A Moving Icon

For the obvious reason, February is the bane of all bloggers with a quota. Rather than take the extra time for the prep on some projects I’ve been working on, figured we’d just close out this short month with the last set of Indianapolis Zoo birds. Don’t think you are out of the woods (err the zoo) yet. There’s one post left based on some elemental mammal experimentation, but for now… let’s go with the pinks.

There is no mistaking these birds and I’m pretty sure they are universally known. They can be seen at a majority of zoos, wildlife sanctuaries and even Vegas if you look hard enough.  They have even been known to show up in the yards of unsuspecting new homeowners. In case you have your head in the sand, we’re talking about the Flamingo.  These aren’t just your everyday Flamingos either.  No sir, these are Flamingos that have been shot in harsh light.  That would be a clever way of stating these shots are not going to be making it into competition anytime soon.  I threw all the recovery I could at it, but the conditions were just not the greatest when we made our way to their little pond.  The thing about shooting Flamingos is they are relatively skinny and can be very long.  Good characteristics for a model, but this forces some creative composition decision.  You can choose to go close and draw out detail in the head by cropping down as in the image above.  Rather than just throw a decapitated head out there I kept some of the body to provide a foundation for the shot – see, I’m learning from all those composition questions I keep asking you about.  I actually like how that shot turned out – yeah, I followed the rules of thirds which is pretty common for me.  In truth it is more about giving the subject room to breath in the frame – tight crops put a virtual cage around animals which tends to grate on us wildlife photographers.

If you are feeling a little cruel, you can relax your composition a bit to provide a sense of height.  Pulling back a bit you can incorporate some of the leg structure into the shot.  Now you have more of a visualization on the tall stature of the bird, but at a cost.  You lose some detail in the face and it starts to get lost in the vastness of the surroundings.  The other downside… is it essentially whacks off the rest of the bird’s legs.  The unwritten rule is you never crop a person’s legs above the knee – trust me, it just looks wrong. Although this is not as severe, it still bothers me a bit.  I will say, having a small part of the knee helps some.

Hit the jump to read more about this pink birds … and you get a BONUS!

Continue reading A Moving Icon

The Royal, The Deliverer and the Just Plain Ugly

Once again I’ve been hammering the search engines in a desperate attempt to identify the birds shot on our Indianapolis Zoo trip. I have whole hardheartedly committed to taking shots of the placards the next time we visit a zoo – this is just getting way to hard for the exotics, and today we definitely have a few exotics. The first one up has become one of my favorite birds. I’m a sucker for the larger birds (I can shoot Heron’s all day long) and this one ranks up there with the biggies.  Along with the size, this bird boasts a very unique color palette ranging from powder blue to white with a touch of red and a splotch of rust.

But this is probably not the first thing you notice with these majestic birds.  Take a gander at that flamboyant hat!  I pretty much lucked out in identifying this bird.  My efforts from the previous post already told me the Indy Zoo page was not going bail me out and just name it for me.  On a whim, I typed in “Colorful Exotic Birds” in the Google search bar and this link popped up (link here).   There it was, a mere three birds in – the East African Crowned Crane.  A few pecks of the keyboard revealed that Wikipedia refers to this bird as the Grey Crowned Crane.  According to that site, this is the National Bird of Uganda.  Here’s a better look at the fluffy crown these cranes sport.

Quite the mop top.  We did not get to experience this when we were there, but they are known for their mating dances and jumping.  Come to think of it, the first shot looks like it is limbering up for some ballet moves.  Or it could be just a nose itch – those moves are often confused.  Those wings can span over six and a half feet and their long legs are well adapted to their habitat preferring the wetlands and marshes.  Unfortunately, their habitat is dwindling which is threatening their survival.  Wikipedia lists this crane’s conservation status as Endangered.

Hit the jump to see more pictures of the Crowned Crane an a couple of other residents of the zoo.

Continue reading The Royal, The Deliverer and the Just Plain Ugly

Birds of the Desert Biome

As promised previously, it is time to start rolling out the birds from the Indianapolis Zoo trip back in 2011.  Now that most of the mammals and the lizards have been sufficiently covered, it is time to feature our feathered friends.  The downside of this is once again I’ve become extremely frustrated with the resources available for bird identification.  It is becoming almost comical how little information I am able to obtain from the web for what seems like the simplest tasks.  For example, there are aviary identification sites out there that allow you to do identification based on attributes.  It will seem promising at first since it lets you pick some easy body geometry but then you become less than enthused when the all knowing database comes back and says it could be … and then shows at best one or two options.  Does it have long longs?  well then you have a Heron.. what about Stilts.. no, you have a Heron.  Does it sit parallel to the tree? then it is a Woodpecker…. what about Flickers … I said it’s a Woodpecker now leave me alone.  This even holds for what appears to be easily identifiable birds which I’ll get to in a bit.  Now, there is blame to go around here.  Clearly this would have been an easier task had I found a resource at the zoo to ask or found a placard on the habitat that gave the name of the contents.  Lesson learned for future zoo trips that might have a collection of birds more rare to the continental Americas.  The counter to that argument, it doesn’t seem like a stretch to ask the Zoo to list the names of their animals on their web page – Indy has a few listed, but again, one of them has gone unidentified.  Sorry for the continual gripe about identification, but it is frustrating to page through thousands of pages or image query results and come up empty on a bird I’ve captured. (feel like my brother and his frustration with Costco!)

The good news is only one of this set is nameless.  One that was identified is the Gambel’s Quail.  Or, as the Indy Zoo website calls it – Gamble’s Quail (link here) – pretty bad when you can’t rely on the zoo to get the names right.  These birds are actually pretty odd looking with their head protruding plumage.  This bird, along with all of them actually, came from the Desert Biome exhibit.  This is the same location all the lizard shots came from in the previous posts.  Apparently birds and lizards tolerate each other pretty well.  There were a few other shots taken of this bird, but it was spending much of its time hanging out in the back-lit windows – not a good setting for getting real detail in a bird.  Eventually I worked myself around to get a decent headshot.

A very distinctly featured bird don’t you think?  This is a male specimen easily identifiable by its blacker beak and eye coloring.  They are a sport bird but Wikipedia does list them as Least Concern on their conservation status.  This may be due to the fact they lay a lot of eggs at once – 10 to 15 eggs at a time giving them a higher survival rate.  Common to the Quail family, the Gambel’s prefer the ground over flight but they can utilize those wings if they choose – short distances.  They do indeed prefer the desert even though that surprised me when I saw this in the biome exhibit.  In case you are curious, they are named after naturalist William Gambel (my apologies for the zoo in screwing up your name).  He died of typhoid back in 1849, but not before discovering this bird, the Mountain Chickadee and the Nuttall’s Woodpecker.

The next bird was also easily identified.  The zoo site referenced them by their third name – the Owl Finch, but they are also referred to as the Double-Barred Finch and the Bicheno’s Finch. So loved they gave it three names.  Guessing they have the Owl name thanks to the coloring around their eye mimicking their larger brothers.  It is almost as if an artist took a standard finch and decided to dress it up a bit – kind of like what they do with those cow and pig statues you see littered about larger cities.

That shot gives a really good perspective of the Beast’s depth of field.  The finch (a small bird) is perfectly centered in the band of focus – as any bird photographer will agree, the focus  target is always the eyes so compositions like these tend to extend the focus past the bird.  I had to laugh at the next shot – clearly a day of shooting the mammals had influenced my composition choices on the birds.  Always the sucker for head across the body shots.

You are probably wanting a shot from the front to see what this bird looks like.  That is an easy request because there were a few of these birds in the exhibit.  The one below was a little more active than the one simply hanging out in the rocks.

Hit the jump to read more about the Owl Finch and two more of its colorful brothers.

Continue reading Birds of the Desert Biome

A Small Big Mistake

Howdy folks, time for a quick change of pace.  Figured you needed a break from the barrage of Indy Zoo pictures that have been thrown at you as of late.  Randomly selecting a topic from the blog idea list resulted in today’s topic of Service.  The irony is we usually spend our time railing against poor service against the larger corporations – the Bigs if you will.  These larger outfits can usually weather any annoying complaints by their customers merely based on the overall volume of business they do.  However, it is my sad fortune to recount a disheartening experience with a local establishment – or as they are commonly referred to… the Small.  You may not know, but I do try to support Smalls possible.  By definition I am therefore willing to sacrifice a little convenience and likely pay a little more for a given item due to being unable to leverage the high volume discounts of the Bigs.  The trade off is we benefit a local establishment and in turn the larger community as a whole.  The benefit to us – Smalls are more attentive to pleasing their customers and the service is rarely anything but outstanding.  Let me repeat that for emphasis –  Smalls are more ATTENTIVE to PLEASING their customers and the SERVICE is rarely anything but OUTSTANDING.

There are three Smalls I focus on supporting every chance I get.  One is Running Central where almost all my running gear comes from.  Although they have since moved a little closer to where I live, it is still a healthy trek to make it there.  With the ever increasing gas prices (thanks current administration) this can add up,  especially since we have a Big sporting store less than 15 minutes from my house.  The staff is all runners themselves and are very helpful with all my running/nutrition/therapy questions.  True to form, their prices tend to be slightly higher but walking into a store where they greet you with a smile and know you personally easily trumps that downside.  Another Small Linda and I enjoy supporting is Emack and Bolio’s.  If you have not heard of them, they are a gourmet ice cream store.  Ours is actually located very close to Running Central making trips to get running stuff extra sweet.  One could argue that it is a chain, but it is locally owned and the two guys that own it always greet us personally and make our experience quite pleasurable. If you are in the Peoria area, get yourself to Peoria Heights – you will not be disappointed (especially you Cold Stone people).  The third small is a place in Bartonville called Presley’s Outdoors.  They are a sporting goods, hunting, camping outdoorsy outfitter.  Now getting to this location takes us close to 40 minutes and more importantly I pass right by two competing Bigs to get there.  Not to mention 40 minutes in a slightly angled trajectory gets me to a Mega (as in pull from far and wide corporations).  It would be significantly easier to purchase most of my goods at the Bigs I pass, but again… the intent is to help the Smalls survive in a competitive market.  Last year I made some significant purchases at this store and although I have not gone back and tallied up the actual numbers (YET) the smaller purchases likely added up to a pretty penny as well.  An amount that would represent a premium over the same purchases at a Big or Mega.  From a business perspective, this inherently poses a risk.  Breaking the trust or tarnishing the brand can result in loss of loyalty – loss of loyalty can make that 10 minute trek look a whole lot more appealing than a 40 minute trek.  If you can obtain equally bad service in less time .. less time ALWAYS wins out.

Hit the jump to find out how a mighty Small crumbled

Continue reading A Small Big Mistake

A Few More Snakes with Feet

Hi all! – hope everyone had a great Valentine’s Day.  Once again I had another bizarre experience trying to purchase Linda one of her gifts that will definitely make its way to an upcoming post.  Not sure what it is, but buying jewelry in this town is a trip to Bizarro World.  Part of the problem is the experience has become equally pleasing as a trip to a car dealership – … stay tuned for that entertaining post.  So, speaking of Valentine’s Day we have more lizards!   What, you do not think of lizards around V-Day?.. yeah, me neither – I just needed a lead in to today’s topic so went with it.

As mentioned in the previous post, the Indy lizard series is a two parter – lizarrific if you will.  I figured we’d start with the unidentified lizard.  Like the last set there was extensive research done on this shots in a desperate attempt to provide an informative post… and as discovered with the first set it’s damn hard to classify these scaly creatures.  You would think with a Google image search there would be at least one similar picture in the 10,000+ images being waded through.  Two of the three specimens had a hit, but this one … no clue.

Pretty interesting coloring and would probably merge right into a darker rock setting.  The claw positioning was intriguing as well.  Kind of gives the impression it either just finished a a giant leap onto the rock and still bracing from the impact or possibly showing off his claws in defiance to the biped with the scary looking glass pointed at it.  Before you ask, I really have no clue if it is a male or female so just went with a he.  Once again, a complement to the Beast for throwing the background into creamy goodness.  This is due to the tight depth of field in the 200-400 glass which you’ll be able to see even better in the upcoming shots.  Definitely a plus to be able to create that effect in-camera rather than having to artificially produce it in the digital darkroom.  Let me know if any of you have a guess to what this thing might be.  Until then “I shall call him spiky and it shall be mine and he shall be my spiky”.

Okay, now on to what turned out to be a cruel joke by our friends at the Indy Zoo.  For a long time in the heat of their Desert Biome I took shot after shot of this particular lizard.  I’d snap off a bunch of shots, he’d transition into a new interesting position, I’d snap off a ton of shots and then he’d move into another position… I felt like yelling out “work it baby work it – vogue strike the pose”.  To save Linda the embarrassment I opted to keep that inside hehehe.  Needless to say with the big glass I was up there all close and friendly like.

Hit the jump to see my scary discovery

Continue reading A Few More Snakes with Feet

Snakes with Feet

So one of the reasons I take the time to write these posts is to allow me the opportunity to look back and see what I was interested in or maybe what the state of the world happened to be in at a given point in time. In essence I have a backup plan when the o’l memory starts to go. Crap.. what was I leading into…. Oh yeah. Every once in awhile someone comes out with a statement that I NEVER want to forget. Typically these are statements made by individuals in the entertainment business that feel obligated to proclaim their stupidity. Last week we were blessed (er.. subjected) to two examples of this. Figured I’d just put them here in case I ever want to reference them in the future.

Chris Rock:
I am just here to support the President of the United States. President of the United States is our boss, but he is also, you know, the President and the First Lady are kinda like the Mom and the Dad of the country and when your Dad says something you listen and when you don’t it will usually bite you on the ass later on. So, I’m here to support the President. Note to self: be sure and point this comment out during future administrations – something tells me this position will change.

Tony Bennett:
It’s the kind of turn that happened to the great country of Germany where Nazis came over and created tragic things and they had to be told off. And if we continue this kind of violence and accept it in our country, the rest of the world is really going to take care of us in a really bad way. Note to self: A big thank you for fighting in the Battle of the Bulge now go read history and figure out where the Nazi’s “came over” from and take special note on their stance on gun control.

There, now I only need to go to my blog and search for stupid reptiles and poof there will be the two “entertainers” that are now on my list.  That reminds me, the main topic of this post is Reptiles at the Indianapolis Zoo.  Yes, this is a continuation of the Indy Zoo series, but now that the mammals are out of the way, it’s time to move to those scary “snakes with feet” as Linda likes to refer to them.  This will be a short series primarily because I know absolutely ZERO about lizards.  They have a long heritage, their typically scaly and for some reason there are people out there that think they are cool pets.

Personally I find that identifying snakes and lizards about as hard as distinguishing one sparrow from another.  Translated… damn near impossible.  Since I like to go the extra mile for my millions of readers I did take a stab at it.  A check of the Indy Zoo website did provide a small list of animals on display in their Desert Biome (link here).  Apparently putting their picture or at least a link to the animal is asking way to much from an educational organization.  So, next step was to search individually for each of the names on the list – with exception of the turtles which are clearly not in play here – a shout out to my Biology teacher for getting that in long-term memory.

Hit the jump to read more about these scaly creatures.

Continue reading Snakes with Feet