Sunday, March 30, 2014

Striped Skunk: One of Nature's Most Beautiful

Next up on my series of "5" Star Photos is one of my favorite animals to photograph: Skunks!

Yes, these little guys are one of nature's most beautiful. Absolutely gorgeous. They have very businesslike personalities. They are interested primarily in eating and their search for food is methodical. As long as you don't get too close -- or otherwise frighten them, you can spend as much time as you want photographing them. This photo was taken in the Galiuro Mountains of Southeast Arizona.

Striped Skunk

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Spotted Owl: The Prize of Miller Canyon

Getting back to my alphabetical series on my "5" Star Photos I have another Spotted Owl photo. This one too, was taken in Miller Canyon of the Huachuca Mountains in Southern Arizona. Miller Canyon is a very reliable "spot" to find a Spotted Owl. A pair of them has lived and nested in the canyon for years. Owners of the property where the trailhead begins (Tom Beatty) keeps track of the Owls on a daily basis. The Owls move from about 1/2 mile up the mountain to about 1 1/2 miles up the mountain. 

In the case below, I had passed it on my way up the trail, but as is often the case, returning on the same trail gives a totally different angle and often success.

Spotted Owl

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

The last of my excursions ventured a bit farther away: Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. It is about a 3 and 1/2 hour trip one-way. Organ Pipe Cactus are interesting in that it is only found in rocky mountain areas of Southern Arizona and Mexico:

Organ Pipe Cactus
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monutment
 The trip was beautiful as usual. Wildflowers were in bloom, along with the Ocotillo, and Hedgehog Cactus:
Wildflower Blooming

Flowering Ocotillo (with Lesser Goldfinch)
Hedgehog Cactus
 A nice American Kestrel posed, then allowed me to take a photo of his "take-off:"

American Kestrel

American Kestrel
 A Curved Billed Thrasher was looking for a nice place to nest in the Chain Fruit Cholla:

Curved Billed Thrasher
And, of course, the snakes were out and about:

Texas Patch Nosed Snake


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Crested Caracara

On my way out to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, as usual I look for Crested Caracara. The area between Robles Junction, the Kitt Peak turnoff, Sells, and Quijotoa is one of the two most reliable spots to find the Crested Caracara. (the other is Santa Cruz Flats). I was not disappointed this trip either. Got a fun photo of the Crested Caracara with a squawking Raven just outside Sells:

Crested Caracara and Raven

Monday, March 24, 2014

Wood Duck at Christopher Columbus Park

The quick stop at Christopher Columbus Lake in Tucson, proved unusually successful. There were the usual picnickers and fisher people, they was a huge group of remote controlled flying machines. My first impression was would there be any wildlife or did they seek something more peaceful and remote. 

The short answer is that I found what I was looking for within 5 seconds of beginning my search. The small pond west of the lake had a beautiful Wood Duck. As soon as he saw me he started moving toward me. I suspect that he was hoping to be fed. 

So, a couple of photos later, I was out of there.

Here are the photos:

Wood Duck

Wood Duck

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Wildlife at Fort Lowell Park, Tucson

Fort Lowell Park in Tucson is one of those Municipal Parks that attracts birds both common and uncommon. While I prefer wilderness areas, these Muni's deserve a look every now and then. Last year a Yellow Bellied Sapsucker hang out there for several months. And, while my quick trip the other day didn't uncover anything rare or unusual, it did provide some photos:

Double Crested Cormorant

European Starling

Great Tailed Grackle

American Wigeon - male

American Wigeon - female

Red Eared Slider

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Birding Tanque Verde Wash

Well, I have some catching up to do. I visited several of the local birding spots: Tanque Verde Wash, Fort Lowell Park, Sweetwater Wetlands, and Christopher Columbus Park.  Then, yesterday drove to   Organ Pipe National Monument.

So, starting with Tanque Verde wash -- and in no particular order:

Male Lesser Goldfinch

Vermillion Flycatcher
 There was a large flock, 50 or more Cedar Waxwings flying among the very tops of the Cottonwood Trees. There are about 10 in this photo:
Cedar Waxwing
This Sharp Shinned Hawk let me taken a large number of photos. Then I left him right where he was sitting. (After saying "Thank You.")

Sharp Shinned Hawk

Huttons Vireo

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Spotted Owl Mother with Baby

Next up on my alphabetical series of my "5" Star Photos we come to Spotted Owls.  It's always a treat to find Spotted Owls. And, fortunately, here in Souther Arizona there are a couple reliable places to look. One such place is Sheelite Canyon in Fort Huachuca. The second -- and even more reliable place is in Miller Canyon, again in the Huachua Mountains. This photo was taken a couple of years ago in Miller Canyon. The adult female on the left and her Owlet on the right:

Spotted Owls

Monday, March 17, 2014

Simplicity and Delicacy of the Spider Plant

I am, for the most part, a wildlife photographer focusing on animals and birds. Occasionally I come across a landscape that I try desperately to capture in a photograph. And, occasionally, I come across a wildflower that makes me pause to contemplate its beauty. I'll try to capture that beauty in a photograph as well. I am not always successful in that regard, but was delighted with the result of this "5" Star Spider Plant:

Spider Plant

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Snake in a Tree

I always tell our guests to watch where they walk on our property and when hiking in the desert. There are two reasons: 1) everything in the desert has thorns; cactus "bulbs" are constantly falling and could be in your path while walking and the next thing you know it is on you shoe, ankle ... and then 2) snakes; Hey it's the desert. Snakes live here. Yes, even on our property. We've had ten different kinds of snakes over the years, mostly though, Desert Kingsnakes, Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes, and Sonoran Bullsnakes. 

Of course, my advice doesn't help if there is a snake in a tree. Now a snake in the tree is not typical -- although not unusual. I came across this Sonoran Coachwhip -- a very fast snake who just seemed to disappear. I kept looking but couldn't find him anywhere (on the ground). So, I turned around to walk away and at eye level saw the snake in a Mesquite Tree. 

After jumping ten feet off the ground (well, maybe not ten) I regained my composure and took some photos. Here is one in the series:

Sonoran Coachwhip

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Snowy Egret

Sometimes a "5" Star Photo comes when you don't expect it. I was traveling through Imperial National Wildlife Refuge before they (opinion) stopped being a refuge for wildlife*, and came across this Snowy Egret. It was windy, he was a bit too far with no access, and yet a wonderful photo:

Snowy Egret

* In 2013 Imperial NWR rounded up 350 Wild Burros and sent them to slaughter houses. They rounded up 30 Desert Bighorn Sheep and moved them to the Catalina Mountains. And, then they opened up the refuge to All Terrain Vehicles for recreational purposes. END OF WILDLIFE REFUGE! It's too bad. It was one of my favorite places.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Snow Geese, Fir Island, and Mount Baker

Here is Arizona, in the winter we head out to Whitewater Draw to see and photograph 30-40,000 Sandhill Cranes. Mixed among them are several hundred Snow and Ross Geese. But in Western Washington you head out to Fir Island where 10-20,000 Snow Geese winter.

Although I set up my camera to get the full affect of the 12,000+ foot Mount Baker in the background, the five Snow Geese flying in front of each peak made this a very special (and Award Winning photo):

Fir Island Snow Geese

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Small Postman

Here I love the black and red Small Postman sitting on the white orchid. Then with the muted green background makes for a nice "5" Star Photo:

Small Postman

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Sharp Shinned Hawk - II

The second "5" Star Sharp Shinned Hawk photo was taken just outside my office window. I watched as this SSH swooped down, grabbed a Mourning Dove, slammed the dove into the window by my desk breaking its neck, then taking the dove to the Mesquite Tree by my office. There he sat plucking feathers for over 30 minutes, after which he enjoy his dinner.

Sharp Shinned Hawk

Monday, March 10, 2014

Sharp Shinned Hawk

Continuing with my "5" Star Photo series we get to the Sharp Shinned Hawk. The SSH is very similar to the Coopers Hawk, but slightly smaller. This makes positive identification sometimes difficult, especially with full size Sharp Shinned and younger Coopers.

This Sharp Shinned photo was taken at Whitewater Draw in Southern Arizona where 30 to 40,000 Sandhill Cranes winter. The area 'draws' lots of birds which means both Sharp Shinned and Coopers will be around.

Sharp Shinned Hawk

Friday, March 7, 2014

Sea Otter

Continuing with my alphabetical series on "5" Star Photos we come to the Sea Otter. Admittedly, I don't have many ocean going animals even though I grew up in Maryland and lived in Western Washington for 18 years. Much of that time was spent fishing and not photographing. Once I became more interesting in photographing wildlife I spent in the interiors of British Columbia and Alberta. Yet, living near the Puget Sound did afford me a few animal photos.

The Sea Otter is a marine mammal native to the coasts of the North Pacific Ocean. Adult sea otters typically weigh between 30 and 100 pounds, making them the heaviest members of the weasel family, but among the smallest marine mammals. Unlike most marine mammals, the sea otter's primary form of insulation is an exceptionally thick coat of fur, the densest in the animal kingdom. Although it can walk on land, the sea otter lives mostly in the ocean.
The sea otter inhabits offshore environments, where it dives to the sea floor to forage. It preys mostly on marine invertebrates such as sea urchins, various mollusks and crustaceans, and some species of fish. Its foraging and eating habits are noteworthy in several respects. First, its use of rocks to dislodge prey and to open shells makes it one of the few mammal species to use tools. In most of its range, it is a keystone species, controlling sea urchin populations which would otherwise inflict extensive damage to kelp forest ecosystems. Its diet includes prey species that are also valued by humans as food, leading to conflicts between sea otters and fisheries.

Sea otters, whose numbers were once estimated at 150,000–300,000, were hunted extensively for their fur between 1700 and 1900, and the world population fell to 1,000–2,000 individuals. A subsequent international ban on hunting, conservation efforts, and reintroduction programs into previously populated areas have contributed to numbers rebounding, and the species now occupies about two-thirds of its former range. The recovery of the sea otter is considered an important success in marine conservation, although populations in the Aleutian Islands and California have recently declined or have plateaued at depressed levels. For these reasons, the sea otter remains classified as an endangered species.

Sea Otter

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Seagull - Dancing to the Sound

Here's a second photo of what I believe to be Western Gulls dancing to the Sound -- the Puget Sound that is. They could possibly be hybrids of the Western Gull and the Glaucous Gull since their upper wings are lighter in color and the underwings only faintly colored. But nonetheless a fun photo:

Western Gull -- Probably

Monday, March 3, 2014

Seagull: Western

There are a wide variety of hybrids that make it challenging to correctly identify many seagulls. Today's "5" Star Photo I believe is a true Western Gull. Western Gulls often hybridize with Glaucous-winged Gulls -- especially in Washington State (where this photos was taken).

Nonetheless, it is a wonderfully comical photo of the Gull carrying a "cockle" in his bill.  

Western Gull

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Scarlet Mormon

Next up on my series of "5" Star Photos is the Scarlet Mormon from the Philippines:

Scarlett Mormon Butterfly