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Happy New Year from New Mexico

Bruce and I want to wish everyone a very Happy New Year from Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge!

Oh, and it seems we had a white Christmas after all and the “natives” are thrilled!

Dancing Sandhill Cranes surrounded by Snow Geese

 

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Arctic Wolves in Oregon?

 (Mary Lou Dickson)

I found a rare strange place in Tidewater, Oregon, an Arctic Wolf reserve.  Named the White Wolf Sanctuary and Educational Facility, it’s an animal rescue for abused Arctic Wolves.   I have to say that I have very mixed feelings about my visit there.   Personally, I’m all for rescuing abused animals.  And I have very definite views on keeping exotic animals as pets.   Frankly, I think it’s a bad idea.   And I believe all captive animals need to be treated with care, respect and love.   So what was my real problem here?   I think I felt I was perceived as one of the bad guys.

First, why did I want to go to this reserve?   Well, to see Arctic Wolves up close and personal.  To take some really nice photographs of the wolves, which I am unlikely ever to see in the wild.   I am used to going to zoos and under the right circumstances being able to get some really great photographs.   Is that really bad?   I am at heart a wildlife photographer.  Thus opportunities to see wildlife up close and personal, without some of the danger and expense of a big safari is alright by me.

Since this was my motive for going,  I was rather disappointed to be greeted at the gate by the owner who had a great disdain for photographers,  even to the point of threatening to outlaw all photography at the reserve.  She seemed to think that all photographers were evil and out to exploit her wolves.   My impression was she thought making money by selling likenesses of her wolves on greeting cards was a sin, basically because the photographer was not giving any of the profits of these sales to the reserve.   Clearly, keeping exotic animals is expensive, and the reserve does have to find ways to support itself.   But is it really wrong to expect to be able to photograph captive animals?   I agree that exploitation of any animal is wrong.   However, if I am respectful of the animals and concerned for their safety, but I also want to take their picture, does that make me evil?   Have we as wildlife photographers failed to be good citizens?   Am I paying for the bad behavior of others?  What do you think?

- Mary Lou Dickson
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We have won an award!

Dickson Images is thrilled to have been recognized with the Liebster Blog Award.  We would like to sincerely thank Bonnie Vesley for our nomination.   I had the opportunity to met Bonnie during a recent online writers challenge hosted by Robert Lee Brewer on his website, My Name Is Not Bob.    It was a great experience to participate in the month-long challenge, where I not only build an online platform but new friendships as well.   To learn more about the platform challenge, please read Bonnie’s article, “Challenge Yourself, Change Your Life”, where she provides a complete and informative discussion of Robert’s recent media challenge.

The Liebster Blog requirements are:
1. Thank the one who nominated you by linking back.
2. Nominate five blogs with fewer than 200 followers.
3. Let your nominees know by leaving a comment on their sites.
4. Add the award image to your site.

Liebster Blog Award

So, here are my nominees:

Patrick Satters at http://patricksatters.blogspot.com/

Sarah Turnbull at http://lumpedtogether.com/

April Galloway at http://melodypearson.com/

Juan Pons at http://juanpons.org/

J. Chachula at http://www.theflyingmachine.net/

Thanks again Bonnie!

Busy Moon

Ring of Fire Eclipse by Bruce Dickson

Well, hasn’t the moon been busy putting on a show this month?  First, the full moon occurred at perigee,  creating a “super-moon”, where the full moon appears bigger and brighter than normal.    Next,  the new moon passed between the Earth and the Sun to create a “Ring of Fire” eclipse which was visible from the western United States.  Supermoon rising by Bruce Dickson

Since Bruce and I are traveling through California, we were lucky enough to not only see both astronomical events, but to actually photograph them.   In the case of the super moon, we were treated to clear skies and the full moon rising near perigee bathed in a beautiful yellow color.   Quite spectacular!

For the solar eclipse, we had positioned ourselves right in the umbra path of the eclipse in Crescent City, CA, where we expected to watch the eclipse from the beach on the Pacific Ocean.   Of course, we knew the danger with this strategy, as the major weather comes in off the Pacific and it generates the famous fog that sustains the mighty coastal redwoods.  Oh yeah, there are big trees here too, which can block the view.   Well, as you might expect, as the time of the eclipse approached we realized the weather was not going to totally cooperate.  It was becoming overcast.    So, we needed to decide whether we would have better luck going inland (did I mention there are big trees here) or going further down the coast to escape the clouds.    I looked at the radar and we decided we would have the best luck driving south.   And if we went far enough south, then going inland would again become another option.     So we hopped in the car and headed south and were almost immediately treated to sunshine.   Good sign, but the eclipse was still several hours off.

We were not certain how far south we needed to drive, but I suggested the Redwood National and State Parks visitor center which is on the southern end of the park and on the ocean, which would afford us some nice sky views.   We stopped several places along the way and received many opinions about the best place to try and see the eclipse.   It was becoming an interesting day.   We finally arrived at the Visitor Center and we could see the clouds moving in.  Oh yeah,  the fog bank was just off shore.   The rangers in the Visitor Center believed there would be breaks in the clouds and fog that we would be able to see the eclipse.   So we needed to decide, stay or keep driving.

Bruce and I looked at each other and realized this was one of those times to stop and trust.   So we decided to stay.   We had our safety glasses and Bruce had a solar film for the camera lens.   We joined a small group of like-minded people on the beach and waited for the show.    It was a beautiful evening with the Pacific Ocean glassy calm.    The sun played tag with the clouds.  Finally, when the time came, we got our break and watched the Ring of Fire form on the sun.   Pretty awesome!

- Mary Lou Dickson
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Welcome to the All-You-Can-Eat Buffet

Lunge feeding Humpback Whales, Mother and Calf

What mother hasn’t struggled feeding her hungry teenager?  No matter what you put in front of them, they gobble it up.   You can blow through a weeks worth of groceries in an afternoon, if you’re not careful.  Can you imagine the cost if your hungry teenager would only eat fresh seafood?  Particularly if they gulp down 4000 to 5000 pounds of krill a day.  Ouch!

So like so many other tourists, whales know to visit Monterey Bay to feast on the freshest seafood around.   In season, it’s a proverbial All-You-Can-Eat buffet.   The humpback whales use a technique of cooperation, where they herd the krill together.  Once the krill are concentrated,  the whales lunge, filling their enormous mouths with krill and seawater.  The whales then squeeze the water out, filtering the krill with their baleen.

We were fortunate to see this action, up close and personal last Sunday afternoon with Captain Jim.   We were aboard the “High Spirits”, a very comfortable whale watching boat of Blue Ocean Whale Watching of Moss Landing California.   We took advantage of the upper deck, which is accessible to passengers, to be able to anticipate some of the action.   While Captain Jim carefully followed between 6 to 8 humpback whales, we watched as they gorged themselves on the krill.   A flock of Sooty Shearwaters also took advantage of the whales herding of the krill by feasting on the leftovers.   The on board naturalist, Kate, said she saw a Black-footed Albatross, but I missed it.  Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to do another trip.

– Mary Lou Dickson
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“Otter 501″- a must see family movie

Sea otter raft in Moss Landing Harbor, CA

Living on the road, it is always a blessing when you find a safe and comfortable campground with friendly and helpful staff.   It’s a godsend when you find a place that makes you feel so much at home, you never want to leave.  Bruce and I have found such a place at the Moss Landing KOA with their wonderful hosts  John and Jaye.  We have been fortunate enough to have spent the last several weeks in Moss Landing California, really getting to know the place.

So we considered ourselves very lucky when we were invited to share in a screening of the official pre-theatrical release DVD of a new movie from Sea Studios Foundation and Paladin Films entitled “Otter 501.”  The movie was shot on location in the Monterey Bay area, including specifically Moss Landing.  It follows the saga of an orphaned sea otter pup and the young woman who found it.

The movie has a very strong conservation message,  which was nicely balanced with personal interest segments and beautifully scored nature segments.  The story is told from the young woman’s point of view and allows the viewer the chance to learn about the life of sea otters and to develop concern for their perils.  To quote Jack Hanna, the Director Emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and a personal hero of mine, “We will not protect or care about what we do not know.”  This film clearly lets the audience get to know and care about sea otters, thus opening the door to wanting to help protect them.  You can’t ask more than that.

I really enjoyed this movie.  I thought the cinematography was stunning.  It was very entertaining while also being very educational.  I would really enjoy sharing this movie with the grandkids.

To learn more about the movie “Otter 501”, check out the film’s Facebook page or their website.

– Mary Lou Dickson
Connect with me on Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter, and  Facebook.

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Safe harbor

Moss Landing Harbor, Moss Landing, California

Everyone needs a safe harbor.  A place to rest and recuperate.  A place to wait out a storm.  A place to gather strength before starting a new adventure.  Moss Landing Harbor is just such a place.

I have stood on the harbor bridge just about every day for the last month and although its appearance changes daily, its function does not.  It is a safe harbor to all who enter.  Here, fisherman unload their daily catch and returning whale watchers stow their binoculars.  Meanwhile sea otters, harbor seals and California sea lions sunbathe or take mud baths, while Western Grebes, Common Loons, Hooded Mergansers and American White Pelicans find easy meals.  The harbor’s quiet waters offer sanctuary for the all weary travelers of the world.

Everyone needs a safe harbor.  So where’s yours?

Life on the (bumpy) road

Traffic waiting in line at a construction zone

It is sad to say, but the grandly named Eisenhower Interstate System is a mess. In the past year we have driven the entire length of Interstate 95 from Florida to the Canadian border, and Interstate 40 from North Carolina to California. In general, the road surface is like driving on corrugated iron. Driving a section of I-40 near Statesville NC, the noise of rattling crockery in the motor home drowned out Jimmy Buffet on Sirius XM. This part of the road was surfaced in concrete, which would be OK if someone had actually bothered to smooth it out when it was laid. But no, it felt more like the concrete was poured from a fast moving truck and left to harden. And then there are the blacktop sections with more patches than Joseph’s Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. At least the concrete ripples are predictable. Driving a 26,000 pound vehicle with a car in tow on patched blacktop induces a hop skip & jump kind of feeling. On some sections, never ending convoys of tractor trailers have created deep ruts that rival the Chisholm Trail. Changing lanes becomes a case of jerking the wheel over hard and hoping like heck that the little Honda on the towbar can make it out of the trench.

“Construction Zone Ahead, Speeding Fines Doubled” says the sign, which is then followed by a 10 mile crawl on a single lane delineated by half a million cones and barrels. But there’s not a single worker in sight. Double fines? For what? Running down an innocent orange cone? Down in Florida every cone and barrel on I-95 is stenciled “Bob’s Barricades”. I’m going to buy me some stock in that company.

The State of Maine has had the audacity to make part of I-95 a toll road! Fortunately it’s a fairly short section since Maine is a small state. I recall driving the road yelling “I want my seven bucks back!” at the top of my lungs and being drowned out by the noise of falling objects behind me. That experience was trumped, however, on I-40 in California when a particularly loud crashing noise caused us to pull off at the next rest stop. Turns out, those little plastic nut things that hold the toilet seat in place had vibrated completely off, causing the seat to go into freefall as we passed over a particularly deep pothole.

Talking of California, that cash strapped state has come up with a low cost alternative to highway maintenance. Instead of fixing their roads, they just throw up “Rough Road Ahead” signs and walk away from the problem. They could save even more money by just putting up one of the signs at the State Line and be done with it.

Well, we finally made it to a campground. Time to tighten the loose wheel nuts, replace some broken light bulbs and pick up all the stuff on the floor.

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Stop and take a closer look

Yellow-footed Gull, Larus livens

All photographers have done it.   We happen on an easy photographic subject, so we shoot it.   The subject was not something specific which we needed for our collection or had always wanted to see and photograph.   Nor was it displaying any courting rituals or in some unusual habitat or in any particularly spectacular light or protecting and raising it’s young.   No, in this case, it was a gull on a dock post.   Who hasn’t seen that?

Well, certainly any good bird photographer has.   And of all the gulls we photograph, how many of us never identify the species?   Oh, it’s just another gull.   Well, not today, this is no ordinary Herring or Western Gull, this one is a Yellow-footed Gull, Larus livens.   Once considered a sub-species of Western Gull, they are now defined as a distinct species.   According to the American Birding Association, they are a class 2 bird, limited in number or range, which is normally the Gulf of California in Mexico or southern California.   So my sighting of this one near Monterey Bay is pretty unusual.   But of course I did not know that when I photographed the bird, it was only when I tried to identify it after the fact did I find out, it was a rather rare bird.

So sometimes it does pay to stop and take that closer look.

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After the storm

Salinas River State Beach, Moss Landing CA

Two days after a series of storms blew in off the Pacific, Monterey Bay looks beautiful again.   The storms produced major rain, hail, high winds and even snow in the Salinas Valley.  However, looking at the beach this morning, you certainly could not tell.    First, the beach was surprisingly clean.   I would have expected debris and trash to be littering the beach, but I really didn’t see any.   The high waves that were pounding the shore have subsided and the constant surf has returned to its more rhythmic regularity.

Next, I watched the tiny Western Sandpipers dance in the waves trying not to get their feathers wet.    They were really quite amusing to watch, since they seemed to be putting so much effort into running away from the waves, only to run back twice as fast onto the wet sand to grab a tasty morsel.   A line of twelve Brown Pelicans skimmed the ocean surface, paralleling the shore.   They glided just above the breakers and occasionally had to pull up rapidly, as a wave broke unexpectedly.   The pelicans were joined by a small flock of Western Gulls and a couple of Turkey Vultures who also seemed to be enjoying riding the wind.   Peace and calm has returned, well at least until the next major weather system moves in some time next weekend.