Nothing brightens the summer garden like the durable coneflower, or “orange coneflower,” as it’s more correctly known. And it continues to give joy in the winter, the black flower heads and stems tracing a beautiful, pointillistic pattern against the snow (if you don’t cut them off).

I’ve never had much luck photographing these flowers while perched in the garden; my perspective was too low, I guess. But the other day, about 10 in the morning, I happened to look out and saw a soft, luminous light that set the yellow petals positively aglow. From the vantage of my window, I took this photo. Unruly these flowers are, yes, but that’s part of their charm.

During the tropical storm, Irene, they were whipped to and fro furiously by the wind for several hours. Of course, everything in the garden was being whipped, but the coneflowers moved together with a mechanical precision that was hypnotic to watch: back and forth, then round and round, then back and forth again, like whirling dervishes. I thought, surely they’ll lose their petals. Afterwards, I saw they had been beaten up a little, but survived intact. What a flower!

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To see this bird in real life is to realize how truly big it is, a mature Great Blue Heron, possibly male because of its size, and probably older because of the uneven coloring of its plummage. It certainly lives up to its name.

“Variform” is how I characterized the Great Blue in my last post. These four images do little more than hint at the bird’s vast contortionist repertoire.

This series was taken on August 26, 2011. The Great Blue was standing on one of the small rocks that appear during low water between Heron Rock and Smith Point, just off our little cove. Usually I see it much earlier, at dawn, perching on the massive Heron Rock itself.

A neighbor across the pond reports that she often sees a large Blue standing vigil in the early morning hours, partly hidden behind a moored rowboat. Is it the same bird, or are there other big ones around? My guess is there’s only one king of the pond.

Technical Note: The heron was too far to be captured in decent size by my telephoto lens, so I enlarged the photos digitally, on my computer. That magic does not come without a cost. If you look closely, you may notice that the images are a bit “coarse”, that is, their tonal range is compressed, but they’re certainly good enough to tell their story.

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Few birds are as variform as the Great Blue Heron. Here are shown only several of its many aspects.

To the left, are two Blues near our shore, on the eponymously named “Heron Rock.” The dark, hunched bird in front is a first-year juvenile, while the lighter one behind, with its neck extended, is an adult, probably a young adult judging from its modest size and clean plumage. This photo was taken on May 13, 2010, at 4:14 pm.

Below, is a Great Blue taking flight near Heron Rock. Where are such massive wings stored? How do they open so quickly? They seem to appear out of nowhere, like a stage magician’s trick of pulling limitless, unlikely objects from his pocket. What an engineering marvel! The photo was shot on May 17, 2011, at 10:30 am.

Now about the photos, themselves. These two are among the photos that I had at one time rejected, and later restored to good standing, a reversal I explained in my last post.

In that post, I also fretted about my lack of success in getting a good flight photo of the great blue. This is not a true flight photo — that is, one with the wings fully open — but it responded well to a little digital touch-up, and certainly tells a powerful story.

If you’d like to learn more about the majestic Great Blue, peruse this excellent, fact-filled page in Wikipedia. I’m sure a simple search of Google will yield many more good sources.

Update: This post was first published as “Two Great Blues.” Sorry for any confusion.

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“Art glut,” some call it. It’s a problem I often encounter in writing this blog. I regularly look at so many photos that at times I lose my ability to tell good from bad, especially to recognize a really good photo when I see it. If you attend art exhibits, you’ll know what I mean; it’s an often noted affliction of museum-goers. As in any line of work, a break is needed now and then.

On coming back from a few days of vacation, I rummaged through photos from earlier this year and found myself thinking, “Hey, that’s not so bad!” or “That’s got possibilities.” I also considered my original reaction to the same, “Argh, that’s no good.”

The problem is compounded for subjects that present themselves often and are irresistible to photograph. Great blue herons are an obvious example. They are wonderfully photogenic. After almost fifty photos of them, though, I wonder when I’ll begin thinking of them as a cliche, a “Motif No. 1.”

Here are two great blue photos, taken thirty seconds apart shortly after noon on April 6th of this year. There’s nothing original about them; they give us no new insight into the great bird, but they are certainly good enough to post, and for readers to enjoy.

There’s a story about the lower photo. The bird is just starting to take off (spooked by the photographer). Over the years, I’ve tried many times to capture the flight of the great blue, but without success. This is the closest I’ve come, and here I was a fraction of a second too early! As I’ve noted elsewhere, the flight response of this big bird is blindingly fast, defeating all my efforts so far to record its graceful flight.

I do have a photo with the blue’s massive wings partly outstretched, but the technical quality is poor. I’ll see if I can clean it up enough to post.

I’ve been looking at some of the newer, longer telephoto lenses. They’ve come down in price while the quality has gone up. If I can get closer optically instead of digitally, I’ll be able to post a better quality image when I do finally get that elusive flight photo.

Update: This post was first published as “Great Blue Heron.” Sorry for any confusion.

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There it was in broad daylight again, a little after noon, the so-called “night-heron.” I was at the table, and just happened to catch sight of it through the window. It was in the small cove between our property and Smith Point. I thought, “someone needs to tell this bird it’s not supposed to show up until dusk; then after a bit, “maybe it learns that when it’s older.”

I grabbed the camera and tip-toed out the front door as quietly as I could. Moving around to the pond side of the house, I kept a big bush between me and the bird. When I ran out of cover, I was still a bit far, but I stepped out anyway and clicked off a few shots. Startled, my subject flew off. Its flight response was so fast that even though I knew it was coming, I couldn’t aim and shoot fast enough to capture it.

The hunched up position you see here is a characteristic pose, as well as the outstretched neck in my earlier post. If you compare the two photos, you can see just how extensible the neck is.

This young, Black-crowned Night-Heron was photographed on August 16, 2011, at 12:43 pm.

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Related: Young Night-Heron,* Young Night Heron III*. Click image to enlarge it, and browser’s back arrow to close.


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One of the nice things about having your own blog is that you can take liberties. Well, I’ve decided to let myself depart from the pond theme now and then. To maintain a scrap of integrity, though, I’ll file these off-subject postings under an appropriate new category, “Destinations.”

When I was a kid, taking pictures in a museum was strictly verboten. Today the tidal wave of cell phone photographers has washed away that fusty rule. You’re now permitted to take pictures in most museums as long as you don’t use flash.

Prompted by my brother, who’s taken some every nice photos with his cell phone, I thought I’d try my hand with my new phone in a recent visit to the Chihuly Exhibit at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Of course, I could’ve brought my bulky SLR (that’s permitted too), but I’ve found that lugging it around interferes with the museum experience. The cell phone was made to order for this venue, I thought.

What I’d forgotten was a basic rule: you’ve got to hold the camera still, especially in poor light where the shutter speed will be slow. (My big camera compensates for camera shake, so I don’t usually worry about it now.) As a result, this slide show is shorter than I’d hoped, but at least it provides a glimpse of this remarkable exhibit — a 40-year retrospective of the American master glass artist, Dale Chihuly.

If this whets your appetite, follow the link to a stunning slide show with photos provided by the museum. It’s accompanied by a written overview: MFA’s Chihuly: Through the Looking Glass.

For more information, videos and slide shows, check the MFA web site. Disappointingly, the exhibit ended August 8th. My apologies, I had hoped to publish this earlier, but vacation intervened.

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