The Recorder – Speaking of Nature: 2023 resolutions: Pointing the lens at plants


Welcome to 2023! Another calendar has been used, another red journal finished and safely tucked away on a shelf and newness has taken over. I place a brand new desk blotter calendar on my office desk, I unwrap a brand new red journal and begin to enter all of my almanac data and I crack open a new black journal so I can punch “2023 vol 1” on to its cover. These sorts of rituals are particularly satisfying for my and I take immense pleasure sitting in the silence of an early morning house and poring over the information recorded in years gone by.

Before I opened up this new document I decided to look back at my first column of 2022 to get the exact wording on last year’s resolutions and this is what I found: “So here is my resolution for 2022: I won’t let the paperwork pile up. I will make sure that I process my photos in a timely fashion, which will allow me to keep my website up to date and that nagging little voice in my head quieter than it has been. Like many resolutions this sounds really simple, but if I actually do it I will benefit greatly. Now let’s see if I can follow through.” A year later I can definitively say that I failed miserably.

As of the writing of this column I still had a backlog of photos going all the way back to August.

However, I did manage to take more photos in 2022 than I had ever taken in any previous year. The funny thing about these columns is that there is a curious element of time travel involved in them. I’m writing about the end of 2022 before the I actually experience the end of 2022. By the time this column reaches you I will have hit 23,000 photos for the year, but as I write I am still about 400 photos short of the mark, so I don’t know what the subject of that milestone photo actually is yet.

Anyway, I think that a resolution about getting paperwork done is a little boring anyway. Surely there must be something a little more interesting to focus on than that. As an example, perhaps it is time to see about working on the botany catalog of my property that I have been thinking of. I have six acres of land that is covered in a mixture of lawn, old field and forest. Perhaps it is time that I take an inventory of the different plant species that live within the geopolitical boundaries of what I temporarily call “mine.”

This is a daunting prospect because of the sheer magnitude of the project. Cataloging the trees would be the easiest because there are so few species that I would have to deal with. Beech, birch, maple and oak are all simple enough to identify. Then there are the slightly more challenging hawthorns, buckthorns and alders. And don’t even get me started on the difference between hornbeam and hop hornbeam!

Then you shift into the realm of the forbs and the grasses; non-woody plants that grow and die back every year without leaving “permanent” stems like trees and lilac bushes. Six acres of land could host hundreds of different species and finding them all would require an enormous amount of time, effort and discomfort. The ferns and the mosses would represent the final straw. I’ve got books, but the mosses in particular could actually represent the tipping point for pure madness to take hold of me.

Yet, there is an entire branch of botany called “bryology” that is focused purely on the mosses, liverworts and hornworts of the world. My poor computer is underlining all of these words in red because it doesn’t recognize them.

Well, I think I might be able to find a happy medium here. Perhaps what I will do is dedicate myself to identifying all of the plant species that can be found along the edges of my trails. These trails pass through meadow and forest and emerge into areas that I maintain as lawn. I realize that this might be a little more than I can chew, but I am going to go for it. 2023 will be my year of botany! I will continue with the photography of wildlife, but I will make a conscious effort to aim my lens at plants more often. Time to break out the close-up lens!

A secondary resolution will be to make an improvement on my general paperwork and correspondence. I like going outside and looking for interesting things, but I am not quite so good at sitting down at my desk and working on emails and whatnot. That being said, I am also getting tired of my afternoon routine and I think that I might enjoy dedicating an hour a day to “clearing off my desk” after getting home from work. If I can just do it long enough to make it a habit, then I will never stop doing it.

So, dear reader, I wish you the happiest and most prosperous 2023. I am personally filled with optimism about the coming year and I think that the project that I have initiated will bear fruit. I might even give myself the added challenge of alternating between plants and animals every other week, but that is going to take a little more thinking. Since I can’t get down to the Thinking Chair at the moment, I’ll get some fresh coffee in my mug, throw a fresh log on the fire and settle in for some imaginings of what might come next.

Bill Danielson has been a professional writer and nature photographer for 25 years. He has worked for the National Park Service, the US Forest Service, the Nature Conservancy and the Massachusetts State Parks and he currently teaches high school biology and physics. For more in formation visit his website at www.speakingofnature.com, or head over to Speaking of Nature on Facebook.



The 10 best compact cameras, according to National Geographic


The OM System (aka Olympus cameras) just released the flagship OM-1 camera, a major upgrade from the beloved Olympus E-M1 series.   

The OM-1 has a similar layout to the E-M1 series but it packs a super fast stacked sensor for high-speed stills shooting at up to 10 FPS mechanical and a blazing 120 FPS electronic. An updated sensor brings better low light performance and subject detection autofocus algorithms that can detect cars, planes, animals, and humans.  

This model also has hand-held high-res shooting (you can take 50 MP images out of a burst of 16 frames) and the Live-ND filter, which simulates a neutral-density filter. In addition, computational photography for handheld shooting emulates some tripod-based long exposure shooting (for example, a blurred waterfall). The pro line lenses have a high-quality build, integrated lens hoods, smooth zoom and focus rings, and round bokeh visualization (background blur). 

The OM-1’s lens options make it ideal for birders and wildlife watchers. The new 150-400mm F4.5 TC1.25x IS PRO gives you a lightweight 300-800mm range and an integrated teleconverter up to 1000mm handheld. Tom tested this lens/camera combo and had a blast photographing birds in his neighbourhood without his arms getting too tired. For more: OM Systems  

Tip: The best lenses include the Olympus 12-100mm F/4 IS PRO (24-200mm), 12-24mm f/2.8 II PRO (24-80mm f/2.8 equivalent), 40-150mm F/2.8 PRO (80-300mm pro zoom), 7-14mm PRO (wide-angle zoom), 300mm F/4 IS PRO (600mm F4 equivalent), 150-400mm F4.5 TC1.25x IS PRO (300-800mm f/4.5).

Fujifilm X-S10  

The Recorder – Speaking of Nature: Examining the rules of nature photography


The world of wildlife photography is an interesting one. First, there are the difficulties associated with actually taking the photographs. In the days when I first got started (back at the end of the 20th century) the difficulties were almost beyond imagination. Imagine a scenario in which there was no such thing as a digital camera. Imagine a scenario in which you may wait for hours until a species or an event finally happens, you take a photo of this species or event, but you don’t know if you “got it” for several days. Such was the case back in the days of film cameras.

Today, with digital cameras, you can take a photo and know almost instantly if you “got it,” or not. Regardless of the wait time (seconds or days) there is still the spirit-crushing anguish associated with the knowledge that the event you attempted to capture on film may not occur again for another year, or even worse, never. Missing a photo can be devastating.

There is also this notion of “authenticity.” What are the rules that govern a photo’s acceptability in different publications? What are the taboos that should be avoided in the world of wildlife photography? Well, the first one (the big one) is pretty reasonable: No photos of wildlife in captivity. It doesn’t matter how beautiful the animal is, nor how “natural” the setting may appear, you just don’t do it. This suggests that the notion of “wildness” has to be respected and maintained by the people trying to represent it. Seems very reasonable, right?

Then there is the notion of background. Unless the content of the story with which a particular photo is associated specifically mentions the specifics of a particular photo’s qualities, it is usually desirable to avoid including certain manmade objects in the background. Again, there seems to be a certain chauvinism against humanity that is associated with the notion of wildness; the idea that somehow, if any trace of humanity is included in a photograph, then it is somehow tainted. Of course there are exceptions to every rule. A bird nest inside an old rusty mailbox might be more desirable than the bird nest by itself, if you know what I mean.

So this brings us to an examination of the photos that I provide with my columns. What sort of photos are acceptable and what sort are not? Are the rules different for me, compared to the rules that might be imposed on a photographer for National Geographic magazine? The inescapable reality to this question is a resounding yes. I can get away with things in this column that I could not get away with in most magazines and it all comes down to context.

The focus of my column has always been the nature that you can experience in your own neighborhood and your own back yard. Over the years this has included the theme of backyard birdfeeders and this is especially true when winter rolls around and the bustle around birdfeeders increases. I am allowed to take photos of birds at feeders because I am specifically trying to show you how to identify the birds that may come for food. And let’s face it, you could wander around in the woods for hours, days and weeks without seeing the sort of activity that you can observe at a backyard birdfeeder in an hour or two.

As a result, I can use photos that have obvious artifacts of human civilization in the background. The railing of my deck has been featured in my photos more times than I care to count. The different feeders that I use have also appeared so predictably that I have no idea of the actual numbers. But even I still endeavor to capture an image of a backyard bird that is taken in a more “natural” setting whenever possible. This week’s photo is a perfect example.

I was sitting in my Thinking Chair on that unusually warm weekend at the beginning of November and I was taking photos of all the birds that were gathering around me. The only reason that they were congregating in my vicinity was because I had put out food. In fact, I do this so regularly that the birds are often waiting for me before I even arrive. Once the food is out, the level of activity grows as the word spreads and it is always interesting to see how a group of chickadees can attract the attention of other birds.

So it was that a dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis) happened to appear on the fringes of the day’s crowd. Curious about all of the commotion, the bird quickly saw that there was food available and though it was understandably shy at first, it eventually joined in and got some breakfast. I happened to snap this photo of the bird as it sat and assessed the safety of the situation and in so doing I captured a wild bird in its wild habitat; perhaps the finest photo of a junco that I’ve taken in many years.

But here’s the thing … later in the winter this same bird may visit my deck to look for food. In fact, every day this same wild bird may spend hours of its life around the feeders on my deck as it tries to survive the winter. So doesn’t that make my deck the “natural” habitat of this wild bird living its wild life? Clearly the answer is yes, but there still remains a certain authenticity associated with a photo with a “natural” background. Fortunately, I think we all just want to see the birds wherever and whenever we can.

Bill Danielson has been a professional writer and nature photographer for 25 years. He has worked for the National Park Service, the US Forest Service, the Nature Conservancy and the Massachusetts State Parks and he currently teaches high school biology and physics. For more in formation visit his website at www.speakingofnature.com, or head over to Speaking of Nature on Facebook.