Category Archives: nature photography

Impressionistic sunset

impressionism, Allegheny Mountains, sunset
My goal was to capture the vernal equinox sunset. Instead, I came away with a shot that resembled a Claude Monet landscape.

I positioned myself on a hill in northwest Harrisonburg, Virginia in hopes of getting photos of the Super Full Worm Moon rising over the Massanutten Mountains that run north to south in the middle of the Shenandoah Valley. Unfortunately, a layer of rain clouds blocked that attempt. With that foiled, I turned my attention to the setting sun on the first day of spring.

Hazy clouds filled the western horizon as well, though the sun did its best to burn through. Residue smoke from controlled burns in the Jefferson National Forest during the day fuzzed up the view all the more. Sunsets around the equinoxes are the shortest of the year. This one merely melted away behind the blue, blue folds of the Allegheny Mountains.

“Impressionistic sunset” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

3 Comments

Filed under human interest, nature photography, Photo of the Week, photography, rural life, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, weather

Beautiful view, horrific history

Shenandoah NP, New Hope VA
The one thing that constantly amazes me is how much I learn by taking photos. And often what I learn has more to do with the setting than photography itself. This photo is the perfect example.

Anyone would be happy to take this shot. I certainly was. The late afternoon light was perfect shining on the Blue Ridge Mountains, highlighting the ice-encrusted trees along the undulating summit. This is the southern section of Shenandoah National Park.

I noticed a historical plaque close to where I had stopped to get the shot. So I pulled up to read what the plate said. I was stunned. Here among all these rolling farm fields against the backdrop of the mesmerizing Blue Ridge Mountains a bloody, decisive Civil War battle had been fought. Known as the Battle of Piedmont, Union soldiers defeated Confederate troops. This led to the fall of Staunton and control of the railways in the Shenandoah Valley, known as the Breadbasket of Confederacy.

The combat was costly on both sides. The Union suffered 800 casualties and the South nearly twice as many with 1,500. I wondered if passersby knew of the blood spilled all those decades ago. What did the farmers think as they plowed those fields?

I took the photo with mixed emotions. The scenery was marvelous, the history humbling. Without the marker, this would be just another beautiful rural scene. In reality, it is so much more than that.

“Beautiful view, horrific history” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

5 Comments

Filed under history, human interest, nature photography, Photo of the Week, photography, rural life, Shenandoah Valley, travel, Virginia

Different state, same old weather

stream in winter, Holmes Co. OH

Winter weather creates beautiful scenes, but the extended cold gets tiring.

I don’t know about you, but I’m more than ready for spring. It’s been a severe winter all around, and it’s not over yet.

Just last week on three consecutive days the National Weather Service issued Winter Weather Advisories for Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Winter assaulted us with an assortment of ammunition from her arsenal. Rain, freezing rain, sleet, and accumulating snow pelted down upon the usually lovely Shenandoah Valley. And then yet another arctic blast settled in.

It was even worse in the Deep South. Massive tornadoes marched across a broad landscape reaping incredible destruction and death. That devastation put our whining about the blustery weather into proper perspective. Still, I’m ready for spring.

When people learned my wife and I planned to move from Holmes County, Ohio to Virginia, we heard a common theme, “At least the weather will be better there.” Well, not necessarily.

ice storm, Harrisonburg VA

Results of the latest freezing rain.

We’ve lived in the central Shenandoah Valley now for nearly two years. When it comes to weather, it’s a lot like Ohio. That only stands to reason. We live near Harrisonburg, which is no further south than Cincinnati.

Of course, longitude, latitude, and altitude jointly play leading roles in the weather everywhere. Millersburg, Ohio, our former home, sits at 899 feet above sea level while Harrisonburg’s elevation is 1,325 feet despite being in The Valley.

Thanks to the dangerous combination of an El Nino and a wildly fluctuating northern jet stream, most folks in the United States share my winter weather fatigue. The El Nino off of California’s coast has incubated storm after storm that pounded the Pacific coast. With a rerouted jet stream, those storms have dumped heavy snows in places not accustomed to such stuff. Just ask the good citizens of Seattle, Washington, and Tucson, Arizona.

The jet stream speeds the storms along its southeasterly flow. That results in areas already hit by too much snow getting pounded again and again. If warm air did manage to mingle into the mess, flooding ensued. Rivers all across the country have run high most of the winter. Flood warnings have lasted days on end.

The wild weather hasn’t always been wet, either. Windstorms have caused havoc with power outages and buildings being damaged by downed trees. In Shenandoah National Park, 100 trees per mile were reported down along one section of the Skyline Drive.

Purple Finches, Harrisonburg VA

Purple Finches stopped to refuel on their way back north.

Friends in the Buckeye state have teased me that Ohio’s wintry weather seemed to follow us to The Commonwealth. Friends in Virginia have kiddingly blamed me for the lousy Virginia winter weather. I just shrug my shoulders.

Despite the miserable weather, signs of spring have made themselves known. Birders are ecstatic that migrating birds are once again on the wing. Our neighbor’s forsythia is pushing its yellow buds in competition with trumpeting daffodils. Despite the ugly weather, photos of crocuses blooming flooded social media. Tree buds are ready to unfurl their hidden life.

We take for granted another sign of spring. Daylight hours are increasing daily, although we will “lose” an hour with the return of Daylight Savings Time.

Spring is officially just days away. March’s vernal equinox can’t come soon enough.

Our neighbor’s blooming forsythia covered by snow.

Still, there is no guarantee that winter’s harsh hand will let go of its hoary grasp on us. Our only hope is to hang on as best we can until spring’s warm kisses smother us with fragrant bouquets and songbird serenades.

Why has this winter seemed never-ending? Perhaps it is so we will joyously welcome spring’s gentile weather with a renewed appreciation for its refreshing rebirth.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

1 Comment

Filed under column, human interest, nature photography, Ohio, photography, rural life, travel, Virginia, weather, writing

Meeting friendly folks wherever we go

painted buntings, Amelia Island FL

We got to see this beautiful couple at the invitation of friends we made in Florida.

Travel and people. That’s an intriguing combination of which my wife and I never tire.

People are as interesting, unique, and varied as the places we visit. The two are intrinsically intertwined, humanity and landscape, a finely woven rainbow tapestry incarnate.

Neva and I enjoy chance encounters with others as we explore and uncover new locales, cultures, and tradition. Most folks we meet are friendly, courteous, and respectful, transcending race, religion, sect, gender, or avocation.

Everglades NP, friendly couple

The couple who told me about the hawk.

That proved true again during our latest snowbird experiences this winter. From the time we left home at December’s end until we arrived back in the Shenandoah Valley, we visited fascinating places and met kind earthly citizens wherever we went.

I couldn’t begin to list all the memorable interactions. A sampling of the kindness and hospitality shown to us will have to suffice.

We connected with Rich and Pauline, friends from Holmes County, Ohio as they visited other acquaintances on Amelia Island, Florida. Neva and I reaped the benefits of hospitality from both couples. A beautiful pair of painted buntings visited the backyard feeders of Tim and June, who retired to Fernandina Beach a few years ago.

We found gregarious guides, helpful rangers, and friendly visitors on a junket to south Florida at the end of our stay on Amelia. People offered to take our photo at landmarks. They gave us suggestions on eateries preferred by locals.

The gregarious tour guide who knew his fish.

The guide on our Everglades boat tour rattled off scores of fish species that inhabit the waters in and around the national park he so adores. He did the same for the many types of beautiful birds we encountered, too.

Fellow tour-goers we met were equally congenial. We kept running into a recently retired couple from Muncie, Indiana. Their interests in exploring Biscayne and Everglades National Parks mirrored ours. We shared conversations and leisurely walks together.

A ranger at an Everglades visitors’ center was most helpful in highlighting the best birding spots for us. We weren’t disappointed at all as we followed his suggestions.

At one location, we ran into a former college basketball coach from Newark, Ohio who knew Hiland Hawks basketball well. He couldn’t believe it when we told him our son and daughter graduated from Hiland.

At another stop, a young couple on a boardwalk in the Everglades told me about a hawk they had seen. I watched it stalk, kill, and consume its marshy meal.

key lime pie, Key West FL

A tour guide at the Ernest Hemingway House steered us to a tasty piece of Key Lime pie at a local eatery.

In Key West, our tour guide of the Ernest Hemingway House and Museum steered us to the perfect nearby restaurant. We took a leisurely lunch outdoors, enjoying our food in the luxurious Florida sunshine.

The Sunshine State couldn’t claim dibs on friendliness, however. The guides at Hunting Island State Park in South Carolina made our visit there most pleasurable. Like us, they were retired educators.

A lady from Michigan who climbed the 167 steps of the Hunting Island Lighthouse chatted away like a long lost friend. Together we watched from atop the lighthouse as dolphins plied the ocean waters for breakfast.

Nor will I forget the affable shuttle bus driver who returned us to our van from the airport. She remembered us right away though she had met hundreds of other travelers in the six days between transporting us.

I learned a lot on our winter trip, and we met many nice people. After all, humans are designed to be relational.

That relationship involves responsible interaction through stewardship, mutual respect, and affirming connectivity. Neva and I were grateful to be in the graces of folks who not only believed that, but lived it, too.

Amelia Island FL, sunset photography

Sunsets, birds, and people were the ingredients that made for an enjoyable vacation.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

5 Comments

Filed under architectural photography, birding, birds, column, history, human interest, nature photography, photography, travel, writing

Why the shortest month seems so long

winter in Amish country, Holmes Co. OH

The harsh winter weather has made February seem like a long month.

Every year I get the same sensation. February, the calendar’s shortest month, seems like the longest. A wide range of reasons could account for this annual hunch.

Much of that perception may have to do with February’s unfortunate spot in the calendar birth order. As the year’s second son of 12 siblings, February is bound to have an inferiority complex. Even with an extra day in a leap year, February still can’t measure up.

It certainly doesn’t help to be sandwiched between January and March, each with the maximum 31 days every year. Nor does it help that February is the last full month of winter. By now, humans north of the equator have had it with winter, especially this year. They can’t wait for spring.

Is the shortest month merely clamoring for attention with its temper tantrums of weird and wild weather? To be sure, the weather all across the northern hemisphere has been wicked. A lot of complicated and interconnected reasons account for that. Still, February cannot solely be held responsible.

The polar vortex, which usually calls the Arctic region its winter base, ran away from home this year. It escaped in the waning days of January, and the frigid and frozen effects spilled into February, adding insult to injury.

weather warning map

The latest February weather warning map.

The vortex settled into the eastern U.S., forcing the ordinarily westerly jet stream to warp south around it. We all paid the consequences of that detour, including February.

Blustery winds sent wind chills into the danger zone for millions of citizens, making the environmental conditions all the more brutal. When people thought they couldn’t take it any longer, the vortex slunk away, and a warm front helped set the jet stream aright. Soon, vehicles were mired in muck from a rapid thaw.

About that time, weather officials confirmed an El Nino had developed in the Pacific off southern California. Wave after wave of rain and snowstorms blasted the entire west coast, incapacitating major metro areas.

Damaging floods, mudslides, and icy and snow-clogged roads inundated areas not used to extreme winter weather. Even Hawaii got snow.

More rain pelted down in California. Another snowstorm blasted the state of Washington. Additional freeze warnings plagued northern Florida. All this and February still isn’t over yet. How long does it take 28 days to pass?

It would indeed be unfair to lay all of the responsibility for the climatological miseries on poor February. It was merely an accessory to the crimes, guilty by association.

Ignore the weather, and February has a lot to offer for being the shortest month. It boasts about hosting more holidays per diem than any other month.

February’s progressive party includes Groundhog Day, Lincoln’s birthday, Valentines Day, Washington’s Birthday, and Presidents’ Day. Of course, all of those human conceived days have morphed into nothing more than flashy marketing ploys for a small town in Pennsylvania and retailers big and small nationwide.

I suppose, however, that much of our February malaise comes from nothing more than cabin fever. Never mind the occasional warm day when you could poke your head outside. As we all know, that was nothing but a February tease. It’s safest to stay inside until March.

Despite February’s chilly temperament, she does offer us at least one advantage besides being the briefest month. From beginning to end, we gain almost an hour of daylight in February.

Winter’s darkness is waning. In that, we find hope, rejoice, and offer February our heartfelt thanks.

A snowy ride.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Leave a comment

Filed under column, holidays, human interest, nature photography, news, photography, weather, writing

From Switchboard Road

Harrisonburg VA, rural snow scene, street photography
It was Thursday, and I hadn’t decided on my Photo of the Week, which I normally do well ahead of time. The last few days have been hectic with family responsibilities, writing deadlines, and yet another winter storm that brought snow, sleet, freezing rain, and rain.

I was thinking about what photo to feature as I drove home from a meeting this morning. When I turned south onto Switchboard Road, this scene grabbed my attention. I looked in my rearview mirror and to the road ahead of me. The narrow, curvy road is a busy thoroughfare, but the coast was clear. Down went the window, and I quickly snapped the scene.

The morning’s sun filtered through the storm’s residual clouds and a streak of rising fog. The rays glinted off of the three inches of snow encrusted with a glaze of ice. It looks black and white with only a hint of light blue showing.

I knew right then and there that “From Switchboard Road” would be my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

4 Comments

Filed under human interest, nature photography, Photo of the Week, photography, rural life, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, weather

How to stay warm in the winter

winter weather, Ohio's Amish country

In winter’s grasp.

The polar vortex has had its way with most of us in the U.S. again this winter. Once it sank south and east out of the Canadian Arctic area, record cold temperatures and wind chills were set all across the northern states and some far into the south.

My wife and I watched the TV news in sympathy with those freezing in the frigidness of blinding blizzards and well below zero wind chills. We even had freeze warnings in northeast Florida, where we have spent parts of the last few winters.

Thanks to the Arctic air, it was cold there, too, in relative terms of course. Amelia Island is as far north in the Sunshine State as you can get. So when massive cold fronts spawned by the polar vortex invade the eastern U.S., we often feel the effects, too.

Fernandina Beach FL, Amelia Island FL

Pretty but cold.

With an ocean breeze and air temperatures in the 30s, the beach is no place to be either. Neither is the middle of a blizzard. We watched with dismay as TV reports showed the severity of weather conditions from several different stricken areas. Unfortunately, several people died from exposure to the dangerous cold.

I always liked the winter, and mainly snow. But the blizzards of 1977 and 1978 taught me that winter’s punishing harshness better be respected. Staying warm is always paramount.

That’s a primary reason for becoming a snowbird. I’ve said it before. The older I get, the colder I get. Other senior citizens that we met in Florida concurred. It is a natural consequence of the aging process.

Living in the heart of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley isn’t quite far enough south to avoid winter’s icy blasts. So we continued our snowbird trips after moving from northeast Ohio.

We enjoyed a month’s stay at a rented condo on Amelia Island and then headed to the far south of Florida. We visited the Florida Keys for the first time for a few days and soaked up perfectly warm weather.

With high temperatures in the 70s and 80s, it didn’t take us long to sport a tan. We spent the handful of days we had on the go. We greeted the morning sun and filled each day with as much adventure as possible until well after dark.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

However, we seldom checked off all the items on our wish list of places to visit. Spontaneity overruled preparation. We took advantage of surprises and vistas we came upon, stopped to enjoy and do some birding, and moved on to the next spot.

We especially enjoyed visiting Biscayne National Park and Everglades National Park. Together they protect much of the delicate habitats of southern Florida, preserving a vast variety of wildlife, flora, fauna, and people, too.

I never thought I would ever venture out onto the open ocean waters in a pontoon boat. But we did in both beautiful parks. The combination of generous sunshine and the joy of adding new birds to my life list warmed me through and through.

However, it wasn’t until we returned home that I encountered genuine radiant warmth. The weather had nothing to do with that.

At Sunday dinner, we caught up on our oldest grandson’s basketball season. The middle grandchild chatted on about the books he read and his upcoming band concert, while the youngest seemed contented to merely enjoy her lunch. Our daughter and her husband filled in the happenings in their busy lives, too.

The Florida experiences warmed us physically. That warmth, however, paled in comparison to that of reconnecting with our family.

Everglades NP, sunset, photography

Sunset over Eco Pond, Everglades National Park, FL.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

4 Comments

Filed under birding, birds, column, family, human interest, nature photography, photography, travel, Virginia, weather, writing

Happy Valentines Day!

roseate spoonbill, Everglades NP
There is no better way for an avid birder to wish everyone Happy Valentines Day than to share a photo of a very special bird. This juvenile Roseate Spoonbill posed nicely for me in the wetlands of Everglades National Park near Everglades City, FL.

Like many other avian species, the prominent features of the bird give it its name. Its awkward looking bill is offset by the delicate pink feathers of this much-admired bird.

So for my Photo of the Week, I again wish you Happy Valentines Day!

© Bruce Stambaugh2019

6 Comments

Filed under birding, birds, human interest, nature photography, Photo of the Week, photography, travel

A photographer’s perspective

This iPhone photo was taken hand-held through a birder’s spotting scope. The Bald Eagle was a quarter of a mile away.

I enjoy taking photos. According to my son, that would be a significant understatement. At last count, I have close to 60,000 on my laptop, and that doesn’t count the older photos and slides packed away in a closet.

Why so many? I like to make sure I have at least one good photo of the subject I am trying to capture. In the good old days of film, I never knew what I was going to get until the prints came back from the processing lab.

Shooting low creates interesting results.

Digital cameras changed all that. You likely have seen people snapping photos, and then checking the back of their cameras or cell phones to see if what they took was what they wanted. Were everyone’s eyes open? Was the photo in focus?

Clearly, photographers can be picky. They also are creative.

I often photograph alone. However, I especially enjoy going on both planned and spontaneous photo outings with others.

While in Florida, I participate in a photo club that periodically holds scheduled photo walks to specific locations with equally selected assignments.

The subject matters often feature particular events. We have shot city Christmas light displays, carved faces in trees, done architectural photography, moon rises, sunsets, landscapes, and birds to name a few.

We sometimes debrief around a meal at an outing’s conclusion. We are asked to share at least one of our images with the group. The photos are then critiqued, which I always find most helpful.

I am always amazed at the shots of the other photographers. It is astounding and informative to see the different perspectives that are presented. I learn a lot and wonder why I didn’t shoot the scene from that angle.

I might have a decent snapshot of a great blue heron preening, while a friend has zoomed in on the finite details of the bird’s feathers. The textures, colors, and intricacies are breathtaking. Others create abstract shots of the ripples in the water, distorting the bird’s reflection like one of those crazy circus mirrors.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Each person adds his or her own thoughts to the photo being analyzed. This approach enriches the photograph’s vibrancy and character. The critique suggestions help enhance the picture and the photographer, not ridicule, embarrass or judge them.

A friend, who is an expert photographer in her retirement, photographs the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean every morning. She shares the results on social media a few hours later to the delight of her many followers.

Having been on the beach nearby, I am amazed at what she has captured compared to what I have chosen. We shoot the same scene from different angles and viewpoints. Her photos are just as valid, yet they vary despite the fact we were simultaneously photographing the same subject at the same time.

These experiences enrich my understanding of perspective, a most essential ingredient in photography, creative arts and in life itself. We view the same scene, but based on our life experiences, beliefs, biases, goals, and focus, we can come away with differing viewpoints.

Ohio's Amish country

Letting the subject dictate the perspective.

One photographer’s technique isn’t necessarily better than another’s. They are just different.

I learn from life’s global variables. It fosters respect and admiration for one another and the creative gifts shared, especially when divergent viewpoints are appropriately expressed.

Perspective’s diversity seasons our varied menus and transcends any photographic circles. Wouldn’t the world be a more peaceful, enjoyable, hospitable place if we emulated photography’s objectivity in our daily human interactions?

How we answer that question can alter for good or for ill the perspective of all those we encounter.

My morning photographer friend Lea.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

2 Comments

Filed under birding, birds, human interest, nature photography, photography, writing

Butterfly Breakfast

Butterfly Conservancy, Key West FL
My wife and I visited the Key West Butterfly Conservatory and Museum in Key West, FL. It’s a magical place, full of colorful butterflies and plants and flowers on which they thrive. We arrived right after the business opened, which turned out well for both the butterflies and us.

The staff had just set out plates of over-ripe fruit sprinkled with various nutrients the butterflies needed. Whether intended or accidental, the breakfast offerings for the lovely creatures were themselves works of art.

“Butterfly Breakfast” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

2 Comments

Filed under food photography, human interest, nature photography, Photo of the Week, photography, travel