My friend Pat and I visited the Woodland-Davis Clean Water Agency facility the other day so that we could photograph birds as a way to famliarize ourselves with our new Nikon Z8 cameras. The facility has a couple of large ponds that attract lots of water fowl but until our visit, I hadn’t realized that it was home to so many Black-necked Stilts, those tall shore birds with impossibly long legs. There were several pairs there, each pair seeming to claim a corner of the pond. They were very noisy and their flight patterns were erratic. It was a challenge to keep them in the viewfinder as they flew. Not only did we see Black-necked Stilts but there were at least a half dozen Killdeer sitting on nests in shallow gravel scrapes, and several were on nests in the middle of the road, indicating to me that there aren’t many visitors there. Red-winged Blackbirds, Tri-colored Blackbirds, and Yellow-headed Blackbirds filled the reeds on the edges of the ponds. Tree and Barn Swallows swooped around us. Western Kingbirds perched on twigs. A Black-crowned Night Heron stood vigilant in the middle of an algae covered pond. It was, as they say, a target-rich environment. The Woodland-Davis Clean Water Agency is only a half hour drive from my home so I’ll be returning soon.
Ever vigilant to protect her cubs, Mama Bear stands to get a better view of what danger might be lurking in the distance. Whatever it was that alerted her this time, it was a false alarm and the quartet (one of the three cubs is out of view in this image) went back to grazing.
What has always impressed me about Kodiak Brown Bears is that, despite their huge presence, they are not at all the scary beasts one might think they’d be. In fact, as I have often repeated after my first encounter with them three years ago, they remind me of grazing cattle, lazy dogs, and Teddy bears. Because we acted appropriately, we were not a threat to them and they were not a threat to us. They seemed to accept us in their world. This female, a bear we called Lonely Bear because she was always by herself, settled down to rest on the rocky shore covered with Seaside Sandplant in her “lazy dog” persona.
2023—A Bear’s Eye View
The pristine wilderness of Kodiak Island is unlike any place I have ever been. Last week we were almost always outnumbered by Kodiak Brown Bears that we could see with the naked eye. With that many in plain view, there were surely many more over the hilltop or around the bend in the river that were out of sight. We were privileged to join them in their home and they seemed to accept our presence because we have been good guests. On our last day of shooting on Kodiak Island, we found ourselves waiting for the tides to expose more of the nutritious grasses that the Kodiak Browns feast on in spring, and for the bears to saunter over to eat. I realized we were standing right where some of the bears we photographed this week and on past visits have stood. We were surrounded by munched-on grass. With that in mind, I captured a “bear’s eye view” of the landscape, looking back up the Uganik River.
Arctic Terns flocked to the shallow waters of the Uganik River flowing through Kodiak Island. They flew back and forth watching for salmon smolts. Their flight was erratic and unpredictable and they would suddenly plunge, scoop up a small fish, gulp it down, and return to their erratic flight patterns. Although it appears as if this Tern is poised in a blue sky with wispy clouds, in fact, the background is the snow covered mountains in the distance.
2023—The Hummingbird Test
When I get a new camera, my favorite test subject is a hummingbird. I love hummingbirds and because I make my garden as hummingbird friendly as possible, there are usually test subjects available. Surprise! I have another new camera and a female Anna’s Hummingbird was my first test subject. Bedford Camera and Video of Arkansas shipped my new Nikon Z8 camera to me Thursday and I picked it up from the Roseville FedEx office when it arrived late Friday afternoon. The smaller, lighter size of the Z8, plus the fact that it is almost identical to the Z9, appealed to me. Using the lighter Z8 instead of the heavier Z9 when using larger telephoto lenses will make a big difference in my ability to get sharp images when I am handholding. By the time I personalized my camera settings Saturday morning, the sun was bright and directly overhead but the Anna’s Hummer was sipping nectar at the purple salvia so I stood in the doorway and photographed her. The camera performed flawlessly, not so much the camera operator. I forgot to program the button to switch seamlessly between FX and DX mode, a feature I use often. Because I forgot to program that button, I couldn’t easily switch between modes so I took these images in DX mode instead of FX mode, creating a larger subject in the image than I intended. It is awesome to think that just a week ago I was filling the frame with 1000 lb. Kodiak Bears and now I am filling the frame with Anna’s Hummingbirds that weigh less than a quarter ounce.
Massive Kodiak Brown Bears, the largest bears in North America, are just as at home in the water as on land. As the tide changed, so did the pathways to and from their grazing territory. This bear walked easily through the knee deep water. If the water deepened, the bear swam until its feet hit gravel again.
The Kodiak Brown Bears we saw along the Uganik River reminded me of big old lazy dogs, grazing cattle, or Teddy bears. This young female bear wasn’t grazing or lazing but she certainly looks cuddly enough to be a Teddy bear despite looking a little pensive.
2023—What’s for Lunch, Mom?
We stood knee deep in the Uganik River watching a mother Kodiak Brown Bear with a single cub as they foraged at the water’s edge surrounded by kelp. The young cub stayed close by its mother as she scraped at the kelp with her long sharp claws. I’m not sure if she clawed at the kelp to clear it away to expose something beneath it, perhaps barnacles, or to eat the kelp itself. The young cub stayed close to its mother the entire time, sometimes laying next to her with its snout within an inch or so of hers while munching on whatever it was they were eating. While this image appears to be an affectionate gesture, it could be that the youngster is just licking off some of the food they just consumed and wondering what else was for lunch.
2023—Cub on the Rocks
We were happy to find a mother Kodiak Brown Bear with three cubs, probably a couple of years old, on our first morning on Kodiak. Brown Bear cubs stay with their mothers until age three or so at which time she shoos them away and they’re left to fend for themselves. Before that, Mama Bear is very attentive and teaches her cubs survival lessons. This cub just swam across the river to join its mother and siblings who had already crossed. Soon after it crossed we watch it follow its mother and siblings past these rocks and up the hillside, disappearing in the underbrush.
2023—Back to the Bears
We fly in a Beaver so we can photograph Kodiak Brown Bears. Willy, the pilot from Kodiak Air Service, lands in Mush Bay and taxis to the beach at Rohrer Bear Camp. We emerge from the Beaver wearing hip boots which we wear most of the time at Bear Camp beginning with disembarking into the ankle deep water. The rest of the week, as Chris and Brett guided the boats to the flats so we could see bears, hip boots kept our feet dry as the tides ebbed and grew around us. Our shooting schedules were dependent on the tides both to get us to the flats and to see the bears who appeared on the flats as the grasses emerged through the ebbing tide. What an amazing week of Kodiak Bear photography. On our last day we saw at least 18 individual bears and throughout the week, we watched a few mother bears with one or more cubs. I can’t wait to come back for another memorable experience in this pristine wilderness that is unlike any other I have experienced.
A newborn Bison tags along close behind its mother in Yellowstone National Park last week.
A small band of Bighorn ewes appeared on the side of the road in Yellowstone. We walked up the road near where they had gathered but not too close. Soon, they edged closer and closer to us, munching on the grasses and allowing me to get a head shot with the Nikkor Z400mm lens with the ZTC1.4X attached.
2023—Crown of Drops
The American Avocets on Bolivar Flats in Texas were enthusiastic bathers. This bird dipped beneath the surface and emerged with a crown of drops on its head.
2023—The Bison Trip
For me, no two trips to Yellowstone National Park are the same. I usually visit the park three to four times in a year, in the dead of winter with deep snow, in the spring as the snow begins to recede, and a couple of times in the fall before the snow returns. Not only is the landscape entirely different depending on which season I visit, but which animals stand out during that visit changes too. Each past trip seems to have been distinguished by memorable encounters with a single species either once during the week such as with Gray Wolves on a carcass or Bighorn Sheep in a snow storm; or multiple times during a visit such as Coyotes, Pine Martens, Red Fox, Grizzly Bears, Black Bears, and River Otters. Of course the ubiquitous American Bison is always present in Yellowstone creating Bison jams as curious onlookers stop in the road gawking at the huge beasts as they lumber along the edge of the road or in the middle of it. Spring is the time when Bison cows are giving birth and all of the herds of Bison throughout the park have several newborns, called Red Dogs for their reddish coats, frolicking on the meadows. Although we did see seven individual Grizzly Bears and one Black Bear, a couple of Coyotes and a small band of Bighorn ewes, for me the most memorable encounters were the Bison, so I’ll think of this trip as the Bison Trip.
A young Bison calf runs toward its mother, whose long shadow is seen in the early morning sun near the Madison River in Yellowstone National Park last week. We watched at least three Red Dogs, as these new born Bison in their orangey red coats are known, cavorting in the meadow. This one had temporarily lost sight of its mother. It would approach the mothers of its playmates only to be rejected by them. Finally, it spotted its mother across the meadow and it took off in a dead run to meet her. As soon as it found her, it went back to being a goofy young Bison, leaping, running, and twirling with not a care in the world.
2023—In The Zone
When birds preen, they seem to enter a place where nothing else matters except that ecstatic feeling of stretching, scratching, and smoothing their feathers. An American Avocet is in The Zone on Bolivar Flats last month.
2023—Robin Red Breast
American Robins are among our most familiar songbirds, and, living year-round in every state in the Union, they are very common to see. As common as they are, however, I didn’t expect to see, let alone photograph, an American Robin in Yellowstone National Park. So, when on our last day in Yellowstone National Park while we were photographing a small herd of Bison moving through the sage with their newborns, a Robin stopped briefly on a lichen covered boulder, I went click. Its colorful breast drew my attention away from the huge beasts rumbling through the sage behind it and I took its portrait as it posed.
When it’s springtime in Yellowstone, Bighorn Sheep ewes band together, foraging and roaming the park, and waiting to give birth. The rams are far away. When we came across a large band of ewes on our last afternoon in the park, we were able to spend more than half and hour with them as they walked among the sage and ate grasses and spring flowers. With snow-flecked mountains in the background and sage in the foreground, a ewe paused from foraging and looked around, then went back to eating, undeterred by the cars and people watching from the edge of the road.
2023—Sticking Close to Mom
Newborn Bison calves are around practically every corner where a herd of Bison gathers in spring in Yellowstone National Park. They are so adorable and the red fur distinguishes a few day old baby from the darker older herd mates. They really stand out, especially against the spring green grass. We encountered this little one as it romped and wobbled across a marshy meadow looking for its Mom, eventually reconnecting with her at the edge of the road.