Timber Point: Rachel Carson NWR. 10/06/14

Looking at Timber Point from the end of Granite Point Road

Looking at Timber Point from the end of Granite Point Road

It is always wonderful to discover a new place here in Southern Maine to explore, especially as access to public lands is limited in this well developed corner of New England.

A birding couple I met on the beach on Saturday told me about Timber Point and Timber Island trail at Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge. They were up for the day from Massachusetts, chasing eBird reports of birds of interest. I live practically next door to Rachel Carson Headquarters, and I had never heard of Timber Point or Timber Island. A little research turned up the facts. It is a new trail and a new property for the NWR system, acquired after a locally organized fund-raising drive that covered the $2 million plus purchase price. It is a point of rocky upland and mixed forest extending out along the ocean side of the Little River across from Goose Rocks Beach and south of Fortunes Rocks. At low tide you can walk out to Timber Island. Local volunteers, along with the Civilian and Youth Construction Corps, built trails and boardwalks as needed and one raised deck overlook, and installed a Tide Clock near the head of the passage to the Island. It is altogether a wonderful spot and one that I will add to my regular round of photoprowls. It was dead high tide when I was there yesterday of course, but I plan to get back there the first sunny day we have at low tide.

All images are with the Sony HX400V. Landscapes are in-camera HDR.

Timber Island from the tip of Timber Point

Timber Island from the tip of Timber Point

There were lots of the typical birds of the Maine fall: Gulls and Cormorants in the water, Yellow-rumped Warblers, White-crowned Sparrow, Song Sparrows, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Brown Tree-creeper, Rufus-sided Towhee, Blue Jays, etc. in the trees and marsh…most of which stayed well out of camera range. :) I did manage a few shots. The Brown Creeper was the first I have seen in Southern Maine in at least 10 years.

There were, seemingly, hundreds of chipmunks busy gathering acorns.

I counted 5 species of butterfly: Cabbage White, Clouded Sulfur, Red Admiral, Painted Lady, and Monarch. I was able to photograph all but the Monarch, which came flying across the marsh from the ocean side, down the road a ways to the first opening to the River side, and on out over the water again.

You walk down a shaded lane…the old road to the classic “Rustic” Maine hotel that occupied the point. The building is still there, now owned by the National Wildlife Service, but it is in need of major renovation. Its fate is uncertain, and it is currently out-of-bounds to the visiting public. Along the ocean side of the Lane is an extensive cattail marsh, home, I am sure, to many birds. The lane leads to a patch of rocky upland and a mixed hardwood forest (Timber Point), Then out into narrow meadows along the shore at the tip of the point. From here you have excellent views of the mouth of the Little River, Goose Rocks Beach across the water, Timber Island, and the open ocean beyond.

Cormorant taking flight off Timber Point

Cormorant taking flight off Timber Point

Friday morning is looking good for return trip and a walk out to the island. Look for an update sometime after that. And I am sure these are only the first of many visits to Timber Point and Timber Island in the future.

Sweetwater Wetlands Great Horned Owl


The Owl. Sony HX400V at 2400mm equivalent field of view.

Sweetwater Wetlands in Tucson Arizona was one of the first “municipal wetlands” in the US: waste-water reclamation ponds converted to a birding destination. This year they took Sweetwater off-line and replaced it with a new, modern facility down the road, but it has become such a poplar and well-known birding spot in the Tucson area that they are still pumping enough water to keep the ponds full. August us not the time to visit, but it was when we were in Tucson, and it is still good enough birding not to miss. We were, in fact, there three times, once in the early evening and once in the early morning on our own, and again in the early morning with a group from the Tucson Birding Festival.

On the first visit we walked up on a Great Horned Owl sitting between the trail and the pond. We pretty much photographed it from every angle and framed it with the full range of the zoom on the Sony HX400V.

When we walked on the bird was still sitting there. The next morning a group of birders had already found the Owl when we got to that side of the ponds. In fat they had seen it take a Coot, behead it, and fly up to a branch to eat it. Again we took all the photos we wanted before the Owl had had its fill.

Sweetwater Wetlands, of course has other attractions, especially in other seasons, but a Great Horned Owl is always a treat.

Madera Canyon 8/2044


Coming up through the grasslands to Madera Canyon. In-camera HDR with some "creative" processing on the sky.

Madera Canyon is one of the first birding destinations I ever visited. It is primarily known for Buff-collard Nightjar (in the grasslands on the way in), Elph Owl, and hummingbirds…some of the rarest Hummers in the US visit the feeders at Santa Rita Lodge in the Canyon on a semi-regular basis. In recent years the upper Canyon has also become a reliable spot for Elegant Trogon, and this year, though I was not aware of it before our visit, a bevy of Montezuma Quail has been regular along the watercourse behind the Lodge. Madera Canyon is about 45 minutes south of downtown Tucson, and we’ll worth a visit any time you are in the area.

As mentioned in the Photoprowl on the Tucson Sonoran Desert Museum, on this trip I was traveling light with a single superzoom Point & Shoot camera: the Sony HX400V.

We had only a very short time to visit the Canyon one morning before the vendor hours at the Tucson Birding Festival, so we knew Trogon was pretty much out of the question. Though they have been seen and heard as low as the Lodge, to really have a good chance you have to hike well up form the end of the Canyon road. We parked at the Amphitheater and Nature Trail parking lot and hiked back among the creek bed behind the Lodge to the Parking lot below the Lodge, then climbed back up the Lodge to finish with some Hummingbird watching at the feeders. The creek was, in August, dry, but the Canyon was still lush and green. We found wildflowers on the slopes and birds deeper in.

The first bird we saw in the Canyon was the Rock Wren, but the most common bird was the Mexican Jay. A large flock was working along the water course, looking for bugs. Ash-throated Flycatcher was also there, and, of course Squirrels and Lizards, but the real treat was finding the bevy of Montezuma Quail, though we only saw the sentry bird up on a rock standing guard. The rest of the birds were well down in the brush. This was my first good look at a Montezuma Quail. I had only ever seen them once before…a bevy running across the road in my headlights as I drove in Southeast Arizona many years ago. This was better :-)

Of course the upper Canyon has a beauty all its own, unique the the Sky Islands of the Southwest.

We spent the last half hour of our visit sitting on the benches overlooking the feeders at the Santa Rita Lodge. As mentioned, these feeders have attracted some of the rarest Hummingbirds to be seen North of the Mexican Boarder, along with all of the Arizona specialities. Broad-billed was by far the most common on our visit, and as I have written elsewhere, it really deserves a better name! It is a magnificent hummingbird, but of course that name is already taken. Besides the Broad-billed we also saw a few Anna’s, and I am sure if we had had more time we would have seen all the usual Madera Canyon Hummers.

Of course the highlight of the visit is the worst photo. A Brown-capped Starthroat had been reported at the feeder nearest the building and there were several photographers camped out on and behind the nearest bench. I had to settle for distant, and somewhat random shots, hoping to catch the bird. In this image it is the very large Hummer making the Broad-bills look small.


I hope on my next visit to Madera Canyon to have more time. The Canyon deserves more. :-)

Tucson Sonoran Desert Museum 8/13/2014


Looking out over the Desert Experience walk.

The Tucson Sonoran Desert Museum is the highest rated destination in the Tucson area, according to TripAdvisor…and I will certainly not argue the point. Personally, I would not consider any trip to Southern Arizona complete without a morning at the Desert Museum. If you have never visited, “museum” hardly does the place justice, and may, in fact, be misleading. The SDM is, certainly, part traditional Museum, with display rooms and exhibits, but it is also part Zoo with many of the animals of the region in modern natural enclosures, and part Botanical garden. In addition to a formal Cactus garden featuring native species, and demonstration Desert Gardens, the grounds themselves are layed out and landscaped to represent the best features of the region. For birders and bird lovers, the animal displays include a large Aviary with free flying birds of the Sonoran Desert (currently closed for renovation, but scheduled to reopen this fall) and a smaller (but very intense) Hummingbird Aviary…but, of course, the grounds are home to many of the native species of the area. It is a great birding destination in its own right.

I was in Tucson recently for the 4th annual Tucson Birding and Nature Festival and my colleague and I did spend a morning at the SDM. For this trip I limited myself to a single camera: the Sony DSC-HX400V… though it is hardly a limitation with its 24mm-1200mm equivalent zoom, excellent macro capability, and exposure modes to handle any conceivable situation.

The Museum opens at 7:30 AM during the summer months and you want to be there early to catch the desert animals still active, especially in the August  heat. We were still on our way to the Mountain Woodlands displays to try to catch the Mountain Lion when we came across this group of Rock Squirrels. Touch any image in the tiled gallery below to see a larger version. The Rock Squirrels were exceptionally cooperative and allowed me to frame them with a variety of zoom settings for everything from intimate portraits to group shots

It took several passes by the Mountain Lion enclosure before we caught the cat prowling, but it was worth the effort. The SDM had some of the first “natural” wildlife enclosures, built of artifical stone, with water features and native plantings, to resemble as closely as possible the actual habitat of the animals on display. The Mountain Lion enclosure is particularly successful, especially from a photographer’s point of view. It is possible to catch images that could pass for shots from the wild.

Further along the same loop of trail you come to Cat Canyon, another natural enclosure housing the smaller cats of the Sonoran Desert: Ocelot and Bobcat, along with the Porcupine and a Grey Fox. In my experience the smaller cats and other animals here are hard to see even in the enclosures intended to display them. The enclosure features two levels…a lower level with windows looking on the floor of the canyons and an upper level looking down into the canyons. The Ocelot was just barely visible on a high shelf behind vegetation, I did not see the Porcupine or Fox, but the Bobcats were both out. The full profile shot is through the glass on the lower level. The others are from the top.

Also in the Mountain Forest and Desert Grassland section you will find the Mexican Wolf and White-tailed Deer enclosures, along with a minature Prairie Dog town behind glass.

We decided to take the Desert Loop Trail early, before the full heat of the August day desended. When I first saw the Coyote standing the shade of of the mesquite tree I thought it was a wild visitor to the SDM. The fine mesh fence that encloses the Coyotes is all but invisible from some angles. The Cactus Wrens are indeed wild, and we were happy to find our first Fishhook Cactus in bloom.

Life on the Rocks is a new display, not yet completed, which is the SDM’s most ambitious attempt at a natural enclosure yet.

One of my favorite enclosures is the Hummingbird Aviary. It is not big but the Hummingbirds have space to fly and feed naturally and often perch within a foot or two of quiet visitors. Most of these images were taken at less that 600mm equivalent field of view. The Aviary uses special feeders, developed at the SDM by one of the volunteers, which do not attract bees. This has made a major difference in the Aviary since my last visit. Both the hummingbirds and the visitors can be more relaxed. :-) Though there are more species in the Aviary I was able to get decent shots of Anna’s, Costa’s, and Black-chinned (the western cognate of the Ruby-throated).

Next to the Hummingbird Aviary is a small Butterfly Oasis with plants to attract a variety of Sonoran Desert and Southwest species. The well worn Red-spotted Purples would not sit still for me. Monarchs and Gulf Fritillaries were easier, and of course the Green Shield Bug sat perfectly still and allowed a true macro at about 80mm equivalent field of view. Away from the special plantings of the oasis the most common Butterfly was the Gulf Fritillery, which we saw in every section of the SDM.

We continued around past the main Aviary, which was temporary closed for renovation. When open it is my favorite spot at the SDM. The renovated Aviary will, according to a volunteer we met, have even more species. Beyond the Aviary you come to the Desert Bighorn Sheep enclosure and another of the two level enclosures…thus one with underwater and above water views of Beaver and River Otter. The beavers were in their den which has a glass wall. Pressing the light switch gives you a glimpse of them. The Otters, on the other hand, were active and playful. It might be anthropomorphic to say, but nothing in the natural world seems to have as much fun as an Otter at play. The water of the Beaver and Otter enclosures attracts dragonflies, like the big brilliant Flame Skimmer and the smaller Blue Dasher.

Flowing water and plantings attract just about every native bird to the grounds of the SDM, and the same factors make Lizards abundant along the paths everywhere. Zibra-tailed Lizards is the most striking, but there are also Sonoran Desert Whiptails and Eastern Collared Lizard. We also encountered a Chuckwalla.

Though August is not prime flowering season no visit to the SDM is complete without a little time in the Cactus Garden.

Though the Earth Sciences Display comes early in the usual path through the SDM, I always skip it and leave it until near the end of my visit…not because I don’t like it…it is one of my favorites, but because it is underground and relatively cool. In August, that makes a difference as the day warms up. You enter the display through a well designed and constructed replica of a natural limestone cavern…and a wet cave at that. You can even choose the narrow loop that gives you something like the sense of wriggling through a living cave. Deep in the heart of the display there are two rooms, one devoted to a geological history of the Sonoran Desert region, and one filled with mineral specimens on display.

The Reptile House and Aquarium are in the building to the right and left of the main entrance to the SDM, and are, like the Earth Science display, best left to the last, especially in August when you will, by then, need some relief from the sun and heat (the Aquarium is directly behind the gift shop). The images here were all taken without flash in the subdued light of the enclosures using the Sony HX400V’s Anti-Motion Blur mode.

Though it is not the most typical creature of the SDM, I will finish with an another image of the Flame Skimmer we found in the Desert Garden display…just because I like it! And I can almost guarantee that you will find something to like on any visit to the Tucson Sonoran Desert Museum!


Laudholm Beach and the Boardwalk 7/17/2014


Looking northeast along Laudholm Beach. ZEISS Touit 12mm f2.8 on the Sony Alpha NEX 5T.

I generally avoid the Beach at the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve at Laudholm Farm in summer simply because it can get crowded with tourists. “Crowded” being a relative term. I suppose it is the relatively uncrowded nature of this beautiful stretch of sand that inspires people to park at the Farm and walk the mile to the beach, over the hill and through the woods, carrying a full day of beach supplies (which often includes a cooler and sometimes even an umbrella). Still, the tourists, if you let them, do diminish the sense of Reserve. I decided it was worth the distraction on a beautiful July day…and that it was hight time I checked to see if there were any nesting Piping Plover and Least Terns along the Little River at the end of the beach. Both the Least Tern and the Piping Plover are endangered in Maine and nesting sites are carefully protected and monitored, and every check is counted. I knew I was late by most of a month, but I thought there might still be a few birds around.

And of course you never know what other birds you will see on the beach and it is a beautiful stretch of sand! And rocks.


Rocks are never far below the sand on any Maine Beach.

Tide and stream flow conspire all among the southern coast of Maine to continually expose the underlying bed of rocks that actually forms the beach. I found the last of this year’s Piping Plovers feeding along the edges of little pools in the sand and rocks.

At the end of Laudholm Beach the Little River flows out to meet the sea. Either side where the dune grass starts is roped off to protect the nesting sands of both the Plovers and the Terns. On a day like yesterday it is simply a beautiful spot. The shots are, like the beach shots above, taken with the ZEISS Touit 12mm f2.8 on the Sony Alpha NEX 5T, some are in-camera HDR, and all are processed for HDR effect in Snapseed on my tablet.

There were only a few Least Terns still around the nesting area. I managed a few flight shots and one sitting with the Olympus OM-D E-M10 and the 75-300mm zoom. If you touch or click the images they will open a larger view and you can see that one Tern is carrying some kind of work like thing.

In the rapid shallow water right at the mouth of the Little, a group of Bonaparte’s Gulls were feeding and bathing.

Besides the ubiquitous Herring and Ring-billed Gulls, there were a few Greater Blackbacked Gulls.


Greater Blackbacked Gull. Olympus OM-D E-M10 with 75-300mm zoom. 600mm equivalent.

Walking back I stopped at the little pond formed where the old road crosses the marsh for a few irresistible scenics of the beautiful Maine day. Again note that the images in the tile will open to a larger view by clicking or tapping.

While taking the landscapes, this little Seaside Dragonlet landed at my feet. The advantage of having two cameras, I the long zoom always mounted, is clear here. I am getting fast enough on the draw to catch shots like this.


Seaside Dragonlet (male). One of the smallest dragonflies in Maine.

I opted for the boardwalk trail back to the Farm and my parked car. You never know what you will see. This Chipmunk sat and posed within easy reach of the Olympus OM-D E-M10 with 75-300mm zoom, here at 1200mm equivalent using the digital extender.

Just about across from the Chipmunk I caught this Northern Pearly Eye Butterfly drinking sap from a fresh limb cut.


It was great light for an HDR treatment of one of the big White Birches along the boardwalk. This shot used both the Sony Alpha NEX 5T’s in-camera HDR (+/- 6EV) and HDR processing in Snapseed.


Only in-camera HDR could capture the blue of the sky behind the shadowed forest scene

I stopped at the overlook off the boardwalk for a view of the back side of the Little River Marsh and the dunes of Laudholm Beach. This is another HDR.


Sony Alpha NEX 5T with ZEISS Touit 12mm f2.8

Finally I made a detour to the overlook on the Little River by the research canoe launch, before hiking back to the car.


ZEISS Touit 12mm f2.8.

Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve at Laudholm Farm encompasses a number of very different habitats, which makes it an ideal place for not one, but many Photoprowls.

Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve at Laudholm Farm : the bog side 7/2014


Carol, my wife, and my youngest daughter, Kelia, on the bog boardwalk.

I have been visiting Laudholm Farm for the better part of 20 years, and until this month I did not know there was a bog on the property. How can that be? My wife and daughter first explored the loop of trails that includes the bog earlier this month, and I have been back twice to explore it myself since. From the age of the various sections of boardwalk on the trails this is not a new loop…just a neglected one as far as I am concerned. Besides the bog, the trails encompass the lower fields and meadows of the farm, sections of ferny forest, and an overlook on the marsh well south of the Little River.

You begin with a walk through a shaded aisle in a damp hardwood forest.


Are there fairy rides in Maine. This certainly looks like one. Sony Alpha NEX 5T with ZEISS Touit 12mm f2.8.


Wild Iris along a small section of boardwalk in the fairy forest.

At the end of the Fairy Ride you make a sharp then and where onto the boardwalk across what I can only call a mini-bog. The whole thing is the size of a housing development from lawn, but is a true bog, complete with Sundew and at least two bog orchids.

Grass Pink

Pink Pagonia


Round-leaved Sundew. Sony Alpha NEX 5T with ZEISS Touit 50mm macro

Sundew is of course a carnivorous plant. Insects get caught in the sticky hairs on the keaves leaves, the leaves partially close to catch them, and then acids in the plant’s sap dissolve the insect to provide nutrients. Round-leaved Sundew is one of the smallest Sundews.

Past the bog you quickly enter a stretch of forest and then the lower reaches of the meadows at Laudholm. On a good day this can be a great place for both birds and butterflies.


Damp mixed forest

Where the trail turns sharply to the left there is a side trail leading out to the Marsh overlook.


The marsh at he Southern edge of the Wells Reserve.

Eventually the trail comes out across from the boardwalk trail on the main trail down to the beach. It is easy to follow the boardwalk around to the meadows at the North-east edge of the reserve bordering the Little River. You never know what you will find. This Red-spotted Purple surprised us in the deep woods.


Red-spotted Purple is one form of the Butterfly more commonly known as the White Admiral

I am certainly not done exploring the lower loop of trails at the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve at Laudholm Farm. I am certain there is more to see.

Parson’s Way, Cape Arundel 7/3/2014


The first view of the mouth of the Kennebunk River, the breakwater, Gooch's Beach and Oak Point over the Beach Roses

Parson’s Way is a long thin park along the rocky coast line of Cape Arundel in Kennebunkport, Maine. It is mostly just a sidewalk, and a series of benches overlooking the rocks and ocean, but it is always a pleasant walk, and often provides interesting and beautiful images of the rocks and sea. It passes (or encompasses depending on how you go) St. Anne’s Church on Old Fort Point, a classic Maine rough field-stone building in a spectacular setting…and it ends at the overlook for Blowing Cave, across Sandy Bay from Walker’s Point and the George Bush Senior compound. On a day with a good sky and some sea action there are few stretches of coast in Maine to match it.

My wife Carol and I walked it on July 3rd when thunderstorms in the forecast, and the sky was piled with cloud. We parked just beyond the turn for Colony Beach, at the very beginning of Parson’s Way. The photo at the top is the first view over the hedge of Beach Rose. I was carrying my usual outfit these days…the Olympus OM-D E-M10 with 75-300mm zoom, and the Sony NEX 5T with the ZEISS Touit 12mm f2.8 and the 50mm f2.8 macro.


Beach Rose in bloom. 12mm f2.8


The view from the first benches. The extreme depth of field of the 12mm f2.8 makes images like this possible.


Looking back along the coast, past Colony Beach and the breakwater to the full stretch of "Big" or "Gouch's" beach.


Classic view of Kennebunk / Kennebunkport.

The gates at St Anne’s were open so we walked in and around Old Fort Point. St Anne’s is a popular wedding destination, and for good reason.


The rough stone construction of St Anne's Church lends an air of romance that has enhanced many a wedding over the years.

Off Old Fort Point there were several nursery pods of young Eiders, with their attendant nurses.


Nursery pod of your Eiders. Olympus OM-D E-M10 with 75-300mm zoom. 600mm equivalent.


The view back to Old Fort Point and St Anne's from the Sprouting Rock overlook.

From the Sprouting Rock overlook, you have a great view of what locals call “the movie house”. Exteriors of this house have figured in several major productions over the years, at least one of which was the kind of movie that gives the house it’s other name: haunted.


The Haunted House or the Movie House. Several productions have been filmed using the exterior.

You might be able to just barely make out an extra protrusion on the chimney you can just see over the roofline in the center. Unbelievably, especially on July 3rd, that protrusion is a Snow Owl. We had a major irruption of Snowing this winter, but they should all have headed north in May at the latest. I don’t have any idea why this Snowy was still in Kennebunkport in July. These shots are again with the Olympus OM-D E-M10 and the 75-300mm zoom. 600mm and 1200mm equivalent.

Beyond the Movie House you climb a little hill onto the headland of Cape Arundel proper, and the view of the Atlantic opens out. There are still a few secluded benches to let you know you are still on Parson’s Way. I could not resist putting the great depth of field of the 12mm Touit to work


12mm ZEISS Touit f2.8 on the Sony NEX 5T.

As you begin to decend slightly from the headland toward the head of Sandy Bay, Walker’s Point comes into view. It was always a beautiful spot, and people pulled off the road there to view Blowing Cave…a water spout at the right tide…but Walker’s Point is the summer home of George Bush senior and his wife, Barbara Walker Bush. With 2 Bush Presidents, the overlook became so popular that the town “improved” it with pull-out parking for a number of cars, and then installed a memorial to George Bush Senior on the rocks above Blowing Cave.


George Bush Memorial with Walker's Point and the Bush compound in the background.


Walker's Point over Beach Rose

Turning to go when found a common Southern Maine butterfly in an uncommon setting.


Pearl Crescent in a sunflower. Olympus OM-D E-M10 with 75-300mm zoom. 600mm equivalent.

On the way back we ran into a few song birds. Lots of Song Sparrows singing along the cliff top and a few Cedar Waxwings.

Finally we stopped once more at Spouting Rocks to catch the interesting sky as the storm came in over the ocean, the rocks, and the Rose bushes.


Old Fort Point and St Anne's as the storm came in. Touit 12mm f2.8 on the Sony NEX 5T.

All the landscapes were processed for HDR effect in Snapseed on my tablet. The shot of St Anne’s had some perspective corrections in Photo Editor by dev.macgyver, also on my tablet. The wildlife shots had standard processing in Snapseed on the tablet.

Cape Arundel and Parson’s Way always have a lot to offer. It is not a long walk, but an ideal photoprowl :-)