Category Archives: Natural History in the Carolinas

Upper Cascades: Hanging Rock State Park

Within the boundaries of Hanging Rock State Park are 5 “advertised” waterfalls. (Rumor has it that there are other falls not found along the marked trails.) Upper Cascades is the shortest hike from the main parking lot and is certainly a pretty natural feature. For the video I used a combination of footage from my Canon 7D DSLR and my SJCam SJ 4000 action camera. All still photos were taken with the 7D.

First view of Upper Cascades in Hanging Rock State Park

Detail shot of Upper Cascades at Hanging Rock State Park

Upper Cascades at Hanging Rock State Park

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Hanging Rock State Park: Hidden Falls

Hanging Rock State Park is located near Danbury in the northwestern part of North Carolina. Nestled in the Sauratown Mountains, the park is home to several waterfalls. While not the tallest falls in the state, they are certainly pretty. Unlike so many waterfalls that require miles of hiking to reach, the well known falls of Hanging Rock State Park are all short hikes from convenient parking lots. In addition to the five publicized waterfalls, my understanding is that there are a few other falls hidden away and requiring a bit of effort and adventure to find. The following are a few photos and a video of Hidden Falls. All photos were taken with a Canon 7D. The video is a combination of footage from the 7D and from my SJCam SJ 4000 action camera.

Hidden Falls -Hanging Rock State Park

HIdden Falls - Hanging Rock State Park, Danbury NC

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waterfalls photographs for sale

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Spring in the Swamps and Along the Blackwater Creeks

Every spring North Carolina is blessed with a brilliantly beautiful song bird living near blackwater streams, creeks and swamps. With bright yellow feathers resembling those of a canary, accented by gray-black wings, the Prothonotary Warbler is easily overlooked in the dense areas where it lives. Unquestionably, this is one of my favorite little song birds and one I find difficult to get in front of my lens for quality photos. The images below are from today’s efforts. I hope you enjoy them.

Prothonotary Warbler, Croatan National Forest

Prothootary Warbler on bridge in Croatan National Forest

Prothonotary Warbler in the Croatan National Forest

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The Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve’s Newest Resident

Because of the need to manage the herd size new additions are always a very special event. The births of new foals are few and far between. Born a few months ago, this little horse took his first few breaths as Mother Nature shared cold, snow and ice with Coastal Carolina. What a shock it must’ve been to trade the warmth of his mother’s womb for that icy cold winter world. During my first few trips to the reserve with the hope of finding and photographing him I had no luck. His mother was doing a good job of keeping him secluded from my camera and lens. As spring began to reach the reserve the horses started falling back into their warm weather routines and that included moving this young foal into more obvious locations. While guiding a group of equine artists from Virginia we were treated with an afternoon and evening of foal watching. With no further introduction I give you “Skipper,” the reserve’s newest resident.

Young wild foal of the Carolina Coast.

A wild mare and her young colt feed along the Carolina Coast.

A young wild colt explores the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve near Beaufort, North Carolina

Also posted in Banker Horses, General Photography, Guided Tours, Nature Photography, Wild Horses, Wildlife Photography Tagged , , , , , , , , , , |

Eastern Phoebe

While I was photographing the Yellow Rumped Warblers the other day I was blessed with another visitor. A lovely little Eastern Phoebe perched on a bare branch, watching to see what I was up to. Obviously this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. The Eastern Phoebe is a member of the flycatcher family. This handsome little species of bird was the first to be banded in the United States. In 1804 John Audubon, (yep… that Audubon), attached a “silvered thread” to the leg of an Eastern Phoebe so he could track its return in the following years. A year round resident of the Carolinas, these pretty little birds winter farther north than other flycatcher species. These small birds will use buildings and bridges for nesting sites, a trait that has allowed them tolerate urban growth into their natural habitat.

Photographing small birds is one of the few situations where I like to have my camera at my eye level. For shooting most wild subjects I prefer a low point of view but birds are often perched high in the branches of tree. A shot taken on at eye-level with the subject always has more impact than a shot taken at an extreme upward angle. For this series the Phoebe was perched very close to my eye-level making a good situation even better. I made these shots with a Canon 7D and a Sigma 50-500mm lens mounted atop an Induro CT314 tripod.

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Eastern Phoebe at the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve Yawnig Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Also posted in Avian Photography, General Photography, Nature Photography, Photo Tip

Wild Horses Clash: Drama on the Tidal Flats

When most people think of a wild horse fight they visualize the horses standing on there rear legs, hooves flailing and teeth gnashing… (kind of like in the post below this one). But in reality it doesn’t always work that way. They can clash with all four feet planted firmly, well semi-planted, on the ground. The photos below show a clash between two dominate stallions on the tidal flats. During this scrimmage neither horse ever reared up. Still the action was intense with mud and water flying in the air.

During the editing process I quickly recognized that I wanted to use a contrasty black and white treatment for the first image. I desaturated the image in “Adobe Camera Raw,” then opened it with Photo Shop. Next I applied some “smart sharpening” then used the NIK “define” plugin to tame down the noise a bit. Next I used the “detail extractor” in the NIK Color Efex Pro 4. I then zoomed in to do some dodging and burning by hand to create the look I wanted. The final step was to create a duplicate layer in “soft light” mode to add some “pop,” then adjust the opacity of that layer to taste. I then decided I wanted to do a series, selected the next two images and used the same workflow to maintain a consistent look between the three photos.

Wild horses clash in a vicious battle on the tidal flats along the North Carolina coast

Fighitng wild stallions, North Carolina Outer Banks

Wild horses of the Outer Banks

Also posted in Banker Horses, Education, General Photography, Nature Photography, Photo Tip, Wild Horses, Wildlife Photography Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Wild Horse Fight Sequence

To those not familiar with horse behavior it seems to happen in a flash. Teeth gnash, sharp, hard hooves flail, thousands of pounds of muscle, bone and hide explode in a vicious battle over dominance and breeding rights. It’s a scene that’s played out for as long as life has walked the planet. For those that witness one of these epic clashes it is clear why Federal, State and Local laws set boundaries on how close humans can approach wild animals. You really wouldn’t want to be caught between a pair of these battling animals.

Those of us that pay our dues and spend hour after hour observing and photographing these magnificent animals, such dramatic events rarely just happen instantaneously. We’re able to read the pre-fight behavior, the posturing and taunting that takes place before the action begins. It’s that kind of intimate knowledge that allows us to be ready to capture these duels as stills and videos. This is a simple truth that applies to all wildlife photography; knowledge of your subject substantially improves the odds of capturing interesting, compelling images. To improve ones success to failure ratio one needs to do their homework and pay their dues.

So how does one gain knowledge and pay their dues if they don’t live near their intended subject or cannot commit the hours of observation? There are really three choices: Take your chances, go it on your own and hope to get lucky. Hire an experience guide to help get you in the right place at the right time. Sign-up for a photography workshop dealing with the subject you’re interested in photographing. Of course doing a little homework doesn’t hurt either. Read a few books and articles, watch some video, follow some blogs… in short gather some information to give you a head start in your quest to make exciting photos of wild animals in their natural environments.

The following is a sequence of images from a recent wild horse fight I witnessed.

A clash of titans - a pair of wild stallions fight on the tidal flats near Beaufort, North Carolina

Wild horses battling over the right to breed on North Carolina's Outer Banks

Wild mustang fight near Beaufort, NC

Wild horses in combat along the Outer Banks of North Carolina

Dueling wild mustangs along the Crystal Coast of North Carolina

The wild horse fight ends

Also posted in Banker Horses, General Photography, Nature Photography, Photo Tip, Wild Horses, Wildlife Photography Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Greater Yellowlegs

I enjoy finding these birds when I’m out doing shorebird photography from kayak. One of the larger shorebirds, these are migrants. They travel to Canada for breeding in the Spring then winter in warmer climates… including the North Carolina coast. A somewhat similar looking and named bird, the Lesser Yellowlegs, is difficult to tell apart unless you find them together. The Greater is larger, has a slightly upturned bill that tends to be blue-gray near its base.

For shorebird photography I like to work from my kayak. Even though I’m approaching from the water, these birds can be a little skittish… ok, most shore birds can be a bit skittish… so a slow, careful approach is called for. The best bet is if you can let the wind and/or current drift you into camera range. If you need to paddle you need to keep the paddle movement to a minimum. Don’t make a direct approach of the bird is bound to take to wing.

Making photographs of small shorebirds from a kayak requires a long lens and hand holding rather than using a nice, sturdy tripod. The combination of a telephoto lens and hand holding the camera sets up a bit of risk of camera shake and motion blur. The trick is to keep the shutter speed fast to minimize the effects of this problem.

Greater Yellowlegs at Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve.

Also posted in Avian Photography, General Photography, Nature Photography, Photo Tip, Uncategorized Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , |

Summer Time and the Horses are Easy

Well, not really easy but I was having a hard time coming up with a title for this post. I figured what the heck, why not a play on lyrics. During the “dog days of summer” the horses get a bit less rowdy… conserving energy and hydration I imagine. There are fewer opportunities for shots of them with their heads up or of them fighting. Still, there are plenty of photo opportunities with these beautiful animals. Just a friendly reminder if you decide to visit the horses, regulations require you stay at least 50 feet away from the horses. I wouldn’t want to see you get in trouble or, worse yet, and injury occur to you or one of the horses.

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Also posted in Banker Horses, General Photography, Nature Photography, Wild Horses, Wildlife Photography Tagged , , , , , , , , , , |

Mammals Aren’t the Only Meat Eaters in the Croatan Forest!

Coastal North Carolina is a magical place in so many different ways. One of those is the presence of carnivorous plants. For example, found only within a 100 miles of Wilmingtion, NC, the Venus Fly Trap is one of the more interesting indigenous plants found on the coastal plain. But the Venus Fly Trap isn’t the only carnivorous plant found in eastern North Carolina. Others include Bladder Wart, a variety of Pitcher Plants as well as Sundew plants. I tend to be very tight lipped about where I find these plants as they are somewhat rare and there can be a problem with poaching. Below are a couple shots of a Venus Fly Trap and a Sundew taken somewhere in the Croatan National Forest.


Native to North Carolina the Venus Flytrap is an endangered plant well worth protecting.

Venus Flytrap.

The Sundew plant is another kind of carnivoruos plant found in North Carolina

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