Saturday, February 28, 2009

Valley Forge National Park (Blustery!)

John (flickr) and I spontaneously decided to meet at Valley Forge National Park for a blustery photo shoot. He's my photographer buddy from the Mother of all Philadelphia photo walks.

We met at the Welcome Center and then drove to the National Memorial Arch. It was a 34 degree, gray day with strong winds. I've been to the park about six times and remember windy conditions most of those visits. Tour Map of VFNP.

We spotted some deer down in a field next to County Line Road. Not knowing how many deer we'd see, we drove down to get a closer look. The deer are mainly oblivious to cars and people so photographing them is fairly easy. We turned around at the Maintenance Road and saw even more deer by the maintenance buildings. Deer sightings will be a little less common, for they are planning a massive (80% reduction) deer harvest over the next 4 years.

Back on the tour, we stopped at General Wayne's statue. I mistakenly thought he was George Washington, due to the clothes and tri-cornered hat. His story is quite remarkable, for he led a raid into New Jersey to basically steal livestock and food from the enemy farms. The success of his pilfering missions contributed to the survival of many soldiers over the winter months.

Sneaking up on deer was a recurring theme for the day. After a few more roadside deer photos, we turned onto and rumbled across the covered bridge. Unlike most wooden bridges, this one is white and has open sides.

Running out of time, our last stop was going to be the Artillery Park. Frankly, this is what I was most looking forward to shooting. Rock steady subjects, totally unaffected by the wind and gray skies, the canons were really fun to shoot.

On the way out of the park, I stopped at the Freedoms Foundation. Touting one the biggest U.S. Flags I've ever seen, it can be seen easily from multiple vantage points inside VF.

My final stop was at Black Rock Preserve (1 mi N of Phoenixville), which is a stop on the Atlantic flyway so birding should be great in season.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Middle Creek Wildlife Preserve (80,000 Snow Geese)

I have been anticipating the winter snow geese arrival since the fall, when I missed the brief window on their southern migration. My calendar had the weekends in February and March highlighted to visit the Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area. (aka SGL46 Map)

I called Saturday morning and the ranger stated that 80,000 were on the grounds (see website for details, photos and a video). How they estimate that number is beyond me?

He gave me some tips for photographing them. At sunrise they go to the fields to feed and then return to the lake at dusk to float and sleep at night, but the sun angles will be better in the PM.

Winter birds amaze me at their resistance to the cold. They tolerate such extreme conditions of cold and hunger, that one just has to marvel and respect wild animals.

Along westbound SR897, before getting to main road to M.C., was a large flock that was feeding in the field. I continued to observe the bird activity in the fields and ponds from my car along Park Rd and the picnic parking area across the lake.

I concluded that the best vantage point for photography is indeed at the Willow Point. Park, then a short walk on a paved path lead you to a peninsula surrounded by lake. Not too close, not too far, so with any level of equipment good viewing and photos can be had.

You will see a wide price range of magnification tools, from low end binoculars to massive spotting scopes and from point and shoot cameras to 800mm DSLR combos valued in excess of $10,000.

You really don't need anything to experience the essence of the snow geese, but magnification can surely enhance the situation.

As I was exiting, I passed a steady steam of people heading to the point for sunset observations of the massive flocks geese landing on the lake.

Birdsboro Reservoir (Hay Creek Watershed)

I've been anxious to get back to the Birdsboro Reservoir and to see the streams and springs along the way to the lake. The shoulders of the dead end on SR82 were full of parked cars.

It was a mild 33 and sunny, so I expected some dark shadows. Compensating for shadows is a constant challenge to photographers.

Camera light meters can be programmed in different ways, but their main intent is to interpret the available light and calculate the best aperture and shutter settings to achieve a neutral gray light situation.

Many cameras today have preset compensation settings for sun, snow, and dark scenes. I will adjust using EV+/- to override the light meter and bracket too for insurance.

The Birdsboro Reservoir Lake was semi-frozen and a steady breeze kept the water surface moving.

Going to the Dogs
I do love visiting this area for the natural beauty, but I am less then thrilled by some of my fellow dog owners. They indiscriminately allow their dogs to drop in the road. Many are off their leashes and charge up to people and dogs to get a closer look, smell or even confrontation. I expect that this irresponsible ownership will lead to some not-so-dog-friendly rules.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Neversink Mountain (Southern Views - No Leaves)

The small "No Outlet" Klapperthal Rd next to the Forest Hills Cemetery leads back to the Neversink Mountain Preserve parking area. It was 35 degrees, sunny, with blue skies and white clouds.

Max was more then ready for the outing, squealing with glee as we approached. We headed straight to the clearing overlook on Neversink South Trail. The walk was brisk, but the incline seemed mild compared to my memory of it. Maybe the 50 degree difference in temps (from Sept 13 visit) had something to do with the relative ease of the hike.

A few mountain bikers were on the trail, but hikers were elsewhere in the park. After the quick walk from the clearing, we tried the fairly strenuous Cove Trail. Ultimately, it just ends up at a higher elevation then the South Trail, but a much harder climb and lessor views from what I saw.

With over 2 miles covered we headed out.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Philadelphia (Great Food and Dessert)

One of the great things about Philadelphia is the array of amazing food choices. While in Chinatown we ate at the highly regarded Vietnam Restaurant on N. 11th St. Great atmosphere and food as expected.

After clearing our plates, we wanted to walk off the big meal, so we headed over to Rittenhouse Square to sample a gelato place that a local recommended.

Capogiro Gelato on 117 S. 20th St (2nd location on 119th S. 13th) was delicious. With nearly 30 creamy hand made flavors, you couldn't make a bad choice. A small cup includes two flavors, so quick math concluded that it would only take about 15 visits to try every one of them. Stay tuned.

On the way to the car ($5 all day parking again), a quick visit to the Comcast Center lobby topped off the day. Walking in the city is pretty easy and we covered over 3.5 miles in the few hours.

Day trips are a great way to add variety to winter, hence the slight deviation from Berks subjects in this blog. I love shooting nature and scenics, but cityscape's offer a different and fun challenge.

With fuel still at a decent rate, compared to last year, day trips are like mini-vacations. Lancaster is about 45 minutes, Philadelphia about 1 hour. Many people I know regularly commute those distances, so I guess it's really not that far.

Philadelphia (Liberty Place)

Impressive looking from every angle, One Liberty Place and Two Liberty Place are truly functional works of architectural art.

One Liberty Place, (945 ft, 64 stories, 1987), distinguishable by the taller tower on top. Two Liberty Place, (848 ft, 58 stories, 1990) is a little shorter and without the tower.

Liberty Place shares a city block foot print that includes the Westin Hotel and an upscale mall.

Philadelphia (Year of the Ox Parade)

On Feb 1, we tried to see the Chinese New Years Parade, but learned that budget cuts forced it to be cancelled so when we heard it was on again, we tenuously went to the city. The backup plan was to visit the Art Museum.

As we approached Chinatown, you could hear a massive drum beat. A few minutes later, the police closed Race St. and the parade was about to start. People gathered around the small troop of dragon, and masked participants.

Americans' impression of a parade is to stand along the street and watch a procession of marchers go by. The Chinese Parade is more like a scramble from one building entrance to another where the perform a symbolic ritual.

The leader surveyed the buildings and shouted at the paraders to follow him to the nearest hanging stringer of fire crackers. The crowd surrounded the paraders and were thrilled by dancing exhibitions and the 500 fire cracker finales.

Where minutes before no buildings had fire crackers showing, now many buildings displayed them. One even hung his fire crackers out of a 2nd story window via a string on a pole. Restaurants, stores, offices all wanted a ceremonial good luck dance for their businesses.

This went on for a couple of hours.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Lancaster (Gallery Row)

On January 25, 2009, I drove down 222 through Lancaster on my way to Conowingo, MD. I immediately noticed the array of galleries and unique facades so I made a mental note to return.

A little research indicated that Lancaster is a town that welcomes and promotes the arts. An ideal time to visit is the first Friday of the month, aptly named, "First Fridays". With over 90 participating galleries and shops, the town is bustling with activity until late in the night.

A visit to a dozen diverse galleries in a row worked up an appetite so we went to Senorita Burrita. Informal, artsy and offering a vast variety of huge burritos with great flavors really hit the spot.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Ontelaunee Lake (The Big Melt Begins)

I visited Ontelaunee Lake in March 2007 and witnessed the snow geese visiting while on their winter migration so I was curious to see if they returned. Reading Eagle wrote a piece on the lake in 2007, mainly from an angler's perspective.

The 1082 acre reservoir is fed by the Maiden Creek and with the sunny 50 degree day the ice melt was major. The snow on the roads and trails was still thick in the shade, but where the sun hit it was down to the grass.

Even after researching the lake, I couldn't find a trail map or even a reference to the best trails. Following my GPS I went to the West Shore Drive and Shoemakersville Road parking hoping that the hunch works out.

We followed the road until the first right turn. A smaller road led us through the wooded section to the lake. The woods thins out with numerous old standing and downed dead trees. Standing ones were weathered and bark-free while felled ones were covered with grass and various mosses. Woodpeckers frequent the area and coincidentally, I saw a large pair fly away.

Max really just tolerates cold, slushy paths and his response would be to run away from them if he could. So he set a fast pace until we came to the thinning forest where almost all the snow was melted. The pace slowed down considerably and he hunts for a scent, and I can find and compose subjects.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Philadelphia (Boat Houses and City at Night)

As darkness settled in, we needed to warm up and nourish before heading out for some night scenes. We split a couple of delicious brick oven pizzas at the Illuminare restaraunt just up the hill from the museum on Fairmont Ave.

I rarely shoot at night so I was anxious to try my luck. I didn't bring a tripod so I'd have to improvise for most of my shots. We did share his tripod for a few shots, but I found adequate flat surfaces to rest the camera for the half-second to 2-second time exposures.

So I didn't create camera shake, I used the self-timer to release the shutter. It is nearly impossible (when mounted on a tripod or other flat surface) to push the shutter release button on a time exposure without camera shake.