Audubon Bird Portraits

Detail of common raven wing feathers
Detail of common raven wing feathers. Audubon Society of Portland, Portland, Oregon, 12 February 2017.

I’m back in Oregon for now, and last weekend I went to the Audubon Society of Portland‘s annual wildlife care center open house, which I also attended in 2014. Since 2014, Hazel the spotted owl passed away, sadly, but most of their other education birds were out to say hello, including my personal favorites, Ruby the turkey vulture and Aristophanes the common raven.

The Wildlife Care Center is the oldest and busiest wildlife rehabilitation facility in Oregon, taking in about 3,000 orphaned or injured native animals a year. The annual open house and auction provide much of their operating funds. If you’d like to bid on some great wildlife-related items and experiences and support their efforts, the 2017 Call of the Wild Auction runs online until March 6.

I decided to try something a little different this year – low-key black-and-white portraits in the style of George Wheelhouse, although this is my first go and I have a lot to figure out.

So without more ado…

A portrait of Finnegan the peregrine
Finnegan is a male peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) hatched in 2000. He has a deformed foot that would prevent him from surviving in the wild.
A portrait of Lillie the kestrel
Lillie is a female American kestrel (Falco sparverius) who hatched in 2009 and was illegally raised in captivity. Due to being fed a poor diet, she has rickets and other health problems. Unfortunately, her male sibling was too sick to be rehabilitated and had to be euthanized.
A portrait of Jack the kestrel
Jack is a male American kestrel (Falco sparverius) who hatched in 2006. He was found on the ground in an industrial area with part of his wing missing and thus cannot fly. Kestrels are one of the few raptor species that exhibit sexual dimorphism in coloration as well as size – in most raptors, the female is simply larger than the male. Jack has less striping and different colors than Lillie.
A portrait of Aristophanes the raven
Aristophanes is a male common raven (Corvus corax), hatched in 2008. He was illegally hand-raised and imprinted on humans, and several attempts to release him failed. I have been told he has wild raven friends who visit and exchange presents with him.
A portrait of Ruby the turkey vulture
Ruby is a female turkey vulture (Cathartes aura), hatched in 2007. She was brought in by a woman who Ruby was following around, and although her history is unknown, she was probably illegally taken from the wild and imprinted on humans. Ruby is very charming and loves to bask in the sun.
A portrait of Julio the great horned owl
Julio is a female great horned owl (Bubo virginianus), hatched in 2000. She was raised by humans and imprinted, and due to her small size, Audubon first assumed she was a male – female great horned owls are normally much bigger.

Sződliget: A “Fairytale Village”?

Photo of fishing huts and a lake in black and white
Fishing huts at the Sződligeti Horgásztó (fishing lake), Sződliget, Hungary. 20 February 2016.

…or Sződliget: The Power of Misleading Social Media Flavor Text?

Recently, an article and gorgeous photos crossed my Facebook feed: A Mysterious and Abandoned Fishing Village Outside of Budapest Captured in Perfect Reflection. The photos were stunning and moody, and outside of Budapest? I could go there! Thus began my quest to figure out where this location actually was, hampered at every stage by the incredibly misleading flavor text in the article, which I saw develop even more misleading variations elsewhere.

A few years ago photographer Viktor Egyed accidentally stumbled upon the town Sződliget a few miles outside of Budapest, and to his delight found this small abandoned fishing village filled with clusters of A-frame huts. Deciding the weather was not ideal, Egyed came back a few years later when he was able to capture the town in a hazy fog, the perfect condition to highlight the glasslike reflections of the structures in the lake below.

On Instagram, someone even implied that the photos pictured Sződliget itself, during one of the Danube’s “frequent” floods (Sződliget was affected by the record flooding in 2013, but the majority of the town is not in routine danger of flooding).

I don’t mean to pick on the photographer, Viktor Egyed, who is obviously skilled and creative; I don’t even know how much of the article was journalistic embellishment of what he actually said. But as I searched for this “abandoned fishing village,” I soon found that it was

  1. Not abandoned.
  2. Not a village.
  3. Not somewhere you could just accidentally stumble over.

Elsewhere I’ve also seen Sződliget described as a dying town, and that’s not true, either – in the 1980s it was aging, with fewer farming families (it is not a fishing town – most if not all of the fishing in Sződliget is for sport), but it is now increasingly a bedroom communities for people who work in Budapest and Vác. In my two visits I saw plenty of families out walking, as well as what looked like a local school running team practicing. Sződliget is not a ghost town—it’s just an average small Hungarian town with little to interest foreign tourists. I suspect in summer there is a little domestic tourism for fishing and boating, and it does support a yacht club. Here are some quick cellphone shots I took of the residential streets as I walked the 30–40 minutes from the train station to the nature reserve:

The road from the train stop.
Dunai fasor, the road from the train stop.
A residential neighborhood
A residential neighborhood, which I assume has electricity and running water.

First of all, I really doubt Egyed “stumbled upon” this fishing lake. It’s in an un-signed nature preserve, and there are two ways to reach it, neither of which is obvious. On my first trip to Sződliget, I naturally went to the fishing lakes that were large enough to show on GoogleMaps—which belonged to a fishing club, were entirely fenced in, and were obviously not the same as those in the photos. I ended up going home and asking a local photographer for help, and he very kindly confirmed my suspicions of where the lake really was and explained how to get there, so my second visit was much more successful.

Once I arrived, I immediately saw that it was neither abandoned nor a village. No one has ever lived in these huts or made a living fishing in this lake. The fishing lake was established as a sport fishing lake in 1949—it says so over the gate, along with the sign indicating some connection to a national park. And it’s still in use—the huts and bridges are extremely well-maintained, and there are many signs up explaining the rules of the fishing club. That no one is fishing in the middle of winter is not a surprise, but it’s not abandoned in the general sense. On a chilly but sunny Saturday afternoon in February, I saw one man apparently working on maintenance (if you look closely, you can find him in the next photo) and about a dozen people walking around with family and friends.

Photo of fishing huts and a lake
Fishing huts at the Sződligeti Horgásztó (fishing lake), Sződliget, Hungary. 20 February 2016.

Egyed’s photos are beautiful—some of the best I’ve seen of this location—and speak for themselves. He chose moody, atmospheric weather, they’re well-composed, and he didn’t over-process them. I saw the photos and instantly wanted to go there, which I think is a mark of success.

And the Sződligeti fishing lake isn’t the only location which looks much more mysterious and romantic in photos than it is in real life (the fishing shacks at Bokodi-tó in Hungary are another example)—there’s nothing wrong with that. Photographers pick and choose what to show all the time. But I think it’s important to be honest about what you’re showing people. Those awesome-looking huts at the ends of docks in all the moody, dramatic long exposures of Bokodi-tó are also not people’s homes and never have been—they’re fishing shelters. The actual town of Bokod, like the town of Sződliget, looks pretty normal.

Flavor text is nice, but I wish photographers and media writers kept it short and factual (unless there really is a story to tell) and let the photos speak for themselves, rather than contributing to the creation of romanticized mythic places that exist only in imagination and pixels.

I think this is also a fine illustration of the importance of weather for the landscape photographer—in this case, how fog and mist can turn a lovely but ordinary location into something mystical and magical. I hope I’ll get a chance to go back in more interesting weather, but until then, these photos will have to do.

Photo of fishing huts and a lake
Fishing huts at the Sződligeti Horgásztó (fishing lake), Sződliget, Hungary. 20 February 2016.

Butterflies, Bugs and Bees Photo Contest

Plains Forktails (Ischnura damula) in copula
A pair of mating Plains Forktails (Ischnura damula), Sawhill/Walden Ponds, Boulder, Colorado, USA. September 11, 2011.

The Butterfly Pavilion and Mike’s Camera are holding a Butterflies, Bugs and Bees Photo Contest, deadline August 10. It seems to be aimed primarily at local photographers, as entries are supposed to be dropped off at the Pavilion.

You can have your entry photo printed for free through Mike’s Camera. Here’s my entry, a silhouette of a pair of mating Plains Forktails (Ischnura damula) I took at Sawhill/Walden Ponds in Boulder last fall. I’m still trying to think of a “creative” title for it before I turn in my entry: I refuse to use anything involving hearts.

Next Friday I will be on a plane to Iceland, returning on August 21st. If I have time amidst the packing, I’ll try to schedule some posts while I’m gone. Otherwise, I hope to return with some decent pictures of Icelandic birds and geology, and perhaps some insects if I find anything good. Alas, only two dragonflies have ever been sighted in Iceland–although you can bet if I find the third, there will be many, many photos.