Saturday, April 24, 2010

Pink Snow

Rainy day. Wind out of the southeast (A strange direction for northeast Ohio. Wind from the east, fish bite the least.) gusting to 20 mph, brought with it a flurry of pink snow this morning, signaling the end of spring. That’s the bad news. The good news is, wood warblers are not far behind.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Earth Day 2010: Times Change, I Think

Reminder of Earth Day 1970

We hope you all enjoy the show.
With a nod to John Lennon and Paul McCartney—and the rest of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band …
It was 40 years ago today, Senator Nelson taught us all to play.
It’s been going in and out of style,
But it’s managed to stick around a while.
So may I introduce to you,
The day you’ve known for all these years;
Senator Nelson’s visionary—Earth Day!
And what have we learned since April 22, 1970? As with most first impressions, I remember the first Earth Day—and none of the rest. I was a student at Kent State University in those days. A non-traditional student, to use the current term. That means I was a bit older (but not much wiser) than most of the students. I had been in the Army. I had seen, up close and personal, what many of the students were rallying against. I was the ball lost in the high grass in those days—as were so many students. Kent was an edgy place that spring. Little did any of us realize how edgy it would get in the next couple weeks.
So, along with three other idealistic student journalists from the Daily Kent Stater, I headed for the nation’s capital to report on whatever this Earth Day thing was. It was billed as an Environmental Teach-in. Time has erased from my mind a lot of what happened in those few days. As the joke goes, if you can remember what really happened you probably weren’t there. I remember Pete Seeger as the “keynoter” since I was heavy into the folk music scene in those days. There was a large dose of anti-war rhetoric mixed with messages about the need to fix all the wrongs of our environment. I recall being interviewed about Cleveland’s burning river. (Hey! Who’s the reporter, here?) I was considered an “expert” on burning rivers, since I was from Cleveland.
I bought a tin badge to wear to proclaim my opposition to war and support for Mother Earth. I still have that button and drag it out every year about this time.
I don’t have a clue about how many people were there that day. There were a lot of us wandering around. Reports say something like 20 million people participated, nationwide. What good did it do?
So far, the legacy of that day 40 years ago has been legislation such as the Clean Air Act, the Environmental Protection Agency and a host of other critical, beneficial, laws we must respect and protect. And while we’ve won many battles, the fight is far from over. It was a 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara—combined with the inertia of Congress—that outraged Senator Gaylord Nelson and set him in motion. Yet, 40 years later, we’re still talking about offshore drilling …
The goals of Earth Day remain as lofty as ever—yet still attainable. The movement has a snappy new logo—no suggestion of anti-anything like the older chicken-foot model. In the end, Earth Day is still a grassroots effort. Its successes and failures will be determined by what individuals do—not what politicians mandate.
Peace, man.

Official Earth Week logo by the 1970 Earth Week Committee of Philadelphia.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Words to Live—or Die—By

Photo by Susan Jones

"If your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough," declared Robert Capa. As arguably the premiere war photojournalist, Capa stepped on a landmine in Vietnam in 1954—trying to get a bit closer. (Sidebar: Robert Capa was born AndrĂ© Friedmann in Hungry. He changed his name while living in Paris. He and his lover, Gerda Taro, invented the persona, Robert Capa. Capa means “shark” in Hungarian.)
As a photojournalist I’ve always liked those words. They define, for me, what photojournalism is all about. And they work well with other aspects of photography, too. I’ve noticed, however, in bird photography there seems to be a strange, inverse relationship between bird and camera. It’s this: The larger the bird, the more difficult it is to get close. I’ve had hummingbirds so close I couldn’t focus; eagles 100 yards away fly at the click of a shutter. Then there’s California.
Susan and I just got back from a week of pounding the sands and backwaters of Southern California. And while it’s good to be back in Cleveland where the temperatures fluctuate 50 degrees from day to day, California is the place for bird—big bird—photography. A joyous element of photography, for me, is the challenge of getting close. Occasionally, when the planets, moon and stars are properly aligned, and I’ve been a good boy, karma is on my side. The bigger (California) birds accept my intrusion into their lives for what it is—just a visit—and I get a picture.
Part of the art of getting close is watching where you step. Certainly, cleaning a bit of dog shit off your shoes is not as traumatic as stepping on a landmine. But getting too involved in the “moment” is most often what leads to bumps and bruises on photographers.
Susan and I were trying to enjoy a non-existent sunset on Hendrey’s Beach in Santa Barbara last week when a Snowy Egret approached us. Hey, I had the camera and I was there first. The bird acted like it was auditioning for American Idol. How could I say no? While shooting with the ocean and incoming tide to my left, I was okay. One eye on the ocean, one eye on the bird. It was when the bird walked between Susan and I, and I turned my back to the ocean, that things got interesting—and a bit damp.
So much for Capa’s advice on getting close. Maybe I’ll start to let some of his other words, those thought to be his last as he set out from the village of Nam Dinh, Vietnam, on day of his fateful assignment for Life Magazine in 1954, be my guidepost: "I will be on my good behavior today. I will not insult my colleagues, and I will not once mention the excellence of my work."

Snowy Egret

Sunday, April 04, 2010

How Do They Do That?

American Robin--with lunch.

Even when there never seems to be enough hours in the day, I still mange to find myself with time on my hands—like a recent afternoon, for example. I guess it was a combination of things: The recent Full Worm Moon, warm sunshine, three miles of walking and no sign of the bird I was looking for, and hunger.
I sat on the first available bench near the edge of Indigo Lake in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and watched an American Robin search for worms. Earlier I watched a Song Sparrow carefully selecting bugs from the edges of the lake. The sparrow paid no attention to me as it moved from stick to stem, gleaning for bugs. After it passed I got down on my hands and knees, and tried to discern what it had been after. I could seen nothing.
The robin was a different story. I watched it pull a half dozen juicy worms from the ground, all within a two-square-meter area. How do they do that?
This is one of those questions birders can discuss at length. It ranks right up there with, “How do you pronounce Pileated Woodpecker, or, Northern Parula?”
I know, this is not like arguing about the state of healthcare (or lack thereof) in America. The mindset of a birder can best be compared with that of a teenager. We constantly, perpetually, live in a state of denial. We thrive on it, actually. No matter what evidence is brought forth, you stick by your gut feeling on any of the above topics.
I asked a few people about this robin-catching-the-worm thing. Some argue that the robin hears the worm. Others claim it sees the ground move. A third group is certain the robin feels movement through its feet.
I already had the non-answer. I looked at a number of reports and experiments and was able to find supporting evidence for whatever answer people wanted. Here’s a quick summary: Audubon’s Nature Encyclopedia offers a description of robins and their behaviors that concludes, after it rains, worms rest with just the tips of their bodies showing at the mouth of their burrows. This makes the worm an easy target for the bird.
Another study, done in the 1990s, isolated each of the robin's various senses. This study concluded that hearing is the most important sense. Apparently, the robin listens for the small noises a worm makes while burrowing along in the ground. Researchers noted, the robin does use its other senses too—watching for movement, feeling for rumbling with its feet. But the main sense that helps out the most is the robin's hearing.
The guy who seems to have more time on his hands than me to explore this subject was a Dr. Frank Heppner. This ornithologist suspected sight was the most important sense robins use to find worms. He did a whole lot of things to discover how a robin found its lunch. My favorite tactic of his was to drill holes in the ground that looked exactly like wormholes. Robins ignored the holes unless a worm was inside the hole within visual range. Whether that worm was alive and normal, alive but coated with a bad-smelling odor, or dead, the robins found the worms and ate them. He concluded that sight is the key sense robins use to find earthworms.
So there ya go; nobody’s wrong if everybody’s right. Get out in the spring weather and blow off an afternoon watching robins pull worms from the soil. You might learn something.

Song Sparrow--so many bugs, so little time.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Early spring on the Cuyahoga River

This is one of those classic fishing stories that needs to be retold each time it happens. Every fisher thinks it has only happened to him, or her. I opted to fish the Cuyahoga River in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park this morning, in hopes of fooling a steelhead trout into thinking the fly pattern I was using was the real deal. I worked an area of Tinker’s Creek 150 yards up from where it dumps into the river. The spot has all the signs of being great steelhead water. Today was not the day. I did manage to catch one freshwater bonefish (i.e. a sucker) of about two pounds.
As I moved closer to the mouth of the creek, two guys in a kayak came ‘round the corner and wedged their boat into the bank so they could both cast into the confluence of the two streams. I was a bit envious of their spot, however, I figured they’d not have any luck, either.
Right on cue one of the guys tied into a nice smallmouth bass. Then the other guy picked up another smallie. Was it possible that they might know something about fishing I did not? Couldn’t happen. At about the same time, a grandfather/grandson combo moved in to fish the same hole from the shore, at a rather precarious spot.
The guys in the kayak drifted off. I heard the granddad (who must have been hard of hearing since he spoke so loudly) tell the kid, “Now don’t throw your line over by those logs ‘cause you’ll only get all fouled up.” He really did say, “foul” so I figured he was not a modern grandpa.
The kid, of course, did exactly as he was told not to do. He had some sort of spinning rod and appeared to be able to toss his bait a mile. I watched the line sail through the air, directly at, yet just missing, an overhanging tree limb. Gramps was upset. “Now there ya go! Now you’ll get all snagged and how are we gonna get ya off those logs?”
True to the tale, the kid hooks up with a fish—a nice fish. I watched his line running up and down stream. Gramps scampered for the landing net. The kid had a smile I could see from 100 yards away. I know he’ll always remember this sunny spring day. The time he was fishing with gramps and … And he’ll retell this story, just as I am doing now, 60 years after my dad told me not to toss my lure near a weed bed in some unnamed lake in Indiana, and I caught the largest northern pike I’ve ever caught.