When the image you hoped for doesn’t materialize

From far above the river I saw this great blue heron standing still on the rocks below. It was right on the river’s edge, waiting patiently for a passing meal. I carefully made my way down over fallen tree limbs and loose rocks. As I got closer I would stop occasionally and make a few photographs. After about five minutes I’d edge myself closer and wait and shoot some more. Then scoot a little closer still. I eventually got myself into a good position about 15 to 20 feet away.

From the moment I first saw the heron I imagined a photo of a good size fish struggling in that stiletto beak. I waited over an hour, sitting uncomfortably on solid rock, hoping for the bird to snag a catfish or bass from the water. There were several attempts, yet each came up empty. From my perch above I could see the occasional shadow of a fish swim by, but the heron either didn’t see it or it was too far out of reach to even try.

At one point another heron landed nearby. It was apparently just a little too close for comfort and this one chased it off. Then as it made its way back to its fishing spot I made this shot. Ultimately, other obligations made it impossible to stay any longer so I never got the fish-in-beak shot. But I’ll be back. And so will the herons. I’ll get the shot. Just going to take some patience.

Great blue heron at the potomac river near great falls, Virginia.

Sometimes the image you hoped for doesn’t materialize.
But that shouldn’t mean you come away with nothing.



Great Blue Heron, C&O Canal NHP.

I photographed this young great blue heron the other morning in one of the locks at the C&O Canal National Historical Park in Potomac, Maryland.

Preening helps keep feathers in tip-top condition; realigning feathers for better aerodynamics, removing parasites and spreading secreted oils to each feather for waterproofing.

Great Blue Heron at the C&O Canal NHP in Potomac, Maryland.

Great Blue Heron at the C&O Canal NHP.

Wildlife Photography with an iPhone.

Move slowly, be patient. This is my mantra when it comes to wildlife. And it is especially important when you’re without a telephoto lens!

This morning as I walked along the C&O Canal towpath I saw a heron far up ahead as it landed on the edge of the trail. I was armed only with my iPhone so I thought I’d see how close I could get before it took off. And who knows, I thought, maybe it’ll fly in my general direction and I’ll get a shot as it soars past.

This was my first photo. (I’ve edited out many more that were repetitious and didn’t add to the story) From this point on I closed in… little by little, pausing between each small step.



The bird did not seem troubled by my presence so I pushed on. Step… Pause… Step… Pause…



At this point I was kind of hoping the creature would just take off and give me that nice action shot I was thinking about. A bird standing still isn’t all that remarkable. But no… It seemed to be perfectly content to hang out. So I moved closer. Step… Pause…



Now it’s just getting ridiculous. I’m within 10 feet! It has to be feeling a little uncomfortable with this human’s presence, right? Surely you want to fly away! Apparently not.



The heron simply saunters a few feet down the path and stops there. However, now a bicyclist is barrelling down the path toward us and I feel certain this will freak the bird out and send it on its way. Action shot to come!



Nope. The creature casually ignores the bike and opens its wings and begins to dry itself in the sun. Its not going anywhere. OK, fine. Now I’m thinking, if it will let a mountain bike zoom past at close range I should be able to walk behind it and get a decent backlit photo from there. So I work my way slowly in that direction. (Careful to avoid that big pile of horse crap there on the left!)



I move around the backside and get into position. This photo will be OK, I think. Not great. But OK. Then I notice the water stretching out to the right has interesting shadows and light. So I move a little further to my left. And…



There. Much better. A groovy silhouette.

great blue heron silhouette. c&o canal nhp. potomac, maryland.


From start to finish this took about 15 minutes. Slow, deliberate movements, a laid back bird, and constantly on the lookout for an interesting composition, I finally ended up with this. Not bad for an iPhone, I’d say.

Thanks for tuning in.

Good light and good shooting.

Taking on the Billy Goat Trail

Although hiking the Billy Goat Trail was more of an effort at 52 than I remember it being at 22, I did make it to the end! I’d forgotten what a spectacular hike it is. Definitely going back again soon.

Hope you enjoy this video.

YouTube: Potomac River Gorge, NPS 100

This is the first in my new weekly series on YouTube celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the U.S. National Park Service. Tune in as I share my favorite National Park entity, the Potomac River Gorge! (Also, photography tips!)


This is Kiko. The oldest male orang-utan (“Person of the Forest”) at the National Zoo in DC.

Male orang-utans have a home range of approximately 11 sq miles. They can travel up to two miles a day in search of food in the rainforests of Sumatra and Borneo. Habitat destruction and — of course — hunting by humans are the main threats to their survival.

I have a great ambivalence towards zoos. I am equally fascinated and troubled by them. As I was watching this fellow stare out at us from his enclosure I admit a deep sadness began to wash over me. He is an amazing creature and I could sit there all day just watching and observing his behavior… even occasionally try to make eye contact with him. But ultimately I couldn’t get past the fact that he’s in a zoo… in Washington DC.

Far from “home.”

Kiko. Adult male orangutan at the National Zoo.

Safe from poachers, but far from free.


MAPS at Jug Bay

Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship (MAPS) is a nationwide program that studies and tracks songbird populations.  I visited the Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary in Maryland in the Spring of 2012 to document its staff and volunteers as they went about collecting and recording data of various avian residents. (Do visit them if you find yourself in the area. Beautiful place and good people!)

It's an early start at Jug Bay. Mike Quinlan is first to arrive at 6 AM. He opens all 14 nets situated around the sanctuary then helps lead the all volunteer crew as they capture, measure, weigh and band various song birds for the MAPS program.

It’s an early start at Jug Bay. Mike Quinlan is first to arrive at 6 AM. He opens all 14 nets situated around the sanctuary, he then
helps lead the all volunteer crew as they capture, measure, weigh and band various song birds for the MAPS program.

Portrait of an adult red-eyed vireo.

Portrait of an adult red-eyed vireo.

Tufted titmouse at Jug Bay, Maryland

Tufted titmouse. Awaiting extraction from one of the mist nets.

Measuring the wing of a tufted titmouse. Jug Bay, Maryland

Measuring the wing of a tufted titmouse.

Northern cardinal at Jug Bay, Maryland.

Male northern cardinal registering a complaint.

Jug Bay, Maryland. Bird banding crew.

Volunteers are urged to bring sturdy, comfortable footwear. It is a one mile round trip to
visit all 14 net locations in the sanctuary, and there are 6 rounds each outing.

Sandy teliak photographs a prothonotary warbler for his records. Jug Bay, Maryland.

Sandy Teliak, one of the volunteer leads, photographs a prothonotary warbler for his records.

adult male scarlet tanager.

There’s no mistaking an adult male scarlet tanager.

jug bay MAPS study.

Mike Quinlan and Sandy Teliak take measurements as Karen Caruso (center) records the data.

A male prothonotary warbler ready to take flight after banding.

Male prothonotary warbler ready to take flight after banding.

View of Jug Bay from the visitor center's overlook deck.

View of Jug Bay from the visitor center’s overlook deck.

Friday Photo Tip: Fill Flash

Eastern bluebird. 

Don’t be afraid to fish out the flash from your camera bag when shooting in nature. Too often a strobe is used only for lighting up people in dark situations.

Nature should look natural, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enhance it a bit. And that’s what fill flash does. If you want to get those natural colors to really pop and if you want to see a little catch light in the creature’s eye, just throw a little light in there. Makes a world of difference.

I like to expose for the scene and then dial down the flash about a stop and a half. Maybe two stops. Experiment.

Dialing down the flash keeps it from blowing out the scene; keeps it more natural looking.

A male eastern bluebird at the C & O Canal in Maryland.

A male eastern bluebird at the C & O Canal in Maryland.