Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Eye on the Sky

Humans have given the meerkat a "cute" persona. It's not hard to see why. Intelligent-looking, playful and adept at sitting and standing upright (which tends to make people go "awww"), they are real crowd-pleasers at any zoo.

The reality is a bit different. Like most social animals there are pecking orders, infighting and intrigues within the community that makes Peyton Place look tame. But it is the upright stance that is the darker-tinged characteristic. Instead of the quizzical-looking gaze of a cuddly, carefree creature it is the alert watchfulness of the group's early warning system. Small, furry creatures make tasty meals for larger predators.

As if to drive this point home, while I was shooting portraits of this meerkat, a red-tailed hawk drifted overhead, buoyed by the thermals off the hills of Griffith Park. In short order the alarm was given and the colony scattered for cover in the nooks and crannies of their compound, emerging a short time later when the coast was clear.

Situational awarness wins again.

Monday, June 28, 2010

"Tyger! Tyger! Burning Bright..."

Immortalized by William Blake's poem, the tiger is one of the most beautiful creatures on Earth. Powerful, stealthy and fierce, tigers have been elevated to near mythological status by humans even as their physical existence is threatened by humans.

One of the more colorful of the big cats, tigers have inspired fantastical color schemes in military aircraft, especially during the special "Tiger Meet" air shows which are held annually for all units around the world who have the tiger as a part of their name or heraldry (more on Tiger Meets can be found at this link: http://www.natotigers.org/tigermeet/index.php ). Tiger-striped aircraft are some of the most sought-after images by slide collectors and airplane aficionados and can be incredible works of art.

This regal tiger seems perfectly unaware of the mystic surrounding him. I'm sure he'd be just as happy without all the people staring at him. But perhaps he's used to it by now. A good nap and a nice haunch to gnaw on will make it bearable, I'm sure.

I had to pull out the 75-300mm lens to get this shot. I think it turned out quite well.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


I don't mean to be rude, but that is one sorry looking Rhino at the L.A. Zoo. In truth, Randa is probably lucky to be alive. A little research revealed she had cancer in her horn, which was removed. Hence the stump. In short, she had a real, honest-to-goodness Rhinoplasty.

All joking aside, cancer is no fun. Having seen several friends, co-workers and even family pets battle that disease both successfully and unsuccessfully, the thought of the subject makes the me wince. No, it is not fun at all.

But life goes on whether we like it or not, and so we do the best we can. Some days are especially tough, even for those of us not fighting cancer. By the end of the week it's easy to feel like she looks: tired, saggy and with our tongue hanging out.

On the other hand, she could be the poster child for a TGIF ad campaign. Indeed, that is a pose ripe for immortality, almost as good as the cat hanging by its front paws from a branch or the guy listening to the speakers and being blown away. That is definitely end-of-the-week weary, no doubt about it.

Maybe I should start a line of cards?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Third Wheel

If we could project human emotions and responses on our ape cousins this image might well invoke the old adage, "Two's company; three's a crowd." At one time or another we've all felt like the odd-man out. It's not a comfortable feeling nor a happy one.

One wonders if this chimp is feeling similar emotions. The body language certainly leans in that direction. Then again, it just might be another boring day at the office as he watches the zoo visitors ogling him.

The romantic in me wants it to be the former. I know animals can feel jealousy and loss. Any pet owner can tell you that. But do they "feel" it on more than a primal level? That may seem like a bizarre question as many would equate emotions with the most basic and non-intellectual of functions, barely above instinct. But humans have the capacity to understand why they are feeling in that state. Do apes, chimps or cats?

Most of us can say "I feel hurt" and know why we hurt. We can rationalize it and talk ourselves out of a purely emotional response or we can immerse ourselves in our primal misery - our choice (assuming we are not clinically depressed or suffering from some mental disorder). Can they? Can a chimp say "I feel bad because my best buddy is grooming the most desirable female in the troop and they are both ignoring me" and jolly himself out of his funk? As much as I'd like to think so, I don't really know. And how would we ever find out for sure?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Watching the Watchers

If the eyes are the windows into the soul, then the great apes can certainly make a claim to possessing one themselves. While it's easy to anthropomorphize the actions and looks of gorillas as they go about their day in full view of dozens of gawking humans, it is in their eyes that we see something closer to us than many care to admit. There is certainly awareness in those eyes. What do they think of us, I wonder, we who snap their pictures incessantly while our children bang on the windows of their enclosure with wild abandon? Suspicion? Contempt? Resignation? Do they perceive us as dangerous and uncontrollable, like many people see them?

I don't know; but they should.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Patterns in Motion

The zebras were particularly lively that day at the L.A. Zoo. Something must have been up - hormones perhaps - but they were feisty and combative and anxious to exert dominance on each other. It was spring, after all, and a male's gotta do what a male always does: bully and show off.

Regardless, the constant milling and moving and nipping and butting produced some interesting images as stripes merged and parted in wild abandon. Getting tight in with the big lens really helped convey that sense of restlessness so evident that day.

I did get some nice overall shots of the zebras, which I may post another day, but I found the tight shots much more compelling in their abstraction. I'm hoping Tina finds something to inspire her as her last zebra picture was really, really good. You can find it on her blog posted on February 25, 2008.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Really pink flamingo

Evie likes going to the zoo in Colorado Springs so we thought it would be nice to show her the L.A. zoo. It's been a while since I've been there, too. It seemed like a good opportunity to see how the digital and big lenses would work and to get good shots for me while getting nice reference material for Tina's art.

For some reason I've always liked flamingos. Not enough to put plastic ones in my yard, like Tina's sister Lin, but I do find them fascinating creatures. There is a large flock at the L.A. Zoo and in an obstruction-free zone within good range of the camera. This is one of my favorites. I will show more later, plus some really cool zebra shots.

This one is especially pink. I suspect it had something to do with the garish pink liquidy concoction they were feeding the birds. Probably like salmon they need some mineral or nutrient to turn them the "right" color. Ah, we are what we eat.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Doin' the Papyrus Poke

To steal a line from Jane Austen, it is a truth universally acknowledged that kids will gravitate to water like bees to honey when you don't want them to get wet, but will scream bloody murder and fight like the Dickens (pun intended) when it's time to take a bath.

The Huntington Library's Children's Garden is a virtual pot of honey. Fortunately Christie and Mike are well aware of its lure so they come with a change of cloths for Evie whenever we visit. This trip was no exception.

Do not be fooled by the delicate stance and the use of a Papyrus stalk to poke the fountain: Evie is thoroughly wet at this point and only got wetter. But she had a blast and that is the ultimate point, after all.

For those who have never been to the Huntington, it is well worth the time and money. It is one of those neat places where I always find something to photograph every time we go. More of those shots later.

And the formal tea in the Rose Garden Tea Room is the best around. It is a very civilized way to spend a beautiful afternoon. Between the art, the gardens, the food and the company, you can't go wrong.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Lend Me Your Ears

Another 5-generational tradition in our family is Disneyland. I was less than a year old when it opened. Some of my earliest memories are of visiting that new park. The spooky trees in the Snow White ride scared me. I loved the Jungle Cruise, and still do. I think I know most of the bad puns by heart.

As I'm sure I've mentioned before, we started taking Christie to Disneyland when she was about two or three. She has loved the place ever since and has made it her mission to imbue that love into her own daughter.

It seems to be working. Evie is getting much better about the rides. The first time was very difficult. Last Christmas was better - she loved the teacups and carousels. This trip was the best so far. She actually let us take her on many of our favorite rides, but seemed to have an issue with the noise levels. She spent most of Buzz Lightyear and Pirates with her hands over her ears. She spent nearly all of the Jungle Cruise with her ears covered and crouched below the gunwales of the boat. She really didn't see much of anything on that ride, not even the backside of water.

But she did have a good time and Christie and she decided to celebrate by showing off their mouse ears. They make a lovely pair. Evie was so enamored of hers that she insisted on sleeping with them many times during their stay. Christie got a great shot of her curled up on her futon, one hand rubbing her bare tummy and clutching her stuffed sleepy bear while sucking on her other thumb - all the while wearing the ears. It was very cute.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Righting of the Universe

Well...that was a longer hiatus than I intended. As you may have guessed, life, as they say, happened. But in a good sense. The kids and granddaughter came out for a long visit and then we had several busy days after they left. Then San Diego beckoned when Yosemite fell through, so more days were spent enjoying life and away from the blog.

But we are back and full of new photos, so hopefully I'll have some time to post a few of them for your viewing pleasure.

One of the great things about watching kids grow up is introducing them to new adventures. Taking Evie to her first major league baseball game was one of them.

It was also a time to put the universe back in alignment - at least from my perspective. Christie posted a photo of Evie a while back showing her in a Red Sox tee shirt. Being a life-long Dodgers fan, that was a rude shock - although it could've been worse: it could've been a Giants or Yankees shirt!

Be that as it may, I vowed to get that girl a proper baseball shirt, namely an L.A. Dodgers one. I'm happy to say Mission Accomplished.

Of course, we'll see how long or how often she gets to wear it - clearly someone related to her in Colorado Springs is a Red Sox fan.

Actually, she'll end up wearing a Broncos jersey more than the Dodgers or Red Sox, or so I believe. Which is okay with me. As L.A. has no current pro football team she can root for the locals. But at least for one brief moment the torch has been passed. My grandfather used to listen to the Dodgers all the time, so I grew up with Vin Scully and Jerry Doggett on the radio every summer for years. My first attended Dodgers game was at Dodgers Stadium in 1962. I had just turned 8. Ironically, Don Drysdale beat the Milwaukee Braves 8-0. I remember it well.

And so I introduced Christie to Dodgers baseball when she was young and now I've passed the tradition on to Evie. In many ways, the line from Field of Dreams is so true: "The one constant through all the years...has been baseball." And so it has.

It's nice to keep some traditions alive.

And yes, the Dodgers won - 6-4 over the Detroit Tigers. Go Blue!