Flight of the Gulls

| 6 images

Sometimes you just don’t give a photo a chance, when you probably should have. That was the case with the photos I am sharing here. Over two months ago, back in September, I took a bunch of photos of the very few birds left after the fall migration. I knew I was gambling at the time, as I was opposite the sun, and all the birds shadow sides were facing me. This is pretty much the worst situation to be in as a bird photographer, as you usually end up with this terrible, harsh, blown out background glow that clips the highlights and cannot be corrected in post. And, for the majority of the shots, that was the case.

Well, as it had turned out, I forgot to import one batch of those photos, and they were still on a memory card. I have a whole bunch of CF cards, and sometimes one or two will sit around for months after I forget to plug it in and import and process everything on it. I periodically go through all my CF cards, import anything off of them that I had forgotten to import, and clear them out so they are ready to go. I had about five CF cards sitting about with a lot of old stuff on them, including these Gulls in Flight shots from that same day. Most were unusable, however a few turned out to be great backlit shots of gulls in amazing in-flight poses. With some heavy shadow recovery and careful highlight tuning, and some heavy noise reduction, I was able to salvage a number of these photos…two sets of three. Personally, I prefer the first (lighter colored) set, but I like the faint reddish deep sunset glow of the gulls wings in the darker colored set.

These photos were taken just a short while after the very heavy and devastating September rain storms we had here in Colorado. On my first outing to Cherry Creek after those storms, actually. These storms flooded significant regions in a 2000 square mile area from south of Castle Rock to the far northern reaches, from quite a ways east of Denver to past the Continental Divide in the west. Water flooded everything. I experienced the most insane hail storm I’ve ever seen, where heavy rain and hail the size of quarters poured out of the sky faster and more intensely than I ever imagined was possible, and filled up my basement window wells with a couple feet of water and a foot of floating hail (which subsequently leaked into my basement, but luckily it is unfinished, and I managed to channel the water towards my drain without damage.)

Cherry Creek, where water levels had been devastated by the heat of the prior year and a half, not only reclaimed all the water that had been lost, but broke out to new bank levels and completely and totally flooded, under a couple feet of water, the extensive wetlands south of the reservoir. In the first set of photos here, you can see a line of grasses in the distance behind the gulls…that was a line of grass about 15-20 feet from where the shore of the lake used to be (in its low post-drought levels.) You can also clearly see that not only was that 15-20 feet of distance recovered, but another 15-20 feet of additional land was covered by water that must have risen over six feet from the prior extreme just before the September rains.

The main road that loops through Cherry Creek State Park was washed out in several areas, covered in several inches of silt and gravel. In many other locations, a foot to two feet of water flowed over the roads where they ran along or through the wetlands. Flowed with a moderately strong current, I might add, I could feel the little bit of strain as I drove my car through them, a couple of which stretched for over 100 feet of road. Acres of grasslands, a flood plain patchwork mixed in with riparian and wetland areas, was completely inundated. Creek beds that I had hiked past and over on countless occasions, always bone dry even during wetter years, had several feet of fast flowing water in them, probably fed at the time by the still arriving and rising flood crests from all over the front range of the rocky mountains that were fourty to a hundred miles away. I’d never seen so much water in Cherry Creek before, but it was a pleasing sight, after the extreme heat stress the whole region had gone through the year and a half prior.

Sadly, I did not actually start driving through the whole park until after I had photographed the birds, and since the sun had set by then, it was rather dark, and by the time I was done, the glow of sunset had faded into total night. I didn’t bother to take many photos, and those that I did were difficult to make out due to being solely illuminated by my car’s headlights. Two days later on my next outing, and the flood waters that were moving through the park had largely emptied into the lake, so there wasn’t anything left of the event to photograph.