Snowy Egrets

We visited Fish Haul Beach Park yesterday afternoon, hoping to see some interesting birds or animals on the receding high tide.  It’s probably the wrong time of year for fiddler crabs and other tiny things, but we lucked into a few interesting snowy egrets and a tri-colored heron.

Frisky Snowy Egrets-1Just after we arrived at the observation deck we noticed a white wading bird in the shallows and, thinking it was an immature little blue heron, we watched a bit as it foraged.  Suddenly a pair of white waders came storming in and landed near the feeding bird, and a ruckus followed as the larger of the birds seemed to be chasing the other two.  The behavior seems to be classic courtship behavior of the birds, and I suppose that is exactly what is on the mind of the large bird.

Frisky Snowy Egrets-2

Frisky Snowy Egrets-3 Frisky Snowy Egrets-4 Frisky Snowy Egrets-5 Frisky Snowy Egrets-6

This behavior went on for a time while we watched.  The egrets jumping out of the water enabled us to identify the “golden slippers’ of all three egrets, a classic identification characteristic.



The smaller egrets, which we presumed to be females,  were quick to get out of the way of the big dude.




The plumage of the egrets was quite showy, and we felt very fortunate to have found this group.




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Foggy Cypress Tree

I was intrigued by an image of a cypress tree on our lagoon taken on a recent foggy morning, especially since it seems to render better in black and white tones than in color.  I have been trying different processing techniques using Lightroom 5.3 and the Google Nik Software Suite plugins for Lightroom, and the range of possibilities is actually quite large.

20140209-NIK-AEP-ClassicCameraThe original image was hampered by a second tree on the left which limited the available space to that side, so the composition was not ideal.  I couldn’t take the image again (at least not until there is another foggy morning), so I processed it with a severe crop on the left.  I used Lr 5.3 for the original conversion to b&w, and then I used Nik Silver Effects Pro and Nik Analog Effects Pro to achieve a “classic camera” look.  This image was posted on the web in several discussion forums where it got some positive comments, and the resulting image is pleasing but clearly would be stronger if the full tree were able to “breathe” on all sides.  Without a doubt the tree needs to be rid of that crowded feeling on the left, so I set out to remove the offending second tree.

20140209-Lr5.3BWI used Adobe Photoshop CC to clone out the  smaller tree, carefully removing branches which overlapped with the main subject cypress tree.  I settled on a 1:1 (square) crop for the image, and then adjusted exposure and contrast to produce a pleasing (to my eye) image which I then developed further using the Nik Software Suite.  This suite of plugins includes Silver Effects Pro which is designed to enable b&w processing much like the wet darkroom provided for film images, and I am learning to appreciate the range of possibilities available using this tool.

20140209-NIK-SEP-19-FineArtOne of my favorite features of the Nik Software is that it provides a large selection of presets which quickly give images with a particular look to them.  The image to the left was produced using the fine art preset, and while this image seems almost identical to the one produced in Lr 5.3, it is different in subtle ways with a smoothness to the foggy background which I like very much.  Incidentally, each of the images posted here can be seen in larger size simply by clicking on the image, and a larger image will open in a new window.








The two images above are produced using the soft sepia (left) and dark sepia (right) presets.








And these two images were produced using the Wet Rocks preset (left) and the Full Contrast and Structure preset (right).

Perhaps my favorite preset for this image is the Antique Plate preset, which produces the sepia-colored monochrome image below.


If you do your own image processing, I recommend that you try some b&w processing for appropriate images, and I recommend the Nik software Silver Effects Pro for processing monochrome images.  Give it a try–you’ll be carried back to memories of the days of stained fingers from your own chemical darkroom, but this time without the smell and stains!

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Cormorant Fishing in Sun City-Hilton Head

Recently The Atlantic ran a feature on the ancient Chinese custom of cormorant fishing.  Although now a dying art, Chinese fishermen have for thousands of years used trained cormorants to fish local lakes and rivers.  Today the practice is more and more restricted to performances for tourists, but I observed a fascinating example of this art just this week here in Sun City-Hilton Head (SC-HH).

The cormorant is very common here in the Lowcountry, and this time of year these water birds flock to the lagoons in SC-HH to feed as a group.  They are efficient fishers, swimming underwater to pursue fish they spot there.  Apparently the cormorant’s beak is the end for almost any fish in the lagoon, and I have heard from local fishermen that a flock of cormorants will “fish out” a lagoon in a week if not in just one day.  The interesting part of the story is that we humans aren’t the only ones to have noticed the cormorants’ efficiency as a fisher.  Large wading birds that routinely fish these lagoons from the shallows have learned to recognize that these visiting flocks of cormorants present a golden opportunity to get a good meal with relatively little effort.

As the cormorant flock moves from lagoon to lagoon within SC-HH they are 20140117-092030followed by dozens of great egrets and great blue herons, watching the cormorants and eagerly flying over the flock to seek out a catch that might be stolen.  Yesterday I observed the usual complement of egrets and herons accompanied by a pair of bald eagles, all watching the show and many of them looking to steal a meal from the master fisher cormorants.  The usual theft method involved surprise: herons and egrets would fly in a low approach over the flock of cormorants, watching for an unsuspecting cormorant to surface with its catch.

20140129-142043Many times the flyover yielded no steal opportunity, but when the lucky approach coincided with the surfacing of a cormorant with a large fish in its beak, the fun really began!  The lucky thief snatched the fish from the cormorant on the fly and was gone before the cormorant could react, but not before other herons or egrets could give chase and try to steal from the thief.  It was quite a show!

20140117-094611The only defense the cormorants have is to move on, and that is what they do.  It is a moving spectacle, with the shores of the lagoon lined with wading birds stretching their necks, watching for their opportunity to share in the harvest provided by the cormorants.  As the flock moves on, so do the dozens of wading birds that follow the flock to the next lagoon and so, presumably, do the eagles.  I did not see an eagle attempt to steal a fish from a rising cormorant, but the pair certainly demonstrated a keen interest in the spectacle in our lagoon.  This was, incidentally, only the second time I had seen a bald eagle flying over our home and it was quite exciting to see a pair of them, wheeling about the lagoon and just above our patio.  I was so enthralled with watching them that I forgot to take a picture!

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A New Year!  New calendar pages, new opportunities, and new friends to meet.

Billie and I have had a whirlwind 2013 in which we dealt with many new emotions.  We came to grips with the loss of our brother-in-law Fred, we sold our home in the North Carolina mountains and we bought a home here in Sun City after renting through the past winter.  And on top of all that turmoil, we spent two weeks in the summer cruising the Rhine-Main-Danube River system in Europe and then welcomed our first granddaughter in September.  That’s a lot to ingest in one year, and we need to take a deep breath as we welcome this New Year.

As I’ve stated in a recent post here, we are beginning to embrace the Sun City lifestyle and we find it very much to our liking.  Lots of activities take up time on our calendars, and we find it easy and convenient to maintain our exercise regimen.  We walk 2.25 to 4 miles almost every day, depending on the route we chose to follow, and Billie is a devotee of Ray’s yoga classes at the Lake House Fitness Center.  We have lots of new friends, and as we participate in club activities we are meeting more new friends each week.

Here’s to a Happy New Year in Sun City!

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Whirlwind Tour

Billie and I went on a whirlwind tour of North Carolina recently, visiting Charlotte, Hildebran, Blowing Rock and Asheville in just 4 days.  Our tour included a family wedding shower, an overnight visit with our grandson Jacob (and his parents Peter and Amy), a visit with knitting buddies in Blowing Rock, a tour of the leaf displays along the Blue Ridge Parkway, and an overnight stay with friends in Asheville.

01-Jennifer-Luke-CakeThis beautiful cake was the centerpiece at the wedding shower for Jennifer Rhyne and Luke Williams.  We were happy to be able to attend this event because Jennifer has been special to us since she attended App State and came by our house on a regular basis while she was in Boone.  We wish Luke and Jennifer every happiness in their coming marriage.



In addition to lots of good food, the shower featured Jennifer and Luke opening gifts on the stage while family and friends looked on.  Everyone had a great time talking and catching up with acquaintances while the ribbons were being cut.  We hope that our gift, a portable picnic basket/backpack with service for four,  will be used for many an unplanned picnic by Luke and Jennifer.



Next stop on our tour was Hildebran, where we went to spend the night with our grandson Jacob and his parents Peter and Amy.  Jacob was really excited that we were coming to spend the night, and he gathered up favorite books to show us.  After a good night’s sleep we were served a delicious breakfast of gluten-free pancakes.



Peter and Jacob had been spending some father-and-son time together before we arrived, and this photo of them playing together seems to capture some of their relationship from that weekend.  They really enjoy their time together.  After visiting with them through the morning we all went to Mellow Mushroom in Hickory for a pizza lunch before we headed for Blowing Rock and the “leaf-looker” part of our tour.


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Settling In to the Lowcountry Experience

Billie and I have begun to breathe more easily now after a whirlwind few months.  It’s pretty incredible that in this calendar year we have sold our home in the North Carolina High Country, bought a home in the South Carolina Lowcountry, moved our household things to Sun City-Hilton Head, and welcomed a new granddaughter into the world.

Our new home is located almost exactly half way between our grandson Jacob (who lives in Hildebran, NC with his parents Peter and Amy Rhyne) and our granddaughter Lyra (who lives in Winter Park, FL with her parents Ben and Lucy Littler).  We have easy access to both grandchildren via I-95 and connecting roadways, with both being only about 300 miles away.  We plan to visit each of them fairly regularly, and the 5-hour drive has not been much of a problem so far.

Billie and I are enjoying our new home here in Sun City-Hilton Head and we have found many outlets for our energies.  We have joined several clubs and interest groups, and our social engagement calendars have been filled with meals shared with new friends we have met here in SC-HH.  We belong to a Friday Night Gourmet Dining Group which we thoroughly enjoy, and we both belong to the Bird Club.  Billie has joined the local knitters’ group in the Sew What Club, and I have joined the Computer Club and the Photography Club.

Now that things are settling down a bit, I plan to resume posting to my blog, so look for news of our new life in the SC Lowcountry here.

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Hands on little creatures

Warning to those who don’t like spiders−do not open links here because photos of spiders are involved!

I found this little creature outside our front door this morning, and since he was essentially immobilized because of the cold, I decided I would try to get a close-up shot of him (or her).  Upon taking a closer look I thought that this might be a proper subject for one of my assignments in the Creativity SIG (Special Interest Group, a subset of the Photography Club) here in Sun City.  The assignment this week is “Hands” and the appendages on either side of the face(?) look to me very much like hands.  A close-up using my 105mm Micro-Nikkor lens yielded just what I was looking for−a unique interpretation of the assignment in sharp detail.

I posted the photos on a spider identification web site to ask for an identification, and got a fairly quick response.  Check it out here.



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Audubon Newhall Preserve

20130124-123139I visited the Audubon Newhall Preserve on Hilton Head Island Thursday, January 24, and while there I happened upon an anhinga having lunch.  As I approached the observation deck on the north bank of the pond I saw some movement along the bank further to the south.  Luckily I was able to find a vantage point on the observation deck which gave me a clear view of the source of the movement—an anhinga hoisting a large sunfish with its bill and then slamming the fish against a log.



I watched for almost an hour as the anhinga set about the task of stunning or killing the fish before adjusting its hold to begin the swallowing process.  I was doubtful that the bird could swallow such a large fish, but then I was fascinated as it adjusted the fish to be swallowed head first.  The jaw of the anhinga must clearly be loosely-hinged to accommodate such large meals, because it easily swallowed the whole fish and followed it up with a few drinks of water.  Then the anhinga spread its wings to the sun to dry out before trying to fly away.  Incidentally, the turtle in the background slept through the entire drama.







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Gaussian Blur

I posted the photos of Charley the Bluejay on the CNPA web site asking for critique of the images, and fellow members and moderators offered the suggestion that the background was too busy with too much detail.  I agreed with these observations, and I set about the tedious task of changing the backgrounds of the two photos.

The first step in this process involves creating a virtual copy of the image in Lightroom 4.3 and bringing this copy into Photoshop CS6 for editing.  I selected the bird by drawing around it with the mouse, a tedious process which took some time.  Once the bird was selected, I selected the inverse (the background) and set about changing the detail which is the source of the problem.  First I chose a black background and then a 50% gray background, both of which caused the bird to seem too artificial and not to my liking.  I then applied a Gaussian blur filter to the background, and with a setting of about 55 I found that result to be pleasing to my eye.  The results are displayed here.  As usual, click on the thumbnail to see a full-size image.


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What color is a bluejay?

Old friend (long-time friend?) Jim Greene of northern Virginia and Boone, NC commented in my previous posting that the bluejay has no blue pigments in its feathers.  I had forgotten that feature of bird coloration, but a quick search of the internet located a number of references to structural coloration with some explanations of the bases for blues (and greens) in birds.

This short article by Anita Carpenter in Wisconsin Natural Resources gives the full story using layman’s terminology, and I recommend that you read it for a meaningful explanation.  The experimental test of this explanation of structural coloration is easily carried out if you find a bluejay feather:  the feather viewed in reflected light is blue, but if the feather is backlit and viewed by the light transmitted through the feather it appears brown!

Thanks, Jim, for offering this interesting observation.

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