Monday, April 29, 2013

Spring into Southern Arizona for Full Color

Our busiest season is January, February, and March. Essentially guests who live in the northern US, Canada, and Europe. But, the best time to come to Southern Arizona is actually April and May when the desert blooms with such color as to open your hearts with joy.

For the next couple of days I will show you some of that color. All the photos will have been taken on our property in the past week. I will start with Aloes and Agaves, then "bushes", cactus, fruit trees, and other trees. 

So, first up the Aloes and Agaves:

Aloe Cammeroni which are in abundance here at The Azure Gate. They flower like this every year.

Century Plant (Agave) that throws up a stalk with flowers and polyps before it dies. We have five or six like this now.

Octopus Agave with it's stalk and flowers. We have several hundred of these Agaves, 10 or 12 of which are blooming.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Bull Elk on the Tundra

As I mentioned I have so many Elk photos it is always difficult to select a "5". In fact, sometimes I'll "downgrade" a photo from"5" to "4" because of a new photo I like even better. So why today's photo? What makes it so special?

This photo was taken on the tundra at 12,000 feet in the Colorado Rockies. I like the pose and the detail in the Elk. But I also like the setting on the tundra with the muted  "treed" background a couple thousand feet below. 


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Yellowstone Elk

So I started thinking, after all the times I've been to Yellowstone National Park, I must have at least one "5" Star Elk Photo, right? Are Elk becoming like Deer to me  -- i.e. I just pass them by without stopping? The answer is "sometimes." If I am in Northern Arizona, and I see Elk I try to get a photo -- before they run away. (Elk in hunting areas are hard to find and usually run away as soon as they see humans). However, when I go to Yellowstone, I am looking for, hoping to find, hoping to photograph Gray Wolves or Grizzlies. So when I see log-jams that have stopped to see Elk or Bison grazing by the side of the road, I try to get around them as quickly as possible because I am focused on Wolves and Grizzlies. (Although, I'll stop for Moose). But, occasionally a photo op is too good to pass up, even Elk in Yellowstone. I have a White Tailed Deer like that, and I have this wonderful Bull Elk lying amongst the wildflowers. I guess it warrants a "5" after all. 


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Shimmering Elk

Still more "5" Star Elk Photos. This one I found off the beaten path in minus eleven degree temperature (Fahrenheit). I took several wonderful photos which made it difficult to choose which was "the best." I like this one because you can see the Elk's breath in the cold.  Often I like a "muted" or "blurred" background so that the focus is the animal. However, in this case the young fir trees in the background provide an important clue as to the Elk's environment. I do like this photo!


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Wells Grey Elk

Continuing with my "5" Star Photos in general and Elk in particular we come to one of my first Bull Elk photos which I took back in 1990. It was in Wells Grey Provincial Park in British Columbia. I was using film and took a whole roll before he ran away. This was the only photo out of the 36 where there wasn't a tree branch in the way. But, that's all you need  -- just one. And it was a beauty, tongue and all.

Bull Elk

Monday, April 22, 2013

More Jousting Elk

Yes, more jousting Elk. However, they stopped at one point to look at me. That's when I snapped this one. Another of my "5" Star Favorite Photos. This was just outside Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada:


Sunday, April 21, 2013

Elk Bust in the Snow

Sometimes, as a wildlife photographer, you come across a unique opportunity for a photo. Sometimes you don't even know how good it is until you get back and download your photos --- or in this case develop your film. What a surprise this was!! An Elk lying down on the bank of Medicine Lake in Alberta. It has become one of my most requested photos:


Saturday, April 20, 2013

Elk Jousting in Rocky Mountain National Park

Elk have provided me many photo ops whether it is Rocky Mountain Elk in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, British Columbia, or Alberta; or its Roosevelt Elk in Washington and Oregon. So we go from bugling to jousting. This photo was taken in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. I have a similar one taken in Jasper National Park in Alberta. Love 'em both.

Elk Jousting

Friday, April 19, 2013

Elk Bugling in Yellowstone

Continuing alphabetically with my "5" Star Photos we come to Elk. Elk can be easily found in places like Yellowstone National Park in the US and Banff and Jasper National Parks in Canada. In these kinds of places where they are protected and plentiful it is fairly easy to get close. In places where hunting is allowed you are lucky to get a glimpse from 100 yards before they run away.

But, getting close doesn't come without its dangers. So, in the Parks, it is important to respect these very large mammals. Bulls can kill. Interestingly, the safer time to photograph Bulls is April through August when their antlers are growing and covered with velvet. During this time the Bulls are very careful not to damage their antlers. Once they start shedding their velvet, I keep a further distance away. 

Today's photo comes from Yellowstone National Park. September is a great time because you make get to hear, see, or photograph one "bugling." 

Elk Bugling

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Elegant Trogon Close Up

The last of my "5" Star Elegant Trogon Photos comes from Patagonia Lake. I was excited to be able to get this close. Note the "beard" under the bill. 

Elegant Trogon

Monday, April 15, 2013

Elegant Trogon in Nest

I have several wonderful Elegant Trogon photos. I was hiking along the South Fork of Cave Creek in the Chiricahua Mountains of Southeast Arizona when I heard the barking of a male Trogon. The sound kept getting closer so I just stayed put. After a couple of minutes I saw the male Trogon fly into a hole in a Sycamore Tree. Ah Ha! A nest. I hung out there for over an hour watching and photographing first the male and then the female stick their head out of the hole in the tree. What a delight! 

Male Elegant Trogon in Nest

Female Elegant Trogon in Nest

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Elegant Trogon

The Elegant Trogon is a favorite among birders around the world. In the US it can only be found in Southeastern Arizona, and typically only from March to September. They don't arrive in big numbers either. 

Often they are found by their "call." They sound like a "seal"  -- 4 to 7 quick barks.

I have seen the Elegant Trogon in the Chiricahua Mountains, Patagonia Lake, Gardener Canyon, Madera Canyon, and in the Huachucas. I remember the first one I saw in the Chiricahuas. I met a wildlife photographer from Australia who said this was his sixth trip to the US looking for the Elegant Trogon. So, sixth was the "charm" for him.

This "5" Star Photo was taken at Patagonia Lake:

Elegant Trogon

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Dragonflies: Flame Skimmer

"5" Star Wildlife Photos aren't limited to bears, eagles, or even butterflies. Can a dragonfly be worthy of "5" Stars? I think so. This Flame Skimmer found in much of Arizona I think qualifies:

Flame Skimmer

Friday, April 12, 2013

Doris Longwing

First, just a welcome to six new countries viewing our blog: Dominican Republic, Virgin Islands, Bahamas, Cyprus, Kazakhstan, and Zambia. That brings the total to 107 countries around the world. It is nice to know that no matter what other differences we have (political, religious, etc.) we have one thing in common, and that is a love of wildlife.

Today, we move on to the Doris Longwing. This is a beautiful butterfly from Central America down through the Amazon. It feeds on nectar from Lantana -- a plant we have which survives well in hot climates. But, the plant's range is wider than the butterfly's. Too bad, I would love to see one here. This particular photo was taken at the Tucson Botanical Garden during their Butterfly (Greehouse) show.

Doris Longwing

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Desert Tortoise

Continuing with my "5" Star Photos we come to the Desert Tortoise. 

Desert Tortoises can live 30 to 50 years. They grow slowly and generally have low reproductive rates. They typically get to about 15 pounds as an adult. They spend most of time in burrows or rock shelters to regulate body temperature and reduce water loss. They are most active after seasonal rains and are inactive during most of the year. This inactivity helps reducing water loss during hot periods, whereas winter hibernation facilitates survival during freezing temperatures and low food availability. Desert tortoises can tolerate water, salt, and energy imbalances on a daily basis, which increases their lifespan. The front limbs have sharp, claw-like scales and are flattened for digging. Back legs are skinnier and very long to help them move more quickly when in danger.

Desert Tortoises are considered "Threatened" with a "Vulnerable" classification.  It is unlawful to disturb, collect, or harm a Desert Tortoise. Emptying the bladder is one of defense mechanisms of this tortoise. This can leave the tortoise in a very vulnerable condition in dry areas, and they should not be alarmed, handled or picked up in the wild unless they are in imminent danger. If they must be handled, and their bladder is emptied, then water should be provided to restore the fluid in their body.

I happen to like this photo, but it also got a bump in rating due to it's protective status. This particular one was on the road just outside our property. I felt that it might get run over so transferred it to the back of the property. I also left water and a cut up apple for it to eat. When I came back to that spot about 30 minutes later he had disappeared. However, most of the apple was eaten and he had obviously had some water as well.

Desert Tortoise

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Desert Cottontail --- Adorable Perhaps

Sometimes I'll make a photo a "5" Star Photo simply because the animal is just so ....... well, cute. Today's "5" Star Photo is the perfect example. How can you not love this photo???

Desert Cottontail

Monday, April 8, 2013

Desert Bighorn Sheep -- VI

One last "5" Star Desert Bighorn photo.

I love looking for, finding, and photographing Bighorn Sheep and Mountain Goats. I think this is partly due to their special skills, i.e. ability to climb mountain cliffs of 70 or more degrees. Mountain Goats have beautiful white coats and Bighorn Sheep Rams have these amazing 40 pound horns that they use in "ramming" each other. Their horns eventually get so large that they prevent the Ram from seeing sideways. So, the Rams "file" down the tips on rocks in order to see better.

Today's photo was my first Desert Bighorn Ram sighting. Imagine my excitement in finding three Rams, side-by-side on the edge of a cliff. I couldn't wait to get back home and see the photo. I, of course, continued my trip but was, in fact, thrilled to see the result when I did get home:

Desert Bighorn Sheep

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Desert Bighorn Sheep versus Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep

I have found Desert Bighorn Sheep at Imperial National Wildlife Refuge, in the Trigo Mountains, and on the cliffs of Tortilla Flat above Canyon Lake. Interestingly, all three are locations with permanent access to water. Two other main Desert Bighorn sites in Arizona are Kofa National Wildlife Refuge and Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge. I've not found them in either of those locations -- although not for the lack of trying. I'm guessing that because neither of those locations have a permanent water source the Bighorns are more scattered and stay up at higher elevations where human access is more challenging. 

A second interesting observation is that only 125 miles (as the crow flies) East of where the Canyon Lake Desert Bighorns live, I have found Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep. Of course, in that 125 miles you climb 5,000 feet.

Desert Bighorns look very similar to Rocky Mountain Bighorns, although somewhat smaller. The most significant difference, however, is that the Desert Bighorns have become well adapted to living in the desert heat and cold. And, unlike the Rocky Mountain Bighorns, their body temperature can safely fluctuate several degrees. Other physiological differences allow them to go without water for weeks or months, sustaining their body moisture from food and rainwater collected in temporary rock pools. They can lose up to 30 percent of their body weight during the hot summer months ((much like bears when hibernating in the winter). While bears find dens for the winter, Desert Bighorns often find caves to keep cool during the hot summer days.  

Today, I'll show two "4" Star Photos (Neither rises to my "5" Star Level). The first is of the Canyon Lake Desert Bighorns, the second is the Blue Mountain Rocky Mountain Bighorns.

Desert Bighorn Sheep -- Tortilla Flat above Canyon Lake, Arizona

Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep -- Blue Mountains, Arizona

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Desert Bighorn Sheep - V

Still a couple more "5" Star Desert Bighorn Photos. This one again taken on the cliffs of the Trigo Mountains in Southwest Arizona. Looking for Desert Bighorn Sheep is always challenging. They are typically high up on mountain cliffs where there is not much vegetation. You might think that would make it easier because they are exposed. However, their coloration blends into their surroundings so well you could be looking right at them and not see them. What I look for is the "white rump." But, even then sometimes what I initially think is a Bighorn is just a yucca plant. Today's photo lets you see what I mean:

Desert Bighorn Sheep - Ram

Friday, April 5, 2013

Desert Bighorn Sheep -- Rams

I have spent quite a lot of time over the years looking for, finding, and photographing large mammals. For the hoofed mammals, that includes Caribou, Elk, Moose, White Tailed Deer, Black Tailed Deer, Mule Deer, Coues Deer, Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, California Bighorn Sheep, and Desert Bighorn Sheep. (Oh, and throw in some Javelinas as well).

Sometimes it feels like the most difficult task is trying to decide which are the "5" Star Photos once I get home. I like this particular photo  -- partly because I had to "work" to get into position for an "eye-level" shot. But also, because of the magnificence of the Ram and his regal stance.

This photo was taken in the Trigo Mountains of Southwestern Arizona five 10 miles from the Colorado River.

Desert Bighorn Sheep - Ram

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Desert Bighorn Sheep - III

Continuing yesterday's story, the young Desert Bighorn I photographed down by the water then ran up to the top of the hill and stood next to the second young ewe that didn't go down for a drink. From there the two young ewes stared at me until I decided to leave.

Side Story: Last night we watched the movie "My Cousin Vinny." It's a family favorite. In the movie there is a conversation like this:

Vinny Gambini: It is possible that the two yutes...
Judge Chamberlain Haller: ...Ah, the two what? Uh... uh, what was that word?
Vinny Gambini: Uh... what word?
Judge Chamberlain Haller: Uh... did you say 'yutes'?
Vinny Gambini: Yeah, two yutes.
Judge Chamberlain Haller: What is a yute?
Vinny Gambini: [beat] Oh, excuse me, your honor...
Vinny Gambini: Two YOUTHS.

So here are Two Ewe's, or Yutes, or Youths:

Desert Bighorn Sheep - Ewe's

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Desert Bighorn Sheep Sprinting

Here's a fun encounter that led to another "5" Star Photo. I was in Imperial National Wildlife Refuge when I saw a couple of ewe's in the cliffs on the desert (as opposed to the Colorado River) side of the road. I took a few photos and continued on my journey. A couple of hours later I was passing through the same area, this time going out on the bluff overlooking the river and its various backwater ponds. As I did, I saw both ewes walking down toward one of the ponds. Although I kept my distance and tried not to disturb them, one stopped while the second continued down to the pond.  Once she got to the water she disappeared in the vegetation, so I tried to get a better angle to photograph. Once she finished drinking she noticed that I was much closer and started running up the hill. That's when I took this photo:

Desert Bighorn Sheep

I'll continue the story tomorrow with another "5" Star Photo.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Desert Bighorn Sheep

The alphabetical list of my "5" Star Photos continues now with the Desert Bighorn Sheep.  Desert Bighorn Sheep have similar weight and size characteristics as the California and Rocky Mountain Bighorns. However, over the centuries they have adapted to the lack of water in their desert environment. Desert Bighorns can go three weeks or more without water. They have the ability to adapt to a dehydrated state, re-hydrating when they find water. This adaptive strategy allows them to live in areas where their predators -- mainly mountain lions can't live (because of the lack of water).

The Desert Bighorn population is estimated at about 18,000, almost entirely in Arizona, Southern California, and Nevada. FDR established the Cabeza Prieta and Kofa National Wildlife Refuges specifically to protect Desert Bighorns in Arizona.

This "5" Star "trophy-like" photo was taken in the Trigo Mountains not far from the Colorado River.

Desert Bighorn Sheep - Ewe

Monday, April 1, 2013

Can a Dandelion be Beautiful?

So I went looking for Mountain Lions, and the closest thing I came to it were Dandelions. 

That didn't stop me from taking a photo, however. And, I am certainly glad I did. Can a Dandelion make a "5" Star Photo? The short answer is YES!

Here is my Puff Ball:

Dandelion Puff Ball