Yesterday, I took advantage of the almost-new moon and beautiful clear weather to take photos of the stars at Lost Lake. This small lake sits in the shadow of Mount Hood, and, despite its proximity to several towns and major highways, offers a surprisingly good dark sky.
In the morning, I took a kayak out onto the lake, where I saw some excellent birds, and even managed to photograph some of them without tipping my boat.
On my way, I also stopped by Oregon’s iconic Multnomah Falls, which drops over six hundred feet, and is consequently very difficult to photograph with a 35 mm lens …
This weekend, I traveled to the John Day Fossil Beds in central Oregon. As the name suggests, this National Monument is a paleontological treasure, with fossil assemblages spanning forty million years of Cenozoic paleohistory. The Thomas Condon Paleontology Center at the monument’s Sheep Rock unit is absolutely excellent, with beautiful fossils, an active research lab and up-to-date exhibits.
But, I admit I wasn’t here for the fossils so much as I was for the exceptional landscapes of the Monument’s Painted Hills Unit.
The Painted Hills are made up of ancient soils, and their changing hues record the area’s transition from an ancient forest to a grassland environment.
Walking through the park is almost like traveling to a new world — Red Hill looks like a part of Mars dropped into the middle of Oregon; the purple rhyolite clays of Painted Cove feel like something from a fantasy novel.
Unlike Mars, though, the Painted Hills are far from lifeless. They emerge from a beautiful mixed sagebrush and juniper woodland, which is home to a large variety of insect life, including dragonflies like this Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum) who was obelisking on my car antenna.
The Painted Hills are beautiful at all times of day, and lend themselves to abstract landscape photography with a long lens to capture colors and patterns. At sunset, however, the hills truly shine, mixing dramatic light and shadow with the red and gold of the formations.
This is a remarkable location, and I’m looking forward to coming back.
I hinted at this in my last post, but I thought I’d take some time to really show off the houseplants that I’ve purchased. After two years of not really feeling settled enough to buy plants (with the exception of a kalanchoe that I abused horribly in Sydney) I am finally feeling rooted enough to spend entirely too much money on green things to adorn my desktop.
Currently, I’m sort-of focused on carnivores — I have tropical and temperate pitcher plants, Venus flytraps and sundews, along with orchids, and a few succulents that I found on sale. It’s a lovely feeling to come into my room and be surrounded by plants, even if my big ole Nepenthes x ‘Miranda’ will probably devour me in my sleep one of these days.
Anyway, here’s a quick tour of some of the things in my collection. (I’ve also been having fun with studio shots, if you can’t tell…)
Hello, internet, how are you? I’ve had a hectic year, but a pretty good one!
Here are some things that I did with it
Got serious about birding Or at least more serious than I was. Australia started the love affair, but this year, I’ve actually started waking up with the dawn chorus and visiting wetland habitats to look for kingfishers and waterfowl. I’m up to 427 species on my life list, and am even starting to learn how to tell gulls apart.
Took a roadtrip across the Western US I started in Houston, made my way to Big Bend, cut through White Sands National Monument, Carlsbad Caverns and the Chiricahuas, made a quick stop at the Grand Canyon, turned North to visit my folks and check out Rocky Mountain National Park, then headed West again to hit up Arches and Antelope Island before visiting a friend in San Fransisco, then looked at the fantastic trees of Muir Woods and the Ancient Bristlecone Pine National Forest, took in the glacial-carved splendor of Yosemite, spent the hottest night of my life in Death Valley, fell in love with Zion … and finally made my way back to Texas. It was a hell of a trip.
Moved to Oregon Portlandia is now home! I’m loving the green, my proximity to the sea, and all the great coffee and waterfalls. Plus, there are some pretty cool birds that make their home here.
Visited Mexico In early January, I took a trip to Cabo San Lucas, where I got to snorkel with whale sharks, heard whalesong for the first time (while diving, no less!) and ate a lot of really delicious tacos.
Bought Some Plants Okay, okay, maybe this isn’t that exciting, but I’ve really been getting in to growing house plants. I’m especially excited about my carnivores and my orchids.
I hope you’ve have as great a time as I have. Next week, I’ll be taking some time to travel the Oregon Coast & Crater Lake, and I look forward to sharing photos of that adventure with you all.
After getting back from Nebraska it seemed a shame not to use my rented 400 mm lens during the last few days of my rental period. So, instead of heading home to much-needed sleep, I drove straight through Houston to Galveston, TX, which is well-known for the diversity of shorebirds that it attracts.
Saturday, Galveston was shrouded in fog, which made photography difficult — I have hundreds of shots of mist-veiled birds, but by using my car as a blind, I was able to sneak up on quite a few birds, getting close enough for a good photo despite the clinging clouds.
My most interesting find, though, was undoubtedly this carcass of a juvenile dolphin. Though gnawed and decomposing, it’s readily identifiable, and gave me the chance to check out some cetacean anatomy up close and personal.
A little gross, maybe, but also very cool, and also, perhaps, prescient imagery, given the disastrous 170,000 gallon oil spill that took place on Saturday, just hours after my visit.
It was, at first, strange to go back — after my graduate school misadventures, driving back felt like a reminder of my own failures, and of a particularly rough time during my own life. The weather didn’t help much, either: Tuesday’s drive was a terrifying haul through clouds, wind and billowing snow.
But on Wednesday morning, the sky was clear. Frozen grass sparkled like gold, and I got to watch cranes fly under a perfect blue and yellow dawn.
I’ve seen Sandhills before, and in Australia I had the privilege of seeing both Brolgas and Sarus Cranes, but these sightings of solitary birds simply don’t compare to the awesome sight (or the sound!) of a hundred birds packed together, trilling and trumpeting at each other from a narrow stretch of sand.
Later in the day, I watched cranes feed together in groups of two or three in empty fields, surrounded by broken stalks of corn. Occasionally, they’d stop to dance, practice for their more serious courtship when they finally resume their migration to Alaska.
After a quick coffee break, I headed down to Kearney, where I stood with dozens of other birdwatchers to watch them tumble down to roost at night, jostling for space on a sandbar, or wading ankle-deep in the braided channels of the Platte River.
Wow. It’s been a while, hasn’t it, blog friends? How are you? I’m doing really well! I’m back in the United States, applying to graduate programs, and spent the last year taking lots of photos. I couldn’t be happier if I tried.
Anyway, I’m hoping to update the blog more often. I’m not going to make any promises, because clearly those promises cannot be relied upon, but I would like a more formal environment than tumblr to post nature photography and writing (not that I don’t love you, tumblr) … and I have this perfectly good blog just lying around.
I’m planning on driving up to Nebraska on Monday to get in some photos of the annual sandhill crane migration through the state, and I rented a 400 mm lens to prepare for the adventure. Yesterday, I took that lens out for a test run on the birds of Brazos Bend State Park, here in Texas. I had a very good birding day, and took home some shots that I’m quite happy with, even though the lens definitely takes some getting used to.
Am I allowed to say that? Probably not, especially because I have yet to hear anyone actually use these words, although I have heard many other unique Australianisms (“Fair dinkum” is probably my favorite, although the liberal and senseless use of “heaps” is also pretty fun.)
Anyway, I have been terrible at keeping this blog updated. I could say that this is because I have been toiling in the bush, but my regular Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr updates suggest that this is not, actually the case.
I’ve been in Australia for just over two months. It’s the very beginning of autumn here, and I’ve moved south, from inland Queensland to the city of Sydney. This is a good thing, as it means that I will probably not die of heat exposure (which was a real risk in the Outback, let me tell you).
I’ve posted just under two hundred photos to my Flickr account, and so I will leave you with a few of my favorites (so far).
So, after spending the last seven or so years of my life with the ultimate goal of visiting Australia and seeing freshwater crocodiles in the wild, I am FINALLY in Australia. And while I am not yet in the right place to see crocs, it’s pretty brilliant. I’m spending my first couple of months in Queensland — I’ve got a week in Brisbane to do useful things like set up my bank account before heading west, but I am mostly spending it exploring some awesome parks, enjoying the sun, and being completely amazed at the presence of fruit bats in a major city.
By far the most beautiful place that I’ve visited in, uh, the past four days, is Lamington National Park, which has some of the most breathtakingly beautiful scenery in the world coupled with incredible plant and animal diversity. I got a leech! I saw giant skinks! It was pretty brilliant!
Lamington was not the only brilliantly beautiful place that I went, though. Daisy Hill Conservation Park has the loudest cicadas I’ve ever heard in my life, while the City Botanic Gardens in Brisbane are basically full of water dragons and cool insects. Mount Coot-tha, which rises over the city of Brisbane hosts some really lovely butterflies, and was the first place that I got to see the incredibly weird and incredibly brilliant bunya pine.
Oh, and the stars are upside-down here. It’s a weirdly disorienting, beautiful thing to look into the night sky and see Orion hanging the wrong way.
My parents are remodeling their house, which is one of those processes that will, invariably lead to all kinds of surprises. This is a close up of a very large hornet’s nest that they found inside of one of the south walls — I’ve keyed it out as Vespa.
It’s always shocking to me that insects that people think of as dangerous and aggressive, like these hornets, can establish themselves next to humans and remain unnoticed for years before evidence of their existence is even discovered.