Thursday, January 27, 2011

On the waterfront

One of the perks of my job is that I occasionally get to see an area most people don't often see.  This week a project involved a structural evalution of an old timber pier on Portland's Willamette River waterfront.  As part of that work, we hired a diving company to conduct an inspection of the underwater portion of the piling supporting the old dock...and I get to ride along on the dive boat.  (OK...I had to do more than just ride along, but that is probably boring stuff for most of you so I will dwell on the fun stuff.  Let it suffice to say that I let the experts do the diving part.)

The work day starts early, when there is no wind and the water is calm.  This is a slip in Swan Island where several ships are moored and await maintenance and repairs.

We left the dock at Swan Island and cruised past the shipyards.  Here a large Navy ship is undergoing repairs while in one of the yard's drydock. 

The pier we inspected parallels the Willamette River just downstream of the Fremont Bridge.  (Out of deference to my client, I will refrain from divulging the exact location of the pier in question.) 

An underwater inspection involves much more than just scuba tanks and a diving suit.  In this case the helmet included a spotlight, a video camera and a 2-way radio that allowed us to talk to the diver as he inspected the individual piling under the pier.  I should note that recent heavy rains had caused the river to have the consistency of coffee with cream, with about 6 inches of visibility.  The inspection generally consisted of physically feeling the pile with one's hands, "sounding" the pile with a hammer to detect any hollow portions, and taking core samples to see if there is any rotted portions within the pile.  We also video-taped whatever the diver saw, but generally we looked at swirliing muddy water.

One sees all manner of wildlife on the river...including the two-legged river skipper.  (OK...maybe it's really just a guy standing on a board and paddling along the edge of the river.  he was just as curious about us as we were about him.)

 Another shot of the Portland Shipyard drydock

There are several drydocks at the shipyards with ships sitting high and dry.  Since I wasn't certain of the conditions on the boat (and being rather reticent about exposing my good camera and equipment to any risk of harm), these images were taken with my Canon point-n-shoot camera I usually take on my work-related expeditions...which actually doesn't do a bad job after all.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Great Blue Heron

I loved my last visit to Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge so much I went back for an encore visit today, only this time I took my 87-year-old mother with me.  One of the really nice things about the refuge is that one can drive the 4.2-mile auto route, which is a wonderful way for someone like my mother who's hiking days are long past to see the refuge and it's wildlife.  There is much to see from the comfort of one's car, and the local fauna don't seem to mind the cars as much. 

Today was a quiet day at the refuge, and most of the migratory birds were content to forage under the water.  At one point we found a Great Blue Heron finding food in a drainage structure next to the road, which gave me the best opportunity to capture these images.

The Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

The heron sees a potential meal.  Bear in mind I was only 15 feet away, leaning out of my open window.  (Some have said this particular shot/pose looks like a strange bird looking at us)

The meal must be moving around as the heron patiently watches...and waits

Score!  See the minnow in the heron's beak?

A nice profile shot

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Chess on Ice

It started over a glass of whiskey and a cigar. Most crazy ideas do, don't they? An idle conversation about sports in general led to a discovery about more than a passing interest in an unusual sport...or at least one that is unusual to me.  One must remember this is a rather genteel group of people, who have generally passed the age where a pickup game of basketball or (heaven forbid) soccer is on the docket and find more satisfaction savoring a good Macanudo and conversation.  Does that mean we don't like sports?  Of course not!  We will watch as avidly as anyone.

Yet...participation becomes the big question.  Into this profound topic enters one Neal Naigus, conversationalist, cigar afficionado and curling fan.  Over the years we have gathered for our monthly smokeout, the occasional invitation to at least see what the game is all about largely went ignored.  Not because we don't like Neal...far from it!  It's just we are all busy with the stuff of life and...lets face it, most are like me who don't have enough time for the hobbies we have and are thus reluctant to pursue any new ones. 

Of course, if I could combine something like this with a current hobby, like photography and perhaps a little writing, my interest perks up.  So thus I find myself at Lloyd Center this evening, watching a curling event. 

Most of us in Portland don't realize curling is popular in areas other than Canada or Scotland, but seeing 30-some people of all age groups gathered at the Lloyd Center Ice Rink convinced me.  Tonight was the first evening of the 2011 Curling season, and these fans will compete every Tuesday and Sunday evening for the next 10 weeks. 

What is curling?  Basically it is a sport in which players slide stones across a frozen surface towards a target area with the intent of getting as close to the target and perhaps knocking the opponent's stone away. 

In the above photo, the light blue circle in the ice is part of the target.  The teams have stones with either red or blue tops to differentiate them. 

As the stone slides toward the target, team members use brushes or brooms to control the speed and or direction of the stone. 

Believe it or not, there is a lot of strategy involved in curling, and has also been called "Chess on Ice".  The stones are made of polished granite weighing between 38 and 44 pounds and come with a handle that allows for some "english" in causing the stone to curve its path.  Traditionally the stones come from a couple of specific locations in Scotland or Wales. 

A very satisfied Neal, holding his curling broom.

If you are interested, you can watch this sport Tuesdays and Sunday evenings at 6:30, at the Lloyd Center Ice Rink.  Here is a link to more information:

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge - A Drive on the Wild Side

I like birds. In fact I like most any kind of wildlife.  Any of you who regularly visit this blog will already know that.  You will also know I have been trying to get that "perfect" Great Blue Heron shot for a long time.  Well...last Saturday I hit the motherlode when I visited the Ridgefield NWR just north of Portland and along the Columbia River.  Not only did I see many varieties of geese, but there are eagles, ducks, hawks, otters and muskrat galore.  The Refuge has an area that is accessed only by car (meaning one is not allowed out of the car, so my photos were taken through the car window...yes it was rolled down and yes it was cold!!)

The refuge was established in 1965 for a particular species of dusky Canada geese, whose habitat in southern Alaska was destroyed during the earthquake in 1964.

Of course I found my heron right away, and just scant feet from my car.  Apparently the refuge's denizens aren't bothered by seemingly inanimate objects such as cars that follow a predictable route along a gravel road.  This one paid no attention as I and a number of other photographers and bird watchers clicked and gawked away to their hearts' delight.

This is a young eagle (eaglet?) perched on a branch. 

 A flock of dusky Canada geese gathered on the bank.  In the background are tundra swans.

 ...coming in for a landing.

 Tundra swans in flight

I like this image.  A solitary heron perched on a branch.  The pond is frozen and the sun creates an interesting, almost surreal effect with the backlight.

Another shot of my heron, backlit with the sun. 

This gnarly old tree is on the north Carty Unit of the refuge, where one can get out and hike a number of trails.  One can easily imagine a gnome or a hobbit peering from behind the trunk.