Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Losing My Religion to the Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

Nature teaches more than she preaches. There are no sermons in stones. It is easier to get a spark out of a stone than a moral. 
~John Burroughs 

Early Sunday morning I decided to take advantage of the spring weather in Memphis, and I drove to nearby Audubon Park, where I had previously identified what I called a “woodpecker tree.”
Perhaps I should reverse the title of this post and call it “The Yellow- Bellied Sapsucker to Losing My Religion.”  In lieu of much writing, I am going to let the slideshow I prepared mostly speak for itself.   I love this acoustic version of the R.E.M. song, and I hope you will also.   The state of Audubon Park in general is described, (specifically on a Sunday morning) and then there are some tips on taking photos of the yellow-bellied sapsucker.   Much of this applies to any bird photo, of course.
Two of my many goals in starting this blog were 1) to force myself to pay more attention to my surroundings and 2) to actually learn a few things.  I doubt if I would have noticed the “woodpecker tree” in Audubon Park if it hadn’t been for this blog. And I know I would not have read the graffiti!
I am also paying much more attention to details, and I learned that this was not a woodpecker that I photographed, but a sapsucker, which literally lives by sucking the lifeblood out of trees! Nature is cruel!   I identified this bird the lazy person’s way-- by posting it to my Flickr account and moving it to the bird identification group.You are not allowed to move a bird photo to that group unless you can’t identify it.  I got my answer within seven minutes.  Hey, it is a common bird, and I am not a birder!   

Retraction:  According to Wikipedia--"The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is part of the New World sapsucker genus Sphyrapicus, which is within the woodpecker family Picidae."
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 
Profile Photograph of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker from the Back

Can you find a woodpecker tree in your neighborhood? Or do you notice something else interesting to photograph?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Cherry Road, Redux

Pink on Pink
Cherry Blossom Petals Floating in Water in a Drainage Ditch

After a quick weekend trip to the river, I felt the need to revisit the cherry trees, since they were still budding last week.  Indeed, they were changed enough to add this PS, or maybe I will call it an addendum to original Cherry Road post.  The blossoms were more fully formed, pinker, and many had been blown into the water in the drainage ditch.  The blossoms in the drainage ditch is actually my favorite cherry blossom photograph this year.   I found this quotation about cherry blossoms:  Pablo Neruda, a Chilean writer said, "I want to do to you what spring does to the cherry trees."  I would love to know the context of this.  Does he want to make someone blossom, or does he want to blow someone's blossoms away only to have them collect in a drainage ditch? 
There are four lessons to learn from this blog post--a. Don't take photos of cherry blossoms too early, b. always look in standing water to get photos, c. never promise only two photo blog posts of blooming flowers during a Memphis spring,  d. Go in the MORNING to take photos of cherry trees on Cherry Road in Memphis, or at least those on the golf course side.  They look much better when they are not backlit as they were in my first post.  Also there are fewer golfers and you likely won't get hit by a golf ball if go onto the course to get a better photo.  This is the perspective from inside the golf course, and it makes all the difference.  Try comparing it to the same line of cherry trees from the street perspective that I posted last week, and you will see why this Cherry Road Redux post was necessary.
The lineup of cherry trees on the golf course 

Drainage ditch with cherry blossoms

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Cherry Road

There is hardly a better time or place to start a new photography blog than March in Memphis, Tennessee.   The city comes alive with blooming trees and plants everywhere you look.  One of the first signs of spring can be found on Cherry Road.  There is no Washington Monument here, and no Potomac River, but a narrow street lined with cherry trees, tucked between the Botanic Gardens and a golf course.   The blossoms hit the trees about a week earlier than they do in Washington DC, and, in checking my photos from last year, the blossoms are about a week earlier this year than last. 

The tree blossoms are white with a pinkish tinge to them.  At some times of day, they look more pink than others.  I tried to capture the whole line of trees, and then some individual blossoms.  Because the wind was fairly strong, and the branches moving, I wasn’t able to frame these photos as I was shooting them. .  I was grateful for my camera with the continuous shutter bursts, and  software that crops photos.   

I took care to get photos of blossoms with both the golf course in the background, and also the cherry trees from across the street. Notice the bokeh in the individual blossom photos.  Bokeh is actually my favorite thing to incorporate into a photo.  Focusing on one thing through the lens causes objects at different distances to be blurry, which creates depth in the photo.  Below is my favorite example of bokeh in my cherry blossom photos, with the blurry tree trunk in the background.  

This will never be a technical blog, but there are settings that you can use on your camera to create either more or less bokeh.  This is covered well in other more technically oriented blogs.   
As you can see, the trees are still budding.  Even so, many of the blossoms have been damaged by some wind and rain, leaving this year's cherry blossom season more lackluster than last. Most, but not all of the photos posted today are taken facing the sun.  Can you tell which ones?
For fun, below is one of the many M shaped (Memphis, March, Music?)  beds of impatiens spread out all over town.  It happens to be upside down here for a better view of “The Parkway.” 
It's a great time to begin to notice the changing vegetation around you and start capturing it.  I had fun comparing these to my photos last year of the same trees.   Next I need to start looking for wisteria.  I won’t totally bore everyone with spring flower photos, so I promise there will be at the most one more blog post devoted to flowers this year.  And that will probably be after I actually go inside the Botanic Gardens.

Monday, March 5, 2012



I had my second blog post idea sort of planned, but life sometimes throws you a detour.  The detour had to do with  my BBFF (best bird friend forever) the great blue heron.  I had decided to take a walk at Shelby Farms Park today, and, lo and behold, this bird beckoned me from just a few yards away from my parked car.   Depending on your outlook, this bird is either a scourge, or a magnificent specimen.  It is the second largest bird in the USA, with a wingspan of, well heck, here is the  Wikipedia reference
I am not one of these purist photographers.  I actually like to switch to video at times.  In Murphy's law fashion, I generally am in video mode when the bird is stationary, and photo mode when the bird decides to get skittish and fly away.  Whatever mode I am in, most of my flying heron shots have the heron flying away from me, which I try not to take it personally.   No videos today, but these photos were what the great blue heron was willing to give me today.

As a side note, one of the plusses to the flying bird shot is it is backlit. Backlit means that the camera is facing the light, and the light kind of curls around the subject. I didn’t tell the heron which way to fly, but it happened to be backlit, and I went with it. What choice did I have?  

For these photos, I set my camera mode to “P” (aperture priority) .   You won't find much technical stuff here, and that isn’t the purpose of the blog anyway.   

I used automatic mode only for at least a year after I took up digital photography. I learned that light sometimes washed out the subjects if it was too bright.. To keep that from happening, I changed the exposure, dialing it back a notch or two, and then did a few tweaks with the photo processing software that I use. These photos look dark for a reason--I generally like darker photos for birds, because they seem to show more detail. The flying heron is probably a bit too dark even for my tastes, but it isn't one of my better flying herons shots anyway. Oh, after the heron flew away, I got to start my walk, and happened across a cardinal. This is a great time of year for bird photos, as the leaves aren’t out on the trees. Get busy everyone! No excuses—it is starting to get warmer. If the cardinal can maneuver around this thorny tree branch, you can put on your hiking shoes and start stalking birds.

I just started a photo site on SmugMug.  This is time consuming setting it up, but I probably have about half my photos that I plan to put on it already there.  And I am still in the trial period.  Check out that FotoFiler Gallery link to the right of this post.  The photos should be in a bit higher resolution there, but I also link a gallery of some photos from today below. 
And if you are interested in how I became interested in digital photography, please go back to the February 2012 post-- 
How Digital Photography Saved My Marriage
If you would like to see these photos I took today in a bit higher resolution, check them out in "This Month's Photos" in my gallery here--  

This Month's Photos

Check back here in a week or two or three and I should have the next post composed.