Sunday, November 22, 2015

Winter light and wildlife

We went to Mosquito Hill twice in the first half of November on successive Sundays.

It's pretty difficult to find anything of any color except the reddish brown of decaying leaves.

On the way up the North path, you encounter this erratic rock that's covered in day-glo green moss (when the sun hits it anyway). It's been here a long time.  Until last year it looked like the rock had just rolled down and gotten stuck between two trees, but the larger older tree on the right came down last fall. It didn't take much inspection to see that the trees had grown around the rock which was there first.  One spring day two years ago, we saw two grapefruit sized rocks roll down the hill, but things this size don't break off the cliffs very often (in human time-frames anyway).

There are some subtle colors if you look closely.  These pale blue fungi were normal mushrooms several weeks ago.

The real excitement the first week was the wildlife.  With the Populist, I've photographed frogs, a snail, turtles, fox snakes (who don't care if you get near them until they strike when you get too close), deer (who blend in with the background but you can find them under magnification), frozen beetles and dragon flies and a mosquito feeding on my leg. You of course see a lot of small mammals, birds and garter snakes, but they move way too fast for pinhole photography.  But this week was the first time I got several fauna shots on one visit and a couple of the most extraordinary.

The first one was caught in my greening of the hill series shot of the switchback, with a North American Blonde Artist in her dark winter plumage just up the path.

When we got up to the top of the hill we encountered a garter snake.  You see them all the time especially when they're migrating up or down the hill, but what you usually see is one slithering away in the undergrowth.  Last year for the first time I got a picture of one on a variably cloudy day who had been moving around while the warm sun shown, but got slowed down considerably when the clouds came over and the temperature dropped about 20 degrees while it was coiled up out in the open. This time we caught this guy in the leaves next to the path. It held quite still for a bit, then slithered under a fallen log and froze when it came out from under and saw I had placed my tripod in its path.

Here's a full resolution detail.  I just left the shutter open as long as it remained still which was about 10 seconds, during which it stayed absolutely motionless holding its head up in the air. Pretty cool.

Less than five minutes later on our way back down the hill we found this fox snake hanging out at the edge of the path trying to soak up enough warmth from the low November sun to get moving again.

The most impressive sight of the day were a pair of Red Tailed Hawks as nearly as big as eagles which were riding the thermals on the south side of the hill.  It was a pretty windy day, and occasionally one would appear to be hovering motionless as they flew into the wind.  When we were on the top of the hill, one of them did this about 20 feet over Sarah's head.  I completely missed it as I was fussing setting up what turned out to be a disappointing shot of the rocks.  Later when we were crossing the meadow and I was doing my other greening of the hill meadow series, I could hear Sarah say something about thirty yards down the path, but the wind was blowing toward her and I couldn't make it out.  When she got up near enough to me,  I heard "You missed it again."  While I was counting out the ten or so second exposure, both hawks had put on a show over the meadow. However when I scanned the negative of the wide angle view of the Populist, I noticed this dark spot in the sky on the right side if the image.  I'm not saying I never have flaws on my negatives, but this is the right shape and in exactly the right spot for a hawk.

We had also seen some deer that day. When we went again the next week, it was pretty lifeless and even more colorless. What was really notable was the seasonal low angle of the sun.

The switchback, totally in the shadow of the hill. 

Some skinny aspens forming the warp to the ground, meadow, lowland forest and sky's weft.

A side lit and much less orderly tangle of sumacs on the southeast end of the hill. 

On the north side of the hill, in the pines where, as Leadbelly tells us, the sun never shines, especially late in the day in November when the sun hardly makes it over the hill, we came across this sunbeam projected through a low spot of the hill.

The sun sets pretty early in mid-November and the low sun leaves long stripes of the shadows of trees across the forest floor

Even later in the day, the sun sometimes aligns with one arm of the oxbow pond and shines a beam on a few naked trees where it turns around the bend. 

By now the sun was almost set but the highest tips of the prairie grass and, of course, the hill, were still all lit up.

All with the Populist.  .15mm pinhole 24mm from 24x36 frame.


  1. This is a fantastic series of images. I especially like the "warp and weft" image. Getting animules on film was great. This shows again how important it is to stick with one camera and film, and get to know it. Well done.

  2. Yes it is. I like the one with the hawk, the skinny aspen and the oxbow pond. Nice series!