February 28, 2010
It's a dog's life (and a cat's, too)
Pepper relaxes on the couch, looking pretty good for a fellow pushing 16 years.
The dogs often track the morning sun, following the warmth as it shifts across the floor, languidly laying in the pools of light. This morning, however, Bogie seemed to spend more time lurking in the shadows. A close look reveals some dried blood, the aftermath of some too-vigorous roughhousing with Roscoe in the backyard. Not too worry; the damage was superficial.
Bogie strikes me as a dog of mystery in this shot, his eyes hidden in shadow, his thoughts more opaque than usual.
Roscoe enjoys Sunday's sunny weather after Saturday's often-torrential downpours -- and listens intently to the neighbor's dog whining and snuffling behind the fence.
"Hey, Roscoe," I call, "who wants a treat?" That gets his attention, his head whipping around as he focuses intently on The Treat Giver.
Posted by Mike Lief at 11:15 PM
February 22, 2010
Hummingbird Tales: They're outgrowing the nest
The hummingbird chicks continue to mature at an amazingly fast pace, now so big they can barely fit in their nest. In this shot you can get a good look of the shafts on their wings, the feathers growing out and opening up like downy blossoms. This picture was taken just a couple of days before the ones below.
While the chicks remain still when I approach the nest, they're quite active, shifting their positions, sometimes head to head ....
And sometimes head to tail. It's a little more hazardous when they're arranged like this (at least for the intrepid photographer); at any given moment, either chick might lift its rump and shoot a high-velocity stream of waste out of the nest.
The mother comes in for a landing, breakfast ready. I don't usually care for flash, but I needed it to capture her movements; when shot with available light, she was nothing but a blur. I also like the colors and texture of the feathers on her back.
Her wings appear to be almost coal black and velvet covered, and her tail feathers almost look like a herringbone twill.
Lest you think the mother hummingbird is feeding the chicks nothing but nectar, check her out as she hovers, picking which gnat or mosquito she's about to devour.
Having selected the tastiest looking bug, she swoops in for the kill, beak agape, a pint-sized Great White of the skies.
February 15, 2010
Hummingbird Tales: They're growing (and growing)!
The hummingbird chicks continue to grow at an amazing pace, spilling over the edges of their nest. They still look like spiny reptiles, with whispy hairs on their backs and downy tufts beginning to sprout from the shafts of their still-nascent feathers.
The chick in the foreground seems to be the dominant one, crowding his sibling in the nest, spreading his pink, meaty little wings. On the other hand, maybe it's the fellow in the back who's the Alfa, enjoying the warmth as he snuggles deep in the nest, the fellow in the foreground more exposed to the elements.
I hear angry clicking and glance up, spotting the mother hovering overhead, keeping a close eye on me through the trumpet vines.
Satisfied that the chicks are in no immediate danger, she flies off, taking up station in a nearby Ginko Biloba tree.
Posted by Mike Lief at 11:03 PM
February 12, 2010
Hummingbird Tales: They're growing!
It's been five days since I last posted photos of the hummingbird chicks, and their beaks have begun growing longer and thinner, the bright yellow quickly disappearing as black replaces the bright color from the tip on down. The porcupine-like quills that cover their bodies are thickening, soon to begin the transformation from spines to downy proto-feathers.
The mother hummingbird spends a lot of time buzzing around my head, making sure I don't make any overtly threatening moves, alighting periodically to check on her offspring before flitting off for more food.
Posted by Mike Lief at 07:50 AM
February 08, 2010
Roscoe sits in the morning sun, gazing off into the middle distance, thinking deep puppy thoughts.
He glances over at me as if to say, "Seriously, enough with the camera, dude."
Undeterred, I snap away, bemused by the petulant cast of his lower lip -- and unwilling to let good lighting go to waste.
Posted by Mike Lief at 12:10 AM
February 07, 2010
Hummingbird Tales: They're here!
Lit by the afternoon sun, the mother hummingbird hangs in midair today, waiting for me to move back a bit. She allows me to get quite close to her nest, but when I cross some invisible threshhold she takes wing; I retreat and she returns, angrily flitting about my head, her wings fanning my face as I hold perfectly still, camera at the ready. I can see her reflection in my glasses as she hovers behind my head, the thrumming of her wingbeats growing louder as she moves closer to assess the threat.
Raindrops cover our hummingbird Saturday as she provides shelter from the storm for her two chicks, perched atop last year's newly-renovated and enlarged nest.
The hummingbird returned to the nest after a brief absence, seemingly taking advantage of a brief dry spell between squalls to flit off for a snack.
Suddenly, tiny gaping beaks appear from within the downy depths of the lichen-and-moss-covered nest, seeking a hot lunch.
The chicks hold still as their mother, with a swiftness and deft touch that'd rival the very best carnival sideshow swordswallower, slides her rapier-like beak down their gullets.
It's hard to believe no lasting damage was done to internal organs as she leaned forward, her beak going even deeper as lunch was delivered.
Both chicks were fed in a matter of moments, dropping out of sight as soon as the meal was done, their featherless bodies huddled together for warmth.
With her meal duties done (for the moment), the hummingbird settled down atop her young charges, rustling feathers and squirming as she corked the nest with her body, ready to shelter them from the soon-to-resume rain.
And there they are, looking like little porcupines, covered with hair-like quills that have yet to transform into feathers, stubby yellow beaks soon to grow long and narrow, the black spot on the tips spreading until all traces of color are gone. Eyes closed, their heads are naked, wrinkled and black.
Posted by Mike Lief at 10:51 PM
February 05, 2010
Wet hummingbird, warm eggs
It's raining again in SoCal, and the hummingbird is doing her part to keep the two eggs dry and warm -- although she doesn't seem particularly happy about it. Or am I just engaging in anthropomorphic projection, and she's actually enjoying sitting in the cold rain? I'm going to go back inside my cozy, dry house, pour myself a piping hot cup of black, bitter coffee, and think on it for a while.
It's good to be a human.
Posted by Mike Lief at 07:34 AM
February 02, 2010
Acting? You just ... pretend
Ian McKellen explains the subtleties of his craft to Ricky Gervais, in "Extras." It's the perfect counterpoint to every interview you've ever seen where some agonizingly earnest actor explains how difficult a particular role is, how exhausting and painful it can be to "become" a character.
It reminds me of the story from the production of "Marathon Man" -- retold in Adventures in the Screen Trade, by Oscar-winning screenwriter William Goldman ("Marathon Man," "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," "The Princess Bride") -- when Dustin Hoffman, Method Actor extraordinaire, was preparing for a scene wherein he had been tortured by the Nazi Szell, portrayed by Laurence Olivier. Hoffman stayed awake for a couple of days, then ran himself ragged to appear suitably exhausted and sweaty.
Olivier, acclaimed as the greatest living actor (and no fan of The Method), looked at him and said, "Dear boy, why don't you just act?"
It's the quintessential comparison of the English technical, building a character from the outside-in approach to acting, versus the naval-gazing intensity of the American Method.
Ian McKellen's explanation of "acting" is brilliant, and not that different from Spencer Tracey's take: Show up on time, know your lines, hit your mark and try not to knock over the scenary.