Sapsucker Woods is a bird sanctuary in Ithaca owned by Cornell University, home of the the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. There is a beautiful visitor's center and a number of trails including one around a large pond with numerous bird viewing possibilities. (Click here for more information on Sapsucker Woods.) My wife and I thought we'd go for a quick walk after work and before dinner, and since I'd been wanting to get some more experience with the "new" 400mm lens, Sapsucker was an ideal location. Betsy could walk the trails while I toodled along by the pond. This was the first time out on a trail with the 400mm lens, and I must confess, it was more awkward than I'd anticipated, and after the first set-up and take-down, I left it on the camera, on the fully-extended tripod, and just carried the whole assembly around. Fortunately, late in the day on a Friday, the trails weren't exactly brimming with people, so I had no opportunity to poke anyone unexpectedly with my gear. About a third of the way along the trail around the pond I stopped at a viewing station that had an excellent view to the east across the water, lit nicely by the late afternoon sun. After a somewhat frantic day at work it was a little hard to settle into a peaceful state where I was atune to what was around me, but eventually the natural world began to seep in and I stood for a good 45 minutes just taking it all in. Somewhere along the line a heron swooped in low over the water, landing on an old nest high in a dead tree. It stood there, motionless, for quite awhile, then it was joined by another heron, apparently its mate. Evidently they were shopping for a nest, and that one wasn't their style, so they both moved on to another old nest, high in a different tree, where they remained until after sunset. They were pretty far away, but the 400mm got them quite a bit closer, and some cropping of about 50% or a little more made these shots possible.
F6.3, 1/2500th second, ISO 400, Canon 60D:
F6.3, 1/2000th second, ISO 400, Canon 60D:
Of course, birds aren't the only items of interest at Sapsucker for nature watchers... 1/60th second, F6.3, 400mm, ISO 400, Canon 60D:
One last "gorges in winter" entry. Good thing too... it feels like spring today!
Robert Treman is just outside Ithaca on route 13 going southwest toward Elmira, and encompasses the gorge known as Enfield Glen. There are two sections, separated by a couple miles of trail or a few more miles of steep, winding road. Both the lower and upper areas are worth a visit in winter but it's the spectacular upper region, with 115' Lucifer Falls, that is the main topic today. Usually a small amount of parking lot is plowed at the upper area, near an old grist mill. Follow the main trail over a bridge by the picnic shelter, and take the rim trail where it diverges to the right. (If you get on the wrong path you'll soon come to an iron gate barring access to the gorge proper in winter due to dangerous conditions because of ice.) The rim trail winds around through the woods for half a mile or so, then comes out at an open promontory almost directly over Lucifer Falls, with an unparalleled view down the deepest part of the gorge. Late morning is a great time to be here in winter for photography. Take in the view here, but don't turn back yet. Continue on as far as the trail allows in winter and you'll be at the overlook directly across from Lucifer Falls. For winter gorge viewing, it doesn't get any better than this. This spot always puts me in the mind of Middle Earth and perhaps the Mines of Moria!
The shot below is processed with HDR, using Photomatix. This is four shots, each 1 stop apart, with 1 under, 2 over, and 1 right on. This is not my usual procedure for HDR, where I take three shots, 2 stops over, 2 under, and 1 right on, but this was early on in my experimentation with HDR. More on HDR and Photomatix in a future post, but for now, suffice it to say that in the absence of HDR, either the upper canyon walls were washed out and over-exposed or the botton section was an inky pit of dispair. This shot used Exposure Fusion, so not strictly HDR, actually, but a technique that takes the midtones of each photo and combines them.
Continuing our tour of gorges in winter... Watkins Glen isn't just about race cars! There is a "glen" in Watkins Glen, for which the town is named. The glen is an amazing narrow, serpentine crevice, winding 400 feet up past 19 waterfalls and 200 foot cliffs. For the photographer, endless opportunities abound among the natural scenery, as well as the beautiful CCC-era stonework of the paths and bridges. Each gorge in the Finger Lakes seems to have its own personality, and this one seems deeply mysterious and other-worldly to me. Of course, on a fine summer day when it's filled with hundreds of people, this popular local attraction does lose some serenity! I've found three ways to avoid the crowds myself - go mid-week, preferably before noon (the gorge faces roughly east so it gets in the morning). Alternatively, go in the rain (actually some of my best shots have been on days when it's lightly raining). Lastly, go in the winter. A good way to access the gorge in winter is by parking at the South Pavilion. Walk down behind the pavilion itself, to the bridge across the gorge for a great view down to the stream. All trails in the gorge itself are closed in winter, but the bridge connects with the Indian Trail which runs along the north rim and which is open, affording some great views. The first photo below is from the bridge looking east, and the second, from an overlook on the Indian Trail. To see more photos of Watkins Glen, click here. Note that one of the photos at that linked page is shot from the same spot on the Indian Trail, but in the fall!
28mm, F4.5, 1/80th, ISO 50, Konica Minolta A200:
26mm, F7.1, 1/80th second, ISO 100, Canon Rebel XTi:
This is not my favorite time of year. Day after day of gray skies and snow showers, single digit temperatures, layers of clothes, short days... But Ithaca is within easy driving distance of a number of spectacular gorges, some of which are well worth a visit even in winter. Most trails are closed this time of year due to icy conditions but for the next few entries here I'll detail 3 gorges where a photographer can safely get some unsual winter gorge shots without putting themselves in danger.
First on the list is Taughannock Falls. At 215 feet, Taughannock is one of the tallest waterfalls east of the Rockies, and presents an awesome sight. Where most Finger Lakes gorges are quite narrow, Taughannock is wider than a super highway, and the bottom is very flat (although the sides are extremely steep, with 400 foot cliffs in some places.) This makes the 3/4 mile hike into the falls accessible all year round, a boon for winter nature photographers. The trail can be a bit slippery, so hiking boots are highly recommended, and even snowshoes or skis wouldn't be amiss. The view is always different each time, but here's what we found at the end of our trip last Saturday. Note that for those who do not wish to hike in, there is an overlook along the rim trail on the north side that can be driven to for a slightly different but no less dramatic view. A few parking spots are kept plowed in winter, but the road going to the overlook is steep and winding, and right after a snowstorm may be slippery.
In these photos, bear in mind that normally the waterfall goes straight into the stream. In winter though, a tremendous ice dome develops beneath the falls. This year it seems to be at least 50 feet high! For scale, note my wife along the trail at the lower right!