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Not Quite Okey-Dokey in the Okefenokee

February 23, 2011 by · Comments Off on Not Quite Okey-Dokey in the Okefenokee 

In January I attended a photo workshop presented by John Reed in conjunction with the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. The noted preserve was established in 1936 to protect the unique freshwater ecosystem and head waters of the Suwannee River. I’d never been through the Florida/Georgia swamp even though it sits just 75 miles away.

Okefenokee Wildlife Refuge

The park is vast, listed at 402,000 acres or roughly the size of 300,000 football fields. Whoa! The strange name comes from Native Americans who called it Okefenoka, meaning “Land of the Trembling Earth.” The name is still appropriate as peat continues to build up on the swamp floor and the deposits are so unstable that trees and bushes tremble when you stomp the ground.

During the workshop lunch break, I spotted an alligator sunning himself near the Visitor’s Center. His skin looked gray and dry and I suspected he’d been there quite a while. One of the rangers mentioned that gators move slowly during the winter. Since I’d seen frost on the morning drive and the temperature hovered around 38-40 degrees at noon, I wasn’t too worried. I got down on my belly atop a raised boardwalk and snapped this photo.

A Swamp Gator

Later in the afternoon, I returned and noticed a second, smaller gator. The larger one had only moved about a foot from his previous location and both barely opened their eyes. Guess most of the creatures were sleepy because my group had only seen these two reptiles and a slew of birds all day.

A sunrise shoot was planned for the next morning and the weather stayed cold. Sadly, the sunrise didn’t opt to make a dramatic entrance, so the group decided to move along. We headed in the direction of a fantastic winding boardwalk and three-story viewing platform.

But, as photographers are apt to do; we stopped after noticing some interesting tall grass. Instructor John walked along the road surveying the landscape. I was not far behind when we heard a hissing sound, like an amplified snake. John caught site of  a gator’s head rising from a small mud-puddle. I wanted to photograph this wild critter, so I ran over. Sure enough, the small head was all I could see, surrounded in a thick mud bath. Was his body buried deep below?

Perhaps foolish thinking, but I stepped closer. That gator wouldn’t or better yet, couldn’t move quickly from his location, could he? Nah. Just as I was getting ready to click the camera, he hissed at me- VERY LOUDLY. That’s a sound I”ll never forget. I jumped back and my resulting shot is a bit blurry, but you can see his open mouth. Mr. Gator was mad and I was scared. As far as I was concerned everything was not okey-dockey in the Okefenokee.

I immediately departed the scene, leaving the fellow alone. Even if I didn’t get the photo, I at least left with a gator tale.

The Hissing Gator

For information contact:
Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge
2700 Suwannee Canal Road,
Folkston GA 31537
912-496-7836 912-496-7836
E-Mail: okefenokee@fws.gov


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Lavender Fields of Provence

August 13, 2009 by · Comments Off on Lavender Fields of Provence 

Lavender Fields of Provence

Lavender Fields of Provence

Imagine row after row of tiny, bud-like purple flowers majestically raising their heads from green shoots. Their stalks burst free from the hard-packed rusty brown earth. The surrounding soil is covered by limestone rocks, crunching under my feet as I walk through the field. Lavender plants wave in the breeze tickling my legs, just below my knees.

I listen carefully; the field buzzes with the sound of humming bees. No need to worry, these little critters don’t bother people. They are happy and content to flutter between the thousands of blossoms, bee nirvana. The insects produce what is called lavender honey and sometimes beekeepers place hives along the edges of a field.

Provence, a glorious region in the south of France, is home to legendary lavender fields. Wild plants have grown here since the Middle Ages. The climate and soil create perfect conditions for farming the herb. While the harvested flowers yield a sweet perfume scent, the cultivated fields send a softer aroma.

I see purple haze. Tourists and locals stop their cars, get out and stare at the mesmerizing scene. They bring cameras to photograph the visual joy, but the pictures don’t capture the ethereal essence. Being among the fields, in person, is like tasting fine wine. To fully experience the moment, you must immerse yourself.

Mid- August brings harvest time but similar to grapes, readiness depends on the seasonal weather. Lavender is hand-cut and left to dry for three days in the sun before being passed through a steam press. Nothing is wasted; leftovers from pressed flowers are used as fuel for the steam producing oven.

Honey, essential oils, perfume, soaps and dried flowers are end products of the crop. Lavender honey is said to help heal open wounds; the essential oil promotes calmness. Potpourri or lavender sachets help mask odors and chefs in France sprinkle the herb in many dishes.

The territory casts a magical spell with golden sunflower fields, precariously perched hillside towns, historic sites, in cities like Avignon, and a relaxed lifestyle made famous by Peter Mayle’s books. Tour de France fans know Provence as the home of Mount Ventoux. Photographers call it paradise for the diversity of nature, colors and vistas. Artists such as Van Gogh and Cezanne found Provence inspired their creative talents.

But I came for the lavender fields.

Photographing Birds of Prey

May 3, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

Birds of Prey Owl-6x4

Barred Owl

I flew the coop early, leaving at 5:45 AM to arrive at what is now The Center for Marine Science at Whitney Lab by 6:45 AM. Many may recall the site as the original Marineland, the world’s first oceanarium in St Augustine.

I was registered for the Birds of Prey Workshop at the 2009 Florida Birding & FotoFest The early morning photography session featured four feathered friends: a Bald Eagle, Crested Caracara, American kestrel and Barred owl.  Audubon Society members were available to handle and answer questions about each bird.

Nature photographer, Greg Downing, personally showed me valuable pointers about reading the histogram and using the Aperture Value control. Once I set the f-stop, the Av setting allowed my camera to select the correct shutter speed.

Headshot of Eagle

Headshot of a Bald Eagle--a bird of prey

Bald Eagle

The Bald Eagle--National Bird

Between tripod mount, sitting on the ground, squatting, kneeling and fiddling with camera controls, I managed to snap these shots.  For me, they rate as a soaring success.

For anyone interested in wildlife photography, this annual East coast event presents a flurry of lectures and field classes.  Well-known experts like Rick Sammon and Rob Sheppard teach beginner to advanced levels over the four-day FotoFest.

Crested Caracara

Crested Caracara

Following the photo shoot, I was off to the airport and Baltimore. This weekend, the globe-trotting grand was attending grand-daughter Claire’s christening.

All images copyright of Debi Lander.

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