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.
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?
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.
Each morning a bird call awakens me. Its song is familiar yet unknown. I have not been able to identify it yet, to come know what species makes its familiar call. It’s bothering me not to know. Nevertheless, it is very pleasing to hear each morning–like hearing an old friend’s voice again after a long absence.
Imagine the world without songbirds–without bird songs to wake you in the morning. The world would be diminished, and Rachel Carson’s vision of a “Silent Spring” would be realized. How sad would that day be, not to hear the thrilling sound of birdcalls? Have their calls only remembrances in our dreams!
Songbird populations across the world are in trouble. From the pesticides that worried Rachel Carson, “to the feral and domestic cats catching many birds in their claws, to those who die in collisions with skyscrapers, communication towers, wind turbines, and even glass windows and doors of suburban homes.”(1) Just the other day, I found a female Lesser Goldfinch outside of my glass back door lying dead on my backyard porch. It happens more than you realize.
Habitat fragmentation is a great concern as our world becomes more commercialized for our needs. Our exponential growing populations place greater demands upon the natural world. As more of wild nature succumbs to our human environments and less and less is left for wild creatures including songbirds. As we pave over, build our structures, and alter the world’s surroundings to meet our needs and wants. There simply are fewer and fewer places for songbirds to live and flourish.
Bird populations are falling fast; we have lost almost half the songbirds that filled the skies forty years ago, by some counts over a billion birds.(1) Year by year more songbirds become endangered of going extinct. One of my large bird books has a picture of a passenger pigeon. An artist drawing of a beautiful bird of subtle pastel colors. Wow, I say to myself when I see this picture. I would have loved a chance to see one alive. However, it is extinct, and no long possible to see one fly in the sky, yet over a hundred and fifty years ago, millions blotted the skies of the eastern North America.
Ultimately, I think it comes down to a choice. Our generation and the next must decide to save and protect our natural world, preserving the diversity of life on our wonderful living planet. Now we alone hold the future of life on earth in our hands. We must change our thoughts and actions from one of domination to one of coexistence.
Evolve enough to understand, I am because of you; I am because of other life forms. (2) Relearn that humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web; we do to ourselves. All living things are bound together. All living things are interconnected and dependent on each other for survival. (3)
Otherwise, if we don’t relearn and absorb these lessons, take it to heart; it will be very bad and a very sad hour for mankind. No more melodic birds’ songs will grace the airways and bring music to our ears each every morning we awaken to greet a new day. Truly, their songs of life will go silent for the last time.
Nature has incredible restorative powers. Life has an indomitable spirit. If we make the right choice, then there is optimism. Hope for mankind and for a better future. Eventually, my singing songbird will come out of the dense tree foliage, and I’ll have my identification. I will have kept at it; the way mankind must persevere in the coming decades.
Bruce Finocchio is one of the WBB photographers who images are currently showing at the Art Ark Gallery in San Jose, California. Meet Bruce and the other WBB photographers at the June 3 reception from 5:00 to 9:00 PM, and hear their incredible stories of photographing wildlife all over the world, and how they take their work from “Beauty to Deeper Understanding”.
Taken for granted are the sounds of nature, bird songs in the morning’s dawn, the whispers of the wind gently touching your face, and the powerful smell of raw wilderness. These are a few of the healing and soothing gifts of the natural world.
Too often today, we have divorced ourselves from nature. This loss of connection has sent us adrift. Most of us are ill without even knowing it. There is so much nature can bestow upon us if we accept its gifts and live close to it. A timeless peace, a sense of harmony and balance, and a belief in the essential goodness of life are a few of the benefits of living with nature.
I have a friend who is a morning person. He would get up very early before dawn and prepare some coffee on the gas burning stove at the cabin we shared. Then, he would go outside with his cup of coffee and wait for dawn to break and watch the day begin. He would listen to the birds’ songs begin as the night passed to day, as the darkness faded minute by minute. This simple act gave him peace and rid him of the anxiety created by life in the modern world. I treasured sharing these moments with him; they became part of my early exposure to tranquil powers of the wild.
We shared another passion. He fueled my desire to learn about the birds whose calls we heard, to distinguish one from another, to learn their calls by heart, and discover their unique behavior of each individual species. I started my first species list. The mysterious California Thrasher whose spring calls from the tops of the chamise bushes first intrigued us became the first species on the list.
Yet, at some point keeping a list was not enough, nor was just taking their pictures. After a few years, I took my creative passion to capturing their beauty, their very essence, and their spirit of life. I now have gone a step further with my art and my photography to capturing the sacredness of life itself.
In this way, I can share this sacredness of nature with others. Through my images, they can glimpse within their hearts and minds the mystery and wonder of the natural world–regenerating the strings that once connected and attached them to the earth. They can learn not to take nature for granted, especially the morning serenade of bird songs, and again become part of the sacred circle of life itself.
Here with my Wildlife Beyond Borders collection of bird images, I hope to ignite the love of birds, spark feelings of marvel in their brilliant colors, and open people’s hearts to their unique world. Wherever we are in our daily life we must listen, and not take nature’s gestures for granted, for bird songs are windows into the natural world.
Some may say this is the fanciful thinking of an idealistic dreamer. Yet, I believe in the power of nature to heal, comfort and soothe the human soul. All my life experiences with nature have led me to know this truth.
Come to the Wildlife Beyond Borders reception at Keeble and Shuchat and learn more. Meet my fellow artists Mary Aiu, Susan Carnahan, Diane Rebman, Wendy Hannum, and Oliver Klink. Reception is Saturday, April 16, 2016, from 2:00 PM to 5:00 PM at Keeble and Shuchat, 290 California Avenue, Palo Alto, CA 94306.
To register for the VIP at 1:00 PM and/or Main Event click register link below
A compelling, fascinating, and a compassionate look into the “Soul of the Elephant”, done in a very poignant way as if they were telling the story through a poem. Dereck and Beverly Joubert are my favorite wildlife filmmakers. They tell important stories of iconic African wildlife in a fresh way, with breathtaking cinematography, using innovative camera angles. Their expert bush and species knowledge comes through a narration that is just mesmerizing, so lyrical and melodic–the way they switch and weave the stories and scenes between each other’s voice.
If you love elephants, wild places, wild animals, this Nature PBS episode is not to be missed. This is natural storytelling at its best, by those closest to the wildlife, living life with them. Their passion for what they do and the compassion and love for the wildlife comes through in their presentation.
I only wished for more…like their 88-minute film the Last Lions that I saw in the theater.
The original broadcast was on PBS on October 14, 2015, somehow I missed it. However, I found the full episode online at the PBS Nature site.
Take time from your busy life and please watch this Nature episode; it will change you forever, it’s haunting. I have already seen it twice, and I am sure I’ll watch again.
I highly recommend this search for the “Soul of the Elephant”, in fact, I would love to be doing what they are–immersed in the wild: living and breathing the wild smells of Africa.
When I was at Londolozi, South Africa, in September 2005, CC Africa owned controlling rights and ran the lodges and safaris. Soon afterwards, the Varty’s bought back the control of their lodge, their family place, and their reserve. They introduced the new concept of A Self-Transformation Adventure Retreat (STAR) where people would come to immerse themselves in the wildness of Londolozi and be healed by its spectacular nature.
For me, when immersed in nature I feel happy and truly alive. At Londolozi, I saw the southern cross for the first time, as well as Leopards and Lions in the wild, and other iconic animals of Africa.
A few years after I was back, I bought Dave Varty’s, book, “Full Circle” when it came out in 2009, and read his family story. His son Boyd now runs Londolozi for the family….
Here is a Ted Talk; I recently discovered on the Londolozi blog from Boyd Varty, given on the day that Nelson Mandela died…. He talks about something that I truly believe in, a sense that your well-being is really tied to the well-being of others. Living your life as such, believing and acting on this principle.
He takes it further and applies it to wild creatures when he talks about an Elephant named “Elvis”. When I was at Londolozi, I saw this elephant, I even have some images of her in my computer files. Here is one!
We thought the same. Why isn’t she food for the Lions? How is she surviving? It’s because the elephants in her group were protecting her, moving more slowly, assisting her across the difficult ground of the African bush.
See what Boyd Varty means by the African concept of Ubuntu. (I am because of you) in this wonderful and important TED Talk…
The other Ted talks in this link from the Londolozi blog are very good and inspiring, but Boyd Varty’s touch me in a very personal way, because I have been at Londolozi, and I share a similar life view!
If you are going to Africa on a photography safari, and would like some advice on what gear to take, what particular photography situations are unique to photographing in East or South Africa, etc., I would be happy to share my knowledge.
You can reach and email me at email@example.com