Archive for Wildlife

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

Photo Editing

Posted in Photography Technique with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 26, 2015 by chamimage
3 day old Elephant Baby

3 day old Elephant Baby

I had a recent epiphany about photo editing. In the past I have spent a lot of my time editing old folders of images that I felt guilty about not having finished with editing all of the images. The problem with that is that I have already gleaned the family jewels images from those folders so I am spending a lot of my time editing and Photoshopping my second best images.

Samburu Elephants

Samburu Elephants

That thought occurred to me as I looked at my Google Analytics one day and confirmed that Guanajuato, Mexico at night was still my most viewed image on my web site again for another week, as it has been for much of the past year. I don’t know why. But the point is that I also realized I had many more images of Guanajuato that I had never optimized.  Guilt be damned! I worked on Guanajuato images.

So now I let the fickle winds of supply and demand determine which images I will be editing, not guilt about old un-edited images. I check Google Analytics and my stock sites to see what images are being viewed, both my own site and in general. Today it was Australia, France, and elephants. I have elephants, so I’m working on elephants.

Elephant and Crocodile

Elephant and Crocodile

Being an elephant means you don’t have to bother about no stinkin’ crocodile.

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

 

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.

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

 

Night Critters

Posted in Photography Technique with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 10, 2014 by chamimage
Red-eyed Tree Frog

Red-eyed Tree Frog

Night macro wildlife photography is the most technically challenging for me. We made several forays into the night in Costa Rica in December.

There is a balance between depth of field and high ISO noise that is a problem even with our newer cameras that do better at noise suppression at high ISO’s.

Sleeping red-eyed Tree Frog

Sleeping red-eyed Tree Frog

I usually err on the side of narrow depth of field. Higher ISO images look fine on a computer screen, but are throw-away’s if you look at them in full size. Spiders are especially problematic because they are small and the closer you have to get the narrower the depth of field. Not to mention the risk that the spider might jump onto you in the dark.

Drab Tree Frog

Drab Tree Frog

It helps to have a big, bright flashlight when looking for these critters. Then it helps to have LCD video light panels to keep them illuminated while trying to focus the camera. Obviously it is almost impossible without at least two people, unless you are especially good at aiming a flashlight and holding camera at the same. I tried it. It’s not easy.

Turnip-tailed Gecko

Turnip-tailed Gecko

Some of these guys bite. I guess I am surprised that they don’t bite more often than they do. You can see in the image above that someone is holding an LCD light panel behind and my macro flash is acting as front fill.

Gecjo Silhouette

Gecko Silhouette

The silhouette through a banana leaf is a bit of a cliche, but you have to do it.

Smoky Jungle Frog

Smoky Jungle Frog

This guy was huge so was actually the creepiest critter of the night for me. He secretes toxins through his skin. I didn’t know that at the time, but it is always a good idea to wash your hands as soon as possible if you handle a frog or lizard in the tropics. Usually the worse that will happen is you will get nauseous.

The Nikon R1C1 macro flash system is a Godsend with these macro shots in low light. I use it on macro shots even during the day at lower power. At night it takes full power so bring lots of batteries because they will go fast. Bring two flashlights because you really don’t want to be out there in the rain forest in the dark with a dead flashlight. It’s not really dangerous, but try telling that to your pounding heart.