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Providing for Pollinators

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.

Wild Bergamot

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.

Bee enjoying Bergamot
Glowing Embers Astagache
Hummingbird with Glowing Embers Astagache

All the plants from the Astagache family are Hummingbird favorites. This variety is long blooming and the Hummingbirds love them.

Bee Balm or Monarda

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.

Hummingbird with Bee Balm
Honey Bee with Astagache
Black Bee with Giant Purple Sage
Swallowtail Butterfly with Giant Purple Sage
Rufous Hummingbird with Astagache

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.

Summer Swallowtails

I planted Giant Purple Sage last year hoping they would attract Hummingbirds as advertised. The Hummingbirds are not at all interested but they are magnets for Western Swallowtail Butterflies.

Swallowtail on Giant Purple Sage

I’ve planted several plant types that were supposed to be irresistible to Hummingbirds only to find the birds were not attracted to them. I might be offering them too many choices. The Purple Sage has been a hit with all kinds of bees, butterflies and moths so I’m happy with the plantings.

Summer Swallowtail in the Garden

My Bee Balm is starting to bloom and all the pollinators love them.

Swallowtail with Bee Balm Bloom

Just about 4 weeks to go until the Hummingbird migration starts and their favorite flowers should be in full bloom in the garden. Looking forward to their annual invasion and antics in my backyard.

Aerial Firefighters

We had our first series of wildfires this weekend. A lightning strike in the Pine Nuts in Douglas county started us off. Then we had a real thriller yesterday on Peavine Mountain above Reno. Still waiting to hear what the exact cause of this one was. High winds and dry conditions made this an extremely dangerous fire. It made for an exciting afternoon Saturday if you were anywhere near the area. I live on top of a hill that gave us a great vantage point to watch the fire and the heroic efforts to put it out. Huge Tanker planes dropped load after load of brightly colored fire retardant on the fire and around it to create a fire break. I used a long lens to capture some of the action. We were miles from the fire.

Tanker making it’s drop
Spotter Plane marking the drop for a Tanker
Tanker dropping it’s payload on the Mark

The pilots worked this fire in an incredibly choregraphed dance that had them in and out of the smoke, flying just off the ground, and soaring back into the sky making it all look effortless. This has to be a huge adrenalin rush and scary as hell.

Flying through the Inferno
Abstract
Bombs Away!

Amazing work by these pilots. They saved many homes and lives this day. Thank you!

Ospreys – End of the Dive

Of course the whole point of the Osprey’s efforts are to come up with a fish! For a few weeks last summer this small pond afforded me numerous opportunities to photograph the Ospreys as they hunted. I sat for hours on the edge of the pond for many days to capture the action. In the following series of photographs you can see the Osprey almost submerged in the water as he/she successfully snags a fish, to the point it flies off with it’s prize.

Osprey

I was surprised when reviewing the photos at how deep the Ospreys go into the water. I thought they just skimmed the top of the water and grabbed fish.

Osprey leaving the water with fish

If you look closely you can see a trout in the Osprey’s right talon.

Osprey with fish
Gaining speed
Osprey

Angelic Ospreys

Osprey looking for Fish

Just like everyone else, I’m looking for things to do while the this quarantine/social distancing drags on. Going through photos is an activity I’ve been enjoying. I took a lot of photos of Ospreys fishing last year. They look angelic to me against the soft summer sky.

Osprey fishing

You can see that the Osprey is intently studying the water below.

After the Osprey sees a fish near the surface it starts the dive.

Starting the Dive
Diving

These photos don’t capture the speed that this all takes place at. I had to take a lot of photos to get it done. 🙂

Spring in the Great Basin

First day of Spring!

Even though our world is anything but routine right now, nature’s rhythms continue to turn on the rotation of our planet.   The northern desert is awakening from it’s winter slumber. Tiny flowers poke through our most recent snow and animals follow their inner clocks and begin their spring activities. For larger mammals it is nearing time for females to give birth. For birds, courtship and nesting are about to jump into full swing. In the high desert, on healthy sage brush steppes, the Sage Grouse have begun their ancient courtship ritual of Lekking.

Male Sage Grouse Courtship Display

lekking

[ˈlekiNG]

NOUN

  1. the practice by males in certain species of birds and mammals of engaging in a communal display during the breeding season on a patch of ground known as a lek.

“from 5,000 to 50,000 males may congregate during lekking”

ADJECTIVE

  1. (of males in certain species of birds and mammals) engaging in a communal display during the breeding season on a patch of ground known as a lek.

“in comparison to other lekking animals, the great snipe show very little sexual dimorphism”

Male Sage Grouse

Weather permitting, I try to visit several Leks in northern Nevada and California in the Spring. It has become a Spring time ritual for me observe and photograph these amazing courtship displays. It takes some dedication as the dirt roads can be iffy with mud and snow. Couple that with needing to be at the Lek well before it gets light in often 20 degree or less temperatures, it isn’t for everyone.

Sage Grouse start lekking the end of February and will continue until the first week in May. They meet on the Lek where the males dance and strut for several hours before the sun comes up.  About an hour after sun up, they all fly off. The responsible observer gets there well before they do and hides in a blind or stays quiet in the vehicle until the birds have left. Disturbing them may cause them to abandon the lek forever. Many of these leks have been in use for thousands of years.  

Pronghorn frequently visit the Leks

Short-eared Owls

Short-eared owl with prey

Short-eared Owls are easier to find this time of year. They are unusual for owls as they can be active while it is light enough to photograph them. I find plenty of sleepy Great Horned owls early in the morning getting their naps on and while I am grateful for the opportunity to take their picture its exciting to see owls going about their owl business hunting and eating.

Short-eared Owl in afternoon light

In the flat fields of the Sierra Valley, I’ve been lucky enough to find quite a few Short-eared owls congregating in the late afternoons. They have been pretty cooperative posers, not too flighty or scared as I shoot them from my truck.

Short-eared Owl in profile

These owls love open fields and grasslands as they hunt small mammals like mice and voles.

Short-eared Owl in it’s habitat

Short-eared owls are widely distributed occurring on every continent except Australia and Antarctica. They are not threatened and seem to be doing well as a species.

Short-eared Owl

Thanks for looking! 🙂

American Kestrels

My habit is to get obsessed with a particular species. For awhile, I chase that species in what I hope is a compulsive but healthy manner, until I have a collection of images that I like. In the pursuit I learn a lot about the animal or bird, where to find, good methods to get close to them, general habits and knowledge to aid in the quest.

American Kestrel

A friend of mine was commenting that he wanted to get some photos of Kestrels. I told him we have many in the area and general places he could find them. He kept expressing, with some frustration, that he was not able to find them and that was all it took to awaken the species challenge in me.

American Kestrel

These are beautiful little birds that are relatively easy to find and photograph. They are widespread across North America and are doing well, not threatened or endangered and fun to watch. They like open fields and border areas. They use trees, power lines, fences and rocks to perch on. They hover over an area to hunt and then dive onto their prey. They eat insects, lizards, small birds and mammals.

Kestrel with Cricket

Kestrels are the smallest bird in the Falcon family and the only Kestrel in America. They are unusual in the Falcon family as the male and female differ subtly in colors.

Kestrel in flight

That Moment When You Realize You are a Bit Different.

I was at a cocktail party/gathering last night and was chatting with folks about my camping trip this week in the desert. The discussion turned to photography and how I had got the nice coyote shots. Without thinking I started telling about finding a dead mule deer, most likely a mountain lion kill, and dragging the carcass to a better spot in good light and hunkering down in the sagebrush to take photos of what ever showed up to eat it. I was thinking Golden Eagle as I had scared one off the deer when hiking up the canyon but this coyote showed up and I snapped away. I then realized I had lost everyone at the dragging the carcass part.

I never stopped to think that my behavior is out of the norm but the expressions on folks faces kind of told me that it is. I have to smile I guess.

Thank goodness I have people in my life who put up with my weird behavior for the sake of a photo.

This year I have started venturing further off the beaten track in search of wild places and wilder animals. I am working on overcoming a lifelong fear of the dark and have been camping out alone. So far so good but I do wish the little critters would not make so much noise at night trying to get into my food. My imagination runs a bit at 2:00 AM.

On this trip I visited Upper High Rock Canyon. Added a new bird to my life list with this Long-eared Owl. I couldn’t get a better shot of it as it was in thick trees but it was a thrill to see one. The coyote, I have mentioned. It got pretty close before the camera shutter sound scared it off. Isn’t amazing how well they blend in to their surroundings?