Making Hay While the Sun…Doesn’t Shine

Last weekend’s trip to Indiana’s Jasper-Pulaski Wildlife Area for crane-viewing didn’t turn out exactly as hoped for due to some extreme weather conditions. Of course I knew the weather forecast in advance, and even made a half-hearted attempt to back out of the trip, but Jim responded with an admonition about not being a sissy.  That was just the kick in the pants I needed, because one of my primary goals in life is to not be a sissy.

So once we got there we were determined to make the best of the situation, and persisted through rain and cold north winds to find the best photo subjects we could. Since the largest numbers of cranes are found near dawn and dusk, the lighting was also a challenge. And since I’m still learning to use my new camera, there were some times I couldn’t change settings quickly enough to get certain shots. But enough with the excuses. Despite all of that, I do have a few things to show you.

Crane viewing platform at Jasper-Pulaski

This is the viewing platform that overlooks the area where the sandhill cranes congregate each morning and evening. Unfortunately, this lovely photo isn’t representative of the rest of my results from the trip, which were all taken in less-than-optimal conditions.

I really like this 30-second video I shot in the pre-dawn light one morning. It shows lots of the birds practicing their courtship dancing moves. And although the lighting is poor, it still gives you a taste of what it’s like to see and hear large numbers of cranes at their daily social gathering.

And although I have many in-flight shots of these birds already, I couldn’t resist trying to get some more. In particular, Jim and I both love the moments when the birds are making the transition from flight to solid ground, dropping their gangly landing gear legs while still hanging in the air. We noticed that some birds would lower their landing gear while still fairly high in the sky, while others would wait until much closer to the ground. That difference could be something to do with age and experience, perhaps.

Sandhill cranes with legs down for landing w sig
Flying monkeys dropping from the sky (poorly focused but still awesome)

In my past writing about this I’ve described them as looking like giant marionettes falling from the sky, but this time I was struck by a new image: the Wicked Witch’s flying monkeys from the Wizard of Oz.  You know the scene when she sends them all out to attack Dorothy and her friends in the woods, right?  This mental image was triggered not only by the visual spectacle, but also the cacophony that accompanied their descent from the cold November sky. I can’t stop smiling when I think of it that way now.

One of the few daylight photos I could salvage was this one. I took a series of rapid shots as one crane dropped down into this small gathering in a grassy field, and got many images of his wings in various positions. This one is my favorite because the wings are fully extended, giving an excellent impression of the enormous size of this bird.

Sandhill crane landing with wings spread fully

In-flight silhouette shots were the easiest to create in low-light conditions, and I really like these two.

Sandhill cranes in flight against dawn sky
Cranes flying into the golden light of the sunrise sky
Moon and ducks at dawn
Duck side of the Moon (my Pink Floyd tribute)

One morning I was tracking the flight of these ducks across the pre-dawn sky and was ready when they crossed in front of the moon. This is one of my favorite shots from the weekend.

When we weren’t at Jasper-Pulaski, we spent time driving around surrounding areas shooting trees and other nature scenes. The rain had provided us with lots of opportunities to use the moody fog in our compositions.

Fog and lone tree with reflection in water

Fog and two big oak trees

I’ve been enchanted with the photographic possibilities of trees for many years. I usually seek out isolated trees, as in the first photo above. But this scene was great too, with the structural interest of the big oaks, the curving country road, and the fog in the air. This one was edited using a NIK filter, thanks to Jim’s excellent suggestion. I could (and quite likely will) spend hours playing with these filters on my photos.

Algae-covered creek and beaver dam w sig

The bright green of the algae in this scene was a welcome and cheerful display of color on a rainy day. Notice the beaver dam crossing the waterway just behind the algae.

Finally, here’s a scene we shot under threat of lightning and pouring rain.  I think it was worth it.

Woods with color and fog resized w sig

I’m glad to find out I’m not a sissy after all. 😉 I had a great time and learned a lot on this trip, and will be better prepared for my next challenging photography outing.

Foggy Day in the Park

I love fog. There are usually a few days each year, in the late winter or early spring, when we wake up to find the landscape around our house shrouded in mist. In a really good fog we can’t even see the road, and our property becomes a wooded island far from anywhere.

Trees in fog - banner styleI wrote about one of these a while back and showed you some of my photos, and now I want to share some new ones, taken just a few days ago. I’d predicted we’d get a foggy day soon, because we still had lots of snow on the ground and the temperatures were slowly inching up into the 40s and 50s. I’m no meteorologist, but I think that’s a pretty good recipe for fog. So when we had a foggy day last week I high-tailed it over to the park as soon as I could, knowing that the 500-acre lake would make for some interesting shots. I removed my 400mm birding lens and put my wide-angle lens on the camera for some landscape photos.

Turkey in the fogWithin the first 100 feet of the entrance road I spotted this turkey strolling along beside me. I grabbed my little point-and-shoot camera and got a couple shots off before he fled into the mist. Turkeys are very skittish; I’d think such large birds would be a bit braver. But maybe it’s because they’re hunted and they know humans are bad news.

Big tree in fog
I really like this one.

I walked out among the scattered trees in a big field, looking for some good ones to shoot. This park is one of my favorites, and I usually feel that I know it pretty well. But walking in the fog made it all feel new and different, like someplace far from home where something magical could happen. It almost wouldn’t have surprised me to see a unicorn walk out of that mist, that’s how other-worldly it felt.

Believe it or not, there's a 500-acre lake out there somewhere.
Believe it or not, there’s a 500-acre lake out there somewhere.

Did you know there are various types of fog? I didn’t either. According to the National Weather Service, there’s advection fog, radiation fog, upslope fog, ice fog, freezing fog, and evaporation fog. So I’m thinking our fog was the advection type, caused by warmer air moving over the cool snow on the ground and ice on the lake. (If you want to read more about these types of fog, here’s where I found that info.) The National Weather Service website ends their fog page with a warning about driving in fog, saying that it’s important not to use your high-beam headlights in fog because your visibility will be reduced even more. I did know that. (Jeopardy, here I come….)

Road to Nowhere
Road to Nowhere

My family had a very scary experience while driving in heavy fog on a vacation many years ago. We were on the freeway with my dad driving–he’s an excellent and safe driver, so we were going verry slowly and keeping plenty of distance between us and the other cars. But suddenly a pair of headlights came out of the fog headed toward us — another driver had somehow gotten disoriented and was driving on the wrong side of the freeway. I remember how our hearts jumped into our throats as we watched that car pass beside us, knowing that we’d narrowly escaped tragedy as the other car disappeared into the mist behind us. A foggy day is not a day for driving, that’s for sure!

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

~ Carl Sandburg

Bikers in the fog
Bikers in the fog