Sunday, March 31, 2013

Crested Caracara

Sadly, it's time to move on from Coyotes. Next (in alphabetical order) on my series of "5" Star Photos we come to the Crested Caracara. This is a vulture-like Falcon found in the extreme southern parts of Arizona, Texas, and Florida. They have occasionally been reported in Southern California as well. The largest concentration of them is in the Caribbean, Central, and South America. Unlike the other Falcons, it feeds mainly on carrion. In Arizona, the Saguaro Cactus is the perfect height for it to look for its food.

Crested Caracra

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Last Coyote - VI

The last of my "5" Star Coyote Photos also comes from Alberta. This gorgeous Coyote  approached me curiously. He got to about 20 feet away. I talked to him about, but a few seconds later he got distracted by something to my left. Whenever I sort through my photos I can never decided which of these two rates a "5".  I like them both. So here they both are:



Friday, March 29, 2013

Coyote V

Still more Coyote "5" Star Photos. This one taken along the Athabascar River in Alberta, Canada. The Athabascar originates in the Columbia Icefields from the Columbia Glacier. There are some wonderful waterfalls along the way. Wildlife is abundant. I particularly like this curious Coyote who seemed interested in what I was doing. One thing for sure he does NOT look "mangy" or "scraggly". Such a beautiful coat.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Coyote - IV

Still a couple more "5" Star Coyote Photos. This one was taken on the Columbia Icefields between Banff and Jasper National Parks in Canada. And yes, the Coyote is walking on ice. It was one of those great "encounters" that lasted a good 20 minutes or more as I walked along the Icefields parallel to the Coyote. Then the Coyote changed course and started walking more in my direction. I took a great many photos -- at least two rolls of film as I recall  -- and this is the one I liked best:


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Coyote - III

Here is an example of a Coyote in Yellowstone National Park at about 7,000 feet. This one was very "businesslike" going from one place to another without getting distracted, even by me. I saw him crossing a field about 200 yards away. He was coming -- not quite -- towards me. He never changed his direction. He ended up walking about 30 yards from me as he passed. It was a fun couple of minutes. Very beautiful.

Coyote in Yellowstone National Park

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Coyote - II

Continuing with my "5" Star Photo Series in general and the Coyote in particular we come to one who was curious about us  --- for a few seconds, anyway. Christine and I had just hiked in Saguaro National Park and were arriving home. There, greeting us, was this beautiful Coyote. He stopped to stare for a few seconds, then went on about his business. 

I like this photo for a couple of reasons. First, the Coyote is looking at me (us); second, a little sunlight has found its way through the large Palo Verde Tree and onto the Coyote's face; and third, it is a natural setting with the Palo Verde Tree, Prickly Pear and Rabbit Eared Cactus all around -- there is no doubt about where the photo was taken.


Monday, March 25, 2013

The Unappreciated Beautiful and Intelligent Coyote

The much maligned Coyote is one of natures most beautiful. The cartoons or other descriptions of "mangy" or "scraggly" are fictitious and inaccurate. Over the years I have seen hundreds and hundreds of coyotes from seashores to deserts, from farm lands to mountains, from southern Arizona to northern Alberta, from minus 10 degree weather to 110 degree weather. I have seen them in every one of the Western States and Provinces and less than five looked "mangy" or "scraggly."  Most had beautiful thick, lush coats. 

The one today is a perfect example. This was taken in the baron desert of Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge. This is one of (or) the most harshest places in the US. You have to have a permit to enter. In order to get a permit you have to watch a 20 video about the dangers. Then you have to read, initial, and sign a two page document saying you both understand and accept the consequences. Then you must call before entering and when exiting. You are told to take two (!) gallons of water per person  per day, picks/shovels, and two(!)  spare tires.

Coyotes live in this climate just fine. And look what they look like:


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Coues White Tailed Deer -- II

One last photo of the Coues White Tailed Deer, this time a doe with her fawn. The fawn a little older than the one in yesterday's post. This was also taken in the Chiricahua Mountains of Southeastern Arizona.

Coues White Tailed Deer

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Coues White Tailed Deer

Continuing with my "5" Star Photos we come to the Coues White Tailed Deer. 

I was driving along Forest Road 42 in the Chiricahua Mountains of Southeast Arizona and saw what first looked like a Jackrabbit in the middle of the road. As I got closer I realized that it was too small to be a Jackrabbit. As I got still closer I realized in was a Deer! Now, I know you ask, are you serious? A deer smaller than a Jackrabbit? No, this is not one of those Texas jokes. It was a Coues (pronounced cows) White Tailed Deer. The Coues White Tails are smaller than the White Tailed Deers that you see all over the US. The Coues (named after Elliott Coues, 1842-1899) are only found in southern Arizona. An adult White Tail Buck will weigh 200 pounds. An adult Coues White Tail Buck will weigh only 80-90 pounds. Fawns weigh 4 to 6 pounds when they are born.

 In the first photo (which is my "5" Star Photo) you see he is looking back at me after going down into the creek below the road. The second photo I have added just to give you a perspective of how small this fawn really was. The bottom of the guard rail is no more than 12 to 15 inches off the ground. The fawn easily walked under the guard rail without ducking. After showing the photo to one of the Rangers, he said he had never seen one that small. And, that it couldn't be more than a few days old. 

Coues White Tailed Deer

Coues White Tailed Deer

Friday, March 22, 2013

Costa's Hummingbird - II

And, now the female Costa's Hummingbird:

Add caption

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Costa's Hummingbird

Back to the series on my "5" Star Photos we come to Costa's Hummingbird. Costa's is a rare hummingbird found only in Southern Arizona and Southern California. It is not found in huge numbers, rather solitary. There is no reliable place to go to find them. You might find one here at The Azure Gate just as easily as anywhere else in its range. Even so, that does not mean we see one often.

This photo was taken just outside my office while he was perched on a creosote bush. I took several photos and was surprised when one "caught" him with wings expanded.

Costa's Hummingbird

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Whitewater Draw: the End of Winter

Whitewater Draw was "drawing" down for the winter as well. There were still a couple thousand Sandhill Cranes, but most have left. And, still a couple hundred Snow Geese. Many of the wintering Ducks have also begun their Spring Migration home.  However, a few Green Winged Teals remained, as well as American Avocets, and Greater Yellowlegs. I was also pleased to find the American Bittern and a Great Egret that wanted his picture taken too. Oh, and the usually present Great Horned Owl. Here, then, the best from Whitewater Draw this trip:

American Avocet

Greater Yellowlegs

Sandhill Cranes


American Bittern

Green Winged Teal

Great Egret
Great Horned Owl

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Lake Cochise: final winter stop??

On to Lake Cochise. Again, lots of Northern Shovelers and Mallards, but very few shorebirds. However, the two nice finds were 1) a pair of Buffleheads, and 2) eight Snow Geese. The Snow Geese were very close so I got some nice photos. Here are a couple of the Snow Geese and one of the Bufflehead:

Snow Goose

Snow Geese


Monday, March 18, 2013

Wintering Waterholes in Southern Arizona

First, a milestone for our Blog. Yesterday, we hit the "Century Mark." 100 (now 101) countries have viewed our Blog. The latest include: Mongolia, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Trinidad & Tobago, Macau, and Isle of Man. Thank you all for visiting our site.

Saturday, I made what may be the last round of wintering water holes for the season. I started at the Benson Sewage Treatment Plant, then Lake Cochise, and finally Whitewater Draw. Today, Benson STP.

Benson STP is a series of ponds that attract ducks and duck like birds. The viewing area is from only one side of each pond, so if the waterfowl are all on the other side, good photos are not "in the cards." What was there was mostly Northern Shovelers and Mallards, but a few coots, a couple of gulls which I couldn't positively identify,  a few Ruddy Ducks, and at least one Lesser Scaup. 

This is the best I could do:

Ruddy Duck

Lesser Scaup

As you can see, not great photos. I was hoping to find some Buffleheads that had been reported. However, I scoured the ponds without luck. The good news comes tomorrow, when I will show a photo of a Bufflehead I found at Lake Cochise about an hour later.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Cooper's Hawk - I

Next up, the Cooper's Hawk. Cooper's and Sharp Shinned are always difficult to distinguish from each other. Both have the same coloration in juvenile as well as adult plumage. And, while the Cooper's adult is larger, they are seldom side by side so you can see the difference. And, as I have learned, in the field humans cannot judge size very well. Nonetheless, we do the best we can. 

Today's "5" Star Photo was taken about 10 years ago just outside the town of Sonoita, Arizona. He was sitting on a branch of a small small dead tree maybe 8 feet off the ground. I pulled off to the side of the road, rolled down my window, and started taking photos. This is the one I like best. The muted farmland in the background makes the bird stand out as if it was taken in 3D. There's also nice detail and you can clearly see the red eye and the black iris. 

Cooper's Hawk

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Common Moorhen - II

One more Common Moorhen photo makes my "5" Star list. This one was also taken at Sweetwater Wetlands. He was perched on a tree branch overlooking one of the ponds. I thought it was unusual to see a "duck-like" bird, other than a Wood Duck, in a tree. He also was content to let me photograph him. He was very nice about it.

Common Moorhen

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Common Moorhen

Returning now to the series on my "5" Star Photos we come to the Common Moorhen. 

There are probably people on the East Coast of the US who have a pond in their backyard with Common Moorhens year round who would say what's so special about this photo?  This is probably in much the same way that I don't take photos of Gambels Quail or Mourning Doves or White Winged Doves that are in our yard by the dozens. However, the Common Moorhen is generally a more solitary bird and uncommon to the Southwest. So this photo taken at Sweetwater Wetlands in Tucson feels a little more special.  I also like the detail in the photo. So, it gets a "5."

Common Moorhen

Monday, March 11, 2013

Cibola National Wildlife Refuge

Next on my trip this past week was Cibola National Wildlife Refuge. This is not an easy place to get to from Arizona. Cibola is adjacent to Imperial just to the north. If you are on the Colorado River you would boat from one right into the other. However, if you are driving, it is a 2 and a half hour drive from one to the other.

Nonetheless, I made that journey (as I have in the past). While Cibola's duck pond was dry and therefore no ducks, there were about 1000 Sandhill Cranes and 50 or so Great Egrets. Got a few okay photos of the Cranes (Whitewater Draw has more and usually closer -- same with Bosque del Apache in New Mexico). But the Egrets were nice and cooperative. I also came across a light phased juvenile Ferruginous Hawk. However, the find of the day were a couple of Burrowing Owls. 

Here are some photos from Cibola:

Burrowing Owl

Ferruginous Hawk

Great Egret
Sandhill Crane

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Snowy Egret

On my trip to Imperial National Wildlife Refuge I did manage to get a nice photo of a Snowy Egret. There were three in a leafless tree next to one of the ponds off the Colorado River. A closeup of one proved to me my favorite. Please click on the photo to enlarge. You'll see the wonderful detail and a very clear eye and iris:

Snowy Egret

Friday, March 8, 2013

Imperial National Wildlife Refuge - A Sad Story

I have been to over 40 National Wildlife Refuges, mostly in the Western United States. And, Imperial NWR had been my favorite. Had been. Now it is a sad reminder of what it was.

Two things have changed. First, someone in the NWR System approved the roundup and slaughter of 350 Feral Burros from the Refuge. This represented about 90% of the Refuge population of Burros and 10% of the US population of Burros.

The NWR System was established in 1903 by Teddy Roosevelt to protect wildlife. The slaughter of 350 large mammals certainly seems counter to that purpose. I could go on about the "political" aspects of this, but I'll just say this:

Of all my wildlife photos, two photos of Burros from Imperial NWR have been customer favorites. Here they are:

Feral Burro Family

Feral Burros walking

In all likelihood, these beautiful Burros shown in the photos above are now dead, killed by the very people entrusted to protect them.  

The second aspect of this Sad Story is that the Imperial National Wildlife Refuge has become a recreational area. In my three days there (this week) I saw NO Feral Burros and NO Desert Bighorn Sheep. No Deer. Not even a Jackrabbit. What I saw were a dozen or more ATVs, ten or so Dirt Bikers, and a ten car Jeep party all buzzing through the Refuge on its only road. 

Here are a couple of Bighorn photos I have taken in the past from Imperial:

Desert Bighorn Ram

Desert Bighorn Ewe

But this trip: NONE

Imperial NWR is no longer a quiet, pristine, beautiful site where a lover of wildlife can usually find Burros and Bighorns. Not even a Jackrabbit will go within a mile of that road now.

I suspect it will be a long time before I go back to Imperial  ----------  IF EVER.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Farm Land Birding

As I continued toward Imperial National Wildlife Refuge I past by some farmland 15 miles or so past Gila Bend, Arizona. Dotting the green crops were a couple dozen Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, and some Turkey Vultures. I couldn't pass it up, so stopped for some photos:

Great Egrets and Great Blue Heron

Turkey Vulture

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Santa Cruz Flats: Burrowing Owls

I was able to get away for a few days photographing. The key stops were Imperial National Wildlife Refuge and Cibola National Wildlife Refuge along the Colorado River. But, today, photos from a stop along the way: Santa Cruz Flats which is about half way between Phoenix and Tucson. 

This is almost embarrassing to admit -- but, what the heck -- I got my first photos of Burrowing Owls. I was searching specifically for them around San Cruz Flats and found a pair next to their nest. (Their nest is essentially the former burrow of an animal. In this case of Round Tail Ground Squirrels). Here are three photos:

Burrowing Owl #1

Burrowing Owl #2

Burrowing Owls #1 and #2

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Columbian Ground Squirrel

Another "5" Star "squirrel" Photo? Yep, I think so. I love how this little guy is standing and gently eating the wildflowers. I took this photo many years ago while photographing in British Columbia. Don't even remember exactly when it was or even where I was. I think it was outside the visitor's center of one of BC's National Parks, but can't remember which one. 

Columbian Ground Squirrel

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Colorado Chipmunk

So, what again makes for a "5" Star Wildlife Photo????  Well, to start it doesn't have to be a Mountain Lion or Grizzly Bear. But, a Chipmunk? In today's case, Yes! Here is a photo of a Colorado Chipmunk taken in Colorado State Forest at an elevation of about 9,000 feet. What I like about this photo is the angle, the wildflowers in the background, and the fact that the chipmunk is sitting on a rock carrying a pine cone larger than his head. Not exactly a Grizzly Bear chowing down on an Elk but, still a nice photo.

Colorado Chipmunk

Friday, March 1, 2013

Collard Lizard

First a big Thank You to the new countries visiting our Blog:  Estonia, Malta, Botswana, Ghana, Moldova, Uruguay, and Aruba. 

Returning to the series on my alphabetical list of "5" Star Photos we come to the Collard Lizard. Initially, this was a "4" Star Photo. It became a "5" Star Photo over a period of time. Let me explain. Christine and I were hiking in Sabino Canyon, Arizona (Rattlesnake Trail) when we first moved to Tucson in 2002. We came across this Collard Lizard who was sunbathing on a warm rock. He let me take several photos -- never moving. Finally, we walked around him and continued our journey. Admittedly, he is strikingly beautiful, but I assumed we would see them wherever we hiked. I also assumed this was his regular coloration. Wrong in both cases. This is not the most common lizard in Southern Arizona. And, this is a "breeding" coloration not his normal coloration. Truth be told, I have not seen another Collard Lizard this "colorful" since. So, an upgrade to "5" seem in order.

Collard Lizard, Sabino Canyon, Arizona