Sunday, January 31, 2010

Southern Arizona Butterflies

Clearly, the Tucson Botanical Garden provides wonderful butterfly photo opportunities. However, Southern Arizona has it's share of beautiful butterflies as well. Obviously, harder to find and photograph, but nonetheless gorgeous and exciting when you do. Here are a few of Southern Arizona's best: The first photo is a Black Swallowtail taken in the Chiracahua Mountains. The second is a Queen Butterfly taken in the Galiuro Mountains. The third is a Gulf Fritillary taken in the Tucson Mountains. The fourth is a Giant Swallowtail taken outside the Tucson Botanical Garden. And the fifth is of a Pipevine Swallowtail taken in the Huachuca Mountains. Most of the butterfly photos are taken in August and September during or just after our monsoon season. There are also opportunities in the Spring if we get some rain and have a good wildflower season. As you can imagine the more pollen, nectar available the better the opportunity for finding butterflies. 

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Still More Butterfly Magic

Staying at the Tucson Botanical Garden for one more day, I thought I would share three more Butterfly Photos. The top is a Julia Longwing, a pollen eater which gives it a little longer life, i.e. several months. Its range is Brazil to Southern Texas and Florida. The middle photo is a Common Rose from India and nearby countries. It is common to gardens in India, yet also found at 8,000 feet in the mountains. The red body, slow peculiar flight, bright colouration and pattern of the wings are meant to indicate to predators that this butterfly is inedible, being well protected by the poisons it has sequestered from its larval food plant. It also emits a nasty smelling substance when handled to further enhance its unappealing qualities. Hence it is rarely attacked by predators, a strategy so successful, that edible butterflies have evolved to mimic it, like the female of the Common Mormon.  The bottom photo is a Zebra Longwing found primarily in Central America, but as far North as Florida and Georgia and as far South as Venezuela. It is another pollen and nectar eater so it too has a longer life.

Friday, January 29, 2010

More Butterfly Magic

One of the nice things about photographing butterflies is that they often are on flowers. This means you not only get the beautiful color of the butterfly but the flower as well. The top photo is a leopard lacewing heliconian, found in the South Asian tropics. The colorful male on the left and duller female on the right. The bottom photo is a banded orange heliconian whose range is Brazil to Central Mexico. Prior to their mating season, banded orange males congregate by the hundreds on patches of moist soil that contain mineral salts. When they cannot find such deposits, they look for animals to drink salty secretions from their skin and nostrils. These photos were also taken at the Tucson Botanical Garden.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Butterfly Magic

Each year from October through March the Tucson Botanical Garden has an exhibit of live tropical butterflies from around the world. Each month a new focus: Asia, Australia, Africa, or Central America. It is a photographer's paradise. 20 to 25 different species each month. The photos above are of  the Cairns Birdwing from Australia. In the top photo the male is on the left (with the green coloring on the underside) the female is on the right. In the second photo, as you can see, they are doing what males and females do when they get together -- male on the bottom this time. If you plan a trip to Tucson anytime between October and March, definitely check out this exhibit. You need to be prepared, though. It is in a   greenhouse with temperatures between 90 and 95 and humidity even higher. So, I always take a hand towel with me. It may also take a few minutes for your camera lens to adjust. But, well worth it. You'll love your photos.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Sonoran Desert Storms

Well, another storm is on its way. So far January has had more than twice its average rainfall. Of course, in Tucson its not all that difficult considering how little rainfall we usually get. But, weather sometimes makes photography difficult. Bright sun for example which either washes out the subject or casts shadows on the subject; and pouring rain which, well, I guess is obvious. But Tucson has amazing skies that can produce some pretty spectacular photos too. In the summer, especially during our monsoon season (August) we get numerous lightning storms. This brings photographers from all over the world. They'll drive up to Windy Point on Mount Lemmon and set up tripods and take time-lapse photos of lighting strikes happening simultaneously all over the city. In the winter, broken clouds can create gorgeous 360 degree sunsets.  But also, even the dark and ominous can create wonderful photo ops. This stormy photo is of a mesquite tree pretty much standing alone here in the Sonoran Desert. It reminds me of something from Harry Potter.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Fir Island Snow Geese

Snow Geese. This photo is of Fir Island in Washington State. Mount Baker (12,000 feet) is in the background. Fir Island is essentially sea level. Makes for a wonderful contrast. Each winter some 10 - 15,000 snow geese arrive from Siberia. Not as big -- or, quite as noisy as the Sandhill Cranes, Snow Geese nonetheless make for a beautiful sight. This was one of those photos I thought was possible, but not necessarily probable. Four geese flying, four peaks on Mt. Baker, just the right place at just the right time. Good enough for an award even. Migrating birds are creatures of habit, wintering in the same spot each year. So, with a little research you can usually find them. Once you find them, it is mostly up to your own creativity to find a "great photo."  This photo was taken using 35mm slide film. Composition is important although it can be somewhat altered in the digital editing process (unlike 35mm). But, whenever possible try to think about composition when taking a photo. It will improve the result significantly.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Wintering Sandhill Cranes

25,000 Sandhill Cranes make quite a sight. And, quite a lot of noise as well. They are not small birds by any stretch. Taller than bald eagles with wings almost as long, when they move "en masse" they can darken the sky. Typically, wintering cranes will head out during the day to neighboring farmlands to feed, returning late in the day. At Whitewater Draw in Arizona, though you can usually find several thousand of them all day long. Some come. Some go. But, usually plenty to see.  Whitewater Draw is about an hour and 20 minutes southeast of Tucson.  January, February, and March are it's best times. Sandhill Cranes, Ross' Geese, Snow Geese, White Faced Ibis, Great Blue Heron, Great White Egret, many varieties of sandpipers, Killdeer, Barn Owl, Great Horned Owl, Long Eared Owl, Burrowing Owl, and the southwest's own Vermillion Flycatcher. Oh, and Cooper's Hawk, Sharp Shinned Hawk, Swainson's Hawk, Northern Harrier Hawk, and Red Tail Hawk. Once in a while a Bald Eagle. Sound like a good trip? It is.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Bosque del Apache

It's January and that means winter migratory birds are in abundance, especially the Sandhill Cranes. Here in Arizona they like the area around the Willcox Playa, and in particular Whitewater Draw (which I have talked about before).  In New Mexico, they like Bosque del Apache. The BdA wildlife refuge is 58,000 acres ranging from 4500 to 6000 feet in elevation. Although it only gets 7 or so inches of rainfall per year there, the Rio Grande flows right through the middle creating several "lakes" or ponds.  What I like about photographing at BdA is that it is easy to get close to the cranes. I had to actually "zoom out" to get this photo. Most of these winter locations have Canada Geese, Ross' Geese, Snow Geese, and sometimes White Fronted Geese, plus thousands of ducks. It really is a wonderful experience complete with the sounds -- loud sounds of nature's squawking and quacking birds.  

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Maligne Lake Moose

The human body doesn't seem to be as suited for cold like other animals. Even less suited as you get older, i.e. kids love the snow! Grandparents move to Arizona. I remember taking our daughter Ashley on a photo trip to Alberta many years ago. We drove up to Maligne Lake where we saw a moose eating what she could find along the lake's edge. I thought it would be nice to get a photo of Ashley standing next to the moose. (I would not do this today, so I don't recommend this behavior). I kept asking Ashley to move back a couple of steps. Her steps at this point were about two inches at most. Finally, I got her where I wanted and said one, two, three and snapped the photo just as she put her stretched out hands on top of her head like antlers. I thought how cute. Of course, the first thing she did when we got home four or five days later was run to mommy saying, "Mommy, mommy, daddy made me stand too close to a moose and I was scared..." I tossed the photo so as to not encourage that sort of thing. On a subsequent trip up to Maligne Lake, I passed an open field about the size of a football field. There were trees lining the road so it was not easily to spot this odd brown "spot" in the middle of this otherwise white field of snow. I pulled off to the side of the road, and walked about a half mile until I was about 30 feet away from this moose cow. I then sat down in the snow and started taking photos. Then just sat admiring her. (It helped that I had on long-johns and was adequately protected from the cold). It was so peaceful and serene. She never moved; occasionally put her nose in the snow; but, we both seemed content and happy surrounded by mother nature's beauty. Moose may be gangly looking, but their coats are truly a beautiful dark chocolate brown as gorgeous as mink.

Friday, January 22, 2010

From Eeyore to Ferdinand

Sticking with the wintery theme for another day. The National Bison Range was established in 1908  as part of the National Wildlife Refuge System. It is 25,000 acres in the Moiese Mountains of Western Montana. There is but one road through the refuge, Red Sleep Mountain Drive. It is closed in the winter and at other times when poor weather warrants. I was there one winter searching for any of 500 or so bison present on the refuge and not having much luck. Discouraged, but persistent I finally came up and over a bend, and there he was in all magnificence standing about 75 yards away. One lonely bull. No other bison in sight. Although, most bison seem to be more like Ferdinand, I still approach as I would any wild and dangerous animal. That means very slowly, and diagonally, until I get the angle I want. Every once in a while we would look at each other, and eventually, snap, I had my photo.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Eeyore and the Blustery Day

Our daughter called this morning from her home in Flagstaff where they have several feet of snow and more coming. Here in Tucson, it's not cold enough for snow but it is a storming blustery day. Our grandson Noah, like many kids his age, loves "Winnie the Pooh". And, when he visits we watch Winnie and the Blustery Day and a Day for Eeyore. Eeyore is a burro and one of Winnie's friends. So, it made me think of one of my burro photos from Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge that I took in January of last year. They are such beautiful animals. I never would have thought that until I saw them in the wild. As for now, it's hoping the wind won't do too much damage. "Oh, Bother!"

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Minus 50 degrees, just a walk in the park

It probably seems like I says this a lot, (probably like politicians saying "nothing is more important than jobs" when stumping in Michigan, or "nothing is more important than social security" when stumping in Florida, or "nothing is more important than American's farmers" when stumping in Iowa), but Mountain Goats are one of my favorite animals to find and photograph. Generally they live on rocky mountains above 5,000 feet and are the largest mammals (in North America) to live above 13,000 feet. They are protected from the elements by their woolly white double coats. The fine, dense wool of their undercoats is covered by an outer layer of longer, hollow hairs (much like polar bear hairs). In spring, mountain goats moult by rubbing against rocks and trees, much like elk and moose shed their "velvet". The billies (males) shed their extra wool first. Typically, the nannies (females) are pregnant at this time and shed after the weather turns warmer. In the winter, their coats help them to withstand temperatures as low as −50 °F  and winds of up to 100 mph. In this photo you can see that the goat is starting to shed his outer coat in the area of his left forearm. I like this photo, partly because of the "story" about my climbing to get a view from above. But, also you can see the 130 foot lodgepole pines far below. It adds wonderful contrast as well as perspective on just where this mountain goat and I are. A billy stands about one meter (3 ft) at the shoulder to the waist. Male goats also have longer horns and a longer beard than nannies. Male mountain goats can weigh up to 300 pounds; females up to 200 pounds. And, when you see them it looks like solid muscle, especially throughout the shoulder area. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Glacier National Park Mountain Goat

Yesterday, I mentioned ice climbing, how about this? This is a several hundred foot sheer cliff in Glacier National Park (Montana).  I watched for an hour as this mountain goat climbed from the river bottom to the forest shelf. The mountain goat's feet are designed for climbing steep, rocky slopes, with pitches of 60 degrees or more. The feet have inner pads that provide traction and cloven hooves that can be spread apart whenever needed. Dewclaws, which are like secondary hooves on the back of their feet give them a better grip to help to keep them from slipping.  I think of our feet -- toes, in particular. We can clench the toes, but that is about the extent of our control. Mountain goats, on the other hand, must have complete control of their feet, much more like the control we have over the fingers in our hands.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Weeping Wall

As you pass the Athabasca Glacier, from Jasper south into Banff you come across Weeping Wall. I thought rock climbing looked dangerous. Ice Climbing takes it to a whole new level. With Ice Climbing you are essentially climbing a frozen waterfall. However, in late Spring after the thaw, the Mountain Goats that winter high about the Icefields, head down these "walls" to where there is new vegetation. It's really quite a sight. I remember finding a goat (with my binoculars) near the top of the wall, much to far for a photo. So, I decided to have my lunch. About 30 minutes later, I could see that the goat wasn't alone. There was a small "puff ball" bouncing along behind. This "peeked" my interest further. So, I waited. After another hour the nanny and kid were nearly to the bottom, where I was able to take several rolls of film. These are truly majestic looking animals.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

King of the Mountains

The mountain goat is one of my favorite animals to photograph. This one, high above the Columbia Icefields in Alberta, Canada, reminds me of the male African lion. It's not just the wonderful thick main, but the attitude. It's like, "I'm king and I know it." The mountain goat has few predators. This is because it lives high up on mountain cliffs. Bears are not nearly agile enough. Mountain lions are agile, but can't chase a mountain goat in this terrain. Strangely, the only predator is the golden eagle. The golden eagle will target young kids and fly close enough to cause them to loose their footing, thus falling to their death. More tomorrow.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Osprey Family

We don't often see Osprey in the southern part of Arizona. This is probably due to the fact that we don't often see water in the southern part of Arizona. No water, no fish. No fish, no Osprey. But, in British Columbia, sooner or later you'll see osprey at every lake you visit. Just north of Merritt, along the highway is a telephone pool with a large nest, occupied yearly by Ospreys. Maybe the same one each year. Don't know for sure. It too, becomes a ritual; something to look forward to. As I leave Merritt, heading north, still about 10 miles away from the telephone pole, I start thinking about whether the osprey will be in the nest, and whether there will be any chicks. I was excited to find this family on one of my trips.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Blue Lake Loon

I owe you the Blue Lake Loon story. Blue Lake is a small crystal clear lake halfway between Merritt and Kamloops in British Columbia whose only access is 4x4 with high clearance.  I caught my largest trout (8 pounds) at Blue Lake. Daughter Ashley caught her largest trout (7 pounds) there. Whenever we went there we were visited by the Blue Lake Loons. The loons could hear  the "zinging" of the reel from the other side of the lake. It was like sounding the "dinner bell." But it wasn't easy -- for us or the loons. These trout would always take your line out into the backing. They could go down 50 feet or more. I remember once, fishing in the deepest part of the lake when a trout took my line so quickly and so fiercely, with the reel zinging and zinging and zinging, that I thought I had a record trout on my line. I watched as the trout kept taking more and more line, until "snap" the fly, the tippet, the line, the backing were gone. I was left with nothing on my reel. Everything was gone. We had to stop fishing and drive into Kamloops so I could get new fly line and backing. I also remember my first catch on the first trip. The fish was being chased underwater by a loon while still holding my fly in its jaw. I watched it happening beneath since the water was so clear. Finally, the loon got the fish and I came up empty. So, it was with future trips. The first fish caught was always taken by a loon. In fact, it seem to become a ritual, a ceremonial offering to the Loon "God." The photo above was a loon sitting next to me waiting for me to catch my first fish of the day. I must say I fed him well over the years.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

River on Fire

I am not a "landscape" photographer. I find most landscapes un-photographable. This first occurred to me when I was at the Grand Canyon. Like 5 million other people who were at the Grand Canyon that year, I had my camera and was trying to figure out how to take a photo that could capture the magnificently visual image I was experiencing first hand. Actually, I am not even sure that the human eye can comprehend the expansiveness, depth, and color of the Grand Canyon. The analyst inside of me figured that if 50% of the people visiting the Grand Canyon brought a camera and took an average 20 photos, that would be 50 million photos per year. That means that in the last 50 years, over 2 billion photos have been taken of the Grand Canyon. What is the likelihood of my being able to take the "quintessential" photo? That doesn't mean I don't appreciate landscapes, I certainly do. And it doesn't mean I never take a landscape photo. Case in point: I was traveling over the Canadian Continental Divide when this view took my breath away. I quickly set up the tripod and took this photo, which did win an award. But, while it might give you an idea of what I was excited about, it just doesn't compare to the real thing. I think, "I didn't really capture anything, most of it got away." On the other hand, the photo does remind me of the experience, and for that reason alone it was worth it.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Life among the Dandelions

I am usually focused on wildlife photography. However, every now and then, with camera in hand, I come across something else that strikes me as worth a photo. As I travel through wildernesses I often pass farm or ranch land. I must admit I rarely think about; guess I am too focused on getting where I want to get and picturing in my mind what I want to photograph. For some reason, this particular trip while headed up to the Kamloops lakes, I saw this goat with its kid. The goat was stand on hind feet with front feet on the fence in order to get high enough to eat the leaves he couldn't reach from all fours. The kid seemed more interested in me than in eating. As such, he started walking toward me in this field of dandelions. My heart -- not my head -- said "stop." This is worth a photo, if only for yourself; if only to remember the little things where nature and civilization collide.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Call of the Loons

Wells Gray is north of Kamloops in British Columbia. Southwest of Kamloops are several great fly fishing lakes. One of those is called Island Lake (used to be called Big Ok Lake). It's near the Highland Valley Cooper Mine (largest open pit cooper mine in Canada and one of the largest in the world). Anyway, Island Lake is a trophy lake. The Kamloops Trout is truly one of the most beautiful fish in the world. Their skin is like silk. But, the Kamloops Trout also have a well deserved reputation for being  large (3 to 10 pounds),  difficult to catch, and even more difficult to land. 10 to 20 minutes is not unusual for landing. Like many of the lakes in British Columbia the Common Loon is a homesteader. Listening to males and females calling for each other is a delight. Above you have a female on her nest and a male not far off "protecting her."  I had been fishing in the area for a couple of hours in a "float tube" so they let me get a little closer than normal. As a general rule I don't like to approach birds in their nests and think that's a good policy to comply with. With my camera/lens today I would not have needed to get as close as I did to get the same (or better) photo. Maybe tomorrow I'll share a loon story from Blue Lake (southeast of Kamloops).

Monday, January 11, 2010

Mushrooms can be fun, not just eaten

We are still at Wells Gray in British Columbia for another day. I think it is important for a wildlife photographer to be willing to cherish the "little things." There are many days that you look for the large mammals without luck, and as a result become disappointed. And yet, you may have passed up many opportunities to be creative and have fun nonetheless. Mushrooms are a good example of that. I wasn't out looking for mushrooms to photograph. I was looking for bear and moose. Yet, something caught my eye with this mushroom.  Maybe it looks like a father, mother, and baby. Maybe its because the little one seems protected by the larger ones. Maybe it is because they seem vulnerable and alone in the woods. Maybe its the unique shape that looks like a closed umbrella. We all see things from different perspectives and process what we see in different ways. (I suspect that's what creates the political climate we're in). And, while it may be that some people will look at this photo and not give it a second thought, some might really see it like I do, and appreciate its natural beauty.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

When You Don't See Moose

Much of the time taking a photograph is obvious. You see a moose in the river, elk jousting, a bear in the tree. But, there are other times when a photograph is there, you just have to look for it. I remember a later trip to Wells Gray where I wasn't having much luck. I walked my "moose trail" but there were no moose, no bear, and no elk. So, I started looking for other "photo ops". There is much beauty in this world that we take for granted. It is a reminder to literally stop and smell the roses. These photos of the mushroom and the puff ball may not be as exciting as a bear standing 15 feet away, but they are quite beautiful nonetheless. What's more, they don't run or fly away. You can get the angle you want. In both of these cases it was lying on my stomach using my elbows as tripods. I thought they turned out pretty nice.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

First Wildlife Photo Trip

On my first "photo only" trip I went to Wells Gray in British Columbia, where I came across this elk. Judging from the size of his antlers, it was probably late June (I didn't keep good records the first couple of years and it was before digital). Male elk start growing their antlers in the March/April timeframe. They grow very rapidly. In general age determines how big they get. As they grow the antlers are covered in "velvet." During this time male elk must be careful not to cut or bruise the velvet. That makes male elk a little easier to get close to and a little easier to photograph,  -- that's if you can find them, of course. The challenge for the wildlife photographer is to get a "open shot." This guy was deep in the woods. I probably took two rolls of film to get this photo. But, I really didn't know what I had until I got home and developed the film. What made this photo even more special, was the tongue. Although it was one of my first wildlife photos, it is still one of my favorite elk photos today.

Friday, January 8, 2010

American Marten

Wildlife photography is sometimes a matter of seconds. Rarely with a second chance. I was in Wells Gray, British Columbia early one morning. Wells Gray is a marvelous place. It is over 1.3 million acres, which is more than twice the size of Rhode Island. 90 percent of Wells Gray can be accessed only by foot or boat. We are talking wilderness here. I was driving along its only road to a trail head I like to take (great moose and bear country). And I came across an American Marten, which of course I startled. He was by the side of the road but ran into the woods when he saw me. Why couldn't I have gotten to that spot ten seconds earlier? Nonetheless, I stopped where I had seen him, looking into the woods wondering where he went. Should I get out and go look for him -- or, is he long gone. Then while I am still debating with myself, out of the woods he came to pick up the squirrel that he had caught but dropped when he saw me. A second chance! And, I was ready.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Adult Cooper's Hawk

Continuing with the Cooper's Hawk. This one was sitting on a branch in an open field along Highway 83 near Sonoita, Arizona. He sat there very willingly and proudly showing off his beauty. Cooper's and Sharp Shinned are very similar in coloration both in juvenile and adult phases. The juvenile phase (shown yesterday) with brown streaks on the breast and brown wings changes to this orange breast and blue-grey wing combination. The only real difference is that the Sharp Shinned is much smaller; about the size of a crow, 11 inches tall, 23 inch wingspan. The Cooper's Hawk is 16.5 inches tall with a 31 inch wingspan. Both have similar diets, i.e. small birds. The long tail and relatively short wing span allow them to fly through trees much easier than Red Tailed Hawk which has a wingspan of 49 inches and whose diet is mainly small animals. Although the Sharp Shinned and Cooper's are found throughout North America like the Red Tailed Hawk, they are far fewer in number. We feel fortunate that we see them here daily -- and year round.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Cooper's Hawk Juvenile

We probably have about one hundred gambel's quail, maybe two hundred mourning doves, 40 lesser goldfinches, 40 house finches, and more sparrows that you can count, on our property daily. With that much "food" it is not too surprising that we also have great horned owls, cooper's hawks, sharp shinned hawks, and harris hawks. The hawks like sitting on the top of a very tall (dead by lightning) mesquite tree. The cooper's and sharp shinned will also perch in other mesquites or palo verdes just ten feet off the ground. We sometimes surprise each other that way. But, sometimes one will just sit waiting patiently for food to fly by. In these cases I can get reasonably close for a photo. This juvenile cooper's hawk let me take photos from a couple different angles without flying off. I finally said, "thank you," and left him to do his business -- me, too.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

One More Owl Photo

I thought just one more owl photo. This one is another favorite. She looks so regal. And, the bark of the eucalyptus tree provides a wonderful background. Since the incubation period is long, both male and female sit on the eggs. It is very difficult to identify the sexes from their appearance. However, the female is larger, so if side by side it can be done. And, since coloration is a little different on each, once sex determination is made, it is easier to know which is which. The Great Horned Owl feeds on other birds, rabbits, squirrels, raccoons,  and is perhaps the only predator of skunks. They usually hunt from above, swooping down to pick their prey off the ground. They can carry animals several times heavier than themselves. However, they will hunt from the ground occasionally. They have amazing digestive systems that allow them to swallow smaller prey whole and later regurgitate pellets composed of bone, fur, and other parts. And, of course, they have a wonderfully soothing series of "hoo hoos."

Monday, January 4, 2010

Continuing with our Great Horned Owls

I have many Great Horned Owl photos, and everyone has their favorite. This one with the blue-green leaves of the eucalyptus tree creates a wonderful background and allows for the contrast necessary to make the owl stand out. Owls are one of my favorite birds to photograph. If they are partially hidden by leaves or branches, "forget-about-it," because unlike other birds they are not likely to move for quite a while. But, occasionally they are out in the open where a picture is possible. They look at you with those big brown and gold eyes as if they were as interested in you as you are in them. Then, he turns and looks away as if to say, "Actually, you're no big deal" or as we'd say in Jersey, "Forget-About-It."

Sunday, January 3, 2010


Here are a pair of owlets from this year's clutch. My observations over the past 7 plus years has been that the male and female Great Horned Owl breeds in January or February, the female owl sits in her nest for a couple of weeks before laying her eggs; that usually there are two or three eggs per clutch; that the eggs remain unhatched for four to five weeks; that the young sit in the nest for four or five weeks more; that they are out of the nest and on nearby branches or the ground (where they are most vulnerable) for two or three weeks; that they then begin to fly with confidence but remain in the surrounding area for four or five months;  and then they fly off to find a new home, before the male and female start the cycle all over again.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Owl who fell from the nest - Part Two

Here is that same owl that was rescued. The story of his mom and dad is both happy and sad. They had at least 7 years together producing little ones each year. Three years ago, however, the mother, after her babies were hatched and still in the nest was found dead on the ground. Ursula called me in tears. There was no sign of a fight, so we remain unsure of why she died. But, as nature would have it, the father took care of the three owlets, providing food and comfort. All three babies survived and flew off to find their own territory about five months later. The question was, "Would the male find another female?" The answer was "yes." About three months later, a young female arrived. There were no babies that year however. And, sadly, about one year after the female died, the male died. Now, there is a new female but no male. Once again, though, sadness was replace with joy, as a new male arrived. There have been two litters since. All seems well with Mother Nature, proclaiming an endless cycle of life and death.

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Owl who fell from the nest

While the great horned owl still is in our pine tree, maybe I should start at the beginning. Our neighbor, Ursula, has been here in Tucson for ten years. Ever since she arrived there have been great horned owls living in her eucalyptus trees. The owls would nest in those trees and produce two or three (four once) baby owlets. One February morning I got a call from Ursula. She was worried because a baby owl had fallen (or been pushed) out of the nest and was on the ground. Now, a baby bird on the ground is not likely to last 24 hours; far too many coyotes and bobcats around. So I went right over (with camera, of course). After determining that the little guy seemed in good health, I took some photos like the one above. Notice the talons are nearly as long as the owl is tall at this point. Very awkward looking. The solution was to create a new nest out of a heavy duty cardboard box and secure it in a nearby tree, then place the owlet in the box and hope for the best. To our surprise and pleasure, the next morning we found a dead sparrow in the box. Evidently, either mom or dad caught the sparrow and placed it in the box during the night. After a couple of weeks the little guy ventured out of the box and on to a branch. After another week he would be on a nearby tree. After a couple of months he would sit in the taller eucalyptus trees with his brothers/sisters. By September all the offspring had left to find their own territories. It feels good sometimes to save an animal's life. It reminds us of how precious life is. Maybe I'll get around to sharing some other "life-saving stories" like the rabbit that fell into our pool -- or, a fringe myotis (a beautiful little bat) that was knocked unconscious flying into a window, or the rattlesnake that was insistent to lie in the middle of the road.  But, for the next couple of days I think I'll stick to owl stories.