The Osprey, A bird with an appreciation for the finer things.

Osprey with a beer can in his nest
Ospreys are known for collecting objects that strike their fancy. This nest sports a empty Budweiser can.

Among the most widespread birds of prey in America is the Osprey. Whether they simply pass through areas during their migrational pattern or reside permanently, they can be spotted everywhere in America. Through my photography I have noticed that bubble wrap appears to be a staple in any dapper osprey’s nest. I have always assumed this might be due to the fact that bubble wrap is in fact a whole lot softer than jagged sticks and small twigs. I myself would certainly prefer even well worn and deflated bubbles over the softest tree branches. The decision to abscond with the plastic packaging may be primarily motivated by its comfort, however, it may not only be acquired for its plush luxury.

I have occasionally found myself giggling over the viewfinder of my camera when zooming in on an osprey’s nest which inevitably reveals beer cans and other oddities. A trip to the Tampa Zoo’s Birds of Prey Exhibit explained this behavior and more. Collecting various objects is actually quite a common practice among Ospreys. The Zookeepers told stories of finding quite an assortment of random treasures entwined among the branches of their great nests. Single boots and even segments of broken hoses have been discovered. What attracts the birds to these objects is anyone’s guess. Was the beer can in the nest pictured above selected due to its shiny appearance or was it the smell, taste or possibly a combination of factors?

Sadly this propensity to collect man made objects can cause complications and even fatalities to these majestic birds of prey. Bailing twine and fishing line are among the worst offenders when both adults and juveniles get the materials snarled around their talons. So as a note to my readers please take great care to pick up any excess baling twine and fishing line you may be using or find while enjoying the outdoors.

While I have often gotten a good laugh at the various prizes proudly displayed in these massive nests I have also had moments of frustration when a chunks of Styrofoam or the ever-popular bubble wrap disrupts what would otherwise be an excellent photograph. Though the behavior itself is quite fascinating and proves that there is much more to these creatures than one might initially realize. The natural world has so many interesting facets to explore and the behavioral quirks of birds of pray and countless other bird, animals and even insects is certainly a topic that can provide hours of entertainment and inspiration.

Creative Hunting Techniques of the Tricolored Heron and the Snowy Egret

A Tricolored heron canopy feeding with his head tucked under an outstretched wing
A Tricolored Heron canopy feeding with his head tucked under an outstretched wing.

I have always been captivated be the natural world. As a child I spent every moment I could in the woods capturing salamanders, toads, and any other various creatures I happened across. Today wildlife remains my favorite subject for photography. From interesting insects to great brown bears; my time spent outside or on vacation is often filled with snapping pictures. Each animal, bird or insect has their own unique allure, though few can match the grace and splendor of cranes and herons. Countless hours in the swamp have left me with a great admiration for these creatures along with the desire to capture the moments of beauty these subjects unknowingly provide.

My goal in wildlife photography is to portray a more unusual perspective whether it be through the use of abstraction or catching an interesting perspective on normal behavior such as hunting, grooming, or interacting with another or the environment in some way. I have spent countless hours following a subject quietly and as discreetly as possible to allow for relaxation and wait for the proper moment when a composition of beauty and intrigue inspires me to start shooting.

Some of the most interesting birds to study through a camera lens are naturally the more active hunters. The tricolored heron and the snowy egret are among the most lively though their individual hunting styles vary quite a bit. The Tricolored heron, a small brightly colored heron found throughout Florida and along the southern and eastern coastlines of America, uses a technique known as canopy feeding to elude their prey. The strategy behind canopy feeding entails shading the water with their outstretched wings hoping small fish will seek refuge from the sun and swim into the shade they provide. The heron will hide the reflection of his neck and beak by tucking his head up under one wing and when a fish is in sight he strikes! Canopy feeding is only one hunting method employed by the tricolored heron, they are frequently seen feeding in the slow hunt and peck style used by almost every variety of shore birds. Although when they choose to use this creative approach to catching fish the movement becomes a dance performed in rhythmic circular patterns. I have often thought the little herons looked like wind up dolls, spinning in circles among the tall grass and lilies of the swamp. The dance is quite graceful with a medium tempo and distinct pattern that is from what I can tell unique to the tricolored heron.

Another one of the more compelling aspects of the tricolored heron is their natural ability to change colors for mating season. This is by no means a slight shift in color, but rather a dramatic transformation. The beak and legs of this bird remain yellow for the majority of the year until some time in early spring when their beak takes on a stunning almost iridescent blue hue (all but the back tip) and their legs become a rich pink tone.

A tricolored heron with mating plumage is canopy feeding
A Tricolored Heron in full mating plumage beginning his dance.

In comparing hunting methods, the Snowy Egret, on the other hand, utilizes a fast paced rumba, spinning and leaping through the air like a ninja. In my experience somewhat harder to sneak up on than the tricolored heron, though each individual does vary. These small egrets do not exclusively feed in this style, though it is quite a common behavior to witness. Each step of this fierce dance is full of unique characteristics and can be beautifully captured on film with stunning results. Any wildlife photography enthusiast can find hours of intrigue in just one tolerant heron. Interestingly each pose can come across quite different when viewed as a still print. One such shot of a snowy egret with outstretched wings appears on my website against the rich contrast of a black background. I think the single frame of the crane’s outstretched wings conveys a more gentle and quiet sentiment rather than the jerking, spirited dance that was in reality taking place at the time I shot the picture.

When photographing these particular birds I have found that my best shots are almost always taken from a kayak while floating along with them in the swamp. Traveling by boat allows for a different perspective and perhaps the birds feel less threatened by those in their own environment. I have been able to get quite a bit closer to these birds while they hunt when traveling by kayak.

To me wildlife photography is a wonderful way to explore nature while continuing my artistic pursuits, creating images of beauty to reflect a world rich with wonder.

Snowy Egret leaping above water
A Snowy Egret leaps and twirls through the air in an elaborate dance used to capture pray.

Why do some gemstones come in multiple colors?

Peridot, blue sapphire, and fancy yellow and green sapphire on a printed scarf
Peridot and several colored sapphire including blue, fancy yellow and fancy green.

Have you ever stopped to wonder why gems like peridot come in just one color while sapphires, though primarily found in blue, come in virtually every color with endless shades of each? That is because the color of some gemstones is derived from elements that are part of their essential chemical composition while others are colored by trace elements which become included in their chemical make up. Gemologists distinguish the two by categorizing gemstones as either allochromatic or idiocrhomatic. Allochromatic stones, like the sapphire get their color from trace elements while each essential component of the peridot combine to create it’s characteristic and quite striking chartreuse hue.

My favorite allochromatic gem is sapphire, a variety of corundum, which is the second hardest material on the planet earning a 9 on the Mohs scale of gem hardness. That means it is durable enough to withstand almost anything and it has one of the largest assortment of colors with rich blues, brilliant pinks and even occurs with various phenomenons like color change, and asterism (the illusion of a star atop a stone created by titanium oxide inclusions). Any color other than blue is considered a fancy sapphire. The only color sapphire does not come in is red. When corundum occurs in red it is then classified as ruby. I have often wondered why this distinction was made while others were not. Interestingly enough, one major difference separating ruby from pink sapphire is the price it demands. Pink sapphire can vary in shade from a light baby soft pink to a vibrant florescent hue. Because there is so much natural variation in color, the line between pink sapphire and ruby can be a gray area and the standards do vary from country to country. Gem dealers will often try to pass their darkest pink stones off as rubies to increase their profitability.

Because colored stones can vary in shade quite a bit, gemstone identification can sometimes be tricky. For example, pink sapphire and pink tourmaline can exist in the same shades of pink. There are many differences between the elements, some easier to determine than others. Clearly trying to scratch a stone, to make a guess as to it’s Mohs hardness would not be a viable option. Visually both stones will handle the light in a slightly different way, though this subtle difference would be lost on an individual who does not work with gemstones on a daily basis. The refractive index (RI) of a stone is a scientific numeric figure based on how light is bent when traveling through a gemstone. A refractometer is used to determine the RI of a gem and would show quite different results for the corundum and tourmaline. Although, in this particular case between the pink sapphire and the pink tourmaline one of the most obvious and easiest factors that distinguish the two stones is their weight difference. Sapphire has a higher specific gravity so comparing two stones of a similar size and proportion will have drastically different results when weighed.

Please note, gemstone identification should only be preformed by a trained gemologist for accurate results.

Gemstone color is a broad topic with numerous facets to explore with topics ranging from basic features present in every stone to rare phenomenal gems that exhibit some unique and stunning characteristics.

pink tourmaline and pink sapphire on a gem scale
Pink sapphire and pink tourmaline can look almost identical, but the sapphire will be much heavier.

2015 Secretariat Festival

    Penny Chenery
    Penny Chenery in a live radio interview with Florida Horse Talk.

    This past weekend, September 18-20th, the Secretariat Festival was held in Paris KY. The event was created to honor one of the most successful horses in Thoroughbred racing history. The Big Red Horse broke numerous national and international racing records during his career with his greatest achievement- winning the final race of the Triple Crown by an unfathomable 31 lengths! The festival was rich with history commemorating the great horse’s life and all of his achievements. Memorabilia and souvenirs based on the Secretariat’s career were available to view and/ or purchase; several celebrities also attended the event with their work cut out for them in sighing autographs for eager spectators.

    I had the privilege of meeting Mrs. Penny Chenery and Mr. Charlie Davis among others! Mrs. Chenery has done some wonderful and quite admirable things for horses over the years. Secretariat was a truly remarkable horse and his bold sprit was matched by Mrs. Chernery’s determination to continue her family’s legacy with the upkeep of the farm. She emerged as a woman of tremendous strength at a time when women were not always granted the same respect naturally given to a man. Her love for horses shines through in both her words and actions. She promotes ethical treatment of the animals first and foremost and has worked diligently to create programs for retired racehorses. Throughout her lifetime she also worked to support and encourage equine health research, and has been an active member of many associations within the racing community. In 2006 she was even awarded the prestigious “Merit for Lifetime Achievement in Thoroughbred racing”. Mrs. Chenery believes that Secretariat’s greatness will never be matched, and given his outstanding success and the racing records he shattered, it’s not likely that his legacy ever will be. In an interview held by Florida Horse Talk she expressed her belief in making great horses available to their fans. Even at the age of 93, she still put in a long days work in participating in an interview and signing an endless stream of autographs for countless fans. She possesses a drive that most can only hope to sustain at 93 years young.

    I found Mr. Charlie Davis’s story particularly intriguing as well, knowing very little of it beyond the fact that he excercised Secretariat, before this past weekend. He was tenacious in his love for horses and riding. With a father who wanted nothing more than to see him stay in school and undoubtedly choose a mundane traditional existence, Mr. Davis held firm to his dream. Facing all obstacles and even taking horse-training jobs illegally before he was of proper age, he was determined to outwork and outperform others competing for the same positions. Though Secretariat was certainly not the only horse he worked with, by following his calling he was ultimately available to be a vital part of racing history’s greatest champion!

    Charlie Davis and mini Secretariat
    Charlie Davis meets mini Secretariat and handler.

    I wrapped up the day with a delightful tour of Adena Springs, a breeding facility and home to many champion studs. Our tour was privileged to meet Awesome Again, Ghostzapper, and Mucho Macho Man, all of whom were brought out for a much-appreciated photo opportunity. The grounds were exquisite, with seemingly endless fields and a pristine barn created to accommodate both stallions and visiting mares during their stay at Adena Springs. The facility is exquisite, and quite idyllic for all residents of the farms, even the workers, many of whom are given posh living quarters free of charge. It’s about perfect for everyone, everyone that is, except for Tonto. Poor Tonto, a stocky paint horse, has been a teaser stud at Adena for fifteen years. The risk of a kick from an ornery mare is too great to introduce the visiting bachelorettes to one of their million dollar stallions right away. So Tonto is sent in to charm the ladies and test the waters, though not without some frustration on his part I’m sure.

    Overall the festival was very well organized with activities for every member of the family to enjoy. Secretariat’s rich history was boasted through memorabilia including documentaries of the actual races and events, books highlighting the great horses career, prints, wearable items, and accessories. The wardrobes worn by Diane Lane and John Malkovitch in the Disney production were on display along side an enlarged print of the famous Time magazine cover featuring Secretariat. Also on display were prints of photographs taken at the Belmont and the other record breaking races that lead to Secretariat winning the Triple Crown and claiming his place in history as one of the greatest horses of all time.

    Stallion Mucho Macho Man
    Stallion, Mucho Macho Man posses for the camera at Adena Springs.

    Synthetic Moissanite a Stone Based on Deception

    test clear stones with a moissanite tester
    If a clear stone tests positive for diamond the next step is to test for moissanite.

    As a jeweler with training through the Gemological Institute of America, I have a deep appreciation for genuine gemstones. Diamonds have captivated women throughout the ages with their brilliant allure. They are classically associated with engagements and rightfully so with characteristics to match such a wonderful occasion. Much like true love diamonds are rare with unmatched beauty though not without a few slight inclusions or imperfections that give them each unique character. They are the hardest element on the planet, by far, with a Mohs hardness of 10. In actuality the difference between a 9 and a 10 on this scale is drastically different and far greater than the any other increment designated by the Mohs scale of gem hardness. Appropriately, this tremendous durability adds to their symbolic significance as well.

    As the economy began to decline I was appalled to see more and more synthetic moissanite hit the commercial market. Several years ago I began to receive mailers from large reputable companies and see prominent advertisements promoting this atrocious stone. Due to the history behind the gem and everything it represents I would choose glass as a preferable substitute any day of the week.

    Moissanite is a naturally occurring mineral discovered in the late 1800s in miniscule grains scattered throughout rocks and meteorites. However the stones promoted by the jewelry industry today are synthetic in origin. Though not necessarily created only to deceive, this synthetic material was originally used in commercial abrasives; after all it does remain a rather hard substance as a 9.5 on the Mohs scale. Its similarities to diamond are quite remarkable with one major factor that renders traditional diamond testers useless against it. What makes synthetic moissanite so deceptive is the fact that a traditional diamond tester will test positive for diamond when held to moissanite. This is because the testers are based on thermal conductivity which is the same for both stones. Due to their strikingly similar appearance and identical thermal conductivity synthetic moissanite has been used to deceive since its development up to present day. A special tester can be used to distinguish it, though it is a bit less straightforward than the diamond tester which requires a mere second or two of contact. The moissanite testers must be placed on the stone and rubbed over its surface in a circular pattern. False results can occur if improper testing is preformed. A jewelry professional should conduct this test for accurate results.

    Visually, the similarities between synthetic moissanite and diamond are quite difficult to spot even for a trained professional. The subtle differences include a lower brilliance and more abundant fire; they can have a subtle greenish or yellowish hue as well. The greatest distinction, however, lies in the stones refractive index. Moissanite is double refractive meaning if you look through the stone with a ten-powered loop you will see two facets instead of one. Sounds pretty easy to spot right? Well not exactly, the doubling of the facets is slight and can be easily missed by the untrained eye. An individual that does not have a highly developed eye for diamonds would find it exceedingly difficult to recognize.

    Budget not withstanding, I can fully appreciate the financial burden that a quality diamond can afford; there are certainly numerous options to choose over moissanite though. Carat size is a major factor in the cost of most genuine stone and this is especially true in the case of diamonds. A number of chic styles incorporate melee, or many small diamonds of 0.25 carats or less, into some wonderfully economical arrangements. Placing several smaller stones around a half carat can also create a lovely look that’s softer on the wallet. While certainly less traditional, some couples choose colored stones for a bold look personalized to match a favorite color or birthstone. Champagne and fancy yellow diamonds also impart their own intriguing style and frequently, but not always, in a more cost effective manor.

    While I find moissanite unappealing in every aspect as you have undoubtedly gathered, I find it particularly loathsome to see it garnishing engagement rings. Its rich history of deception is something that I feel has no place in the symbolism behind any marriage. Even at a fraction of the cost of a genuine diamond, this synthetic abomination is grossly overpriced, inflated only by the perceived value of that which it is used to imitate. At the end of the day it is still a synthetic stone with no real monetary value.

    *Please note I did reference my old GIA Diamond and Diamond Grading course notes to brush up on some of the history behind moissanite for accurate dates and details.

    how to test diamonds
    Always use both a diamond tester and a moissanite tester to ensure the identity of clear stones.

    Explore the River with New River’s Edge Incorporated!

    Rainbow over New River's Edge Inc.
    I was lucky enough to catch a rainbow spanning the New River!

    For all those who live in or around the New River Valley, I would highly recommend paying a visit to New Rivers Edge Inc. They offer several options for cruising the river with a flexible schedule. Founder, Paul Moody displays a genuine desire to share the splendor of The New River with as many patrons as possible while encouraging efforts to respect the land and all of its inhabitants.

    I discovered New River’s Edge Inc through a friend. Working long hours does not allow me much time for recreation, however a much-needed weekend off quickly turned into a mini vacation when one trip down the river simply wasn’t enough! Paul warmly welcomes each customer to his retreat as if he were greeting an old friend. He offers reasonable rates on tubes, kayaks, and canoes complete with a friendly shuttle service to various locations from McCoy Falls to Narrows. River maps are provided, outlining the small class one and two rapids spotting the route along with several landmarks.

    On day one, my friend and I began our journey in Pembroke in large inner tubes encased in thick covers; the tubes were complete with handles and cup holders. New River’s Edge offers tubes with and without bottoms; those with bottoms can accommodate a cooler, a bag of snacks, or a passenger who prefers additional back support.

    Immediately upon leaving the boat launch and passing under the bridge, the trip began with a thrill as we rode the waves of a few class two rapids. Adventurers of any age will appreciate the sections of rippling waters followed by gentle stretches of deeper currents.

    Shortly after riding through the rapids we were blessed to see a distant bald eagle swoop down to catch a fish, then fly off to perch in one of the many trees lining the river. We naturally headed in the direction of the eagle’s hideout and took a break on a shallow rocky patch. A great blue heron casually watched us from the shore. When suddenly, the eagle sprang out from his tree! He swooped down towards the heron who greeted him with an irritated squawk, then sailed up towards the heavens to head upstream, perhaps back to his fishing hole.

    We took several breaks to explore the small rocky islands scattered throughout the river and enjoy a few of the deep swimming holes along the way as well. It ended all too soon and we were both eager to return the next day to explore the river by kayak.

    Traveling from Eggleston back to Paul’s retreat we took our time meandering along the river making note of various landmarks and of course the diverse array of wildlife. Stunning palisades outline the shores in numerous locations along the trip. A noteworthy patch of the river is said to be over a hundred feet deep along one such band of cliffs. We glided by a number of egrets and blue herons and were even fortunate enough to spot a green heron along the way. Turtles sunned themselves along logs protruding from the shorelines, as we casually paddled through the majestic waters. We enthusiastically navigated the sporadic rapids and paused to swim at various intervals.

    Upon our arrival back at the retreat, Paul again greeted us enthusiastically and helped us pull our boats back up the bank. While the river trips are outstanding, he also offers lodging for those who live out of town. A charming A frame cottage overlooks the river, built by Paul himself with timber harvested from the land. Rough-cut logs artistically incorporated into the structure give it a cozy rustic appeal. The property also features a gazebo and several rope swings for kids to enjoy. He continues to expand the property with several new amenities underway and delightful and quite impressive stone structures. New River’s Edge is a wonderful retreat whether it be for one day or several nights!

    New River’s Edge
    665 Rocky Hollow Road
    Pembroke, VA 24136

    Phone: 540-599-8382

    $15 per person for your choice of tube, kayak, or canoe.

    Directions from Blacksburg/ Christiansburg from 460

    -Bear left at the fork in Pembroke Center by the Amish Furniture store onto Snidow St.

    -Bear left onto River Rd, just past the laundry mat.

    -Keep an eye out for New River Edge to your right, just before the cliffs. Drive down the dirt road and pass under the train tracks to reach Paul’s paradise by the New River.

    bird watching at New River's Edge Inc.
    Paul Moody watches for “Abe” the resident Bald Eagle who can frequently be spotted from New River’s Edge Inc.

    Photographing Jewelry and Highly Reflective Items

    Photograph of sterling silver filigree horse necklace
    Photograph of Jeni's award winning Guinevere filigree horse necklace.

    Welcome to my new blog! I’m so glad you found the page and I hope you enjoy reading about the various facets involved in creating jewelry. As a first topic I’ve decided to write about product photography. I have been working on posting some new designs to my web site lately. The most challenging part of this is of corse getting quality pictures that do justice to the work.

    What makes jewelry so difficult to photograph? Well, a great number of things, the largest being the fact that polished metals and gem stones are highly reflective. Controlling these reflections is the key the to your success, but can be easier said than done. Light boxes are designed to surround the piece with white to decrease dark surface reflections. The light in these set ups must be diffused, as direct light will cause harsh glares. Comercial light boxes have built in diffused lighting, however similar results can be achieved by bouncing day light equivalent lights against the white sides of a home made light box. Light boxes are not difficult to make yourself for very little money. The largest expense will be the day time equivalent lights, if you don’t already have them. To start line a cardboard box with white paper, large sketch book paper works great. The next step is to get a large white plaice bowl, I got one from Walmart years ago for about eighty seven cents. Cut a hole in the bottom of the bowl about the same size as your camera’s lens. Of course a macro lens is ideal, but any wide angle lens will be fine. While the light box can be a very inexpensive element to your set up, in the end the quality of your camera will of course have a very large impact on your photographs. I’m a Nikon girl myself, I got a D7000 a few years ago and it’s been great with the jewelry.

    Larger light boxes can be created as well, I have seen photographers build frames lined with sheets of tracing paper or something similar that lights can shine through. Shinning light through tissue paper will defuse it as well. These boxes can be built any size.

    Don’t be afraid to experiment. Even if you manage to keep all other unwanted reflection out of your light box, the lens of the camera still has the potential to interfere with your shot. Try different angles, you may even want to include something to cause reflection, light or dark. Round pieces or designs that are more dimensional present the biggest challenge. These are the least forgiving where unwanted reflections are concerned.

    If you have something shiny that you’d like to get some pictures of, try building a light box. Have fun!

    light box
    Home Made Light Box