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.

The IXL Ranch on the Sheldon

I had the opportunity to take a guided tour of the Sheldon Antelope Refuge in the extreme northwest corner of Nevada this last week. The Refuge is a half a million acres of pristine sagebrush steppe that is one of the most remote areas in the lower 48.  No light pollution here and not much else in the way modern conveniences. Livestock were removed and ranching ended on the Refuge in the mid 1990s.  All but 14 wild horses who escaped the round ups were removed last year. They will be rounding up these horses soon to allow the refuge to fully recover and return to native grasses and shrubs.

The refuge represents what is best about Nevada; big, windswept, empty places that are starkly beautiful and dangerous for the ill prepared. Visiting some of the abandoned ranches was a highlight for me. We had a lot of rain and roads into some of these areas were almost impassable. Not sure I would want to drive them in dry weather either. Good 4WD and tough tires are a must.

These photos are of the IXL ranch which is way off the beaten path. I am not sure when it was abandoned but the remoteness of the area and difficulty in getting to it has kept it in relatively good condition. It must have been a busy, lively place at one time. Now it sits silent, fading into the sage.

Exciting Time of the Year for Wild Horse Photography

For many months of the year there is not a lot going on with wild horses to make for good photos. Horses grazing quietly don’t make for dynamic or interesting photos in my opinion. This time of year we have a crop of new foals which are fun to photograph and fighting stallions which are my absolute favorite subject.

After a mare foals, if everything had gone alright, she is ready to breed again in a week or two. So the herd stallions and bachelors are on the hunt for a mare who is receptive. That naturally puts the males in competition.

In this series of photos, the Roan Stallion is the herd stallion. He comes charging up the hill when he sees that a handsome young bay bachelor is making time with one of his mares. She coyly greets the bachelor with arched neck and they are getting to know one another when the Roan inserts himself in between them. They all sniff noses for a few minutes and then the bay presses his attention which results in a fight. The mare slips off while these two settle it.

The Bay bachelor is rebuffed and leaves to try his luck somewhere else.