Friday, June 29, 2012

Plain Capped Starthroat & Berylline Hummingbirds

I mentioned on Wednesday going to Montosa Canyon to find the Plain Capped Starthroat and Berylline Hummingbirds that had been reported there. As I explained, I failed to find either of them. However, I thought I could dig up a couple of old photos I have taken of each.

First the Berylline. Adults are four inches and metallic olive green with a rusty gray lower belly. The tail and primary wings are rufous in color and slightly forked. The underwing is also rufous making it easier to identify in flight. The bill of the male is straight and very slender. It is very dark red in coloration, almost black. The female is less colorful than the male. They feed on nectar and flowering trees using a long extendable tongue. They will also catch insects to munch on.

Its normal habitat is forests and thickets ranging from Western Mexico to Central Honduras. It strays to southeastern Arizona during the summer months. It is also known to breed occasionally while in Arizona. The female builds a nest in a protected location in a shrub or tree. Females lay two white eggs. The Berylline is essentially non-migratory.

Female Berylline Hummingbird

Plain Capped Starthroat. Adults are five inches with metallic bronze on their upper-parts, tail, back and crown. They have white "lightning bolt" above and in back of their eye. The Starthroat also has a white patch on the rump (which no other North American Hummingbird has). The gorget is purple. The breast and underparts are a grayish white. The bill is straight, long and very slender. It is darkly colored. The female is slightly less colorful than the male.

Their range is from Western Mexico to Southern Costa Rica. It is a rare visitor to the US being reported in the Chiricahua Mountains, Huachuca Mountains, Santa Rita Mountains (Montosa Canyon as well as Patagonia), and in 2007 at Agua Caliente Park four miles from us. They, too, feed on nectar and flowering trees using a long extendable tongue. They will also catch insects to munch on.

Plain Capped Starthroat

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Saguaro National Park early this morning

Christine and I were up at 4:30 AM and arrived at the Speedway Trailhead to Saguaro National Park at 5:00.  We wanted to hike but not after 11:00 when the temps reach 100 degrees (114 yesterday by 2:00). It's also a good time for finding and photographing wildlife. They aren't around in the middle of a hot summer's day either. 

I wasn't looking for something specific to photograph, so I found lots of things to photograph. First, sunrise:

Sunrise at Saguaro National Park
 Then I looked for an opportunity to photograph the sun as it first appeared over the horizon. This trio of Saguaros provided the perfect setting.

Here Comes the Sun
 Christine loves the variety of Saguaro shapes --- and in particular, those that have died. So, I took this picture at her request:
Saguaro Skeleton
 We often see Black Tailed Jackrabbits and sometimes Antelope Jackrabbits at Saguaro National Park. Of course this time of year when the mesquite pods fall off the mesquite trees we get several at The Azure Gate. I can often get a photo just outside my office.

Black Tailed Jackrabbit
 As we were just finishing up our 3+ mile hike a Coyote crossed our path.
 Then, as we were arriving back home, another Coyote. I took several photos, including a couple where he was looking directly at me.  But, this one is the one I liked best:
Coyote at Home

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Montosa Canyon

There are two good lists of rare -- or uncommon  -- bird sightings. One is the Tucson Audubon's Rare Bird list published weekly. The other is the BirdingOnTheNet Arizona-New Mexico Birding List which is updated daily. Both have been reporting sightings of the Berylline Hummingbird and the Plain Capped Starthroat Hummingbird. Although I have found and photographed both before, they are so infrequent visitors to the US that I wanted to see and photograph them again. So off to Montosa Canyon on the West side of the Santa Rita Mountains in Southern Arizona.

I have said this before, but feel compelled to say it again, "when you go looking for something specific, your chances of finding it are very bad. Because of all the things in the world, you're only looking for one of them. When you go looking for anything at all, your chances of finding it are very good. Because of all the things in the world, you're sure to find some of them."

The area where these two hummingbirds were reported was about 1/2 mile long and 200 yards wide filled with trees and other vegetation. I think if a Moose were in that area I am not sure it would have been easily found. So finding one, let alone both hummingbirds seemed a daunting task. I started at 6:00 am, and after several hours of walking up and down the canyon in 90 degree heat (and getting hotter) I decided to forego the search for the day. However, as I drove further up the mountain (toward the Whipple Observatory) I came across a pair of Montezuma Quail. Montezuma Quail are small secretive ground birds that unlike other quail do not form large groups. They are usually found in pairs or with their off-spring and that's it. Except for the Bobwhite, the Montezuma Quail is the most difficult quail to find in the US. 

My photos weren't great, but worth showing anyway:

Montezuma Quail -- Male

Montezuma Quail -- Female
 On the way back I went through Madera Canyon and found this Bullocks Oriole that looked particularly handsome:

Bullocks Oriole -- Male

Sunday, June 24, 2012

From Feral Burros to Feral Horses

I was born in Washington D. C. and had much fun going to Maryland's Eastern Shore. It was probably --- wow --- 47 years ago that as high school sweethearts Christine and I went to Assateague Island to see the wild ponies.  Of course, the idea of owning a camera at the time would never have occurred to me, so no photos. Assateague was an uninhabited island. The only way to get there was via a very small pedestrian ferry. The day we went was cold and dreary. We saw no other human on the island. But, we did see those amazing Feral Ponies running along the ocean's shore.

Wild Horses are easily differentiated from domestic horses. When a Feral (or wild) Horse sees you it runs, just like most other wild animals. In the first photo, taken on Hart Mountain in Southcentral Oregon, as soon as those six horses saw me they ran (galloped away). It was an amazing sight to watch these wild horses run for at least a mile until they were out of sight:

Feral Horses on Hart Mountain, Oregon

A couple years later I went looking for Feral Horses in Northern Alberta, Canada, north of Hinton. After several hours of searching I found three adults and one colt, but again, as soon as they saw me they ran into the woods and out of sight. I was able to get one photo before they disappeared:

Feral Horses in Northern Alberta, Canada

Maybe an hour later, I came across two Feral Horses that were fighting. This time they didn't run, they were too busy fighting. In retrospect, I wish I had stayed and continued to photograph them. But, by this time it was late in the day and I was at least two hours from my campsite.  I was tired and anxious to get back and so only stayed for a minute or two. Experiences like this happen once in a lifetime --- and I left.   There is a tendency to be "too focused" on getting that photo; and that once you get it you move on to the next photo without stopping to enjoy the experience.  There's a lesson there that I hope I don't forget. Here's one of those photos: 

Feral Horses fighting in Northern Alberta, Canada

Finally, two years ago I came across a Feral Horse in Cabeza Prieta National Wildliffe Refuge in Arizona (along the US/Mexican border). He ran when he saw me but in the same direction I was going.  The problem was that he became "boxed" in with no place to go.  So, I took a quick couple of photos and then got out of his way. As soon as I got by him, he took off running again, this time in the opposite direction. Here's the photo of him stopped and looking at me:
Feral Horse in Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, Arizona

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Photo Trip: Imperial National Wildlife Refuge - IX

The last of Imperial National Wildlife Refuge and my photo trip: 

When I go to Imperial NWR I am totally focused on two things: Desert Bighorn Sheep and Feral Burros. But, occasionally something catches my eye and I take a photo, like the first Desert Iguana I have seen in the wild:

Desert Iguana

Imperial NWR is noted for its bird sanctuary. However, photographing water birds is a real challenge at Imperial because the only real access is by boat. Nonetheless, I felt compelled to photograph this Clark's Grebe from 100 yards away:
Clark's Grebe
I thought the only place Mourning Doves lived was on our property (just kidding). Although we have at least 100 on our property at any point in time, I felt compelled to photograph this one sitting on a jagged peak in the mountains:
Mourning Dove
 A Red Tail Hawk also caught my eye as I was looking in the mountains for Desert Bighorns:
Red Tail Hawk
 And, of course, what is a desert without Turkey Vultures:
Turkey Vulture
 Finally, a "poor" Whip-poor-will that had a damaged wing:

Friday, June 22, 2012

Photo Trip: Imperial National Wildlife Refuge - VIII

On to Feral Burros. Feral Burros were brought to this country in the mid 1800's from the deserts of central Africa to be used as "pack animals" for explorers, miners, and prospectors in the desert southwest. As those people died or mining dried up, the Burros were left on their own. So they have been wild and free for over 150 years. 

I have had some wonderful experiences and gotten some wonderful photos of Feral Burros. I always found small herds of up to 14 or so. On this trip to Imperial National Wildlife Refuge, however, I only found six, and all were by themselves.

Feral Burros are beautiful. A bold dark strip down their shoulder, thinner black stripes on their legs, and black "lightning bolts" through their ears. Unfortunately, the public's perception is quite the opposite. (The expression "jack ass" doesn't conjure up anything very beautiful and is normally not an expression of love and admiration). Two years ago I was looking for Feral Burros in Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and was stopped by a Border Patrol Agent. When I told him I was there looking for Feral Burros to photograph his reply was "why would you want to do that?"  There has been much written over the past few years about Feral Burros -- all negative. Articles talk about the destruction of habitat. And so, authors call out for the removal of Burros (which for the most part means killing them). There are about 5,000 Feral Burros in the US, but over 20 million deer, 93 million cattle, and 7 million sheep. Yet, it is the Feral Burro that destroys habitat  -- with little concern for deer, cattle, or sheep.

Anyway, after returning home from my trip I found an article saying that earlier this month 353 Feral Burros were rounded up at Imperial and shipped off to California. And, for this I am really sad.............. I can't think about that anymore, so ... 

Here are a few of the Feral Burro photos from this trip:

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Photo Trip: Imperial National Wildlife Refuge - VII

I made four trips out Red Cloud Mine Road from Imperial NWR through Yuma Proving Ground to Red Cloud Mine. On each trip, either on the way out, on the way back, or both I came across one or two Desert Bighorn Sheep. I have noticed -- especially with Bears -- that half the time you come across a large mammal in the wilderness they run away; a quarter of the time they walk away; which leaves one quarter of the time I might get a good photo -- as long as I don't screw up. The case today was the one-quarter that they walk away. This large Ram started walking away as soon as he saw me. However, I did get several photos before he disappeared over the mountain. Here is that sequence:

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Photo Trip: Imperial National Wildlife Refuge - VI

Another wonderful experience while at Imperial National Wildlife Refuge last week was finding and photographing a Desert Bighorn Ewe and her lamb:

 Soon after I arrived they headed up and over a ridge. First the lamb:

 Then the Ewe. Of course she stopped to see what I was doing:

 Then down the other side:

Of course, this seemed a little trickier for the lamb:

 But eventually they were back to eating:

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Photo Trip: Imperial National Wildlife Refuge - V

Photographing Bighorn Sheep: Like most large mammals, putting yourself in the place with the most potential requires study and forethought. First, you have to look in an area where they exist. Looking for Bighorn Sheep in downtown Tucson or Phoenix probably would not produce a favorable result (except at the zoo). Bighorn Sheep like "rocky" mountains with jagged peaks where they can see predators easily and climb away from danger. They also need a water source. However, Desert Bighorn Sheep can go three weeks without water, so sitting by a water source in the mountains may not produce a favorable result either. Time of day is also a factor with early morning or late in the day often offering the most potential. However, time of day is more critical for some animals than others. Moose in particular are morning and early evening creatures. Feral Burros are the same. That's not to say you can't find them midday, it's just the the potential is not as great. Desert Bighorn Sheep, on the other hand, are more accustomed to higher temperatures and midday offers the same potential. So, at Imperial National Wildlife Refuge, last week, I was looking for Feral Burros in the early morning and late afternoon, while midday looking for Bighorns.

Even if you find Desert Bighorns, and even if they are relatively close to you, and even if they are willing to let you photograph them, there are still challenges. Lighting can present a problem when the animal is between you and the sun. What might be a great photograph may turn out to be just a silhouette. If they are on the side of a mountain, putting yourself between them and the sun would require you to climb above them ---  but, they are just not going to let that happen. Some adjustments can be made in photo software (photoshop, light room, iPhoto, Aperture), but the loss of detail is hard to correct. 

In this first photo, the sun has turned what could have been a great photo into a so-so photo:

But carefully and slowly moving around to get the sky out of the background so the light is indirect, produced a much better result (of the same Ram and Ewe in very close to the same area):

I spent about 45 minutes getting into position for the above photo.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Photo Trip: Imperial National Wildlife Refuge - IV

The section of Red Cloud Mine Road that is within the Imperial National Wildlife Refuge boundary offers access for animals to get to the Colorado River. As I was driving out toward the mine late in the afternoon I saw two Ewes that appeared to want to cross the road and go down to the river for a drink. In the first photo, the more dominant Ewe crossed the road and toward the river. The second Ewe -- in the second photo -- climbed to the highest spot around to see what I was doing. So I backed away to allow that Ewe to follow her friend.

I came around the back side after that and could see the first Ewe heading toward water, next three photos:

However, she noticed that her friend -- the more cautious one -- wasn't budging now:

So she raced up the hill to be with her friend:

Now the two were together again. I love the second photo of them together.

At this point I decided to leave them and continue up the road and let them get back to the water for a drink. (I apologized for the intrusion, and thanked them for allowing me to photograph them).

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Photo Trip: Imperial National Wildlife Refuge - III

Sometimes as soon as a wild animal sees you they run. Nothing you can do but watch or take a photo of their backside as in this case with a nice sized Bighorn Ram:

This was way out Red Cloud Mine Road. There goes that "white rump."
But, every once in a while an animal will be willing to sit still and pose for you. I spent a good 30 with this nice Ram getting some good photos. Finally, I just said thank you and goodbye, leaving him to continue on his own without my presence.

(You can click on an image to enlarge).