I enjoyed a quick visit to Hinckley Lake this morning and followed a Great Egret as it moved from one fishing spot to another. Happily, I was able to capture a flight sequence that included this shot. Cloudy skies helped by softening the light … the Great Egrets are brilliant white in direct sunlight and, with a dark background, can be difficult to image. Also seen at the lake this day was one Great Blue Heron and, to my surprise, a Bald Eagle. The eagle, already high in the sky, was circling ever higher as I watched. I grabbed a few shots while the bird with still within reach of my lens and even at that, had to crop tightly to achieve the image seen below. It was a good morning.
Spring is really just taking hold around here so at Hinckley Lake, in the Cleveland Metroparks, things were fairly quiet on this warm day. I did a walk around the lake shore as more to get out in the fresh air and sunshine as anything. Along the way I enjoyed views of fresh greenery popping up from the leaf litter in the woods, the calls of many birds, and regular encounters with the many people who were also out to enjoy the day. Puffy clouds floated across the sky, casting spotlights upon trees flushed with colorful buds and new leaves, and highlighting them against shadowed wooded backgrounds.
The natural surroundings may have been quiet but if examined close enough, there were things other than plants to catch one’s eye. I stopped for a while and watched the single Great Blue Heron on Hinckley Lake as it fished; from the distance I saw it catch a couple, too! I watched a Common Water Snake swimming in a wetland adjacent to the lake.
I spied a Spiny Softshell Turtle (Apalone spinifera), my first in the wild, when it made a little move in shallow water. I shot a couple of photos of the turtle as it watched me, only its head above water. The softshells grow to be among the largest turtles in North America though this one looked to be more medium-sized.
On the walk back to the parking lot a beautiful little blue bird flitted from branch to branch in the trees and shrubs lining the path. I’d seen this bird (or another of its kind) in the general area before but hadn’t gotten a photo of it. Today I was a little quicker or the bird was a little slower, anyway I captured a few images of the little guy, one of which was good. Looks to be a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea). Delighted to have met! Back at the parking lot a man, just arriving, stopped and asked me if I got any good photos, saw any birds? I mentioned the heron but forgot the delightful gnatcatcher. Then again, it might have sounded a little too “birdwatcher-y.”
Yes, a fine day to get out and hike with a 20-pound camera pack on your back! It was really about the walk. Really!
On a recent afternoon walk around Hinckley Lake, a glimpse of something caught my full attention. There, at the edge of the shadowy woods, was a red leaf illuminated from behind by a narrow beam of sunlight. The leaf was bright as flame and struck me as ever so beautiful. Studying the image later I noticed the leaf was not perfect in structure, nor were its neighbors on the same plant. I guess the lesson here is that, despite our imperfections, we can shine and be admired if we let the inner light shine through.
Until this morning, I’d never seen a Great Blue Heron basking in the morning sun. This big guy appeared to be hot and panting and, perhaps, it held its wings away from its body to cool a bit. Thing is, the Blue was in a spot of sun; that made for a very nice picture with rim lighting effects but would not have helped it cool off. Warding off swarming mosquitoes, I watched and photographed the bird for a long time. I’m sure the basking heron was watching me but seemed happy to stay on its perch and warm, or cool, or just rest. I continued my hike around Hinckley Lake, spying and imaging the basking bird through trailside understory plants. I spent a long time walking, watching, and sweating (temperature was above 80F), turning around about halfway around the lake. My normal birding spots were empty of large waterfowl which was a bit of a disappointment. As I returned to the area where I’d spent so much time earlier, I slowed my pace and began peering through the brush. Sure enough, the heron was still there! I shot a few more portraits of “Basking Blue” and continued my hike to the trailhead. Though soaked with perspiration, I couldn’t leave for home before looking for my other favorite pond creatures: dragonflies. The most plentiful of the dragonflies this day were Eastern Amberwings (Perithemis tenera) and they seemed to be everywhere along the western lake edge. One of the tiny, brilliant dragons posed for me a few times and I was pleased to record not only his image but the stain-like patch of color created by sunlight passing through his wings, falling upon bleached wood.
A vigorous walk around Hinckley Lake this morning provided plenty of “photo ops.” I got images of at least three Great Blue Herons, a macro shot of a slug (actually kind of pretty), some flowers, a butterfly, and fish thrashing about in the water apparently in the throes of spawning. The shot that was a standout, however, was also something of a surprise. I liked the way the morning sun was playing across some lily pads floating at the edge of the lake. Some of the pads had beaded puddles of water on their waxy tops and the sun outlined them in silver. The camera, set to automatically select a shutter speed appropriate to the light level, saw all that light and darkened the scene: the pads turned black, the puddles showed textures, and the pads seemed to levitate above the glowing surface. The scene, overall, looked somewhat foreboding. Perfect. The title sprang to mind and I couldn’t think of anything better… “Death Pads!”
I haven’t been outdoors for much photography this winter. So when we made a brief foray to Hinckley Lake this afternoon, even a few snapshots were better than nothing! The lake was, except for a wet spot or two, completely covered with snow over a thin layer of ice. The sky was mostly cloudy with gaps providing brief interludes of bright sunshine between long periods of dull light. Among the fields of white and gray woodlands, there were splashes of color. I hope to get out and spend some real time exploring the winter scenery. Til then, these little visits will have to do.
It was too beautiful a day to stay indoors and do the things I ought to be doing, my thinking being I ought really to be outdoors! So off to Hinckley Lake I went for a vigorous hike with full camera backpack — the extra gear adds to the workout. As I was arriving so, too, was a hawk. A young Red Tail? I eyed the bird, within easy walking distance, as I assembled my trusty camera and telephoto. Warily I approached, shooting a photo now and again since each might be the last before the raptor takes flight. The bird stayed put, looking at me now and again, but mostly scanning the ground and sky. Closer and closer I approached in slow steps. The hawk stayed put. I found I could move around under the dead tree perch, even walking directly under my target. How very nice of the hawk to be my wildlife model of the day! Speaking with a Metroparks groundskeeper who was running a mower I learned he had been watching the same bird. It seems this hawk has learned that after the mower cuts the grass, small rodents may appear and are easy to spot in the now-open area! The bird had made a mouse kill just moments before I spoke with the man. The same bird has been spotted following the mower in another park area. A smart bird, and ready for his close-up!
All right, I went to Hinckley Lake this morning with good intentions. In fact, I did indeed walk and run around the entire lake in an effort to improve my fitness — about 3.24 miles or a good 5K and, they say, nearly 200 feet in climbing! But I couldn’t help looking around and thinking about photography. Oh! I missed the shot of that hovering dragonfly. Damn! I missed the Great Egret fishing just off-shore! Arrrrg! A heron posing perfectly on a sun-bleached tree stump surrounded by water! It was good practice trying to regain my center; stay in the moment. Besides, once my lap was done, I’d go back to the car, retrieve my camera (don’t leave home without one), and run back to see if that heron’s still there! So I did. It wasn’t. The heron had moved and was now wading, a bit far out for the reach of the modest telephoto zoom I’d brought. Then I noticed a second heron a bit farther up the waterway. The first heron noticed the second one and leaped into the air. Then the second bird took off. Click. Click. Click. Camera was set for single-shots! I fired the shutter as quickly as I could. Got ’em! Ah, exercise and photography… kind of like the ski/shoot biathlon in the Winter Olympics, except here I was running, not skiing, and no bullets were involved.
With a little time left and the desire for more photography and exercise, I drove to nearby Whipp’s Ledges and trotted up the steep hill toward the rock face –giving in to expected distraction– camera in hand! Along the way I stopped and photographed a beautifully-lit orb weaver spider’s web, and some lovely blue berries close to a fallen log. Then, onward to the rocks. Mid-morning light was spilling through openings at the summit of the ledge, spotlighting areas below. Lovely, soft, “north” light illuminated the rest of the scene. Dang! No tripod! Capturing a nice selection of views there, I headed back down the hill and then home, happy and sweaty.
Drama is all around us. When we think of drama, however, we often think of the travails of our fellow humans. Nature, perhaps, presents the fullest range of the dramatic ranging from the life and death struggles of our fellow creatures to the world-changing activities of weather. A brief stop at Hinckley Lake lent plenty of examples for me as I walked the paths this afternoon. Showing She Who Must Be Obeyed one of my favorite spots to watch Great Blue Herons, we spied one fishing. After only a couple of minutes’ observation, the bird smartly jabbed the water, pulled up a fish, and flew off to a nearby sandbar to deal with its prey. Nearing the end of our walk, the day’s very changeable sky put on a show of light and shadow in the clouds and issued a low rumble of thunder. It was a dramatic day at the lake but most people were having picnics.