Chasing Eagles Part 2

I just wanted give you a quick update on my quest for the eagles of the Kanawha River. This image was taken a couple of weeks ago near the Glen Ferris Inn in West Virginia. The bird was spotted over Kanawha Falls. I was out with my camera on the way home from my day job. I decided that I had time for a few quick shots of falls and kayaks when flash of white caught my attention. The largest lens I had with me was my Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30. Knowing that the local eagles are dark in color and only the head is white I was fairly certain that it wasn’t an eagle but this was still a big bird and it was moving fast. Fighting to keep my hands from trembling with excitement I engaged the burst mode. This bird is really fast! I kinda felt like an old west gun fighter as I tried desperately to keep him in frame and in focus. (This is not a time for manual mode) The whole encounter was only about 30 seconds as this bird’s aerobatic maneuvers kept me shifting focus out of pure reflex! First he skimmed the water towards the falls only pulling up at the last second. I lost sight of him as he banked in front of the trees and disappeared behind the inn. I started to scan the falls with my camera hoping that he would come back for a second run over the falls. That didn’t happen. Instead he pops up from behind the inn directly overhead of me. I raised my camera one more time bending over backwards and trying to focus. I almost fell over backwards. I spun around while zooming in and out and praying for that little beep from the camera body to let me know that I have a lock on the focus. Finally I get the beep and green square in the viewfinder just as the raptor performs a figure 8 maneuver that would leave any jet fighter in pieces on the ground. As the bird dives and skims parallel to the falls this time I managed to get one usable image. This was an osprey! Only about half the size of the eagle but still a very special bird. I now have a second goal to catch a high quality image the osprey.

On a side note, the existence of bald eagle has been challenged. As proof that both birds are in fact inhabiting the area I’m sharing this photo of a juvenile bald eagle. The image is too grainy to sell as art but it’s the best I could get without a longer lens. It’s only a matter of time before I can either stalk in close enough for a clear image or afford an equipment upgrade. Both eagle and the osprey were taken with the same camera.

The Great Blue Herons

Something stalks the neighborhood in my mountains. Slowly and silently it creeps along the banks of the rivers and streams. It sharp eyes detect the slightest movement just below the water’s surface. It strikes like lightning and it’s prey has little chance of escaping the razor sharp beak.

The Great Blue Herons are one of my favorite birds. I have never seen a native species that reminded me more of a dinosaur. The one pictured here was close to three feet tall. The long serpentine neck, wide wingspan and habit of trailing it’s lags as it flies really makes one think that they’ve crossed into the distant past. This one also seems to have a sense of humor. It likes to lurk around just below the bridges in my neighborhood and spring up out of creek when you least expect it. If I didn’t know better I’d swear it laughs as it flies away. I haven’t been able to spot the nest yet but I do occasionally hear it’s grunting calls coming from the thick bush. They’re truly one of the more amazing sights in my wild wonderful West Virginia and hope you get to see one if you’re ever traveling close to the water. And, if you happen to hear a snicker it’s probably the one that likes to startle me.

The Big Old Tree On Route 60

I love big old ancient trees. The older the better. In ancient times, big old trees were thought to be magical entities that stood between heaven and earth. They guarded the secrets of the universe. Trees also represent a shelter for weary travelers. The give us food and medicine. I believe that the tree in the feature image is a Red Elm tree. Also known as the Slippery Elm, the inner bark yields a mucilaginous substance that is used to treat respiratory ailments. The tea made from the inner bark has a sweet spicy flavor that’s pleasant enough to enjoy just for relaxing. Don’t drink too much because it’s also a laxative.

I’m really surprised that this one is still around. Sadly, the Elm population was nearly destroyed by Dutch Elm Disease. In the spring the government hangs purple boxes in the trees that attracts the beetles responsible for the spread of fungus. The beetle traps seem to be working well so hopefully we’ll have these awesome trees around for generations of travelers to shelter under or collect medicine from.

Summertime Happiness

I really enjoy it when a photo brings up such a vivid memory. The field of little yellow flowers was alive with the humming of millions of bees. The warm humid air was filled with the magical fragrance of wild mints. I followed the bees from flower to flower while enjoying the occasional butterfly floating around in the warm breeze. I lost track of time in this place. I spent a few hours just absorbing the peace and presence of God.

The Thrill Of The Hunt

I’ve been a hunter for most of my life. These days I’ve replaced my rifle with a camera but the basic skills are the same. If you sit still long enough they will come to you. But there’s a trick. You have to be able to become a part of the environment. Sitting in the woods with a camera isn’t enough. They can hear your heartbeat long before you can here their approaching footsteps. On a calm day they can smell you from hundreds of yards/meters away. If you don’t belong there they will know and stay away. Learning to belong to the wild places takes some time and practice but being at peace with creation is a very positive experience. Keeping your mouth closed and your ears open helps prevent them from smelling your breath. The birds will tell you where he is. As he walks towards you, the forest falls silent. Control your excitement. A racing heartbeat is a sure sign that you don’t belong. When he comes into sight he’ll snort and try to get a fresh scent of you. Be steady and move very slowly. His ears will twitch as he tries to pinpoint your heartbeat. Easy does it. Focus. Now, take the shot. He heard the shutter snap and he bounds off to be hunted again. Each time will be different but you’ll never lose the thrill of the hunt.

Lessons Learned from Tiny

While on my way to my day job Sunday morning I noticed a familiar shape on the road. Unfortunately, the Eastern Box Turtle sees the warm road surface as a great place to absorb the morning sun and get the old metabolism going. And what’s worse is that not all drivers are alert enough notice them in time and a few are cruel enough to crush them on purpose. This one is just a baby! He was the smallest box turtle that I’ve seen in a long time. I just couldn’t leave the little guy to fate and so blocking the road with my truck I hopped out and scooped him up.

I wasn’t really sure what to do with him as I’m not a herpetologist. So, I carried him into the office where my coworker quickly found spare box, some scraps out the break room and came up with name Tiny. Tiny was declared to be our team mascot for the day and the whole crew fell instantly in love with him.

While he mostly just kinda sat in the box not understanding what was happening by the end of day he had become accustomed to the attention.

Originally the plan was for me to take him out of the city and relocate him to a nice secure place near my property (which borders the National Forest) . However, in researching how to properly care for him in the meantime we learned that because of strong homing instinct that such a move would almost certainly kill him.

Tiny was released on the same property where he was found but well away from the road.

During his short tenure as Department mascot he did manage to pass on a few words of ancient turtle wisdom.

1. Not everyone who messes up your plans has bad intentions. Tiny’s plans to warm up on the road had to be ruined for his own good.

2. Don’t be afraid to stick your neck out for a friend. Had Tiny not come out of his shell my coworkers would not have been impressed as much and been so motivated to research his well being.

3. There’s no place like home. The Eastern Box Turtle spends it’s entire lifetime (as much as 100 years!) within one mile of its birthplace.

That’s it. Tiny is just a baby and that’s all he had to share right now. But he and his kind have the potential to teach the same lessons to the great grandchildren of the humans born the same time he was. So, if you spot a turtle trying to cross a road (take your own personal safety into account FIRST) the best thing to do is to move it to the other side of the road as close to the woods as possible.

Back in the day, we would write or paint names and dates on the shell. That’s definitely not recommended today. Not only is it possibly toxic to the turtle but it messes up his camouflage that protects him from birds.