2023–Springtime in Yellowstone

We’re back in Yellowstone National Park. It is springtime and Bison are giving birth around the park. The weather is warming up but there is still plenty of snow on the ground because daytime temperatures start below freezing and rise barely to 45° Fahrenheit by the end of the day. On our first morning, we were thrilled to watch three newborns with their moms, probably born within the previous few hours. They were still pretty wobbly, with with umbilical cords still attached, and with bright red coats that give them the nickname “Red Dog.” They romped and leaped and played, just being kids. How nice to see the cycle of life begin again at Yellowstone, as the trees leaf out, the grasses green, and the Bison drop their calves.


It was the afternoon of our first day on Bolivar Flats in Texas last month. A flock of Black Skimmers was skimming for fish just beyond the waves breaking on shore. Photographing them while skimming low across the water as they scooped up tiny fish was very cool. We had set up our cameras on tripods in the sand and watched as wave after wave of the skimmers, some alone, some in pairs, and some in quartets skimmed for fish. If you look closely, very closely, there is a tiny fish tail sticking out of this Skimmer’s beak. More often than not, they efficiently scooped up fish with their longer lower mandible.


A Ruby-crowned Kinglet, the most ubiquitous bird that I photographed last week at Magee Marsh, blends right into this blue and yellow world. A blooming Swamp Willow (as identified by the PictureThis app) fills the area surrounding the bird and with the blue sky, creates a two-toned backdrop.

2023—The Lookout

We saw the three Red Fox pups for a couple of hours one afternoon on the edge of the parking lot at Magee Marsh. We think their parents left them there temporarily in a well camouflaged, safe spot (a huge rotting tree trunk covered in vines) while they were off hunting. Of course being pups, they did not stay inside the safe spot. They ventured out but stayed close to the log. They appeared to be somewhat wary of the gaggle of photographers that had gathered at the edge of the parking lot, but that did not deter them from exploring. Their antics were adorable. Two of them seemed more adventurous than the third, who usually disappeared inside the safe spot. They would climb the logs surrounding the area and look around or flop down in the sunshine. They would grab a piece of wood chewing on it and flipping it around. In this shot, one of the pups seems to have lookout duties as its sibling roots around in search of something to chew on.

2023—Peeking Out

The first bird we encountered on our third day at Magee Marsh on Lake Erie was a Black-capped Chickadee. It was my only encounter with that bird during the four days there. And it was a brief one at that. I couldn’t get a good clear shot at it because of the surrounding trees but I was glad to capture this cutie peeking out at me.

2023—Green Green

It seemed as if Magee Marsh became greener by the hour. When we visited a part of the boardwalk we’d visited earlier that day, we were convinced it was greener and that more leaves had emerged. The rains and overcast skies contributed to that feeling as the saturated light intensified the green. This Yellow-rumped Warbler peeked out from behind a leaf and emerging leaflets surrounded it.

2023—A Fungus Among US

I’m not sure why a fungus needs camouflage but this one certainly doesn’t immediately appear to be a fungus. As I walked the boardwalk at Magee Marsh keeping my eyes peeled for birds in the surrounding trees or on the ground, this caught my eye as it appears to be the back of a bird hunkered on the ground. When it didn’t move and as I looked more closely, I realized it was a large mushroom of some sort, not a bird at all. A fungus among us, for sure.

2023—You Can Look But You Better Not Touch 

When the sun is low early in the morning in spring at Magee Marsh near Lake Erie in Ohio, the emerging leaves are backlit and they look gorgeous. While watching for birds at eye level, I was often distracted by this sight during the first hour or so after we arrived at the boardwalk. I finally stopped to take a few shots because this particular branch with its reddish leaves and cluster stems plucked clean really caught my attention. After I got home, I identified the plant as poison ivy! Oh my! “Poison Ivy: You can look but you better not touch!” Words to live by from the Coasters. As a west coast native, I am itchily familiar with its relative, Poison Oak, but I do not recognize Poison Ivy on sight despite the “leaves of three, let it be” mantra. According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, poison ivy fruit is a wintertime staple for birds and other animals and Yellow-rumped warblers depend on the berries to ride out the winter. They seemed to have picked this cluster clean.

2023—Perfect Description

For me, capturing a definitive characteristic of a bird with my camera is very satisfying. The Brown Creeper is described by Sibley Birds as “always seen clinging tightly to bark of large trees, braced with tail.” Soon after we crossed under the “Welcome to Magee Marsh” sign on our first morning there, Moose gestured for me to follow him. We walked further down the boardwalk and there was a Brown Creeper, clinging to the bark of a tree, and creeping up the trunk. It fit the Sibley Birds description perfectly.

2023—Cleaning Up

The tiny Eastern Screech Owl was content to sleep in the morning sun occasionally stirring to readjust its position, to peek out at the surrounding onlookers, and to preen. When one foot came into view with its sharp talons and sandpaper-like foot pads, the owl cleaned off what appears to be blood from the fine feathers covering the foot, probably leftovers from an earlier meal.

2023—Look Whooooo We Almost Missed

On our first morning at Magee Marsh, we pooh-poohed a group of visitors who were pointing excitedly to a tree they said had an Eastern Screech Owl in a cavity. We looked and saw nothing. For the rest of the week, we passed that same tree a number of times each day not even looking up. Luckily for us, Thursday morning, our last day, we encountered a lone photographer with a 600mm lens focused on a tree near the one we heard about the first day. And yes, he said, the Eastern Screech Owl was up there. This time when we looked, we could see that the small owl was indeed there, perfectly camouflaged. It had likely been there all along. While we watched, it would turn or open one eye. A couple of times it disappeared into the cavity and reappeared moments later leaning against one side or the other of the cavity opening and sleeping. The feathers mimic the surrounding bark so at times it is almost impossible for the untrained eye to find it. The natural world is an amazing and intricately designed place.

2023—A Ruby Crown

Tiny Ruby-crowned Kinglets seemed to be everywhere at Magee Marsh this week. Only slightly larger than a hummingbird, these olive colored birds are quick and move constantly. The males display their ruby crowns only rarely and we were pleased to see many on display. This bird, all puffed up against the early morning low 30 degree temperatures, shows of just a bit of crown as he paused briefly while scurrying across a branch.

2023—And Now for Some Real FOX News

After watching three Red Fox cubs frolicking near the parking lot at Magee Marsh late Wednesday afternoon, I thought it would be nice to show some real FOX News. It turns out there are more than birds at Magee Marsh. The three Red Fox cubs were probably 10 weeks old and had apparently been left in a safe location while their parents hunted. The large rotted tree trunk encased in dead vines and branches made the perfect camouflage the young pups needed to stay safe and hidden. Except their curiosity and youthful exuberance brought them out of hiding and their playful antics caught the attention of the many birders entering the Magee Marsh parking lot. We were glad to see the photographers stayed a respectable and safe distance away from the young foxes and we all enjoyed the show for almost three hours.

2023—Yellow-rumped Warbler

We saw more Yellow-rumped Warblers at Ohio’s Magee Marsh Wildlife Area on Monday than any other warbler there. The weather, including rain, cold, and wind seem to have kept the numbers of birds migrating through to a minimum but we’re hopeful that numbers of birds, not only warblers, will increase as the week goes on. We’re doing our part to encourage them by consuming plenty of ice cream which has been proven to increase the possibilities of wildlife sightings on a Moose Peterson adventure.

2023—A Momentary Pause

It takes not only skill but an awful lot of luck to photograph warblers and other migratory birds at Magee Marsh Wildlife Preserve on Lake Erie in Ohio. First, finding these small birds as they move frenetically through the brambles and brush along the boardwalk takes a keen eye and a bit of luck. They come through unpredictably in waves, a few at a time. And once you’ve spotted one, you’re lucky if that bird actually lands someplace with a relatively uncluttered foreground and background and then stays there long enough for you to find the bird in the viewfinder and photograph it. Our first day shooting at Magee Marsh for almost 9 hours was exhilarating and frustrating, disappointing and rewarding all at the same time. More than once I realized as I started to shoot that a twig or leaf was a ghostly presence in front of my subject. Often, no sooner had I found the tiny bird in my viewfinder, it moved behind a branch or tree trunk, disappearing momentarily and reappearing either obscured or too far away. A few times, though, a cooperative bird stopped to preen or eat or rest for a few seconds in a place where it could be seen. This Ruby-crowned Kinget was the last bird I photographed yesterday and one of the first to stop a while as it fluffed and preened. The foreground and the background illustrate the clutter that challenged us but this little one stands out, framed by the very chaos that surrounds it.

2023—Lavender Bee

The weather is warming up and the rains have slowed. Spring seems to have arrived finally, later than I’m used to for my home in Northern California. My roses are about a month late and are just now starting to bud. And, in my backyard garden the lavender is one of the few flowers blooming now but I have to admit they were in bloom from the nursery when I planted them. The Honeybees are emerging and beginning to buzz around them. I focused my 105mm Macro lens on this bee as she sipped nectar from the lavender buds.

2023—Water Ballet

From the pointed toes to the flared wing to the drop on the beak an American Avocet in full breeding plumage displays its graceful water ballet at Bolivar Flats in Texas earlier this month. As I have mentioned in the past, it seems as if every wildlife trip I go on has one standout species during the week and it may not be our original target species. At Bolivar Flats, there was no question that the American Avocet was the standout, with hundreds congregating to feed, bathe, and even “dance” each morning when we arrived at the beach. It was an unforgettable experience.

2023—Panning for Poppies

The small patch of California Poppies caught my attention when we arrived at the Bird of Prey Health Group Meet and Greet on Sunday. At the end of the afternoon’s activities, I noticed my friend Truman in the midst of the poppies. When I joined him, he said (and I am paraphrasing here), “weren’t you just beach panning in the sand recently to photograph birds? Why not poppies?” So, I flattened myself onto the grass, which was thankfully dry, with my 400mm lens with the 1.4 teleconverter attached and took a few shots. And, just to prove it, here is a photograph taken at the moment I was photographing the poppies. I normally reserve this kind of shooting for the beach, but the technique is just as effective with poppies as it is with birds so I may have to add panning for poppies as one of my favorite photographic techniques. Photo, courtesy of Truman Holtzclaw.

2023—Kiss the Hand That Feeds You

The tiny Western Screech Owl appears to be kissing the ungloved hand of its handler but it is actually cleaning off a bit of food the handler picked up. The tiny owl made quite a contrast to the other raptors that were on display at a Meet and Greet of the Bird of Prey Health Group the other day. The Golden Eagle, a couple of Harris’s Hawks, and a huge Eurasion Eagle Owl all dwarfed this small bird.