Autumn may be officially a few weeks off but the first week of September and the Pronghorn rut starting, signals the start of fall on the sagebrush steppe. Cooler weather, less smoke and more photography opportunities with wildlife are motivation to get out. I was able to make a trip to the Sheldon Antelope Refuge this week and the Pronghorn put on a great show.
Lots of skirmishing and some epic battles took place between dominate bucks. Most of fights are quick and dirty over before they start with smaller bucks running off before they engage. I witnessed the longest bout I have ever seen. It lasted for over 5 minutes. The bucks horns may have become hooked as it looked like they couldn’t break away. One buck received a nasty gash below his eye and is lucky not to have lost it.
The thick part of the horn jutting out below the points are called cutters. The damage they can inflict in a fight is evident in this photograph.
I haven’t been taking photos of wild horses for some time. Honestly, they can be a little boring depending on the time of year. We are approaching the best time to photograph them in my opinion as it is getting close to foaling time and that means lots of cute babies and fighting stallions.
These Stallions let their bands get too close too each other going to water so I saw some action.
I saw lots of pregnant mares and I think I was about two weeks too early so will be checking on the herds the next few weeks. It was great to see so many colorful pintos and paints out there this year.
I was fortunate to run into this handsome herd of Mule Deer bucks just as they were leaving a field in the early morning. It isn’t often you see this many horned ones together and it was a joy to watch and photography them for about an hour before I had to move on.
These fellows got over their alarm at my presence fairly quickly and it was interesting to watch their interactions at my leisure.
Western count, this is a nice four point and three point hanging out.
This guy was definitely the biggest buck and the most wary. He dived into the tall brush and hid for a good little while until he decided I wasn’t a threat. He ran out an joined the rest of the herd and allowed me to get a few good shots. He has some pretty gnarly eye guards. Classic four point Mule Deer Buck.
These bucks did a little bit of play fighting while I watched. I was hoping they would knock their horns off it being March and time for them to be dropping their antlers. No such luck.
February and March are prime months for seeing Bald Eagles as they migrate through the high desert. They follow the flocks of snow geese, tundra swans and numerous ducks that fly through the area on their way back north.
I like to photograph and record nature with realism. Birds of prey have to eat and that is messy. Eagles cull the weak and sick birds from the flocks. They fly over large rafts of snow geese scaring them into panicked flight. They pick the ones off the water that are too weak to fly or are struggling. Nothing goes to waste. Ravens follow the eagles and clean up any scraps.
I’ve been spending a lot of time this summer in the center of the state as I have a cow elk tag and a mule deer buck tag in units that are in that area. I have been combining scouting with site seeing and have ticked off some places I have wanted to visit and explore for a long time.
One of those places is an old stage stop located in a remote canyon down a very dusty road. At times I had to four wheel drive it to get through the powdery dust that was as deep and treacherous as a snowfall.
So this had to have been built before the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869. It has to be at least 155 years old. It is still in great condition due to the solid rock construction. It sports a dirt floor and elaborate chimney. It would be pretty tight quarters. I rode in one of those authentic stagecoaches up in Virginia City a few summers ago. Very uncomfortable ride! I can’t imagine bumping along all day in one of those and then “resting” here!
There was an old stone corral as well but it was hard to photograph. I also took photos of some wild horses, golden eagle and a cooperative Western Meadowlark.
When we think of hummingbirds we tend to think of perpetual motion, speed and agility. It may come as a surprise to read that they actually spend quite a bit of time perched and at rest. I hung two perches designed for Hummingbirds near a couple of the feeders I have in the backyard and they use them regularly.
Hummingbirds are fiercely territorial so perching near food sources is common. They also conserve energy by doing this.
The birds use a variety of perches around my backyard. Any bare branch is attractive to them. They also perch on dead flower stems.
I have several sculpture objects around the yard that are Hummingbird related and it is especially amusing to me when they perch on those.
I have been impatiently waiting for the migration of Rufous Hummingbirds to start. Finally on Saturday the birds seem to have arrived. I don’t know if climate change is affecting their timing but the last two years they have shown up about 10 days later then I am accustomed to seeing them and they have definitely been hanging around later in the fall until I am forced to take down freezing feeders. I think these Rufous make their way north in the spring up through California. We don’t see too many of them at that time.
We have locals, Black Chinned Hummingbirds, that quietly hang out in the backyard helping themselves to the feeders and early blooming flowers in spring and early summer. Then in August it gets wild with high numbers of Rufous battling over blooms and the feeders.
It is challenging and fun to try to capture all the action with the camera. The birds soon become used to your presence if you sit quietly. They are apt to fly right up to your face and examine you at close range. I have read that they recognize people and learn to trust you.
One of the challenges to getting a good photo is they are always chasing each other off the flowers. They are fiercely territorial and even though I am offering them a huge banquet of flowers and feeder choices they are quite protective of their food sources.
Better late than never. Enjoying the annual show these tiny titans are putting on.
I started out modestly planting one variety of plant that would attract hummingbirds. I wanted to be able to take photos of them on flowers not feeders. I have four feeders to attract and help the tiny birds out through spring, summer and fall. Then slowly the obsession grew with wanting to create a hummingbird heaven in my back yard. Over the last few years I have replaced non native shrubs and plants with a variety of native flowers and plants. Of course lots of other pollinators profit from the pollen rich flowers as well.
I planted a lot of wild Bergamot after I fell in love with the plethora of flowers it produces. The hummingbirds are not crazy about it but the butterflies and bees are frequent visitors.
All the plants from the Astagache family are Hummingbird favorites. This variety is long blooming and the Hummingbirds love them.
After several unsuccessful attempts to grow Bee Balm I found a spot they liked and have three large examples. They are a showy flower that hummers love. I especially like the photos I get of Hummingbirds with these.
It took hard work to transform a rather sterile landscape into a colorful garden full of plants and flowers that pollinators are attracted too. I love sitting in my backyard this time of year watching them enjoy the fruits of my labor. Bees and all Pollinators are under stress as at this time. Consider planting for them when planning your garden.