May 23, 2017 – Whitewater Draw

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Whitewater Draw, originally Rio de Agua Prieta – “the river of dark water” – is a tributary stream of the Rio de Agua Prieta in Cochise County, Arizona. Famously, this is the wetlands where the sandhill cranes migrate to during the winter months. In the shadows of the Chiricahua Mountains in the Coronado National Forest, this remote destination is about a forty-five minute drive from Bisbee, Arizona, the old mining town I once called home.

I used to go out here to photograph the birds and capture these colorful sunsets. One of the great benefits from living in a small town like Bisbee is the lack of traffic and the abundance of unspoiled land like this.

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March 18, 2017 – Military Macaws

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In the tropical forests surrounding the riverside village of Urique, hikers can stumble across chili peppers, bananas, oranges, and papaya growing wild. In the slot canyons, guerilla crops of marijuana dot the landscape. And high in the treetops, flocks of military macaws (named for their green plumage, resembling a military parade uniform) squawk and socialize.

During the winter season, it’s difficult to find these macaws, but in the springtime the flourish.
And they make quite a ruckus

Hiking to the hilltop village of Naranjo, I filled my backpack with wild oranges and red ripened chili peppers. I had been hiking the forests for several days without spotting a single military macaw, and was resigned to not see any during this particular trip. It was March, after all, and the season had only just begun to change. But as I climbed the hill, through the rough-hewn circuit of hiking trails and patches of marijuana fields, I was delighted to hear the loud cracking and shrieking sounds of a macaw. Knowing that they live in large groups, I was confident there would be more than just the one.

Today’s photograph is one macaw in particular that I kind of made friends with. These birds can live up to sixty years in the wild, and they are a rowdy, social bunch. I managed to teach this one my name, Joe, and he definitely enjoyed hamming it up for the camera.

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February 11, 2017 – Birds on a Wire

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On a little urban walkabout in Tucson, I found myself standing underneath these perched little characters. Looking up and looking down, there are fun little things to observe all around. It’s easy to ignore the details of our daily routine, and I find that putting a camera in between myself and the rest of the world makes it easier to notice all these details. What is simple and boring and banal becomes, magically, interesting and majestic and beautiful.

“What I like about photographs is that they capture a moment that’s gone forever, impossible to reproduce.”
Karl Lagerfeld

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January 05, 2017 – The Cardinal

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Bird photography is incredibly challenging, but it’s also very addicting. I’m certainly no expert, but there are times when I will grab my telephoto lens, go for a walk or a hike, and hunt around for birds to try and capture.

I’m not the only one who loves cardinals. They’re bright, vibrant creatures with a very distinctive song. I seem to have better luck photographing these guys than just about any other species of bird, too.

I looked up the symbolism behind cardinals recently. Evidently, they make pretty wonderful animal totems – if you’re into that kind of thing. From what I can gather, the cardinal is supposed to remind us to hold ourselves with pride – not ego pride, mind you, but rather to stand tall, be more regal, and step into our natural confidence.

I can dig that.

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Cardinal (illustration)

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Life sometimes gets in the way, and I haven’t had the opportunity to really pour myself into a project recently. My uncle, who has fallen ill, has been on my mind. Family is in from out of town, and everybody is coming together to see this whole things through.

One of the things that has completely stuck with me, though, is my uncle telling me that one of his favorite things to do is sit outside in his backyard. He enjoys spending time listening to the birds. At first, I think people gave him grief about it; it’s odd to sit on a porch and stare up at the sky for hours at a time. But then, if your time on this earth might just be running out, I would also imagine that the sound of a gentle breeze coursing through the trees might sound that much more soothing. The sound of birds chirping might sound that much sweeter.

Everything changes when you realize you’re living on borrowed time. When you realize how little you may have left.

So, thinking about these things, I sat down yesterday and worked on this illustration. It’s based on a photograph I took last year. I’ve always had a tough time getting decent photographs of birds, and one afternoon this cardinal managed to just hang out, for a good long while, on the tree outside our living room window. I’m sure my girlfriend thought I was crazy, walking back and forth, to both ends of the house, out the front door, through to the back door, moving like a slow lumbering, stalking maniac with a gigantic camera lens clutched in his fists.

But every moment truly is a gift. Even when we obsessively try to snap a picture of a bird and curse under our breath when we can’t get our camera to focus properly. Every moment is a gift, because we only ever get to enjoy each moment once. Enjoy your day. Find an excuse to smile. It’s important.

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Murder Of Crows At The Cemetery

Murder of Crows postThe wind came from the southwest yesterday afternoon, bringing with it the threat of colder days. Flags whipped their heavy canvas sounds into the air, popping in the sky, rattling the halyards. A cluster of dry, cotton candy clouds slid across the darkening landscape.

I took a walk out to Lenexa Cemetery, a small patch of land we used to drive past on our way to church every Sunday morning. I know a few people buried there, but I’d never walked the grounds – only driven past. It strikes me as odd, these cemeteries, tucked in, flanked on either side by apartment buildings, within eyesight of the Hy-Vee Supermarket, FedEx Office, the McDonald’s. I’ve grown used to cemeteries always being on the outskirts, but that model doesn’t work in cities like this, which continue to expand their circumference, slowly devouring the pastures that I remember from my childhood.

A murder of crows were perched on the mausoleum in the center of the yard. One would occasionally pop into the air, circle around fighting the wind, only to settle back down onto it’s original perch. As I approached, their rhythmic cawing rose. Their heads would shoot left, shoot right, cock to the side, as if considering whether or not to fly away from me and into the unforgiving wind.

Save for the sound of their cawing, the wind in my ears, everything seemed still, despite the tide-pool of traffic that circled around the cemetery. Life in the city continued to pulse forward – just not here, in the crunching yellow grass, amid the blackbirds and the headstones.

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