You wanted to know

“Hey, Al,” started the thousands of e-mails I received the past couple of days, more-or-less-kinda (which means absolutely not,) “how come you haven’t posted anything for almost a week? This is prime season – why aren’t you out shooting?” Though no one nearby actually asked that (no duh,) because they knew what the local conditions were like: peripheral tropical storm effects, which means grey days with frequent misty rains, followed by Florida effects, which means sunlight interspersed with unpredictable fierce thunderstorms. While shooting the photos for the recent bird post, I had resolved to get down to the lake on a clear evening to use the light to my advantage, as well as doing more focusing tests, and spent a week waiting for the weather to be clear enough. This past Friday, following another horrendous downpour, the sun came out brightly and I headed down about ninety minutes before sunset.

black vulture Coragyps atratus perched in excellent light
And the light was ideal; nice warm yellow color, low and distinct, able to reach the undersides of a bird easily and help prevent any backlighting or semi-silhouettes, though my subject here doesn’t show it well. Naturally, while the sun was cooperating, the ospreys and herons were nowhere to be seen.

partly cloudy conditions over Jordan Lake
And it was still a weekday, following a fierce rain, so fewer boaters were out, which also helps to encourage the fishing raptors to operate a little closer to shore. The sky was still scattered clouds, and I watched a thick band on the horizon as the sun lowered, afraid of what it meant.

I wasn’t wrong.

mostly cloudy conditions at Jordan Lake
Descending sun and prevailing winds conspired to shroud the sky in a moody blend of cloud types, taking away all of the prime light. Nonetheless, I had made some changes to focus parameters within the camera, so I stayed put to see if I got some nice subjects to experiment with, and in case the sun reappeared through a break in the varied cloud deck. It wasn’t unreasonable, since many layers could be discerned, and they were moving, not fast, but not slow either. Fair to middlin’, as it is said in Yorkshire. Or so Herriot tells me, anyway.

different sunlight on varied cloud layers
You can even see a spot of blue up there. It’s a staple in comic strips to look up at the clouds and talk about what they suggest, giving the impression that this is a frequent activity among, well, anyone, though I suspect this is only a myth started by Charles Schulz. But I’m game anyway: I see… a… pony struck by a fast-moving freight train. Eastbound.

fragment of rainbow down at the horizon
Really, it was a notably diverse sky. This fragment of a rainbow (though I made no measurements of curve to determine if it could even be called a ‘bow’) took up only a small vertical patch of the sky, and I endeavored to get a distant bird framed with it. Only kinda worked, but it’s better than no bird at all.

sunglow behind varied clouds at Jordan Lake
After a certain period of time, when the idea of ‘appropriate nature photographer’s patience’ was giving way to ‘wasting your damn time,’ I figured the sunset was coming along within thirty minutes and I could wait to see if that threw some cool colors on the sky, knowing I’d be annoyed with myself if I abandoned the locale right before things got really vivid. Bear in mind, I’m just standing at one point on the shore the entire time, wandering back and forth maybe a handful of meters – I wanted a pretty wide view of the sky so I could spot any raptors wheeling in a broad area. Didn’t even bring a folding chair or ground cover cloth with me. I was, in fact, right underneath the same tree with the brown-headed nuthatch nest from that aforementioned bird post, hoping to see some activity now that the sun/crappylight could shine directly onto the nest opening, but as I suspected, the fledgling(s) had left the nest in the intervening time – probably regretting it, given the weather. While many people think birds use a nest all year long, it’s only for hatching and raising young, and as soon as those are out flying on their own, the nest is abandoned; birds simply perch at night (or at day, for the nocturnal species.)

near-sunset colors on varied clouds
I admit, the sky almost looked promising as sunset came along. I was pretty sure we wouldn’t get any nearby undercloud colors from the sun getting below the cloud bank, but there still remained the possibility that the upper reaches would get illuminated and show patches among the lower levels. By the way, the colors didn’t quite look this vivid in person; the camera’s white-balance was set for sunlight, so all color shifts become apparent, but our eyes can compensate for this to some extent, knowing the clouds are ‘grey’ and thus seeing them that way.

osprey Pandion haliaetus cruising in distance under varied clouds
One of only three osprey that I saw that evening cruised by against the sky, so I did a little focus tracking on it, but not enough to feel comfortable with the new settings – after all, it wasn’t doing anything very demanding like diving for prey, which is what I’m really after at the moment.

And then, when it became clear (ahaha) that the sunset wasn’t going to pan out at all, I started noticing some flashes from various points on the horizon, picking up some distant thunderheads, and started waiting for those to see if they developed decently. This had the potential of making me curse myself, because I hadn’t packed a tripod so long exposures were out of the question. But while the light was still too bright to do more than a few seconds anyway, I braced against a tree and shot some video of the most promising thunderhead, estimated at least 30 kilometers distant (the Real Time Lightning Map is web-based, and I tend not to use my limited phone data for such things.) Despite timing the flashes reasonably well, all I caught was the barest visible bolt and several brief cloud illuminations. Not worth even uploading a video clip, so here’s a frame still.

video frame of distant lightning
And just so you know, getting even this frame was tricky enough. VLC Player will allow frame-by-frame motion (forward only) in its Advanced menu, but not exactly – it tends to skip frames, and the lightning bolt existed for just one. After having it once and accidentally advancing past it, the next few tries only netted me the cloud glow nearby, and I had to keep backing and pausing the video to hope to get the ‘odd’ frames instead of the ‘even’ ones, kind of thing. All for this.

So yeah, among work and weather and so on, I did do a little shooting, and this is what I got. So when it goes too quiet around here, know that I’m either very busy with other things, or having a crappy time with what I am pursuing, photography-wise. Nature of the beast. Yet there are still a few other images that are on their way, so don’t give up on me yet.

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