This image is from my February 2019 trip to East Africa. We were staying at the Ndutu Safari Lodge, at the southern edge of the great Serengeti plains, and one morning heading south we saw a birth of a Blue Wildebeest calf. I didn’t catch the birth, but this is the moment after when the mother turned around and first greeted her newborn calf.
Later in the day, further south, at the Ubuntu pans, a pack of wild dogs (Painted Wolves) was hanging around the muddy water there. Unfortunately, they had a very young Wildebeest calf just walk right up to them, and the temptation was too great. They just literally torn the calf apart and we watched and photographed the whole violent seen. Good for the dogs, but not for that poor Wildebeest calf.
So that day, and afterward, we kept saying to ourselves, “one in and one out”. That’s how it goes sometimes for the Wildebeest calves.
One of the most primal sounds in nature. Cranes calling out as they fly overhead. Their sounds strike something deep in your being and essence, resonating and stirring your soul. I had a chance to go to Merced National Wildlife Refuge several times during the months of January and February. Every time I hear their plaintive call, I am struck by how their sound affects me. How much more I feel connected to them, to the earth, and to the web of life.
Crane species all over the world are critically endangered. Please let us take care of their wetland habitats, so we never lose their primal call, so their calls will still reverberate within our beings. If we don’t, we will have lost something special and diminish our connection to the natural world. I hope this image brings back to your memory their mystic and plaintive sounds.
I had a very unsuccessful day, this past Monday, for I didn’t get any photographs of the Channel Island foxes. I spent 3 ½ hours walking up and down Santa Cruz Island carrying my camera equipment, over 18,000 steps on my Fitbit Blaze watch, that’s over 7 ½ miles. No photos, and only one sighting 10 minutes before the boat left! Therefore, I drove the long 4 hours back to my ranch, feeling very tired and mentally depress with extremely sore leg muscles.
The next day, stiff and sore, I spend time cleaning out my ponds from last winter’s debris. The cabin pond was clean now and filled up with fresh water. At the end of the afternoon, I decided what the heck, I’ll photograph. Postponing the many chores, I need to complete before I left the ranch and headed home.
At the end of the day, as the sun had set behind the mountains, sitting in my blind, the male and female Western Bluebirds came into the pond and bathed. It was as if they were thanking me with providing them with clean fresh water, and offering their bathing activities as a great opportunity to photograph them. They seem to know that I was feeling a little blue and down, having missed capturing images of the Channel Island foxes.
They brighten and uplifted my spirit, and left me very humbled. This image is one I captured of the male bluebird, expressing his joy by cleaning his bright blue feathers, spraying water everywhere. The Ramrod Ranch always delights me and continues to provide wondrous wildlife moments. I love the place because of moments like this!
I was late… Sunday at the Post Office, there was even a line at the self-service postage machine as I tried to mail out my Costa Rica Hummingbird calendars to my nieces. This put me behind schedule and meant that there was not much light left in the day to get from the East Bay to Coyote Point. When I got there after 4:00 PM, I found that it was extremely low tide. I was initially disappointed because there was no water for ducks or shorebirds.
Knowing I only had about 45 minutes of beautiful light at best, I let go of my feelings of disappointment and just decide to see what nature had to offer. Out in the mudflats, there were two Snowy Egrets in the small ponds left by the receding tide. As I watched, I noticed that there were feeding, and in a fleeting moment, this Snowy Egret pulled a tube worm out of the mud from the bottom of one of these small ponds.
If I hadn’t set aside my preconceived thoughts of photographing ducks and shorebirds, I wouldn’t have been open to what nature had in store for me. I also could have taken one look and said to myself, nothing here, not much time left of extraordinary light, so I could have left and gone home.
If I did listen to all these voices of doubt, I would not have gotten this incredible image.
I have always wanted to go see the Ancient Bristlecone Pines. Seeing other photographer’s images from there only heighten my desire to do so. Only one little item held me back; it’s the fear of heights. As a young boy, I would always close my eyes and pray, as my parents would drive across the Golden Gate Bridge. Mountain roads with steep drop-offs would especially terrify me.
One time in the middle of the night my two amigos and I, in separate cars, were heading for Mono Lake on the dreaded Tioga Pass road. I was behind them as we started down the steep backside toward Lee Vining. Soon they were out of sight as we headed down. I, on the other hand, was slowly hugging the inside part of the road, the part that normally automobiles use for going up the pass to Yosemite National Park. At 1:30 am, I didn’t think anyone would mind me using the wrong side of the road. Well, I let a big breath out, as I got down to the Mobil Gas Station parking lot near the bottom. As I got out of the car, my two friends mercilessly teased me about making them wait for me. “Where have you been”, they demanded!
I feared the road to the Ancient Bristlecone Forest would be just like the Tioga Pass road down to Highway 395. In my mind, I imagined it to be so. This always held me back. Finally, last week, with a little trepidation, I push these fears aside. Every time I would feel the urge to turnaround and go back, I would tell myself to relax and say to myself that it can be all that bad.
When I got to the Schulman Grove Visitor’s Center in midday. I bought a nice green sweatshirt with an ancient Bristlecone Pine emblazoned on the front as to always remind me I can indeed conquer my fear of heights and steep mountain roads with big drop-offs.
I climbed up the Discovery Trail looking for a particular pictorial Bristlecone Pine. As it happened, I found the one stitched on to my sweatshirt just like the park service employee at the visitor center said I would. However, I had a problem; it was four o’clock in the afternoon. I had over three hours to kill before the stars would come out and show themselves in the sky.
To idle the time away, I sat down and watched a few cars down below me, coming back and going to the other Bristlecone Pine Grove—the Patriarch Grove. I also spend some time examining the intriguing small little “purple” pine cones. Mostly, I would walk back and forth along a small stretch of the trail underneath this giant Bristlecone Pine. Other times, I would take some images of the late sunlight striking its hard-dense branches that reach for the sky.
Finally, it was a night, a few days before the full moon. I was a bit disappointed because there was so much light; I wouldn’t be able to capture a starry sky behind the Bristlecone Pine.
At home many days later, after reviewing my images, I am proud and happy. Proud that I conquered my fears, and happy with the image I created. I realized my dream; I “didn’t let my music die within me”. This beautiful image will always be a testament to my perseverance.
What do you think? Does this image stir your soul like it does mine?
It was our first full day in Serengeti National Park. We spend the morning cruising the tree line river beds, of the Central Serengeti, looking for Leopards in the riverbed trees. When our driver and guide received a message on the safari guide’s short-wave radio that a pride of lions had killed a Cape Buffalo just north of our area. It was about a forty-minute drive from our current location. And yes, the Serengeti is an enormous place, so this location was relatively close.
We decided to change our plans and head there. Soon we began to see other Land Rovers also heading that way. When we top the final rise, it was easy to spot the kill because there were at least twenty-five vehicles surrounding the feeding lions.
Then, the dance and jostling for vehicle position began. I was disturbed by how close some Land Rovers were to the lions. The vehicles formed a semi-circle around the lions. More and more vehicles kept coming in, as we finally found a clear space to view the lions feeding around the kill. It wasn’t easy, specifically; we found a small window to shoot through the sea of vehicles, and yet the kill was still a decent distance away.
For us with large telephoto lenses, it wasn’t necessary to be that close to the lions. Other safari vehicles with only cell phones viewers seemed overly aggressive pushing ever closer to the lions to get a better shot. In some cases, close as five feet away. I find this human behavior stressing to the lions and other wildlife of the Serengeti. No matter how important getting a close portrait image is to the photographer, nothing justifies getting this close and alternating their natural behavior and adding stress to their hard and difficult lives.
Maybe, I am being too hard on the paparazzi and human beings, by having some expectations that people have ethics and will take the right action, like putting wildlife first, before themselves. Let’s face it, I too am part of this dance. I am taking part too, and this sickens me. I want this changed, for it gives photographers a bad name and puts the negative spotlight on all of us.
I am digressing and giving some background information. This image of a lion cub above taking a momentary break from feeding was captured later in the day close to evening. After our late morning encounter with the feeding lions, we left, and late in the day, decided to go back. I am glad we did because in the middle of the day there were no lion cubs at the carcass. We also thought there would fewer vehicles there around the feeding lions. In reality, there were fewer, but still a lot of vehicles.
There were other members of the large pride now including at least three, four-month-old cubs, which were feeding on the buffalo carcass too. What was so amazing was that they were actually feeding inside of the abdominal cavity of the buffalo while adult lions’ mouths were feeding inches away from them. We could barely see them, and at times they were completely inside of the belly of the buffalo. It was a wonder that one of the adults didn’t bite down on the bodies of these cubs, as the adults moved their eating positions and their chewing mouths.
I captured this image as one of the cubs came out of the belly of the buffalo to take a momentary break from the feeding frenzy. This scene of the cub’s side by side with the feeding adults, disappearing into the abdominal cavity for their share is something I won’t forget. The determination of these little lion cubs and their audacity to get their share was something to behold.
The desire for life is strong and here it was so clearly visible with these cubs. A remarkable moment and a life lesson, which observed has the power to change and affect your own life. The dichotomy of how we behave, with the actions of the vehicles, ever crowding closer and closer for some hungry connection to these wild animals, to the purity of how they live their lives is very striking. And I am afraid, not a good or shining example of mankind’s behavior and not best actions towards the natural world.
It is my sincere hope that my lion cub image can put your heart in the right place, and all of us can do more to save this iconic species before it is too late and another species goes extinct at the hands of man.
There are other places in Africa that place limits on the number of vehicles around an animal. I know for a fact, Londolozi, in South Africa, has a three-limit vehicle rule. If a fourth vehicle wants to view the kill, this vehicle must wait until the first vehicle or one of the three leaves the scene, before it can approach the sighting. Maybe, three isn’t the appropriate or right number for the number of vehicles traversing the large Serengeti. Ten perhaps? Or maybe establishing a 75-foot rule, where no vehicle can come closer than this distance, is a better solution.
In Ndutu, there is a plaque on the lodge wall stating this 75-foot rule for Cheetahs. I believe this policy should apply to all large African mammals, especially for the big cats. There is room too for common sense, and judgment based on how the animal reacts and whether the animal is accustomed to vehicles. If the animal closely approaches you and the vehicle peacefully you need to stay put, be silent and let the mammal pass—panic doesn’t help either cause.
If the truth is told, while on safari and expecting to get portrait images of lion cubs, a telephoto lens is required, and you can’t rely on a cell phone for these types of images.
All these factors contribute to a Sunday where I was still very tired. I wasn’t about to miss a morning shooting in my blind at the Upper Pond. However, during the morning in the blind, I kept nodding off. A couple of California Quail came up to the perches that surrounded the pond; it was their constant chuckling that woke me up.
The female and the male flew up to my raptor perch. I took several images of them both. The female quail stayed longer and started calling out. Photographically, I was having a hard time fitting her image into the frame. My 600 mm IS f4.0 lens is sometimes just too tight, and this was the case here.
I had my 100—400 mm lens with me in the blind just for this case. As I took my camera body off the 600 mm lens, putting on the shorter lens, I looked up and saw that the female quail flew into the little blue oak tree that’s right behind the pond, and out of sight. My frustration was high, for it appeared that I changed the lens in vain, and for nothing.
With the 100—400 mm lens and camera on my lap as the minutes ticked by, I noticed a change in the quail’s chuckling coming from the little blue oak tree. It was different, and I was instantly alert. For these calls were their warning calls that a fox, bobcat, or some other predator was nearby. I had heard them many times before.
I looked out toward the brush line where the jeep road goes up the mountain and walking into my sight line appears a beautiful bobcat. For once I was prepared with the right lens, for all I had to do was raise the camera up from my lap. It has taken many years of coming close and many missed opportunities, I finally had my chance to capture a good image of Bobcat. I have seen them around the ranch many times over the years. My clients have got images of them from the same pond. Somehow my luck and fortune through the years weren’t good.
The bobcat might have come up to the pond to drink, like the Gray Foxes, have over the years. However, I think it heard the clicking from my camera shutter and after about thirty images it turn around and disappeared into the brush. For next time, I need to use the silent shooting mode that’s available on my Canon 7D Mark II camera body, for this mode really reduces the noise coming from closing and clicking the shutter. Then, I might get that coveted drinking image.
The male and female quail were still giving their warning calls, so I knew that the bobcat was still around. After a few minutes, I looked up through what I call the breezeway towards the big metal water tank. There was the bobcat next to the tank sniffing the ladder I have there to check the water level in the tank. It was between the tank and the ladder. I took a few more images before it moved off into the thick brush. As the minutes passed, the quail stopped their warning calls; I knew that the bobcat was gone, and no longer in the immediate area.
Thrilling moments, after a lifetime of disappointment. This beautiful bobcat is now forever close to my heart. I will remember and cherish these moments, every time I look at these images. I am so happy and glad I awakened just in time!
Supermassive Black Hole Within The Sagittarius A Galaxy
The base image or original image is a deep dark red bearded iris from my mom’s garden. When my mom was still alive, I used to take a lot of images of her bearded irises. They are a very deep flower, and I used to have to set my aperture to f32 or f64 to get the back parts of the flower somewhat sharp. If done properly, the macro images resemble a very colorful cathedral.
For camera club competition, I would wait to the last minute to come up with a title. I would insist that the image title had to be the real name of the iris. My mom and I would pore over her iris catalogs looking for the right iris. This would exasperate her, especially the time crunch of my waiting until the last moment. These were the days of slide shooting for me, and I would write the title information on the slide then dash off to the camera club meeting.
Looking back, I feel bad that I put my mom through this every time I entered an iris image. She could have refused to help, but her character shined true and her love for me was always there. I think she would be happy and proud of me with the creative art I created from an image of one of her irises.
The technique is from a tech tip column from a PSA (Photographic Society of America) magazine. “Put a little twirl into your work”, was the title of the article. I look for colorful graphic images that have a significant negative space. Then, I follow this technique of creating lines, blurring them, and then using Photoshop’s twirl filter, making a twirl with a positive setting, then on another layer using the opposite twirl with a negative setting.
For me, these images remind me of deep space. Thus, my space portfolio was born. With other base images, I have created a group of a dozen or so of these types of images. One base image is an image of the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, another is orange wet sand from a beach at sunset in Santa Cruz. I never know exactly what I get when I play with this technique, but that’s why it is so fun.
In memory of my mom, Lillian A Finocchio, I dedicate this image to her. It is like she is still here with me. We were so close. I miss you so much; I’ll always love you, mom!
Metal Print of this Image is now showing at the Avenue 25 Gallery through January 18, 2019. 32 West 25th Avenue, 2nd Floor San Mateo, CA 94403, Open: Monday to Friday, 8:30am to 5:00pm
I just spent five fabulous days at my Ramrod Ranch, setting up my photo blinds for bird photography, adding new perches, and preparing backgrounds by clearing grass around the ponds.
Because of my serious back injury, there was a period of 767 days from early 2015 through early 2017 that I was unable to go to my sacred place. During this visit, I reconnect to this place again, emotionally and spiritually. These five days I soaked in all the bird life. I took moonlight walks each evening, hearing a Great Horned Owl hooting its deep voice on a nearby hill. Each day I was surprised by a special and rare bird species. First, it was a Yellow Warbler, then, a Nashville Warbler—my first real photographs of this bird. The next day a Sharp-shinned hawk came by the cabin pond searching for its next meal.
The third and four days a Pacific-sloped Flycatcher made an appearance. I love Flycatchers; they are very shy but I got some very good images with good backgrounds of this wary bird. It seemed to favor the five o’clock hour to make an evening show.
However, it was the fifth day and my last morning where up by the water tank and the large main pond that I was graced with a special visit by a Gray Fox. They are so beautiful. It was thirsty and ran around the pond just feet away from me. For once I was prepared by having my 100 – 400 mm lens ready so I could zoom back and forth, getting wide-angle full body shots as well as tight portraits. This moment lasted only a minute or so but was so wonderful it seemed to last much longer. It is also forever imprinted on the view screen of my mind.
That’s not all, the Gray Fox, made a second appearance twenty minutes after the first, still thirsty. It drank again. The few quail around scattered deep into the brush. I was blessed and felt honored by sharing these few moments with this beautiful fox.
Due to a recent cancellation, I have spaces available for the October 6 and 7th, if you would like to share nature with me, and take the journey to become a better nature photographer.
It’s an incredible experience to watch birdlife so close, behaving so naturally as if you aren’t even there. I have included a couple of images of this beautiful Gray Fox and one of the Pacific-sloped Flycatcher. If I can capture these images, it possible for you to do so too. Let me teach you how.
For more information and to register, follow this link to my signup page.
I went to Arastradero Preserve in Palo Alto on my way back home, after I had visited my photographer friend who was selling his prints at the Saratoga Art Festival. Last year, another friend got wonderful shots of White-tailed Kites on some dead oak tree branch at this preserve. At the time, she describes the path and location of this particular dead oak trees. Yet, I couldn’t find it. Also, Arastradero is known for having a lot of Lazuli Buntings; I have seen countless images of this species taken there. These were my target species. However, all though, I did see White-tailed kites flying around, and the same for Lazuli Buntings. I could never find a good place to photograph them. Also, I never found the particular location from last year where my friend got those excellent White-tailed Kite images.
However, I wasn’t dismayed or discouraged. I just took what was there, and what I did find. I used my powers of observations as a naturalist, and check all the dead oak trees that I came upon. I brought my carrying cart and pushed my 600 mm lens and tripod around. If I found something, I need to be sure that the situation was going to be productive. It becomes extremely tiring very quickly, if I have to take my lens, tripod, and camera body out of my cart, repeatedly taking them out and putting them back.
Observing from a distance, I saw one dead oak tree with some birds flying around and on it. At this point, I didn’t know what species they were. As I got closer, I saw that they were Acorn Woodpeckers. They were sallying back and forth between this tree and one farther down the hill. As I got set-up I noticed that if I moved around to the other side of this dead tree; I would be able to put the coast ridge of mountains in the background, at least for most of this perch. The sky was an ugly gray color, and the clouds covered most of the sky. Rather than having the sky as a background, I preferred the tree-covered hills in the distance.
Then, I waited patiently for the Acorn Woodpeckers to come back to this dead old oak tree, a truly a landmark sentinel of the past. It had some orange lichen on its bark, which also excited me. I just had to wait and see if the Acorn Woodpeckers would come back with my presence 40 feet away.
Being spring now, the grasses were tall, still green, plenty of food to go around. I did notice the crane flies hovering and flying around this dead oak limb perch. However, I did expect that when the female woodpecker came back she would have a captured crane fly in her beak. As I composed and pressed the shutter button, I noticed a few crane fly buzzing around the woodpecker. However, there was a little serendipity and luck that I got a live crane fly flying around in my image.
The moral of the story is that don’t be rigid and at strictly follow your shot list or goals. Be flexible, nature will open up its wonder and glory, if you have an open mind and heart. I didn’t sulk, nor abandon my efforts, nor close myself off from what was possible. I went with natures’ flow, kept an open mind, taking what she gave me.
In the end, I am ecstatic over the images I did create, and the White-tail Kites and Lazuli Buntings with have to wait for another visit.
Other Technical Considerations for the Lead Image: Female Acorn Woodpecker With a Crane Fly.
Equipment / Source: Canon EOS 7D Mark II camera body, plus 1.4x Canon Tele-converter, at 840 mm focal length, 1/320 of second shutter speed, at f8 aperture, ISO 2000, Aperture priority, Evaluative Metering
Technique: Camera Body and 600 mm lens, plus 1.4x teleconverter on a Gitzo Tripod with a Wimberely Gimbal Type Tripod Head
Processing: I cropped the image. Although, I am sure someone will say that I need to crop more, especially from the left side. However, I like the offset subject and the diagonal line of the perch leading into the image from the left, allowing the mind to flow to the subject. I also increased the overall mid-tone contrast. Used Viveza to lighten the crane fly that was flying. Define noise targeted noise reduction on the background and raw sharpening on the woodpecker itself.
*The Male Anna’s Hummingbird Images Taken On The Same Trip To Arastradero Preserve.