Blog Archives

Protecting Wildlife as a Photographer

The other day I went looking for an owl to photograph. I have a fondness for owls. Not only do I think they are beautiful, but, they are fun to watch. You can almost see their feelings on their faces.

I had been standing there for just a short time (maybe 30 seconds my second time around) and a woman asked me to move along. Or basically, “Don’t stay too long!” I was taken aback a bit. Honestly, I thought her shouting that at me to get my attention was worse than me standing to take a few photos. I explained I knew what I was doing and she shrugged and moved along.

I did photograph the owl twice. Both times, I kept it very short. The telephoto lens meant I didn’t need to get super close and I could take a bunch at different settings. I then left, walked away for a while, and then returned for a different angle. I had no plans to stress out the owl. I don’t even share where the owl is and I respect it. It is their habitat – not ours. As I left, I walked down the trail and eventually met up with the woman again.

She took time to apologize for how she came across and I explained that I felt like us talking was more disturbing than me standing quietly and shooting. What she explained next was so annoying. A photographer had come a year ago, at dusk, and set up his tripod and flash and proceeded to photograph the little owl. The flash is a big no-no. And setting up just to use the flash? That’s just wrong. The owl flew away and didn’t return for a long time. As nature photographers, it is imperative that we respect nature. That means that we may not get a perfect shot. We may miss an opportunity or can’t get as close as we’d like. What matters is that wildlife and nature go as undisturbed as possible.

I remember one time I was driving and saw a Great Horned Owl. It was on a branch that I could see from the road. Clearly. I turned my car around and drove back. I suppose I could have parked my car somewhere, gotten out and walked to a spot to get a closer shot. But I simply rolled down my window, looked for cars, and shot as much as I could. The photos aren’t great. I didn’t have a big telephoto with me. I was in a hurry and hadn’t changed my depth of focus. But I had a wonderful experience with the owl.

The same goes for any wildlife. Bears in Shenandoah. Turtles in ponds. Anything out west. It is one reason so many photographers are no longer sharing locations. I won’t tell anyone where this owl is unless I know, 100%, they are a photographer that respects nature. It took me 2-3 times of going to the location just to find the owl. I knew the general area and that was enough. We go. We search. We respect. I wish everyone operated this way.

Below… the little cutie!

Eastern Screech Owl by Jennifer Gonzalez - Ashburn, Virginia
Eastern Screech Owl

Spring Time Babies

It is spring now and that means sports for me.  My son has soccer 5 days a week and my daughter usually has 2-3 softball games a week. Yes, it keeps me busy.  Usually, when my son is practicing soccer, I’m trying to run. It has been a bit tough with the winter-like weather we’ve had. I have bad asthma and so cold weather isn’t my friend (and neither is the pollen count this week).  I still manage to get out and walk though.

I noticed 4 weeks ago that there was a mama goose who had nested at a pond at the soccer fields. As I approached the pond one day, the male honked and honked. I couldn’t figure out why he was in such an uproar. Finally, I spotted the female with her head down trying to hide.  It was quite remarkable.

Over the next 4 weeks, I kept watch. I would go and see how she and the eggs were progressing. I never saw her partner again but she would be there. Head down. Hiding. And even just this past Saturday, I stopped by.  As I photographed blue birds, northern flicker, hawk, and other birds I noticed she was still on her eggs. And then it happened. This past Tuesday I arrived and there was the family. Did I bring my camera? No. Of course not. I stood there and watched them and debated going home for it.  I don’t live too far and knew it wouldn’t take me too long. I also figured I could return the next night with it.  I finally decided to go and ran back to my car.

I returned and did my best to photograph the little cuties. There were 8 in total.  I noticed one egg hadn’t hatched and so I figured they had to just be hours old.  The cuteness was almost overwhelming. I kept texting a friend with that exclamation. I finally looked at my camera and my heart dropped when I noticed I hadn’t changed my aperture. Ugh! I reviewed some shots and yes, they were out of focus as the depth of field was too narrow for the distance.  I fixed that and managed to get a few decent shots. I really wanted ones of them swimming.

Last night, we went early so I could show my son the goslings. They weren’t there. I figured they would be there for the next couple of weeks. I hadn’t anticipated them going elsewhere until the babies could fly.  I was bummed (and incredibly happy I had returned for my camera the night before).  As we drove back to his soccer field, I looked at a pond closer to the main road.  And there they were. How did they get there?  It is a mile from pond to pond. The new pond has a fence all the way around it.  I was perplexed. And a bit sad because I really looked forward to watching them grow.

Here are a few shots to enjoy! Click to enlarge.



Back to Burke Lake

Saturday morning was a flurry of activity in my house what with two toilets overflowing… I had thought about going to shoot the sunrise somewhere but alas, that didn’t happen. After all of the cleaning was done I needed some stress relief. I considered driving out to Shenandoah but I have been itching to get back to Burke Lake and hike the whole perimeter.

The day was sunny. The previous night the weather reporter guaranteed that there would be less wind (liar!!). I didn’t dress as warmly as I did for 5 degree weather in the mountains and I somewhat regret that. The temperature didn’t seem to get to the predicted highs and the wind was still pretty strong. Note to self: Always bring a scarf.


Burke Lake Marina


I was pleased to see the parking lot fairly empty. Burke Lake is a very popular place (for many good reasons) but I really needed some solitude. The past two-to-three weeks had been very stressful and, well, not happy. There was nothing specific but let’s just say that hormonal changes in us, ahem, older women aren’t fun. I parked and decided to go counter-clockwise around the lake. I always go the same way so had to mix it up a bit. The best part was I was totally alone for at least an hour.

I often wonder if the average person out on a trail or at a park notices much of anything. I know that I look around, look up, stop, listen and have a tendency to be aware of birds and other wildlife. This paid off on Saturday as I looked up and there on a branch not 20 yards away from me was a big, fluffy Red-tailed hawk. It was gorgeous. As it turned its head and looked at me I wondered if it would fly away. I creeped forward a little bit and still it sat. In fact, it didn’t move the entire time I stood there and took photos. I heard people across the lake and worried they would walk to my spot and scare it off. Thankfully, they detoured and headed to a nearby parking lot. The beautiful bird allowed me to take several photos. I eventually moved on and took a few more from across the lake.


Hawk from across the lake


One thing I have always taught my kids is to not yell and be boisterous in nature. While on a trail, I try to talk in a normal voice, not yell up to my kids (if possible), or just be loud. I think keeping voices down wile on a trail is polite. It seemed few people felt the same way on Saturday. Regardless of how sound travels, I shouldn’t be able to hear a full conversation from 100 yards away. Just a note: be aware of others who may want some peace while hiking or trail running.

I continued around the lake and was able to see my first Merganser ducks. They are comical looking ducks. Their heads are enlarged a bit and their eyes appear tiny. I was pretty thrilled to watch them for awhile and take some photos. My timing was pretty bad because it seems they would dart just as I took a photo.

As I made my way further around the lake I was able to spot some deer, various birds, and another hawk (this one more skittish). Again, wondering if I was the only one to ever see them. Others seemed intent on chitchatting (perfectly fine) or looking down. By the time I reached the marina again, I felt really great…and cold. A large number of geese had gathered at the marine and they were so loud. They would fly in and land on the ice and then slide for a couple of feet – such talent. The ice, blue skies, and sun made for wonderful reflection photos.


Seagull with great reflection


Eventually, I decided to head home. I really wanted a hot shower. If you live in or near Fairfax County and have yet to go to Burke Lake – get there. It is such a wonderful place and has plenty to do (at least in the warmer months).  Next visit: running the perimeter!


Goose on ice

Exploring Ellanor C. Lawrence Park

Ellanor C. Lawrence park has been on my list for quite some time. It happens to be in a location that is very difficult to get to after work so I had to find time on a weekend. Yesterday I had a couple of hours so headed out to explore this place. I had planned on showing up and walking one of the hiking trails. Needless to say I didn’t make it far on any trail because the pond and creek were so awesome. I spent a lot of time taking photos.


The Pond

I imagine there is a lot more to see than what I found. I know there is a visitor center and possibly more trails up there. I parked at the pond area and immediately looked for dragonflies. The unfortunate part of my day is that my lens was acting funny. I think there is something wrong with it and it won’t focus when zoomed in on something. That’s a problem with insects. I had to use manual focus and that was a drag. I was able to get a couple of decent shots but nothing spectacular.


Blue Dragonfly


Golden Wings

Just past the pond is a creek. It is so pretty and shallow. Unfortunately it was sunny so any long exposure shots were kind of crummy. Plus I really feel that the quality of my photos is lacking due to the lens issue. I waded around and tried to capture how pretty it was though. While standing in the water a green heron popped by and was catching things in the water. I sneaked over to where he was and he let me stand there and take photos of him. It was pretty cool. He was only about 8 feet away from me.

camera setup

Creek – My tripod set up and waiting for me


The Green Heron

I did roam on one of the trails. I didn’t go too far so I’ll have to go back and see if they are any good – maybe when I am able to run again.


This bridge leads to some trails

I honestly could have spent a lot longer there taking photos. I highly recommend this spot if you have curious children. They will love looking for turtles, birds, dragonflies, and wandering around the pond. There are plenty places to sit and have lunch as well. And the best part was that it wasn’t overly busy. I thought it might be since the weather was so nice yesterday but honestly, I had many of the spots to myself.


Turtles everywhere!