Sunday, June 17, 2012

SEARCH FOR THE GREEN HERON AND BLACK CROWNED HERONS

click on photos to enlarge
Last week I took a motorcycle ride to a motorcycle hotel located on the Blue Ridge Parkway at the town of Laurel Springs.  Its located north of Blowing Rock and Boone, North Carolina.  The hotel is named Freebornes and it caters strictly to motorcycle travelers.  The hotel itself is situated about a thousand yards off the parkway and is in pristine mountainous territory.  Three best friends from Pennsylvania were travelling down the parkway on motorcycles to meet me at Freebornes for the night.  I hadn't seen any of them in two years and was excited about the ride.  A week before I left, another best friend dropped in from Pennsylvania for a week stay at my house in his car.  It was a lucky circumstance as he could baby dog sit for me while I was gone.  He sort of "just showed up."  Everything appeared to be working out fine.  The morning of departure I backed the bike out of the garage and the sky opened up with rain.  What luck!  It hadn't rained in weeks and all of a sudden this downpour.  I waited an hour and finally got on the road.  I won't bore you with details but, the ride up to Laurel Springs was delightful.  The winding road of the parkway was pure joy and I arrived at the hotel ahead of my friends.
The parking lot in front of the restaurant part of the establishment was filled with motorcycles.  My motorcycle is the first one you see in the row.  
There was a band playing and everyone was having a great time.  Its easy for me to meet people and I talked to several nice folks from different states about motorcycles and experiences.  I also found it fun to try to figure out who was new to motorcycling and who was not.  The new people really stand out as their jackets, boots or shoes look brand new and they wear clothes that say Harley Davidson on them.  They try to revive and interface with the flavor of the old days of motorcycling by buying that stuff but, fall short by miles.  I call em pilgrims.  Nothing derogatory at all - its just my term for them.  They will eventually stop following the crowd and develop their own style or quit motorcycles altogether.  They all are nice folks though.  Everyone wears leather this or that and expensive designer jackets or belts trying to look the part.  One guy who bought a new Harley was proud of the way he had it appointed and stated to me he liked "the old school look."  I politely asked him what old school meant to him.  He said he wanted his machine to resemble those of yesteryear.  
I pressed him with the issue and asked him what his vision of motorcycling was for yesteryear.  He said he had seen pictures of that era and thought it was a very cool period for motorcycling and that the motorcycles were "really motorcycles" back then.  When I asked him if he ever rode one of the old original bikes he replied he hadn't.  Its understandable because the "old school" he was referring to was a long, long time ago and he probably would never have the opportunity to ride one of those relics.  I have been riding for 50 years now.  I believe the era he was referring to was my era.  
I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to live in "those early days of motorcycling" when motorcycles were an indication that the rider was a rebellious type and had to be watched carefully as he was expected to perpetrate some anti social act that would be a detriment to the community.  Indeed, motorcycles were rare and their riders just as rare.  The clothes were blue jeans, Tee shirts and welder hats or sometimes farm hats.  That was about it.  I'm not sure where the leather fad entered into the picture.  Funny how times change.  Oh well.


I remember about two years ago a little girl of 15 years was working in the restaurant and she was a friendly little thing who shared the same likes in music that I did.  I mentioned an artist that she liked also.  That little girl went out an bought me a CD of that artist and gave it to me next night when I saw her.  Well - I ran into her this trip.  She has transformed into a beautiful little lady who works behind the bar at the restaurant.  Her name is Ginny.



She is an acquaintance I have met in times past who I have had the good fortune of seeing again.  What a pleasure it is to come back and find her this way!  I've been travelling across this nation for 50 years by motorcycles and have racked up a million and a half miles on those two wheeled machines.  I've met great people I've never seen again.  Precious memories have been logged into the old brain that I wouldn't trade for any money.  Conversations with people in Oregon, Montana, Wyoming - you name it - people gone now but, characters that have influenced my life in ways that words can't describe.  Thanks Ginny for contributing to the memories in my life. 
Above is Tom with his arms around Craig, two of my best friends in the world.  The guy with his back to the camera and the entire brewing process of Rolling Rock Beer on the back of his shirt is Joe.

Above is Dave and Craig.  Both these guys are precious friends of mine.  These kind of guys are friends who would go wherever, any time, any place at any cost to help a friend who needed them for any reason.  Think about that a second.
And below - the entire crew together.  Distance makes meetings precious.  What a great gathering!
There's the bunch.  Craig, Joe, Dave, Tom and yours truly. It doesn't happen very frequently.  It was a nice moment.
Rain and heavy fog influenced our activities next morning.

 It rained all night.  The next morning was wet and cool.  A glance toward the Blue Ridge Parkway indicated heavy fog.  We ate breakfast and decisions were made.  The guys would continue on north to the Peaks of Otter Lodge far north.  I would turn about and return down the parkway to Boone, North Carolina and pick routes that would lead back home.  Goodbyes were said and engines started.  It was hard to part, me to the right and they to the left.  Who knows when our paths would lead us together again?  Its just how life is.  I should have named this entry "Nostalga."  True friends may be separated by road miles but, true friends remain only a heartbeat away when needed.


Well, this entry is about a search for a small heron called the black crowned night heron.  I guess I better get with it.
The day after I returned from the motorcycle ride found me back on the job cruising on the state boat looking for fishermen on the upper French Broad River.  I always put the job first with the added additional vocation of photographing wildlife that make themselves available to the camera.  It makes the time pass quickly.



  It felt great to back in the environment I love.  These creatures are my friends and I adore them all.  


One day I'm on two wheels in the most beautiful mountains in the United States and the very next day I'm on a 22 foot bay boat traveling on a major river in East Tennessee viewing magnificent wildlife.  What a great lifestyle!
A small heron erupted from a growth of bushes on the flood plain.  I strained to see what it was. The big camera came up to my face and I decided it was a green heron.  This is a great find as green herons are not a common bird in these parts.




These birds are difficult to find and more difficult to photograph.  I came upon this guy by pure luck.  I scanned the brush for nests but could not find any.  Green herons are stealthy characters and will fly away at the least intrusion.  I cut the motor and kept my fingers crossed.  I'm not really familiar with this area and am constantly surprised by the unique wildlife on this end of the river.


I coasted as close as I dared.  The little heron became alarmed and flew off to parts unknown.










I cruised along the left side of the river keeping only three feet off the shoreline.  A disturbance in a bush at the bottom of a cliff caught my attention.  I noticed brown forms scurrying behind a green bush.  


The movement stopped as the bow of the boat approached.  Strange!  The dark brown forms disappeared.  Suddenly a head poked up through the foliage. 

A black vulture had chicks hidden behind the dense bushes on the shoreline.  It was the chicks I saw rustling in the bushes.  She appeared to take stock of the situation.  The mothers of nature are totally dedicated to their young.  They put themselves between their young and danger. Every species I've come upon has demonstrated this trait.  This mom tried to attract my attention away from her young by bursting out of the thicket and drawing my attention to her only..   Well - it worked.




Her looks are distasteful but her presence is a blessing to the wild places.  She is nature's refuse collector.  She can't help how she looks.  Her design is ingenious, however.  In nature's eye she is gorgeous.  Our eyes don't matter.

I saw a movement in the bush ahead.  It was a small heron jumping from limb to limb.  At first I thought it to be another green heron.  I then saw him.   He was a black crowned night heron.  This was the heron I sought but held little hope of finding.  He was there in front of me.  I cut the noisy two stroke engine an glided up to the bush.



  I know he doesn't look like much to you but he is an elusive little heron to those who seek him out.  The little guy was in the thick of a bush.  There was no way the camera would catch him if it were set on automatic.  I pulled up manual on the selection dial and adjusted the speed setting according to the light meter reading I saw  through the view finder.  When photographing wildlife, it is important to be familiar with the equipment to the point where you can make adjustments while the camera is to your face.  Wild creatures will not wait for you to examine the instruction booklet for suggestions about camera settings.  It takes  a lot of practice.
He was in the view finder and was mine.






I've mentioned many times that I don't own any special equipment.  My camera is modest and the lenses are of the commercial grades.  Its all I can afford.  I try to make up for the lack of high tech equipment by getting closer to the subject.  Its  a tough trick but can be accomplished at least 45% of the time.  This bird presented itself at precisely the proper moment.  The light was less than perfect as he was back into the foliage in shadows.  The position of the boat was good.  I had to compensate for the lighting adjustments on the shots.  But, I got him.  I got the little gremlin.  




I noticed a group of geese crossing the river.  What a photo op!  Here they are.  Sweet little guys with their parents.






These views are what makes life interesting.  If one understands wildlife, he will understand life better.  Ever see a tree swallow up close?  Know what a tree swallow is?  Look below:


And yes, I'm at work.


Above:  Its just a cormorant getting set to fly off.
A small heron was moving from limb to limb in a tree ahead.  It was a green heron.  This was another great find for me.  Green herons are not very common birds here.






The photography ops today have exceeded my wildest expectations.  I wasn't even trying hard.  Some days just go that way.






I looked at the deck of the boat and noticed the mud tracks of Happy from the last run on the water.  I suddenly missed my girls.  The shift was over and it was time to move to the dock and load the boat on the trailer.  We've been from the highest mountains to the rivers and lakes in East Tennessee this week.  What a great week!