Friday, September 30, 2011

Violet Crowned Hummingbird

In addition to the Ivyleaf Morningglory at Patton's I did take a few hummingbird photos. Patton's is the place to find and photograph the Violet Crowned Hummingbird. There is no other site that I know of where the Violet Crowned is a sure thing. What makes it stand out is the red bill and the pure white throat and breast. Patton's has 10 hummingbird feeders along the south side of their home. There is a tent with chairs set up for viewing. But behind the tent facing the Patagonia Creek wilderness area there is a feeder buried (well not quite buried - let's say "nestled") in the wild vegetation. Many people who visit don't even see it. Because it faces the wilderness area it gets a lot of hummingbirds too. Now, while I don't normally photograph hummingbirds  on feeders, because of this unusual setting I couldn't resist. Here are three I particularly liked. (If you click on a photo you can see it enlarged).

Violet Crowned Hummingbird

Violet Crowned Hummingbird

Violet Crowned Hummingbird

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Ivyleaf Morningglory

One of my favorite wildflowers to photograph is the Ivyleaf Morningglory. I think that is partly because of its soft "pastel" color; partly because of its shape; and partly because it usually stands alone in a forest setting.  A few days ago I posted with a title "Wildlife Fine Art Photography". For some reason my eye can see these beautiful wildflowers as fine art. My trip to Sonoita and Patagonia yielded several such photos. First at the Patton's of Patagonia "the hummingbird site" and secondly at the Roadside Stop along Patagonia Creek. 

While there were other people at Patton's watching and photographing the hummingbirds, this Ivyleaf Morningglory caught my eye:

Ivyleaf Morningglory from Patton's of Patagonia

The last two photos were from the Roadside Stop 7 milers south of Patagonia and along Patagonia Creek. Because these wildflowers were along the creek there was plenty of green vegetation which provided a wonderful "out of focus" background of sea green.

Ivyleaf Morningglory along Patagonia Creek

Ivyleaf Morningglory along Patagonia Creek

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Butterflies of Patagonia

It is Butterfly season in Southern Arizona --- thanks to the monsoon rains. The little town of Patagonia has a butterfly garden in its central park. Although only about 800 square feet, the garden brings lots of butterflies. Here are a few of my butterfly photos from yesterday:

Bairds Old World Swallowtail

Cabbage White

Gulf Fritillary

Queen Butterfly

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Sonoita's Pronghorns

Sonoita, Arizona is known mostly for its Wineries. Maybe also because it is a crossroad to either Patagonia or Parker Lake or Tombstone. But it also has a fair Pronghorn population in the wide open grasslands northeast of town. As I was driving through this morning on my way to Patagonia I came across a small herd of 13 in the grasses. They were fairly close to the road so I could get some photos, although I was shooting directly in the rising sun. Here are the best:

Part of the herd of Pronghorn

Male Pronghorn

Young Pronghorn

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Desert Tortoise

Christine called me a couple of days ago as she was pulling into our driveway. "Come quickly," she said, "and bring your camera." There at the end of the driveway was a Desert Tortoise. After a photo or two, I started thinking that I didn't like where he was. Seemed too close to the road and thus too dangerous for him to stay there. The Desert Tortoise is protected so I really did not want to leave him there. I carefully picked him up and took him back behind the office. I didn't want him to feel frightened, so gave him some water. Christine put a couple of cut up apples about three feet in from of him, and he wasted no time chewing them up. Once he started eating, we decided to leave him alone. I checked about 10 minutes later, the apples were gone and so was the Tortoise. Although we have seen Desert Tortoises at Saguaro National Park and a few other places, this was a first for us at The Azure Gate.  

The Desert Tortoise is found in the Sonoran Desert of Southern Arizona and Northern Mexico. It can attain a length of about 14 inches, which this particular one was. The front limbs have sharp, claw-like scales and are flattened for digging. Back legs are skinnier and very long. The tortoise is able to live where ground temperature may exceed 140 degrees Fahrenheit because of its ability to dig underground burrows and escape the heat. At least 95% of its life is spent in burrows. The burrows also protected him from freezing during the winter. The desert tortoise is a herbivore. Grasses form the bulk of its diet, but it also eats wildflowers, cacti, and fruit. They come out during and after our monsoons to drink from pools left behind. They have a huge bladder that retains water. In this way they can go for nearly a year without drinking. 

The Desert Tortoise reaches sexual maturity at about 15 years. Average life expectancy is 50 to 80 years.

Desert Tortoise

Desert Tortoise Close-up

Friday, September 23, 2011

Reprising Clint Eastwood

There is a scene in the beginning of Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven, where he is chasing a pig around trying to get it out of the pen it is in. It's both sad and hilarious at the same time. Age seems to make the difficult impossible.  I had to check the IMDB, but shocking to my own sense of youth, I am three years older than Clint Eastwood was when he filmed Unforgiven.  

Last night Christine heard some banging sounds outside the office. I thought it might be a Javelina trying to get into our bird seed bin, but we looked all around our property (with flashlights in hand) and didn't see anything. Finally we went into the oasis (which is walled -- essentially to keep the bunnies out). Occasionally we get a Bobcat in the Oasis but they are so quiet that didn't seem likely this time. Finally I saw it, yes, a Javelina standing in the middle of the flower bed staring at me. The first thing that came to mind was "how did this Javelina get into our oasis?" All the gates were closed. This wasn't Dumbo the Flying Elephant, it was a pig. After a minute of two of staring at each other she started eating our agaves and aloes. This was unacceptable behavior as far as I was concerned, so I began the chase. I opened all three gates and tried to "shoo" her out. The difficult now seemed impossible. She kept running around, up the stairs to the upper level of the patio, then down around and through the flower beds. She continuously ran PAST the gates without the slightest thought that they represented an escape route. She kept running around the pool on his circuit. I could just imagine her falling into the pool --- what would I do then. This was a 40 or so pound Javelina with a potentially nasty bite. Christine is watching my impersonation of Clint Eastwood not knowing whether to laugh or cry. Finally, after 20 minutes of huffing and puffing the Javelina went through one of the gates and out into the world. As for me, I was too exhausted to be embarrassed. 

Was it an Academy Award performance?? I think Clint is pretty safe. Good thing I have a day job.

And as for the mystery of how the Javelina got into the oasis. I'm afraid we'll never know. After all, I am not Columbo either.

Although too dark to get a photo, here is a Javelina photo from earlier in the day:

Female Javelina

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Fine Art Wildlife Photography????

Fine Art Photography is in a completely different category of its own. I'll always remember a guest from Switzerland who stayed with us during the 2006 World Cup Soccer Games. Although a soccer fan, he was here working on a photo book with a working title of "The Ends of the Earth." He was in Southern Arizona to photograph Ghost Towns. To him, angles, composition, and lighting were key. When I checked out his website there were some absolutely amazing photographs of objects that I would have never thought to photograph.  With Fine Art photography, the photographer has to have an "eye" for seeing something others don't see. 

Side Note: The day he left, Switzerland was in the final. His plane didn't leave until late so we watched the game together in my office. (Other guests were arriving in his room that day). The match took five hours with the final score being 0-0 with Switzerland losing in a shootout after two overtime periods where neither team scored. I am sure there were people who found that game exciting. Switzerland was the only team in the tournament not to have conceded a goal during regulation time in any of their matches, yet still lost.

Okay, back to photography. I don't know whether there is such a thing as Fine Art Wildlife Photography. However, from time to time a wildlife photograph looks like art -- at least to me. Something about them, color, flowers, soft focus, that makes them look like paintings. Here are some examples:

Brewers Blackbird taken in Glacier National Park

Common Merganser taken on East Lake, Oregon

Harrier Hawk taken in Northeastern Oregon

House Finch taken here at the Azure Gate on a Mesquite Tree

Lesser Goldfinch taken here at the Azure Gate on a Pomegranate Tree

Anna's Hummingbird taken here at the Azure Gate

Anna's Hummingbird taken in Ash Canyon, Arizona

White Pelican taken on the Yellowstone River in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Other Reflections

Sometimes reflections are easy -- right in front of you -- bird in still water. Sometimes the reflection isn't as obvious as in the first photo of the American Avocets. Here is wasn't until I got home and had a chance to really look at my photos of the day that I realized it was special -- almost an abstract painting. Sometimes, as in the last to photos of the ducks, the color gives you a wonderful surprise, something more than just a reflection.

American Avocet at Whitewater Draw, Arizona

Black Necked Stilt at Sweetwater Wetlands, Arizona

Killdeer at Blue Lake, Washington

Long Billed Dowitcher at Lake Cochise, Arizona

Northern Shoveler at Mercer Slough, Washington

American Wigeon at Davis Lake, Oregon

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

More Reflections

It is interesting that there are an abundance of Great Blue Herons in the Northwest, with a few Great Egrets here and there. When the tide goes out in Padilla Bay (Western Washington) there are literally hundreds of Great Blues. In California it seems the reverse is true: an abundance of Great Egrets with the occasional Great Blue Heron. In Arizona, there isn't an abundance of either. It's a one or two situation and and almost always around water. In any case, reflections can create an entirely different kind of photo -- even artistic in nature. Here are a few of the "heron reflections":

Black Crowned Night Heron - adult at Lake Cochise, Arizona

Great Blue Heron in Padilla Bay, Washington

Great Blue Heron at Lake Cochise, Arizona

Green Heron at Columbus Lake, Arizona

Monday, September 19, 2011


So when you have 1000 photographs of Great Egrets what do you do when you see one of mother nature's most beautiful, graceful, elegant, and majestic birds? You look for a different perspective; a different view; a different setting; different lighting; or a reflection. With so many different possibilities, after a while it becomes hard to choose which is "best". Here are some examples:

First the different settings:

Along a lakeshore at Columbus Lake, Arizona

In a wetland, at Sweetwater Wetlands, Arizona

Beside a creek in Cibola National Wildlife Refuge, Arizona

 Now for the reflections:

Over a pond in Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, California

In a marsh at Frenchman's Hill, Washington

In a warm spring at Agua Caliente, Arizona

Something about each of these photos that makes it impossible for me to choose "the best" or even my favorite. 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Photographer or Naturalist, That is the Question

The balance between wildlife photography and nature lover gets blurry sometimes. I am not sure there needs to be a fine line of distinction between the two but certainly it is worth thinking about. DeWitt Jones, a National Geographic photographer I admire, said "every once in a while leave you camera behind and just enjoy nature naturally." The thought of not carrying 10 pounds worth of camera equipment around on a hike is definitely appealing. Of course, every time (well it seems like every time) I leave my camera behind I miss "the shot of a lifetime." 

I like keeping good photos of wildlife seen in various places around the world (thank goodness for digital photo storage and organizing  software), but eventually I replace good photos with better photos, keeping them in an "album" of all my best photos. At some point I end up with a photo like this White Tail Buck that I suspect will be very difficult to improve upon, and unlikely replaced in my "Best Photo Album":

White Tail Buck
Now, when I see White Tail Deer I don't think about photographing them unless there is something unusual about the setting, the lighting, or what they are doing. I can simply enjoy watching them as a nature lover. 

While roaming around the Coconino Forest ten days ago I came across many Abert's Squirrels darting around through the woods. I could easily have gotten frustrated not being able to get a good photo. Fortunately, five years ago  while roaming around in this same area I got one of those "I suspect will be very difficult to improve upon photos:" 

Abert's Squirrel
The beauty is that I can now watch them frolicking around without going for my camera. Just enjoy nature naturally. It is a beautiful thing after all.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Coopers Hawk bathing

As I was wandering around Sweetwater Wetlands two weeks ago I came across this Cooper's Hawk bathing in one of the small streams. He let me get quite close before finishing his bath and taking off:

Coopers Hawk

Coopers Hawk

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Timing is Everything

For a wildlife photographer, being in the right place at precisely the right time is essential. I like to plan to be where I think I have a good chance of finding something at the moment the light comes up. This sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. I remember wanting to be at Cameron Pass in the Colorado Rockies at 6:00 am one early September morning. When I arrived there was a Moose family eating among the willow bushes. The Moose weren't frightened by me so continued to stay there eating for a couple of hours, by which time the light was good enough for some really great photos.

On the other hand, the day I left Flagstaff -- also the day I got sick -- I wanted to be on a very specific back road in the Coconino Forest on the San Francisco Peaks at first light. There I found a small group of five Elk eating in an open field (first photo). The light wasn't quite good enough, but unlike the Moose, they immediately started running. I saw some Bull Elk another 100 yards away but they too started running before the light was good. (second photo). It really takes an hour after first light to get enough light through the trees for a forest shot. So, when I came across a couple more Bull Elk, even though I was much closer, I still didn't have enough light for a great photo. Even by mid-morning, the light underneath thousands of Ponderosa Pines doesn't make for easy photography. The Pronghorn was about the best I could hope for as he crossed the road in front of me. Even though I didn't get great photos, seeing the forest alive with wildlife is also a treat and very special.

From there, I took a quick -- well, it's not all that quick -- drive up Mount Elden to see if I could find a Bear. No Bear to be photographed this time, but I got my best photo of the day: a Wildflower no less. 

Elk - mostly cows

Elk - all bulls

Bull Elk

Pronghorn Male

Just a Wildflower

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

So, when is the next post????

You may have wondered what wonderful wilderness area I have been in the last week, what I found, and what I photographed.

I only wish that were the case.  I don't think the VA Hospital counts for a wilderness area. Last Wednesday I started coughing and have essentially not stopped since; fever to 103; and a prostrate that didn't want to function correctly. The result was not being able to sleep more than 30 minutes at a time. Every test imaginable -- along with some you don't want to imagine was tried. At first they thought is was pneumonia, but after 48 hours of intensive antibiotic IV treatment, not any better. One of the three different antibodies used did help with the prostrate problem. And, the fever has dropped to normal.

Anyway, I have been discharged and on some "home treatment" -- although, I have an appointment with my allergist today to see what he thinks.

So, I just wanted to apologize for no posts and to say I'll get back at it as soon as I am up to it; hopefully later today or tomorrow.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Sweetwater Wetlands Revisted

A nice day today at Sweetwater Wetlands. I'll start with the Black Necked Stilts found in one of the reclamation ponds:

Black Necked Stilt with a Killdeer

After a few photos, the three Black Necked Stilts took off and started circling around me. Here are some of those photos: