The snow geese are famous visitors to Skagit County in the winter, but they are not the only large birds to show up in big numbers. The trumpeter swans also appear and, while they might not be in the large flocks of the snow geese, there are still loads of them around. They also don’t seem to mind being close to the humans. I had seen a bunch of them as I was driving around and pulled off the road at one point as so many were in the adjacent field.
The fun thing about photographing swans is getting them taking off. Two or more of them flying at low level as they build speed is pretty cool. You might normally wait for ages for this to happen but, with so many of them around, it seems as if there is almost always a take off occurring. Consequently, while some might seem distant, you know another will be closer in before too long. (I do like the head on look but that does require getting to more inaccessible spots usually.)
After shooting at the same spot for a while, I continued south. I was getting back to an area south of Mt Vernon when I came across even more swans sitting right by a side road. They were ridiculously close to the road and, when I pulled up and stopped, they did start to drift away a little. I guess even swans can be slightly circumspect when it comes to humans arriving. However, they quickly got used to me and I got some shots of them too!
My Skagit trip was primarily looking for geese, but I was also going to see whether the short-eared owls were back out and about. I ended up in East 90 again which has a solid reputation for the owls. As I pulled up, various other raptors were flying very close by, so I knew the chances of seeing stuff were going to be good. Unfortunately, the owls were not playing ball. There were loads of them flying but they seemed to have staked out their interests further across the fields and away from the road. The northern harriers were the ones close by. The owls seemed to be wheeling about each other off in the distance so I had to make do with longer range images of them and get some of the other residents instead.
The Lyon Air Museum has a B-17 as part of its collection. Named Fuddy Duddy, I was told by a docent that it is airworthy. I don’t know whether that means it is still flown or not and a quick search has not brought up any recent photos of it but maybe it is out and about at times. I walked around it in the hangar and got a few shots of it in amongst the rest of the museum collection. It looked to be in great condition but I have no idea what is beneath the skin.
The A-26 is a plane that had a longer life in service than many of its stablemates. It found use as a ground attack aircraft in Vietnam despite having its origins in WWII. It cropped up along the way between these extremes. Some of them found use as corporate transports too including the one I saw at Lyon Air Museum. It had been used by Howard Hughes at some point. Now it is restored to something closer to its operational configuration.
It was tight in amongst the other exhibits which made getting good shots tricky. It is also finished in black which can make the photography a touch more challenging. However, having not shot a lot of them, I was keen to make the best of it. These shots are a summary of what I got as I checked out this speedy beast. How I would like to get some airborne shots of one. I believe one lives close to me but I have yet to see it out in the wild.
Sonoma County is very pretty from the ground but it looks even better from the air. The hills that roll across the county look great and, from above, you get to see way more than you can from the roads. Not only do the hills look great but you also get to see some rather interesting properties that are tucked away in the hills and out of sight. There are some very nice places up there.
The smaller end of the corporate jet market has taken a pounding in recent years. The downturn in the economy hit that part of the market particularly hard. One company that has been doing well, though, is Nextant. Their first product is the rebuilding of the Hawker 400 jet. They re-engine it, upgrade the cockpit and completely rebuild the interior. The result is the 400XT. This example showed up at Boeing Field while I was there. It looked pretty nice in its new paint scheme. I was never terribly bothered by the Hawker 400 (or Beechjet or Mitsubishi jet if you go back a while) and the shape isn’t much changed. However, the paint job on this one made it look better than average. Nextant are now working on a King Air rebuild program.
There was a bit of activity at Boeing Field for the fleet of test Dreamliners. Boeing has been in the process of moving the original test airframes around to their final resting places. One of them has been donated to the Museum of Flight so didn’t have to go very far. Others are finding home further afield. Meanwhile, there is still some work for the rest of the test fleet.
I managed to see them both on the ground and in the air. Obviously the flying shots are the ones I prefer but I will take any I can get. It is strange that, during the test program, the development aircraft are the only ones you see and you want to see more of them in airline colors. Once they get well established, the original test frames suddenly have more interest again.
The Boeing P-8 Poseidon is not a new plane. In fact, it first flew in 2009. Why is it, then, that I have never seen one in flight before? I have seen them on the ground at various times. This has included air shows and seeing them on the flightline at Boeing Field. I have come close a number of times there including some of the Indian Navy Ark variants that have been undergoing testing. Despite all of this, I had not seen one fly.
Fortunately, I have finally overcome this shortcoming, if only briefly. I found myself at Boeing Field on a recent trip to Seattle where I was eating my lunch between landing from a flight and heading off to a meeting. A pretty narrow window in which to hope to get anything interesting but, this time, I was lucky. The P-8 taxied out shortly after I got there and lined up. He wasn’t going for a takeoff at first. A surge of power and acceleration down the runway followed by an application of the brakes and the rejected takeoff test was done. This meant a trip back down the taxiway and right past me to get back to the threshold.
The second time was supposed to be the full takeoff and the lightly loaded jet was promptly airborne and heading off to carry out its tests. It would be gone for a few hours so I wasn’t going to catch its return but it was great to finally see one moving and flying.
My friend John from Chicago was out in San Francisco for the weekend and we arranged to get together for a walk up in the hills of Marin County. We headed to Mt Tamalpais to walk the trails there. The weather was not ideal with rain and low cloud when we set off but, as we got closer, the rain eased up, even if the cloud didn’t. Even so, it meant we were going to be okay to walk. What I hadn’t counted on was that I was going to warm up a lot as we walked and the uphill element of the second half of the walk was going to mean I was a touch overdressed! I was dry though.
When we got back to the car, we drove along the ridge above the valley where Muir Woods is located. The clouds were beginning to break up a little and the combination of the light and the clouds still on the hills looked great. I struggle to take what I see in those situations and turn it into a photograph but hopefully this gives you some idea of what was there. The dynamic range is one thing to deal with in processing but the feel is something harder to translate.
While eating lots of good food is a fun part of a trip away, it does provide you with some encouragement to have a bit of exercise too to try and offset what you have consumed. Combine that with some scenery and a plan starts to emerge. Nancy had found out about a trail at Russian Gulch State Park that led to some waterfalls. This seemed like a worthwhile venture so off we set.
Sadly, our planning did not prove to be quite as good as we had hoped. The access route to the park was closed off at a certain point which we assumed to be the normal starting point. Instead, I think we were a bit further out that the distances in our guide suggested. Also, the distances they gave, even assuming the change in start point, were a bit optimistic. Consequently, as we headed further in and the clock ticked by, we realized that we were not going to get all the way to the falls and get back out again before it started getting a bit dark.
The valley is very sheltered, particularly at this time of year, so the lack of direct sunlight means it is a bit darker in there and, as the sun drops, it will get a lot darker than the surrounding area. It also gets a bit cold since the area is very moist. We wisely turned back to ensure we weren’t going to get uncomfortable. Besides, judging by the flow of water in the river along the valley floor, the falls were probably not at their most productive.
The valley itself was really pretty. Combinations of all sorts of plants that like damp environments and tall trees reaching up to gather sunlight at their highest reaches made you feel like you were in a scene from the Hobbit. I was particularly impressed by some young trees that had chosen the stump of a chopped down tree to use as their base. The little trunk rising out of roots that were drooping down the sides of the stump looked very cool.
When we had finished the walk, we headed around to a sinkhole in another part of the park. This is apparently quite impressive at high tide and when the waves are strong since the hole makes all sorts of sounds as the air is compressed by the water. Sadly, it was low tide while we were there so it was just a big hole. However, the walk there did give us a great view of one of the bridges along the Pacific Coast Highway.