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Where We Live by John Silveira and Richard Blunt. Photos and commentary from Oregon and New England.

Want to Comment on a blog post? Look for and click on the blue No Comments or # Comments at the end of each post.

Archive for May, 2012


The Farmington Valley and Its River

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

The Farmington Valley was once wholly under water, covered by Lake Hitchcock, one of the largest glacial lakes in New England. This 175 mile long lake stretched from northern Vermont to central Connecticut where it was it was impounded by glacial deposits. These damming deposits were breached about 12000 years ago draining the lake and creating the Farmington Valley watershed, a 600 square area that drains into the Farmington River.

The Watershed provides drinking water for the 600,000 people in the Farmington Valley and the greater Hartford area. The River’s combination of gin-clear water with clear flat pools broken up by classic riffles and runs, and wide sediment filled areas, provide excellent fishing for several species of trout and Atlantic salmon.

The river provides water for working farms and community gardens along its shores during growing season dry periods. However, having a river flowing through your neighborhood has consequences as well as benefits.

When nature dumps more water into any river than the river can contain, the river corrects the situation by pushing this excess water over its banks. Last year, in September, heavy rain from Tropical Storm Irene caused the river to overrun its banks. This was followed by an October snow storm that dumped more water into the river and did unprecedented damage to trees and crops.  The following photos illustrate both the problems and benefits of having a river as a next door neighbor.


This is the Pinchot Sycamore, the largest tree in the state of  Connecticut and one of largest sycamores in this country. It is located near the base of Talcott Mountain on the east bank of the Farmington River. If you look through the space between the branches on the lower left, you will see the Heublein Tower in the distance. The tree is 95 feet tall, measures 26 feet around at the trunk with a canopy diameter of 140 feet. It is named after Gifford Pinchot, the first chief of the United States Forestry Service . The tree is recovering from damage caused by the October 2011 snowstorm that destroyed thousands of lesser trees in the North East.

Welcome to the Meadows, an area of fertile land by the the Farmington River that native Americans named Tunxis Sepus, (“at the bend of the little river”). The Tunxis Tribe settled here to reap the benefits of the abundant hunting, fishing and farming. Farmington residents call this area “the flats”. The fishing and farming are as rewarding today as the were in the sixteen-hundreds. The “flats” support several successful commercial farms and the largest community garden area in the state with more then 200 registered gardeners.

Tropical storm Irene deposited more water than the river could contain. Under normal conditions the river bank is behind the trees in the back of this picture.

A picture taken several days ago, shows the remarkable ability of the Farmington River to recover from disaster.

Fly fish this season has been better then in years past.

A picture of Terri’s garden after Tropical Storm Irene. This is one possible outcome when a river shares a  problem with neighbors.


American goldfinches in Oregon, Part 1

Monday, May 28th, 2012

I didn’t notice birds until October of 2010. That’s when I got my hands on my first Digital Single-Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera, a Canon 60D. Up until then, I’d been using a Canon 5G, more or less a point-and-shoot camera. As my friend, Christine Mack would say, the 5G is a “snapshot” camera. But I’d been happy to photograph women and landscapes with it because those are the two things I like to draw, and I was in heaven using it — until I got the 60D. After that, the 5G looked like a toy.

With the 60D, I started to shoot everything and I quickly discovered that birds exist. I’d never even noticed the ospreys, pelicans, or turkey vultures around Gold Beach, much less colorful little birds like American goldfinches that are all around me, but had never caught my eye. I just didn’t “see” them.

Last summer, with my 60D, I became interested in goldfinches. This year, with the Canon 5D Mark III, I’ve become obsessed.

Small birds, like goldfinches, dodge and dart and, unlike large birds, need a fast wing beat to stay airborne. To “freeze” them with the camera, I settled on a shutter speed of at least 1/800th of a second. But, even then, their wing beats are often a blur to the camera.

To attract them, I bought a cheap ($6.99) birdfeeder and bag of thistle seed with which to fill it. Once they discovered free eats, they began to show up in my yard in numbers.

The feeder has six stations, so it will accommodate that many birds. If there are more birds, they will jostle for position. As the feeder empties, and the seed level falls below the uppermost stations, there are fewer places for them to feed and competition for the seed becomes more intense, with many of the birds hovering, awaiting their turns, and often trying to push the current occupants off the perches.

Without the camera and the ability to shoot six-frames-per-second bursts, I’d never have seen what they’re actually doing and how they compete with each other.

All of the photos below were shot with a Canon 5D Mark III camera using a Canon EF 70-200mm f2.8L IS USM lens.

This is what the feeder looks like when all of the feeding stations are occupied. The trouble is, there are often more birds than stations and, though they’re small, the goldfinches will fight to hold onto a feeding station. The three bright birds are males of breeding age and the three dull-colored ones are females. But they all take on those dull tones in the winter.

Shutter speed 1/800     f-stop 5.6     ISO 1000     focal length 200mm


Apparently, the new arrival doesn’t realize one of the bottom stations is available and it’s trying to push the occupant of one of the top stations off. Three others are watching to see what’s going on.

Shutter speed 1/800     f-stop 4.5     ISO 500     focal length 200mm


A bird perched at a station can usually hold its own against an intruder. In this photo the bird already on the feeder is holding on and has the new visitor more or less upside-down. Had I never taken photos of goldfinches, I’d never have realized the drama in their lives.

Shutter speed 1/800     f-stop 5.6     ISO 1000     focal length 200mm


Using a fast shutter speed of pretty much freezes both camera shake and subject motion and often makes the birds appear to be floating, as the bird at the right seems to be, and not flying.

Shutter speed 1/1000     f-stop 4.0     ISO 500     focal length 200mm

From what I’ve read about them, I can expect to see them year-round. You’re going to see a lot more goldfinch photos in the future.


Ospreys in Oregon, Part 2

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

Last night I called my friend, Christine Mack, and asked her if she wanted to go for a ride. It meant she was driving because I’m giving her driving lessons. She said yes.

I picked her up, just after 6:00 p.m., and off we went. She knows the route, so the first stop was the Port of Gold Beach. She was the first to see, and she pointed out to me, a seagull and an osprey chasing a second osprey that was carrying an eel. They were flying like fighter aircraft in combat, pulling tight maneuvers with the two in pursuit chasing the one with the eel until that second osprey accidentally dropped its catch into the water. The chase was abruptly terminated and everyone was out of luck.

I got a few photos, but the sequence isn’t sharp enough for me to post.

Christine drove a little further, to the south jetty of the Rogue.  Nothing was happening there, so we decided to drive out to Ophir, about seven miles north of town, to see if we could find elk. But, as we were leaving the port, she suddenly saw several ospreys sitting atop light posts in a parking lot. They were eating eels they’d pulled from the river.

Though she cautiously pulled into the lot, all but one, the osprey below, flew off at our approach. But one’s enough and I began taking photos of it.

The camera is my Canon 5D Mark III with a Canon EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens. All five of the photos were blown up and cropped. I also lighted and sharpened them using Photoshop CS4.

Ospreys eat their catch starting with the heads and the eel this one had caught was pretty big.

Shutter speed 1/1000     f-stop 8     ISO 1250     focal length 200mm


What amused Christine was that soon after we arrived, a seagull landed on the lamp next to the osprey. Though the osprey glared at it, the seagull stayed and the osprey soon returned to its meal.

Shutter speed 1/1000     f-stop 8     ISO 1250     focal length 200mm


The seagull wasn’t welcomed company, but it knows not to try to take the osprey’s catch. However, it could wait because the osprey may accidentally drop the eel or even eat its fill and leave some scraps. The spreading of the osprey's wings seemed to be more of an effort to keep its balance atop the post that to impress me or the seagull.

Shutter speed 1/1000     f-stop 8     ISO 1250     focal length 200mm

Several minutes later, the publisher of Backwoods Home Magazine, Dave Duffy, called and asked if I could take some photos of his wife, who was conducting the Gold Beach High School Band in their final concert of the season. So almost an hour elapsed between our earlier trip to the Port (the three photos above) and our return. We pulled over and I was taking photos of a Canada goose in the water when Christine shouted, “Turn around, John. That osprey is still there.”

So, we returned to the parking lot. The osprey had consumed about half of the eel while we were gone. But the way it glared at me, I could tell it wasn’t happy to see me back.

Shutter speed 1/250     f-stop 3.5     ISO 100     focal length 200mm


The seagull, ever patient, still waited for the ort or a slip on the osprey’s part where it might drop the eel to the ground.

Shutter speed 1/250     f-stop 3.5     ISO 100     focal length 200mm



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