Great Blue Herons were everywhere in the Skagit River Valley last week. We didn’t stop to photograph most of them because they were not our target specie. But, a couple of times, a GBH presented itself in the right setting so I did get a few photographs of one of them.
Visiting the Skagit River Valley in Washington this past week was a challenging photography experience for me. I have been spoiled by my good fortune over the past several years to spend time photographing wildlife and landscapes with Moose Peterson. Moose always seems to find the best places so that those who shoot with him have the best opportunity for the best photographs. However, on this trip with Moose the weather dictated our photography experience. But, in the end, despite the adverse conditions, Moose’s experience and intuition helped us all achieve our main goal for the trip: To see and photograph owls, in particular Short-eared Owls, in their native habitat.
The weather was the guiding factor for our photography. The rain was non-stop, the light was flat, and the skies were gray, three factors that made our bird photography quite a challenge. The rain tends to keep birds in place so they are more difficult to find and therefore, more difficult to photograph. With flat light, the range of light is very limited and there are no shadows and little contrast. The gray skies are not appealing backgrounds for birds, either in flight or even on the water as the water tends to reflect the same gray skies and subjects are usually backlit.
Due to the conditions, we each took only a handful of photographs the first couple of days and saw our first owl on day 2. On our final day, with the skies still dreary and the rain unrelenting, we returned to the place we saw a Short-eared Owl the day before. During several hours, much of it spent standing in the rain or under the rear canopy of our SUV, we watched at least five and possibly six, Short-eared Owls hunting, sitting on the ground watching and waiting for prey, and fending off opportunist Bald Eagles. In addition to my goal of photographing these owls in their native habitat, the one photograph I wanted to capture was an owl in flight. And with guidance from Moose and a lot of patience, I did just that. The experience reminded me that all it takes is one photograph, something I have known but I needed a reminder.
The Skagit River Valley in Washington is a damp and rainy place. It has been raining non-stop since we arrived on Monday and some of the roads we’ve traveled have been flooded at low spots. The rain has kept most birds from venturing far from shelter and we saw one large tree with at least 37 Bald Eagles perched in it for most of the day. But we were at Skagit River to photograph owls, specifically Short-eared Owls, not Bald Eagles and on our second day we finally spotted a couple of them. We returned to the same area on our last day and we had some luck photographing some Short-eared Owls. They were drenched from the relentless rain.
Bison were everywhere in Yellowstone National Park last week. We came across this bull standing in a stream. He finally emerged onto the shore, dripping water which quickly froze on the hairs on his chin.
Old Faithful Geyser in Yellowstone National Park continues its relentless schedule, erupting every 35 to 120 minutes for 1 1/2 to 5 minutes each time it erupts. Its maximum height in each erupotion ranges from 90 to 184 feet. This was not one of Old Faithful’s tallest eruptions but the patterns of the steam make this a gorgeous eruption to see.
This lone pine tree seems to have had a hard life. Bent over presumably from the weight of snow on its branches when its limbs were very pliable, it is now a reminder of how the elements can affect life in Yellowstone National Park. The footprints to the left of it indicate that a critter had a look at it after the last snow storm.
Capturing a unique image of an iconic view can be a challenge. Firehole Falls, along the Firehole River in Yellowstone National Park is a thundering rush of water that pushes through a narrow gap between rocky cliffs. Many see the falls in the summer but in the winter, there are far fewer visitors so not many can appreciate the view with snowy shores and icicles dripping over the water. Still rarer yet are the views of the wildly rushing waters, slowed to appear as silk by a camera. There are a few ways to do this in camera. Among them, a slow shutter speed can create a silky texture; a 6- or 10-Stop Neutral Density filter can result in a much longer shutter duration causing an even silkier look; or a simple method using the camera’s multi-exposure mode, e.g., 10 separate photographs merged into one. Using a Nikon camera set to a 10 image multiple exposure and setting the camera’s timer to a couple of second delay, all ten photographs will be taken in sequence without having to touch the shutter release. They are merged in camera, into a single RAW image. Beware, however, the Nikon mirrorless Z model cameras can do this but the resulting image is a JPEG, not a RAW image. I learned that the hard way. This image was taken from the edge of the cliff overlooking the falls with a Nikon D5 and a Nikkor 80-400mm lens at 390mm.
Huge and muscled Bison appear to me to be able to plow through anything. It surprised me, then, to watch them in Yellowstone National Park following deep furrows in deep snow made by other Bison instead of foraging a new path. We were entertained by this herd of mostly cows and calves as they began to stir and start to forage at the start of the day, crusted with ice and snow. This cow follows the path of another Bison, the path of least resistance.
The Dusky Grouse we saw the other day at Madison Junction in Yellowstone National Park was active in the pine trees on the entry road to the rest stop on our last morning in the park. It garnered quite a bit of attention and a Park Ranger made sure everyone stayed a respectable distance from the bird as it nibbled on pine needles.
…I’m hungry. This week has been Bison Week in Yellowstone National Park for me. The past two winters we saw very few Bison in the park. Happily this year, we have seen several herds in the park. Bison seem to roam everywhere we’ve been including at Old Faithful where a small herd “photobombed” our shoot at Old Faithful Geyser. On our last morning, we were the first snowcoach into the park which gave us the opportunity to see fresh critter tracks and to see the herds of Bison before other park visitors could disturb them. Shortly after our entry into the park, we encountered a herd of Bison still bedded down as the morning sky began to lighten. We were careful to speak softly and not move quickly. The herd members that saw us soon realized we were not a threat to them and went back to sleeping or eating. The young calves were often the earliest to stir and we had a great time watching them nudge the older Bison in an effort to get them to move. This little one was especially adorable as it nudged and nuzzled its mother, seemingly in an effort to get her up.