Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

Category: travel (page 1 of 5)

Detail in the Shadows

I shot this walking back from my day in Central Park when we were in New York back in October. I was looking through the pictures with my wife the other night, skimming through them, and this one caught her eye. I’d glanced at it quickly before, but the more I looked, the more I liked it, probably because of the detail hiding in the shadows. Hidden details. We don’t always see them in our own work, do we? There’s a good reminder, I thought, of how valuable it is to have others checking out your work, seeing it differently and sometimes more clearly than we might ourselves.

Click the picture for a higher-res image.

New York Hipstamatic Scenes

Last summer while walking around San Francisco, I took a few random snaps with my iphone using the Hipstamatic ap. I liked the way they came out and so while we were in New York earlier this week, I made it a point to get some Hipstamatic shots from my walks around Manhattan. My favorite though is one R. shot of the Thelonious Monk car we rode up to Beacon near Poughkeepsie to visit some friends.

I think I should take a walk around downtown Austin one of these days and try to do some Hipstamatic Austin scenes.

I like this Flickr slideshow embed thingy. I’ve had a Flickr account for several years now, but I’ve never done anything with it. I think I may try hosting photos there instead of here, though I haven’t quite thought out the pros and cons of doing so.

Birding Central Park

We spent a few days in New York City last weekend and early this week, and I spent Monday exploring and birding Central Park. I’d read that the park is a major stopover point for birds migrating along the Atlantic Flyway and since this is migration season, I figured it would make for a good day.

A guidebook in the hotel suggested that The Ramble would be a good place for birding since it’s the wildest corner of Central Park, featuring landscapes similar to what might have existed in Manhattan before Europeans came. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but the area certainly was wilder than the rest of the park and to my surprise the birds most common in the rest of the city—pigeons, starlings, and house sparrows—were virtually absent in The Ramble.

The weather was beautiful, a cool and crisp autumn day, of the kind I especially love and haven’t seen since leaving Rhode Island 22 years ago. I’ve been back up to the northeast several times since then, but never in the fall. Unfortunately, the leaves were only just starting to change, but some of the trees had come into their fall reds, oranges and yellows and after all these years in Texas, that was a real treat.

We were staying in Midtown so I came up Park and entered the park at 59th, bought a map and headed toward The Ramble to lose myself. I’ve been in Central Park before, but this was the first time I’ve been able to spend time slowly exploring it, and discovering for myself what a treasure it is.

Once I got to The Ramble, I immediately noticed that the pigeons were gone. You can hurry through those looping and winding trails and probably not see much more than the ubiquitous gray squirrels, but when you stop for a few minutes, quiet and patient, the ground comes alive with white-throated sparrows digging in the leaf litter or jumping onto weed stalks to shake some seed loose as they ride the stalks to the ground. At first, I saw only the occasional weed dipping and then popping back up, but on closer inspection, I realized that it was the sparrows doing this.

White-throated Sparrow

It wasn’t long before I forgot the city all around me; I suppose that’s part of the point of Central Park, creating an illusion of wilderness and a connection with nature that I think would seem pretty dear to me if I lived in a place like New York. Occasionally I would notice the tops of the big apartment buildings of the Upper West Side and feel almost surprised by the sight… oh, yeah, that’s there. I’m in the middle of this giant city.

American Robin

I saw several birds that were new to me: hermit thrush, white-throated sparrow, winter wren, golden-crowned kinglet, black-capped chickadee, and (I think) rusty blackbird. I also saw a couple of species I have only seen once or twice before:  dark-eyed junco and white-breasted nuthatch. I spent a lot of time focusing on and trying to watch these new birds that are rarely, if ever, seen in Texas.

Hermit Thrush

At one point, I heard what I think was a red-shouldered hawk. The gray squirrels bolted for the trees and the birds froze when the hawk flew over. The hawk’s voice was similar to what I’m used to hearing from the red-shoulders down here, but there was a slight difference in accent. I only got a quick glimpse through the trees as he soared overhead, but size and shape were about right for a red-shoulder.

Northern Cardinal

Coming out of The Ramble, I came to a meadow filled with dark-eyed juncos. I watched them for a while, trying not to appear too interested in the scene in the middle of the meadow where a guy on his knees was clearly proposing to a woman. It was a beautiful scene with the light slanting through the trees and golden leaves drifting down all around them. I wanted to try for some shots of the juncos, but the couple would have been in the background, and I didn’t want to appear to intrude on their moment, so silently wishing them all happiness, I moved on.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

After The Ramble, I headed back toward the east side again to go to the Guggenheim Museum, one of the New York things I’d never done in all the times I’ve been up there and so I left the park at 90th and went to the museum. It was interesting, but my heart wasn’t in it. I walked quickly through the exhibits, stopping to study a few of the pieces here and there, but after a morning among changing trees, migrating birds, and foraging squirrels, the art in the museum seemed somehow empty to me and so I left the museum and headed back to the park. Perhaps I’ll give it a closer look if I ever find myself up there on an inside kind of day.

I walked around the reservoir back toward the west side. I considered, briefly, walking all the way to the northern end of the park, but I was starting to get tired and the hike back to Midtown already seemed like it would be long enough so I saved that part of the park as something to look forward to for next time.

After a tasty dog at a Shake Shack on the Upper West Side, I headed back for The Ramble, quickly losing myself in its meandering trails. This is where I found the golden-crowned kinglet and a blackbird that I think is a rusty. I got this picture and some good looks, long enough to tell he wasn’t a red-wing or a grackle. I’ve heard rusties are getting scarce, and I hoped that that wasn’t why he was alone.

Common Grackle or perhaps a Rusty Blackbird?

Eventually, it was time to go and so I left The Ramble and walked through The Mall and out of the park at Fifth and 59th back into the bustle of Midtown where I saw the damndest thing: a line of people waiting to get into Abercrombie & Fitch, which really surprised me since I can’t imagine waiting in line to get into a store that has a website especially when something as magnificent and lovely as Central Park is only a couple of blocks away and the day was so autumn perfect.

Here’s my list with stars by the ones that were lifers for me:

  1. Winter wren *
  2. White-throated sparrow *
  3. Red-shouldered hawk
  4. American crow
  5. European Starling
  6. Rock dove (pigeon)
  7. House sparrow
  8. Downy woodpecker
  9. Black-capped chickadee *
  10. Tufted titmouse
  11. Mallard
  12. Ruby-crowned kinglet
  13. Hermit thrush *
  14. Blue jay
  15. American robin
  16. White-breasted nuthatch
  17. Golden-crowned kinglet *
  18. Red-bellied woodpecker
  19. Canada goose
  20. Northern cardinal
  21. Mourning dove
  22. Common grackle or perhaps a Rusty (?) blackbird *

Here’s a link to a .pdf checklist of the Birds of Central Park.

San Francisco Scenes

I took these pictures with my phone when we were in San Francisco back in July. They’re just random scenes done while walking around the city. I had my real camera with me, but was (and still am) intrigued by the idea of using the phone for snapshots, especially with the odd moody renderings you can get with the Hipstamatic app. Click on them to see them full size on the image page.

You don’t have much control over anything other than composition when you shoot with a phone so there’s a certain amount of surrender involved when you’re used to having the kind of control and instant results you typically get with a DSLR. Using a phone you give that up and you even have to wait a few seconds for the image to “develop.”

It reminds me of the wonder photography held when I was just starting out, the way I went about seeing the world in whole new ways, noticing light and shadow and shape. I suppose any new tool can make something new again, but when applied to photography, it allows us to experience the whole world in unexpected ways.

Alcatraz

Alcatraz

Welcome to Alcatraz

Western Gull

Western Gull Chick

Alcatraz Officers' Club

A Cell

A Window in the Dining Hall

From the Exercise Yard

Guardhouse and Sally Port

The Cell Block

Western Gull

(click any image to enlarge for higher resolution)

Shangri La

When my wife was growing up in Orange, Texas, Shangri La was a mystery. In the 1950′s, it was Lutcher Stark’s private garden, which he opened to the public. After it was destroyed by a snowstorm in 1958, Stark let it go wild and it became a dark and wild place walled off from the outside world. R has told me of the legends that grew up around the place and the stories people invented for what went on inside.

It seems that what was happening is that birds were nesting, alligators and snakes were thriving and nature was doing its thing. A few years ago, the Stark Foundation reopened it as Shangri La Botanical Gardens & Nature Center. It’s no longer much of a mystery, but it’s still wild.

American alligator (juvenile)

We visited last summer when the egrets and roseate spoonbills were nesting, and I even got some decent shots of the spoonbills and their nestlings from the bird blind. This time, since it wasn’t so hot, we were able to see more of the area. One of the first things we saw was the above young alligator sunning on a pond near the nature center. I’ve seen the adults in the wild but never a baby and didn’t realize the young sported such a brightly contrasting tail.

Osprey

The boat tour through Adams Bayou gave us a look at an osprey that kept circling over the water. I’ve only seen these guys a few times and never when I had a camera on me, so I tried. I was hoping he would dive, but he seemed content to circle.

Eventually we came to the outpost where there is a massive beaver pond that’s unconnected to the bayou. The beavers moved away a few years ago, but their pond remains, the water thick and covered in a layer of very small fern that from a distance looks like a perfectly planed layer of mud.

Beaver pond

While the guide was describing the ecology of the region, the boat driver was busily collecting snakes. It was a little disconcerting how quickly and easily he found a water moccasin and a Texas rat snake. He released the moccasin so we could get a look at it. Its bold pattern surprised me, but he explained that this was a juvenile and they grow darker and lose the contrast as they age.

Water moccasin

After the trip up the Bayou, we walked through the grounds toward the heronry. The fish crows were conversing in the trees and as we walked closer we could hear the sqronks of the egrets and cormorants.

Fish crow

Nesting season really gets going in April and May when you can see anhingas, cattle and great egrets, roseate spoonbills and double-crested and neotropic cormorants by the thousands. Things were still getting underway for this year and the first spoonbill had only arrived a few days earlier (we didn’t see him), but it was a thrill to sit in the blind and watch these beautiful birds. I didn’t get any decent shots this time, and in all honesty, I didn’t try too hard since I think it’s good to sometimes just watch and be.

There was a volunteer birder working in the blind to talk about the birds and their lives. He told us that in the summer many of the egrets and spoonbill nestlings fall from their nests and since they can’t swim, they’re quickly snapped up by the alligators that lurk below the nests. I thought back to that baby alligator and couldn’t help but be reminded of the old saying “the bigger they are the cuter the ain’t,” which certainly applies to alligators even if they are just doing the job assigned to them by nature.

Old house by the heronry

This is the only shot of the heronry that I liked. The wrecked house in front is from the early days before that snowstorm in ’58. Those white things in the trees behind it are great egrets sitting on their nests.

Old Photo Friday

Mt Etna, Sicily, Italy; Early '80's

One of the few things I’ve invented in the blog world is Old Photo Friday. Maybe I invented it, I don’t know. I’ve never seen anyone else do it, but perhaps I only discovered it in the way that Columbus discovered America.

I did Old Photo Friday fairly regularly from June 2006 to June 2007 and then stopped. I guess I got tired of it, but lately I’ve been missing those weekly explorations of old photographs.

With thoughts of Columbus and worlds old and new, I found this shot of Mt. Etna I took with my old Kodak 110 Instamatic. We lived in Italy from 1982 until 1985 and during that time, I visited Sicily twice. Once with my family and once with my Boy Scout troop (395, the best alive). This is from the Boy Scout trip, which I’m guessing was either in ’83 or ’84, in which we went camping on the lower slopes of the volcano.

We took the train down from Naples and crossed the straits to Sicily on the ferry, which was all very exciting, though being inside the train cars in the cavernous hold of the ferry wasn’t my favorite part of the trip.

Etna was erupting at the time, but it’s a big mountain so we were safe enough, though occasionally we felt a rumble and some of the guys claimed to have seen a small explosion near the summit, but even that didn’t seem like too a big a deal since our school was on the slopes of La Solfatara, a mostly-dormant volcano that frequently spewed foul-smelling clouds of sulfur into the air so the whole area would smell like rotten eggs and farts.

Mt Etna didn’t smell bad, and it was a good place to camp and hike and explore. We were especially interested in the shrines set up along the trails with their votive candles, old photographs of people taken when they were young and piles of Lira, sacrifices, we imagined, so the dead would have some change to buy Cokes in Heaven.

Three from the Galveston Seawall

Galveston Beach

From the Galveston Seawall #2

From the Galveston Seawall #3

Two Cemeteries in Missouri

Hillside cemetery in Lanagan, Missouri

Hillside cemetery in Lanagan, Missouri

We spent the weekend in the southwest Missouri Ozarks visiting some of R’s relatives and extended family including the ones that are in the ground. We looked for relatives in two cemeteries: one in Lanagan and the other in Pineville, both maintained by volunteers and donations. The one in Lanagan had flowers on every grave and flags for all the veterans.

These were surprisingly social places, and R’s parents found that the people there often knew of them and their kin. Surprisingly, these cemeteries were full of life, and not just of the avian variety, though I did enjoy watching a pair of Broad-winged Hawks circle ever higher over the Lanagan cemetery.

W.P. Jeffers' grave

William P. Jeffers' grave in Pineville, MO

It’s odd how much I enjoy wandering around graveyards. When I was in college, I took a photography class in which we here assigned to shoot found objects. I spent a semester exploring cemeteries, graveyards, boneyards and gardens of eternal rest. I read tombstones and imagined the lives and stories they commemorate. Graveyards are great places to let the imagination wander while listening to birds and the wind.

Cemetery in Pineville, Missouri

Cemetery in Pineville, Missouri

I came across a grave for a young man in his twenties who died on November 11, 1918. The last day of World War I. He wasn’t marked as a veteran so who knows how he died, but for someone, I guess that was an unhappy day.

I especially like looking for the oldest person. I didn’t check them all, but this was the oldest I found.

Dr. Duval's Grave in Pineville, MO

Dr. Duval's Grave in Pineville, MO

I don’t know anything about this person. Only that he probably served in the Civil War. He would have been in his ’30s, and he was a doctor. I wonder what he saw, how many limbs he may have amputated. It fascinates me that he lived through the end of the frontier and the inventions of movies, electric light, the telegraph, automobile and airplanes. Whoever he was, someone cared enough to place a flag near his grave.

An assassination victim's grave in Pineville, MO

An assassination victim's grave in Pineville, MO

This was another one that fascinated me. R’s aunt found it and led us to it. Dr. Chenoweth was almost 48 when he was assassinated, “a martyr to the cause of temperance and religion.” The Latin inscription beneath says, ‘the truth will prevail.’ There’s not enough to know anything about what happened to him, but just enough to let the mind wander down the dusty lanes of invention and imagination. Such is the wonder of old cemeteries.

One Way

Donner Summit

I took this on Donner Summit near Truckee, California while there in June 2006. There’s something peaceful about this little alpine lake even if it is right off the I-80 access road.

Photography is all selection. I get in the moment, frame the shot, and everything outside the frame falls away. Usually forever.

When I return to a familiar site, those unshot surroundings are always a surprise, unknown and alien.

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