To Early for Babies

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.

Still in Their Winter Coats

These Stallions let their bands get too close too each other going to water so I saw some action.

Getting Warmed Up
Full Tilt

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.

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!

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?

Back to the Sheldon

After having such an extraordinary experience last week, I just had to go back. I found that the Antelope/Pronghorn were well into their rut and small groups have formed into large herds. The action was fast paced as big bucks were chasing does around and fighting with each other for the females.

Lots of photos to edit, but here are a few of my favorites so far.

In Their World

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.

What is it? Coyote or other?

I have been hearing rumors about a white coyote for the last couple of months out near where I work. My work place sits on a sagebrush bench about 2 miles above the river. There is a gas station food mart nearer the river and rumor has it the white coyote hangs out there along with normal colored coyotes, being fed by truck drivers and other patrons. It is a very bad idea to feed wildlife by the way. We have sadly had to deal with aggressive coyotes this summer, who have attacked co-workers in our parking lot in search of a hand out. This problem is a direct result of being fed by people. They have lost their fear of people and look to humans as a food source. Fortunately no persons have been hurt but we have had to contact Wildlife officials to deal with the coyote issue.

On to the puzzle. I had not seen the legendary white coyote until this morning. I set up my blind at a pond near the river to attempt to take heron and egret photos. No birds obliged me this morning but this normal colored coyote popped out of the brush and I got a few shots of him. As I was walking back to the car I heard something crashing through the brush and got a glimpse of something white. My curiosity aroused I ventured in and scared Whitey out into the open. He or she was with a plain coyote.

I submit the following photos with the question; do you think this is a white coyote? Nature does produce such anomalies. Or is it a dog-coyote mix? I looked closely at the photos and I think it is a coyote. If it has dog in it can only be a trace. The body, ears, muzzle and eyes all look classically coyote to me. I am not a wildlife biologist though, hence the seeking of opinions. Thanks in advance for weighing in!

**note – fencing seen in one of the photos is to protect the trees from beavers. The animal is not in an enclosure.

Summer Obsession

I did not realize how long it has been since I posted anything! Summer is a tough time. It is hot out and it is not my favorite time of the year to be stumping around looking for animals. Combine that with some family visits and other distractions, makes for a two month absence.

I have been hanging out in my backyard with my camera and favorite summer obsession; Hummingbirds.

Last fall I replaced a lot of my shrubs with plants guaranteed to attract hummingbirds and waited anxiously all winter and spring to, one, see if they survived and thrived, two, if they really attracted the tiny birds. Yes and yes to all questions. I have a plethora of birds buzzing, eating  and fighting in my backyard.

I planted Agastache Blue Blazes, Agastache Desert Solstice and Monarda Bee Balm. The Hummers love them all.

These are a few of my favorite photos so far.