I am always delighted when I discover that something in my garden is a California native whether it’s flora or fauna. In this case, it’s both flora and fauna. Purple sage is native to California and the Valley Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa Varipuncta, is the largest of California’s three species of carpenter bee, measuring an inch or more long. This female (females are all black) looked larger than an inch to me. I think the tinge of gold on the bee’s fuzzy head is actually pollen probably from this sage blossom. Carpenter Bees are great pollinators although some do consider them pests. As their name implies, they construct their nests in wood, usually rotting wood. I think their pollinating ability far outweighs any destruction they might do.
We were heading back to camp one evening about 9PM on Kodiak Island after an unsuccessful foray to find Mama Kodiak Brown Bear and her three cubs along the Uganik River. I was in the lead boat with Eric, Javier, and Hiram our guide. We had our cameras in our laps when Hiram said, “We’ll see a bear around the next bend.” And, we did. Right there as we rounded the bend. I put my eye to the viewfinder and got a few shots as it clamored up the bank to the top of the berm and stopped to look back at us. Then we were past it. Suddenly another bear came crashing through the brush behind this bear and leaped into the river just as the second boat approached. This bear followed the first bear across the river and both disappeared into the thick brush on the other bank. The entire encounter from when we first saw this bear on the bank to watching him disappear across the river took under a minute and a half.
The curved twig that this female Bushtit perches on reminds me of a rope or something that a member of a Cirque du Soleil troupe might perform on. I almost expected her to start spinning. Female Bushtits have yellow irises that gives their eyes an “angry bird” look, unlike the black eyes of the male Bushtits that makes them look adorable. Her intense stare is not anger but is really concentration on the millstone fountain beneath her, waiting her turn to hop down and bathe.
This little male Bushtit seems to be looking straight at me and thinking, “Not you again!” He would be right. I spend an inordinate amount of time watching and photographing the birds in my garden. I’ve gotten to the point where I place my Nikon Z9 and my Nikkor Z800mm f/6.3 lens, on the tripod with the Z1.4X teleconverter attached, focused through the open doorway so that it is the exact minimum focusing distance from the California Fuchsia. I do that first thing in the morning after I come downstairs, even before I feed my parrot or have my coffee. The most bird activity happens early in the morning and the light is best on my patio at this time of year before 8AM. I have my other Z9 attached to the Nikkor Z400mmf/4.5 with the Z2X teleconverter and it is setting next to me on the kitchen table. Any movement I perceive outside gets my attention and depending on where the activity is, I have a camera at the ready. The hummingbirds, of course, always get my attention. I’m still working on getting the male Anna’s Hummingbird with his gorget aglow at the fuchsia. He only appeared a couple of weeks ago. Before that, I saw only females. I would love to see a male Black-chinned but so far only females have stopped by. The Bushtits often take priority over the hummers with their delightful antics at the millstone fountain every morning. This was one of those days. Because I was ready, I was able to slowly approach the Bushtits to within 8 feet of the fountain without frightening them off.
The Bushtit Brigade arrives every morning to bathe in the millstone fountain. Some days, they hide in the Photinea before hopping down onto the flat surface. I hear them tittering before I see them. Then they give themselves away when the leaves start to vibrate as they hop from twig to twig deciding when is the best time to jump in. Yesterday morning, the sky was heavy with clouds, an unusual occurrence in summer here but a welcome respite from the unrelenting 100+ temperatures we’ve suffered through the past two weeks and that are predicted for the upcoming two weeks. I am hopeful that the clouds and moisture will give firefighters here in California a break to gain control and containment of some of the wildfires currently burning here. But, back to the Bushtits. The little brigade allowed me to walk out onto the patio and sit down in front of the fountain without flying off. They assembled in the shrubs and hopped hither and thither. This little male Bushtit is all fluffed up in anticipation of hopping down to the fountain for a proper bath. A couple of seconds after I took this shot, he was in the fountain and drenched.
A Carpenter Bee is hard at work on an open blossom on a Salvia stalk.
A hummingbird’s diet is more than just nectar. Insects make up a significant part of their diets, adding some protein to their carb-rich diet. This female Black-chinned Hummingbird seeks out tiny invertebrates from the bug-infested Crape Myrtle in my garden.
This is a Northern Gannet. It is the largest seabird in the Atlantic, a pelagic seabird with a wingspan of 6 feet. As a pelagic species, it rarely goes to land, spending most of its life over open water. It comes to land to nest in huge colonies. In 2019, we visited Cape St. Mary’s in Newfoundland to observe the nesting colony of thirty thousand birds on Bird Rock at the Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve. The Pandemic has precluded a return visit for three subsequent years as each planned visit had to be deferred. I am hoping to return one day. As my friend Connie might say, this is a “target rich environment” and there is only a single target but there are more than 30,000 of them!
Please bear with me as I post yet another photograph of a Kodiak Brown Bear. This is the last Kodiak Brown Bear that we photographed on our visit to Kodiak Island this past May. It was such a memorable trip and on our last evening there we stopped along the Uganik River to photograph the bear we called Barnacle Bear. While we watched Barnacle Bear, this young bear approached uneasily from behind us, scurried by, then proceeded to graze on the barnacle covered gravel as the sun began to sink just a bit. It was just after 9PM and seeing and photographing this bear was a delightful conclusion to our two weeks on the island.
This pair of House Finches posed briefly in the morning sun before my nemesis, the Eastern Fox Squirrel, blocked my view as it perched atop the pergola and tried to figure out how to outsmart the squirrel proof bird feeders hanging below.
One day, when I was in the fifth grade, I looked at the blackboard and saw only fuzziness. Thus began 65 years of wearing corrective lenses. In my junior year in high school, I switched from glasses to contact lenses. I was excited to show my classmates the “new me” without glasses. A girl in my first period class told me that without my glasses, I’d lost all my personality. My elation was instantly deflated. I didn’t really believe that all my personality was tied up in those cat-eye spectacles, did I? For some reason, I kept them for the past 60 years so maybe deep down I was uncertain about it. Not any more, though. Here they are making one final appearance. I took this photograph to commemorate a new era in vision for me, one without reliance on external correction.
Thanks to Dr. Matin Koshnevis, AKA Dr. K, my cloudy, cataract yellowed lenses have been replaced with high tech lenses that have restored my vision. He promised he’d give me young eyes and he did. One lens gives me crystal clear 20/20 vision for distance so I can focus my camera lens, the other gives me sharp closeup vision so I can finish the images on my computer. The new lenses have restored the white balance in my eyes and I now see accurate colors again. I’m not sure what colors I might have seen if I’d created this image a week ago.
Thank you, Dr. K!
This photograph was inspired by Joey Terrill whose Illuminated Photographer courses have given me new insights on areas of photography I am anxious to explore.
Looking back at the photographs I took from the airboat on Lake Kissimmee, Florida this past March, I am still awestruck by the good fortune we had. Our airboat captains were excellent drivers. They kept up with the birds as they flew alongside us. This gorgeous male was stunning to look at and he had no leg bands so it was truly a gift to see such a bird. The kites searched for Apple Snails. We photographed them. What a marvelous experience to see this endangered bird in its native habitat.
A banded female Snail Kite soars over Lake Kissimmee in Florida in search of an Apple Snail. Her beak is shaped perfectly to extract the snail from its shell.
Many different sedge species flourish in the salt marshes of the Kodiak Archipelago. The Kodiak Brown Bears spend much of the spring after emerging from their dens savoring these grasses as they graze contentedly. The grasses grow quickly in the spring and by our second week on the island, the various grasses had added several inches in height. It wouldn’t be long before the bears would be practically invisible, camouflaged and hidden deep in the swaths of tall grass, making it much more dangerous to be out. We were lucky that this family was still visible although the cubs could easily disappear. In order to see what might be out there, the cubs sometimes rose to their hind feet, making their eyes almost as high as Mama Bear’s. The entire bear family seems to be enjoying a grassy green feast.
Photography is often a waiting game. My experience with hummingbirds in my garden is a case in point. The California Fuchsia has started to bloom. It is one of the favorite flowers of the hummingbirds that visit my garden. Six days ago, I noticed one of the clusters of flowers extended well above the pot and the uncluttered background would be perfect if a hummingbird happened by. So, I set up the Z9 and the Z800mm PF on a tripod, opened the patio door, positioned the tripod, and focused on the fuchsia cluster. Then I waited. The optimum time for photographing this plant in the morning is relatively short as the light changes quickly as the shade disappears and the light becomes harsh. Hummingbirds generally feed about every ten or fifteen minutes so they’re predictable both by when they feed and where they feed. Certain flowers attract them and they return to specific blossoms on a plant over and over. For the first two mornings no hummers visited that plant or that flower while I was set up. After waiting the third morning, I decided to leave for my walk so I closed the door and moved the camera. Of course at that very moment, a hummingbird visited the salvia near the fuchsia and then went directly to the blossom. Although it fed there for thirty seconds or so, I was unable to open the door and refocus in time. Two more days passed with the camera at the ready. Some of the blossoms were beginning to fade. Again, no hummers. Finally, yesterday morning, my waiting paid off. A Black-chinned Hummingbird visited the blossom.
This is another view of the Flame Skimmer, also called a Firecracker Skimmer, that visited my backyard just before the Fourth of July.
The Purple Swamphen is the largest rail in North America and it is similar to the Purple Gallinule, only much bigger, with enormous feet and a red shield-like beak. It is an invasive species originally from southern Asia. About thirty years ago, it began to establish itself in Florida’s swamps and marshes after some birds escaped from captivity. According to Sibley, the Florida Swamphens have mostly gray heads. Another common characteristic is that its tail is often flicked up revealing fluffy white feathers, just as in this shot from Lake Kissimmee. Captain Mark spotted it striding across the tussocks of water lilies and guided the airboat across the lilies to the perfect position for us to photograph this ungainly looking bird. I’d never heard of one, let alone seen one before our encounter in Florida. Very cool.
You never know what you’ll find in the tussocks of Lake Kissimmee, Florida. These floating rafts of lily pads are home to all sorts of interesting creatures, including extremely colorful ones like this Purple Gallinule with the impossibly huge feet. Those feet help it to stabilize as it strides across the lily pads.
A couple of Bald Eagles flying over Kachemak Bay in Homer, Alaska in May last year.
The Hummingbird Mint has been been a wonderful addition to my garden. It’s a form of Giant Hyssop (Agastache) and its lengthy bloom period (early summer into fall) and its tolerance for excessive heat (as long as my Rube Goldberg drip watering system does its job) make it perfect for my garden of pots and hanging baskets. It is attractive not only to hummingbirds but to bees and to butterflies. I had a single plant last year but this year I added several more. One has grown much larger than any of the others and it proves to be a constant draw to the Anna’s and Black-chinned Hummingbirds. The minty fragrance of the foliage is also delightful. This Anna’s (either a female or a subadult male, I’m not certain which) approaches a cluster of Hummingbird Mint flowers, ready to dive in.