Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Forgotten Tangent

English may be the language of Shakespeare, but he is not responsible for its unbearable inconsistencies. As I was preparing my post on "Buried Treasures" I typed the word "berry" instead of "bury."  As a wildlife photographer I like to photograph "bares", oops, I mean "bears".  Somewhere I have a photo of a bear eating berries, but I think the photo is buried among thousands of photos so I can't bare the thought of looking for it, which is unbearable. 

My apologies for the tangent!

Back to Wells Gray.  Winters in Wells Gray are almost unbearable. Even bears can't bare it so they hibernate. Okay, Den, stop it.

I remember one winter it was minus eleven degrees Fahrenheit. Being in the middle of nowhere I slept in the back of my truck (4x4 with winch). When I woke up I had that strange taste in my mouth so went to brush my teeth only to find that the toothpaste had frozen. In fact, everything in my truck was frozen  ---  EXCEPT WHAT WAS IN MY ICE CHEST. (So I kept the toothpaste in the Ice Chest from then on).

In terms of Wildlife, Wells Gray has black bears, grizzly bears, wolves, mountain lions, lynx, bobcats, wolverines, moose, deer, mountain goats, caribou, fishers, martens, minks, weasels, etc. So it has provided me with wonderful wildlife photos over the years.

But another amazing aspect of its nature are the lakes, rivers, and waterfalls.

Baileys Chute is relatively small waterfall on the Clearwater River that cascades a modest 30 feet. Yet, the Clearwater River's volume is so significant it creates quite a spectacle. In the fall, during the salmon run, the cascading nature of the falls and bedrock make it impossible for the salmon to move any further upstream. The salmon can be easily seen (and photographed) trying in vain to jump the chute. In the spring and early summer, the volume of the Clearwater River will often reach and exceed 35,000 cubic feet per second. 

In 1998, Christine and I took our son Matt and his new bride Rung for a week in British Columbia and Alberta. I took them on my usual wildlife photo route. Our first stop was Wells Gray. Here then, photos of Bailey's Chute:

Here from a distance as we first arrive at Bailey's Chute (note the 20 - 25 pound Salmon trying to get up the Chute).

I climb down to get a better photo (Christine's photo)

The better photo

Monday, July 30, 2012

Buried Treasures and Tangents

I was going through some old photo albums from 20 years ago and came across some photos I liked that never got scanned into my computer  ---and for which  the negatives were long since gone. So, I scanned  the print and imported them into my digital photo library.  The result is not quite as good as if I scanned the negative, but it is fun to see these old prints now on my computer. Anyway, my thought was to share these "buried treasures" over the next couple of days, starting with this literally buried treasure:

The outhouse in Wells Gray Provincial Park, British Columbia
Wells Gray is one of my favorite places in North America. It is the fourth largest park in Canada covering over 1.3 million acres of incredibly beautiful wilderness. A single road takes you into the southernmost third of the park. The rest of the park can only be accessed by foot. It is a true wilderness area. The park is noted for several 9,000 foot peaks in the Cariboo Mountains, and several amazing waterfalls, the largest of which is Helmcken Falls which plunges water some 500 feet. 

Here is a photo of Helmcken Falls taken during the summer:

Helmcken Falls during the summer

From the same angle but taken in the Spring:

Helmcken Falls during the spring

Same angle but with wide angle lens and taken in the winter:

Helmcken Falls during the winter

Different angle in winter:

Helmcken Falls

Winter close up from below:

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Montosa Canyon and the Rare Plain Capped Starthroat

Yesterday, I decided to do something I had never done before. People have been reporting the presence of one or two Plain Capped Starthroat Hummingbirds in Montosa Canyon for over a month. I had gone three previous times looking and only once gotten a glimpse -- including marginal photo taken from quite a distance as he sat on a tree branch.  This last time when I arrived at the culvert on Mt. Hopkins Road in Montosa Canyon I found two gentlemen who had set up a hummingbird feeder. These birders were from Montana and excited about birding in Southern Arizona. I asked one of them who was kind enough to write down his answer (because as you might know I have become essentially deaf). He said there have been two Starthroats hanging around the feeder. So, I was excited and stood by. After a few minutes a hummingbird came to the feeder. The gentlemen said that was one of the Starthroats. He had been so nice I couldn't bare to tell him that it was not a Starthroat, but a female Black Chinned Hummingbird. I knew this because I have gotten close and gotten very good photographs of the Plain Capped Starthroat before.

So, yesterday, I headed out to Montosa Canyon once again, this time with my own Hummingbird Feeder. I put it in the same place as his was, and within 30 seconds there was a male Broad Billed Hummingbird using the feeder. I also took a fold chair, my lunch, water, and of course my camera --- oh, and of course, some insect repellent. It's Monsoon Season here in Southern Arizona which means bugs. Unlike Alaska, whose mosquitos are the size of Texas, the ones here are microscopic, so you don't know that you've been eaten alive until you start getting welts all over your body. Anyway, I sat patiently by for a little over two hours, but no Plain Capped Starthroats. The Broad Billed and his partner, plus one or more female Black Chinned Hummingbirds frequented my feeder. As I said to begin with, I have never done that before, i.e. put up a feeder or use any kind of food to attract birds or animals in the wild. While I didn't get what I went after, it was very peaceful sitting in the wilderness along a stream of running water, enjoying not only the hummingbirds but the many butterflies that show up after rains. That alone was worth the trip.

I did see a nice pair of Western Tanagers although not very close. I'll include a photo of them as well. So, here the's best (?).

Male Broad Billed at my Hummingbird Feeder

Female Broad Billed Hummingbird

I should look this bug up.

What I like about this photo is you get a nice look at the plumage on his back.

A Wildflower I should probably look up as well.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Azure Gate

Just a quick couple of photos today. One a little piece of our cactus garden with a sculpture called "Serene Goddess." The other a sunset from a couple of nights ago.

Serene Goddess

Azure Gate Sunset

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Mountain Lions

 Let's start with definitions:

A Sighting: When someone sees a Mountain Lion but the Lion shows no threatening behavior. May, in fact, walk or run away.

An Encounter: When a Mountain Lion may stare, or stalk, or otherwise threaten someone, but there is no physical contact.

An Attack: When there is physical contact with a Mountain Lion.

An Attack that results in Death: When physical contact results in death of someone.

Now, a word about Sightings. It has been estimated that over 80% of all Mountain Lion Sightings are false. In reality, they are probably deer, bobcats, or coyotes.  We had a guest that came running into the main house saying that she saw a Mountain Lion walking down our driveway. I immediately grabbed my camera and went looking. What did I find? An adult full size  --  Bobcat. There are a number of possible reasons for the high false rate of "mountain lion" sightings. Most people have never seen a Mountain Lion in the wild. Many have never seen a Bobcat in the wild either. Unless you are familiar with each, it could be easy to mistake one for the other. Mountain Lions are essentially nocturnal, so are not normally out and about during the day. But also, Mountain Lions are camouflage experts, and often one doesn't get to see the entire lion. They are behind cactus or boulders where it is not easy to see them. (I think that is the whole point of the Mountain Lion's behavior, ie. not to be seen). Second, if you think you are seeing a mountain lion, your adrenaline is undoubtedly pumping and so you are not a calm, collected, reliable observer. Third, eyewitness sightings are rare and very brief events  -- as little as five seconds. But the most important reason may simply be that humans cannot judge distance well, and when viewed from below an animal can appear much larger.  (A 20 pound bobcat can appear to be the size of a 100 pound mountain lion). I know this to be the case because once Christine and I were hiking in Saguaro National Park when we came up over a ridge and both immediately saw what appeared (for a brief second)  to be a Deer. However, it was, in fact, a Jackrabbit.

My photo today  -- obviously not in the wild, but taken at the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum here in Tucson:

Mountain Lion

Now, a word about Probabilities.  I have on several occasions gone looking specifically for Mountain Lions. I have gone to places said to have the highest concentration of lions in the state or country  -- or province. With one possible exception, I have never seen one in the wild. I say possible for all the reasons explained in the previous paragraph. Christine and I were hiking in Saguaro National Park. One of the trails was closed that morning due to a Mountain Lion that was protecting a kill. So, Christine and I hiked an adjacent trail. On that trail I did see what appeared to be a large mammal walking parallel to us behind a lot of prickly pear cactus and mesquite trees. I never saw the head  -- nor the tail which certainly would have helped. I immediately started walking diagonally in that direction but the animal disappeared quickly. The entire event took about 10 seconds at most. Was it a Mountain Lion? Maybe, but then again maybe not. I have come across Mountain Lion tracks many times. Some seemed very fresh and some were not there when I went by that spot an hour earlier.  I have often thought that when I die, and appear before St. Peter, the first question I want to ask (other than where are all the pens I've lost) is how many times a Mountain Lion saw me when I didn't see him? 

And, finally a word about Dangers. Over the past 30 years the average number of Mountain Lion attacks in the United States and Canada (combined) has been 5.6 per year. The average number of Mountain Lion attacks that resulted in death in the United States and Canada has averaged 0.8 per year (four every five years). To put this in perspective, in the last five years the average number of deaths from domestic dogs (mostly pit bulls and rottweilers) in the United States alone is 29.6 (that's an average per year). Also, on average 1008 people are treated in hospital emergency rooms for dog bites EVERY SINGLE DAY in the United States.

For me, seeing a Mountain Lion in the wild would be thrilling. I would, however, be very cautious and try to keep a safe distance. 

Chiricahua Mountains - no bears, but ....

Well, I was hoping to find a Black Bear or two, and I surely gave it a good try. I looked everywhere I had seen them before, plus a couple of new spots. Explored both Rustler Park and Barfoot Park atop the Chiricahuas.  But, I came up empty. Although, I did get a couple of Coues White Tailed Deer photos during my hike on the South Fork Cave Creek Trail. And I got a fun photo of a Mexican Gray Squirrel (that, other than Mexico,  is only found in the Chiricahuas).

Coues White Tailed Deer 

Coues White Tailed Deer  -- Young Buck

Mexican Gray Squirrel

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

So What Happened in the Chiricahuas?

First the birds. The best was a female Elegant Trogon. Trogons typically migrate to the Madrean Sky Islands of Southern Arizona in March and stay for the Spring and Summer. They often nest in holes of Sycamore Trees. This female let me get close for a photo, but then took off up the mountain.

Female Elegant Trogon
 The Black Headed Grosbeak and Cardinal are more common in Southern Arizona:

Female Black Headed Grosbeak

Male Cardinal
 The Blue Throated Hummingbird, another migrant, is a typical summer resident of the Chiricahuas, the Huachucas, and occasionally the Santa Ritas (although not in large numbers):
Female Blue Throated Hummingbird
 This Red Tailed Hawk posed nicely for me:
Red Tailed Hawk
 As did this Raven:

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Lake Cochise

I headed out to the Chiricahua Mountains again with a quick stop at Lake Cochise just to see what was going on there. There were the usual suspects, but also Least Sandpipers and Tropical Kingbirds that were a pleasant surprise. The Tropical Kingbird is rare to the US, and only in Southern Arizona. 

Black Necked Stilt


Least Sandpiper

Low Billed Curlew

Tropical Kingbird

Wilson's Phalarope

Friday, July 20, 2012

Lakeside Park continued

In addition to the Brown Pelican, there were some other more typical water birds to see and photograph:

Juvenile Black Crowned Night Heron

Juvenile changing into adult plumage

Great Blue Heron


Thursday, July 19, 2012

Lakeside Park

Municipal Parks often can provide a birder a wide variety of birds, including the occasional rare bird. Lakeside Park in Tucson is one of those. It's about 15 minutes from us and an early morning visit yielded some nice photos including the "rare to Arizona" Brown Pelican.

As I was photographing him I couldn't help but say over and over the only limerick I have committed to memory:

A curious bird is the pelican
His beak can hold more than his belican
He can hold in his beak enough food for a week
And I darned if I know how the helican

Oh well, I'm better at photography:

Here's the Brown Pelican as I first saw him

Closer and at a different angle (lighting behind me)

Then off he went -- to go fishing

Here gulping down a fish 

Now fully satisfied.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Miller Canyon, Spotted Owls, White Eared Hummingbirds, and Tires

As a wildlife photographer, a four wheel drive vehicle is a must if you want to get into wilderness areas. It's also a good idea to have good off-road tires. As I posted last week (about finding Spotted Owls in Miller Canyon) I noted that floods do quite a lot of damage, especially after fires. Well, between last week when Christine and I went to Miller Canyon and found the Spotted Owls and today, there was more flooding and the road took quite a beating. So, traveling over the road, even with my Jeep was not easy. And, unfortunately, as it turns out one of my tires blew.  I have relied on BF Goodrich 3 ply sidewalls (either Mud or All Terrain) for years. But the tires I have are still the tires that came with the Jeep when I bought it (a Good Year All Terrain). The BF Goodrich is the better choice (off road) and they will be making an appearance again on my Jeep soon.  Changing tires in 95 degree temps is not the way to spend a quite and peaceful day in the wilderness.

But, the news isn't really bad. I got the tire changed and what Christine and I didn't find last week --- the White Eared Hummingbird  --- I found today. So, here are a couple photos of the very beautiful and very rare (to the US) White Eared Hummingbird:

White Eared Hummingbird -- Male

White Eared Hummingbird -- Female

Monday, July 16, 2012

Here's Looking at You, Kid

On June 28th, I posted a story about Christine and I going for a early morning hike in Saguaro National Park. On our way back a Coyote crossed the road in front of us and stopped among some rabbit-eared prickly pear for a few photos. The post included a photo of the Coyote as he was looking away from us. Christine, after seeing the post asked why I didn't include the photo of the Coyote looking at us, which was the one she liked best. 

She, subsequently, sent the photo she liked to a friend with the following comment:

"Isn't this coyote absolutely ethereally beautiful... and his gentle eyes..... he's breath-taking.
It was a little miracle seeing him real and now again seeing him in photos.
Den captured his essence exactly. That always stuns me. Animals never look afraid in Den's photos. They always look at him with some kind of serenity."

 So for Christine, "Here's looking at you, kid:"

Christine's Coyote

Friday, July 13, 2012

Owling - Revisited

Last Thursday (July 5th) I talked about going to Madera Canyon looking for Western Screech Owls and coming back empty handed. Today Christine and I headed out to Miller Canyon looking for Spotted Owls. This time we were lucky. 

Miller Canyon sits in the southern end of the Huachuca Mountains. Last year one of the three big fires that burned over 1 million acres in Arizona was the Monument Fire. Named so because it destroyed much of the Coronado National Monument just south of Miller Canyon. Miller Canyon was also devastated, not just by the fire but by the flooding that came after the fire. While the landscape still show scars from the fire, it is starting to turn green again (albeit without the 100 + year old oaks, sycamores, and cottonwoods). Flooding changes everything. It creates new washes, creeks, and streams while rendering previous creeks completely dry. Both Miller Canyon Road and Miller Canyon Trail were wiped out in many spots. The Federal Government (NFS) did a great job repairing both. It is still pretty tricky to traverse Miller Canyon Road. A 4x4 vehicle is the best choice at the moment since our summer monsoons have arrived and continue to wash out the road at some of the switchbacks. The Miller Canyon Trail has been repaired in places but now is much more "rocky" than before. The good news is that the Spotted Owls have returned and are only 1/2 mile up the trail.

We arrived around 7:00 am and talked to Tom Beatty. Beatty's Orchard is at the end of Miller Canyon Road and the starting point for Miller Canyon Trail.  His apple orchard was completely destroyed in the fire and the entire area fell under thousands of tons of rock and dirt. Tom's done an amazing job at clearing out the rock (though tons remain). He's planted new apple trees and the trail is now open. Tom gave us a good idea of where to look for the Spotted Owls, and he was right on the money. We first came across a young Owl, then in a nearby tree found a younger Owl, with the mother about six feet higher up the tree. Here is a sequence of photos of the three Spotted Owls:

The older Spotted Owlet

The younger Spotted Owlet

Mom feeding the young Owlet

Mom comforting the baby

The two more relaxed

Mom flies back up a couple of branches away leaving the little guy for one last nice photo