Sunday, October 31, 2010

carnivores: Bobcats - Part VII

A little over a year ago I was sitting at my desk in the office early one morning when I looked out the front door windows and saw a Bobcat walking down the driveway. As I got my camera he jumped up on the wall directly in front of me. I stepped outside and took three photos before he jumped down to the other side of the wall and out of sight. Here are those three photos:

The first one, obviously is the best and is one of my greeting cards. But, also as the story continues, I immediately downloaded the photos on to my computer and then changed my desk top photo to the first photo above. Maybe a half-hour later Christine came into the office and saw the desktop photo and was so excited. She loved the photo, but of course, wished that she was able to see the real thing. The problem with photographing wildlife, is you that sometimes you only have a split second for a photo. You have to make a decision: Should I take photos or go tell people, so they can see too -- in which case the animal could be gone by the time you and the others get back. If I know that Christine or one of our guests would want to see, then typically I will go get them. Now, if a Mountain Lion walked by, that's another story, I would be taking photos first. 

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Carnivores: Bobcats - Part VI

Where have I seen Bobcats? In addition to the several here at The Azure Gate, I have seen one at Sweetwater Wetlands with daughter Ashley (which I showed you a couple of days ago), in the Coconino Forest near Flagstaff, in Central Oregon near Bend, in the Galiuro Mountains (AZ), and this guy at Whitewater Draw (AZ):

photo taken at Whitewater Draw, Arizona

The Whitewter Draw Bobcat is a photo without much of a story. Christine and I were there with friends to show them the 30,000 Sandhill Cranes milling around when across the wetland was this Bobcat. The Bobcat in the Galiuro Mountains has story without a photo -- not one that I kept anyway. I was sitting on a log in a grove of cottonwoods in the Galiuro Mountains eating a lunch I had brought with me. Something made me turn around, and when I did I saw a Bobcat walking towards me. I had to get up to reach for my camera and as I did the Bobcat took notice and decided to let me photograph his backside. I took a couple of photos, but since he never turned to look back at me, only got that backside. I kept the photos for a while, but seems as though I must have trashed them when purging for file space. I do love the Galiuro Mountains. In addition to the Bobcat, it has provided me photos of: pronghorn, coyote, coatimundi, javelina, hooded skunk, striped skunk, gila monster, antelope and blacktail jackrabbits, white tail deer, mule deer, a myriad of butterflies, and a wide range of birds.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Carnivores: Bobcats - Part V

Our youngest daughter Ashley and her love (Jason) were here in July of 2009. We were all sitting in the office when she said, "There's a Bobcat!" We all went outside (me with my camera) and watched as the Bobcat walked away. I suspected that he would eventually walk up our second driveway and across the street. So, I went around the house the other direction (our first driveway) to wait. It was getting dark and there were a few raindrops, but I was focused and on the hunt too. Sure enough he came and when he saw me just sat amongst the prickly pear cactus. I took 50 or 60 photos while he sat there. I realized that I probably had enough pictures and he probably was waiting for me to leave before getting back to his business. So, I left him there. There have such beautiful large soft-looking paws. Here are a couple of those photos:

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Carnivores: Bobcats - Part IV

Back to Bob. One of the first Bobcats we saw here at The Azure Gate was this guy:

Like other occasions, this Bobcat walked by my office, stopping to drink from the water bowl. I immediately grabbed my camera, but had to wait until he moved away from the door before I could go out and get a photo. I was able to get several photos as he went about his business. Didn't seem like he was in much of a hurry, though. He walked across the driveway (above photo) glancing at me as he walked over toward a six foot wall at the edge of our property:

And then with more grace than any animal I have ever seen, jumped over the wall. Actually, jumped doesn't do justice to what I saw.  Flew would be a better term. It just seemed so effortless as if just taking another step. After jumping the wall, he walked along the fence-line taking another look at me before disappearing:

Seeing a Bobcat is very special. Usually the time goes by pretty quick -- a couple of minutes maybe. But the two seconds when he jumped that wall will remain a memory for a lifetime.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Christine suggested (we've been married 44 years, so ....) that I interrupt the Bobcat Blog to share a story from yesterday. So, while I am at it there are two other short stories to add. First short story: yesterday Christine and I were sitting outside at the dining table eating lunch when I remarked there were no birds around; no hummingbirds at the feeders, no goldfinches at their feeders, no doves and quail rummaging around on the ground. I wondered why? The answer came quickly. Two Cooper's Hawks had been in the big African Sumac on the other side of the pool. This is a very densely leafed tree so we had not seen them until they flew off -- one towards us and the other perpendicular to that one. I did not have my camera, but here is a photo of a Cooper's Hawk from before:

Cooper's Hawk
photo taken at The Azure Gate

The second story was from last week when we were in the kitchen preparing breakfast and talking with guests. There were at least 20 doves sitting atop the tall (but dead) mesquite tree behind the African Sumac. We remarked that they were waiting for breakfast too. Not five minutes later we noticed three Harris Hawks sitting where the doves were -- guess they were also interested in breakfast. Unlike the bird eating Cooper's Hawk, the Harris Hawk is a small mammal predator, so the hummingbirds and goldfinches were still at their feeders. Again, no camera available but, here a shot from another time:

Harris Hawk
photo taken at The Azure Gate 

Finally, from the day before yesterday: I went to check out Lake Cochise and Waterwater Draw. This time of year it is difficult to guess what might be present. We are between the summer visitors and the winter visitors. But, that doesn't mean no birds. Obviously, those present year round are available. But there are also many migratory birds passing through this time of the year with only very brief stops. However, their migratory routes depend somewhat on the weather, so they could arrive and be gone one week one year, and be two or three weeks later the next. All this to say there wasn't much going on at Lake Cochise: ducks, a few avocets, a few dowitchers, but essentially that was it. However, there is a marshy area called "Twin Lakes" very close to Lake Cochise. Now, "Twin Lakes" is somewhat misleading. They are ponds at best, and not very large ones. Why am I telling you this? Because at one of those "Twin Lakes" was a birder very excited to tell me that a lone Pectoral Sandpiper was there. I don't remember ever seeing a Pectoral Sandpiper before. The Pectoral Sandpiper is a long distance migrant. It summers in the Arctic and winters in South America (New Zealand or Australia). It stops for a couple of days in the Eastern half of the US and Canada. So, it is very rare to Arizona.  But, as you will notice from the photo, rare or not it is (was) in Arizona on October 25, 2010. The tell tale signs are the very densely streaked breast with a relatively abrupt white lower belly and yellowish legs. A very distinctive and unique pattern for sandpipers. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Carnivores: Bobcats - Part III

In late May of 2001, Christine and I were staying at an Embassy Suites in Tucson, while we were closing on our new home, which is now The Azure Gate B&B. Our youngest daughter Ashley had come down with us to see what we were getting into. We were going to meet there around 9:00 AM, so Ashley and I decided to go for a little hike around Sweetwater Wetlands around 6:30. I was a couple feet in front of her when I heard a "psst....daddy." I turned around to see Ashley with her hand covering her wide-open mouth pointing to the side of the trail just next to me. I looked and was stunned that I had just walked past a Bobcat lying down behind a bush. I immediately took a photo but it really wasn't a good angle. I sat down in front of the Bobcat. But, still not a good angle. So, I laid on my stomach using my elbows as a tripod. Did I get a photo? No! I was too close for the lens I had on the camera. So, I turned over on my back, changed lenses, rolled back on my stomach and finished the film left in the camera. The Bobcat remained undisturbed, so I rolled back on my back and put in a second roll of film. After 36 more photos, I rolled over once again for another roll of film. About halfway through the third roll of film the Bobcat stood up, looked at me, and said, "I think you have enough photos, don't you?" and walked off. We spotted him a couple more times as we were walking. Below are some of those photos:

Monday, October 25, 2010

Carnivores: Bobcats - Part II

One morning about four years ago, our neighbor called to tell us there was a Bobcat in one of her mesquite trees, could I come over a take a photo. She didn't have to twist my arm. Truth be told, I was probably more excited about getting a photo than she was. So I rushed right over, camera in hand. Here is one of the first photos:

He seemed to be quite content, even with us looking at him. But, soon something more interesting caught his eye:

So, down the tree he came, and then off on the hunt. I was able to get a little closer, but as you can see he wasn't the slightest bit interested in me.  He was extremely focused on something more appetizing. 

Bobcat's favorite prey is the rabbit. And, since we have between 25 and 75 on our property on any given day, it might seem like a banquet. But, most predators have a difficult life.  They have to work hard to find, and then catch their prey. Often they fail to do so and must start all over. But, because they have spent much energy chasing something, they must rest before they can start again. I have seen Bobcats (and coyotes) chase after rabbits several times never seeing them actually catch one.  Such was the case this time. Now, of course, they obviously do sometimes get what they go after. And, so as the story goes, it was wonderful watching this Bobcat, both sleeping in a tree and then going on the hunt. 

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Carnivores: Bobcats

Baring any interruption for intruding wildlife, I thought I would start a series on Carnivore Stories. First up, Bobcats.

It was a hot summer day in 2004. How hot? 110 degrees hot. Christine went into the living room to make sure everything was straightened (we had guests coming) and looked out the picture window and saw a Bobcat asleep next to two adjoining walls of the house. I took a couple of photos through the window, thinking I am not sure whether I'll get anything better. (This is my usual pattern: take a photo immediately. If you get better photos, great, just toss the bad ones). Then I went outside where I got this photo, and a few others. 

It was a young Bobcat who decided to stretch his legs a bit and walked slowly around some agaves and sat down again. I  went around the other side of the house so I wouldn't disturb him, and came up from another angle where I was able to take several more photos including this one.  

Finally, he decided to explore the grounds a bit more and off he went:

That was the last I saw of him that day. With my heart still pounding a bit, I said thank you, and rushed off to Jones Photo where I was getting my film developed those days.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Sandpipers: Part VIII (The Last for Now)

As much as I wanted to get a blog post out yesterday, we were just too busy. We have a full house of guests, some going, some going, so I just couldn't get around to it. Today, I'll finish up with my Sandpipers, realizing that there are MANY -- especially ocean shore sandpipers -- that I either don't have a photo or a good enough photo to show you. The Common Snipe is a mid-sized inland sandpiper about the size of the Long Billed Dowitcher. There are two subspecies, one found throughout Europe and Asia, which migrates to Africa for the winter, and another found throughout North America. The North American Common Snipe winters in the southern half of the United States and Mexico, and summers in the northern half of the United States and Canada. A small pocket of year round residents can be found in central Washington, eastern Oregon,   Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado. The Common Snipe is a solitary bird and when seen is usually at the edge of a damp, often muddy, habitat. It uses its long bill to probe deeply into the mud in search of small animals to eat. 

Common Snipe
photo taken in Eastern Oregon

Common Snipe
photo taken in Central Washington

Lastly, Wilson's Phalarope. Wilson's Phalarope is a small, but strikingly beautiful sandpiper. It summers in the northwestern United States, and migrates through the southern half on its way to the central Andes in South America. Unlike waders, the Wilson's Phalarope will often swim in a small, rapid circle, forming a small whirlpool. This  action raises up food from the bottom of shallow water. It then reaches into the outskirts of the vortex with its bill, plucking small insects and crustaceans caught up in the swirl. This method of feeding makes inland marshes, pools, lakes and river shores the ideal place to be.

Wilson's Phalarope
photo taken at Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge, Montana

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Sandpipers: Part VII

The Black Necked Stilt is another very elegant -- even stunning -- looking sandpiper. To me they always look like they are on their way to a "Black Tie" dinner. Their habitat is salt marshes, shallow coastal bays, and freshwater marshes. Unlike many of the other sandpipers, they do not summer in the Arctic. Those found in the United States are typically migratory, summering along both the southern parts of the Atlantic and Pacific and inland, to some extent, in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and along the Mississippi River States. They also show up in arid parts of Oregon, Washington, Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. They winter mostly in Mexico and Central America. The Black Necked Stilt feeds by picking as opposed to "sweeping" like the America Avocet. They are usually found in large numbers and when taking off create a marvelous photo as you can see in two of the photos below.

Black Necked Stilt
photo taken at Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge, Montana

Black Necked Stile
photo taken at Mahleur National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon

Black Necked Stilt
photo taken at Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, California

Black Necked Stilt
photo taken at Lake Cochise, Arizona

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Sandpipers: Part VI

I have to admit that I really didn't get into photographing sandpipers -- shorebirds in general until I saw several very elegant looking American Avocets at Blue Lake in Washington, while I was on my way to a favorite fishing hole at Dry Falls. Here's the photo I took:

American Avocet
photo taken at Blue Lake, Washington

I was mesmerized for 20 minutes watching this beautiful bird walk around in the shallow water searching for food. Once I added the Avocet, then saw and photographed Black Necked Stilts (tomorrow) I seemed to be hooked on a great many more of nature's creatures.

American Avocet
photo taken a Lake Cochise, Arizona

As they fly off from one area to another they make a loud "weeping" sound. I always feel  I've disturbed them and so they are crying. But this is part of their nature and do so even without people around (so I am told).

American Avocet
photo taken at Lake Cochise, Arizona

The American Avocet breeds in marshes, beaches, prairie ponds, and shallow lakes in the mid-west and on the Pacific Coast of North America, nesting on open ground, often in small groups, and sometimes with other waders. A pair will rear one brood per season, with both male and female providing parental care for the young. The Avocet is migratory, and mostly winters on the southernmost part of the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts. The American Avocet forages in shallow water or on mud flats, often sweeping its bill from side to side in water as it looks for insects and small amphibians. As a migratory bird , it is protected under the Migratory Bird Act of 1918.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Sandpipers: Part V

As promised, on to the Killdeer. The Killdeer is a year round resident of much of the Southern and Northwest United States. It is a summer resident in the rest of the US and Canada. Unlike many of the other Sandpipers, the Killdeer can be found far from water on farmlands, open fields, or in towns. As mention with the Semi-palmated Plover, the Killdeer distracts predators from its nest by feigning a broken wing. These birds forage for food in fields, on mudflats or by sea or lake shore; and, usually by sight. They mainly eat insects. Their name comes from their frequently heard call, a high pitched sort of squeal. 

photo taken at Whitewater Draw, Arizona

photo taken at Lake Cochise, Arizona

photo taken at Moses Lake, Washington

Monday, October 18, 2010

Sandpipers: Part IV

I first started my wildlife photography because I was awed by the beauty and magnificence of Black Bears and Grizzly Bears. So my first years really focused on them and other large mammals. I would take a photo of a bird if it caught my attention and if I wasn't in a hurry to get the location where I was hoping to find a bear or two. I remember heading down the Washington and Oregon Coast once, toward Lewis River where the much rarer Roosevelt Elk lived. The Oregon Coast is really in and of itself awesome. So, I couldn't help stopping and enjoying the view. As I did so, I so this rather unusual black bird with a long red bill standing on a rock on the ocean shore. So, I took a photo, and continued on my trip. Here is the photo:

Black Oystercatcher
photo taken along the Oregon Coast

I promise that will be the worst photo I ever show you. But, here is a quote from the National Audubon Field Guide: The Black Oystercatcher "... can be hard to see against a background of wet, seaweed-encrusted rocks and usually forages alone ..." Now a quote from Wikipedia: "Although the species is not considered threatened, its global population size is estimated between 8,900–11,000 individuals. The Black Oystercatcher is a species of high conservation concern throughout its range (U.S., Canadian, Alaskan, and Northern & Southern Pacific Shorebird Conservation Plans), a keystone indicator species along the north Pacific shoreline, and a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service focal species for priority conservation action." Had I known any of this at the time I might have made more of an effort to get a better photo.  Hindsight, you know. Anyway, there is a lesson. Learn as much as you can about what you might see wherever it is you are going. And, as a wildlife photographer, take pictures of anything you see that you don't have a photo of already. And, pretend that it is the primary goal of the day.

Now, so as not to leave you with a terrible photo, here is a Semi-palmated Plover:
Semi-palmated Plover
photo taken at Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge, Washington

A couple years after the Black Oystercatcher experience I headed out to the Olympic National Park and the Washington Coast again. This time a little more researched. Although no Black Oystercatchers, I found a few Semi-palmated Plovers at Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge. This is an area where over one million shorebirds rest and feed during their migration between South America and the Arctic. This plover resembles the Killdeer but is much smaller and has only one band on the neck. The term "semipalmated" refers to its partly webbed feet. Like the Killdeer it makes its nest on the ground; and, when approached by a predator acts as if it has a "broken-wing" to lure intruders away from the nest. Tomorrow, the Killdeer. 

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sandpipers: Part III

First up today the Dunlin. The Dunlin is a medium sized sandpiper about the size of a Starling. It nests on the Arctic Tundra and winters on both Atlantic and Pacific beaches. The Dunlin is highly gregarious in winter, sometimes forming large flocks on coastal mudflats or sandy beaches. Large numbers can often be seen swirling in synchronized flight on stop-overs during migration or on their winter habitat. It one of the most common and best-known sandpipers moving along the coastal mudflat beaches. It has a uniquely characteristic "sewing machine" feeding technique. It feeds on insects, mollusks, worms, and crustaceans.

photo taken on the Olympic Peninsula, Washington

The Least Sandpiper is next and it is the smallest of all the sandpipers at 6 inches. It has greenish legs and a short thin dark bill. Breeding adults are brown with dark brown streaks on top and white underneath. They have a light line above the eye and a dark crown. In winter, Least Sandpipers are grey above. The juveniles are brightly patterned above with rufous colouration and white mantle stripes. This bird can be difficult to distinguish from other similar tiny shorebirds; these are known collectively as "peeps" or "stints." Their breeding habitat is the northern typically the Arctic Tundra. They nest on the ground near water. The female lays 4 eggs in a shallow scrape lined with grass and moss. Both parents incubate the eggs. The female leaves before the young birds fledge and sometimes before the eggs hatch. The young birds feed themselves and are able to fly within two weeks of birth.They migrate in large flocks to the southern states as well as Mexico and Central America. Since they migrate such a great distance they often stop over in most of the US and Canada. They forage on mudflats, picking up food by sight, sometimes by probing. They mainly eat small crustaceans, insects and snails.

Least Sandpiper
photo taken at Willapa Bay, Washington

The Long Billed Dowitcher is medium sized sandpiper more common in the West than in the East. They migrate from the their breeding area in the Arctic and Siberia to the Pacific Coast, the South Atlantic Coast, and the Gulf Coast.  Adults have yellowish legs and a long straight dark bill. The body is dark brown on top and reddish underneath with spotted throat and breast, bars on flanks. The tail has a black and white barred pattern. The winter plumage is largely grey. They forage by probing in shallow water or on wet mud. They mainly eat insects, mollusks, crustaceans and marine worms, but also eat some plant material. They are more likely to be seen near fresh water than the Short Billed Dowitcher -- hence, the photo from Lake Cochise in Arizona.

Long Billed Dowitcher
photo taken at Lake Cochise, Arizona

Finally (for today) the Stilt Sandpiper. The Stilt Sandpiper is a small sandpiper a little larger than the Least Sandpiper shown above. It too breeds in the open arctic tundra of North America. It is a long-distance migrant, wintering mainly in northern South America. They nest on the ground, laying three or four eggs. The male has a display flight. Outside the breeding season, it is normally found on inland waters, rather than open coasts. Breeding adults are distinctive, heavily barred beneath, and with reddish patches above and below. The back is brown with darker feather centres. Winter plumage is basically gray above and white below. They forage on muddy shores, picking up food by sight, often jabbing like the dowitchers with which they often associate. Although, in this photo there is a Dunlin in the background. They mainly eat insects and other invertebrates.

Stilt Sandpiper
photo taken on Oregon Coast, Oregon

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Sandpipers: Part II

The Marbled Godwit is a "crow-sized" shorebird with similar coloration to the Long Billed Curlew, except that the Godwit has a long straight - slightly upturned pinkish bill. They breed in the northern prairies of Western Canada; the Northcentral Great Plains in the United States. They winter along Pacific Coast as well as the South Atlantic Coast. They forage by probing on mudflats in marshes or beaches. Their population has declined from both hunting and loss of breeding habitat (from farming and development). They are quite noisy in flight as they migrate from the plains to the coasts.

Marbled Godwit
photo taken along Washington Coast

The Sanderling is a midsized sandpiper at about 8 inches. It breeds in the summer months on the Arctic Tundra; then migrates south to ocean beaches, sandbars, and mudflats. It is also occasionally found on lakeshores and rivers. It is a very common and widespread sandpiper and can be found on most of the world's beaches. As a wave comes in, the Sanderling runs up the beach just ahead of the breaker, then sprints after the retreating water to feed on any crustaceans and mollusks left exposed.

photo taken at Humboldt Bay, California

Next a series of photos of the Western Sandpiper taken at March Point on Padilla Bay in Washington State. The Western Sandpiper is a small sandpiper of about 6 inches. It has the same migratory pattern as the Sanderling. They differ from the Sanderling in their feeding patterns. They flock to areas of low tide. And so, as the tides change so do the Western Sandpipers.

Western Sandpiper
photo taken at Padilla Bay, Washington

Western Sandpiper
photo taken at Padilla Bay, Washington

Western Sandpiper
photo taken at Padilla Bay, Washington

Western Sandpiper
photo taken at Padilla Bay, Washington

Friday, October 15, 2010

Sandpipers: Part I

Again, the term is loosely used and debatable. But here are the first four:

The Greater Yellowlegs -- not nearly as good a photo as the others -- I found at Whitewater Draw in Arizona. It is about 14 inches so it larger than a jay, but smaller than a crow. It breeds on the tundra during the summer months, and winters along the southern coasts with an occasional sighting somewhat inland, as it is here at Whitewater Draw:
Greater Yellowlegs

The Willet is typically about 15 inches and likes coastal beaches, freshwater and salt water marshes, lakeshores, and even wet prairies. They are noisey birds with several distinctive calls -- similar to the Killdeer. They separate when feeding but if one Willet takes flight all will follow, as in the second photo. The first photo is from Central Oregon and second from Humboldt Bay, California.

The Spotted Sandpiper is half the size of a Willet. It winters in the Southernmost part of the United States and winters in throughout the rest of the US and Canada. The spots of the Spotted Sandpiper are only shown during breeding plumage. Otherwise the breast is white. This photo was taken at Lake Cochise in Arizona.
Spotted Sandpiper

The last one for today is the Long Billed Curlew. I am sure I have shown you this before, but since it is listed as a Sandpiper, here it is again. The Long Billed Curlew is quite large, the size of most large hawks, although shorter wingspan. It winters along the Pacific Coast and summers on inland plains. It is a sandpiper less associated with ocean shores.
Long Billed Curlew