Musings with Camera in Hand

Belinda Greb – The Photographic Journey


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Back to Burns, Malheur and the Wild Horses

If I had the time and money, I’d make the trip to Burns at least once a month.  My heart is so attached to the wild horses that I see out there, in addition to the wide variety of birds to be sighted around Burns and at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.  It’s not a huge trip for me, four hours, but long enough to require at least one night’s stay, and better with two, since once you get out there, the driving doesn’t stop.  South Steens Mountain is about 50 miles south of Burns which will take you through Malheur NWR and the small historical town of Frenchglen.  To really see all the area has to offer is to take forays down gravel roads and I have even ventured at times onto deeply rutted dirt roads where I prayed that my car had the clearance to pass over boulders and ridges.  This last May trip, I also did a bit of walking by foot to reach the wild horses as the dirt road became impassable by my passenger car.  One note: I do try and stay at a respectable distance.  The horses will be aware of me from quite a distance, but I don’t want them to be uncomfortable with my presence.

This Spring the area looked generally much more lush than last year.  I stopped first to see the Palomino Buttes horses which are west of Burns.  I was looking forward especially to see a favorite, more approachable band, that as of Fall last year, consisted of the Palomino Stallion (some locals call him a Dunalino), his primary mare, Bella, two of her sons, Pallaton and Traveler, from prior years, and a filly from last year.  Also there was a bay mare and her colt, and another bay mare that had joined them sometime during the Summer or Fall.  (Some of the horses are named by the locals.)  I didn’t see any horses initially.  Then I spotted white spots on a very distant hill (both Pallaton and Traveler were white/light colored palominos).  When I walked out, I saw it was my favorite band with some significant changes.  Pallaton was not with the band.  This isn’t such a big surprise, since as a three year old, he would start to have conflicts with his father.  I was surprised this hadn’t started happening last year, since Pallaton had already started chasing fillies in other bands.  Instead, he and his father seemed to work as a team, protecting their band from another stallion on the couple of occasions I observed.  I also observed that when the band was on the move, Pallaton would the lead while the stallion brought up the rear; this year Traveler took the front spot.  Though Pallaton’s absence was expected, it was still a blow, as the bonds between the family, especially he and his mother, and he and Traveler, were affectionate and playful.  Even the bond with his father had been a special one.  I still don’t know whether the bay mare and her colt were with the band. I think so, but the horses coats change so much from season to season and this time I wasn’t in close enough to compare other markings from my earlier picture.  There were also two new foals and at least one other horse I don’t recognize at all.

Though I hadn’t made it over to Burns until May, I did see some Sandhill Cranes still in the area, one pair with two colts (what the “chicks” are called because of their long legs), along with various other birds.  I didn’t even see the colts until I reviewed the images on my computer.  The birds weren’t as plentiful as they would have been a few weeks earlier but they were much more plentiful than they had been last May.

While in the vicinity of Malheur I was excited to capture a couple mammals I had not photographed before in the area, including, not one, but two hares.  Last year the ones I saw had proven too quick for my reflexes.  I also saw the first marmot I had seen in Oregon as well – a yellow-bellied marmot.  These critters spend most of their time in their burrows (80%) hibernating or otherwise, so I was lucky to capture this one.  I had seen a flash of one about an hour earlier than this, so apparently the beautiful Spring day was too enticing to pass up.

I also saw the usual suspects, mule deer and pronghorn antelope.  Mule deer are distinguished from white-tailed deer as their tales are black, their ears are larger, and antlers fork rather than branch on the males.

Just past Malheur NWR, is the small historic town, Frenchglen, population 12, and continuing on Hwy. 205 you will find the south entrance to Steen Loop, a gravel road that loops around the mountain.  The road will usually be blocked at some point during Spring due to snow as the mountain rises over 9000 feet, although it does it in a fairly non-dramatic way.  If you’re lucky you will be able to view some of the wild horses in South Steens herd.  I’ve been lucky to see multiple bands together on two occasions and on other occasions, a small band by itself.  This time, I was not exceptionally close to them but it was wonderful to observe them – some playing, the more mature grazing or resting along with the foals.

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Is it hard to see why I’m in love with this place?  If you travel out there, don’t expect luxury. You will get the most basic of accommodations and a very limited assortment of restaurants.  In fact, you will need to be sure that you fill up on gas before you leave Burns to go exploring.  During summer, the temperatures can get quite high, so it would be advisable to carry water for both you and your car.

I’ve hoped you’ve enjoyed this post.  To see more of my work, please visit Belinda Greb Photography for all of my published work.  My next post will be on some of the beautiful Oregon waterfalls I’ve visited in mainly Silver Falls State Park.

 


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In the Garden

I’ve never been drawn to gardening; however I acknowledge the beautiful benefits of a garden, not only in the flowers and other beautiful flora that grow under the gentle guidance of dedicated gardener’s care, but also the creatures they attract.

Rufous Hummingbird Feeding No. 3

Both my mother and sister are wonderful gardeners, with their own unique styles with gardens that now span decades in the making. Both get weary muscles but immeasurable pleasure in creating a aesthetically tailored microcosm. My mother’s garden is definitely more instinctual. Bordering a wilderness, the garden has paths that wind through a mix of flowers and wild flora; the paths often changing from year to year, even week to week depending on my mother’s mood, like the staircases at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Her garden is constantly in a state of flux, a balance of attempted order and rampant growth by the side of a river. My sister’s garden is more designed and spatially organized, with various areas to visit (each with their own atmosphere), fountains, bird feeders, and sculptures amidst an array of color. I haven’t the gardener’s terminology to describe either of them well enough to do them justice.

Butterfly on Purple Flower

In my mother’s garden I find: irises, crocosmia, hydrangea, peonies, spider’s webs, butterflies, dragonflies, and hummingbirds beneath towering maples and douglas firs, and in my sister’s garden: tulips, lilies, exotic grasses, gladiolus, and a whole community of birds along with her two horses, three goats, five Indian runner ducks and her chickens. These are some of my pickings from their gardens.

For more of my work, please visit my main website at belindagrebphotography.com. This is through Fine Art America and offers framing, metal, canvas, acrylic prints as well as other products such as pillows, tote bags, and towels. I also offer selected signed prints up to 16×24″ at RadiancePhotos at Etsy and Belinda Greb Photography at Amazon Handmade . I’m also have selected prints and other products at Society 6 and Redbubble. In the UK you can find selected work at Belinda Greb at Photo4Me .

 


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Yellow-Headed Blackbirds

I took another short trip to Harney County at the very end of May, early June. I was dying to see the wild horses again and also to see what other birds were around Burns and Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. It was almost too late for birds, but I just couldn’t get away before. Also, this time a friend came along, and it was fun to share the experience of seeing all the wonderful wildlife. The headquarters at Malheur are still closed which is a shame, but the Central Patrol Road is open.

For having only 1 full day and 2 half-days I came away with a lot of experiences, memories and pictures. I will do more posts later on the wild horses.  This post will just focus on the Yellow-headed Blackbirds (males) I saw. I have to say there was a lot more greenery as my prior trip had been at the beginning of spring, and this time the grass and wild flowers were abundant as were the blackbirds!

The female Yellow-headed Blackbirds are brown with a duller yellow on their chest, so yes, the males get all the attention.

A challenge for me was to catch one in flight in order to see the great white marking on its wings. This was harder to expected, as I was seeing the blackbirds from a car (using it as a blind) along country roads outside of Burns. It is hard to maneuver a long telephoto in a car when trying to follow a bird’s flight and the erratic way the blackbirds take off from their perches on a fence.

Fortunately, there were so many blackbirds, I would just have to move the car up slowly to where another one was perched and try again. I thank my friend for being so patient.

Finally I just got out and approached slowly. This was obviously a hit and miss, and I really didn’t know if I had gotten any good ones until I got home and reviewed them on my computer.

It turned out I was happy with a few, although only this one had the white markings on the wings clearly visible.


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Sandhill Cranes

I’ve been away for a long while due to slogging through the winter blues and a more recent family medical emergency. I’m going to be doing some short photo posts from my recent trip back to Harney County. My spirit is rebounding due to Spring’s appearance and the family member is recovering!

It was my first time seeing Sandhill Cranes and I was not disappointed by their beauty and gracefulness.

Craning X 2

Craning X 2

Sandhill cranes arrive in early Spring in Harney County from California. Many of the cranes I saw were in pairs, and this is normal as well as family units as the chicks or colts stay with the parents until 1-2 months before the new eggs are laid. During winter, migratory Sandhill Cranes will forage and roost in larger numbers called survivor groups.

Working in Pairs

Working in Pairs

An interesting fact I read about the cranes is that fossils of Sandhill Cranes have been found that date back to 2.5 million years, and there is one 10 million year old fossil that probably was a predecessor of the Sandhill Cranes.

Looking Both Ways

Looking Both Ways

I will be processing more of my recent photographs of the Sandhill Cranes as well as some beautiful wild horses that I photographed in Harney County.

More of my photography can be found at belindagrebphotography.com and these in particular at my bird gallery.

 

 

 

 

 


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The Need for Public Lands

God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and
a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools. – John Muir

Two American White Pelicans

Two American White Pelicans at Malheur NWR (©Belinda Greb)

Lately my heart and mind have been in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, a wild gem of Oregon taken over in early January by armed militia. This takeover was in response to the arrest of Hammonds, two ranchers who intentionally set two fires that spread to public lands endangering lives, (in 2001 of the young relative who was instructed to set the fire and  in 2006 of firefighters who were in the area). Bundy and his followers purported to take over the refuge for the purpose of returning the land to the people – a ridiculous proposition since the land already belongs to the people, as in “We, the People”. They didn’t want the government to manage the land and instead unilaterally decided that they would be the ones to do so. Malheur NWR is one of numerous  public lands that have been set aside by our forefathers who wisely saw the need to preserve natural habitat and wildlife for future generations. I suspect most of us consider this a blessing, but sadly there are those that consider it an overreach of the government.

Falling Light on the Marsh

Fern Ridge Wildlife Area (Falling Light on the Marsh ©Belinda Greb)

Public Lands

In 1864, Abraham Lincoln ceded land around Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove Area to California for use as a state park in response to Galen Clark and Senator John Conness who argued that with the increased tourism since since the mid 1850s, unregulated commercial interests were becoming a threat to the area. This would set a precedent for establishing Yellowstone as the nation’s first national park, Meanwhile after 11 years of trying, Ferdinand Hayden, was finally able to put together a geological survey in to the Yellowstone Area. This resulted in an influential report, that included pictures by William Henry Jackson and paintings by Thomas Moran, and in 1872, Ulysses Grant signed the Act of Dedication which made Yellowstone a national park. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellowstone_National_Park)

Waiting for Wolves in Lamar Valley

Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park (Waiting for Wolves ©Belinda Greb)

There was opposition at that time to the establishment of the park. Local settlers in Montana worried that the economy would suffer from federal prohibitions and so numerous bills were put forth to reduce land-use restrictions. There were those that wanted the land for logging, mining, and hunting. Sound familiar?

The entities in charge of public lands need to balance the needs of interested parties while protecting the land. While hunting is not allowed in National Parks and many Wildlife Refuges, on other public lands, hunting is allowed. There are guidelines for the logging that takes place on public lands, and there will always be controversy about whether these guidelines are too strict or not strict enough. Ranchers were allowed to continue grazing their cattle on public lands and charged a nominal fee. Grazing fees per AUM (animal unit per month) was raised in 2015 to $1.69. Of course fees for grazing on private or state lands is much higher. In Oregon, the state fee is $5.60 in 2016. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grazing_fee) How many of you can feed your pet dog or cat for that $1.69 for even a couple of days?

William Finley Refuge

William L Finley NWR (William Finley Refuge ©Belinda Greb)

In addition, as opposed to owning the land, the ranchers are not responsible for the financial cost of purchasing the land, maintaining or paying taxes on it like other property owners would be. But apparently some of these occupiers, like Cliven Bundy, feel that they should not have to pay any fees at all, and for years he has gotten away from this, refusing to pay the fees or remove his cattle from federal lands. After a court order allowed officials to remove his livestock from federal lands in 2014, armed supporters advanced on collectors resulting in a standoff. The cattle were not removed by BLM due to their concern that employees might be harmed or shot. So now Cliven Bundy owes the people over $1 million dollars and continues to graze his cattle on public lands. If our society continues to give in to this type of behavior, we will have anarchy.

Flight of the Great Blue Heron No. 2

Seen at Fern Ridge Wildlife Area (Flight of the Great Blue Heron ©Belinda Greb)

There’s certainly a right to question how the land is being managed, but trying to bully your opinion across via intimidation and guns is not it. The government entities that regulate these lands are not above reproach, but they are trying to balance the rights of the community along with the special interests of ranchers along with the wildlife advocates and environmentalists. How can this be an easy task? And of course the administrators are also going to be have their own personal opinions and beliefs. But dissenters should take any issue with that management to our legal system or the media.

Pete French Long Barn No. 2

Malheur NWR (Pete French Long Barn No. 2 ©Belinda Greb)

Malheur NWR

Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1908.  The land was initially occupied by the Paiute Indians. Settlers then came in and took over much of it, relegating the natives to a reservation. How ironic is the world view that rages against the government but really isn’t talking about returning the land to the original inhabitants.

One settler amassed with his employer, Dr Hugh Glen, over 140,000 acres.  He also restricted access to water to other fellow settlers and in fact was murdered in 1883 by one settler whose access to water he denied. Not a pretty story.  Some of the land was sold to pay of company debts, and after being resold, nearly 65,000 acres was incorporated into the refuge in 1935. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P_Ranch)

Great-Egret

Great White Egret seen at Malheur NWR (Great Egret ©Belinda Greb)

In the late 1880’s bird populations were being decimated by plume hunters who used their feathers for hats or  vanity wear, as I like to say in regards to fur coats. In 1908, photographers, William L Finley and Herman Bohlman noticed both the diversity of birds and the horrible effects of plume hunting. Finley successfully personally lobbied President Theodore Roosevelt for federal protection for the area. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malheur_National_Wildlife_Refuge) The William L Finley National Wildlife Refuge, also in Oregon, was named after him in 1964.

I find myself getting so upset and angry by the Malheur occupation. First I’m angry at the nerve of other people coming from out-of-state with their guns, taking over the buildings, government vehicles, blocking roads, and causing so much damage, not least of which is the emotional damage done to the community around Burns. This is an invasion. There were threats to people and their families who worked for BLM or USFWS, and there has been a huge financial cost to the county.  I am also angered at this threat to a beautiful refuge and the wildlife that is there.

Private vs Public

If these protections were not in place, we would not have our system of: 58 national parks; 560 National Wildlife Refuges and 38 wetland management districts; 155 national forests and 20 grassland areas; and other state managed wildlife areas. These are open to people to enjoy, but more importantly to conserve natural resources and habitat for wildlife. How would these lands have fared had they not been under federal protection? Look around – how well have mining, privately owned logging companies, corporate farms served the land or the interests of the general population? In addition, there’s a wealth of information and recent discussion about how cattle grazing impacts environment and climate. Google it.

Cows

Cattle on Public Lands in Harney County (©Belinda Greb)

“Why should we protect this lands? How will it benefits humans, or really me?” some may ask.

  • Deforestation results in global warming. Trees absorb greenhouse gases and return moisture to the air. Once they are cut, the land will dries out quickly.  Clear cutting results in loss of habitat for many species – 70% of animals and plants live in forests. (http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/deforestation-overview/0).
  • Loss of habitat results in loss of species. Just think what would happen if there were no birds and how that would affect the insect population. How would that affect crops or the spread of insect transmittable diseases…and so on? What about the disappearance of a predator that helped keep the rat population in control? It’s all about balance. The loss of one species can result in the overpopulation of another. There is a fine balance between prey and predator. Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver is a novel that clearly explains this issue.
  • If there were no regulations, there would be no limitations on the type of chemicals that are used or other safety regulations that exist for a reason. Even with regulations, there are not enough controls and we’ve seen the impact of the chemicals on bees which are so important pollination and agriculture.
Surveil

Red Shouldered Hawk seen at Fern Ridge Wildlife Area (Surveil ©Belinda Greb)

If resources are not managed, there is no sustainability. This affects us directly in regards to food and shelter. Would you really trust Ammon Bundy who represents his own interests or the interest of like-minded individuals over a government department that while cumbersome is still subject to the interests of many, including: legislators, citizens, and businesses?

Those are the self-interested reasons for preservation and conservation.

Acorn Woodpecker

William L. Finley NWR (Acorn Woodpecker ©Belinda Greb)

Being a photographer, and spending a lot of time observing animals, I am on the side of the wildlife. We do not occupy this land alone. We share it with animals and flora. We have already created an environmental imbalance that threatens not only our future, but the future of all living beings. We have used our lands and water as a huge trash can that we think we can keep pouring our waste into without consequences. Those consequences are catching up, and it is the poor and the animals who will suffer first.

These public lands are also important in that for many that is the only place that many will see life in a near natural state. The beauty and understanding that come from being in nature to those that are open to it can give one a profound respect for life, its vulnerability and its resilience. Nature can make us better human beings by connecting us to the the larger natural world that contains a multitude of life outside the “me.” It can teaches us that life is not ego-centric but all-encompassing.

Love your public lands and protect them.

Resilience-w11x14

Wild Horse seen in Harney County (Resilience ©Belinda Greb)

Photographs taken at: Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and Harney County, William Finley National Wildlife Refuge, Yellowstone National Park,  and Fern Ridge Wildlife Area (run by Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife). belindagrebphotography.com

 

 

 

 

 


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Revisiting the Past in Present Time

Last month I traveled back to New York and Washington DC to see family and friends.  For me, it is hard to go back to a place that holds so many memories and emotions. I loved seeing my aunt and friends again, but all the while there was a bittersweet feeling knowing that I will miss them soon again. It’s as if each moment contains not only the current joy of being together, but also the past memories and the future absences. Time is more precious and, on these types of trips, it is not abundant. There will never be the time to really catch up or to have the leisure of being able to relax into the moments spent together as if we were just hanging out together on a rainy afternoon, and could see each other easily the week afterwards, and the week after that.

I met one friend down at the September 11 memorial. I hadn’t been since the tower and pools were completed, and neither had she.  It was disorienting to try and find our old places (mine – the World Financial Center that housed Lehman Brothers) when the connecting structures are missing. I used to come up from the WTC subway and then take the Vesey Street Bridge over to the WFC, and there is a similar bridge down there still, which confused me, but the old one is gone.

I hadn’t wanted to spend a lot of time down there, too heavy, so we headed to the Metropolitan Museum which I had wanted to revisit. Throughout the visit, there were parts of the city that seemed as familiar as yesterday, and other parts that were new.  New York constantly seems to reinvent  itself- for instance the High Line walk between 14th and 33rd and all the new buildings that have  either replaced or have been built on top of the old buildings. Yet there are other spots that surprise you by still being there, like Zabar’s (in my old neighborhood) or the corner pizza restaurant I used to go, or the  hall in the Museum where one of my favorite paintings, Joan of Arc by LePage hangs.

However, this visit was easier than the first few visits after I moved where the feeling of displacement had been intense. I was reminded how tiring and distracting it can be to meet friends in the city as there are logistics, timelines, subways to work out. At least now we have cell phones.  I remember how one friend and I who had made plans to see a movie had ended up at different theaters on a very cold winter’s night.  And yet, it is hard to explain this, I was also reminded of that feeling of cosiness or sense of belonging (to the city?) when seeing a friend’s or friends’ face(s) when meeting up in that big city, walking around the crowded streets together, and then parting to go our separate ways.

The second part of the trip was visiting my niece, who lives in DC. I have been to DC before but I really never spent a lot of time there.  This time I was newly impressed by the subway system which is clean and easy to use.  I loved my niece’s neighborhood, Cleveland Park, that reminded me of city living. My niece showed me the memorials by late night (we started out at 11:30), which I thought was a brilliant idea.  It was a wonderful two or so hours walking around the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials, and the campus of Georgetown University as well without having to worry about parking or crowds. It reminded me of when I worked graveyard in NYC midtown and got to see a completely different side to the city than most see.

I had suggested to my niece, when planning the trip, that we go down to Chincoteague Island for the weekend, and both of us really loved it.  The Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge has over 300 varieties of birds and of course the wild ponies, AKA Chincoteague Ponies and Assateague Horses.  They are really horses, rather than ponies, whose size has been dwarfed by the low nutritional value of their food. We saw some of the ponies during our visit to the Refuge, and then more later by boat. I used and highly recommend Captain Dan’s Around the Island Tours.

I couldn’t help but compare my Chincoteague Wild Ponies to the Pryor Mustangs experience. Both herds have been in a more or less confined area for probably hundreds of years, and so unlike some other wild herds, there is a lot known about the lineage of the herds, the horses are named, etc, and they are closely followed.  Because I had spent the whole day with the Pryor Mustang Herd, I definitely feel more connected to that herd.  Also I feel their “wildness” and “independence” comes at the harsher price of living in a much more perilous environment. The Chincoteague Wild Ponies (pertains to the horses in Virigina only) have two vet visits per year and people who can check up on them year round. Regarding photographing them, I had more access to the Pryor Mustangs, since I was walking around versus being either further away (in the refuge) or on a moving boat, but I did enjoy the beautiful backdrop of habitat of the Assateague Islands.  I do want to go back to Pryor Mountains in the Spring when the habitat is less dry.

Flock of Snowy Egrets from Chincoteague No. 1

The Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, as mentioned, has a lot more going for it then its ponies.  Coming from Oregon on the West Coast, it was a delight to see many birds that I haven’t encountered in person before, including the little blue heron, the green heron, the cattle egret, and, my favorite, the glossy ibis in breeding plumage.

We had walked more than 9 miles in one day around the Refuge, and this was a great way to encounter the wildlife, although the Loop is open to cars after 3pm.  My favorite encounter and one of my favorite captures was seeing a Red-Winged Blackbird start to harass a Great Egret who came into its territory. It may have been defending a nest, but the blackbird looked absolutely enraged by the Egret.  It darted so quickly the Egret couldn’t keep up.  I have several exposures, and in many, the Egret has twisted around to look at a spot where the blackbird had been two seconds before! The two Ibis, in this particular shot, went about tending to the daily need of foraging for food.

I really loved my trip and my only regret was that I couldn’t have quadruple the time I had to hang out with friends and for exploring city and nature in a more leisurely manner.  However I am so grateful for the experience and being able to see old friends as well as both old and new places. And yes, I miss it all, already.


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The Birds and Where They Take Me

“A wise old owl sat on an oak;
The more he saw the less he spoke;
The less he spoke the more he heard;
Why aren’t we like that wise old bird?”
– Old English Nursery Rhyme

At the end of January, I drove back up to William L Finley Wildlife Refuge.  Going there gives me a chance to see wildlife. Though I am surrounded by wilderness where I live, it is a lot of wilderness and unlike Wyoming or perhaps Colorado, the wildlife is not abundant; many times when I’m out hiking, the woods seem devoid of animal life. While I’ve seen otters or beavers on the rivers, it’s been the rare exception and not the norm.  At the wildlife refuge, I can practice taking photographs of birds, and I also have really  started to love the type of terrains that have been set aside for the wintering dusky Canada geese and other birds.

Anyway, while I was there, there were herons and egrets, and of course lots of geese and ducks – the usual treat.  As I’ve gotten older I’m drawn more and more to birds, but they are a challenge to me as a photographer. They’re small (compared to mammals) and they’re fast. I have a telephoto lens, but not as big as the ones that professional bird photographers generally use.  Another challenge birds present for me is that, to be honest, I’ve never really been a patient person. I consider “patience” to be right up there on my list of life lessons – a recurring theme, and one I have improved at, but certainly haven’t mastered. However, I’ve been given the opportunity to practice this skill as over the last two years I’ve “discovered” a number of bird reserves nearby; William L Finley and Fern Ridge both are within an hour’s drive from me.

Near the last viewing area at Finley, I met a woman and we chatted about the refuge a bit, and she asked me if I had seen the snowy owl.  Apparently there was one seen at Fern Ridge Wildlife Area (down by Eugene and closer to where I live).  I had been to Fern Ridge last summer, but had liked Finley better.  The woman indicated the owl was out by a rock bern. That night, when I looked up the area, I discovered I hadn’t been to this part of Fern Ridge.

The next afternoon I got there and started walking out. I walked and walked, carrying tripod and camera. It turned out to be a mile, but felt much longer because it is a very long straightaway and also a rough gravel path that is not very comfortable to walk on.  There hadn’t been much rain, so the marsh was pretty dry that day and for a winter’s day, fairly warm, but finally there was the rock bern as described. I had seen another couple far ahead of me on the path and they hadn’t come back, so I went around to the west side of the bern.  There was the couple and there was the white head of the owl, which was about all you could see.

The couple left and I had just taken a few photographs, when suddenly the owl decided to fly away. What a let down feeling that was! The square bern was about 5-6 feet high and probably 100 feet long on every side so initially I had no idea where it went, but fortunately it had just relocated to the north side of the bern and was actually more visible.  For the next 30 to 40 minutes I had the owl to myself.  I took a lot of pictures, and despite spot metering and adjusting my exposure for his whiteness, later I still had some images with blown highlights. The owl would be facing away, and I’d try to creep forward. Then its head would swivel around and I’d freeze. I felt like I was playing Simon Says!

At the end of the period, the owl suddenly stretched up its neck and looked towards the south with its eyes getting very round and large. I guessed other people were coming.  Sure enough, the owl took off.  I thought this time it was gone for good. I  picked my way across the soggy marsh, going west, south until I was back on the path and heading east. I could now see a couple of new arrivals and some more people coming from further down the path.  When I got to the east side of the bern, I was surprised to see the white head of the owl, again just barely visible behind the rocks.  I pointed it out to the new arrivals, but I wasn’t going to stay – however I started talking to one man who had been there a few days before.  He recommended a book to read about snowy owls, Wesley the owl.

Meanwhile two serious photographers had arrived with their equally serious and huge camera lenses and heavy tripods.  One proceeded to climb up the bern (despite the sign saying it was a restricted area). He moved stealthily towards the owl.  The other photographer set up his equipment near myself and the other bird watcher. He allowed me to look through his lens which was a prime 500mm with a 1.4 converter. What a treat that was! Meanwhile the photographer on top of the bern startled the owl. It flew forward, but only a couple of feet and again became more visible – so I ended up staying another hour at least 🙂 and had fun photographing with the one photographer who is a very talented bird photographer.

I went back to the area a couple of days ago. The owl was still there but not in a mood for visitors.  I had set my mind not to have expectations, so I decided just to enjoy the environment.

A few days before I had watched Maleficent.  I’m not really a Disney movie fan, but there was one part of the movie that really got to me. It was when Angela Jolie’s character was talking about her wings which had been taken from her. I’ve always had this special feeling about flying.  From a young age, I had flying dreams, and there was never anything that could compare to that feeling. Later when I went through a period of having lucid dreams, immediately I would choose to take flight in my dreams. Later, I’d take myself to task for not trying anything else while in a lucid dream, but no, I’d always end up in the air!

That afternoon I was walking back from the bern.  The day was ending, the shadows were long. There’s a peculiar stillness that seems to settle in almost imperceptibly – a calm that is peaceful rather than silent. Overhead a group of Brant geese took flight and circled round. I went to sit in a blind. I heard and then saw a red-winged blackbird in a nearby tree. Below the blind, two geese paddled away from me in the water and then waddled onshore. I heard the cry of a hawk. I was tired and made my way back to the car, taking one last look across the marsh. I heard their honking, and overhead there was a V-shape of Dusky Canada Geese flying past. I felt my heart tug. They fly as if they are one, as if the air connects them telepathically.  They fly, a single-minded arrow with purpose. Unlike the Brant geese earlier, these geese are higher in the air, soaring over the beautiful marsh, rising like a balloon freed from a child’s grasp, and as they are leaving, they continue to call. They call to one another, but it feels like they are calling to me. If I could, I would have given anything in the world in that moment to rise up and join them.