Friday, December 21, 2018

Get over it.

Is this a  "New Year's Resolution"?
No, it's more of an epiphany.

In the last couple of blogs I've been bitching about getting old. Aches and pains, lack of energy and motivation, growing contact list of doctors, awful sleep patterns, a GRANDSON in the Air Force, for God's sake. The list goes on.

Then I say, without meaning it, "consider the alternative".

OK, enough. I can't promise I'll be less curmudgeonly, but I'll try. Think positive.

Three things happened in the past few days that are pushing me on this track:

  1. The oncologist I saw last week said, when I commented on my age, "the patient I just saw before you is 91. Get over it."
  2. My aunt passed away this morning. She was 102. My mom was 95. My dad died young, at 89. Get over it.
  3. On a completely different note, I went to Algonquin Park on Wednesday. Because I can. Whenever I want to. In fact I can do anything I want. Whenever I want to.

I want to write. I want to make pictures, with the camera, the computer, a paint brush, charcoal and pencils. Time for the excuses to end. 
Get over it.

In a conversation with my cousin Howard today (it was his mother who passed on at 102) we looked backwards at our lives — we basically grew up together — and we realized how much stuff we've done over the years. If I created a character in my novel who had done, and mastered, all that stuff, nobody would believe it. I'm still going to give it a shot!

Topaz Labs sale

If you're reading this and it's not Boxing Day yet, you still have time to take advantage of the Topaz Labs year-end sale.

I'm committed to the Topaz products. Virtually every picture of mine that you see has had a whiff of Topaz. Whether it's painterly effects, textures,  noise reduction, extra clarity or sharpening, upsizing or simplifying, their products are superb.

I recently started using AI Clear and now I'm committed to it. It does such a good job of increasing the acuity of an image that a lot of the methods I've used in the past have been relegated to the shelf.

Is there a learning curve? Of course there is. Not that steep though, you can work your way through it.

If you're cost conscious, you want to take advantage of this sale before it's gone. If not, you owe it to yourself to try their products: you can do a full 30 day free trial on anything in their program.

Here's the link:

Newfoundland Portfolio

I spent some time working on my Newfoundland pictures from last summer. I put a selection of them up online using Adobe Portfolio. All of the pictures in this group are large hi-res, so for the most part they'd be great printed!

So far, these are the best images. Click a picture for full-screen. Hover over it for the description.

Longliner approaching Gull Island, off Twillingate. 

Right now I'm recommending canvas wrap printing: I have a good, responsive and inexpensive supplier. You can get up to 40" width, you can hang them without framing, and I can do a large format print for about $100, delivered, including taxes. I can get regular prints too.

If you like any of the images, please communicate with me, tell me the title or description, and we'll go from there.

"The time had come, the warden said, to talk of many things..."
Of animals and ecology and climate change and the Park 
(sorry, Lewis Carroll).

Before I get into pictures from yesterday, I want to talk about some things I learned from a Park Warden named "David" with whom we chatted for a while.

PS: I got carried away, writing this: if it's too much for you, just look at the pictures.

OK, OK, here's a picture!

Male Pine Grosbeak. I learned from David that this is a second-year bird, not wearing full-colour plumage yet. 

David was a nice guy, despite the patches on his shoulders and gold badge on his chest. A bit crazy hanging out with us on the back deck of the Visitor’s Centre in a short sleeved shirt, everyone asking him from time to time, “aren’t you cold”? “I wouldn’t do this if it was 40 below, but it’s a nice day…”. Me, in a down jacket over a wool sweater over my thermal underwear… Knowledgeable guy, knows his birds, nature, the park. “I don’t think that’s a hoary redpoll, look at the shape of the bill. I think it might be just a light coloured common redpoll”.

The conversation turned to feeding and baiting, and where do you draw the line. Aren’t they really the same thing? You could tell that David was not comfortable at times. You had the impression he was expressing a personal opinion and being really careful not to contradict the Park’s official position. He made an interesting comment, that it’s not a digital divide, unethical baiting on one side, managed feeding on the other, "it’s a continuum", he said. 

At one point he grudgingly admitted that it wasn’t necessary to have the feeders at the centre, the birds would survive the winter anyway, or most of them would. The feeders were really there to cater to the visitors and yes, the photographers.

Of course we went to pine martens and foxes next. There was a couple we all  had run into up at the turnaround on Opeongo Road that day. When we (Amin and I) were there, they were holding a handful of bird seed or trail mix to hand feed the chickadees and Canada jays. But other people in the conversation said they saw this couple feeding cheese and meat to a pine marten there. One said he left without shooting any pictures because he couldn’t condone the behaviour. 

All of us have seen the deplorable setup at Mew Lake. The pine martens live in the garbage bins and through some sort of misguided logic, some people think there’s nothing wrong with spreading peanut butter or cat food on the tree branches in the hope of slowing down these fast-moving predators so they can get a picture. After all, they're eating garbage anyway. Last week I had to wait to get a shot when the animals weren’t busy licking the trees. Someone said they saw a visitor one day, nailing hot dogs to the tree. “Can’t something be done about this? Can’t you charge people”?

“When we get there”, David said, “people say the one who did this just left. We’re just taking pictures”. It is a chargeable offence, harassing wildlife, but hard to enforce. But David went on to explain why it’s wrong. He used the famous foxes on Arowhon Road as an example.

The foxes up there were so habituated to Man that all you needed to do was to stop your car and open the door, and the foxes would appear. Crinkle a potato chip bag and you’d almost have one in your back seat. They waited for people to appear, guaranteed food sources. As a result, several things happened. First and most obvious, the animals were interacting with two tons of metal and plastic and the inevitable occurred, the cars won. Papa fox and one of his daughters are now living their lives out at Aspen Valley rehab, Papa still limping around on often broken limbs after car collisions. 

My favourite picture of Papa fox, shot a few years ago. 

But Papa has lived a long time, some say between 12 and 15 years, unheard of for a fox: it's like a person living to 120. Still fathering a litter of kits every year until recently, which meant that there was a continuing presence of foxes in that territory for a long time. Not just a pair... many. Maybe as many as a dozen. There are turtle beds along the trails and with the constant pressure of a dozen foxes, virtually no turtles have survived. We've changed the ecological balance, at least in that part of the park, in a few short years, by feeding the foxes in order to get some pictures.

But there's more. These foxes are so tame they would conceivably take food from the hand. "What do you think would happen", David asked, "if a fox nipped someone, perhaps a child, in the process of taking food from the hand"? The answer was obvious: the foxes would be hunted down, trapped and euthanized. 

Now let's get back to the pine martens at Mew. There used to be one or two. This week I saw five, someone else said six. True, some of them were kits (or whatever a baby pine marten is called). What do you think is happening to the squirrel population? Voles? Are we changing the environment for the sake of a few pictures? When is someone going to get bitten (not "if". It's going to happen)? Then what. How is it different from bears or wolves invading campsites? 

Back to the question at hand. What's the difference between baiting the wildlife, and feeding the birds? Nobody's going to get bitten by a chickadee landing on your hand for a peanut. And since the Park itself is setting a poor example by setting up feeders and putting out suet, how can they begin to prevent people from doing the same.

There has to be a line drawn in the sand (or the snow!), though. And by the end of the conversation, we all agreed: it's between feeding mammals and birds (yes we talked about baiting snowy owls but it's not germane to Algonquin Park). And let's not talk about the supposedly "Wild" turkeys at Mew who peck between your feet and come out when people show up.

Is it ethical to take pictures of habituated animals, even if you're not the one doing the feeding? Should we be flocking to Mew Lake or Opeongo after the martens? A conundrum wrapped in a mystery, buried in an enigma (thanks, Sir Winston). I'm on the horns of a dilemma. It's just that they're just so damned cute...

And to that couple who were throwing cheese and hamburger to the Pine Martens up in Opeongo, don't do it in front of me. You know what side I'm on.

Sure the Pine Martens are cute and photogenic. But there are at least 5 of them living at Mew right now, what's that doing to the population of squirrels and voles in the area? And what happens when someone gets too close and gets bitten? 

What else did I shoot at Algonquin yesterday? 

Not much but it was a great day, like every other time I've managed to get to the Park!

Colours on that immature male Pine Grosbeak are exquisite.

Here's what a mature male looks like 

Common Redpoll 

American Goldfinch 

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