Saturday, September 30, 2023

The Week In Pictures: Migration


Summer is coming to an end and many North America birds are beginning their annual migration south.

And so it was for me this week, traveling from north to south, Michigan to Florida.

I was in Michigan's Lower Peninsula, in farming country south of Grand Rapids along the Thornapple River. The place used to be a mill town long ago with a dam on the river creating a miles-long pond to power the wheels and stones that once ground corn and wheat from local farms into meal and flour. Those products were first carried away to the city on horse-drawn wagons and later by train. 

But those days are long gone and so is the mill and the train, though the dam and the pond remain. 

The farms are still here too, but nowadays their products, corn, soybeans, diary, are carried away on trucks bound for modern processing facilities far away, and the town has become a bedroom community wrapped around a modern plant that manufacturers hot water heaters. It's a clean, quiet, safe little town with a block-long main street of small stores, a few good restaurants, and an absolutely excellent coffee shop. 

And that long gone railroad is now a rails-to-trails conversion, part of the North American Birding Trail, used by joggers and cyclists and people out for a morning walk with their dog. A paved portion of it runs right through downtown, next to the old dam, between the river and what's left of the millpond. The pond is now overgrown with returning native wetland plants and a hundred of varieties of birds, mink, muskrat, bobcat, fox, woodchucks, and other species. 

It's also become a stop on the migration route for birds traveling between Canada and their wintering grounds in Central and South America.

Like these Canada Geese flying in formation. Their honking filled the air one evening as I hiked along the trail.

And these mallard ducks.

Or this great egret (also known as a great white heron), who I watched each morning while he hunted his breakfast of small fish, leeches, and fresh water mollusks in the shallow waters. 

And this pied-billed Grebe, a small waterbird with rear-facing legs like a penguin (unlike penguins, grebes can't walk on land), and massively webbed feet like twin propellers giving the bird the ability to move torpedolike through the water. They have short bills with sharp tooth-like serrations that they use to grab their prey of small fish such as brim, perch, and bluegills, which they then swallow whole. Grebes aren't common in this area, they're just passing through on the way south. 

And speaking of passing through, Sandhill Cranes stop each night to rest and feed along the edges of the millpond, and are gone again in the morning before first light. 

This eastern phoebe was probably my favorite picture from Michigan. I snapped her in the early dawn, just before sun up, when everything was damp from the fog and the whole world was still and silent. Looking through the big lens, I could just make out that spiderweb, highlighted in fine droplets from the mist, and realized she was watching it. Phoebes are flycatchers and she was guarding that web and ready to take advantage of the spider's hard work should the opportunity present itself. I was pretty proud of this image. It was a difficult shot in the low light. I posted it to social media ... only to realize later no one could see the web on their tiny phone screens and the small drab bird didn't impress anyone very much. Sigh. The tribulations of a bird photographer. 

Speaking of social media, this yellow-rumped warbler was also a favorite shot. They're very common birds in this area (along with about a dozen other species of warbler), but not easy to photograph as they tend to hide in the thick brush. Not only did I get a clear close-up shot, but one framed in beautiful fall colors of red and yellow. But when I posted it to social media, all anyone could talk about was that the leaves are poison ivy. I had to take the image down when people started complaining about being "triggered" and the conversations devolved into snide passive aggressive arguments -- as if they were somehow going to get a rash from looking at an image on a phone screen.  I'm honestly not sure how some of these people manage to make it through the day. 

And so long as I'm posting pictures of poison ivy, here are some bluebirds among colorful ivy leaves covering an old pine stump deep in the swamp. The light filtering through the forest canopy gives the silvered wood a blue cast, which I thought was a perfect compliment to the birds. 

I drove out into the country to an Audubon sanctuary I happen to know about. I didn't find any birds, but the fields were full of butterflies and bees, like this Viceroy -- a monarch mimic.  

I left Michigan and drove a thousand miles south to the Florida Panhandle. 

Migration isn't quite in full swing here yet. 

I caught this this female kingfisher in the pines of Santa Rosa Island near Fort Pickens. I feel a kinship with her, given that's the same WTF? expression on my face most of the time these days.

These feather-legged scoliidae wasps were busy gathering nectar in the flowers outside my office. They look fearsome indeed, but they're the good guys. They are non-aggressive pollinators and they destroy the larva of invasive tree bark beetles. Scoliidae are an indicator of a healthy ecosystem. Plus they just look so damn cool. 

The hummingbirds are still passing through on their way south, though most of the males have gone on ahead now and I mostly only see the less colorful females and juveniles. Like this beautiful lady, backlit by the morning sun. 

I spent much of yesterday out near Perdido Key and in Big Lagoon State Park with a friend and fellow photographer.

We'd barely gotten out of the car and were still setting up our equipment when this lone bald eagle appeared over the bay. 

I must have at least 10,000 shots of Great Blue Herons, but I'm always taking more pictures of these birds.  I can't help it. They're such weird dinosaurs-looking creatures. Like this one, standing in the wind-whipped grass of a small barrier island off Perdido. 

Note the bird's pupils are different sizes, one in the light, one the shadow.

Osprey (seahawks, aka river hawks) are very common in this area year 'round. There's a boardwalk and an observation tower at Grand Lagoon where you can watch them diving in the inland waterway for fish. This shot is a composite, a stack of five images merged together showing an osprey in the last moments of her dive. Note how the legs and talons swing forward, going from a high-speed low-drag aerodynamic shape to forward-facing grapples ready to snatch the bird's prey on impact. 

She was successful, catching a large mullet. 

But, she dropped it about twenty feet into her climb out. That's got to be disappointing. 

She later caught another mullet and settled into this treetop to finish the meal. This is probably my favorite shot from yesterday. I love the stark, almost black and white pencil sketch look. I'm going to print these in large poster size on canvas. 

And finally, there is this young red shouldered hawk, hunting the pine barrens over Perdido Key. The wind was blowing hard and he was beating into it, hovering, looking for prey in the scrub below. One of those moments where everything just lines up, the camera was ready and programmed to the correct settings for the conditions, the light was behind me, and the bird held position for several minutes. I got these amazing shots ... and then he was gone, gliding effortlessly off in search of a meal down the coast. 

That's it. That's my week in pictures. 

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Stonekettle Pen Sale


I don't usually post notices of sales on my store here on the blog. 

Or I haven't in the past. I don't know why. Laziness probably. Posting the notices to social media was much easier. 

But with the ongoing collapse of social media, I figured it was time to start. 

So: Announcing this month's Stonekettle Pen Sale!

I've been on the road or deathly ill for the last few months. As such, it's been a while since I've done a sale. And I've built up a lot of inventory. Today there are three types of seam rippers. There are letter openers, hobby knives (a new item), fountain pens, several models of mechanical pencils, and a wide variety of pens. More than just what's in the picture below. 

Plus photography prints, canvas, cards, metal prints, puzzles, coffee mugs. 

Note I'll be uploading new prints and artwork over the rest of the week. That's a lengthy and time consuming process for me, so it takes a while. If you've seen images I've posted recently and they're not on the store, check back periodically and they'll likely be available as I get them uploaded and listed. 

Thanks for dropping by // Jim

Monday, September 25, 2023

Not Long Before The End


Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?
--Henry II, 1170, referring to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket
(four knights subsequently murdered Becket, interpreting the King's comment as an order)

Well, we've apparently reached the "Kill All The Military Professionals" stage of the Revolution.

That's, of course, the leading Republican candidate for president, Donald Trump, on his failing social media network last Friday.

Note how Trump accuses General Milley of leading the Afghanistan withdrawal and not Joe Biden? 

Yeah, that's because Trump was the president who committed America to that withdrawal, and who himself gave the order, in the final days of his office. 

But, it's that last bit, after the part where Trump throws in that bonus, randomly capitalized "Woke," that is the real kicker, where he is basically accusing the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, of treason and suggesting Milley be put to death.

I mean, that's...


No he didn't? Trump didn't suggest Milley be put to death?


Yes, he did. 

That's exactly what Trump did. 

Because that's exactly what Trump always does: encourage violence and murder, couched in weasel words so that he can pretend he wasn't doing exactly what he was indeed doing. 

You know it. I know it. There are tribesmen in the deepest, unreached portions of the Brazilian rainforest who have never had contact with the outside world and they know it. Oh, you Trump apologists can most certainly clutch your fleshy pale chests in mock outrage, no doubt aghast I would suggest such a thing. No, no! You cry. He said, "in times past!" That's what he said. In times past, the olde timey time, back when America was Great. Yeah, that's it! Trump was just saying historically anyone who did what Milley had done, well, yeah, back then he would have been put to death. 

Historically speaking, see?

Trump the student of history.

Trump the historian. 

Trump, the guy who knows more about war than the Generals. Of course he does, just ask him. 

You know, like that. 

It's not like Trump was once again engaging in his usual incitement and stochastic terrorism. Not like he has an extensive history of doing exactly that. 

Over and over. 


And what was it Milley did, that our ancestors would have put him to death for? He contacted his counterparts in the Chinese military, with the permission of the Trump Administration, following Trump's attempted insurrection to assure them that he would not allow Trump to unleash America's nuclear arsenal in a fit of unhinged rage. 

You know, just in case the crazy bastards on the other side with the nuclear weapons were maybe thinking about a preemptive strike. 

So long as we're talking historically, there has never been a situation like a raving defeated president who was refusing to leave office, blaming China, and who was STILL IN CONTROL OF THE GODDAMN NUCLEAR BOMBS.  

So long as we're talking about history and all, I mean.

Look, this is pretty fucking simple: if you don't want the generals calling the people you're threatening to vaporize, maybe start acting like a President instead of a character out of a bad HBO movie. 

What Trump doesn't understand, and has never understood, is pathologically incapable of understanding, is that the military swears its oath to the Constitution, to the nation, to the defense of the people of America. 

The US military does not swear personal fealty to the President. Any president. 

The Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs is responsible to the law first. It's right there in the oath. 

The president also swears an oath of loyalty to that same instrument -- but, ironically, unlike members of the military, the president's oath isn't legally binding. 

And speaking of oaths that aren't legally binding: Trump wannabe henchman, the absolute dumbest drooling booger-eating ass-picking member of a congress that includes Lauren Boebert, Arizona Republican Paul Gosar said "in a better society, quislings like the strange sodomy-promoting General Milley would be hung.” 

I'm not quite sure how anyone could know the word "quisling" but not the correct term for execution by gallows. Nevertheless, here we are. I do admit, however, I would dearly love to watch Paul Gosar explain who he thinks Vidkun Quisling actually was and why his name is synonymous with treason,  particularly in the context of giving aid and comfort to fucking fascism, because I suspect that would be hilarious. 

But I digress. 

Also "sodomy promoting?"

Right. Anyone want to guess at the contents of Gosar's browser cache? 

Anyway, and leaving aside the part where a supposedly educated adult man probably means "hanged" and not well endowed, here's a member of Congress calling for the execution of a General Officer of the US Armed Forces. 

Execute the generals. 

Because that's never been done before, right?

Execute the generals. 

Because, historically, the examples of, oh, say the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, North Korea, Hungary, or perhaps more relevant to the current situation: the execution of Rome's last great general, Flavius Stilicho, for "treason," -- who died not in war but arrested and beheaded at the command of faithless politicians for being too damn good at his job and (perhaps) foolishly too damn loyal to the nation he served -- didn't all end in utter disaster. 

Funny, isn't it? 

Funny ironic how those who claim to be the arbiters of history don't seem to know any of it? 

And funny how they consistently suggest they would themselves commit the very worst actions of the oppressive regimes they claim to despise?

Yeah, funny indeed. 

Monday, September 18, 2023

The Week in Photography: Hummingbird Migration


New feature.

The Week In Pictures

As many of you likely know, in addition to being a writer, I'm also a photographer. I've been told I'm reasonably decent at both, but I'll leave that up to you. 

Anyway: I'm going start posting a summary of the previous week's photography here on Stonekettle Station.

I typically post images I take as I go on social media, but not everyone follows me on those platforms and the photos aren't summarized by week. And those platforms are subject to the arbitrary whims of infantile zillionaires, which I often find irritating. I've had images (OF BIRDS) removed from Facebook, because some fanatical birder tagged them as "false information" and "hate speech" because she didn't agree with my identification (and in case you ever wonder why I find fanatical birders obnoxious, that right there is a pretty good example. Or see the time they got me suspended on two platforms over hummingbird feeders, etc). And it looks like the end is sight for my Twitter existence, so ... new feature. 

We'll start with the Ruby Throated Hummingbird migration that's been passing through the Florida Panhandle over the last week. 

These images were all taken by me, on my property, with a variety of gear, primarily a Nikon Z9 and a Nikon Z8, but also the Z7, Z7ii, and a D850 (you can never have too many cameras. I need more. More). Lens included my primary bird glass, the Nikkor 600mmf4E. Also a Nikkor Z 70-200mmf2.8, a Nikkor Z MC 50mm Macro/Micro lens. A Venus Optics Laowa 60mm 2x Ultra Macro. A Laowa 25mm Probe Macro lens. And probably some other glass I've forgotten about at the moment (you can never have too much good glass either). Most of the time the equipment was tripod mounted and operated remotely using a radio frequency controller. Some of the shots were taken using the Z9's autocapture function. 

There is very little post processing, other that some white balance adjustment and cropping to fit my standard formats. 

Most of these images will be available for sale in my store next week. (I'm travelling this week, so it's going to have to wait). There will be a pen sale as well, including a variety of products. 

As to the hummingbirds: migration is mostly over for us here now. I'm seeing a few stragglers, but the males are all gone and it's just a few females and juveniles early in the morning. 

Let's get to it. 

That's it. That's the week in Pictures.

Future editions of this feature will likely include commentary about each image, but I am pressed for time today. So, you get images sans my narration. 

Hope you enjoy this new feature.