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 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.
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.
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.
If you look closely you can see a trout in the Osprey’s right talon.
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.
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.
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. 🙂
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.
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.
These owls love open fields and grasslands as they hunt small mammals like mice and voles.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
I was able to spend a few days this past week up on the vast and lonely Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge. It is one of my favorite places on the planet. It is the fourth largest wildlife refuge in the lower 48 at 573,504-acres. You pretty much have the place to yourself on most days. In the three days I spent there I saw a total of 5 people. Two were in a car, two on touring motorcycles and Paul who is the acting camp host at Virgin Valley, distributing toilet paper to the few primitive pit toilets found at the scattered campgrounds throughout the Refuge. The brief chat Paul and I had was my only conversation.
The first day and a half I did what most people do and drove around looking for antelope and what other animals I could find to look at and take photos of. It is not my favorite way to interact with a place but the landscape can be a bit daunting as you look out as far as the eye can see across windswept sagebrush steppe. I had limited success and more importantly was not enjoying the lack of intimacy with my surroundings so I decided to try my luck with my blind.
I set up as it was getting light near a water source in the shadow of an old round rock corner post. Out here, where the ground is rocky, hard and wood hard to come by, they use horse fence shaped into a barrel filled with rock to build stability into fences. Cattle were removed from the Refuge in the early 1990s and all the wire removed in the last decade, but some of these relics of ranching are still around.
I barely got the blind draped around me and the action started hot and heavy. There were about 25 sage-grouse across the small water hole from me. Then almost immediately the antelope started coming in for their morning drink in singles, doubles and larger groups. Most did not even glance my way. One or two can be seen looking at the camera as the clicks alerted them that something was not quite right but even those who were suspicious took their drink. While I did not see them, I was serenaded by coyotes fairly close several times that morning.
Deer came to drink in several groups. The females with fawns in one group and big bucks hanging out like frat boys in another. One bachelor bunch made up of three big guys, big three and 4 points; had a small two point tagging along with them. I am sure this was his first year away from mom. As they finished drinking and made their way back up the slope the big boys all took turns poking two point in the butt as if to say, “hurry along there son.”
It is breeding time for antelope so it was fun to watch the big bucks chase off the youngsters. They would spot each other from quite a distance and charge off at great speed.
As the morning wore on, Northern Harriers started dive bombing the sage-grouse. They do kill and eat sage-grouse but I think mostly younger birds. I did not see them take a grouse in this instance. I have some photos of the harassment I will share in another post.
At times I hardly knew where to point the camera there was so much going on! It was amazing to watch animals behaving naturally and feeling like I was truly getting a peak into their lives.