Showing posts with label Photography. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Photography. Show all posts

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Review of Attracting Birds to My Backyard

                                                    

Black-capped Chickadee


I have often been asked how I attract the large variety of birds to our backyard.  In the past  several years I have documented 31 different types of birds.  I believe that the wide variety of food that I put out for the birds helps to attract different types of birds.  These birds provide hours of entertainment for my husband and me.  In this post I will share with you the different types of bird food.

Mixed Variety Bird Seed

In several of my bird feeders, I use a mixed variety of bird seed. This type of mixture includes sunflower seeds along with other mixed seeds.  I have not found any one brand that seems to be better in attracting birds, so I usually buy whatever is on sale.  Here is the type that I purchased last.

                                                   



In the photos below you will see the variety of birds that enjoy the mixed bird seed that I keep in several different feeders in our backyard.





Nyjer Bird Seed

I have a finch feeder that I keep filled with Nyjer seed.  These seeds are small black seeds that don't fall through the small mesh of the feeder.  This feeder attracts many different birds, but it is particularly popular with finches.  In the photo below you will see Goldfinch enjoying the Nyjer seed.


The birds in this photo look like they have spotty or dirty looking feathers.  That is due to the fact that this photo was taken in early spring and they were still molting.

                                              


Suet Nuggets

This year I have started to put suet nuggets in a feeder.  This food has become very popular with woodpeckers.  Downy woodpeckers are frequent visitors of the nugget feeder.




I sometimes put whole peanuts in this feeder.  They last longer than the nuggets but I find it hard to tell when the feeder is empty because the empty peanut shells are left behind.  Here is a Red-bellied Woodpecker enjoying the peanuts.




                                                            


Suet Cakes

Another popular bird food is suet cakes.  I keep one hanging in my backyard feeding area year round.  They are frequented by a wide variety of birds.  In the photo below you see a Grosbeak that visited the suet cake this spring.


Hummingbird Feeder

Each spring I look forward to seeing my first Hummingbird of the year.  I hang out the feeder starting in early  April.  I make my own food for the feeder boiling 2 cups of water and 1/2 cup of sugar in my microwave.  After cooling the mixture I add it to the feeder.  It is important to change the mixture every week to ten days and more often in very hot weather.



Bird Bath

In addition to the various bird feeders I provide a bird bath on our back deck.  This gives the birds a place to get a drink and in the case of Robins to take a bath. This spring I looked out one day to see a whole group of Bluebirds lined up on the edge of the bird bath.

 I love to see the Robins splashing in the bird bath.








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Thursday, July 4, 2019

Olloclip Phone Lens Kit Review

Ramshorn Snail Shell - Olloclip Macro Lens
Up until this year, I had not done any photography with my cell phone cameras.  When my laptop died a while back, I had to rely on an older iPhone to take the photos for my online blogs, reviews, and social media posts.  That necessitated the discovery and use of a few key photo apps and, just recently, the use of clip-on smartphone lenses.  In the ongoing process of learning as much as possible about iPhone photography, I came across several references to the Olloclip macro, wide angle, and fisheye lens kit.  Today, I am reviewing my initial impression of these lenses (which are available for many different brands and models of phones).

When I purchased my Olloclip lens kit, I was mainly interested in the two macro lenses (magnification times 10 and 15).  I wanted to take some really up close and personal photographs (think flowers, butterflies, bees, dew drops, etc.).  Macro is also great when I need photos of the jewelry I sell online.  The wide angle lens will be used primarily for landscape photography (can't wait to try it out at the Great Sand Dunes).  It is also perfect for group shots, selfies, and videos.  The fisheye lens will be fun for the animal photography—like those cute nose shots—I do to help shelter dogs get adopted.  It is also wonderful for lighthouse photography (spiral staircases especially).

Rescue Dog Finn - Olloclip Fisheye Lens
As I have been getting into macro photography, I have found it helpful to start indoors, since it takes some patient practice to learn how close to be to the subject, how to get the focus right, how to stage the object for an interesting photo, and, perhaps most importantly of all, how to handle the lighting.  I don't have to deal with the wind indoors, either.  That is a huge plus.

Flexible Tripod, Olloclip 10X Lens, iPhone
Yesterday, I was experimenting with some shells I had found on the beach.  I used natural lighting by a window.  With macro, a tripod is essential, as is a remote shutter release (or the use of your phone's shutter timer).  I set up some black foam boards and a tiny easel covered in a sheet of black felt for my backgrounds.  With the Olloclip 10X macro lens, I was able to get incredibly close to my subject (just a few millimeters away).  Not much will be sharply in focus with ultra macro photography (but the right kind of blur is the appeal), so the trickiest part is moving the mini tripod around until you find the special effect, and point of focus, that expresses your unique point of view.  It's all about the angle.

Ramshorn Snail Shell Without Macro Lens
You can see just how small the snail shell actually is in the photo above using a regular camera lens without macro (about half an inch).  

Ramshorn Snail Shell - 10X Magnification
This is the same shell photographed with the Olloclip 10X macro lens.  I used the free Snapseed photo app for cropping and minor adjustments.  

Sundial Shell Without Macro Lens

Next, I experimented with a Sundial shell I found on Padre Island.  Two photos are provided for comparison.  The photograph above was taken with my Nikon D200 with a zoom lens.  The photo below was taken with an iPhone 5s (ancient compared to the latest iPhones) and an Olloclip 10X macro lens.

Sundial Shell - Olloclip 10X Macro Lens
Today, it was time to get outdoors and test the wide angle lens.  I'm sure most of you can relate to the frustration of not being able to get all of your subject into the photo frame.  First, I snapped a regular shot of this historic truss bridge with my iPhone (the Lobato Bridge over the Rio Grande in southern Colorado).  As you can see below, the right side of the bridge was cut off.

The Lobato Bridge - Built in 1892
The photo below was taken with the Olloclip wide angle lens.  I was able to get all of the double-span bridge in the photograph even when standing much closer to the bridge than in the first shot.  There was plenty of extra margin for cropping.

Bridge Photographed Using Olloclip Wide Angle Lens
One thing I did notice is that this wide angle shot is a bit fuzzy near the edges of the photograph.  I'm told Olloclip has a free app for making image adjustments.  I will check that out and update you.

It's not what you look at that matters,
it's what you see.  ~Thoreau
I was lying on the forest floor while pointing the Olloclip fisheye lens directly skyward when I created this photo.  This image reminds me of an eye, with the trees forming the iris.  In a forest devastated by wildfire, I was looking at the emergent green undergrowth and seeing how to embody the Phoenix.

Phoenix Rising: Self-Portrait
All of these photos are first attempts.  Once I experiment, and perhaps invest in a newer smartphone with a more advanced camera, I'm sure my photographs will evolve.  You have to start somewhere and learn by trial and error.  In this case, I don't really care if the photos aren't perfect.  For me, photography is a reflective practice.  I photograph things that move me, and I practice photography to learn how to see more clearly, to learn how to pay deep attention, and to immerse myself in beauty and wonder.  

If you enjoy pushing your creative boundaries, you really can't go wrong with Olloclip products.  They offer good quality, affordable tools for the smartphone photography enthusiast.  There are more expensive options, but for just getting started, I suspect most of us like to keep costs reasonable.  This is a good budget choice.  I feel I got my money's worth.






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Thursday, June 27, 2019

Visit Missouri-Explore St Louis- Forest Park and the Jewel Box

One of my favorite places for photography in St. Louis is Forest Park.  On this page I will be reviewing some of my favorite sites to take photos.

A Bit of Forest Park History and Facts

Forest Park is a public park that covers 1,371 acres in the heart of St. Louis.  It was first opened in 1876.  The park hosted both the 1904 World's Fair and the 1904 Summer Olympics.  An annual balloon race starts in Forest Park and in the summer you can attend wonderful summer theatre at the Muny.
Here are just a few of the wonderful attractions that you can see at Forest Park.

  •  St. Louis Zoo
  •  Science Center
  •  Art Museum
  •  Boathouse
  •  Missouri History Museum
  •  Jewel Box 
  •  World's Fair Pavilion
In addition you can walk or ride the many trails and paths and in the winter you can enjoy the ice skating rink.  

I have many fond memories of Forest Park as a child, as a young Mother bringing my children there and now as a place to bring my grandchildren.  It is also one of my favorite place to take photographs and I will share them with you on the rest of this post.

Jewel Box

The Jewel Box is located on 17 acres in the park and was first used as a greenhouse.  It has lovely plants, water features and fountains throughout the area and is a great place to take photos.  It is popular with visitors and the building can be reserved for weddings.  Around Christmas the inside of the building is full of poinsettias, which are quite beautiful.

I visited there with my photo club on a recent spring evening and took the photo above and the beautiful daisies that lines the sides of the pond.

Muny

The Muny is a wonderful outdoor amphitheater that holds 11,000 people.  1500 of the seats are free seats making the theatre accessible to people from all walks of life.  Each summer for the past 100 years the Muny has  held a variety of different live productions.  Some of my favorites over the years include: South Pacific, Oklahoma, The Jersey Boys, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, The Beach Boys, and The Wizard of Oz.  I have also enjoyed  taking my two oldest granddaughters to the Muny when they have visited during the summer months.

The first photo on this page and the ones below were taken at the entrance area to the Muny.

The Boathouse

The Boathouse in Forest Park is a favorite gathering place of visitors to the park.  It is located just across the way from the Muny and is especially a favorite place for theatre goers to have a meal before or after the show.  The restaurant has both indoor and outdoor seating.

By the dock is an area where you can rent paddleboats and kayaks to ride around in the great basin. This is a favorite of my granddaughters.
After our photo club outing we met at the outdoor area of the Boathouse to sit by the dock and discuss the photos we took.  Here are a couple of the photos that I took from the docks.

Postcards from Forest Park

Here are some postcards I have made from my photos.




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Thursday, June 20, 2019

Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge Review

Wetlands at Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge
Just recently, I have come to experience the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge in an entirely new way.  Instead of sampling the sanctuary like a temporary visitor, I have found my own rhythm of belonging.  In becoming a part of this vital place, I have been able to take in a much deeper level of sustenance.  Perhaps this is the real beauty of refuges.  More than just protecting and conserving natural resources for the benefit of wildlife, they can greatly nourish anyone who truly enters into them.  This is not so much a review of a tourist attraction, or place, as it is a review of learning how to let a place enter into you in a way that feeds your spirit.

As I turn off of busy Highway 160 in South Central Colorado this morning, I slow my vehicle's speed way down.  The two-mile approach to Alamosa NWR's Visitor Center is where I begin to align my pace with that of the natural world.  Opening all of my windows, I breathe deeply and feel the gentle breeze and soft rays of the early morning sunlight on my face.  Reaching into my camera backpack, a palpable sense of anticipation rises up to meet me.

I start counting telephone poles.  There he is, as always, on pole number seven.  My greeter.  Here's where I admit that I don't know what kind of hawk he is.  At some point, I will pull out a book and ID him, but I'm not obsessed with that right now—which is unusual for me.  In the past, I would have immediately wanted to know his name.  The new me has a different agenda for coming to know him.

Sign Marking Entrance to the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge
Off to my left, I pass ANWR's entrance sign.  My morning's soundtrack changes dramatically.  Gravel pops and pings as it ricochets off the bottom of my red Sport Trac.  In my left ear, a meadowlark's lilting aria floats in thin air.  Simultaneously, my right ear picks up the raucous rap of a Marsh wren.  Ahh... the concert has begun, and like a children's preschool program, the singers won't necessarily be bringing their voices in on time or in perfect harmony.  These voices, like their creatures, will do their own thing, and it will be chaotic at times, but gloriously so.

Star Actress in Today's Theater Production of "Fake Broken Wing" - Mama Killdear
Slowly, slowly I creep along the entrance road hoping for an iconic doing-the-splits photo of one of those boisterous wrens.  Suddenly, without warning, a theater production of Fake Broken Wing opens up in front of my vehicle.  The chorus erupts into: kill dear, kill dear, kill dear.  Whoa!

Good thing I am driving about half a mile an hour (my typical wildlife-photographer-on-the-hunt speed).  A pair of killdear parents have young chicks attempting to cross the road without first looking both ways.  I've never seen baby killdears until this very moment and they are perfect in every way.  Oh, the wonder!

Baby Killdear - Cuteness Overload
The teacher in me wants to play crossing guard and get those precious babies across the road.  Children... it's not safe.  Hurry!  My heart pounds when I think of how easily these young ones could be run over by a car.  Relief floods me when I silently count the chicks now on the opposite shoulder of the road.  Five.  Phew!  They all made it.

Now, as I'm attempting to photograph the family from my vehicle, they launch themselves, in true killdear form, into what the former athlete in me recognizes as Fartlek (I do not make this stuff up) training.  Imagine seven photographic subjects, all going in different directions, speed walking for several steps, and then briefly pausing before sprinting away in the opposite direction.  I try to anticipate when and where those slower intervals will take place and press the shutter button in an act of faith.  This is living in the moment.  Talk about exhilaration!

It's time to roll on down the road.  I never want to stress the wildlife by overstaying my welcome.  You learn to take the gift they give you, and with good grace, give them the breathing room they need.  If I drove out of the refuge right now, my day would be complete.

Young Mule Deer Buck With Antlers in the Velvet
What I am learning about this refuge is that there are layers you must peel back to get at the true essence.  You can't be in a hurry, and to get the most out of a sanctuary experience, you want to use all of your senses.  Long before you see something spectacular, you are most likely going to hear it, or feel its presence—that is, if you nurture your inherent sense of awe and wonder.  Anticipation and stillness.  That is the intersection where the marvelous can, and will, happen in this place.

The other thing is this: Don't just look for the big magnificence.  Often, the most delightful splendor comes in the tiniest of packages.  While there will be crowds at area refuges during the seasonal Sandhill crane migrations, or when elk herds are moving through, it is in the smaller, and yet equally mesmerizing annual voyages of say, butterflies, that one may become immersed in transcendent moments.

Walking is the More Intimate Way to Experience the Refuge
Right now, with the wildflowers in full bloom, so much teeming life is taking place in the ditches and meadows of the sanctuary.  This is the time to walk the two-mile nature trail (although I found it temporarily closed today due to the Rio Grande's flooding and the presence of the endangered Willow flycatcher).  There is so much beauty right underfoot.

Yellow-Headed Blackbird
Any time I enter the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge, I know that an initial assessment of what's going on will vastly underestimate the real activity that is taking place.  I watch first-time visitors quickly drive the three-mile auto tour loop and leave.  I imagine them saying, "Nothing but blackbirds."  Sadly, they have missed out on everything.  I was once that visitor.

In my ongoing evolution from refuge visitor to a sort of artist-in-residence, I can easily spend all day immersed in nature's artistry.  There is an art to being both a witness to, and a player among, the many moving parts of a wildlife refuge.  I believe the natural world reveals most of its brilliance to those who honor the gift-giver.  And I think the honor is in how we pause and pay deep attention, with reverent awe, and a true sense of gratitude.  There is honor in not taking for granted any creature, no matter if there are thousands of them, and no matter if they are present year-round.

A Glow-in-the-Dark Male Yellow Warbler With a Mouth Full of Insects
Dr. Seuss Chicks - American Coot Babies - Wow, Just Wow!
Today, some of the generous gift-givers have been, in addition to the wondrous greeters I have already mentioned, the lovely Yellow-headed blackbird, the brightest colored warbler I have ever seen, three curious Mule deer, various larks, an amazing porcupine, the Dr. Seuss chicks of an American Coot, a sweet-voiced flycatcher, two American bitterns (listed as uncommon for the refuge), a garter snake (true confession: earlier in my life I would not have put snakes on the gift list), teal ducks, Mallard ducks, a Pied-billed grebe, numerous swallows, and way too many others to note in this limited space.  They know who they are and they know that I revel in their presence.

To miss a day at the refuge, is to miss out on the unfolding of thousands of tiny miracles.  I've found there is no slow season when it comes to the miracle of life.  Any time I find myself drinking in sustenance at the oasis we call the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge, is the time of my life.

Water is the Lifeblood of the San Luis Valley's National Wildlife Refuges
I encourage you to find your own little oasis where you can soak up the refreshment to be found in spaces that rehydrate the spirit and soul.  Where we find our sustenance, we find everything we need to thrive and grow into the fullness of our own being.  When that happens, we become the refuge that attracts others into our nourishing space.  Being the place, or space, others want to inhabit—isn't that the high calling?







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Friday, June 7, 2019

Fall Hollow Waterfall on the Natchez Trace Parkway Photos & Review

Fall Hollow Waterfall on the Natchez Trace Parkway Photos & Review
There are lots of spectacular places to stop along the Natchez Trace Parkway. The Fall Hollow Waterfall, located near Hohenwald, Tennessee, is only one of the fabulous spots of heavenly beauty here on earth.

The Natchez Trace Parkway is a scenic two-lane highway that follows the historical old Natchez Trace trails and roads used by American Indians, explorers, and travelers for centuries.  

The parkway stretches through 3 states (Tennessee, Alabama & Mississippi) and preserves important areas in American history, as well as preservation of the natural beauty.  The highway is a 440 mile stretch between Nashville, TN and Natchez, MS.   Not only is it a beautiful drive, but it has stopping areas that are perfect for picnics, hiking, taking photos, or simply breathing deep and enjoying nature.  

Hohenwald, TN is also a great place to stop for gas, food, or even for the night, as you tour the Natchez Trace Parkway and discover the natural beauty of the South.


Fall Hollow Waterfall on the Natchez Trace Parkway Photos & Review


The Fall Hollow Waterfall
Located on the Natchez Trace Parkway


Fall Hollow Waterfall Photo by Cynthia Sylvestermouse
Photo of Fall Hollow Waterfall by Sylvestermouse
from Observation Deck
Tennessee is home of the stunning Fall Hollow waterfall and surrounding trails.  You can easily see the waterfall after a short walk on the trail that starts at the parking area on the side of the Natchez Trace Parkway.  It is a beautiful sight!

We opted to climb down the steep path to the bottom of the waterfall to experience the full adventure.  It is a well worn trail created by natural stone "steps".  However, I used the word "climb" because I don't want to mislead readers by referring to it as a walk, which evokes the image of straight, level ground.  I did have to use my hands several times as I moved from one step down to the next step.  Many times in our descent, I worried about slipping on the wet stone and preferred to find my footing on the surrounding grass and mud instead.  The trail is narrow and drops off down the hillside.  It would be easy to get injured if you are not careful.  By the way, we also took Merlin, our Labrador Retriever, with us.  He hopped those stone steps with the agility of a deer.  I was extremely proud of him.  Of course, he frequently had to stop to wait on me, as I was literally climbing down using my hands for support. 


Fall Hollow Waterfall Path photo by Cynthia Sylvestermouse
I snapped this photo of the path before
we started our hike back up.  This was the
easiest part of the path to the waterfall
I don't wish to dissuade anyone from taking the path down to the bottom of the waterfall.  But, this trail could be very dangerous because it is steep, slippery and uneven.  By all means, wear proper climbing clothes and hiking/climbing boots.  This is not a casual walk through the woods.  While I was dressed properly with my selection of jeans, I was wearing Keds canvas snickers.  Not the best choice for shoes on this waterfall trail.  I was careful and I know my own limitations.  I didn't hesitate to balance myself with my hands or knees, but next time, I will wear my hiking boots.

It was necessary for me to stop a few times to catch my breath on the climbing hike down and also on my way back up.  Be prepared to pace yourself.  Don't try to hurry.  Besides, stopping for a rest gives you time to look around at the surrounding vegetation, flowers, and streams.  

Well, that does work well, as long as you don't look down the side of the drop-off!

Fall Hollow Waterfall Photo Collage of Surrounding Area


I did not take water down the hill with me and I was fine.  However, we were there in the spring.  On a hotter day, I would have required water.  Therefore, I recommend a lightweight shoulder strap water bottle for this trail.


Warning About Hiking to the Bottom of the Fall Hollow Waterfall

Fall Hollow Waterfall Stone photo by Cynthia Sylvestermouse
The photo on the right is a picture of the type of stone steps on the trail down to the bottom of the waterfall.  As you can see, they have a slick surface, which is why I often opted for the grass or mud at the side.  It would have been very easy to twist my ankle though.

For those who have health or mobility issues, heed the posted warning sign and do not go on beyond the observation deck area that provides seating where you can easily see the waterfall.    

If you have any concerns, fear of heights, are already fatigued, or unsure about climbing the hillside for any reason, allow wisdom to dictate and stick to the deck.  You won't be disappointed by the view.

I do not recommend the path down to the waterfall for children or most pets.





For More Information on the Natchez Trace Parkway, visit Natchez Trace Parkway (U.S. National Park Service)



Recommended Equipment for the Waterfall Hike




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