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THE BIRDS OF FLORIDA PT 2. - THE ROSEATE SPOONBILL

January 16, 2015  •  1 Comment

 

The Roseate Spoonbill was a bird I did not know about before I moved to Florida and another great reason to move here. The Roseate is a bird that people mistake for a flamingo because of their bright pink color. You would think that its pink coloring would be its most distinctive characteristic but it is not.The most distinctive characteristic of the roseate spoonbill is its long spoon-shaped bill, as you can see in the image above that is one strange looking bill but highly efficient. Spoonbills consume a varied diet of small fish, amphibians, aquatic invertebrates, and some plant material. They feed in the early morning and evening hours by wading through shallow water with their bills partially submerged. As a Roseate Spoonbill walks it swings its head back and forth in a sideways motion. When the bird feels a prey item it snaps its bill closed, pulls the prey out of the water, and swallows it.

Other characteristics is its  white head and chest and light pink wings with a darker pink fringe and very long pink legs. The roseate spoonbill is about two and a half feet in length with a wingspan of about four and a half feet. Both males and females have the same plumage and coloring. The male is slightly larger than the female and its bill is a little longer.

The roseate spoonbill nests in colonies. Males and females pair off for the breeding season and build a nest together. They build large nests of sticks lined with grass and leaves. The nests are built in trees. The female spoonbill lays two to four eggs. Both the female and the male incubate the eggs. The chicks hatch in about three weeks and fledge in around 35 to 42 days. Both the male and female feed the chicks until they are about eight weeks old. Young roseate spoonbills have white feathers with a slight pink tinge on the wings. They don't reach maturity until they are three years old. A great place to see them up close is at the St.Augustine's Alligator Farm. They have a rookery and during the months from March through August many of the great birds we see in Florida, including the Spoonbill can be seen there as they fly in and out building their nest, hatching their eggs and feeding the chicks till they are ready to fly off. There is an admission fee but if you are a Nature photographer or just want to see these birds up close it is well worth the cost. But you can also see them in many areas of Florida and in many communities or wetlands

This image was taken at a pond in my community in Port Saint Lucie about a mile walk from my house. 

The roseate spoonbill can be found on the coasts of Texas, Louisiana and southern Florida. It is also found in the tropics and in Central and South America. If you live anywhere in these areas, they live in mangrove swamps, tidal ponds, saltwater lagoons and other areas with brackish water, go and look for them. They will not disappoint, as you can see in these images.

 
Most spoonbills do not breed until they enter their third year. Courtship displays include ritualized exchanges of nest material, dancing and bill clapping. Copulation occurs at the nest site. The female builds a strong cup nest of sticks and twigs utilizing materials brought to her by the male. The Florida population prefers to nest in red and black mangroves, sometimes in conjunction with Wood Storks and herons. The Texas and Louisiana populations often nest on the ground in off-shore island mixed colonies with gulls, terns, and herons.
The female lays three cream colored eggs marked with darker brown spots. Incubation takes 22 to 24 days, with both parents sharing the incubation duties. The newly hatched chick appears to be mostly pink skin with a sparse covering of white down and an orange bill, legs and feet. The parents feed the chick by dribbling regurgitated material into their upturned bills. At one month of age the partially feathered chick begins to exercise by clambering about in the branches or foliage surrounding the nest. They fledge at six weeks of age.
 
The lovely pink feathers of the Roseate Spoonbill were highly prized for use in the construction of ladies' fans at the turn of the century. This made Spoonbills one of the favorite targets of the professional plume hunters that decimated so many species of wading birds. By the 1930's the once thriving Florida population had dropped to an historic low of 30 to 40 breeding pairs, nesting only in a few small colonies on the keys of Florida Bay. Once they gained full legal protection from hunting the species began to rebound.
Now over a thousand pairs nest in Florida. The ground nesting colonies in Texas and Louisiana are extremely vulnerable to any predator that can make its way to their off shore islands. Entire colonies have been known to shift locations. As suitable sites become increasingly scarce due to coastal development birds may be forced to continue to nest in vulnerable sites. Some populations show high levels of pesticide levels in their eggs but they do not appear to be significantly impaired by egg shell thinning at this time.
 We as a people need to keep protecting these beautiful birds, as well as all the other amazing birds that we write about. There is something so beautiful as seeing a Roseate Spoonbill flying in our deep blues skies here in Florida. Come to Florida and see why many of us that live here call it Paradise, especially for the Nature Lovers !!!

 


THE BIRDS OF FLORIDA PART 1: THE GREAT EGRET

January 03, 2015  •  3 Comments

One of the many great things about living in Florida is the amazing variety of birds. If you're a nature photographer, it's even more so. I had seen some of these wonderful creatures but not all of them. Today, I am starting a series of photo essays that I hope will inform my readers with pertinent information plus our images of these beautiful birds.

Today we will start with, in my opinion the most elegant, of the birds of Florida. The elegant Great Egret is a dazzling sight in many a North American wetland. Slightly smaller and more svelte than a Great Blue Heron, these are still large birds with impressive wingspans. They hunt in classic heron fashion, standing immobile or wading through wetlands to capture fish with a deadly jab of their yellow bill. Great Egrets were hunted nearly to extinction for their plumes in the late nineteenth century, sparking conservation movements and some of the first laws to protect birds.

Great Egrets are tall, long-legged wading birds with long, S-curved necks and long, dagger-like bills.

In flight, the long neck is tucked in and the legs extend far beyond the tip of the short tail. All feathers on Great Egrets are white. Their bills are yellowish-orange and the legs black.

 

Great Egrets wade in shallow water (both fresh and salt) to hunt fish, frogs, and other small aquatic animals. They typically stand still and watch for unsuspecting prey to pass by. Then, with startling speed, the egrets strike with a jab of their long neck and bill.

 

You’ll find Great Egrets in both freshwater and saltwater habitats. They are colonial nesters, typically placing stick nests high in trees, often on islands that are isolated from mammalian predators such as raccoons.

 

A FEW FUN FACTS;

The Great Egret is the symbol of the National Audubon Society, one of the oldest environmental organizations in North America. Audubon was founded to protect birds from being killed for their feathers.

The oldest known Great Egret was 22 years, 10 months old and was banded in Ohio.

The pristinely white Great Egret gets even more dressed up for the breeding season. A patch of skin on its face turns neon green, and long plumes grow from its back. Called aigrettes, those plumes were the bane of egrets in the late nineteenth century, when such adornments were prized for ladies’ hats.

 

Great Egrets fly slowly but powerfully. With just two wingbeats per second, their cruising speed is around 25 miles an hour.

 

Not all young that hatch survive the nestling period. Aggression among nestlings is common and large chicks frequently kill their smaller siblings. This behavior, known as siblicide, is not uncommon among birds such as hawks, owls and herons and is often a result of poor breeding conditions in a given year.

Measurements

Both Sexes

Length

37–40.9 in

94–104 cm

Wingspan

51.6–57.1 in

131–145 cm

Weight

35.3 oz 

1000 g

Relative Size

 

These birds are smaller than a Great Blue Heron but larger than a Snowy Egret.

I hope you enjoyed reading about these wonderfully elegant birds and seeing our images of them. They can be seen all around Florida and especially in our area of the Treasure Coast. In fact I think they are part of the treasure!!


MY POST PROCESSING TECHNIQUE --PURISTS BEWARE !!!

December 02, 2014  •  2 Comments

 

“Dodging and burning are steps to take care of mistakes God made in establishing tonal relationships.”

 

“There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.

If I said these words to many people, including (the 'PURIST Photographers'), they would say I was cheating, that my images were not 'honest'. They might have that opinion of me BUT I didn't say these words. The great Ansel Adams, the man most photographers consider the best landscape photographer of all time, did say them. Ansel is considered by most photography scholars to be a great photographer and a Master Printer. He would spend the whole day in the darkroom working on a single image. He would dodge and burn all his prints and would use an enlarger to crop around the edges of his prints. Am I saying that I feel any image manipulation is alright? Nope, at least not for me. I will extract something out of my images but would not, as an example, add a elephant to a beautiful river scene. Do I object anyone else doing that? Yes, unless they tell the viewer upfront. Is this me doing one thing but saying another? I do not think so. You may but that's okay.

RAW shooters: The RAW format is actually what your camera sees. It creates a big file with all the required raw information, untouched, and delivers it to you for your processing pleasure. I would guess that almost all professional photographers shoot in RAW.

A RAW image is seriously an ugly image. The colors are bland and lack contrast and saturation.

A RAW image is equivalent to a negative. It needs to be processed to make the true picture appear. The difference is that the darkroom has been replaced by a software on a computer. It takes less space and does the same thing without the chemical fumes.

I will now try and walk you through my Post Processing Steps for one image. It could and most likely would change for another image.

The picture above is a RAW file that I have imported into Lightroom 5. You can see it is not a very attractive image.

This next picture, made from a Raw file, has been processed it in Lightroom's Develop module. You can see some of the adjustments I have made in the right panel and also on the left in the history section. I am not going over each adjustment individually because quite frankly, it wouldn't be much help to you unless you were working on this same image. You can see that I adjusted almost every slider in the basic section on the right including cropping to a 8X10 size image. By doing so, I eliminated the twig in the bottom of the picture (not the only way I could have taken it out). In the history section, you can see that I adjusted the Camera Profile Section. I always adjust that section for every image.

To get a more JPEG-like starting place for your raw image, here's what to do; Go to the develop module and scroll down to the Camera Calibration panel. There's a Profile pop-up menu near the top of this panel where you'll find a number of profiles based on your camera's make and model (It reads the image file's embedded EXIF data to find this). Not all camera brands or models are supported but most recent Nikon and Canon DSLRs are along with some Pentax, Sony, Olympus, Leica and Kodak models. (Lightroom is adding more each year) These profiles mimic camera profiles you could have applied in-camera (but are ignored when you shoot in RAW). The default profile is Adobe Standard which looks pretty average, if you ask me. (THIS LAST PARAGRAPH IS TAKEN FROM SCOTT KELBY's LIGHTROOM 4 BOOK) Scott's books are a must read for new Lightroom users, in my opinion)

I use one of the profiles in this image called the Camera Landscape profile. When I am photographing nature or landscapes, I always use this profile. Try it once and I think you will make it a 'must do' adjustment. You can see a major improvement in the image already but I am not through.

By the way, a little suggestion from me when your using LR 4 or 5. The Noise Reduction Section is fantastic. I no longer use a third party program to reduce noise because that's how good it is. The Sharpening Section though really improved over previous editions of LR is not my first choice for most images. I feel that Photoshop's Smart Sharpening is far superior.

If you look in the basic section, you can see a Highlight slider and a Shadow slider which is basically a way to dodge or burn your images. Ansel would have loved these sliders, to a point. The sliders Dodge and Burn globally, which means they address the whole image not just a part. With some other tools in LR , PS and third party products, you can do spot adjustments. I'll mention one of these coming up. But now onto Photoshop, which I travel to by right clicking my mouse and picking export to Photoshop.

We are now in the Photoshop editor. I will extract some small things that bother me using a combination of the spot healing brush and content aware tool. In this image, it was some of the dark spots of dirt. From here, I will then export the image into a third party filter named Color Efex Pro 4 by Nik Filters (this is my go to digital filter).

The filter I use the most is the Tonal Contrast Filter which has four settings. The Fine Setting or Standard Setting are my usual choices depending on the image. The other filter that I use in almost every image is the Darken/Lighten Center filter. With this, I have more control over which small sections I want to burn or dodge. It's a great tool. I think Ansel would be using it today.

After I am finished in Nik, I travel back to PS where usually all I have left is sharpening in the Smart Sharpen Tool. In this Screen Shot, you can see my settings for this and most landscape or nature images. I am not saying this is the only setting or the best one. It's just mine.

At this point, I would move back to LR to do a final check on the image. If satisfied, I would export it to one of my external drives.

I would like to make a few final points. The title of this post includes the words 'MY Post Processing Steps'. In NO way am I stating that this is the best or the singular method and you need to follow from point to point. I am just saying it's my way and it's an answer to questions people have asked about how I post process and what tools I use.

If you follow my post, you may have noticed that I do not call my images, pictures. The reason for this is that I feel what comes out of the camera is indeed a picture. But it's not until I work on it, making it the best I can, that produces the final product. In my mind, then, it's an image!!


VIC'S ON THE RIVER RESTAURANT AND BAR, SAVANNAH GEORGIA

July 30, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

With our move down to Florida from New Hampshire, we have driven back and forth eight or nine times. On almost every trip, we have stayed in Savannah for at least one night and one of the reasons for our visits is Vic's On The River. Vic's a really great restaurant located on East Bay Street near City Hall with the entrance located on Factors Walk. There is also an entrance at 15 East River Street where you take the elevator up to the fourth floor where the main dining room is located.

What do we like about Vic's? Pretty much everything including the decor, the location on the banks of the Savannah River, delicious food with a southern attitude and great service. The bar is a wonderful place to either enjoy your meal or have a cocktail made by Angie. As an aside, you have to love a place that calls itself a bar not a lounge. 

The building was built in 1859 and houses more than just Vic's. There is a store and a hotel among other businesses.

The building's history is pretty interesting as described in this section on their web site.

 In 1858, John Stoddard had this building commissioned to be designed and built by the famous New York architect, John Norris. He was one of three major architects in Savannah at the time, along with William Jay and Charles B. Clusky. Some of John Norris’ Savannah works include the Andrew Low House, the Cotton Exchange, the Mercer House, and the Meldrim-Green House. Completed in 1859, this building was originally used as a warehouse and later housed Steven Shipping Company. The lower floors were known as John Stoddard’s Lower Range and the top floors as John Stoddard’s Upper Range.
    
During the War Between The States, General Sherman’s lesser officers used this building’s empty offices for housing and planning space. Our main dining room showcases a map that was hand-drawn by Union soldiers detailing Sherman’s march from Tennessee through Georgia. The map was originally found in 1901 during a renovation of the building. Workers were removing the old finish and noticed lines drawn on the wall. A small portion of the map was preserved, while the rest was covered due to damage and wear.

The upscale elegance of Vic's with the warm colored walls, the high ceilings and beautiful dark wood floors adds to a  truly lovely night. Plus the views of the river right outside their windows, with ships moving right by or below, is really fantastic.

To all this add a baby grand piano being played all night and you have a very romantic venue.

There is also an outdoor patio if you would like to eat there. To be honest most nights when we have been there, the heat and humidity made our decision to eat inside very easy.

 

Let's be honest. We do not eat at a restaurant because of the ambiance unless the food is its equal. At Vic's the food actually surpasses the ambiance. From the appetizers to the after dinner cocktails everything is a treat.

​My favorite appetizer is the BEST Fried Green Tomatoes I have ever eaten and I have eaten my share. They are served with a tomato chutney and goat cheese. (Does goat cheese ever NOT go with anything?) The beautiful presentation shows a lightly golden coating that is fried to perfection, not greasy or hard but just perfect. 

Phyllis had the baked oysters made with melted leeks, fennel and country ham plus a parmesan cheese granite's which she shared. It was simply delicious! The taste of the sea blends so well with the sweetness of the leeks and ham on your tongue. It was a really wonderful beginning to our meal.

A dinner salad was included and was really refreshing. Those corn bread croutons were a nice touch.

I had a glass of pinot grigio and Phyllis a glass of merlot. They have a great wine list with a good selection of wines by the glass.

Phyllis and I do not usually eat biscuits served in restaurants because of the high fat content. This night we forgot to tell the waiter not to bring them to our table, a big mistake. There they sat these three beautiful light clouds of heaven with a marmalade spread. We decided without speaking to just try a little taste of one. If you have been married as many years as we have you might know what that means. You do not speak about it but continue your conversation while breaking off a small piece and dipping it in the sweet marmalade. If you do not speak about it, somehow it is not so bad, plus you're only going to try a small piece.  Oh sure, just a small piece of one!!

Let's move on to the main course, quickly.

I ordered the seafood pilau; grilled sea scallops, shrimp, Verlasso salmon, Sapelo Island steamed clams with seasonal vegetable basmati rice.

What is a 'purloo'? I would call it a kind of a paella. The seafood was all fresh and delicious and the rice was a favorable compliment to the seafood. All the different seafoods were cooked to perfection and seasoned perfectly. It was definitely a meal I would order on our next trip.

Phyllis ordered a pork belly, scallops and risotto dinner with an apple slaw. The pork belly was cooked to perfection and went well with the scallops. The risotto was delicious and to be honest if the dinner includes risotto, there is a better than even chance it will be Phyllis's dinner!!

We were too full to have dessert, blame that on those biscuits! Phyllis went out to the bar while I paid the bill, a good idea if you are looking to sit at the bar which is usually full. When I went out to join Phyllis, she had the one empty chair. I had room to stand next to her and within minutes the couple next to Phyllis left and we both had seats. 

The bartender, who we had met on previous trips, is Angie. She is a really great. She always has a smile on her face, she remembers you even after months of not seeing you and knows your drink: a real old fashion bartender. Well, at least she mixes a great old fashioned, my drink and Phyllis likes cosmos.

After a few cocktails we were on our way to the Hampton Inn which is located right across the street. Another great thing about Vic's is the amount of good hotels within walking distance.

If you are ever in Savannah Georgia and you're looking for a restaurant with great food, service and live piano music, head on over to Vic's. Oh, don't forget the bar and Angie. Tell her we said hello and try her old fashioned with extra cherry water.

http://www.vicsontheriver.com


DECONSTRUCTING THE EIFFEL TOWER IN PARIS WITH IMAGES

July 03, 2014  •  1 Comment

LOOKING ACROSS THE SEINE RIVER AT THE EIFFEL TOWER This was our first real view the Eiffel Tower. We were walking through Paris and reached the point Alexandre 111 Bridge that travels over the Seine River when we saw this view. The tower is such an Iconic structure that I've seen thousands of images in print and movies. When I first saw this view, it was hard not to just gawk at it, to forget I'm a photographer and just look. Which is just what I did. I sat absorbing the fact that I was truly in Paris looking at the Eiffel Tower as it towered over the city! Then I started photographing this historic sight, loving very moment.

When we arrived at the tower this is the first image I made. As I walked under it, I thought how many photographers have photographed this view. After all, when you're close to it like this, the natural point of view is UP.

At that point I decided to try and take images that were not atypical although I doubt that you can make any image of the Eiffel Tower that has not been made millions of times before.

Before moving on let me give you some facts about the tower.

The Eiffel Tower (French: La Tour Eiffel, is an  iron lattice tower located on the  Champs de Mars in Paris. It was named after the engineer Gustave Eiffel, whose company designed and built the tower. Erected in 1889 as the entrance arch to the 1889 World's Fair, it was initially criticized by some of France's leading artists and intellectuals for its design, but has become both a global cultural icon of France and one of the most recognizable structures in the world. The tower is the tallest structure in France and the most-visited paid monument in the world; 6.98 million people ascended it in 2011.The tower received its 250 millionth visitor in 2010.

The tower is 324 meters (1,063 ft) tall, about the same height as an 81-story building. The tower has three levels for visitors, with restaurants on the first and second. The third level observatory's upper platform is 276 m (906 ft) above the ground,[2] the highest accessible to the public in the European Union. Tickets can be purchased to ascend by stairs or elevator to the first and second levels. The climb from ground level to the first level is over 300 steps, as is the walk from the first to the second level. Although there are stairs to the third and highest level, these are usually closed to the public and it is generally only accessible by elevator.

There was work being performed on the tower the day we were there which is why you see scaffolding.

The arches are beautiful and I started isolating them as best I could. Look at the craftsmanship put into each one and remember it was built in 1889! That's just amazing to me...

 

​Here are some of the 72 names of French scientists, mathematicians and engineers that are engraved in recognition of their contributions. Eiffel chose this 'invocation of science' because of his concern over the protest against the tower. The engravings are found on the sides of the tower under the first balcony. The engraving was painted over at the beginning of the twentieth century and restored in 1986–1987 by Société Nouvelle d'exploitation de la Tour Eiffel, a company contracted to operate business related to the Tower. The Tower is owned by the city of Paris. The letters were originally painted in gold and are about 60 cm high. The repainting of 2010/2011 restored the letters to their original gold color.

You might ask why would anyone protest against this Iconic structure. The protest started before it was built.

The projected tower had been a subject of some controversy, attracting criticism from both those who did not believe that it was feasible and those who objected on artistic grounds, whose objections were an expression of a longstanding debate about the relationship between architecture and engineering. This came to a head as work began at the Champ de Mars: A "Committee of Three Hundred" (one member for each meter of the tower's height) was formed, led by the prominent architect Charles Garnier and including some of the most important figures of the French arts establishment, including Adolphe BouguereauGuy de MaupassantCharles Gounod and Jules Massenet: a petition was sent toCharles Alphand, the Minister of Works and Commissioner for the Exposition, and was published by Le Temps.[6]

"We, writers, painters, sculptors, architects and passionate devotees of the hitherto untouched beauty of Paris, protest with all our strength, with all our indignation in the name of slighted French taste, against the erection … of this useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower … To bring our arguments home, imagine for a moment a giddy, ridiculous tower dominating Paris like a gigantic black smokestack, crushing under its barbaric bulk Notre Dame, the Tour Saint-Jacques, the Louvre, the Dome of les Invalides, the Arc de Triomphe, all of our humiliated monuments will disappear in this ghastly dream. And for twenty years … we shall see stretching like a blot of ink the hateful shadow of the hateful column of bolted sheet metal."

 

Gustave Eiffel responded to these criticisms by comparing his tower to the Egyptian Pyramids: "My tower will be the tallest edifice ever erected by man. Will it not also be grandiose in its way? And why would something admirable in Egypt become hideous and ridiculous in Paris?" A great argument, don't you agree?

 

The Tower hovering over a carousel across the way from the tower, I saw this and placed myself in position to make this image.