Archive for Bird

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.

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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

Miriam’s Place

Posted in Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 16, 2014 by chamimage
Flame-colored Tanager

Flame-colored Tanager

One of the most awesome days I have had as a photographer occurred last December in Costa Rica at Miriam’s Place, Comidas Tipicas Miriam.

We spent the morning in transit from La Selva in the hot and humid central Costa Rica to the Talamanca Mountains in southern Costa Rica, which are cool and not humid at all.

We arrived in time for lunch, and oh what a lunch Miriam made for us. Her restaurant is on a windy gravel road that runs seriously downhill from the main highway to Savegre Lodge where we were to stay.

She kept bringing out dishes full of chicken that fell off of the bone, the traditional rice and beans that are required fare for every meal in Costa Rica, even breakfast. I can’t even remember what all was served now, but I remember it was the best lunch I ever had and I was hungry.

After lunch we got our gear and headed out into the back yard where bird feeders were set up. The action in Miriam’s back yard was non-stop all afternoon. We shot flame-colored tanagers, acorn woodpeckers, yellow-thighed finches, slaty flowerpiercers (they pierce the base of a flower with their beak to get at the nectar); mountain robins, slaty robins; rufus-collared sparrows and magnificent hummingbirds.

Acorn Woodpecker

Acorn Woodpecker

At one point some other photographers stopped by and were very disappointed that we were already there. They decided they would come back later. They had some perches they wanted to set up so we offered to set them up for them.

“Oh no, these are our very own special perches just for our photographs.” Really. They hid the perches in the house for later. We heard Miriam and her daughter laughing in the kitchen. It turns out she knew where these very special perches were hidden and wanted us to set them up. She was not impressed with the other photographers attitude. She was feeling naughty and so were we so we got the perches out and set them up, fully intending to leave them set up.

Slaty Flowerpiercer

Slaty Flowerpiercer male

Slaty Flowerpiercer

Slaty Flowerpiercer female piercing flower.

The evening was then spent photographing Resplendent Quetzals in a wild avocado tree down the canyon a ways, just to round out a long, productive day in the rain forest. And the cool nights in the mountains were so welcome after sleeping in wet sheets from the humidity in other humid parts of Costa Rica.

Yellow-thighed Finch

Yellow-thighed Finch

Mountain Robin

Mountain Robin

 

One fine day

Posted in Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 17, 2014 by chamimage
Baby Green Sea Turtle

Baby Green Sea Turtle

By far the highlight of our last full day in Tortuguero National Park in Costa Rica was finding hatching baby green sea turtles. We had been told none of the nests looked like they were ready to hatch that evening. They always hatch at dusk, I assume to avoid bird predation.

We had been entertaining ourselves while our local boat driver took a look up and down the beach. He had given up and was almost back to the boat (which, strangely, was on the other side of the Tortuguero airport runway) when he came across the hatching nest. I had to sprint about one hundred yards in sand so was pretty breathless when I got to the turtles.

They go fast. The trick is to photograph them without leaving big old footprints in the sand for the next turtle to fall into. You lean a lot.

Todd

Todd

Here is our trip leader, Todd Gustaffson with his 15 mm fish-eye lens, getting the turtle, Caribbean, and sky all in the same shot. Tells a story. You can see where a little turtle might fall into foot or knee prints, but they were strong and climbed right out when the did. I wonder how they know which way the ocean is?

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

As fun as the evening was, the morning started off with a bang, as well. We had exhausted the rivers and lagoons by then so opted to take our morning boat ride northward, past the village of Tortuguero, itself.

I think the yellow-crowned night-herons are especially lovely. This one is on a sea wall.

 

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

The fog didn’t suddenly set in. I must have shot through someone’s hat or something. It was surprising how quickly we learned to not lurch around an rock the boat while shooting. It still helps to keep the shutter speed 1,000 or higher.

Tiger-herons

Tiger-herons

On my previous trip to Costa Rica I had seen just one tiger-heron so was hoping to find more. We ended up seeing them everywhere this time. These are bare-throated tiger-herons standing in a blue and white boat that is docked. The orange is a retaining wall.

Tiger-herons

Tiger-herons

Maybe they were waiting for a ride? The lagoon eventually leads to the Caribbean. Some of the lodges near where the herons were cater to marlin fishermen. All of the lodges were serviced by boats. There are no roads in Tortuguero. You get in via about a twenty mile boat ride, then end of which is pretty wild. Big boats speeding up and down a narrow, narrow river – both ways. We didn’t lose anybody. It costs a dollar to pee at the car park before your long bus ride back to civilization.

Caribbean

Caribbean

 

Tell a Story

Posted in Philosophy and Spirituality with tags , , , , , , , , on January 13, 2014 by chamimage
Anhinga with Rainbow Bass

Anhinga with Rainbow Bass

Most days all of the social media sites I visit just seem like one big time suck that I should live without. But then I will run across a gem of a post that makes it all worthwhile. I will share of few of those gems today. They are words to live by for 2014 for me.

1. Tell a Story – I got this one from Karen Hutton on The Grid podcast last week. When you find a subject and you are looking for The Picture, try looking for The Story, instead.  That will inform your decision on how much of the environment you need to include, what mood to go for. It wasn’t hard to find the story above – that anhinga may have bitten off more than he can chew. Adding more rain forest wasn’t needed for that story.

Wild Timber Wolf

Wild Timber Wolf

A tight shot of this wolf would have been ugly, but showing what a miserable day it was to be out in the woods was the story. He was walking along the cleared road side to keep out of the wet brush, cars be damned. A good photograph informs the viewer of an aspect of the subject they had not previously considered, a new truth, like leading them to think about the wild animals out in the forest on a wet, stormy night.

1a. I can’t use the one above without adding the famous saying by Jay Maisel as a corollary – “If you want to take more interesting pictures, be a more interesting person.” Listen to music, watch dance, read classics. It can be pretty interesting what bangs around in your head while you are out with your camera.

2. “Don’t be afraid to give up the good to go for the great.” – a quote from John D. Rockefeller I found on Sue Bryce’s Facebook page last week. I don’t think he had photo editing in mind when he said that, but that is certainly where I will apply it. We all have the problem of all of those technically good documentary images that we can’t get ourselves to delete. Let them go. They are not great so they are of no value to you. Post only your great stuff. My recent trip with Todd Gustafson was helpful in terms of seeing that he chose to keep maybe twenty images from the 300 we had shot that morning. On the first edit. That is my goal. To be able to find and keep only the images that speak to me without having to edit the folder four times to get there.

Canada Goose

Canada Goose

3. Find your passion, then build a body of work in that area. This doesn’t mean you have to shoot just birds or do macro only, but it doesn’t make much sense to build a portfolio full of landscapes if your passion is wildlife photography. I remember a conversation with Wayne Lynch in Africa about how it would be better to work locally and build a deep body of work in your local wildlife refuge or national park than to try to piece together enough trips to Africa and the arctic, etc. Give yourself creative projects in your genre rather than doing assignments that someone else makes up that accomplish nothing on Google+. Build a body of work. Get better at what you love.

Slaty Flowerpiercer piercing a flower.

Slaty Flowerpiercer piercing a flower.

I have a few more that are appropriate to the conversation. They are oldies and on my New Year’s Resolution list every year lately, but always good to be reminded.

4. Live as if every thought and action affects the collective consciousness and might just possibly influence others in a positive way. 

5. Less lawn mowing, more adventures. Metaphorically and literally. See Brooke Shaden’s recent blog on busy-ness. Don’ confuse being busy with accomplishing anything worthwhile. I have a theory that every meaningless meeting I am forced to attend, every sales pitch I get sucked into, every soggy sandwich vendor-sponsored lunch I eat, and every PBS pledge break is like smoking a cigarette, they shave minutes off of your life.

6. Tomorrow is not guaranteed. Live accordingly. Leave nothing undone and nothing unsaid. Lie in your death bed with no regrets about the life you lived.

7. No negativity allowed.

8. Be generous.

9. Be humble.

10. Be loving and kind. Speak gently.

Tortuguero Birds

Posted in Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 23, 2013 by chamimage
Sungrebe

Sungrebe

Our first stop in Costa Rica earlier this month was Tortuguero National Park in northeastern Costa Rica on the Caribbean coast. Tortuga means turtle in Spanish and Tortuguero is named after the green sea turtles that were found to nest on the beaches here. More on those in a future post.

Tortuguero is like the bayou country in the southern U.S. There are no roads so everybody uses boats for their daily activities. There is a large lagoon that parallels the coast for twenty-two miles, two rivers, and a series of canals that criss-cross the park. The canals were dug sixty years ago when the area was logged for teak and mahogany. So Tortuguero has rain forest, swamp, and beach habitat all in one place.

We explored Tortuguero in an open boat, open to allow us to look up into the tree canopy for Howler, spider, and capuchin monkeys, bird nests, and green iguanas sunning themselves on tree limbs.

The sungrebe above was found swimming and feeding at the edge of the main lagoon. It is always fun to find and photograph a bird that you never even heard of before. He is looking for bugs in an overhanging limb in the photo above.

Little Blue Heron with Pipefish

Little Blue Heron with Pipefish

We found a lot of herons walking and feeding from the floating mats of vegetation on the edges of the canals. There were so many little blue herons and green herons that the boat driver wouldn’t even stop for them any longer after the first day. This little blue heron snagged a pipefish (a relative of the sea horse). Much to his consternation, the pipefish wrapped himself around the heron’s beak. The heron would normally toss his prey up and swallow it as he caught it from the air, but the pipefish was foiling his technique. It was still a stalemate as we drifted away.

Purple Gallinule

Purple Gallinule

Another bird I had never heard of before photographing it at Tortuguero was the purple gallinule. These guys are related to rails and soras. He was feeding on a mat of vegetation beside some northern jacanas before he lept up onto this branch for his portrait session. While I was taking this image I missed a shot that would have been very interesting. Others in our boat had closer proximity and a better angle to photograph the jacanas and I looked up to see our guide with his cell phone about two inches from a jacana taking its photograph. I wished I had photographed him photographing the jacana. The birds in Tortuguero have become very accustomed to the boats and, much like in Africa, they seem to see only the vehicle and not the people that occupy it.

Later, as I process the images, I’ll talk about the tiger herons, monkeys, and turtles of Tortuguero. Then on to the toucans and tanagers (and squirrels!) of La Selva and the Resplendent Quetzals and hummingbirds of Savegere.

Eagle Chase Scene

Posted in Photo Stories with tags , , , , , , , on October 6, 2013 by chamimage
Eagle Chase

Eagle Chase

I first noticed a bald eagle hovering low over the Yellowstone River in Hayden Valley. I didn’t know eagles could hover.

I guess with a 30 mph head wind they can. He was trying to grab a duck off of the river, but they kept diving. It was only a matter of time before a duck came up at the wrong place and wrong time.

I was getting some nice photographs of him suspended in the air, despite the wind and rain. Then the golden eagle came along and ran the bald eagle off. My shutter speed was too slow for the spiraling shots to come out sharp.

I didn’t see any contact between them. The bald eagle was just sort of escorted out of the golden eagle’s territory.

I knew there was quite a size difference between the two kinds of eagles, but have never seen them this close together to really appreciate the contrast before.

This was taken Sept 29th. Two days later Yellowstone Park shut down with the government shut down and the fun was over. My hotel in West Yellowstone had three guests on the night of Oct 1st because all of the tour buses cancelled. All of us who traveled to a national park of monument weren’t given much consideration by our government. We actually paid for access to the park and were then denied it. I really feel for the people who traveled from Asia, Europe, etc. And for the people who are trying to make a living from tourism. For congress to use all of the above people as pawns in their little games is just unconscionable.