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Against All Odds, Loons survive
So far this summer, the wind, rain, and thunder storms have been difficult not only for our spirits in the North East, but for the hatching of our nesting loons. Despite the threat of rising water levels, many of the loons have successfully hatched. The pair I have been observing, hatched in the nick of time — temperature in the mid fifties, forceful winds, and a surge of constant battering waves could have wiped them out completely at any time. Their nest site was only two inches from the water at the peak of the floods. One day as I checked on them, an adult loon and then a second adult came around the island. As they swam closer, I could see two little chicks bobbing between them. The family swam on, staying close to each other, relocating to a nearby cove where they would raise their chicks. They made it against the odds.
Why do loons nest on the edge of lakes?
Loons have large bodies, making it cumbersome to walk on land. They build their nests on the edge of lakes for safety — should a predator appear they can quickly slip out of the nest into the water.
Downy Black Fluffy Balls
According to the Maine Audubon Society, “Newly hatched loon chicks are downy black fluffy balls that weigh roughly a quarter of a pound, the same as a stick of butter. They can swim right away, and will try to dive, though they have trouble staying under water for very long. They may feed themselves insects from the surface of the water but rely on their parents for food. By two weeks of age they gain about seven times their body weight. That’s like a baby growing to the size of a third grader in just fourteen days! ”
Why do loon chicks ride on their parents’ backs?
It’s chilly in early summer — water temperatures are not quite like July. Loon chicks cannot maintain their own body temperatures just yet, similar to human newborn humans.
They are not able to swim as fast as their parents — they need to stay close for survival. Parents will invite them under their wing when they need to move quickly away from danger.
Snapping turtles and big fish are threats to little chicks.
Bald Eagles can spot a meal a mile away, which is another reason for riding on the back. Loons are fierce fighters when they have to protect their young.
One day on the lake I was stunned to see chick #1 attack his sibling with a vengeance — pecking the top of his head with a gleam in his eye. When his parents surfaced he quickly changed his demeanor like he was an angel waiting for them. Chick #2 was a little dazed, but recovered quickly. I have not seen this before and since found out it’s fairly common. Just like in human families, loon brothers and sisters don’t always get along. The chick that hatches first generally is the bigger chick and what starts out as a tiny difference can quickly turn into a big advantage because the bigger (often the more aggressive one) can beg for more food from its parents. If the parents don’t catch enough food for both chicks, chances are the bigger chick will be the only one to survive.
It is a tough go for loons. Even if they stick close to their parents, the chance of chicks surviving through their first few weeks is quite low. Statistics say only 25% make it through the summer.
Symbol of the Northern Wilderness
I feel fortunate to be able to sit quietly in my kayak with my telephoto lens, at a distance from the loons (on a lake where many people kayak, so the loons are used to it) and watch them for hours. It is hard to describe the feeling like you are immersed in the loon’s world — truly a privilege. It has been said that no animal better symbolizes northern wilderness than the common loon, except perhaps moose!
Like most of us I love photographing waterfalls. The courses of water make wonderful compositional elements and the ability to transform the tumbling chaotic water into velvety ribbons is a magical product of long exposures. There are a number of lovely falls in my corner of New Hampshire. The Monadnock region holds the Beaver Brook Falls in Keene, Chesterfield Gorge along Route 9, Forty Foot Falls in Surry and the little known Hubbard Falls hidden in an isolated corner of Chesterfield. I frequently explore these locations, but one of my favorite areas for flowing water photography is off to the east in Hillsborough County, around the towns Wilton, Milford, Mt. Vernon and Lyndeborough.
Hillsborough County occupies the south central portion of New Hampshire along the Massachusetts border. The county includes New Hampshire’s two largest cities, Nashua and Manchester, but much of the county to the west is quite rural and possesses some of the prettiest waterfalls in the southern tier of the state. Over the years, I’ve been enticed by the beautiful photographs that I have seen of the waterfalls in this area, especially those taken by fellow members of the New England Photography Guild. Recently I have made the effort to find the best of these sites. My mother lives in Nashua, New Hampshire, and I often use the excuse of a visit to wander off my travels on Route 101 in search of flowing water. I have several favorites.
I am sure I don’t have the depth of experience that locals have photographing these sites, but I thought my fresh enthusiasm might entice others to give these spots a try. All are easily accessible. In this article, I will include simple addresses and GPS coordinates, but detailed directions are available all over the web. Some falls are on private property and, as is always true, care must be taken to avoid disruptions and damage that might lead to restrictions on future access.
My four favorite falls in the area are Purgatory Falls, Tucker Brook Falls, Senter Falls and Garwin Falls. I can give only brief descriptions of each location, but hopefully it will be sufficient to excite your interest. They are all worth repeated trips. For more pictures of the falls, check out my regular Blog.
Waterfall photography is exciting and challenging. There is always the temptation to look for unusual, and sometimes precarious, angles, but the footing is often very slippery and care should be taken to avoid personal injury and more importantly to avoid catastrophic damage to your equipment. Waterfall photography requires special care, equipment and techniques. Kari Post’s “The Essential Guide to Photographing Waterfalls” is an excellent eBook which discusses all of these issues, and is illustrated with her spectacular photography.
1) Purgatory Falls (Milford & Mt. Vernon)
Purgatory Falls is actually a series of waterfalls along Purgatory Brook as it travels 3 miles through the Purgatory Brook Conservation Area between the Upper Falls along the Mt. Vernon/Lyndeborough border, to the Lower Falls in Milford. The lower falls are the easiest to access with a short (one mile) trail starting at a parking lot on Purgatory Road. (N 42.85877, W 71.69449). The falls empty into a secluded grotto pool, which can cause difficult, contrasty light on sunny days, but there are plenty of interesting angles around the pool, downstream and from above. Be careful of the footing as you explore above the falls.
The short trail to the Upper Falls comes off the end Purgatory Falls Road (sometimes called just Purgatory Rd) in Mt Vernon (N42.8897, W71.7108). The trail follows Purgatory Brook until it shoots off a cliff dropping 25 feet into gorge with a rock strewn pool below. A short scramble down to the pool will provide some of the best views of the falls. The trail from here follows the brook all the way to the Lower Falls and there is a Middle Falls along the way which I look forward to exploring in the future.
2) Tucker Brook Falls (Milford)
Tucker Brook Falls is a lovely gentle cascade located in the Tucker Brook Town Forest in Milford. The forest has a number of entrances, but the falls are best accessed from Savage Road. The parking area is next to power lines which cross the road (N42.829116, W71.708791). The trail initially parallels the road to a junction and Kiosk which has a helpful map of the area. Follow the Falls Loop Trail along Tucker Brook to the falls. Depending on the flow, views from both sides of the brook can be accessed by crossing below the falls or, during high water, across a bridge which is up-stream.
3) Senter Falls (Lyndeborough)
Senter Falls is actually a dramatic series of cascades and falls formed as Cold Brook descends through a steep gorge in Alan & The Edgar Rice Natural Area in Lyndeborough. The Trail head and a small parking area are on Lyndeborough Rd (N42.934293, W71.740685). The trail initially crosses over a small stream and then continues, over relatively flat ground, to Cold Brook. Two Brooks trail then turns left and ascends alongside the falls, providing many dramatic photographic opportunities. Again the path is steep and the rocks surrounding the falls are invariably wet and slippery. Take special care. Senter Falls is a somewhat further off the main roads, but it is well worth the effort.
4) Garwin Falls (Wilton)
Garwin Falls is found below the outlet of the Old Wilton Reservoir and can be the most impressive of the falls in the region. With good flow the water drops 40 feet in a number of beautiful curtains. Another cascade to the left of the main falls can be equally dramatic. Garwin Falls is reached from a short trail which begins just south of where Isaac Frye Highway crosses the brook that feeds the reservoir (N42.8467283, W 71.771447). A short way down the trail, a spur heads off to the left reaching a quiet glade along the brook above the reservoir. The falls can be photographed from a number of levels along its drop and downstream, although waders may be helpful to get out into the stream to get an unobstructed view of the main falls.
Waterfall photography is always dependant on flow of water, the quality of light, and change of seasons, but these 4 falls provide everything you could want in New England flowing water. I plan to continue to explore this region since I am sure I have missed some favorite local sites. I would love to hear about other great areas for flowing water in Hillsborough County.
For more images of these falls check out my companion article in my personal photography blog.
~ Jeff Newcomer
- Main Website : http://www.partridgebrookreflections.com/
- My Weekily Photography Blog : http://jeffnewcomerphotography.blogspot.com/
- Flickr Site: http://bit.ly/LCvaHE
Previous New England Photography Guild Articles:
Focal Length or how much lens to use
I like a 24-105mm for this purpose. A wide angle is nice but I usually have to be too close. A big telephoto has its own issues unless you are a half mile away. I prefer a mid-range telephoto that allows some wide and zoom capability. I believe in flexibility.
I plan on setting my aperture/f-stop for f4 but I will usually go higher, earlier in the evening. You generally don’t need too much depth of field. As it gets darker you can trade off the fstop as needed. [note] I also lock my focus on the first shot and then turn off autofocus. Most cameras won’t focus if it doesn’t have something bright to focus on.
My secret technique is to open the shutter before anything is happening (black sky) and then I hold the shutter open for the count of one thousand one, one thousand two. You get the idea, and then at some point, I release it and stand ready for the next shot.
This depends on your camera. My normal setting is an ISO of 200-400 but my newer camera can go as high as 1600 if I wanted to. By going higher, though, you take the chance of inducing noise into the shot (colored dots of light). If your camera is prone to noise then set it for a low ISO and make your exposures longer.
Shutter Speed, cable release, and a tripod
Fireworks look better when you have the Rockets trail rising from the ground and the explosion with the points of light expanding outward. To accomplish this, the shutter speed will need to be measured in seconds. Most times my shots range from 2 seconds out to 12 seconds.
To me shutter speed is the key to successful fireworks photos.
There are two trains of thought on this. If you want some crazy patterns to the lights then by all means hand hold it. What-the-hey, move the camera while the shutter is open and paint with light. But for images that people really enjoy (or buy) then I will put the camera on a sturdy tripod and use a shutter release. The type of release doesn’t matter as long as you can use it to keep the shutter open manually
My cable release allows me to open my shutter, hold it open, and then close it, based on what I’m seeing.
Putting it all together
Each year I pick a different location to see what the fireworks look like from a different aspect. To me the best images (not always mine) are the ones that have a strong visual element in addition to the firework explosion.
In this image I was in Salem and I positioned myself so that the Friendship of Salem was between me and the fireworks. The result was the ship looked like it was in a massive battle with the bombs bursting in the air above the ship.
People in your shots or not?
This next image is over in Marblehead on Fort Beach. Low tide hit an hour before the fireworks were to start. So I found a large rock to get an unobstructed view and away from the crowds. As luck would have it the tide kept going out and revealed more rocks and the crowds went out in front of me to sit and watch the fireworks.
So, for the first time ever, I had people in my 4th of July photos and I think these are some of my best.
The Grand Finale
One of the problems we all have is the finale. They starting throwing everything and the kitchen sink into the air and you have way too much light. In an effort to tame the light you have to shorten the exposure, but then you lose the light trails due to a half second exposure.
My friend Eyal Oren used the photo tree in the image to block much of the intense light, resulting in this very pleasing image. See more of his work at Wednesday in Marblehead.
I suggest you go read the manual (RTFM), Yes, Read The Freakin Manual and see what it says..
Don’t wait until one hour before the start of the fireworks. Pull the manual out now and read what it says for low light situations and then go out and practice with it.
I hope this article helps you take some real winners and, if you are so inclined, please share them on our NEPGuild Facebook page.
Questions? Leave a comment.
Late May and Early June are busy times for the members of the New England Photography Guild. The young leaves now on the trees have a gorgeous emerald hue, and look great framing waterfalls and fast flowing mountain streams. Migratory birds are passing through in their bright breeding colors, and many adorable young animals are out and about under the watchful eye of proud parents. Spring flowers are everywhere too…from the forest floor to the open fields, and especially in the great gardens that are meticulously maintained by New Englanders looking to shake off the long winter.
There are three annual and widespread wildflower blooms that capture most of my attention this time of year. In the forests in southern and central New England, the Mountain Laurel fills the forest will one last hint of pink and white before the sunlight is completely shaded by the canopy above. On the highest mountain tops, hardy and rare species of arctic plants put on a brief show of spectacular color in the seemingly barren alpine zone. And perhaps the most celebrated, the lupines and daisies fill the fields and roadsides all over Northern New England.
The premier locations to take in the lupine blooms for the next few weeks are the towns of Sugar Hill and Franconia in Northern New Hampshire. The towns have a three week long lupine festival celebrating the blooms, and more than enough flowers and blooms to warrant the celebration. The towns are picturesque, with a pastoral valley feel surrounded by beautiful high mountains. There are stone walls, white churches, old barns and dirt roads to aid in your composition, and an open air market, great little shops and inns, and even wagon rides through the fields to pass the time when not out shooting.
My itinerary in for a weekend in Sugar Hill is one of simplicity. I usually camp nearby, wake up before the sun, and head right to the Sampler fields on Sunset Hill Road. I’ve shot these fields at dawn every year for many years, but keep coming back as it’s just an incredible location at first light. The hill rises above the morning mist that settles in the low valleys. The sun backlights the early lupines which are usually covered in a thick dew, and frontlights the surrounding mountains.
There are paths cut through the fields, and for photographers, it’s important to respect the integrity of the fields and flowers and keep to the paths. Lupine plants take two years to bloom, and straying off path for YOUR unique composition can damage a few cycles of lupine blooms.
From there, the options abound. There is a published guidebook that you can pickup at many local retail establishments for a few dollars, and they highlight all the local fields. Perhaps you’d like to go down to Pearl Lake to see the loons and the mist among the lupines? Up to St. Matthews Church or the hayrake in the adjacent fields? Drive some dirt roads in hopes for bear or moose sightings in the field? Or just stay put with the macro lens and shoot some close-ups? It seems like there are endless opportunities to shoot around town, and you can easily add your own style and vision to the scenes in front of you!
I’m usually kept busy shooting until 8AM when the light starts to get a bit harsh. And from there, it’s off to Polly’s Pancake Parlor just down the road for a classic New England Breakfast with real local maple syrup. As a bonus, there is a great lupine field across from Polly’s!
Thereafter, I tend to use the rest of the midday to take in the lupine festival events, or do some hiking, fishing, or touring nearby. By mid-afternoon, the light begins to get softer, and I look for a location to set up for sunset. My favorite sunset spot is the open field behind St. Matthews church. There isn’t an established path through the field, but photographers usually make a narrow herd path. Again, it’s important to stick to the herd path so as not to damage future blooms in this beautiful location.
Afternoon weather can change rapidly in this area, and as a special note, afternoon showers are quite common. This often provides opportunities for shooting rainbows over the fields, so if a little rain moves in, keep your eyes peeled. These clouds often abate by evening again, allowing for great alpenglow on the Franconia Ridge across the valley if you put your back to the sunset!
There are great resources for planning a trip to Sugar Hill for the lupine festival online. The Franconia Notch Chamber of Commerce offers a schedule of events, as well as lodging recommendations. Harman’s Cheese, a great local shop, posts and archives daily lupine pictures to help you time your visit. They also maintain a Facebook page where you can share your pictures and reports.
The festival starts next weekend, I hope to see you there!
As late summer rolls along, many signs of the changing seasons are evident: early foliage trees have started to change color, late season flowers such as asters and goldenrod are in bloom, and winter migrations are well under way.
The annual migration of monarch butterflies is one of nature’s most remarkable spectacles. It’s hard to imagine that an insect weighing a matter of grams could successfully undertake a journey of several thousand miles, but each year, millions of these colorful butterflies across North America to wintering grounds in the mountains of Mexico and the California coast.
Monarchs, which are members of the overall ‘brushfoot’ family of butterflies, are distinguished from the similarly colored and patterned viceroys by their slightly larger size, and lack of a black line on their hindwings – the viceroy has a distinctive stripe that is evident from above when its wings are spread. Monarchs are most visible in New England from mid to late summer, though early individuals arrive in the area by late May or early June. Their habitat includes meadows and other areas with ‘edge’ habitat such as wetlands, gardens, and power line clearings, especially where milkweed, their host plant, are present. They feed on a variety of wild and garden flowers, including asters and goldenrod.
While the typical lifespan for an adult monarch is three to five weeks, each season produces one hardy generation that lives for seven to eight months (the equivalent of a human surviving 500 years) and undertakes the long journey. Though it varies by latitude and climate, the movement generally reaches its peak from late August to late September, and continues until the first frosts.
During this time, some of the best places to see concentrations of monarchs are coastal areas, ridges (such as hawk watch sites), and river valleys. A significant conservation concern is the destruction of forests on their wintering grounds.
The southbound individuals don’t survive long enough to make the return trip, and those that journey back to the Northeast have normal life spans and make the passage over one or two generations, and the cycle begins again.