Friday, November 30, 2012

Galiuro Mountains: Coatimundi

Today, a break from my "5" star series to share yesterday's trip to the Galiuro Mountains of Southern Arizona. The Galiuros are about 50 miles from us as the crow flies. (Well, we don't have crows in Southern Arizona, so as the Ravens fly). However to drive there it's about 90 miles and two hours time. Ten years ago when we first moved to Arizona I went there looking for Coatimundis (white-nosed coati). I would go four or five times a year seeing one or more almost every time. But, by 2006, they had all but disappeared. I might see one once a year. 

Yesterday, I didn't have to make breakfast so left early to try again. After three and a half hours of looking I spotted one on the ground through the trees. I immediately started taking photos, but after a quick look at me, he ran off. And, as he ran off coatis started running down the surrounding trees and off behind him. I would guess somewhere between 15 and 20 coatis in all. All this took place in no more than 20 seconds.

As I have explained he previous posts, the Wildlife Photographer has to be lucky. First, you have to find what you want to photograph, and second, it has to be willing to be photographed. Shooting through trees creates several problems: 1) it's dark so the lighting isn't very good; 2) trees and branches are in the way so you can't get clear photos of an entire animal; and 3) those trees, branches, leaves make it difficult to focus on the animal -- especially if the animal starts moving. 

As I was driving home, I was thinking that I probably did not have a single decent photo. However, that was not the case. The first photo I took was actually fairly good. So, here it is, the White-Nosed Coati.

P.S. Check out the length of his tail.  (click to enlarge)


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Black Bear IV

I was driving out to Tunkwa Lake, British Columbia when I saw this female Black Bear with her two cubs. While I did get photos of all three, this is the one I liked, simply because she stood up to look at me.  So, it gets "5" stars:

Black Bear

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Black Bear III

First, a welcome to new visitors this past week: Taiwan, Lithuania, Switzerland, Belgium, Libya, Guatemala, Columbia, and Chile. Thank you. Christine and I hope you enjoy visiting us and our love of nature.

Today's "5" Star photo is another Black Bear. This one I found near the Continental Divide on Mt. Sinclair, Yoho National Park, British Columbia, Canada. It was a fully grown (500 pound) male enjoying the dandelions on the mountainside. He has obviously spotted me, and in another moment will run down the mountain and out of sight. I got this photo before he "got away." Look how beautiful his coat is:

Black Bear

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Black Bear II

Continuing with my "5" Star Black Bears. This photo was taken in the Chiricahua Mountains (Arizona) in September of 2011. I had been photographing this Bear for about 20 minutes when all of a sudden he started walking toward me. I took that as a sign and slowly backed away in a diagonal direction. As I said yesterday, Bears must be respected. In this case, he told me he wanted to stay in the area but wanted me to leave. And, so that is precisely what I did. I said "thank you" for the photo opportunity and left. Of all those photos, the last one is the one I liked best:

Black Bear: Chiricahua Mountains, Arizona

Note: If you would like to comment about one of my photos -- or the story that goes with it, please feel free to do so. I do read the comments and will be happy to respond if appropriate.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Black Bear

First, a big thank you to those from around the world who visit my blog every day, including: Sri Lanka, Spain, Armenia, Ukraine, Indonesia, United Arab Emirates, Norway, Turkey, Jamaica, Brazil, Croatia, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Romania, Moxambique, Nicaragua, Finland, Italy, Hungry, Japan, Israel, Belarus, South Korea, Netherlands, Philippines, Russia, Australia, Pakistan, Germany, Poland, France, Slovakia, Serbia, Qatar, New Zealand, Mexico, India, Greece, Canada, UK, and the US.
What is heartwarming to me, is that we all share something in common: a love of nature. 

Now, to continue my series on "5" Star Photos, we come to Black Bears. Over the years I have spent a good deal of time looking for and photographing bears. As you will see, my style is to be an unobtrusive observer where, in a few miraculous moments, a brief relationship transpires creating a photo which places the viewer in the wilderness -- interacting with the animal just as I did. 

The key is being able to get close enough without fear or aggression, with just love and compassion. You must be patient and willing to pass up a photo if an animal is disturbed by you. Bears must be respected and you must feel privileged that they are willing to let you photograph them. Standing 15 to 20 feet from a bear is an exhilarating and memorable experience but it can only be done with patience, love and respect.

My experience is that 50% of the time you see a bear it will run away. 25% of the time it will walk away (in which case I do not follow or track it because it has told me it doesn't want to be around me). This means 25% of the time I should be able to get a good photograph -- as long as I don't "screw-up."

My first Black Bear Photo I'll show you was taken in Ramsey Canyon, Huachuca Mountains, Southern Arizona. This fairly young (150 pound) bear was going from tree top to tree top foraging on the leaves --- as if he were a squirrel. I took many photos, including close-ups, but thought this one told the whole story:  (Click on the photo to enlarge).

Black Bear

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Two for One: Ring Necked Pheasant & American Bittern

Luck is a major part of being a Wildlife Photographer. Obviously you need to be in a place and at a time when you might get lucky. In other words, put yourself in the place with the most potential. Such a place was Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. Finding a Ring Necked Pheasant takes time. Finding an American Bittern requires time and luck. Finding both together, within the same photographic frame, is a once in a lifetime event. And produced a "5" Star Photo:

Ring Necked Pheasant & American Bittern

Friday, November 23, 2012

Bison - II

Here's another "5" Star photo from the National Bison Range National Wildlife Refuge in Montana. While the refuge is open year round, the main 19 mile gravel road up into the mountains is closed during the winter. In the summer, it's a different story. The terrain changes significantly, and as it does so does the wildlife. In addition to Bison, you might see deer, elk, pronghorn, bear, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats, and over 200 species of birds. One summer as I was driving the loop I saw this Bison following an "animal path." As I stopped to photograph it, I realized that the path crossed the road  precisely where I was stopped. As he approached it appeared as though he was "licking his chops", so I took this one photo before moving out of its way. 


Thursday, November 22, 2012

5 Star Happy Thanksgiving

Since it is Thanksgiving, I thought I'd wish everyone a 5 Star Happy Thanksgiving:

Wild Turkeys in Madera Canyon, Arizona

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Everyone knows the story of the American Bison (Buffalo) that once roamed throughout the plains states in North America. Today, there are about 500,000 but all but 15,000 are on privately owned ranches. So, only 15,000  are considered free roaming and "wild." Wood Buffalo National Park in Northern Alberta, Yellowstone National Park, and Montana's National Bison Range National Wildlife Refuge are the largest areas today with free roaming Bison. Plans are underway to reintroduce them into Southern Colorado and Northern Montana.

Today's "5" rated photo comes from Montana's National Bison Range. I had been looking for them for two days when I came across this lone Bull standing not far from a creek. I think we were probably the only two mammals within miles. (That's probably not true, but felt true). I walked to within 50 feet or so took a few photos and then headed back to my Jeep to get out of the cold and snow.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Bighorn Sheep V

Sometimes you just get lucky. Case in point, I was driving up Medicine Lake Road in Alberta, Canada looking for Moose, Bear, and Caribou. I had not seen Bighorns in this area before. As I drove I saw a small herd off in a meadow. They clearly took notice of my being there, but most just kept on eating. However, this beautiful ram came right up to the drivers side window to take a closer look at me. He even gave me time to change lenses. Wonderful detail, wonderful dark color. I thanked him kindly for posing for me, and off I went.

Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep - Ram

Monday, November 19, 2012

Bighorn Sheep IV

Wild animals will sometimes allow you to take a "portrait" of them. Today's Bighorn actually walked toward me --- in a non-threatening manner  -- which allowed me to get this photo. Unlike yesterday's photo, I wasn't too far from my Jeep so if his temperament changed I felt I could get to safety. Now, I must say that I have had some wonderful experiences with all kinds of wildlife and only a couple of times felt that I was in a potentially dangerous situation. I always am respectful and cautious. So I always try to move slowly and quietly as if to tell the animal: "I know you are there, I'd like to be here too, if that's okay with you." Part of it is "reading" the animal. If there are any signs that it doesn't want you around, you leave. This photo was taken in March of 1997 in the Oak Creek Wildlife Area of Clemon Mountain in the Cascades of Washington.

Bighorn Sheep Ram

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Bighorn Sheep III

Back to my series on "5" rated photos. This one taken in the Canadian Rockies high above the Columbia Icefields in Alberta brought me one of my first photo awards.  Although well below zero, this guy with his thick heavy coat actually looked warm. And for me, by the time I climbed into position to get this photo I was sweating and wanting to take off my coat. 

Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep Ram

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Cienega Creek Preserve

Interrupting my "5" rated photo series -- with a new "5" rated photo (and some others) I took yesterday. I got out to the Empire Ranch section of Cienega Creek Preserve which sits between Arizona Highway 82 and Interstate 10. (There is another 4,000 acre section north of Interstate 10). So, 25 miles long and about 10 miles wide. The Empire Ranch area has lots of dirt roads, many passable by non-four wheel drive vehicles, some passable only by 4x4's, and in one case simply not passable by any means. Terrain changes dramatically, flatlands, hills, mountains, creeks, willows, cottonwoods, mesquites, grasses etc. It is a heaven for birders but also some rare or endangered fish, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals including Black Tail Prairie Dogs, Coatimundi, and Pronghorn, which is what I was looking for. I like to get off the beaten path so was exploring roads I hadn't been on before. I turned on one road which was the Pipeline Road. Pipeline roads are by necessity straight. And when they go through mountains or hills the road can by quite steep and challenging --- even if you were a Bighorn. I got to one spot and thought "Do I really want to go up that road?" It reminded me of the Phil Silvers scene in Mad, Mad, World. As I got closer I saw that much of the road had been washed out, but there was a detour path that serpentined up the hill about 100 yards away. So, away I went. 

I did find lots of birds: western meadowlark, loggerhead shrike, tropical kingbird, pyrrhuloxia, white crowned sparrow, cooper's, sharp shinned, harrier, and red tail hawks among others. I suspect some rarer species as well, but finding and identifying birds has become more difficult since I have gone deaf.

But, on to the Pronghorn. I found two small herds; one of 15 animals and one of about 10. They let me get some wonderful photos: eating, staring, and running. (click to enlarge)

A "5" Rated Photo

Cautiously Staring


Friday, November 16, 2012

Bighorn Sheep II

This photo turned out better than I thought. It wasn't a big Ram with 40 pound horns, just a female. But, she is standing on the edge of Mt. Evans Colorado, proud nonetheless. The drop below her? Well, both she and I are at about 14,100 feet. I didn't actually walk right up to the edge, but I imagine the drop was several thousand feet. In the photo you can barely see the trees below. Since the tree-line is about 10,000, it's a pretty severe drop. Note the little tuff of her coat on the end of a horn.

Bighorn Sheep Ewe

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Bighorn Sheep

Continuing with my "5" rated photos, we get to Bighorn Sheep. First up, a small group of lambs I photographed early one morning in the mountains at Yellowstone National Park.

Bighorn Sheep Lambs

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Berylline Hummingbird

"Luck be a lady tonight." Or today. Actually it was September 9, 2009 while siting at Beatty's Orchard in Miller Canyon watching hummingbirds come to Tom's 10 hummingbird feeders. I was looking in front of me when something caught my eye to the nearest feeder (which was on my left). WOW! What a surprise. My first Berylline Hummingbird. It was a beautiful female. And, just as I snapped the photo a bee was flying into feed as well. Out of the three hours I spent there that day, this was the only visit of the Berylline. Luck was a lady that day.

Berylline Hummingbird

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Barn Owl

I love owls. And, the Barn Owl is one of my favorites. And, while Barn Owls often hang out around .... well, barns, they also can be found in wilderness areas. Whitewater Draw in Southern Arizona "draws" many Barn Owls to nest. There's only about four acres of trees, but the Barn Owls like those trees and come to roost each winter. One year I counted 25. 

The Barn Owl is the most widespread of all owls and can be found around the world except in polar regions and some of the desert areas. Not so in the Sonoran Desert, where we can find them. It hunts by flying low over farmlands, fields, and other open areas looking for rodents.

Here is one of my favorites from Whitewater Draw:

Barn Owl

Monday, November 12, 2012

Banded Orange

Here is an example of a "5" rated photo whose "qualifications" include simplicity. It's got nice clarity and composition. It's got nice off-setting colors. But it also is a "peaceful" photo. I don't know if I'll be able to explain it, but it's not an "in-your-face" "wow" kind of photo, but a soothing and relaxing photo that I have often used as my desktop photo.  

Banded Orange

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Bald Eagle IV

The last of my "5" rated Bald Eagles was especially nice. 

Unlike other photographic specialties: portrait, landscape, industrial, architecture, etc. wildlife photographers sometimes have less than 5 seconds to get a photo. If it doesn't happen, or if the photo doesn't turn out, you've missed a once in a lifetime opportunity. 

I was traveling on a back country road in Northern California among rolling hillsides. As I was climbing I saw two Bald Eagles that appeared to be dancing. I quickly got to a point where I was parallel to them, pulled over, stopped the jeep, grabbed my camera, got out and started taking photos. Of those photos this is the one I like best. The eagles were fighting at this point with one upside down and almost a mirror-image of the first. 

The entire event took less than 30 seconds.  Then they were gone.

Bald Eagles Fighting in Flight

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Bald Eagle III

I realize that in many parts of the US there are no Bald Eagles or that they are rarely seen. Not so in the Northwest. Although, at one point the number of Bald Eagles had been reduced to less than 500 pairs in the lower 48 states, the numbers are back up to around 4500 nesting pairs now. In fact, the Bald Eagle was removed from the Endangered Species List in 2007. 

You would never know how rare they are if you lived in the Northwest. I remember once a friend coming to visit and upon seeing one, saying it was the first Bald Eagle she had ever seen. Yet, on a normal winter day along the Skagit River in Washington you can see around 300 Bald Eagles. On some days, as many as 700 can be seen. The Skagit River is one of the few rivers where all 5 Pacific salmon species spawn. (Chinook, also called Kings; Coho, also called Silvers; Chum, also called Dogs; Pink, also called Humpies; and Sockeye, also called Reds).

I once counted 40 Bald Eagles in a single tree. The problem, as a photographer, is "how to capture" that photo. You have to be far enough away to be able to get the entire tree in the frame. But, at such distance you loose a lot of detail and clarity. Of the many photos I have taken of large groups of Bald Eagles, none have made it to a "5" rating. Close-ups are a different story. In the photo below a Bald Eagle is sitting on what appears to be a 25-30 pound salmon that has come up the Skagit River to spawn. The Eagles will take some before they spawn, but most are taken after the fact as the salmon begin to die. It is the salmon that bring the Bald Eagles.

Bald Eagle with Salmon on the Skagit River (Washington)

Friday, November 9, 2012

Bald Eagle II

I guess living in the Northwest afforded many opportunities to photograph Bald Eagles, so several have ended up being rated a "5". This one is from Tule Lake in Northern California:

Bald Eagle

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Bald Eagle

On to my "5" rated "B's", and first up: the Bald Eagle. Living in the Northwest provides an opportunity to see Bald Eagles frequently  -- as opposed to the very, very rare occasion that you see one in Southern Arizona. In one of my first trips (January, 1996) to Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge, which is along the Oregon-California Border, I was able to get very close to a Bald Eagle perching on a pole. When I got to about 15 feet he decided to fly away. Here's the result:

Bald Eagle: Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge

Note: many of my early photos were with a lower quality camera. Over the years I have lost many of the negatives or slides and was left with only a print. Scanning the print hasn't always yielded the best result. So this is a scan of a print. Nonetheless, I like this well enough to include it as a "5" rated photo.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Atlas Moth

Next up as I continue (alphabetically) my "5" rated photos is also from the Tucson Botanical Garden's Butterfly Exhibit. The Atlas Moth comes from Southeast Asia and is one of the largest moths in the world with a ten inch wingspan. (Females are larger and heavier than males). The "5" rating in this case has more to do to the rarity and size of the moth than the actual photo itself.

Atlas Moth

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Asian Swallowtail

The Tucson Botanical Garden has a wonderful live Butterfly Exhibit which runs October through April  each year. For the photographer it is heaven. Wonderfully colorful butterflies on dark green plants or colorful flowers. It's a great opportunity for "5" rated photos. Today, the Asian Swallowtail:

Asian Swallowtail

Monday, November 5, 2012

Arizona Woodpecker

What else can I say, the Arizona Woodpecker is a cute little woodpecker. Its northernmost range is Southeastern Arizona, the extreme Southwestern part of New Mexico, and the northern high mountain Sonoran Desert of Mexico.  It had been listed as Strickland's Woodpecker, but has been reclassified and renamed to differentiate it from a similar Central Mexico species. So, if you want to see this little guy you'll need to visit Southern Arizona. 

Arizona Woodpecker, Male

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Arcas Cattleheart

Continuing with my "5" rated photos (in alphabetical order) we come to a pair of Arcas Cattlehearts doing what mother nature intending them to do to preserve the species. As I mentioned yesterday, butterflies offer a potential for a beautiful photo because of their color and/or because they usually feed on very colorful plants and flowers. But sometimes they won't sit still or even land in order to get that photo. Sometimes they pose and you get a good photo. AND, once in a while you find them mating and you get a great photo. Such is the case today:

Arcas Cattleheart

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Apricot Sulphur

Butterflies offer the potential for a "5" rated photo. It can be challenging because a butterfly may never land and so you wait patiently for landing and it never happens. Often the colorful patterns are on the dorsal  (uppe-rside) and when it does land it almost immediately closes it's wings. It mostly depends on the species. Some will land and open and close their wings quickly several times and then close them the rest of the time they are feeding. You might take 7 or 8 photos quickly and find that none of them were at the split second when the wings were wide open. A very fast focusing camera with quick bursts is helpful in those cases. As you will see in later posts, some butterflies land with open wings as if saying, "please, take my picture." In today's photo, this Apricot Sulphur like most sulphurs, keep their wings closed while feeding. But in this case, it still offers a wonderful color contrast with the bright red flower on which it is feeding:

Apricot Sulphur: Tucson Botanical Garden

Friday, November 2, 2012

Antelope Jackrabbit

Unlike the Desert Cottontail which is most often seen here at The Azure Gate and elsewhere in the Sonoran Desert, the Antelope and Blacktail Jackrabbits are less often seen. Saguaro National Park is the most reliable place, but only early morning or just before dusk. Sometimes they will run once they see you, but other times they will either continue eating (grasses or mesquite pods), or pose for a photo. This Antelope Jackrabbit decided to pose. I found him while hiking in the Galiuro Mountains, which is the next mountain range east of the Rincon Mountains (where Saguaro National Park is). 

Antelope Jackrabbit: Galiuro Mountains, Arizona

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Anna's Hummingbird - II

Today, another Anna's Hummingbird gets a "5" rating.:

Anna's Hummingbird: photo taken here at The Azure Gate B&B