Monday, August 29, 2016

Good news and Bad News


First the bad news. This is my last blog posting... before I turn 70. That's happening in about 10 days as I write this. Everybody says, "70 is the new 50"; "you don't really look your age"; "you're only as old as you feel"... well guess what? I'm starting to feel old.

It's worse since the last surgery. My sleep patterns have been disrupted, I have some issues with eating and swallowing, and did you ever stretch in the middle of the night and wake up with a cramp? All the time now and not just the legs, my stomach, my back... anyway, I shouldn't complain, I'm still on the top side of the grass!

I made some life choices over the years that were probably not the wisest. But at this point, I guess I have to accept what I have and don't have, and my life style. Wishing I were 10 years younger won't make it so. So be it. That said, I look back and I've done a Hell of a lot of things in my life. More than most people, I'll warrant.

Equally annoying is that I now accomplish so little every day. Some days I say, "I have to take the garbage to the dump and go buy some groceries", and that fills my day. I don't have the energy or desire to pursue the tasks I really should be doing. But I think I can fix that. It's a question of motivation. Too bad I don't have someone to help me stay on track.

It ain't over yet: I still have a lot of things to do (remember the bucket list I wrote about a while ago?). Anyway, lots of people are telling me I should have a celebration of this birthday, that it's a significant one. Frankly I'd really rather let it slip by unnoticed. Just one more trip around the sun.

Now the good news: today I bought myself a birthday present.

It's quite an old Starcraft Bowrider, with an Evinrude 85HP outboard. The interior is refurbished (new/old seats and some of the padded vinyl trim being redone).Hull and trailer in good shape. Motor runs well and as I write this, Bob, my ATV/boat mechanic has it and we're putting it in the water this morning (Sunday, August 28). I wanted something inexpensive but reliable. 

What am I going to use it for? A little fishing, and just an opportunity to run around the lake. I've lived here for 9 years and never been outside my little bay on 12-Mile Lake! It'll be great for viewing fall colours and just getting out and doing something different.

I'll start by docking it at my own dock but it gets pretty shallow there: yesterday I checked it out and I have 2 feet of water off the dock — knee deep. Hope it's enough. If the lake level drops, I'll have to move it to the Red Umbrella Inn's dock which they've agreed to let me use (for a price...). In winter, it'll go back on the trailer which I'll move into my garage. I'm just going to put a tarp over it — out on the dock as well so it won't fill up with water when it rains!
Update: we tried to put it in the water today. The battery was dead. Then we got it going using a Power Booster at the marina but the engine didn't settle down to a proper idle so it wouldn't run without stalling. Back on the trailer, and back to the mechanic until we get it running right. Hopefully only a couple of days.

I've also shelved painting for a little while. I'm frustrated because I can't seem to render what I see in my mind with brushes and oil paint, but I can with my computer, Photoshop and some of the high end plug-ins like Topaz Impression. I will get back to it – just today I saw something that I want to try to paint – but for now I need to take a break from the regular weekly art class.

This was originally a picture of a purple clover, but Impression helped me make it look like what my mind saw. 

Nice visit

My daughter and her two kids came to visit the other day. It was a little boring for them, we tried a little fishing but there was nothing biting... then just hung around the house for a while. I didn't take pictures, I preferred to be with them rather than documenting their visit! I did do a couple of iPhone shots, though:

Kelly's a beautiful 13 year old, super smart and precocious and going to break some hearts when she gets older! She's very much an actress.

Ryan will be 17 by the time you read this. He definitely doesn't have my physical genes: every time I see him he seems to be taller and taller. Somewhere between 6'2" and 6'3" now, I get a sore neck looking up to talk to him. Size 13 feet, and he thinks he isn't through growing. An "A" student too, he plays hockey and is on the swim team (really has a swimmer's body!).  

Neither Ryan nor Kelly play the guitar, they were just goofing around with mine. Ryan was able to play a version of "Smoke on the Water", though.

I wrote the following for the group who are joining us up in Wawa for the Gales of November workshop at the end of October (link: I thought it might be interesting for others to read here.


I'm seeing a number of ads for this new kickstarter funded company, just in business since May. What I'm reading is all good. If you read through their website, you'll find that neither the B&W filters (warm) or the Lee system (cool) are really neutral*. Here's the link:


Pricing is higher than B&W (a 77mm 10-stop is $179 vs. about $100 for the B&W). Lee is of course more, with all the hardware you need. Both the Breakthrough and B&W are made from Schott glass.

If you want to shoot long exposure moving water or even clouds or smooth out landscapes, you need some sort of ND filtering. The variable ND's will lay a diffraction pattern (that looks like a huge "X") on your images at anything but the lowest densities; using a cheaper brand would be like smearing the front of your expensive lens with vaseline. Trust me, you don't want to. I went through all that until I settled on a B&W 10-stop in 77mm (which fits all my lenses with stepdown rings).

 If I didn't have the B&W, I'd probably go for the Breakthrough 6-stop. I would add a Xume magnetic adapter. When you shoot a dark ND, you have to take off the filter to see through the camera, to compose or to focus... try doing that 10 times, unscrewing the filter without moving the camera, getting the threads jammed, etc. The mag mount lets you snap the filter on and off. The downside is you do get some vignetting with your ultra-wide angles; I get it up to about 20mm (full-frame) on my Nikkor 17-35 f/2.8. The Xume starter set at B&H is here:

 Dr. Ron Goodlin will be doing a talk on shooting long exposure water on the first night of our workshop (I'll do it in week 2). If you don't already have some ND capability in your bag for our trip, you're probably going to want some.
* Yes, I know you can compensate for white balance when shooting in RAW. Sort of. Sometimes. Without degrading anything else?

Picture Time!

I haven't been shooting much in the past couple of weeks: busy with other things, including spending time working on the upcoming "Gales of November" workshop (it's going to be great! Still some spaces on the second weekend, check it out!).

At a club event, a "scavenger hunt" kind of evening, I wanted to practice with off-camera flash. Jack didn't bring his camera (tsk!) so he became my VOLS (voice operated light stand)!

I added Jack into this picture in post-processing. Is he inside looking out, or is it a reflection? 
 I did a couple of people pictures:

Here's a head shot of Dianne. I used a Westcott diffuser on the flash, still pretty contrasty.  I used a couple of techniques I read about from Peter Hurley. Still doesn't make me a people photographer!

This woodstove was on the scavenger hunt list. But I added some Topaz Glow to make it more interesting. 

A few days later, I took out my light tent and spent a couple of hours working with my 105mm lens and off-camera flash.

I started with this shot: no flash but I had some fresh-picked tomatoes and they needed to be in pictures!  

Next I set up this still life. I thought it was a little boring so Topaz Impression to the rescue 

While shooting the still life, the batteries in the flash gave up, so I changed them. PROBLEM. Now it doesn't work right. Sometimes it flashes, sometimes it doesn't: and sometimes when it does flash, you can't see the light from the flash in the image. It's like it's not syncing with the camera. I still can't figure it out.

The flash should have fired in this shot but it didn't. 

And yet it worked when I shot this juvenile ruby-throated hummingbird at the feeder.  

{big sigh}. I wrote all of the following stuff several hours ago and though I thought it saved, obviously it didn't or I wouldn't be complaining and having to do it all over again. 

So even though I said I hadn't shot much, everything is relative. My camera is always with me and it's very rare that a day goes by without some sort of pictures. In the past week or so I've shot 3 times: two events and a day with the light tent.

Here's the second event: I went into Toronto with a group of people (Fred, Chris, Dianne and Larry) from the Haliburton Highlands Camera Club to repeat our outing last year, shooting street photos. This time (a) four people are easier to herd than seven, (b) we added the Distillery District to the Kensington Market venue and (c) despite following each other bumper to bumper, Larry got lost, then couldn't find his car. I did hear that he got home eventually!

For me, this wasn't my best outing. I wasn't seeing the pictures I wanted, especially in Kensington Market where I wanted to focus on "stories", not individuals. However I did manage to test a couple of concepts, and I did get a couple of keepers. Ansel Adams stated, "twelve significant photographs in a year is a good crop"!

We started in the Distillery District. 

Notice how nice and square everything is. Something like a good tilt-and-shift view camera might record it. That's not an accident, that's carefully done in post-processing, primarily using an often-neglected tool in Photoshop called "Perspective Cropping". Also there are only 2 people in this picture – there were a dozen (left there because, (a) they provide a place for the viewer's eye to go and (b) they were too hard to remove!). There's a technique in Photoshop called up via Scripts→Statistics→Median which I tested but you need probably a dozen images taken over time and on a tripod for it to work well. This was only 3 images. For toning, I used Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 and a touch of Topaz Impression2, with the "Cezanne" preset as my starting point.

Another shot along the way was this one where again I removed some people. I liked the way the flowers and the receding pavement lead the viewer's eye to the distant building, but there was 'way too much detail in the shot. So I used Topaz Simplify  and Impression to make it more abstract.

We don't have a lot of graffiti or graphically painted walls up here in the Highlands (although there's the odd tastefully done wall like the Minden Library or the old beer store...). Check out this hugely creative basketball court wall near the Distillery District!  Also check out the perfect form on this young lad's jump shot. Yes it went in. Nothing but net. His ball handling skills were also awesome: bet we see him in the NBA in 10 years or so!

Is that his sister? Coach? Mentor? She knew what she was doing but couldn't keep him from getting around her and scoring! Click the photo to blow it up.

I was struck by the fact that EVERYONE has a smartphone. Did Rodenberry foresee this on Star Trek? I'll bet he didn't think about "Selfies"!

This girl took several shots of herself in front of the big heart, fluffing and fixing her hair, posing and making a pouty face for each one. Bet they're for her Facebook profile! (you can click any picture to blow it up to see it better).

Lots of Selfies. Everyone was doing it. They're everywhere, they're everywhere!

But MORE ubiquitous were the people who were so involved in their smartphones that they completely ignored the world around them. I think this picture really tells that story:

I don't need to caption this. These self-absorbed people (who happened to be synchronized in step, good capture, Glenn!) were not even aware of these musicians playing 6 feet away. And they were good, too.

This was a carefully processed image, lots of photoediting time to make it right. It's what I saw.

Here's another shot from the same spot. This one's about the colours. Maybe THIS is what I saw.

OK, 'till next week. Boating pix, I hope. Sign up for "Gales", you know you want to! And Happy Birthday to my dear friend Lori who just keeps getting younger and to my favourite grandson Ryan!

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Monday, August 15, 2016

Stars on Bikes and Stars in the Sky!

I had the privilege of being invited to attend a training/competition session of the Toronto Police Services Motor Squad last week. My friend Sean is a motor officer and he obtained clearance for me to be there. It was a two-day event but unfortunately I could only get away for one day. The first day was devoted to team exercises and the second to individuals.

Those who know me know that I’m not much of a “people-person” – I shoot rocks and trees – although if I make the effort… but I’m out of my comfort zone shooting people. These guys made me feel comfortable being there. I chatted with a number of them (and if you’re reading this, guys and gals, I have a real problem remembering names, so forgive me if I meet you somewhere else – not professionally, hopefully – and can’t remember, don’t hold it against me!). They were really nice people, from the Inspectors on down. I’ve been around athletes before, who need to focus, and I did my best not to interrupt anyone’s train of thought.

Physically, they were all different shapes and sizes. TPS Traffic Services comprises some 40 motor officers, a few women, men ranging from fit gung-ho 20-something-year-olds, to wiry grey-haired guys (one fellow told me he’s been “blue-carded” on bikes for 32 years), to, well, a couple of gentlemen who made me feel slim! But they all shared three things in common: (1) they are all police officers, (2) they all REALLY know how to ride motorcycles and (3) they all love what they do for a living.

Pan shot. Slow shutter speed, long lens. When they work... 

I think the team events were more important than the individual skills ones, and here’s why: first of all, they all have the riding skills. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be there. Sure, some are better than others, but if you spent 12 years like I did teaching basic and intermediate motorcycle skills to civilians, you’d know it in an instant. But here’s the thing: these people are out there every day doing arguably the most dangerous duty a police officer can: individual car stops without a partner (I’m told that “domestics” are up there too). So although they’re out there ostensibly alone, deep down they know that their colleagues always have their backs. They trust each other implicitly. And when they do ride together, they know they can count on each other.

I’m reminded of the Snowbirds demo team where flying in close formation means focusing on your flight leader to the exclusion of everything else (and hoping he doesn’t fly into a mountain!). On bikes it’s the same thing except you also have to be aware of and react instantly to your surroundings. That’s why I called these guys (and gals) athletes.

There’s a sense of camaraderie in the motor squad, familiar to anyone who has ever served in a military unit. And respect and trust for the higher ranks. At this competition, almost all of them were wearing matching athletic shirts that said graphically on the back, “HEAD… and… EYES”. All motorcyclists know what that means. If you don’t, ask one! And they all had a nickname screened on their sleeve! You don’t pick your own nickname, the group chooses it for you! Sean is “RADAR”, for Radar O’Reilly of M*A*S*H fame who somehow could find anything. I met “Keener” and “Turtle” and “Rowdy” and “Scooter” and “Bam-Bam” (don’t want to know where that came from!) and others which of course I forgot.

Serious skills. This is Sean, looking where he wants to go! 

By the way, it was 35°C in the parking lot, and not a cloud in the sky. I was in an athletic shirt (with my old nickname on it: “Gunslinger” — thanks, Radar or “Sheriff” as he used to be known!), a photo vest and cargo shorts: except for the fact these folks were in tee shirts, not dress shirts and body armour, they were all in blue fatigue pants, boots and of course their fully loaded equipment belts. At the end of the day, they had to don their full kits for the ride back to the station: I didn’t envy them. It goes without saying that helmets were mandatory.

I think I understand now why police departments favour the Harley-Davidson over higher performance bikes. The Europeans favour the BMW’s and the Honda ST-1300 and other exotic rides. My old Honda ST-1100 was capable of almost double the top speed of the Harley, it was more manoeuvrable and much less expensive. But if you dropped an ST or a Beemer, into the shop it went for delicate repairs. The Harleys soldiered on. Most of the time you couldn’t even tell if one had fallen over, it landed on the crash guards and even if you did bend some chrome or dent a fender, so what? It’s low and stable and in the hands of a good rider, capable of manoeuvering in tight spaces. That said, the technology is over 100 years old!

Repairing a side stand interlock spring on the fly. You won't see a BMW rider doing that! (Then again, it wouldn't fail on a BMW... LOL )

So back to my point of trusting your teammates. There were complex exercises designed to test your ability to do just that — and yet think for yourself. One of them, called the “Dumb Ride” had three bikes in the circuit at a time, inches apart and they changed leaders three times!

I made this out of the shot below, doing a lot of work on the background in Photoshop and using Topaz Glow (see note below this article on the current upgrade available!).  

My only regret is that I didn’t expend more effort to document the team and perhaps get a group picture. It was really, really hot! Sorry. I thoroughly enjoy shooting motorcycles and admiring the skills of these motor cops. Their training is intense and effective, and they’re all really dedicated personable people who do a dangerous job really well. Kudo’s, motor squad.

Here's Sean, doing what he loves! 

New/Updated Topaz Glow

The fine folks at Topaz have just issued an update to their fantastic "GLOW" plugin program, which they have creatively called "GLOW2"! It's on sale from now until September 2nd at 30% off. Here are their words describing the update:

Topaz Glow introduces a new kind of tool into your workflow designed to electrify your imagination by illuminating the contours of your images to reveal the hidden life in each moment you capture. Glow 2 gives you the power to create stunning neon effects, or subtle ethereal glow. No matter the look you love, amplify your images faster than ever with Glow 2.

New features in Glow 2 Include: 
  • Over 30 New Presets - That brings the total to over 100 included effects to amplify your images or give you a boost creating a personal look you love.
  • New Masking Module -You no longer need a host editor like Photoshop to create masks on your images! Now, you can open Glow 2 and mask areas of your image directly from the application using luminosity, color selection, a spot mask, or a traditional brush mask, and yes it’s color aware :) 
  • Unlimited Undo/Redo - That's right! As long as you don’t close the program you can now undo or redo to your hearts content (as far as your system memory will allow.)
  • Topaz Community Integration - Topaz Glow 2 is the 3rd of our products to include the Topaz Community, an easy way for users to search save and share custom made presets with other Glow 2 users around the world. Surf an ocean of hand crafted presets, then download and apply with a click. Or share your custom presets for other users to try.
  • Automatic Preset Backup - as long as you’re signed into your account when you save a preset, that preset will be privately uploaded to the community then synced on any other machine you sign into. 

There's one caveat: this program uses intense GPU processing, so like Impression 2, your computer must have Windows 7+, Mac OSX 10.9+, and a GPU with OpenGL 3.3 or higher. (this replaces the older requirement for OpenGL 2.1). It won't install if it doesn't detect that. If you already own GLOW, it's a free update. Just download it and install it, it should pick up your existing license key.

If you're a new customer, use the link below and enter the coupon code, "GLOW2" at checkout for the discount. You can also try before buying to make sure it works on your system. Here's the link:

The Perseids Meteor Shower

Mother Nature is really cruel. It's been sunny and beautiful here for weeks on end. The peak nights for the Perseids meteor showers were Thursday and Friday. Guess what? Cloudy. I went out on Wednesday night but it was still worth the effort.

No meteors in this shot of the Milky Way. A flashlight, a little light painting...  

Instead of the advertised 150-200 meteors per hour, I saw about 30 or so over two and a half hours. Of course a lot were where the camera wasn't pointing! Still, I managed this composite of about 10 events:

Looking Northeast, I took about 250 frames over about 75 minutes. Each exposure was 15 seconds, with the wide angle lens set at 17mm (full frame), aperture at f/2.8, ISO at 3200. I drove the camera via TriggerTrap, using my iPhone.

People asked me how I created this composite: I isolated the 10 frames with incidents (I ignored airplanes. How come there are so many planes at 1:00 am in Northern Ontario?). I loaded them as layers in Photoshop and I masked everything except the meteor trail on each layer. 

The resulting negative mask looked like this. 
Then I took that composite and laid it over one of the 250 frames.

Since I had some 250 frames, I did two other things with them: I made a video timelapse using Microsoft Movie Maker and here's the link! Click to view it full-screen.

And I also created a star trails composite in StarStax. I didn't like the usual "lighten" type version, so I played with an average-with-increasing-exposure version that was much more subtle and brought out the glow of the Northern Lights that were present but not very visible to the naked eye:

I added in the masked composite from the previous example and did some toning work on the foreground.  

I'll close with another shot of the milky way from a few nights earlier.

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Monday, August 01, 2016



Danger, Will Robinson. Danger.

Michael at Red Umbrella Inn across the road from me just got a brand new drone. He was showing it to me then the phone rang and he handed me the controller. Argh!

Damn. You can even tell it where "home" is and it will land itself right there. You can set it to follow you as you drive or ride in a boat. It climbs up to 150m in a few seconds. We couldn't even find it in the sky up there. Take hands off the controls and it hovers motionless. You can rotate it. You can tilt it. You can look through its camera on your iPhone. You can send it to map coordinates or just to a spot you choose on a map.
Thou shalt not give in to temptation. Thou shalt not give in. Thou shalt not...
I didn't. I handed it back to him two minutes later.


It's interesting that every now and then something pops up in the photography community – especially on Facebook – as a trend. I suppose that has something to do with the groups you hang out in, but lately, everywhere I look, people are posting images of the Milky Way.

Some of them are quite spectacular, or they would be if I wasn't seeing dozens, if not hundreds of them. Digitally enhanced pictures of the galaxy with a well-composed, dramatically lit foreground. They set a standard that I sometimes can't reach, since I don't have desert rock arches or fabulous sea formations in range, but they do set some goals.

Hopefully the Weather Gods will cooperate and we'll be able to shoot some star fields up in Wawa during the Gales of November workshops! (Still some space on the second weekend! Visit for details).

Other trends? 360° SmartPhone shots. Long exposure shots of waterfalls and rapids. Fox kits in Algonquin Park and elsewhere. Focus stacked macro shots. And in my case (I'm guilty as well), images altered with plugins like Topaz Impression.

Back to the basics

It's time to get back to the basics. That's really easy to say — when going off in the artistic direction is as easy as clicking the mouse. But it's that time. I'm going to try!

Last week, I spent a pleasant couple of days with Bruce Peters, a Mississauga photographer friend of Hilary McNeil-Smith. We shot various venues around the Highlands. His presence inspired me to get out and take a fresh look at some places and times I've shot before. 

One of those places was Horseshoe Lake at Dawn. We didn't get a spectacular morning, but the mist on the water and the subtle pastels of the sky were interesting as usual. Here are three images before, during and after sunrise.  I'm never disappointed when I make the effort to get out early!

We visited another spot I like, where Highway 118 crosses Boshkong Lake. I gave into my desire to turn a photo into a piece of digital art...

Topaz Impression 2, Impasto preset (modified). I'm going to try to reproduce this in oil on canvas. Wish me luck! 

We went to some other spots I favour, including, of course, the Minden Wildwater. Then we went to Ritchie Falls. In both places, I mounted my 10-stop ND filter to smooth the water...

Here again I admit to doing a "little" post-processing!

The following morning my attraction to basic landscapes continued and I got up early to shoot this image behind the Red Umbrella Inn. I had actually shot a series of brackets intending to merge them as an HDR but I liked this one on its own, so there's very little processing done here. 
Back to the basics.

The Highland Yard, 2016 edition

I don't know the actual count, but I'm guessing there were about 150 participants at most, although it looked like there were as many as 50 runners in the 10K race. And that total included a whole bunch of smaller kids in the 2K. Still, it was a nice event and there were some photo ops! I hoped to do some different shots from previous years... at the start, I shot the runners coming at me with a telephoto lens, hoping to catch some good body positions and bright colours. When they returned to the finish line, I shot two ways: wide angle shots from a low point of view, then I switched to a long telephoto to capture faces and expressions. Here are a few images.

 I'm addicted to Topaz Impression among others... here's an image from yesterday's Highland Yard 10K event. However the plugins are so popular now that using them might make you part of the crowd as opposed to showing your individuality. Sort of like Harley Davidson riders who want to be different but they all look alike! 

I want to use my Impression-generated images for inspiration. Maybe I can express myself that way. However, I suck at painting.Harvey has said to be patient... when I have 50 years painting experience, like I do in photography... only problem is, I'll be 120 years old! 
I was a little disappointed this year. With one or two exceptions, there was nobody who had dug deep to run this race. No sweat-stained shirts, no agonized expressions, no ecstatic arm-pumps crossing the finish line. Just a bunch of people jogging in, checking their iPhones or their wrist-mounted stopwatches for their times, smiling and waving to their friends. I'm not sure what that means. Anyway, here are some more images:

Another "artsy" shot that just spoke to me. Candidate for a book cover?

Old man's leg, young man's shoe! 

There were some exceptions. Someone who was proud of her achievement and wanted to shout it out to the world! 

Another exception. This guy crossed the finish line, took one step and collapsed. Race staff hydrated him and he was OK later. 

File this lady under "Perseverance". She should be on a poster with that as the title. She came into the finish line running, not walking and with a look of commitment as you can see. Kudo's, lady. I couldn't do what you did. 
I just thought these two ladies made interesting photo subjects. Remember, you can click on any picture to blow it up.

Focus Pyramid

I bought this "Focus Pyramid" for the club and spent some time micro-aligning my lenses. The 70-200 Nikkor was the closest to zero and the Tamron 150-600 showed the most deviation. Interestingly it was different when I set it to 600mm and part way, around 400mm. I chose the 600mm alignment adjustment because that's the most critical point.

As you can see, you have to look very carefully to see where the lens is actually focusing. This shot was at a setting of +10 and I finally chose +8 as the setting (the range was -20 to +20). HHCC club members are welcome to borrow this focusing target to align their lenses. Contact Gord... 

Speaking of exercise...

Dr. Ron & Rob K came up for the day on Friday with the intent of bicycling the Rail Trail from Haliburton to Kinmount. I dropped them off in Haliburton (nice car, Rob. Embarrassing how long it took me to figure out that you need to press the brake to start it!), then went home to take a nap while they sweated their way down the trail. When I picked them up about 3 hours later, I didn't join them in their celebratory milkshake/icecream because I felt I didn't deserve it!

The intrepid road warriors, leaving Haliburton. The weather cleared up and it was bright and sunny when I awoke from my nap a couple of hours later! 
Then we went back to Ritchie Falls. It's tough shooting in the bright sun, so I chose to do some abstracts using my neutral density filter. 

A tree at Ritchie Falls that will need a few more visits with camera and sketch pad in hand! 

So that ends another July in the Haliburton Highlands. Lots of stuff going on in August, so stay tuned. And if you're thinking of booking the Gales of November workshop ( better get going, only 4 spots left!

PS: A whole blog post and not one bird picture! Don't get used to it!

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