Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Sunset on Mount Scott: A Scramble in Fading Light

My intentions were to capture the super moon on Wednesday morning. I arrived at Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge a bit later than I had hoped the night before. I wasn't able to use a tripod and had to scramble to capture the  atmosphere before I lost all light.

I was just one of three other cars up on the mountain which was a wonderful feeling of desolation and solitude. Th steep grade  to the top of Mount Scott is lined with giant granite boulders adorned with rich yellow lichen. On my last visit I don't remember the color of the lichen being so vivid.

I saw a small animal crossing the road and what I thought was a raccoon turned out to be a porcupine. I've only seen one in the wild before and it was a treat to watch him disappear into the dense scrub.

As I came around the bend there it was in all its glory, the full moon rising above the edge of Mount Scott. Pinks and mauves in velvety waves of clouds surrounded it as it rose into the darkening sky. Below I could see Lake Lawtonka as it snaked through the valley. As the sun set, it warmed all the colors to a reddish brown complementing the blue of the water.

All the lights of the cities nearby had begun to twinkle as the wind blew hard across the mountain. The road winds around the mountain with many views of the valleys and buttes below.  As darkness set in, the rich warm reds gave way to purples and blues that faded into the sunset, a violent flame of color across the horizon.

I reached the top as the light was quickly fading. Photographing was difficult because it was really cold and the wind gusts were constant. The valley below was fading into deep blues and purples and the lights of distant cities set the dark horizons ablaze.

Tomorrow would be the super moon, a grand image of the blood moon, little did I know was that the camera would malfunction and I would be forced to shoot with my Iphone. What followed was a day of peace and calm in a beautiful ancient landscape that I will definitely visit again.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

A Day at the Zoo: Taking time to enjoy individual exhibits allows for a more intimate portrait

I enjoyed taking some closeups in the herpetarium in at the Dallas Zoo. Usually there are too many people crowded into the space, it was a weekday and I enjoyed observing all of the reptiles and amphibians.

This I thought was very odd. A Poison Dart Frog that found its perch on a bushmaster. I liked the way the golden green stood out against the bushmasters' dull browns and beiges. I took many photos just to get one that had them both in focus.

A Komodo Dragon took a bit of notice of me as he dug a hole. He stared through the glass and I was able to get a close up of his prehistoric face. It's closer than I ever want to be to such a formidable predator.

I loved how intense the green of the mamba was, it must have been feeding time because it seemed like it was searching for something.

Prehistoric is the best I can describe this iguana. I was able to get several sharp close-ups of this monster. He was very calm and relaxed.

This was a family of chimps that groomed each other and enjoyed some time in the warm sun. A baby played in the bushes and I wasn't able to get any shots of him. Suddenly they all picked up what they were doing and they were off. I liked how the light side lit her muscular form.

This is the closest I've ever gotten to a cheetah. It was on the other side of a window watching as the kids were tapping on the window. I loved the look in its eyes.

I liked the abstract ribbing in the trunk and how the light eventuated the folds of its skin. I enjoyed listening to the zookeeper about the elephants in the wilds of Africa. 

I enjoyed watching the gorillas, I was able to sit and watch them for a while. Again, the zookeeper told me about their personalities. I liked the blue lighting and the personality in their eyes.

I photographed several giraffe as they were fed. They have beautiful textures and their eyes have much feeling in them. 

This lion sat and watched the people, I think it was hungry. The eyes still had that wild look and I was attracted to the shadows.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Parkhill Prairie: A Place to Disappear

I got lost in the long flowing stalks of bluestem grasses, the great blue sky looming above where hawks dance in slow spirals. I sat on the cold, moist ground and listened to what it might have been like when bison and Indians roamed the backland  prairie.

The clouds drifted with a calm indifference, the wind breathed and than exhaled followed by a ritual silence. Meadowlarks flew in patterns from fences and crows called out breaking the stillness, it is like going back in time.

I guess the fact that the winter chill that settled in my spine and slapped my exposed skin with pins and needles would be a good incentive not to go to the prairie. I assume that's why both times I've gone there has been no one there but I consider it my oasis of silence.

I am comfortable sitting on the cold ground. My breath is still, my senses charged with the sounds as I try not to miss anything. I can hear cattle in the background and even a truck in the far distance but for the most part all is consumed with the rush of the wind through the grasses.

All that moves is the grasses, swaying back and forth as if haunted and the clouds marching passively across the plane, I am in awe of the silence and calm.

I have been dwarfed by mountains, the ocean but never by a huge open field. I have images of our history and it's inhabitants that made a life out here and imagine the distant cows that cry out now were probably the sounds of wagon trains and troops of coyotes, maybe even the bison.

The coyotes are still here, I see their tracks and scat but the bison are long gone. There hawks of all kinds, the red tail, the kestrels and the prairie falcon, their mood is pensive with a mission. They rise and fall in the golden field as it should be.

I learned about this place from a trail guide at the Blackland Prairie Raptor Center and I have been back twice. Yet another great place I learned about from the Blackland Prairie Raptor center, great people and wonderful birds with lots of knowledge, if you haven't gotten a chance to go on the first Saturday of the month, I would highly suggest going.

There is also a pond on the property and again, no one around but an occasional Blue Heron that keeps out of range of my camera. There are also picnic benches and a pavilion, I can't imagine people in this park though, it is so quiet and beautiful, I think I might just be a winter visitor.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Blackland Prairie Revisited: Protecting Birds and the Environment while Educating the Public

Great Horned Owl from the Blackland Prairie Center Photo by Artbygordon

Protecting wildlife starts with saving habitat, maintaining native plants and fauna and protecting animals that have become injured or can not compete in their natural world. These animals become ambassadors to show our future stewards of the environment why they are so important and what makes them special.
Barn Owl hissing. from the Blackland Prairie Center Photo by Artbygordon

Blackland Prairie Raptor Center is doing all of these important aspects of wildlife preservation. I visited their first Saturday of the month, it's the only time they're open to the public and they show the birds that pass through their center. 

They keep the birds as wild as they can be, even the imprinted birds that haven't learned to live in the wild are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve. It is quite an impressive operation and much of what I have learned about the Blackland Prairie is from talking with the naturalists there.

Barred Owl from the Blackland Prairie Center Photo by Artbygordon

They take the time to show you each bird they have and explain their unique situations. I was impressed with how much the children knew about the birds and the difference between nocturnal and diurnal.

Every time I go to the center I learn something I didn't know. Here is a list of some more things I've learned from my visit today.

Red Tailed Hawk from the Blackland Prairie Center Photo by Artbygordon

1. A flock of Kites is a kettle. The mississippi kite is expanding its range southward. With age comes the more grey plumage and it feeds on mostly insects.

2. I've never heard a barn owl hiss up close. They also shriek and it can be quite piercing to the ear.

3. The tuffs of feathers on the head of the owls break up their round shape and make them harder to see in the wild.

4. A barn owls ears are so intense they can hear a heartbeat and they can actually attack a mouse under the snow without even seeing them.

5. Owls have tubular eyes that are more fixed than other animals and therefore they need to swivel their heads to see.

Preregrine Falcon from the Blackland Prairie Center Photo by Artbygordon

After the bird show we took a hike on the trails and we learned about blue stem grasses, native grass and invasive non-native species. I learned about another place I had never heard of before today and I very much enjoyed my visit, the park is the Parkhill Prairie near Blue Ridge and it was an amazing visit where I saw hawks and vultures flying in their environment. 

It was a wonderful day.

Red Shouldered Hawk from the Blackland Prairie Center Photo by Artbygordon

Friday, January 5, 2018

One Amazing Sunset and What's on the Horizon?

This evening I got to watch the sun set and enjoyed so many aspects of its glory. The colors grew from yellows and oranges to salmon and pink and finally a rich red and deep blue.

This wouldn't normally be in the Road Trip section but I thought I would preview what is coming up. I"m planning on getting out road tripping and shooting more nature in silhouette.

Another aspect of nature I've been experimenting with is isolating the bright colors of nature against a dark backdrop. I am excited about the new year, so many opportunities to shoot and explore nature.

I'm running out of new parks close by so I will probably be running up to places in Oklahoma very soon and I plan on kayaking on Daingerfield for Chain Pickerel.

My next trip will probably be up to Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge, I am looking for places to find waterfalls. I am also planning on getting out to Arkansas for the fall foliage this year. Please stay tuned.

Tomorrow I'm planning on getting out to the Blackland Prairie Raptor Center, I will have more photos of owls and hawks so stay tuned. 

In the meantime, I've been doing a 365 day photo challenge so here is a group of sunset images from day 28. I can't wait to see what new places I discover, so many possibilities, so little time.


Thursday, January 4, 2018

Cedar Ridge Preserve: A Great Mix of Nature, Exercise and Community

Sumac Berries by ArtbyGordon ©2018
I visited the Cedar Ridge Preserve near Cedar Hill, Texas today. I had actually visited many years ago when it was the Dallas Nature Center.

It is the perfect mix of nature and community,  there were just enough people on the trail that you didn't feel to isolated nor crowded. The paths snake around limestone cliffs and meanders up one hill and down the next.

ArtbyGordon ©2018

There are many large stands of cedar and the shallow roots are like snakes rising out of the chalky soil. They've added logs of cedar for easy hiking and even the steepest trail was pretty easy to maneuver.

ArtbyGordon ©2018

It was the perfect day for a hike, cool enough to be comfortable but not too cold. I worked up a sweat on a few of the steeper paths and the cool breeze was a comfortable temperature.

There are several views where you can see Joe Pool lake and the distant hills. There were a few dogs on the trails but I didn't see that much wildlife or hear that many birds. I did hear some crows, a kinglet and a Carolina wren but it was mostly quiet.

ArtbyGordon ©2018

The surrounding highways were far enough away and their sounds were muffled by the hills of the preserve and the dense cedars and oak trees. Several times along the way I was able to just relax and enjoy the silence of nature.

It was a perfect day and something that I've been craving for quite a while. Nature is an amazing source of strength and peace for me and I left the park recharged. I will definitely go back.

ArtbyGordon ©2018

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

A Love of Birds and Places to Find Them

I have always had a passion for nature and birds have always been the easiest wildlife to attract to my backyard. Even in the most urban of backyards you can attract all kinds of species of birds, I've counted 40 species passing through my backyard.

There are also so many local places to go see birds. This is a list and some pictures of places I love to go see birds and enjoy nature.

The Blackland Prairie Raptor Center near Lake Lavon in Lucas, Texas. The first Saturday of the month they display their birds and give you lots of information about each raptor. They also have tours of the property where they give you lots of info about the Blackland Prairie and why it is so important in our local ecosystems. I will be there this Saturday with new pictures.

The Heard Museum in Mckinney is a wonderful place to go surround yourself with nature. There are great stands of old growth trees and every time I've stopped by I've seen an owl. Depending on the season, there are many different species that pass through the park and there's a nature museum and even animatronic dinosaurs. 

The Heard Natural Science Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary trails

The Heard Natural Science Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary trails in the meadow

Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge in Sherman, Texas is a great place for waterfowl passing through and many different species of hawks. I have seen flocks of waxwings in the spring and this winter I've been able to get to see the snow and Ross Geese. It's a wonderful park as there are never that many people there and there are many places to hike and explore.

Ross and Snow Geese at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge
Waxwings in Hagerman

Trinity River Audubon Center

Trinity River Audubon Center  a 130 acres of wildlife habitat that was originally an illegal dump site and now reclaimed as a haven for birds and other wildlife. I've visited several times and even once volunteered with fellow employees to help improve the park, that's how I learned about the center.
They even have a night owl walk and I'm planning on signing up for one soon.

There are a few others I am planning on checking out in the near future including Cedar Ridge Nature Preserve in Cedar Hill. 

If you can't get out to see the birds, bring them to your backyard. Make sure they have water, seed and Suet available for them. Also it's important to have lots of plants and shrubs in different levels and the birds will use all the different areas to roost, feed and nest.

I have had the following nest in my backyard: wrens, chickadees, bluejays, cardinals, squirrels-they think they're birds-mockingbirds and several different sparrows. I also had bluebirds nest in a previous residence. 

I grow plants specifically for wildlife and have also attracted 35 species of butterflies that also lay eggs, feed as caterpillar and grace the garden with colorful wings all summer. It really is a rewarding endeavor to make your yard a haven for wildlife and it's also a passion that pays in peace and calm. Nature is my favorite addiction.

Red Admiral at Hagerman

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