2019—Killdeer Chick

Baby animals are so adorable.  This is a Killdeer chick about ten days to two weeks old.  It couldn’t fly yet.  Its wings weren’t developed enough. It’s legs are long and seemingly out of proportion to its body.   But those legs could scurry.  We encountered a couple of Killdeer families with chicks when we visited the Robb Athletic Field near Ocean Beach in San Diego.  Killdeer nest in the open on the ground.  The adults try to lure potential threats away from their nests or chicks by pretending to have a broken wing.  There were three chicks in this family and the mother Killdeer was desperately trying to lure us away from her chicks.  Then she’d call to the chicks.  They scurried to and fro and would crane their necks to see mom then they would continue circling around.  They finally figured out how to get to mom and they all disppeared.

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The Sea Lions spent the afternoons basking in the sun on the rocks at La Jolla Cove.  I had never seen flippers up close before and was surprised to see the nails, which look quite sharp, on their flippers.  When I watched, they used them to scratch the itches on their chins.

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2019—The Stretch

Birds stretch their wings and legs to relieve stiffness and tension because they spend so much time on their feet.  They seem to always stretch one wing and leg on the same side of the body in a slow, ritualistic way, usually followed by the opposite wing and leg.  My Red-lored Amazon does it and shore birds do it, too.  This Marbled Godwit stretches on the beach at Silver Strand State Park in San Diego the other day.  The beach is strewn with tiny clams with colorful shells that look like tiny butterflies when the shells are empty and scattered on the beach.  These clams are a tasty feast for the shore birds that were attracted to the stretch of beach because of them.

Nikon D500, Nikkor 500mm PF lens. Panning plate.


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2019—Head Rest

We spent Tuesday afternoon on the rocks at La Jolla Cove surrounded by Brandt’s Cormorants, Double-crested Cormorants, California Gulls, and Pacific Brown Pelicans. Pacific Brown Pelicans are large birds with wingspans of more than six feet.  This pelican spent lots of time basking in the sun, preening, and stretching its neck.  I thought this pose was quite practical, using its back as a head rest.

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2019—Back to the Beach

One of my favorite types of photography is what I call “beach panning.”  I got another chance to do it on Silver Strand State Beach in San Diego Tuesday morning.  The day started out foggy and cool, more like a June morning in Santa Rosa than a spring day in Southern California.  And while there weren’t too many birds on the beach, we did see some I hadn’t seen before including Marbled Godwits and Surfbirds.  What really caught my attention were the several Willets in breeding plumage.  I’m used to seeing Willets in drab grayish winter feathers, not their more interesting breeding plumage.

The morning remained overcast and as the tide came in we perservered, laying prone on the wet sand while making sure to keep our hands and our camera gear, on their respective panning plates and Frisbees, sand free by getting up and down when necessary using only elbows and knees.  At the end of the morning, it was still cool and overcast and our bodies were wet and covered with sticky wet sand.  The beach had an outdoor rinsing station so we took turns washing the wet sticky sand off our elbows and forearms, our feet and legs, our shoes, our knees, and the fronts of our shirts.  Some in our small group wore shorts or had zip off pant legs.  I however, wore pants that had legs that rolled into capris.  I had to unroll them to rinse the sand out of the cuffs so I was the only one whose pants were still dripping wet when we went to breakfast.  During the couple of hours that we were shooting, I didn’t notice the coolness of the water or the air.  And, I got some shots I love.

This is a Willet in breeding plumage plucking a tasty morsel out of the wet sand.  Shot with Nikon D500 and Nikkor 500mm PF lens.

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2019—Happy Earth Day 2019

Happy Earth Day today.  Almost fifty years ago, in 1970, I stuck an Earth Day decal to a window in my 1969 Firebird to celebrate the first Earth Day established to create a national day of focus on the environment.  I’m not sure how extensive an effect Earth Day has had on the environment but I’m happy to report that California Poppies still bloom here in the spring.  Nikon D850 and Nikkor 500mm PF Lens.

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2016—Say What?

The sounds that male Greater Prairie Chickens make during their mating displays on the leks include low hooting moans and high pitched clucking noises.  The sounds begin before daybreak and intesify as activity increases on the lek as the sun risees.  This male Greater Prairie Chicken appears to be saying something as the sun shows above the horizon, lighting the drops of dew on the blades of grass surrounding him.

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This is Spanish Lavender, lavanda en español.  Depite my benign (or could it be intentional) neglect of my garden and the pounding rains we’ve had recently, the roses, complete with aphids, the salvia, the azaleas, and the Spanish Lavender are in glorious spring bloom. We finally have some sunshine here and it’s beginning to look, and even feel, like spring.  I used my Nikkor 500mm PF lens with the Nikon D5 set to high speed crop for this image.


2019—After the Blizzard

We were warned about the blizzard for the first few days in Nebraska. It didn’t prevent us from going out in the mornings to photograph chickens and grouse.  It did keep us indoors most of one afternoon.  It was very windy.  It was quite chilly.  The snow blew. By the time I ventured out onto the porch to see what I could see, the worst of the storm had subsided.  This is what I saw.

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2019—Unfriendly Rivalry

 A male Greater Prairie Chicken reacts as his rival flies up to attack.  The males would pair off in what appeared to be staring contests that suddenly erupted into fierce confrontations with claws thrashing and beaks tearing at rival feathers.  This is life on the lek in April as the male Greater Prairie Chickens try to dominate the lek.  Their goal is to mate with the females who watch seemingly indifferently from the sidelines.  The cold and snow did not seem to have any adverse effect on the ongoing skirmishes.

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2019—Cold Morning on the Lek

This year, our Prairie Chicken adventure was much different from past years.   There were high winds, a blizzard, temperatures ranging from the 70’s to below freezing, and thunder and lightening during a snow storm.  The weather didn’t bother us a bit. We were out in it every day.   Our best day, photographically speaking, was early Friday morning before we packed and drove to the Lincoln, NE airport.  The viewing blinds were filled with snow that blew in during the night.  There were high winds but fortunately, they were mostly behind the blinds and only occasionally blew directly in on us.  We had the best light of the week on Friday.  And, seeing and watching the Prairie Chickens in their skirmishes on the lek covered with snow was a fascinating sight to behold.

This male Greater Prairie Chicken thrummed his feet on the snow as a part of the ritual on the lek just as the sun began to show through the cloud cover.  Despite the cold and the snow-covered lek, the activity seemed to rise to a desparate level as the males tried eagerly to impress the females and to fend off rival males.

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2019–More from the Prairie

For a few weeks in April, male Greater Prairie Chickens spend much of their time in skirmishes on the lek with a goal of impressing one of the females watching from the sidelines. This male took a break from the fray to fly to the roof of the school bus blind we were sitting in for a better view of the females he was trying to impress. He stayed atop the bus only briefly but returned several times to survey the possibilites.  He was only about 10 or so feet away from my lens when he took off from the lek, flew directly toward me and landed on the roof just above my head.

Nikon D5, Nikkor 500mm PF with 1.4X teleconverter.

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2019—Back to the Prairie

We’re back on the prairie in Nebraska to photograph Greater Prairie Chickens on the Switzer Ranch in Burwell, Nebraska. The Sibley Guide to Birds refers to the Greater Prairie Chicken as rare, local, and declining.  It is considered a vulnerable species.  A member of the grouse family,  it was once abundant across the Great Plains but it is becoming rare and its population is decreasing although conservation efforts keep localized populations on native grasslands in the midwest thriving.  One such area is run by Calamus Outfitters located on the Switzer Ranch.  This is my third visit in as many years to the site.  Early Tuesday morning before daylight we arrived at the blinds in the middle of the vast pasturelands of the ranch.  Retired school buses, with the seats and window removed, serve as blinds.  We set up our gear and waited for daylight surrounded by the sounds of the Prairie Chickens which carries across the prairie.  The birds have elaborate  mating rituals on leks, also known as booming grounds.

Two male Greater Prairie Chickens face off on the booming ground.  Nikon D5, Nikkor 500mm PF, 1.4 X Teleconverter.




2019—Black Vulture

We’re used to Turkey Vultures where I live in California but in the eastern United States, both birds coexist.  This Black Vulture sat perfectly still and posed for me in the Orlando Wetlands Park in Florida this past February.  In my view, the Black Vulture is not nearly as homely as the Turkey Vulture, but neither one would win a beauty contest.


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