Archive for the Natural History Category

Baskett Slough Sunrise

Posted in Natural History with tags , , , , , , , on January 25, 2016 by chamimage
Sunrise on Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.

Sunrise on Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.

It was raining when I left home in Salem, Oregon yesterday. But, some of my best landscapes have come from stormy days so I set out for a drive, if nothing else. It had stopped raining by the time I got to Baskett Slough NWR. Fog shrouded the hill I wanted to hike and I usually like to check out the ponds first, anyway so went to the pull out at the narrows. I was just leaving when a huge dusky Canada goose blast off went up right to my left, out where this image was taken.

After a few experimental shots on the geese against the foggy hillside, none of which survived editing, I noticed the break in the clouds. I grabbed my 70-200 mm lens for a few landscapes. You can see the silhouette of a bald eagle just above the horizon on the right. He was apparently what had triggered the goose blast off. They fly over and watch for geese that can’t fly. Those geese are henceforth called breakfast. He had no luck with the geese, but as I finished with the landscapes I noticed he dropped something into the water. It was about right for for a coot carcass. Quickly another bald eagle swooped up the carcass. Then two more materialized to chase the bird with the food. While editing this image I could see the other eagles perched on trees out there.

Two weeks ago I photographed an adult eagle in the back part of the refuge. When it flew, I knew exactly where it was going by the direction it flew and found it again in an old snag on the hill I like to hike. Two weeks ago my hike produced no sightings of deer, which is unusual. I was starting to wonder if they had all died off from some disease or something, but yesterday I saw deer in every location I expected to see deer.

Stormy Sunrise

Stormy Sunrise

This image from 2006 is from the same angle, a bit tighter. Some of those trees have either fallen down or been cut. The bald eagles loved those trees so it is a shame. There is more plant growth now as the marsh is filling in, as they do. Didn’t get the color of the sun shining through a lsot this time. That was also Velvia film in 2006. That was another rainy morning when I went out, anyway.

Great Horned Owl Fledgling

Posted in Natural History with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 21, 2015 by chamimage
A fledgeling great horned owl on a cottonwood tree limb in spring.

A fledgling great horned owl on a cottonwood tree limb in spring.

I checked in on these Great Horned owl fledglings last week at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Oregon. I do every year.

In fact, it occurred to me that I might have photographed at least one of the parents when they were babies, too, though it looks like their typical lifespan is thirteen years so maybe not. I’ve been coming back to this nest site for about five or six years.

Some years they are still in the nest at this time of year. This year they are all over the place and flying up into trees. This one was hyperactive, its sibling was sedate. I think the sibling may have been sick. It kept its left eye closed much of the time and rarely moved around. It did grab this one’s tail in his beak and give it a yank so wasn’t too sick for pranks.

This year the beavers built a dam and the place was flooded, limiting the sight lines for photograph. And most of the trees were girdled and some were down. Park staff said they were going to relocate the beavers and it appears they have already done so. This is an old homestead with one old building still standing and they wanted to preserve it.

This year too many people knew about this site. It has always been my little secret, but somebody must have found it and posted it on some birder’s site. I didn’t see it mentioned on the grease board for sightings at headquarters. When there were other cars here I just kept on going, not wanting to add to the stress to the birds. I did notice that they always started in this tree in the morning and by evening were either across the water or deeper into the woods, as if they were escaping the onslaught of birders. If park staff notice the activity here it will probably be off limits next year until the chicks are fully fledged.

I use my 600 mm lens with a 1.7x teleconverter (1000 mm) when I photograph them to be able to keep my distance and they seem happy to go about their normal activity while I am there, with only the occasional withering gaze inherent to GH owls. I even saw one of the parents come in with a mouse. Of course this one immediately flew over for it and the sibling didn’t budge.

I saw a short-eared owl and a long-eared owl this year. I got only a badly focused photograph of the short-ear and blew it on the long-ear…twice.

The great horned nest at Page Springs campground was empty, which was a blessing because that blasted owl has kept me awake with her hooting more nights than I care to remember and it was blissfully quiet this year.

Death Stalks on Silent Wings

Posted in Natural History, Photo Stories with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2015 by chamimage

Owl Silhouette

I was staying in Klamath Falls, photographing owls and bald eagles, at the Klamath Wildlife Refuges when I read in the newspaper that we had an owl problem back home in Salem, Oregon.

Around mid-January a jogger (local surgeon) running at 5:15 am in a city park was hit in the back of his head with what he assumed was a two by four. Looking around he saw nothing. Later, it was determined that he was attacked by a barred owl (Strix varia). Three other joggers have had the honor of repeating his experience since then. All have been running before dawn or after sunset, basically pretty dark out there. One jogger lost his favorite Nike cap and never got it back.

It was assumed the owl is nesting nearby and is protecting its territory, but no nest has ever been found to my knowledge.

I went to the park when I got back to find the owl in question and was not successful. Nobody has seen it in the day time so maybe it is roosting or nesting away from the park and only hunting squirrels there in the dark. I did notice a paucity of squirrels. Maybe he tired of having to chase joggers off and gave up and moved out.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

I don’t have any images of a barred owl. They are relatively new to Oregon, being a bird of eastern forests. Their presence here in Oregon has been problematic in other ways. Remember in the 1990’s when the northern spotted owl was listed as endangered and old growth forest logging was essentially shut down to protect the spotted owls? Those same spotted owls are now being decimated and will likely go extinct due to the invasion of barred owls into their territory. They are similar owls in many respects. Both feature black eyes. The barred owls are more aggressive and are out-competing and driving out the spotted owls. The Forest Service now has a trial program of killing barred owls in northern California to see if it has any effect on the spotted owls and is feasible. 3,600 barred owls will be shot. The biologist involved described this as a classic Sophie’s Choice, deciding who will live and who will die when there is no clear fairness in the result.

The image directly above is of an owl I found early in the day when the sun was behind him. I came back in the evening when I knew he would be front-lit. I got near to his position, but there was a car behind me so I stopped at a porta pottie so as not to leads other to him and burden his life with too many people knowing of his location. To my dismay, when I came out of the latrine the driver behind me had not only seen the owl and stopped (I suspect he already knew he was there as well) but his stopping had created an owl jam with three other cars stopped. At that point I gave up on the stealth approach and drove up and got my images. Instead of a quick shot out the window of my car turned into stopping and putting the camera on the tripod. He obviously wasn’t going anywhere. By that time there were six cars stopped.

The title of this post refers to the silent flight of owls, which is unique. It hardly seems fair that they hunt at night and are completely silent in flight. They pay for the silent flight with feathers that are not able to repel water. Apparently you can be water-resistant or silent, but not both. Another fact I learned from Nature last week is that an owl’s feathers weigh more than its skeleton. Hollow bones.

At the Klamath wildlife refuge a biologist said that one morning when they came to work they found the head of a barn owl on the sidewalk. At first they thought they were victim to a boyhood prank, but later decided that it was a gift from a resident great horned owl. Owls like to behead their prey before eating them (perhaps they can’t digest the relatively dense skull?) and in the case of great horned owls they tend to spread body parts about their territory, probably for the same reason gangsters put horse heads in people’s beds.

Sunset

Sunset

The owl silhouette at the top was taken in one of these trees a few minutes later.

A good reference book on owls I “Owls of the United States and Canada” written by my friend Wayne Lynch.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

Saw-whet Owl

Saw-whet Owl

Mount St. Helens

Posted in Natural History with tags , , , , , , , on July 21, 2014 by chamimage
Mount St. Helens

Mount St. Helens from northeast

I visited Mount St. Helens last week. I’ve been there twice before, both times after the eruption and both times to climb its south face to the crater rim.

On May 18, 1980 I was racing at a motocross event in McMinnville, Oregon. I can’t remember if anything was announced at the race, but I vividly remembering leaving the race track and turning onto the highway heading north and immediately seeing a huge plume of smoke and ash where Mount St. Helens used to be. Talk about a car full of people with dropped jaws!

Before the May 18, 1980 eruption Mount St. Helens was a very pretty, symmetrical mountain. It is hard for me to believe that it erupted last in the 1840 or 1850’s. I had no idea mountains rebuilt themselves that fast. Native Americans said the mountain frequently erupted. In March of 1980 a crevasse formed on the north side of the mountain and started venting steam. The crevasse widened and the venting of plumes of steam and ash increased. Geologists were certain that we were in for a major volcanic eruption soon. In fact geologist David Johnston called it pretty much 100% in his prediction that a major eruption would occur in the next few months and it would blow out the north side of the mountain. There would be pyroclastic gas flows that would annihilate every living thing for several miles and there would be flooding of the Toutle River due to melted glacial snow. David Johnston was eight miles from the blast on May 18th and only lived to witness the eruption up to the pyroclastic flows. He was buried in the collapsing mountainside and his body was never found.

The image above is from the northeast and shows the north side of the volcano and the blast zone of mud and debris 34 years later.

Mt. St. Helens

Mt. St. Helens

A closer image shows the two lava domes growing inside the crater.  Climbers come up the south (opposite) side and only scientists get to go into the crater.

At the base of the north side of the mountain was Spirit Lake, a popular recreation and summer camp area. The owner of the Mt. St. Helens Lodge was an eight-something year old named Harry Truman (not the president). Harry was told the mountain was going to erupt soon and what would happen when it did. He wouldn’t leave. In the 1980’s I thought he was crazy. Now that I’m older I can better understand why he stayed. He had lived there since at least the 1930’s. He had no place else to go. He would not have had a very happy life if he had left. Harry is now buried in 120 feet of mud under 30 feet of water.

They say the pyroclastic flows started at 220 miles per hour and somehow accelerated to 670 miles per hour. They may have broken the sound barrier. Most of the 57 people who died that day were asphyxiated by gas and ash. There was also flying debris, falling trees, and, if you were close enough to the volcano, 360 degree heat.

Everything within 8 miles of the eruption was vaporized to dust. The explosion was 1600 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb blast. Spirit Lake and Toutle River waters were flashed to steam, causing a second explosion that was heard north of the mountain for hundreds of miles.

Trees were flattened in a 19 mile radius. Trees beyond 19 miles were killed, but still standing. 150 elk, 5000 deer, and 12 million salmon fingerlings were killed.

A twelve foot wall of water (basically a twelve foot wall of logs) came down the Toutle River, taking out bridges and houses along the way. I-5 was shut down until the flood passed. I hadn’t thought about it before, but when you suddenly heat a mountain glacier to 360 degrees, you get a lot of melt water.

People were warned not to be on the mountain that day. People being people, they were. One of those killed was a National Geographic photographer. His car was found, he was not. I suspect a disproportionate number of the other people that were up there that day were probably photographers, too. I mean, really, a glaciated mountain spewing plumes of steam and ash? Who wouldn’t want an image of that? Some of the survivors told harrowing tales of racing to their cars and speeding down the mountain roads just seconds ahead of the dust cloud.

Mount Saint Helens

Mount Saint Helens_South Face

After the eruption Spirit Lake started re-forming again, 120 feet higher in elevation. It had no outlet so there was concern about it breaching a mud wall and causing flooding downstream. At first it was pumped to keep the water level stable, then a long tunnel was drilled through a ridge to provide it with an outlet in the proper direction.

Everybody was stunned at how fast nature began to recover. Insects and animals that lived underground survived. Bushes sprouted. Forestry crews and volunteers replanted forests. Those trees are a healthy thirty years old now.

Clearwater Valley

Clearwater Valley

We have found many ways to manipulate and control nature, but events like volcanic eruptions, especially of a mountain close to home, remind us of the awesome power that is out there. And the even more awesome ability nature has to heal itself.

Fun with Squirrels

Posted in Natural History with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 12, 2014 by chamimage
Variegated Squirrel

Variegated Squirrel

I borrowed the title of this post from The Big Bang Theory where Sheldon does Fun with Flags.

I decided to process a bunch of squirrel images from Costa Rica all at the same time. I found these variegated squirrels to be a nice break from the bird photography. At one point I was going from a tree frog to birds to the squirrel all at the same time.

If I could ever have a tail, I’d want this guy’s tail. That would keep your nose warm on a winter’s night. You can tell when it is mating season at my house by how the squirrel’s flit their tails. Nose-warmer, message flag, balance corrector. I am a bit envious.

The Reach

The Reach

He couldn’t reach the food he was trying to get. No reason he couldn’t just go down there and get it, I think it is just more fun to steal it from above. It was a banana, by the way, and yes, he ate the whole thing. Little pig.

The Pose

The Pose

Does he not look like he is posing? A manly pose. Like George Costanza posed on a couch on Seinfeld.

Eating

Eating

This squirrel ate that seed head like a person eating a corn cob. This was at OTS (Organization for Tropical Studies) La Selva. Scientists come and stay at this place to do research in the rain forest. The paths are paved and they ride bicycles out to wherever they need to go. Of course it is located here because it is hopping with plants and animals. We benefited from a white cloth put out overnight to attract insects. What insects they have!

Upside Down Squirrel

Upside Down Squirrel

When it got too dark in the rain forest in the evening I went down by the river where the angled light could still penetrate. I have no idea if that is a fruit or a nut.

Newborn Fawn

Posted in Natural History, Photo Stories with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 27, 2014 by chamimage
Doe and Fawn

Doe and Fawn

I found this black-tail doe and newborn fawn near Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park in Washington state. The series of photos that ensued told a story. These are all straight out of camera. None of them are great photos in and of themselves, but I like them as a series.

Newborn Fawn

Newborn Fawn

Momma decided to move away and stepped over a fallen log.

What's a Fawn to Do?

What’s a Fawn to Do?

The log was Mt. Everest to that little fawn.

He threw himself at it.

He threw himself at it.

He threw himself at it with all he had, but fell back on the first try.

The Second Try

The Second Try

His second attempt looked like it was going to end with the same result…

Kicking

Kicking

He was high-centered, but he managed to get his feet under him and start kicking his way over.

Success

Success

He made it.

Reunited

Reunited

Time for some security time beneath mom.

On the Road Again

On the Road Again

This image is all blurry, but shows how tiny and fragile this little guy was.

Hopefully, they lived happily ever after. The End

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dances With Snakes

Posted in Natural History with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 6, 2014 by chamimage
Blunt-headed Tree Snake

Blunt-headed Tree Snake

We went for a wee night time walk while in La Selva in Costa Rica last month. We found a couple of spiders, a tree frog, and this snake. Imagine walking down a forest trail and bumping into that in the night.

He is essentially non-venomous to humans, though he has enough venom to kill a tree frog so you probably don’t want him to bite you.

With such a long, slim body I wonder how they keep from tying themselves in knots.

Blunt-headed Tree Snake

Blunt-headed Tree Snake

The sharp image is from when the flash fired. The blur is from the ambient exposure with just a flashlight on the snake. The flashlight was needed to be able to focus the camera and, you know, know where the snake is when you stick your face in there. I had one image where he spiraled around and it looked like a DNA helix, like the upper part of this image all the way down, but must have deleted it somewhere along the way.

Normally I write a Best of the past year blog this time of year, but my heart just isn’t in it this year. I have seen many other such blogs and have not clicked to read any of them. So, suffice it to say 2013 was a good year and 2014 should be even better. To paraphrase Joe McNally’s blog today: I won’t take my best ever image in 2014 because that will always be in the future, but let’s hope I don’t take my worst ever picture.