Brain Fog

Ah, Saturday.  A day to get things done that I want to do instead of things I have to do.  But there seems to have been a problem with that plan.

It all started when I made the mistake of logging on to my work computer.  I did this for the purpose of changing my password because it was about to expire and I didn’t want to be locked out.  The problem started in that I had to open my inbox.  One should never open one’s inbox when one only wants to work for 5 minutes.  2 ½ hours later, I realized I was still in my PJs, my dog hadn’t been out yet, and most of the morning was gone.

After taking care of Tisen, I spent some time trying to get my head around my latest volunteer gig–I’m now the photo contest chair for the local photography club.  I had no idea how complicated it is to organize a photography contest.  The good news is that it’s fun and I’m getting to know more people.

I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but another couple of hours disappeared between testing FileZilla and realizing it was time to take the dog out again.  I decided I was not going to appear for a second time in the park in my PJs and headed for the shower.

. . . .

At the end of our walk, Tisen and I passed a chattering Belted Kingfisher hunting for fish over the wetland.

Now, I know it’s a long shot, but I figured something had to go right today, so maybe it would be getting a shot of the kingfisher?  My trusty iPhone is worthless when it comes to bird photography.  I rushed the last 100 yards of Tisen’s walk to get home and get my DSLR.  5 minutes later, the elevator reached the ground floor at the exact moment I realized the battery in my camera was dead.

Back up.  Back down.  Low and behold!  The kingfisher was still hunting over the wetland!  I crept down the long slope to the water, not looking at the bird.  Carefully, I raised my camera to focus on the bird.  The moment my lens pointed his way, he went chattering off to another section of the wetland, on the far side of a barrier that blocked my view of him.

I tried to move to the other side of the barrier, but as I was climbing over the rock wall, he reappeared, fish in his mouth, and flew off to enjoy his meal where he was never to be seen again.

This is when I discovered it is possible to do landscape photography with a 70-200mm lens and no tripod.  It’s kind of funny, really.  I think I started out doing landscape photography with the “wrong” lens and no tripod.  Today, it felt like a brand new epiphany.  As I searched for a subject, I discovered fog rising off the river.  Now that was fun.

High Water

It's hard to tell if there is any separation between the wetland and the river

It’s hard to tell if there is any separation between the wetland and the river

The other day, the water levels reached a new high.  I decided to go grab a few shots from the common room balcony where I had shot the landscape in times of normal water levels for comparison.

Taken last June before the drought dropped the water levels

Taken last June before the drought dropped the water levels–previously the highest I’d seen it

Two things distracted me.  First, I started experimenting with the in-camera HDR feature since there was a lot of contrast between the wetland (in the shadows) and the sky.  Second, the clouds were interesting.  They never got really colorful–I watched until the sun was well below the horizon–but they were making some pretty interesting shapes.

All of these images are the HDR version of the image created in the camera.

My favorite cloud

My favorite cloud

On the one hand, I get better dynamic range using Photomatix.  On the other hand, I didn’t have to do any special post-processing to get these and given that I didn’t start processing photos until after midnight, I appreciate that.

I will try processing the 3 exposures using Photomatix and doing a comparison when I have some more time (like that will ever happen), but for now, I feel like the feature did improve the dynamic range of the image some and I didn’t have to do as much work.

I should also note that the clouds were moving, yet the in-camera feature managed to match them up across 3 images and then crop the image to the size that worked with the data it had.  While I wasn’t crazy about the cropping, I thought the matching worked very well.

Bed is calling . . .

Getting Rosy as the sun goes down

Getting Rosy as the sun goes down

Private Moments and a Merlin

My first Green Heron of the season--usually, I see them daily at the park, but not during the birdathon

My first Green Heron of the season–usually, I see them daily at the park, but not during the birdathon

Continuing our excursion through the VW wetland, we made our way around to the far side of the wetland from our entry point.  This side was on the VW plant side.  They were doing a lot of construction between the wetland and the plant, but they had installed a protective barrier between the construction zone and the wetland to keep runoff from the construction from upsetting the balance of the ecosystem.

Because water does need to run from the construction area to the wetland, they installed a large pipe between the two that went under the barrier.  At the end of the pipe leading to the wetland, they installed what might have looked like a giant balloon waiting to be inflated and twisted into a life-sized balloon horse except that it was a dull, opaque black color.  It laid on the ground piled on itself looking lifeless and discarded.  Our guide told us it was a silt bag used to collect all the dirt and silt in the construction runoff.  When water is running through quickly, it does indeed inflate.  However, no one has yet tried to twist it into a life-sized balloon horse.

A tree full of Great Blue Heron on the far side of the wetland

A tree full of Great Blue Heron on the far side of the wetland

As we made our way around the end of the wetland, we got closer to the array of solar panels.  It was pretty darn impressive to see the field of panels growing electricity.  Our guide told us that over 20% of the power consumed by the plant comes from the solar panels outside the wetland.  This is an impressive amount of electricity when one considers how much power a manufacturing facility like that uses.  The Eastern Meadowlark definitely thought it was worth singing about–he perched on the edge of the panels and sung his heart out for us.

Spotting the Merlin at the end of a very thin-looking tree branch

Spotting the Merlin at the end of a very thin-looking tree branch

This was also about the time that everyone’s last cup of coffee kicked in.  First one person disappeared into a wooded area.  Next, another one started wandering towards the woods.  When we started following her, she stopped, turned and said, “I need a private moment.”  We all laughed at ourselves for blindly following her.  Next it was my turn.

This is one of those occasions when being able to spot poison ivy makes the difference between life and painful suffering.  I am skilled at spotting poison ivy at any stage of development–young poison ivy vines before the leaves sprout, fresh purple leaves dripping with toxic oils when they first burst forth, ancient hairy vines twisted around the trunk of a tree.  Unfortunately, I know all this because I’ve gotten it so many ways over the decade I’ve been allergic to it.

The Merlin seems to be testing the wind as he twists about, thinking about flying

The Merlin seems to be testing the wind as he twists about, thinking about flying

After I rejoined the group, I discovered they were all looking at a Merlin.  It graciously  remained in full view, perched long enough for me to get quite a few shots, although being about 100 yards closer would have yielded some really amazing images.  This was a life-list bird for me–I’ve never seen one before.  What a great day.

Off goes the Merlin

Off goes the Merlin

How Much Wood Would a Wood Duck Chuck?

This guy knows how to impress the ladies

This guy knows how to impress the ladies

Bright and early Saturday morning, I joined my fellow birders in a walk around the VW wetland.  After we saw many heron perched on their nests in a giant heron rookery and a collection of Canada Geese roosting on top of a beaver hut, we made our way back through the brambles to a trail that allowed us to circle the wetland.

This took a little bush-whacking.  Well, whacking may be an exaggeration.  It was more like taking 3 steps forward and then freezing in place when caught in the brambles and peeling the brambles off carefully, trying not to rip skin in the process.  Then, three more steps forward.  Fortunately, once we made it to the trail cut by the surveyors, we were able to make good progress.

She may look indifferent, but I think she's just being coy

She may look indifferent, but I think she’s just being coy

Everyone develops their own methodology for getting through brambles.  I think there are 3 main approaches to bramble thrashing, which one you choose is generally dependent on what you are wearing.

Still not optimally lit, this male Orchard Oriole impressed us with his song

Still not optimally lit, this male Orchard Oriole impressed us with his song

The three main approaches to brambles were:  1) accelerate through them as fast as possible and stop for nothing (approach taken by people who had on several layers and/or thick skin and who don’t care much for their top layer), 2)  Accelerate until you get stuck and then stop (approach taken by people with several layers but who do care about not ruining their top layer), and 3) Pick you way through slowly and carefully (approach taken by people with not enough layers to protect their skin).  I tended to fall into the 2nd category while our guide fell into the first. We didn’t have many people in the third category except when bare hands got tangled in thorns.

If this guy had moved just  a bit more, you would be able to tell he's a beautiful Orchard Oriole

If this guy had moved just a bit more, you would be able to tell he’s a beautiful Orchard Oriole

Thankfully, we all made it to the cleared trail with a minimal number of scratches.  We worked our way around slowly, passing the top of a major beaver dam in the process.  The work of the beavers was quite impressive–a testament to the expression “busy beaver.”  They had built a dam that must have been a good 50 feet wide or more.  It enclosed one end of the wetland, creating a waterfall given the amount of rain we’d been having.  On the other side of the dam, the wetland continued.   We was a second dam that had been broken apart.  Apparently the humans have to break the second dam every couple of days to keep the water from getting too backed up in the wetland.  The beavers are busy indeed.

As we came around the bend of the wetland, we spotted a male wood duck siting on top of a snag in the middle of a bright sunbeam.  As we all admired him, one of our group was looking at a different wood duck on tip of a different snag–it was the mate.  The male showed off for her, obviously trying to get her attention.  She ruffled her feathers and acted indifferent, but I suspect they lived happily every after.

I'm pretty sure this is the wood duck equivalent of "shaking your booty"

I’m pretty sure this is the wood duck equivalent of “shaking your booty”

Tisen looking for food (I think)

Tisen looking for food (I think)


Volkswagen Feuchtgebiet

One lone heron in silhouette on its nest

One lone heron in silhouette on its nest

5:15AM seems to be a time I can’t quite get away from.  When my alarm went off Saturday morning, I was not enthusiastic about getting out of bed.  But, I reminded myself I was going to get to see the wetland at the VW plant here in Chattanooga in exchange for getting up at this ungodly hour on a Saturday and rolled out of bed.

The drive to the VW plant was about a 25 minute drive with no traffic.  I was surprised that many of the transplants from Germany live in my building–seems like a long way to go twice a day.  But, then, I guess driving around the block seems like a long way to go to me.

Due to a road closing, we had to meet at a back entrance and then share rides with those who had trucks to get into the wetland.  We were hosted by the VW environmentalist.  She exuded pride in how environmentally friendly VW is, but the healthy wetland, bordered by a field of solar panels, spoke more loudly than she did.

A Swamp Sparrow flitting by the edge of the wetland

A Swamp Sparrow flitting by the edge of the wetland

At my Friday morning yoga class, I’d mentioned to one of my fellow students that I was going to the VW wetland the next morning.  He told me that his mother had worked at the same site when it was a TNT plant some 40ish years ago.  He told me that when she went to work, she had to take her pantyhose off and pack them tightly into a plastic bag or the hose would literally dissolve from the toxicity in the air.  I cannot imagine going into a place every day to work where nylon is dissolved in the air.

This is like a "Where's Waldo," but I swear there's a Yellow-breasted Chat in there

This is like a “Where’s Waldo,” but I swear there’s a Yellow-breasted Chat in there

This makes an amazing contrast to the site today.  I don’t know what cleanup efforts took place between the days when gun powder was made here and today, but I do know that wetlands act as kidneys.  They help strain out the toxins in an area and prevent them from getting into the larger water system and polluting streams, rivers, and even oceans.  The loss of wetland has been a major contributor to the loss of aquatic life and clean water.

Beavers created the wetland dams--but we only found Canada Geese

Beavers created the wetland dams–but we only found Canada Geese

Fortunately, VW treasures their wetland and makes a great deal of effort to maintain and protect it.  It’s green and pulsing with life.  The Great Blue Heron have discovered this area and built a rookery here.  I remember the first time I saw a rookery a few years back.  It was the most amazing discovery to me that these giant, awkward birds that look like they couldn’t perch on a 2” wide beam build stick nests in the tops of trees.

That they do so in groups where there may be dozens of nests all in the same group of trees makes their nesting habits even more interesting.  A normally solitary bird that joins to form a village each spring when it’s time to nest, looking like a miniature village of Pterodactyls–it’s fascinating.

A small portion of the heron rookery over the VW Wetland

A small portion of the heron rookery over the VW Wetland–notice the chicks in the nest to the left


It’s been a long week.  I’m tired and feeling uninspired.  On days like this, I really want to do something quick and easy by crossing the street to the park, but how many times can a person shoot in the same park?  I’m not in the mood to go macro.  It’s late enough that the light is getting really nice and I hate to not shoot landscape.

As I’m deciding what to do, an email with a blog post that’s a collection of images of reflections.  I immediately think of the wetland in the park and feel suddenly inspired.

I put my 16-35mm lens on my camera and take nothing else except my tripod and my loupe.  Tisen looks at me hopefully and I realize I won’t be going alone.

I sling my tripod bag over my shoulder, hold my camera up off my neck along with my loupe and then pick up Tisen’s leash in my free hand.  Tisen grabs Puppy Love and we head out.

We walk down the street, making many motorists smile (I assume this is because Tisen has a purple stuffed heart in his mouth that says “Puppy Luv” and not because I am wearing five finger shoes, my hair is sticking up weird because it dried while I had my glasses on my head, or because I’m carrying an oddly shaped bag over my shoulder.

We make it across the street and down to the wetland where I set up my tripod very low to the ground.

People are standing on the end of the viewing deck above the wetland and I can hear them talking about me.  They are wondering what I’m doing.  I do not hear any words like “insane” or “dangerous” and no cops come running up, so I assume they at least realize I’m unarmed (I’ve heard stories about people calling the cops because of a photographer’s tripod making people think they were a crazed gunman).

Tisen is not being the most cooperative photographer’s dog today.  He winds himself around the legs of my tripod and lays down right in the middle.  I have to untangle the leash and adjust the legs so they’re not in contact with Tisen to avoid him introducing vibration and blur into my photos.  I hear the people overhead chuckling.

We have a lovely time working our way around the wetland looking for interesting shots–and trying to keep Tisen out of them.  I only got a few of reflections, but at least I found something to capture my interest.

We pass a mourning dove whose been nesting on an abandoned nest from last year.  I try to get a shot, but, of course, one of the hazards of leaving the house only with a 16-35mm lens is that when these opportunities present themselves, it’s tough to get a shot worth looking at.

Tisen is worn out from our adventure and quickly makes himself comfortable on the couch when we return home.