Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Steady Swans in Golden Light

Ma and Pa Trumpeter Swans                                18 March 2012

Winter has a good grip on us this year, and I am reminded by the frozen lakes and sharply shadowed edges of drifted snow that we will see remnants of this winter well into April.   I have been spending too much time indoors, but not because of the weather.  Work beckons constantly as my own expectations are ramped up in times when governments forget to invest in education.  Each member of the educational family feels the squeeze, and, I suppose, some of the animals I have come to know are wondering about the absence of my silhouette on the distant drifts, my lurking about in curious ways.

There are two wild trumpeter swans I have come to know well, and for a few years I have called them “Ma” and “Pa”.  My kids call them “Slurper” and “Guzzler” as a tribute to the way swans feed in the early spring.  They don’t have neck bands, so I can’t read their names.  But there is something about them that is unchanging, constant, and certain.  When I see them again this year on territory, I will know it if it is still them.  I would be willing to bet a lot that I will see them again in the same place, doing the same things.

The weather is never so constant and certain.  My favorite swans are still making circuits around the landscape.  This year, I can only wonder where they are and what they are doing now.  In a few weeks, the pattern will resume, and I will pay a heartfelt visit to “Ma” and “Pa” as they take care of things in a small wetland I love so much.  Every duck and goose knows who owns that water.  They give these swans a wide berth.

Let the snow keep coming, at least for now.  This land needs the drink.  The swans need deeper water.  Last summer’s drought was difficult for local swans as the shrinking natural “bowls” of water placed the shallow margins closer to the middle.  As our local swans fed for tubers and picked up gravel in the areas that were now at just the right depths, they encountered an abundance of forgotten lead, left over from the days when hunters threw toxic shot relentlessly toward the middle of marshes.  We lost a few swans to lead poisoning in the late summer, and I can’t help but feel anticipation for the thawing ice and open water that still has yet to come.

 I look forward to checking on my old friends to see if they are here for another season.  I imagine we’ll throw out a small wool blanket across the grasses and watch the swans as we eat a snack and bask in the early spring sun.  My kids will watch through binoculars to see details in birds that are already very close.  We’ll sit for an hour or two, entertained by these beautiful birds, and we’ll say very little as we enjoy this time together.  I can guess this will happen, because, like “Ma” and “Pa”, some very few things are still wonderfully unchanging, constant, and certain.

These images were taken with a Canon 30D and Canon 300mm f4 IS Lens.    

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Maple Shadows and a Hint of Spring

Onaabani Giizis, Maajigaa                                         6 March 2013
(March, Crust on the Snow Moon, The Maple Sap Begins to Run, in Ojibwe Language)

Earlier than usual in this day and age, the maple sap runs in early March when the days are warm and the nights still brisk and cold.  As the snow crusts over and then melts from the base of the tree, it is time to harvest the sap to make maple syrup.   I took this picture as the sun set upon a ridge of sugar maple trees, casting long shadows.  March brings a sun that is much higher in the sky at mid-day. The energy of the sun evaporates the snow and melts the surface, even when the greater air temperatures haven’t lifted above freezing.  I felt that the warmth of the sunset colors made a fine tribute to the warming air of March.   I made this picture with a small electric radio-controlled fixed-wing aircraft and Kodak Playful HD camera.  The lower quality of the image made by a “screen capture” of the video coupled with the unusual perspective brought to mind the playful and retrospective art being made by modern photographers using tiny 110 negatives and other “obsolete” equipment.  I was thrilled to get this image back, as all of my flying is “LOS” or Line of Sight.  I never know exactly what the airplane sees until I get my camera back! 

Minogiizhigad geget! Miigwetch!  

Sent from my iPlane

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Snow Day!

...And the Snow Kept Falling!                  5 March 2013

A hot sandwich, a warm tea, and a few local friends just outside in the wild.  For a teacher, a snow day is still a work day, but it takes on the gentle and muffled relaxation of academic progress in solitude.  While I dreamed of a new sort of future in the life sciences, the local late winter wildlife kept me entertained.  

Canon 7D, 300mm f4 L IS, black oil sunflower seed, and Peace on Earth.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Snowy Days

Snowy Egret, Sanibel Island, Florida                         18 February 2011

As I write today, 4 March 2013, a brisk snow is covering my Northwest Wisconsin home.  Horned Larks, taking short flights from the gravel roadsides to the open blankets of snow, are abundant reminders that Spring is not far away.  We have already seen a large black bear ambling across corn stubble, making his way to a bramble thicket. Tonight, a storm promises to bring Winter for a longer stay.   In all honesty, I am thankful, as I still want to get a few more moments in the snow-swept wild.  Maybe (though not likely) we will have a snow day tomorrow.  This brings me back to a different sort of snow day, a warm and sunny snow day a couple of years ago in February.  

The Snowy Egret is a southern bird, a bird of coastal mangroves, bayous and coastal retreats.  It is a small bird with elegant plumes, and it wears a spectacular pair of golden slippers.  Unlike our own Great Egret, the Snowy Egret has a thin, black bill.  In many southern locations, the Snowy Egret is tame and abundant.  It is a spectacular reminder that conservation laws can work.  It is as pure as freshly fallen snow.  A day with this bird is one of the best kinds of snow days to nurture a soul. 

The Snowy Egret was a bird nearly wiped out by the plume trade a hundred years ago, and, like so many things wild, its recovery has given us a generation of dedicated conservationists.  It has also given us a paradox.  Many people younger than me have been born into a world that is once again rich in an abundance of big and spectacular birds, all back from the brink, all survivors of those less favorable days of unregulated market hunting, wetland destruction, DDT, and an ongoing list of things since abolished or better regulated.   It gives us a frailty, a false sense of security.  Our young people must grow to love what we have and never, ever, ever forget…that we once almost lost it all.  Our young people must be inspired to know that it was the determined hard work and anxious concern of previous generations that kept these living treasures around through each growing pain of the industrial revolution. 

What decisions will we make? What decisions will we allow? What legacy will we leave?  It is not enough to celebrate our successes.  We must also contrast them with the mistakes of the past, show the successes as better days, and work tirelessly to secure a great future for the beauty of the wild. 

The greatest conservationists are and were long in vision.  In difficult times, we must also honor them by being equally long in vision.  Exploitation was a mistake of the past, and it is something we cannot afford today.

All images were made with a Canon 30D and Canon 300mm f4 L IS Lens.  The light was spectacular as the sun went down near the Sanibel Island lighthouse beach.  The fishing pier and beach at this location are a good bet for any bird photographer!