Sunday, February 28, 2010

Senegal Parrot in Tucson?

I was eating my lunch by the pool today watching all the birds, and thinking what a life. And I was thinking about all of the birds and animals that have passed our way. Animals like Kitt Fox and Desert Gray Fox, Javelinas, Bobcats, Coyotes, 10 different kinds of snakes and as many different kinds of lizards including the gila monster; and birds like wild turkeys, roadrunners, and Senegal Parrots. WHAT?? Senegal Parrot? Aren't they only found in Africa? Well, natively, yes. But, sure enough I remember eating lunch one day by the pool and seeing this very unique looking bird. Looked like a parrot, in fact. Went and got my camera first. Took this picture of him sitting on the end of an outdoor bench. Then had to go on line to figure out what it was, since it wasn't in any of my North America bird books. He hung around for a while. I tried to get close to see if he was friendly and I could "catch" him. (Hoping then to find someone who may have "owned" him as a pet). There's a very good Tucson Animal Rescue Center here that could have cared for it. But, it wasn't to be. He flew away moments later.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Our Little Friends Are Back

Yesterday, we were talking with some guests in the living room, when just outside the big picture window was this Harris Antelope Ground Squirrel. He was standing on a rock looking in at us. (I didn't have my camera so this is an earlier photo.) I was reminded of just how much fun they are. They stay underground during the cold winter months although they do not "hibernate." But it is starting to warm up here so we are starting to see them. Their tail is bushy and in the summer months held back over it's body -- as an umbrella to keep them cool. When they run they are like those little Matchbox Cars of the 60's and 70's. They zoom around as if hydroplaning. You can't see the feet move at all. Although, they look like Chipmunks they are in fact, squirrels and only found in Southern Arizona.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

British Columbia Bighorn Sheep

Our last stop this blog trip is British Columbia. Spences Bridge is about 60 miles northwest of Merritt in Central BC. It is along the Thompson River (a good river to fish) which flows into the Fraser River. Bighorn sheep live in the mountains in that area but come down to the river for water frequently during the summer. Their easiest access in at the town of Spences Bridge. I had read that this was a good site to find sheep so off I went. And, they were right. My first try was successful, finding this young ram and six ewe's munching along the side of the mountain road. This was an early photograph of mine -- while I was still do some flyfishing. And, although I have taken better photos of the years I still like this one -- my first Bighorn Sheep in the wild.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Alberta Bighorn

Continuing our journey further north into Alberta, Canada now. This is the Canadian Rockies above the Columbian Icefields across from the Stutfield Glacier. It's June, and as you can see still some snow around. It seems as though the older wild animals get the wiser and more accepting they are. Some familiar? I had to climb a bit to get this photo, and then decided not to continue. Just didn't seem right to disturb him. In retrospect, I think this would have been the best photo anyway.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Going To the Sun in Montana

I realized that before we leave Montana, I should include a photo from Glacier National Park which was established in 1910 and thus is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. GNP encompasses 16,000 square miles of Montana bordering Alberta and British Columbia. On the Canadian side is Waterton Lakes National Park, another breathtaking example of the beautiful snow covered mountains surrounding a crystal clear lake. Bison and Woodland Caribou were common to GNP before 1900 but were hunted to extinction. Grizzly Bears, wolverines,  wolves, and Canadian Lynx are native to the park and are protected due to their small numbers in the lower 48. The good news is that the populations have stabilized. GNP has nearly every other large mammal: moose, mule and white tail deer, elk, black bear, mountain lion, badger, mink, fisher, marten, river otter, and porcupine. The main road through the park is the "Going to the Sun" highway, constructed during the depression by FDR's (CCC) program of putting the unemployed to work in the National Park Service. It is 53 miles of hairpin turns going up and over the Rocky Mountains. About five years ago I was driving the highway and as I went over Logan Pass at 6,646 feet, there were a couple dozen cars along side the road -- i.e. "animal traffic jam" very similar to Yellowstone. There were three Mountain Goats by the side of the road. I was able to get a parking place so could spend as much time as I wanted. As you might imagine everyone was taking photos. Some with their "point and shoot" and some with professional gear. I have mentioned this before, but if you are really looking for a great photo, don't leave until you get one. Most people took a photo out of the window of their car as they drove by. Some jumped out of their car, took a photo, and jumped back in their car and off they went. My best photo was this one -- about 45 minutes after I arrived there. That really wasn't a very long wait for a good photo. Photographers Practice Patience with a Passion.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Montana Bighorn Sheep

The National Bison Range in Western Montana is a favorite place to visit for me. It is another of Teddy Roosevelt's National Wildlife Refuges established in 1908 with the first Congressional allocation of funds . So, it is one of the oldest NWR in the US.  It's main attraction is about 500 Bison (which I have shown you before). It also is a fairly reliable place to find large White Tail, Mule Deer, Elk, and Bighorn Sheep. And, while there is a fair Mountain Goat and Black Bear population I have not been lucky in that regard. Not that I haven't spend many an hour looking for them. But, that is the "nature" of wildlife photography. One summer I was hiking up over this mountain looking for Mountain Goats, and came across this lazy Bighorn Ram. He didn't seem much bothered by me. And, I soon forgot that I was looking for goats, and sat in the grass about 20 yards away as content as he was. Those are the days that renew the spirit -- clean the cobwebs, forget the troubles, and bring joy and peace into your life. A few precious minutes and a lifetime of memories.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Utah Bighorn Sheep

I guess I'm taking you on a state by state tour of bighorn sheep. The Flaming Gorge National Wildlife Recreation Area is a scenic drive through Southern Wyoming along the Green River and then into Northeastern Utah and the Flaming Gorge Reservoir. The list of wildlife is extensive, including moose, elk, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, and mule deer. The most southern end extends into Ashley National Forest. I spent a day traveling the back roads of the Utah portion of Flaming Gorge. And along the Sheep Creek Geological Loop came across these three bighorn rams. It was a momentary encounter, as soon they fled up the mountain. All three were much lighter in color than others I have seen and photographed. At the time I thought they might be a subspecies. But, no. They are Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, which is the largest and most populated of the bighorns in the US and Canada.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Wyoming Bighorn Sheep

One more Bighorn Sheep photo and story. This one from Yellowstone National Park. It was September with wildflowers in their second blooming season of the year. It was very early when I reached Mount Washburn. And, there were about 15 bighorn sheep (mostly ewes and kids) . When this little guy saw me, he started running quickly to mommy, hiding beneath hear -- with an occasional drink of mom's milk. I was probably the fourth or five "car" to arrive.  And, of course by the time I finished taking photos there were 50 or more cars -- as is the case at Yellowstone ---- along with a couple of Rangers to try to maintain calm. Although, not my favorite place to photograph wildlife (just too many people), Yellowstone never fails to provide some photo ops.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Bighorn Dance

My apologies for not getting a blog out yesterday. Big trip into Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness Area. More about that later. Just to continue the Bighorn story: The typical bighorn rut begins in November (a couple of months after the elk). But the clashing or butting occasionally takes place at other times during the year as seen in both of these February photos. The young ones above just playing, the older rams below trying to prove who's the boss. Both photos taken at the Oak Creek Wildlife Area on the Eastern side of the Cascades in Washington about 20 miles west of Naches. You can hear the sound of the clashing from quit a distance. It doesn't last long. Usually, just a couple of buts. But, with the males weighing as much as three hundred pounds and their horns as much as 40 pounds it makes for quite a sight. Well worth a side trip if you are in the area in February and early March.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Washington Bighorn Sheep

Washington had lost all of its bighorn sheep -- as did many states -- by the early 1900's. Finally, they were reintroduced and protected. Between 150 to 200 now live on Clemon Mountain, part of the Washington Cascades. Each winter they come down to the Oak Creek Wildlife Area near Naches (on the Eastern side of the Cascades). Grasses and hay are put out for them each morning around 9:00. If you get there around 7:30 or so you can watch as small bands of 7 to 10  appear on the top of the mountain and start the long trek down. It might take them an hour or so but they end up waiting -- a hundred or so yards away -- for the hay to arrive. There is a parking lot for 15 cars or so, and then a fence to keep people from getting too close. This ram, though, came walking up to the fence where I was. Hence the eye contact. The sheep are around for an hour or so, then start back up and over the mountain, each band following the route they came down. Wonderful sight. And, wonderful way to see these magnificent animals in the wild.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Arizona Bighorn Sheep

Here are the only Bighorn Sheep I have found in Arizona --- so far. I am going to be persistent, though. It's not a great photo. I was on the opposite side of the ravine and couldn't get any closer. And, as "luck" would have it they were standing in the early morning sun. These are the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, though, as opposed to the Desert Bighorn Sheep which I have been looking for here in Southern Arizona.  As I mentioned yesterday, I was actually looking for Mexican Grey Wolves when I came across these two rams. There are 40-50 wolves in Arizona. There are another 20 to 30 in New Mexico. So, they are not easy to find. That's the total Mexican Grey Wolf population in the US.  On the other hand, the estimation of the Desert Bighorn Sheep population is about 18,000 in the US with 5 to 6000 in Arizona. Yet, even with a number like 6,000 they are hard to find. (For comparison, the deer population in the US is estimated at over 20 million). But, unlike deer bighorns like the high mountain wilderness areas. They have been able to adapt to the heat of the desert. The Desert Bighorn Sheep can go three weeks without water. That makes even hanging out at mountain waterholes a lengthy and patient process. There is a wonderful book entitled: "Counting Sheep: Twenty Ways of Seeing Desert Bighorn" (The Southwest Center) Gary Paul Nabhan (Author) It is a collection of essays from writers who also have a passion for wildlife. After reading that you'll get a good feel for the difficulty in finding the Desert Bighorn.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Bighorn Closeup

Back to Bighorn Sheep. Bighorn sheep are not easily found. I have spent many a day -- especially, here Arizona looking for them. Been to all the right places, too. The only ones I have found (in Arizona) were in the White Mountains while I was looking for Mexican Grey Wolves. My next trip will be along the Colorado nearer to Lake Meade. And, yet there are places in Canada where the bighorns amble into small towns occasionally, just like elk. Spences Bridge is one town I remember in central British Columbia where I found a small herd of ewes foraging on people's grassy lawns. But, they are also easier to find in Alberta, especially Jasper and Banff National Parks.  I came across a small herd of bighorn sheep about half way up to Medicine Lake in Alberta (Jasper National Park). I found myself among them for a few minutes. There was plenty of greens for them to eat so they weren't particularly bothered by my being there. This old ram in particular became interested - for a minute or so anyway. You can see by the rings on his horns he had been around a number of years. The horns probably weighed 40 pounds. You can also see how the ends are "scraped". This is one of those strange acts of nature where the bighorn must "grind" down the ends of his horns otherwise he wouldn't be able to see. Maybe it is not so strange, though, given that many of us "humans" have to have glasses to see.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day is a sweet day for wildlife as well as for our human hearts.... at least here in Southern Arizona. Song birds start singing. Hummingbirds start pairing up and chasing each other all over the place. And our male and female cardinals (who mate for life) begin their courtship. Yesterday, for the first time this season, our male cardinal was sitting in the top of 75 foot mesquite tree singing his heart out. Hopefully, that will continue for the next couple of months. It has become a comforting sign for us each year. They will find a place close by to nest. Then we get to watch as the female gets seeds from our "cardinal" feeder and gives to her young. I just love Valentine's Day. My favorite holiday.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Some Like It Hot, Some Like It Cold

Winter is a great season for us in Southern Arizona. People ready, willing, and able to escape from the cold to a warmer climate -- even, for a few days. (Airplanes not always able to cooperate, though). Our daughter Erin, in Flagstaff, has been "snowed in" for a month with over five feet of snow. Flagstaff is in Arizona mind you. I suppose I could show you photos of grandkids Noah and Ruby all bundled up and playing in the snow, but even though they are "wild" at times, probably isn't what followers of our "wildlife" blog are looking for. So, I'll talk about "other" wild animals that just seem to fit or, at least, look more comfortable and natural in the snow. This older bighorn sheep ram was photographed high above the Columbia Icefields in Alberta (Sunwapta Mountain). He was curious about me, but didn't seem particularly bothered. Maybe he thought I looked too "cold" to be of any danger. Often hoofed animals "herd" up for the winter months. This includes males -- sometimes. Not this time, though. This big ram was all by himself. Didn't see another bighorn anywhere near him. It always reminds me of the big male bison I photographed at the National Bison Range in Montana (Blog Post: From Eeyore to Ferdinand, January 22, 2010). He had that same sense of "regal-ness." "I'm too wise to be bothered."

Friday, February 12, 2010

Phainopepla: the silky flycatcher

Where do I start today? Yesterday, a cactus wren came in from the cold. But, he never seemed very comfortable in my office. Kept looking out the window as if to say, "I'd rather be outside." Guess he didn't care much for my photos of bobcats, coyotes, and bears on walls. I suppose it could have been intimidating. In the afternoon, Christine and I took a hike in Saguaro National Park (five minutes from us). The desert is so renewing in both mind and body. Something about the life and death of the desert gives us pause to enjoy and cherish our lives no matter what the circumstance. We were greeted by this Phainopepla, or silky flycatcher. The photo above is the male. The female is more a charcoal color. They are similar in shape to a cardinal, just a wee bit smaller and skinnier. When sitting the male is jet black with red eyes. But, as he flies you see that there are white patches on the primaries. The Phainopepla is only found in Southern Arizona and Southern California. His main diet is flies. It's fun to watch as he sits atop a tree flies out about 10 feet or so, flutters a bit, then flies back to the same branch --- repeatedly. Looks like some sort of ritual dance, but he's just having dinner.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Dear Anna, Sweet Anna

It is starting to happen! Couldn't get much work done at my desk yesterday. Too much hummingbird activity. And, even as I am typing this -- it is 7:09 am, the hummingbirds are already up and chasing each other around. Right now I see four sitting on branches near the feeder plus two on the feeder. Yesterday, there were a dozen in the same general area. The above photo was taken yesterday. I was "buzzed" more than once trying to take a photo of the hummers that were sitting still. Most of these seem to be Anna's Hummingbirds. They are pretty distinctive because of their long gorgets (beards) and iridescent crowns. The Costa's Hummingbird, also frequently seen here, has an even longer gorget, but purple versus red. The Costa's and Anna's are the only hummers with iridescent crowns. The Rufus, found more at higher elevations and only here in the summer, have orange crowns. Most of the other hummers have crowns of various shades of green or gray. All this to say that the hummers are beginning to pair up for the mating season. We'll see how many nests we find this year.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Winter at Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge

Since it is still winter in most places, I thought I would share a winter photo from Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge along the Oregon - California border. While not a great photo, it tells a story. The Lower Klamath gets over a hundred thousand water birds for the winter: ducks, geese, swans, etc. Most of these birds fly great distances to get there. The result, they are tired upon arrival -- and, easy pickin's. In the foreground are Tundra Swans, that literally come from the Northern Alaska tundra, a distance of some 3,000 miles. In the background is the "mafia," oops, sorry eight or so Bald Eagles.  That day I probably saw over 100 eagles. The Bald Eagles weren't there for their "winter migration." They were there for dinner. There was always a swan that was the slowest and/or the tiredest who became a meal for a half dozen Bald Eagles. If you get a chance the Lower Klamath is a wonderful winter birding spot. It's about 70 miles east of Ashland, Oregon (on Interstate 5). And, well worth the trip.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Mexican Poppies

So, here are some Mexican Poppies I promised. I think it was our first year in Southern Arizona. We had gone down to Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge on the Mexican border looking for pronghorn and anything else we could find. (With some luck by the way). Driving back through the little town of Arivaca (where there is a second section of BANWR -- this one a birder's heaven). About five miles past Arivaca we started seeing these wildflowers everywhere. Finally, we thought a photo was appropriate. With all the rain we've had this year we expect to have a beautiful wildflower season (late March through April). We'll see. I learned that I can only make one weather prediction with absolute certainty: JUNE WILL BE HOT!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Sharp Shinned for a Rainy Day

Hard to believe, but it is another rainy day here in Tucson. It seems like we have had more rain this year than all of last year. The good news is the wildflower and cactus blooming season (mid-March to June) should be fantastic. Mexican poppies everywhere. Maybe tomorrow a photo? But even in the rain the birds are out. This sharp shinned hawk is sitting in a mesquite tree just waiting for a nice little sparrow, finch, dove or quail to come by. Will he be lucky? Don't know for sure.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Northern Cardinal

As I was sitting in my office a few minutes ago I noticed our male cardinal feeding from our "cardinal feeder." The cardinal feeder is an ingenious device with counter weights measured to the weight of a cardinal: the equivalent of seven quarters. If a bird is too light the perch will not lower enough to get food through the window. If a bird is too heavy the perch will pass the opening and again nothing. But, like life there is always someone trying to get away with something (cheat, steal, etc). Such it is with our cardinal feeder. The Gila Woodpecker has figured out how to grab ahold of the side of the feeder with one leg, and then put just the right amount of weight from his other leg on the perch to get to the food. Nothing is foolproof.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Learning Wildlife Photography

So, there I was at the Grand Canyon's edge with 53 million other people. Okay, that's an exaggeration, it was probably not more the 45 million. Anyway, I am there looking for California Condors. After a couple hours of staring up in the sky, (and feeling dizzy with a little pain in the neck) I spot two Condors coming my directions. I get so excited as they pass overhead, turn to see if I can get a couple more photos and swiftly without a moments notice fall on a bolder and down I go. $1,500 damage to my lens and camera. And cuts and bruises up and down my leg and arms. And, if that weren't bad enough, I had my family with me including son-in-law Andy, who is an avid outdoor spokesperson for the Sierra Club. They were at the visitor's center while all of this was taking place. When they got back to the Jeep, there I was, covered in blood. Oh well, I can laugh about it now. But there is a lesson: Pay attention to your surroundings. Always, always know exactly where you are. So, here you have it: a not very good $1500 photo.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

As Inspector Clouseau, would say: "The Mystery is Sol-Ved."

From time to time a dove or a sparrow -- once even a quail -- slam into one of our windows. Maybe a third die from a broken neck (sorry to say). But, one morning I heard a much louder crash out side my office, but no sign of anything. A day or two later Christine heard the same thing outside the kitchen window. A day later once again outside my office came this big crash. This time I saw a Cooper's Hawk fly away. I thought I would hate to have one of those beautiful hawks die from such an "accident." But, the next day the mystery was solved. I was looking out the window watching doves eat seed that had been spilled from the bird feeder above when I saw a Cooper's Hawk dart down pick up the dove and deliberately smash the dove into the window killing the dove instantly. The Cooper's Hawk then flew away with his catch to a nearby tree and spent the next hour plucking feathers and eating. The term "birdbrain" may work for some birds, like doves and quail (which is another story) but for some they are quite ingenious.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Fighting Bald Eagles

One of the keys to wildlife photography is research; putting yourself in the place of most potential. Where in the United States --or Canada -- do I have the best chance of seeing whatever: bighorn sheep, elk, black bear, grizzly bear, caribou, wolves, mountain lions, etc. Then of course it is what time of the year is best? Bear in May and June when they are just out of hibernation and looking for fresh vegetation to eat (and with cubs!); Bull Elk and Moose you want later in the season when their antlers are the largest. Some, like Caribou are more difficult to find except in the winter. Many animals like pronghorn, coatimundi, elk, deer, coyotes, tend to herd together for the winter. And, finally what time of day. Morning or late afternoon work best for some, but I have had better luck with Mountain Goats more during midday. Having said all of this, there is still and always will be a factor of luck. So even when I am on my way somewhere I am always on the lookout for opportunities. And, many times I have been pleasantly surprised like this pair of bald eagles fighting in mid air. A joy to watch and a joy to photograph.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Whitewater Draw Bobcat

Yesterday, we took a little picnic to Whitewater Draw (here in Arizona) which I have talked about before. While there were several thousand Sandhill Cranes and other waterbirds, the highlight was this bobcat. He was a little too far for a "great photo" but nonetheless a wonderful reminder of the trip. We could not get any closer because we had reached the beginning of the marsh. We hung around for a while hoping he would head in our direction. I would have been willing to wait several hours if necessary. However, he saw something behind him, turned around, and then disappeared in the high grass -- presumably into his crouching/attacking mode. We waited quite a while but never saw him again. Fairly typical of the wildlife photographer. You never know.