Friday, April 19, 2013

Heading Home

Our trip north was relatively uneventful except for the new channel we were glued to as we drove. It’s been a surreal five days with all that has happened in Boston, MA. As I sit here trying to put my thoughts in order in regards to the events; the bombings at the marathon, the search for evidence, the discovery of CCTV footage and the release of suspects’ photos, the quick demise of one suspect and the long lockdown of a city and it’s suburbs, it’s a good feeling to know the last suspect is in custody. I have no photos to show for the more than 300 miles we covered today and quite honestly those photos would pale in comparison to the events being followed on radio and tv. Northward and home tomorrow!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Cretaceous Park Doesn't Have The Same Ring!

So, the weather was less than cooperative on Thursday. We awoke to a thicker than Pea Soup fog that didn’t seem to left all day. I watched for a bright spot, hoping for a bit of sun but to no avail. All week we’ve been driving by this closed miniature golf course at the end of the street. The appeal for me was the place was crawling with dinosaurs. Okay, not really crawling but there were a bunch. I thought this might make for an interesting photo or two. And throughout the week, we always had things to do and places to go. But not today. So, during a time when the light coming through our windows seemed to brighten, I grabbed my camera and headed for the corner. Upon arriving at the closed golf course, I noticed a bunch of activity. There were people ripping up the old carpet, cleaning the “fairways” while others were laying new carpet and putting fresh paint on some of the other props. I walked up to a couple of guys manning a rake and a hose to ask if they knew who was the owner or in charge. They indicated I could speak with them. Now, I don’t consider myself a bold individual but I am getting a bit more backbone when it comes to asking for access to what I want to shoot, especially when it involves private property. This is a key piece of information for all of you shutterbugs. Any shot you can achieve from a public place, park, sidewalk, road, etc. is fair game but the moment you step onto private property, even if it’s in the driveway, you must have permission from the landowner. After procuring the necessary permission with a warning to keep off the carpet, I began trying to capture these dinosaurs. Easy, right? Wrong! This is a busy street corner in a major city. There are wires over head. It’s a place set up for the public with lots of lighting because theoretically one could play the course during the evening hours. All of these things add to the difficulty in trying to capture a “believable” image. Now, I know there are no more dinosaurs but hey, I really wanted to get something I could turn into a note card to sell. I have dozens of photos young ladies find interesting but very few photos equally interesting for young men. And who doesn’t love dinosaurs. Four of the creatures were relatively uncomplicated; the velociraptor,  brachiosaurus, T-Rex and the frilled and hooded Dilophosaurus. Proving much more difficult were the two armored dinosaurs and most difficult was the stegosaurus, the image I wanted most to bring home. By evening, the sky finally turned mostly blue with a few wispy clouds. We grabbed a quick supper and headed off to grab a sunset before heading home in the morning. We found a lovely spot just over the Maryland-Delaware border and waited. The timing had been perfect. I had enough time to set up the tripod, police the area for stray branches in the way and take a few test shots. About 3 other vehicles pulled in with the same idea, to enjoy a beautiful end of day. As I am fond of saying, “I enjoy taking sunrise and sunset shots. There is one of each every day but each is very different.” And I wasn’t disappointed this evening. The orange ball slowly slunk away from the daylight tossing a bit of color to the immediate vicinity but no further. I waited for a full half hour after the sun was below the horizon knowing the show, the best color, hangs on until the last. But it wasn’t meant to be on this evening.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Misty’s Chincoteague

We drove the 1 ½ hours to the Virginia end of Assateague Island in hopes of seeing so many more wild ponies. But I was secretly concerned after we spoke with the volunteer at the Visitor’s Center. She told us how Tropical Storm Sandy had trashed the fences and the ponies had run rampant all over the Nature reserve. Well, why not? I thought to myself. I mean aren’t they the whole reason the reserve is here to begin with? As it turns out, the answer is NO. This end of the island is actually dedicated to Sika Deer, the DelMarva Fox Squirrel and a nesting sanctuary for thousands of waterfowl. The Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department have secure grazing rights for their ponies and the herd is restricted to one end of the island. Knowing this, I thought with 150 ponies in a restricted area, there should be tons of viewing opportunities. We drove onto the reserve and straight to the trailhead that would lead to the pony viewing platform. The Woodland Trail is a paved easy 1 ½ mile loop through a forest devastated by Sandy’s power. Huge 200 foot tall pines were laid over while others were snapped like toothpicks 25-30 feet from the ground. Once out to the platform, my fears were realized although I hadn’t yet been able to voice them. Before us was hundred of acres of brown cord grass and not a single pony in sight. We waited for about 20 minutes but no ponies appeared. We found ourselves headed back to the shady path but somewhat quieter than we had been before. About 15 minutes further down the path was a trampled pathway through the briars and leading to the edge of the cord grass marsh. Our first impression was one of curiosity and the second was of hope. By the time we had reached the edge of the marshy area, Carl had spotted the first pony, a wildly marked brown and white pinto standing on a pine covered hummock about 100 yards from the edge of the 4 strand barbed wire fencing. We could just barely make out one or two more ponies in the shaded brush and trees. The  natural camouflage was amazingly effective. We worked our way out to the fence and set up the tripod for my camera. All that commotion got the attention of the pinto who decided those strange creatures near the fence were worth investigation so it slowly came out, nibbling here and there on the grass while the whole while keeping an eye on us. Slowly legs shifted on the hummock until we could see several members of the band. In all, there were 7 and we spent about an hour photographing them until they grazed their way out of range of my lens. On our way back to the trail, I breathed a huge sigh of relief and Carl mentioned how glad he was to find some ponies after having traveled that distance. We had planned to take a short trail named Bivalve off the Woodland trail but as we approached the sign for the turn, I froze. There, in front of me, was a very pregnant pony standing on the pavement about 100 feet in front of me. I grabbed a shot or two as she turned down the trail. I looked at Carl with a big smile on my face but he pointed back towards the sign. There on the path were two more very pregnant mares and they, too, turned down the Bivalve Trail. We slowly followed so as not to spook them. The trail was a mere ¼ mile and ended in Tom’s Cove, a tranquil body of water with a narrow beach running along the shore. It wasn’t the water or sand that had drawn the ponies here however. It was the rich new growth of cord grass about a foot tall. I stood almost transfixed by the sheer beauty of them as they chomped on the succulent shoots. We were so close we could easily hear the sucking sounds their hooves made in the mud as they moved from clump to clump. Their teeth ripped off large mouthfuls at a time and you could hear them chewing slowly, relishing every salty bit. I’ve read the ponies drink twice the fresh water domestic horses drink due to their higher than usual salt intake. Carl asked me about the mares being alone without a stallion for “protection”. And while I don’t have an official answer, I mentioned how some animals leave the herd to give birth alone which also includes that protective stallion. I was more curious about why they were on this side of the fencing and then it occurred to me Sandy had knocked down the fences and the Fire Department Cowboys had missed these three. Maybe there were more roaming around the reserve and we should find them! After 50 or so photos taken of the fat trio, I said goodbye and we returned to the parking area to have a bite of lunch. We drove to the beach and looked around for more pony opportunities. There were dozens of people, fishing, sunbathing, playing in the surf and even a couple flying kites but no ponies. I’ve read they save their beach time for the hot summer months where the breezes and cooling waters help to alleviate some of the bug miseries. Lastly we found ourselves at the Marsh Trail which wanders around one side of the Wildlife Loop, a 3 mile walking bike path that is open to vehicles after 3:00. As we were finishing the last ¼ mile of the Marsh Trail, I spotted a lone pony directly across from us with a large body of water separating us. It was just 3:00 and Carl decided to return the borrowed binoculars to the Visitor’s Center before we drove the loop. And as luck would have it, after returning the binoculars and driving the 3 mile Loop very slowly, it put us in a perfect position to get some beautiful shots of the lone pony, a stallion. I have to believe this is the band stallion for the fat trio of mares. At some point in the near future, they will rejoin him with their foals at their side. I wish I could be there for that moment. All together we saw and photographed 11 individuals from the Chincoteague herd. There were differences even though they are the same. These animals have the benefit of human intervention, health care at least once a year and they are also carrying marks, both brands and adhesive numbers attached to help quickly tell them apart from one another. Although I can’t prove it, I believe these animals are a bit larger and have sleeker coats. I do, however, take exception to the foals being taken from their dams at such an early age, some of them being no more than 3 months of age. But what do I know? They have been rounding them up for more than 70 years and will continue to do so. I’m just thrilled I was able to experience these beautiful animals in their natural home while they still exist. I’m going home a happy camper!

Monday, April 15, 2013

A Couple Great Days

Okay, so I have aching muscles and sore feet to remind me of how much fun I’m having in Ocean City, MD. I mean, when was the last time I walked 3 miles? It doesn’t matter the walking was on the boardwalk, all one level and at a leisurely pace. It just matters there was that much energy expended. We enjoyed a quick lunch at a restaurant called Gordito’s Burritos for, what else, tacos and a side excursion for a couple of souvenirs. That pretty much took the bulk of Saturday and although there were few photo ops, I did manage to snap a couple of interesting pics. Now Sunday was a totally different matter. We traveled about 15 miles to Assateague Island, home of the Atlantic Barrier Island Wild Ponies. There is some speculation how they came to be there but genetically, these animals started out as horses about 300 years ago. Start with harsh weather conditions, add a poor diet consisting of mostly salty cord grass and no new blood introduced in that 300 years and you find yourself with an extremely hardy ruggedly built and sure footed easy keeper with the stature of a pony and general physical characteristics of a horse. Assateague Island is divided at the Maryland-Virginia state line by a post and rail fence. The bands on either side of the boundary number approximately 150; the herd on MD soil belonging to the National Park Service and the ones on VA soil the property of The Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department. The VA bands are rounded up every July and the foals are auctioned to help maintain the maximum number allowed by the Park Service’s grazing permits.  The MD bands are not thinned in this manner but their reproduction is controlled by a hormonal injection given to select mares each year. All my life, I have longed to visit these incredible and durable horses ( ponies ) and on this day, April 14th, that dream has been realized. We approached the island by way of the Verrazano Bridge. I wondered out loud how long it would be before we saw our first pony. I had voiced a similar question of the Bison in Yellowstone. There it had taken just 30 minutes before that first massive beast appeared. This time it was only about 1 ½ minutes. We weren’t even off the bridge when I spotted  a small band of three in the distance and another group of two just a couple minutes after that. All five were quite a ways from the road so we passed on these hoping for a closer viewing opportunity. That first contact with an observable family group or band, about 20 minutes later, was at the Old Ferry Landing. There, just across a narrow shallow waterway, were 8 mature ponies, some grazed while others stood in the warm April sun just soaking it in. At first I couldn’t determine mares from stallions due to the distance but some time later, while observing them from another vantage point, I could see the chestnut with the flaxen mane and dark tail standing off to one side was clearly the one in charge. We roamed all the drivable parts, walked a few of the trails and even stopped by to check out the campgrounds. And as it happened, in one of these campgrounds, we found another small band of 4. After lunch and a check of the beach to see if there were any ponies building sand castles (j/k) we headed off with the intention of going home. We hadn’t traveled more than a mile outside the park when we had one more opportunity to observe another average sized group. This one had 7 members with one of them being much younger than the others. We took a bunch of photos from the road but then Carl suggested we might try working our way through the woods out onto a spit of land halving the distance to them. Not only did we find ourselves closer but from that vantage, we observed most of the band were slowly grazing their way closer to us. In fact, before we were done, 3 of the members would walk off the salt marsh right past us, close enough for me to reach out and touch but I kept my finger on the shutter happily snapping away. We backed out of their way and allowed them to pass without incident. You see, these are truly wild animals and no matter how used to people they have become, something can change in an instant resulting in people being bitten, kicked or run over. And sometimes the ponies’ interactions with people have lead to their deaths. Cars are the aggressor on the island where there are no natural predators to concern them. I went home a happy photographer after sighting  25 different ponies. Today, the weather was against us with a forecast of showers and cool temperatures so we decided to stay close to home. I got some much needed housekeeping done before we zipped off to the movies to see “42”. Tomorrow, the plan is to travel to the VA end of the island.  More photos of wild ponies coming up!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

____ Miles From Home

If we fill in the blanks, our trip began much like this. 50 miles from home, the snow completely disappeared. 100 miles from home, there was a distinct greening of the grass beside the highway. By the time we had traveled 150 miles from home, we could see the first signs of leaves fighting to wake up on the trees. When we found ourselves 200 miles from home, the Forsythia bushes were in full bloom. And it was exciting to note that when we reached 250 miles from home, the daffodils and flowering trees were vibrant in their yellows and pinks. And although the entire trip was highway miles, it was not a boring trip. We saw many Red tailed Hawks which, it turns out, are camera shy. We tried backing up on Rte 91 for several hundred yards as the Hawk, in the photo, flew from tree to tree, just out of reach of my lens. Later in the day, I missed a beautiful tom Turkey displaying for a small group of hens. It’s very difficult to slam on the brakes when you’re going 65 mph in 4 lanes of traffic. I now understand why the state name for NJ is the “garden state”. This part of the Garden State Parkway we traveled this evening is downright rural, complete with small herds of black tailed deer and salt flats. We are staying at the Econo Lodge in Somers Point, NJ. It’s not much but then it’s only a place for Carl to recharge his batteries from his 500 plus miles of driving.
Tomorrow we’ll drive to Cape May and get on the ferry to take us to Lewes,  DE. From there, we’ll drive to Ocean City, MD to spend the week. I’ll post more later, I promise!