Category Archives: July 5

A ‘snapshot photographer’ who uses a 600mm lens

A female eider

Just about every day the weather permits—or she’s not iced out—Boulder Hill resident Carla Skinder goes out into Long Cove in her kayak. “It’s my peace moment,” she says.

It’s also a daily opportunity to engage eye-to-eye with the cove’s abundant and varied wildlife. Most often she does this looking through the 600mm lens of a camera, hoping to digitally capture something of what she calls the “magical” quality of this part of the natural world.

“I focus on the eye of the bird or animal. Shooting with a heavy 600mm lens from a kayak, everything is always moving so it ain’t easy,” she says with a laugh. “I really consider myself a snapshot photographer because I don’t set up. The way I do photography I can’t use a tripod because I’m either kayaking or walking through the woods.” She estimates that less than one percent of the photos she takes are “keepers” for that reason.

While Skinder didn’t begin taking a major interest in photography until about six years ago—she now has three Canon EOS bodies along with a 200mm and a 400mm lens in addition to the large 600mm lens she favors—she says she has always liked to take pictures. And she has been interested in animals, birds and insects since childhood in Natick, Mass., bringing home all manner of bugs, snakes and worms after roaming nearby woods and ponds.

Likewise, her connection to this part of Maine goes back more than 40 years—when she became involved with a famous seal named Andre, who lived with Rockport Harbormaster Harry Goodridge from 1961, when Goodridge found him as a pup off the island of Robinson’s Rock, until his death in 1986. Skinder became involved with Andre in the 1970s when she was working at the Boston Aquarium, where she ran the marine mammals stranding program.

“From Maine to Florida, any marine mammals stranded on a beach I would go and rescue or autopsy,” Skinder explains. “I was the one who would rescue baby seals and porpoises. I took care of otters, penguins, beavers that would fit in the palm of my hand. It was great, I loved the work.”

When it was determined that Andre would benefit from spending winters at the aquarium, it was Skinder’s job to transport him from Rockport to Boston where he would join the aquarium’s other seals and then back again in the spring so he could be with Goodridge.

After leaving the Boston Aquarium in 1981, Skinder, who had earlier studied veterinary medicine at Kansas State University, earned a nursing degree from Simmons College and followed that with a Master’s degree in Public Health. Wanting a chance to travel internationally, Skinder was able to leverage both degrees, along with her on-the-job training at the Boston Aquarium, to qualify for volunteer opportunities with such organizations as Earthwatch, with whom she worked in Vietnam studying the Sarus Crane, and with public health agencies in places like Sierra Leone. Everywhere she went she took pictures, most especially of the wildlife.

“After I got my nursing and public health degrees I would take leaves of absence to do the volunteer work,” she says. “I’ve been to every continent and even worked in the Falkland Islands two years in a row helping restore an historic building. There were millions of birds there—penguins, albatross, petrils, ducks, geese, and owls along with sea lions and dophins. It was just magical.”

In recent years her travels have been focused on African wildlife. She’s signed on to a variety of organized tours and worked with such organizations as Panthera, which is devoted to conserving the world’s 40 wild cat species. Last year she and some companions did a “self-drive” in Namibia.

Now that Skinder lives in St. George—it has been nearly two years since she bought her seven-acre property at the end of Boulder Hill Road—her subject matter may be less exotic, but she finds it just as satisfying. “The nature here is marvelous for me. I have songbirds, tons of warblers, hummingbirds, osprey, eagles, eiders, loons, gulls, kingfishers, guillemots, mergansers, you name it.”

She has also become involved with the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge, an organization managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of the National Wildlife Refuge System. “It’s been fun. I’ve been going out to the islands with them, rounding up sheep so the terns can nest, doing projects like an egg census on herring and black back gulls and on eiders.” On these trips, too, she has been taking many pictures, partly as a way to help document the work being done.

Sharing her photographs, she says, gives her real pleasure, whether through exhibitions of her work or through formal presentations. She has also recently begun working with the children in the Pre-K program at the Jackson Memorial Library and with students at the St. George School, drawing on her extensive—and ever growing—archive of photographic images. “I love showing people what’s out there in nature.”

It is rare for Skinder to be in her kayak without her camera and that big 600mm lens, but sometimes it does happen. She’s missed some great “photo ops” that way, she admits with some disappointment, but then she adds with a shrug, “At those times I just enjoy what I see.”
—JW

PHOTOS: Top, Carla Skinder; below, Julie Wortman

Join a walking tour of Tenants Harbor on July 26

Tenants Harbor village from the Baptist Church steeple

On Thursday, July 26th, the St. George Historical Society will be sponsoring a walking tour of Tenants Harbor. The tour will start at the Tenants Harbor Baptist Church at 6:30pm and will continue along Main Street, ending at the Odds Fellow parking lot on Watts Avenue. Parking will be available at both ends of the tour—Tenants Harbor Baptist Church and Odd Fellows—and if you want to park midway, you can park at the town office.

The Thomas Henderson Homestead

People participating in the tour will learn about the home of Town Talk, a local newspaper of the 1880s. They will also hear about the many businesses that have disappeared over the years—a funeral home, a furniture store, several gas stations, a bakery, a pool hall and dance hall, a millinery shop, a blacksmith shop, several grocery stores, a drug store, a couple of restaurants, and a hotel! All these were once found on Main Street and at the entrance to Watts Avenue. The location of about a dozen homes that once sat along this route­—either torn down, lost to fire, or moved—will be pointed out and some insight as to why one part of Main Street was known as Nob Hill will be given.

Those attending will be provided with a handout showing pictures of what Main Street has looked like over the years. These will include photos of Sheerer’s Drug Store, H.F. Kalloch’s store, Morris’s Tea Room, H.A. Harris Garage, St. George Bakery, and more! Hope to see you there.—John Falla

Rummage sale at Wheeler’s

Ditch full of distractions

Nature bummin’ with Kirk Gentalen—

“Our” ditch with a green frog sitting in wait

There are lots of ditches in St. George, but only one that we (the royal “we”) visit on a regular basis. I won’t give out the exact location (you know how protective ditch lovers are!), but let’s just say it’s a typical ditch—one that flows strong after a good rain but becomes a series of deepish puddles filled with some seriously mucky, algae water during drier times. In other words it gets kinda gross. It’s a smallish ditch, no more than a foot across at its widest, but we don’t hold that against it­—there is too much life there to be distracted by volume!

When times are warm and sunny, the air above the “ditchy-water” can be full of fly activity—a “fly lovers paradise,” if you will. And while there are several species of flies (Order Diptera) to be entertained by, there is one species that we actively search for, that we hope for a glimpse of (and maybe a photo or two of) and that is the “Phantom Crane Fly” (PCF). These aren’t your typical Crane Flies (Family Tipulidae)—the ones that are mistaken for huge mosquitoes when found in your house but fortunately don’t bite. Nope, these dudes get their own family (Ptychopteridae—Phantom Crane Fly family) and fly with a style and grace so unique that make them hard to mistake with traditional Crane Flies.

Phantom Crane Fly

Our local species of Phantom Crane Fly (Bittacomorpha clavipes) is quite the sight. Their heads and thorax are miniscule and unassuming, their abdomens are thin and measures a half inch if that. On their backs are a pair of shrunken wings, which are essentially vestigial—organs that have become useless over time—similar to leg bones found in snakes. What stands out with PCFs at first sight, though, are their long, thin, black-and-white banded legs. At the tip of each leg are swollen feet (tarsi) which are loaded with tiny holes called trachea. Trachea are “normally” used for respiration in insects but PCFs don’t breath through their feet (that would be weird). Instead they use the trachea to catch the tiniest of wind currents and breezes as they drift along. An insect with wings that “flies” by its feet! For maximum efficiency and flying potential PCFs fly with their six legs extended and spread wide, giving it an appearance like a flying snowflake or spider web.

In flight this leg arrangement gives PCFs a look similar to filter feeders in the tide pools, but these adults are not thinking about food. They actually lay their eggs in those algae pools, and as larvae their offspring feed on detritus in the muck before morphing into non-eating adults. So there is no chasing after prey or catching of food with those big legs, instead PCFs are floating snowflakes looking to mate. Hot action at the ditch!

The black-and-white pattern on the legs is perfect camouflage for shady habitats sprinkled with sunlight. Disappearing in and out of the shadows in flight gives these flies a “phantom” appearance and makes following them tricky to say the least and attempts to take photos turn into lessons of patience and focus. Those can be tough lessons, because PCFs aren’t the only ones living by the ditch—so many distractions!

Green  Frog

Spend some time with a ditch and you’ll realize that you aren’t alone in hunting PCFs (and the other flies in the area). A handful of Green Frogs also call the ditch home and nothing teaches a lesson in patience like watching a cold-blooded (literally), sit-and-wait predator. Daily fluctuations in PCF numbers makes one wonder how many PCFs have made their way through the ditch frog’s digestive systems. PCFs are towards the bottom of the food chain for sure, so it goes.

A Red-winged Blackbird attacks a Broad- winged Hawk.

Red-winged blackbirds sing from the tops of nearby cattails and bring food in for youngsters hidden in a nest somewhere in the thick patches of reeds. The blackbirds also announce my presence with loud alarm calls (I wasn’t even close to them, I swear!), which makes ignoring them even harder. As I try to convince the blackbirds that I mean no harm—probably would be better if I just zipped it instead of talking to them – Swamp Sparrows start to belt out their buzzy song in the “shared” cattail habitat. Swamp sparrows have a special spot in my heart and have long been my favorite sparrow (for reasons I can’t remember), so ignoring those is not an option. Butterflies and dragonflies zip around the grasses and clovers, and a river otter even crosses the ditch making its way to a nearby waterway it enters with a big splash. A Broad-winged Hawk catches a thermal above us and attracts the Blackbirds’ attention and angst. The hawk is promptly “escorted” away from the wetlands by the male of the pair. It can be hard to pick what to watch when spending time in the ditch (and beyond)!

Like so many ventures, trips to the ditch often have a goal, or “target” or two that gets you out there. In this case, the visit to the ditch was inspired by visions of Phantom Crane Flies. And like almost all adventures, the plethora of “side” activity demands observation and adds to the entire picture. We really aren’t there just to see the PCFs or the ditch—even though that would be more than satisfying. We’re there to see the habitat and learn about that “neighborhood.” All distractions are welcome in these cases!

PHOTOS: Kirk Gentalen

Fashioning sculpture from wood, metal and rock

Spruce Head resident Rick Bernard is known for his unique sculptures constructed from reshaped wood, stone and metal objects. Working spontaneously, he intuitively establishes spatial relationships between these elements that satisfy his immediate aesthetic sensibility. With the addition of movement induced by the forces of wind and gravity, Bernard includes in his repertoire kinetic as well as stabile sculpture.

Barnard’s interest in sculpture, however, developed only 15 years ago, when he noticed a wine bottle holder—the kind where the bottle is inserted into an angled piece of wood and balanced on a table top in a way that seems to defy gravity. He decided to experiment with the physics of this dynamic equilibrium by sculpting and assembling bits of wood. This was the beginning of Bernard’s career as a sculptor. One thing led to another as he began incorporating metal and rocks into his work. Eventually, his sculptures became larger and suitable for outdoor display.

Bernard’s studio is an unheated small shed next to his driveway where he works throughout the year with the exception of winter. He collects rocks from several local island beaches and purchases the steel from local vendors to construct his works. “For ideas,” he explains, “sometimes I think about possible designs as I fall asleep at night,” thus relying upon his subconscious to create the mental image for his next sculpture. During the construction process, Bernard occasionally sets aside a work until he visualizes a different option for it. “It is not unusual for me to work on several pieces at a time,” he explains.

He works to please himself. “If I like the sculpture, then it passes the test.” Although he repeatedly states that the title “artist” feels foreign to him, his works prove his artistry. And the pieces show an evident ability to “think outside the box.” This ability may have its foundation in his life and career before making sculpture.

Born in Illinois, Bernard’s family moved frequently from coast to coast as his father changed corporate positions. When he was only eight years old, his father abandoned the family and his mother endured a mental crisis that left Bernard and his two siblings in the care of their grandmother and hired nannies. To complicate matters, schooling was also a challenge, especially in art class where students were required to make representational art. His inability to complete these assignments created an obstacle. Bernard confesses, “I learned to hate art from that experience.” But he found other outlets for his creativity during those difficult years. He discovered the joy of building three-dimensional objects like go-carts, tree houses and forts from his imagination, without planning. These activities honed his skills as an intuitive spatial thinker.

After high school, Bernard turned his attention to psychology. He received a B.A. at Bucknell University in 1972 and landed a position in Newfoundland teaching special education. The following year Bernard moved to Pennsylvania where he earned an MA in counseling. It wasn’t until 1976 that he moved to Maine where he forged a 34-year career at the St. George School as a K-8 counselor, sports coach, and drama coach. Tapping into his creative and unconventional style, Bernard found new ways to help students discover solutions to the problems they faced. He even developed skills as a magician to engage his students, and eventually gained enough expertise to become a professional magician. His ability to create illusion, coupled with his unconventional approach to personal challenges, seems to have informed his sculpting, which has proven a success.

It wasn’t long after Bernard began sculpting that opportunities to exhibit and sell his work emerged here on the St. George peninsula. He participated in the annual art exhibitions at the Odd Fellows Hall in Tenants Harbor every summer as well as the arts festival in Belfast. Robust sales encouraged him to keep going and now his work is displayed at the Port Clyde Art Gallery, where he is an artist member. You may view his sculptures there during the summer months. —K­atharine A. Cartwright­

St. George Episcopal Chapel, Summer 2018

For over a hundred years, the St. George Episcopal Chapel has held services on Sunday mornings from the end of June to Labor Day. On Long Cove Road off of Rt. 131 in Tenants Harbor, the service begins at 10am. In recent years, the chapel has become known as a “community church” with parishioners attending from all denominations. Everyone is welcome!

Each service offers a different priest/minister and different music. This year the music is provided on alternate Sundays by the duo of Renny Stackpole on base and Bob Richardson on keyboard, Janeen Baker organist, and the family group Playin’ Possums. The ministers come from all over the country, including The Rt. Rev. Chilton Knudsen, the former Episcopal bishop of Maine, who is serving as interim bishop in the Diocese of Baltimore.

For more information contact Alice Gorman at gormanalice@gmail.com.