My last year of photography had broader taxonomic scope than birds and flowering plants, of course. I got some good images of mammals across the range of habitats I hiked and toured. Top billing has to go to the miniature foxes of Santa Cruz Island, above, which have fully taken over the campground where we spent two nights, napping yards away from occupied campsites and always on the lookout for unguarded snacks. It was like camping in a cat cafe, if the cats were a protected species.Continue reading
Following on from my post of 2023 bird photography highlights, here’s some of my favorite flowering plant images I captured in 2023. Flowers are, of course, easier photography subjects, but I’m still learning how to balance lighting and depth of field to really capture details with the most aesthetic interest and botanic value.
Above, the example with the greatest professional value: Joshua trees in flower this spring, after record-breaking winter rainfall across a lot of the Mojave Desert.Continue reading
It’s been more than a year since I decided to return to photography beyond what I can do with the (deceptively good) camera built into a smartphone. In 2023, I took quite a lot of photos with my entry-level mirrorless Olympus digital, almost all with a 150mm lens that achieves good enough optical zoom to go beyond anything I’ve done with any camera I’ve owned. So this was my first full year carrying a camera that can in principle capture images of wildlife — though not yet the strongest skill set using it. Or, indeed, as much lens as I really ought to have for images of anything that can run or fly away from an aspiring paparazzo. Nevertheless, I’m pretty happy with some of the images I got, including enough birds to merit a personal retrospective, in this post. Many more are on Flickr, tagged appropriately.
Up top: one of the white-crowned sparrows I saw on the dunes at Asilomar, in between sessions at the first in-person meeting of the American Society of Naturalists I’ve attended since 2020.Continue reading
A couple weeks ago I realized I’d neglected to post photos from the tail end of summer, and updated my Flickr page with the best of August and September — and then failed to post here, on what’s meant to be my online home. Oops. You can go browse the whole set on my Flickr photostream, but here’s a few highlights from the only real camping trip C and I managed this summer, an afternoon at the Getty Center, and (at the top of this post) a September trip to Joshua Tree National Park for a planning event.
All of these are taken with an Olympus E-M10 Mark IV, the first “real” camera I’ve used in strange ages — I bought it for the Alaska trip, and I’m still getting the hang of it, but it’s a major upgrade from what my smartphone can capture, especially for wildlife.
Notes from a trip to Alaska.
We had allotted ourselves one full day in Denali, and given the alterations to our lodging plans and the persistently rainy weather, it seemed best to spend the time on the longest stretch of established trail offered in the park, the Savage Alpine trail and the adjoining Savage River trail. These were as deep into the park as we could go without paying for guided tours, and they covered what looked like a pretty good sample of the available terrain.
We shuttled to the park visitor center to catch a park-managed bus — an actual school bus, painted NPS green — to the trailhead. The previous night’s sun break was truly over, with misty rain and clouds hiding the ridge lines to north and south as we left the visitor center campus and followed the park road west. There was, still, no sign of the big mountain. The park road climbs from the visitor center through boreal forest, which got patchier as we went higher. After a stop at park headquarters, we disembarked at a joint trailhead for a short loop, Mountain Vista, and the longer climb into the hills, Savage Alpine.Continue reading
Notes from a trip to Alaska.
You can get from Anchorage to Denali National Park by rental car, Alaska Railway passenger train, or chartered flight — but we took the bus. A regular service runs from the convention center in downtown Anchorage to multiple stops in and around Denali, about four hours’ drive north on State Highway 3, and it leaves early. C and I hiked our luggage through a light morning drizzle to join a small crowd of fellow-passengers huddled under the convention center portico, and by 7:30 am we were driving north.
We took the highway — the only highway — east out of town and then west towards Wasila, with views of mountains through the cloud banks. Eventually the rain got too heavy, mist rolled in, and the highway headed north and left more developed territory, running between walls of forest that looked, to eyes raised on eastern temperate-deciduous woods, distinctly scraggly. The trees were aspen, spruce, none more than 40 feet tall, rising out of thick undergrowth like bathers wading in the shallow end of a crowded swimming pool. Large swathes of the spruce were dead-looking, gray-brown ghost groves — killed by spruce beetles, apparently.Continue reading
Notes on a trip to Alaska.
We landed in Anchorage at eight o’clock in the evening, but it might have been any time from dawn to almost midnight. High-latitude summer light is uncanny enough to a southerner such as me (flying in from Los Angeles via a long stopover in Seattle) when it’s still fully light out at nine o’clock in the evening; but then also a mid-July weather system had swathed the city in low clouds and persistent drizzle, filtering the sunlight down to a high-twilit grey.
C and I took a taxi to a rental apartment we’d planned to use as a base of operations for the trip. I had an academic conference in Anchorage, and we’d taken that as an excuse to fly up a week early and see some sights — Denali National Park, then the vicinity of Kenai Fjords. First, though, we had a day in town to settle in and get our bearings. The rental-apartment host and her husband met us and our heap of luggage on the doorstep of their house — which, in addition to having our apartment in the basement, appeared to operate both as a multi-unit bed-and-breakfast and as the local consulate of the Netherlands. Our host was, it developed, a Dutch transplant. She showed us around: kitchen, living space, bedroom, washing machine and dryer, sofa bed in the living room (I suspect she didn’t realize C and I were a couple), and an orientation to the city via a tourist map on the kitchen table. Downtown was a dozen blocks north, on the other side of a long east-west strip of parkland. We thanked her out the door, unpacked a bit, and then hiked into downtown to the nearest late-night food we could find, by-the-slice pizza with, it turned out, reindeer sausage — how local!Continue reading