And Death flies in, masked in red. Happy Halloween! Mwah ha ha ha!
The travertine terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park are stark but stunning. Although these long dead trees on the terraces once flourished briefly, the trees died when the mineral content became toxic. Calcium carbonate entered the trees’ vascular systems through the springs and clogged their veins, killing them. Their skeletal shapes create an interesting feature on the white landscape.
Mr. Anna continues to tease me as he flits from branch to branch. My intention is to capture him in the air as he feeds on a purple salvia or some other flower in the garden but he has not visited them when I’m ready with my camera. I will keep trying. I thought his gorget took on an interesting neon look in this image, like a neon figure 8.
The Quaking Aspens were the dominant fall color in Yellowstone. The late afternoon sun provided the backlight to make the yellow leaves glow.
I call him Mr. Anna. He has claimed my garden, this male Anna’s Hummingbird. If I walk out onto the patio, even if it is only to check the status of the hummingbird feeders or the fountains, he announces his presence with his squeaky call or his decisive single chirp. Once I locate him and say a few words, he flies to another branch and calls again. I think of it as a game. I’m sure he doesn’t but I can usually find where he’s perched because of his voice. Sometimes he’ll stay put long enough for me to go inside and retrieve my camera. It’s usually ready, setting on the table so it only takes a few seconds to get it. It is fascinating to me to watch him as he sways slightly on the wispy branches. Depending on the time of day, his eyes will get heavy and close for a few seconds even though he tries to keep an eye on me.
In the past year I have seen only female hummingbirds in my garden, both Anna’s and Black-chinned, no males. Usually, a male Anna’s Hummingbird dominates the feeders and flowers in my garden keeping most others away. Finally, a few weeks ago, I saw a male Anna’s bathing in the fountain. But his gorget appeared black because he was turned so it wasn’t reflecting the light. It’s that iridescent male gorget, when it’s reflecting light, that I have been hoping to photograph again. Finally a male Anna’s Hummingbird has claimed dominance in my garden once more giving me the opportunity to photograph that gorgeous gorget. He was deep in the shrubs and didn’t turn his head toward me so the gorget didn’t completely light up but my Profoto A10 flash did help bring out the rose tones.
Watching the Yellowstone River tumble over Upper Falls in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is quite a sight to behold. The place is also called The Brink, and it feels like you’re on the brink when you’re leaning out over the stone wall to photograph the roiling water as the sunlight dances over it. It’s a place you have to shout to be heard over the roar of the falling water and the beauty of the place is unforgettable.
On our last morning in Yellowstone National Park we finally had clouds and a chance at a colorful sunrise photograph. The clouds were announcing an impending storm but at sunrise they weren’t too ominous yet. And delightfully, the rising sun colored them a brilliant orange.
Sometimes you just gotta scratch that itch! This handsome bull Elk has a built-in back scratcher. He used the tines of the unseen antler to deftly scratch his back. The satisfaction he felt at relieving the itch is quite apparent in his face. We encountered this handsome specimen resting near a parking lot at Mammoth Hot Springs. He was barely 25 yards from the edge of the parking area, the minimum distance that Yellowstone National Park allows visitors when encountering Elk in the park. A Park Ranger stopped to comment as we stood at the edge of the road, thanking us for not venturing closer and reminding us that if the Elk stood up, we needed to return to our vehicle immediately. After 20 minutes, the Elk stood and we exited. Sadly, other visitors were not as respectful of the Elk or even their own safety and as we drove off we saw several walking toward the elk, much closer than the safe distance the Park requires. We can only hope the ranger circled back through.
The terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park are created as water rises through limestone carrying dissolved calcium carbonate that forms chalky white travertine. The soft rock changes constantly and bacteria and algae color the chalky white rock in vivid oranges and greens and yellows. As Friday’s storm clouds gathered overhead, the steam vents on the Lower Terrace became more visible against the darkening mountains in the distance.
It’s late October and winter is coming soon to Yellowstone National Park. The daytime temperatures are mild but the mornings are cool and frosty. The freezing night time temperatures create frost that accumulates on the backs of Bison as they sleep and, until the sun hits their thick hides, clings to their fur.
A cow Elk weighs between 500 and 600 pounds and stands almost 5 feet tall yet it can almost completely disappear in a field of Bluebunch Wheatgrass. We spotted this cow munching on grass stalks while laying in a vast field of Bluebunch Wheatgrass along Old Yellowstone Road just outside the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park. She looked at us briefly with some interest, then returned to her task at hand. When she put her head down, she completely disappeared.
Things are different in Yellowstone National Park this fall. In June of this year, catastrophic flooding swept through the park damaging roads and bridges. The northern parts of Yellowstone were affected most and the North entrance was closed to visitors until just a few days ago. Access to the park through the North entrance is still restricted and limited to park workers, construction workers, and a select few guides (including Moose) in a strict and choreographed entrance process. Leaving the park is also restricted to a brief window of time. If you miss the window either entering or exiting the park, it’s a several hour drive to another entrance. Rebuilding is a priority and significant progress has been made on restoring the roads and park access. And, the devastation to the park has resulted in significantly decreased visitation so wildlife in the park is thriving. Tuesday was our first day in the park. There were few cars on the roads and the popular sites were not crowded. When we saw a small band of Mule Deer does and fawns grazing on a hillside at the side of the road, we pulled off to photograph them. They were curious but not disturbed by our presence. The morning light behind them warmed the scene.
When I first encountered the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, the illustrations in the children’s book I read showed the piper wearing a black and white harlequin suit so for all of my childhood I equated the word pied with black and white harlequin. As an adult I was surprised to discover that the term pied, which describes or names many animal and especially bird species, means simply two (sometimes more) colors. However, in its original use from the 13th century, the two colors were black and white. The term pied derives from Magpie which is a black and white bird (except in Central California where the Magpie is black and white and yellow). Despite learning that pied didn’t mean harlequin when I got older, I don’t think I ever knowingly encountered an animal that was known as “pied.” That is, until I first visited Australia 6 years ago. And again last month when I was able to photograph the Pied Currawong, a large black and white Australian bird almost as big as the common Raven. It often lurked in the rainforest. They seemed shier than the other birds and usually hung back away from the crowds of birds and people, like this Pied Currawong watching and waiting…maybe to lure the other birds away.
The adorable Superb Fairy-wren is so charming that we spent quite a bit of time photographing it in Australia. This tiny bird was one of the smallest that we photographed while we were there. The brilliant blue feathers on the male’s head make him stand out from the background, even when it is quite busy like in this shot.
What a view to come home to! At O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat, my room faced west overlooking the vast Lamington National Park. Late most afternoons, we took a break from photographing the birds of Australia and returned to our rooms before heading over to O’Reilly’s Rainforest Bar to try, for example, their signature Black & Yellow Tie, an intoxicating (literally) concoction of Bourbon, Amaretto, Fresh Lime, O’Reilly’s Big Pete Port and amazingly, Aquafaba (the liquid from cooked garbanzos) or some other cocktail. On this day, however, I took a bit longer before meeting up at the bar because the view was so stunning with the sun hiding behind the storm clouds and spreading godbeams across the distant hills that I took time to photograph the view.
Only a few parrot species are sexually dimorphic. No, that doesn’t mean they are amorously kinky it just means males and females look very different from one another. For example, my Amazon, Bobo, is not from a sexually dimorphic species and males and females look alike. After 17 years of identifying as a male, (she says “Bobo’s a baaaaad boy!”) an illness required a DNA test to determine Bobo’s true sex so she could be treated (not her current problem). They determined she was a female which was only detectable if she laid an egg or had a DNA test.
A striking example of a sexually dimorphic parrot species is the Australian King Parrot. Males have a brilliant red head and body with wings bright green and a blue rump. Click here to see an example of a male King Parrot. This is the female, brilliant green head and neck mottled green with some red, the queen of the King Parrot so to speak. The primary difference is in the head and neck but it makes them look like different species. This female appears coy as she watches the King Parrot males fluttering out of view vying for treats.
Late one afternoon a few weeks ago, the setting sun washed the clouds and the Sydney Harbor Bridge in a warm glow. It’s hard for me to believe that on my visit to Australia six years ago, my friend Richard and I actually walked across the top of that bridge, especially since we’re both so terrified of heights. But, climb up and over it we did. Once. This visit, we appreciated the bridge’s beauty from afar.
“Picture yourself in a boat on a river
With tangerine trees and marmalade skies”
Sunset in Lamington National Park in Queensland, Australia in early September was quite spectacular one day and it made me think of this lyric from the Beatles’ song, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” I took this from the balcony of my room with my long lens, which goes to show that even a super telephoto lens like Nikon’s Z400mm f/4.5 lens can create the feeling of a vast and unending landscape.
Yesterday turned out to be a rather traumatic day for me as far as birds are concerned. It started with Bobo, my Red-lored Amazon, who has not been well and is undergoing medical treatment that includes a twice-daily dose of antibiotic. The trauma for me begins when I awaken, and the sickening dread starts when I realize that soon I will have to towel Bobo and administer the meds with an oral syringe. I seem not to be improving in my toweling technique however, even though I have had to do this several times over the years. Toweling is necessary to completely encase her so that her wings and feet don’t flap or flail and only her head is exposed. If I don’t catch her properly at the right moment, she either escapes or punishes me with her beak, the power of which exceeds that of a pit bull bite (235 PSI for a Pit Bull, 300-400 PSI for an Amazon). Needless to say, I am a bit gun-shy. Most days I manage the chore quickly and once done, Bobo forgets all about it and goes about eating her breakfast. Not so, for me. I fret and worry and feel badly that I’m not doing better. Yesterday morning’s dose was the worst I’ve done since this regimen started. I failed to towel her properly on the first try and she bit both hands and my forearm which now sports a 1 1/2 inch tear-drop shaped welt the exact size of her crushing beak. The dose is .7ml which may seem like a small amount until you have to force it down the throat of a squirming parrot while holding her jaws open with one hand, administering the dose with the other, and trying to dispense the drug into her mouth while avoiding her wildly waggling tongue. I was so upset after the event that I sat down and cried. I called my brother Arthur to vent that I was feeling sorry for myself and he talked me through my imaginary crisis.
Then, on my morning walk, a flock of wild turkeys new to my neighborhood was in the midst of crossing the street when a speeding car careened around the corner heading right into the middle of the flock. I frantically waved my arms pointing at the turkeys. Fortunately, they scattered in time and no turkeys lost any feathers.
Later, I received the sad news that Trouble, the Scarlet Macaw who is the mascot of my local bird shop, died following an illness. He was being treated at UC Davis Veterinary Medical School where I take Bobo. I have known Trouble for more than 20 years and he always recognizes me and lets me scratch his head despite the warning on his cage that says he likes fingers. That was too much for me and again, I burst into tears.
Now I have to administer the next dose in just a few hours. For crying out loud!