Friday, December 31, 2010

Day 365

I have to confess, it's a bit hard to wrap my mind around the fact that, after 380 posts containing 3785 pictures, I've reached the last day of my year-long photographic adventure. Needless to say, I have many thoughts rolling around in my head about the entire experience. But first, today's photos.

As the calendar rolled over to December, I began thinking about what I wanted to feature in this, the final post of the year. But even though I kicked around various ideas, one in particular felt like the right way to go pretty much from the moment it occurred to me. So I'm ending my project the same way I began it—with photos of Kaylee, curled up and looking adorable in her favorite chair:

A couple of close-ups:

And one last wide shot:

First things first: yes, I do plan on continuing to take photos and post them to this blog after today. If nothing else, my mom has mentioned a few times how much she's looking forward to seeing what I come up with during our stay in Hawaii next month, so I'll definitely be sharing pictures from there. And I'll still be bringing my camera along with me whenever I go anywhere, just in case I see something that interests or inspires me.

But I do want to take at least a few days off to recharge my batteries, so to speak. For one, I can barely remember what it's like to come home after work and be able to do absolutely nothing but read or watch television. And I also think, or at least hope, that when I'm taking photos because I want to, not necessarily because I have to, the results will be even better. Don't get me wrong, though—I have a feeling that if I could go back and chart my brainwaves I'd find it was on the days I didn't necessarily feel like doing so that I learned the most about how to take a picture. And because of that knowledge and experience, I know that going forward I'll have a much better chance of making sure my photographs come out exactly the way I want them to.

Sitting here right now, on the last day of the year, I'm finding it's really hard to try and summarize what this project and experience has been like or what it's meant to me. There's all the technical stuff I've learned about cameras and photography, things like aperture and shutter speed, although I'd also say I now know enough to realize how much more there is to learn. I've also picked up a lot about framing and composition, and I've gotten better at paying attention to everything I'm seeing through the lens, not just what I intend the main focus of the picture to be. And my photo editing skills have improved greatly, mostly in order to make up for my shortcomings as a photographer.

Then there's all the cool things I've seen over the course of the year, moments I never would have enjoyed if it hadn't been for this project, like watching a gray fox walk by, less than a stone's throw away from where I stood. All the different birds I'd never seen before: mergansers, egrets, warblers, and yesterday's starling, to name a few. Having an otter come so close I seriously started considering which direction I should jump if it decided it didn't like me. My quest to get a good photograph of a kingfisher over at Howell's Pond.

Most of all, though, this project has taught me a lot about looking at the world around me. Of all the photos I've taken all year, the entry that got the most hits wasn't the one with the gray fox, or a bird post, or one filled with doggie cuteness. It was a post from August when I photographed rain drops clinging to the plants growing next to my apartment. Something simple, the kind of thing we've all seen countless times over the course of our lives. On that one day, though, whether it was inspiration or desperation, I really looked at what I was seeing, and then did my best to convey at least some of the beauty I discovered in that ordinary moment. Even though I'm sure I still miss a lot, I also notice much more than I used to. And I figure any way you look at it, that can only be a good thing.

Finally, I have to express my gratitude to my family and friends for all of their love and encouragement, as well as say thank you to everyone who visited, read, and commented over the course of the year; there were a number of times I doubted myself or considered bailing on this whole thing, but your support and belief in what I was doing helped me carry me through those times my own faith deserted me.

I'll see you all in 2011.


Thursday, December 30, 2010

The golden hour

This morning I decided that it just didn't feel right to close out the year without one more visit to Whimsy Pond. We were enjoying another sunny day here, so I waited until about an hour before sunset to head over.

Once I got there and found a spot to park, I started walking along the road, examining the landscape and trying to figure out what I wanted to photograph. I heard a lone bird calling, and after a moment spotted it sitting up on a power line. When I got a closer look at the bird through my telephoto lens, I realized it wasn't one I immediately recognized. So I took a few photos in hopes of identifying it when I got home. It was on my second pass through my bird guide that I finally was able to put a name to the face: it was a female European Starling, sporting her winter plumage. Because I got very lucky with this particular image, despite the distance you can see some of the white speckles in her otherwise dark plumage—a visual that, according to my book, is the reason why they're called Starlings in the first place:

When the Starling departed a few minutes later, I turned my attention back to my surroundings. The pond itself was iced over and covered with snow, so instead I looked to the terrain on the other side of the road for things to photograph:

It took a bit of fiddling with my camera settings, but I finally managed to get a few shots that captured what I was seeing where the sunlight reflected off the snow. This time around the shadows aren't caused by trees or anything else out of frame, but by wind-carved ridges on the surface of the snow itself:

A light flare that I thought actually enhanced the image rather than detracted from it:

The last remnants of a milkweed pod backlit by the setting sun:

Finally, I just really liked the lighting in this shot:

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Redpoll overload

Not a very exciting post today, I'm afraid. I stopped by Mom and Dad's for lunch today, and was amazed at the number of Redpolls they now have visiting their feeders—there were easily twice as many birds there today than what we saw over the weekend. At one point I'd guesstimate there were 20-30 Redpolls under both the thistle feeder and the seed feeders, and at least a dozen up on the feeders themselves. Add in the birds flying back and forth between the two spots and those resting in the blue spruce, and you're talking about upwards of 70 birds hanging around the yard. No wonder Mom and Dad are refilling the thistle feeder twice a day.

At any rate, I tried to take some shots of the thistle feeder whenever it appeared to be reaching maximum capacity:

I count 17 birds in this photo, although two of them aren't on the feeder itself:

The feeder at a quieter moment, as there were only 13 birds on it when I took the shot

And this last shot features 18 Redpolls, all of which are perched on the feeder, with one hovering around the edges in search of an empty spot—it reminded me a bit of when you see cars circling around a mall parking lot as they wait for a space to open up:

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Snow and shadows

I woke up to sunshine and blue skies this morning, which actually came as a bit of a shock—it's been so long since we've had a truly clear day, I'd almost forgotten that the sky comes in colors other than shades of gray.

Naturally, I couldn't resist photographing my neighbor's barn against the new backdrop, especially since it still has such picturesque snow piled on the roof:

I fully intended to stay away from bird pics today, but while I was working on a Sudoku this morning I happened to glance up in time to see an unfamiliar bird on my feeder. So I grabbed my camera and managed to take a few photos of it before it flew off; when I consulted my bird book, I discovered I'd played host to a Carolina Wren:

Finally, our sunny day meant I got to take photos of various shadows against the unbroken snow, which I find sometimes make for a more interesting than the objects themselves:

Monday, December 27, 2010

Snow day

As you may already know, we here in the Eastern part of the country enjoyed (and I use the term very, very loosely) our first Nor'easter of the winter last night. We already had a bit of accumulation when I went to bed last night, but when I woke up... well, I think this shot of the snow piled on an old bird's nest pretty much says it all:

While I was photographing the nest, a White-breasted Nuthatch landed on a nearby branch; in this shot it's got its feathers puffed up to ward off the cold:

I figured most of the birds would spend the day hunkered down somewhere to wait out the storm, but apparently it takes a lot more than a couple feet of snow to dampen their spirits—not to mention their appetites.

A few shots of various Goldfinches up on the hook holding the feeder:

I even have a new bird to introduce to the blog, as I discovered while I was going through my images that a pair of birds I'd mistaken for sparrows of some sort were in fact Pine Siskins. First up, a look at the female Siskin—note the hint of yellow down toward the tips of her wings:

A shot of the male, where you can see not only the yellow markings (I have no idea how I managed to miss the bird's coloring the first time around) but its distinctive thin, sharply pointed beak:

And the two of them on the feeder; they really managed to hold their own whenever a Goldfinch tried to kick them off their perch:

I also suspect I was followed home yesterday, as I had my first Redpoll stop by the feeder today:

The snow finally began tapering off shortly after noon, which meant I unfortunately had to start thinking about digging out my car—a task I was dreading more than usual for obvious reasons (mine's the one on the right):

Ultimately, I ended up having to completely clear the area directly in front of my car—which, thanks to the plow and the wind, meant I began my shoveling at waist level (thankfully, it was cold enough that we got a dry, fluffy snow; if it'd been the wet, heavy kind I'd probably still be outside digging). Then I used the shovel to get the worst of the snow off the hood and windshield, and then finally dug a path to my car door (making it wide enough so I could then open said door). Gotta love all-wheel drive, though, as after I got it started my car pulled out of its spot with no more difficulty than if this had been a mid-summer day.

However, before any of that happened I had to clear a path from my front door. Which wasn't so bad directly in front of my door, but meant a bit more work once I got to where the snow had drifted across my walkway:

Good times. How many months is it until spring, again?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Red letter day

Lots of bird photos today, courtesy of a morning and early afternoon spent at Mom and Dad's, so I'll just jump right in.

I was very pleased to get a picture of a Cardinal and a Blue Jay sitting this close together:

Browsing through the fallen seeds:

One of my favorite shots of the day:

Keeping with the color theme, a Red-breasted Nuthatch:

Although most of the usual suspects stopped by my parents' feeders at one point or another, the truckload of Common Redpolls that descended upon their yard in the last 24 hours or so were my main photographic focus today. And I do mean truckload—by my count, there are 44 Redpolls in this shot I took of the area underneath the seed feeders:

Happily for me, they also loved the thistle feeder, giving me a chance at lots of close-up shots of the birds in action. However, I'm going to start with this fairly static shot for a couple of reasons. One, I love the pattern on their backs created by their wing and tail feathers when they're at rest. And two, I'm pretty sure this particular shot includes three different Redpolls. The top bird with the slightly golden coloring is a first year female, the bottom left bird is an adult female, and the bird on the bottom right is a first year male:

I suspect the lone Goldfinch there on the bottom right is feeling a bit out of place:

I liked the outstretched claws of the bird coming in to the feeder:

Meanwhile, most of the Redpolls seemed more than happy to browse the many seeds their compatriots were dropping as they fought and jockeyed for position:

I'm pretty sure this is a pair of adult males facing off beak-to-beak:

Counting the two tails I can see peeking out from the other side of the thistle feeder, there's a dozen birds in this shot:

Taking a moment to chill out and relax:

And back to the fray:

Another two-shot just to break things up a bit:

And back to the action:

I count thirteen visible Redpolls here, and I'm almost certain there's at least one more on the back:

Lots of stuff going on in this last group shot:

I took this picture midway through my run, but saved it for last because I knew I'd probably never come up with a better parting shot: