Hummingbirds can move very fast. They hover in place without moving their heads but while still moving their bodies and wings. This image is from the same 20-image burst that I posted yesterday. My Nikon Z9 takes 20 images a second and in that one second, the 20 images show that the hummer started with its wings back, rotated to wings forward and moved its body slightly so that it was parallel to my plane of view instead of facing slightly away, then it moved its wings back and then moved them forward again before changing its body position a second time, tilting down, and disappearing from my view. All in one second. And all while keeping its head perfectly still and allowing me to keep its eye in tack sharp focus in all 20 images until it dropped from view. Both the Z9 and this Anna’s Hummingbird are pretty incredible. Wow is all I can say.
One of the female Anna’s Hummingbirds that live in my garden visited the feeder while I sat outside with my camera. But first, she chased another female away. I thought only the males dominated the feeders but this Anna has obviously claimed this feeder as her own. There are almost no flowers in bloom in my garden except for a couple of fading blossoms on the Pineapple Sage in the background so the feeders are a necessary filling station for the hummers until I get my spring garden in shape. We have had rare freeze warnings this past week so I put off adding any delicate plants until things warm up a bit.
A Bald Eagle shows off its seven foot wingspan as it spreads its wings, twists its body, and hurtles toward its target in a cloudless sky above Sadie Cove just off Kachemach Bay in Homer, Alaska last May.
It’s well past Valentine’s Day this year. but it is still February. This pink Calla Lily has a delightful heart shape that is reminiscent of a valentine, so here’s wishing all a belated happy Valentine’s Day.
It was negative 20 degrees Fahrenheit that morning but with the sun on our backs, it wasn’t really that uncomfortable. We’d stopped along the Madison River to photograph a small herd of Bison that were still bedded down in the misty morning cold. Everyone but me traipsed down a sloping Bison trail in the snow to get a closer vantage point. Me and walking in snow—not a complementary combination. And when a camera, long lens, and tripod are added to the mix, well, let’s just say that I opted to stay where I was. My companions kept beckoning me to join them. After all, it made for much better photography. And, it was only about a 100 feet away. Down a slope. In snow. When Moose shouted to me that it was a Bison trail, he implied that I wouldn’t sink down any further into the snow. I got up my courage and went down. But, I only managed to do it because Dan, our driver, offered to walk me down. I slung my camera and tripod over my left shoulder, took his arm with my right hand and walked down the gentle slope. I felt a little foolish afterward when I realized it was such a gentle slope and such an easy walk down. And, the photography was indeed significantly better down there, closer to the Bison and more on their level, not looking down on them. Maybe someday I’ll learn to get out of my own way.
Identifying birds can be a challenge. They are often quite similar in appearance but because they don’t always sit still while you decipher the identifiers, zeroing in on a particular detail to differentiate one from another can be frustrating and is often very difficult because they can disappear in an instant. Case in point? Is this a Downy or a Hairy Woodpecker? We saw both at Sax-Zim Bog and unless they were right next to each other with their obvious size differences, I had trouble discerning which was which. I had time with this bird as it pecked into this well-drilled tree trunk for quite a while while I photographed it. But, because it was alone, I couldn’t compare the difference in body size——the Hairy is more than two inches larger than the Downy. The other main difference is the size of their beaks, with the Downy’s beak shorter and stubbier than the Hairy’s sturdier, longer bill. I’m pretty sure this is a male Downy Woodpecker, the smaller of the two similar woodpeckers. Telling whether this woodpecker is a male or female is the easy part. The red patch on his head identifies him clearly as a male.
The dramatic Lower Falls in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone became even more dramatic in January when much of the thundering water was stilled in a frozen tumble of ice. The cascade is the tallest waterfall in Yellowstone National Park at 308 feet and its peak runoff in the spring has more than 60,000 gallons per second flowing over the falls. Much of its flow was temporarily stifled when we watched it from Artist’s Point last month but the remaining tumult of its waters filled the canyon with its spray as it continued its journey down the Yellowstone River.
How cute it this? With a wreath of snow around its snout and staring directly at the camera, this Pine Marten is at home in a pine tree——a dead pine tree——but a pine tree nevertheless. And, as a friend pointed out to me, the dead pine needles exactly match the Pine Marten’s coat. Our encounter with Pine Martens in Yellowstone National Park in January was brief but memorable and fun.
Water drops on flowers fascinate me. The pink Calla Lily that I brought home from the market the other day was destined to be a model for my camera but I wasn’t expecting water drops too. When I walked by the plant on the counter after it had set there overnight, I noticed that a few of the spathes (the colorful outer bracts) had drops of liquid on their tips. I carefully moved the plant to a place where I could photograph it and used the Nikkor ZMC105mm macro lens for a closeup shot. The water drop looks almost like a delicate piece of blown glass. When I moved one of the lilies to unclutter the background for another shot, I inadvertently bumped the plant and all of the drops fell to the table. I’ll have to wait for them to form again so I can try my idea for another shot.
It was fascinating to watch this tiny Black-capped Chickadee excavate the meat in a peanut half with such precision that it left a thin shell that kept the shape intact. After it hollowed out the peanut, the Chickadee flew off with it perhaps to cache what was left. A recent article I read about the superb intelligence of chickadees pointed out that their ability to learn is key to their survival in harsh winter environments. Their intelligence has been observed to be close to that of corvids (crows, jays, ravens). And they remember where they cached their food, a significant factor in their survival in a harsh winter environment like Sax-Zim Bog.
The Canada Jay is a quintessentially Canadian bird. Its territory extends across all of Canada’s provinces although it does extend into a few of the United States, including Minnesota where I took this photograph. I overhead a woman at Sax-Zim Bog explaining in an exasperated tone to her companion, that “it’s a Gray Jay,” but they “went and changed it” she said. Yes, in 2018, the common name of perisoreus canadensis was changed from Gray Jay to Canada Jay by the American Ornithological Society (AOS). The irony is that the bird’s Latin name includes “canadensis” a term which means “of Canada” used in taxonomy for species indigenous to or strongly associated with Canada so it seems odd that it ever needed to be changed to Gray Jay in the first place. The other irony is that the Canada Jay was called the Canada Jay from at least 1831, when John J. Audubon used the name on his drawings, until 1957 when the AOS’ predecessor, the American Ornithological Union, changed the bird’s common name to Gray Jay. Of course none of this set well with Canadian ornithologists and the further insult came with the Americanized spelling of gray, not the Canadian spelling, grey. The 2018 decision set things right again. Now the supporters of this gregarious jay are facing a difficult campaign to have it declared Canada’s national bird after the Canadian Government made it clear that they are not seeking more national symbols for Canada.
C D B! D B S A B-Z B. O, S N-D! If you’re not a fan of William Steig, you might not immediately recognize what these letters mean. Just speak them quickly out loud a few times and they’ll reveal themselves. Published in 1968, CDB! is just the kind of word puzzle that I love. My friend Groovy Dave gave it to me back in 1968 because he “thought I might enjoy” it. He knew me well, I guess. My tattered copy, with that inscription, is a precious and well-loved volume. So here’s a hint. This bee (B) is (S) a busy (B-Z) bee (B), as it buzzes around the early-blooming hardenbergia a couple of weeks back. Taken with the Z9 and ZMC 50 macro lens. Oh, and don’t try to translate the Z and ZMC letters. They don’t mean anything.
They were everywhere we went in Sax-Zim Bog, in flocks that swooped across the roads and among the trees. Despite their tiny size, they held their own with the larger birds at the feeders. The Common Redpoll is slightly more than half the size of the much larger Pine Grosbeaks and just a bit larger than a Goldfinch. With a distinctive red patch on the top of their head and a black stripe down the top of their beaks they tend to stand out. This little one is flagging out from a bare stem as it watches for a chance to pop onto the feeder.
Great Gray Owls hunt at night and at dawn and dusk. The rest of the day they are comfortably out of sight in the forest. We had two opportunities to photograph a Great Gray Owl last week in Sax-Zim Bog, once in the low light of the morning and once in the low light of dusk. The sun was setting when the owl flew from a stump to the top of a spruce. While it clung to the boughs, it continually swiveled its head in search of prey.
On our last day in Sax-Zim Bog, we had three encounters with Great Gray Owls, all before breakfast! Whether it was an ice cream dessert the night before (which usually guarantees wildlife sightings), a new wildlife draw possibility in the form of Minnesota style Cheese Curds, or just plain luck, we had no sooner entered the Bog about 8AM when Moose slowed on Highway 7 and Pat called out “Owl!” We spent about 10 minutes with a Great Gray, too far away to photograph but great fun to watch hunt. After a while, we noticed stopped cars ahead on the highway and people and cameras out of vehicles so we joined the group. The owl was perched on a cable just about thirty feet away from the edge of the road. While the perch did not make for ideal photographic conditions, what with the owl perched on a manmade cable instead of a lichen covered stump, and gray skies as a backdrop, we were determined. We positioned ourselves directly in front of the owl as it swiveled its head in search of its morning fare. What is fascinating to me is that this huge owl constantly swivels its head in search of prey. Its facial disk is designed to funnel sound to its ears so it can hear its prey, and it can swivel its head 270°. I felt lucky and privileged when it paused swiveling briefly and seemed to stare directly at me. We had about 5 minutes with this owl before it flew over our heads and across the road to the security of the forest. Our third encounter was brief as a Great Gray flew across one of the bog roads and disappeared into the trees, not to be seen by us again. Our three Great Gray encounters were a fabulous ending to a very fun bird adventure.
It must be the cold weather that keeps the tiny birds like this Black-capped Chickadee looking like balls of fluff. They are ubiquitous visitors to the feeding stations at Sax-Zim Bog and they are irresistibly adorable.
On our second day in Sax-Zim Bog, the Great One, the elusive Great Gray Owl, finally appeared in my viewfinder. It was three and a half years ago that I first went in search of Great Gray Owls. And, until yesterday I had never set eyes on one of these huge, magnificent creatures. It was almost five o’clock. The sun was setting and the light was dim. There had been several reports of sightings but we were always 20 minutes late. Heading out of the Bog, we drove slowly down Highway 7 which, according to all the reports, offered the most promise. A single car had stopped ahead of us and two people with large lenses emerged and set up their cameras. We pulled up and immediately spotted the Great Gray, nearly the size of a yardstick, perched on a dead, lichen covered snag in clear view. What a treat to see him. He tolerated us and the dozen or more cars and twice that many photographers that quickly joined in the Sax-Zim Bog version of a Yellowstone Bison Jam. As the light dimmed further and a freight train approached that would soon block the view as it chugged down its track, we left and savored a great end to a fabulous day.
On a February afternoon, a Blue Jay perched in a lichen-covered tree in the Boreal forest in Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota, fluffs its feathers to compensate for the chilly 10° temperatures. I have had very few opportunities to photograph Blue Jays because they don’t live in California. The ubiquitous Scrub Jays in California are every bit as blue but lack the blue crest and the black facial accents. The breast feathers on this jay remind me of a warm shawl draped across its shoulders. Because its blue body feathers aren’t visible, it completely changes the overall look of the bird.
The Pine Marten we saw in Yellowstone spent lots of time playing peek-a-boo with us from behind a pile of snow. Although it is a predator species (prey include mice, red squirrels, and chipmunks) it is irresistibly adorable.
The Common Ravens in Yellowstone National Park are notorious for entering the open window of a snow coach to search for food or tearing apart back packs left on unattended snow sleds with their strong, versatile beaks. When we stopped for lunch one noon-time along the Yellowstone River, this Raven suddenly appeared as if out of nowhere and was soon joined by his mate. Ravens are very smart birds. This banded Common Raven, known popularly in the park as Cheddar, also had a telemetry antenna protruding from his back attached to a feather so it can be tracked in real time. An App called Animal Tracker will zero in on the location of one of these banded birds. They are studying the relationship between Common Ravens and Gray Wolves.