Cherokee Prairie

Cherokee Prairie

Each spring, I look forward to visiting Cherokee Prairie, an Arkansas Natural Heritage Site. There are a number of pieces of land in Arkansas similar to this; allowed to grow naturally, with only foot traffic allowed.
This spring, I’ve been able to make several visits to the Prairie, and here’s some of what I’ve seen – and photographed.
Among the first wildflowers to bloom is Indian Paintbrush. I visited once and they were just beginning to show color; a later visit and the Prairie was nearly covered with the colorful red flowers.

Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea), Cherokee Prairie, near Charleston, Arkansas

Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea), Cherokee Prairie, near Charleston, Arkansas

Then, in the midst of the red flowers was this yellow version.

 

A yellow version of Indian Paintbrush

A yellow version of Indian Paintbrush

 

Here’s another image (my favorite) of the same yellow flower, juxtaposed with the red ones in the background.

Yellow Indian Paintbrush, Cherokee Prairie near Charleston, AR

Yellow Indian Paintbrush, Cherokee Prairie near Charleston, AR

 

Next, a few weeks later, the Purple Coneflowers covered the Prairie:

Purple Coneflower Duo

Purple Coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea), Cherokee Prairie, Charleston, Arkansas

 

Purple Coneflower 03689

Purple Coneflower framed by Doll’s Daisy, Cherokee Prairie, Charleston, Arkansas

Large patch of Purple Coneflowers, Cherokee Prairie, Charleston, Arkansas

Large patch of Purple Coneflowers, Cherokee Prairie, Charleston, Arkansas

 

There are other wildflowers there; these are some of my favorites.

And, the visitor can also see some other “flying flowers”, such as this Eastern Tailed-Blue.  This was a first for me, and I appreciate our friend, Anne Sayers, helping identify it…

Eastern Tailed-Blue, Cherokee Prairie, Charleston, Arkansas

Eastern Tailed-Blue, Cherokee Prairie, Charleston, Arkansas

 

 

These images were all made with the Sony Alpha77, a Minolta 100mm macro lens and, more recently, a Tamron 180mm macro lens, Manfrotto tripod and Really Right Stuff ball head.  And, all the water drops were there before I was…  🙂

 

 

High Island, Texas

About 30 miles east of Galveston is the small town of High Island. Although it is a small community, birders the world over know the name. The Houston Audubon Society has converted a large portion of the town into a sanctuary, with wooded areas, and a heron rookery, and each spring, the area fills with migrating songbirds. The High Island Sanctuaries are a definite visit when we travel to the area.

Southeast Texas map

Southeast Texas map

In April, the rookery fills with Great Egrets, along with cormorants, eye-catching roseate spoonbills, and tri-colored and night herons, mating and building nests. For birders and especially photographers, the good news is the rookery is on an island about 20 yards from the pond banks. The pond, called “Claybottom Pond” is filled with alligators, making the island safe from predators such as raccoons; but of course, if any birds get too close, they make a meal for a hungry alligator!

For an unknown reason, this Great Egret pair was nesting a bit later than most of the others; the male would fly away and come back with nesting material, then present it to his mate, who would add it to the nest.  In this photo, his raised wing seems protective and caring.  I think I was fortunate to capture this moment; it’s one of our favorite photos…

Great Egrets build their nest

A Great Egret pair works together to build their nest at The Rookery, High Island, Texas

 

Sony Alpha 100, Tamron 300 f/2.8 with Tamron 2x teleconverter, Manfrotto tripod

 

Route 66 Revisited

Route 66 Revisited

Two years after our Route 66 day trip, I journeyed to the little town of Bristow, site of the “Route 66 Classic Car Show.”  I had searched for a destination and found the car show, and decided to check it out.  Gayle was unable to go with me, so I didn’t plan an extended outing, but couldn’t resist the opportunity to revisit the Mother Road.

Bristow, Oklahoma, is a small town, but on this day, it was full of cars, people, motorcycles, and tractors.  The car show was bigger than I expected, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Bristow Classic Car Show

Main Street in Bristow was full of classic cars, both restored and custom.

 

1956 Ford Thunderbird

A 1956 Ford Thunderbird sits on Bristow’s Main Street during the Route 66 Classic Car Show

 

1966 Ford Mustang Coupe

A 1966 Ford Mustang Coupe on display at the Bristow, Oklahoma, Route 66 Classic Car Show. As an 18-year old, I drove one just like it!

 

I left Bristow, and headed back toward Tulsa.  But, there are always photographs.  These mailboxes were just off the highway, and I had to stop.  They speak of rural Oklahoma, and simpler times gone by.

Mailboxes along Route 66 in Oklahoma

A rural Mail Center, along Route 66. It could be any location; where I grew up, the families still get their mail similarly – 2 miles or more from home.

 

I also stopped by the Rock Creek Bridge, and the Tee Pee Drive In, near Sapulpa.  The drive-in theater has not seen a movie in a decade or more, but still stands as a reminder of other times.

Tee Pee Drive In near Sapulpa OK

Near Sapulpa, Oklahoma, the Tee Pee Drive In Theater still stands, only a few faded letters remain on the sign

 

Rock Creek Bridge

The Rock Creek Bridge, near Sapulpa, is about a quarter mile from the Tee Pee Drive In. It is unique being one of few brick paved bridges remaining in the country.

 

These photos were taken September 1, 2012.  I used a Sony Alpha 77 camera, and Tamron lenses – mostly my favorite, the 17-50 f/2.8 zoom.

 

Route 66

A couple of years ago, we spent a day traveling from Tulsa, Oklahoma to Oklahoma City, via the remains of old Route 66.  In some areas, there is still highway; in others, we have to travel on newer roads that parallel the old.  We plan to do more, but for now, here are a few images from that day.

Many of the attractions from the old days are still in place – as well as new ones for the tourists.  It is interesting to note that many people, some from around the world, come to see what was known as “The Mother Road,” even those that are too young to have ever traveled upon the road…

The 5 and Diner restaurant, Tulsa

A neon sign lights up the Tulsa night at the 5 and Diner restaurant, reminiscent of a 50’s diner

Coca-Cola Sign refurbished in Stroud

In Stroud, a Coca-Cola sign has been colorfully restored on the side of a downtown building.

Hickory House Mural

Mural painted on the wall of the Hickory House Barbecue Restaurant in Sapulpa depicts Route 66 scenes and history

Chandler Interpretive Center

The Chandler Interpretive Center is an interactive multimedia museum, with film clips of Route 66 stories, viewed in seats from period cars, theatre seats, and even a motel bed.

The Old Cotton Gin

The Old Cotton Gin, it has also been a restaurant, an antiques store, and a second-hand goods store.

Having lived in California for several years as a child, I remember traveling Route 66 to visit family in Oklahoma.  Before there was an Interstate 40 highway, we drove through Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and into our home state of Oklahoma.  Nostalgic?  Perhaps, but I also appreciate the history represented by the remnants of old Route 66…

These photographs were created with a Sony Alpha 77 camera, a Tamron 17-50 lens, and often a circular polarizing filter.  I edited the raw files with Paint Shop Pro.

Red-winged Blackbird

Taking flight? Or, flashing his epaulets?

It’s just a moment in his life, but I was there, and photographed that moment. When I look at this photo, I remember the joy I felt in sharing that moment. It was my first trip to the “Upper Texas Gulf Coast”, and there was much to see and photograph. This bird landed just for a moment on a cat tail stalk at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. The day was overcast, and my film camera was loaded with Kodak Ektachrome 100 speed film – as was often the case in those days.

So, technically speaking, this is not a great photograph; the background is too bright, there is too much empty space, the light was all wrong, the bird is not sharp, and he’s looking out of the frame. But for me, it’s all about remembering a moment in time. Isn’t that what photography is about? Isn’t that why we take pictures?

Red-winged Blackbird, Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge

Minolta Maxxum 9xi, Tamron 300 mm lens, Tamron 2x teleconverter, Bogen tripod, shot from the window of a Chevy S-10 truck. Shot on slide film, the slide was later scanned using a “Kodak Photo CD” scanner, hence the small border – which I have intentionally left showing.

Angry Bird

Angry Bird

In one of our favorite destinations, Texas’ Brazos Bend State Park, spring is when a number of bird species nest, brood, and raise their chicks.  One of our favorite birds is the handsome Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, with striking colors and intriguing behavior.  (By the way, their feet are not green.) 🙂

Adult Yellow-crowned Night Heron in Brazos Bend State Park, Texas

However, the chicks are less handsome, and this one looks like the original “Angry Bird.”

A juvenile Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Brazos Bend State Park, Texas

We used the Sony Alpha 700 camera, with a Tamron 300mm f/2.8 and Tamron 2x teleconverter, on a Manfrotto tripod.

Of Alligators, Ducks, and a Sunset

Brazos Bend State Park is roughly an hour southwest of Houston, Texas. In this park are many alligators, which is surprising to many people. After all, this is Texas, home of cowboys and The Alamo…

Actually, there are alligators all along the Texas coast, from Louisiana to Corpus Christi, but this State Park may have the largest population per acre in the state. They’re in the lakes and swamps, and they love to lie in the warm sun on the trails.

Gayle looks forward more to photographing the alligators than the birds in the park – and this is one of the best places I’ve seen for birds!

On this trip, we had just arrived, and as soon as we were settled, we headed out to the trail around Elm Lake. Gray clouds filled the sky, and although not dark, they weren’t the kind you wanted to have behind your subject. As we walked the trail, I saw several Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks in a dead tree not too far away. I stopped and took some photos, trying to silhouette the ducks against the gray clouds.

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks in a dead tree, silhouetted against gray clouds, Brazos Bend State Park, Texas

Gayle had kept going down the trail, but she was within my sight. After I took a few photos, I headed her way. When I was close enough, I could see she was set up near an alligator…

Gayle, photographing an alligator, Brazos Bend State Park, Texas

She got some pretty good images, including this one.

Brazos Bend Alligator

Alligator at Brazos Bend State Park, by Gayle Millican

After photographing the gator for a while, I saw that the clouds were beginning to break up. I dragged Gayle away from the alligator, telling her that we were about to be blessed with a great sunset. We headed back to the spot where I had photographed the ducks earlier.

Sure enough, after we had barely set up our tripods, the sun began to make its appearance.

Gayle’s first photo of the sunset, her zoom lens set to about 200 mm

We each took about 20 photographs, then it was over…

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks at sunset, Brazos Bend State Park, Texas

Lessons learned: Keep your eye on the sky, and always be ready, for anything!

Cameras used were Sony Alpha, with Tamron lenses.

A Morning at the Nature Center

The Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center, actually.  That’s a mouthful; so those of us in the area simply say “The Nature Center.”  Regardless, it is a marvelous nature resource for the Western Arkansas region.

Recently, Jim Nieting and I spent a few morning hours walking some of the trails at the Nature Center, with cameras in hand.  Once again, I was amazed at the resource this is for us.  We saw or heard a number of bird species, numerous butterflies, a cottontail rabbit, and more…

At the Visitor Center, the staff has installed housing for Purple Martins, and it is very active.  Here are a couple of nestlings looking for their parents.

Purple Martin Chicks

Looking for their next meal on the wing

Also, near the Visitor Center, are a number of Canada Geese.  Most of us have more photos than we’ll ever need of this species, but I usually cannot resist taking another.

Canad Goose at the Nature Center

Canada Goose at the Nature Center

From the Visitor Center, we headed out on the Beaver Creek Trail, where we heard and eventually found probably the highlight of the morning:  a pair of yellow-billed cuckoos.  Here’s one of them.

Yellow-Billed Cuckoo

Yellow-Billed Cuckoo, with snack

Lots of butterflies, including this Pipevine Swallowtail:

Pipevine Swallowtail

Pipevine Swallowtail, enjoying the sun

On the Wells Lake Trail, we found this Cottontail Rabbit, very near Wells Lake.  He posed for us for quite some time.

Cottontail Rabbit

Cottontail Rabbit, near Wells Lake

Among the butterflies, we saw Hummingbird Moths.  Hard to photograph, because they never stop moving – and they move fast!  🙂

Hummingbird Moth

Hummingbird Moth at the Nature Center

Finally, as I was heading home, I saw this Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher on a high-line wire.  Technically, not at the Nature Center, but close enough to count as part of my morning adventures…

Scissortailed Flycatcher

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, near the Nature Center

The Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center is one of 4 the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission has built across the state of Arkansas.  In Western Arkansas, we are appreciative of and thankful for the facility.  As you can see, there is a large variety of fauna as well as flora to be seen here; I’ve only touched on a small portion of it.

All photos were taken with a Sony Alpha 77, and a Tamron 200-500 lens.  Yes, I used a tripod, built by Manfrotto.

Also, a big thank you to my fellow photographer, Jim Nieting. Definitely a better birder than I; several he saw and identified before I knew they were around. 🙂

Of Waterfalls and Wildflowers

In late March, I took a week off from work.  The first day, I went to see a waterfall along the Mulberry River.  It’s one of those only showy during the rainy season, and the week before, we had substantial rainfall; unfortunate for those on spring break, but a nice set up for waterfall hunters.  🙂  Three years ago, my friends Mike Leonard (www.michaelleonardphotography.org) and Jim Anderson showed this particular waterfall to us, and Gayle and I were fortunate to sell some prints from this location.

So, I drove there again this year.  Here’s what I found.

Image

To get to this spot requires a climb of about 150 feet up the side of the steep hill.  I think it’s worth the effort.  After a series of photos at this spot, I moved to the other side, and further up the hill:

Image

What I didn’t notice in this image were the white wildflowers at the lower left.  My excuse is that I was concentrating on the waterfall and on not falling!  It was steep and slippery…

So, recently, Mike Leonard was printing this photo for a display at Bedford’s, and pointed out the flowers to me.  I looked them up in Audubon’s Guide to North American Wildflowers on my iPhone.  They are “Eastern Shootingstar.”  I’d never taken a photo of them.  But – they bloom from April to June, so a few days ago, I went back to see if they had bloomed again.

Back up the hill.  This time, the waterfall was only a trickle.  No shootingstars bloomed.  Not surprised, but I was disappointed.  However, the spiderworts were in full bloom and everywhere!  🙂

Image

Spiderworts have long been a favorite of mine, and I seldom pass on an opportunity to photograph them.  After this photograph, and others, I headed back down the hill, then the short walk back to where I had parked.  Beside the road, so close that my tripod was partially in the road, was this little flower.

Image

Looks to me like a freshly bloomed Eastern Shootingstar!  There was only one bloom, but to the left are several buds.  I didn’t see any others in the area, nor during the walk back to the car.  So… my biggest disappointment that morning was that the enemy Time passed far too quickly.  🙂

All photos were taken with the Sony Alpha 77.  For the flowers, I used the Minolta 100mm macro lens; the waterfall photos were shot with a Tokina 11-16 f/2.8 and a Tamron 17-50 f/2.8 lens.

Fort Smith Park Autumn

After record breaking heat in the summer of 2011, many of us, including me, did not expect much in the way of “color” in the fall.  However, we were pleasantly surprised and had a very colorful fall – one of my favorite seasons.

Autumn in Arkansas and Oklahoma is brief, and each year brings a different look.  Occasionally, as in 2009, we’ve had an unusually wet fall, giving us water falls, and flowing streams to complement the color.  But, more often, it’s a relatively dry season.  It’s a time of change, and a photographer is challenged to be at the right place at the right time to make an image to represent the season.

On this morning, I was driving to work, but had left home early enough to stop if I saw the right scene, in pleasant light.  Here’s one image I stopped to make.  Initially, I pointed my camera toward the just-risen sun, but that wasn’t the image I wanted.  So, I turned around, and saw the clouds, the sky, the yellow leaves, and the tree line.

What you see here, was shot as a RAW file, cropped slightly to rid the image of a light pole on the right, and some pavement on the left.  Using Corel After Shot Pro, and Corel Paint Shop Pro X4, I’ve adjusted color balance, levels, and sharpness.  Camera was the Sony Alpha 700, with a Tamron 17-50 f/2.8 lens.  Exposure was 1/250 sec. at f/5.6, ISO 200.

Fort Smith Park is on Wheeler Avenue, just west of Midland Boulevard in Fort Smith, and includes numerous picnic tables, a boat ramp to the Arkansas River, and is visited by a large number of area residents throughout the year.  It’s an old park, with old trees; a park I often visit for photographs, and I’m seldom disappointed…

Fort Smith Park Autumn

November 2011