Winter highlights from our new trail cam

My parents got us a terrific gift for Xmas this year–a trail cam! We set it up in December at our upstate property (90 mins from NYC) and let it do its thing unattended until April.

The most notable thing it recorded? The lack of an actual winter. Over four months of photos, only once did snow appear in the background. Yikes. So, perhaps it’s not surprising that the camera caught quite a few critters out and about, day and night, who make frequent use of our driveway…

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Turkeys!

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Oh yay! It’s a…oh, just the neighbor’s dog.

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But wait, this is more interesting–a coyote, in the cold rain.

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An elusive coyote, again. Only partially photographed, though…(look over on the far right, top part of the driveway.)

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And here’s a raccoon.

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And of course, deer. (Lots and lots of deer. So. Many. Deers.)

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More deer. 

Feisty Northern Mockingbird will stare you down, and you will lose

On a recent trip to Corpus Christi,  I noticed a very non-shy bird flitting about my parents’ backyard, ambivalent to our presence. I grabbed my Dad’s Nikon and mega-zoom lens and waited for a good shot.

The bird, a Northern Mockingbird, cocked his head as soon as I started snapping away.

Who’s that? Someone entering my territory? And taking my picture? Ohnoshedidnt.

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He got close, really close. And he stared me down, menacingly. Those yellow eyes! That intimidating frown.

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YOU WIN!

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How I got the shot: Editing analysis of a recent Facebook fave of a sea turtle and a toddler

I’m a self-taught photo editor, and it really has become a surprising passion of mine. I’m far from expert level, but I love the challenge of making a good photo great (I’ve learned to set aside not-good photos; they’re too hard to salvage).

I’m also a paid editor of words, so in some ways my exploration into photo editing is just an expansion of my knowledge: To “tell the story better” not just verbally but visually.

I first realized I might be good at this when my Dad once asked me to view some of his photos and “do the thing you do where you make photos look better.” Since then, times have changed: Everyone now has access to basic editing software on their phones, and words like “cropping” and “rule of thirds” have become more commonplace.

Yet like writing, not everyone can do it well. It truly is a skill and an artform.

Recently a favorite wildlife photographer of mine, Marie Read, has been sharing her editing process. I’ve been fascinated and learned so much. I also have an inkling she also learns a lot from articulating her process and getting feedback–and it’s inspired me to do the same.

So here goes, using a recent example I shared on Facebook that really took off among my amigos. My parents recently spent a day with my daughter at the Texas State Aquarium, and took photos on their phones. This one in particular by my Dad caught my eye:

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It was in crisp focus–sometimes a challenging feat on a camera phone–so it became an immediate candidate for cropping, where I could play with various perspectives. Second, the water is a deeply beautiful and saturated turquoise, ripe for some slight color enhancement. And luckily, Adela’s clothing matched the water. (I inadvertently but perhaps subconsciously dressed her in all shades of blue that morning?!)

And here is where I ended up:

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I zoomed in much closer, so that the turtle’s eye is in the upper right quadrant, and Adela’s curls are adorably lifelike. After color processing, I lightened the turtle’s face to keep him/her a primary focal point. What we don’t see is Adela’s face, a now-trendy style common on Instagram. And it’s trendy for a good reason. It lets our minds create our own version, or story, of what’s happening, especially emotionally. We don’t actually know if they’re making eye contact, but we feel like it’s probably happening.

For me, this shot evoked a universal wonder and unease in all of us; our connection and separation from the natural world; our domination of the natural world paired with our fear of our own reckless domination.

Or maybe that’s just me overly projecting a cute moment. Edited on my phone with the terrific SnapSeed app.

For Earth Day: I present to you my very own Bald Eagle gif

I’ve expressed previous admiration for Google Photo’s “Auto-Awesome” feature. For whatever reason, it just alerted me to a random new .gif animation it made for me, based on a series of old photos I took of a bald eagle chilling in some winter sunlight in upstate New York. Thanks, Google! This one is worth sharing, as the animation gives the series greater impact than a slideshow or gallery would. Click to embiggen!
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The Many, Many ….Many…. Monkeys on Monkey Island, Puerto Rico

Rhesus monkey on Monkey Island

During our February trip to the Southeastern coast of Puerto Rico, Brendan and I booked an excursion with Barefoot Travelers to kayak out to the waters surrounding Monkey Island (Cayo Santiago), located a few kilometers off the coast near Humacao, for snorkeling and watching hundreds of non-native Rhesus monkeys jump, swing, run and swim.

Unless you’re one of the approved researchers conducting behavioral/cognitive investigations of primates (um, as the mother of a toddler, I could argue that I do belong to this group), you’re not allowed to make landfall. Instead you must watch from afar as they…monkey about.

The monkeys are definitely wild, as no interventions of their behavior are allowed (though having a human follow you around with a clipboard all day could definitely make you modify your movements).

However, watching the monkeys wasn’t my favorite part of the trip. What I really enjoyed was the snorkeling of “Monkey Reef,” which is actually a partially submerged boat that used to transport sugarcane. In just a few feet of water you can see beach-ball sized puffer fish, octopi (we saw two!), psychedelically colored angelfish and scores of giant schools of squirrel fish. In February in Puerto Rico the water is warm, wonderful and loaded with wildlife. No photos of the beauty below the water, but I do have a few more of the monkeys and the island:

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Oh and a trip photo of MY wild-haired monkey child (right), and her cousin:

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Prepare to be mesmerized by Snickers the porcupine

My first porcupine-in-the-wild setting happened at our home upstate. Several years ago, Brendan and I were standing in our kitchen, and I noticed a huge brown mass way up high in a white pine tree. After much research that mainly consisted of staring until it moved, we realized it was a porcupine. And then we noticed another. And another. They were everywhere!

And how did they hide right in front of us? During the day, they are nearly motionless, napping, their little limbs splayed out over a tree branch. Except for the babies. The following summer, we saw babies galore, active during the day, chomping down on baby leaves and walking down the street (eeek).

While we love having them around — who cares if they eat our tree bark?! — they don’t add a ton of personality to the place. They’re the quiet background animals, balancing out the mischievous groundhog, the feisty chimpunks and red squirrels, and the ever-frantic hummingbirds.

And then I found out about Snickers! He’s a resident of the Animal Wildlife Conservation Center, and he’s a bit of a YouTube star. I’ll never look at our porcupines the same:

Things I learned while trapped at Petco

I needed to get the elderly puppeh a new harness, so I went to Union Square‘s Petco on my lunch break. Lightning, thunder, boom: Suddenly, it was raining cats and dogs (oh, har har har, cough, wheeeeeze).

Given my distaste for getting drenched, I decided to shelter-in-place and wandered downstairs to the endlessly fascinating basement floor, where I picked up a few new factoids for if I ever make it onto Jeopardy:

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They make little one-size-fits-all hats for little rodents!

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And wedding dresses. Or maybe christening gowns? Either way, I want to attend the celebration.

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Rabbits can be adopted, and Bagel is the most furtastic rabbit name ever.

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Wow: The Petco rodent menagerie gets more respect (and is better fed…and better dressed) than patients at the hospital I gave birth at.

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Wait, what’s that about the hospital? Oh, let’s not open that can of…whoa! It’s a real thing?! Grodes!

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Clownfish are the George Clooneys of the aquarium aisle. Hello, handsome.

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Poor Betta fish: As a kid, I pitied their miserable experience. Sad to see they’re still the common peasants of the aquarium aisle, and they’ve been downgraded to living in take-out containers.

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But let’s not end on that sad note. Three words: GUINEA PIG HARNESSES!