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Taking Flight

08th February 2015

Things With Wings


Like many others, I’ve been fascinated with flight and things that fly.

On a recent trip to the parts of the USA where the sun is bright and warm, I had another chance to look skyward.

Here’s a short gallery of some of the sitings that caught my eye.


For those who are interested these photos are from Death Valley National Park, Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, McCarran International Airport, Creech AFB, Nellis AFB and Everglades National Park.
Written by: Arnie Lee


Earth Day “it’s for the birds”… and us too

Today is Earth Day. I’m guessing that many of you haven’t a clue as to what it’s about. Maybe you can get a glint of Earth Day here.

I recently completed writing what has become an annual article about Earth Day. Yesterday morning as I was having coffee and reading the Sunday NY Times, I was quite surprised that I didn’t find a single mention of Earth Day throughout the entire newspaper. But I did run across an interesting article that has a similar theme.

As a lover of the outdoors, I’m an avid participant in nature photography. Having spent more than five decades with camera-in-hand, I’ve collected my share of wildlife images. Along the way, I’ve found that the most challenging parts of this favorite activity is capturing the varying graceful, delicate or powerful movements of birds in flight.

Yes, I like birds but I don’t consider myself a bird-watcher. Yet according to Brian Kimberling[1], there are some 5.8 million bird-watchers in the US. I’m not sure where he derives this number but his mention of The Audubon Society most likely accounts for a good share of them.

Last December amid our holiday festivities, I recall hearing about the start of Audubon’s annual Christmas Bird Count. During a two week period, participants take a census of birds in their geographic area with a main goal of studying how bird populations have changed in time and space. After reading Kimberling’s article, I have a better understanding of what these studies are telling us about the environment of all the non-bird species, i.e. us humans.

According the Audubon Society’s report, there has been a noticeable change in bird migration in recent years. The report says: we were able to look at the winter distribution of 305 species to see if their winter range had shifted over the last 40 years. We discovered that 177 of these species showed a significant shift north and this northward shift was correlated with an increase in mean January temperatures in the contiguous 48 states of almost 5 degrees during that time. You can find more details on the Audubon’s website.

Five degrees in 40 years. This is a pretty large increase within the lifetime of many of us. Obviously it’s a big deal to the habits of the birds.

Shouldn’t we be concerned? What do you think? I’d like to hear from you.

Written by Arnie Lee

[1]”What Do Birders Know”, NY Times Sunday Review Section, April 21, 2013





Shooting Birds

Certainly one of the reasons that I enjoy the profession so much is that there are so many types of photography to choose from: architectural, wedding, journalism, nature, portrait, fine art, and the list goes on.

And like many other photographers, I often jump from one type of photography to another when the job calls for it or when I feel the need to “escape” to a totally different subject.

Each type of photography utilizes different skills.

For example, portrait photography is most successful when the subject can comfortably relate to the photographer who then combines creative posing and technical lighting to record a likeness of that subject.

A food photographer may use many tricks to enhance the appearance of a gourmet dish – with sprays, glue or gels, perhaps. These are skills that make the food look good; you probably wouldn’t want to eat the food after the photo session.

Having participated in many of the types of photography over the past 40+ years, I have learned that some types of photography require a higher level of skill than others.

From my experience, “photography degree of difficulty” varies from snapshots and event photography at the low end to wedding photography at the high end. And somewhere near the high end is wildlife photography. For the last few years, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to improve my wildlife skill level.

Birds are among the most nervous types of animals to photograph. Approach a bird perched on a branch and he’ll quickly fly away.

Consequently, most of my photos of birds are from quite a distance using a long telephoto lens.

On my last outing, I snapped several bird photos which drew complimentary comments from several viewers. While I’d like to think that the photos were the result of my great skills as a nature photographer, in this case it’s not true.

Last week, I was doing a little winter hiking in Bryce Canyon NP and stumbled upon this colorful Stellar’s jay.

This photo was taken with long telephoto lens from about 50 feet away. I hesitated to approach the jay any closer for fear that he’d take off.

Surprisingly, the jay flew closer to me. In fact, he ended up landing on a tree branch that was only 20 feet from where I was standing.

I can only surmise that in the cold wintery weather he was acting differently than he would if I encountered him in warmer weather.

My telephoto lens has two settings: one to accommodate close focusing (2 meters) and one for more distant focusing (8 meters). So as not to disturb the bird, I very slowly changed the lens setting for close focusing and snapped.

Bingo. Here’s the closeup that I ended up with of the Stellar’s jay.

I can definitely say that this photo was more a matter of luck than skill. Anyway, for me this photograph is a definite keeper.

As a counterpoint, here’s a less lucky encounter that I had about an hour before.

As I was hiking along the hard packed, snow covered trail that descended into one of the canyons, I heard a screech overhead. I gazed upwards and saw a large, majestic set of wings in the sky.

I hurriedly changed lenses to my long telephoto and looked up again. But during the minute that I spent changing lenses, the predator had climbed higher and farther away.

I quickly snapped a half dozen photos before the eagle was out of range. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as lucky here. The photo is blurred owing to the distance and my rushed attempt.

So this time out, luck played a role in my capturing the Stellar’s jay. But I wasn’t as lucky with the golden eagle.

Still, I know that unless I’m out there hiking the trails and observing my surroundings that luck won’t have a chance to take hold. Each time I’m out enjoying nature I’m hoping that for that lucky catch.

Take enough photos and luck will come your way too. It’s a promise.


Written by Arnie Lee


On my latest cross country drive to deliver my Mom’s car to Phoenix, I broke the 2000 mile journey into two parts. Here’s why.

For years I’ve been reading and hearing about Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. It’s known as one of the best places in the USA to watch birds, especially those who have migrated there from the northern latitudes for the winter. Since the route from Grand Rapids to Phoenix passes close by, I decided to detour slightly.

Part one of the journey was 2-1/2 days traveling from Grand Rapids to Socorro, NM and visiting Bosque. Although I was in the NWR for only 16 hours or so, I totally enjoyed the wildlife and outdoor. You can see some of the photos from short stay at Bosque here.

Part two of the journey was the remaining 380 mile ride between Socorro and Phoenix. As I was planning for the drive a few days before the trip, I noticed a place on the map with a funny name “VLA”. When I googled it, I found it to be an acronym for Very Large Array. It’s a set of huge radio telescopes 50 miles west of Socorro on US Route 60, the preferred highway to Phoenix. It sounded interesting, so I decided that this would be another stop after Bosque del Apache.