In the three years that I have been living in a more rural location I have been fortunate to be able to experience nature more up close and personal than ever before. It has enhanced my life in many ways. I have become a better photographer and more importantly a better person.
Unfortunately or fortunately, being more present in nature I have also witnessed the struggle to survive that goes on daily for the wildlife that surrounds us. I have seen a hawk in hour yard fly off with a freshly killed rabbit. I have watched as smaller fish are eaten by larger fish. I have walked in the grass only to find a hatchling who has fallen from its nest and died. And this is only what I have seen happen and what I have seen happen in my own back yard.
I have walked out on my deck to find a small dead bird. I don’t know if it died of natural causes and its last breath happen to occur on my deck. I don’t know if one of my dogs was able to catch and kill it. Although that seems unlikely to me as it was a warbler which usually lives in the wooded area which is inaccessible to my dogs. Perhaps it was attacked in the woods and flew from the woods to escape and succeeded but was dealt a mortal blow in the process expiring on my deck. I will never know.
Today I was picking up he dog food dishes after the dogs were done eating in the house and one of them was near the door which has a full glass panel and I saw something flitting along the ground on the deck just outside the door. I went outside to check it out and found another small warbler, alive but injured. It allowed me to pick it up and I tried to look it over for injuries as best I could. It was bleeding from its head and had blood running around its left eye. It seemed to be stunned and other than the bleeding OK. It did not make any attempt to leave my hand though. This concerned me.
I was not sure what to do. I had to leave for work and was now running late. I thought about going inside and waking my wife and seeing if she wanted to look after it until it was OK to fly away, but I did not want to risk going inside with it and chancing one of the cats or dogs trying to get it and hurting it more. I walked over to the side of our yard where the dogs cannot go. I sat crouched down with it in my hand for a few minutes stroking its back. Trying to calm it down as it was trembling and panting. After a few minutes it finally seemed to start to relax and even flicked its wings but did not fly away. I thought about setting it down in a hidden spot where I could come back and check on it after work but I was fearful that I would only be leaving it as bait for a predator. Then I decided that since it flicked its wings I would see if it could fly. I tossed it up into the air a little bit and it took flight. It was not a graceful slight as it started off by making a small circle and bumping a few branches but then seemed to get under control and circle around again and fly into the woods and out of site. Hopefully my feathered friend is OK and will still be in my woods somewhere watching me when I get home.
These experiences make me ever more grateful for the things that I have and the lifestyle I have that our ancestors and others today still do not have. I do not have to worry daily about where I will find food or if I will go hungry. I do not have a daily struggle just to survive as much of our wildlife does. I try not to take for granted all of the human conveniences that we have available to us. If I am hungry I can go to the store and by some food or even make a phone call and have it delivered to me. I don’t have to go out and stalk prey for hours on end in the hopes of getting a bite to eat and hope no one bigger or stronger than me comes and takes it away. I do not have to go out grazing and foraging for food constantly exposing myself to predators that would like to make me their lunch. And that is just the advantages I have when it comes to food. I also do not have to struggle to find shelter or other resources that I need. It puts a new perspective on things even if tough times. I can look at nature and see how good I still have it.
Today when I was getting ready to go out and take some photos I thought to myself I think I am going to see something unusual today.
I walked down to the stream I almost always go to and as I started walking I began seeing common mergansers. There was a large group of common mergansers swimming in the stream. This might by name sound, um common, but for me it was unusual. I have seen common mergansers frequently but not in this location and not exhibiting the behaviors that they were.
They were hunting……. Mergansers dive under water to catch their prey. When I think of this the image that comes to mind is a bird is swimming along looking down through the water from above and then dives under when it sees something it wants to catch. This however is not what was going on. The mergansers were swimming along on top of the water like ducks but with their heads stuck in under the water so that their eyes were submerged for several seconds at a time. Then when they saw a prey item they would dive under and catch it.
The fact that they were swimming in a closely bunched group may have given the impression that they were hunting as a group. But that did not appear to be the case. I did not see any mergansers dive cooperatively to catch anything. They dove generally one at a time and succeeded or failed at catching their food individually. There was no combined effort or sharing of food. In fact when one merganser literally bit of more than he could chew, or gulp down fast. It became a free for all. There was no all for one and one for all. It was every merganser for them self. When the merganser who saw the fish first dove after it so did others as they saw it. Each trying to catch it first. Once on caught it and emerged from the water with it in its beak the others rushed in to try and steal it and it became a giant game of tackle the bird with the fish. In the end it appeared that the fish got away in the frenzy.
Now for me that is what I call an unusual sighting.
To love our pets is a mixed blessing. We are able to experience life altering moments through our relationship with them. We experience the unadulterated joy they exhibit. We feel the love and camaraderie they share. We become their family and they become our as they allow us into their lives and make us theirs. We are their humans as much as they are our pets.
Unfortunately to love an animal is to guarantee oneself an eventual heartache. We will always live to see the passing of our beloved fury family members. This is a gut renching trial to go through. There is no filling the void that is left when one of ours leaves us.
Even though this member of our family is no longer with us in physical form they can remain with us in spirit. We can commemorate their lives and celebrate the important impact that they have had in our lives. We will always have the memories that we shared with them and others in our lives.
I am writing this today to commemorate the life of Stripe a great cat who lived a long life of 14 years. She was my and my wife’s cat. She was a loyal animal and seemed to care in a way most people don’t associate with cats. She also loved our dogs. She spent every waking moment trying to insert herself into our lives and our dogs lives. She made sure that we will never forget her. From her scampering play sessions where she will be chasing various household objects across the floor to her playful nibbles and rubbing up against you. She lived a long life and in recent times she had begun to get a little frail. But she still had that spark of life to her. That never say die attitude that let you know she was never going to give up and she was always going to be around. And in the end it was that never say die attitude and desire to stay with us that shown through. We came home to find her very sick and seemingly on deaths door at midnight. She We did not know what was wrong with her or what had happened but it was clear that it was serious. It was made difficult by the time of day it happened and the fact that it was a Friday night so there was no easily accessible vets. We did everything we could think to do for her to try and get her better. But nothing seemed to help. She would seem to be fading and be about to go to sleep and pass on and then she would fight it and stay with us. After a long while my wife made the gut wrenching decision that we needed to call the vet and have her put to sleep to end her suffering. I do not envy my wife being the one to make this decision. The vet was compassionate and handled the situation quickly and professionally. We gave Stripe her on plot in the back of our yard and we will get he a marker for her spot. From there she can keep an eye on us and keep us safe. Now she is outside, which is where she always wanted to be anyway.
I think this is always a trying time for a pet owner as doubt always creeps in. Did we do the right thing. Was there nothing else to be done. Was she suffering. I know I feel all these things. But in the end I think we did what was best for this important member of our family.
Stripe we will always love you and miss you. Nothing will ever fill the void you have left in our family.
I am diverting my posts from my normal subjects to a matter that is very important to me and perhaps more important than photography.
This is an issue that I am conflicted about. I am a passionate dog and animal lover and I despise animal cruelty. It makes my stomach turn. Michael Vick committed heinous crimes against helpless animals. However, he was tried, convicted, and sentenced for what he did. He served a sentence that was determined to be suitable to the crimes he committed as determined by our laws. If I do not feel that his punishment was severe enough then that is a mater that I need to take up with our judicial system and our lawmakers. I could never forgive a person for committing acts of animal cruelty to my dogs, nor do I think I could find it in my heart to forgive Michael Vick for his actions. Perhaps I am a lesser person for that.
I do believe that people deserve second chances and should be able to go on with their lives after they serve their sentence. However, it is difficult to come to grips with the idea of a person who committed Vicks crimes being able to make millions of dollars for a second time in his life. I sincerely hope that Michael Vick can turn things around and I want to say make things right, but I don’t think one can ever make things right for the crimes he committed. I just hope he is able to live a life from here on out that will be deserving of the second chance that is being afforded him.
As someone who has studied psychology I have an even graver concern with the crimes that Vick committed. Acts of torturing or killing animals are behaviors that sociopaths or those developing into sociopaths commit. Sociopaths are people who feel no remorse for their actions and will do whatever they need to do to get what they want. If it means playing along and saying all the right things to appear sorry in order to get back into the NFL then a sociopath would do that, but not be sincere in any way. I am not saying that Michael Vick is a sociopath, but he has displayed behaviors associated with that mental status. It would be a big concern for me and would be something that I would want to have looked into if I was an NFL team before taking him on.
I wish Michael Vick luck and I hope he is successful in redeeming himself, but not just in the eyes of NFL fans.
This past Saturday I decided to get up early and head down to the Chemung River in hopes of photographing some bald eagles. When I arrived the fog was thick and it was impossible to see far into the distance. This would create an added challenge. Usually the eagles can be spotted off in the distance and I can prepare as they close in on my direction and be ready for them. I saw on eagle perch in a tree a short distance up river from me. In a tree that will be cut down shortly. I began to aproach the eagle but it took flight long before I got close. Later as I turned my attention elswhere another bald eagle emerged from the fog right in front of me as if appearing from nowhere. I was able to get some shots as at flew by paying me no mind. I am not sure how I feel about the photos as they did not come out idealy clear due to the fog but they also did not produce anyvisible evidence of fog.
In wildlife photography there are two traits that are very beneficial to ones success. A wildlife photographer often benefits from having patience. It is often necessary to sit and wait for long periods of time for your subject to happen upon your location or you may have to wait for a bird you inadvertently startled to get used to your presence and come back. It i also important to persevere. One may have to endure some rough weather and uncomfortable conditions to get the desired shot but if you want the shot that is what needs to be done.
Recently I was lucky enough to benefit from both of those traits in my own photography. I Will admit that I am not the most patient man by a long shot. Perseverance is a little bit more up my alley, but I am also working on that as well.
This past weekend I headed down to the river looking to photograph some birds of prey. I was fortunate enough to spot an osprey flying my way. It took refuge in one of the nearby trees. I knew it approximate location but there were several trees clustered together and I was not sure exactly which tree the osprey was in. I looked at them from every angle and location and still no sign of it. I was about to give up thinking that maybe it did not land there and it flew off without me seeing it. Then I heard a screech and it took flight again. This time only moving down the row of trees and perching again in another tree. This time I was not as sure as to where it was, but I knew it was in one of these trees. I moved along slowly and quietly trying not to disturb the bird as much as possible. From a distance I finally saw it and just as I raised my camera to take a shot it was off again. This time it flew off down the river.
I decided to hang out at the river and see if it would come back or if anything else would happen by. With my luck it started to rain. Lucky for me I was near all those trees. I took shelter below the trees and continued to look for photographic opportunities. Eventually I saw the osprey come back up river. I tracked it with my camera as it flew over the river, waiting for the shot. Some branches blocked my shot just as I depressed the shutter and my camera refocused on the branches I recovered and found the osprey just in time to see it plunge into the water. But I had missed the shot. The osprey missed its shot as well. It took off with no fish for lunch. It continued farther up river, but I could see it off in the distance the entire time. I stayed in the shelter of the trees moving around a little trying to stay out of the rain as much as possible. Checking on the osprey from time to time just hoping for one more shot.
Then the osprey began flying back in my direction. It was flying directly over the trees this time instead of over the water. I think it was planning to land in the trees again. However, it did not anticipate my presence. As it swooped down into a clearing between the trees to take up a perch in the next tree it saw me. It immediately veered off course and flew away. This time I got the shots as the osprey flew directly over my head. But it took a lot of hard work and dedication. I got a little wet and was a little bored at times, but my patience and perseverance paid off. Hopefully this situation will reinforce those traits in me.
Yesterday was quite a frustrating photographic venture. When you set out to take photographs you are bound to miss a great shot every now and then. Yesterday it felt like I missed every great photo op. I went to the lake and walked around this little path that passed between the lake and a pond. It was pretty overgrown which made it difficult to see anything much around me until I was right up on it. So I knew I was going to have to react fast to anything I saw. Even knowing this and being prepared did not help me. I stumbled upon a pair of bittern along the lake shore and scared them off without getting a single shot. Twice a belted kingfisher landed on a tree branch not more than ten feet away directly in front of me and in perfect position but saw me and took off before I could get a shot. A green heron was wondering around the pond area but kept taking flight before I even saw it. There were numerous small birds flitting around of which I missed many shots. So it was quite a frustrating day. I would love to be able to chalk it up to equipment failure or miss fire, which I think it may have been on a few occasions, but for the most part it was likely operator error. I simply was not on top of my game. I was not quiet enough, patient enough, or fast enough to get the shots I was presented with. It is a learning experience every time I go out into the field. I did get some nice shots but also missed some possibly remarkable ones. So in circumstances where I fail more than I succeed I try to at least bring away a bit of learning and new knowledge. And even though I missed the photos I still was privileged to be able to go out and see these amazing animals up close and witness their behavior.