The Eyes Have It

Why do I fall in love with the Icelandic horse?

I remember that I asked my parents for a horse when I was a young child, too young to understand that the answer would always be no. I remember how I loved to ride horses at summer camp. And I remember learning how smart horses are, and how some can unlock their own stable door. These reasons are part of the story.

Perhaps the most authentic reason is the way I feel when a horse looks at me, and I try to read their thoughts and feelings. Our true connection is found in our eye contact. I cannot explain it, but I can show it.

Icelandic horse
I love the texture of this furry winter coat on this Icelandic horse, and the head tilt, allowing him to look at me as I admire him. Seen near Vik, Iceland.

Mauna Loa Erupting

What incredible good luck to witness a volcano erupting! Mauna Loa on the Big Island of Hawaii, just began to spew molten lava one week ago — for the first time in 38 years. When I first heard the news, I feared that our planned family vacation might be canceled for safety reasons. Fortunately, the lava flow and the harmful gases known as vog, have been limited to unpopulated regions of the island. Hundreds of curious onlookers can witness this extraordinary sight from two to three miles away from the viewpoint of Old Saddle Road.

The lava flow is best seen at night, when the molten lava creates a dramatic contrast with the dark sky and land. My good friend Dennis, who lives here on Hawaii, met me at 3am and drove me up to this viewing site. We photographed the changing scene and stayed until daybreak. This image shows the first light in the sky before dawn, around 6am.

maunaloa
Mauna Loa erupting on December 4, 2022, seen from Old Saddle Road, Hawaii.

Thankful for my Teacher

This year I sense a chorus of thankful feelings that our lives have mostly returned to normal after a long period of staying at home and masking our faces to avoid the COVID-19 pandemic. While the virus still circulates, most of us are traveling and working and getting our families together. Hooray!

I’d also like to take a moment to thank a photography teacher, who has inspired me and enhanced both my knowledge and enjoyment of photography: Gary Hart. Gary hosted a fascinating workshop at the Grand Canyon during summer monsoon season, teaching students about capturing lightning with a lightning trigger, and he will be co-hosting a January workshop in Iceland, where we hope to see and photograph the Northern Lights.

This morning I read Gary’s blog where he described what he is thankful for, especially post-pandemic. His blogs are very well written and always contain a few photography tips, including occasional confessions of his own mistakes, and always a touch of humor.

Thanks, Gary. Looking forward to Iceland!

Gary Hart (second from right) with his workshop assistant Curt Fargo (right) and three workshop students at the Grand Canyon.
Gary Hart’s Summer Monsoon workshop at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Lightning was firing across the canyon.
Gary Hart’s photo of the full workshop group at Desert View, South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

Feeling the Sunshine

When I wake up on a cloudy day, I feel like staying in my pajamas. As soon as the clouds clear and the blue sky allows the sunshine to light up the world, I feel a burst of energy. Do your moods swing the same way?

On a sunny afternoon in the Fall, you don’t have to convince me that it’s a good idea to go for a walk. This path into the landscape reminds me of a John Constable painting.

park, sunshine, walk
Sewickley Heights Park (Pennsylvania) on a sunny September afternoon.

Painted Leaves

This Tricolor Stromanthe caught my eye at the Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh this week. The plant is not part of a special exhibit, and I’m sure I have walked past it many times before. I was attracted to the way the plant looked enough to stop and take several photos, hoping to share how much the leaves look painted.

stromanthe, plant, variegated leaves, nature
I loved the three shades of green along with sections of white, yellow and magenta: the intriguing Stromanthe at Pittsburgh’s Phipps Conservatory.

The Stromanthe is a tropical plant in the family Marantaceae, native to portions of the Americas from Mexico to Trinidad and northern Argentina. It can grow to a height of 2 to 3 feet. It is also called a Tricolor Prayer Plant, and it thrives in indirect light, while bright light brings out its brightest coloring.

Are you a fan of variegated leaves?

Stop Action Series: Great Blue Heron in Flight

As an eyewitness to a bird in flight, I know the beauty we see is fleeting. In the blink of an eye, the sighting is a memory — as long as I didn’t blink! On the other hand, two photographs taken in quick succession can be studied, savored and enjoyed forever.

As a wildlife photographer, capturing a continuous series of a bird in flight is one of my goals, since I love seeing those beautiful wings outstretched. That’s not to mention the rewarding feeling of meeting the challenge of focus and freezing action of a fast moving subject!

Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron’s lift off in the Everglades at Shark Valley. (First in series)
Great Blue Heron in flight
Great Blue Heron flies with wings outstretched. Everglades National Park. (Second in series)

Contrast these views with the serene beauty of the Great Blue Heron at rest, as it watches the water for a fish to catch.

Great Blue Heron, Everglades
Great Blue Heron perched waterside for feeding in Everglades National Park, Shark Valley.

Pecking the Palms

This morning I rose before the sun to go birdwatching on our golf course. As the sun began to light the landscape, I spotted this Red-Bellied Woodpecker looking for insects on the palm trees. As he flew from one palm to the next, the sunlight gave us a good look at his red crown and black and white patterned wings.

This Red-bellied Woodpecker was spotted in Naples, Florida, but they can be found all along the East Coast of North America. Their red crown feathers are far more prominent than the tiny red lower belly.

Jackson Lake in the Mist

Jackson Lake water levels are at record lows this Fall (in 2021) after a very dry summer. From this location on the dry lake bed, we could see mist rising on a cold Fall morning and snow covered Mount Moran in the background.

Misty Jackson Lake on a chilly Fall morning with fresh snow on Mount Moran.

Brilliant Fall Foliage

Are you still waiting for the green foliage to change to its seasonal fall colors? The main factor that triggers the color change is the increasing length of the night, which causes chlorophyll production in the leaf to stop. We found some brilliant fall color in Grand Teton National Park in late September.

This location in Grand Teton National Park included the green, yellow and red foliage against a bright blue September sky.

I was curious about what types of trees turn yellow and what types turn red, so I turned to the Forest Service of the USDA for some answers.

Oaks: red, brown, or russet

– Hickories: golden bronze

– Aspen and yellow-poplar: golden yellow

– Dogwood: purplish red

– Beech: light tan

– Sourwood and black tupelo: crimson

The color of maples leaves differ species by species:

– Red maple: brilliant scarlet

– Sugar maple: orange-red

– Black maple: glowing yellow

Well Hello, Heron Hatchling

April is the month for baby birds to hatch, and Southwest Florida is now alive with chirping sounds. Of course, we humans need to keep our distance and give plenty of space and security to all the birds in their nests. Let me assure you that I have a long telephoto lens, and I also crop my files to bring you a close up, while maintaining a respectful distance.

This stately Great Blue Heron stands astride an adorable hatchling, just a few inches tall, yet very alert and watching me. The sight of this nest with mother and chick was a very special first for me. I hope the photo brings you a sense of wonder and delight.

Adult Great Blue Heron with breeding plumage stands tall in her nest with two hatchlings at her feet. One is visible in this photograph near Naples, Florida in April 2021.

Prints are available; please contact cathykellyphotography@gmail.com for details. More nesting photos to come!