Screech owl calling was just published in a book to be released soon, but it is not enough in the grand scheme.



As I journey through my past, I think I have been blessed in so many ways.  I am definitely blessed more than I deserve.  So, I always feel guilty when I start thinking the way I am tonight.  I see myself as a spoiled and selfish brat, and perhaps that is what makes what I am about to say seem that much worse to me.

Have you ever felt that there are one or two major aspects of your life, that you never seem to get right.  That, no matter how hard you try, you just can't get any traction.   I don't mean those times you were trying to learn to roller-skate or ride a bicycle.  I mean those times where you fail and crash hard.  Then, you try another approach and you fail and crash hard.  Then you try another approach and you fail and crash hard.  But, you just don't stop!  No matter what, you just won't quit or give in and so the cycle continues.  Days turn into weeks, weeks into years and finally decades come and go.

That is my life of as a photographer.  Probably, most people would just give in and say, the heck with it, but not me.  I just keep attacking it.  I refuse to give in, even when I know I probably should.  But, alas, there is no forward momentum in making any decent living or even side hustle with it.  I do so love it though.

I feel like that Marine, in boot camp, who just keeps hitting the wall in an attempt to scale it, but never can do it.  He won't quit, because his passion is to be a Marine. Eventually, one of his fellow Marines holds out his hands for a quick boost over the wall (true story by the way).  

For me, there is no fellow Marine to give me a boost.  God is not blessing my success. My wife won't even let me talk about it in her presence and my kids seem to patronize me, because they love me.  Still, I keep hitting that wall until my knees are bloody and my energy wanes.  Then, the next day, I do it all again. It is a cycle that I can't get out of, because I just can't quit. I can't and I won't because nature photography affects me deep within my soul.  I can't explain or articulate to others how it affects me. They cannot understand.  In my world of nature, there are no angry people.  The neighbors dogs don't bark all day and there are no endless cars passing by.

Just like you probably do, I look at my financial statement on the photography side and see 3K in the hole.  Soon, I will turn 50. I  look at places like Alaska, Wyoming, Galapagos, The Falkland Islands and Costa Rica as almost imaginary places.  Places that my peers go to, but I never will.  What joy to photograph the majestic bald eagle, the Alaskan brown bears, penguins, puffins, sea otters and the mighty whale.

 I am a father, husband and friend and all that must all come first.  It is just mine and so many other's lot in life, and I do wear that as a badge of honor. And for heaven's sake don't get me wrong! I wouldn't trade my family for all the awesome places in the universe!

But, oh, for the quiet places.  The places where the only sounds are birds and the wind blowing through the pines.  The snow falling on the back of a white-tailed deer on a crisp winter morning.  To capture all of that and tell you the story!  To share it with others! That is what I love!  

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 About a year ago, I began thinking about how much I love to photograph the rocky mountain elk.  That lead to me begin wondering how I could best convey my love for photographing these beautiful animals to you.  Maybe, I could do a special blog post, or maybe just pick a few of my best photographs and speak about them.  Or...   How about all of the above!

This week is all about the elk.  First, there will be a post every day on social media highlighting one of my elk images with a long description to go with each image. Secondly, a video will be posted and sent via email showing this years small trip to Cataloochee, NC and also highlight a few images from this years trip.  Finally, I will have a special email this week talking about the behavior of the elk.  I hope this all meets with your approval.  If so, let's kick this off with the image below that started it all for me!

In 2016, I began to photograph the elk of Cataloochee Valley.  This elk, only a young bull, that was pushed around and ran off, would one day take over a large herd.  So it is with the elk.  The strongest bulls become the king of the harem and rule, even if it is only for a season or two.  It is his time in the sun.

 You have read in the past about special encounters I have had with a particular animal.  It is a time where everything seems to be blessed by God and there is nothing to stop it from happening.  On this day, in an undisclosed location, I was walking a trail along a wooded area when to my front, I see a huge bird break from a perch and fly deeper into the woods. 

I knew there were barred owls here, but the blur looked more like a great horned to me.  I scanned the trees, but saw nothing.  It was a dense canopy, full of summertime leaves and branches.

Well, I decided to keep going as my main goal was photographing white-tailed fawns.  I walked a good mile with no luck and I turned back the opposite direction toward my vehicle.  I began to get closer to where I had seen the blur of feathers only 30 or so minutes before.

As I neared the area, I heard the distinctive call "who cooks for you" in the distance.  I have no idea why people think it sounds like "who cooks for you", but it has become forever ingrained into bird watching.  It is one of those strange things in birding.

I texted my brother, who is up in PA, that I thought I might be onto a barred owl and he was about 100 yards away at this point.  This is where my adrenaline starts to peak slightly and I become much more focused on the task at hand.  

The barred owl call had stopped, but I kept going back to the cut through path.  As I rounded the corner, once again a large shape was moving in the canopy, it then flew back to another tree.  I knew that it was not breeding season, so I got out my barred owl call and just hit it one time.

All at once, the barred owl, dropped down, seemingly out of no where, and headed straight toward the call.  They have incredible sound locating capability and he was literally aligned perfectly with me, but then he flew straight up and landed on a branch only 20 feet from my frozen body.

At this point, it should be noted, that humans have terrible reflexes in this type of situation.  We often have a moment of being frozen when confronted by something unexpected.

Once I recovered from that shock, I pulled my camera to my eye and began to shoot away.  The owl just sat there as calm and has happy as he could be.  He would occasionally look at me then survey the are and then just relax.   I got the feeling this was his favorite perch and probably where he flew from before.  Now, understand that in this area, they probably see people fairly often.  Hikers and so forth.

So, to make a long story shorter, I continued to shoot for about 20 minutes and he/she just posed.  Finally, I walked away and left her to continue her day and she stayed perched right there.  I'll have to tell you another time, what happened another 10 minutes after that, because that was almost as good. 

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Reflections of the Creator (Volume 1):

Last year was a real challenge for me as I have finally realized that there is almost no market for my images in the consumer space.  I spent about three years selling actively and marketing actively.  I am not going to lie, it caused me a lot of frustration and in the end a bit of depression.  From December of 2021 to almost March 2022, I have remained silent.  No images  posted, no marketing and no photography adventures.  In that time, only one person asked where I was and shew wasn't even a follower of my work. I think, deep down,  I wanted this to be more of a career and it just never happened.  

This period of time has been a great period of reflection.  Were the last several years of my life a waste of time?  Do I continue doing something I love to do, without a solid market to sell my images so I can afford doing the work?  Does anyone really care about my work?  As one person said, "I just want to look at pretty pictures."  That was the painful reality.  That really is what most want to do.  Buying imagery is just not what they want to do!

Looking back over 2021, however, did have some amazing moments (especially early on).  It is hard to not see my trip to Saint Augustine as a vey memorable and great time!  Being around great birds and great people.  What else can I ask for?  Anyway, without further mourning, here is my top 10 of 2021.  I hope you enjoy looking at pretty pictures, because that is all I have :)

#1 -   Roseate Spoonbill Takeoff

I like this image first, because of the great pink and blue contrast between the bird and the background.  Secondly, I like it because of the great wing position and general position of the bird.

#2 -   Mother Egret and Chick

There is nothing more sweet than a mother and her child.  Here a mother great egret is preparing to feed the chick.

#3 -   Hummingbird with Beebalm 

Beebalm is a flower that hummingbirds can't resist and here we see a male hummingbird coming in to check it out.  I went with a little different style in 2021 with stronger flash and a black background.  

#4 -   Great Egret Flyover

There are times where I just capture something unusual and that makes for an interesting photograph.  Here, a great egret is flying over my position.  I love the backlighting through his wings and the juxtaposition of the tree as a diagonal from him.

#5 -   Red-winged Blackbird Singing

A day excursion to Merritt Island in the spring, I came across this beautifully lit and perched female red-winged blackbird.  A common subject in uncommon lighting.

#6 -   Great Egret with Chick

Sometimes an image actually tells a lie and that is one of the beauties of still photography.  In this image, the female is performing a wing stretch, but it looks like she is trying to shade her chick from the hot sun.  

#8 -   Male Great Egret Displaying

This is a ubiquitous shot that I have never captured, so it pretty much had to make the top 10.  Here I have photographed a great egret displaying for a female about 8 feet away.

#9 -   Tri-colored Heron Portrait

I love the detail in this portrait.

#10 -  Pine Warbler in Snow

Warblers in the snow.  What is not to like?