Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Birds and more birds...

This post is all about birds. Well, almost. So if you're not into birding, you can either scroll through and enjoy the pictures, or skip it and wait for next time when I'll put up some more of the off-the-wall stuff you're used to! I wanted to document my two visits to Carden this week so I made this into more of a photo essay than usual.

Carden Plain — a productive morning

I stopped by for an early season visit to the Carden Alvar last Thursday (April 21) expecting that I wouldn't see much. I was passing by, had a couple of hours to spare so I thought I'd see what's what. Besides, I had that new-to-me Tamron 150-600mm f/5.6-6.3 lens and wanted to give it a preliminary workout. Pretty well all of the shots below were handheld at 600mm.

First step, make sure everything is working. So I focused in on a pair of distant Canada Geese on the wing, and here's what I got:

Not bad, given how far away they were.
(you can click any picture to see it full sized)

First up were a couple of horses. Carden is a working farming area, there are horses and cattle there too.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that this little lady was just a wee bit pregnant.Or this is the roundest horse I ever saw!  

This little guy can't be more than a couple of days old. Already running around. Imagine a human newborn...

Here he is doing what mom is doing. Then he gives up and goes for her teat... mom is still very distended so as I said, he's a newborn. By the way, I waited patiently for them to get in this mirrored position. 

OK, off in search of avian targets! A few of the bird species are back and the first I encountered was the "woo-woo-woo-woo" of the Wilson's Snipe, the sound it makes in flight. Their behavior was different from later season, when they like to pose for the camera on a fence post. They swooped around, then landed virtually hidden in the grass. They're hard to see until they move!

It may look a bit darker than the dry grass but so do any number of rocks and clods of dirt! 

I stopped at this stand of deciduous trees because there were birds calling all around me! They were hiding, though. 

Here's one! It's a brown Thrasher hiding in the aspens. 

A little further down the road is the blind, built by the Couchiching Conservancy to accommodate birders. It was still padlocked, due to be opened any day now. By the way, if you want to know more about the Carden Plain, visit their website at http://www.cardenplainimportantbirdarea.com/, it's a very good read, although it's a few years out of date. The most commonly seen bird there is the Eastern Phoebe, as well as the tree sparrow, who often nest right in the blind. There was a mating pair of Phoebes there.

Posing on a stick out behind the blind. A pair were building a nest.

An interesting sidebar about this picture if you're a photographer... I'm new to the world of 600mm lenses. The few times I've tried one in the past (even Dr. Ron's world class Nikon 600/f4) I've had little success capturing sharp images. Practice, of course, but in the meantime I've erred on the side of faster shutter speeds. This image is no exception, it was shot at 1/1600 sec at f/7.1 (why not f/8? I dunno...), matrix metering with +2/3 stop exposure compensation, and that exposure combination bumped the ISO up to 5000.

Other than normal sharpening and a bit of cropping, the only thing I did to this image was to run it through Topaz DeNoise 6 and then I masked the effect on the bird itself, so what you see is what I got. I'm very pleased with the tonality of the image and you will be seeing it in competitions!

Why did I write this detail? Because what I didn't say was I had dragged out the tripod and gimbal mount and there was absolutely no reason to shoot at such a high speed! I probably could have shot this at 1/250 sec, ISO 1000 and pulled more detail out of the feathers.

Unfortunately, the spot they chose was on the sill in front of one of the shutters. So either it's going to get knocked down when the shutter opens, or the conservancy will latch this shutter closed for the season.  

Across the road, at the top of a cedar tree, this Brown Thrasher was singing his heart out!  

I drove down to the Sedge Wren trail and walked in just to the corner. Nothing happening. Because I had to get going, I headed back down the road. On the way out, I passed through a flock of at least four-and-twenty (red winged) blackbirds

Near the entrance to Wyllie Road, on the west side, I saw two Pileated Woodpeckers

Then finally, I saw a pair of tree swallows building a nest in a bluebird box:

Probably the male, standing guard while wifey did all the work! 

All in all, a productive couple of hours on an early season day. I'll be baaaack...

Hi, I'm Baaaack...

An early morning Facebook post from Rico Forlini saying he was at Carden Plain got me into the car and enroute there on Sunday. I did run into him and Tim — they were just leaving as I arrived. We did get a quick look at an Eastern Meadowlark but out of photo range.

Carden is interesting because you never know what you'll find. When Rico told me he saw an Eastern Loggerhead Shrike at the blind, that's where I headed! So without further ado...

This guy was quite far away, so this is a 100% crop – 1:1 – at 600mm. I tried a series of different exposures and chose what I thought was the sharpest one: 1/2000 sec at f/8, ISO 3200, a lot of sharpening and noise reduction! It's perched on top of a Hawthorne bush, it's favoured nesting tree since the thorns protect the nest from predators. 

The Eastern Loggerhead Shrike was listed as a critically endangered species in Canada back in 1991 and the population has shrunked even more since then. According to Wildlife biologist Don Sutherland (who happened to be standing beside me when we (ok, when "he"!) spotted this bird), there are fewer than a dozen mating pairs in the Alvar. He remarked that this one was not banded, so it isn't one that was re-introduced, it's native.
Don had an outstanding piece of optics with him. This is similar to the model he had...

It was astoundingly clear when you looked through it. I'll make the Swarovski shop one of my very first stops after leaving the lottery office the day I cash my winning ticket. With camera adapter, you're looking at about $5K. If you've never looked through one of these and you do, have your chequebook handy! 

OK, back to the planet Earth! The usual culprits were on hand to be photographed. Although I already have a picture of a Phoebe, I like this one for the sharpness and tonality

Eastern Phoebe with nest-building material 

You don't only see exotic and rare birds. This American Robin posed precisely so that he could be framed by the tree

Carden Plain is well known for its bluebird population. This early visitor was basking in the momentary sun as the clouds split for a minute. 

This is a female yellow-shafted Northern Flicker who popped by for a look-see but never came out far enough to give me a shot of the whole bird.  

And finally, here's another Brown Thrasher in mid-song. I thought the composition and framing of this shot was worth posting here, even though I have another couple of Thrasher shots up above. 

I'm reasonably happy with the Tamron lens, for birds at a middle-distance but not with long distance stuff. Maybe it's me, I need more practice. I seem to get less sharp results when I'm on the tripod than I do handheld, there are some techniques I need to work on, I imagine. 

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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Back in the real world

...from the sporadic musings department
Do you remember your dreams?

One weird thing that's been going on since my surgery is that I'm not sleeping well, consequently I seem to fall asleep with no notice right in the middle of things (unfulfilled REM sleep, according to my cousin the psychologist!). Maybe I'm a Narc. Narcoleptic, that is. And I have dreams. I'm writing this now because here I sit in my computer chair and I just woke up from an unplanned nap, in which I had a vivid dream.

I was facilitating some workshops, others were teaching them but they were my program. I was in some sort of teaching facility – maybe a hospital – and although I had pre-booked classroom space for three simultaneous sessions, I couldn't find the third one, the one that I myself was supposed to be teaching. Not only had they moved it to a different room, I learned that it was not even in the same building and nobody could tell me where it was! I asked them to point to the building on a map or just give me the street address and they couldn't. Then I woke up really frustrated.

I had another dream the other day, in the car when I had pulled over on the side of the road for a nap, and I dreamed about being high on a mountain side and in a hurry to get down, so I basically flew down a trail being pulled along at speed by my walker (you know, the thing that my mother uses to help her get around) except mine was powered and  it was very fast and the trails were twisty and narrow and dangerous. I had to descend several flights of stairs and I found myself jumping whole stair sections like Jackie Chan. I remember being somehow stymied and frustrated when I woke up.

This morning, I dreamed I was in a college dorm room and with me was this very tall, very beautiful blond girl and we were just starting to explore some of the physical differences between us when I woke up. I really, really tried to get back to sleep into that dream!

There's this disorienting moment when you wake up and you think you're still in the dream. Very weird, I never experienced that before with the vividness I am now. Let me try to go back to sleep now. There's this college dorm I want to visit...

Practicing what I preach

A couple of years ago, I borrowed a phrase from a Scott Kelby video, "Work the Scene". I Grokked the concept (stole that one from Robert A. Heinlein), and part of it ties in with the old Norwegian fable by Hans Christian Anderson, "The Billy Goats Gruff". Marrying concepts is what I do and whether I communicate them well is for you to decide.

I went out yesterday to shoot some pictures. It's been a few weeks, I'm still recuperating so a day-long trip was pushing it. I went over to the Minden Wildwater Preserve for an hour to see what I could see. It's an ugly time of year here, brown melting snow and mud, no colour out there other than grey and brown and white, it was a dull day. But, I said, that doesn't mean there isn't something to photograph, there are a million things out there in Nature, from the very small to the very large (Oh dear. That one comes from DeWitt Jones! It is said that "...great artists steal". Stole that from Pablo Picasso.). However, I only had my long telephoto lens with me, or at least that's the only one I took out.

So when I got there, I saw that the Gull River had overflowed its banks, there was an incredible cascade of rushing water and there were little ice caps everywhere because the temperature was still below freezing. So that's what caught my eye and I spent some time trying to make some images of the crystallized waters. With a little success.

But I wasn't done. This is where working the scene comes in. I'm here, there's more to shoot, work it. Find something else interesting.

A spot o' colour on a dull day 

More colour. This was the only natural thing that I found that was colourful! 

By the way, except for the screaming tree below, everything was shot with the Tamron 150-600 lens. Mostly at ISO 6400.

My photo of the day wouldn't have happened if I hadn't kept at it.

I liked the original too, before post-processing. But when I looked at this image I saw the possibility of doing it as a painting, so I used Topaz Impression, Impasto preset as a starting point.

It's also interesting to note that the first pass had too much detail in the lower left corner. So I took the original image into Photoshop and used Content-Aware-Fill to change that area and only then took it into Impression. I also did a charcoal version to play with later using real charcoal pencils on sketching paper. 

On the way home, I drove down Horseshoe Lake Road, a road I've been on a thousand times  over the 9 years I've lived here. As I came over a rise I spotted something interesting but I kept going for a bit until it registered. Here's where the "billy goat" thing enters into it. In the past, I've driven along and saw a nice sunset, then figured if I kept going I might find a better foreground for a shot. You never do: by the time you find something, the peak is gone, the light has changed. So I've learned not to drive by and hope for something better to come along, I've learned to stop. So I made a u-turn. Here's what I had seen:

A tree stump that looked like a screaming figure! Like I said, I've driven this road many times before, how come I never saw it? 

I took several shots. I remembered that the 105mm lens was in the bag so I changed to it and kept shooting. I tried an HDR bracket, I changed the colour temperature, I wanted to make this guy stand out!

So many options. Adding fog, duo-toning... but in the end, here's what I came up with.

The "Screaming Tree on Horseshoe Lake Road". Rendered with Topaz Impression and Texture Effects.

The lesson? If you see something, if it catches your eye, STOP and SHOOT IT. It may not be there later!

It's about a week later now. Writing this thing over time... when I re-read what I wrote I realize that "I woke up today..." isn't exactly right. Forgive me!

Cops for Cancer

Last Saturday I did the Cops for Cancer headshave thing. Bottom line: they raised over $60,000 for the Canadian Cancer Society. Proud to have been a part of it. I saw a lot of really nice and dedicated people, talked with a bunch of them, saw my old friend Sean and Dr. Ron was nice enough to come down as well to take some pictures (which I haven't seen yet!). Had my head shaved, took a few pictures myself, it was a worthwhile event and I'm glad I did it.

More importantly: a number of my friends and colleagues donated to the cause, so I raised almost $1000. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. We will beat this thing.

So here's a short photo sequence, of my shots and Sean's iPhone pix of me!

Deputy Chief Mike Federico gives a welcoming and big thank you speech


and then takes his turn under the clippers 

Karen (I think that's her name) donated 10" of her waist length hair last year and another 8" this year, for wigs for chemotherapy patients. 

For some, it was a family affair, a dad and his two boys did the shave and raised substantial donations 

He said he'd been growing his 'Bon Jovi' hair for years! Yeah, well the wig came off, and then so did his real hair 

Here's my buddy Sean, one of the most imposing cops you'll ever meet at over six-and-a-half-feet tall. He looks mean when he wears his motorcycle duds but he's much too nice a guy!


...and after! I think this could be the poster-boy shot for next year's event. Sean was in fact on the committee that made this happen. The radio reporter in the foreground was one of the many media types on site. 

Now it's my turn. This and the next two photos courtesy of Sean Shapiro 

Ahhh! Feel the wind in my (non) hair! 

"so what are you doing later, my dear?" 

I plan on going back next year. Expect me to bug you for donations again!

(PS: Wendy – you were right – it does feel cold! I even wore my Toronto Police watch cap to bed that night!
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Saturday, April 09, 2016

Well that wasn't a lot of fun.

But here I am back and I'm on the correct side of the grass. I don't want to dwell on the procedures, just some stuff that I think you might find interesting.

The whole experience was sprinkled with uncomfortable moments but really no 'scary' ones. I guess that's because this is the third time I've been through it. I had great confidence in the people working on and supporting me, they all knew exactly what they were doing. I lucked out with the surgeon. The originally scheduled one had some medical problems of his own (hope he's OK...) and his replacement, Dr. Chepeha, turned out to be an internationally famous surgeon who specializes in the more difficult procedures like mine. By the way, he's the nicest guy you want to know: listens, understands, and tells you in plain English what's going on.

The one really bad time was waking up in ICU. Apparently I gave them some exciting moments, tearing out my IV among other things, but those moments disappear into foggy memory. I distinctly remember someone telling me I should be tested for sleep apnea and some time later, someone telling me to ignore what I had heard. Still, I'm not sleeping well yet. Better now that I'm in my own bed.

On the Head and Neck Surgery wing in TGH, I saw people far worse off than I. Once I got into an actual room, my roommate had a trach' tube and couldn't speak. I told him he had been an ideal roommate until they took it out and he could talk again! There were others, '...there but for the grace of God...'

So due to the extensiveness of my surgery, my jaw and neck filled with fluid (it's called edema) making me look like a giant chipmunk. Dr. Chepeha told me that's because of a 3-letter word that starts with "F" and rhymes with "Cat". Yeah... but the good news is that it will likely go down but maybe not completely, and because of it, I've lost 12 pounds as of this morning! Why? Well I can't open my mouth all the way and combined with nerve damage, food has lost a lot of appeal for now. If I'm smart, I'll use this experience to change my eating habits. Just eating slowly, as I have to now, gives your stomach time to say "enough!" so you eat less.

a couple of days after surgery. iPhone selfie.

See the resemblance?
(Graphic found online but I couldn't find whom to attribute it to) 

When they let me out, I stayed with a friend, Alison, in Thornhill. I don't know how to put into words how she went out of her way to make sure I was comfortable and catered to. For about a week longer than anticipated. When I protested, or when my family did, about all the things she did and how she opened her home to us, her response was, "don't take the joy out of it for me". I don't know your middle name, Ali, but it's probably "Giving".

I would be remiss in omitting mention to all the friends (you choose your friends!) and relatives (you don't choose them! LOL) who cared and went out of their way to be there for me. My sister, Barbi and her husband who were constantly there and even took me down to the hospital on 'the day' at 5 am; people who visited me who really have an aversion to hospitals, my kids, and my mom, of course, who at 94 kept insisting on being there. Also Dr. Ron who doesn't know how to take "no" for an answer and who dragged me out when I didn't want to but needed to. Love all you guys. Wish I could mention you all.
Oh yeah: "Did they get it all"? No. But they didn't expect to. Metastatic thyroid cancer is different from most of the other varieties, as Dr. Chepeha said, it's guaranteed to spread and rear its ugly head over and over again, which means ugly and complicated treatments, but it's manageable and probably won't kill me in the end. It is what it is.
So here I am. Back home, writing again, soon to be shooting pictures again, annoying everyone with my blathering and images that mean more to me than you. Hope I can keep doing that for a long time to come.


On April 16th, I'm participating in the Cops for Cancer event at the Yorkdale Shopping Centre. I've teamed up with my friend Sean Shapiro and will be having my copious curly locks shorn publicly to express my support for cancer research. Not only my support, but YOURS! The whole idea is to raise donations for the Canadian Cancer Society. 

I didn't know what to put down for a goal so I think I set it too low. Don't let that daunt you: please take the opportunity to donate to this critical cause. Here's a link to my personal page on the Cops for Cancer site. Please visit it and make a donation, every dollar counts.

(as I write this, I've reached 86% of my goal. Help me get over the top!)
And yes, I'll post bald pictures after the fact! Come to Yorkdale Shopping Centre, Southwest entrance for Noon on Saturday April 16th and shoot some embarrassing pictures!

Now about Photography

Many of the people I know in this game have done exceedingly well over time, but it especially came together now. I missed all the fun!

The Richmond Hill Camera Club, my 'alma mater', cleaned up this year. Not only did they win the "Glennie" (nothing to do with me!) international competition this year, they won EVERY CATEGORY. Unbelievable. 

Next was the GTCCC 2016 Inter-Club challenge. Here's a summary of the results:

Prints: First place, Richmond Hill Camera Club.
Digital Pictorial: First place, Richmond Hill Camera Club.
Natural Things: First place, Richmond Hill Camera Club.
Nature: First place, Richmond Hill Camera Club.
Stu Freedman Trophy for best camera club in the GTCCC: Richmond Hill Camera Club.
In case you're wondering, I didn't skip any categories. RHCC swept the whole thing.
As a side note, Stu Freedman died in September and a moving tribute to him was presented at the awards ceremony by Ron Goodlin. Stu essentially founded GTCCC and mentored many photographers through his 75-odd years in photography (I knew Stu and in fact was related to him through marriage, but because I grew up in Montreal not Toronto, I didn't have the pleasure of being taught by him).

But that's not all, folks. Dr. Ron Goodlin took the honours as "Photographer of the Year" in the GTCCC, beating out fellow RHCC member Rob Kline by one single point!

Ron will be up here in Haliburton in May, to talk to us about wildlife photography – make it a point to come up if you can.

Haliburton Highlands Camera Club

I'm no longer the President of the club: now I'm the "Past President". I stepped down to allow other people to leave their fingerprints on the club (and do the work!). I'll still be active, but I'll get to pick and choose the projects in which I participate.

Competitions have always been near and dear to my heart. I believe that they represent the strongest tool for improvement because they take you out of your comfort zone and open your eyes to imperfections in your work, so you can strive to improve them. That's not to say that I want to stick my nose into the operation of the process, just that I want to change the mindset of the club members, to get them to participate more.

It will be tough to beat the RHCC powerhouse in open competition. But there are some strengths up here, especially in the Nature classifications and we should give them a run for their money!

The GALES go marching on!

At this writing, there are only half-a-dozen slots open for the Gales of November workshops. It's the best opportunity some of us will have to spend time in a premier photography location, sharing experiences with top photographers, without spending thousands of dollars. Book now to reserve your space. Here's the link to the dedicated web page where you can check out the details!

Parting Shot

Have you ever known me to post a blog without a photo for you to look at? 

While I was recuperating, my camera was too. I took it in to Sun Camera Service for a cleaning and a tuneup, all ready for the season to come. I highly recommend them, by the way: pricing is reasonable, quality of work is awesome and their customer service and turnaround time beats the manufacturers' sites hands-down. If you're no longer in warranty, why send your equipment in to Nikon or Canon, when you can get a better job in half the time and for a lower price? Here's the link. Tell Nick I sent you.

Here's the story. While sitting on the couch in Alison's living room at 6am one day, unable to sleep, I saw the staircase in the hall, illuminated by light from the skylight up above. I took a couple of shots with my trusty iPhone and then did some work on this one in Photoshop.

One key thing I did was to use Perspective Cropping to square it up. Then retouch some small stuff, tweak the colours, apply Topaz Impression and Texture Effects and there you have it. I envision the same shot with a dancer, perhaps in ballet gear or maybe a brightly coloured skirt, coming down from top right. I may try to add that in at another time.

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