Dog in Ivy, Hawk in Tree

From Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know by Alexandra Horowitz:

“Domestic dogs do not generally hunt. Most are not born into the family unit in which they will live: with humans the predominant members…. Even feral dogs — those who may never have lived in a human family — usually do not form traditional social packs, although they may travel in parallel.

“Neither are we the dog’s pack. Our lives are so much more stable than that of a wolf pack: the size and membership of a wolf pack is always in flux, changing with the seasons, with the rates of offspring, with young adult wolves growing up and leaving in their first years, with the availability of prey. Typically, dogs adopted by humans live out their lives with us; no one is pushed out of the house in spring or joins us just for the big winter moose hunt….


“What domestic dogs do seem to have inherited from wolves is the sociality of a pack: an interest in being around others. Indeed, dogs are social opportunists. They are attuned to the actions of others, and humans turned out to be very good animals to attune to.”

From The Complete Works of Henry David Thoreau by Henry David Thoreau:

“Methinks the hawk that soars so loftily and circles so steadily and apparently without effort has earned this power by faithfully creeping on the ground as a reptile in a former state of existence. You must creep before you can run; you must run before you can fly.”

From The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World by David Abram:

“We may cast our gaze downward to watch the field mice and the insects that creep along the bending grasses, or to glimpse the snakes that slither into hollows deep underfoot, yet, at the same moment, hawks soaring on great winds gaze down upon our endeavors. Melodious feathered beings flit like phantoms among the high branches of the trees, while other animate powers, known only by their traces, move within the hidden depths of the forest.”


Hello!

As the first week of 2022 approaches its end, all my shiny baubles and tiny trinkets have been boxed and packed away, with the wreaths snuggling nearby in their storage bags. The tree — undecorated, dismantled, squashed, tied up and crammed in a closet — fought back and screamed a little (it may have been me screaming), but has now gone quiet. The floors and shelves, the tables and windows have all been de-glittered (though my eye still catches a shiny dot now and then), and, visually, my house appears to be about thirty percent more spacious. So the holidays are officially over and it’s time for some things new.

The galleries below feature some photos I took while experimenting with one of two used Minolta lenses I bought in December. One of them — a 50mm f/2.8 macro lens — got a workout with this year’s “Days to Christmas” series; its ability to achieve focus as close as seven inches from a subject (and produce excellent color and good background blur) made it ideal for those photos. I have a Sony 100mm macro lens that has similar characteristics (and has a Minolta predecessor that I will probably buy at some point); but the older 50mm gave me a wider angle of view to work with while still allowing my subjects to loom large in the images.

Most of the Minolta lenses were manufactured in the 1980s and 1990s, originally of course for film cameras. I didn’t realize until about a year ago that there was a vibrant market for these lenses, many of which can be acquired inexpensively; and all of which provided part of the technology basis for Sony’s entry into the digital camera and interchangeable lens market when Sony acquired Minolta’s assets in 2006. My first film camera was a Minolta (I still have it, though it’s not functional) and my first DSLR was also Sony’s first: the a100, designed from Minolta’s tech and capable of using many of Minolta’s lenses, as well as those built and marketed by Sony as “A-mount” lenses. I eventually sold the a100 and replaced it with an a55; then, in 2018, replaced the a55 with the last of Sony’s A-mount cameras: the a99 II full-frame DSLR — which is freaking awesome. So apparently I have a good bit of nostalgia for the Minolta-Sony history and how it aligned with cameras and lenses I’ve owned, and it really is fun to take one of the lenses from the 1980s, slap it on the nearly-new camera, and get results that remind me of the film camera I originally started photography with.

(If you would like to learn more about the history of Minolta and Sony, Tony and Chelsea Northrup discuss it here: Sony Alpha and Minolta Camera History. If you are interested in acquiring some used photo gear from a great source, I can certainly recommend KEH Camera, from whom I’ve bought five used lenses that arrived in a few days and in like-new condition.)

I didn’t try the second lens — a Minolta 100-300mm zoom lens — until the Christmas photo project was behind me. It’s now the zoomiest lens I own; so of course one of the first things I did was try to use it for not-its-intended-purpose: some 300mm closeup-zoom photos of flowers. All of the photos in my New Year’s Day post were taken with this lens, and while there were plenty of rejected photos because I was experimenting with the lens’s capabilities… I was quite happy with how well the lens captured color and detail, even though I was twenty feet or more from the subjects and the lens was extended to its 300mm maximum.

Before heading out to take the white flower photos, though, I just took it into my back yard with my little companion, where I managed to snag a few decent photos of him doing what he does so often: hunting the English ivy for choice sticks — the longer, the better. A couple of the photos aren’t as well focused as I would have liked; but the rest are surprisingly sharp — which helps me understand more about using the zoom lens and what settings work best. Lobo is about thirty feet from me in these photos, something that works out well because if he’s too close when I try to take his picture, he turns away like he’s camera shy. For these photos I just stood still and waited for him to check in with me (dogs do that, you know, check in by making eye contact with you at least every few minutes; you just have to be ready for it) and it looks like he’s posing for the shots.

While I was wandering through Oakland Cemetery’s gardens for some white flowers to photograph, a little drama started playing out in the old oak trees between a tiny finch and this hawk — which I believe is a red-tailed hawk — as the two seemed to chase each other among the highest tree branches for about thirty minutes. The finch was way too small to photograph at this distance — but I did manage to capture some decent shots of the hawk… who eventually gave up on the escape-artist finch as it flitted among the twisted branches until it was safe to streak away.

The first four photos below are the originals taken with the lens at its 300mm setting; the second four are the same photos but cropped in Lightroom to show the detail that the lens was able to capture. Wheeee! I like this lens… which, by the way, only cost me $39.



Thanks for reading and taking a look!

“The Owl Has a Silent Wing”

From School of the Woods by William J. Long:

“It is more and more evident, I think, that Nature adapts her gifts, not simply to the necessities, but more largely to the desires, of her creatures. The force and influence of that intense desire — more intense because usually each animal has but one — we have not yet learned to measure…. The owl has a silent wing, not simply because he needs it — for his need is no greater than that of the hawk, who has no silent wing — but, more probably, because of his whole-hearted desire for silence as he glides through the silent twilight. And so with the panther’s foot; and so with the deer’s eye, and the wolf’s nose, whose one idea of bliss is a good smell; and so with every other strongly marked gift which the wild things have won from nature, chiefly by wanting it, in the long years of their development.”


Owls have been here before — and by “here” I mean both in my back yard and on this blog — see Owl on the Prowl, where I included three pictures of their first appearance as babes over a decade ago. They sometimes visit my garden as a pair — roosting among the branches of Japanese Cypress trees that tower over my pond — and after a while I was able to differentiate one from the other, partly by their appearance and partly by their behavior. One is slightly smaller and lighter in color than the other; and that smaller one is more reticent, likely to fly off to higher branches if I approach. In the earlier post, I showed the larger owl; the photos below are the smaller one — which often hides out of sight in the treetops.

I knew an owl was visiting even before laying eyes on it: the cacophony from smaller birds in the same trees takes on a distinct sound of little flyers warning other little flyers that there’s an extra-large, possibly dangerous threat in the area. If there are enough squirrels around at the owl’s arrival, they’ll join in too; it’s almost funny how you get to know wildlife in your yard so well that you can tell when they sound alarmed. Watching through the glass door leading to my back yard, I saw three squirrels hauling-ass in multiple directions, increasing their distance while keeping their balance as they raced to the ends of thin branches them jumped to an elm tree on the property next door.

Recognizing this as the more bashful of the two Barred Owls, I took most of these pictures through the back door, or from the steps leading to my courtyard. Owls don’t do that much when they’re roosting — except to turn their head and scope out potential snacks — so the photos are a bit repetitious, I suppose. But in the last two, notice the owl’s eyes: they’ve widened a bit because I moved in closer to try for better shots … but, as I expected, off it flew without making a sound.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!



Owl on the Prowl

This absolutely gorgeous barred owl has been a regular visitor to my back yard for nearly a decade, making its debut in the summer of 2008 as a youngster. The first time I saw it, it was perched on my Japanese Maple but quickly moved to the fence separating my property from my neighbor’s after getting flashed by the camera. For the first few years, it came back often, but these were the only photos I got until it was large enough and steadfast enough to remain mostly indifferent to my presence in its adopted garden.

Fast forward a few years and here’s what the owl looked like last summer. In all but two of these photos, it’s sitting on what’s become its favorite branch on the cypress trees behind my pond. Its downcast eyes — in the first two photos — are trained on the carp in the pond, and it will watch them for hours until I either shoo it away, or it manages (though it rarely does) to snag one of the fish (which are not intended as owl-snacks!) and fly off.

I haven’t seen it yet this year, but early in the evenings for the past couple of weeks, I’ve heard it — not too far away — as its very distinctive call is unmistakeable. Hearing the call again reminded me of these photos — a couple of which appeared here in 2018 when I first started blogging again and was re-learning how to use WordPress. I went through my archives and reprocessed these thirteen photos to share with this post. I think the last one’s my favorite, and, while I did use a zoom lens to get so close in, the owl was only about ten feet away: we’ve gotten used to each other, and it no longer soars off when I walk toward it with the camera. I expect I’ll get a chance to pose it in a new photo-shoot within the next few weeks.

Thanks for looking!