing wildlife just to get the shot is ethically wrong and something I teach in all my photography classes. I strongly adhere to the North American Nature Photography Association's Ethical Practices concerning wildlife photography.  Allowing the bird or animal to go about its natural behavior takes precedence!  The bald eagle in this case was unable to remain on the ground and ultimately took flight, but thankfully with its catch.

My strategy paid off, as I waited in a shaded area with the sun behind my back to avail of the best possible light and angle. When the parent returned, which I knew it ultimately would, it had in its talons the ground squirrel and I was able to fire off a few images as it passed by en route to the nest.

Bald Eagle with Prey

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Sierra Club's DAILY RAY OF HOPE!

It is always an honor to have the Sierra Club select my images for their "Daily Ray of Hope".  I love their inspirational quotes.  To subscribe, go here:  http://www.sierraclub.org/sierra-club-email/daily-ray-of-hope