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Sometimes I Think They’re Hiding From Me

Nature’s camouflage makes critters hard to find

A great gray owl in an evergreen tree showing how well the owl's camouflage works
A great gray owl does his best to blend in.
An American bittern camouflaged in the reeds
An American bittern in the reeds

One of the toughest challenges for a nature photographer is to show how well a critter’s camouflage works. If the critter has blended-in nearly perfectly, they’re hard to highlight. Here a couple examples and how I handled them.

The great gray owl was almost invisible against that evergreen tree he was in. With his eyes closed, or nearly so, there wasn’t much of a shot. Patience paid off when he finally opened both eyes while half in the sunlight.

With the American bittern, the solution was to get in close (actually with a 500mm lens and a big crop) and use a wide aperture (small F-stop number) to blur the foreground and background.

Attract More Birds With Homemade Suet

Attract more birds to your yard with this easy to make homemade suet

You can make homemade suet quickly and easily to attract more birds to your yard. You’ll find lots of birds love suet, not just woodpeckers. Here’s a recipe you can make at home.

Our woodpeckers love our suet!

Harry woodpecker eating homemade suet from a hole in a tree
Close up of a hairy woodpecker eating homemade suet from a hole in a tree

We’ve had thrashers, nuthatches, chickadees, titmice and more feeding at our suet feeder.

White-breasted nuthatch eating homemade suet from a hole in a tree.

No-Melt Suet

Yield:   5 cups

Time:    10 Minutes


    2 cups quick-cooking oats
    2 cups cornmeal
    1 cup flour
    1 cup lard or melted suet
    1 cup peanut butter


Melt the lard and peanut butter together over medium-low heat on the stove. Keep the heat low, cleaning up scorched peanut butter is a mess.

Combine the dry ingredients.

Add the dry ingredients to the melted fats.

The original recipe suggests pouring into a square pan about 2 inches deep. I found a few commercial yogurt containers (that hold a couple gallons). I make a double batch in one of them. It stores nicely in an unheated garage.

To serve, just scoop out some of the mix and press it into a rough square and put it in like a commercial suet cake.


Some people use bacon grease instead of the lard. I’ve seen suggestions that the salt may be bad for birds. I suspect few birds live long enough to worry about atherosclerosis, but you may want to err on the side of caution.

Several of the recipes I found suggest chopping up raw peanuts. I substituted crunchy PB.

You can add dried fruit, berries or mealworms to the mix. I’ve experimented with a variety. Birds eat it readily with or without the additions.

Norfolk Southern 11R at Tunnel, NY

Norfolk Southern train 11R (Ayer, MA to Harrisburg, PA) emerges from the tunnel in the aptly named Tunnel, NY, behind SD70ACe 1191 on November 4, 2020. This is a perfect example of why you need to ‘be prepared’ and camera ready at all times.

I was on my way to Cass, WV, and driving down route 88 and as I passed Oneonta, my scanner gave a burst of static. I got several more useless squawks as I went south, eventually getting close enough to figure out there was a train stopped by the hot box detector near Unadilla. Dropping down onto NY 7, I found him just before he got going south again.

Track speed isn’t what it was back in the real D&H days, staying ahead of a train on the main is much more of a challenge these days, the grab a shot, stop for gas, head for the next spot days are gone. I took off and headed to Tunnel, hoping there would still be some light.

Luck was with me, there was one spot of late afternoon light left just before the signals. With the 400mm, the framing was right for a nice vertical with the tunnel as the background. The rail gods cooperated and he managed to arrive before the light died.

So, after a short detour, I ended up with pretty nice shot on the fly, no planning. Packing the scanner and gear proved worthwhile.

Hello world! This is Ian’s new blog

Welcome to my blog’s new home. All my old posts are still up at, but future pics and posts will be here. This new site gives me more flexibility for posting and new features. More about them and more posts coming soon!

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