Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Wild and Scenic

In celebration of the fact that the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act turns 50 this year, Ken and I have been wanting to get back to one of our favorite spots on the Clarks Fork to get some shots of the canyon. After all, it isn't everyone who can brag they have Wyoming's first Wild and Scenic River practically in their backyard! Today seemed like a great day for a hike, even though the sky was actually too blue  to get the landscape shots I was hoping for, so we left home about 6:30 am and headed to the parking lot at the canyon mouth. 
"Wild and Scenic" signage at the canyon mouth.
 Like most of our hikes we needed to travel off-piste to get to the location we had in mind. We had about a two mile hike in followed by a relatively steep climb of 1000' up a rocky slope to reach a narrow pass where we had a small flat area to set up and wait for the light to be where we wanted it. The north side of the pass is an even steeper drop straight down to the canyon floor.

Like always, I traveled with my telephoto lens on my camera but once we got to our destination I switched it for my much shorter landscape lens. I then went to work setting up my tripod and locking down the camera in preparation. Ken was doing the same, setting up a little higher than me, on my right. I should note that Ken's hearing is pretty bad these days which can make for some interesting moments.

I was looking through my viewfinder, fiddling with the settings and trying to make sure everything was level when I heard a loud rustling on my left. In the same instant I wondered how Ken had managed to get by me I realized that wasn't possible and I looked up and directly into the face of a large black bear standing about 10' away. I am not sure whose eyes got bigger - mine or the bears! I turned to Ken and shouted "Bear!"and by the time he looked up and I turned back all we saw was the black furry butt moving away from us at top speed across the face of the slope we had just climbed.
No hike in the canyon is complete without a side trip to Bridal Veil Falls.
 Neither one of us managed to get a shot off but it was quite a thrill just to see the bruin in that location. It would have been one of the last places I would expect an encounter but it was a good reminder that we are indeed in a "Wild and Scenic" spot!
5-shot panoramic of the canyon looking southwest. 

The Clarks Fork River from a lower viewpoint.

Checkerspot Butterfly. 

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Butterflies and Wildflowers

One of the great things about growing old is that every year I realize how little I know. I figure that as long as I have so much still to learn, life will continue to be an adventure!

I have never found a reference book I really like for butterflies and moths of Wyoming and there seems to be little information on the web about these particular creatures in this area. We have lots of Fritillaries and Suphurs along with our share of Checkerspots and Wyoming Satyrs. We also see the occasional Painted Lady, Swallowtails and Question Marks but this year the biggest groups seem to be the Coppers and the Blues, both members of the "Little Butterflies" family. The range of colors of these tiny butterflies is amazing. Over the last couple days alone I have photographed at least three distinct patterns. 
Blue on Cota

Cota Flower
 The other discovery this year was Cota or Navajo Tea. I probably would never have noticed it if it wasn't for the Blues seeming to find it irresistible. At first I thought it was the remnant of a rayed flower but a little research convinced me the tiny yellow bloom is all there is. It is easy to overlook but the closer you study it, the more fascinating it appears.

Unlike butterfly books, I have a variety of wildflower references I find invaluable. Surprisingly, one I find extremely helpful is a book of flowers of the Texas Plains that I stumbled into a number of years ago. I have identified a large number of wildflowers on our property, including Cota, from the Texas book. These are plants that are usually not identified in books on Wyoming wildflowers.
Cota Plant

Blue on blooming sage

Blue variation

Monday, June 18, 2018

Cacti

 Despite the fact that we live in high desert - or maybe because of it - the wildflowers of spring are always a treat. This has been an exceptional year so far because of an unusual amount of moisture that is still falling today.

One of the classic desert plants is cactus. We have two varieties on our place: Prickly Pear, which makes up about 99.99% of the spiny species and Cushion Nipple Cactus, which makes up the other .01%.

The Prickly Pear are just starting to bloom and like everything else this year, they are amazing.

The flowers are usually yellow although we have a certain number that are salmon colored or somewhere in between.

 The blooms on the Cushion Nipple Cacti are much smaller and they seem to last for only a day or two (no wonder there are so few of them!) so it is tricky to catch them at just the right time. The amazing thing about their flowers is the coloration which makes them appear to glow from within.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Tolerance and Compassion

Rattlesnake coiled on the trail, level to the ground
I dragged my husband out of bed at 5 am this morning so we could hike to a location from which I wished to photograph the Clark's Fork Canyon at sunrise. The place I was envisioning setting up was a short drive away, followed by a hike of about a mile and half and an elevation gain of just under 1000'. We had been to this spot before and I knew it would be spectacular in the early morning light. 
There is no official route to the top but there are a few faint animal trails here and there. I was leading the way, following one of the paths between some small rocks when I heard Ken swear behind me. I went back to his location but it wasn't until he pointed to the ground that I saw this all-but-invisible rattlesnake coiled up right in the middle of the trail. Ken had been about to step on top of him. I obviously walked right over him and didn't even know he was there! Which brings me to the point of this post. 

I am sure that if I am ever bitten by a rattler, many of the comments will suggest I had it coming. I realize that is partly my fault - I talk about the venomous reptiles on a regular basis and no doubt my musings come across as cavalier at times. But I assure you that I have a healthy respect for these animals and the damage they can do. I protect myself by knowing their habits and by trying to be vigilant when I am in their territory. But stuff happens. And I refuse to sit in my house, avoiding the outdoors, just because I live in the land of bears, cougars and rattlesnakes! 

Panoramic view of Clark's Fork Canyon in the early morning
 There have been two instances of people being attacked by an elk in the Mammoth area over the last couple days. The first victim was a woman who works at the hotel and lives on the grounds. She was severely injured and had to be life-flighted to Idaho. The reports state that the cow elk was protecting her newborn calf which she had hidden nearby. The woman almost certainly did not realize the young elk was there nor that she was placing herself between mama and baby. Yet the comments on the post released by the National Park Service are almost entirely accusatory, suggesting the woman was "stupid" and "an idiot" for putting herself in that position. I am appalled by the lack of compassion and understanding for this tragic event. Yes, there are visitors to the park who choose to put themselves in harm's way by taking selfies next to a bison or trespassing on the fragile ground but there are also times when the unexpected happens and all our careful habits can't protect us from the surprise encounter. All we can do is our best.
Cultural site - probably Native American - on a hillside near the canyon

Monday, January 8, 2018

Circle B Bar Reserve

I have an ever-growing list of places I like to visit in Florida for birding and photography. At the top of the list for the last few years has been the Circle B Bar Reserve near Lakeland. I was all set to go last year but came down with the flu the day before we headed south and so ended up with an unproductive visit as far as photography or much of anything else. 

This year I was not going to miss another chance and so we headed inland on the day before Christmas with my mom and dad in tow. We had not been able to find out much on-line or by calling so were disappointed when we arrived to find the nature center closed for the holiday and a large portion of the paths closed to hiking. 

Even so, I have to say the experience was memorable and it is definitely a place I will continue to visit every chance I get. The sheer amount of birdlife was amazing. And what was there seemed to have very little concern for the excited public walking the well-marked trails through their habitat. 
 Some of my favorites were the Limpkins. Their strident voices could be heard from the time we arrived and there seemed to be brown and white birds everywhere we looked. At one point I heard an especially loud voice and when I tracked it down I discovered an adult Limpkin apparently warning her youngster who seemed to be wandering too close to a large alligator.
 I think these birds are beautiful and the shape of their bills is a study in evolution as they seem perfectly designed to get into the apple snails that make up most of their diet.
 Although birds are the most abundant inhabitants of the reserve, they are certainly not the only ones. This turtle seemed to pick a questionable location in the middle of one of the lesser used trails to lay its eggs.
 We spotted Sandhill Cranes in a number of locations. Although I have seen many of the big birds in the past, it was fascinating to watch them apparently hunting in water that reached up to their bellies.
 One of the more unusual birds that makes the marshland of the reserve its home is the Black-bellied Whistling Duck. They are easily identified by their beautiful colors, including the reddish bills.

This Snowy Egret, below, was nice enough to walk through a patch of wildflowers that mimicked the color of its lores.
Other birds we saw were Roseate Spoonbills, Wood Storks, Glossy Ibis, Coopers Hawk, Red Shouldered Hawk, Tricolored Herons, Little Blue Herons, Great Blue Herons, Bald Eagles and even a few Pied-billed Grebes. I am sure I am missing some but one of my goals for this year is to finally start recording my sightings so hopefully next time I visit this amazing place, I will be able to relate all the things I see!

Friday, January 5, 2018

A Tale of Da Feet

I spent a week in Florida over the Christmas holidays. While the main purpose was to visit family, I admit I was thrilled at the opportunity to photograph birds. It is not that I have no chance of doing so in Northern Wyoming in the winter but there is no doubt the avian population here is greatly reduced in terms of species this time of year. 

This first collection of Florida birds is not representative of my best shots - instead it is a small study in the incredible diversity of feet!  
It is easy to see why Anhingas are commonly known as Darters in many places! In this shot I was able to get a really good look at the bird's large webbed feet which it uses to propel itself through the water as it swims in search of food. 

 I wasn't planning on including this photo of a Great Blue Heron flying overhead but I was struck by the length and straightness of the bird's legs and feet as it soared by. I am sure it is incredibly aerodynamic with its neck pulled in and its legs stretched out behind it.


The Common Moorhen has really impressive feet with remarkably long toes that help it walk on floating vegetation. I am not sure I have ever seen one perched on a branch before but it really allowed me a good look at the oversized yellow-green appendages!
One of the easiest ways to identify a Snowy Egret is by its "golden slippers". I usually try to avoid photographing birds and animals from behind but in this case the easily seen feet were the focus!
Wood Storks use their feet as well as their bills to stir up prey as they move through the water. It is not unusual to see them standing at rest with one foot raised and relaxed. I always think "tree pose" of yoga should be renamed "stork pose"!

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Catching up - PEI Birds

 The focus of my visits to Prince Edward Island is family, not photographs, but I always manage to grab a few shots of bird life on the island, even though I usually travel there with minimal equipment.

The trip this year was especially fun as we were celebrating my parent's 61st wedding anniversary and the whole family was there to participate.

I love photographing the Great Black-backed Gulls at the beach. They are huge and are relatively tolerant of people. The red spots on their bills add a bit of color but the markings were especially noticeable on this big bird - maybe a sign of age?
 The red cliffs of Rustico Beach are visible in the background.
 The Finches on the Island were exhibiting signs of disease this summer so people were asked to take down all their feeders to prevent large numbers of birds from gathering in one spot. Of course that didn't stop the Goldfinches from finding natural feeding areas such as Sunflowers and Thistles.

The Kingfishers were out in force along the river in New Glasgow and that was where I really missed having a longer lens with me.

 There were lots and lots of shorebirds at Cavendish Beach, including this Greater Yellowlegs that I snapped off the Homestead Trail.
One of my favorite bird shots of the trip was this one of a pair of Ruddy Turnstones with a Bonaparte Gull for size comparison on the wharf in Summerside. The Turnstones are not residents of the Island - they stop by on their way through during migration. I was actually taking part in a water obstacle course in the harbor (another story!) when I spotted these guys near by.