Great Blue Heron Flyby

Great Blue Heron

Click on Image to Enlarge

A Great Blue Heron tired of standing around suddenly jumped up and started flying. He had been standing to the right of my vision for 30 minutes or so, doing absolutely nothing. In the meantime, I was wading around in the water at the North Beach Lagoon in Ft. De Soto, trying to isolate one or two of the Marbled Godwits. They weren’t cooperating and were determined to stay well bunched up, just like in the photo.

Lucky for me, the Great Blue Heron took off heading right across me. I managed to get off 5 frames, but he was moving faster than I was panning. This was the first frame, and is also the best of the series.

We stayed in Pass-a-Grille for four weeks this year, so I was able to spend many days at Ft. De Soto. It rarely disappoints, and this was a good day with me getting a lot of keepers. I’ll post some other photos as I work through them. My first count was just over 10,000 frames in the six weeks we spent between Sanibel and Pass-a-Grille. I’ve got them weeded down to about 800 now, and hope to end up with 50 that I really like.

This Great Blue Heron shot was taken about 10:30 AM, with the sun well up and shadows very strong. To counter the strong shadow under the wing of the Great Blue Heron, I lightened the wing underside with a layer mask set to “lighten” in Photoshop. I also cloned out a couple of out of focus fence posts in the background, and finished up with a little adjustment on a curves layer. The image itself is about 98% of the original frame, as I lost only a little bit in leveling the horizon. Finally, did some noise reduction to the whole image and then smart sharpening to the Great Blue Heron only.

Nikon D4 with 600mm and 1.4 TC for 850mm., tripod mounted. 1/1600 sec., f7.1, iso 800.

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Cycling the Salento Coast

The last day of our VBT bicycle tour through Puglia and Lecce was saved for a ride up the Salento Coast.  Our longest and perhaps most scenic scheduled ride was saved for last, heading south from our hotel Tenuta Centoporte to reach the eastern coast at Castro. Castro was the site of one of many area lookout towers, the ruins of which still spot the entire coast. A thousand years ago, this area was well within range of invaders from the east. The towers thus played an important part in defending the coast. We then biked north along the Salento Coast to Santa Cesarea Terme, where we stopped for lunch.

Watchtower in Casto (click on image for a larger view)

Watchtower in Casto
(click on image for a larger view)

Santa Cesarea Terme is a beautiful town resting high on a cliff and overlooking the Ionian Sea. The day was hazy and slightly overcast, yet still a fine day for sightseeing. This image started as a photograph, but it just didn’t seem to impart the painted effect of this entire area. So, after optimizing the photo in Photoshop, I ran it through a couple of special effects by Topaz Labs. I think this finished image is far more representative of the character of the Salento Coast. Although it’s a lot different than my usual posts, I really like it and hope that you do as well.

Santa Cesarea Terme (click on image for a larger view)

Santa Cesarea Terme
(click on image for a larger view)

Following a fine picnic lunch and obligatory gelato for dessert, we continued north to Porto Badisco, a secluded little cove where we had a chance to relax while many chose to cool off in the water. After this rest stop, we continued north, following the coast to Capo d’Otranto. This marks the easternmost point of Italy, putting us only 45 miles from Albania as well as marking the division between the Ionian Sea to the south and the Adriatic to the north.

Porto Badisco (click on image for a larger view)

Porto Badisco
(click on image for a larger view)

The final part of our ride north gave us great views of the water from high up on the cliffs, until we turned inland to begin the loop back around to our hotel. There was still lots to see along the way as much of the last few miles were through olive groves, a couple of small towns, and even the odd flock of sheep.

Sheep along the roadside near Otronto (click on image for a larger view)

Sheep along the roadside near Otronto
(click on image for a larger view)

A beautiful lat day for our trip, but why post this now? Well, on our whole trip the weather was fine with moderate, warm temperatures. Despite the mild winter so far here in the Northeast, it did get cold and snowed a foot on Friday, with more on the way. That leaves me sitting here remembering what a fine time we had.  Hope that you enjoy the photos.

 

Bike trip from Bari to Castro. (click on image for a larger view)

Bike trip from Bari to Castro.
(click on image for a larger view)

Bicycle ride up the Salento Coast (click on image for a larter view)

Bicycle ride up the Salento Coast
(click on image for a larter view)

 

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Willet Preening

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Seeing a Willet Preening is a very common sight at Ft. De Soto. This obliging Willet presented a really nice head angle just in time for me to get a picture. It was standing on a sand bar in several inches of water while I kneeled in a pool about 80 feet away. There were several other Willets right around this one, but I was able to capture this with enough separation that it was easy to crop the other birds out of the frame. The weather was overcast, with a light fog that made the background water turn almost white. By increasing the contrast while masking out the Willet, the smudged water went entirely white. Other post processing included darkening the eye a bit, bringing out some more detail in the Willet’s lighter feathers and then applying some sharpening just to the Willet.

After looking at this a while, it seemed to be a good candidate for a high key black and white image. I converted the picture above to black and white and applied a small amount of Topaz Simplify. This washed out all the color and raised the overall black and white tones, giving it a bit more of a painted impression. The final step in this second image was to warm up the tone just a bit, as the straight black and white just looked too cold.

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I like the way this turned out, maybe even more than the original image. The black and white was posted to my Facebook page at: Snow Pond Photography on Facebook. So, thanks for looking and I hope you enjoy this Willet Preening.

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Simple Spoonie

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Spoonie is an often used abbreviation for Roseate Spoonbill and they are one of my favorite birds to photograph. This spoonie was quite tame and worked around me for quite some time, giving me several pretty good images. I particularly like this one because the calm water surrounds the spoonie with such a nice, uniform color. Somehow I managed to shoot this with the bird’s tail right up against the right side of the image, so I’ve added some canvas to balance out the frame. I also cloned out some pieces of debris lying around in the water. A nice photo to look at on a cold day like today, can’t wait to get back for some more Florida bird photography.

Nikon D4 with 600 mm lens, tripod mounted. 1/1250 second @f7.1, iso 640.

Hope you enjoy it, thanks for looking.

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Biking Puglia

Coastline to Monopoli (click on photo to enlarge)

Coastline to Monopoli
(click on photo to enlarge)

For us, the big selling point of our trip to Italy was a 10 day biking tour of Puglia. Puglia is a region located along the southeastern side of Italy and bordering the Adriatic and Ionian Seas. As predicted, the weather was warm and dry, perfect biking weather. Darcy and I were in a group of 18 great people, organized by Vermont Biking Tours (VBT). VBT arranged everything, plane reservations, transfers, our pre-trip in Matera, bikes, helmets, hotels and restaurants. Pretty much all we had to do was show up ready for a good time.

 

 

 

 

Darcy's Bike Tatto (click on photo to enlarge)

Darcy’s Bike Tatto
(click on photo to enlarge)

Our first day of biking was a warmup ride of only 6 miles, riding from our masseria (think hotel) to the ancient ruins of Roman Egnazia and back. Right off the bat, Darcy was able to show off her bicycle “tatoo”, otherwise know as chain grease, on her leg.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cart ruts in the Via Traiana (click on photo to enlarge)

Cart ruts in the Via Traiana
(click on photo to enlarge)

As for the ruins themselves, it’s hard to describe how much manpower was involved in creating this place. That remained a strong theme in my mind throughout the tour as the manual labor involved in all the buildings was just mind-boggling. The major transportation road from Brindisi to Rome was the Via Traiana, comprising the coastal spur of the Appian Way. This road ran right through the center of Egnazia for so many years that the carts cut deep and obvious ruts into the roadbed of solid stones.

 

 

 

 

Main Plaza at Egnazia (click on photo to enlarge)

Main Plaza at Egnazia
(click on photo to enlarge)

Walking around we could see locations for the central plaza, the baths, and the many homes of this town.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ruins of Egnazia near Savelletri (click on photo to enlarge)

Ruins of Egnazia near Savelletri
(click on photo to enlarge)

Egnazia remains an important, ongoing archeological site that is still worked daily.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monopoli, aproaching the old City (click on photo to enlarge)

Monopoli, aproaching the old City
(click on photo to enlarge)

Day 2 was a daylong 25 mile bike up the coast to Monopoli, a beautiful fortified town on the Adriatic coast.

 

 

 

 

 

Fish Market Visit (click on photo to enlarge)

Fish Market Visit
(click on photo to enlarge)

Stops along the way included a fish market,and then further along a stop for snacks. Each day, we were supported by a van traveling along with us to provide water, snacks, and even a ride for anyone who got tired of biking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Streets of Monopoli (click on photo to enlarge)

Streets of Monopoli
(click on photo to enlarge)

We had ample time to explore the old town with its narrow streets and beautiful shoreline, followed by lunch on our own at one of the many small cafes in the old town.

Monopoli Harbor (click on photo to enlarge)

Monopoli Harbor
(click on photo to enlarge)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Farm with Olive Trees (click on photo to enlarge)

Farm with Olive Trees
(click on photo to enlarge)

After lunch, a ride back to our masseria offered many opportunities to view the great landscapes and fields full of vegetables and olive trees. We ended our day about 4:30 at the poolside with a couple glasses of wine, before showering and a relaxed dinner at the masseria.

 

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Matera – Italy’s Cave Town

Puglia, 5 image panorama

Matera, 5 image panorama (click on image to enlarge)

The first stop on our recent trip to Italy was Matera, a town that has been continuously inhabited for 150,000 years. In this first photo, a panorama of five images stitched together, you can just make out some early caves on the opposite side of the 600 foot deep canyon. The Sassi itself is comprised of thousands of caves, all hand carved out of the rock, and later added on to with “fronts” added on using stone from the excavations.  Historically, Matera was a very poor town, and as recently as the 1950’s, the Italian government actually made everyone move from the Sassi due to the very poor living conditions. Since then, many of the caves have been renovated and are again being inhabited.

 

Puglia Hotel Room (click on image to enlarge)

Matera Hotel Room (click on image to enlarge)

 

We stayed in a hotel that has completely upgraded several of the caves with modern plumbing and electricity, providing for a unique experience for tourists like us.

 

 

 

 

 

Stairs are everywhere

Stairs are everywhere

 

You might call Matera the town of 100,000 steps, as everything is up or down no matter where you walk. It is such a period piece that several movies have been made here. The most recent was Mel Gibson’s 2004 movie “The Passion of the Christ”. We spent a great couple of days in Matera, enjoying an excellent tour as well as the food and local wine. Following are a few images I shot while walking around this fascinating town.

More stairs in Puglia

More stairs in Matera (click on image to enlarge)

 

 

Trip to Puglia, Italy

Entrances to Cave Apartments (click on image to enlarge)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trip to Puglia, Italy

Doorway at an elevated entrance (click on image to enlarge)

 

I always like to get a few shots of local doorways when traveling. Here are just a couple.

Cave Entrance Door

Cave Entrance Door (click on image to enlarge)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

View from a Patio (click on image to enlarge)

View from a Patio (click on image to enlarge)

 

Wherever you look, there are caves everywhere. And at night, the illuminated views make a great presentation.

 

Puglia perched on a cliff's edge (click on image to enlarge)

Matera perched on a cliff’s edge (click on image to enlarge)

 

 

Puglia Churches at Night (click on image to enlarge)

Matera Churches at Night (click on image to enlarge)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All the photos from our trip were taken with a pocket size Sony RX100 III. This is a really nifty little camera. It shoots 20 MB RAW files and has many of the same controls found only on larger DSLR cameras. I think it does a great job, and is certainly much easier to tote around than any of my Nikon gear. As mentioned earlier in this post, the first image is a five frame panorama. If printed at full size, it would measure over 6 feet long and 2 feet high. I haven’t printed it that large, but a 19″x 7″ print looks very good and even that is reduced from the original full frame size. Hope that you enjoy these photos.

 

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Great Egret Soaring In

20150414_D800_5200-EditA Great Egreat soaring into the rookery for a landing. He’s headed over a couple of out of focus Wood Storks, neither of which showed any interest at all in his approach. Over the course of a couple of hours, this same Great Egret followed the same approach path over and over again, offering many oppotunities to get him at different angles. This one of him banking show his topside is one of my favorites from the morning.

While many of the smaller birds, like the Cattle Egret from last week, come firing in like a fighter plane, these much larger birds just sail in, flare, and land over a period of several seconds. This gives me a much better chance at getting a good shot like this one.

Just a few minutes earlier, here is another shot just before landing. 20150414_D800_5071-Edit

For several years now, I’ve been using a 600 mm lens for virtually all my bird photos. The 600 is a stupendous lens . . . stupendous quality, stupendously large (as in heavy to carry) and stupendously expensive (let’s not go there). Like the Cattle Egret, this Great Egret was captured with my newest lens, a Nikon 80-400 mm f4.5-5.6 telephoto. Though not quite as fast or as sharp as the Nikon 600 mm f4, it’s turned out to be a great lens for hand held, medium distance bird shots. It’s less than 1/3 the cost of the 600 mm, as well as less than 1/3 the weight. That makes it light enough and compact enough that I can hand hold it, and don’t need to rely on a tripod. This 80-400 is much easier to track birds in flight, meaning I get a lot more keepers. For anyone looking for a more reasonably priced birding lens, the 80-400 is a keeper as well.

Both images captured in April with Nikon D800, Nikon 80-400 mm f4.5-5.6 lens at 400 mm, hand held at 1/3200 sec. f5.6, ISO 400.

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Cattle Egret

20150414_D4_39480-EditA Cattle Egret coming in for a landing at a rookery in Bradenton, FL. This Cattle Egret was captured near the end of a morning of photographing with a couple of friends. We all ended up with many keepers, and this is just one of the ones I got. They are easy to miss because they can land so quickly. Fortunately, I saw this guy coming and was ready for him.

This rookery was a mob scene of nesting and nest building birds. They were flying in pretty much non-stop the entire time we were there. It was so crowded that it was difficult to get an image of just this one bird. Truth be told, there was an out of focus Wood Stork perching right under the incoming Cattle Egret, so I cloned him out of the picture. Also, a few distracting branches were cloned out of the final image.

Taken on a beautiful April morning with a Nikon D4, Nikon 80-400 f4.5-5.6 lens @ 400 mm, 1/4000 sec., f 6.3, ISO 400, handheld.

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Reddish Egret Portrait

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This Reddish Egret held a nice portrait pose for me last January at Ft. DeSoto. The Reddish Egret is one of my favorite birds to photograph and this pose is a great example of why they are so much fun. When threatened by another bird, they can get very territorial, which is just what happened here. Another egret tried getting into this Reddish Egret’s space. A quick chase ensued with this one taking an aggressive stance and definitely with all its feathers ruffled.

Kneeling pretty close in, I ended up in the perfect position to grab this shot before the bird settled back down. Feathers all pointy and going every which way, along with the nice S curve in the neck makes for a handsome Reddish Egret portrait. Someone commented that the only thing missing was that this bird was not in full breeding plumage. Well, maybe next time but still a photo I really like.

It was a very nice evening to be out. I found myself all alone on this part of the beach and was fortunate to get a good batch of keeper photos.

Taken at North Beach, Ft. DeSoto a half hour before sunset, shot with a tripod mounted Nikon D4, 600 mm lens, 1/640 sec. @f8, ISO 1250. A slight crop to the original, noise reduction on the background, added a little bit of saturation to the Reddish Egret only, NIK Detail Enhancer to help with the feather detail, and cleaned up the eye and a few pieces of stray dust and spots.

Hope you enjoy viewing it as much as I enjoyed taking it.

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Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron

As in my last post, this Little Blue Heron was feeding in the foggy morning light at Ft. DeSoto. On point and waiting for a bit of movement, I captured him staring down his intended breakfast. These Little Blue Herons often appear very dull and drab, but they actually have a lot of nice coloring as you can see in this photo.

It was getting much brighter out, but the fog still kept a nice high key effect. The warm coloring of the sun is really having an effect of a yellowish tint to the background and I left it there on purpose. Maybe that’s because back here at home it’s snowing again and any reminder of warmer winter days in Florida is a real plus.

Shot from sitting in the water with a Nikon D4, 600 mm tripod mounted lens, 1/2500 sec. @ f6.3, ISO 1600.

 

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