Purple Martin nest boxes at Budd Inlet - July 25, 2018

Purple Martin Nest Boxes at Budd Inlet
Olympia, WA
July 25, 2018 

A pair of juvenile Purple Martins signalling
emphatically that they are hungry and ready to be fed
Adult male Purple Martin brings a large darner dragonfly to feed its young
Purple Martins are the largest swallow in North America. In the Olympia area, they can be found in Spring and Summer at nest boxes on Budd Inlet near the Children's Museum and at Boston Harbor Marina. By mid-July, young Martins are beginning to mature; you can see them poking their heads out curiously. Their eyes scan the horizon, looking for an adult with a dragonfly or other morsel. The adults swoop in quickly, often taking less than 5 seconds to feed the growing brood before taking off again. 

Male Purple Martins are a luxuriously vivid violet-blue. Females are more understated with lighter blue and dusky gray markings. 

Purple martins winter in South America. The journey can be as long as 5000 miles each way, each year! Martins follow at least three different paths as they return each spring. Some move through Mexico on their way to the West Coast. Others cross the Gulf of Mexico, leaving from the Yucatan Peninsula or take a route through the Caribbean islands to arrive in Florida.

Fall migration can start as early as mid-July in some parts of the country. During the fall migration flocks of thousands of martins can form for the long trip south.

During the winter season these birds are apparently concentrated chiefly in the Amazon Valley of Brazil (Manaqueri, Barra do Rio Negro, and Itaituba) but are found in other parts of South America.

Two female Purple Martins perch outside a nest box while a chick
looks on, anxious for its next meal
Several adult Purple Martins perch near nest boxes
at Olympia's Budd Inlet

Spring at the Bellevue Botanical Garden

I have recently begun an interesting project for the Bellevue Botanical Garden. The BBG is updating their website and they need new photos.

The garden has an excellent group of volunteer photographers who document the collection. It is through their efforts that the BBG is so well catalogued. It is easy to identify a plant based on its location, name or characteristics. Here is a link the garden's collection search tool, which is quite extensive. http://bbgcollection.bellevuewa.gov/

For the  Bellevue Botanical Garden's website update, they need a few things:
  • photos showing the garden and its plants throughout the year
  • a consistent look and style for the photos
  • shallow depth of field
  • ability to place text over the photo
  • ability to crop to different sizes for different uses
After a month and a half working on the project, I have developed an admiration for the staff and volunteers who keep the garden looking great. When you are photographing plants which are less than two inches, it is easy to noticed when a slug has had a feast, or a bloom has lost its luster. Each time I visit the garden, it looks fresh and healthy.

Salmonberry blossom
Creating images which can be cropped to a variety of formats has been a learning experience. When I first began, I was creating careful compositions in camera. I soon learned that the 16 x 9 and 3 x 1 aspect ratios required by website templates aren't conducive to creating one finished image in camera. 

Now, as I shoot, I am mindful to create images which will have a pleasing balance in a variety of shapes. The larch photo below is an example of an image where I felt the composition worked for several different crops.

Weeping European larch

Weeping European larch

The Western trillium is the symbol for the Bellevue Botanical Garden.
I kept an eye out for a pleasing flower in pleasing light.

Western trillium
Trillium ovatum
I am really enjoying seeing the minute details of many of the plants and their blossoms. This plant has the distinctive bell-shaped flower of the heather family, with a bonus of  tiny pink lines on the blossoms. 

In order to create a space for text on top of an image, I try to make a small number 
of flowers in sharp focus, with the others blending together in the background.

AvensGeum sp.

The distinctive shape and color of the lewisia stands out in the rock garden.
It is one of my favorite dry climate wildflowers.

Siskiyou lewisia
Lewisia cotyledon
 I had to shoot several photos of the water drops on the Lady's Mantle and layer them together in order to get the drops in focus. This is a composite of about 6 images. Each droplet has a sharply focused image of the rest of the plant reflected in it.

Water Drops on Lady's Mantle
Alchemila mollis
Detail of the image above.Water Drops on Lady's Mantle
Alchemila mollis

Note the tiny hair-like structures which hold the water drops in place. And, see the plant reflected in the waterdrop.

These flowers are each less than one inch in size.

Rock cress
Aubrieta pinardii

I will be photographing at the Bellevue Botanical Garden through the end of March 2019. To see more of the images I have been creating, check out the Bellevue Botanical Garden gallery at my website

Music Out Loud mosaic dedication - April 28, 2018

You are Invited!
Saturday April 28
Noon - 2 PM
Downtown Olympia

Music Out Loud is a project that posthumously honors musicians who have significantly contributed to music growth in the area or made a name for Olympia, through artistic design and music performances in downtown Olympia.

The first part of the project, three mosaics in downtown Olympia sidewalks, was recently completed. Designs by three local artists were fabricated and installed by Belarde Company, using a special process called LithoMosaic, which sets the mosaics directly into concrete. The artworks will be dedicated during Arts Walk with a walking tour on Saturday, April 28, from 12:00 – 2:00 p.m. in downtown Olympia. The tour will begin at 4th Ave. and Chestnut St., and will continue to 5th Ave. and Capitol Way.

My mosaic, honoring Bert Wilson, will be dedicated after the mosaics honoring Steve Munger and Vern Eke. We expect to be at the site on 5th Avenue after 1 PM. More info: Thurston Talk

Bert Wilson – Mosaic design by Michele A. Burton
Location: NE Corner of 5th Ave & Capitol Way

  • World renowned saxophonist and composer with a 7 octave range and over 200 songs to his name.
  • Teacher for many world famous saxophonists to include Lenny Picket of Tower of Power and musical director of NBC’s Saturday Night Live, Jeff Coffin of the Dave Mathews Band and Ernie Watts of the NBC orchestra.
  • Stricken by Polio when he was very young and was confined to a wheel chair his entire life. In spite of his disability, he created a concept on saxophone that placed him among the greats of the instrument.
  • Influence on the local music scene was profound. Some of the legends of Jazz would stop by Bert’s home to play and visit with him. Many musicians moved to Olympia to play with and learn from Bert. His group Rebirth, which was filled with Olympia musicians, had international acclaim for its recordings and performances.
  • His music continues to be heard in local venues.

Mosaic highlighting Bert Wilson's accomplishments as musician, composer, teacher and mentor.

detail of Bert Wilson Mosaic

the small saxophones represent the musicians Bert Wilson taught and inspired

flowing sheets of paper represent Bert Wilson's compositions

the rainbow theme is inspired by Bert Wilson's love of tie-dye
and his ability to extend the range of the saxophone by several octaves,
much like a prism transforms white light into a vast rainbow of color

Wood Duck pair posing for their Portrait - February 26, 2018

A pair of Wood Ducks showing off their finest plumage
The male is on the left. The dramatically, yet-less-colorfully feathered female is on the right. 

McClane Creek Nature Trail
Capitol State Forest
Olympia, WA

February 26, 2018

How a Wood Duck's plumage changes with light - February 26, 2018

Can you find the duck in this photo? - February 22, 2018

Female Gadwall camouflaged by cattails
Magnuson Park Wetlands
Seattle, Washington
February 22, 2018

Residents of the city of Seattle know all about the stresses of urban growth. Seattle is one of the fastest growing cities in the United States. All the new people, buildings and traffic create huge stress for many Seattleites. Sometimes, all you want to do is head out into nature and disappear. 

The stresses of growth also impact the animals who call the city home. Fortunately for some, there are places to just disappear. Magnuson Park in Northeast Seattle is one of those places.

In order to deal with the pollutants in surface storm water and to provide overflow drainage during heavy rains, Seattle created a series of wetland ponds at the former naval air station. Ringed by dense plantings of willows, cattails and other native plants, the wetland ponds slowly cleanse runoff before it enters into Lake Washington. 

The ponds also create habitat for resident and migratory birds looking for a place to rest and recharge. 

The female gadwall pictured above is perfectly suited for the ponds. Her tan and brown plumage help her to blend into adjacent cattails. The cattails also provide nooks and crannies in which to hide from potential predators, such as the raptors common to the park. 

Below is a detail of the image above. From a distance, the female gadwall seems dull and understated compared to her male counterpart. Up close, it is easy to admire her intricate beauty and design patterns. 

Barrow's Goldeneye foraging for mussels at Swantown Marina - February 19, 2018

The Barrow's Goldeneye is a common visitor to South Puget Sound. They love our abundant shellfish and other creatures, such as small crab. The male is very distinctive, with its black and white patterning and half-moon of white on the lower part of its face. In the bright winter sunlight, the head can shine deep blue or purple. 

Barrow's Goldeneye making a Spectacular dive - February 19, 2018

Getting ready to dive 
Almost completely out of the water
Look at those legs in the air 
Finishing the Dive
As you look at the sequence above, it may not strike you as impressive. This duck is able to launch itself from the water by thrusting its neck forward and pressing down hard on its tail. Most ducks arc over the water, but never rise completely above it. This duck was able to clear the water repeatedly. Most impressive.

Juvenile Double-crested Cormorant - February 12, 2018

Double-crested Cormorant on Budd Bay
Olympia, WA
February 12, 2018

News flash! Cormorants are really cool looking birds! Quite beautiful, in fact. 

For many of us, the name Double-crested Cormorant conjures up large, prehistoric-looking black birds perched with their wings outspread or gliding through the water like a modern-day Loch Ness monster. Take a closer look and you might be surprised by the beauty of the bird. 

This juvenile Double-crested Cormorant has grayish plumage. It will become matte black as it matures to adulthood. Its long, hooked beak is well suited for catching fish while swimming underwater.  The turquoise eye contrasts dramatically with the bright yellow-orange beak. Specialized eye muscles provide the cormorants with acute vision above and under the water.

In bright sunlight, the intricate feather pattern is a wonder to observe.

An immature Double-crested cormorant watching me closely. It has just come up from a dive and water droplets are glistening in the sunlight. Note the needle-like point of the bird's beak.

Double-crested cormorant taking flight. Despite their large body size, it takes them less than two seconds to become airborne. 

2018 Women's March in Olympia, Washington - January 20, 2018

Women+ Rally at Washington State Capitol in Olympia
click to enlarge

2018 Women's March in Olympia, Washington
January 20, 2018 

click to enlarge

March On!

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