On the eve of my latest photo trip the living room was filled with duffle bags, camera equipment and anticipation. Jay and I were hoping for sunny skies, warmer weather and co operative critters. Our plan was to take the scenic route to Texas with stops in several states along the way.
Mother Nature decided she didn’t like our planned route and was not very nice to us the first 2 days. There was a major storm heading East across the country while we headed West. When we learned this storm was spewing out tornados Jay and I decided to take a more southern route.
Jay’s job while we are on the road is to drive, spot critters, and watch my back. More than once a critter has approached me from behind while I was photographing. On this trip Jay did an excellent job of protecting me from a bear.
In Alabama we discovered that Alabama isn’t very good at posting signs for most of our destinations. Mississippi was a bit better at this and I was able to capture a number of critters during our short stay. Louisiana is where we spent a chunk of time. However we did have to change our plans again. Most of the locations we planned to visit were flooded from that nasty storm. Still I captured over 2 dozen species of birds, mammals and reptiles. The flooding at one refuge worked in my favor. The high waters forced the migrating birds closer to the road and within the view of my lens.
I was able to photograph more than one alligator on this trip. One was quite intrigued by the camera, while another was more interested in bathing in the sun; a third was a bit camera shy.
We continued our travels and ventured into Texas, our furthest most west point for this trip. After a few days we proceeded toward home. We had just 2 days to get back to the real world.
These trips are about more than capturing critters on film. They are a chance to escape from everyday responsibilities and rejuvenate. What do you do to escape? Is there something special you do just for you, for an hour or an entire day?
As a wildlife photographer and author I have been traveling extensively throughout the United States for over 15 years. I am always accompanied by my husband and spotter in my pursuit of the next critter encounter.
My work has been published internationally in books, calendars, greeting cards, magazines and newspapers. Sharing my photographs and written words are a way to share my wildlife encounters with others and possibly inspire them to explore their creative side.
My books, Close Ups and Close Encounters, All the birds I see, Clancy’s Cat Nap and two coloring books based on my images are all available through my website http://www.sjbrown.50megs.com.
Recently I gave some advice to friend about recovery after surgery, my advice, baby steps, lots and lots of baby steps. No one can recover from surgery overnight. It’s the little improvements, those baby steps that count.
The same can be said about writing. As a writer I didn’t start out writing a book. I began writing essays in school then stepped up to magazine articles before approaching a full length manuscript. Taking baby steps allowed me to improve my writing and my confidence.
As a photographer I didn’t start out photographing large animals in faraway places. I began with birds and squirrels in my backyard
After gaining a bit of confidence I stepped out of my comfort zone, and traveled further in my pursuit of critter photos. I ventured into Maryland and photographed ducks, geese, and swans at a nearby park.
Then it was time for another road trip. This time I headed to Pennsylvania. There I had my first experience getting up close and personal with some captive critters.
Some little critters in New Jersey reminded me that taking baby steps when working around water could have helped you me avoid sinking in mud up to my calves.
In Virginia I learned wild ponies don’t take baby steps.
In Florida I learned taking baby steps backwards can get you safely away from an alligator.
In the 17 years I have been photographing wildlife I have traveled to 2 dozen states. Every time I encounter a new critter I have to remind myself baby steps. Take the shot and use baby steps to get a better angle or a closer vantage point of my subject.
We all take baby steps to advance ourselves in various pursuits. Every once in a while a giant leap of faith may be necessary. The important thing to remember is to keep moving forward.
Thanks for stopping by.
S. J. Brown
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In about one month, spring will officially arrive. Most people I know are looking forward to the new season, the increasing daylight, the green sprigs of grass that arise from winter’s sleep, the color of flowers like daffodils and tulips in bloom. Some regions enjoy an early spring, with warming weather and less (or no) snow, while other places, like where I live, don’t see “real spring” until May or even June (when others are already experiencing summer!).
No matter where one lives, though, spring, whenever it does arrive, is welcomed by most people I know.
One of the reasons I enjoy spring so much is the quantity of birdlife that arrives during this new season. Robins hop around yards, looking for worms in the warming earth. Bluebirds trill from fenceposts along the highways, and Canada geese honk overhead as they return from snowbirding sections of the country. Two birds I especially enjoy witnessing return are the American kestrel and the sandhill crane.
Kestrels are North America’s smallest falcons. One of the most colorful of all raptors, the male sports a slate-blue head and wings with a rusty-colored back and tail. Females are a dull brown but patches of white mix with grey create a crown upon their head. One is likely to see these striking birds perched atop wires or hovering in the wind. They eat insects as well as small rodents, and have been known to add snakes and frogs to their diet. Kestrels are found throughout the United States and take up summer residence in the northern part of the country. They live in a variety of habitats, from prairies and woodlands to towns.
Sandhill cranes are among my most favorite large bird species. I learned so much about these amazing animals while working for a summer in Wisconsin at the International Crane Foundation (ICF). I served as an educational tour guide and contributed content to the Education Department’s classroom and on-site curricula. That was a fun job! I would have returned for another season, but I’d decided it was time to settle down to something more permanent … and I’d met Greg by then. During our one-year anniversary, he and I visited the site, and he became even more intrigued by cranes as well.
The largest migration of sandhill cranes takes place in Nebraska from early March to early April. More than 600,000 of these tall, lanky birds (or about 80% of the world’s sandhill crane population) use the Platte River as a resting ground; many of these birds travel 2,000 miles from their winter grounds in the southwestern U.S. (or even farther south) and return to summer residences throughout northern America as well as Canada, Alaska, and Siberia. The cranes are welcomed in Nebraska as are the numerous white snow geese and other birds that use the Platte River during migration. Thousands of tourists, nature photographers, and writers converge on the communities of Kearney and Gibbon. Mid-month, Kearney hosts a Crane Festival, with speakers, exhibits, and tours to bird blinds along the river. Greg and I have often talked of going, as Kearney is a day’s drive from our home in Casper. This adventure remains on our bucket list.
We do occasionally see the 3- to 4-foot tall sandhills in the Casper area; however, most often they are observed in other parts of our state, particularly farther west. We’ve seen them in Yellowstone and the Jackson, Wyoming areas, as well as in various parts of Montana. Near my parents’ residence outside Lewistown, Montana, we often see and hear cranes, especially at dusk in ranchers’ fields. Sandhills snack on grain, insects, and small rodents. Their calls and ritualistic dances are sounds and sights that take your breath away!
Another large gathering of sandhill cranes takes place during winter months at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico. Near the town of Socorro, this special place provides haven not only for sandhills, but also for thousands of ducks, geese, shorebirds, and other wildlife. Greg and I have both visited this majestic sanctuary along the Rio Grande River, but not at the same time. We hope to change that as we’re looking to make a southwest U.S. tour, through Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado, this fall.
There are 15 species of cranes found around the world; only two live in the United States – the sandhill and the whooping crane. Whoopers are distinguished by their unique call and their tall, white bodies. An endangered species, these animals were at a low of only 15 birds in 1941; today nearly 600 live in the wild and in captivity. Theirs is a conservation success story, but still a fledgling one. Occasionally a whooping crane or two will be seen among the flocks of sandhills in Nebraska, and once or twice they have been spotted in Yellowstone. They are becoming more abundant during summertime in Wisconsin, thanks to a major partnership effort to re-establish populations by ICF, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and others. The birds in these small migrating flocks winter in Florida and wing north for summers in Wisconsin, often residing at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge. I have seen a few there when I’ve returned to the state to visit the friends I made back in 1998 when I worked for ICF. I hope to do that again in the short-run.
Temperatures rise, buds sprout, and winged creatures migrate north. As spring returns, so do the birds – I look forward to both!
Gayle M. Irwin enjoys nature, pets, writing, travel, and photography. She is the author of several inspirational pet stories for children and adults and is a contributing writer to six Chicken Soup for the Soul books. She also writes articles for magazines and newspapers. Learn more at www.gaylemirwin.com.
Many people mourn the passing of summer, not me. During the hot days of summer I photograph very little. The critters hide deep in the woods to find shelter from the heat. Those that are accessible are not in the mood to pose for me.
Of course there are some exceptions like the hummingbirds that buzz around my back deck and the butterflies that frequent the butterfly bush in the front yard. Also I can’t forget the bunny rabbits and ground hogs that steadily raided my veggie garden all summer long. We have an arrangement, I feed them they let me take their pictures.
This time of year I am putting away my shorts, pulling out long sleeve shirts and picking lots of goodies from the garden. It’s time to wrap up my summer projects and put lots of bulbs in the ground, so I will be greeted with spring flowers when the warm weather returns.
Most summer travelers are safely back at home. So there are fewer cars on the roads, less traffic means more traveling for me. The cooler nights that signal fall is on the way also signals migrating birds its time to go. I need to get as many images of migrating birds as I can before they are gone. Raptors will be gathering in groups and kettling (flying in circular groups), Monarch butterflies will begin their trip to Mexico and Starlings will be invading buildings and trees in large groups.
Black Bears will be bulking up for winter. In areas where they find an abundance of food I can get a little closer for some great images. However areas where food is scarce Bears tend to be a bit grumpy and aren’t thrilled with the idea of having their picture taken.
Soon the colors of fall will be providing me with great backgrounds for my critter shots. I will be doing more hiking, and a bit more exploring in new areas. What will you be doing to celebrate the arrival of fall?
It has been a year since I joined the writers, wranglers, and warriors group. For those that have followed along I have introduced myself, shared my images and my opinions. I try to keep my posts upbeat and visually stimulating. I hope everyone has enjoyed getting to know me as much as I have enjoyed getting to know all of you.
My Mom loved birds, she loved everything about them, she loved the vivid or subtle colors, she loved their sounds, she loved their nests, and the little eggs that hatched into little birds. I’m not someone who can tell one bird from another, but I know a few of them when I see them. I want to know more.
I fed my back yard birds this week, and ended up with a few that I had never seen before. These little creatures bought me great pleasure. Several times over the last couple of days I watched them peck away at the food. One day there was 5 brilliant red cardinals and one brown female with the orange bill and orange tuft on top of her head. I had blue jays, blue birds, wrens, a chick-a-dee and a red-headed wood pecker, among many others. I got some photos.
Birds make me think of my Mom. When I was little, we’d sit on the front porch and she’d say, “Listen, they’re calling your name-Cher-ley` (accent on ley-kind of high shrilled).” I would listen and I could hear them calling to me. Dad always told me if I put salt on a birds tail I could catch it. My grandma said if children weren’t tucked into bed by dark the Whippoorwill bird would get them. She had a willow tree and when that bird would scream, “Whip you I will”, we’d all (my brothers, cousins, and I) would practically run over each other to get into bed.
From birds I draw inspiration.
In Stamp Out Murder and in my next book that will be coming out later this year Cancel Out Murder, every chapter starts with a description of a stamp, (maybe new, or maybe canceled) that’s worth a lot of money. Many stamps have birds on them. Can you think of a year where a bird was featured on a Stamp? Here’s a link to an Ebay page featuring bird stamps. And these stamps are now worth Eleven Dollars. Not a lot in the Stamp Collecting World, but a $9.00 dollar profit for the collector.
Birds calm my soul, God’s little gifts of joy to me. Is there an animal that has been a part of your growing up years? I lived in the country, so there are more animal tales I can tell about.