What does the Fox Say?

One of my favorite things about life in the Ozarks are the random encounters with wildlife. These encounters happen often up on my mountain – songbirds, squirrels, hawks, and deer all circle around the Stonehouse, careful to steer clear of the patrolling terriers in the lawn. A few years ago we had bear sightings up the road. I spotted a black mountain lion passing through one time. These occurrences are alway magical, but not unexpected anymore.

My friend Candy lives about a mile and a half from me on a golf course community called Holiday Island. You may have seen Eric Estrada pitching lots on late night infomercials a few years back. It’s beautiful spot carved out of the wilds of the Ozarks – but it’s considerably less wild than my mountain. They have restaurants, grocery stores, and a club house. One night Candy and I were driving from her house to mine. We were passing the clubhouse when we spotted some visitors. There on the parking lot next to the putting green were three little faces looking back at us. Candy maneuvered the car to give me some light while I took photos with my flash – oddly enough they were not at all bothered by the car, the flash, or me. At one point I was shooting two of them grooming each other when I glanced back and caught sight of the third one sneaking up behind me. Their curiosity overwhelmed any fear they had.

Their manner reminded me a lot of my shy pup Kirby. They were cautious but curious. I almost wanted to just sit on the ground and let them come to me – but we were in the middle of a street in the dark in the middle of the night. After about 20 minutes they tired of us and moved on across the putting green. Something more interesting awaited them in the dark of the golf course.

Since that night I have seen them several times. I spent some time with them at the bank parking lot one evening, but without Candy there to point the car headlights at them I didn’t have enough light to photograph them. I saw them sleeping in a driveway the other day – soaking up the last of the warmth of our Indian Summer.


Out on a Limb

Winter Storm Cleon has moved east and it’s finally possible to get out of the Stone House and get back to work. It’s still unseasonably cold, and today I got my first mail delivery in almost a week. During the storm I worked from home and stayed warm and mostly dry by the fire. By day two the symptoms of cabin fever were starting to set in. I was getting up every thirty minutes and walking up and down my hallway several times. I constantly stocked the indoor firewood pile. I starting to feel restless and cooped up. I decided that to clear my head that I would take a walk outside over my “lunch hour”.

I put on my Carharts and tucked my weatherproof camera and lens inside my jacket. The activity around the house was extraordinary. Cardinals were hanging onto the branches of the crepe myrtle for dear life. A fallen tree limb over the pergola was a lifeline to a small woodpecker as winds blew snow almost sideways. Birds that typically dart away held fast in hopes of spotting fallen seed below on the patio.

I came in almost soaked through and freezing, but invigorated and ready to focus – on work.

Shutterbug notes:

Shooting birds in the snow can be tricky. Your camera’s autofocus wants to focus on the nearest object in your field of view – I found that if I made my focus point as small as possible and tried to get it to lock onto a bird’s eyes or beak that I could eventually get a focus between flakes. I took all of these shots in shutter mode at 1/400 second and an ISO of 1000. The white of the snow added ambient light that made a moderate ISO setting sufficient. A slower shutter speed would make the flakes look more like streaks – a faster one would require a higher ISO and would create unnecessary noise in a limited light situation.

Coming into Focus

A couple of years ago I bought my first “bird” lens. There were a couple of options for my camera set up and budget played a big part in my decision. I read a lot of reviews and there were some who leaned towards the more expensive option as being a bit sharper, while others said that the small increase in sharpness was not worth twice the price. I went for the budget option and it served me well – until recently.

I began to have focus glitches – the lens didn’t seem to be communicating with the camera. So I sent the lens in to the manufacturer who cleaned it and told me it was fine and sent it back. Perhaps the glitch was always there and I just didn’t notice it – perhaps I just got a less than great version of the lens – these things happen. I have read of people returning a lens and buying the same model and seeing a major improvement. I decided it was time to make a change.

The higher end lens I opted not to buy has been discontinued – but they have come out with a quieter and thankfully much more economical version. I went through my bag and reviewed all of my lenses – anything I hadn’t used in a year was fair game. I put a list together and sold them to fund the purchase of that new bird lens.

My new lens arrived last weekend and I am seeing a significant change in sharpness – maybe I am the only one who sees it – but I like the look of what I’m seeing so far…

Bird on a wire

Bird on a wire

Goldfinch face off

Goldfinch face off

Posing sparrow

Posing sparrow

Cowgirl at the feeder

Cow girl at the feeder

A cardinal ignoring me

A cardinal ignoring me

Out on a limb

Out on a limb

Woody in the myrtle

Woody in the myrtle

Bringing home the bacon

Bringing home the bacon

Bluejay in the walnut tree

Bluejay in the walnut tree

Titmouse in the house!

Titmouse in the house!

Up on a roof

Up on a roof

The biggest difference I see is that I am getting more sharp shots in the trees – shooting in the trees has not always gotten me good results because of the distance. I am fascinated by feathers so seeing this detail really encourages me. I started shooting birds to teach myself to make faster decisions and I it has grown into a genuine interest in birds and their habits – this new lens looks to let me look deeper into the world just off my porch.

I’m Over the Moon

Last week's just past full moon

Last week’s just past full moon – I’m over the moon about the response to the eff stop.

I don’t typically write posts about my blog, I kinda prefer to write about photography or to at least put images into some type of context. I hope you’ll forgive me this one time, and I’ll do my best to make this post at least partly about images and context.

Christmas Rose

A rose by any other name…It’s been sweet getting to know so many of you through the blogosphere.

I wrote my first post on this blog on May 20th of last year. I had just come home from an epic vacation and had tons of photos. I thought it was the perfect time to start a blog, I only opened a WordPress account to follow my brother’s blog and he kept leaving me spam-like comments on my empty blog, so I thought if I wrote something I would at least have one reader. I thought it would be fun to share photos and a bit of humor with him in the format he was communicating in. The next day I wrote my second post with an eye towards complete silliness. I had read no tutorials and had not even read any blogs except for my brother’s – heck, I didn’t even know what the Reader was. I did everything wrong. I used too many tags, I didn’t check my spelling, I used over 50 photos – in retrospect that post was a mess. About an hour later I got a nice email from WordPress about my post being “pressed” or something, how nice of them to let me know my post was live. I had no idea what that email was, I tossed it. I went to work the next day and casually commented to a coworker at lunch that I was getting a lot of email from my blog – how cool, I had heard from my brother that the WordPress platform was easier to connect on – it must be working. I noticed a lot of the comments offered congrats, how friendly – something about Freshly Pressed or FP’d, so I sent my brother a text:


I clearly was clueless.

After texting Max, I googled Freshly Pressed and found this – there’s my photograph of a yonng elk in the top right corner:

Ahhhh - so that's what all the fuss was about.

Ahhhh – so that’s what all the fuss was about.

That day I had over 2000 hits – on a blog that was 2 days old. Of course I did nothing right at this point either. I was a bit shy about replying to comments. I accidentally replied to spam and not to real people – I was moderating a dozen comments at a time without even knowing what “moderating” was. I should have had the courtesy to reply to every comment, I was a bit reserved about entering into conversations – I didn’t really know what to say. I was afraid to empty my email in-box for fear of losing something I was supposed to keep up with. My post stayed on that front page for over a week. It was a wild ride.

I've been overwhelmed by my instant audience for my work - I appreciate you all.

I’ve been overwhelmed by my instant audience for my work – I appreciate you all.

Over the next few weeks I read a lot about how to manage a blog and have always wished I had done a better job of it from the start, by now I was embarrassed to reply (silly, I know) If I failed to respond to you, and you stuck around, I really appreciate it. I was a complete novice. I would be another month and another text conversation with my brother before I was keyed in to what the Reader was – it was only then that I really began to interact with other blogs. Another month passed before I wrote an “About” page.

This is my shy pup, Kirby.  He's timid about new things, al lot like me at the start of this process.

This is my shy pup, Kirby. He’s timid about new things, a lot like me at the start of this process.

A little over 140 posts later and I am really enjoying the interaction. I studied photography in college and have gotten more serious in the last few years. I have been diligently shooting almost every day for about the last 5 years so I have lots of images to work with and it’s been great talking about my work with you.

It's been a treat to introduce you to people like Mary Jane - a 99-year-old hiker through this blog.

It’s been a treat to introduce you to people like Mary Jane – a 99-year-old hiker through this blog.

This blog has helped me to organize my work, it’s given me focus. It’s allowed me to introduce you to my amazing 99-year-old neighbor, a herd of deer, a tougher-than-nails goldfinch, and a hummingbird who enjoys the rain.


Bee-lieve me, I have enjoyed sharing my work and getting to know you.

The interaction is something I never anticipated and it has been really rewarding – it has pushed me to try new things. Last fall I read a post about NaNoWriMo, it got me thinking and it challenged me. Back in May when I pushed “publish” the first time, who would have believed that I would take on a writing challenge and that I would have 50,000 words in me? I started a second blog, The King of Isabelle Avenue, to post excerpts from my memoir on. It’s been a rich experience with just a few followers, but it has been more rewarding than I could ever have imagined.

The King of Isabelle Avenue has let me introduce you to my family and their history -   this picture of a hat with a wedding in the background is a more recent part of that history.

The King of Isabelle Avenue has let me introduce you to my family and their history – this picture of a hat with a wedding in the background is a more recent part of that history.

I have gotten into a rhythm – a couple of photo posts a week and a King of Isabelle post every 10 days or so. Initially I would look at my more recent photos and see if I could find a common theme and sometimes that worked out pretty well, gradually I moved more towards shooting something with a post in mind, occasionally I did a little of both.

Photography is about more than mechanics - it's about a point of view - I'm grateful to share my point of view with you.

Photography is about more than mechanics – it’s about a point of view. I hope to find unique points of view to share with you.

More recently I have worried about keeping things fresh. I challenged myself to shoot birds last year and I have posted dozens of times on the topic. I wondered if you would tire of my obsession with cardinals. Still, my favorite posts are those that feel like serendipity – when something just comes together.


Trying new things and sharing them with you has made me a better photographer.

That happened again a couple of weeks ago. I was supposed to have a working lunch but the other party cancelled. I grabbed my keys and headed to my car to run grab some fast food. I stood in the parking lot and it hit me, I didn’t want junk food – I turned around and decided to see if I could kick out a post in the 20 minutes I had left of my lunch hour. I started to write a post I was going to call “Deer on Pine Mountain”. As I started to tell my story the title sounded stupid and boring. I took the post in a different direction and wrote this story about my encounter with an old friend on the mountain. When I hit publish I knew I had shared an experience that was special to me, if no one else. Less than an hour later I got that email – this time I did have a clue about what it meant to be Freshly Pressed.


No need to text Max this time…

The last couple of weeks have been wonderful – I have enjoyed meeting new people and have done my best to interact with everyone who took the time to comment – even if it was in another language. I saw my friend on the mountain again last night – I hope to share more stories of my white nosed friend with you as the weather warms up.

To those of you who started the conversation with me – Honie, Paula, Michelle, Elyse, Jackie, and Diana – you got me going, you found me before I figured out how to find you, you showed me the ropes. Thanks so much! (Seriously – check out their blogs!)

The bottom line is this – I was incredibly lucky right out of the shoot. I am grateful to those who followed from that early post, and to those who have joined the party in the last few weeks – now that I have written that obligatory Freshly Pressed post, I will get back to taking photos and telling stories. I am checking out the blogs of everyone who commented or followed – it’s taking some time, but I am finding some amazing new blogs to follow.

I’ll sign off for now – there are photos out there to be taken – this shutterbug is ready for another adventure!

Meet My New Friend – Johnny Bravo

OK, so I have been lamenting the subbing I have been getting from the local red birds for months now. This weekend, on a whim, I decided to take an old Corel plate and put it on top of a ladder. I thought it would make for an interesting angle and let me get more sky and trees instead of porch in the background. I have two tray feeders on the porch as they are OK, but being in the shade they can make focusing a challenge on some days. It turns out that all the red birds wanted was a private table with a view – at least that is what one red bird wanted. I think I have a new friend and I think I’ll call him Johnny Bravo.20130219-114743.jpgI first posted photos of Johnny Saturday. To be honest I was having lens issues, and while I was thrilled to capture so many birds, focusing was a struggle. Sunday’s light was a bit better and I felt like I was able to do Johnny justice.

Johnny seems to have gotten dressed up for me in his Sunday best…20130219-121239.jpg20130219-121512.jpg


Johnny seems to like the view from his private table…20130219-122134.jpg20130219-122957.jpg


Johnny seems happy with the menu…20130219-122932.jpg20130219-123028.jpg20130219-123708.jpg

Well, mostly happy…20130219-123825.jpg20130219-123953.jpg

Well, maybe not completely happy…

20130219-124618.jpg“See that orange crap! Take it back to the chef and tell him it’s garbage! It’s inedible!”

20130219-124642.jpgOf course, Mr. Bravo, the customer is always right.

Before it was over Johnny had moved all the orange pieces off the plate and onto the next rung of the ladder. Apparently Johnny did not appreciate all of the components of the much more expensive Scott’s Songbird Mix. I tasted them and thought they were pretty good.

Johnny flew off the handle and left me without a tip. I guess cardinals really are ungrateful snobs after all.

Chilly Day at the Buffet

Yesterday I arrived home from a business trip. I was a cold and dreary day. When I got home I loved on my pups, refilled the bird feeders, and read the mail from the last few days. I built a fire and settled in for a cozy afternoon watching movies with a lap full of happy dogs.

I have a crepe myrtle right next to the house and I can see a glimpse of it through a window right next to the TV. I was distracted from my movie by moving branches and a flash of red…

20130113-191459.jpg I don’t typically shoot through a window, but he was so stinking close, I had to give it a shot. I was less than six feet away. I had to focus manually because of the branches in front of him. He looked over and spotted me in the living room and took off.

I decided to gear up and give the feeder a shot. Overcast skies make for nice detail with no glare. It was only 25 degrees so I put on some long johns and Carharts and took my place on the mud porch and waited to see who might show up.

I was delighted to capture a bird fight dominated by a tough little fellow, you can read about him by clicking goldfinch. Happily, there were many more visitors to the buffet, most of them with better manners than a goldfinch.

The female red-bellied woodpecker came by for lunch when the light was absolutely perfect.







Despite the rowdy behavior of one male goldfinch, most of the boys were well behaved at their fillet feeder on the buffet line.


The male downy woodpecker stopped by for a bite. These guys are always just a bit overdressed for brunch.



The buffet has been honored to welcome some winter visitors!
Dark Headed Juncos – they mostly eat off the floor, but occasionally they show up on the mezzanine.


20130113-200348.jpgAnd although I wish he would have sat for a better shot, this White Throated Sparrow has been foraging in the lower levels with the other newcomers. He seems to be alone so far, his peeps seem to be a bit late for their reservation at the buffet – rest assured we will hold their table.


I was inspired to check in with my guests at the buffet because of the appearance of one of my snobbier and more elusive guests. It turns out he was not alone – he had friends looking over the joint. From top…


20130113-201819.jpgTo bottom…




Even with the welcoming atmosphere of the buffet, some of the cards preferred to keep watch from above. One stood lookout from the west…



20130113-202214.jpgWhile the other kept watch from the east…


20130113-202305.jpgAs snobby as these cards are, you’d think that they’d be better tippers.

All-in-all not bad for a chilly Saturday service.

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.