California Hills in October

•October 5, 2019 • 14 Comments



In October of 2015 I visited my brother’s family in Clayton, California. He took us all over from Napa to The Golden Gate Bridge, yet I was fascinated with the dry, tawny hills rolling on just beyond the houses of his neighborhood. They have a painting in their home of the same tawny hills with the sparse disbribution of trees, three as I remember maybe like the first image I put here, under a cloudless blue sky by a local artist. Lone trees whether surrounded by velvety looking beige hills or mangroves here in Florida standing solitary with their prop roots in shallow water seems to strike a chord in all of us. I don’t know if it is just a sense of aloneness or if it is that there is room without distraction to appreciate the beauty of the tree and the sweep of its branches.

I made the mistake once about velvety looking hills when I was living at Clark Field in the Philippines in 1969. Off base there was a hilly area, vertical almost really with ridges covered with what looked like green velvet. I snuck off base with a friend and we climbed the velvet hills only to find them dry and hard and brittle.  Branches from the low shrubs simply came out of the dry dirt as we grabbed them to climb. We did eventually reach a plateau and found an easier way back down. California’s tawny velvet and sundrenched hills are probably not ideal for climbing either for the lack of shade or moisture. It is a wonder there is enough for the scattered trees. Certainly not much to grab onto if you were climbing a steep section.

Often when posting I love to find a perfect quote or perfect poem to support the images and how I felt about the place I was. Something beyond my often meager prose offerings. And I did find a perfect poem when searching about California’s dry hills out of curiousity. Ordinarily I would post the poem which I have done with many written much longer ago for convenient reading, but this one has a recent copyright and I need to respect that and offer you the link to the author’s site instead. My dry hills were October’s but the poem by Dana Gioia, California’s Poet Laureate from 2015 to 2019, is entitled California Hills in August.  

Do go and enjoy the poem and browse his other writings. The dry hills led me to an interesting poet.



Tawny velvet grasses cover the gentle swell of earth’s bosom.

Parts of Clayton reminded me of Italy. These trees in the foreground are Italian Cypress Trees and beyond the  beige hills.


Many days were devoid of clouds but it is not always so. Here the velvet hills and trees are beneath a blanket of fleecy clouds. No rain though.

For a Floridian used to a much flatter geography and moister climate, Clayton, California was an alien landscape I’d look forward to exploring again!!





Woodstork Portraits – Black and White

•August 29, 2019 • 20 Comments


While I have been a bit stalled working on images since, yes, the other Woodstork image, I haven’t seemed quite finished wanting to work with their portraits from that shoot. These are the same bird as the previous post just different shots and different treatments. The upper image has a harsher light and I utilized a textured grungy background to enhance the sense of portraiture rather than documentation. The image below is softer in its black and white treatment with no added texture to the out of focus background. I liked the inquisitive,thoughtful expression and was fond of the catch lights in its eye. I often will work around a single detail I like, such as the eye expression, much the same way I might wrap a poem around a favourite line. That penchant probably does stunt open creativity because loving one thing does not necessarily redeem the whole.

Some people wonder why I like these bald birds, but I just do think they have such presence and refuse to be relegated entirely to the unseen shadows of the swamp.

Long attracted to monotone and grungy bird portraits I have posted others here in the past. You could examine these other two species from the past by clicking on the bird: Tri-Color Fledgling High Key Portrait or Juvenile Louisiana (Tri-color) Heron and Great Blue Heron (Plume Shadows).




Forgive my repetition, but hope you enjoy the efforts. For me it beats watching the news to see if Dorian is going to come here or further up the state come Sunday!!  Wishing everyone in the storm’s path a safe passage through the wind and rain.




Woodstork Profile – Close Up

•July 10, 2019 • 13 Comments

I’ve shared Mycteria Americana, the Wood Stork, quite a few times. Their stately manner, size and interesting facial textures always fascinating. While the lighting here may be a tad subdued as it is on the monitor I am viewing presently, it looks rather awesome on my big, bright Photoshop monitor.  So that is why I thought I’d go ahead and share it. This is the closest I ever have been to a wood stork and barely fit the entire bill on this full file capture. This is not a zoom. Looking at the texture of the yellowish black bill you’d think that the bird was named Wood Stork or Wood Ibis (not an ibis though) for its woody texture. But, it is in fact because the bird likes to nest up high in tree branches. I just love the detail of it and hope that you able to click the image for a bit better view.





Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks in a stylish geometry of light

•June 30, 2019 • 15 Comments



Meet Dendrogygna autumnalis the Black-Bellied Whistling Duck! I will confess to neglecting this species even though I see them all the time at various wetland environments here in Florida. Although, these are not the first images I have taken of them, just the first posted. Also, I normally do not like’ looking down’ views of birds from a boardwalk preferring more straight on views at the same level. However, the same reason I took them is the same reason I have posted them. I liked the geometry of the parallel and perpendicular light that illuminated the dark water from between the boards of the deck. The blue water, green plants, and autumnal colors of the duck contrasted nicely and looked rather stylish with the light. I took images looking both directions trying to figure which light angle the camera liked best or maybe which way I was more comfortable leaning over the railing.  The little whitish strands in the field of blue are plants on the bottom of the shallow water showing through. I gave a black and white version with the one with horizontal and vertical light to play with the light and textures in the scene a bit.

While I do not actually know yet with this species, often scientific names reflect the appearance of an animal or plant. Considering these ducks are year round residents of Florida, I am leaning towards autumnalis making sense with the fall colors of the duck rather than its season.










Sweetwater Strand – A Green Mile

•June 27, 2019 • 11 Comments


Slow moving nutrient rich wetland waters of Florida can often be covered with tiny aquatic plants called duckweed which float on the surface or just beneath. The plant is a good food source for water fowl as it is high in protein and is often distributed when carried on their feet or feathers. Many times I have shot images of the wading birds which having fished and taken food back to the nest have as evidence bits of duckweed stuck to their long legs. While one would think the presence of such a carpet of plants would lead to eutrophication or stagnation actually the opposite is true. This aquatic species can shade and reduce light generated algae species and even provide nitrate removal. Wikipedia as a reference says that duckweed can be important in bioremediation as they absorb excess nutrients as nitrogen and phosphates and “they are touted as water purifiers of untapped value.” From my first ‘swamp walk’ in Big Cypress I found instead of decay and well, icky, water, that the water is actually cool, clear and part of the slow movement of water that flows to Florida Bay serving as a great aquatic filtration system for our glades environment. Despite the values duckweed (Lemnoideae) does seem to have, some consider the plant a nuisance. As it will proliferate where agricultural pollution runoff have introduced nutrients into the Everglades, there is concern this fast growing plant will displace other species native to that environment such as sawgrass. It’s nutrient absorbing properties though, seem to offer perhaps some form of solution for this. Although, there is no excuse for the agricultural industry not being required or simply not cleaning up after itself. While that is another story, perhaps the humble duckweed may be more than simply an element that practically glows in the sunlit waters of a swamp as seen through the eyes of a photographer.


Cypress knee looks interesting as a substrate for
vines insinuating themselves into its structure. They
seem to come alive crawling along its surface like
the legs of a spider.


A lush carpet of brilliant duckweed serves as a canvas
for leafy shadows in the sunlit swamp.

As custodians of our planet, hopefully with good science, wisdom and with a  little help from some tiny plants, perhaps some solutions may be found.



Great Blue Heron in Black and White – High Noon in the Swamp

•June 14, 2019 • 7 Comments


Linda, this one’s for you. Not sure I am finished messing around with this image but it is an example of harsh light streaming down through the green canopy at Sweetwater Strand and how it might lend itself well towards a black and white treatment. I felt the color was washed out sans any heroic saving via Photoshop. The pose itself for me is interesting as preening produces many interesting feather and wing positions I seem to find texturally and artistically interesting. Because the lighting is harsh there is a curved arc of dark shadow on the lower part of the body on the left side which I couldn’t see the source of. Since I generally don’t like hard lines I softened that some with shadowing but maybe better to leave as is. It is a natural shadow after all.

Par for the course, now that I’ve made the black and white the color version with its muted high key colors is looking interesting now. Photographers are so fickle! Ok maybe me?  Hope you like the pose too?

Have fun in the wild this weekend!! Will watch for some awesome images of your wilderness!!



Great Blue Heron – Sweetwater Strand

•June 12, 2019 • 15 Comments


While the Great Blue Heron has filled my viewfinder many many times, it never fails to be a thrill to see one land nearby when out photographing in wilderness areas such as the Big Cypress National Preserve. These images were taken towards the end of our Loop Road journey when we’d about given up on getting any nice bird shots. The gators lazed around in easy view but the big birds would land only to entice and frustrate with a speedy touch and go. The area of Loop Road that intersects with a stream called Sweetwater Strand near Monroe Station opens into sizeable pool with cypress trees and lush foliage. Depending on when you happen to be there you will see gators glide through and many species of bird drop in such as Night Herons, Green Herons, Little Blue Herons, White Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Ibis and others. This day we were graced with the presence of a Great Blue Heron which perched and was content to preen and stay for awhile. I did see an anhinga drying with wings spread and an injured juvenile Little blue heron on a distant perch. Its torn up leg only recognized viewing the image later in the computer.

The first image captures a close view of the Great Blue perched on a fern covered tree branch. The second image is a wider angle view of the same spot showing the pool below and in the sunlit water you will see a gator cruising into the scene. I have a lot more difficulty with scenes like the second one as I want to capture the essence of what I am seeing with all of its light, shadows and various depth of field issues. Of course I want it all in focus, bird and gator. Not so easy sometimes. So while not perfect I was really happy to get both in the shot as it does show the life of the strand. Lastly, I included a typical image of what you see out there in the way of lush plants like Tillandsia ,varieties of fern, mosses and lichens, all crowding together for a spot in the tangle of life in the everglades and cypress swamps. If your computer monitor is really bright and overrides my shadowing, you might see the plastic egg crate down toward the lower right back under the fern. I did not see it myself at first but became aware of a pattern emerging clearly not natural. Loop Road is not entirely devoid of human activity of course, but I always hate to see things that could just have easily not been left to end up there.