The Cards I Have Been Dealt


I have been feeling a bit snubbed by the local Cardinals. 14 feeders filled daily and nary a cardinal shows their red and black face. The whole point of hanging all those feeders was to get the cardinals close enough to get some nice snaps. Last weekend after the rain I finally got me some cardinal love. Two male cards perched off in the walnut tree and gradually got closer and closer to me.



The patio where I snap my photos has a pergola overhead that rests on two log columns with stone bases. The two male cards decided to check me out from each side. They scoped out the best places to feed.

This guy has an epic mohawk!


This guy popped back into the tree and did his best parrot impression.


The two guys were joined by this girl who sports her best Angry Birds poses.




The girl settled in on the arm of a sassafras bench right next to the doorway were I was sitting inside. I saw her reflection in the open glass door and slowly pointed my camera around the corner until I saw her on the LCD. She was less that 3 feet from me.

She hears my camera click and starts to look around…

And she spots me.


She hopped up and turned around and threw me a pose.That girl has a little Cap’n in her.


In addition to being shy, the cards are just too large for a lot of feeders, I didn’t know this until I had already set up a feeder system. I’ve been looking for a tray feeder, in the meantime they cards have discovered the patio below the feeders – it’s the world’s largest tray feeder and needs no stand.


I’m glad these guys finally gave me a shot at snapping them.

A Bouquet, a Glittering, a Hover, or a Shimmer – Some Things I Have Learned About Capturing Shots of Hummingbirds

Last week I posted some experiments from a photo challenge where the aim was to shoot your DSLR like it was a film challenge, limiting options and processing simply – no image stabilization, set a single ISO setting – bare bones. I learned some things by minimizing the technology and decided to apply some things to my regular shooting process while utilizing all the features of my DSLR.

Here are some things I was forced to try when I limited my camera’s functionality that can I apply to my everyday shooting:

1. Get close. Hummers at a feeder could care less about you. They may chirp a bit, but if you position yourself close to the feeders before they approach, they will come anyway – food is more important than you. I was actually standing on a step stool a few feet from a couple of the feeders for these shots.



2. Wait for it. Hummers are not sedentary creatures. Get a good focus on one that is feeding and stay on that bird until it starts to flutter, then snap immediately – it’s the best way to get an action shot.


Holding on one bird can get you interesting angles that would be almost impossible to catch shooting one-off.



This technique can sometimes let a story play out – this fellow was defending his feeder by intimidating all comers.




3. Make your autofocus area as small as possible and focus on the head or eyes of the hummer. If you can get the head sharp, the other motions will only make the shot more interesting.






5. Stalk the feeder. Sometimes a bird will light on the opposite side of the feeder. Keep the feeder in your viewfinder and focus on any part of the bird you see peaking around, often a hummer will pop up and you’ll be ready of a fun candid with sharp focus in your subject.



6. Back off and take it all in. When hummers are competing to feed there’s often lots of drama that you would miss if you were tight on one bird. Back off every now and then to get the whole picture.




7. Look for unusual locations. If you watch the dominant bird you will notice that they perch nearby. They seem to create patterns or routes. They may feed and perch on a bare limb and keep watch on their territory. They almost always return to their perch to keep watch after each altercation. These are opportunities to get a unique shot of the bird without the iconic red feeder.



20120827-192823.jpgThese are things you can do with any digital camera with a decent amount of zoom – these are wonderful creatures and it is a pleasure just to be in their midst. Capturing those moments makes it even better.

A Hummer of a Rain Dance

I was putting together the pieces of a longer post when the rain started.

If you’ve read any of my posts lamenting the drought in the Ozarks, you know that rain is a reason for rejoicing! I was working on a bird feeder repair in the kitchen when I looked out the window and saw this:

A female hummer enjoying the shower…

She started to spin and do her best impression of a turkey with a glance to the right…

then a twist to the left…

followed by a whole lotta shakin’

The rain gauge is filling up, the grass is starting to green up, the hummers are dancing, all is right with the world.

My Little Chickadee – an Upgrade to My Backyard Buffet

After seeing a Facebook Post by the Norberta Philbook Gallery I decided it was time for an upgrade at the buffet. The Gallery is owned by a friend and neighbor. She had been looking for pottery for the Gallery when she came across the work of Julie Windler. She makes these adorable hand thrown bird feeders. They have real elm limbs for perches.

I bought one and hung it pretty close to my shooting spot last Saturday. I filled it with some clean feed and black oil sunflower seeds. I barely finished before it started to rain. Once the rain stop I settled into my spot to see who might check out this new addition.

One brave little chickadee checked it out right away.

He hopped from perch to perch until he found a spot that was perfect.

He decided to give it a try – time for a snack.

He stopped to give me an adorable pose…

and flew back to the walnut tree.

I think Chicky is an art connoiseur.

Photo Botch-ulism – the definitive guide!

Finally the definitive primer on how to botch a photo – in case you were wondering!

Stray Thoughts

Manuel de la photo ratée – Thomas Lélu.

Hilarious guide to a wide variety of creative ways to botch your photos. For every way, and various combinations, the author provides examples from his family album, as well as detailed instructions on how to create each particular effect. As a bonus he delivers an artistic critique of each type of photo.

In the technical part of the book we encounter such old favourites as fuzzy, over- / underexposed or ill-framed photos – including the popular road-photo, but also highlights such as the thumb-snap or the discoloured photo.

The more challenging chapters on subject matter provide insight into how to create empty, crowded or confused photos. A dedicated chapter explains how to ruin portraits. My particular favourites are the photo-triste (sad) and photo-camouflage.

While I cannot claim to be a master of the botched photo, I consider myself a gifted amateur, and…

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I Think I’ll Stick with Velcro

Save Our Strays Collar and Tag

About 8 years ago I was shopping in Fayetteville, Arkansas at Petco. A friend and I had made a “dog food run” from Eureka Springs about 40 miles away. On this particular Saturday there was a Dog Adoption Fair in the parking lot out front by a group called Save Our Strays. I own a couple of Jack Russell Terriers so my eye stopped on an odd-shaped terrier in a kennel cage. She had a smaller head than my Jacks, but a much larger body. She was shaking like a leaf – this is not typical terrier behavior – they are more likely to pace or verbalize nervousness. I also noticed that she was no puppy. Most of the dogs there that day seemed to be cute little puppies. I stopped to ask some details and learned that this group visited the local shelter every Saturday and picked up all the dogs they could haul that were scheduled to be put down on the following Tuesday. My heart sank! I told her I would think about it while I shopped – I stepped inside the store and mentally went back and forth – I already had 2 terriers – plenty of dogs for me. Did I want the extra responsibility? Would it detract from my other pups? By the time I checked out I had picked out a collar – she was coming home with me. After all I had terrier experience and she was an older dog. I could give her a good life.

I headed out to the parking lot to find the volunteers loading up their tables and empty cages – I stepped over to ask about who might have adopted the terrier. “Nobody, we sent her back to the shelter about 10 minutes ago.” Again my heart sank. We tried to get the driver on his cell and left messages at the shelter – but it was after 5 and there would be no one there until Monday. I told the lady that I would write a check for the adoption fee right now if it were possible to get to her. I told her that I lived 40+ miles away and would be willing to make the trip as soon as possible.

Long-story-short the woman arranged to retrieve the girl Monday morning, she had her checked by a vet, groomed and took her home – by Wednesday I was headed west after work to pick her up. I had a brand new car and owning terriers I know what the shedding is like so I covered the seats with a soft plaid blanket and headed out. The woman told me that she had learned that the terrier was picked up on the roadside near the airport – apparently dumped. No one had called to claim her or report her missing. The vet had told her that she was likely a rat terrier and was about 6 years old. He thought that she had delivered pups sometime in the last year.

I loaded her into my rig and headed home – she sat like she was sitting upright in a chair and she watched me closely all the way home.

I adopted this dog without ever touching her. What was I thinking? I got her to the house and let her loose in the house and introduced her to the other dogs and I saw the terrier in her come to the forefront – she was playing with my pups who were both about a year old and she was playing with them like a momma dog – lowering her head and extending her legs forward. My male was twirling – he was clearly crazy about his new housemate. My female twirled around me – she decided right from the start to pretend that there was no new dog. She focused totally on me – being the one closest to me at all times. To this day the two sleep next to each other and face in opposite directions. That younger pup has yet to show any affection – she doesn’t hate her, she just prefers to pretend she doesn’t exist.

I put the other pups outside and decided to spend the rest of the evening bonding – and thinking of a name for my new old girl. About naming – I don’t worry about finding a clever or dog-like name – I tend to think that these things reveal themselves. So laid out that same blanket from the car on my couch and sat down. The girl snuggled up along side my leg and stayed there all night. If I got up she followed me, when I sat back down she snuggled in. When I showered she sat on the bathroom rug and waited – where I went she went. I decided to call her Velcro that first night – and she’s been sticking by my side ever since.


I’m not sure about her politics – but she’ll stick it out.

Velcro has some peculiarities.

First – she eats bugs…lots of bugs. She digs up grubs in the spring. She waits by mud dabber nests for the young to hatch – a tasty treat. Tonight when I came home she was eating honey bees near the water dish.

Velcro digs…a lot. Grub extraction is a messy business. In addition to bugs Velcro digs up moles and pack rats. I used to have new topsoil trucked in every summer, but at this point she’s 14 years old (more or less) and I’m never going to have a flat lawn while she’s on this side of the rainbow bridge. She’s a digger, but I’ve learned to be OK with that.


Velcro hard at work on Grub Removal

Hard at work being busy

Velcro sits funny – nothing wrong with this, but she sometimes looks like a charm school reject.

Velcro takes sitting very seriously


Velcro will only sit on the couch if there’s a blanket – in fact she will sit anywhere there is a blanket whether you want her to or not. Unfortunately she sheds like most terriers and I have decided the best thing I can do is own a high-capacity washer.

If there’s a blanket it must be for me!

Lounging is hard work.


When not on the couch Velcro loves grass. Unfortunately with the drought this year there hasn’t been much – but when the bluegrass is green, she’s got her belly in it.

Velcro almost disappears in the grass.


She almost flattens her thick body into the turf – when I mow she stays ahead of me, enjoying the deep grass as long as possible. She does not care for new-mown grass.

Velcro looking out across the mountaintop.


She’s spotted something that may be enticing enough for her to get up.


Velcro hunts by stealth. My other terriers bark and squeal at every animal that enters their space. Squirrels, snakes, deer, rabbits. With the exception of snakes, they never catch a thing – I think that’s because snakes are deaf – anyway, Velcro stalks her prey like a cat. She hunkers down in the grass and crawls closer and closer. This tubby, lazy girl has caught a rabbit, 4 squirrels, and a pack rat – and that’s just this month. She is a snake killer too – although a bite from a pygmy rattler nearly did her in about 6 years ago – she’s never been bitten since.

Soaking in the sunshine

Velcro does some other odd things. She loves to eat persimmons – and that’s OK by me because I have 2 trees and can’t stand them. She digs through the snow to eat them in the winter. I have 2 trees so there are always plenty. She tries to steal matches from the fireplace and I have caught her sneaking down the hallway with one – no idea what she wants with them. She also steals Sunshine’s toys – Sunshine is my goldendoodle pictured below with her. She doesn’t play with toys and has never had any interest in them – but she steals his and puts them on the blanket with her.

Friends don’t let friends keep their toys.


She’s always a momma dog. About three winters ago I fostered a standard poodle for 6 weeks. It had been rescued from the woods at about 12 weeks old. We thought it might have been outside on her own for almost a month. Velcro adored her. When I went to work I would put the poodle in a large crate and leave Velcro in the same room – she would sleep right by the kennel door – never leaving the pup alone. By the third day she was staying in the crate with the pup. She cleaned it and it followed her everywhere – I really believe she socialized that pup enough to make her adoptable.

Lounging on the porch

Apart from these idiosyncrasies she’s a pretty normal dog. I often wonder why she was dumped and why she does the things she does. Does she insist on a blanket because she was left alone in the cold, or is a blanket the key to our first bonding moment?  Does she hunt and eat all those things because she was abandoned and left to starve by someone she trusted – so now she eats up just in case I let her down too? Does she behave like a mother to the others because she was once a mother to some pups that she still misses? Was she dumped because she was not as cute and cuddly as those pups? Did she dig too much, shed too much, anything too much?

What mystery lies behind those eyes?


I’ll never know the answer to these questions, but I do know that as I watch her sleep on that same blanket I threw over my car seat 8 years ago that I will do my best to never let her down. I promised her a good life and I’m going to make sure she gets it. I hope she keeps digging for a long, long time.