Great rhododendron, which we frequently encountered in the mountains.

Great rhododendron, which we frequently encountered in the mountains.

 

For a seven year period beginning in 1985, I was fortunate to have had  the opportunity to engage in international nature travel. As preparatory to those excursions, I acquired  a couple of Nikon FAs and several Nikon and Tamron lenses. But then digital emerged and my slides and slide projector became increasingly anachronistic: I felt like Martha in her cage, the last of a kind, becoming ever less connected with the present. In 2008, I did buy a point and shoot which I never fully mastered. I could record the people I was with (increasingly important as I age) and landscapes, but if I wanted wildlife shots I had to ask better endowed companions to share their pictures. (Sometimes they did not arrive until after I needed them.) If I was by myself, I would use photos by generous friends: although they depicted the same species it would be at least slightly better if the shots were actually taken on that excursion.

This year I was going to do more traveling than I ever have before. Getting good new gear was a priority but due to inertia and expenses it did not happen until last month. Cindy and I were embarking on a road trip through West Virginia, where I had been invited to speak at the Mountain Instiute,, and then up to Pittsburgh for another talk sponsored by the Audubon of Western Pennsylvania.  It seemed like the perfect time make the purchase.

I solicited Facebook Friends (what did we do before such resources?)  for advice on cameras and Chicago area stores. I was intending to buy my camera at the place I always used to, Helix on Racine Avenue: but as I sought the exact address, I learned it is closed and has been since February 2013. It was my friend Robin Kozloff who first suggested that a local store I should try was Central Camera, in downtown Chicago. I had kind of decided what I  wanted so buy I called and talked to Don Flesch, Central’s owner, who gave me all kinds of info. I selected the camera and I told  him I needed it no later than the following Friday night, since we were leaving for WV on early Saturday morning. He called me on Thursday afternoon to say the camera had arrived from Helix. He suggested me meet that evening but I had a talk so instead we agreed to rendezvous at a restaurant Friday at 6 am. That is service! We had a nice breakfast and I secured my camera for the trip early next morning.

My new camera.

My new camera.

My camera is a Nikon D610 with a 28-300 x zoom. (It is apparently compatable with some of my old lenses but all functions would have to be performed manually: I have a ways to go before I master the automatic lenses before I try something really challenging.) The huge instruction manual starts out with pages warning you how many  ways you can hurt yourself if your not cautious. My favorite: should you mount the camera to a tripod, be careful when you walk lest you  strike someone with the legs.

After perusing the manual some, I could not wait and began stalking the subject of my first picture.

First unsuspecting subject

First unsuspecting subject

Later when Cindy returned from an errand she became the second subject.

Cindy, my second unsuspecting subject.

Cindy, my second unsuspecting subject.

Saturday morning we arose and departed bright and early. In early evening we stopped at a motel in Parkersburg, West Virginia just over the Ohio line. We explored the area a bit and lingered at Fort Boreman Historical Park, which overlooks the city and the confluence of the Ohio and Little Kanawha rivers. (Visible is Blennerhassett Island, where, it is alleged by some, Aaron Burr planned to raise an army and launch a coup; friend and Burr aficionado  Brett Angelos assures me, however, that Burr had no such aspirations and that claims to the contrary were manufactured by political  rival Thomas Jefferson.)   This was my first opportunity to practice with the camera. My first vistas!

 

Parkersburg from Fort Boreman Historic Park.

Parkersburg from Fort Boreman Historic Park.

I was also awaiting my first bird photo. There were some poorly lit and distant robins which I decided did not warrant this great honor so I used restraint. The next morning we weaved our way through the mountains on our way to the institute, a terrain far different than the one at home, dominated by a lake plane and punctuated by gentle glacial moraines.

Getting close to the Mountain Institute.

Getting close to the Mountain Institute.

When we arrived the only people we encountered were staff. The facility is a lovely place that successfully blends in with the wooded hills and grasslands that surround it. Guests can choose as housing their own personal yurts or dormitories. We chose the yurt closest to the bathroom and parking lot and brought our gear inside. (Some say it is haunted by a spectral foot.)

Ghost foot of the yurt.

Ghost foot of the yurt.

Over the course of our time, we wandered around and the camera recorded its lifer butterfly (a fritillary of undetermined species) and lifer amphibian (a common newt in the eft stage).

Common newt

Common newt

We headed out in late afternoon for Spruce Knob, the highest point in West Virginia with an elevation of 4,863 feet. It has a distinct alpine feel, and though not particularly birdy when we were there, it offered more lovely scenes for the insatiable camera. The next day a close by destination was Gaudineer Knob Spruce Forest. Gaudineer is one of the few uncut spruce forests in the state. Like most virgin forests in the Midwest or East, there was a specific reason it was never logged. In this case it was because a surveyors mistake prevented anyone from claiming it. The oldest red spruce here are about 250 years old, which is about the upper life span of the trees. Thus many of the most dramatic specimens are dying. But there are also fine examples of ancient beech and maple growing in slightly drier portions of the tract.

At the top of Spruce Knob.

At the top of Spruce Knob.

 

The view from Spruce Knob.

The view from Spruce Knob.

Fallen old growth red spruce.

Fallen old growth red spruce.

The morning after I presented my talk we drove north to Pittsburgh, where we met Chris Kubiak and other staffers from the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania. There was an excellent turn-out for my talk. (Pennsylvania has a particularly strong connection to the passenger pigeon.) We had breakfast with my friend Ann Rosenthal the next morning and the camera captured its first birds, doing the original goose step.

The camera's favorite: large birds tolerant of people.

The camera’s favorite: large birds tolerant of people.

 

 

 

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