Tag Archives: Skagit

Trumpeter Swans Along the Road

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!

Struggling to Get the Owls

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.

Heritage Flight Museum May Fly Day

I was planning to head up to Skagit for the May Fly Day at the Heritage Flight Museum anyway.  As it turned out, I had been talking with Rich at COAP about the trip he was leading and, when he asked if I would like to tag along with their group, I said yes.  They had been working with the Museum and arranged some opportunities to shoot from locations that normal ticket access wouldn’t allow.

The team at COAP and the team at the museum were super helpful and friendly.  Add to that, the weather was great and the combination of aircraft they were able to put up was excellent so, the day was set to be a bunch of fun.  It did not disappoint.  I have shot at the museum fly days before but, sometimes, the planes I was after didn’t fly and sometimes the conditions weren’t ideal.  On this occasion, everything came together.  I did play around with my shots trying to get more dynamic images.  The high vantage point we had available helped with that too.

I took a ton of shots and culled them heavily.  The result was a few shots I was particularly happy with and it was nice that the museum shared a few of them on their social media platforms too.  Seeing the Skyraider fly is always cool but the day was a trainer day and they put up some great trainer formations.  The conditions were a little bumpy but they made a good job of it and there were shots to be had.  I look forward to the next time I am up there.

Owls Hunting in Skagit County

I made a trip up to Anacortes to help someone out with a project.  I was surprised when I got up there that it was a really lovely day when it was cold and rainy back at home.  I think there is a line just south of Mount Vernon where the weather changes dramatically.  I had heard a few of the other photographers at Juanita Bay discussing the owls that were up in the Skagit Flats and, since I was coming near that area on my way back, I figured I would stop by to see if I could see any owls.

I had an idea of the location and put it in to the GPS but I didn’t know how obvious the spot would be.  As it turned out, when I got there, the large number of parked vehicles on the side of the road gave it away.  I pulled off the road, got out the 500mm and waited.  Nothing obvious happened for a while.  I had to get back for work so didn’t have a ton of time but I was hoping that I would see something.  Then I saw someone nearby perk up and looked across to see if there was anything going on.

Sure enough, an owl was scooting across the open land north of me.  The light was great and looking at this little creature was so much fun.  Even with a long lens, it was not a big target and it kept dropping down low where the cluttered background made the camera struggle to keep focus on such a small object.  Even so, it was possible to get a few shots.

The owl was flying towards me so I kept thinking it would get closer and bigger.  What I hadn’t counted open was that there was a strong southerly breeze and so it was effectively staying in the same place.  Crap!  Never mind.  I was still tracking it when something flicked across the viewfinder.  Turns out there was a second owl crossing in front and definitely closer.  I quickly picked it up and it allowed me to get a few shots before it went off to another area further away.

This whole process continued for a while before I figured I really needed to get going again.  I would have been quite happy to sit up there for a long time watching the owls and waiting for them to get closer but I did need to get back.  As it turned out, when I got back, there was some urgent stuff to fix so I wasn’t wrong to leave but it was disappointing to pass up the opportunity.  I wonder whether the conditions will be so good again when I am able to go up.

Yak With Gear Issues

The opening fly day at Skagit County included a bonus in the form of a visiting Yak 3.  It arrived early in the day and then started up to be part of the flybys.  On one of the passes, the gear did not look fully up and then, at some point while it was off to the east, the gear door came off the plane.  Fortunately, it didn’t cause any serious issues and the pilot was able to land safely.

When he taxied in, it was easy to see that the door was missing on one of the legs.  I wondered how long the plane would be down for but I understand it ferried home later in the day to allow them to sort out the repair.  Plenty of planes have lost gear doors over the years.  As long as they come away cleanly and don’t damage any systems as they depart, things will probably be okay.

Heritage Flight Museum Fly Day

I made a trip to the Heritage Flight Museum last year for one of their fly days.  I only shot from outside and that was quite good fun.  This year, I made the effort to get up there earlier to take a look around inside before the flying started.  Once I got inside, I decided that the location was worth staying inside for given that I could watch the planes start up and shut down and also get the best of the low passes.

Sadly, the Skyraider was not signed off to fly but everything else put on a good show. We had flying from the T-6, an O-1, a pair of T-34s and a P-51.  They all flew more than once (except the O-1) and the location on the ramp provided a great place to watch the start JP, taxi out, flybys and the recovery process.  I was even able to be in the shade for a lot of the time which made for a very relaxing day.

They flew some formation flybys including a missing man formation.  Then the individual planes would do a series of passes.  Having shot a similar day from outside before, being inside did provide a good opportunity to try different things.  Outside has angles to offer but inside gives some shots that can’t be matched including the lower passes.  Besides, watching them taxi by at such close range is really cool.  I hope to get back up for another of their fly days this year.  I also need to explore the museum in more detail.

Stealing A Composite Idea

Quite a while back, I saw a shot that someone had composited of a Typhoon display over an airfield where they had the jet throughout its routine to show its route through the sky.  I liked the idea and, while it was totally different, it got me thinking when I was up at Heritage Flight Museum.  They had the Skyraider on the ramp but not flying.  It was ready to go but hadn’t yet been signed off.

However, they did do an engine run for the visitors and unfolded and folded the wings a few times.  Having got some basic shots, the idea of the Typhoon display popped in to my head so I shot a sequence of shots of the wings as they folded and unfolded.  I took way more than actually was a good idea.  I imported them all in to Photoshop as layers and then hid all of them except one and then progressively added some back to get the wings in different positions.  If I had used them all it would have just been a blur of wings.

With the ones I wanted selected, I changed the blend mode for all but the base layer to Darken and that meant the dark wing elements overlaid anything brighter behind them.  The result was a composite with multiple wing positions all showing at once.  I think it came out quite well.  I thought I might have issues with hiding things I didn’t want to or having to much movement between shots but that wasn’t a problem in the end.

Heritage Flight Museum Fly Day

Thanks to my friends, Bob and David, I became aware one Saturday morning that a fly day was underway that day up in Skagit County.  The Heritage Flight Museum was going to have a few planes flying so I made a quick change of plans and headed up there.  The conditions were a bit overcast so not ideal but it was still worth a look.  There were a few of the regulars up there too so it was a chance to see some people I hadn’t seen for a while.

Of the various warbirds that they had flying that day, the A-1 Skyraider was the one that was of most interest for me.  It was the only one I hadn’t seen at previous events so I was keen to get a chance to photograph it.  On takeoff, it seemed to be trailing a fair bit of smoke.  Since it was recently off overhaul, this concerned me a bit but it seemed to clean up as they flew for a while so everything seemed to be fine.

There were straight passes across the field from various formations followed by some arcing turns over the museum ramp individually.  I backed up the road a bit to try and get a bit more of an angle on the planes as they ran across.  It would certainly have been nicer to have a bit more light on them but it was still good fun to be shooting something different.  I’m very grateful to the guys for giving me the heads up.

Donkeys

I was driving through the Skagit Valley quite a while back when I passed a farm that seemed to have a lot of donkeys on their property.  I only realized this as I passed at speed and I had somewhere else I was heading so I parked the thought for a while.  Later in the day, when I had finished whatever it was I was planning on doing, I remembered that I had seen them so retraced my steps to see if I could remember exactly where the farm had been.  That part of the valley has loads of farms so I wasn’t certain where it was exactly.

Fortunately, the road was quiet so I was able to slow down while passing each farm until I spotted the donkeys out in the field.  A quick turn and I was able to pull off the road.  Not only were they in the fields but they were also walking about in a yard right near the road.  My arrival probably got them to move a little further away but I still got a bunch of shots of them.  As a kid, a farm near where we lived for a short while had donkeys so I have always had a soft spot for them.  They just look like a friendly creature.

Trumpeter Swans on Fir Island

The snow geese are a famous visitor to the Skagit area of Washington but they aren’t the only big birds to show up.  Trumpeter swans are also a regular visitor and they are even larger.  They don’t have the same social gathering approach as the geese so you won’t see them in their thousands.  However, they do sometimes travel in smaller groups.

I was driving out towards Fir Island when I passed a bunch of them in a field.  They were right next to a church which made for a convenient place to park without being in anyone’s way.  They were not far from the parking lot and seemed to be busy feeding.  Some immature examples were still showing their grey plumage but were well grown at this point.  A little dispute resulted in some noise and flapping of wings but it all settled down quickly when the important matter of eating took over.