Odds and Ends, Winter 2007-2008:


Everything's pretty bare and bleak so I haven't done much shooting.   I still go out regularly, occasionally spotting a few promising subjects, but most wildlife isn't as active right now and the landscape itself looks rather depressing.   And did I mention I can't stand cold weather?  Yes, I know I'm a transplanted New Yorker, but I am no longer used to the cold, and frankly that's one of the reasons I moved to Georgia in the first place.

Here are a few images from recent shoots... nothing special really, mostly just a few lunch-hour walks to explore new ground at Oxbow Meadows on the Chattahoochee River.  There are about a dozen ponds there, several of which I still have not visited. 

On one of my scouting trips I visited a small pond surrounded by quite a few beaver-felled stumps.  I heard a munching sound and pointed my camera thru the trees naturally expecting to see a beaver.  After firing off a few insurance shots I tried to get closer but he spotted me and took off.  After I got home and looked at the shots, I realized it wasn't a beaver after all, but a River Otter.  I've never seen one of these in person and was surprised at how big they are... this one was easily the size of a German Shepherd.  According to online sources, they grow up to 52" long (including the tail).  I hope I see this guy again, I'd love to get some better shots.


This is my favorite pond... I don't know if it has a name so I just call it Butterfly Pond since that is what it looks like from the air.  Lots of nooks and twists which means shy birds like Wood Ducks love it.  Also, when you spook something, they will sometimes fly to a different part of the pond rather than to a completely different pond, making it much easier for the foot-weary photographer to reacquire them.  These two shots were taken two days apart... one on an overcast mid-day, the other in the evening.

This second shot was taken close to the end of an after-work trip, mostly to check out a few ponds I hadn't been to before.  I started by visiting the new ones, eventually circling back around to the two ponds I am most familiar with (PacMan, where I had seen the otter a few days before, and Butterfly, above).  I did not take many photos, the object was to cover ground, seeing where the best deer trails were so that I could plan future trips.  Winter is such a great time for exploring.  First off, there are fewer bugs and snakes to deal with.  Plus, the cooler weather means you can move a lot faster without getting as tired.  Third, the leaves are off most of the trees so you can see a long distance which is helpful when exploring a new area... in the summer the growth in this area is so thick that sometimes you could be fifty feet from a pond and never see it.  Finally, the low brush has died back... I can't believe how much easier it is to get around now than it was three months ago. 


On the way in I saw a nice cedar waxwing but I couldn't get him to turn sideways to show the bright red spots on his wings.


On one of the ponds I did see a couple of wood ducks, but I couldn't get a good shot... I was walking up a hill right into the sun and was half blind.  I did not see them until I crested the hill and they were backlit as hell.  I grabbed one shot as they were swimming, then they saw me and took to the air.  Of course I couldn't get any flight shots because the trees on the right were in the way.  Unlike some birds, these guys just do not let you get in close... you can be fifty yards away and if you don't move a muscle you might get to watch them for a while, but if you so much as scratch your nose, they're gone. 

On the advice of a close friend I went to the feed store and bought a 50 pound sack of cracked corn.  I don't know if this will make me their friend or not but at least I can toss some on the bank before I hide in the bushes, maybe the braver ones will come in for a snack.


Eventually I made my way around to one of the back ponds where I had seen some Wood Ducks on an earlier scouting trip the week before.  It was pretty quiet there... one great white egret (who left right away) and some brownish grey ducks I believe are gadwalls.  None of them got really close so all the shots were fuzzy.


The pond itself is pretty nice.  It is quiet and off the beaten path... not even any signs of fishermen.  Best news of all, I looked at the aerial photos on Google Earth when I got home and discovered an access road hidden behind the trees on the other side of the pond.  It is gated off so I can't drive in, but I can walk or bicycle in and it will save me from having to go the long way thru the woods and around two other ponds.  And there is also a wood duck house placed here (just outside the left margin of this photo) by the folks from the Nature Center...  it looks like they've also built a blind (just below where I was standing when I took this shot) so maybe they won't mind if I make use of it now and then.


That was about it for exploring new ground... I headed back to the car and stopped at my old favorite pond (Butterfly) for a moment.  I saw a pitiful little dog who appeared to be lost, he was out on the end of a thin little spit of land on the other side where I couldn't get to him (the spit is surrounded by marsh that borders the pond's north side), otherwise I would have tried to get him out of there.  I've never seen him before and he doesn't look like he was starving so maybe he was just visiting.


When I got back out to the bike path, the sun was almost on the horizon.  A large hawk was flying toward me in the gloom and I squeezed off a few shots even though it was too dark and he was too far away to get a worthwhile image.  Boy am I glad I did... when I got him in the viewfinder and saw the white head and white tail I realized I was looking at my first Bald Eagle!  Not just the first one I've photographed, the first one I've seen, period!  Now that I think about it, the three other large hawks that flew over while I was climbing the hill up to the bike path may have been Bald Eagles as well... they were flying in the same direction and preceded the one I shot by only a minute or so.  What a treat... could it be possible that they are permanent residents?  The map in my bird book lists this part of Georgia as a year-round range.  This is exciting...

Perhaps the Bald Eagle is no different from any number of other raptors but I still felt a big thrill in seeing him.  I guess partly because he's our national symbol, but also because they have had such a struggle to make it back from being critically endangered.  A friend who spent 30 years in Alaska saw them all the time, for him these guys were old friends.  But Alaska did not have the widespread pesticide use of the lower 48, down here we were not so lucky... probably many people of our generation have never been fortunate enough to see one of these creatures.  Pesticide residues killed many birds outright and softened the eggs of others, lowering the birth rate.  And since most pesticides are cumulative, they worked their way up the food chain, hitting those at the top (like raptors), the hardest.  It's nice to know that they are coming back.


Instead of staying on the bike path all the way back to the car I detoured along the edge of the marsh that adjoins the Butterfly pond to see if the dog might be on his way out... the more I thought about it, the more I felt like I should have gone in to get him but now it was too dark.   Never saw the dog but I did take a nice sunset shot while holding my cel phone to my ear (Beth calling to ask where the hell I was).

I guess it hasn't been such a great month for photos... for all the time I spent stomping around in the woods I only managed to get a few images, most of which are are closer to snapshots than anything I'd want to hang on a wall. But checking out a few new shooting locations, finding that access road and seeing that Bald Eagle made it more than worthwhile.

Now we are looking forward to spring.  I know much of the north is still in the throes of winter but the lucky residents of Middle Georgia are watching the buds swell and leaving their coats at home when they go to work.  We'll be seeing the dogwoods and azaleas in no time.


Bob Hovey
February 10, 2008