Sometimes you think you’ve missed the “perfect shot” when, really, you’ve already captured it. Today, vacation day #3, I was visiting Hinckley Lake. I’d not been to the lake in some time and thought I should check in. I came across a Great Blue Heron fishing in the shallows. Just as I got into position to shoot some stills of the big bird, it leaped into the air! I began firing the shutter. I don’t think the bird took flight because of me… I believe it was pursuing another heron fishing around the shoreline from where I was standing. Soon the two birds were charging out over the lake, one after the other and I got what I’d hoped would be the best pictures of the day. I was mistaken. As I was photographing the first bird early in its pursuit, I recorded a couple of images that later surprised me. In my favorite, the heron is banking whilst flying so low to the lake surface a wingtip dragged briefly in the water kicking up a wake! In the second shot (technically made earlier) the Great Blue is stretched out in flight while below, shore birds work for a living on a sandbar. All-in-all a great morning at the lake.
This, the morning of my first day of my vacation week was spent enjoying nature in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Doing what? Following the progress of the Great Blue Heron families at their rookery, of course! I arrived a little after 9:00 AM and it seemed the birds were only beginning to stir. There was a constant background noise –chattering amongst the birds– but not much activity in the air. As time passed birds began to take flight, seeking food for their burgeoning babies, and I watched with undiminished awe as they flew overhead.
The young birds, when they can be seen, appear to have adult feathers and markings and are hard to tell from their parents in the nests. It’s been close to a month since I was last at the rookery (blame weather and work) and at that time I’d seen no chicks at all. Today there were birds everywhere. Adults were making regular food runs to nearby wetlands, ponds, and streams. The parents could also be seen, on occasion, carrying nesting materials, most likely for making repairs.
At the nearby “Beaver Marsh” area of the national park area, I watched for herons fishing. I’d seen one earlier and had hiked to a spot I thought might provide a better view. Just as I spotted the bird, it took off but possibly not because of me. In hot pursuit was a relatively tiny Redwinged Blackbird! The redwings inhabit the marsh in great numbers and are constantly squabbling over territory there. It seems, however, that NO interloper is to be tolerated: the tiny black bird chased the big adult heron, even physically strafing it before turning back towards home.
Although it's a Sunday, we consider this the last day of our vacation week. (Somehow it seems wrong to consider Sunday a vacation day but never mind.) We set off on an expected short visit to our own Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. We arrived just before official opening for the day today and hope to plan our visits that way often in future: early arrivals get prime parking spots, no lines at the gate, and the animals are active. The flamingos were more interesting today than at any time we have seen them before, close to their enclosure wall as well. The cheetas were also busy: chasing, pacing, and one even jumped up into a tree — also something we'd not seen before. We were shooting photographs a good part of the time, taking it easy and trying not to overheat in the mid-July sun and humidity. It was in the Primate, Cat & Aquatics building that I got my two "shots of the day." A newly-arrived clouded leopard was exploring its indoor enclosure giving me many opportunities to capture its image. I consider the clouded leopard to be the most beautiful of the great cats. At any rate, I shot many exposures of the animal using my little Canon PowerShot G11 and was rewarded with two pictures that I love: a lovely still portrait and a more dynamic image of the cat. Then we went home to hide from the heat. Tomorrow it's back to the daily grind. It won't take long for the stress to build back up but at least we'll have pictures to remind us of happier times!
We decided as part of our vacation to head to Jefferson, Ohio, and take a ride on the excursion passenger train that operates there: the Ashtabula, Carson & Jefferson Scenic Line. As we were planning the trip we discovered, to our delight, that Saturday would be a rare opportunity to ride the train when it was being powered by a fully-restored steam locomotive instead of the usual diesel. Whoo-hoo! So we packed up our camera gear and headed out early into the muggy morning for the trip to Jefferson. We were among the first visitors to arrive at the downtown departure point due entirely to my mistake — I was under the impression the trip was to begin at 11:00 AM when, actually, it was scheduled for 1:00 PM. Oh well. We walked around the old railroad station there, strolled towards the center of town. We looked for and found a place to eat. Then headed back to the railroad. They were selling tickets and the beautiful little tank engine was nearing a full head of steam. The ride was rocky and full of steam hissing, whistle blowing, coal smoke, ash, and cinders… in other words, very enjoyable. Most fun for me was simply seeing the old engine at work and watching the various reactions children had to their experience: the full range from apathy to terror to delight. Sunday night they actually run the engine on to a specially equipped flat bed trailer, empty the boiler and coal scuttle, and drive it away.
Saturday night was a scheduled Open Night at the Observatory. Even before heading out conditions were changeable. The mixed forecasts called for partly cloudy skies with the chance of isolated thunderstorms. Seeing conditions, well, the forecast was from no good to okay. Driving towards College I watched a massive thunderstorm building in the east, ahead of me, and three cloud towers billowing in the southern sky; they were all beautiful but didn't promise good skies for stargazing. I opened the Observatory and my first visitors for the night began arriving shortly thereafter. Due to neighboring trees, we hauled the portable 10-inch reflector out to the lawn to catch a look at the Moon which was floating in clear sky. Nice views enjoyed by all present. Even as we watched a shelf of clouds moved steadily from the northwest first obscuring, then covering the Moon and the rest of the sky. As a few more folks arrived we talked about telescopes and adjourned to the Observatory interior to see and discuss the big refractor. In all 23 people took a chance that the sky would be clear enough and visited. By about 10 PM we were all talked out, there were flashes of lightning in the sky along with rumbles of thunder. I closed up, picked up my gear and loaded the car. As I left I could see patches of clear sky and one of my intended showpieces –Antares, the red supergiant star in Scorpius– shining through a "sucker hole" in the southern sky. In the west, flashes of lightning. A changeable sky, indeed.
I got home by midnight ending a good long day.
We did some utility running around today but eventually wound up at the Lorain County Metro Parks' French Creek Reservation. We took a little hike there on their well-groomed woodland trails. We also visited their temporary exhibit of captive butterflies. The outdoor tent was a bit cramped but it was fun sharing the space with flowering plants, fluttering butterflies, and other interested folks. We ended our outing with dinner at Max & Erma's where we enjoyed spicy black bean burgers with dark green side salads. A long, warm day but a good one!
This vacation day we visited the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium for the first time. The day was sunny and hot and the place is quite expansive. At first we were unimpressed by the exhibits but as we worked our way around the grounds and through some of the buildings, we discovered wonderful things again and again.
The underwater polar bear viewing area was bright, beautiful, and very popular. Looking up though the clear waters we could see many fish swimming against the mirror-like surface. Of course the big attraction was a polar bear who, while we were there, decided to enjoy the cool waters by siting atop the observing bay window. A good time was had by all.
There were many other opportunities to observe mammals and fish from below the surface. Most people walked right by but the sight of fish "kissing" their own surface reflection was art to me.
Although many of the enclosures used un-photogenic fences and wires to keep animals in and people out, there were also clear-windowed observing areas. If there were not too many greasy fingerprints, animal scratches, or reflections, good views and photos could be made of bears, lions, tigers, and a very curious bobcat.
We both shot too many photos to show off here –and too many photos in general– but had a most excellent time. Even lunch for two vegetarians was a pleasant experience with delicious non-meat spicy black bean burger platters available at a fair price, made to order. Mmmm, good!
We felt we'd had enough for one day and left before seeing the African Forest and Australian areas of the great zoo. I expect we'll return one day, perhaps in cooler weather, to see the rest.
She Who Must Be Obeyed determined that today we would get out on our bikes. So we headed to Erie County and the annual Pedal Erie Parks invitational. It was a warm morning and the weather grew hotter as the hours passed. We've had so few miles we chose to ride the 30-mile route. In the not-too-distant past we'd have elected to ride the longer distances ( 50 or more miles ) but, well, we just aren't ready. That doesn't mean the shorter ride was easy. There are a good number of river valleys to cross –quick down, sharp climb out– that got me out of my saddle. I started the day feeling bad physically but by the end of the ride I was doing fine. I'm uncomfortable in hot weather but my body seems happy to be active in it. Her new bike will need some tweaking. This was the Cannondale's shakedown tour and the chain dropped to the outside during one of Her shifts. She also feels the seat height may need adjustment. She also felt "tired" in her triceps; the handlebars or stem may need some work. Otherwise the bike performed well.
Somewhere along the way I spotted one of the nicest conversions of an old schoolhouse (or church) to a home that I've ever seen. Unfortunately I haven't equipped my bicycle to safely carry my new small camera so all I had with me was the cell phone. Kind of a crappy image but it'll have to do. This begins a week of plan-less vacation time. Don't know what we'll do but I hope none of it involves having to resolve some crisis back at the office. This week of summer looks to be lazy, hazy, not-so-crazy. That can be a good thing.