There were hundreds of birds at The Ranch in Montana every day but most of them were Pine Siskins. On the last morning before I flew home, a bird new to me landed briefly at the water feature and drank along side the Siskins. It’s a female Red Crossbill. The females don’t have red feathers like the males which give the bird part of its name, but they do have the crossed bill. Their distinctive large stout bill, with its crossed tips, enables it to pry seeds from pine cones.
It makes me so happy to see the hummingbirds in my garden. This female Anna’s Hummingbird has been spending lots of time in the yard and the feisty male that chases all comers away is no where in sight so she can sit for a few moments without fear of being harassed.
You never know when or where a photo opportunity might present itself. The other day I looked out the bay window at my garden and a moving spot of green caught my attention. A Katydid was crawling slowly across the window pane. I grabbed the D6 with the 500mm PF already attached but I had to stand ten feet away to get the Katydid in focus so I switched to my 105mm Micro lens. By this time, Katy was moving steadily across the pane. I had no time to get a tripod or attempt focus shift shooting so I kept shooting images until she disappeared around the window frame. It’s an interesting perspective, I think. Katydids don’t exactly have a cuteness factor going for them, but it’s not often you get a chance to see the underbelly of a bug. I lucked out because although the window was filthy with dust and ashes from the fires, the light was just right so that they didn’t create too much of a distraction. And, I have to say that the camera and a macro lens have given me the courage to photograph ugly creepy crawlers that a few years ago would have caused me to turn and walk, or run, away. So this is the ideal way for me to photograph a creepy crawler, through a windowpane!
Water is a lure for birds. And, the water feature at The Ranch in Montana is an incredible magnet for lots of them. While I was there, it was Pine Siskins that dominated the water feature. Here, a Pine Siskin enjoys the diversion.
Despite the oppressive smoke that hangs in the air from the LNU Fire Complex, the birds still must feed and forage. The foliage and flowers are covered with a fine dusting of ash but the Anna’s Hummingbirds still sip nectar from the flowers. This female Anna’s tolerated my presence while I took her photograph.
It’s always nice when a critter that is named for something actually hangs out in its namesake. Here, a Pine Siskin sits in a Lodgepole Pine. According to The Audubon Society’s Field Guide to North American Birds, Pine Siskins nest in conifers and feed mainly on seeds and some small insects. The guide says that these small finches feed in flocks which, after nesting, can number in the hundreds, a phenomenon that I witnessed in Montana.
The Ranch in Montana is very bird-friendly. At the moment, most of the birds that visit the feeders and water features are Pine Siskins and they flock in by the hundreds. But, Evening Grosbeaks are occasional visitors, like this female who managed to hold her own on a perch over the water while the Pine Siskins crowded below.
Sometimes, we’re so anxious to get to where we’re going that we don’t see beauty literally at our feet. We were wandering through the grounds at The Ranch in Montana when Sharon pointed out the pods from the Opium Poppy that volunteered at the edge of the grasses near the house where we were walking. I was stopped in my tracks. If I hadn’t looked down, I wouldn’t have noticed the small pods tucked away at the edge of a slope inches from my feet. I was intrigued by the patterns that the groups of pods created in the shaded edge of the small slope. I used my Nikon Z7 and the Nikkor 105mm Micro lens (with the FTZ attached), leaned over, and focused straight down on this trio of pods. I must remember to look down so I don’t miss something beautiful.
The past few days I have been in Paradise. I’ve been staying with dear friends at their new home in Montana and enjoying the fruits of their labors. Birds by the hundreds flock to their ranch to take advantage of the bird-friendly environment they’ve created. Right now, Pine Siskins dominate the feeders and the water features, with hundreds flocking in to spend the day. I suspect they don’t venture much past the stately Ponderosa Pines that surround the area as they return at first light. While the Pine Siskins far outnumber other birds here at the moment, in the few days I’ve been here, I’ve seen 30 different species of birds, mostly right here at the ranch. The only down side is that the smoke from the wildfires in California has found its way to Montana, turning the sun a bright red and blanketing the horizon with a thick haze. I’ll be returning late today to Northern California where many of the devastating fires continue to burn without containment. I’ll miss this Paradise.
Male Broad-billed Hummingbirds are gorgeous birds. Their jewel-like feathers make them appear to be flying gems.
The oppressive heat that has been blanketing the Central Valley is showing no signs of letting up. I’ve watched the hummingbirds spend more time drinking water from the fountain than nectar from the feeders. The Lesser Goldfinches have also been spending lots of time cooling in the fountain. By mid afternoon, the thermometer registered 109°. The heat wave is supposed to peak on Tuesday, with predictions of 111°. I could stand only a few minutes with my camera outside at peak temperature. My plan was to photograph one of the hummers drinking from the fountain but I was driven back inside after less than 5 minutes with only a few shots of the Lesser Goldfinches panting in the heat.
Custer State Park in South Dakota has been on my mind the past couple of days after seeing reports of two different incidents in which stupid people approached too close to one of these huge beasts in order to take a photograph. The consequences were dire but I don’t think either person died. It was pure luck that they didn’t. Who knows what makes people do such incredibly stupid things for what gain? Visitors to Custer State Park are advised to stay in their vehicles or at least 100 yards away from Bison roaming the roads and grasslands. I took this photograph a couple of years ago at Custer State Park using a long lens and a teleconverter so it just looks like I got close to the beast. Although this bull, weighing at least a ton, is losing his winter coat and appears a bit ragged, the look on his face, especially with the little new born calf directly behind him, is not inviting. Would you approach him? There seem to be more reports of people being gored by bison in our National and State parks recently because they didn’t think the rules applied to them. We are privileged to have wild spaces in our country where we can get glimpses of what wild life was once like. It would be a shame if a few stupid people ruined it for the rest of us.
While the phrase “the birds and the bees” is generally considered a euphemism for sexual activity, in Madera Canyon, the birds and the bees were constantly competing for access to the feeders…and there was no hanky-panky involved. The hummers were quite wary of the bees, mostly honey bees but there were some wasps and some large bumble bees buzzing around the feeders as well. Some of the feeders seemed to attract swarms of bees while other feeders were free of bees. The hummers avoided those feeders that were completely covered with bees. I can empathize with the hummers’ wariness about the bees. A honeybee stung my calf a couple of days ago while I was out for a morning walk. My calf is still quite swollen and sore. I can’t imagine what would happen to a tiny hummingbird if it got stung by a bee. This female Broad-billed Hummingbird appears to be in a stand-off with the honeybee guarding the feeder.
I’ve worked hard to make my garden beautiful and bird friendly this summer. But it would seem not only are the birds finding it appealing but so are some unwelcome critters. When I looked at one of my hanging baskets that only yesterday contained a profusion of bright red petunias to see that it is now just a limp pile of shredded wilted flowers and the leaves are covered with the telltale droppings of Tobacco Bud Worms, I was ready for war! It took a while to find them. I eventually counted twelve that took less than a day to obliterate the large container of petunias. I suspect there were more but I pruned the plant ruthlessly and obliterated all that I found. I’m sure some were probably still on the stems. Before I did them in, though, I grabbed my 105mm macro lens and my Nikon Z7 and took some shots to document the devastating critters. Because I couldn’t decide which was the head (I suspect it’s the part attached to the leaf but they don’t seem to chew on the leaves, only the flowers) or the tail end, I took a few images shifting focus by hand, not in camera as I was hand holding, so I could combine the images into one image with the entire bud worm in focus.
Hummingbirds are quite incredible little fliers. While some birds, like raptors, can remain stationary briefly in flight, hummingbirds are capable of hovering in place for long periods, as well as flying straight up, straight down, and flying backward. This Broad-billed Hummingbird demonstrates a backward flight posture.
One day in Kachemak Bay in June, we had a lengthy opportunity to photograph a lone Northern Sea Otter that floated near the barge as he snoozed on his back, watched us, snoozed some more. As the barge drifted, we got closer and the otter seemed unconcerned with our presence. It was a fascinating encounter that went on for quite a while. Otters have the densest fur of any mammal and aside from their nose, the only part of their body that is not covered in fur is their paw pads. They hold their paws out of the water to keep them warm. He looks as if he’s pondering something while he floated by, paws together as if in thought.
Bushtits have become my favorite garden bird. Not that there are many different species in my garden to choose from but these little ones are so endearing, I can’t get enough of them. They always bring a smile to my face. The male (Him) is on the left, the female (Her) is on the right.
The Bushtits descended en masse on the fountain early Saturday morning. They rocketed into the shrubs behind the fountain and I could tell where they were by the shaking of the leaves. One by one they dropped down to the fountain and there were probably 15 or more crowded on. When I walked out with my camera, only a few were still bathing and they, too disappeared. I settled down and waited. Only three stalwarts returned, two females and a lone, innocent looking male. The females don’t look as angry as they often do but the little male looks a bit troubled to be surrounded by the two females.
Northern Sea Otters were so much fun to watch in Kachemak Bay in Alaska in June. There were so many mothers with pups and the pups, especially, were curious about us and seemed not to be able to take their eyes off as we drifted by them. Captain Jim did an excellent job of both keeping us near the otters and making sure we didn’t encroach on them. The youngsters spend months on their mother’s bellies, or floating near her until they develop the skills and the right fur density to enable them to begin to dive to feed themselves.
One of the Sea Otter photographs I wanted to get in Alaska was of an otter on its back munching on a sea urchin. I was told that I was more likely to get that shot in Monterey Bay in California. Fortunately for me, Sea Otters also eat lots of mollusks which are abundant in Kachemak Bay in Alaska. This Northern Sea Otter scraped out the last bits of scallop before releasing the shell. It is fascinating to watch otters when they’re eating. They carry a rock with them, sometimes tucked under their arm when they dive, to crack open the mollusks they find. They use the rock as a tool to smash the mollusk placed on their stomachs as they float on their backs.