Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park is a spectacular place to see. We walked along the boardwalk looking into the morning sun which emphasized the terrazzo terraces with the backlit steam from the hot springs making it an even more spectacular place to see.
The Kodiak Brown Bear we came to know as “Lonely Bear” because it was always alone, would often sit and watch us as we watched back from the flats on the Uganik River that runs through Kodiak Island in Alaska. I was amused at this particular pose which it held for quite some time because it reminded me of a stuffed Teddy bear perched on a kid’s bed at the ready for play. My oldest brother had a Steiff Teddy bear that by the time I encountered it was pretty moth-eaten but whenever I would see a huge Kodiak Brown Bear in what I call a “Teddy bear” pose, that ratty bear always came to mind.
The Common Murres we found at Cape St. Mary’s in Newfoundland were anything but common. Only half the size of the Northern Gannets that nested on the rocks at the Cape, these delightful birds caught my attention and kept it throughout the week. I sometimes sat on a rock on the point, facing away from Bird Rock where most of the Gannet activity was happening. As I faced away from the Gannets, the Murre activity was happening right in front of me, just a few feet away on rock ledges jutting from the point. Their proximity helped me capture these charming and goofy seabirds up close. This Common Murre was the last bird I photographed at Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve, moments before we packed up and walked the mile back to the visitor’s center later in the afternoon. The bird stretched and flapped its wings, as if in a farewell gesture, almost as if saying, “aww, do you really have to leave?” It was a great way to end the week.
A Common Murre appears to throw its head back in laughter while its companion looks on incredulously. I’ve been there, when they just don’t get what you’re laughing at. Mr. Murre, I get it. Taken at Cape St. Mary’s in Newfoundland earlier this month.
This past March, I spent four days aboard an airboat on Lake Kissimmee in Florida. We were there to photograph endangered Snail Kites and our time there did not disappoint. But there were lots of other birds on the lake and while I waited for Snail Kites, I turned my camera on some of them. This Tri-colored Heron stood motionless for quite a while as it peered into the water watching for a small fish to snatch. These birds must have polarized eyes that enable them to see through the surface reflections on the water. As I looked at the water and all of the reflections on it, I couldn’t imagine that the Heron could actually see anything. But, after standing still for so long, it suddenly leapt forward and stabbed its beak into the water coming up with a fish. This is what I consider the “polarizing moment” for the Heron.
At Bolivar Flats in Texas a couple of months ago, we spent lots of time beach panning (my favorite way to photograph shore birds). There were a few American Golden Plovers foraging along the beach as we lay on the sand with our 800mm lenses. I first (and last) saw an American Golden Plover on a nest outside of Churchill, Canada about 6 years ago so it was very special to me to watch them. When I first started photographing this bird early one morning, it was fidgeting in the water, shaking its feathers and flapping its wings. At one point it flapped so much that it rose out of the water. I’m not sure what that was all about but it was certainly entertaining. This particular pose reminded me of angel wings as it rose up out of the water a few inches before settling back down again.
A California Scrub Jay stops for moment to wait while its mate gathered coir for their nest from a hanging basket. I watched a pair do the same several weeks ago. I don’t know if it’s the same pair refurbishing an existing nest or a new pair just starting out.
A female and a male Bushtit are poised and ready to hop into the fountain bubble. The half dozen of their flock soon joined them and a splash fest ensued. These tiny adorable birds have become my garden favorites. Their gregarious arrival is always a welcome sound.
A highly infectious variant of Avian Flu has diminished the numbers of Northern Gannets and other seabirds that nest on the sea stacks and cliffs at Cape St. Mary’s in Newfoundland. Staff from the Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve told us that there were far fewer birds nesting this year than last year when the flu hit the colonies. And it appeared to me that there were far fewer birds than were there four years ago when I last visited. The good news is that some birds, in particular Northern Gannets, have survived the flu. Studies have shown that when a Northern Gannet survives, its irises turn from the usual bright blue to black. The irises of this bird are black, not the normal blue, indicating it is a survivor. It survived to nest another season along with Razorbills and Kittiwakes also nesting in the rock crevasses.
Standing upright like a Penguin, the Common Murre is a crow-sized seabird that nests on the cliffs around Cape St. Mary’s in Newfoundland in spring. Occasionally, one or more of the Murres would fly to a rocky outcropping near us. While most of the Common Murres we saw had solid brown heads, a few are not quite as common as their brethren. Between 10 and 25 percent of Common Murres are “bridled” with a white stripe and white eye ring by each eye. The “bridle” makes them look either studious or completely goofy depending on which direction the bird looked. I was glad I got to see both variants of these relatives of Auks, Razorbills, and Puffins for the first time on the point at Cape St. Mary’s.
A Black-footed Kittiwake, its beak filled with grasses just torn from a nearby hillside, soars above Northern Gannets nesting on Bird Rock at Cape St. Mary’s in Newfoundland. The Kittiwakes nested on the edges of the surrounding cliffs, down from the Gannets. They gathered nesting materials from certain areas of the hillside in what seemed to be a choreographed strike. They arrived on a hillside, en masse, descending on the grasses, moving up the slope as the availability of nesting material grew sparser lower down. As they plucked the grasses, they would fly off and suddenly the slope would be empty again, devoid of birds. Minutes later, they would descend on another, greener slope and start plucking grasses again, ferrying them to their nest sites. There was a constant stream of Kittiwakes flying to one hillside or another and back again to their nests.
With more than ten thousand pairs of Northern Gannets nesting on Bird Rock and the surrounding cliffs at Cape St. Mary’s in Newfoundland, nest building activity at the colony was intense. Gannets carried wads of seaweed and grasses, sometimes even feathers, in their beaks as they flew to the nest site. Even though bird activity was down from previous years due to Avian Flu, there were still thousands of Gannets, as well as Black-footed Kittiwakes, Common Murres, and a few Razorbills building nests. Rangers from the Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve kept a close eye on bird activity and always asked if we had seen any hatchlings. The week we were there, no chicks had hatched and I didn’t see eggs in any nests.
OMG! I am awestruck at how I captured this image of a young male Anna’s Hummingbird. It’s all thanks to a new firmware update in my camera that Nikon added just a few days ago that includes a feature called “Auto Capture.” The Z9 is already a phenomenal camera, the most incredible camera I have ever used. Firmware 4.0 is the third firmware update to add features that in essence have made the Z9 feel and perform like a new and improved camera with each subsequent update. The new Auto Capture feature allows the photographer to set up the camera with the desired parameters for exposure and focus, what will trigger the camera, and the duration of shooting once the camera is triggered. With Auto Capture, I can, in essence, set it and forget it. The camera will focus on the subject and release the shutter when the parameters are met without me pressing the shutter release. Needless to say, the first subject that came to my mind on which to try the feature was hummingbirds. I positioned a California Fuchsia that had just begun to bloom in a place on my patio so the background had no distractions. I focused the camera on one of the blossoms as a starting point, triggered Auto Capture, and went inside. In the interest of full disclosure, I have to say I am just learning to use this feature and am fine tuning my settings as I go. This feature is not a slam dunk. You may not get a single photograph after hours or you may get hundreds without a subject because something moved and the camera triggered. Or, if the subject does appear, it may not be in the right place in the frame or the auto focus system may not immediately acquire focus. I kept fine-tuning the camera position after seeing where the hummers appeared in the images until late yesterday when it took this image. I would have been pleased to have taken it myself, although I do take credit for setting it up correctly.
The clouds, the cloud reflections on the sea, and the waves created a pattern of parallel lines as a lone Northern Gannet soared in the Atlantic at the horizon just off Cape St. Mary’s in Newfoundland in the late afternoon one day last week.
Watching a Northern Gannet flying directly at you is mesmerizing as they fill the frame and stare into the viewfinder. The skies around Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve in Newfoundland last week were filled with Northern Gannets coming and going from their nesting sites atop Bird Rock to fish or collect nesting materials. Most of the images I took of these magnificent seabirds are either side view or top view. I was lucky that the fog had cleared enough when this bird flew toward me. Watching one fly at you head on gives a sense of their deep, slow wingbeats.
Northern Gannets are monogamous seabirds and they mate for life. At the breeding colony on Bird Rock at Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve the cliffs are filled with nesting pairs of these large, white birds. One of the most charming things to witness is the affectionate display of a mated pair when they greet each other after one has been away fishing or gathering nesting material. Every time one returns to the nesting site, the pair intertwine their necks, touch their beaks against each other, and press their bodies together on the cliffside.
In the spring at Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve in Newfoundland, seabirds nest on Bird Rock and the surrounding cliffs in large colonies numbering in the tens of thousands. Although the largest colony of nesters is Northern Gannets, the Black-legged Kittiwakes fill the cliffside with nests as well. Kittiwakes (there is also a Red-legged Kittiwake) are small gulls that supposedly got their common name because their call sounds like their name. I didn’t pick up on that at Bird Rock but perhaps the cacophony of calls from Northern Gannets, Common Murres, mixed with the Kittiwakes, and intermingled with the intermittent blare of the fog horn kept me from discerning their call. This Kittiwake, looking a bit like a town crier, stopped on a rock near me last week, and called, making its presence known to others in the area. It soon left to join other Kittiwakes soaring along the cliffs and gathering grasses from the hillsides for their nests.
Almost every exposed surface of Bird Rock, a huge sea stack at Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve in Newfoundland, including its sheer cliff face, is inhabited during breeding season by Northern Gannets and other seabirds. To us, they all look the same but to a Northern Gannet, their instincts identify their small site and their mate so they know where to land. The problem is the actual landing. We watched and followed quite a few as they circled again and again before finally extending their large webbed feet and settling onto the rock. For the most part, the landings were not at all graceful.
In Newfoundland, Canada last week, fog dominated the weather. Cape Spear Lighthouse sets on the eastern-most point of land in North America. The Cape Spear Lighthouse was built in 1836 as the chief approach light for St. John’s Harbor. The original lighthouse has been restored but its function was replaced by the concrete tower in this image, built in 1955. The “new” tower uses the light mechanism that was installed in the original lighthouse in 1912. The foghorns in the many lighthouses on the coast, including St. Bride’s where we stayed, and Cape St. Mary’s where we photographed Northern Gannets, came on automatically when the fog became dense. The blare of the horns is a critical warning for mariners about the rocky coastline. The foghorns, intermingled with the calls of the birds on Bird Rock, created a memorable symphony of sound for Cape St.Mary’s.
The Northern Gannet is a large, pelagic seabird with a six-foot wingspan. In spring, Northern Gannets congregate in huge colonies on rocky cliffs to nest. I just returned from Cape St. Mary’s in Newfoundland, Canada where tens of thousands are on nests, most on Bird Rock and the surrounding cliffs. The weather varied from rainy to foggy to sunny, but during most of our visit last week, fog engulfed us and the birds. This was my second visit to Cape St. Mary’s. The Pandemic prevented a return visit for four years but the wait was worth it and it was a spectacular week for bird photography. Not only were Gannets on nests, but Black-footed Kittiwakes, Common Murres, and Razorbills found space on the sheer cliffs to nest as well. It was too early for hatchlings but there eggs in nests and lots of courting activity. An adult Northern Gannet soars over the Atlantic Ocean heading to its mate on Bird Rock.