We’re Walking, We’re Walking

Santa Monica Bay morning

By Susan Greene
As the minutes tick away, our carpool slowly cruises down the coast in our neighbor’s VW van. Their mother keeps her eyes peeled for the telltale spout of the California gray whale. Upon spotting one, she pulls over urging careful observation. This was my first introduction to the annual migration. The whales would surface several times spouting sea mist and then take a deeper dive indicated by the appearance of the fluke. The fleeting moment was gone, as was the chance to be on time to school. Every winter, I recall the thrill in her eyes. While I certainly did not appreciate the majestic creatures because I associated them with tardies, that is no longer the case.

CA gray whale spoutingIt is exhilarating spotting one of the large creatures on its way to Mexico, especially when, on  the rare occasion they are close to shore.

CA gray whale in waveThis one seemed to want to ride the wave. Every winter, since those carpooling years, I keep my own eyes peeled on the horizon from late December through March hoping for a sighting. More common but still exciting is spotting some bottlenose dolphins swimming in the surf.

two swimming dolphins finss The dorsal fin popping out of the water is the first and sometimes only sign. If your lucky, you will see a head pop out of the water.

bottlenose dolphinPresenting the opportunity to see their smiling faces to anyone fortunate enough to be in the vicinity.

bottlenose dolphinInevitably, they will head back out to sea.

bottlenose dolphinSaying “goodbye” with a wave of the fluke.

dolphin flukeA dolphin sighting always elicits ooohs and aaahs from lucky walkers, joggers and/or beachcombers. I have begun a quest for catching dolphins in all their glory. I am hoping to capture at least one jumping and more of their behavior. I will be devoting at least a day a week for taking my camera to the beach, zoom lens attached, with dolphins in my sights, and if I spy a whale or two, all the better.

Click here to read and hear a story from NPR about a recent “traffic jam” of whales off the southern California coast.

With eyes on the horizon,

~ Susan

the close-up color

_MG_1953Inspired by a photo accompanying a book excerpt in Shutterbug magazine, I looked at a collection of mine differently. This spurred the realization of the potential for color exploration and abstraction. Pastels and earth tones are the most prevalent colors of my array.

_MG_1993I have gathered these from both near and far.

_MG_1964I am looking at this collection in a whole new light.

_MG_1986The interplay of the shapes and colors is something I am just discovering about my array.

_MG_1966I like this mystery game.

_MG_2045I am especially drawn to the pastel pink and flesh tones in the one above, as well as the vibrant hues of this one.

_MG_2037Whereas, the earth tones of this one are not to be downplayed.

_MG_1968If you haven’t guessed yet, these next few photos will probably give away the items in my collection.

_MG_1955Did you guess yet?

_MG_2024Last chance.

_MG_1937You probably got it by now . . . sea shells!

I confess to being a long time beachcomber. My collection adorns many of the window sills in my home. Gazing upon them transports me to the various shores where, while strolling, they were spotted, picked up and lovingly chosen for various reasons – their flawlessness, uniqueness or color. I will always remember once, many years ago, coming home and sharing the day’s treasures of the sea with my mom by placing them in her hand, and the shriek she let out when one of them began moving across her palm – I had inadvertently collected a crab’s home – sorry mom and crab: I did return it to the sea.

I have gotten more careful and choosy over the the years but still enjoy a long afternoon strolling the sand with an eye out for a new addition to my collection. Now, I have another criteria for selection – as the possible subject of a color, abstract photo.

The book excerpted in Shutterbug magazine is The New Art of Photographing Nature: An Updated Guide to Composing Stunning Images of Animals, Nature and Landscapes by Art Wolfe and Martha Hill with Tim Grey. Judging from the pictures accompanying the article, I would like to see what these three have to say.

This week either gazing at my window sill or out looking for new treasures.

~ Susan

Wild thing

Coyote yips drift through the open bedroom window sometime before dawn. It’s May’s most consistent night song. Chester’s hackles rise and he growls low. I pull the sheet over my ears.

Regal ChesterChester’s been chased by a coyote three times. These aren’t the lean, mangy, skulking wild dogs of past years. This crop of fat boys trot across the trail. They sit. Cross their legs. Light a cigarette, pinky ring glinting in the morning glare before they chase.

First time it happened, J was walking Chester. He stood his ground, raised his arms and yelled “Stop!” When it was my turn at the wrong end of a coyote chase I did the same. The coyote cocked his head, tightened his silk cravat, emulated the Don Draper eyebrow lift and then slowed his pursuit to a model-like prowl.

Chester bolted, leaving me to walk backwards until I couldn’t see the whites of coyote’s eyes any more. A chilling sweep of goose bumps rose on my neck.

It’s not an option to stay indoors when this is steps from my backyard.

trail vista

But where there is prey, there are predators.

oh deer

Last night, I dream there’s a lion with full mane in my house, barreling down the hallway toward my bedroom.  I slam and lock the door, lean against the wood which cracks and creaks and splinters against my hand. I call out to J in his office. There’s a lion in the hallway! Shut your door!  He’s working on his computer and not paying attention and the lion pounces. I wrestle the lion, wrangle his scruffy neck and heave him out the office window which somehow overlooks a high stony cliff to the sea even though we’re nowhere near the ocean.

I’m sure it’s a dream inspired by recent sightings that frighten me more than coyotes. Yesterday when Chester and I walked, we heard a rustling in the oak grove at the bottom of the hill.

cool oak tree

The noise spooked us both, much louder than the familiar rabbit scurry or quail scuttle through dry leaves.  It sounded human-size, but stopped as we neared, the instinct of an animal.  Chester’s fur ruffled; he hush-growled and we turned heel, Chester wildly scanning the scrub oak lining the trail.  To one side stands a solitary oak  and within it we heard another great flurry of leaves overhead. I expected a hawk, a peregrine falcon, maybe even the screech owls that have taken up in the neighborhood but the shadow didn’t fly. It scampered down the branches, down the trunk, a shadow bigger than my dog.

It’s been about a month since J and I spotted a mountain lion off the trail about a five minute walk from this grove and a neighborhood association warning came last week.

A mountain lion has been seen in the Dove Canyon area.

The animal was picked up on cameras operated at Starr Ranch Sanctuary.

Additionally, this past week Dr. Don Earl of Lido Animal Hospital treated a greyhound that survived a serious attack from a mountain lion that climbed into the backyard of a home in Dove Canyon. The Department of Fish and Game is aware of the dog attack and has tips on its website should you encounter a mountain lion.

I read the “Keep Me Wild” tips.

  • If you encounter a mountain lion, do not run; instead, face the animal, make noise and try to look bigger by waving your arms; throw rocks or other objects. Pick up small children.
  • If attacked, fight back.

I don’t have a great track record with looking big. And I’m an awful thrower.  But I sing when I’m nervous and there’s one song that’s on rerun this spring.

This morning, I hurl lyrics, loudly, and yes, maybe dance and air guitar a bit on the trail. Chester didn’t seem to mind, but I might have some explaining to do to the woman who caught me coming around a blind curve. Last I saw, she was backing away, waving her arms to the sky.

With a song on my lips,
~Catherine

Gary Snyder wrote a spot-on poem about sensing the presence of a wild thing.
One granite ridge
A tree, would be enough
Or even a rock, a small creek,
A bark shred in a pool.
Hill beyond hill, folded and twisted
Tough trees crammed
In thin stone fractures
A huge moon on it all, is too much.
The mind wanders. A million
Summers, night air still and the rocks
Warm.   Sky over endless mountains.
All the junk that goes with being human
Drops away, hard rock wavers
Even the heavy present seems to fail
This bubble of a heart.
Words and books
Like a small creek off a high ledge
Gone in the dry air.
A clear, attentive mind
Has no meaning but that
Which sees is truly seen.
No one loves rock, yet we are here.
Night chills. A flick
In the moonlight
Slips into Juniper shadow:
Back there unseen
Cold proud eyes
Of Cougar or Coyote
Watch me rise and go.

Seeing the tree through the forest

Patterns in nature come in many forms. This week, I took the time to “be in the moment” when walking about and looking for natural patterns. I found them! On a recent “photo walk” in Palisades Park, Santa Monica, the eucalyptus and palm trees are abundant and once I stopped looking around them and instead looked at them the beautiful design of their trunks became apparent.

_MG_8303pattern

_MG_8299pattern

_MG_8307patternNext, the patterns in the leaves of the grape vines and apricot tree, which are just beginning their new cycle of growth, right in my own backyard.

_MG_8312pattern

_MG_8316patternTwenty-four years ago this April, our family received a cymbidium orchid plant to celebrate the birth of our daughter (thank-you again backyard sister.) Every March and April since, it bursts forth with the most beautiful pink blooms which have an intriguing pattern in their center.

_MG_8326patternIt’s such a treat!

Sometimes, nature is used by man as a medium to create an art installation like the puppy sculpture at the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao Spain.

IMG_4513pattern.JPGOr, nature can be tamed and formed into geometric patterns creating a grand and formal garden like this one at Versailles.

IMG_3935patternThe pattern possibilities of nature are great. I’m sure I can find more if I try this exercise again. It is helpful to capture with a purpose – for it’s through practicing your photography that you will improve and hone your craft. Having a project or a purpose in mind when you are going out to photograph, makes you ponder what you are trying to convey and the best way to capture your vision. It also can keep you from falling in to a pattern of always taking the same types of pictures – more on that next week.

Naturally yours,

~ Susan

waiting and watching and wishing and hoping

While doing the morning dishes and looking out the back window lately, I am entertained by the sight of finches using our bird bath. One recent morning, I grab my camera, stealthily creep out to the backyard and stage myself close enough to hopefully allow for an action shot of the activities. Sitting as still as possible with camera poised I wait. . . and wait; for a half an hour, at least, I wait and not one bird comes close to taking a dip. A few days later, still determined to capture the activities, I venture out again. This time trying a new location a little farther away and armed with a 100mm-300mm zoom lens. About fifteen minutes in, my mind begins wandering. Thinking back, many years ago, to when we purchased the bird bath and one of the backyard daughters, Michele, was about four years old. We lugged it out to the carefully chosen spot in the garden, placed it in the dirt wiggling and maneuvering it back and forth to level it and filled the bowl with water. Michele was excited about the new addition to the backyard and couldn’t wait for the first visitors to arrive for a bath. “How will they know it’s here?” she queried. I assured her the birds would be able to find it but she decided to help out and rode around the backyard on her pink bicycle with training wheels and streamers hanging from the handlebars shouting, every few seconds, “Birdbath! . . . Birdbath!” Unfortunately, it had the opposite of the desired effect and eventually we decided to wait and watch from inside the house. Sitting there in the yard, warmed by the sun and the fond memory, I waited once again. This time there were a few birds but they seemed to distrust me and kept their distance and a watchful eye on me and the bird bath.

finch in tree

No birds were brave enough to dive in that day either. Not one to give up easily, I decide maybe third time’s a charm.  Same zoom lens and location, I stake out once again. A few minutes in, there goes my mind again. Thinking of the upcoming holidays and trying to decide when to begin decking the halls, I realize many of the plants in our backyard are festively red and green at this time of year. The pepper tree’s berries are just ripening.

pepper tree berriesAs are the toyon berries.

toyon berries

toyon berries

The only rose bush flowering in my garden right now is the one with the red blossoms.

red rose

Spirits lifted by this unexpected holiday gift, I notice the loud caw of many crows nearby. Looking up, I see a beautiful hawk with a crow in hot pursuit.

crow chasing hawk

Those crows are relentless.

crows chasing hawk

Getting back to bird bath watch, I notice there are more birds in the yard getting closer to me and the bath this time. One is slowly working its’ way over. Finally, it alights on the bath; although it is partly obscured by the foreground plant.

bird bath

It is barely there a second, as I achieve focus and start snapping away, it is spooked and takes off.

bird bath and bird

Photography can benefit from patience, also the occasional  wandering mind to help pass the time and alert the eye to other photo worthy subjects in the area doesn’t hurt. I am not through yet. My spot is waiting and I dare say the birds are becoming accustomed to the occasional visitor. I will be on bird bath stakeout again soon. I want the shot of the water flying as the birds wiggle and splash in the bath and I will get it!

With perseverance, persistence and a bit of meandering,

~Sue

The Weekend Dish

seagulls on waterEver wonder what type of bird you saw or what is the difference, if any, between seagulls with varied coloring? For the curious and those wanting to get outside and maybe learn a thing or two, and take some pictures too, this weekend is the last bird walk of the year at the Ballona Wetlands. The third Sunday of every month, except December, LA Audubon hosts a bird walk in the Ballona Wetlands.

great egret at Ballona wetlands

On the walk, the guide will help with bird identification while the group observes the  interactions of the various species and discuss the wetland’s ecosystem.

shorebirds Ballona wetlands

The wetlands are teeming with life and thus offer many opportunities for catching some wildlife activity and learning from the knowledgeable guides.

pelican

For all the details click here and grab your camera, a thirst for knowledge and a zoom lens, if you have one, take an inspiration break and head to the wetlands for some great birding.

Happy Weekend!

~Sue

Catch a Setting Sun

It occurs every day and can be taken for granted because of this, but some days I am compelled to find a spot to settle in and capture it with my camera. It is the setting sun. There are times when the sky is clear and you can watch it slowly sinking into the horizon until all that is left is a glowing spot where the sun used to be.

sunset at beach
It was this sort of day recently that sparked my photographic enthusiasm.

sunset landscape at beach

Capturing the colors and beauty of a sunset with a camera can be difficult but there are a few adjustments one can make to help. The sun is very bright and bright things have a tendency to be overexposed. When this happens, the colors are washed out and not as vibrant as they appear to the eye. I start with setting my light meter to spot meter and aim slightly to the left or right of the sun. A smaller aperture opening – which is achieved by using the larger values – keeps the sun’s light from overexposing the scene. I used an f-stop of 22 in these photos. Using a small aperture creates the need to gather light somewhere else; this can be accomplished by either slowing down the shutter speed, raising the ISO or using a combination of both. The higher the ISO number the more sensitive to light the camera becomes.  A slower shutter speed increases the risk of blurry pictures due to camera shake, which increases the need for a tripod or a very steady hand. I used an ISO of 800 for these and the shutter speed varied to adjust to the changing light  as the sun set.

sunset at beach Digital cameras have a white balance setting to help the camera portray white in changing light conditions. Auto white balance works for most situations but some light sources have different hues which changes the color cast of a scene. There are options to set the white balance for different lighting conditions such as  incandescent or fluorescent  lighting. If you want to boost the orange and warm tones of the sunset you can set your camera to the shade setting of white balance. The light in the shade has a bluish tint so the camera adds warm tones to balance out the blues and create an even tone in that circumstance, but you can use that property differently also. It can be fun to play around and see what you get.

sunset at beach

The cloudy setting also adds warm tones.

sunset at beachFor a different effect try the fluorescent setting.

sunset at beach

sunset at beach

So, though the sun sets every day, each day’s sunset is unique and offers an opportunity to seize a moment to reflect and appreciate the rhythms of the earth . Better yet, grab your camera, turn to the west and capture a moment; maybe you will be lucky enough to catch the elusive green flash.

Westward Ho!

~ Sue