Friday, December 11, 2009

Nine days later

Nine days since my last post. Even with huge support from Bill, end of term musical performances, exams, marks, reports, and more energy than usual required to get around after a cycling accident almost two weeks ago, drained blogging energy. Now, the light at the end of the tunnel is finally in sight, and here I am again.

Last Saturday, Bill, Black Jack and I headed to Squamish where we met our friends, Jock and Kitty, for our first day of eagle counting. I think we actually saw a grand total of five eagles. High winds and cold temperatures kept the eagles hiding, my camera groaning, and all of us challenged to brave the elements.

Jock and I were both trying out our Sigma 150-500 lenses, and neither of us were totally happy with the results. I haven't seen Jock's results, but mine were downright disappointing. I now understand that more effort is going to be required to handle such a heavy lens with the same ease I did the 300mm.

Here is one of my poor results, but the spread-eagled pose of this Merganser made me smile.
Many of my pictures looked like this - little white specs amid a mess of branches.
This one was at quite a distance, and given that the heavy lens and crazy winds made hand-holding pretty much crazy, I thought it wasn't so bad.
A closer view.
This common merganser was maybe my best shot of the day.
My best seagull of the day.
At this point, the large lens quit working. On strike because of the cold? We were never sure, but Henry Wong of Broadway Camera replaced it with a brand new one, and we'll be trying again this weekend. I can't say enough good things about that shop. Just the best. Henry even took time to go through my photos with me, with both encouragement and lots of advice for improved results in the future.

With my 300mm lens, the fact that all of the action was across the river really became a challenge. But, here was the rest of the day's results.

The crows seemed rather foolhardy to me. I guess they know that it takes a lot of effort for an eagle to get off the ground, so they often fly very close to them. Here, the crow is carrying a bit of food.
Here is Jock with his new lens. Behind him, I read that the eagles have been observing the changes along that valley for 5000 years. Just one of the things I love about photography. I miss many things around me at the moment, but get a second chance to observe later.
I love this picture of Bill. A twinkle in his eye, even as he freezes. Bill looked after Black Jack and encouraged my obsession with never a murmur of complaint. Thank you once again, Bill!
From our seminar the week before, we learned that it takes an enormous number of calories for eagles to get off the ground. They have to eat about one tenth of their body weight each day, about half a kilogram. For juveniles, the caloric expenditure and need for food is even higher. Often, when eagle carcasses are found, the cause of death is starvation. That is why disturbing them, or forcing them to fly, can threaten their survival. They do sit for long periods in trees, and as photographers, we love to catch them in action. I was reluctant, before, to disturb them (or any bird) in an effort to promote activity, but now, I fully understand why that is so wrong.

Here, I was fortunate to catch an action shot, albeit, only with the 300mm.
Eagle conference. I wonder what they are saying to each other. Maybe, something like, "Do you see that crazy old lady huddled in the rocks on the other side of the river? Don't stare at her. Maybe she'll go away." Or maybe, more like, "Do you believe that wind?"
The seagulls, like the crows, seemed to lack respect. When I watched the eagle cam several years ago, I did see both crow and seagull carcasses in the nest. I guess, the abundance or lack of food changes the big picture considerably.
We spent the night in Squamish, and returned for eagle-counting duties on Sunday morning. The wind was so bad, eagle counting was cancelled, but I hunkered down in the rocks, and felt fortunate to see this juvenile. If you look carefully, you can see on adult on either side of it. Maybe, its parents?
The juvenile left. Only this photo was postable, but I took several of it flying gracefully and confidently, sometimes circling low, and sometimes, soaring very high in the sky.
One more mediocre shot of an adult flying.
And, a couple of mergansers in flight.

We left Squamish around noon, and headed back to Vancouver. Bill, ever aware of my picture-taking obsession, suggested a stop in Stanley Park. Here is yet another Mallard. I will never stop marvelling over their beautiful colours.
Whoops. An out of order picture. This was a truck shot, showing the road between Squamish and Vancouver. It is a very beautiful drive, one that lots of olympians will be making soon, as many of the winter sports will take place in Whistler, another 56 or so kilometres north of Squamish.
Back to Stanley Park. At the lookout, I took this shot of the Lions Gate Bridge girders. I liked the shot, except for that bush in the lower left corner. No way to get it to cooperate.
Another shot of the bridge, this time showing some of the upper portion.
This picture doesn't give you a proper perspective, but try to imagine the tiny little tree, trying gamely, and managing to stay alive, on top of a very, very tall (no estimate, but I was looking WAY up) dead-looking tree.
Bill and Black Jack, feeling a bit warmer in Vancouver than they were in Squamish, but still in unseasonably cold weather.
This heron sat for a very long time and seemed quite fine with the two or three people taking its picture. This was one of the shots Bill liked.
My favourite, for some reason, was this grumpy-old-man (I assumed it was a male) close-up.
This racoon gave me only one chance to snap a quick photo before hiding most of its face.
Left-over fall colours.
A couple of hooded merganser shots. Bill liked the second one because of the water colour. I think Henry (of Broadway Camera) preferred this one. It seemed to me like perfect light, but in fact, was a lot trickier than I realized.

Black Jack was having a great time. I have finally found a coat that both keeps her warm and doesn't seem to make her feel depressed, as the others did. Good price, too. I like this little pet shop for the around-the-corner convenience, quality products, and kind gentleman who always makes Black Jack's day by giving her a treat.
American Coots are among the most comical birds around. I always smile, watching them bob through the water. I've recently realized that they're not so easy to photograph. Their bright beaks and black bodies make front shots difficult. Here is my best of the not-very-good ones on Sunday.
This towhee was very cooperative, and not in the least bit shy.
I kept trying to capture the neat way the light shone through the mergansers', for want of a better word, topknots. I wasn't entirely successful, but here is my attempt.
Just as we were about to get in the truck to head home, this squirrel demanded a photo (and Black Jack's undivided interest.)
These last two photos were taken in North Vancouver, by the river near my school, on Wednesday, I believe. I was still using only the 300 mm lens, but what would a blog post be without a crow, and the heron, although frustratingly on the other side of the river, was doing its best to provide an interesting backdrop.

We're off tomorrow for our third stint of eagle counting. The forecast is cold with occasional flurries, but I'll be hoping to see more eagles. My new replacement lens will be with me, but whether I get to use it will depend on the weather. Wish us luck, and thanks for reading!

P.S. I know, Neville. Ottawa is world unto itself, and cold is a relative term:) Special note. For anyone liking photography and enjoying a quirky sense of humour, check out that link to Nev's blog. I love it!


  1. Thanks for this new blog post. I can only speak for myself but I am sure most of your fans really missed you, it has been a long nine days. I know Blogging is hard work but somebody has to do it and you have been elected.

    Looking at your photos has me thinking that these cold days have a certain Winter light quality to them that is different from Summer light. On the other hand, I may be hallucinating.

  2. I, too, have missed you--and are glad all is well (if tiring).

    I love all the photos of the various mergansers! It's a bird I don't think I've ever heard of before (I'm not a big bird person). Are they related to loons? My punk-rock son would tell you that their "hair do" is a "'hawk" (Mohawk).

  3. wow those pictures are really amazing. sounds like you had fun even with the bad wether. its getting cold here also!!

  4. Its funny because looking at bill all wrapped up Im thinking yeah, thats probably cold. But Im wondering what it would be like if I came back. Would I be wearing a long sleeve shirt maybe? A t-shirt possibly? lol ok not a tshirt, but I wonder how I would deal with the weather there. Oh and speaking of my blog, Ill be posting pics of our Christmas walk tonight so check it out.

  5. Wow, the photo of the road from Squamish to Vancouver brings back many memories! Beautiful shots as always :) I love the photo of Bill.

  6. Thanks Nev and Jen. Nev, I looked for that Christmas Walk, but must have missed it. Will check again as soon as I finish my reports. (They're dragging on painfully.) Yes, Jen, Bill's a cutie:)