Saturday, December 11, 2010

West Thompson Again

This entry closes out the year, and I’m left in the awkward position of feeling a need to look back. We’ve moved to a new town, and I’ve started substituting 5K runs for some of my dogwalks, so there have been noticeably fewer photos this fall. I took some of the best bird pictures I’ve ever gotten, and I still look back wistfully at photos of the time Ojo spent with us.

This last photographed walk of the year was up at West Thompson with Jill and her pups. This is the sit-stay photo we always try to take before we leave.

By the way, in terms of looking back, Copley (far left) has grown quite a bit. You can go back for a reminder of how teeny he was only 11 months ago.

Lots of non-dog, non-bird things happened this year, but this blog has really become my venue for writing about photos, so there’s a large, unphotographed portion of our lives that I don’t talk about here. I wonder how many folks think I just go for dogwalks every day and then to bed. I have a job, though you wouldn’t know it.

Actually, that part of my life has its own blog too.

Every time we walk with Jill’s dogs, I can’t help but be jealous at Finn’s graceful aging, or, more accurately, utter failure to age anywhere but in his lightening fur.

He’s still a lightning puppy, particularly when a ball crosses his path. I can’t help but wish I still had his white-faced brother by my side too.

Comet really needs to model dog clothes. He doesn’t wear clothes, beyond a collar, since his coat is already all-weather, wash-and-wear, and suitable for all occasions.

One of my favorite things about his looks is how little maintenance it requires. Many show Goldens are brushed out daily, washed a couple of times a week, and trimmed or “neatened” all over. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, but Comet looks really good without a haircut, which to me better embodies the spirit of a working dog.

I just love the way they change color in the light. I may call them my red dogs sometimes, but they’re undeniably gold, gold, gold.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sunrise at Hammonasset

Andy was getting up really early for work this morning, so I got the bright idea that it would be fun to go for a sunrise walk up at Hammonasset park. Dogs aren’t welcome on the beaches during the swim season, and there’s a fee to enter the park. After October, though, it’s just a big, open, lovely place with beaches and marshes.

I don’t usually talk too much about the humans who join us on walks, but for reasons that will become apparent shortly, I’ll mention them this time.

Ben, Jen, Jeremy, and a very pregnant Naomi came to walk on the beach and watch the sun come up. The dogs, of course, wasted no time jumping in and out of the water and staring wistfully at seagulls out of reach.

I like watching the sun rise, but I hate taking pictures of a sunrise. For me, the thing that’s the most sublime—with apologies to the Kantians among us who would deny that a sunrise provides the “check to the vital forces” (Kant, The Critique of Judgment)—is watching the sunrise change in its almost swift but almost imperceptibly slow way. Look away for a moment and look back, and it has certainly changed. Keep your eyes on it, and you’ll swear that it’s changing, but it’s hard to put your finger on exactly which piece is different.

I love it, and I love the overwhelming sense parade of a warm coffee in the hand, a sky wider than my field of vision changing across its whole scope, two red-gold blurs charging about interested in smells more than sights, a cold breeze seeping in through the zipper of my jacket, and friends close at hand.

The catalyst for the whole plan was the wonderful pictures my friend Jill takes of her dogs during the post-sunrise golden hour. She routinely takes the dogs to the beach at dawn, and she takes advantage of the special light you only get just after the sun breaks the horizon. The pictures are beautiful, and I’m always jealous when I see them.

Let me break for a second to quickly plug her business: PoeticGold Farm Dog Training.

I was not disappointed by the light. Soon after sunrise, the dogs were lit up in spectacularly rich color, and they ran between the salt marsh behind us and the beach in front of us over and over.

We startled a small flock of Sanderlings. When not being chased by Golden Retrievers, Sanderlings feed by running onto the wet sand as a wave recedes and feeding quickly on the creepy crawlies left on the sand. Then, they run away from the wave as it returns.

They run back and forth like clockwork toys, as if, as my dad puts it, they’re stitching the sand and sea together. That little description may be paraphrased from an earlier source than my father, so my apologies to any poets we may have unwittingly plagiarized.

Our friends eventually succumbed to the cold, but Comet, Jax, and I continued on and walked around the rest of the marsh for another hour or so. I met back up with my four friends and my parents for brunch later, and my mom said to Naomi, who was due in a few days, “Who knows? The baby could even come tonight?”

Miriam was born the next day. I’m a fan.

Why is this part of the story next to a quintessential picture of Jax flying out of the water? No reason at all. It just felt like the right moment. And what else is there to say about Jax that isn’t crystal clear in the picture already?

I’ll close the entry with two pictures. This first one was taken during our walk around the park. I set the dogs up on stay and then had them come to me over this wooden guard rail. I had in mind that I might get a great jumping picture in the great light.

The resulting picture was not what I intended, but it pretty neatly sums up the dogs’ personalities.

This one is a little more of what I had in mind, but I love both.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Berries in the Fall

After being rained in for a few days, I was really looking forward to this morning. The weather report promised that it wouldn’t rain, and it even hinted that the clouds would burn off by midmorning.

I called Jeremy and Naomi, and we took a stroll around the Supply Pond park. We came upon a Great Blue Heron, who wasn’t too concerned about the dogs and politely hung out for a minute or two.

I should have realized from the Blue Heron that today was going to be a wonderful day for bird pictures. I feel like the light hasn’t been this good in months. In fact, looking back at all these pictures, I’m not sure I’ve ever had such cooperative birds in such wonderful light.

This Downy Woodpecker was part of a mixed flock of chickadees, thrushes, sparrows and woodpeckers I photographed for several minutes. He and his mate worked the tree over, presumably looking for bugs, unlike his friends, who were clearly drawn by the berries high up in the tree.

The mixed flock had a high percentage of Hermit Thrushes, and they were definitely there for the berries. The All About Birds entry I linked to even mentions that they supplement their winter diet with berries, and I can now personally attest to that fact.

As I was photographing a Hermit Thrush on a branch, I saw a woodpecker in the left part of the frame. My mind wrote it off as the Downy, but right as I caught this neat shot of the thrush dropping off his branch, I started to have the strange feeling that the bird in the corner of my eye wasn’t as familiar as I had originally thought.

It turns out that it was a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, a bird I’ve never seen in Connecticut. If you ever wondered whether or not they were fructivores, here’s your proof. In this amazing light, the rich, deep red of his head and neck were striking, and his yellow belly, which is usually really hard to see, was quite obvious through the telephoto.

I do have proof that the dogs were actually there, though this entry doesn’t focus on them. Today was a very ordinary dog walk, super fun for them, restoring and relaxing for me. They were muddy and happy by the end, and that’s always a good thing.

As for my part, though, today I’m still crowing over the birds and the pictures I managed to get. It was definitely one of my all-time best bird photography outings.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Parallel Courses

October saw us finally back on a regular schedule with our dog walks, and the boys are very enthusiastic about it.

It was also a beautiful year for foliage.

We moved closer to some of our favorite old haunts, like this place. Andy showed it to me not long after we first met, and we took Gus there, then Gus and Comet, and now Comet and Jax.

In fact, I remembered the other day that I had a picture of Gus and Comet together from November of ‘08, not long before Gus died, so  I posed Comet and Jax in the same spot.

October also gave me a new place to go in Branford that I had never been before, and though I only snapped this one picture the first time we went, I loved it so much that I’ve been five time since then and plan on many, many more outings.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Some Movable Beasts

September was a hard month for us. We moved ourselves to a new house (wonderful!), and we both had pretty hectic work schedules. Dog walks suffered greatly as we spent our free afternoons moving books (we have so many books!) and furniture from New Haven to Branford over the course of several weeks.

The dogs didn’t like the move (all their stuff disappeared slowly and we didn’t go for many walks), but they love the new house.

For Andy’s birthday, I strung lights all around our (new!) deck. The first step was to install a post at one corner, and so I could make it a surprise, I did it all in the evening before he got home from work. This rather large mantis decided to get right in the way for a few minutes, and since I wasn’t sure I could take him if it came to a brawl, I worked on another section of the deck until he decided to wander off.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Evaporated August

August was jam packed, so much so that I really didn’t take two many pictures. I did interval training with Ben, hiked something like a dozen times, and vacationed with family on the lake that our parents used to take us to.

Jax had many, many opportunities to shake off, but this was by far the best one.

I don’t know if you’ve ever stopped to consider the physics of a dog’s shaking off, but it’s really quite extraordinary. The movement is so much quicker than it appears to a casual eye, and because their skin is loose, there’s an amazing whip to it. I wonder if anybody’s ever tried to measure exactly how much water comes off a soaked dog on that first shake.

If you ever want to judge how amazingly quick a movement it is, try to shake off your hair after a shower. Unless you give yourself a brain hemorrhage in the process, you’re unlikely to get as much water out of your hair as Jax gets out of his coat in one shake.

At the end of the month, we had to give Ojo back to his family. It was harder than I thought to give him back. More than once I found myself plotting ways to keep him, but a dog belongs with his family.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Rumble in the Marsh

The salt marsh is a summer favorite, as the entries stuffed with long grass and ospreys will attest.

The high tide in the grass brings out the monster in the brothers, and Comet is often the brunt of their desire to chase and bite. I always watch to make sure they’re not too hard on him, but he’s constantly going over, taunting them, and running off.

(Top to bottom: Ajax, Ojo, Comet)

It really does look like a whole lot of fun, especially if you like biting.

What would a trip to the salt marsh be without a chance to take pictures of Osprey? This is one of my all-time favorite Osprey pictures.

Friday, July 30, 2010


Ben grew up in Eastern CT, so he knows many of the secrets of the backwoods there. He also knows where to get noodles and barbecue chicken pizza.

So, we set out early one morning to check out Devil’s Hopyard with the dogs.

(Left to right: Ojo, Ajax, Comet)

The Hopyard is famous for some unique rock formations, and popular lore says that the settlers thought the cylindrical holes in the rock were made by the devil. There’s also an odd cave called “The Devil’s Oven.”

Regardless of how the formations came about, it’s a lovely park on about 860 acres, which gives you enough space to wander without bumping into too many folks on the way.

(Photo credit: Ben Taylor)

It’s a dog’s paradise, with a brook running by a large section of the trail, big fern gardens, rotting trees, and all the mud you could ever want.

There’s even a viewing spot that’s not too hard to get to. The dogs, as always, couldn’t care less about views, but they were good sports about parking in front of the vista for a few minutes so we could grab some pictures.

(Photo credit: Ben Taylor)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Before, After, and After

Since I was going through the same routine so often, I started posing the dogs each time. The photo post isn’t just an opportunity to take a picture. It’s also an opportunity to practice that all-important skill, the stay. In a semi-controlled environment (a familiar field with no other dogs or people), it’s a great opportunity to test them with a few distractions but nothing too tempting.

Ojo, as you can see, does beautifully.

(Left to right: Comet, Ojo, Ajax)

I really do enjoy snapping photos just as I give them the “OK.” You get the silliest expressions.

Since we head through the same field on our way back, I thought an “after” photo was in order. It’s coincidence that they sat in almost the same configuration.

And the requisite “OK!” photo.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Catch Up

I’m writing this entry and the next few from a few months’ distance. I fell behind a bit, but now I’m making a little project out of catching up. I certainly have the pictures.

I spent July taking the dogs all over the place, but we consistently returned to our favorite river spot. Since there’s a field on the road’s side of the river, it was a nice spot to fetch for a few minutes and dry out the wet dogs before we returned to the car.

(Left to right: Comet, Ajax, Ojo)

Seconds after the last photo, Jax caught up to Comet and I caught him in the midst of a very bratty body check and muzzle bite. Comet will sometimes outrun or outfake Jax in the ground game, but Jax is a fierce competitor too.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

An Egrettable Pun

Ben and I got so many great bird and dog pictures that I ran out of space in the last entry and had to extend it here. I’m filled with remorse for the horrible pun in the title of the previous entry, so I made it worse by repeating the mistake here.

This is a Great Egret, a larger cousin of the Snowy. Like the Ospreys, he obligingly engaged in interesting behavior for photos instead of just standing there like a lump. For reasons that make perfect sense if you’re an egret and no sense at all if you’re me, he puffed and ruffled himself for a few minutes.

Right at the end of our walk, we saw yet another Great Egret, and he let me get quite close to his tree before he finally took off.

Where There's a Willet, There's an Osprey

I apologize for the truly tortured pun that makes up the title of this entry, but since both birds make an appearance, I really couldn’t resist.

The end of July saw us at the salt marsh quite a bit. Because of beds of aptly named razor clams by the trail, I only like to go there at high tide, when the dogs are less likely to slash up their paws. Fortunately, it seems as if every time I’ve checked a tide table, high tide and sunny weather were predicted  at exactly the time I wished to head out there.

A large part of the trail crosses the marsh on a raised concrete causeway. The dogs happily slog and swim their way out through the grass and the channels, and then they sprint back along the causeway when they’re called.

This Snowy Egret is one of many wading birds that frequent the marsh during the day and roost nearby it at night. When he first saw the dogs, his first tactic was to freeze, which worked surprisingly well. A flapping bird is an object of religious devotion for a Golden Retriever, but a still one might as well be made of grass.

He did eventually spook and fly off a few minutes later, to my relief, since I’d hate to have one of the dogs successfully injure a heron, which they’d no doubt do if they managed to catch him.

I think this is my all-time favorite picture of Ojo because it captures his total abandonment to the water, salt, and mud, broken by a millisecond’s check-in to the silly humans who never seem to jump into anything.

(Photo credit: Ben Taylor)

My dad was able to identify this as a Willet from an e-mailed photo. Though I have a great field guide on my phone and an even better one on my bookshelf, it’s often more fun and less work to test my dad’s mettle.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

What There's Time For

The walks are starting to blur together, particularly the ones at our standby loop on a local town land trust. Fetch in the field, swim in the river, hike the loop, swim in the river, fetch in the field again, back in the car.

All times become each time, as if we took a hike for weeks and weeks, circling back to the same spot with no breaks and no loss of charm in the repetition.

I’ve had some time to practice taking photos of the ubiquitous damselflies. I thought this one was sufficiently artsy to be included.

Damselfly identification is a huge pain. This one may be the same species I’ve photographed before in Vermont, a Black-winged Damselfly or Ebony Jewelwing. The female Calopteryx maculata has a white spot at the tip of the wing. Her wings tend to be less dark too, but in this photo, that’s not particularly helpful.

I’m still working on acquiring the knowledge of all three hundred or so birds who spend at least part of the year in New England, but once I’m done, if there’s still time left over, maybe I’ll move on and learn about all hundred and fifty odonates.

Saturday, July 17, 2010


Yet another post-sit-stay photo, this one taken more like a second after the release, rather than just a fraction of one.

Ojo’s really getting into our routine, and the regular swims may be making him shinier. That or possibly the high fat food and the fish oil supplements I’ve been plying him with.

(Left to right: Comet, Ojo, Ajax)

And, another sit-stay after walking the loop and swimming in the river. I’ve been able to take the dogs on a crazy number of big outings this summer, and it’s satisfying to see them so tired and happy.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

He Ain't Bitey, He's My Brother

Comet has always loved being chased, and from Jax’s earliest days with us, Comet has taught him to love to chase. The arrival of Ojo has allowed Jax to add some serious chasee skills to those already developed chaser skills.

Jax has the best ball-spotting abilities of the three when it gets lost in the grass. Comet often gets there first, but Jax usually gets it if they don’t quite see where it rests.

Ojo gets it his share of times, and he can lead Jax on a merry chase.

The shot below needed to be blown up for full effect. Even when Jax gets it, everybody has fun on the way back.