Spring is Here

I live in Northern Ontario so even though Spring officially arrives around March 20 I know from experience that March is a winter month. A few years back our Science Centre had a spring equinox party- greet the sunrise and celebrate- except that is was -30℃ that morning. Last year was unusually warm and we were spoiled. After enduring a long and seemingly arduous winter (but fairly normal stats-wise, according to Environment Canada) we were longing for warmer days and no snow as March ended.

 

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A varying hare one day before the first day of spring

A varying hare one day before the first day of spring

I’m always on the lookout for photo opportunities, especially during unusual weather. Some recent personal encounters with nature and my resultant photos could be ‘blamed’ on the quirkiness of a slow spring.

For the first time our maple tree dripped sap and it froze to become an icicle on the tree branches. In other years I have observed chickadees, sapsuckers and squirrels sipping at the drips, but this year things were different. The extremely cold overnight and early morning temperatures froze the dripping sap. I observed chickadees hovering below the dripping ‘sap-sicle’, trying to get a drink. I set up the tripod and long lens and attempted to photograph the action. Out of about 600 frames I captured 3 or 4 like this one. I was frustrated by extremely brief, sporadic encounters, but the keepers were very satisfying.

Chickadee sipping from maple 'sap-sicle'

Chickadee sipping from maple ‘sap-sicle’

I have never had much luck photographing varying hares (snow bunnies) in their white winter fur coats. They are active mostly at night and tend to hide under trees during daylight. These rabbits do become more visible and approachable in early spring. This year I had very approachable hare around the advent of the equinox but with all the snow yet to melt and more coming down, I was fortunate to finally capture some decent white rabbit pictures.

The Easter Bunny, posing near the house.

The Easter Bunny, posing near the house.

Finally with only remnant patches of snow, receding ice in the lakes and ponds and returning birds, I ventured out one early morning to a nearby beaverpond. Because the temperature was well below 0℃ there was abundant frost even though geese were calling and ducks were flying into the pond. When frost is backlit, at a certain angle, it refracts into frozen rainbows of colour. I decided to use a long lens with its shallow depth of field to throw these circles of colour in the background into out-of-focus blobs of colour, turning a rather mundane scene into a late winter-early spring wonderland.

A marsh rush with frost and rainbow refractions in the background

A marsh rush with frost and rainbow refractions in the background

Whale Tales Part 1

Two orcas surfacing in the Johnstone Strait

I’m home now after nearly 12000 km and four weeks and many hundreds of gigabites of unedited material. John Marriott’s Orca and Marine Mammal tour aboard the Ocean Light II was a success from many standpoints. I met some very nice folks, had great accommodations and food while on board and enjoyed a variety of excellent photo opportunities, thanks to a knowledgeable skipper and crew (Chris and Jenn) and tour guide (John).

Whale photography is challenging. The subjects spend most of their time underwater and don’t always surface in predictable patterns. I also had framing and focusing issues caused by the boat movements in ocean swells and that meant there were lots of throw-away pictures. John mentioned that successful whale photos require four elements: light, subject, behaviour and lack of wind-calm seas. Fortunately we had all four elements much of the time. Sadly, no breaching Orcas, but there was sufficient interesting behaviour, great backlight, calm seas and lots of marine mammals to keep the motor drives smoking. When things were quiet we downloaded and edited. I had to keep ahead of my laptop’s 350 GB reserve. Two 2 TB Hds had sufficient space for everything but I like to have the Raw files in three places to start.

The skipper is required to stay outside a minimum distance from the whales, so I found I used my 600 mm regularly, mounted on a Wimberley head. Other participants had crop sensor cameras with 100-400 or 500 mm lenses so they got about the same magnifications. It was OK if the whales swam within the 100 m minimum and sometimes that occurred. For the pictures posted below, we followed a pod of orcas as they casually made their way down Johnstone Strait, perhaps loafing, sometimes hunting, There was a rhythm to the process and we learned to predict where and when the whales would surface. The backlit waters and plumes from their ‘blows’ created contrast which was visually exciting. The big bull would announce his imminent presence by showing the tip of his dorsal fin as he rose for air. In addition to orcas we had some exciting encounters with humpback whales.

Two orcas surfacing in the Johnstone Strait

Humpback whale diving in Blackfish Sound

Next. Bait balls and lunge feeding.