Archive for the ‘Wonders of Nature’ Category

Pileated Woodpeckers

Monday, June 5th, 2017

These images of Pileated Woodepeckers are more than simple images to which I received an overwhelming response to one posted yesterday on Facebook.  They are part of the story I want to tell with my photography.   I had the opportunity to return yesterday for a couple of hours to observe and photograph these birds again.  What a difference it makes to spend time listening and watching in a natural setting, immersing  myself in what is such a contrast to the lives most of us lead in a human constructed world.   I could feel the intelligence of these beautiful birds going about their life.   The two young ones kept popping out of the hole in expectation of the arrival of their Mother. One of them particularly looked at me standing there watching.   The Mother was off in the woods gathering food which appeared to be entirely grubs found from her pecking in dead trees.  She only returned once or twice each hour, every time with a beak full of grubs that she deposited in the open mouths of her young.   In this natural setting less than ten minutes from my house, McKaig Nature Education Center,  I felt surrounded by the sea of intelligence  present, knowing that everything there had its own way of being, of sensing what it was and was not and knowing how to fit in and survive or alter its course.  I knew that the woods, primarily large tulip poplars, was a community that shared the wealth of food, water and minerals through an underground network of fungi.  As I left I walked beside the clear clean waters of Crowe Creek which begins at the top of the hill and flows through theses woods, its watershed.   It eventually enters the Schuylkill River which then flows into the Delaware River, so is a small part of the Delaware River Watershed, where I do much of my photography.  I rejoiced as I recognized that a small piece of this much larger watershed was preserved and doing what it was supposed to be doing to maintain a clean natural environment.

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Winter Morning in Valley Forge Park

Friday, March 6th, 2015

New fallen snow on a cold clear calm morning following the storm is one of nature’s delights. This morning I enjoyed the wonders of such a morning in Valley Forge National Historical Park. The park is filed with meadows and woods having a variety of trees with various shapes.  About a ten minute drive from my house, it is one of my favorite places on a day like this.  I anticipated a wonderful morning as I finished clearing my driveway late the evening before under a clear sky lighted by one of the brightest full moons I had ever seen.  Below are some of the wonders I found.

My house lighted only by the full moon

Road to Snowy Wonderland

Tall Pines

Patterns in the Branches

Sculpture in the Snow

Fallen Tree

Tall Trees

Lone Star in the Woods

Lacy Pattern in the Woods

Snow Capped

Droopy

Public Aquariums and Slave Trade: Notes from a Visit to the Shedd Aquarium

Friday, January 16th, 2015

Last Monday I visited the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago after hearing a program on ecological issues in the Great Lakes presented by two staff from the Aquarium.  Little did I realize that my visit would bring me to an awareness of a different form of slavery, captivity of wild marine life for profit.  Yes, the Aquarium has a wide variety of fish species that I would not have otherwise seen, two varieties of penguins, Beluga Whales and dolphins.  Yes, there are many varied habitats from oceans, lakes and rivers, all artificially constructed to resemble natural habitats where the fish reside.  Yes, there is an educational purpose.  I admit,  I learned much as I strolled through the Aquarium and took many pictures just as I learned much from the presentation on the Great Lakes.

As I wandered from one tank to another I noticed several common threads.  Often the fish would look at me.  I make many images in the wild of birds and wildlife and try to get them looking at me.  This gives a sense of connection since I am related to everything, not just by having eye contact but in the larger sense of an inherent natural relationship of everything on earth, indeed in the universe.  As I connected visually with a number of the creatures at Shedd I felt they were trying to tell me something: Let me out of here! I’d rather be at home where I belong, swimming freely.  The feeling became particularly poignant as I watched the Beluga Whales,  for the most part swimming rapidly in circles around their enclosure.  One whale kept coming to the surface, poking his head out and looking at me.  Again I felt he was trying to convey a message: This is not my home.   I have been forcibly removed and am captive.

What is the definition of slavery?    Forcibly removed against one’s will, taken to a different location with escape difficult if not impossible, and used to make money for someone else doing something you don’t enjoy.    Each of the creatures at Shedd is unique.  Indeed we know that even members of the same species from the same habitat that may look the same to us have their own lives and characteristics which often include a strong sense of belonging to a community.  Beluga whales, like most whales and dolphins, are strongly communal and familial.  They are intelligent beings.   When in an aquarium they are usually placed with others not from their family and live lives shortened by their confinement.

We do not like to face the issue of slavery as one of the primary originating foundations of our economic system with lasting and devastating effects on  both the individuals held in captivity, their descendants and those enjoying the benefits of their captivity.   We seldom look at our industrialized society today as one of slavery, though the captivity of most in jobs they don’t enjoy that bring benefits of their life and labor to others, while they feel trapped has the basic features of slavery.  It is likely more difficult for us to apply this term to creatures other than humans since we have been taught we are somehow different, better, more intelligent and have a higher value than creatures who are not human.   We forget that our life is impossible without the trillions of living organisms within our bodies, roughly ten times as many as we have cells.

Today we are destroying many creatures and living habitats through the impact of the society we have created.   Some species of fish have been caught for human food in numbers that have brought them to the threatened or extinct stage.  Indeed some programs of the Shedd address this issue in the Great Lakes, but is that enough of a justification to hold thousands of creatures in slavery for the benefit of those who visit the Aquarium?

I did not know how I would use any of the images from my visit to Shedd since I do not normally use or even take pictures at aquariums, zoos or game farms.    Those I present below are only for you to see what feeling they evoke as you look into their eyes.  Do you have the same sense that I do?

Captive Tiger Ray in Shedd Aquarium

 Captive Fish in Shedd Aquarium

 Captive Group of Fish in Shedd Aquarium

Captive Moray Eel in Shedd Aquarium

Captive Fish in Shedd Aquarium

 Captive Fish in Shedd Aquarium

 Captive Fish in Shedd Aquarium

 Captive Magellanic Penguin in Shedd Aquarium

Captive Rockhopper Penguins in Shedd Aquarium

Captive Beluga Whale in Shedd Aquarium

Captive Beluga Whale in Shedd Aquarium

Reflections from a Journey Through Time in Oregon

Monday, September 22nd, 2014

Last Monday Kim and I traveled 300 miles round trip from Bend, Oregon, through the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. One of the richest and most varied deposits of fossils anywhere on earth, it is also one of the most strikingly beautiful landscapes. In the dry high desert land of East Central Oregon lie treasures of the past that hold keys to the future. While today we are concerned about the effects of human activity in changing our climate, seeing the geological record of Oregon’s past made me realize in a deeper way that the earth is indeed a living planet. It has changed dramatically in the past and will continue to change. Our present land and ocean formations are recent in geological time. The constant movement of the techtonic plates, the subduction of life forms under the plates, and volcanic activity in many forms continue to shift our environment. As shifts occur, climate changes. Fossils from bananas and avocados indicate that Oregon once was a lush tropical forest now found in places like Panama.
In the geological time frame, humans are but a brief recent episode. Like many species in the past we may also become extinct. Humans in any form have been around as a species only a couple of million years or even less, about 200,000 years, if we speak of homo sapiens, our species. By contrast dinosaurs were around about 260 million years. We are the only species that has created a culture that separates us from the natural world. We fail to recognize that we are not separate but indeed have about 100 trillion microorganisms that live within us, approximately ten times more than the number of cells in our body. Our life is not possible without these microorganisms that enable us to perform functions like digestion of food. Our lifestyle today, in a society based on fossil fuels, fails to recognize that those fossils lived millions of years ago.
The Painted Hills, our first stop, is an amazing assortment of red, yellow and white mounds from the Oligocene era between 38 and 24 million years ago. The reds represent wetter climates and the yellows drier climates. The soils were formed from volcanic ash over a period of four million years. Overlooking the painted hills is Carrol Rim which is topped by a 28.7 million year old tuff of ash flow from a vent in Eastern Oregon.
Our second stop was the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center at Sheep Rock. This is an operating laboratory for scientists working on fossils found in the area. It is also a visitor center with panoramic murals of life represented by fossils. Sheep Rock, across the road from the Center, has layers of silica rich volcanic ash with a green tint that carries fossils from 24 million years ago. It is topped by Columbia River basalt from 15 million years ago and overlooks the John Day River.
Not far from Sheep Rock, as the road follows the River, is Goose Rock, a rounded mass of lava that emptied into the ocean about 80 million years ago. Here in the river we found three River Otters, playing and feeding. We watched them and they watched us for about 45 minutes, a truly wonderful experience of communing with another species of mammal.
Next on the road was Cathedral Rock, a towering cliff of red and green ash deposits from 29 million years ago that rises above the John Day River. Nearby is the Blue Basin with colorful banded layers that are 29 million years old.

About  two hours from the Paleontology Center near the town of Clarno is the Palisades, a group of towers formed from a series of mudflows 44 million years ago.  The fossils here include an assortment of 173 species of trees, vines, shrubs and other plants found thus far as well as animals that inhabited a near-tropical forest.  Unlike most of the other sites, some of these fossils are visible on the short trail.

After a day of viewing fossils and beautiful mountains and hills formed millions of years ago, I came away with a newly awakened sense of awe and humility.   I am part of something much larger and much older, and I am not in control.  Life is a beautiful gift present wherever we look to find it. Life calls for giving back.

Overlooking the Painted Hills

Looking Up in the Painted Hills

View from the Painted Cove Trail

Carroll Rim

A Brightly Banded Hill

Sheep Rock

Goose Rock

River Otters Swimming

River Otters Looking

River Otter Eating Crawfish

Cathedral Rock

Cliffs of the Blue Basin

Hill with Ash Tuffs

The Palisades at Clarno

The Palisades at Clarno

Fossil of a Leaf

Red Shouldered Hawk Nest

Monday, May 5th, 2014

Last Friday and again today in Northwest, New Jersey I had the privilege to spend several hours observing two Red Shouldered Hawks exchanging places in their nest to sit on the eggs.  Roughly every 45 minutes to an hour one of the mates flew in, often with additional nesting material, and the other left. At times I heard the one arriving call several times, but at other times there was no call but one mate often left the nest just before the other arrived. They are nesting in the crotch of a large Tulip Poplar in my partner’s back yard.  Over the next month I’ll continue to observe the nest and await the birth of the young with my camera and 500 mm lens.

Broadwing Hawk on Nest

Broadwing Hawk on Nest with Nesting Material

Broadwing Hawk Standing on Nest

Flood on the Schuylkill

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

Yesterday we had 5-7 inches of rain in the Philadelphia region. Today the Schuylkill River and most of the creeks that flow into it and the Delaware River were flooded, much higher than anyone expected. I went out to Valley Creek where it flows under Route 23 and on to the Schuylkill, to the Pawlings Road Bridge over the Schuylkill and to the Betzwood Bridge and adjacent portion of Valley Forge National Park. I wanted to document the event and also capture some unusual beauty in the destructive forces of nature, an interesting and challenging assignment for myself.  Likely this is not a one time event since increasingly we have had more precipitation and stronger winds. Global warming is upon us.  The Arctic ice is not the only thing being affected.    Changes will continue.

As I was walking back to my car after capturing a number of images, I passed a young couple walking, each with a suitcase and he with a dishpan and dishes.  They were evacuating from the Valley Forge Lofts, a new apartment complex on the banks of the Schuylkill immediately downstream from the Betzwood Bridge.  Several of the buildings were under a few feet of water.   Another woman looking at the water near the Betzwood spoke of a friend who lives along the Schuylkill canal in Phoenixville whose house was totally surrounded by water. Yes, peoples lives are greatly affected by the changes in the natural world.  Sometimes it takes an event like this to help us keep our perspective.  We are part of nature.  Its power is both our power and greater than any one of us.

Below are a few images from the various sites I visited.

Spring Flood on the Valley Creek Just Above Route 23

Valley Creek Upstream from Route 23

Looking Toward Washington’s Headquarters Across a Flooded Valley Creek

Looking From Washington’s Headquarters Across a Flooded Valley Creek

Flooded Access Road Across Valley Creek from Washington’s Headquarters

The End of Pawlings Road Bridge By the Access to the Betzwood Trail

The View Upstream from the Betzwood Bridge

Flood Waters in the Picnic and Boat Launch Area of The Betzwood Section of Valley Forge Park

The Betzwood Trail Under Water

Looking Toward the Schuylkill from the Betzwood Picnic Area

The Beauty at Black Rock Retreat

Sunday, March 30th, 2014

My church had a weekend retreat at Black Rock Retreat Center near Quarrysville,  Pennsylvania, this weekend.   In spite of the rain Saturday morning I led a nature photography workshop.  In the bare winter woods where there was little green, I looked around for some interesting subjects and came upon a steep section that led down to the Octoraro Creek.  It was an amazing place, filled with rocks covered with lichens and moss.  Nearby a small stream flowed down from a pond and was a tumbling cascade of small waterfalls.  As I was exploring the area, I heard a large number of frogs in a wetland area near the creek.  My adventure  shows that there is something interesting to be discovered anywhere one is.  It only takes some looking.   Here are a few images from my time there.

Looking Down Toward the Octoraro Creek

 

Trees Growing Out of the Rocks

 

Moss and Lichens

 

Waterfall

 

 Split Rock

 

Looking Uphill at the Woods

 

The Woods, New and Old

 

Kathleen looks at the Big Rock from below

A Winter Morning at Jenkins Arboretum

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

This morning I awoke to a winter wonderland at my house after the largest storm of the year.  Very heavy and wet, it was the best possible snow for photographs.  After looking around my own yard I went to Jenkins Arboretum, less than five minutes from home.  It is a wonderland any time of the year and gives me renewed energy every time I go. Jenkins is a protected watershed flowing into Trout Creek, the Schuylkill River  and eventually the Delaware River.   It is open to the public without charge every day.  Today I spent almost four hours wandering the paths and enjoying the beauty of snow, woods and sunlight.  Here is a selection of images from my morning.

The View from my deck this morning

Snow Balls

Winter Scene at Jenkins

 The Swirl of a Dogwood

The Great Oak in Winter

 The Brook at Jenkins in the Winter

Twisted Tree by the Pond

 Snow Shadow

Tryon Creek State Park

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

Near Lake Oswego, Oregon, lies an urban treasure, Tryon Creek State Park.  Almost 700 acres of preserved forest around Tryon Creek, a stream protected for Steelhead and Salmon, it is easily accessible. The only Oregon State Park within a major urban area, Tryon has many walking paths and holds numerous treasures of a typical forest in the Willamette ecosystem. About ten minutes from where my Mother lives, I had a wonderful walk yesterday for several hours, exploring a few of the wonders. Below are some examples of what I found.

 Transformed Stump

 

Moss Sculpture

 

Ferns on the Tree

 

 Moss and Ferns

 

Like a Rain Forest

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seattle Sunset

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

Sunday I arrived in Seattle after leaving freezing rain in Philadelphia.  It was a beautiful sunny day here so after checking in to my hotel I walked a few blocks to the Space Needle.   Having been to Seattle numerous times this was my first time to go up and get the wonderful 360 degree views of the city and surrounding mountain ranges. I could not have had a greater reward-clear views in all directions to Mount Rainier, to Mount Baker, to the Olympics and a colorful sunset.  Below are a few choice shots.

Seattle Space Needle

Seattle Skyline at Sunset

Seattle Sunset Looking South

Seattle Sunset Looking North

Seattle Skyline at Dusk