Saturday, December 31, 2011

Advent Calendar - December 31st

The sun is about to set on 2011. So it seemed appropriate for my last photo of the year to be the sun setting over Continental Divide, separating east from west in the Canadian Rockies.

It was December 1999 (as the millennium was about to end) and I was coming over Vermillion Pass from Banff National Park into Kootenay National Park. There in all it's splendor was a sunset lighting up the sky and making the Vermillion River look like it was on fire. The Vermillion River feeds the Kootenay River which feeds the Columbia River and 1200 miles later the Pacific Ocean. I quickly pulled off the road, got out my camera and tripod and started snapping photos. So as the 2011 sun sets, I hope 2012 is as wonderful for you as 2011 has been for us!

River of Fire
Vermillion River at the Continental Divide between British Columbia and Alberta, Canada

Friday, December 30, 2011

Advent Calendar - December 30th

This Mule Deer Buck always makes for a good Christmas Card. I found him in South Central Oregon on the way to Hart Mountain one year. He seemed so proud of the way he looked. He wanted to make sure I got a good photo. I think I did:

Mule Deer Buck in South Central Oregon

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Advent Calendar - December 29th

I was driving through Wells Gray, British Columbia in December of 1998, primarily looking for Moose, Wolves, and Lynx. I love Wells Gray. There are several waterfalls, which are iced-over in the winter. In September they have an amazing salmon run at Bailey's Chute where the rapids are too steep for the salmon. They try in vain to get over the chute but can't. It is an amazing sight. Wells Gray has an abundance of mammals: black and grizzly bear, wolf, mountain lion, lynx, bobcat, wolverine, moose, deer, mountain goat, caribou, plus a host of smaller mammals such as fisher, marten, mink, weasel, squirrel, etc. The northern half of the park is accessible only by boat and then on foot. We're talking wilderness here. So, my search this particular occasion didn't find Wolves or Lynx. I did find Moose and Deer. But I thought I would share with you another. A Red (or Pine) Squirrel:

Red Squirrel in Wells Gray, British Columbia

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Advent Calendar - December 28th

Well, I am going to cheat a bit today. It wasn't December, but actually April. However, April in the Canadian Rockies is like December in many places -- like Mount Lemmon today here in Tucson. This Mountain Goat, one of my favorite wild animals, and one of the most beautiful, was willing to pose for me.   I was able to get to it from above so you could see some of the mountain terrain below. You can see that she is just starting to shed her winter coat. Mountain Goats need to be respected and approached very quietly and carefully without arm movements. Once she saw I meant no harm she continued to eat the little patches of vegetation that was exposed by the melting snow.

Mountain Goat in Canadian Rockies

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Advent Calendar - December 27th

On both sides of the central Oregon/California Border are the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges which include Lower Klamath and Tule Lake NWR. Established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908, Lower Klamath Refuge is our nation’s first waterfowl refuge. This 46,900 acre Refuge is a varied mix of shallow freshwater marshes, open water, grassy uplands, and croplands that are intensively managed to provide feeding, resting, nesting, and brood rearing habitat for waterfowl and other water birds. A marked ten mile auto tour (with photo blinds along the way)  gives visitors year round access to great wildlife viewing opportunities. Here wintering waterfowl come by the thousands, including these Tundra Swans:

Tundra Swans on Tule Lake, California

Monday, December 26, 2011

Advent Calendar - December 26th

This little Wood Duck certainly seems out of place. He's a year round resident on the Pacific Coast and south Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. He is seen occasionally in inland parts of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana. But in December, it is rare to see him inland. This photo was taken at Mahleur National Wildlife Refuge in Eastern Oregon.

Male Wood Duck at Mahleur National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Advent Calendar - December 25th


I guess Santa was able to get the Reindeer together. Here he is on the Polar Express Railroad with some pretty wild animals: Grandson Noah and Granddaughter Ruby.

Santa Claus, DEN, Noah, Ruby, Daughter Erin
Note: the Polar Express goes from Williams, Arizona on the line to the Grand Canyon, although it only goes about 30 miles to an isolated area where lights have been setup to look like the North Pole. Santa comes through the train cars with cookies, hot chocolate, and small gifts.

Have a wonderful Holiday

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Advent Calendar - December 24th

It's Christmas Eve. You know what that means? It's time to gather the Reindeer.

Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen. Don't know where Rudolph is though, guess it's not foggy enough yet.
(Caribou on Medicine Lake, Alberta, Canada)

Friday, December 23, 2011

Advent Calendar - December 23rd

Now over to South Central Oregon. I was on my way to Hart Mountain looking for Pronghorn, when I saw this small herd of Mule Deer on the right side of the road up ahead. That side of the road was pretty wide open, while the other side headed up into the mountain forest. It occurred to me that the Deer would probably cross the road and then hop the fence as I approached. So, I rolled down the window on the driver's side, got my camera ready, drove foreword, and viola! They didn't disappoint:

Mule Deer in South Central Oregon

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Advent Calendar - December 22nd

Today, we go to Western Montana where I came across a small herd of Pronghorn one December morn. I was able to get many photos, but this one seemed to have an almost "silk painting" like quality:

Pronghorn inWestern Montana

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Advent Calendar - December 21st

On one of my first trips to Alberta, Canada (in 1995) I was driving up to Maligne Lake. Looking through the trees to an open field -- covered in snow -- was a brown spot. Seemed odd. So I stopped my Jeep and walked through the trees to get a better look. Wow! A Moose just sitting there right in the middle of this open field. I walked to within 30 feet of her, stopped, sat down, and started taking photos. This was film days, so I went through a couple of rolls of film. She just continued to sit and look at me. After about 30 minutes, my coat not nearly as warm as hers evidently, I got up, said thank you, and headed for the warmth of my Jeep. Here is my favorite of the bunch:

Moose Cow, Alberta, Canada

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Advent Calendar - December 20th

It was minus 11 degrees on Medicine Lake, Alberta, January 13, 1999. And there he sat:

Bull Elk in Snow

Monday, December 19, 2011

Advent Calendar - December 19th

I love Coyotes. I think they are beautiful. The cartoons and movies always picture them as scraggly or mangy. Not my experience at all. This photo, taken on the Columbia Icefields in front of 11 glaciers is a perfect example. Does he not look beautiful as he walks across the ice? 

Coyote on the Columbia Icefields, Alberta, Canada

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Advent Calendar - December 18th

Okay, I'm cheating just a bit on this. This is not a December photo. It was actually taken in May in Alberta Canada. However, it looks like winter   -------------------- doesn't it? 

Black bears do not hibernate like Brown Bears (Grizzlies, Kodiak) or Polar Bears. However there are metabolic changes that allow black bears to remain dormant for months without eating, drinking, urinating, or defecating. Biologists have redefined mammalian hibernation as "specialized, seasonal reduction in metabolism concurrent with scarce food and cold weather". Under this definition Black Bears qualify. However, if the winter is mild enough, they may wake up and forage for food.
Black bears enter their dens in October and November. Prior to that time, they can put on up to 30 pounds of body fat. Hibernation in black bears typically lasts 3–5 months. During this time, their heart rate drops from 40–50 beats per minute to 8 beats per minute.  Unlike Brown Bears and Polar Bears, their body temperature does not drop significantly and they remain somewhat alert and active. A hormone is released into their systems, to suppress appetite. Because they do not urinate or defecate during dormancy, the nitrogen waste from the their body is biochemically recycled back into their proteins. This also serves the purpose of preventing muscle loss, as the process uses the waste products to build muscle during the long periods of inactivity. Females give birth in February and nurture their cubs until the snow melts. During winter, black bears consume up to 40% of their body weight. When they awake, they seek carrion from winter-killed animals and the new growth of plants and trees. In mountainous areas, they seek southerly slopes at lower elevations for forage and move to northerly and easterly slopes at higher elevations as summer progresses. 

Black Bear in Tree, Alberta

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Advent Calendar - December 17th

The Skagit River helps form "Fir Island" in Western Washington. Rich soil creates fertile farmlands -- and  welcome resting places for migratory birds. This particular site is the winter home for 10 - 15,000 Snow Geese from Siberia. I took great care to compose this photo, ensuring that Mt. Baker was the top-center, the farm was mid-center, and the Snow Geese in front. What I didn't count on was the perfect spacing and centering of the four flying Snow Geese in front of each of Mt. Baker's peaks. Life brings the photographer  a few wonderful surprises sometimes.

Snow Geese and Mt. Baker, Washington

Friday, December 16, 2011

Advent Calendar - December 16th

Every winter hundreds of Bald Eagles come to poach salmon on the Skagit River in Western Washington. The Skagit River runs from a mountaintop of the Cascades to the Puget Sound. The Skagit floodplain is one of the richest agricultural areas in the world. Tideflats, estuaries and farm fields draw tens of thousands of Wrangel Island (Siberia) Snow Geese (tomorrow's post) each winter, as well as trumpeter swans and countless shorebirds on their great migrations. What brings people, though, are the Bald Eagles. Last year's count on December 15th was 285 Bald Eagles. The highest count last year was 410 on December 22nd. On January 7, 2009 there were 859 counted. (The count includes only eagles that are actually seen by experienced personnel & include those seen in areas inaccessible to the general public.)  What brings the Bald Eagles are the Salmon, mostly Kings (also called Chinook) which come up the Skagit each winter. Here's a Bald Eagle standing on what appears to be a 25-30 pound salmon:

Bald Eagle with King Salmon

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Advent Calendar - December 15th

I love my winter trips to Canada. It is partly because the setting is so different and the white of the snow provides wonderful contrasts. Here a lone Bighorn Ram stood on a mountainside pushing the snow away with his horns and nose to get to some grass below. He gave me "the look" every now and then. But in most of these wildlife photo ops, I try to be very still with no big hand motions to let the animal know I mean no harm. That allows them to continue to eat without fear. Photo taken along the Columbia Icefields:

Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep Ram in Snowy Alberta, Canada

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Advent Calendar - December 14th

It was a snowy day in December of 1998. I spent the afternoon and the following morning looking for Bison in Western Montana in and around the National Bison Range (National Wildlife Refuge). They don't get a lot of visitors there. In fact, I was the only one for several days. In the afternoon I saw a small herd on the side of a mountain but had no way of getting close to them. Late the following morning as I was coming around a corner and up over a small hill, there he stood -- all 2000 pounds. Just him, all by himself near a creek.  With the snow falling, I slowly, carefully walked toward him to get a good photo. He looked at me and then, snap. I have the photo I wanted:

American Bison

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Advent Calendar - Well, not Quite

Wish I had thought to start this December 1st. Oh, well, here's December 13th:

Anna's Hummingbird -  And, yes this was taken at The Azure Gate, a very rare snowstorm.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A couple more babies

Most wild animal mothers keep their young as far from civilization and danger as possible. In some cases, though they realize it's hardly necessary. In fact, quite the opposite. This Elk figured the safest place for her fawn was in the middle of the little town of Mammoth in Yellowstone National Park.  

Elk and Fawn
In most cases, however, mothers must rely on mother nature who has given the young some advantage. In the case of Pronghorn for example it is eyesight and speed. Young fawns learn to run almost at birth. They can detect movement from 4 miles away. And, Pronghorn can reach speeds of up to 70 miles an hour. They are the fastest land animal in North America. --- Although not faster than a speeding bullet. Pronghorn once roamed the west -- and in huge numbers. Now, their distribution is essentially Eastern Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico. While their numbers are way down, there are reliable "pockets of opportunity" to view them. Western Wyoming is the exception. If you drive on US 191 through Western Wyoming you can't help but see pronghorn every couple of miles feeding on ranch lands.

Pronghorn Fawn

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Babies come in all shapes and sizes

Continuing with wild animal babies.

This Bison Calf probably weighed about 30 pounds, a far cry from the 2,200 pounds when he reaches maturity.

Bison Calf
 This Coatimundi youngster will weigh about 13 pounds as an adult.
Coatimundi Youngster
 And, this Javelina Piglet, which probably weighed about one pound, will grow to weigh 60 to 80 pounds as an adult.
Newborn Javelina Piglet

Saturday, December 10, 2011

More Babies

The increase in the Deer population throughout North America, among other things, means more frequent sightings of young fawns. I wrote in September about the newborn Coues White Tail Deer I came across in the Chiricahua Mountains. This little guy I mistook for a Jackrabbit at first  -- until I realized he was too small to be a Jackrabbit. He wasn't much bigger than a house cat. The Mule Deer photo was taken in Yellowstone Park and the White Tail Deer photo was taken in Glacier National Park.  In all three cases there were two fawns with their mother.

Coues White Tail Deer Fawn

Mule Deer

White Tail Deer

Friday, December 9, 2011

Hoofed Animal Babies - II

I love finding and photographing wild animal families. The first photo was taken near Cameron Pass (10,000+ feet) in Northwestern Colorado. The young Moose was the smallest -- youngest Moose I have ever seen. If the mother and father weren't around, I am not sure I would have even known what it was. The Feral (wild) Burro family was taken at Imperial National Wildlife Refuge on the Arizona side of the Colorado River 50 miles north of Yuma.  The young Burro Colt didn't look real; looked more like a "stuffed animal" from FAO Schwartz. 

Moose Family

Feral Burro Family

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Hoofed Animal Babies

Bighorn sheep are most vulnerable when young. Predation primarily occurs with lambs which are hunted by Coyotes, Bobcats, Lynxes, Bears, Wolves, and Mountain Lions. Golden Eagles will also try to cause lambs to fall from great height. Adults are more dangerous and predation is generally restricted to Mountain Lions.
Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep Lambs

Mountain Goats occur at higher elevations and in colder climates and thus their predators are fewer in number. They will come down from higher elevations in the Spring to look for "salt licks". This is when they are most vulnerable to predation. But, as a general rule they spend most of their time at higher elevations than their predators. Even still, like with the Bighorn Sheep lambs, Golden Eagles will try to cause the lambs to fall to their death.

Mountain Goat with Kid

Monday, December 5, 2011

From Taking Life to Giving Life

Although predators must take life to survive, they also give life. Most predators are very careful about exposing their young.  Bear cubs seem to be the easiest to find. But finding Coyote or Wolf or Mountain Lion cubs you almost need a den in your backyard. But, here are a couple that I like:

Black Bear with her two cubs.

Bobcat with one of her two kittens.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Predators with Their Prey: Raptors

Raptors don't have an easy time of it either. However, they succeed often enough to survive.

Bald Eagle with 30 pound Salmon

The rare Gray Hawk with a bird of some kind

Osprey with 24 inch Rainbow Trout

Sharp Shinned Hawk with Mourning Dove

Yes, and a Turkey Vulture with a Coyote

Friday, December 2, 2011

Predators with Their Prey

Life of the predator is not easy. Often unsuccessful, they keep trying until they capture their food. I have seen Coyotes gang up on a rabbit without success. I have seen Bobcats chase after rabbits without success. But, often enough they succeed. Here are a few photos:

American Marten with Squirrel

Bobcat with Desert Cottontail

Coyote with some Carcass

Gray Wolf with Bison Carcass

Grizzly Bears with Elk

Northern River Otter with Salmon

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Agua Caliente

Up at dawn this morning and it occurred to me I didn't have to make breakfast for anyone. So I hopped in the Jeep and headed over to Agua Caliente -- Hot Water. Or, the name of a regional park about four miles from us. There is a pond of, at most, 10 acres but it attracts water  birds. I have seen Great Egrets, Green Herons, Black Crowned Night Herons, Great Blue Herons, an Osprey, Belted Kingfishers, Peregrine Falcons, Great Horned Owls, Cooper's Hawks, Sharp Shinned Hawks, Red Tailed Hawks, and an assortment of small birds like Vermillion Flycatchers, Western Tanagers, Orioles, and Cedar Waxwings among others. But, today one Great Blue Heron and some of the winter ducks:

Great Blue Heron

Mallard Duck

Ring-necked Duck

American Wigeon

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Javelina Visit

Often we get a whole herd of Javelinas (collard peccaries), sometimes as many as 20 (once I counted 24). Most of those are females and juveniles. Javelinas are omnivores and will eat small animals, roots, grass, seeds, fruit, and cactus although their most cherished food comes from our garbage cans; oh, and any plant we buy from a nursery. Javelinas have scent glands below each eye and another on their back. The scent glands are used to mark herd territories. They also rub up against each other to mark members of a herd. So, while each Javelina has it's own scent, each herd also has its own scent. The scent is strong enough that humans can easily pick it up -- probably why Javelinas are also referred to as "skunk pigs."

Every once in a while a male struts through by himself. Males weigh as much as 88 pounds. What is interesting is that when nervous, their hairs stand up and shiver.  Yesterday afternoon, while sitting at my desk a male came through. I grabbed my camera and got a couple of photos before he "got away," although I never really got close enough for a good photo. You'll notice the hairs standing up on his neck:


Monday, November 28, 2011

Harris Hawk

We have had five Harris Hawks around for the past two weeks. Two of them were in our aleppo pine tree the other day and let me get up on the roof and fairly close for some photos -- as you will see below.

The Harris Hawk is a medium-large raptor whose range is from the southwestern United States south to Chile and central Argentina. Birds are sometimes reported at large in Western Europe, especially England but it is a popular species in falconry and these sightings almost certainly all refer to birds that have escaped from captivity. The Harris Hawk is unique because it hunts cooperatively in family groups while most other raptors hunt in solitary. 

Individual Harris Hawks range in length from 18 to 30 in and generally have a wingspan of about 3.6 ft.  The females are larger by about 35%.  They have dark brown plumage with orange shoulders, wing linings, and thighs. The white on the base of the tail is a dead give-away in flight. They have long, yellow legs. The vocalizations of the Harris's Hawk are very harsh sounds. Christine and I have been "scolded" by them on more than one occasion. 

The diet of the Harris's Hawk consists of small creatures including birds, lizards, and large insects, although mammals are they favorite prey. They nest in small trees, shrubby growth, or cacti. The nests are often compact, made of sticks, plant roots, and stems, and are often lined with leaves,  bark and plant roots. They are built mainly by the female. There are usually two to four white to blueish white eggs sometimes with a speckling of pale brown or gray. The nestlings start out light buff, but in five to six days turn a rich brown.

Since about 1980, Harris's Hawks have been increasingly used in falconry and are now the most popular hawks in the West (outside of Asia) for that purpose, as they are the easiest to train and the most social. In one of our favorite movies, the Clive Owen "King Arthur," one of his knights, Tristan carries a Harris Hawk with him (even though Harris Hawks were not present in Europe at the time of King Arthur). We have a wonderful dear friend that stays with us every year that tells us of a similar story in Clint Eastwood's "Pale Rider" where the opening scene is of a Turkey Vulture making a sound of a Hawk. Turkey Vultures don't make any sound at all. When she confronted Clint about this, his reply was "Darling, nobody will know the difference."

Very often, there will be three hawks attending one nest: two males and one female.  The female does most of the incubation. The eggs hatch in 31 to 36 days. The young begin to explore outside the nest at 38 days, and fledge, or start to fly, at 45 to 50 days. The female sometimes breeds two or three times in a year. Young may stay with their parents for up to three years, helping to raise later broods. 
Here are the latest photos: