The Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge is a large complex of refuges on the California/Oregon border. Every winter over 500 Bald Eagles choose to winter here because of the abundance of wintering snow geese and tundra swans that use the refuge through the winter. A couple of years ago I made several trips up there to photograph wildlife but never made it back in 2014. I got a new lens and could not think of a better place to try it out so I made a quick trip up there last week. I think I got a pretty good representation of the wildlife you can find on the refuge in the photographs I took.
Great Blue Heron
I drove east today as the clouds looked like they might be interesting for landscape photos. East is highway 50, known as the loneliest road in America. It is remote and lightly traveled but it is always my route of choice if I am driving east. I have actually never crossed Nevada on I-80. I try to avoid the interstates if I can and travel on back roads. As I am usually on my way somewhere when driving this road and have never stopped to take photos. On my way back from Moab this fall I looked at the scenery with fresh eyes and saw a lot to like.
The light was tricky this afternoon but I took a few images I can share. Sand Mountain is the giant sand dune in one of the photos. It is a singing sand dune two miles long and six hundred feet high. From my vantage point I could see some ATV riders that looked like very small insects speeding up and down the dune. I was standing next to the ruins of one of the old Pony Express stations to take photos of the dunes. It was aptly named Sand Pass station and all that is left are these tumbled down rock walls.
Next on my list was to try to get some photos of Chalk Mountain. It is an interesting stark white peak sitting by itself just west of the Clan Alpine range. I finished up at sunset taking some photos of Fairview peak.
All of these sites are just a few miles from one another just off 50. I saw many more places I would like to photograph. I will be busy out there the next few months.
I took my new 7dmarkII out for its second test run Saturday and got lucky with some action at the water hole. In spite of the wet, cold, weather we have been having, the wild horses are still frequenting the pond. It started out boring with just one lonely bachelor hanging around but soon got very interesting. This young stallion had decided he was ready to take on the big boys and he challenged each stallion who showed up escorting his mares to drink.
Some of the skirmishes were short and it didn’t seem as if the older horses were taking the challenger too seriously. One stallion was not in the mood for the young bachelor and they had several encounters that were interesting to watch.
Most of these fights take a predictable path. The herd stallion runs out to meet the threat, any sexually mature male, they usually sniff noses followed by squealing or roaring and some hoof play and or nipping. Often that’s it and the bachelor runs off; end of drama.
The challenger, I will call White Socks as he has four white socks, was not running off. He was particularly vexing for this bay stallion who was not amused at his nonsense. They mixed it up several times without anyone getting hurt and no lost mares for the Bay.
The bay displayed most of the classic herd stallion behaviors. He moved his mares off and then turned to meet White Socks. In the photo with his head down he is “snaking” the mares out of the way.
Not all the pictures are in good focus. I need to work on that. Still getting to know the camera. The 7dII by the way is able to handle all the fast action without pausing. I will have to watch that. The editing was a real chore. 😉
Over the years I have spent a considerable amount of time around wild horse bands photographing them and observing them. I am by no means any kind of horse expert. I grew up riding and owning horses but not delving into their psychology or behavior puzzles. I love horses, their beauty, power and social structure are endlessly fascinating to me now and I know I am not alone in this interest. Horses have elicited that feeling in humans probably from the beginning of time.
One aspect of their behavior has proven both alarming but ultimately gratifying for me. That is when they switch from fearful animals exhibiting all the behaviors you would expect from prey animals to trusting, curious beings that want to get to know me better. This switch happens so quickly that I can imagine how our ancient ancestors made that mental leap to tame these beasts.
It happens a little differently each time depending on the band make up and the individuals in it. Bachelor bands have always been the most bold. These bands are made up of young stallions who have not formed their own family yet by stealing another stallions mares. They roam around together like most adolescent males looking for trouble, harassing each other, play fighting, making half- hearted attempts to challenge herd stallions they encounter and getting chased off. They are fun to watch.
They usually approach me slowly gathering courage from each other. I have to back away and sometimes shoo them off as I do not want them too close. I am very aware of how I could be hurt or my equipment damaged. I have the lessons and yes, scars, from encounters with domestic horses to temper any sentimentality I may feel. I never forget these are wild animals.
Herd stallions protecting his band of mares and offspring need special care. They can be aggressive and you must be on your guard. I watch his body language carefully and gauge my movements based on his reactions. The horses I usually photograph have seen a lot of people so there is not too much to be worried about.
I visit a stretch of the river that the Nature Conservancy has set aside a lot, and recently a small band of wild horses has taken to frequenting this area. It consists of a flaxen chestnut stallion I am going to call Arod. I don’t usually name the horses I encounter but a friend suggested that name from the Lord of the Rings after seeing photos of him. There are three mares, one is a seal brown, I have named Broken Star for the star on her forehead that is broken in two, and two bay mares without any distinguishing marks. There are two young horses with the band. A colt that looks just like his dad and a bay with a big white star on his or her face. Arod’s Son seems an apt name for the colt. He is devoted to the stallion. He follows him everywhere and copies his behavior. They seem to have a close bond.
Anyway, I took photos of this band on Thanksgiving and I ran into them again yesterday in more open terrain. The stallion was alarmed to see me. I think the camo I wear confuses them and adds to their wary behavior. He charged out of the group toward me in a wide arch coming at me from an angle. I took a few photos and decided to back off and continue on my way.
After a fruitless search for deer I decided to take pictures of the horses on the hike out. I approached carefully making a wide angle around them and sat down on a fallen tree to set up to take pictures. Arod and son came charging out together followed more slowly by Broken Star. At first the body language is highly alert and aggressive and I am on notice as well prepared to do what I need to do to fend him off if need be. Waving my arms and shouting have always been enough in these situations in the past. He eventually slows down and stands off in the distance for awhile. Broken Star joins him and the colt. Arod moves ever closer to me now with a different attitude. The wide eyed, whites showing look is gone. He holds his body and head differently. He seems to want to interact with me up close and personal. He keeps walking in so close that at times my long lens is rendered useless. I wave my arms gently and speak to him and the others in low tones telling them that they are close enough. I can’t risk them getting into my space. They seem to understand that. I have had this happen countless times.
They then relaxed into a family grooming session that illustrates how very relaxed they had become. This sequence of events never fails to amaze and please me. They seem to know they can trust me.
It has become a tradition for me to make sure I spend Thanksgiving morning out enjoying nature as being able to immerse myself in the natural world is an aspect of life I am most grateful for. I had an awesome morning. The mule deer rut is in full swing so I donned all my camo and got out to the river before it got light. I included a couple of photos of me in my camo as some folks have asked to see it. It is far from flattering or fashionable attire but I think you can get an idea how effective it is when seen against a sagebrush backdrop. I bathe in scent killing soap, wash my camo in scent neutralizer and use scent elimination spray before heading into the brush. It certainly worked this morning.
I passed a band of wild horses feeding in a meadow by the water as I made my way deeper into the river bottom. Noting their location I was reassured that no matter what happened I wouldn’t get skunked for photo ops today.
I had not seen any deer as of yet and the woods were quiet. I wondered if I was going to see any deer. I was setting up my tripod and deciding where I should plant myself at the intersection of deer trails and all of the sudden the area was alive with deer. I had a spike and a small two point walking through a small grove of cottonwoods and heard more deer crashing around in the high grass about 75 yards to my left. I could see the large rack of a 4 point over the tops of the grass as he was chasing some does around but could never get a clear photo of him. Meanwhile the two smaller bucks just ignored me as I stood still and shot away at them. The two point heard the camera clicks and was alert to something amiss and never showed himself fully but the spike eventually lay down in the grass close to me but not where I could photograph him.
Something startled all of them at one point and they all ran away. It wasn’t me. Maybe a coyote or another hiker along the trail I hadn’t seen. I sat down in the sagebrush to wait for everything to calm down. A few minutes later a doe came charging through the brush and almost collided with me. We were both startled! Behind her a smaller 4 point came into the clearing so close I couldn’t get a photo. He saw me but couldn’t quite figure me out. He ran off and I got the slightly blurry photo of him as he scrambled off.
I decided to walk through the woods toward the place I had seen the horses. Looked into a thicket of young cottonwoods and saw a sleepy Great Horned Owl. Was able to take a few photos without disturbing him and moved on to the horses.
I have seen this band before and the herd stallion is a particularly good looking flaxen chestnut. He has passed his coloration on to his son complete with white blaze. The other looker in the band is a seal brown mare with a broken star on her face. I got some mediocre photos of the horses the grasses were in the way of some of the shots but all in all a very good day.
A perfectly happy Thanksgiving morning for me.
At the Landscape workshop I attended there was of course a lot of technical talk of composition, light, exposure and post processing tricks and tips. The single most important take away for me was not any of that, but rather the importance of seizing opportunities. I know that seems simple and basic common sense but I needed to hear it. The photographer who taught the class talked of spending weeks in exotic far flung locations to get that one shot that was worth keeping. As he talked about the work and time that went into each beautiful photo he showed us I felt the enlightenment creeping in. Looking at beautiful landscape photography I would always think why can’t I take photos like that? Why do my photos turn out dull and ordinary? Now I knew.
Being honest with myself was the first step. Not getting out of bed to get there for the best light; done that a million times. Not staying late enough for the best light because I did not want to drive or walk out of a place in the dark, done that too many times to count. Hearing the rain in the middle of the night means I should get up and get ready to go at 3:00 AM or seeing the weather report predicting a storm should signal that I need to prepare to be out in it or soon after. That is when the light and clouds will help produce a great photograph. It is too tempting to snuggle into the covers or sit with a hot cup of tea and look out at the weather and think I will go later. Later is too late. You have to go when it isn’t pleasant to go to be where you need to be for those great shots.
Simple right? All of you great landscape photographers already knew this. I guess I knew it but now I will live by it. Yesterday was a perfect example. We got a rainstorm in the night and I thought no, it will be too overcast. Sun came up and the clouds broke beautifully for what would have been great light and drama if I had got myself out in it. Didn’t. I did take advantage of the afternoon evening to take these pictures of the Black Rock Desert with pretty good light and cloud drama but I had to motivate myself to get out there. Obviously it is a lesson I will have to keep learning.
P.S. My luck with wild horses held and got to see two very colorful wild paint horses in the desert.
Yes it has been a long time since I have posted anything. I have been taking photographs but posting them on Facebook because it was easier and the immediate gratification without the discipline of writing a post is seductive isn’t it?
I took a long anticipated trip to and across southern Utah in October and attended a Landscape workshop in Moab. I have always wanted to pursue the art of Landscape photography but it is a daunting endeavor. Wildlife photography for me was more accessible both from a skill and opportunity standpoint. I learned at the workshop what I guess I always knew to be true; Landscape photography is not easy! Far from discouraged I actually left with a new sense of purpose. I will always be interested in shooting wildlife but I want to push myself to try to create landscape images I can be proud of too. So often I am in beautiful places looking for wildlife at sunrise and sunset that shooting landscapes in addition wildlife seems a natural right? We will see how this goes.
I visited Cathedral Valley on the way to Moab. It is a remote area in north Capital Reef National park. A stunning place I would like to visit again and of course shoot some Landscapes. These photos are of two of the most well known monoliths in the Valley, The Temple of the Sun and The Temple of the Moon.
On Tuesday, my husband, our dog Maddie and I made a trip out to the edge of the Smoke Creek Desert. There was an old ranch, the Bonham ranch, abandoned for at least 75 years that I wanted to photograph. I have taken photos of it before but wanted to again as I believe I had learned a few things since the last time.
We got up early to be there at dawn. I thought I remembered where it was. It was still fairly dark when I saw some trees ahead showing where the ranch should be. Trees are a rare thing out here and usually there is something of interest if a place sports a few. At least there might be water.
We slowed down and didn’t see any buildings so we got into one of those discussions as we continued on rattling down the dirt road. “I think that was it.” But there weren’t any buildings?” “Did you see any buildings?” “No but that had to be it.” “It couldn’t have been. There was a ranch house and several outbuildings the last time we were here.” “It has been awhile maybe they burned down.” Ok, turn around let’s give it a look over.”
We were disappointed to say the least to see that all that was left of the ranch were charred ashes and a few trees. It looked like it had been burned down deliberately and everything hauled away. Not sure why that was done after so many years but gone is gone. I had to be satisfied with this photo of the tree at dawn.
We headed back the way we came hoping to see some antelope or desert bighorns. We stopped at Pyramid lake and walked through a lovely stand of Fremont Cottonwoods where I think I salvaged the trip with these black and white shots of dead trees.
The most famous Tufa Rock is found around Mono Lake in California. It is a popular destination for photographers. I have not made my way down there yet though I may soon as this type of landscape photography is of interest to me. We have the same type of Tufa rock formations in and around Pyramid Lake. When we have cloudy days, and I have time I try to get out there to photograph the rocks. Last week the clouds and my schedule aligned so I was able to get a few shots that I liked.
It is the time of year that spring surprises pop up all around us. Trees and flowers blooming, grass greening and leaves starting faintly to show in the cottonwoods along the river. It is also the time of year that the wild horse bands start showing up with new members. I took my camera out yesterday and was fortunate to find several mares who were amiable to having a family photo taken.
The big seal brown horse with the large white star is a stallion that I have been photographing for 5 years. His band of mares changes membership from time to time but he has always had the same red roan mare alongside him. He passes that big white star on to many of his offspring. I have included a couple of photos of his foals with the distinctive white mark on their face.
The stallions are constantly fighting over mares and stealing them when they can. I caught a couple having a bit of a scuffle on their way to water. I liked the way the dust in the evening light softened the look of the battle.