Thursday, April 3, 2014

March At Great Meadows

March just didn't want to release us from her grasp this year. It snowed. It was windy. It was cold. The ice persisted forever; then in an instant it was gone.

This blog post is like March. Persist and you'll be rewarded when you get to the end.

I've been playing around with video this month both using my Nikon D7100 but also a borrowed Fujifilm X-T1 mirrorless camera. It was simultaneously fun and frustrating to be playing around with video.

Video adds several additional levels of complexity.  Sins that I could easily correct in Photoshop (like a crooked horizon or slight under / over exposure are almost fatal mistakes.) Hand holding a photograph for 1/30 of a second is manageable, hand holding for 30 seconds, that's a different matter.

Video also adds the complexity of audio. I tried using the in-camera microphone and an external directional microphone that sits in the hot shoe. That opens up the world to even more mistakes the photographer can make (like forgetting to turn on the external microphone.)

Once you have audio, the challenge is getting good audio. At Great Meadows that is a challenge since every couple of minutes you have the noise of a jet arriving / departing in the background. Sean Carey says it is difficult to video nature for more that 30 seconds in Massachusetts without getting some man made noise in the background. (Sometimes, the photographer makes the man made noise himself. Ugh.)

Once you get home there are new tools to edit & assemble a clip. There's the associated time wandering menus and googling to figure things out. (I know it crops & zooms. How do I do that again?)

Oh and finally, did I mention that we are trying to film nature.  It hardly sits still or poses for you.  Forget about retakes, one shot and you are generally done.  At Great Meadows you will find the occasional Red-winged Blackbird or Great Blue Heron that will be more cooperative, but it is still early in the season for them.  In several months they will become habituated / tolerant of all the people, but many still are skittish.

So overall, I have retreated into a state of "conscious incompetence".  Why do I frustrate myself like this?  Well, photos can capture the beauty of the moment, but sometimes to really appreciate the moment you need to capture the movement and sounds that only video can provide.  Since the camera puts them both together, I guess I should to.  Besides isn't it fun to learn a new skill?  Well, it probably is once you've developed it, but along the way it can also be frustrating.

Thanks for reading so far.  Here is your reward for your persistence.   I compiled the best of clips from March into a short video, to allow you to relive or vicariously enjoy this March at Great Meadows.

(Double click on the video to watch it in full screen mode)
If you haven't been to Great Meadows this week all the snow melt and rain has caused the Concord river to overflow its banks and flood the refuge.

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20140404 &emdash;

If you go to visit here's the view that will great you as you leave the parking lot and try to walk the Cross Dike trail. I know it doesn't look that deep, but only a few feet past the kiosk and the water was getting dangerously close to the top of my wellies.

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20140404 &emdash;

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Spring Slowly Arrives

March came in like a lion, or maybe that was just February overstaying its welcome.  At the beginning of the month my few visits we often quite brief due to combination of cold and wind.  After just a little while outside, I would find myself retreating to the comfort of my car headed to the nearest Dunks to get a cup of joe to warm my insides.

This day it was so windy that even on a locked down tripod, the wind was just buffeting my lens.  I've started to play around with the video capabilities of my cameras.  Sometimes a still photo captures a moment perfectly, other times you want to capture the movement and sound that video provides.

Later in the month conditions start to mellow.  Water is flowing between the upper & lower impoundments.

Now as we reach the end of the month there are definite signs of spring.  My personal sign of spring is the arrival of the male red-winged blackbirds.  After days of cold and silence, one day the quite is disrupted by their distinctive "kon-ka-reee" the song builds over days starting with just a few, more groups arrive, until the marsh reaches a crescendo of males calling and displaying their epaulets as they stake out territory and try to attract females to mate.

In the midst of the melting snow, skunk cabbage shoots start to push their way through. Their interesting geometric design is so beautiful during this phase. Of course with so little that's not white or brown, their color alone makes them an object of interest.

As the days warm, that patch of water by the bridge slowly starts to widen. If you are stealthy you often may find ducks of one sort or another in that small patch. Today I came across two pairs of Hooded Mergansers. Of course if you don't remain still and quite they will take flight quickly.

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20140322 &emdash;

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20140322 &emdash;

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20140322 &emdash;

Winter is slowly giving up it's grasp across the refuge. The Dike trails are almost all snow & ice free. Depending upon the time of day the path is frozen solid or a muddy graveling mix. However, back in the woods snow and ice are slowly giving up ground. Yak Trax are welcome accompaniments to help you navigate the icy patches covered my a skim coat of today's ice melt.

Though the impoundments are still frozen, there are tell tale signs that this too will pass. The ice no longer is a consistent white, darker spots are shining through. Slowly around the edges ice is slowly melting and water appears. Gulls seem to be stopping by more frequently, probably anxious for the first major opening to appear, with hopes that it will reveal fish killed or weakened by the long winter ice cover. Today the first muskrat made an appearance.

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20140322 &emdash;

One warm sunny afternoon, I saw the screech owl, for the first time this year. It was kind of hard to miss as it sat in the opening of his hole and just soaked up the sun.

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20140322 &emdash;

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Hunters

Today was one of those cold dreary days. The type that tell you know that even though the calendar says March, winter says it's not dead yet. It was cold and grey. It looked like snow, felt like snow, and occasionally the odd snow flake flew by; but that was just a reminder of the season.

The refuge was quiet. The stillness only broken by the distant drumming of woodpeckers and the occasional roar of a departing jet. Today was a day that belonged to the hunters.

On my way across the Dike Trail, in the distance I spied a coyote. He was diligently checking the muskrat lodges and scanning the reeds looking for his next meal as he strode across the frozen impoundment. Maybe his fur was puffed up to help keep him warm against the cold, but then again maybe he has been eating well this winter.

Further across the Dike I caught up with a band on intrepid birders, hunting for birds to count. It seems that birds had more sense than humans this dreary day than humans. One species of bird seemed oblivious to the cold, the ubiquitous Down Woodpecker.

Having completed our lap of the lower impoundment we returned via the railroad bed to the warming shack (the restrooms). We were thankful that the heat is left on the ensure the pipes don't freeze. Even at their lower than normal temperature, the bit of trapped warmth, provided a pleasant respite.

Warmed and standing outside the building, we were entertained as our last hunter stepped on stage. A large Cooper's Hawk flew alongside the building and settled on a branch over the trail to the parking lot. It didn't seem to mind us much, but was constantly scanning looking for its next meal.

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20140305 &emdash;

After watching it close up from the rear, I wondered if it would sit still long enough to allow me to circle around to the parking lot side and take some photos from the front. It did, all the while scanning the surroundings. I had just got into position to take a few photos from the front, when a noise caught its attention from up the railroad bed; in a flash it was gone.

Shortly there after, so were we.
Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20140305 &emdash;
Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20140305 &emdash;