Waterfalls in Ricketts Glen State Park

Roaring Forest WaterfallRicketts Glen State Park has some of the most beautiful waterfalls in Pennsylvania. I had spent much of the summer traveling around many of the waterfall locations in the Finger Lakes in New York, and decided to travel around my own state to see how our selection of gushing wonders stacked up. I was not disappointed!


The journey begins at the very top of a very tall, forested hill.  The Forest Waterfall with Rockstop has some smaller waterfalls that bring their own brand of beauty.  I spent some time on these, but I had a long hike ahead of me and I wanted to see the big ones.  It didn’t take too long before they started to appear.



Waterfall FantasyThe Falls Trail can be quite treacherous sometimes.  There isn’t much to separate the photographer from the steep cliff in many places.  Carrying a tripod made my balance a bit lopsided as I edged my way down some of the trickier portions of the trail.  But what awaited around each corner was another astounding sight.  Ricketts Glen State Park boasts 22 named waterfalls, and each one is more dazzling than the last.  After traveling for a couple of miles down the gorge, I came to a loop that started to ascend back up the other side…


…or so I thought!  It turns out that the ascent has a completely new Waterfall Paradise with Stone Stairwayset of waterfalls!  I had already been more than impressed by the sights I had witnessed coming down the Falls trail, and I couldn’t believe that a whole new set of photo opportunities awaited me on the return trip!  But I must confess, I was out of shape and quite exhausted from my exertions.  Also, time was ticking and I didn’t really want to get caught in a perilous and unfamiliar spot after dark.  So I had to make haste back up to the parking lot.  I really didn’t cover the park thoroughly, which makes another adventure here is a must!  Although I would warn any travelers that caution and a good pair of hiking boots is advised (and possibly an aerobics class) it is definitely worth a little risk to see this splendid park and its wonders.


Birding in New York State

Gull and FishIt was an exceptionally chilly morning when I decided to head out and find some eagles in Dunkirk, NY.  I went up there last year, and there were hundreds of birds on the boardwalk, searching the tiny bits of unfrozen water on Lake Erie for a meal.  The gulls were fighting over scraps of fish.  It was quite a sight, and I couldn’t wait to return.

Fat Cardinal

On my way up to Dunkirk, I decided to stop at the Jamestown Audubon Center & Sanctuary to warm up the camera on some smaller targets.  My first encounter was with a very well-fed cardinal across the pond from me.  He posed for a few shots before flying off into the brush.  Given his shape, I’m surprised it wasn’t more of a slow roll!  I decided to trudge around the pond behind the house and see if I could spot some more colorful subjects.

Junco on BranchI didn’t see much out by Big Pond, so I picked my way back to the car.  As I returned to the parking lot, I noticed some birds along the path by the house and decided to take a few shots.  This puffed up junco was nice enough to mug for the camera.  I decided it was time to see what awaited me on Lake Erie.

I arrived at the boardwalk and felt a stab of disappointment.  There weren’t nearly as many birds as I saw last year, and most of them were simply huddled together on the ice, not moving or doing anything interesting.  Additionally, there was a mist coming off Lake Gull Ready for TakeoffErie that made it almost impossible to see anything.  But one thing gave me hope.  In the car next to me, a man was peering intently with his binoculars out toward the factory in the distance.  Sure enough, a few eagles dotted the landscape near the heat of the smokestacks on the opposite side of the harbor.  But they were too far away to get good shots.  It was time to move in a little closer.

Eagle WatchI did a bit of scouting and found a road that led close to the factory.  There is a conservation club that is directly across from the factory, and I trudged toward the water to see if I could spot my subjects.  There were a couple of eagles in the sky, and I got some distant shots.  But then I looked in the tree above me.  And to my surprise, there was a bald eagle!  I guess we both thought that was a good spot to survey the scene.  The branches around him didn’t make it easy to get a clean shot, but I at least managed to position myself so that I could get an unobstructed view of his head.  He soon grew tired of my company and flew off to find another perch.

Bolstered by my success, I decided to walk along the harbor and see what else the chilly day had in store for me.  It was around 10 below, so I didn’t stray too far from the car.  As I fiddled with the settings onEagle on the Wing the camera, several birds flew directly overhead.  One was an eagle.  He did a circle around the city and came toward me.  I was ready this time to capture the action.  It was truly a remarkable sight.

Half the battle of photography is being in the right place at the right time.  And when it’s below 0 outside, it’s easy to talk yourself into staying home with a warm mug of cocoa and leaving nature to the birds.  But if you muster up the courage to venture outside, the experience can be truly rewarding.

Snowy Owls at Presque Isle State Park

The Search for the Snowy Owl

Snowy owls are fairly rare in Pennsylvania.  So when the sightings begin to happen, it’s a motivating experience to get out there and get a great photograph.  I had already gone up to Presque Isle State Park in Erie earlier in December, but I seemed to be a little ahead of the action that day.  No snowy owls.  This time, things would be different!

Snowy Owl on LogSo I eagerly drove up to Beach 10 to start my journey.  Gull Point Trail is 1 1/2 miles of sand and frozen mud.  Not the easiest walk, but at least it’s a flat one.  This was just before New Year’s Eve, and it was chilly, but surprisingly there was no snow that day.  I felt confident leaving my shooting hand bare whilst covering my left hand with a glove and wearing my knit hat.  That was a mistake, but we’ll get to that shortly.

Snowy owl in flight around Lake ErieI trudged up the trail and passed a park ranger heading back down the trail.  Apparently, there were quite a few people out to see the owls.  At least the birds should be easy to find!  As I ascended the slope to Gull Point, I noticed several large tripods pointed at a large log.  There was a snowy owl seated there, mugging for the cameras.  Further down the beach, there were two more snowy owls in flight together.  I decided to go for the easy target first.  I eagerly pulled my right hand out of my pocket and got ready for the log owl photoshoot!

Snowy Owl on Coast

The first owl was very cooperative and the pictures were very easy.  With some good shots out of the way, I decided to see if I could get the trickier flight shots of the more active owls.  But as I approached the flyers, my right hand started to feel the effects of the biting wind blowing across Gull Point.  The wind hadn’t been nearly as bad at the parking lot, and I hadn’t even bothered to take my right glove with me.  I tried to get some pictures, but my hand got so numb that I was forced to stop shooting and put my left glove on my right hand, backwards.  Of course, that was right when the owls decided to fly over my head!

Snowy Owl on Lake ErieDespite missing the premiere shot, I did get some great photos.  I got a small chuckle as I left for the day.  There were some other people on the beach trying to locate the owls.  I could clearly see an owl from where I was – he was maybe 30 yards from the bystanders, and they had no idea he was there.  The clever bird was hiding in plain sight!  I can’t wait to go back and hopefully capture some more flight shots of these magnificent birds.


Posting your new Zazzle item directly to Facebook

Using IFTTT to autopost your Zazzle Items

So you just got done making an item in your Zazzle store.  The problem?  Nobody knows it’s there!  So you slog your way over to Facebook, navigate to your business page, type in the URL for the item, create a post…oh wait, we haven’t done Twitter yet!  Go to Twitter…blah blah blah, a long and boring process.  If only there was a way to autopost…

But wait, there is!  A free website called IFTTT (If This, Then That) can do it all for you!  And I am going to show you how.  You need two things to do this:

1) A Zazzle store with an item.  Any item.  Your favorite squirrel keychain.  I don’t care.

2) A Facebook page of some sort.  I’ll be posting to my Nature Novelties Facebook Page as an example.

So now that we have the basics, let’s head over to IFTTT.

Creating your first ‘recipe’

So go ahead and sign up for an account. It’s ok, I’ll wait. Got it? Good. If you know something about macros, then this will be cake. If you don’t…it will still be cake.. Back in the old days, ancient coders used an obscure language called BASIC which had many lines like:

IF x=My birthday GOTO Sing copyrighted song

It’s the same sort of thing here. Except BASIC (also known as ‘spaghetti code’) took a million lines of code to do really simple things. IFTTT can do really complicated things with just a couple of mouse clicks from you!

So let’s get started with a recipe. The one I’m going to show you is from Zazzle to Facebook.  After you make an IFTTT account, I believe they make you run through a sample recipe. Just quickly suffer through that, so we can do our own thing.  Throughout these steps, IFTTT will ask you for permission to set things up.   Just go ahead and say yes, and get back to the steps outlined here.

Making Zazzle Play Nice with Facebook

1) Create a Recipe in IFTTT.  Hit the blue button.

Create a Recipe







2) You’ll see the words, ‘If this then that.  This is a completely unnecessary screen, but it’s telling you that we are going to put in the first ‘ingredient’ for our recipe.  Click on ‘this.’

3) Whoa!  Now we have a ton of choices.  Zazzle isn’t in there (yet) so we have to cheat a bit.  Locate ‘Feed’ in the list.  (They are in alphabetical order.)  If you know what an RSS feed is, then you’ve seen this symbol before.  You might not know it, but your Zazzle store has an RSS feed.

Feed icon on IFTTT











4) Add a New Feed Item.

Feed Item Trigger










5) Next, we need to enter the RSS feed for your store.  What is it?  I’m so glad you asked!  If you already know the URL of your zazzle store, then you can create your RSS feed.  If you don’t, then navigate to your store and copy the URL.  Mine is http://www.zazzle.com/naturenovelties.

We are going to change one part of this URL, and add one part.  We are going to change ‘www’ to ‘feed’.  Then we are going to add /rss at the end of the URL.  Your Zazzle store URL should now look like this:


Make sense?  Ok, put this in the trigger box in IFTTT now.  Create Trigger.

Zazzle RSS Feed
My Zazzle store URL changed to RSS


6) So now we see our macro again, which is another fairly useless screen saying ‘If RSS Feed then that.  Click on ‘that’.

7) There are several Facebook icons here.  We want ‘Facebook pages’.

FB pages icon











8)  You have several options here.  We want to ‘Create a Link Post.’

FB Page Link Post







9) This next part is a little weird, but let me explain.  In the Link URL box, we don’t simply want the URL.  We want the item picture, description, etc. to show up.  So we are going to delete EntryURL.  It will stick little protective brackets around itself when you click the box.  Just delete those suckers and make a blank box.

Now we are going to add an ingredient there.  Click on the cross at the end of the Link URL box.  Select ‘Entry Content’ from the dropdown list and click ‘Add Ingredient.’  We are done with that box.

The Message Box is going to display the post that everybody sees on Facebook.  I’ll show you what mine looks like in both places.  First in IFTTT:

Entry Action

Here’s what I put in the message box.  ‘Brand new in #NatureNovelties – ‘  Then I added an ingredient, EntryTitle.  After that, I put an exclamation mark.  Then on the second line, I added the ingredient EntryURL.

Let’s say I just posted an Elk in Field Postcard.   Facebook will post all of that like this:

Elk Postcard
Zazzle item as seen on Facebook














Create Action and you’re done.  I renamed my action ‘ Zazzle to Facebook.’

That’s it!

So now you can add an item to Zazzle and see if your IFTTT recipe works.  It can take quite awhile for FB to post (sometimes several hours) but it WILL post if you did it right.

Good luck and let me know if you have questions.  I have also made a recipe to post to Twitter.  Zazzle posts to both Twitter and Facebook automatically every time I create a new story item.  Best of luck, and let me know about your own creations!