Silex Spring, a turquoise colored pool near the start of the trail at Fountain Paint Pots in Yellowstone National Park has an average temperature of 174.7°F according to the National Park Service. It emits a constant cloud of steam and in the extreme cold of winter, the steam settles on the surrounding trees and freezes into a thick frosting like coating. Although this images appears to be black and white, it is actually a color image.
There’s no cobbler’s bench but the weasel popped up in the snow in Yellowstone yesterday to look at the gaggle of photographers drawn to an area behind the service station just outside Canyon Village to photograph it. Several Pine Martens, members of the weasel family, frequent the area partly because of the large trash bin there. They have become quite a winter attraction for the snow coaches with groups of the park’s winter visitors including fellow photographers. These feisty critters are drawn to the trash bin that provides protection and who knows what else (it is topped with almost two feet of snow now so it hasn’t been emptied for some time) but they also scurry up and down the surrounding pine trees and peer out devising their strategy to get from the tree to the trash bin while under intense observation. While we were there, three different groups of photographers, at least 18 including us, were lined up along the snowy trail that passes the trash bin and the park employee residence behind it. Fortunately, all of the photographers on this day were mostly quiet and respectful, unlike the day before when one woman pounded on the trash bin in a misguided and appalling effort to get the Pine Martens inside to emerge. While they appear cute and adorable, Pine Martens are actually quite vicious and their primary diet is squirrels and voles.
Our third morning in Yellowstone National Park dawned colder than our first couple of days here. We were hoping to find Bison with snow crusted on their coats and we came across a few bulls plowing through the snow to find something to munch on. They were so intent on finding sustenance that they didn’t lift up their heads often and I was lucky to get a few shots before he plunged back into the snow, tossing his head from side to side clearing away the snow from what was left of the grasses beneath it.
For the second day in a row in Yellowstone National Park along the Yellowstone River, we encountered a family of River Otters, watching as they played in the water, submerged and reappeared on the opposite side of the bridge, and popped up out of the water to see what was going on around them. Popping head up out of the water is a movement I have learned is called periscoping as this pair is demonstrating. They seem to frolic in and under the water and in the snow with pure joy. I am utterly enamored with otters.
It’s great to be back in Yellowstone National Park on a winter’s day. The mist rising off the Madison River into the 3° temperatures made for a lovely view at sunrise.
Whenever I see a chickadee I think of W.C. Fields. He used the line, “my little chickadee” in several films and one film he did with Mae West was even named My Little Chickadee. When I was in college, some thirty-odd years after his films were originally released, I discovered them and found them quite hilarious. Here, my little Black-capped Chickadee is posing in the woods at Sax-Zim Bog in Minnesota as the snow blows behind it. I took this on the last day of our visit a couple of weeks ago. With the blowing snow in the background, it reminds me of my favorite W.C. Fields quote, from a movie short called The Fatal Glass of Beer, “It ain’t a fit night out for man nor beast.” And that evening, the storm came in.
Downy Woodpeckers are the smallest woodpeckers in North America. This is a male Downy. Males have a red patch on the back of their heads and it is just barely visible in this image. I took this shot on my first day visiting Sax-Zim Bog in Minnesota about ten days ago, in a woodsy area. Yesterday on my morning walk here in Northern California, I saw a Downy Woodpecker in a tree next to the sidewalk but I didn’t have my Nikon with me and my phone did not do the little woodpecker justice. Downy Woodpeckers live year round throughout most of the United States.
It actually wasn’t evening, but yet another outstanding few minutes with an Evening Grosbeak that was in my viewfinder. The males are really gorgeous birds and their vibrant colors make them stand out regardless how busy the background.
The Evening Grosbeak is the opposite of drab. It’s hard to miss one when it’s surrounded by a drab gray woodsy area, like the woods in Sax-Zim Bog known as Loretta’s Feeders. The leaves were gone from the deciduous trees and the pines were a ways away so there was almost no other color to compete with the bright colors on this bird.
The Pine Grosbeak is a striking bird, also known as the Boreal Finch because of the biome in which it lives. According to the American Bird Conservancy, in Newfoundland, it has the nickname the “Mope” because of its slow-moving, almost sluggish ways. Because this American Robin sized bird lives where there are not many people, it does not seem to fear humans and will approach. We noticed at Sax-Zim Bog that when flocks of these birds were nibbling seed thrown onto the snow, they would approach us standing there. Of course they were then too close for photographs but I found it very interesting that they would walk to within a few feet of me, look up, turn back and slowly make their way back to the pile of seed. They often perched on the branches without moving for long periods, unlike the fluttery Black-capped Chickadees that spent fractions of a second before flitting away.
The Boreal Chickadee has a reputation of being excessively elusive and shy. Seeing one for the first time, at Sax-Zim Bog, was a delight and even though we saw it only briefly, I was able to get a couple of shots of it. It came in from the pines deep in the forest and Moose spotted it at one of the suet feeders. Suddenly, it emerged on a tree branch righin front of us and remained briefly as it seemed to assess the situation. Then it flew off and disappeared into the pines. The next day, it teased us again for an even briefer visit, then disappeared. We were lucky to have had the short opportunity to see this shy denizen of the Boreal Forest.
The range of the tiny Black-capped Chickadee extends across the entire northern part of the United States but their range includes only a tiny part of the northernmost part of California so I am always thrilled to see them when I get the chance. They are feisty little birds that don’t migrate and manage to weather extremely cold temperatures so Sax-Zim Bog is a place where they are plentiful. At many of the shooting locations we visited, they were out and about even when other birds were not visible.
It was snowing on our last day at Sax-Zim Bog. The temperature had dropped ten degrees from the day before and the wind picked up so it felt much colder than the 18° the thermometer registered. The Canada Jays were the first birds we noticed at the feeder in the woods on the side of the road on that day. The Canada Jays are much larger than the Chickadees and other small birds we saw regularly at the Bog and they have many of the characteristics of the California Scrub Jays with which I am familiar: gregarious, raucous, pushy. But Jays are among my favorite birds from well before my bird photography days started so I am drawn to the Canada Jays at the Bog. One of the things my photographer friends razz me about is my tendency to focus on what they call “Carolisms.” Usually Carolisms are subjects that I make a point of photographing, and they are usually oddities or humorous things that I notice and no one else notices. In this case, my Carolism was serendipitous not deliberate. It is a barely noticeable snowflake on the nape of the Canada Jay’s neck. I thought it was pretty cool that the snowflake retained its shape after landing on the Jay. Of course the cold temperatures kept it from melting.
You can’t miss a male Pine Grosbeak in the woods in Sax-Zim Bog, especially in winter. This beautiful bird provides a pop of color against the white snow and the neutral colors of the tree bark.
Red-breasted Nuthatches are one of the smallest songbirds, only about a half an inch longer than an Anna’s Hummingbird. And, they are very fun to watch. as they forage, especially when headed downhill on a tree trunk. According to Sibley Birds, the White-breasted Nuthatch, the Red-breasted’s larger cousin, commonly is seen in this position while the Red-breasteds are most commonly seen perched on branches. We stopped along Arkola Road in Sax-Zim Bog at one of the feeding sites tucked into the edge of the woods. I took quite a few shots of this Nuthatch perched, but when it headed down the trunk of the tree, I laid on the shutter release, hoping to get it flagged out, beak almost perpendicular to the tree trunk, as in this image. I think of this as classic Nuthatch.
Tuesday in Sax-Zim Bog was quite a contrast to the cold but sunny day on Monday. The morning was foggy like the day before but instead of starting the day at 4° it was a comparatively balmy 27°. By mid morning the fog burned off revealing a gray and overcast sky. We visited Loretta’s feeders to see what birds were in this small patch of woods where several feeders are kept stocked with seed and suet by the Friends of Sax-Zim Bog and many homeowners in the area. When we arrived late morning, a gregarious flock of brightly colored Evening Grosbeaks was congregating in the surrounding trees eyeing the feeders. Despite the higher temperatures, it was still below freezing in the Bog and I stayed as motionless as possible standing knee deep in snow. In early afternoon, this handsome male landed in one of the few places where I had a clear view, unobstructed by twigs, leaves, and branches. Because my movement would cause them to fly off, I was pretty much stuck there so I found the one branch with an unobstructed view and focused there, hoping the birds would choose that perch. I was lucky he landed exactly where he landed. I guess he had a clear view of the feeder while I had a clear view of him.
Black-capped Chickadees feed on seeds, berries, grubs, and insects. In the winter in Sax-Zim Bog in Minnesota, their food options are limited with a foot of snow on the ground and temperatures hovering below 20° Fahrenheit. Fortunately, the bark of trees conceals a rich food source for these small birds. We watched this Chickadee as it circled this tree extracting the grubs that lurked under the bark. In this shot, the bird seems to be searching for its next bite from Nature’s Grub Hub.
The shore birds on Salisbury Beach in Massachusetts last August were few and far between but we did have some luck with gulls. This is a Herring Gull. Its eye is quite fascinating. I was able to get this perspective because we were laying flat on the beach with our long lenses, in this case, my Nikkor Z800mm lens, and it was the first time I had a chance to use that lens for beach panning.
I went outside late Friday afternoon to check on the status of Snoot’s gorget. Snoot’s head is still covered with pin feathers and only a few colorful feathers have fully emerged that identify him as a male Anna’s Hummingbird. I have to laugh at how raggedy he looks, but there is a little (very little) progress in feather development. A few more pink feathers have emerged under his left eye. I’ll be very interested to see how long it takes for him to emerge from the pinhead look and sport that beautiful gem colored gorget.