I’ve been spending a lot of time this summer in the center of the state as I have a cow elk tag and a mule deer buck tag in units that are in that area. I have been combining scouting with site seeing and have ticked off some places I have wanted to visit and explore for a long time.
One of those places is an old stage stop located in a remote canyon down a very dusty road. At times I had to four wheel drive it to get through the powdery dust that was as deep and treacherous as a snowfall.
So this had to have been built before the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869. It has to be at least 155 years old. It is still in great condition due to the solid rock construction. It sports a dirt floor and elaborate chimney. It would be pretty tight quarters. I rode in one of those authentic stagecoaches up in Virginia City a few summers ago. Very uncomfortable ride! I can’t imagine bumping along all day in one of those and then “resting” here!
There was an old stone corral as well but it was hard to photograph. I also took photos of some wild horses, golden eagle and a cooperative Western Meadowlark.
When we think of hummingbirds we tend to think of perpetual motion, speed and agility. It may come as a surprise to read that they actually spend quite a bit of time perched and at rest. I hung two perches designed for Hummingbirds near a couple of the feeders I have in the backyard and they use them regularly.
Hummingbirds are fiercely territorial so perching near food sources is common. They also conserve energy by doing this.
The birds use a variety of perches around my backyard. Any bare branch is attractive to them. They also perch on dead flower stems.
I have several sculpture objects around the yard that are Hummingbird related and it is especially amusing to me when they perch on those.
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.
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. 🙂
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.
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”
(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”
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.
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?