Category Archives: Photographs

Amusing Monday: Local photographer captures a moment with an eagle

A Kitsap County photographer, Bonnie Block, has been named the grand prize winner in the 2016 National Audubon Photography Contest.

Bonnie Block's winning photograph in the 2016 National Audubon Photography Contest
Bonnie Block’s winning photograph in the 2016 National Audubon Photography Contest
Audubon Photography Awards

The winning photo shows a bald eagle swooping down on a great blue heron at the mouth of Big Beef Creek near Seabeck. Bonnie, a resident of Kingston, learned that her dramatic photo had been chosen from among 7,000 entries from all 50 states and numerous countries.

Big Beef Creek, not far from my home, is a favorite place for nature photographers and bird watchers, who visit in spring and early summer to observe eagles in action. That’s when the birds come to hunt for fish called midshipman before heading out to find migrating salmon. My wife Sue once counted 58 eagles at one time in that location. See Water Ways, June 18, 2010.

Bonnie describes how she prepared to shoot the critical moment in a story by reporter Christian Vosler published in the Kitsap Sun July 30.

Professional Division winner: Dick Dickinson, osprey, Siesta Key, Sarasota, Fla.
Professional Division winner: Dick Dickinson, osprey, Siesta Key, Sarasota, Fla. // Audubon Photography Awards

Bonnie’s photo was mentioned during a CBS News interview with Melissa Groo, last year’s winner and a judge in this year’s contest. Melissa said a good photograph “freezes that instant that you can’t even see through the naked eye sometimes. Sometimes this behavior happens in a split second, but a photograph captures that unique moment for all of us to see.”

“Which is exactly what this year’s Grand Prize winner is,” commented reporter Brian Mastroianni. “I mean, the shot of the eagle and the heron is pretty incredible.”

“Exactly,” Melissa continued. “It’s that kind of confrontation, that pivotal moment where the eagle is landing and its wings are completely spread out, and you are seeing, obviously, some kind of confrontation. It’s just beautifully captured, technically and artistically speaking.”

A selection of Bonnie’s best photographs are on display this month at Liberty Bay Gallery in Poulsbo. You can also see some photos she has posted on her Facebook page.

Other winners in the Audubon Photography Contest are shown below. Comments from the photographers themselves about their work as well as other photos can be found on Audubon’s webpage.

Amateur Division winner: Steve Torna, eared grebes, Yellowstone Lake, Yellowstone National Park, Wyo.
Amateur Division winner: Steve Torna, eared grebes, Yellowstone Lake, Yellowstone National Park, Wyo. // Audubon Photography Awards
Youth Division winner: Carolina Anne Fraser, great frigatebird, near Española, Galapagos Islands, Equador.
Youth Division winner: Carolina Anne Fraser, great frigatebird, near Española, Galapagos Islands, Equador // Audubon Photography Awards
Fine Arts Division winner: Barbara Driscoll, green violetear, Savegre Hotel, San Gerardo de Dota, Costa Rica.
Fine Arts Division winner: Barbara Driscoll, green violetear, Savegre Hotel, San Gerardo de Dota, Costa Rica // Audubon Photography Awards

Amusing Monday: New stamps to mark national parks centennial

UPDATE: April 28, 2016

The U.S. Postal Service today released an image of the “pane” of National Park stamps that will become available for purchase on June 2. (Click image below to enlarge.) People may mistakenly call this group of stamps a “sheet,” but a sheet is actually much larger — usually nine panes as they come off a printing press.

Centennial sheet photo

Four of the images on the 16 National Park stamps were provided by the National Park Service. They are the oil-on-canvas painting “Scenery in the Grand Tetons” by Albert Bierstadt (first row, second from right); the chromolithograph-on-canvas “Grand Canyon of Arizona from Hermit Rim Road” by Thomas Moran (second row, far left); the three-masted, steel-hulled, square-rigged ship Balclutha, which can be seen at San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park (third row, far left); and the pastel-on-paper “Administration Building, Frijoles Canyon” by Helmuth Naumer Sr. (fourth row, far left).

Images on the other stamps are the work of independent photographers, and the center of the pane comes from a 1-cent stamp of Yosemite National Park issued in 1934.

To celebrate the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary, the U.S. Postal Service has commissioned 16 new Forever stamps with scenes from 16 different national parks.


The first-day issue ceremony will take place June 2 in New York City as part of the World Stamp Show NY-2016, an international event for stamp collectors held once every 10 years. Related events are planned in or near the national parks depicted on the stamps.

“These stamps celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Parks and depict the beauty and diversity of these national treasures,” Postmaster General Megan J. Brennan said in a news release. “They serve as an inspiration for Americans to visit, learn and to write cherished memories of their trips to these incredible wonders.”

Jonathan B. Jarvis, director of the National Park Service, added, “This set of stamps will take people on a journey to some of the most amazing places in the world. We are thrilled that the 16 national park stamps issued in ’16 for the centennial depict the variety of parks that collectively tell the story of our country.”

The star-trail photo of Mount Rainier, the first stamp on this page, was taken by Matt Dieterich of Pittsburgh, Penn., who worked as an intern in the National Park Service’s Geoscientist-in-the-Parks program.

“This night was one I will never forget,” said Dieterich, quoted in a news release. “After working with visitors at the Mount Rainier astronomy program on June 22, 2015, I noticed there was an aurora, so I drove down to Reflection Lake to capture it. The location was perfect as it contained a view of Mount Rainier and water for reflections.

“To create this star trails image, I took 200 photos in a two-hour window between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. with my Nikon D750 and 24mm lens set at F/1.4 and ISO 5000. Since the Earth is rotating, each 8-sec. exposure shows stars at slightly different locations. When the photos are combined into one image, the stars create a circular pattern around the North Star, which is just out of view at the top of the image.

“The pink aurora spread throughout the background sky. Mountaineers can be seen with their white headlamps climbing Mount Rainier on the right side of the volcano.”


The photo of Glacier Bay was taken by Tom Bean of Flagstaff, Ariz. Glacier Bay National Park encompasses 3.3 million acres of mountains, glaciers and coastlines in Alaska.

To see the full set of stamps, go to the National Park Service page for Centennial Stamps. The following list will take you to a description of each stamp by the Postal Service. For a better image of the stamp, click on “PDF” in the upper right corner of the page below the headline.

Amusing Monday: I’m learning my ABCs and something about Earth

Adam Volland of NASA’s Earth Observatory program came up with an interesting idea. Looking over satellite images, Adam has found every letter of the alphabet formed by Earthly features, mostly land-based formations.

Letter B

He calls it “Reading the ABCs from Space.”

Whoever knew that Holla Bend National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas forms the letter “B” if you include a nearby section of the Arkansas River?

He found the letter “C” in a man-made island in the southern part of Bahrain, an island country in the Persian Gulf.

What I also like about Adam’s project is the narrative he has written about each letter, describing the names of relevant features, animals and objects that start with the particular letter, including links to learn more about those features.

Letter C

Here’s what he wrote for the letter “Z”: “What begins with Z? Zenith and zooplankton. Zillions of smoke particles zipping, zooming and zigzagging above Canada!”

And it all ties together, since Adam’s Z is an image of wildfire smoke over Canada. As the caption explains (and all images are explained), the image for “Z” was captured with a “moderate resolution imaging spectroradiometer” (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite.

Letter Z

Considering all the associated links, this was a big project to create. It is also a great way to organize a lot of educational material. It reminds me of when I was in junior high school and decided to read the entire “World Book Encyclopedia.” I started at the beginning of the first book, a thick one that contained all the “A” words. I read for an hour or two each night after doing my regular homework. After many weeks, I was about halfway through the “A” words before I shifted my attention to other reading materials.

I’m sure it won’t take nearly as long to read through Adam’s letters and all the linked materials. I’ve begun reading “The ABCs from space” with the letter “A” and expect to learn a lot about things on Earth.

A unique view of Earth, as seen from the moon

Photo: NASA
Photo: NASA

When I saw this amazing photo of our water planet, I knew I had to share it with readers of this blog. NASA is offering a high-resolution image (click to enlarge) on its website.

The composite photo was taken from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which orbits the moon and can see the Earth rising and setting above the moon’s horizon.

“The image is simply stunning,” said Noah Petro, deputy project scientist for LRO at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “The image of the Earth evokes the famous ‘Blue Marble’ image taken by Astronaut Harrison Schmitt during Apollo 17, 43 years ago, which also showed Africa prominently in the picture.”

His comments and other information are provided in a NASA news release.

LRO experiences 12 Earthrises every day, but its instruments are normally focused on the lunar surface. Images of Earth are captured rarely when LRO’s camera is turned away from the moon to study the extremely thin lunar atmosphere or to make calibration adjustments, according to the news release, which explains the entire process.

The image above was composed from a series of photos taken Oct. 12, when the spacecraft was about 83 miles above the farside of the moon.

Astronauts on the moon can never see the Earth rise or set. Since the moon revolves around its axis at the same rate as its rotation around the Earth, it always appears in the same spot in the moon’s sky. That location varies by where the observer is standing on the moon’s surface, and there is no Earth visible from the farside of the moon. Where the Earth is visible, the view of the planet is constantly changing, as continents rotate into view — unlike the view of the moon’s surface from Earth, which never changes.

NASA’s first Earthrise image was taken with the Lunar Orbiter 1 spacecraft in 1966. Perhaps NASA’s most iconic Earthrise, according to NASA, was taken by the crew of Apollo 8 on Christmas Eve in 1968.

Amusing Monday: Photo contest shows variety
of wildlife images

Winners in this year’s National Wildlife Photo Contest range from an image showing a vast school of fish dwarfing a human swimmer to a picture catching the gaze between a female gorilla and her baby.


Now in its 45th year of competition, the contest garners thousands of entries from throughout the world as well as from people’s own backyards. I am always pleased to feature the winners of the contest, which is sponsored by “National Wildlife” magazine and National Wildlife Federation.

Judges base their selections on originality, technical execution and true-to-nature accuracy.

The first picture on this page, taken by Chris Schenker of Hopkinton, Mass., took first place in a category called “Connecting people with nature.” Schenker caught the image of the swirling mass of bohar snappers off Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. The diver, who was taking pictures of the fish, added an appropriate perspective to the scene.

“The fish come to these waters in massive schools every year to mate,” said Schenker, a college student who was quoted on the “National Wildlife” website. “It was an absolutely thrilling experience.”


At the other end of the size scale, a black-capped chickadee was caught getting a drink from a garden hose by photographer Linda Krueger. Krueger was washing her car when she noticed several birds flying in. She propped up the hose and grabbed the shot when the bird landed on the end of the hose. The photo took second place in the “Backyard habitat” category.

Krueger and her husband Kevin participate in the Certified Wildlife Habitat program, sponsored by National Wildlife Federation. They own 20 acres with native plants, bird feeders, nest boxes and a backyard pond in Hastings, Minn.

Lois Settlemeyer’s photo of the Aurora Borealis shining among the trees in northern Alaska won first place in the “Landscapes and plant life” category.


“It was a night I’ll never forget,” said Settlemeyer, a retired corporate technician who lives in Camas, Wash. “As the clouds parted briefly, I was able to take one good shot of the dancing light.”

The gorilla mom and baby I mentioned above along with other contest winners can be viewed on the website of the “2015 National Wildlife Photo Contest Winners.”

Drones may address mystery of early deaths in killer whale calves

Being able to measure a killer whale’s girth and observe its overall condition without disturbing the animal is an important advancement in orca research.

By running a small hexacopter, also known as a drone, at a safe level over all 81 Southern Resident killer whales last month, researchers came to the conclusion that most of the orcas were in a healthy condition. Seven whales were picked out for further observation, including a few suspected of being pregnant.

I was especially intrigued by the idea that researchers could track the progress of a pregnancy. It has been long suspected that the first calf born to a young female orca often dies. A possible reason is that the calf receives a dangerous load of toxic chemicals from its mother. With this “offloading” of toxic chemicals from mother to first calf, later offspring receive lesser amounts of the chemicals.

Miscarriages and even births often go unnoticed, especially in the winter when the whales travel in the ocean far from human observation. If the young ones do not survive until their pod returns to Puget Sound, we may never know that a young whale was lost. Now, this remotely operated hexacopter may provide before and after pictures of a pregnant female, offering evidence when something goes wrong with a calf.

Images of the whales can be combined with skin biopsies and fecal samples collected by boat to provide a larger picture of the health of individual whales and the overall population.

Images of the whales collected this fall can be compared to those collected by conventional helicopter in 2008 and 2013 to assess any changes in the animals. Because of the noise and prop wash of a conventional helicopter, pilots must stay at a higher elevation to keep from disturbing the whales. There seems to be general agreement that drones are the way to go.

John Durban of NOAA Fisheries, who piloted the drone on 115 flights over the Southern Residents, said he was encouraged that their overall condition appeared better than in the past few years.

“Most individuals appear to be fairly robust this year, which is good news, but it’s also very important baseline information to have if the next few years turn out to be difficult for salmon and their predators,” Durban said in a news release.

Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research has a somewhat different take on this new tool. The high rate of miscarriages and neonate deaths have long been known, Ken told me in an email. It is the only way that they are able to control their population within the carrying capacity of their food supply.

“I am more excited about five whales being born and surviving since last December than I am about an unproven morphometric surmise that additional whales are in some stage of a seventeen-month pregnancy,” he said. “It is not wise to ‘count your chickens before they hatch,’ as the saying goes.”

The goal should be to recover the population, Ken said. When it comes to recovering salmon and killer whales, resource management has been a dismal failure. His suggestion: Remove the Snake River dams and allow the salmon numbers to rebuild naturally while fixing Canada’s Fraser River.

“With climate change well underway,” Ken wrote, “we cannot fritter away golden opportunities to restore viability in what little is left of a natural world in the Pacific Northwest while counting unborn whales.”

Other aspects of this new effort involving the hexacopter were well covered by news reporters this week. Check out the list below. The new video with John Durban and NOAA’s science writer Rich Press can be seen above. Last month, I provided other information and links about the new tool. See Water Ways Sept. 9.

Recent news coverage:

Amusing Monday:
Sea slugs bring color
to Puget Sound

Nudibranchs, soft-bodied mollusks often called “sea slugs,” are among the most ornately decorated creatures in the sea. With about 3,000 species of nudibranchs coming in all shapes and colors, I thought it might be fun to track down some of these animals.

Frosted nudibranch Photo: Dan Hershman
Frosted nudibranch // Photo: Dan Hershman

Nudibranchs are found in all the world’s oceans, but you don’t need to go beyond Puget Sound to find some of the most beautiful ones. I’m grateful to Dan Hershman, a retired Seattle teacher, part-time musician and underwater naturalist, who shared some of his best photos of sea slugs from this region. Check out Dan’s Flickr website.

The word nudibranch (pronounced nude-eh-brank) comes from the Latin word nudus, meaning naked, and brankhia, meaning gills. So these are animals with naked gills, which often grow out of their backs and sides. These creatures can be as small as a quarter-inch or as long as a foot or more.

White and orange tipped nudibranch Photo: Dan Hershman
White and orange tipped nudibranch
Photo: Dan Hershman

Nudibranchs are carnivores, eating things ranging from algae to anemones, barnacles and even other nudibranchs. They can pick up coloring for camouflage and even poisons from the prey they eat, using the chemicals in defense against predators.

Hermaphrodites with reproductive organs of both sexes, these animals don’t normally self-fertilize. But they are prepared to mate with any mature individual of the same species. Eventually, they will lay masses of spiral-shaped or coiled eggs.

Diamond back nudibranch Photo: Dan Hershman
Diamond back nudibranch
Photo: Dan Hershman

For more great pictures, check out Bored Panda’s collection, the 500PX photo gallery or National Geographic’s page of David Doubilet’s photos. If you would like to join a sea slug fan club, visit Slug Site, home of Opisthobranch Molluscs..

Opalescent nudibranch Photo: Dan Hershman
Opalescent nudibranch // Photo: Dan Hershman

Amusing Monday: Fabulous photos from parks and wild places

The U.S. Department of Interior maintains a large photo album of incredible outdoor pictures taken at national parks and other federal lands throughout the United States. I look forward to checking these pictures each day to see what stunning views have been newly posted.

Photo: Yin Lau, U.S. Department of Interior
Photo: Yin Lau, U.S. Department of Interior

The picture at right shows the Potomac River where it rushes through a narrow gorge before flowing past Washington, D.C. This photo, by Yin Lau, was taken on the Virginia side of the river.

You can access this photo album on Instagram or on Twitter.

This “Amusing Monday” post is a day late and somewhat abbreviated, because I am battling a virus that drained my energy the past few days. I’m feeling better today.

Amusing Monday: Time-lapse reveals national-park wonders unseen

Time-lapse photography can add a new dimension to the way we see things. When done well, these speeded-up videos not only help us see things in a new way but also call us to remember feelings about special places and natural wonders.

On their first visit to Olympic National Park, brothers Will and Jim Pattiz captured images from various park locations for what would become a captivating video for the series “More Than Just Parks.” They traveled to some prime locations that many of us have visited, but their careful use of time-lapse equipment create a new sense of inspiration for familiar places.

So find a quiet moment, sit back and enjoy their video full-screen on your computer if not your TV.

If you’d like to learn more about the video project and what the brothers learned about Olympic National Park, read the interview on the Exotic Hikes website, or check out the background on “More Than Just Parks.”

One of my all-time favorite time-lapse videos was shot in Yellowstone National Park, where photographer Christopher Cauble captured the rhythms of nature in a place where geysers, streams, clouds and even the animals move with a natural fluidity. I especially like the sections where the video slows down to remind us about the normal pace of events — something not seen in most time-lapse videos.

The last video on this page shows Mount Rainier in a time-lapse video by West Coast Time Lapse, a company of Nate Wetterauer and Chase Jensen. Like the Olympic National Park video, this one about Mount Rainier was posted within the past year.

If you would like to see more time-lapse video of national parks, take a look at “15 time-lapse videos that capture national parks at their best” by The Wilderness Society. It contains parks from here in Washington (a different Olympic National Park video) to Maine, from Alaska to Texas.

A reminder to watch live video: Bears still active
at Alaska’s Brooks Falls

Brown bears are still actively fishing at Brooks Falls in Alaska’s Katmai National Park and Preserve. I wish I had more time to sit and watch them, as there is almost always something going on at this time of year — although the salmon run is expected to decline soon. See live video from three cameras on

The looping video on this page was captured from one of the live cameras by national park staff, who posted the action with this note: “Wow, fishing gets intense! Bear brawl!”

For this and other live wildlife cams from across the country, check out my “Amusing Monday” blog post in Water Ways from June 29.