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slides: James Clayton Sattel’s RI Views: The Geese of Winter

Saturday, January 19, 2013


Photographer James Clayton Sattel is passionate about Rhode Island, particularly those shores, crags, and vistas of his home island: Aquidneck.

This week, Jim shares views of one of his very favorite subjects--Canadian geese. "I’ve seen many beautiful natural phenomena in my life: lightning storms, lunar rainbows, Horsetail Fall turning into a ribbon of orange water at sunset. But the most impressive and magical thing I’ve witnessed might be the sound and movement of large flocks of snow geese," he says. Enjoy 10 of Jim's favorite shots of this stunning winter subject.

To see more of or purchase Sattel's distinctive views, go here.

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Low-Light Landing

Geese are somewhat predictable, and this enables the photographer to "set-up" according to the time of day. Most flocks get out of bed about an hour before sunrise--low light like this brings a rich glow to their patterns of flight.

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The roar and synchronized motion of hundreds of glittering geese taking flight is for me unforgettable. Catching them head-on, skimming over low water, creates a truly dramatic image.

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Coming In

This is pretty close to perfect, as we capture the descent of a Canadian goose against a real-life castle in the background. Only in Newport!

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It's a mystery to me as to how and why groups of the flock take off. Is it by age, who leads, or whatever. One thing I do know is that subgroups of the big flock will go furthest back of the estuary, and take off while the line of geese yet to take off stare up at them. They have a system, and I love to imagine what the system is caused by.

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My love of geese also ties to the beauty of the birds while in flight, and the barking they use to announce their arrival. There is fantastic coordination of positioning, and I would say that the only time that seems somewhat chaotic is on take-off...but quickly, as they ascend, they form the familiar chevron.

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Does this remind you of certain merges on Rhode Island's highways? What looks like a chaos of wings will sort itself out, but half the excitement of watching and photographing Canadian geese is this period... what will happen next?

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Snowy Landing

Watching the geese land is also fun. As they descend, the formation stays intact, and they seem to gear down just like a jet-liner. Here again, the landings are done in smaller groups; the geese that have landed maintain a "welcoming or reception line," again making me wonder who lands first to last.

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Not all the action is in the sky. In our waters, these geese display endless variations of behaviors and interactions. I caught this pair going nearly beak-to-beak.

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This solo swimmer looks almost swanlike here, tucked in on a placed piece of water.

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Into the Mists

There's something almost alien about this orderly flotilla of geese slipping through an Aquidneck mist. You can see why I'm endlessly fascinated by this wonderful bird--they are different every day, moment to moment.


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