Our first day shooting on Kodiak was a great introduction to a great week of shooting. When we encountered the mama bear that we’d met last May along with her three cubs and they accepted us immediately, going about their business undeterred by our presence, we knew it would be a great week. One of the three cubs used its paws to keep this pink salmon under control in the water, then it reached down and grabbed the doomed fish in its jaws, looking over with a look as if it were just caught in the act. I always love it when a subject looks straight into my lens, regardless of what expression is on its face, and, in fact, I did catch it in the act…of catching a fish.
Our first day back on the Uganik on Kodiak Island in search of Kodiak Brown Bears did not disappoint. In fact, each day brought new surprises and new bears. I loved watching this bear pick her way across the rocks at the river’s edge.
An immature American Dipper waits on a small rock at the edge of the Uganik River on Kodiak Island in Alaska. It was concentrating on the surrounding water and didn’t seem to notice me, perched on the bow of the boat, taking photographs of it.
“Catch me if you can!” the Pink Salmon are trying to escape the powerful claws of this Kodiak Brown Bear cub as it splashes through the shallow waters of the Uganik River toward the fish visible on the surface. And, of course, within a few seconds, it was all over for the salmon and the Kodiak Brown munched some Alaska sashimi, no chopsticks needed.
A mother bear with two small COYS, cubs of the year, i.e., cubs born this year, acted like she was snorkeling for salmon every time we saw her at the bend in the river. We could see the top of her head and ears protruding from the water as she dipped her head under and looked for an opportunity to grab a salmon swimming by. Unlike the Mama Bear with three cubs, all of whom splashed into the water time and time again chasing salmon, she chose to swim out, dip her head under, and watch, often emerging with a salmon in her claws. Most days when we saw her snorkeling, she would soon disappear with her cubs as she seemed a bit shy of us. But as we motored back to camp on our last evening, she was snorkeling, her cubs watching, but concealed, from the water’s edge, and she did not immediately bolt from the area. We were close in the boat in this shot, maybe 50 feet, when she emerged and shook the water from her head.
Each evening as we headed back to camp, we saw a bear lazing on a berm above the water watching everything that passed by it on the river. The bear was in a different place and on different sides of the river each time but always in a relaxed posture, like a lazy dog. I have no idea if it was the same bear but it was fun to photograph as we floated by and the bear watched us, almost as if watching a parade. The bear sometimes turned its head and sometimes just its eyes as it watched us seeming to absorb every moment before the parade passed by.
It was about 6:30 PM as we motored up the Uganik River on our last day of shooting. The light was dimming but the bears were still fishing for salmon or wandering the water’s edges looking for discards. One of the three cubs we’ve seen every day and that we met last May, walked out of the tall grasses onto a gravel bar on the shore just as we passed by. The cub is maturing but still has that adorable cub look. It strode toward us, curiosity getting the better of it. This family of bears seemed to recognize us and understand that we were not a threat. On more than one occasion, one of the cubs (we think it was the male who tended to lag behind Mom and his sisters and got more than a few scoldings from Mom) approached us. I like to think the cub was giving us a final farewell. We were just 40 feet or so away as it walked directly toward our boat. Too quickly we were past and the cub disappeared from view as we rounded the bend.
It wasn’t just Kodiak Brown Bears that were on the lookout for salmon. Birds also took a keen interest in the waters of the Uganik river that was roiling with mostly Pink Salmon making their way up river and spawning as they went. Within hours of spawning, the life cycle of those salmon ended and their rotting carcasses littered the gravel beaches and the shallow waters near the shore. Hundreds of gulls of various species congregated in the water, a cacophony of screeches filling the air around us. Bald Eagles lurked in the surrounding trees or waited on drift wood branches near the shore. This immature Bald Eagle stretched its wings as the rain pelted its feathers while it waited and watched for rotting carcasses to float by or for morsels of fresher salmon discarded by the bears.
What an incredible week we just had on Kodiak Island in Alaska. The fabulous folks at Rorher Bear Camp hosted us for our first visit there during the fall salmon run. We were happy to see that the Mama Bear and three cubs that we first encountered this past May were still in the area and were comfortable with our being in their home along the Uganik River. We photographed them each of the four days we were there. The cubs are a bit bigger now and were adept at chasing and catching the Pink Salmon and Silver Salmon heading up the river. At least most of the time. The cub in this image tried to pin down this salmon, but it slipped out of the bear’s grasp.
I’m back in Alaska. It’s fall and the salmon are running. That means it’s time to revisit the Kodiak Brown Bears as they fish for salmon to fatten up for the winter. This is Mama Bear with one of her three cubs that we encountered on the flats on the Uganik River this past May. I wonder if we’ll see them again? If we do see them, they’ll be fishing and eating salmon instead of munching on grass. I hope we do.
Black-chinned Hummingbirds are small hummingbirds and their visits to feeders at Madera Canyon, AZ this past July were brief. As soon as someone spotted a male Black-chinned hummer, it was called out but it seemed to me that whenever one was around, it was visiting a feeder far from me. It was rare that I saw one close enough to have a decent size image, even when set to DX mode which effectively crops the image in camera. The day before we flew home, a male Black-chinned Hummingbird visited the feeders and I was ready. I had set my camera to DX mode knowing he would be far away and he was. Suddenly, however, he appeared directly in front of me, completely filling the frame. I didn’t have time to change back to FX mode. I took just a handful of images and he was gone. I was lucky. I love seeing this tiny bird so big in the image, larger than life.
As my move date away from the garden I’ve nurtured for thirty years approaches, I am in a Hummingbird Dilemma. But first, I must make clear that this Broad-billed Hummingbird does not visit my yard, or anywhere in California for that matter. I took this photograph this past July in Madera Canyon, AZ. My dilemma has to do with the birds who have become accustomed to my flowers and my feeders and my worry that new owners may not be interested in keeping them as visitors. I have ordered hummingbird feeders for my new garden and I am planning to keep feeders filled at the old house once it goes up for sale and until it sells. I’ll probably leave some salvia and some California fuchsia, the Anna’s Hummingbird’s preferred flowers, as well. Then I’ll just have to keep my fingers crossed.
It’s hard to imagine why this magnificent hummingbird, whose common name once was Magnificent Hummingbird, is now called Rivoli’s Hummingbird. Well, it all started in 1829 when a French natural historian and surgeon called René-Primevère Lesson, named this hummingbird Rivoli’s in honor of the 2nd Duke of Rivoli, a distinguished amateur ornithologist. It turns out that the Duke collected bird specimens and when a contact of his, an Italian doctor and naturalist named Paolo Emilio Botta, visited ports in Mexico and California in the early 1820’s, he sent species he collected to the Duke who in turn sent them to Lesson who apparently was responsible for naming birds. Lesson also named the Anna’s Hummingbird after the Duke’s wife, Anna. For some reason, in 1983, ornithologists in charge of naming birds (who are those guys?) changed the Rivoli’s Hummingbird to the Magnificent Hummingbird, a very appropriate name in my view. When I first saw this magnificent bird, it was called the Magnificent Hummingbird. But, in 2017, the same group (who ARE those guys?) split the species into two groups, and called the birds that live between the southern United States and Nicaragua, Rivoli’s, returning the bird to its original name. Those birds south of Nicaragua are called Talamanca Hummingbird. I did find out who those guys are. And, unlike those guys in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, they are not trying to get us. The American Ornithological Society committee on classification and nomenclature lumps and splits bird species, sometimes combining and sometimes splitting, often the result of DNA testing. That’s what happened to the Magnificent. And I guess since it’s been returned to its original name, all is well. But, I still think this gorgeous bird is truly magnificent.
In January 0f 2022, I visited Lake Michigan and St. Jo’s Lighthouse, where in winter, the lighthouse is encrusted in ice and waves crash around it with fury. One afternoon, the setting sun was so intense that it colored the clouds with a deep red before it sank and disappeared below the horizon.
A mature male Rufous Hummingbird can be as bright as a new copper penny. This was taken at Madera Canyon, Arizona this past July.
She was my companion for 22 years. And what a fascinating 22 years it was. Bobo, the Red-lored Amazon. Her feathers were brilliant and eye-catching: emerald green, pale blue, bright red, and lemon yellow. Her voice was a lilting wolf whistle, or an ear-piercing shriek, or a subtle clicking (I never knew what I might have agreed to when I responded with my own clicking), or the occasional “Hi, Bobo!” or even the single word, “well!” with a rising inflection that meant so much. Her constant companion was a dried chili pepper, a security blanket of sorts that was deposited at the end of wherever she ventured in exchange for something else so I always knew where she’d been. I bear scars from her bites; she was not a parrot that could be handled unless it was on her terms. Before turning out the lights in the evening, I would sit in front of her cage and she would lay her head in my lap and allow me to scratch her head, until it didn’t suit her and the beak presented itself. On Tuesday, she had a stroke. I knew something had gone terribly wrong and I took her to the Vet. They let me hold her, wrapped in a towel, until the end, something I hadn’t done much during our lives together. She enriched my life and I am poorer now that she is gone. I will miss her. She is flying with the angels now.
When we visited Corkscrew Swamp in Florida this past February, we found several different species of Warbler, including the very appropriately named Black and White Warbler. This bird is quite distinctively colored and, unlike other warblers, forages on tree trunks more like a Nuthatch than a Warbler.
Bobo never ceases to amaze me. Her recent health problems, which remain a mystery even to the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, seem to come and go. At the moment, she is currently acting like her old self, eating and engaged in the world around her. Yesterday morning she came down the ladder to the counter where I was fixing her food. In the 20 plus years I’ve had her, this is the first time she has done that. She normally watches from the top of her cage or from inside her cage. Her appetite seems to have returned, at least for now. She beaked through the small dish with fruits and veggies and selected a banana slice, which, when she’s eating, is one of her favorite foods. I had to document this event so I grabbed my camera from the kitchen table already set up with the 400mm lens and the 1.4X teleconverter for Hummingbirds. I had to back away about 8 feet to keep her in focus and by this time, she had climbed back up the ladder with her prize and was stepping onto the top of the cage where she devoured her banana for breakfast.
One of the coolest things about scooting around Lake Kissimmee in an airboat is that you get to witness an endangered species, the Snail Kite, so close that you that you feel as if you could reach out and touch them. They were hunting for apple snails exposed by the airboat as it skimmed over and roiled the water. These magnificent birds flew right next to the boat and barely looked our way. Their concentration was so intense as they hovered in place searching, that we were able to capture images like this, a banded male, so close that the wing tips aren’t in the frame. His uniquely curved bill and talons, evolved to extract snails from their shells, are clearly visible.
I couldn’t miss out on photographing the rare Super Blue Moon last night. The next one isn’t until 2037. I missed the moonrise which was too bad because photographing the huge moon rising behind a building or trees or mountains would have given more drama to the size of the Moon which is at perigee, meaning it is the closest distance the Moon gets in its elliptical orbit around Earth, about 222,000 miles. The furthest distance in the orbit, called the Apogee, is about 253,000 miles. The fact that the moon is so close makes it a super moon. The fact that this is the second full moon in the month, makes it a blue moon; it has nothing to do with color. Put the two together and you’ve got a Super Blue Moon. The moon was in the east but the neighbor’s oak tree blocked my view so I walked down the driveway with my Z9 and Z800 with the 2X teleconverter. That combination did a pretty good job of filling the frame with the moon. I guess 1600mm is the perfect focal length for a full moon if that’s all you want in the photograph. Saturn was supposed to be out there somewhere but I didn’t see it when I was out about 9PM.