Dawn Wilson Photography: Blog https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog en-us (C) 2023 Dawn Wilson Photography (Dawn Wilson Photography) Mon, 15 Apr 2024 00:58:00 GMT Mon, 15 Apr 2024 00:58:00 GMT https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/img/s/v-12/u45817337-o104775357-50.jpg Dawn Wilson Photography: Blog https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog 120 63 Trip Report: Birds and Wildlife of Sax-Zim Bog https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2024/4/trip-report-birds-and-wildlife-of-sax-zim-bog Before I get too far into spring and my calendar gets too hectic, I want to revisit some of the trips from this past winter, and there were a bunch. Be sure to read to the bottom of this post for a slide show of the many birds and mammals we saw.

Great_gray_owl_SZB_2024_1Great_gray_owl_SZB_2024_1A great gray owl (Strix nebulosa) flies across a thick forest bathed in sunlight in Sax-Zim Bog in northern Colorado. Let's start with a trip in early February to Sax-Zim Bog in northern Minnesota. 

A location known for the wintering owls, it is also a beautiful location full of mystique and shy mammals. 

Normally this far north has a thick coat of snow in February. Due to the El Nino pattern this year, snow was pretty limited. It was actually the worst I had ever seen it up there. As a result, it meant the birds of Canada didn't need to migrate as far south like typical winters in this area.

Northern_hawk_owl_SZB_2024_2Northern_hawk_owl_SZB_2024_2A northern hawk owl (Surnia ulula) flies across a snowy landscape in Sax-Zim Bog in northern Minnesota. Even without the snow, however, my group had an amazing trip with plenty of opportunities to see and photograph great gray owls, a northern hawk owl, a few pine grosbeaks, a black-backed woodpecker (a highlight of trips to SZB for many birders), rough-legged hawks and hoary redpolls scattered among large flocks of common redpolls. On one morning I photographed a boreal chickadee too.

The local non-migrants were abundant as well, like black-capped chickadees, an abundance of ruffed grouse, hairy woodpeckers and Canada jays.

Ruffed_grouse_SZB_2024_1Ruffed_grouse_SZB_2024_1A ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus) walks along a branch of a tree at dusk in Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota. Although the area is a birding hotspot, it can also be a wonderful place to see and photograph mammals. Many of these are pretty shy, and with the thick tamarack and black spruce forest providing exceptional coverage for hiding, they can be hard to find, but we had several sightings that we were excited to witness; a few were even photographed. 

We saw several short-tailed weasels, which are referred to as ermine in the winter. With the lack of snow, their white coats made them stand out as they darted across the forest floor. The lack of snow also made it easier for our cameras to lock on the fast animal.

American_marten_SZB_2024_15American_marten_SZB_2024_15An American marten (Martes americana) sits on a log in the the forest of northern Minnesota. The pine martens were a hit with the group. Although it can take some time to wait for these shy animals to make an appearance in their favorite locations, the time with them when they do are some of the best of the visit to the Bog. They are exceptional hunters that have one of the most adorable faces, in my humble opinion, of the North American mammals. 

One afternoon, after photographing birds on the north edge of the Bog, we were driving past a large farm. At the far edge of the farm where the forest met the field we saw what we thought was a coyote running through the field. After a closer inspection of the images, it turns out it was a wolf! Yes, a wolf sighting! 

Red_squirrel_SZB_2024_1Red_squirrel_SZB_2024_1A red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) hangs on a branch of a birch tree in the forest of Sax-Zim Bog in northern Minnesota. Not much can top a wolf sighting, but another mammal that is a bit easier to photograph are the red squirrels. Abundant in the area, and a reason why martens and ermine are also abundant, they provide many opportunities for photographs while waiting for other birds and mammals.

If interested in visiting this birding hotspot and adding a few new species to your life list, join me next year for a return trip. Booked through Women in Wildlife Photography, there are still spots available for this womens-only adventure on the first set of dates (January 27-30, 2025). 
Sax-Zim Bog Birds and Mammals

I used my Nikon z7ii and Nikon 80-400mm lens with the z-adapter for many of the bird photos and the Nikon D850 and Nikon 24-70mm for the landscape image. All were handheld.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) bird great gray owl Minnesota nature nature photography owl photo photographer photography Sax-Zim Bog tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife winter https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2024/4/trip-report-birds-and-wildlife-of-sax-zim-bog Fri, 12 Apr 2024 17:33:28 GMT
Last Minute Tips for the Great American Solar Eclipse https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2024/4/last-minute-tips-for-the-great-american-solar-eclipse We are less than a week away from the Great American Solar Eclipse.

This will be the last total solar eclipse to pass over North America until August 2044. I missed photographing the last total solar eclipse in 2017 for a couple of reasons but I did capture this photo of people watching the eclipse on the lawn of The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. 

I don't want to miss this one but Mother Nature's weather dwarves seem to have something different in mind. 

I had plans to visit Texas for the eclipse on April 8 with a particular vision of a photo in my mind that I hoped to scout out this weekend. But the weather seems to be the worst along the path of totality in Texas so I am looking at other options before I hit the road. I have some new ideas for photos in Missouri now, where the weather is looking a little better.

And that is the challenge with any celestial photography – the weather must cooperate and you can't do a thing about it if it does not. 

So, as I pack my bags to hit the road, I thought I would share some last-minute tips to help you get the images you are envisioning. 

App for guiding you through the eclipse

Download the SET: Solar Eclipse Timer app onto your phone.

I didn't photograph the last total solar eclipse so I can't give any direction for using this app but it does walk you through the different stages of the eclipse and notifies you when you should change settings, helps you prep and has a practice session – a very important feature when you consider that totality only lasts a little more than four minutes. 

Make sure to test the settings BEFORE the day of the eclipse so you have it ready to go on game day. I'll be right there with you working through the demo.

Practice, practice, practice

You can't practice photographing the totality portion of the eclipse but you can practice photographing the sun. 

What lens will you use? Do you know where its sweet spot is for sharpness on something so far away? Do you want to photograph just the sun and the phases of the eclipse or do you want to capture a scenic image with the sun in the sky? The eclipse happens during the midday to early afternoon – does that align with the landscape image you have in mind or will the sun be too high? 

What equipment do you need? Are you doing one setup or two? Will you need extra tripods? Do you plan to do a time-lapse video? Will you use your cell phone for that video? If so, do you have a tripod to put your cell phone and a filter for the lens to protect it from the sun's harmful rays? Does you cell phone time out after so much time when doing a time-lapse video? Do you have your phone charged and is there enough space on it to record the whole eclipse? 

Equipment to photograph the eclipse

At a minimum you must have a special solar filter for the front of your lens/lenses. 

I bought two this year: one for my 24-70mm and one for my 80-400mm. Make sure you know the filter size for your lens.

One of the filters is a natural light and the other is a white light. Each will create a different color of the sun, giving me more variability in the images I produce. Both are from Mr Star Guy but not available on Amazon. Other options are available, like the K&F Concept 20-stop neutral density filter. There is a lot that goes into selecting the right filter for your lens and you should review your options before purchasing. Options like neutral density filters, solar filters, screw-on filters and the type that attaches to the end of your lens with external screws rather screwing on, like the Orion Solar Filter

At this point, unless you order off of Amazon, you may not have enough time to get the filter delivered in time. Try your local camera store for possible stock too. Hunt's Camera in the Boston area, Mike's Camera in the Colorado area, Pictureline in the Salt Lake City area, Precision Camera in the Austin area and Allen's Camera in the Philadelphia area are options to try. 

And remember to have a pair of solar viewing glasses as well. These should be certified ISO 12312-2 compliant solar eclipse glasses to ensure proper eye protection. No part of the eclipse except totality should be viewed without eye protection to block nearly all of the sun's infrared and ultraviolet light. This includes your camera equipment. 

Where to go

Nearly 32 million people live along the path of totality, compared to 12 million during the total solar eclipse in 2017. There are also 150 million people living within 200 miles of the path of totality. 

In 2017, during the last total solar eclipse in the U.S., NASA estimates that 215 million adults saw it directly or virtually. That number should be exceeded this year because of the path and the interest in the event since another total solar eclipse won't be experienced in the U.S. until August 2044.

You will be out there with a lot of your newest friends, and expect major traffic delays after the eclipse ends. Bring a chair, some snacks and water to enjoy the eclipse and wait out the traffic.

In Colorado, where I live, the path of totality does not pass through the state but much of the state will experience a 54 to 78 percent partial solar eclipse. For example, Estes Park, where I watched the eclipse in 2017, will experience the eclipse from about 11:30 a.m. to 1:53 p.m. reaching a maximum partial eclipse of about 60%.

There are two things to consider when planning where to go to watch the eclipse.

First, you must look at weather predictions. The National Weather Service (NWS) updates the forecast daily at 2 p.m. on their X/Twitter feed (@NWSWPC). Right now they are predicting the worst weather along the path of totality to happen in Texas and the best to be in the northeast (Vermont, Maine, upstate New York). Be flexible and ready to move to a new area as needed.

Second, look at the path of totality. NASA has an interactive map for the locations along the path of totality. Click on a location or enter a zip code and the information provided tells you the times for various phases of the eclipse, how long the eclipse lasts and the weather forecast. Think about crowds, access, restrooms and what kind of photograph you want to capture. Do you need a foreground subject or will just a wide-open sky be enough? 

Have fun with the eclipse. Enjoy the moment and remember to take in the whole experience. You don't have to just witness from behind a camera. 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) celestial eclipse Great American Solar Eclipse how to photograph nature outdoors photography solar eclipse tips total solar eclipse travel https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2024/4/last-minute-tips-for-the-great-american-solar-eclipse Thu, 04 Apr 2024 12:48:57 GMT
What I Wish I Had During the Trip https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2024/3/What-I-Wish-I-Had-During-the-Trip Striated_heron_Peru_2024_1Striated_heron_Peru_2024_1A silhouette of a striated heron (Butorides striata) looking up towards the sky against a glowing sunset sky in the Amazon Rainforest of Peru. My recent trip to Peru as one of the photo guides with Wildside Nature Tours was the second time I had visited this part of the world. We spent ten days in the Amazon Rainforest and along coastal towns looking for and photographing birds, primates, reptiles, insects and so many other unique animals. 

But it seems like each trip I take, I find something else I wish I had thought of, brought with me or was recommended by one of the other tour participants. This time, one of the most important things I regretted not preparing for was Permethrin. I knew I had some somewhere in the house from last year's trip but just hours before heading to the airport and I still couldn't find it. I relied on long pants and treated clothes, and it wasn't enough.

So, here are a few items that I found helpful to have, wish list items I purchased during the trip, and a few things I picked up after I returned home in preparation for my next trip to an international destination or anywhere I take my camera. 

Chance favors the prepared mind, or traveler, in this case. It is definitely a motto to live by.

Permethrin Insect Spray

The go-to insect repellent over the years has been Deet. I avoid Deet at all costs. I don't feel comfortable using the chemical on my skin, especially in destinations where I use it for multiple days or for multiple applications. It also can cause plastic to deteriorate, and that includes camera gear. Many of the buttons, dials, text and casings on camera gear are made with plastic and can either fade or actually break down when it comes in contact with Deet. 

But when I am in the outdoors, and I am in the outdoors a lot, the mosquitoes in particular jump for joy at my presence. Some of us are just magnets for blood-sucking insects. I am one of them, and I get a pretty bad reaction too. But I am not giving up my time outside – no matter where that is.

Instead, I go with natural solutions. Many natural solutions smell wonderful, avoiding that chemical smell sometimes found with Deet products, and they also usually provide a safer option for you. But many have to be reapplied multiple times.

What I have found works well, both for repelling insects and avoiding any damage to my camera gear is Permethrin. Prior to leaving for a trip, I will spray my clothes with this formula. This includes anything that I will wear outdoors – from my hat to my socks. 

When I am out in the field, I will spray again just to be sure, giving a quick spray over to reinforce that shield. 

I keep larger bottles of Sawyer Permethrin Insect Repellent Spray at home and then travel with smaller bottles of the same product from Sawyer. The larger bottles treat five complete outfits while the smaller ones treat two. The solution will stay on clothes for up to six weeks and six washes.

I put the travel bottles, which are too large to take on a carry-on bag, in a new Ziploc bag and then inside a pocket in my suitcase for travel. Remember to spray this away from people and gear when applying to avoid disturbing others or inadvertently spraying places like glass on lenses or eyeglasses.

Picardin Insect Lotion

For extra protection on areas that are exposed to water, sun or sweat, like hands, feet and neck, I use Sawyer Picardin Insect Lotion. This also travels with me and stays in my bag (inside another new Ziploc bag to avoid issues with leaks) when I am in the field. 

Travel Kit for the Field

This was a new addition for me after my trip to Peru last year. I purchased a small travel toiletry bag and then filled it with essential items to have in the field: money, a credit card, antacid, hand sanitizer, tissues, sunscreen, lip balm, antihistamines, anti-diarrheal and a pain reliever. 

When traveling in a different country, it can be difficult to find exactly what you need, especially if you don't speak the language. Instead, I keep a small supply of those go-to items should my stomach unexpectedly turn sour, I experience some heartburn, or those bug bites get just too numerous to handle (thus the systemic antihistamines – make sure it is non-drowsy). 

Having this in your camera bag gives you just a little insurance policy to have something with you without having to make an emergency stop, something that can be difficult in remote locations.

Please note that I am not a licensed nurse or physician. These are not directives on what to take for different conditions but just a representation of what I have with me in the field.

Passport Holder and Travel Wallet

Over the years, I have seen a lot of people carry these types of wallets. Slightly larger than the size of a passport, they really made a lot of sense. I travel with a small purse that is small enough to put inside of one of my carry-on bags. I had enough, however, on this trip with the keys and other miscellaneous stuff I had in that bag so I bought a passport holder as soon as I returned from Peru. What I found I absolutely love because it matches the lovely new backpack I bought in Peru. 

I mentioned to my fellow guide that I was looking for a backpack with some leather but brightly colored fabric iconic of what you find on woven goods in Peru. I looked all over Lima one afternoon and kept my eye out in other locations but never saw exactly what I had in mind. Then when I was in the Lima airport on my way to buy a drink, there was a shop with exactly what I envisioned. Problem was I had already gone through security and couldn't carry a third bag onto the plane. Never fear, silly me carried my winter coat (remember I live in Colorado and was traveling in winter) all the way to Peru so I had sleeves. Yes, I bought that bag and stuffed it into a sleeve to get it home. 

When I was home, I found a beautiful dark brown leather passport holder and travel wallet. It holds just the right number of cards, my license, money, the passport and has a slot for an Apple AirTag. (I also bought Apple Airtags for all of my bags prior to this trip to Peru. It was fun watching them travel through the airport baggage conveyors.)

Power Strip and Adapters

When traveling internationally, it is always important to have adapters for the outlets.

In the U.S., the outlets use 120 voltage and type A and type B plugs (the flat prongs with or without the ground prong). Every country is different so it is best to check the country where you are traveling. If the voltage is different in another country, like it is in Peru, where they have 110 to 220, you can fry electrical products. (Trust me, I know what happens when you use a curling iron on a different voltage. Not only will the appliance overheat, but your hair gets just a little fried too. Please forgive me; I was in high school at the time, and every teenager knows better, right?)

The plug type can also be different in shape, size and configuration.

I travel internationally with a universal kit. So far it has always had the right plugs but I do run into issues of not having enough adapters in certain situations, like when I am running my laptop, charging my phone and charging my watch. 

I now have an extra set of adapters and added a small power strip to my bag of travel supplies. 

Camera Battery Case

This is something I should have bought years ago. I have for the longest time used a Ziploc bag to hold my extra camera batteries. I change the bag out every once in a while when it gets beat up, doesn't zip or has a hole. I always thought of it as a great way to prevent the batteries from getting wet. 

The problem is that I always put the used batteries in my pocket, hoping to remember to charge them that evening. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don't. I have lost batteries this way too, a costly $90 mistake. And one time I even discovered a battery in a jacket pocket that I rarely use. It was like finding $90!

Today, however, there are many options for cases to hold batteries. So, when I saw one of the Peru participants have a great little case, I decided to pick up a couple when I returned. This one is the Nomatic Battery Case and it holds three batteries. It also comes with stickers to put on the bottom of each battery. When the battery is used, you place it upside down in the case. Not only does it sitting upside down signify that it is used but the sticker is a reminder that it has been depleted.

We shall see how they work after my next trip to Belize.

I hope these ideas are helpful for you for your future travels. If you are interested in joining me on a future tour, where I photograph from the arctic to the rainforest and everywhere in between, please visit my Photo Tours page on my website. All tours, except in Rocky Mountain National Park, are offered through other tour companies but the list is on that page of where I go. The tours in Rocky Mountain are booked through me, and include some fantastic opportunities like night skies and wildlife.

Please note that I may receive a commission on some products noted on this page at no additional cost to you. 

If you are interested in supporting my business, including giving me the opportunity to provide you with this helpful information, feel free to Buy Me a Coffee. Thank you for the support, and I'll see you on the next trip!

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) international nature photography photographer photographers photography products tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2024/3/What-I-Wish-I-Had-During-the-Trip Sun, 10 Mar 2024 20:04:24 GMT
Trip Report: Peruvian Amazon River Boat Tour https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2024/3/trip-report-peruvian-amazon-river-boat-tour Great_black_hawk_Peru_2024_1Great_black_hawk_Peru_2024_1A great black hawk (Buteogallus urubitinga) takes off from a green stalk in the Amazon Rainforest of Peru.

Ten days in Peru, including seven in the Peruvian Amazon, could take years to review and edit the photos. Although I only had 7,639 files from this trip compared to nearly 14,000 from last year's trip, that is still a lot of images to review. I am thrilled to have more than a dozen to share with you from this past trip in late February. (Check out the slide show of photos at the end of this post.)

This annual trip through Wildside Nature Tours, where I worked as an invited photo guide, starts off in Lima, Peru. The capitol of this South American country, Lima is a city of 11 million people along the Pacific Ocean. As our group arrived at our beautiful hotel that caters to foreign travelers, some participants ventured out on a hike to start their Peruvian bird list. I didn't have an opportunity to explore Lima last year so I instead opted for a little shopping, picking up a beautiful sweater made of baby alpaca wool – and found it marked down 40%!

LimaLimaA view of the city of Lima, Peru.

Day two involved the travel to Iquitos. The largest city in the Amazon region of Peru, Iquitos is a busy city of about half a million people but offers an eye-opening perspective on how families live in this remote part of Peru where the next closest city is 200 miles away. There are no roads into Iquitos, with all travel coming in by plane or along the Amazon River. 

This is where we joined our Amazon River boat, the Amatista, the first boat to ever offer nature tours along the 4,300-mile Amazon River. 

AmatistaAmatistaThe Amatista was our boat for the Amazon River tour.

The next seven days were spent exploring the Amazon River and the tributaries that flow into the massive waterway in two skiffs – one for photographers and one for birders. We also spent time at the headwaters of the Amazon River, made by the confluence of the Ucayali and Maranon Rivers, where the depth is 250 feet deep!

Each day was very different from the next, offering opportunities to see birds of jungle, wetlands, shoreline and other habitats. In total, our group saw or heard 295 bird species plus a wide variety of reptiles, amphibians, insects and mammals. We spotted pink dolphins, saddleback tamarins, squirrel monkeys, a cayman lizard, green iguanas, three-toed sloths and so much more. Birds included cocoi herons, roadside hawks, white-winged parakeets, black-capped donacobius, orange-winged parrots, red-capped cardinals, green-backed trogon, blue and gold macaws, a night jar, yellow-headed caracara and horned screamers just to name a few. We even saw several yellow crown rats, an animal I didn't even know existed. 

Pucusana_Harbor_Peru_2024_1Pucusana_Harbor_Peru_2024_1The Pucasana Harbor is full of colorful boats for fishing, diving and bird watching south of Lima, Peru.

We went on hikes to find anacondas and dart frogs. We had lunch with a local village, enjoying their traditional, homemade meal. We had breakfast on the skiff one morning as pink dolphins swam by. We looked for birds from the shores to the canopy. And we had a night boat ride, finding a few surprises in the darkness of the Amazon jungle where the sounds of the life around you is almost deafening. 

On day eight, we had to pack up and head back to Iquitos via the town of Nauta, where we had a tour of the Manatee Center. 

Our last day of the trip was spent exploring birding hotspots south of Lima. The first was a boat ride along the coast out of the fishing town of Pucusana. The goal was to find Humboldt penguins but no luck on this trip. We did, however, spot an unusual visitor to the harbor – a few marine otters. We also enjoyed seeing South American sea lions, Peruvian boobys, Inca terns and red-legged cormorants. 

American_oystercatcher_Peru_2024_1American_oystercatcher_Peru_2024_1An American oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus) flys across the beach at Pantanos de Beacha near Lima, Peru.

The final outing was to a beach and wetland area to spot some coastal and shore birds. This outing produced a few new birds for the list ad some great opportunities to photograph birds in flight above the waves of the Pacific Ocean. 

By the tenth day, we were pretty excited about the experiences of the previous week. One participant even mentioned she added at least 80 new birds to her life list!

Interestingly, this trip was quite different from last year's trip. We didn't see as many sloths as last year but we saw species this time that we never saw a year ago. The Amazon Rainforest is just that diverse.

If you have any interest in experiencing the beauty and diversity of this remote area, join us for our 2025 trip to the Amazon River region of Peru

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Amazon birds boat diversity dolphin nature photo photography rainforest reptiles river sloths tour travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2024/3/trip-report-peruvian-amazon-river-boat-tour Wed, 06 Mar 2024 06:10:06 GMT
Resolutions for Nature https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2024/1/resolutions-for-nature New Year’s Day marks many new beginnings — a new year, a new month, a new season as winter is very much in its infancy, and new goals. 

Many people use this time of year to set resolutions, a firm decision to do or not do something in the coming year, usually accompanied by some sort of target if it is to be successfully accomplished. 

For many, explore the outdoors, lose weight, increase time with family, reduce stress, save money or exercise more fall onto this list of resolutions. All worthy goals but how about adding in an element for nature too while aspiring to the challenges of change?

Here are ten ideas for nature-oriented goals that can also help save money, add exercise into a daily routine, spend more time with family and work towards a lower number when stepping on the scale.

Each small effort for nature can add up to much larger impacts. Considering that 2023 was the warmest year in recorded history and the 2030 goal of limiting global warming by 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels is quickly approaching, every little bit can help to achieve the larger, longer-term resolution to limit global warming.

Eat local

This may not seem like a big deal but there are several benefits, including supporting the local community, saving money on buying less that may go to waste and reduced fuel costs for locally purchased food with lower shipping costs. 

Reuse, reuse, reuse

Colorado is helping start the year off with this idea, as plastic bags are banned from use staring Jan. 1. There are many other options as well for reusing, such as reusable water bottles, coffee cups and bags. For those who can never remember to bring the bags into the store, find ones that stuff into themselves and then use carabiners to attach them to car keys, purse straps or something else always in the car. Or leave them in the car. Ring up groceries by not using bags in the checkout line but rather just putting them back in the cart and then filling the bags when unloading the cart at the car.

Walk or bike to work

This is an easy one to do in many towns today. With the popularity of encouraging people to be outdoors, many towns have created a network of trails throughout towns and cities. Walking or biking to work or to other events if work is too far saves gas money, helps towards the exercise goal and can assist with weight loss. Purchase a pair of spikes for the shoes to help with traction on ice or purchase a fat tire bike to get around town. Remember a warm face buff to keep the skin from the cold outside temperatures.

Eat leftovers

Yes, this sounds like Grandma reminding you that there are leftovers to eat in the fridge but preparing or buying a meal that can be split into two or even three portions will save calories at each meal, saves money on food and creates less waste. Casseroles, chili, pasta and soups all make great leftovers that heat well. These meal options are also hearty comfort food for a cold winter’s night. There are many cookbooks available for casseroles, soups and chili. Keep reusable containers in the kitchen that can be safe to microwave too.

Turn it off

Dads are always reminding kids to turn off those lights. There is something to that. It not only saves money but reduces electricity and light pollution. In addition to lights, consider unplugging from the wall — not just the light switch — any infrequently used appliances or electronics. Many have trickle charges or even worse, little glowing lights that use up energy over time. 

Hit the trail

Make a commitment to hike once a week. I conveniently write a weekly column for the Estes Park Trail-Gazette that helps with this goal by publishing a Hike of the Week column every Friday. Some of the trails are longer, more adventurous treks but most are local, easy or short. Making a commitment by putting a scheduled hike on the calendar with help with the success of this goal plus the time in nature will help reduce stress and the activity can help reduce weight. For those not in Colorado, check your local newspapers or hiking clubs for hikes in your area or check the local library for books about a particular area for hiking. In Colorado, I love the Falcon Guide series for books like Best Lake Hikes Colorado and Hiking Waterfalls Colorado.

Shop local

Typically, shopping local reduces fuel costs on shipping and saves a significant amount of packaging from places like Amazon. In more remote towns, like Estes Park or Jackson, Wyo., places like Dollar General, Ace Hardware, Safeway and Dollar Tree, will have a wide variety of supplies to pick up locally while buying online in bulk or combining orders into one shipment via Amazon, Chewy or Walmart will help save on packaging.

Make a habitat

This can be the most fun thing to do on this list as it can reduce stress, encourage time outdoors and be a source for learning. It may cost a little money to initially start a backyard habitat that encourages wildlife, insects and native plant species, but the long-term benefits outweigh the short-term impacts. Volunteers with local community gardens and garden clubs frequently give presentations around town about how to garden in your specific location or get involved with the organizations to learn how to start a backyard habitat full of butterflies, birds and bees in time for the spring and summer seasons. Books are available for reference, like The Backyard Bird Sanctuary, or add features like bee watering stations or bird houses to give wildlife the necessities of life, like shelter, water and native food, to attract them to the yard and garden.

This post contains links to affiliate pages. By clicking on these links, I may receive a portion of the sale at no additional cost to you to support my business and the work I do to provide information like this to you. 

If you would like to help in other ways, consider buying me a coffee to enjoy while writing these posts and articles. Thank you!

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) lost weight nature new year new year's resolutions resolution Resolutions near me save money tips for resolutions https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2024/1/resolutions-for-nature Tue, 02 Jan 2024 02:45:53 GMT
Favorite Photos of 2023 https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2023/12/favorite-photos-of-2023 As another year falls into the record books, it is time to reflect on the year's adventures and photos produced from that time outdoors. 

With the significant increase in writing this year, I spent a lot of time photographing content for those stories, and most of those photos captured events, museums, speakers and other such images outside of what I would call my favorite photographs. But as a result, as I look back, I also didn't spend a lot of time enjoying the outdoors as much as previous years or as much as I would have liked. 

But that is life, work and the pursuit of paying bills. I am happy to be working in an industry I am passionate. As I take a break between articles, I pulled together my favorite nine images from 2023. 

These nine represent not necessarily the best photos from the year — those images worth submitting to photo contests or magazines — but rather those photos that made me recall the time capturing them more than any other. To me, the stories behind the photos can really make the image into a good story, bringing together words and the image into one package. These photos represent those times over the year that have a unique story behind them that may not be visible just from the image itself. 

I hope you enjoy the images and the stories. This post doesn't include any affiliate links but if you enjoy these stories and would like to help support my work, you can buy me a coffee for those cold Colorado days.

Wishing you a very happy New Year and prosperous 2024!

Semi-palmated Plover

In June, I traveled to Nome, Alaska with a fellow photographer. Our goal was to scout as much as possible during our trip of the are in preparation for a workshop in 2024. I had previously been to Nome but only in the fall. This trip would be in early summer to coincide with the abundance of birds in the area as well as the opportunity to photograph baby muskox when they are still cute and small. 

There are only three roads out of Nome and all end in remote villages. The only way in and out of Nome to the rest of Alaska is by plane or boat. We explored each pretty extensively during our weeklong stay.

On one of the roads, we discovered a recreation area. While walking around, a semi-palmated plover caught our attention — or rather he kept trying to draw our attention away from the area. Turned out, his mate was on a nest. This pair was nesting on top of a small ridge covered in these adorable little pink tundra flowers. I couldn't help but wait for just the right moment when the bird walked along the ridge as I crouched down below him to photograph him walking through the color. 

Muskox Calves

This is one photo I really wish I had been better prepared to capture — or rather maybe just another five minutes of prep time.

Photographed in the Nome area again, my fellow photographer and I were returning from an all-night photo session. (We were in Nome near the longest day of the year, which gave us the opportunity to be out all night during the longest golden hour I had ever experienced.) As we approached town, we saw a herd of muskox on the side of the road. We pulled over, exhausted but not willing to lose a chance with these amazing beasts, and as we did, the calves lined up on the side of the road. A minute or two earlier would have allowed me to set my camera up a little better and get into a better position but oh my, how can you not resist those adorable faces!

Three-toed Sloth Baby

In February, I had the amazing opportunity to work as a guide for a photo tour to the Amazon Rainforest of Peru. 

The ten-day trip was an unbelievable experience where I came home with nearly 14,000 files to review and edit (I will be working on those photos for a long time). 

Although we saw so much diversity, including 320 different species of birds, seven different species of primates, at least one sloth a day and quite a few sightings of snakes and interesting insects, it was the one baby sloth that we saw that captured my heart. 

Western Grebe

In July, I discovered a western grebe nest while walking my dog. It was close enough to my home that I could watch it on a daily basis. 

Although I had seen the pair courting each other, with neck stretches and swimming activities, it wasn't until the nest building started that I took a distinct interest in the daily changes. As one sat on the nest, the other would bring in new pieces of grass and reeds. The one on the nest would carefully place it in just the right spot. Then a storm came through and the heavy rains damaged the nest, causing more repairs and work by the birds. Sometimes I also caught them calling out to each other and performing more pair-bonding activities.

Based on when I first saw the nest, I anticipated the eggs, of which there were three, to hatch around the week of July 16. But on the night of July 10, something happened to those eggs. They were not there in the morning and although I do not know exactly what happened, my suspicion is on the neighborhood raccoons as the culprit to the demise of the eggs. 

The light was tough with the nest, never facing east or west but rather north and south so the light always seemed to be coming from the wrong direction. I found cloudy days to be the best to photograph the nest and it was a wonderful opportunity even if it was short-lived and never produced chicks.

Great Blue Heron

At the same lake as the grebes, there were numerous great blue herons from spring into the fall. The lake was quite shallow for much of the spring and early part of the summer season, creating a perfect place for the herons to fish. 

Using their usual stalk and stab hunting method, the birds would wade in the shallow east end of the lake for the most success. 

On one morning, a cold, damp fog had moved in across the area. The stillness was heavy in the air. The fog, cloudy weather and absolutely still air caused the water to look like glass. 

I sat on the edge the lake as calmly as possible and for over an hour photographed these birds hunting. I loved the high key effect created by the unusual weather conditions. 

Fall in the San Juans

Every year I block a 10-day window for fall color photography. This year was no different. Also what was no different is that the ten days went to six, then five, then three. That was all I could manage to squeeze in of my favorite season.

We took a whirlwind trip across Colorado, spending a night near Cottonwood Pass for tundra colors and night photography, then a morning hike to an alpine lake I had been eyeing up for several years before heading farther south towards Ridgway. 

Although we didn't have a ton of great skies during the three-day trip (bluebird skies are nice until you want to photograph some clouds), the colors were fantastic — both in the trees and in the sky on this one sunset evening. 

Thanks to a friend who warned us about the crowds on one road, we heeded his advice and went to another location. There wasn't another soul in sight and we had this stunning view of the Sneffels Range all to ourselves.

Northern Lights in Rocky Mountain National Park

The Northern Lights run in an approximately 11-year cycle. We are currently approaching the peak of the cycle when the light shows should become stronger and more intense. 

That was definitely the case several times this year as I photographed them at least three times from the Lower 48 states and I know there were other evenings that I missed the colorful light shows even as far south as Colorado.

In April, I was out on a night photo tour with a client. I knew there was a four forecast for the Lights but the goal was his photography and he said he was not interested in the Auroras. I thought he was crazy and explained how rare it was to see them this far south in Colorado but it was his night out.  

We spent the whole evening out and whenever I could find a minute or two, I pointed my camera north to photograph the Lights. They were so strong that night that I could see them with my naked eye — not hugely visible or what you might see in Alaska but there was definite color dancing in the sky.

About 2 or 3 in the morning, we visited Sprague Lake to photograph the Milky Way and the stars. While we were there, I set up the camera facing north and then went back to help him with his images facing south. 

It wasn't until I downloaded the photos the next day that I found this stunning image of the Northern Lights mixed with the amber glow of light pollution on the lenticular cloud. 

I saw the client about a week later. He showed me his photo of the Northern Lights that he captured. I chuckled as I saw the big smile on his face from that unique photograph. Glad he listened, even if he didn't admit to me that night. 

The Headdress

Every year, during the fall elk rut, I hope to capture an image or two of a bull with a headdress. These are the bunches of grasses, branches, twigs and other vegetation the bulls get into their antlers and then prance around to impress the cows. I don't know if it works but they sure do try hard every year. 

It isn't always easy. The stuff doesn't usually stay in the antlers long. 

This was one of the bigger bulls this year and when I saw him thrashing his antlers around in an area I know to be marshy, I knew he would come up with something, I just wasn't expecting it to be quite this impressive. And then he gave that look, that googly-eyed look the bulls do during the rut. What a look!

      The Moose and the Bear

This is one of those perfect examples of photos that may not catch the eye of the viewer but the story behind them is quite interesting. 

I was out with another client in Rocky Mountain National Park in August. We focused on going to the west side early in the morning looking for moose. As we approached Milner Pass, there was a cow and her calf eating in the tundra willows. We stopped and photographed this pair on a the cool, damp morning. 

The client decided he wanted a longer lens so we went back to the car. As we turned around to go back, the cow and calf were gone, or so we thought. 

All of a sudden we see the cow and the calf come darting out of the forest. They ran our direction, over the hill, past us and then across the road into the forest on the other side. 

The client was so upset that we had done something to startle her but I knew we had not. We didn't approach and we were so quiet. 

So, I looked back. Something must have spooked her. And then I saw it, a dark shadow in the trees just past the edge of the forest.

My first thought was a bull moose. It was close to the beginning of rut season so maybe a bull started his courtship. 

But then the shadow moved into an open area. It was a black bear! 

The client started to turn and run. I quickly grabbed his arm and told him you never run from a bear. As I calmed him down, I reassured him that the bear was more than a safe distance away and he had just put his longest lens on his camera. With a bit of cropping, he could capture a decent photo if he acted quickly. 

We watched the bear move in and out of the forest edge along what I knew was a game trail in the area. The bear popped out one more time before heading up and over the mountain. 

As with the previous client and the Northern Lights, I looked at this client to see that big smile I love so much when I have people witnessing nature and making experiences of a lifetime. 

This post doesn't include any affiliate links but if you would like to help support my work, you can buy me a coffee for those cold Colorado days.

 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) best of 2023 best photographs of 2023 favorite photographs of 2023 gallery near me nature nature photography photo photographer near me photography travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2023/12/favorite-photos-of-2023 Sat, 30 Dec 2023 17:40:27 GMT
Photographing Christmas Lights https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2023/12/photographing-christmas-lights There are only ten days left to catch the glow in photos of Christmas lights. 

We haven't had many opportunities in Colorado to photograph the lights with fresh snow. A bit of a bummer but it happens in these drier years. 

I spent many nights trying to catch just the right looks for photos of Christmas lights. The conditions didn't always work in my favor — fog one night, lack of snow another, heavy clouds on more nights than not. But overall, it was a fun season trying a few new things. Here are some ideas for you as we wrap up the year and you look for something to photograph over the next week. 

People with Christmas lights

All that color produces great opportunities to photograph silhouettes of people against the lights. When you visit one of the public displays, like the Winter Wonderlights in Loveland or the Garden of Lights in Fort Collins (both in northern Colorado), you can't escape having people around. 

Instead, embrace the opportunity, expose for the lights and make a silhouette of the people. To capture a silhouette, make sure your shutter speed is fast enough freeze any movement of the people. You may have to up the ISO quite a bit or open up the aperture. The latter shouldn't be too much of an issue for depth of field if the lights and people are close to each other because the background at night drops off into darkness anyway. 

The alternative option is to use a slow shutter speed and then let the people "move" through the photo. They blurred motion will create the sense of movement while still showing that people are present yet not reveal who they are. 

Framing people, and objects, in Christmas lights makes for a beautiful Christmas portrait. Use a shallow depth of field and the Christmas lights for illuminating the face and the background will drop off with lots of glowing light and the person's face will have a soft glow on it. This works for pets too.

Finally, since most Christmas displays do not move, you can use a very, very slow shutter speed with moving people. If they are in dark clothes (avoiding colors like white or yellow), they actually will just about disappear in the image. 

Get creative

There are many options for capturing photos of lights — up close, wide angle, shallow depth of field. 

But how about trying some intentional camera movement. Pick a focal point and then zoom in and out. Or move the camera around in various movements. The options really are endless here but it will take many, many tries to find something that is appealing and really gets the movement right.

Another option is to shoot the lights intentionally out of focus. This technique will create lots of glowing orbs of color, perfect for a background image or just a representation of the season's color. 

You can also try a multiple exposure. Many newer cameras have this in-camera feature where you combine multiple frames into one abstract image. I know on my camera it does create a jpg file rather than a RAW file, one of the downsides, but it is something fun to play with on something stationary like Christmas lights. This photo captured the same subject but I walked in to take a series of six frames at different distances.

Scenic images

Photographing scenes of Christmas lights has many of the same challenges as night photography. The ambient light is too dark for stopped down apertures so you have to use settings on your camera that seem counterintuitive of landscape photography. 

Go wide open, like f3.2 or f4 and be far from subjects. Remember to remove filters from your lens, as leaving them on will reduce the light hitting the sensor. And use a long shutter speed. All of this requires using a tripod and remote shutter as well. 

Another alternative I prefer is to photograph Christmas lights during the blue hour. This allows you to have enough light to still shoot in a stopped down aperture (f16 being my preference for my 24-70mm lens) while having some color in the sky rather than just a dark black area. Often you can pick up a few stars too.

And Christmas lights make great reflections in water and ice. Look for those light displays set near water — frozen, thawed or flowing — and find the angle needed to capture the lights plus the reflection. 

There are times when tripods just aren't feasible when photographing Christmas lights. Parades are a perfect example. In these situations, the only option really is to open up that aperture and boost the ISO as high as you need to go and then use noise reduction software, like Topaz AI or Topaz DeNoise, to bring that noise back into a reasonable range. 

Watch the highlights

With any photo of Christmas lights, the challenge is watching that you don't blow out the highlights. Especially on the long exposures, white lights in particular can be a challenge. If the opportunity is available, try photographing a few frames at a few different exposures, like this photograph of The Stanley Hotel. I wanted the dark blue sky above Lumpy Ridge but when I exposed long enough to get the sky and detail in the rocky ridge, the lights on the hotel blew out. Instead, I captured two frames, one exposed for the sky and mountains and one exposed for the hotel, and then blended the layers in Photoshop. 

The final image now shows off the lovely complementary colors of the blue sky and gold tone of the lights.

Have a wonderful time photographing the last of the holiday lights. Hopefully you can capture a few with falling snow.

Merry Christmas!

This post doesn't include any affiliate links but if you would like to help support my work, you can buy me a coffee for those cold Colorado days.
 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) astrophotography christmas holidays lights photo photo tips photographer photography tips tips for nature photographers travel https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2023/12/photographing-christmas-lights Fri, 22 Dec 2023 19:30:34 GMT
Winter Photo Tips: Part 3 — Taking Photos https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2023/12/winter-photo-tips-part-3-taking-photos RMNP_winter_landscape_2019_1RMNP_winter_landscape_2019_1A winter landscape in spring in Moraine Park in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Now that you and your car have everything needed to stay safe and warm when outdoors this winter, let's talk about how to take those stunning winter images. 

Most people actually prefer landscape images of spring through fall. Winter can give a feeling of cold in a home and many people don't visit places in this season so it makes sense that these images don't come with the attraction of the other three seasons. 

So, find a way to make those landscape images feel warm. Look for scenes during the blue hour when even the slightest color of sunset or glowing light in a building will complement the blue tones in the sky.

Continental_Divide_pano_RMNP_2022_1Continental_Divide_pano_RMNP_2022_1A panoramic view of the Continenta Divide in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado at sunrise after a fresh snow. Another option is to photograph wildlife. White animals on a white landscape are some of the most intriguing and stunning photographs of animals. Another benefit of photographing wildlife in winter is that animals pop out on a white landscape. A coyote that blends into the tall, brown grasses in late summer all of a sudden becomes a distinct character on the white landscape. A bull elk walking through a meadow freshly dusted with snow creates an environmental portrait even the most hardened cringer of cold temperatures will appreciate. Finding an animal peaking over a snow bank can create an ethereal scene of soft snow framing your subject.

Arctic_Fox_2Arctic_Fox_2An arctic fox (Alopex lagopus) lies on a snowy rock while licking his lips near Churchill, Manitob, Canada.

Winter, especially in Colorado, really requires finding snowy landscapes. Without the fresh white blanket across a scene, the image can look dull, overly brown and uninteresting. Plus, those scenes can feel like they lack life because the trees are leafless, grasses are dull and lifeless, and flowers are just seed pods. 

But winter can also bring more wind so the best time to head out is immediately after a snowstorm. 

Bison_YNP_2016_7Bison_YNP_2016_7A bull bison (Bos bison) walks through the deep snow in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Watch the weather forecast, looking for a day when the storm subsides overnight. This clearing weather, just like any other time of year, can provide beautiful clouds at sunrise. Remember to look at the weather to the east of where you want to shoot too. Weather patterns move west to east, so if the storm hasn't moved out far enough, the clouds will block the light from reaching your western skies. 

Winter also provides a different color palette, especially on particularly cold mornings. In summer, there may be more reds and oranges, but in winter, when the cold temperatures create more frozen particles in the air, the colors turn more to pastel pinks and blues. This is especially noticeable at sunrise when the alpenglow on the snow-capped mountains makes some of the pinkest scenes I have ever seen.

Pano_Lake_Estes_winter_2017_1Pano_Lake_Estes_winter_2017_1A panoramic photo of Lake Estes and downtown Estes Park looking east as the sun crests the mountains.

Finally, winter weather arriving on the shoulder seasons can create interesting ice formations. Before water freezes and as it starts to thaw, the rise and fall of warm temperatures in late fall and spring or on sunny days can warm the water. Warm water free of ice can create surface fog if the temperatures drop low enough. That fog can condense on surfaces, coating trees, leaves, grasses and other natural elements with rime ice and hoar frost. Places like Caddo Lake on the Texas-Louisiana border, Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico and even Lake Estes in Estes Park where the flowing river and power plant keep the water moving, preventing ice from forming, all have open water and drastic temperature changes for those foggy morning scenes.

Brown-capped_rosy_finch_MVC_1Brown-capped_rosy_finch_MVC_1A brown-capped rosy finch (Leucosticte australis) looks right at the camera while foraging for food on a snowy landscape in Colorado State Forest State Park near Walden, Colorado

To photograph white winter scenes, keep in mind that the camera's automatic exposure will want to create an 18 percent gray scene. That makes snow dull and underexposed. To overcome this, set the camera for one to two stops of additional light to make the snow brighter white. Just watch the histogram and highlight alerts to make sure the whites do not become overexposed and turn to pure white. Losing that detail in the whites is unrecoverable in post processing. 

And when looking at the histogram, you will want to shoot for a bell curve that sits pretty far to the right but doesn't spike out — spikes show blown out highlights. A lot of white in a scene will create a histogram curve that appears overexposed, which is what you want to avoid the gray snow. 

Have fun playing in the snow. 

This post doesn't include any affiliate links but if you would like to help support my work, you can buy me a coffee for those cold Colorado days.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado landscape nature nature photography photograph photographer photography snow tips tips for nature photographers travel white wildlife winter https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2023/12/winter-photo-tips-part-3-taking-photos Wed, 20 Dec 2023 03:51:43 GMT
Winter Photo Tips: Part 2 - Clothing https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2023/11/winter-photo-tips-part-2-clothing Sunset_Clouds_Over_Longs_RMNP_2022_1Sunset_Clouds_Over_Longs_RMNP_2022_1A dramatic sky closes out a spring day above Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Now that your car is ready to go (See Winter Photo Tips: Part 1: Your Car) and you have the supplies you need stashed away in your vehicle for winter travel, let's take a look at what you should have on you to stay warm and safe. Winter seems to have finally arrived in Colorado — we had several days of snow this weekend and the temperatures will hover below freezing for much of the next week. Time to break out and update your winter essentials for staying warm.


First, let's start with outerwear. 

Winter outerwear can vary quite a bit depending on how much activity you are doing (ie., hiking, standing, sitting in a car) and how cold the temperatures will drop. You also need to consider how warm you run. Some people get cold easily while others, like me, feel more comfortable in cooler temperatures. 

For places like Yellowstone, Churchill and Alaska in winter, my list of gear includes the best of the best for cold weather. This includes consideration for wind and damp conditions.

My coat is a Lands End parka with hood edged with faux fur. The coat is long enough to cover my bum so when I sit, I stay dry and warm.

If I need a waterproof outer layer for my bottoms, I top the fleece-lined pants with an oversized pair of snow pants or oversized rain pants. 

If I need the extra warmth, I add a base layer. Currently I use the North Face fleece-lined leggings or try this option on Amazon. A silk base layer works well too.

Next, let's look at footwear. 

If your feet, and your head and extremities (I discuss that below), are cold, the rest of your body will feel cold too, no matter how heavy of a coat you are wearing. 

When I am in extreme winter locations, like Yellowstone, I go with Muck Boots Arctic. Some people I know like the Mukluks, a stylish winter boot worn by Inuit people of northern regions and made in Minnesota, but I cannot personally speak one way or another on them — they are really cute though. 

When exploring around Colorado, like on snowshoes or going out for local photo opportunities, I rely on my Lowa Renegade hiking boots. They are not the warmest boots for really cold days but if I am just in a car or out snowshoeing, they do the trick very well. Keep them conditioned so they stay waterproof and the snow doesn't dry out the leather. Microspikes_RMNP_2022_1Microspikes_RMNP_2022_1A view looking down tot he microspikes on the feet of a hiker while standing on ice in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

A good pair of Merino wool socks is essential inside of the boots. Just make sure they are not too thick because if the circulation is cut off or reduced in your feet, they will still be cold. My favorite brands are Darn Tough (can't beat that lifetime warranty; they run small so buy a size larger than normal if your foot size is a borderline sock size) and Smartwool (gotta love those Colorado companies!). 

Pro tip: Buy a foam kneeling pad, the type gardeners use, to stand on when out in the snow. It creates a layer between your feet and the snow, giving you an extra layer of insulation from the cold ground. They are super light so if you have the space in a suitcase, they travel well. And definitely leave one in your vehicle.

For clothing, there are so many options. These are the items I have found work very well for me and as a result, I have stuck with just a few items but have purchased multiples of each since they have proven time and again to be the best option to keep me warm – from summer mornings at high elevation to the coldest days of winter in Colorado, Wyoming and Alaska. 

Tops: I don't like to feel bulked up like Randy from A Christmas Story when going out in the cold. Thin base layers, like Capilene products from Patagonia, work well and don't create that bulky feel. I also really like the base layer from Eddie Bauer, which is soft on the inside and has held up well after multiple washings. I pair a base layer with a fleece top, typically the 1/4-zip Fleece Essentials from Amazon. (Who knew, right?) I have multiple colors, you can't beat the price and they too have worn well after multiple washings. Snowshoes_IPW_2021_4Snowshoes_IPW_2021_4A view looking down at a pair of feet in hiking boots and snowshoes standing on snow in Colorado.

Bottoms: Again, Eddie Bauer has done a fantastic job with making my favorite hiking pants into a winter version. The fleece-lined Guide Pro Pants are all I wear in the winter. I rarely need more than this, as the fleece is soft and warm and the outer layer drys quickly and seems stain resistant. 

And finally, the outer extremities, like head and hands, need to stay warm as they are most prone to frostbite and when hands, nose or feet (see footwear above) feel cold, you will start to feel miserable when outdoors. For my hands, I have struggled (and apparently a lot of other people have as well based on how many questions I receive about what gloves I use) to find just the right setup to keep them warm. So far, the best combination I have found is to wear a liner glove with a fleece flip-top mitten over the liner and then add a Hot Hand warmer between the two gloves. I have a couple of other gloves that I use on occasion but haven't felt like they were exactly what I wanted but they work very well in a pinch or extreme colds like in Yellowstone National Park and Churchill, Canada. 

- Liner glove: Sitka liner or The Heat Company liner
- Outer fleece glove: hunter glove
- Hot hands
- Other options: The Heat Company outer glove is definitely warm and has some unique features, like a zipped pocket for Hot Hands, but I find the zipper to be in the wrong location when flipped back and the zipper is not a quick option for popping the top when the action starts to happen and I need to quickly shoot the subject, preferring a glove with a magnet to hold the flip-top back. (Velcro is another option but can be noisy, which is not good when photographing wildlife.) They are also very pricey. There are also electric gloves; I have the Matkao heated gloves. These too are wonderful for keeping your hands warm (keep it on low setting for a nice constant warmth that doesn't drain the battery as quickly) but the batteries are a bit bulky and clunky around your wrist. 

Keeping your head warm is as simple as finding a warm wool hat. Remember that cotton easily gets wet and doesn't dry quickly. Fleece hats are great for temperatures that aren't quite as extreme. My favorite combination is a wool hat with a fleece lining. I can't stand an itchy hat on my forehead; the fleece lining seems to solve this scratchy issue. My favorite hats are those from Sherpa and Turtle Fur. 

And finally, a neck warmer is a must in your bag. If you really want to be stylish, go with a Qiviut neck warmer. Made out of muskox fur, which is considered to be the warmest wool on the planet, it is super soft, extremely light and supports local knitters in Alaska. For a more practical option, I go with a fleece-lined Buff. I keep one in each of my camera bags. They are quite versatile, being used not just for keeping the neck warm but pull it up to your nose, and it becomes a face mask. Pull it around the back of your head and it keeps your ears warm too. 

And don't forget the other cold-season essentials like lip balm (avoid balms with menthol and salicylic acid as they will actually dry out the lips) with soothing natural ingredients like beeswax and shea butter. I have a stick of Burt's Bees lip balm in each of my jackets. Sunscreen with a moisturizer is also an important item to keep with you in winter to protect and hydrate your skin. The sun reflecting off of the snow can be as bad or worse than the rays from the sun reflecting off of water in the summer and winter winds will quickly dry skin. And continue to drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated will help prevent cracked hands and lips plus help with energy levels. 

NOTE: Links in this article may connect to affiliate partners where I may receive a portion of sales at no additional cost to you. This additional income helps me keep my business running and continue to provide helpful information for you.

Want to help even more? Buy me a coffee for those cold winter mornings.

 

 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) clothing cold Colorado nature nature photography outdoors photo photograph photographer photographers photography tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife winter https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2023/11/winter-photo-tips-part-2-clothing Sun, 26 Nov 2023 21:17:54 GMT
Cyber Week Deals for Photographers https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2023/11/cyber-week-deals-for-photographers The holiday season officially arrived yesterday. As we sat with family and friends eating turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie, retailers were busy setting up their holiday specials for Cyber Week. Black Friday used to be the one day with some of the best deals of the year, but since the Internet made it easier to shop for deals from retailers near and far, the one day has turned into a long weekend (a weeklong event for some) sale - but still with the best deals of the year. Here are a few I took advantage of this morning and a few others that you may find helpful as a nature photographer. 

NOTE: Some of the links in this post link to affiliate retailers and I may receive a small portion of any purchases at no additional cost to you. This allows me to continue providing you with the helpful information I enjoy sharing to help you improve your photography experience. 

Lowa Renegade Hiking Boots at MooseJaw

These are my absolute favorite hiking boots. I think I am up to my 15th pair. My last pair still sits in a plastic bag waiting for me to clean the poison ivy oils off of the leather so I have been wearing my previous pair. (I walked through way too much of the stuff this past spring while looking for birds in Ohio and I am crazy allergic to the stuff to take a chance; stay tuned for the video about how to clean that rash-causing oil off of boots in the coming weeks.) I always keep my old pair around just in case I need them for situations like this — poison ivy, dunked in water and waiting for my current pair to dry, extra pair in the car, etc. So I have been using them in the meantime but I used them literally until the seams busted. The soles are wearing holes, the threads are breaking and I punctured a hole through the leather recently. I desperately needed another pair. (To be fair to Lowa, these issues are nothing to do with the quality — or maybe a great representation of their quality to get this much use out of them. I probably have 1000 miles on these boots, which I bought in I think 2020 and wear almost daily.)

These boots are extremely popular, even considering their high price tag, so they rarely go on sale. I found a sale this morning on MooseJaw for 20 to 30% off a pair. When I saw the inclusion of these boots in the sale, I decided to take advantage of it even knowing this is the last thing I should be buying right now. At least my pinky toe will no longer be hanging out the side of my boot. The discounted price depends on which color you purchase. Older color combinations are less expensive, but I don't care about that in the least. Plus, they are offering free shipping. (Microspikes not included. See Amazon section below for Black Friday sales on footwear traction devices.)

Women's Lowa Renegade

Men's Lowa Renegade

Amazon Deals

I filled yet another hard drive this week. This time it was my SSD that holds my LightRoom catalog. (I really should spend some time to clean up old photos!)

I jumped on Amazon knowing that there would be some Black Friday sales. Not only did I find an amazing price for an SSD, but I discovered a couple other items on sale I would love to try out for my own photography and outdoor adventures. 

- SanDisk 2TB Extreme Portable SSD: You can never have enough hard drives if you take photos in the quantity I do or if you enjoy the benefits of the new frames-per-second rates that mirrorless cameras have these days. This drive also comes in a 4TB option. Don't forget to buy two so you have the same size and stability for a backup. $99.99 Black Friday Deal

- Kahtoola Microspikes: As I write this, the snow is falling outside. We are supposed to receive up to a foot of snow in some places in northern Colorado by tomorrow morning. Snowshoes, spikes and Yaktrax will become a necessity now through April at least in Colorado and other mountain regions for anyone enjoying the outdoors. These make a great gift for someone who likes to hike or even for the person who wants to stay safe when walking a dog on snowy and icy paths. 20% off for Black Friday (See photo above of micro-spikes on the Lowa Renegade boots.)

- Nature books: There are so many great titles out there for folks who enjoy reading about nature, especially in winter when it might just be a little too cold or windy outside. Check out one or all of these great reads, all available on Amazon. Several of these titles are available as hardback books and a couple are available as audiobooks. (Prices are all Black Friday deals or current prices.)

       • What an Owl Knows by Jennifer Ackerman: this is the latest title from one of my favorite nature authors, this time delving into the latest research about owls; $17.59 for hardcover
       • Edge of the Map by Johanna Garton: the true-life story of the perseverance of mountain climber Christine Boskoff, $19.95; audiobook free with Amazon Prime
       • Echo Loba, Loba Echo by Sonja Swift: a look at the many facets of the misunderstood and amazing wolf, $26.64
       • Our Little Farm by Peter and Miriam Wohlleben: take a walk into this family's adventures in sustainable living, $21.53
       • Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake: learn about the mysterious world of fungi, $7.73 for paperback

- Binoculars: Anyone who watches wildlife — whether that is birds, elk, brown bears or backyard squirrels — should have a good pair of binoculars. There is a lot to know about them (blog post coming in the coming days about how to pick a pair) but this pair — Nikon Monarchs - are my favorite, especially for the price. To take advantage of a Black Friday deal, check out this pair — Celestron Nature DX 8x42 — listed at $100.00 on Amazon. 

- Fleece Pullover: I can never have enough of these pullovers (I am currently up to three and just ordered another in black). With a front zip pocket and thick fleece that seems to be holding up very well after many washes, this Amazon Essentials 1/4-Zip Fleece keeps me warm when photographing in the cold. $20.90 Black Friday deal

- Wireless Headphones: I have worked from home since before the pandemic. Since then, my partner now also stays home most days. He watches a lot of tv. I found the only way I could focus was to block out the noise at home, and since then I have discovered that these headphones — the Sony WH-1000 XM4 Wireless Headphones — work wonders in coffee shops, airplanes and any place where I need a little quiet to get my work finished. $248.00 Black Friday deal

- Guide Pro Pants from Eddie Bauer: This is another item that I have multiples of for wearing on hikes, photo tours and photo excursions. I also have them in a variety of styles: fleece-lined for the winter, cropped for the summer and full length for the rest of the year. These pants fit great, have held up very well, are comfortable, fit well and dry super quick. 

Happy shopping!

Want to support my work in other ways? Buy me a coffee! Thank you!

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) amazon binocular Black Friday Black Friday sale Christmas cyber Monday cyber week sale gifts headphones holidays Lowa Lowa renegade nature nature photography outdoor clothing photo photographer photography sale travel https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2023/11/cyber-week-deals-for-photographers Fri, 24 Nov 2023 19:26:40 GMT
Winter Photo Tips: Part 1 - Your Car https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2023/10/winter-photo-tips-car Wow, the weather in Colorado went from wearing crop pants in 80-degree temperatures to sporting the arctic coat and playing in snow in the matter of ten days! I love it!

American_coot_2American_coot_2Four American coots (Fulica americana) create reflections in the water as they stand on the edge of the ice on a cloudy day at Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area near Salt Lake City, Utah.

All this snow and ice now has me itching to photograph those critters on snowy landscapes. I recently added my winter wildlife Post-it to my wall of ideas of what to photograph in the coming months: bighorn sheep, bald eagles, ducks, scrub jays, white-tailed ptarmigan, American dippers, Stellar's jays and snowshoe hares. Looks like another great winter season coming. 

So, now that the cold weather has arrived, how do you prep your gear, your clothing and your vehicle for snowy outings? Here is the first in a three-part series about gear and preparation tips for winter photography so you are ready to go BEFORE the weather really sticks around. This post discusses prep for the car.

First, check those tires. In Colorado, there is a state law — the Passenger Vehicle Traction Law — that can be implemented by Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT; and I have seen Rocky Mountain National Park implement it too) any time there is snow and ice on the roads. The law requires all drivers of passenger vehicles to have an AWD or 4WD vehicle and 3/16" tread depth. (For more information about the law, visit CDOT.) That is about the depth of the edge to Abe Lincoln's head on a penny. (For more information about how to use the penny test, visit Bridgestone's website. Just remember that they use the 2/32" U.S. recommended tread, which is less than 3/16" required in Colorado.) 

Which tires do I use? I go through about a set of tires a year — yes, sadly I buy a lot of tires — and usually put them on in the fall just before weather starts to get really bad. The last set I installed was the Falken WildPeak A/T Trail, and although they are only rated as a better tire and I didn't get the 65,000 miles out of them the manufacturer said I should, I was very impressed with how they handled in the snow last season. 

Next, make sure you have the proper items in your vehicle for an emergency out in the cold. Living in Colorado, I leave most of these in the car all year long. Items include:

snow/ice scraper : go for the one with a brush and scraper
blanket  : this is a great blanket perfect for a cold Colorado day
- extra pair of socks : I have a few pairs of these Colorado-themed socks — perfect to get you into the mountain spirit 
- extra pair of boots : I love my Lowa Renegade hiking boots and I keep my old pair in my vehicle for those emergencies
- extra jacket : because you just never know when the temperatures might drop 20, 30 or 40 degrees in one day
flashlight with extra batteries : I go with headlamps for hands-free use
- jumper cables or a battery jump/charger : this should be in your vehicle all year
- foot traction : I keep Yaktrax and micro spikes in my vehicle as soon as the snow starts falling in the mountains
- first-aid kit : like a few things on this list, this should be in your car all year long
- water and a tow strap are also recommended by CDOT although I have had trouble keeping water because of the freeze-thaw issue
- plastic container to store it all : must stay organized! Find one that stacks, so you can keep one for each season, and has a front door and top lid for easy access.

Finally, check the fluids in your vehicle. Double check the anti-freeze, oil levels and windshield washer fluid as well as your wiper blades — front and back, if applicable. Have a maintenance team check your brakes and battery. Check all of the lights to make sure none are burned out. And if the forecast looks iffy, try to keep a full tank of gas. More gas you have, the longer you can keep the heater running if you are stuck. Plus it adds more weight on the tires. 

Have fun in the snow, and check back soon for part two of this series where I will discuss clothing for photographing in winter.

NOTE: Links in this article may take you to an affiliate website. I may receive a portion of the sales yet it costs nothing additional for you. Thank you for supporting my business so I can keep providing you with helpful information about enjoying the outdoors. The products linked in this article are recommendations from products I have used but do not represent an endorsement. Purchases are at your own risk. Please research products for proper size, fit and personal uses.

Want to help even more? Buy me a coffee for those cold Colorado days.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) car cold Colorado ice nature nature photography photo photographer photography snow tips tips for nature photographers travel vehicle weather wildlife winter https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2023/10/winter-photo-tips-car Mon, 30 Oct 2023 19:19:16 GMT
Photo Tips for Late Season Fall Photography https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2023/10/photo-tips-for-late-season-fall-photography Mariana_Butte_sunrise_Loveland_2022_1Mariana_Butte_sunrise_Loveland_2022_1A dramatic sunrise fills the sky above western Loveland, Colorado during the peak of fall colors.

The aspen groves of the high country may be past their prime for fall colors but there is still plenty of time to photograph colorful trees in and near the urban corridor. 

Although fall colors may only last about two weeks in the popular Colorado locations, the entire season extends from the end of August on the tundra to the end of October for the Front Range. Now is the time to catch the colors in the lower elevations where deer and bighorn sheep may be set against yellow backgrounds and urban parks glow in warm hues.

Bighorn_sheep_Waterton_2019_11Bighorn_sheep_Waterton_2019_11A bighorn sheep ram (Ovis canadensis) poses against a hillside of fall colors on a sunny afternoon in, Colorado.

Up and down the Front Range, yellow cottonwoods and golden grasses are taking their turn in the colorful spotlight. 

Locations around Denver, Boulder, Colorado Springs and Fort Collins offer some of the best chances to capture the last colors of the season. 

For example, the scrub oak trees in Roxborough State Park transform into shades of rust and brick. Finding compositions where those colors pair up with the deep red color of the rock formations in the park create a stunning scene only about 25 miles from downtown Denver. 

Roxborough_SP_in_FallRoxborough_SP_in_FallLandscape image of the red rock formations at Roxborough State Park in fall

In Waterton Canyon, located on the west side of Littleton, bighorn sheep are starting their mating season. Pair that activity against the golden hues of the abundant cottonwood trees throughout the canyon, and a photographer may have a winning image. 

In Loveland, trees frequently used in landscaping, like maples, add a splash of different color from the more typical golds of the native Colorado species. Hiking to the top of Mariana Butte at sunrise offers a wonderful panoramic view of the valley set against the foothills and mountains of Rocky Mountain National Park. 

When looking for fall colors to photograph, seek out healthy trees that haven’t yet dropped a lot of leaves and have a vibrant hue rather than a brown tone. It is also best to be out during the golden hour of sunrise and sunset for the best light, and compose the scene so the solid blue sky doesn’t take up much of the frame. If sunrise or sunset provides dramatic clouds, by all means, add as much of that into the frame as possible.

Other tips include staging an angler in a river for a focal point and sense of scale when photographing fall colors in the canyons that are popping right now. Watch the highlights on the leaves, which can turn too contrasty in bright sun. After photographing sunrise, find tall trees in vibrant colors. As the sun rises, position the sun behind the trees to capture a sunburst in the leaves. And finally, always look for scenes where wildlife, like a bird or a deer, are set against the colorful leaves. 

fishing_woman_Poudre_River_2019_184fishing_woman_Poudre_River_2019_184A woman casts her fly rod and reel while fishing on a fall afternoon along the banks of the Poudre River in Northern Colorado.

In addition to the locations mentioned above, photograph fall colors at Cherry Creek State Park in Aurora, Chautauqua Park in Boulder, Eldorado Canyon State Park near Boulder, Pella Crossing in Niwot and Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in Commerce City.

Eldorado_Canyon_SP_2023_2Eldorado_Canyon_SP_2023_2The rays of the setting sun peek out from behind a canyon wall in Eldorado Canyon State Park near Boulder, Colorado.

Keep an eye on the weather. This fall, thanks to an El Niño pattern, has produced many sunny, blue-sky days that have helped to extend the length of the season across Colorado, but the first hard frost and snowfall will quickly put an end to the colors. 

One last suggestion is to make sure to be out in the weather to photograph the clash of seasons before the leaves fall to the ground. The contrast of fall meeting winter can bring surprising results for many photographers.

Desert_bighorn_Zion_2019_1Desert_bighorn_Zion_2019_1A desert bighorn sheep ewe (Ovis canadensis nelsoni) stands in a creek bed filled with some remaining for a recent snowfall and surrounded by fall colors in Zion National Park, Utah.

For equipment, there are a few essentials to bring into the field for a fall photo shoot.

First, always have a circular polarizer on the lens used to photograph water or leaves after a rainstorm. The polarizer will cut the glare off of the water, which helps intensify and darken the water while also allowing the camera to pick up what is below the surface, and saturates the color of wet leaves. 

Next, use a tripod to capture the blurring action of water in creeks, rivers and waterfalls. Blurring water takes a shutter speed of about a half second to a tenth of a second, depending on the speed of the water. This is too slow to handhold so using a tripod and then a remote shutter release to help keep the camera still works best for sharp photos. 

Wood_duck_Pueblo_2020_1Wood_duck_Pueblo_2020_1A male wood duck (Aix sponsa) swims through a pond full of colorful reflections of the surrouding orange, yellow and blue tones in Pueblo, Colorado.

Use different lenses in your bag. Two perfect go-to lenses are a 24-70mm and a 100-400mm. The wider angle will capture the full scene while a longer zoom lens can help compress the elements of the photo, making things like mountains appear bigger. Want to photograph wildlife in fall colors? Go for a longer zoom lens, like a 150-600mm or a massive prime, like a 500mm or 400mm prime with a 1.4 or 2.0 teleconverter.

Finally, remember to keep that lens clean. Any dust spots on the glass will show up as flares if you shoot towards the sun. A rocket blower, soft flat paintbrush and lens wipes should do the trick in a pinch in the field.

For more information about my photography, including purchasing prints and booking tours, visit www.DawnWilsonPhotography.com.

NOTE: Product links in this article may result in me making a little commission on the sale while not costing you any additional money. I appreciate the support of my business so I can continue to provide you with helpful information to improve your photography. 

Want to help in other ways? Buy me a coffee! Thank you!

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) autumn colorado fall nature nature photography outdoor photo photographer photography tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2023/10/photo-tips-for-late-season-fall-photography Fri, 20 Oct 2023 16:19:53 GMT
Happy Colorado Day! https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2023/7/colorado-day-2023 It is Colorado Day!

Columbine_Poudre_Canyon_2020_1Columbine_Poudre_Canyon_2020_1A blue columbine, the state flower of Colorado, on a sunny day in the Poudre Canyon, Colorado. Each year on August 1, Colorado's statehood is celebrated with celebrations, discounts and parties held to mark the anniversary. 

On August 1, 1876, President Ulysses S. Grant signed a proclamation declaring Colorado as the 38th state of the United States of America. Because it was also the centennial year for the U.S., Colorado became known as the Centennial State. 

Here are some events happening in Colorado this week. Enjoy some time outdoors and bask in the beauty of Colorful Colorado.  Colorado_welcome_sign_2016_1Colorado_welcome_sign_2016_1The Welcome to Colorful Colorado sign welcomes me on a morning drive back into Colorado. Although the signs may not be the most colorful, the 'Colorful Colorado' phrase is well deserved with the state's stunning sunrises and sunsets, mountain bowls full of vibrant flowers, fields of verdant green in the spring, and birds and animals in all shapes and sizes throughout the state.

- July 31 to August 6: Discounted admission to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs

- August 1 to 6: Denver Zoo is offering 50% admission tickets

- August 1: Free tours of the Governor's Mansion from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

- August 1: Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum has 50% discount on general admission tickets with code COLO50

- August 7: All Colorado state parks will have free admission to Celebrate Colorado's birthday Bighorn_sheep_ram_RMNP_2018_1Bighorn_sheep_ram_RMNP_2018_1A portrait of a bighorn sheep ram (Ovis canadensis), the state mammal of Colorado, on a sunny morning against a blue sky in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

For more events and details above the celebrations across the state, visit celebrate.colorado.gov.

Looking for some Colorado swag to sport while out enjoying the festivities? Check out these fun items. Note: Purchasing products through these links may provide me with a small commission at no additional cost to you. 

- A baby onesie with a vintage Colorado logo

- T-shirt showcasing Colorado's 14ers

- Colorado logo socks from SmartWool (Love these socks! I have two pairs that go with me on every trip to bring a little Colorado with me.)

- Colorado baseball cap in a vintage trucker style

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) anniversary birthday celebration Colorado Colorado Day Colorado Life events free free admission history outdoor photography travel https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2023/7/colorado-day-2023 Tue, 01 Aug 2023 03:40:57 GMT
Trip Report: Nome, Alaska https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2023/7/trip-report-nome-alaska Nome, Alaska

This remote town on the western coast of the Seward Peninsula holds the title of being the farthest town west on mainland Alaska. One of the roads out of Nome will take you within 55 miles of Russia at its terminus. 

Ice_in_Bay_Teller_2023_1Ice_in_Bay_Teller_2023_1Large chunks of ice continue to float in the water of Port Clarence Bay as two cormorants fly overhead in Teller, Alaska, a town that is closer to the border of Russia 55 miles away than Nome at 75 miles to the east. Surrounded by tundra and mountain peaks, Nome exists only by its own survivability. There are no roads leading into Nome from other regions of Alaska. Only three roads lead out of Nome terminating at even more remote Native Alaskan villages about 75 miles from town to the west, north and east. To get to Nome, one must fly in (there are several commercial flights each day throughout the year) or by boat along the Bering Sea, but Alaska's ferry system does not make a stop in Nome. 

Although Nome sees more snow than green landscapes throughout the course of one year, its remoteness, abundant water and wide open lands make it home to a wide variety of arctic wildlife. 

As the snow melts, much of the landscape becomes pocketed with puddles and thick, wet tussocks, the soft, spongy terrain made up of moss, short willow bushes, grasses and sedges notable in much of northern Alaska as the surface above the permafrost. 

These little pockets of water provide an abundance of breeding ground for insects, and lots of insects means lots of birds. 

Semi-palmated_plover_Nome_2023_1Semi-palmated_plover_Nome_2023_1A semi-palmated plover (Charadrius semipalmatus) stands in a bed of pink tundra flowers near Nome, Alaska. More than 200 species of birds migrate through in late May and June or stay to nest during the short summer on the tundra around Nome. Songbirds, wading birds, shorebirds and raptors take advantage of the food sources. 

I recently traveled to Nome to witness this migration and to visit while the largest local mammal, the muskox, had their calves. The muskox herds are extremely protective of their calves, forming a circle around the babies at any sign of a threat. In just one day, visitors can easily spot several dozen muskox from the roads on the outskirts of town and on the tundra many miles away from civilization.

Muskox_Nome_2023_9Muskox_Nome_2023_9A mother muskox and her calf (Ovibos moschatus) stand on a gravel area on a windy afternoon in Nome, Alaska.

The timing of the trip also coincided with the annual natural event known as the midnight sun. Nome sits just two degrees south of the Arctic Circle. Although the sun does drop below the horizon in Nome, it doesn't go far enough to make the sky turn dark during June. This is know as the midnight sun.

Sunset_Nome-Teller_Road_2023_1Sunset_Nome-Teller_Road_2023_1A palette of pastel colors fills the sky above the tundra along the Nome-Teller Road along the edge of the Bering Sea near Nome, Alaska at 2:30 a.m.

It was amazing to be out on the roads near Teller, where fog rolled in from the Bering Sea across the tundra and circled the nearby mountains, and watch the beautiful sunset blend right into sunrise. Clouds filled the sky with shades of pink and peach to the west. As the light started to fade to the west, the light to the east started to brighten. Animals were out at all times of the night. A hoary redpoll landed in a willow bush next to me just before midnight, curious about the people out at this hour. I photographed a fox as the sun set behind it at midnight. Muskox slowly moved about the tundra before settling in for a few hours at 3:30 a.m. during the transition of one day to the next.

Red_fox_Nome_2023_3Red_fox_Nome_2023_3A silhouette of a red fox (Vulpes vulpes) walks along the road at midnight near the longest day of the year as the sun slowly sets in the distance on the tundra near Nome, Alaska.

After sleeping in late the next morning and enjoying a cup of chai tea at Bering Tea and Coffee (where I also spotted one of the gold miners from the show Bering Sea Gold), adventures took me around town. I discovered several productive ponds that had nesting red-throated loons and red-necked grebes. 

Red-throated_loon_Nome_2023_1Red-throated_loon_Nome_2023_1A red-throated loon (Gavia stellata) swims through the calm water of a pond on a sunny afternoon in Nome, Alaska.

The four-day trip was filled with lots of adventure, wildlife viewing and fascinating history. There are several museums in town as well as shops that sell carvings, jewelry and qiviut clothing made by local Native Alaskan craftspeople. 

American_robin_Nome_2023_1American_robin_Nome_2023_1An American robin (Turdus migratorius) stands on the window frame of an abandoned barn with a moutful of food near Nome, Alaska. Even the common birds know the food is abundant in Nome, Alaska.

If you are interested in visiting Nome, join me and Alyce Bender in June 2024 as we will take another group to the western edge of the U.S. to look for and photograph birds and mammals while experiencing the land of the midnight sun.

Nature of Nome Photo Tour through WildSide Nature Tours.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Alaska animal bird photography fox grebe loon midnight sun muskox nature nature photography nome photo photo tour photo workshop photographer photography travel tundra wildlife Wildside https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2023/7/trip-report-nome-alaska Mon, 24 Jul 2023 23:57:21 GMT
Amazon Prime Day Deals for Nature Photographers https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2023/7/amazon-prime-day-deals-for-nature-photographers Amazon Prime Day Deals Are Here!!!

I scoured Amazon's site to look for some great deals on some of my favorite products and others I have wanted to try out. These deals include supplies for storing photos, clothing to keep you warm in the cold or help repel bugs in the heat, and much more. Enjoy shopping! I can't wait until my new items show up this week. 

Hurry! Amazon Prime Day Deals only last until 3 a.m. EDT Thursday, July 13, 2023. 

Here is the first deal that is just a pretty good deal for any shopper: Apple AirPods (2nd generation). I don't mind buying the previous version of something and this is the set I currently have. They are ideal for blocking out noise while I am writing or for use during a Zoom call so others don't hear the conversation. https://amzn.to/46EzPpf 

Note: I may receive a portion of the sale from shopping on Amazon at no additional cost to you. Some of these deals are for Amazon Prime members only. If you don't have a membership, sign up for a 30-day free trial to take advantage of the savings. 

Storage and Cases

You can never have enough memory cards or storage for those cards and files. I should know; I just filled up yet another hard drive. With mirrorless cameras pumping out up to 20 fps these days, you are bound to come home with thousands rather than hundreds of images. You need cards that can write that data quickly so you don't buffer in the field and a lot of space so you don't have to carry multiple drives when you travel. And don't forget the bags and cases to store all of those cards, drives and cables when you travel. 

Clothing for the Nature Photographer

I absolutely love my Buff headwear for summer and winter. The polar version with the fleece lining stays in my camera bag all year long for use at 14,000 feet in Colorado's mountains even in July or for keeping me extra warm when photographing polar bears. The version with the InsectShield works well as a headband during the summer when I am near lakes and streams looking for moose or just chilling in the campsite. And the fleece tops have become my go-to item for staying warm any time of year, whether that is on chilly mornings in the mountains or the deepest cold of the winter.

Photography Accessories

These fun accessories can help you create your first vlog or capture some video footage in the field of animal antics. The Lume Cube lights are easy-to-use portable lights that can light up a scene by attaching to the top of the camera for a talking head or placed in inconspicuous locations to illuminate a night shot. The deal on the Allen wrenches is worth it to add into each of your camera bags for those moments in the field when something will inevitably become loose. 

 

 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Allen wrench amazon amazon prime day deals astrophotography buff cell phone hard drive landscape lighting lume cube nature outdoor clothing photo photo accessories photograph photographer photography prime prime deals sale shopping tips for nature photographers travel vlog vlogging wildlife xqd https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2023/7/amazon-prime-day-deals-for-nature-photographers Wed, 12 Jul 2023 13:40:31 GMT
Trip Report: Amazon Rainforest of Peru https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2023/6/trip-report-amazon-rainforest-of-peru Amazon_rainforest_Peru_2023_4Amazon_rainforest_Peru_2023_4A stock photo of a tributary river running through the Amazon rainforest in northern Peru. The Amazon Rainforest always seemed like such a distant place to me. I studied it like many students in elementary school. And in the years since attending school, there have been many more insights into the challenges the Amazon Rainforest faces with climate change and deforestation. 

Don't get me wrong, it is a very distant place. It took nearly three days to arrive at the river boat where our group would spend our first seven days of the tour but one of those days was thanks to a flight delay by the airline causing me to miss a connecting flight to Lima, Peru. 

Amazon_River_boat_Peru_2023_1Amazon_River_boat_Peru_2023_1An Amazon River boat used for tours in Peru.

When I was asked by Kevin and Lee of Wildside Nature Tours if I would be interested in leading a tour in Peru, I jumped at the chance. It would be my first trip to South America and an unbelievable opportunity to see firsthand the beauty of this mysterious place as well as help the tour participants improve their photography skills to take home photos from a trip of a lifetime. 

In hindsight, after witnessing the unbelievable diversity in the forest and along the rivers, the challenges to get there and the warmth of the humid air were worth every minute. To put it in perspective, here are some numbers:
- 1,100 species of palm trees in the Amazon
- our group saw 320 species during our ten-day trip; Rocky Mountain National Park has only recorded 280 species in the whole park...ever
- the Amazon River has 1,100 tributaries
- the Amazon River is 4,300 miles long

Large-billed_tern_Peru_2023_5Large-billed_tern_Peru_2023_5A large-billed tern (Phaetusa simplex) flies against a green background along the Amazon River in Peru.

I often wind up capturing about 1,000 images a day when I travel to a new destination. To put in perspective how fascinating Peru was for me, I came home with more than 19,000 frames for a ten-day trip. I have edited 73. I will be editing these images for a long time but it will bring back all of the great memories made during the trip.

On the first day, our local guides took our group on a hike through the White Coral Sand Forest. Here we saw tarantulas, heard our first monkeys of the trip and watched an assassin bug eating some prey. 

Tarantula_Peru_2023_2Tarantula_Peru_2023_2Wildside Photo Tours guide Lee Hoy holds out a pink-toe tarantula on a large leaf in the Amazon rainforest of Peru.

By the afternoon, we had arrived at our river boat and were out on our first tributary excursion. The first three-toed sloth of the trip was seen, an animal I don't think I realized how much I would see on this trip. 

Three-toed_sloth_Peru_2023_1Three-toed_sloth_Peru_2023_1A three-toed sloth hangs in a tree in the jungle of Peru.

Day two involved a skiff excursion on the Yarapa River, a tributary of the Amazon River after spending the night at the confluence of the Amazon River from Peru and Ecuador. We also took a short hike in Prado Village where we saw our first of a few anacondas, a pygmy marmoset, a wattled jacana, sun bittern and a greater potoo. Another excellent day.

Anaconda_Peru_2023_1Anaconda_Peru_2023_1An anaconda slithers through the forest floor of the Amazon rainforest in Peru.

Onto day three and we were in a new spot along the Amazon River and explored the Nauta Canyon tributary where we saw at least 60 different species, including a dark-breasted spine tail, red-banded pigeon, a squirrel cuckoo, blue and gold macaws, a yellow-spotted turtle, a green iguana and saddle-back tamarin monkeys. This image is of a white-eared jacamar, a small bird hiding in the cover of the leaves. Not the easiest to photograph but he gave us a pretty good few minutes. 

White-eared_Jacamar_Peru_2023_1White-eared_Jacamar_Peru_2023_1A white-eared Jacamar (Galbalcyrhynchus leucotis) sits on a branch against a forest of green in the Peruvian Amazon rainforest.

Day four took our group of 17 plus four guides in two skiffs (after moving to a new spot along the Amazon River again) out to Cuenca del rio yanayacu. Again, another day seeing dozens of bird species, a few pink and grey dolphins, more leaf cutter ants, another three-toed sloth, and even saw some jaguar tracks. These photos show a bluish fronted jacamar and a male plain-breasted piculet, one of the pair working on their nest while we ate a late breakfast in our skiff (a nice treat brought to us by the river boat crew). Later that night we also went out on a night boat ride along a tributary. 

Bluish_fronted_jacamar_Peru_2023_1Bluish_fronted_jacamar_Peru_2023_1A bluish fronted jacamar perched on a branch in the jungle of Peru.

Plain-breasted_piculet_Peru_2023_1Plain-breasted_piculet_Peru_2023_1A male plain-breasted piculet (Picumnus castelnau) sits on a branch in the Peurvian rainforest.

Day five, our last full day along the Amazon River, was again full of various jungle species of birds, like plumbeous kite, yellow-headed vulture, russet-backed oropendolas, and greater ahni, plus a great porcupine and an olive whip snake trying to steal eggs out of a bird nest. In the afternoon, the group enjoyed a lunch with a local village of 122 people, eating many local dishes. 

Ani_Peru_2023_1Ani_Peru_2023_1A great ani (Crotophaga major) takes off in flight, a surprisingly hard photo to capture for this common bird, in the jungle of Peru.

The next day was our last from the river boat but we still went out in the morning before departing for Iquitos and onto Lima. It was again another diverse day with ringed kingfishers, drab water tyrant, chestnut-bellied seed eater, a red-capped cardinal and a boat full of different fish, including a piranha, harvested by a pair of local brothers. Oh yeah, and another three-toed sloth, making that at least one a day for our group. 

Red-capped_cardinal_Peru_2023_1Red-capped_cardinal_Peru_2023_1A red-capped cardinal (Paroaria gularis) holds onto a reed after taking a bath in the Amazon River of Peru.

On our way back to Iquitos, the main city for the Amazon region even though it has no roads into this city of one million people, we stopped at a manatee rescue center where we again added more new birds to our list for the week. The highlight was a baby thick-billed euphonia being fed by its parents and watching manatees being fed by volunteers. 

Thick-billed_euphonia_Peru_2023_1Thick-billed_euphonia_Peru_2023_1A baby thick-billed euphonia stands on a railing waiting for mom and dad to feed it at the Manatee Rescue Center in Iquitos, Peru.

Once back in Lima, we still had two days of exploring. The first was on a boat ride along the Pacific Ocean from the town of Pucusana to look for blue-footed boobies, Peruvian pelicans, Peruvian boobies, Inca terns, and many other shore birds. The second location was at Pantanos de Beacha where we had the opportunity to photograph shore birds like Franklin's gulls, neotropic cormorants, sandwich terns, elegant terns, spotted sandpipers and little blue herons.

Peruvian_booby_Peru_2023_1Peruvian_booby_Peru_2023_1A Peruvian booby (Sula variegata) swims through the bubbles of the surf near the coastal resort of Pucusana, Peru.

Inca_tern_Peru_2023_1Inca_tern_Peru_2023_1An Inca tern (Larosterna inca) stands on the rocky coast of the Pacific Ocean near the coastal resort town of Pucusana, Peru.

Little_blue_heron_Peru_2023_1Little_blue_heron_Peru_2023_1A little blue heron (Egretta caerulea) takes off from a the surf on a cloudy day along the Pacific Ocean at Pantanos de Beacha near Lima, Peru. One of the most common questions I have received about the trip is about the bugs and the heat/humidity. Yes, there were definitely bugs. The heat wasn't too bad when we were out on the water but could be a bit stagnant when we were on our short hikes.

Because of the bugs, it is best to wear long sleeves and long pants, something most people don't like when it is hot. I found several options that worked very well that weren't very hot, had good sunscreen in the fabric and were infused with Picaridin to keep the bugs at bay. The fabric could also be sprayed with bug spray. Most days I did wear my Chaco sandals without any issue as long as I had lotion on to prevent bug bites. 

I also found a wide-brimmed hat worked best to keep the sun off my face. 

Bug spray with Deet can eat away at plastic on the camera. It also isn't a very good product for your health. I avoid it at all costs. What I used was Sawyer Picaridin Insect Repellent Lotion on my feet and hands. For my clothes, I sprayed Sawyer Picaridin Insect Repellent Pump Spray. It worked well on clothing and doesn't have a strong smell. As long as I remembered to put on the two products, and reapply as needed, such as if I washed my hands, it did the trick. 

I also took a 24-hour Allegra pill each morning. That seemed to help prevent any itching before it even started if I did get a bug bite or two.

For clothing, I have a head-to-toe lineup. 
- Hat: Mukeyo Womens Summer Sun Hat: it has a hole in the back for ponytails!! Brilliant!
- Shirt: Simm's Womens Bugstopper SolarFlex Hoodie with InsectShield: it is a fishing shirt with a fit for women and super lightweight — great for packing and out in the field in the heat and humidity


- Neckwear: Buff Coolnet UV+ and InsectShield Neckwear: there are tons of colors available but look for this version with the UV and InsectShield protection. It works great for a headband or on the neck; soak it in water for extra cooling
- Pants: Eddie Bauer Guide Pro Pants: I have numerous pairs of these pants — from the cropped version for hot summer days in Colorado to the lightweight full-length pants to the fleece-lined version for my trips to Churchill, Alaska and high elevations of Colorado in winter. For Peru, long pants are a must to prevent bugs on the legs, protection from the sun and should be in a lighter color like khaki, tan, gray or green. Bugs are attracted to dark colors like navy and black. 


- Shoes: I brought two pairs of shoes with me: my Chaco sandals and my Lowa Renegade hiking boots. I love both and wear out a pair every year or two. The sandals come in a wide variety of colors (including customized designs), have a very grippy sole for light hiking and a high arch support, something I have found helps prevent arch and heal issues with as much as I am on my feet. The boots are a similar situation with lots of colors and a good arch support. I have worn these boots for at least 15 years and find I can buy the same size every time without trying them on and they fit like a dream with no issues with blisters. A lightweight pair of something to walk around the river boat could be useful too, like if you want to use the Jacuzzi or wear to dinner. Slippers or Crocs would work well for this, although traditional Crocs might take up more space in luggage so I go with their sandal version. 
- Rain gear: Although I didn't actually use my rain pants, I did have them with me. I regretted not bringing them with me on a couple of days. My rain jacket, however, always did go in my backpack on the skiff outings. And I did use it several times.

Speaking of rain gear, make sure to bring rain gear for your camera as well. I use RainCoats from LensCoat.

I definitely brought more camera gear than I needed.
- Camera: bring two bodies. I had the Nikon Z9 and the Nikon D850 with me. Although the D850 came in handy for landscapes and to hold a backup lens, I would have loved to have two Z9s or the new Nikon Z8 with me instead. Other than a handful of documentary images of the rainforest, river and boat, I didn't use the D850 nearly as much as the Z9, taking 12,500 images of the nearly 14,000 with the Z9. On the D850 I kept my Nikon 80-400mm lens. I also had a Nikon 24-70mm lens but didn't use it. 
- Tripod: I never took mine out of the suitcase so I wouldn't recommend bringing one. It will be helpful, however, to be comfortable hand-holding your lens. Practice before the trip or bring a monopod for use on the skiffs. 
- Camera bag: Although I had my ThinkTank Accelerator backpack on this trip, it was the tipping point for making a long trip with a backpack. Within days of returning from Peru, I ordered a similar version of the bag but as a rolling bag. The ThinkTank Airport Security is now my bag of choice for long trips. It holds my 500mm (it can hold a 600mm) and my back was thanking me all through the airport on my more recent trip. 
- Lenses: I used my Nikon 500mm the most, with a Nikon 1.4 teleconverter on occasion. With the Z9, an adapter is needed for use with DSLR lenses.  
- Cards and batteries: bring lots of both. There are plenty of outlets for charging on the river boat but always best to have extras in a remote location. I fill my cards, download them onto an external hard drive each evening and then back the files up when I return home before erasing my cards. At 14,000 images, that is a lot of cards. Also, make sure to use the fastest you can find your camera.
- Miscellaneous: I used to use a clear makeup bag for my headphones, chargers and card readers but the zipper recently broke. Not bad for a $5 makeup bag from Target that I bought in 2007. To replace it, I recently bought a tech pouch from ThinkTank and some new twist ties they sell called Red Whips. Very handy for just keeping it all organized.

Remember to bring your chargers for the camera and the laptop as well as any dongles you need to connect iPads, laptops, phones, etc.  

With camera gear, I advise keeping it in the loading and unloading area of the boat in a backpack/camera bag. Taking it in and out of the air conditioning in the rooms on the river boat may build up condensation, and it can be hard to find the right resources to take care of that in the Amazon jungle. 

Saddle-backed_marmoset_Peru_2023_1Saddle-backed_marmoset_Peru_2023_1A saddle-backed marmoset (Leontocebus fuscus) on a feeding platform at the Manatee Rescue Center in Iquitos, Peru.

I hope to see you on WildSide Nature Tours next trip to Peru in 2024. It really is a trip of a lifetime that will give you a firsthand glimpse into the diversity and lifestyles in this distant region of the world.

Thank you for reading the entire post. To help support my ability to provide this information for free, I include links to some of my affiliate partners where I may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you when you purchase through my site. Thank you again for your support.

 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Amazon animals bird photography birds eddie Bauer jungle nature nature photography nature tour Peru photography rainforest South America tips for nature photographers travel travel tips wildlife Wildside https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2023/6/trip-report-amazon-rainforest-of-peru Sat, 03 Jun 2023 20:51:30 GMT
Night Photography: Intro to My Gear https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2023/4/night-photography-intro-to-my-gear Panoramic_Milky_Way_DTNM_2022_1Panoramic_Milky_Way_DTNM_2022_1A panoramic view of the Milky Way stretching above Devil's Tower and the surrounding forest as aseveral meteors from the Perseids Meteor Shower dart through the sky in northeastern Wyoming. I have really started to develop an affinity for night photography. Also referred to as astrophotography, this type of image making is completely different than any other I have pursued. Concepts would dictate that night photography is basically landscape photography at night, but there is one very big difference — there is very little light. As a result, settings and gear can be completely different, and can be outside of what you would think would work. 

I also have an affinity for keeping things simple when it comes to gear. I don't like to be weighed down with a lot of supplies and stuff to lug around. This becomes especially important when you are walking around in the dark. There are certainly lots of devices and equipment that can take your photography to the next level or allow a different perspective, like using drones, but I like to master something first before adding in more gear to consider, operate and study. 

So, for night photography I use five pieces of camera gear:
- Camera body: a body that can handle high ISOs, and handle them well, is essential. I use the Nikon D850, which has fantastic color range on the sensor and can really hold back on noisy images at high ISOs. (I typically shoot at 3200 ISO for most dark night sky images.) Milky_Way_Poudre_Canyon_2020_1Milky_Way_Poudre_Canyon_2020_1The Milky Way is surrounded by a sky full of stars above Roosevelt National Forest in the Poudre Canyon, Colorado.
- Lens: having a fast lens is a necessity. Enough light just will not reach the sensor if you use anything slower than an f4. Even at f4, the ISO level may introduce too much noise into your image. I use a Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 lens and a Nikon 24-70mm f2.8 lens. I am considering adding a fixed lens into the mix too, like the Sigma 20mm f1.4 art lens, which will provide more light because of the f1.4 maximum aperture, and thus reduce the length of shutter speed I need and/or reduce the ISO level needed to achieve the right amount of light. There are times that the distortion is out of my comfort zone on the 14-24mm and the 24-70mm is sometimes not wide enough for the scene I want to photograph.
Breckenridge_Under_Moonlight_rev_2012_1Breckenridge_Under_Moonlight_rev_2012_1The town of Breckenridge, Colorado and Breckenridge Ski Resort during the blue hour on a snowy night illuminated by a full moon. - Remote shutter release: this is a must for night photography. I use a wired release but wireless are also available. I do have both but prefer the wired for, again, simplicity. There are pros and cons to each option: the cable on wired releases can snap in extreme cold temps (think winter shoots for northern lights or a snowy mountain scene in winter) and are limiting in how far you can move from the tripod (self timers are a solution for that conundrum) but they have one button and no batteries (which can drain down in cold temperatures). Wireless releases typically have more buttons and setup to sync with a receiver on your camera and require batteries but give you much more freedom to move away from (or into) the scene. I use a Nikon MC-30A (yes, kind of old school but has done well for me). Make sure you get a release that has the correct pin (attachment) configuration for your camera body. For example, the MC-30A has a 10-pin connection, which works well with my D850. Milky_Way_Longs_Peak_RMNP_2020_3Milky_Way_Longs_Peak_RMNP_2020_3The Milky Way stretches over Longs Peak on a dark night in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

- Tripod: again, this is an absolute necessity for night photography. There is absolutely no way to handhold a camera at the slow shutter speeds required for night photos. Any sturdy tripod that is tall enough for your height, easy-to-adjust legs (I have twist locks on my tripod), preferably carbon fiber (lighter and sturdier) and has wraps on at least one leg (so you don't have to hold onto cold metal). A tripod that comes with interchangeable feet and spikes can be helpful too if you plan to shoot on ice or snow. Something like the Really Right Stuff TVC-34L will do the trick if you are serious about trying different types of landscape and night photography but it is an investment.
- Ballhead: to use a tripod, you will need a bullhead for the top of it. I use the Uniqball Ballhead. It has two ways to level and compose and although it is a little on the heavy side, it does a fantastic job of leveling the camera. 

Northern_Lights_Denali_2017_3Northern_Lights_Denali_2017_3The Northern Lights illuminate the sky above the Savage River Campground in Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska One other necessity for night photography shoots is a headlamp. You just can't leave home without it for safety and seeing what you are doing. I have one, which is the Petzl ACTIK Core headlamp, in every camera bag for the unexpected night photo opportunities. 

Enjoy the night skies, and stay safe out there. 

Links in this blog post connect to products on Amazon.com. I make a small commission on those sales at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting my photography business with purchases through those links.
 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) astrophotography camera gear Milky Way mountains nature nature photography night night skies northern lights photo photographer photography tips travel https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2023/4/night-photography-intro-to-my-gear Thu, 13 Apr 2023 21:18:32 GMT
Trip Report: Bald Eagles in Washington https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2023/4/trip-report-bald-eagles-in-washington Bald_eagle_WASB_2022_26Bald_eagle_WASB_2022_26A pair of bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) fly together against a stormy blue sky above Hood Canal, Washington.

NOTE: Links in this blog post connect to products on Amazon.com. I make a small commission on those sales at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting my photography business with purchases through those links. 

Better late than never, right? 

I can't believe it has been almost a year since my visit to Washington state to photograph bald eagles along the shores of Hood Canal yet I have not shared my story about the trip. As you read on, you will discover why.

That trip produced some of my best bald eagle photos. It also reminded me that I am not 20 anymore. 

Bald_eagle_WASB_2022_23Bald_eagle_WASB_2022_23A three-shot composite of a bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) catching a fish in the waters of Hood Canal, Washington.


(This photo is a composite of three images showing the action of the eagle catching the midshipman fish.)

I did a ton of research prior to the trip and learned all I could about timing, locations, impact of the tides and what types of photos to expect to capture. 

There is an oyster bed along the eastern shore of Hood Canal that is exposed during low tide. In May and through June, midshipman (a type of eel-like looking fish) come to the area to spawn. They also get snagged in those sharp oyster shells when the water rushes out to the Pacific Ocean during low tide. 

Bald_eagle_WASB_2022_30Bald_eagle_WASB_2022_30A bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) soars across a sky patterned in blue and green of the distant forest on a rainy day as the bird rearranges a midshipman in its talons as it flies above Hood Canal near Seattle, Washington.

Bald eagles as well as other scavenger and protein-eating birds, like great blue herons, American crows and various gulls, have also discovered this convenient food source. Maybe as many as 100 bald eagles congregate in the area during this time period, and that has attracted dozens of photographers as well.

My trip started like anyone else's in the area. I would arrive a few hours before low tide to make sure I had the best spot along the shore littered with seaweed and shells. Timing is important because at high tide, the beach is covered by several feet of water. Wait for the water to recede, however, and you can pick your spot before other photographers arrive. And then you have another couple of hours after low tide before the water gets too high for the eagles to pull the fish caught in the oyster shells.

On my first day, I heard, and heeded, the warning, "Watch that green stuff. That seaweed is very slippery." I carefully navigated around the piles of seaweed that remained on the beach. In some spots it was tough, but all went well. 

Bald_eagle_WASB_2022_11Bald_eagle_WASB_2022_11A bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) soars across the cloudy sky near Seattle, Washington.

There is also a rock wall that needs to be climbed down to access the beach. It isn't a high wall — maybe two or three feet — but it is a wall nonetheless. 

I pride myself on being active in the Rocky Mountains. I know how to navigate rocks and uneven terrain. 

That doesn't mean, however, I considered the combination of a rock wall, seaweed and algae covered rocks. I still don't believe that is exactly what happened. 

The first day was fantastic. Eagles flew in from the right, with photographers yelling, "Here comes one with a fish." Another would exclaim, "Coming in from the left."

Bald_eagle_WASB_2022_28Bald_eagle_WASB_2022_28A pair of bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) squabbles over fish at low tide in Hood Canal near Seattle, Washington.

I finished the day with 1,525 images. My average for a new destination is about 1,000. 

Day number two started just like the first day with the waiting on the receding water to expose the fish to bring in the herons and eagles. As the water reached that lowest point, however, I took a tumble down that rock wall after going to the car for who knows what now. 

Of course my first instinct was to look up and see if anyone saw. No one had. Phew, thank goodness. They were too busy photographing the eagles in their feeding frenzy. 

But when I went to stand up, I realized the rest of the trip would be different. 

Somehow my left knee gave way, like a tendon or ligament had torn, and my leg just buckled under me. I could no longer put any weight on it; it just wanted to give again. 

I stood there, holding onto the rock wall, watching all the photographers capturing those shots — eagles diving in from the left, two fighting over a fish on the right, another soaring above against those pretty clouds. I calculated my options, but really there was only one option: find a way to keep shooting.

Bald_eagle_WASB_2022_22Bald_eagle_WASB_2022_22A bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) floats in for a landing near Seattle, Washington.

I was determined. Fighting the pain, I hobbled back to my tripod and my friend. At first she didn't realize anything was wrong. Then I mentioned I would need some help. She was fantastic, springing into action to get an elastic wrap for my knee. 

After returning from the drug store, and me wrapping up my knee in the best I could remember from my first-aid class (so glad my first use of that knowledge in all these years of guiding was on me!), I went right back to shooting. I wasn't going to miss anymore of that wonderful photo opportunity. 

That day garnered 1043 photos. 

Since I could no longer stand, we stopped at a sporting goods store to pick up a stool. (If more time was available or trying to find an option for traveling, a telescoping stool would work too.) Luck was back on my side as there was only one left — a perfect little triangular folding stool that would easily fit in my suitcase for the flight home. Finding a way to get ice on my knee was also important.

bald_eagle_WASB_2022_7bald_eagle_WASB_2022_7A bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) defends its midshipman fish while another eagle tries to steal it on a sunny day along Hood Canal, Washington.

Day number three turned out just as great as the first two days with more eagle action. Although I could no longer maneuver around as quickly, being confined to a chair and limited to one leg for rearranging my location or angle, I was just as determined to get the images I envisioned. 

Day three produced 826 images.

That mission was accomplished. Although we had to cut the trip short by a day to fly back home early to beat a spring snowstorm, it has become one of my favorite destinations for bald eagles. 

As for the knee, it turned out it was a sprain. After about six months of physical therapy, all was better on the knee. They never could explain why the knee buckled like it did. But I hope it shows just how dedicated I am to getting just the right shot!

Bald_eagle_WASB_2022_12Bald_eagle_WASB_2022_12A pair of bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) clash in midair as they fight over a fish on a sunny day in western Washington state.

We spent one afternoon visiting Olympic National Park as well to photograph waterfalls and rhododendrons. Spring is my favorite time of year to photograph waterfalls, as they bust with heavy snowmelt, but the already green rainforest of the Olympic peninsula seems to get even more verdant in spring. 

Marymere_Falls_ONP_2022_1Marymere_Falls_ONP_2022_1Marymere Falls cascades down a mountain on a sunny afternoon in Olympic National Park, Washington.

Rhododendron_ONP_2022_1Rhododendron_ONP_2022_1A rhododendron bush on a sunny afternoon in Olympic National Park, Washington. With the grand prize photo in the 2016 Audubon Photography Contest coming from this location, there are many opportunities for unbelievable images. 

Interested in learning more about this location and how to photograph all this eagle activity plus enjoy an afternoon photographing waterfalls? Join me on this year's photo adventure — sans swan dives from rock walls — via Wildside Nature Tours.

Dates: May 31 - June 4, 2024 
Price: $2650 per person, double occupancy

Camera equipment: All of these images were taken with my Nikon D850 and Nikon 500mm f4 lens. On this year's trip, I am looking forward to using my new Nikon Z9, which does a fantastic job with birds in flight, and a Nikon 1.4 teleconverter with the 500mm lens.

 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) bald eagle bird Hood Canal nature nature photography photo photo tour photography Seabeck story tips tips for nature photographers travel Washington wildlife workshop https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2023/4/trip-report-bald-eagles-in-washington Fri, 07 Apr 2023 05:41:54 GMT
Books for Nature Lovers https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2023/2/books-for-nature-lovers Punxsutawney Phil predicted six more weeks of winter. That was almost three weeks ago yet there is still one third of winter ahead of us. In Colorado, March is the snowiest month and storms can continue to bring winter-like weather through April.

Even as I write this, a winter storm is delivering more snow to Colorado with forecasts predicting up to a foot of white flakes.

There are still plenty more winter nights in the near future for snuggling under a warm blanket as you sit by a fire with a good book. If your world has already started to show signs of spring, these also make great audio books for long drives to your next outdoor destination.

Here are five non-fiction reads I found informative, eye opening and enjoyable that focus on nature, being outdoors and environmental issues. 

Let me know what you think about each by adding your thoughts in the comments. 

Note: Please consider purchasing these titles through the links provided. I earn a small portion of the sale at no additional cost to you, and it helps me keep this business running so I can continue to provide you with helpful information and once-in-a-lifetime photo tour experiences. Thank you for your support.

1. A Life on Our Planet by David Attenborough

This eye-opening and beautifully written book is Sir David Attenborough’s witness statement about what he has seen during his 94 years on Earth. His harsh realities, scary predictions and insight into the hope for the future will give you new perspective on just how quickly our planet has changed and how things can still be salvaged.

2. A World on the Wing by Scott Weidensaul

Whether you are a bird lover, avid traveler or just enjoy learning about nature, you will find the often times humorous first-hand accounts of Weidensaul’s field experiences mixed with in-depth information about birds and how they migrate — including one startling fact about how one species flys with one eye opened.

3. The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman

Author of eight non-fiction titles, Jennifer Ackerman is best known for her ornithology books, including Birds by the Shore and the 2020 title The Bird Way. The Genius of Birds, her first book delving into the mysterious avian world, details research that explains the remarkable forms of intelligence displayed by birds — and clears up any misconception of the phrase "bird brain".

4. Bear in the Backseat by Kim DeLozier

This book had me in tears laughing so hard. A non-fiction book written by a retired National Park Service ranger who spent much of his career in Great Smoky Mountains recalls some of his experiences with "befuddled bears, hormonally crazed elk, homicidal wild boars, hopelessly timid wolves, and non million tourists." For anyone who has spent time in a national park — any national park — this tale is certain to be an entertaining read you will not want to put down.

5. Braving It by James Campbell

There are numerous coming-of-age books in the fiction and non-fiction categories that many of us can relate to from our own challenging and exciting days as teenagers and 20-somethings. This book, however, is told from the perspective of a father as he takes his reluctant teenage daughter on her first wilderness experience in remote Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Spending a summer building a cabin with the author's cousin, the book recalls the experiences that tests the family and their relationship, and inspires them to return two more times as father and daughter into the land of muskox, wolves, caribou and grizzlies.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Ackerman age Arctic Attenborough bear bird book Campbell coming David delozier James Jennifer Kim national nature non-fiction of recommendation refuge Scott story travel weidensaul wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2023/2/books-for-nature-lovers Wed, 22 Feb 2023 07:13:50 GMT
Staying Warm in the Cold https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2023/1/staying-warm-in-the-cold Mule_deer_RMNP_2023_1Mule_deer_RMNP_2023_1Two mule deer fawns (Odocoileus hemionus) stand at a snowy ridge during a snowstorm in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Staying Warm in the Cold

Most of us are in the depths of winter. Even places like Arizona have been seeing snow fall in some of the most iconic desert locations, like Monument Valley and Sedona. It has been a great year for moisture, including here in Colorado. Snow packs are well above average for this time of year in Colorado's high country. 

That also means if you want to be out photographing in winter, you need to be properly dressed. Over the years, I have found a few items that I don't leave home without if I am going to focus on animals in the snow. This year, I added a couple of new items that have improved my comfort in the cold. Here is that list from head to toe.

Please note that I may receive a small portion of the sale from any products mentioned here at no additional cost to you. 

Enjoy photographing in the cold. It is such a beautiful season, especially when you are prepared for the elements. 

1. Hat: I make sure I use a hat with a fleece lining that comes down far enough to cover my ears. Most of our heat leaves our bodies from our head so hats are one of the most important items of clothing. My favorite is a wool hat from Sherpa Adventure Gear but they unfortunately no longer sell it. Look for a hat that has a fleece lining to prevent that scratchy feel on your head but is made with a warm fiber, like wool. This is one option that comes in a variety of colors. 

2. Fleece Neckwarmer: I discovered these several years ago and now have a wide selection of colors. (Have to be fashionable too, right?) They are made by Buff and have a fleece lining in addition to their printed outer fabric. Use them as just a neck warmer or raise them up high to cover ears and head for additional warmth.

3. Base Layer: My favorite base layer is a thin shirt from Eddie Bauer. They unfortunately stopped making it several years ago but they have a new base layer shirt called the brushed base layer crew that seems to be similar. Just ordered one to try it out.

4. Fleece: I am all about finding the right clothing for being outdoors and often that means that to get the right quality you pay the price. Recently I discovered this fleece on Amazon and I have since ordered four. They are just the right thickness fleece, come in a variety of colors (including the harder to find neutral, earth tones I prefer for wildlife photography) and have a front zipper pouch for holding keys or keeping hands warm. They have also held up well after multiple washings. Best of all? The price is very reasonable.

5. Pants: Again, love these pants and have multiple pairs in different colors. These are the Eddie Bauer Guide Pro Lined Pants. (I also have several pairs of these not lined for summer adventures.) They wick water (and liquids that splash on them), have side pockets large enough for a cell phone and wash well. I have not needed a base layer legging under these, making the fit that much more enjoyable.

6. Jacket: This one has been a hard one over the years. Good jackets are expensive and I can be rough on them — snagging them on branches, putting too much in pockets and ripping zippers, sitting in unmentionables when photographing birds. I finally found a jacket that for the most extreme conditions (think Churchill when photographing polar bears) did the job perfectly. The length is great for keeping legs warm yet not too long to be cumbersome or difficult for driving. The faux fur on the hood keeps out the wind. And lots of pockets means I have everything I need at my fingertips for photography — batteries, extra hand warmers, extra cards and tissues. It is the Women's Expedition Down Waterproof Winter Parka from Land's End.

7. Socks: Never wear socks too thick for you shoes. If you cut off circulation, your feet will be cold. Find a comfortable pair of wool socks that are tall to help prevent snow hitting skin if snow should get in your boots. I prefer Darn Tough merino wool socks with cushion or SmartWool wool socks with cushion

8. Snowshoes_IPW_2021_4Snowshoes_IPW_2021_4A view looking down at a pair of feet in hiking boots and snowshoes standing on snow in Colorado. Boots: Most of the time I wear my favorite hiking boots, the Renegade from Lowa, for snowshoeing or hiking in winter. When the temperatures really plummet or I will be standing on snow or ice for a while, however, I ratchet up my footwear to the Muck Boot Arctic Sport Tall Snow Boot. I actually keep these in the vehicle throughout the winter in case I wind up someplace in deep snow or find an unexpected photo opportunity out on the ice. They are also waterproof so in summer I use them for walking through deep water since they will keep my feet dry up to mid-calf. 

Microspikes_RMNP_2022_1Microspikes_RMNP_2022_1A view looking down tot he microspikes on the feet of a hiker while standing on ice in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.
9. Foot Traction: No, this isn't me putting my foot in a sling. Instead, this is a category of products designed to help you stay upright when walking on ice or packed snow. My favorite is the MICROspikes Footwear Traction from Kahtoola for their versatility for snow or ice. The pair photographed here have even taken me across glaciers in Alaska. Another option is to purchase a pair of YakTrax. These are not as aggressive as the micro spikes but work well for navigating through a parking lot or on packed snow. I use these for walking my dog in winter conditions. I also see people using these while running in winter. 

10. Gloves: I still have not found the perfect pair of gloves for winter to keep my fingers warm. It is really the only thing I have had issues with over the years when working outside in winter. The best solution I have come up with so far is to wear a liner glove with a flip-top fleece glove over the liner and then hand warmers between the two gloves in the palm, and if really cold, add a second pair of warmers in the flip-top area for your fingertips. My preferred liners, which I use all year long when out on cold mornings or up on the tundra are the Sitka Gear Traverse Glove. They have a thin fleece lining and grippy index and thumb fingers, helping with working camera dials and buttons in the cold. Then I put a thick flip-top fleece glove over the liners. And finally, add the hand warmers into the space in the palm between the two gloves. It does the trick. And keep a large box of hand warmers around if you plan to do a lot outdoors in the winter. It is cheaper and saves you time. I'll go through a box a season. Another option is to go with electric gloves. Although I have found these do the trick, to save battery life, you have to keep them set on low for longer wear time. The battery pack in them can also be a little bulky.

If you have made it this far in the list of products, then I know you are serious about being outdoors in the winter. Winter is an amazing time to be outdoors taking photos but to do it safely, you need the proper clothing. Happy shooting!

 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) base boots clothing cold Colorado ice jacket layer mountains muck boots nature pants parka photographer photography safety snow spikes tips tips for nature photographers traction travel wildlife winter yaktrax https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2023/1/staying-warm-in-the-cold Wed, 25 Jan 2023 18:30:06 GMT
Year in Review: 2022 https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2023/1/year-in-review-2022 Well, 2022 has come and gone. Thankfully that meant life started to finally feel like it was returning to normal after a long fight with a worldwide pandemic. COVID certainly changed my business quite a bit in 2020 and 2021, but 2022 definitely felt like those challenges started moving to the rearview mirror. 

Sunrise_Sprague_Lake_RMNP_2022_1Sunrise_Sprague_Lake_RMNP_2022_1A stunning sunrise filled the sky above Sprague Lake and the peaks of the Continental Divide in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Although I still spent plenty of time with the large and small mammals of the Rocky Mountains, I wanted to venture out and test my creativity for landscape images. I explored more new trails in 2022 than ever before (although I still chickened out on those solo backpacking trips; trying again this year — wish me luck), and I found a few places I am looking forward to returning to in the future for better atmospheric conditions and to host workshops so others can capture the beauty of the locations. I also finally captured some landscape images of places I have visited over and over yet had never photographed the exact conditions I envisioned (see the image above of an alpine lake at sunrise; prints available).

I also spent a lot more time photographing birds in 2022, with most of my travel dedicated to bird subjects. 

Bald_eagle_WASB_2022_12Bald_eagle_WASB_2022_12A pair of bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) clash in midair as they fight over a fish on a sunny day in western Washington state. One of the best trips of the year was to Washington to photograph bald eagles. Even with a knee injury that happened during that trip that took until the fall to really feel stronger, the trip produced amazing and intense bald eagle photos. (Stay tuned for more info specific about that trip and about private photo instruction coming in 2023 at this location.)

Piping_plover_NB_2022_1Piping_plover_NB_2022_1A newborn piping plover chick (Charadrius melodus) runs along the sand on a sunny morning in Long Beach, New York. I also revisited a popular beach for nesting birds in Long Island, New York. It is always hard to time the trip because the nesting season runs from late May through early August, depending on which bird is the desired subject. I hoped to photograph the piping plovers, a threatened species in much of their range, and even listed as endangered in some areas. For the trip in 2022, I timed it perfectly to capture photos of the plover chicks just a day or two after hatching. I also had a bonus of seeing two newborn oystercatcher chicks take their first steps after hatching. It didn't take long before they were off and running. 

Oystercatcher_NB_2022_2Oystercatcher_NB_2022_2A newborn American oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus) sits on the beach next to its unborn sibling still in the egg on a sunny morning on Long Island, New York.

The summer brought many trips into Rocky Mountain National Park to enjoy the time with some of my favorite species — elk, moose and pikas — and other wonderful wildlife destinations in Colorado and Wyoming. 

Mountain_goat_sunset_MtEvans_2022_1Mountain_goat_sunset_MtEvans_2022_1A mother mountain goat with her two kids watch a beautiful Colorado sunset above Mt. Bierstadt, Grays Peak and Torreys Peaks as seen from near the top of Mount Evans, Colorado. And the highlight of the year was the trip I led to Churchill, Manitoba to photograph polar bears and other arctic wildlife. The weather was extremely cold, causing the ice to arrive a little early. That was great for the bears, which we observed testing the ice. We also saw an abundance of red fox this trip and a special showing of the Northern Lights. Can't beat all that for one week. I will be heading back up in November 2023; dates and details coming soon.

Polar_bear_CH_2022_5Polar_bear_CH_2022_5A polar bear (Ursus maritimus) mother and her cub test out the early sheets of ice on Hudson Bay near Churchill, Manitoba.

I also had a bit of a mishap with my camera in August thanks to my eagerness to preserve a moment of a little girl in a pink jacket holding a fishing pole. I missed the shot and dunked my camera in the Colorado River instead but managed a perfect series of documentary photos for an article I was working on about outdoor programs for the disabled. The damage to my Nikon D850 was repairable but would take several months due to parts. I needed a new camera and took the plunge into mirrorless and purchased the Nikon Z9. I'll have a separate post about that but let's just say it has been worth every penny of the cost (although I still love my D850 and will continue to use that as long as I can). 

Fly_fishing_Event_RMNP_2022_4Fly_fishing_Event_RMNP_2022_4Dan Real, a volunteer with National Sports Center for the Disabled, shows his collection of flies he brought to the Fly Fishing in the Rockies event in Kawuneeche Valley.

This post has just a very small sampling of the images from 2022. Check out the videos I have produced featuring a collection of bird, mammal and landscape photos in each video.
- Birds
- Landscapes
- Mammals

So, here is to a great 2023 with lots of trips, new workshops, plenty of writing and new trails to explore. I need a year with about 400 days on the calendar. Who am I kidding, I would just fill those days just as fast :) (Speaking of calendars, did you order your Rocky Mountain Wildlife 2023 Calendar?)

NOTE: Links to products may be associated with affiliate programs. That helps me to keep giving you great information and outdoor opportunities at no additional cost to you.

 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) 2022 Churchill fox nature nature photography photo photographer photography polar bear tips wildlife year in review https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2023/1/year-in-review-2022 Mon, 16 Jan 2023 04:02:49 GMT
Trip Report: Spring Birds in Louisiana https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2022/5/birds-of-louisiana Little_blue_heron_NewIberia_2022_1Little_blue_heron_NewIberia_2022_1A pair of little blue herons (Egretta caerulea) move sticks around in the early stages of their nest in a rookery in New Iberia, Louisiana. Although I spend a bit of time in Louisiana in the winter, and that includes spending time photographing birds, the best time of year for a wide variety of birds down south is April. 

One of my favorite spots during this time of year took a direct hit from Hurricane Ida in August 2021. I wasn't sure what to expect when I visited last month but I had to see how the bird migration was faring. 

House_GI_2022_1House_GI_2022_1A completely destroyed home after being destroyed by Hurricane Ida one year earlier on a blue sky day in Grand Isle, Louisiana. My initial response was astonishment at how much damage was still visible even eight months later. But then considering the town reported 100 percent of the town was destroyed or damaged, I realized that they actually were doing really well. Restaurants were open, construction workers were busy repairing buildings, and life seemed to be moving along, even if it was on a different trajectory than residents anticipated this time last year. 

I went to my favorite bird spots. The beach, which was now smoothed out and looked very clean, had a variety of birds like ruddy turnstones and sanderlings scurrying along the waterline. 

Ruddy_turnstone_GI_2022_1Ruddy_turnstone_GI_2022_1A ruddy turnstone (Arenaria interpres) picks up a small shell while feeding on the beach along the Gulf Coast of Louisiana. Brown pelicans were perched on pilings. A few rails were calling out from the thick marsh grasses. Kingfishers were hunting from fence lines. And a wide variety of wading birds were in Dowitcher Pond. 

Brown_pelican_GI_2022_1Brown_pelican_GI_2022_1A brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) perches on a piling on a sunny morning along the Gulf Coast of Louisiana. It was good to see life returning. 

I also visited a spot along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. April also sees the very early days of the courtship of least terns. There are a few beaches along this section of beach that provide the largest nesting grounds for the a species of endangered least terns. Although it will be at least six weeks after my visit before chicks are running around on the beach, the courtship displays of the parents provide quite the comical moments as females turn down, or accept, the gifts of small eels by the males.

Least_tern_GP_2022_1Least_tern_GP_2022_1A pair of least terns (Sternula antillarum) court each other on a beach along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi.

My final stop was a rookery a little inland from the coast. No pink birds in Colorado; I needed the pink fix. But in addition to roseate spoonbills, the rookery also has cattle egrets, little blue herons, great egrets and an alligator or two. 

Roseate_spoonbill_NewIberia_2022_3Roseate_spoonbill_NewIberia_2022_3A roseate spoonbill (Platalea ajaja) flys past a green rookery on a sunny morning in New Iberia, Louisiana. After a week of cruising around southern Louisiana, it was time to head home. It was a lovely time again to photograph a wide variety of birds down South. Join me next April to capture your own photos of southern birds.  More info.

A random collection of additional images from southern Louisiana.

Roseate_spoonbill_NewIberia_2022_2Roseate_spoonbill_NewIberia_2022_2A roseate spoonbill (Platalea ajaja) flys past a green rookery on a sunny morning in New Iberia, Louisiana. Alligator_NewIberia_2022_1Alligator_NewIberia_2022_1An alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) quietly watches from the surface of the water in New Iberia, Louisiana. Great_egret_NewIberia_2022_1Great_egret_NewIberia_2022_1A pair of great egrets (Ardea alba) pair up above their two offspring in the nest in New Iberia, Louisiana. Little_blue_heron_NewIberia_2022_2Little_blue_heron_NewIberia_2022_2A little blue heron (Egretta caerulea) stands on a short branch of a tree on a sunny afternoon in a rookery in New Iberia, Louisiana. Cattle_egret_NewIberia_2022_2Cattle_egret_NewIberia_2022_2A cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis) flys against a blue sky on a sunny morning in New Iberia, Louisiana. Bird_rookery_NewIberia_2022_1Bird_rookery_NewIberia_2022_1A mix of roseate spoonbills (Platalea ajaja), cattle egrets (Bubulcus ibis) and great egrets (Ardea alba) takeover the trees for a rookery on an island in a pond in New Iberia, Louisiana. Great_egret_NewIberia_2022_2Great_egret_NewIberia_2022_2A great egret (Ardea alba) flys over a pond with an alligator swimming in the background as fog rises from the surface in the golden morning light in New Iberia, Louisiana.

 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) beach bird bird photography birds Coast Gulf Louisiana marsh Mississippi nature photo photo tour Photo workshop photographer shore wading wildlife wildlife photography https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2022/5/birds-of-louisiana Sat, 14 May 2022 19:49:52 GMT
Back to Guiding https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2022/5/back-to-guiding Woohoo! It is spring in Rocky Mountain National Park (well almost) and that means it is time to start the guiding season. This week saw a little bit of everything — from snow at sunrise and a stunning sunset to male turkeys strutting for the ladies at the entrance gate and a bull moose moving around the park. 

Although I love winter in Rocky, I find it can be a little more unpredictable in the months of November to April. Much of the wildlife has migrated out of the park, snow is hard to predict for stunning landscape images (otherwise the landscape can be pretty brown) and bad snowstorms can unexpectedly cause park management to close the roads. Therefore, I stick to the warmer months of May to October for taking people into Rocky Mountain National Park for their wildlife and landscape photo adventures. These months present the peak time for wildlife activity and more color on the landscapes.

I had my first client this week and we had a great couple of days, even with Mother Nature's decision to drop some unexpected snow on our landscape shoot the first morning.  

All worked out with lots of great wildlife sightings — from lots of pregnant elk to a wide variety of singing birds to mule deer bucks sporting the beginnings of new antlers — along with a wonderful hike to photograph Longs Peak at sunset and a subtle but pretty sunrise shoot at an alpine lake. 

If you are interested in booking your private photo tour this summer, just send me an email and I will confirm your date.

For more info, visit the Rocky Mountain National Park photo tours page.

See you in the mountains!!
 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) animal Colorado Estes Park landscape nature nature photography photo photo tour photographer photography Rocky Mountain national park travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2022/5/back-to-guiding Wed, 11 May 2022 05:04:58 GMT
Birds of Bosque https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2022/1/birds-of-bosque Birds of Bosque

Sandhill_crane_BDANWR_2021_10Sandhill_crane_BDANWR_2021_10A pair of sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis) take a drink of water after landing in a pond at sunset in Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico. I try to be very sensitive about revealing locations associated with where I photograph wildlife. It is best for the animals to not have a disruptive cacophony of loud voices descend upon them from photographers or wildlife viewers hoping to make images. 

Sandhill_crane_BDANWR_2021_6Sandhill_crane_BDANWR_2021_6A single sandhill crane (Grus canadensis) starts to lean forward on a frozen pond in preparation for take off on a sunny morning at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico. Sandhill_crane_BDANWR_2021_4Sandhill_crane_BDANWR_2021_4A single sandhill crane (Grus canadensis) runs across a frozen pond in preparation for take off on a sunny morning at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico. Sandhill_crane_BDANWR_2021_3Sandhill_crane_BDANWR_2021_3A single sandhill crane (Grus canadensis) runs across a frozen pond in preparation for take off on a sunny morning at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico. Sandhill_crane_BDANWR_2021_7Sandhill_crane_BDANWR_2021_7A single sandhill crane (Grus canadensis) takes off on a frozen pond pulling a ring of ice from the water on a sunny morning at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico. The cat is out of the bag, however, when it comes to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in southern New Mexico. This is a bird lover's paradise where probably thousands of bird watchers and photographers visit each winter to witness the migration of tens of thousands of sandhill cranes, snow geese and a myriad of ducks to the Rio Grande River Valley about 90 minutes south of Albuquerque.

Sandhill_crane_BDANWR_2021_8Sandhill_crane_BDANWR_2021_8A family of sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis) take off from a frozen pond on a sunny morning. Sandhill cranes typically are seen in groups of three within the larger flock. These are two parents and an offspring. On occasion, two chicks will survive to migrate with their parents in winter. The youngster, the bird farthest to the left, can be identified by the duller red cap; the parents have a more vibrant red cap. I have been visiting Bosque for about ten years now, with a missed year here and there. I didn't go in 2020 because of the pandemic so I was eager to get back to this location, one of the best I know of for bird photography. The light of southern New Mexico seems to always have a warm tone to it and although the landscapes are bathed in brown, the sun lights up the landscape in a rainbow of pinks and oranges at sunrise and sunset. 

I planned my trip to coincide with not just the bird migration but a full moon. I had tried for full moon photos at Bosque a couple of times before. The clouds changed my plans on the first attempt. A family emergency changed my plans on the second. My luck changed on this trip. 

Sandhill_crane_BDANWR_2021_9Sandhill_crane_BDANWR_2021_9A group of sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis) float into a pond at sunset. These scenes of sandhill cranes floating past a colorful sunset sky, played out each afternoon as the cranes return to the ponds to roost at night, never get old. Climate change also seems to have had an impact on this region as well. Warmer temperatures and reduced rainfall caused the refuge managers to decide not to plant corn in 2021. Several of the popular ponds for bird photography, like the large ones just before the visitor center, were dried up, barren of water and birds. The large pond by the flight deck still held water, and the cranes and geese used it for overnight roosting. I witnessed a morning blast off on one day but it happened before decent colors in the sky.

There was another pond on the far north side of the refuge that I had not photographed in previous years. Cranes and ducks mostly used this pond at night and the position of the pond offered optimal positioning for front lighting at sunrise and backlighting near sunset. The down side was that it took an extra 30 minutes to get to this location compared to the quick access of the entry ponds. Although I thought I had saved enough time to get to the pond for sunrise, I miscalculated and wound up on the east side of the refuge. It worked out perfectly as I was the only one in position at sunrise to catch the setting full moon above the Chupadera Mountains. A little patience and I had the image I envisioned all these years of the moon, mountains, beautiful light and birds flying in front of the moon. 

Bosque_Moonset_2021_1Bosque_Moonset_2021_1Sandhill cranes fly past a setting full moon at sunrise in Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico. This scene was one I envisioned for many years.

Remember that any time you travel to a destination for photography — whether you only drive five minutes from your home or you fly five hours to a far away location — you should create a mental shot list. This helps you have goals while you are out photographing so you don't scramble around but rather mindfully place yourself in front of the best light and best subjects. 

Besides the goal to photograph the full moon, I also hoped to build a collection of duck images. Over the years, I have built up quite a collection of photos of sandhill cranes and snow geese but this time I wanted to focus on some of the other birds that visit the refuge. This year I had the chance to photograph mallards, pintails, buffleheads and American coots.
Greater_roadrunner_BDANWR_2021_1Greater_roadrunner_BDANWR_2021_1A greater roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus) runs across a dirt road on a sunny morning. Roadrunners are common birds at the refuge but they don't often give you much time for photos. Enjoy this collection of images from Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. All images captured with the Nikon D850.

American_coot_BDANWR_2021_1American_coot_BDANWR_2021_1An American coot (Fulica americana) dives into the water to search for food at a pond in Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico. American_coot_BDANWR_2021_2American_coot_BDANWR_2021_2An American coot (Fulica americana) dives into the water to search for food at a pond in Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico. American_coot_BDANWR_2021_3American_coot_BDANWR_2021_3An American coot (Fulica americana) dives into the water to search for food at a pond in Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico.

Bufflehead_BDANWR_2021_1Bufflehead_BDANWR_2021_1A small group of buffleheads (Bucephala albeola) fly low across a frozen pond on a cold, sunny morning at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico.

Pintail_BDANWR_2021_1Pintail_BDANWR_2021_1A flock of pintails (Anas acuta) and a few gadwalls (Mareca strepera) and mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) take off from a shallow pond backlit by the setting sun in Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico.

Full_moon_BDANWR_2021_1Full_moon_BDANWR_2021_1The full moon rises as a flock of snow geese fly below the moon's yellow glow in Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico.

Mallard_BDANWR_2021_2Mallard_BDANWR_2021_2A flock of mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) take off from a shallow pond in a marsh at Bosque del Apache National Wildife Refuge, New Mexico.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) animals bird bosque del apache bufflehead coot ducks mallard national wildlife refuge nature nature photography New Mexico Nikon Nikon D850 outdoors photographer photography pintail refuge sandhill cranes snow geese southern southwest tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife winter https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2022/1/birds-of-bosque Tue, 01 Feb 2022 00:42:59 GMT
Polar Bears of Churchill https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2022/1/polar-bears-of-churchill Polar_bear_Churchill_2021_1Polar_bear_Churchill_2021_1One of the first polar bears we saw during the trip to Churchill, Manitoba. Snowfall, polar bears and Arctic birds — what more could a wildlife photographer want for a photo trip?

In early November, I took a group of four photographers to Churchill for their first experience in the Arctic. Churchill sits on the southwestern edge of Hudson Bay on the far northern reaches of the Canadian Province of Manitoba. Churchill has long boasted about being the polar bear capital of the world, and with good reason.

About 1,000 polar bears call this northern Canadian region home. In comparison, there are only about 800 full-time human residents. Yup, the bears outnumber the people! Polar_bear_CH_2021_60Polar_bear_CH_2021_60Two polar bears (Ursus maritimus) spar on a snowy hill during a light snowfall in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada.

Mother bears give birth in dens not far from Hudson Bay. Some bears will spend the summers foraging for berries and other small samplings of food in the tundra and spruce forest surrounding Hudson Bay. 

The peak polar bear viewing season for this region, however, is late October through mid-November when the bears arrive along the coast of Hudson Bay to wait for the water to turn to ice. When that happens, these apex predators venture out onto the barren, frozen water to hunt for their favorite meal, seal. In the meantime, they pass the time around the Churchill area, hopefully staying out of trouble.

Churchill_street_2021_1Churchill_street_2021_1A nighttime street view of Kelsey Boulevard covered in snow in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada. No roads lead into the remote, no-frills town of Churchill. (I believe the road system in Churchill encompasses only about 35 miles of paved roads.) The only methods for reaching Churchill include plane (a single daily flight from Calm Air takes off from Winnipeg International Airport during the polar bear viewing peak season) or a train from Winnipeg, which just recently reopened after being closed due to heavy snowstorms in March 2017.

I love the cold and photographing white animals on a white landscape. I was a little nervous, however, about the weather during the Churchill trip this year. Photos coming out of Churchill just days before our arrival showed brown, snowless terrain. Willow_ptarmigan_Churchill_2021_3Willow_ptarmigan_Churchill_2021_3In addition to polar bears, Churchill is known for its bird viewing opportunities. Although winter has fewer than a visit in late spring, the willow ptarmigan (pictured here) is one of my favorite birds to photograph during a polar bear photo tour, especially in falling snow.  

Historically, the ice arrives on the bay around November 7, but can happen any time up until mid-December. Climate change, however, has caused the freeze-up to happen later and later. It can make planning a trip difficult but my local guides were spot on for estimating the freeze-up date for our trip, which took place November 7-13, 2021. Schedule a trip as close to the water freeze-up but not after. Closer to the freeze-up date provides a better chance for snow on the ground and an abundance of polar bears milling around. Schedule your trip too late and you run the risk of bears being inaccessible on the ice.

The snow arrived a day before we landed on the Churchill tarmac and bears were plentiful. The water started showing signs of freezing with the early form of grease ice (the first stages of freezing when the surface of the water gets a thick, slushy coating) on November 11. It took several more weeks for the ice to freeze enough for the large mammals to travel on it. 

Polar_bear_CH_2021_39Polar_bear_CH_2021_39Although the tundra can look barren, the cold air and high humidity can create some interesting atmospheric conditions. A polar bear just adds to the scene and gives a subject in this sense-of-place photo. Over the course of our visit, we saw at least a dozen different bears, with anywhere from four to a dozen sightings in one day. We also saw snowy owls, a gyrfalcon, red fox, willow ptarmigan and eider ducks. When one participant mentioned he thought he would see more, I happily reminded him that he was now part of the polar bear club, that group of dedicated photographers and wildlife enthusiasts willing to brave the cold and long travel to visit the edge of the tundra and hang with the polar bears.

If you are interested in joining me on a polar bear photo tour, email me or signup on my polar bear photo tour page.

Polar_bear_Churchill_2021_2Polar_bear_Churchill_2021_2Full-frame portraits of bears top the list for any visit to Churchill, but don't forget about those images that capture the personality of these fun-loving and curious bruins, like this one playing with a utility line.

 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) animal arctic bear Canada Churchill female female nature photography Manitoba nature nature photography photo photo tour photo workshop photographers photography polar bear tips for nature photographers travel wildlife women https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2022/1/polar-bears-of-churchill Mon, 10 Jan 2022 17:29:57 GMT
Best (Most Memorable) Photos of 2021 https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2021/12/best-of-2021 Bighorn_sheep_BNP_2021_2Bighorn_sheep_BNP_2021_2A bighorn sheep lamb stops by a green bush on a ridge in Badlands National Park, South Dakota. Although I could only stay for less than a day, a trip to South Dakota in late May was a great opportunity to reconnect with friends, meet new photographers, and capture a few decent images. ADDED NOTE: This post was written prior to the wildfires that just happened in Superior and Louisville, Colorado. As I finished up this content and added the photos, I watched the minute-by-minute coverage of the heartbreaking catastrophe happening only 60 minutes from my home. Friends were affected. Former coworkers were affected. As you will read below, this year has been very difficult for me. I know it has been very difficult for so many other people. Nothing in my wildest dreams could be worse than what I saw unfold on the news yesterday and continue to see today. Many other people are now experiencing a much worse end to this crummy year, and my heart breaks for them. It certainly puts things in perspective. If you are interested in updates about this catastrophic fire, including how you can help, visit the Boulder County Office of Emergency Management website


Here we are at the end of 2021, and things feel somewhat worse than at the end of 2020. 

If I can be honest with anyone reading this post, this has been a crappy year. I thought 2020 was hard. This year saw every piece of crud that rolled out of 2020 settle on this year. Last year had buffers and cushions. This year didn't have that. It was a tough year personally, financially, and with my business. I feel like my photography has suffered, I have lost interest in doing much of it, and inspiration seems to have disappeared. 

It isn't uncommon for artists to struggle. Writer's block, stagnant, loss of vision, seeking a muse, starving artist, stuck in a rut. There are many phrases for the struggles artists experience. But the pandemic threw something my way I just wasn't prepared to handle. 

As I started to work on my annual summary of photos, I really thought that it would make me even more down about how many missed opportunities I had this year, how many photos I lacked that really sparked a smile, the money I spent that I didn't have, or the loss of focus.

Going through my images, however, brought back a lot of great memories. I am so truly lucky and so very grateful to do this for a living, whatever lack of living that is these days. For all of the struggles I have had this year seeing places go to reservations and loss of flexibility for visiting some of my favorite places, I know I have seen more amazing locations in my life than most will ever see, and I hope I am nowhere near done on that goal. The way I see them just may have to change a little. And many of these places really did need some controls put in place because the lack of respect I have seen people demonstrate for the outdoors just turns my stomach on some occasions. 

And I am so thankful for the great clients and fellow photographers I spent time with this year. Looking at these photos really brought back a lot of those fun moments in the field. 

There are so many places I want to visit, photograph and write about, and although that will have to slow down for a while as I seek new opportunities to support my career, I am appreciative of what I have already experienced. 

As a working photographer, I have grown to miss just sitting in the field and taking photos. But in all honesty, that isn't what makes money in this business these days and unfortunately I haven't yet reached a level in my career to be paid to capture those collections of images (I am still working on this one). When I do get time in the field, I put a lot of pressure on myself to get the right shot, make sure the focus is correct, the backgrounds are perfect, watch those distracting objects, find the right story, seek the right perspective, capture the most interesting action, etc. But that pressure has caused me to make more mistakes than I have in the past. I think about all of the things that need to be done back at my office. I think of all the things I should be doing, and therefore I lose the focus on being in the moment, such an important aspect of nature photography. 

I also have found I don't travel as much. I realize I travel more than most people, but I didn't visit many of my favorite places this year, partly for lack of time, partly for lack of money to get there, partly because of many new reservation processes, and partly because Covid continues to make travel unpredictable. A mudslide canceled plans to reach one destination. Wildfire smoke caused me to cancel a backpacking trip. A car accident caused one five-hour outing to turn into a ten-hour, full-day ordeal. A hurricane wiped out my favorite birding location in Louisiana. But I did revisit places I hadn't seen in a long time (Churchill for one) and checked off three new national parks on my list (Teddy Roosevelt, Petrified Forest and White Sands [it was still a monument the last time I was there]).

I had to cancel several projects this year that I was very passionate about completing but hope to renew them in the coming year if things improve. 

So I have been working on my goals list for 2022 for a couple of months now. And just because the list says 2022, it doesn't mean I haven't already started towards those goals. Next year will be about refocusing, rebuilding and reinvigorating this crazy passion for photography and writing. Becoming a better photographer and writer isn't always about taking more photos or writing more words. Sometimes taking a step back and studying the masters can give you great insight. Sometimes eliminating what you shouldn't spend your time worrying about and focusing on those things that you can change and improve is a better use of energy. I plan to read a lot of books, revisit some of my favorite magazines, watch hours upon hours of videos to learn new skills, and implement personal lifestyle changes for my physical and mental wellbeing. I am looking at some new options for workshops in 2023 to mix things up a bit and to see how travel evolves as a result of Covid. It will be a busy year of becoming a better storyteller without necessarily taking more photos and learning about new and interesting places to take clients.

Our world is drastically changing, and I wish I had the answers on how to slow down that change, but I don't. All I can do is hope that my photos encourage others to enjoy our natural world, become stewards for protecting it, and take a moment to slow down and respectfully enjoy our beautiful planet. 

So enjoy this collection of 21 wildlife images and a handful of landscape photos. Be sure to roll over each image for a little description about the image. A full collection of 42 landscape and wildlife images along with a few videos of this year's adventures can be seen on my YouTube channel. 

Have a very happy New Year! Here is to a prosperous 2022!

MAMMALS

Moose_RMNP_2021_11Moose_RMNP_2021_11A bull moose walks out from the thick willows on a sunny but hazy morning in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

 

Brown_bear_LCNP_2021_21Brown_bear_LCNP_2021_21A brown bear feeds on sedges along a creek bank in Lake Clark National Park, Alaska. Covid canceled my workshop to Lake Clark National Park in 2020 so I was eager to return to Alaska to see the bears I have spent a dozen years photographing. This year's trip was an unbelievable experience with lots of great photo opportunities.

 

Porcupine_KP_2021_1Porcupine_KP_2021_1A north American porcupine walks across a grassy field in Anchorage, Alaska. I prefer to photograph wildlife at eye level, and for those smaller mammals and birds, that means getting down low on the ground. Many animals, however, will not tolerate you looking directly at them from this perspective and you have to be stealthy about your opportunities to get this angle. Porcupines do not have good eyesight so if you stay very still and quiet, you can capture photos of them from this low perspective without disturbing them.

 

Polar_bear_Churchill_2021_10Polar_bear_Churchill_2021_10A polar bear poses for a portrait in Churchill, Manitoba. The trip to Churchill in northern Canada was scheduled to take place in November 2020. Covid postponed the plans to November 2021. By August, we were still unsure if we would be on the flights so we could photograph polar bears. Finally, by October we were confident that the Canadian border would stay open for U.S. travelers. Four Covid tests later and a few additional pieces of paperwork, and I, along with my group, were on our way. It was a memorable trip–the first time I had been back up there since 2013–with photo opportunities of polar bears, willow ptarmigan (check that photo out in the birds section), eider ducks, gyrfalcon and snowy owls.

 

Coyote_pup_EP_2021_3Coyote_pup_EP_2021_3A coyote pup peeks out from a current bush on a sunny morning in Estes Park, Colorado. I don't often get an opportunity to photograph coyote pups, let alone at any distance close enough for decent photos. This year I had not one but two dens to photograph. Neither lasted long as the summer season rolled around and the mothers found new locations away from prying eyes of arriving tourists but the week I had with them will be time I will not soon forget.

 

Elk_EP_2021_24Elk_EP_2021_24Two bull elk spar in a lake during the golden hour before sunset in a lake in Estes Park, Colorado. This was one of those moments that I was so happy to have my camera ready and next to me. I was driving home after a day down the hill running errands. I arrived back in Estes Park about 45 minutes before sunset when I saw the whole town herd crossing the lake. I pulled into a parking lot and got into position. I missed most of the herd crossing but as elk will do during the fall rut, the bulls followed behind. These two satellite bulls, one with an atypical set of antlers and a spitfire personality to match that I saw and photographed several times during the fall, stopped in the lake and sparred in that beautiful golden light. It is moments like these that make me forget about the challenges of living in a mountain town and remind me that I do love living in Estes Park.

 

River_otter_EI_2021_1River_otter_EI_2021_1A river otter swims through the water on a cloudy day on the North Shore of Lake Ponchartrain, Louisiana. It was a very cloudy day and had started to rain. I had my camera in tow looking for brown pelicans and had stopped to photograph an osprey (see that photo in the bird images below). Out of the corner of my eye I noticed movement in the water. I figured it might be a cormorant or a diving duck but when the head popped up, I stared straight into the face of a river otter. It turned out to be a family of four playing in the canal. They hung around for about 30 minutes before heading deeper into the marsh.

 

Yellow-bellied_marmot_MtEvans_2021_1Yellow-bellied_marmot_MtEvans_2021_1A yellow-bellied marmot poses on a rock like he was having a cover shot taken on Mount Evans, Colorado. Doesn't this remind you of photos of models laying on a chaise lounge sofa?

 

Moose_RMNP_2021_14Moose_RMNP_2021_14A bull moose walks through an alpine lake set against the peaks of the Continental Divide and the beginning of fall colors in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

Elk_RMNP_2021_11Elk_RMNP_2021_11A large bull elk walks through a meadow while bugling on a sunny day at the beginning of the rut season in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. This is well-known Kahuna. We had a scare with him late in the fall rut season when he injured his back end after fighting with another bull elk. He appeared very weak but I am happy to report that as of about a month ago, he had been seen and was looking better. Fingers crossed he makes it through the winter and we see this impressive bull next fall.

 

Long-tailed_weasel_ANWR_2021_1Long-tailed_weasel_ANWR_2021_1A long-tailed weasel pops up out of the snow during a spring snowstorm to look for some prey in Northern Colorado. This was the only image that was a vertical in my selections for this year so I recropped to a horizontal to work better with the other images. This morning was still one of my favorites of the year when this long-tailed weasel popped out of a ground squirrel hole on a snowy day. For anyone that photographs wildlife, you know how hard it is to capture images of a weasel. They are fast, they blend into the landscape and just don't sit still very often. This little one gave me about 30 minutes of running and darting and, most importantly, stationary poses like this one.

 

Red_fox_LA_2021_1Red_fox_LA_2021_1Two red fox kits look out from their den near a live oak tree in southern Louisiana. I suspected a den in the area when I was there earlier in the year. I had seen on several occasions an adult fox but no indication of where a den would be. Then I had a call in late April that I was eager to receive. "She has a den and there are six kits." I was on the next available flight but only had a couple of days to photograph the kits, not really enough to get them used to my presence near them. My trip would be added onto another previously planned photo outing to visit a friend in Arizona but as I was walking out the door, I got word that one of the people I was staying with may have been exposed to Covid. There went my trip to Arizona. It turned out to benefit me in the long run because I now spent a week with the kits and their mother. What a special opportunity.

 

Elk_EP_2021_34Elk_EP_2021_34A backlit bull elk shakes off the water after chasing a cow elk through Lake Estes near sunset in Estes Park, Colorado. Taken on the same afternoon as the previous image to two bull elk sparring int he lake, this photo wraps up the mammal images as one of the last I have edited from this year's captures. I have more to go but this was one I was excited to find when I went back to the photos from this day.

BIRDS

Wood_duck_Pueblo_2021_2Wood_duck_Pueblo_2021_2A male wood duck flys across a lake with fall reflections on the surface in Pueblo, Colorado.

 

Willow_ptarmigan_Churchill_2021_2Willow_ptarmigan_Churchill_2021_2A single willow ptarmigan hides behind a mound of snow during a snowstorm in Churchill, Manitoba. I love white-on-white images of wildlife in snow. Although I loved photographing the polar bears in Churchill, I think this was my favorite photo opportunity while in the Canadian Arctic.

 

American_dipper_Bear_Creek_2021_1American_dipper_Bear_Creek_2021_1An American dipper poses with a beak full of larva, midges and other small insects for her chicks in a nearby nest near Evergreen, Colorado. At the beginning of each year, I make a list of what I would like to focus on for new photos. This year I had five subjects on my list, including American dippers. The dippers wound up being the one subject I took the most photos of out of those five, including at least six nests. Watching the parents so actively feeding the babies gave me such joy during the summer and a lot of respect on how busy these small birds stay to raise their nestlings into fledglings.

 

Cedar_waxwing_Slidell_2021_6Cedar_waxwing_Slidell_2021_6A cedar waxwing sits on the end of a branch in Slidell, Louisiana. I was waiting in line at Starbucks when I noticed that distinct sound of cedar waxwings. I looked up and sure enough, there was a small flock in the tree next to the line of coffee drinkers waiting in their cars for their hot beverages. I came back the next morning hoping to find a few of the birds. I learned that many of the ornamental trees and bushes in the shopping center parking lot were loaded with berries. I patiently waited for the flutter of the flock. And there it was, but today the flock now had about 100 birds in it. Over the course of a week, I watched the flock grow to at least 400 waxwings, clean out all of the berries, and then dwindle back down to move on to their next location. Another fun and unexpected experience.

 

Brown_pelican_Eden_2020_1Brown_pelican_Eden_2020_1A brown pelican shakes off the wet weather on a rainy morning near Lake Ponchartrain, Louisiana. This was one of the first photos I took in the year. I have plenty of pelican photos in great light but wanted to find a different way to photograph them, and taking advantage of a rainy morning gave me the chance.

 

Osprey_Eden_2021_1Osprey_Eden_2021_1An osprey looks directly forward on a wet, rainy day near Lake Ponchartrain, Louisiana. This is the osprey from the same day with the river otter in southern Louisiana.

 

Greater_sage_grouse_NC_2021_8Greater_sage_grouse_NC_2021_8A male greater sage grouse shows off on the lek to two nearby hens during a snowstorm in northern Colorado.

LANDSCAPES

Shiprock_Sunset_NM_2021_3Shiprock_Sunset_NM_2021_3A colorful sky behind Shiprock at sunset near Gallup, New Mexico. I captured this image during the last trip I took in 2021. The sky in this image is actually a portion of what the sky looked like directly behind me at the same time composited into this frame.

 

Lake_Isabelle_sunrise_2021_3Lake_Isabelle_sunrise_2021_3A creek runs out of the eastern edge of an alpine lake as sunlight fills the surrounding mountains with morning alpenglow in the Roosevelt National Forest, Colorado.

 

Milky_Way_in_GNF_2021_1Milky_Way_in_GNF_2021_1The Galactic Center of the Milky Way rises above an alpine lake at treeline on a still night in the Gunnison National Forest, Colorado. So many trails and photo spots have become so crowded in Colorado. I found exploring at night has given me a new opportunity to see Colorado in peace and quiet. I was all alone this night, except for the mule deer buck that showed up behind me and a couple of other campers asleep in their tent nearby.

 

Poppies_PS_2021_1Poppies_PS_2021_1A field of poppies backlit by the afternoon sun in Pinewood Springs, Colorado. Just a simple photo that makes me remember the warm days of a mountain summer.

 

Photographers_BadlandsNP_2021_1Photographers_BadlandsNP_2021_1A group of photographers enjoy the sunrise in Badlands National Park, South Dakota. This was the first trip I had taken to see other people. I had certainly been out and about and around other people, but this was the first trip I had taken since the lockdowns of the pandemic to see people I didn't know prior to this trip. It was a wonderful feeling to be around others again.

 

Theodore_Roosevelt_sunrise_2021_1Theodore_Roosevelt_sunrise_2021_1The sun lights up the clouds just before it crests the horizon at sunrise above Painted Canyon in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota. This was one of the three national parks I checked off for a first visit this year.

 

Hanging_Lake_2021_1Hanging_Lake_2021_1A morning spring view of Hanging Lake in the White River National Forest near Glenwood Springs, Colorado. In 2020, the Grizzly Creek Fire burned near this location, including along the trail. The trail was reopened in early 2021 so I jumped on the website to book reservations (yes, this is another location that now requires reservations) and photograph it during spring colors in June. I had previously only photographed it in winter. I am so glad I did because when the monsoon season hit in July, mudslides filled this lake with silt and further damaged the area. As of today, it is closed until further notice with no indication on when the U.S. Forest Service will work on getting it reopened. This is becoming a more common theme. We have so many unique and beautiful locations yet as natural disasters keep changing the landscape, public agencies don't have the financial or human resources to bring these spots back for safe use.

 

Beaver_Pond_weather_2021_2dBeaver_Pond_weather_2021_2dA dramatic sunset above a beaver pond and the peak of Beckwith Mountain in Gunnison National Forest, Colorado. The fall season lingered quite a bit longer than expected this year, which gave lots of unique opportunities. This is a location I have been to a lot over the years but those clouds just made the view better than an other previous time.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Alaska best images of 2021 best nature photographer best of 2021 best photos of 2021 Colorado inspiration landscape landscape photo Louisiana nature nature photography photo photo of the year photography travel wildlife year in review https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2021/12/best-of-2021 Fri, 31 Dec 2021 19:19:42 GMT
Shiprock, New Mexico https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2021/12/shiprock-new-mexico Shiprock_Sunset_NM_2021_3Shiprock_Sunset_NM_2021_3A colorful sky behind of Shiprock at sunset near Gallup, New Mexico. Just as I finished editing the photos from this trip to Shiprock, New Mexico, I received an email from a fellow photographer and friend about how the Bureau of Land Management will add some improvements to the trail leading to House on Fire in Bears Ears National Monument in southern Utah. Two of the potential improvements could be a chain "fence" in front of the ruins, preventing people from going closer to the ruins, and limited parking. 

Things are changing quickly in our rapidly shrinking world with a growing population, and that was why I stopped at Shiprock on my trip south to spend the holidays in Louisiana. Although I really try not to be a tripod-hole photographer, I do have a checklist of locations I want to see and photograph. House on Fire is one I have never visited, and I may not be able to get there to produce a photo I want before the BLM installs the upgrades. Shiprock is another of these locations I wanted to see before changes take place.

Shiprock_Sunset_NM_2021_4Shiprock_Sunset_NM_2021_4A closeup view of the peak on Shiprock lit by the rays of the setting sun near Gallup, New Mexico. Shiprock Peak is a 7,178-foot monadrock (an isolated rock knob, ridge or small mountain that rises abruptly from the landscape) located in northwest New Mexico within the Navajo Nation. This unique and sacred formation that sits by itself along with a long ridge of rocks to the south is what remains of the throat of a volcano. The Navajo refer to it as Tsé Bitʼaʼí, "rock with wings" or "winged rock" referencing the legend of the great bird that brought the Navajo from the north to their present lands.

Accommodations: The town of Shiprock offers limited services but nearby Farmington, New Mexico, about 30 miles to the east, offers a wide variety of comfortable hotel options. I stayed in Gallup, New Mexico, a nice midpoint for me between Shiprock and my next destination, Petrified Forest National Park. Although some websites say you can camp along the dirt road leading to Shiprock Peak, this is not true as this is sacred Navajo land.  Shiprock_Sunset_NM_2021_1Shiprock_Sunset_NM_2021_1The face of Shiprock lights up in an orange glow from the setting sun near Gallup, New Mexico.

Timing: This location could be photographed at sunrise or sunset. I chose sunset to get the light along the left side of the peak and hopefully some colorful clouds behind the monolith. I also hoped to photograph the Geminids meteor shower at this location but unfortunately my trip was running a few days behind schedule causing me to arrive a couple of days before the full moon. The forecast also called for increasing clouds. That bright moon along with a cloudy sky would make the night sky too bright to capture images of meteors or be blocked by clouds so I ditched the idea of staying late into the evening. That is the challenge of night photography versus sunset photography; you want those clouds at sunset but they have to dissipate in time for photographing the night skies. 

Seasons: On the evening of my visit, a few patches of snow remained at the base of Shiprock Peak on the north side. I would imagine this would be a beautiful location after a fresh snowfall. This is also desert country so there isn't much in the way of vegetation near Shiprock. Most of the landscape is red dirt with sporadic sage brush and grasses. After a wet spring, this may turn into vibrant green, which could add some color to the image. It being desert also means that summer will be hot and dry, producing the less appealing blue skies. My recommendation would be one of four options:

  • spring after an abundance of late winter or early spring moisture to help desert plants bloom
  • monsoon season to capture dramatic storms passing through the area
  • summer on the night of a new moon to capture a meteor shower or Milky Way (note that images will include light pollution from Farmington )
  • winter after a fresh snowfall

Shiprock_Sunset_NM_2021_5Shiprock_Sunset_NM_2021_5High, whispy clouds fill the sky above a barren desert landscape to the east of Shiprock, New Mexico. Since I was visiting the area on a trip for the holidays, I was at the mercy of my schedule rather than the best weather conditions. 

If you make a trip out to Shiprock, please be respectful of the importance of this formation to the Navajo. Do not climb on the rocks or remove any artifacts.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) desert natural nature nature photography new mexico photo photography shiprock shiprock peak sunrise sunset travel https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2021/12/shiprock-new-mexico Tue, 28 Dec 2021 22:25:40 GMT
MOOSE MANIA!!! https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2021/12/moose-mania Moose_Allenspark_2019_1Moose_Allenspark_2019_1A yearling bull moose (Alces alces) stares down from a rocky ridge near Allenspark, Colorado. There are plenty of animals that I enjoy watching, photographing and learning anything and everything I can about them. One of my all time favorite animals that fit into this category, however, is the moose. 

Lanky, and sometimes scruffy, yet charismatic with the prettiest set of eyelashes in the animal kingdom, there is something about this large mammal that not only captures my attention, but the interest of a wide variety of people. 

Recently I was in Rocky Mountain National Park at a location where I had watched two bull moose spend their time feeding on willow bushes in early summer. As I turned to walk back towards my truck, a woman passed me and asked if I had seen any moose.

In a bit of a snarky-but-meant-to-be-funny response I said, "Nope, none here." The two bulls were right over my shoulder not twenty feet off the trail.  Moose_23Moose_23Two bull moose sparring in the willows in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, Colorado

When the woman saw them, she screamed in delight. The other wildlife watchers turned and looked at her.

"Shhh," I gently whispered as I put my finger to my lips. 

"I am just so excited. These are the first moose I have ever seen!" she exclaimed with a smile stretching across her face as her husband just shook his head. 

I have seen dozens of people have a similar reaction as they bear witness to their first moose. 

There is just something about this animal.  Moose_Anchorage_2019_1Moose_Anchorage_2019_1A large bull moose (Alces alces) walks through a patch of alders near Anchorage, Alaska.

So in honor of this majestic giant of northern woods, I have dedicated the month of August to showcasing photos from my years of photographing moose and sharing lots of tips about these shy and awkward creatures. This will be an annual event so be sure to follow my Instagram page to make sure you too can watch in awe of this lumbering and awkward yet delicate and charismatic megafauna.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) animal animals bull moose moose mania nature nature photography photographer photography tips for nature photographers travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2021/12/moose-mania Wed, 22 Dec 2021 19:36:07 GMT
The Value of a Photograph https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2021/6/the-value-of-a-photograph There are several funny statements regarding the feasibility of making money in photography.

One is: If you want to make a million dollars in photography, start with two.

Another one is: It takes a $50,000 vehicle, $5000 in camera gear, a $500 trip, and $50 in gas to make a $5 photo. 

Whether you are a nature photographer, a buyer of nature prints, or a nature enthusiast that enjoys looking at beautiful images in magazines, the value of a photograph should be well understood. 

Hanging_Lake_2021_1Hanging_Lake_2021_1A morning spring view of Hanging Lake in the White River National Forest near Glenwood Springs, Colorado. As an example, I am going to use a few photos I captured in May at Hanging Lake in White River National Forest, Colorado. 

Here are the details it took to capture the images.
- Purchase a timed-entry reservation. Fee: $12.
- My timed-entry reservation was for 7:30 a.m. and the requirement is to be at the gate within 15 minutes before or after your time slot. I live not quite four hours, or about 200 miles, from the Hanging Lake parking lot. I left my house at 3 a.m. It was a good thing I left a little early because I got caught in some traffic at the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnel near Idaho Springs on Interstate 70 causing me to arrive at the Hanging Lake parking lot at 7:25 a.m. Cost for gas: $38. Mileage wear and tear on truck: $110. Breakfast on the go: $6.
- The hike to Hanging Lake is a steep trail that gains more than 1,00 feet in elevation in 1.2 miles. It is rated as a moderate to difficult hike up a narrow drainage along Dead Horse Creek which flows down through the forest. The roundtrip time for hiking to, visiting, and hiking from the lake is estimated to be three hours. I was out for about four hours, including time to photograph and hike up to Spouting Rock above Hanging Lake. 
- After the hike, I went to Glenwood Springs for lunch. While eating lunch, a tractor trailer overturned in the canyon and caught fire. I was told the canyon was closed for at least the next three hours. I decided to head west a bit to do a little exploring, take a nap at a rest area, and wait for the road to open. During the spring, before many of the high country passes open for the summer season, routes to get around mountains can be extremely long in Colorado. The detour to get me home was up through Meeker, Craig, and Steamboat Springs. It would have taken me six hours to get home and an additional 100 miles of driving. Rather than spend the time in the truck driving, I captured a few stock images along the Colorado River to make the most of my time, enjoyed a nap, and was back on the road by 3:30 p.m. I arrived home by 7:30 p.m. Cost for gas: $40. Mileage wear and tear on truck: $116. Lunch: $15. Dinner: $7.
- Once home, it took me an hour or so to download and go through the images to select the ones I wanted to keep and key word the files. Then it took me another 90 minutes to edit the photos to be ready for print. 

Colorado_River_2021_1Colorado_River_2021_1The Colorado River flowing quickly towards Rifle as swallows chase bugs above the water at the New Castle exit on Interstate 70, Colorado. Total costs for the day: $344. Total hours to produce print-ready images: 19 hours.

These expenses are just to capture this one set of photos. In addition to the specific costs for this day, I also have investments in camera gear, hiking gear, computers, editing software, business liability insurance, camera gear insurance, a truck, insurance on the truck, and this fine website to share the information with you. It will also take me some more time to get these images out to market and promoted.

Here is another funny for you: What's the difference between a full-time photographer and a frozen pizza? The pizza will feed a family of four.

I am definitely not whining or complaining about the costs involved in getting a photo. That is my choice to incur these costs at the opportunity of selling, or risk of not selling, any images from that day in May 2021. 

The photos also have an important story to tell because Hanging Lake came extremely close to being engulfed in the Grizzly Creek Fire in 2020. This photo shows just how close the fire came down the mountain behind the visitor center and restrooms at the Hanging Lake trailhead. For me, documenting these moments in nature are so important. Things change on a daily basis in nature, and sometimes that is not for the best. Rocks crumble and fall; fires engulf forests; wildlife grows and changes throughout the year. And reservations may limit the access into some of these natural areas as they become more and more popular. 

Hanging_Lake_2021_2Hanging_Lake_2021_2The visitor center to Hanging Lake on a spring morning near Glenwood Springs, Colorado. The burn area about the building is from the Grizzly Creek Fire the previous fall. This set of photos shows the comparison of the Glenwood Canyon Bike Path that leads to the Hanging Lake trailhead before (top) and after (bottom) the fire (and in winter and spring). 

Hanging_Lake_winter_2016_1Hanging_Lake_winter_2016_1The trailhead to Hanging Lake starts off flat as it heads up to the steep canyon near Glenwood Springs, Colorado
Hanging_Lake_2021_3Hanging_Lake_2021_3The trail along the river leads hikers from the parking lot to the trailhead for Hanging Lake near Glenwood Springs, Colorado. As you try to sell your own photos, purchase photos from other people, consider giving away or donating your photos, or look at photo credits that say "Courtesy of Mr. Photographer," keep in mind what it takes to produce some of this content. There are a lot of people out there taking photos. The more photos, the less they are valued. That is basic economics of supply and demand. And the more you are willing to undersell your own work, the more it impacts the industry as a whole.

One final funny: Buy a professional camera and you are a professional photographer. Buy a flute and you own a flute.

Happy shooting!

 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) business landscape landscapes making money nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography profit tips tips for nature photographers travel value wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2021/6/the-value-of-a-photograph Sun, 13 Jun 2021 20:24:00 GMT
A Waxwing Winter https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2021/3/a-waxwing-winter Cedar_waxwing_Slidell_2021_5Cedar_waxwing_Slidell_2021_5A cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) sits on the end of a branch of a cherry tree in Slidell, Louisiana. What a winter with the waxwings! I see cedar waxwings in Colorado, but not for long and certainly not in large flocks. 

This was my sixth winter visiting Louisiana, and it was the first time I spent the whole winter here due to some family health issues. That gave me an opportunity to really see how the season changed — from the final lingering leaves of fall to the popping of the brightly colored flowers on the azalea bushes and wisteria vines. But something I experienced this year didn't happen in previous years — or I wasn't as tuned in with it in previous years as this year. 

Cedar_waxwing_Slidell_2021_1Cedar_waxwing_Slidell_2021_1A pair of cedar waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) sit on a branch on a sunny morning in Slidell, Louisiana. This winter seemed to bring an abundance of cedar waxwings to southern Louisiana. I have not heard one way or the other if it was an especially abundant year for the unique looking birds, but some people did tell me they always see them each winter.

Cedar waxwings love berries and they always travel in flocks. What I had never noticed before was all of the ornamental trees in the landscaping of the shopping centers — holly bushes, cherry trees, and dogwood trees — in New Orleans and surrounding suburbs. I would sit in the parking lots, checking my phone for messages or email before heading into a store, and all of sudden hear that distinct "chee chee" made by the waxwings. A quick look up and I could easily identify the flock of two or three dozen birds.  Cedar_waxwing_Slidell_2021_3Cedar_waxwing_Slidell_2021_3A cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) sits in a holly tree in Slidell, Louisiana.

But then one day in early March I came across a flock of waxwings sitting in a cherry tree near Walmart. There were probably four or five dozen in the tree. I pulled out my camera and spent about an hour with the birds. I didn't see them feeding very much, which seemed odd, and I didn't even see anything for them to eat. The cherry trees must be sterile because they didn't have berries on them. But then in a rush of fluttering and "chee chee" the whole flock flew down to the bushes below the trees.

Cedar_waxwing_Slidell_2021_2Cedar_waxwing_Slidell_2021_2A cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) flips a berry into his mouth on a cloudy day in a shopping center parking lot in Slidell, Louisiana. I  still don't know what kind of bush they went into but they were pulling out these large berries, so large the birds were struggling to swallow them. As soon as they would swallow one, off they went back up to the cherry tree. 

So why weren't they eating them in any quantity? I stayed for a while and learned the answer. 

About an hour later I started hearing things hitting my truck. Plink...dink...dink...plink. The seeds of those berries were bouncing off of the truck, as well as some poo from the birds. It appeared the berries took about an hour to digest because as soon as the flock was finished digesting the berries, down they came again for another round. Cedar_waxwing_Slidell_2021_6Cedar_waxwing_Slidell_2021_6A cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) sits on the end of a branch in Slidell, Louisiana.

The light was tough in morning — backlit by the rising sun — so I anticipated nice front light in the afternoon. I came back about 90 minutes before sunset but did not calculate time for the setting sun getting lost behind the Bed, Bath and Beyond and Dollar Tree stores in the shopping center. I had about 30 minutes before I lost the nice light but it was enough time to catch a round of feeding, and realize the flock had more than doubled in size.

I returned again the next morning. The day was overcast so the backlighting wouldn't be as much of an issue. I also tried to park in a different location so I could shoot down the row of bushes and trees rather than directly at them.  Cedar_waxwing_Slidell_2021_7Cedar_waxwing_Slidell_2021_7A flock of cedar waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) sit at the top of a cherry tree in Slidell, Louisiana.

When I arrived I was astonished to see not just one tree full of waxwings, but four of those cherry trees covered with the birds. I counted at least 400 birds. The word had spread throughout the waxwing world and it seemed every waxwing in a 50 mile radius had descended on the shopping center. 

Cedar_waxwing_Slidell_2021_4Cedar_waxwing_Slidell_2021_4A cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) sits among the blossoms of a cherry tree in Slidell, Louisiana. With that many hungry birds it didn't take long before those bushes were cleaned out of berries. About two days later I started noticing the flock was dispersing and within a week all I saw was about one or two dozen birds fluttering from one area of the shopping center to another finding other tasty meals — a holly tree behind the Olive Garden, another holly tree by the Raising Cane's, a few wild vines across the street from the parking lot exit.

It was a fantastic couple of weeks with the birds. By the third week of March most of the waxwings were gone from the region in general. Either I didn't get the memo on the new berry trees or the birds were beginning their journey north like me. 

Photo Tips:

- Use your car as a blind. The birds won't fear the car, especially in a parking lot, but as soon as you get out, their flight instinct kicks into gear. Use a bean bag for your door, like the Nature Scapes Skimmer Sack, to keep your camera steady.

- When shooting from the vehicle, turn the engine off. Even the slight vibration of a running engine can cause camera shake. 

- Try to find a location where you are eye level with the birds. These particular waxwings liked sitting in the higher branches of the trees. I didn't want photos looking up at the birds so I waited until they were on lower branches or in a shorter bush. 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) bird photography bird photos birds cedar waxwing Louisiana nature nature photography photography tips for nature photographers travel waxwing wildlife winter https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2021/3/a-waxwing-winter Tue, 23 Mar 2021 19:33:11 GMT
Winter in Louisiana https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2021/2/winter-in-louisiana 2021 marked my sixth winter spending time in Louisiana. Each time, I have ventured a little further from home base and found new places to explore. I also try to find new routes when traveling between Colorado and Louisiana to add new destinations, or revisit favorite ones. 
Christmas_Star_GuadalupeNP_2020_1Christmas_Star_GuadalupeNP_2020_1The conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter, also referred to as the Christmas Star, above El Capitan and Guadalupe Peak in Guadalupe National Park, Texas.
This year was no different. For this year's seasonal visit, I stopped at Guadalupe Mountains National Park and Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary, both in Texas. The visits were short as I was up against arriving in time for Christmas but well worth the stops.

Visiting Guadalupe Mountains gave me my 42nd national park—21 to go—and an opportunity to photograph the Christmas Star (conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter) above Texas' tallest mountain, Guadalupe Peak. 

Reddish_egret_Bolivar_Flats_2020_1Reddish_egret_Bolivar_Flats_2020_1A white morph reddish egret (Egretta rufescens) takes off from a shallow pool of water along the Gulf Coast of Texas. The visit to the Texas Gulf Coast was even shorter—just a few hours—but sliding around on the beach in my waders and using my Skimmer Pod gave me some interesting photos of shore birds, something I don't get much of a chance to do in Colorado. Dawn_beach_Gulfport_2021_2Dawn_beach_Gulfport_2021_2Photographer and writer, Dawn Wilson, photographs shore birds along the Gulf Coast in Gulfport, Mississippi.

Then it was off to Louisiana. Over the course of a couple months, I visited three national wildlife refuges—Big Branch Marsh, Bogue Chitto, Atchafalaya—plus four state parks (Fontainbleau, Fairview Riverside, Tickfaw, Grand Isle) and a few nature preserves (Lake Martin, Northlake, Audubon Park, Lafreniere Park).

Nutria_LaFreniere_2021_1Nutria_LaFreniere_2021_1A nutria (Myocastor coypus), also known as a coypu, holds a piece of bread it found at an urban park near New Orleans, Louisiana. I finally captured an image of a nutria in one of the city parks. This not-so-little rodent, also referred to as swamp rats, has eluded me on previous trips, at least for a photo. They are a crepuscular animal that hide in thick vegetation. I had seen them in the distance or when I saw them close, they darted into the nearby cover before I could grab a photo. But this year I finally photographed one as it fed on some food left by kids feeding nearby ducks. 

These large rodents (and cousins of the American beaver) were introduced in the U.S. from South America around 1900 for a fur industry that eventually failed. They are considered an invasive species and do a number on marshes. They have even been the main ingredient in recipes by local Louisiana chefs in an attempt to reduce their numbers. Osprey_Eden_2021_1Osprey_Eden_2021_1An osprey (Pandion haliaetus) looks directly forward on a wet, rainy day near Lake Ponchartrain, Louisiana.

I also ventured over to the Gulf Coast of Mississippi to find more shore birds, and a few brown pelicans (of course!). 

Northern_cardinal_Louisiana_2021_4Northern_cardinal_Louisiana_2021_4A female northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) stands on top of a moss-covered post on a cloudy day in southern Louisiana.
And
in between, I set up a backyard blind to photograph song birds (and it turns out some thieving squirrels), and ventured around some roads along Lake Ponchartrain to find my favorite Louisiana subject, brown pelicans, as well as a cooperative osprey.

I have said this many times and mention it to my photography students in every workshop and class: there is always something right in your backyard that is interesting to photograph. The year of Covid-19 (2020) has definitely made that evident to a lot of people. And focusing on your own backyard really provides the best opportunity to visit places on a regular basis to learn patterns, habits, seasons and, in the case of being on Louisiana's Gulf Coast, tides.

Brown_pelican_Eden_2020_3Brown_pelican_Eden_2020_3A brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) flaps off the water after a rain storm along Lake Ponchartrain, Louisiana. Don't get me wrong; I love to travel, and I will continue to travel. I love visiting Alaska and can't wait to get back there in a few months (it has been way too long because of Covid). I'll add a few more national parks to my list this year and will continue to revisit my favorite parks. 

But for someone who has been forced to stay close to home (even if a home on the road) because of work, family commitments, and a pandemic, it has been a nice change of pace to explore new but local areas, and learn how much is right in our own backyard. Gray_squirrel_AudubonPark_2021_1Gray_squirrel_AudubonPark_2021_1A gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) munches on a piece of food while sitting at the base of a pine tree in Audubon Park in New Orleans, Louisiana.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) animal animals bird bird photography Gulf Coast Louisiana nature nature photography photo photography Texas tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2021/2/winter-in-louisiana Fri, 26 Feb 2021 22:54:29 GMT
Rocky: Before and After the 2020 Wildfire Season https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2021/1/rocky-fires Before and After the 2020 Wildfire Season
in Rocky Mountain National Park


NEW VIDEO! Read through for link.

There is no question that 2020 will go down as one of the most difficult in U.S. history.  

But with everything that happened in that unprecedented year, my home state of Colorado experienced its worst year on record when it came to wildfires.

By the end of 2020, Colorado had seen its three largest fires in history:

  • Cameron Peak Fire: 208,663 acres
  • East Troublesome Fire: 192,560 acres
  • Pine Gulch Fire: 139,007 acres

At one point, my home town of Estes Park was ranked as the town or city with the worst air quality in the world during the height of the top two fires, which burned just a few miles to the north and west, respectively, of town. The entire town of Estes Park was also put on mandatory evacuation orders for the first time in history on October 22, 2020 because of the proximity of the growing East Troublesome Fire. East_troublesome_fire_2020_2East_troublesome_fire_2020_2A small group of elk feed on grasses at the Estes Valley Dog Park under an eerie sky and as traffic evacuates out of Estes Park due to the growth of the East Troublesome Fire.

In September 2020, I drove all of the roads in the park to capture time-lapse video on my GoPro Hero8 and window mount of my Toyota Tacoma. My goal was to document some of the best spots in the park for photography. I had no idea that some of these videos would capture landscapes that I will probably never again see in the same condition in my lifetime. 

In addition, this footage now gives me an opportunity to document the regrowth process from before the fires to a year, five years or maybe longer post 2020 wildfire season. 

Moose_RMNP_2019_9Moose_RMNP_2019_9A moose calf (Alces alces) stands up in thick, tall green grasses on the edge of a forest on a sunny day in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. In particular, I am interested in seeing how quickly the habitat returns, how it looks when it returns, and how the animals will adjust to the new habitat. 

Join me on the journey of Colorado's rebirth to healthy forests after the 2020 wildfire season.

Here is the first video of this series featuring a small section of the Kawuneeche Valley in Rocky Mountain National Park. 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) colorado colorado wildfires conservation conservation photography global warming moose national park nature photography photo travel rocky mountain national park wildfire wildfire season https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2021/1/rocky-fires Fri, 29 Jan 2021 02:02:38 GMT
Topaz Denoise AI and Sharpen AI Review https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2020/3/topaz-denoise-ai-and-sharpen-ai-review There are many great plug-ins available for editing photos in Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom. Some make small changes to polish up a photo and some make very drastic modifications for an unrealistic look in the photo. And then there is a whole slew of products in between.

I don't use a lot of filters or plug-ins; my training started in journalism so I feel images should be as close to what I felt at the time I took the photo as possible. That being said, I have also suffered from what I call the "Disney syndrome" with my photos. 

You see, rumors abounded in the 70s and 80s that Walt Disney was in a state of cryostasis—frozen in time until medicine could catch up and reanimate him. This is of course not true but the principle still applies with my photos. If I capture a photo of something pretty spectacular, rare, funny or impressive, I save it even if it isn't technically perfect.

Topaz Sharpening AI

This brown pelican shot is an example of that thought process. This bird looked right at me in beautiful afternoon light and gulped down on a carp. (See my Photo of the Month page for the story behind the shot and the full photo.)

The problem was that the bird moved just ever so slightly faster than I had my settings ready to capture (1/1000 sec, f6.3, ISO 320, 700mm [500mm lens with 1.4 teleconverter], Nikon D4s). The result was a little bit of motion blur in the image.

Solution: try out the new Topaz Sharpen AI plug-in I recently purchased. 

I think the results speak for themselves and the image is now a useable, albeit maybe not printable, photograph that displays a unique moment with this large bird. 

Topaz DeNoise AI

Another plug-in that came with the Topaz package I purchased was Denoise AI. 

On the high-end, pro-level digital cameras of the current marketplace, noise is not as much of an issue as it was even five or six years ago. You can shoot at ISO 3200 and sometimes higher with stunning results. 

But in 2011, I was shooting with a Nikon D80. It was my first digital camera that was considered a prosumer level body. It did great and I captured many fantastic and publishable photos with that body but I had to watch the ISO levels on it. 

This is another example of where the "Disney syndrome" came into play. 

Wolf_3Wolf_3Alpha male of the Canyon Pack in Yellowstone National Park. On the morning of December 31, 2011, I was venturing into Yellowstone National Park for my last visit of my trip. It was shortly before dawn and all you could see were shadows along the roadway. As I ventured up the road out of the north entrance and along the Gardner River, I caught the sudden movement of a coyote on the far side of the water. I pulled into a pull out and watched the shadows for a moment. Turns out it wasn't a coyote that I saw but a wolf—three of them actually. They had just taken down an elk, which was now laying in the river. The wolves were feeding on it within full-frame distance of the roadway.

I stayed in my vehicle while I watched and waited for the light to improve enough to capture photos. 

To this day that is still my best wolf encounter.  Wolf_YNP_2011_6Wolf_YNP_2011_6A male wolf (Canis lupus) walks down through a snow-covered river bank in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Those photos, however, were just a little too noisy to do much more than share on social media. 

The new Topaz DeNoise AI was the perfect solution to bring these photos into the next decade and make them publishable images. 

The top image is the original photo with standard post processing that was completed in 2012. (1/640 sec, f5.0, ISO 1250, 500mm; Nikon D80)

As you can see there is quite a bit of noise and a lack of detail in the image. I was also hesitant to open up the shadows and lighten the image more than I did in fear of introducing noise to the image. 

The bottom image has been reprocessed with the Topaz DeNoise AI plug-in. I am very happy with the results, so happy that I included this image as my December photo in my 2021 Rocky Mountain Wildlife calendar

If you are interested in learning more about the Topaz plug-ins or purchasing this package (I purchased the Utility Bundle, which is currently [4/24/20] on sale for $249.99 from $359.96), visit topazlabs.com. Use discount code DWPhoto15 to save 15% on your purchase!

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) editing Labs Lightroom nature photo photograph photographer photography Photoshop plug-ins post-processing processing tips tips for nature photographers Topaz wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2020/3/topaz-denoise-ai-and-sharpen-ai-review Thu, 26 Mar 2020 22:31:27 GMT
Great Podcasts I Enjoy https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2020/1/great-podcasts-i-enjoy RV_at_Salton_Sea_2015_1RV_at_Salton_Sea_2015_1My RV parked in the campground at sunset at the Salton Sea, California Ever find yourself getting bored with listening to the radio? Try a podcast. There are so many out there for so many interests that there is sure to be one you can enjoy. These are some of the ones I enjoy listening to the most when I am on a long trip or working in my office. A couple even have a few interviews of me talking about my time on the road and my photography (*). 

 

  • Wild and Exposed*: great conversational podcast about photography, travel adventures and gear
  • Marketing Your Business: high energy, quick tips for marketing any type of business
  • Vision Slightly Blurred: short 30-minute discussions from the founder of Photoshelter about lots of photography topics
  • Business Boutique: a fantastic show about all things business for women
  • The Landscape Photography Show: a new one for me that features interviews with today's top landscape photographers
  • She Explores: if you are a woman who loves to travel, then this is a must listen
  • Dirtbag Diaries: a fun listen about hiking, traveling, vanlife and more
  • The RV Entrepreneur: how to make money on the road; many topics are applicable to any small business
  • Girl Camper*: practical tips and inspirational interviews about women on the road
  • Women on the Road: the title says it all. Who says the girls shouldn't do the traveling??
  • OutThere Colorado: a fun podcast of various tidbits about the Centennial State
  • Projects for Wildlife: interested in starting a conservation project? not sure where to start? need some inspiration? check out this helpful resource
  • Fresh Air: this has been a favorite of mine for many years. Host Terry Gross knows how to interview and topics include politics, entertainment, books, current topics, and more. And of course it helps that it has ties to my alma mater, Rowan University! 
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(Dawn Wilson Photography) air and conservation explores exposed fresh learn nature nature photography photo photographer photography podcast she tips tips for nature photographers travel wild wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2020/1/great-podcasts-i-enjoy Thu, 23 Jan 2020 17:23:30 GMT
Capture Beautiful Photos of Holiday Lights https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2019/12/capture-beautiful-photos-of-holiday-lights It is that time of year. Now that Christmas is almost here, it is time to start enjoying the season by slowing down and going out to see all those holiday light displays. Interested in photographing them too? Well, here are some tips for capturing memorable shots of the holiday season.

Estes_Park_Christmas_LightsEstes_Park_Christmas_LightsChristmas lights illuminate the empty streets of Estes Park, Colorado just before sunrise on New Year's Day.
New York Christmas BallsNew York Christmas Balls 1. Try a shallow depth of field

Create a shallow depth of field by using a wide open aperture, such as f4 or f5.6. This will get your subject in focus while softening the lights in the background into large, colorful glowing balls of light. This technique creates an effect called bokeh and produces a fun and creative perspective on Christmas lights. 

2. Expose for the lights

Since most photos of Christmas lights will be taken in the evening, it is important to expose for the lights, which are the brightest part of the image, rather than the dark surroundings. This will help prevent blowing out the details in these glowing orbs. You can tell if you have blown out the highlights by using the "blinkies" on your camera's LCD screen (highlight alerts). Parade_of_lights_2017_2Parade_of_lights_2017_2Nutcrackers on a float in the Estes Park Parade of Lights. When the highlights are blinking, it means all detail has been lost in that section of the image. This can happen in any photo any time of the day. For example, if you photograph a landscape with big white fluffy clouds in the sky, overexposed clouds with highlights will be pure white and lack detail. These will appear as white blobs on a print. You can overcome this issue by exposing for the brightest portion of the scene. 

3. Photograph outside in the blue hour

This can be the best time of night to photograph holiday lights because the deep blue in the sky means there is still enough ambient light to illuminate the scene to provide a little detail in the shadows. As the evening gets darker, the surrounding features might fall into total shadow and lack detail. Getting close to the lights will also help illuminate nearby features. Another benefit of photographing lights during the blue hour? Complementary colors — especially when photographing white lights. White lights give off a yellow glow. Yellow and blue are complementary colors on the color wheel and this makes our brains smile (it feels balanced).

Christmas_lights_2017_1Christmas_lights_2017_1A Christmas ball hanging on a Christmas tree surrounded by sparkling lights. 4. Get creative with your lights

Try focusing in really close on the Christmas tree. Photograph Christmas decorations that have ambient light from nearby lights. Or have a child or pet sit under or just in front of the tree to get soft glowing light on them. Another option is to go outside and use the lights as creative light trails. Without any people or objects near you, spin strings of lights in various shapes to create unique patterns. 

5. Use a slow shutter speed and higher ISOs

Even though the lights give off some illumination, the scene, for the most part, is pretty dark. This will require slower shutter speeds (in the range of 1/4 to two seconds) and higher ISOs. The slower shutter speeds will also require using a tripod, especially if you don't want ISO levels that introduce noise. To handhold the camera, raise the ISO level or try setting the camera on a steady surface, such as a flat brick wall, and set the timer to take the photo. 

Denver City and County Building at ChristmasDenver City and County Building at ChristmasDenver City and County Building decorated in glorious holiday lights. 6. Suggestions for photo ideas  Christmas LightsChristmas Lights

  • Try a street full of shops decorated for Christmas
  • Pets under the tree
  • Fresh snowfall over lights on a pine tree outside
  • City street with holiday revelers and lots of lights
  • Illuminated decorations on a Christmas tree
  • A handful of lights
  • Christmas parade (a parade of lights)
  • A child's face illuminated by lights from the Christmas tree
  • Christmas tree photographed out of focus
  • A downtown area decorated with lights (maybe from above or a distance)
  • Nativity scenes
  • Iconic holiday scenes, like those at Rockefeller Plaza in New York City

Have fun with the photography and lights, and have a very merry Christmas.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Christmas December decoration holiday lights photographer photography tips tree https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2019/12/capture-beautiful-photos-of-holiday-lights Fri, 20 Dec 2019 01:38:03 GMT
My Journey Through Storage https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2019/10/my-journey-through-storage Nanook and Sage on their first day on the road. In September 2015, I hit the road full time—just me with my two huskies and two cats. To do that, I needed to downsize my possessions, my things, my stuff. That included selling my home and a lot of stuff I had as a result of Aeric's (my partner of 15 years) and my Dad's unexpected deaths in 2012 and 2013, respectively. But it was tough for a variety of reasons to downsize those items. So I focused on what I could — sofas, plants, the overabundance of sheets and towels I had, the lawnmower I wouldn't need while in an RV. The memories and emotions were still pretty raw, even three years later, to delve into the other items in the basement that were boxed up in the months following their deaths. 

So I neatly packed away all of those memories and the items I thought I would need once I came off the road, whenever that would be. I put them into storage with the intention of buying a house in Fort Collins, Colo., after my travels where I would need sofas, tv stands, and the sheets I kept. I thought I had downsized a lot but looking back I realized I didn't. A lot also happened in those 15 months on the road: My RV and Jeep at the first destination of the RV journey, the Mt. Evans Scenic Highway.
- the cost of the median home along Colorado's Front Range increased by about 73% since I bought my last house in 2013, and my income dropped by about 40% when I came off the road in 2016 (compared to my salary before Aeric and my Dad died)
- I unexpectedly met someone on the road
- I still wasn't ready to go through those boxes of memories
- I fell in love with seeing the U.S.


My first storage unit on the day I moved everything into storage in 2015. I came off the road in December 2016, and moved into a one-bedroom apartment in Loveland, Colo. since I could no longer afford a home in Fort Collins. Thankfully the apartment included a garage so I could start pulling some of those items out of storage. But it didn't even make a dent.

By 2017, Richard, whom I met on the road, and I were living together in that one-bedroom apartment. We now had his things in Colorado too. We wanted to figure out where we wanted to settle down (Fort Collins wasn't an option for him) so we kept the storage unit. 

Richard and I with our RV. By the summer of 2018, I was ready to start looking for a place to buy. That increase in housing costs, however, kept me to looking at much smaller homes than I previously owned. When I moved to Colorado in 2002, I easily bought a three-bedroom house with a two-car garage and a yard. By 2019, I could afford a one, maybe two-bedroom condo or townhome. It was pretty sad but in reality I didn't want to own a large home requiring a lot of maintenance and upkeep. I was happy to keep things simple because Richard and I still wanted to travel. The loss of Aeric and my Dad also reinforced the fact that you don't take your things with you; they just wind up being left behind.

But I still had all of that stuff to deal with, and when we moved out of the apartment to live in the RV so we could save up some money for the down payment, we needed more space. Yup, we got a second storage unit. 

In November 2018, I bought a one-bedroom condo—no garage, only one closet and less square footage than any home I had previously owned—in Estes Park, Colo. It is a wonderful town to live in with Rocky Mountain National Park and herds of elk right at our doorstep.
Looks like I sorted through a few more things and made a few more piles of what went where: some to Goodwill, some set aside for the yard sale and some to the other storage unit.
This past summer I set
a goal for myself to be out of one of those storage units by October 1, 2019.  Although I didn't quite make that date, I did accomplish the goal with one minute to spare on the last day of the date I gave the storage complex before their gate was locked for the evening. Richard was a huge help in pushing me along but in reality I had to tackle on my own a lot of demons, relive a lot of memories—good and bad— and determine what to do with a lot of the items. 

Those items included plastic cups from spring breaks and frat parties collected during my college years. I found a lot of toys from my childhood: the only Barbie doll I kept, plastic horse figures, a Rubix cube, a Slinky, an Einstein electronic memory game. And then there were the family heirlooms: an antique secretary, a steamer trunk, a spinning wheel that was missing a leg, my Uncle's leather jacket (the same one he died in a few years before I was born), and my Dad's collection of military items. And Aeric's things: his yearbooks, artwork from when he was a child, his collection of Simpsons figures and games, and the scooter helmet I bought him for his last Christmas. And an unbelievable abundance of boxes and bins full of ideas for articles, places to photograph, and media outlets for submitting my photography. Aeric on his last hike.


I am not a hoarder. I actually hate clutter. That was one of the reasons the storage units worked. You put your possessions in boxes, stuff them in a drafty storage unit and forget about them, except for the monthly rent reminder. The storage units also allowed me to avoid dealing with the memories. 

So for the last three months I have been spending several days every week going through every single box, looking at every single paper, and reminiscing about lots of great memories. And I came to the conclusion that I will always have those memories, at least as long as my brain is willing to store them. There really is no need to pay rent to keep items that were boxed up in 2012 and have not seen the light of day since then. Aeric and I didn't have children so there is no one for passing down our memories. But the memories continue to be there. Lots of great memories with my Dad and Aeric. Lots of places we explored. New places I experienced. Wonderful memories from holidays.  The storage unit in 2019 as I started sorting through things.

So if you are in a similar situation with storage units, remember that the money really can be put to much better use. If you are contemplating putting items in storage because of downsizing, traveling full time in an RV or because you lost a loved one and want to keep their possessions, think twice. More than likely you will find you don't need the items and will have the difficult task of finding a way to dispose of, sell or distribute the items later down the road. I gave away my china; no one wants china dishes anymore because we no longer entertain like we used to. I sold a couple of antique items for probably way less than they were worth. And I held a yard sale in a family member's yard because I am now in a condo with no yard. It wasn't easy and a lot of it could have been prevented by not hanging onto the past. The past makes us who we are but we don't need the things to have the memories. My Dad reading a book to my sister and I around Christmas time (probably 1979).

This is not meant to be a whiny post about how tough life is. I feel very relieved to be free of some of these things. And although I was exhausted at the end of each day after going through all of the memories, it felt comforting to know I had people in my life with whom I created wonderful memories. I hope my journey through storage, can help others in the future as they contemplate what they should keep, what they should buy, and how they should handle keeping the memories alive of lost loved ones while moving forward on the path of making new memories with the living.

Now for the next big project: to finish the book about the RV adventure. 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) clutter dad death family full life love memories memory on photography road rv rver rving sad storage the time travel unit van wanderlust https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2019/10/my-journey-through-storage Tue, 22 Oct 2019 05:59:54 GMT
June in Rocky Mountain National Park https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2019/7/june-in-rocky-mountain-national-park The calendar has rolled into July and the heat has been turned up as well. June saw some odd weather, even for Rocky Mountain National Park in northern Colorado where we can have snow any month of the year at higher elevations. The month started out with cool temps and wet weather. It continued with cool temps and more wet weather. The
n the weather turned to snowy weather. The month finished with temps in the upper 70s and low 80s. A little bit of everything in 30 short days.  Canada_goose_gosling_EP_2019_4Canada_goose_gosling_EP_2019_4Two Canada goose goslings (Branta canadensis) walk up the river bank through the grasses in Estes Park, Colorado.

But the spring animals didn't let a little crazy weather stop them. The first babies I photographed in June were the Canada goose goslings. I had a fun but somewhat scary evening photograph one family in Estes Park along the Big Thompson River. All turned out well. Read the full story on my blog post from June 2.

Elk_EP_2019_10Elk_EP_2019_10An elk calf (Cervus elaphus) folows his mother on his first day of life in Etes Park, Colorado.

Following the goslings, I photographed some elk calves. The first calves of the season were born the last week of May but the calves keep coming through early June. This year seems to be an especially bountiful year of elk calves. It could be the snow in the high country keeping them in the valleys giving the impression of more calves but there were many little ones running around the meadows in the park.

To get a break from photographing wildlife, I took a hike up to Gem Lake. This steep but short hike on the north side of the park in the Lumpy Ridge area has breathtaking views of Estes Valley. Mornings are best here for two reasons: morning light illuminates the valley and Longs Peak in the distance and there are way fewer people on the trail in the early morning. 

Another switch from wildlife photography was to photograph the Milky Way in early June at Sprague Lake. The clear evening offered wonderful views of the star-filled sky away from the lights of the Front Range.  Milky_Way_Sprague_Lake_2019_1Milky_Way_Sprague_Lake_2019_1The Milky Way fills the sky above Sprague Lake on a clear night in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

Due to the heavy snowfall in May, especially in the high country, Trail Ridge Road didn't open until June 5, a week and a half later than the typical opening of Memorial Day weekend. And when I took the drive over the top, the drifts exceeding the height of my truck showed why it took so long to clear the road. It is impressive that the road crews remove as much snow as they do. The sunset that night was very impressive as the sky above the Never Summer Range lit up in the full spectrum of the rainbow. The road closed again for another week on June 21, the first day of summer.


The summer snowstorms—there were two storms in two days to start the summer season—covered the park again in a blanket of snow. Now I had the rare opportunity to photograph newborn elk calves in fresh snow.  Elk_RMNP_2019_4Elk_RMNP_2019_4A cow elk (Cervus elaphus) licks her calf's ear after a brief snowstorm on the second day of summer in Endovalley of Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

The month wrapped up with more landscape photos as I chased sunrises, thanks to the wet weather pattern, and the blooming wild iris, which finally filled the meadow with their purple petals about two weeks later than usual. 

That crazy weather I photographed in June will definitely make for a wonderful wildflower season this month, and hopefully a beautiful season for fall colors in September and October. Iris_Blooms_RMNP_2019_2Iris_Blooms_RMNP_2019_2Moraine Park filled with wild iris after a very wet spring seen on this summer morning as a the first light of the morning hits the peaks of the Continental Divide in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) astrophotography milky way nature nature photography photo photography RMNP Rocky Mountain National Park spring summer tips for nature photographers travel wildflowers wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2019/7/june-in-rocky-mountain-national-park Mon, 08 Jul 2019 02:18:57 GMT
Ten Tips for Photographing Fireworks https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2019/7/ten-tips-for-photographing-fireworks Happy Fourth of July! This holiday, I plan on taking a break from wildlife photography to focus on photographing the night sky filled with bursts of color from the fireworks display here in Estes Park.

Our show starts at 9:30 p.m., a great time just as the blue hour is finishing up and nautical dusk is starting so the night skies will be pretty dark but not completely black.

Fireworks_Estes_Park_2017_1Fireworks_Estes_Park_2017_1Fireworks over Estes Park for the 4th of July celebration. Here are a few tips for you to capture your own shots of the celebration of our nation's birthday.

1. Tripod, tripod, tripod. You must have a tripod to capture tack sharp images of the fireworks display.

2. Remote shutter release. Although not a must, a remote shutter release is a great device to use to help reduce any camera movement caused by your hand pressing the shutter button.

3. Pick your spot prior to the beginning of the show. If the fireworks display near you is anything like the one here in Estes Park, there will be crowds of people — lots of large crowds. Getting your spot early is important so you have the vantage point you envision. In Estes Park, the Lake Estes 9-Hole Golf Course is considered the best location to see the show since it is the closest spot to the launch point at Fisherman's Nook. Although I have photographed the fireworks from this location with great results, I am always looking for a different perspective and one with an interesting composition that gives a sense of place. Last year we spent time with friends out on a boat near the marina. This wasn't a good option for photography as the rocking boat — even the slightest rock — won't help with getting sharp photos. This year I'll be heading to a higher vantage point for a couple of reasons: fewer people, view of the valley and a different perspective to combine with the photos from two years ago close to the launch point. Having water in your foreground is also a great option to capture the reflections of the fireworks in the water. And those crowds of people? Those heads can make an interesting foreground silhouetted against the colorful bursts. Check your local newspaper (wait, what's that?) or town/county website for the locations and times of the fireworks displays in your area.

Fireworks_EP_2019_1Fireworks_EP_2019_1A red, white and blue display of fireworks shoots off above Estes Park on the Fourth of July.

 

4. Shoot to the east. As mentioned earlier, most fireworks displays start just as the sky is starting to get dark. Directing your camera to the west will mean the sky is lighter and will potentially obscure the vibrant bursts of color. Shoot to the east and the sky will be darker, preferably a dark blue to really set off the color of the fireworks.

5. Stay safe and comfortable. In addition to your camera gear, you should also make sure you have other items to keep you safe and comfortable while outdoors in the dark. In Estes Park, the temperatures during the show may get as low as 50 degrees. In places like Florida, you may only reach 70 or 75 degrees during the show. Dress appropriately. Bring an extra bag with a sweatshirt, snacks, flashlight or headlamp and something to sit on while waiting for the show to start, like a blanket or chair.

Fireworks_Estes_Park_2017_5Fireworks_Estes_Park_2017_5Fireworks over Estes Park for the 4th of July celebration.

6. Camera settings. The camera settings are pretty simple and straightforward. The goal is to blur the movement of the sparks as they fly through the air while maintaining the quality of your photo. I prefer to shoot at a low ISO to keep the noise at a minimum (ISO 50-100), turn noise reduction off, an aperture of f6.3 to f11 depending on the composition, and a slow shutter speed (1/4 to 1/15 sec). No flash is needed. Remember to shoot in RAW with an auto white balance (you can adjust this in post processing) and to turn off your vibration reduction (this can actually cause a shot to not be sharp when on a tripod).

7. Camera gear. The best option is a DSLR camera and a couple of lens options. The DSLR will allow you to adjust your settings as needed, reduce the noise levels in your shots and should have a manual shooting mode. For lenses, I like the 80-400mm lens for the tight shots of the bursts and a wider angle, such as a 24-105mm, for the sense of place if I am sitting close to the show. If I am further away from the action but still capturing a scenic, then I'll stick with my 80-400mm lens. And of course don't forget extra batteries and memory cards.

Fireworks_Estes_Park_2017_2Fireworks_Estes_Park_2017_2Fireworks over Estes Park for the 4th of July celebration.

8. Time to shoot. Although you can certainly photograph the fireworks throughout the show, the best time will be at the beginning before the smoke from the fireworks starts to fill the air. This will reduce sharpness in the photos. Of course, the finale is always a fun and exciting feature but might be better captured as a video. An evening with a slight breeze will help with reducing the smoke too.

9. Focus challenges. To overcome your camera from "searching" for a focal point with the moving bursts and dark skies, pre-focus your lens before it gets too dark to a point you think will be best for the scene (remember the 1/3-in rule when shooting a landscape) and then turn off AF. You can also allow your camera to focus on the first firework explosion and then turn AF off for subsequent shots.

10. Enjoy the show. Remember that you are there to spend time with family and/or friends and enjoy the celebration. Don't spend the whole show looking through the viewfinder and missing out on the experience.

Fireworks_Estes_Park_2017_3Fireworks_Estes_Park_2017_3Fireworks over Estes Park for the 4th of July celebration.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) fireworks fourth of july independence day landscape night night photography nighttime photo photography tips travel https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2019/7/ten-tips-for-photographing-fireworks Wed, 03 Jul 2019 20:59:11 GMT
Florida's Birding and Photo Fest https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2019/6/floridas-birding-and-photo-fest Roseate_spoonbill_AlligatorFarm_2019_2Roseate_spoonbill_AlligatorFarm_2019_2A roseate spoonbill (Platalea ajaja) poses in the afternoon sunlight at the Alligator Farm in Saint Augustine, Florida. It has been almost two months since returning from Florida's Birding and Photo Fest in Saint Augustine, Florida. I will be going through photos for several months but the first batch of edited images give me smiles remembering the beautiful birds of the southeast, including one of my favorites, the roseate spoonbill.

I live in Colorado where our warm season only lasts about four, maybe five months. It was nice to get to Florida even if just for a few days to enjoy the warm sun, beach, sandals and the opportunity to photograph the birds of the area.

Many of the birds common in Florida wouldn't even think of visiting Colorado so the abundance of new photo subjects was a nice change of pace. And attending Florida's Birding and Photo Fest was a wonderful boost of inspiration for my creativity and technical skills.  Great_egreat_StAugustine_2019_2Great_egreat_StAugustine_2019_2A great egret (Ardea alba) stands over her chicks in the nest as they beg for food at the Saint Augustine Alligator Farm in St. Augustine, Florida.

The quick three-day trip started a little rough as my flight was canceled. I sat in the Charlotte, North Carolina airport for more than six hours trying to get on the next flight...and the next flight...and the next flight. Finally, on the third try, I was given the last available seat. Although I missed most of the programs I was registered for during the day, I did manage to make it to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm with just minutes to spare for an evening program thanks to a friend grabbing my ticket. There was a gorgeous sunset and lots of bird activity to photograph at the rookery.

The next morning started bright and early at sunrise with a captive bird shoot with Jack Rogers. The light was perfect and he had set up ideal perches with great backgrounds to photograph the American kestrel, barred owl, caracara and great-horned owl. American_Kestrel_StAugustine_2019_1American_Kestrel_StAugustine_2019_1A captive American kestrel (Falco sparverius) sits perched on a branch on a sunny morning at the Florida Birding and Photo Fest in St. Augustine, Florida.

Next it was off to a few sessions indoors, lunch, more sessions and then another evening shoot at the Alligator Farm. This time, the program was led by Charles Glatzer. His energy, insight and simple but effective techniques really got me to think about how I teach my own students. Again, we had fantastic light and lots of bird activity at the rookery.  White_ibis_AlligatorFarm_2019_3White_ibis_AlligatorFarm_2019_3A white ibis (Eudocimus albus) stands at the top of a snag in a beam of afternoon light at the Alligator Farm in Saint Augustine, Florida.

Sunday morning was dedicated to photographing birds on the beach. As a native of New Jersey, I love digging my toes into the sand and watching the sunrise come up over the horizon. This time, however, I was ready with my camera and clothes that would dry quickly as I was prepared to practice my low-angle shots of the small shore birds fluttering around on the beach. I also spent quite a bit of time photographing the terns, who had recently arrived for the summer nesting season. By now, those same birds that were courting each other while I was there should be feeding their growing babies. Least_Tern_ Matanzas_2019_4Least_Tern_ Matanzas_2019_4A male least tern (Sternula antillarum) carries a small fish to a potential mate on the beach on a sunny day at Matanzas Inlet near St. Augustine, Florida.

Stay tuned to my Photo Workshops and Classes and Presentations pages for the latest places I am teaching so you too can join me in the field or classroom to learn more about how to photograph our natural world. And to stay up-to-date on my latest programs, adventures, specials and photos, .

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) bird bird photography florida nature nature photography photo photography tips travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2019/6/floridas-birding-and-photo-fest Thu, 27 Jun 2019 04:45:39 GMT
Gosling and His Family https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2019/6/gosling-and-his-family Canada_goose_gosling_EP_2019_1Canada_goose_gosling_EP_2019_1A famly of Canada goose goslings (Branta canadensis) relax in the grass and dandelions in Estes Park, Colorado. Canada geese give birth in the towns along Colorado's Front Range the last week of April and first week of May. But here in Estes Park, these little yellow fluff balls are born about a month later. 

I went looking for the first ones of the season on May 31, 2019, at my favorite gosling spot in town — the Lake Estes 9-Hole Golf Course. Late in the day the golfers are wrapping up their games so it is safer to walk the course and the light gets really nice before setting behind the mountains. The geese love the course with its fresh green grass and the river running through it so they have a place to escape danger.  Canada_goose_gosling_EP_2019_3Canada_goose_gosling_EP_2019_3A famly of Canada geese (Branta canadensis) swim in the Big Thompson River in Estes Park, Colorado.

The geese had a bumper crop of goslings this year. About two dozen were running around the course and most appeared to be only a few days old. 

I selected a family of six — two adults and four goslings — that seemed comfortable with my presence. 

Canada_goose_gosling_EP_2019_2Canada_goose_gosling_EP_2019_2A Canada goose gosling (Branta Canadensis) takes a drink while swimming in the Big Thompson River in Estes Park, Colorado. It was fun photographing them for about 30 minutes before the entire family decided to drop into the Big Thompson River to get a drink of water. I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to photograph the goslings coming back up into the grass so I quietly laid down in the nearby with my camera ready. Canada_goose_gosling_EP_2019_4Canada_goose_gosling_EP_2019_4Two Canada goose goslings (Branta canadensis) walk up the river bank through the grasses in Estes Park, Colorado.

Up came the parents. And then up came one - two - three goslings. One more to photograph. I waited for several minutes and didn't see the fourth gosling. The rest of the family had wandered back onto the course to graze some more. I waited for several minutes but no gosling.

Canada_goose_gosling_EP_2019_5Canada_goose_gosling_EP_2019_5A Canada goose gosling (Branta Canadensis) runs along the bank of the Big Thompson River crying out for his family in Estes Park, Colorado.
And then I heard the stressed chirps of the little guy. He was stuck below the bank and struggling to figure out how to climb up the mud and grass. I peeked over the edge so as not to stress him any further and noticed several other adult geese encouraging him to climb up the bank. It was interesting to see the interaction because the only thing I have seen adult geese do for goslings that are not their offspring was shoo them away. 

I continued to keep an eye on the location of the gosling's family so I could reunite them if need be. But then I turned to see the little guy coming over the bank. His little wings were spread so wide and he was calling his family as loud as he could.  Canada_goose_gosling_EP_2019_6Canada_goose_gosling_EP_2019_6A lost Canada goose gosling (Branta canadensis) runs to meet up with his family in Estes Park, Colorado.

His mom heard him and immediately ran back over to him, with her brood following close behind. 

The gosling was reunited with his family. Mom seemed relieved; his siblings seemed to give him an earful. 

Glad there was a happy ending. Canada_goose_gosling_EP_2019_7Canada_goose_gosling_EP_2019_7A lost Canada goose gosling (Branta canadensis) runs to meet up with his family in Estes Park, Colorado.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) animal Canada goose estes park family love gosling nature photo photography rocky mountain national park spring tips travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2019/6/gosling-and-his-family Sun, 02 Jun 2019 17:00:44 GMT
Favorite Shots of 2018 https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2019/5/favorite-shots-of-2018 Hmmm, seems the beginning of 2019 has ticked along very quickly and I had not yet finished writing my year in review. It isn't quite summer so I thought I would squeeze in this blog post before summer unofficially starts this weekend with Memorial Day.

In years with normal weather patterns, Memorial Day weekend would signify the opening of Trail Ridge Road and the road up to the top of Mount Evans, two of my favorite places in Colorado to take in the vast views of the Rocky Mountains and spend time with the animals that love the cold as much as I do. But this year, winter just doesn't seem to want to let go. Even today, just a few days before Memorial Day, Estes Park is having snow showers. It will be pretty amazing if both roads can open this weekend—a true feat to the crews that plow the deep snow from the roads. To see images of the snow drifts and plowing operations, visit RMNP Facebook page.

American_pika_RMNP_2018_7American_pika_RMNP_2018_7An American pika (Ochotona princeps) stops on top of a rock with a mouth full of plants for his hay pile in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. There were many great photo ops in Rocky Mountain National Park last year. One of my most memorable was with a pika family high in the alpine tundra. I found a quiet spot where I could spend time with them each week. Building that familiarity helped keep them safe and comfortable while building a trust for great photo ops. I have already photographed one of them this year so it is shaping up to be a fun summer in the alpine terrain with these little tundra inhabitants again.

Elk_RMNP_2018_7Elk_RMNP_2018_7A newborn elk calf (Cervus elaphus) looks up at his mother as a light drizzle falls in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Another memorable moment in Rocky was about this time in 2018. Memorial Day weekend is typically the beginning of the elk calving season. This shot was the first calf I saw of the year. Although the cow only allowed the calf to be out in the open for a few moments before moving her to the safety of cover, I was able to catch this endearing look up at its new mom.

I visited Grand Teton National Park twice in 2018. The first was in May for NANPA’s Celebration event. Not only did I learn a lot from many talented and inspirational photographers, but I also spent some time in the park photographing grizzly bears, made a quick drive up to Yellowstone National Park, photographed wildlife at the National Elk Refuge and watched some fun little goslings in Jackson. This little guy was enjoying the bumper crop of dandelions. Canada_goose_gosling_NER_2018_2Canada_goose_gosling_NER_2018_2A Canada goose gosling (Branta canadensis) picks dandelions in his beak on a sunny morning in the National Elk Refuge, Wyoming.

The second visit to Grand Teton National Park was over Thanksgiving week. The snow was already accumulating in the Jackson Hole valley but we took the RV up anyway. We are no strangers to traveling by RV in winter weather. And it was a great weekend to be in the park. We had many wonderful photo opportunities, including this morning with several bull moose foraging in the sage brush flats set against the distant Teton Range. Moose_GTNP_2018_1Moose_GTNP_2018_1A bull moose (Alces alces) feeds in a sage brush flat beneath the towering, snow-covered Teton Range in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

This shot of a group of bison was in Yellowstone during that May visit. I had been waiting several hours for a badger to pop out of a den. I heard from some other photographers that she usually makes an appearance late in the afternoon so I thought I would take a drive a little farther down the road. As I turned the corner, I spotted a herd of bison walking towards the road. They seemed to just keep coming out of this gulch in the distant foothills—it almost looked like a stream of clowns coming out of a car, one after another just kept coming out of the gulch and into the green valley. I spotted a ridge where they would have to climb and thought it would make a great spot for a photo. Bison_YNP_2018_1Bison_YNP_2018_1A group of bison cows and calves (Bison bison) walk up over a ridge set against some mountains shrouded in clouds in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. There was some clearing weather that left fog and clouds in the valley below the rugged mountains, which would make a great background. I patiently waited near the road for the herd to appear. By standing there, I couldn't tell how close they were but then all of a sudden I saw one, then two, then a stream of bison coming directly my way. It worked beautifully to have the cows and calves breaching the ridge with the weather and mountains behind them.

Fall is a wonderful time in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. The fall colors are stunning, especially after a wet summer. Last year was no exception. Fall is also the peak time for the moose and elk ruts, or mating seasons. Even though I live in Estes Park, I still reserve a campsite in Rocky Mountain National Park each fall to be in the center of the action. There were many great photo ops with the elk during the rut but this was my favorite of the year. Capturing the juxtaposition of fall and winter represented by the bugling bull elk (fall) on a bitterly cold morning that created frost all over the elk (winter) was a scene I envision every year. Last year all of the elements came together. Elk_EP_2018_10Elk_EP_2018_10A bull elk (Cervus elaphus) bugles on a cold, frosty morning causing steam to rise out of his mouth in Estes Park, Colorado.

As I mentioned earlier, Mt. Evans is one of my top two favorite places to photograph in Colorado. The weather is typically 20 degrees cooler—sometimes more—at the top than around Denver, which feels great in the heat of the summer. The wildlife is almost always photogenic, and even with as frequently as I visit the top of this 14,265-foot peak, I very often find new and interesting shots. That was the case with this photo of a mountain goat enjoying the morning by bouncing up and down on the boulders at the top. Mountain_goat_Mt_Evans_2018_15Mountain_goat_Mt_Evans_2018_15A mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus) that is shedding her thick winter coat jumps on top of a rock against the distant Rocky Mountains on a sunny morning at the top of Mount Evans, Colorado.

The highlight of the year was my workshop in Alaska. In addition to my usual trip to Lake Clark National Park, I also visited a new location—Nome! Being my first time to this port town along the west cost of central Alaska, I was interested in exploring the area in consideration for future workshops and photo opportunities. I was there the second week of September and completely stunned by the beautiful fall colors of the tundra landscape. I also timed the trip just right to catch some of the muskox rut. These two muskox had just mated when they nuzzled heads before going their separate ways. Muskox_Nome_2018_1Muskox_Nome_2018_1A male and female muskox (Ovibos moschatus) nuzzle heads after mating on the tundra in fall color near Nome, Alaska.

Follow my Facebook and Instagram pages to get the latest info about future workshops in Alaska, including a return to Nome and Lake Clark National Park.

 

 

 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Alaska animals bison Colorado elk Grand Lake Clark moose mountain goats muskox national park nature nature photography outdoors photo photography rocky Teton tips travel wildlife Yellowstone https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2019/5/favorite-shots-of-2018 Wed, 22 May 2019 19:00:51 GMT
17 in '17: My Favorite Photos of 2017 https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2018/1/17-in-17-my-favorite-photos-of-2017 Last year seemed to go faster than any other yet I did less travel in 2017 than in any of the prior five years. My goal for last year was to focus on writing, my business and editing a lot of the photos that I already have on my hard drives.

Did I accomplish my goals? Yes and no. I had an unexpected opportunity to spend the entire summer season in our RV in Estes Park. And that was a phenomenal experience. To wake up every morning, look west to see the Continental Divide and watch wildlife babies grow all summer was an experience I will never forget. 

But I do still love to travel so I mixed in a few trips over the course of the year—Alaska as always, South Dakota, New Jersey and a few destinations around my favorite home state of Colorado. 

So here are my top picks from 2017 out of the 37,714 images I captured. Enjoy the images and the brief stories associated with each, and to see more images from 2017, check out my annual video of images.

Moose_East_Portal_2017_1Moose_East_Portal_2017_1A bull moose (Alces alces) eats some leaves and branches from a bush in the campground in Estes Park, Colorado #17: Moose in Estes Park

During our last week at the campground in Estes Park, we worked on remodeling some campsites. I was out photographing the finished results when I heard something rustling near me. I looked up to see this big bull moose. A few minutes later a second one popped out from behind the trees. They roamed around the campground for about an hour before heading into the trees on the property next door. Seeing the wildlife all summer and fall just outside of the RV was one of the best things about being there. 

#16: Bighorn Sheep Ram Bighorn_sheep_Waterton_2017_7Bighorn_sheep_Waterton_2017_7A bighorn sheep ram (Ovis canadensis) poses for a close up of his eye, ear and horn on a sunny afternoon in Waterton Canyon National Recreation Area near Littleton, Colorado

I am always looking for new perspectives on animals I have photographed a lot. The bighorn sheep are one of my favorite animals to photograph—it is in my logo after all—so I tried a few different angles this year during the rut. This is a close up of a ram's eye on a sunny afternoon where you can even see the mountains and setting sun in his eye. 

#15: Snowy Dream Lake

Dream_Lake_Wish_2017_1Dream_Lake_Wish_2017_1A wish come true when an early fall snowstorm blanketed Dream Lake and Hallett Peak with snow three days into the fall season in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. We have had very little snow this winter in Colorado but this past fall was a different story. One of the earliest snowfalls in recent memory was the morning of September 25. And it just happened to be my birthday. I couldn't miss the opportunity to capture a photo I have envisioned for several years of the snow covering the rocks thanks to the low water level typical in fall at Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. 

#14: Northern Lights Over Denali Northern_Lights_Denali_2017_1Northern_Lights_Denali_2017_1The Northern Lights illuminate the sky above the Savage River Campground in Denali National Park, Alaska

Although I go to Alaska every year to photograph brown bears, I also add on additional destinations to mix it up each year. This past year was no exception with a camping trip into Denali National Park and Preserve. There was quite a bit of road construction happening on the first 15 miles. One night I needed to head to town to catch up on emails, purchase some supplies and make a few phone calls. By the time I headed back to the campground, the road was already closed with the exception of an hourly pilot car. The delay meant I didn't get back to the campsite until after midnight. But that delay meant I saw one of the best displays of Northern Lights I have ever experienced in Alaska. This view was directly over my campsite. It started as just one slight shiver of light in the sky, and then the colors kept getting brighter and the dancing kept getting stronger. Within about 30 minutes the entire sky was full of swaying curtains of purple and green.

Moose_Estes_Park_2017_3Moose_Estes_Park_2017_3Two bull moose (Alces alces) walk through the shallow water of the Fish Creek Arm of Lake Estes in Estes Park, Colorado #13: Moose in Estes Park

I was playing a casual game of badminton in Stanley Park, just one and a half miles from downtown Estes Park, when someone yelled there were two moose in the lake. I said, "they are more likely elk." Elk wander all over Estes Park but moose are rarely seen in town. But sure enough, when I turned around there were two very young moose walking towards the Fish Creek Arm of Lake Estes. It was a hot July afternoon and the moose walked down to the water where they cooled off for a bit. Then they started walking towards the crowd that was gathering but sense overruled curiosity; the moose turned around and walked into the woods on one of the nearby mountains. 

  Pika_RMNP_2017_6Pika_RMNP_2017_6A pika (Ochotona princeps) holds a mouth fullful of flowers and plants as he stops on a rock on his way to add to his cache of food for the winter in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado #12: Pika on Trail Ridge Road

Another benefit of being in Estes Park for the summer was the ability to get up to Trail Ridge Road before sunrise without having to wake up in the middle of the night. Even from our RV it was a 45-minute drive to my favorite spot to photograph pika but it allowed me the opportunity to spend a lot of time with one of my favorite alpine critters last summer. It was hard to pick one of my shots of the pika but I settled on this iconic behavior of this small mammal, a member of the rabbit family. Pika spend most of the summer building caches of food called hay piles. These critters don't hibernate but rather live off of the hay piles during the winter months. 

Moose_Denali_2017_1Moose_Denali_2017_1A bull moose (Alces alces) walks towards a ridge and a foggy valley below the snow-capped Alaska Range in Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska #11: Moose and the Alaska Range

A very different experience with a moose happened when I was in Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska. I traveled to the park during the peak of fall colors. My goal while there was to photograph caribou and moose in the fall colors. The weather didn't seem to be cooperating but, as I tell my photo students, you have to take what Mother Nature gives you because you can't change it. Embrace the weather because you never know what kind of feeling it can evoke in a photo. I missed this large bull moose crossing the road but as he walked off towards the Alaska Range the fog started to lift in the valley below. Composing the moose below the tall, snow-covered mountains gave a sense of scale to the scene. 

Broad-tailed_hummingbird_2017_2Broad-tailed_hummingbird_2017_2A broad-tailed hummingbird (Selasphorus platycercus) sits on a nest hidden in the branches of a conifer tree in Estes Park, Colorado

 

#10: Hummingbird on Nest

I have photographed hummingbirds quite a bit around Colorado but I had never photographed one on the nest or feeding babies. I thought I had missed another season of opportunities as June rolled into July. Then an acquaintance in Estes Park mentioned he found a nest in his yard and gave me the opportunity one morning to photograph it. It was mid-July, late for a nesting bird, but I jumped at the chance. I am glad I did. My friend said the eggs were taken from the nest just a couple of days later by a predator bird. 

Elk_Lake_Estes_2017_1Elk_Lake_Estes_2017_1An elk (Cervus elaphus) splashes around in Lake Estes on a sunny day in Estes Park, Colorado. #9: Splish Splash

Lake Estes in Estes Park is a favorite location of the urban elk in town. They cross it pretty frequently and spend time in the water during the hotter summer days. I was at the right place at the right time when this cow elk not only walked through the lake but started splashing around in the water like a little kid. 

Golden-mantled_ground_squirrel_babies_RMNP_2017_1Golden-mantled_ground_squirrel_babies_RMNP_2017_1Three golden-mantled ground squirrel babies (Spermophilius lateralis) sit on a log on a sunny afternoon in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

 

#8: A Trio of Baby Golden Mantled Ground Squirrels

We went for a hike to look for American martens. Although we saw one—it crossed the road in front of us in the dark as we drove home after walking several miles to see one—we stopped and spent time at this great little spot that was home to yellow-bellied marmots and golden mantled ground squirrels. These three squirrel babies sat out on this log for a while watching us and the other hikers walking along the trail. I loved the soft green background that framed these adorable little babies. 

Mule_deer_fawn_EP_2017_1Mule_deer_fawn_EP_2017_1A mule deer fawn (Odocoileus hemionus) walks through a thick field of grasses in the early evening in Estes Park, Colorado #7: Baby Deer in the Campground

We moved our RV into the campground in mid-May. Almost immediately we noticed there were several mule deer does hanging around the area. Two of the five were pregnant. We were excited about the potential opportunity to see the babies so we watched the does for any signs of giving birth. The day finally came in early June when we noticed one of the does was no longer pregnant. We saw her baby the next day in the field of flowers below our RV. A few days later the other pregnant doe revealed her twin fawns. And that was the beginning of watching these deer grow up all summer. At first they hid in the grasses and flowers. It was interesting to watch their mothers trust the fawns near us. Later in the summer the three fawns could be seen running and jumping together. One afternoon I came back to the RV to find one of the fawns peeking over our picnic table. We really enjoyed the opportunities the animals of the campground gave us to take a peek into their lives. 

Elk_calf_EP_2017_2Elk_calf_EP_2017_2An elk calf (Cervus elaphus) looks terrified as he rests after a scary attempt to cross the Big Thompson River in Estes Park, Colorado #6: Scary Day for the Elk Calf

Like the deer fawns, I was excited to be in Estes Park for the elk calving season. Although I had seen elk calves before in Rocky Mountain National Park, I had not witnessed the calves immediately after birth. Someone told me the cows start dropping calves around Memorial Day weekend. Not that animals have a calendar to follow but animals are very predictable when it comes to timing. Sure enough I saw my first elk calf the week of Memorial Day. First it was a calf with a very protective mother. Then there was a set of twins with a much more laid back mother. And then there were several calves running around Estes Park. I got a call one morning that a calf had been seen in the Big Thompson River in Estes Park. I ran down to the river to see a scary site of a calf in the center of the river trying to get back to the bank. Its mother was already on the other side eating grass. She didn't seem worried. It seemed like a very hard lesson about how to cross a river. The calf made it back to the bank on its own but its mother was still on the other side. The calf curled up in the rocks and rested. It must have been exhausted. It was only a few days old and had to deal with a river crossing in a river swollen with spring runoff. I snapped a few photos of the calf and then let it be. I returned later in the afternoon to find the cow nursing her calf. The next day the calf and cow were both gone. I saw them in the following weeks and the calf was doing great. It's not easy being an elk calf. 

Bighorn_sheep_ram_Badlands_2017_1Bighorn_sheep_ram_Badlands_2017_1A bighorn sheep ram (Ovis canadensis) walks along a grassy ridge set against the snow falling on the distant ridges of the badlands in Badlands National Park, South Dakota. #5: Bighorn Sheep in the Badlands

My present to myself for Christmas was visiting a new national park as I work on my goal of visiting all of the national parks by my 50th birthday. One I had never visited was Badlands National Park in South Dakota. I have been to parks all over the country yet I had never been to this one park just six hours from my home. As I did some research about the park, I discovered they have a decent size herd of bighorn sheep. During my short visit I was lucky to have a little bit of fresh snow and some very cooperative sheep. I kept capturing shots of sheep framed against the distant badlands landscape, and this one shot caught my eye with the ram walking along the ridge in front of the distant ridge. 

Mountain_bluebird_RMNP_2017_4Mountain_bluebird_RMNP_2017_4A female mountain bluebird (Sialia currucoides) sits on a branch as snowflakes fall on a cold, cloudy day in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado #4: Mountain Bluebird in Snow

As with many shots, I look at weather and review animal patterns to get an idea of what is the best thing to photograph on a particular day during a particular season. In late winter and early spring, after the mountain bluebirds return, I look for bluebirds in snow. Bluebirds don't like snow, at least not when it is falling, but as soon as the snow stops they are out and about eating bugs and worms on the wet ground. Getting a photo of a bluebird in falling snow was a goal of mine. Although I am still envisioning a photo with a heavier snowfall, I was happy with the few photos I did capture last year of bluebirds in light snowfall. This particular image was captured in Rocky Mountain National Park. 

Black_bear_RMNP_2017_4Black_bear_RMNP_2017_4A black bear sow (Ursus americanus) stands up to get a better look in a forested area of Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado #3: Black Bear in Rocky Mountain National Park

Last year marked my 20th anniversary of my first trip to Colorado, which included a visit to Rocky Mountain National Park. (Read the blog post about those 20 years here.) It was the second national park I ever visited (after Grand Canyon) and was one of the reasons I fell in love with Colorado and moved here. In the summer of the 20th anniversary I found myself living literally within walking distance of the park. I loved it! But in those 20 years I also never saw a black bear in the park. I had seen bears in Colorado and even in New Jersey before I moved to Colorado but never in Rocky Mountain National Park, until last summer. This sow had two cubs in the tree above her, which I never was able to photograph, and had an elk nearby that I suspect had a calf she was protecting. Eventually the elk chased off the bear but I was happy for the moment I had with the bear. 

Snowy_owl_NJ_2017_2Snowy_owl_NJ_2017_2A snowy owl (Bubo scandiacus) sits on a sand dune on a windy day in early winter on Island Beach State Park in central New Jersey. #2: Snowy Owl on the Beach

I visited New Jersey in December for a quick trip to celebrate an early Christmas with my mom. I also spent a day photographing with Ashleigh Scully, a very talented photographer based in New Jersey. We both were excited to hear that snowy owls had been reported along the shore. An even better bonus was that snow was falling when I arrived in New Jersey that Friday night. I had to think but I couldn't remember a single time where I saw snow at the shore. Although my mom lives at the shore and I had spent a lot of time at various shore towns I couldn't remember actually seeing snow on the beach in New Jersey. And now I had an opportunity to photograph a snowy owl in the snow on the beach during an irruption year. It took two hours but our group finally found the owl. It was beautiful and a wonderful experience on many counts. 

Elk_RMNP_2017_26Elk_RMNP_2017_26A bull elk (Cervus elaphus) stops and bugles on a snowy morning in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado #1: Elk in Snow in the Fall

This photo more than any other from the elk rut had a lot of comments on Facebook from other photographers who said they always wanted to photograph elk bugling in falling snow in the fall. Why did it generate so many comments? Because this scene doesn't happen very often in Colorado. Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the best places to photograph elk during their rut or mating season. In late August the bulls will start bugling after shedding the velvet from their antlers. The activity begins to pick up in September as larger bulls join the activity and the cows start to show signs of being interested in the bulls. Although snow in the high country can happen anytime of year, the elk perform their rut season in the lower meadows. Seeing a heavy, wet snow when the leaves are in fall colors and still on the trees is a rare occasion. To have a bull elk standing in a stand of aspens and give out his bellowing call was a moment that put a smile on my face. 

So those are the shots out of the more than 37,000 images I captured in 2017 that bring me the most joy for the memories I have, the stories behind them and the images that resulted. I have yet to take a single photo this year. I am not exactly sure why. One reason is because we haven't had any snow to peek my interest in finding wildlife in a typical winter scene. Another reason is because I have been searching for more difficult to find animals, such as a snowy owl that I never had luck finding. And partly because I have been very busy with other types of projects that I am hoping will be a good investment in my future as a writer and photographer. But as I type this the weather forecast on the news is saying it is snowing in the high country so maybe with a little luck tomorrow morning I'll find an animal to photograph that is willing to brave the cold and snow with me. 

Happy New Year! 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) 2017 2018 animal bear colorado elk happy new year nature nature photography photographer photography snowy owl travel wildlife year https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2018/1/17-in-17-my-favorite-photos-of-2017 Sun, 07 Jan 2018 05:39:11 GMT
Social Media and Your Photos https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2017/11/social-media-and-your-photos Social media is a God send for photographers to market their business. But social media sites have dramatically changed the industry by providing an overabundance of photos to the market. Social media sites have also become a way to learn about some previously well-kept secret photo spots. 

 

 

 

 

I recently gave a presentation to the Mile High Wildlife Photography Club about how to get started utilizing social media sites, particularly Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, as part of your marketing plan. Here is a summary of that presentation. 

If you are interested in having me speak to your group about social media, wildlife photography, Colorado photography or travel photography, email me at [email protected].

Social Media and Your Photos

The top five players in social media are:

- Facebook (now 2 billion+)
- YouTube
- Instagram
- Twitter
- Reddit

 

(graphic of the top 15 social media sites: https://www.dreamgrow.com/top-15-most-popular-social-networking-sites/)

Screen shot of a Facebook business page The best social media sites for photographers:
- Facebook
- Instagram
- 500 px
- Flickr
Why photos work on social media:
- Tweets with photos get 35% more retweets on average
- 74% of social media marketers use visual assets in their social media marketing, ahead of blogs (68%) and videos (60%)
- When people hear information, they're likely to remember only 10% of that information three days later. However, if a relevant image is paired with that same information, people retained 65% of the info three days later.
(Source: Hubspot.com, 1/3/17, https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/visual-content-marketing-strategy)

A screen shot of a post on Facebook. Selecting Your Photos

- Use only your best photos

- Be professional

- Refine your older photos — the Internet is forever but content can be reposted

- Your best will change over time

- Keep your content fresh

- Your posts are a reflection of your work

- Keep your brand in mind

- Keep photo subjects timely

 

Selecting Your Photos

- Use only your best photos

- Use only your best photos

- Use only your best photos

- That means:

   • Tack sharp

   • Great backgrounds

   • Good composition

   • Interesting interaction

   • Tells a good story

 

Optimizing Your Photos

- Each social media site has their own set of specs

- Facebook (see image to right)

- For additional social media sites, visit
https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/ultimate-guide-social-media-image-dimensions-infographic

 

 

There is a wide variety of information about each social media site.

 

Click here for the complete presentation. 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) facebook instagram learn marketing nature photograph photos social media travel tutorial twitter https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2017/11/social-media-and-your-photos Sun, 05 Nov 2017 23:45:53 GMT
20 Years in Rocky Mountain National Park https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2017/7/20-years-in-rocky-mountain-national-park Bierstadt_Lake_Sunset_1Bierstadt_Lake_Sunset_1The clouds fill with warm color at sunset over Bierstadt Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado Today marks twenty years since my first visit to Rocky Mountain National Park. 

How do I know exactly what day it was? It was the day before the torrential rains started falling in Fort Collins that led to one of the worst flooding disasters in that Northern Colorado town. (Here is a little background about that flood.)

I was in town visiting Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine as I looked at my options for graduate school. I wound up going to Temple University for my MBA in marketing instead but moved to Fort Collins five years later after falling in love with the town that weekend.  Dream_Lake_sunrise_3Dream_Lake_sunrise_3Early morning light illuminates Hallett Peak above Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Par, Colorado

As I thought about the content I wanted to write for this blog post, I came to the realization that my visit to Rocky Mountain National Park in July 1997 was my first to a national park on my own. It was the first park I chose to explore. 

During that weekend in 1997, I explored the park on horseback. My horse, a palomino paint, was named Clown. He was a sweet horse, even when he tripped on the trail, bumping me off the saddle and onto the rocky ground. 

I met Aeric two months after my trip to Colorado. He loved hiking and being outdoors, and when I met him the farthest he had traveled west was Pennsylvania. 

I couldn't stop telling him how much he would love Colorado and Rocky Mountain National Park.

Elk_RMNP_2016_19Elk_RMNP_2016_19Two bull elks (Cervus elaphus) practice their sparring techniques on a sunny morning in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado In 2000, we took a cross-country trip from our home in New Jersey and headed west. We would visit numerous national parks on that trip—Canyonlands, Mammoth Cave, Zion, Death Valley, Black Canyon of the Gunnison—but, like my visit a few years earlier, Aeric fell in love with Colorado when we visited Rocky Mountain National Park. He loved it so much that he returned to Rocky a month after we returned to New Jersey from our cross-country travels. 

We decided in the summer of 2000 that Colorado was where we wanted to be so when I finished graduate school in 2002, we sold the house, packed all of our belongings and headed west. 

Bluebird_LakeBluebird_LakeOuzel Peak overlooks Bluebird Lake on a cloudy afternoon in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado We rarely camped in Rocky but we visited often, exploring many of the trails throughout the park. 

The last hike Aeric and I took together was in Rocky—to Bluebird Lake.

Aeric died in October 2012.

After Aeric died, I found I went to the park at least once a month to photograph sunrise and wildlife.

The park, unknowingly, became my respite from a crazy, depressing world that enveloped me in 2012. It wasn't the only place I explored in Colorado and throughout the west at that time in my life but it was the most consistent. 

The park did and has continued to play a big part in my life.

Moose_Trail_Ridge_Road_2017_1Moose_Trail_Ridge_Road_2017_1A moose (Alces alces) walks across the tundra at first light set against the Gore Range near Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado Rocky was where I fell in love with Colorado and initiated my ultimate move to the Centennial State. The park was where Aeric and I took our engagement photo.

And Rocky is where Richard and I met in 2015 when we were both living on the road visiting national parks, among other destinations, in our RVs.

Marmot_16Marmot_16A yellow-bellied marmot stops and stands with a mouth full of grasses on the alpine tundra at sunset in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Now I find myself living with Richard at the base of Rocky in the RV we bought together. It is wonderful to look out the window every morning and check the clouds and the Continental Divide to see what sunrise potential is brewing. It is wonderful to have elk, deer and turkeys walk right through the campground. 

Twenty years later I am still in love with Rocky as much as I was on that Saturday in 1997. 

The park has changed a lot in those 20 years—more from the perspective of number of visitors—but I still find a lot of solitude in this beautiful park.

Pika_3Pika_3A pika carries a mouthful of grass across the rocks near Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Unfortunately, my photos from that first visit to Rocky are packed away in a box deep in my storage unit as there isn't room in my RV for all of my prints and negatives from my film days. There are, however, plenty of digital photos I am sharing here from the more recent years in Rocky. Maybe it is an important sign that life has started over again for me. And there is Rocky still my constant companion through it all. 

Enjoy the memories you make in this beautiful national park straddling the Continental Divide in northern Colorado. If you haven't been, what is holding you back?

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) animal colorado death high country love memories national park foundation national park service nature nature photography partner photo photography rocky mountain national park rv travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2017/7/20-years-in-rocky-mountain-national-park Fri, 28 Jul 2017 00:07:04 GMT
RV Livin' #20: The Final Countdown https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/12/rv-livin-20-the-final-countdown Mabry_Mill_BRP_2016_3Mabry_Mill_BRP_2016_3Morning light illuminates the trees in fall color around Mabry Mill along the Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia Today is my final night on the road as a full-time RVer. 

The plan, when I left the keys to my home in the hands of a new buyer and moved into an RV last September, was called a Year in an RV. The goal was to photograph as many mammals of North America as possible.

I actually made it 15 months and five days. I also did the year in not just one RV , but three RVs. I started in my Class C. Then I upgraded to a Class A motorhome. And now I have downsized to a travel trailer in preparation of becoming a weekend warrior, in a sense. 

This last week has actually been surprisingly crazy. I wanted to mark the final countdown with a tremendous trip to some new place. But fifteen months on the road has cost a few pennies and my body seems to have finally given in to me pushing it for so many sunrise and sunset photo shoots with some amazing animals. I came down with what I now think was the flu last Sunday, a day after I arrived In Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.  Snow_goose_BDANWR_2016_1Snow_goose_BDANWR_2016_1A flock of snow and Ross's geese (Chen rossii, Chen caerulescens) take off from the roosting pond at sunrise in Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

I kept my last trip close to my home state of Colorado. I didn't get to visit Bosque last fall, and that was a bit of a disappointment - not for what I did instead but because Bosque really is a wildlife photographer's dream location for bird photography. 

Each November, thousands of greater and lesser sandhill cranes, snow geese, and Ross's geese converge on this 57,331-acre refuge along the Rio Grande River in New Mexico. It turned out that the bird counts last year were pretty low so everything may have worked out in the long run. And this year I actually added a couple of new photos to my mammal inventory - a striped skunk and a javelina. Both great photo opportunities for my last week of this amazing adventure, even with suffering through an achy body and stuffy head.  Collared_peccary_BDANWR_2016_1Collared_peccary_BDANWR_2016_1A collared peccary, also known as a javelina (Tayassu tajacu), stops to check out the clicking sound while crossing a trail in Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

I arrived back in Colorado on Thursday so that I could work on answering the big question I now have in front of me: Now what???

I pick up the keys to an apartment tomorrow morning. I have started outlining a revised business plan for my photography business, and I have started to consider what other career options might be out there in addition to photography. Maybe photography will continue to be full-time, maybe it won't. Too early to say at this point.  Striped_skunk_BDANWR_2016_6Striped_skunk_BDANWR_2016_6A striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis) walks along a pond embankment on a cloudy day at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

All I know is that I think my critters will be very happy to stop being mobile. 

I winterized the trailer today. It was kind of a sad moment but it felt right. Timing is right too - the temperatures are supposed to dip into the negative digits in a couple of days here along the Front Range. Feels good too to wrap up this unbelievable year right here at home in a Colorado State Park. There really is no place like home. 

When I left Jackson, Wyoming in September after a visit to Grand Teton National Park, there was a sign in front of one of the businesses that really summed up my feelings about this project, this adventure, this wanderlust year: "Don't cry because it is over; smile because it happened."

Elk_GSMNP_2016_16Elk_GSMNP_2016_16A bull elk (Cervus elaphus) walks through a farm field in Oconaluftee Valley on a foggy morning in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina I actually did smile when I read that sign because I thought that was the last drive back into Colorado on my yearlong adventure. I smiled because I was happy it happened. I made a dream a reality. 

It turned out I would get another two and a half months on the road and continue to add new places and new critters to my life list, such as Congaree National Park in South Carolina, an eastern spotted skunk along the Blue Ridge Parkway, and beautiful fall scenery in the Smoky Mountains.  Leaves_in_Congaree_2016_1Leaves_in_Congaree_2016_1A myriad of fall leaves float on the murky water surrounded by reflections of sky and overhead leaves in Congaree National Park, South Carolina

So off I head to bed to dream about all of the beautiful places I have seen this year.

I hope to do it again someday because there were many big sections of the U.S. that I missed. I didn't get to New England. I didn't make it to Florida. I didn't make it to the northwest. I didn't make it to the upper midwest. Goes to prove just how big our country is and how much there really is out there to see. Take it one location at a time and enjoy the exploring.

Sandhill_crane_BDANWR_2016_1Sandhill_crane_BDANWR_2016_1A sandhill crane (Grus canadensis) takes off in soft morning light at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

 

 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Big Year Blue Ridge Parkway Bosque del Apache Colorado Congaree New Mexico RV RV Livin' Smoky Mountains dream big dreams final countdown goal goals home living the dream motorhome nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photography road trailer travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/12/rv-livin-20-the-final-countdown Mon, 05 Dec 2016 08:34:25 GMT
RV Livin' #19: Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Blue Ridge Parkways https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/11/rv-livin-19-great-smoky-mountains-national-park Lower_Falls_Fall_BRP_2016_2Lower_Falls_Fall_BRP_2016_2Lower Falls or Second Falls flows down through the vibrantly colored trees in Graveyard Fields along the Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina I took an unexpected trip back east to follow fall colors. Unfortunately this year turned out to be late on colors and the dry late summer caused the leaves to be very brown but it was still an amazing time and something that was on my Year in an RV List.

And when I found out that there are elk in Great Smoky Mountains National Park I was extra excited. This was going to be a nice change of scenery for a Rocky Mountain favorite. Elk_GSMNP_2016_45Elk_GSMNP_2016_45Two bull ek (Cervus elaphus) spar in Oconaluftee Valley in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina

I had never been to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It would be park #41 on my list of parks I have visited and what better time of year than peak fall color. 

Because of the size of the campgrounds - or what we thought would be limiting - we brought the smaller trailer rather than the class A RV. The campgrounds certainly could have handled the larger RV but the tunnels on the Blue Ridge Parkway may have been a different story. 

Turkey_GSMNP_2016_1Turkey_GSMNP_2016_1A wild turkey tom (Meleagris gallopavo) stands in the afternoon sun in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee The trip started off in Cades Cove. My research showed this to be an excellent place to see black bears, turkeys and white-tailed deer. What I had not anticipated were the crowds. I knew Great Smoky Mountains N.P. is the most visited park in the country - they topped 11 million visitors in 2015 and expect to have more this year - but I was not prepared for the lines of people through Cades Cove. The road into the cove opens at sunrise but the people line up as much as an hour earlier. Thankfully the exit from the campground dumps right into the line and I could get there about 30 minutes before sunrise and still be about tenth in line - a helpful tip if you plan a visit. 

The traffic moved slowly once the gate opened and because the gate doesn't open until sunrise, getting to one of the good landscape spots before the harsh light hits was next to impossible.  Mabry_Mill_BRP_2016_3Mabry_Mill_BRP_2016_3Morning light illuminates the trees in fall color around Mabry Mill along the Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia

But I was here for white-tailed deer and bears. 

Although I don't feel like I walked away with any super fantastic shots of either from Cades Cove, I still enjoyed the visit. It was difficult to photograph deer with 20 photographers chasing and surrounding them. It made me appreciate the patience photographers have in Colorado to work together for shots. And although I saw a few bears, most were busy enjoying the acorns in the mountains. 

Looking_Glass_Falls_BRP_2016_1Looking_Glass_Falls_BRP_2016_1Looking Glass Falls cascades down a rock just off of the Blue Ridge Parkway in Transylvania County, North Carolina Next we headed off to various destinations on the Blue Ridge Parkway. This too was a new place for me and it held up to all of the stories about its beauty in the fall. I photographed Mabry Mill, Linn Cove Viaduct, Looking Glass Falls, and many other iconic locations. This area actually has some of the highest concentrations of waterfalls in the country, most easily accessible from the road and all surrounded by beautiful fall colors. 

I even found a few chipmunks to photograph. They were busy gathering those plentiful acorns and storing them away for winter. And on our last night on the parkway we had an unexpected and rare animal cross our path - an eastern spotted skunk.  Chipmunk_BRP_2016_2Chipmunk_BRP_2016_2A chipmunk cleans her paws on a sunny morning along the Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina

If you have followed this blog for a while you know the skunk continues to be one of the animals I have never photographed. I have seen them numerous times in various places but have yet to capture them with my camera - mostly because they are almost exclusively nocturnal, and if they are out during the day, you don't see them long. Those short little legs are surprisingly quick. I managed a few photos under the illumination of the truck lights at a high ISO so I still don't have a great photo - but baby steps right? Elk_GSMNP_2016_16Elk_GSMNP_2016_16A bull elk (Cervus elaphus) walks through a farm field in Oconaluftee Valley on a foggy morning in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina

That little encounter made me miss photographing wildlife even more so after two weeks of working the landscape on the parkway, we headed back to Great Smoky Mountains National Park to find the elk. 

The fog, elk and beautiful landscape in fall colors made me happy but somber at the same time. Reality was setting in that this was going to be the last big trip and my last new destination for my year in an RV. 

But I put that aside for a few days as I focused on photographing the elk in Cattaloochee and Oconaluftee Valleys.  Red_squirrel_GSMNP_2016_1Red_squirrel_GSMNP_2016_1A red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) sits on a rock and looks forward along the Oconaluftee River in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina

It has taken me several weeks to correctly spell the names of those valleys. I have yet to be able to master the pronunciation of the second valley. 

These elk were introduced to the valley about 15 years ago. The elk native to the Smoky Mountains have been extinct since the 1700s and the new elk were brought in from Canada, is what I was told by a volunteer. They have also done pretty well and now number about 200 in the eastern Smokeys.  Simms_Pond_BRP_2016_1Simms_Pond_BRP_2016_1An incoming storm puts clouds in the sky over Simms Pond surrounded by fall color along the Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina

I also found several small mammals to photograph. Unexpectedly I seem to have developed a fascination for photographing the wide variety of squirrels I have seen on my travels. I grew up in New Jersey where eastern gray squirrels were abundant but I found I missed them once I moved to Colorado where we have a couple of different varieties. As one photographer told me, a great photo of a common animal is better than a bad photo of an uncommon animal. So I added shots of red squirrels and gray squirrels to my inventory while out east. I also found a cooperative woodchuck, another animal we don't have in Colorado, although we have their silly cousin the yellow-bellied marmot. 

But the calendar kept ticking away and it was time to leave this beautiful area. I have just a few weeks left to visit friends and family in New Jersey before heading back across the country for the last time on this adventure. There will be more adventures - I just don't yet know what they will look like.  Woodchuck_GSMNP_2016_1Woodchuck_GSMNP_2016_1A woodchuck (Marmota monax) sits in a grassy field in Oconaluftee Valley in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Blue Ridge Parkway Carolina Great Smoky Mountains National Park North RV RV living Tennessee animal elk fall fall colors full-time RVer nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photography recreational trailer travel vehicle wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/11/rv-livin-19-great-smoky-mountains-national-park Sat, 05 Nov 2016 18:54:02 GMT
Photographing Wildlife in the Fall https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/9/photographing-wildlife-in-the-fall Moose_35Moose_35A bull moose (Alces aces) with shedding antlers stands in willows on a rainy day at Brainard Lake National Recreation Area, Colorado. Fall is a popular season for most nature photographers. The colors of the trees and plants from the east coast to the west coast, from the tundra of Alaska to the canyons of Zion National Park in Utah turn the landscapes into an artist's palette of vibrant shades of red, orange, yellow and gold. Pronghorn_buck_FGNRA_2015_1Pronghorn_buck_FGNRA_2015_1A pronghorn antelope buck (Antilocapra americana) looks directly at the camera as he sports some sage stuck in his horns in Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area near Green River, Wyoming.

But fall is also a busy season for wildlife. Many of the large mammals go into their mating season. Starting in late July through December, the moose, bison, elk, pronghorn, deer, mountain goats and bighorn sheep focus on finding mates and not much else. Birds migrate through on their way to their winter destinations. Bears begin their hyperphagia stage where they eat tens of thousands of calories a day to bulk up for their long winter nap. And the small mammals get very busy building cache piles of food or build up enough fat reserves to make it through the winter.

And all of this could be framed in photographs with beautiful fall color. 

But where do you start to photograph these activities and colors?

Elk_RMNP_2016_16Elk_RMNP_2016_16A bull elk (Cervus elaphus) starts a bugle call during the fall rut in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado First, be patient, very patient. Wildlife photography is about watching, observing, learning and being ready for the behaviors. Anticipating the behavior, such as a bugle from an elk as it is walking towards the camera or the horn clash of two large bighorn rams takes some understanding of why they do it. For example, bighorn rams will back up just prior to rearing up on their hind legs and then coming in for the clash. Focus on one of the rams and track with it through the clash so that your camera will not focus on the background in the space between the rams. 

Black_bear_Waterton_2015_4Black_bear_Waterton_2015_4A black bear (Ursus americanus) sits in a scrub oak tree to eat the ripening acorns in Waterton Canyon near Littleton, Colorado

Next, show the beauty of the season. The vibrant color of leaves on trees will reflect in water. Try framing a colorful duck swimming through it. Meadows of grasses will turn into warm tones of golden color during the early fall season before it goes completely brown for the winter. Yellow leaves on trees will create a warm glow on an animal walking through a wooded area.

Mallard_duck_7Mallard_duck_7A pair of mallard ducks swim across Belmar Lake in the early morning steam after a spring snowstorm in Lakewood, Colorado.

​Another option for a photo setting is to predict weather patterns. I call this the clash of seasons. Especially in places like Alaska, Wyoming and Colorado, snow may fall on the colorful landscape. Fresh snow mixed across the colorful reds of the alpine tundra offers a nice feeling of the season. Fresh snow on yellow aspen trees as an elk walks by will also provide that feeling of clashing seasons. In many areas, the days remain warm yet the overnight temperatures drop significantly or weather patterns may bring in a cold front after a few warm days. These changes in temperature will create rising mist and fog from warm bodies of water in the cool morning temperatures.

Wood_duck_25Wood_duck_25A wood duck drake (Aix sponsa) swims through gold, red and yellow fall colors reflected on the water surface at Sterne Lake in Littleton, Colorado

The progression of fall starts early in parts of Alaska and the high country of the Rocky Mountains. Moose will begin to bulk up in late July and into August as they prepare to make it through the rut where they will burn off up to 20 percent of their body weight. Bison begin their rut with their grunts and battles for the cows in early August. The plants of the tundra begin to change into deep reds and vibrant oranges in August. The late salmon runs in Alaska in late August and early September bring out large quantities of brown bears looking to build up fat for hibernation. 

Pika_3Pika_3A pika carries a mouthful of grass across the rocks near Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

The willows of Alaska turn into fields of red in late August and early September, providing great landscape scenery for rutting moose. Moose and elk will shed the velvet from their antlers in early September and be in full swing of their rut by late September. Pronghorn antelope bucks will thrash about in sage bushes to leave their scent markings as a warning to other bucks to stay away from their does during September. Black bears will be found in apple orchards, oak forests and berry patches bulking up on high-calorie foods for hibernation. As the elk rut winds down in mid October, the mule deer and white-tailed deer will start to bulk up for their rut in November and December. The bighorn sheep and mountain goats wind out the fall rut season in late November and early December with battle of their own over the females.

Golden-mantled_Ground_Squirrel_1Golden-mantled_Ground_Squirrel_1An overweight golden-mantled ground squirrel stands on a rock begging for food along Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado Don't forget about the small mammals. They will also be busy building stock piles of food in preparation for long winter months without access to plants and bugs.

As the rut season winds down for each animal, consider whether it will be worth photographing them. Tines will break on bull moose and elk as well as deer bucks as a result of fighting. All of the males will get tired, thinner and potentially injured during the rut. 

Bighorn_Rams_EyeBighorn_Rams_EyeA bighorn ram (Ovis canadensis) looks at the camera through the horn of another ram in the Shoshone National Forest near Cody, Wyoming

A final thought for photographing wildlife in the fall. Fall is hunting season. Primarily I mention this for your own safety. If you are out in an area where hunters may be located, be sure to wear hunter's orange, such as in a vest or hat. Check local regulations for safety attire. Another consideration is that animals may be more skittish and more difficult to photograph.

Enjoy the fall season. It is my favorite because of its beauty and the wide variety of photo opportunities.  Moose_GTNP_2015_1Moose_GTNP_2015_1A bull moose (Alces alces) walks across the Gros Ventre River in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Alaska Colorado Rocky Mountains animal animals fall fall color nature nature photography photo photograph photographers photography tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/9/photographing-wildlife-in-the-fall Fri, 30 Sep 2016 15:30:00 GMT
A Year on the Road https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/9/a-year-on-the-road
Bighorn_ram_Glacier_2016_1Bighorn_ram_Glacier_2016_1A bighorn ram (Ovis canadensis) stands in the morning sun near Logan Pass in Glacier National Par, Montana. Yesterday, September 1, 2016, marked one year since I sold my house and started my journey in an RV and living on the road. It took a couple of days to get everything settled into the RV and a few more to actually get on the road but September 1 was when I officially became a gypsy of the road. 
 
This week also marks the end of this phase of the adventure and the beginning of the next phase of my life. 
 
It has been an amazing year. It was full of ups and downs, highs and lows. I saw the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, the Gulf of Alaska, parts of Canada, and 27 states. I traveled 58,007 miles, and fell in love. I also depleted my bank account, had two flat tires, obtained many cuts and bruises, and even twisted a knee that kept me from hiking for two months. I had surgery to treat a cancer scare. One of my dogs passed away on my journey. Dawn_and_huskies_YosemiteDawn_and_huskies_YosemiteDawn and her huskies sit in front of the sign for Yosemite National Park, California
 
I met many other travelers, some of whom I have continued to stay in touch, and even crossed paths with the couple visiting every national park in 52 weeks (#59in52). I got stuck on the wrong side of a mud slide in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and couldn't see Wonder Lake in Denali National Park because another mud slide blocked a road there.
 
I learned about gray and black water tanks, learned that you always wear gloves when emptying the tanks (and why), learned that RVs will always need repairs (even more so than a house), found that living in a small space is pretty comfortable, and that I still don't miss cutting a lawn. Spoonbill__Smith_Oaks_2016_1_finalSpoonbill__Smith_Oaks_2016_1_finalA roseate spoonbill flaps his wings as he comes in for a landing against the backlight morning sun at Rip's Rookery near New Iberia, Louisiana
 
I did my first canyon repel and hiked on top of a glacier. I saw the tallest mountain in North America, visited the newest national park, spent time in the oldest national park and experienced a small portion of the largest national park. I also saw 62 species of mammals, which is the goal of this adventure - to document the mammals of North America - but there are a lot more still to photograph. I lost count of the number of bird species I saw and I saw at least six different reptiles and amphibians.
 
Collared_pika_Hatcher_Pass_2016_2Collared_pika_Hatcher_Pass_2016_2A collared pika (Ochotona collaris) eats an alpine flower at Hatcher Pass, Alaska I tried dozens of regional beers, tasted a few regional wines too, tried fireweed vodka (very yummy), drank way too much sweet tea to keep me up while driving and not enough water. I taste-tested a lot of gummie bears (my go-to snack while driving); in my opinion Sprouts sells the best ones.
 
I also saw a lot of Walmart parking lots - a lot - and staying in these lots humbled me in seeing how some people have to live - not choose to live like me and other RV travelers.
 
I missed many things about having a home - good Internet connection, baking, friends nearby, and familiarity. I also found out that I did not miss many things - surprisingly television was one of them. Bobcat_Yosemite_2016_6Bobcat_Yosemite_2016_6A bobcat (Lynx rufus) walks through a wooded area in Yosemite National Park, California
 
I loved every minute of my travels. I saw a lot of beautiful places. Some of which I know I will never have an opportunity to revisit; many will become regular destinations for me. But my list is very long and I feel I haven't skimmed the surface. I checked off 45 places on my Year in an RV List but the list still includes 407 destinations; more than 1,000 if you include the general notations to see all of the national parks, state parks and state wildlife management areas in Colorado, and all of the national wildlife refuges. I have accepted the fact that I will never see everything on my list because the list grows every time I go someplace. (And how sad would it be to not have any new place to look forward to seeing?)
 
Arctic_ground_squirrel_Denali_2016_1Arctic_ground_squirrel_Denali_2016_1An arctic ground squirrel (Spermophilus parryii) sits and poses on a sunny afternoon in Denali National Park, Alaska. I still have not seen a mountain lion in the wild and didn't get a photo of that lynx I saw in Denali National Park. Ocelots, fishers, wolverines, musk ox, nutrias, ringtails and short-tailed weasels still elude me. The Louisiana black bear is high on my goal list. And those silly little armadillos, which I saw all over the place in Louisiana, skunks, and pine martins have yet to be photographed by my camera. 
 
I hope to keep the travels going but I will need to rebuild the coffers for a while and work on some editing. I feel like this past year was a failure and a success all at the same time. I learned a lot about myself, about how I got to this point in my life, and why I needed to do this. It was a failure because I did only see 45 places on that list - that is less than one a week (but often the best photos come from really getting to know an area). I didn't do as much planning as I would have liked, I didn't have as much money as I should have when I started, and I didn't stay focused as much as I should have. Pronghorn_buck_FGNRA_2015_1Pronghorn_buck_FGNRA_2015_1A pronghorn antelope buck (Antilocapra americana) looks directly at the camera as he sports some sage stuck in his horns in Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area near Green River, Wyoming.
 
But I am being hard on myself because it was a tremendous success. It was a success because I did it. I left the security of a traditional life and took a big chance. And that chance is what is giving me the confidence that I can continue to pursue my dreams.
 
I have taken more than 61,000 photos while on the road, which is actually a much better ratio of clicks to time than I have done in the past. Only a few short years back I could take 10,000 frames in a week. I am down to just a few hundred per location now. [Thank you, Russ Burden, for the "Shoot before you edit" note that I keep in the truck.]
 
But for what I thought would be a six-month journey, has turned into a lifestyle I can't seem to walk away from - at least not today. So as we drive the RV back to Colorado I am looking forward to seeing what the next year holds in store for me - and feeling some anxiety all at the same time about where the road will take me. For once in my life I do not know what my next step will be. I only have two things on my calendar past the end of September - a brown bear workshop this time next year and an article due in March. It is time to market my work, schedule more workshops, plan more presentations, pitch more articles, work on getting assignments, find some sponsors, and discover what the next adventure looks like.
 
Here's to another fantastic 365 days!
Bald_Eagle_Anchor_Point_2016_2Bald_Eagle_Anchor_Point_2016_2Two bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) fight over a fish at Anchor Point, Alaska.
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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Loving life RV RV living Walmart challenges dreams failure living living the dream nature nature photography photo photographer photography success travel wildlife work https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/9/a-year-on-the-road Fri, 02 Sep 2016 16:49:24 GMT
24 Hours as a Traveling Wildlife Photographer https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/7/24-hours-as-a-traveling-wildlife-photographer Midnight at Tern LakeMidnight on the summer solstice at Tern Lake, Alaska This is what midnight in Alaska looks like.

Not much sleep goes on up here unless you prepare your bedroom with heavy blackout shades and curtains. RVs are hard to seal all of the light out of so I am thankful I am a sound sleeper, but those curtains certainly help. 

I am more than halfway through spending the summer in Alaska. The nights have been getting darker since the solstice on June 21 when there was less than four hours between sunset and sunrise, but the skies never truly turned dark.

I prefer sunrise for my photography. I think the skies are clearer, the temperatures are cooler, there are fewer people out and about, and the animals seem more active. Yet, since being in Alaska, I find I am out until sunset every night, which occurs around 11:15 p.m. in mid-July. My body just doesn't want to shut down. As a result it can be really hard to get up when the alarm goes off at 3 a.m. to get to a sunrise location.  Bald_eagle_Valdez_2016_1Bald_eagle_Valdez_2016_1An immature bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) sits on an old log at low tide in Port Valdez, Alaska.

So we thought about investing in FitBit watches to see what our sleep patterns truly were like (Thank you, Richard, for the gift.) 

And that is what has inspired this blog post. I am now seeing in digital lights on my wrist and through the app on my phone that I exceed my step goals every day yet have only met my sleeping goals twice since tracking the information over a week ago. 

As a wildlife photographer, I walk a lot, which is great. I follow animals, look for animals and just explore new locations to see what animals might live in an area. I do all of this on my two feet. It is a wonderful thing to have a job where I walk rather than sitting behind a desk all the time. But it is a business and there are many hours behind the desk. 

Salmon_Gull_Sea_Lion_Valdez_2016_1Salmon_Gull_Sea_Lion_Valdez_2016_1A gull flys in to try for a salmon that a sea lion (Eumetopias jubatus) just pulled under with only his whiskers showing above water in Port Valdez, Alaska. So here is a glimpse into my day as a wildlife photographer on Monday, July 18, 2016.

12:00 a.m.: I just finished packing up my gear and settling it back into the truck. We were told a brown bear had been down at the fish weir at the Solomon Gulch Fish Hatchery in Valdez, Alaska the last three evenings. The first two nights he showed up around 7 p.m. The third night he didn't arrive until 11:30 p.m. The sun set long ago behind the distant mountains in the Talkeetna Range to the west but we thought we would stick it out and just watch him, even if it was too dark to shoot any photos. No luck. He was a no-show so we packed up the gear and headed back to the RV. 

1:30 a.m.: After downloading the photos (we did have an amazing few hours photographing sea lions fishing for salmon before the sun set), I walked my dog, Sage, and got ready for bed.  Steller_sea_lion_Valdez_2016_3Steller_sea_lion_Valdez_2016_3A pod of steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) relaxes in the calm morning water at low tide in Port Valdez, Alaska.

2:11 a.m.: My FitBit app tells me that I finally fell asleep at this crazy hour after I watched an episode of "Big Bang Theory". I find the laughter is always a great way to wrap up the day, and this hysterical show makes me laugh more than any other sitcom. It also keeps my mind off of the fact that I know I will have less than four hours before my alarm goes off for my morning shooting.

6:46 a.m.: After playing games with my snooze button for 46 minutes, I finally rolled out of bed and quickly dressed into my photo-shooting gear: hiking pants, Muck boots, long-sleeve t-shirt and my new Buff complete with permethrin in the fabric - an ensemble completely designed for a fashion plate in the magazine article about how to not get bit by the flies, gnats and mosquitos in Alaska.

Salmon_Valdez_2016_1Salmon_Valdez_2016_1The pink salmon arrive in the milions in July to to return to the hatchery where they were born in Valdez, Alaska. 7:03 a.m.: I was on the beach with my camera backpack on and tripod with camera slung over my shoulder. It was low-tide in 18 minutes and I was hoping to photograph bald eagles on the beach and brown bears in the shallow water working on the fish left behind by the receding waters. Although I missed sunrise at 4:46 a.m., the light in Alaska stays really warm for several hours since it never truly rises directly overhead - it kind of moves on a pattern through the northern sky - so I still had some time with nice light. Unfortunately the bear was no where to be seen and the eagles didn't seem comfortable sharing the beach with visitors so I looked for other subjects. I found a pod of sea lions - 32 total when I finished counting each individual - wading in the shallow water. They were biding their time until high tide when their large bodies could swim through the deeper waters near the fish weir where thousands of pink salmon were bunched up at the mouth of the gulch. I had some great photo opportunities with these massive sea mammals, which are quite curious about photographers willing to sit in the water with them. 

9:20 a.m.: The tide was coming back in so I headed back to the truck. The long walk back was across a minefield of mussels, slimy sea plants and smelly, rotting fish carcasses. It also was a very low tide at -0.8 feet so the walk back to the parking lot was going to give me lots of steps towards my daily FitBit goal.  Brown_Bear_Valdez_2016_7Brown_Bear_Valdez_2016_7A brown bear (Ursus arctos) peeks out from the thick alders in Valdez, Alaska. You never know what might be watching you!

10:15 a.m.: After a quick drive to Crooked Creek to check on a tip about black bears, I was back at the RV and at my computer. It was time to get to work and I had an important project I was working on finishing. A friend and fellow photographer asked me to produce a video of my photographs about the national parks. But this wasn't a video to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the National Park Service. This video was to help his 15-year-old niece experience each of the national parks. She has terminal cancer with an outlook of less than a year. Her dying wish is to see all of the national parks and her family is worried she may not have the opportunity. I was so flattered he asked me to be part of such a special gift.  Brown_Bear_Valdez_2016_2Brown_Bear_Valdez_2016_2A brown bear (Ursus arctos) walks alon the rocky embankment near the Solomon Gulch Fish Hatchery on a sunny afternoon in Valdez, Alaska

5:30 p.m.: I worked all day on the video and unfortunately still have yet to finish it. The project is giving me proof that I need a serious overhaul on my filing system. Now granted I am traveling in an RV so I don't have the option of leaving my hard drives out all the time so I have to search for files on individual hard drives. I thought of going the route of keeping files stored on an online service but Internet connection can be so sporadic while traveling that I can't rely on that either if I want to have quick access while working. The project is also giving me the opportunity to look through many photos I haven't reviewed in a long time. But it was getting to be low-tide, and that meant bear time again. This is what I am here to do in Alaska - photograph the wildlife that calls this beautiful state home. So off we went to see what we could find. 

Fisherman_Valdez_2016_1Fisherman_Valdez_2016_1A fisherman carefully brings in a salmon he caught at sunset in Port Valdez, Alaska

 

7:22 p.m.: There he was, the single brown bear finally made an appearance on the far side of the hatchery. No one spotted him coming down but he was there, in the cove fishing for salmon. He didn't stay long - my last photo was at 7:52 p.m. as he crossed the road and headed up the steep mountainside. There were just too many people and it was still quite warm for him to stay very long.

 

9:50 p.m.: After a bite to eat at a local burger joint that was way too slow and not very good food, we had a beer with another couple from Michigan who were also photographers before we returned to our RV boondocked on the side of a nearby road. It was an enjoyable conversation about this and that regarding photography, traveling, RV living and experiences in Alaska. But I had more work to do.

 

11:59 p.m.: At the end of the day I was still at my computer working on the video. But overall it was an amazing day traveling in an RV in Alaska. I saw sea lions, sea otters, harbor seals, a brown bear, spent every moment with a great boyfriend, met new travelers (including a couple that lives in Valdez every summer, two couples driving VW buses from Argentina to Alaska, and a great couple from Michigan), and met my steps goal on my FitBit. Now if only I can figure out how to squeeze in the time sleeping time! Steller_sea_lion_Valdez_2016_1Steller_sea_lion_Valdez_2016_1A steller sea lion (Eumetopias jubataus) catches a salmon in his mouth on a sunny afternoon in Port Valdez, Alaska.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) 24 hours Alaska RV RV living Valdez animal animals brown bear day life nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography sea lion travel wildlife work work on the road https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/7/24-hours-as-a-traveling-wildlife-photographer Thu, 21 Jul 2016 19:14:13 GMT
RV Livin' #17: Discovering Louisiana Part Two https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/7/rv-livin-17-discovering-louisiana-part-2 Reddish_egret_Grand_Isle_2016_1Reddish_egret_Grand_Isle_2016_1A reddish egret (Egretta rufescens) takes off from a marsh on a cloudy day in Grand Isle, Louisiana.

My trip to Louisiana happened to coincide with the bird festival in Grand Isle.

This festival is held each year in mid-April during the peak of the spring bird migration. Grand Isle, which sits about two hours southeast of New Orleans, is one of the first stops on land after migratory birds fly across the Gulf of Mexico - if they don't try to keep flying north. 

I was not familiar with the location or the photography opportunities of the area but I heard it was well worth the visit so off we went with the RV. 

There happens to be a state park with a pretty nice campground at the south end of the island that had plenty of space for our large rig. Although the wind didn't cooperate at all during the course of the weekend, we managed to spot at least 70 different species of birds including scarlet tanagers and reddish egrets, new ones for my life list.

Sanderling_Grand_Isle_2016_2Sanderling_Grand_Isle_2016_2A sanderling runs across the sand at the edge of the water along the beach at Grand Isle, Louisiana
The great thing about Grand Isle is that the area has several different types of habitats so a plethora of birds feed, nest and travel through the area. 

I started with shore birds at sunrise. What more could a photographer ask for than walking from her campsite, meeting an Audubon representative on the beach, and photographing a large flock of skimmers all at sunrise??? 

After photographing Wilson's plovers, common terns, and lots of sandpipers, I headed back to the campground to look for birds in a marshy environment.

Even in the campground and on the nearby trails there were dozens of birds to be found: baby mourning doves, clapper rails, great egrets, a sora, and lots of willets. 

Brown_Pelican_SeriesA brown pelican dives headfirst for his food while fishing in a bay on Grand Isle, Louisiana Later in the afternoon I joined my boyfriend and his mother for a nature walk to look for birds in the wooded neighborhoods. The Nature Conservancy sponsored the walk and had three very informative guides lead the way. The ultimate goal for most folks on the walk was to find a cerulean warbler. Although that certainly would have been pretty special to add that bird to my life list, our little trio was in search of a painted bunting.  Black-necked_stilt_Grand_Isle_2016_1Black-necked_stilt_Grand_Isle_2016_1A black-necked stilt (Himantopus mexicanus) poses for a portrait on a sunny morning in Grand Isle, Louisiana.

This colorful little bird - I even heard one birder refer to it as the gaudy bird of the bird world - would be a new bird on all of our life lists and one we would certainly enjoy photographing. The little bird covered in an artist's palette of colors didn't make it easy for us. We went back to the tree - a mulberry tree with fresh, yummy berries - three times before we finally caught a glimpse of him as he dashed in and out of the shadows. The best shot I could capture was him sitting on a branch in the shadows, but the sighting counts towards my life list. 

In addition to the painted bunting we also came across a red-eyed vireo, indigo buntings, palm warblers, worm-eating warblers, rose-chested grosbeak, and an oven bird. 

Semi-palmated_plover_Grand_Isle_2016_1Semi-palmated_plover_Grand_Isle_2016_1A semi-palmated plover (Charadrius semipalmatus) runs through the shallow water along the Gulf Coast at Grand Isle, Louuisiana

The next morning my goal was to photograph roseate spoonbills. Although I had seen these birds before in Florida, I didn't have any photos I liked. By the time I left Grand Isle I still didn't have any photos of roseate spoonbills that I liked but I was happy with the sightings of more than a dozen of them in the marshes and flying overhead. 

While looking for the spoonbills I discovered a wonderful marsh area not far from the campground. There were four or five spoonbills hanging out in a pond on the south end of the marsh but beyond that the grasses and shallow ponds were filled with other wading birds. There were dozens of snowy and cattle egrets, lots of willets, dowitches, tricolored herons, and black-necked stilts. Flock_takeoff_Grand_Isle_2016Flock_takeoff_Grand_Isle_2016A flock of birds - terns, skimmers, gulls - take off en masse on Grand Isle, Louisiana.

One last tip we heard about was the beach near the bridge into Grand Isle. One of the local fisherman told us the fish were circling around the bay at the bridge because the easterly wind was preventing the tide from flowing back out to the Gulf. The brown pelicans had picked up on this little tidbit as well and were fishing non-stop. I would have spent hours upon hours watching the large birds dive for the fish but my pleasure and interest in observing and photographing wildlife can often be boring to others. Nonetheless I was able to capture several decent shots of pelicans just as they were breaking the water. 

So another successful photo outing to a new location thanks to life on the road in our RV. 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Gulf Gulf Coast Louisiana RV animal animals bird bunting egret heron life list motorhome nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography recreational roseate spoonbill spoonbill tips tips for nature photographers travel vehicle wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/7/rv-livin-17-discovering-louisiana-part-2 Sat, 09 Jul 2016 17:59:42 GMT
RV Livin' #16: Discovering Louisiana Part One https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/5/rv-livin-16-discovering-louisiana Roseate_Spoonbill_Rips_Rookery_2016_1Roseate_Spoonbill_Rips_Rookery_2016_1A roseate spoonbill (Platalea ajaja) flys against a sea of green at Rip's Rookery near New Iberia, Louisiana "Can you tell me where I can find the flamingos?" asked the woman driving with her husband around the oil fields on Grand Isle. 

"There are no wild flamingos in North America," we responded.

"Oh, okay," she replied and drove off looking for her pink birds.

And as quickly as I watched the dust settle from her car on the dirt road I realized that she was probably talking about the roseate spoonbills.

Red-cockaded_woodpecker_Big_Branch_Marsh_NWR_2016_1Red-cockaded_woodpecker_Big_Branch_Marsh_NWR_2016_1A red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis) pulls pieces of bark from a pine tree at Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge in Lacombe, Louisiana
As many as 18 had been reported in the area only a few days earlier. We saw 14 that morning. 
Spoonbills are tall, pink and white birds with a long beak with paddles at the end. Typically only found along the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, Texas and Florida, these birds consume a lot of crawfish, which are abundant in Louisiana. As a result, they are nicknamed Cajun flamingos because the red pigment from the crawfish gives the feathers of the spoonbills a darker hue. Mallard_Big_Branch_Marsh_NWR_2016_1Mallard_Big_Branch_Marsh_NWR_2016_1A mallard duck drake (Ana platyrhynchos) swims through a pond of lily pads on a sunny morning at Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge near Lacombe, Louisiana

One of my goals while visiting Louisiana was to photograph roseate spoonbills. I had only seen them once before in my life and that was only a passing moment at an airport. But I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of places I saw spoonbills near the Louisiana coast, and that search led me to several places where I saw dozens of other bird species including a few new ones for my life list. 

My first stop to explore in Louisiana was Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge.  Big_Branch_Marsh_Sunset_PanoBig_Branch_Marsh_Sunset_PanoA beautiful sunset with intense shades of orange and pink light up the sky behind silhouetted cypress trees at Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana

This refuge comprises several bayous, marshes, and waterways surrounded by cypress and hardwood forests. The variety of landscapes meant the opportunity to find several birds and reptiles, including a rare one I wanted to photograph called the red-cockaded woodpecker. 

For several mornings I watched the laughing gulls down on the old pilings along the marshes to Lake Ponchartrain. Although there were dozens of pilings it always seemed like the birds all wanted to sit on the same post. What was nice about this as a photographer was that it meant they were predictable. One gull would fly in, hover until he found a spot and then another would take off feeling a little cramped on the perch.  Laughing_gulls_Big_Branch_Marsh_NWR_2016_2Laughing_gulls_Big_Branch_Marsh_NWR_2016_2A laughing gull (Leucophaeus atricilla) comes in to land on a piling already occupied by another gull (non-breeding) in the morning sun at Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, Lacombe, Louisiana

The last thing that caught my eye at Big Branch Marsh were the wildflowers in peak bloom. The Louisiana wild iris were soft shades of purple set against the sea of green common throughout Louisiana. And the lily pads were also beginning to come into their glory. If you looked close enough or gave it a few minutes you would see ducks cruising through the pads and flowers.

Return for my next blog post about Louisiana featuring my trip down to Grand Isle for the Bird Festival. At least seventy different varieties of birds over a few days gave my shutter finger lots to keep busy photographing.  Wild_iris_Big_Branch_Marsh_NWR_2016_1Wild_iris_Big_Branch_Marsh_NWR_2016_1A wild iris set against a background of vivid green on a sunny morning at Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge near Lacombe, Louisiana

 
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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge Gulf Gulf Coast Louisiana RV animal bird laughing gulls motorhome nature nature photography photo photograph photographers photography recreational red-cockaded woodpecker roseate spoonbill spoonbill travel vehicle wildflowers wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/5/rv-livin-16-discovering-louisiana Sun, 01 May 2016 23:54:06 GMT
RV Livin' #15: Bluebonnets of Texas https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/4/rv-livin-15-bluebonnets Bluebonnets_Texas_2016_2Bluebonnets_Texas_2016_2Colors of sunrise illuminate the distant horizon above a field of bluebonnets near Ennis, Texas I enjoyed my time this week photographing bluebonnets in Texas. It was the first time I had seen the flowers, and due to my unfamiliarity with the little blue flowers, I had not realized they were in the same family as one of my favorite flowers of Colorado, the lupines.

Before going out on any photo shoot I do my research: What options are there for a scenic shot? What perspectives do I want to capture? What works and what doesn't? What are the best locations?

From this research I come up with my shot list. This might be a little more formal and organized than needed but it helps me ensure that I am making the most of my time and money (it gets costly to fill up that gas tank on my RV!).

But as organized as I am before heading out to the field, I also allow myself the opportunity to try new things and be open to what photographic possibilities develop when I am out shooting. Horse_Texas_bluebonnets_2016_1Horse_Texas_bluebonnets_2016_1A horse feeds in a lush green meadow dotted with bluebonnets near Ennis, Texas

On this trip I wasn't getting a lot of what I had envisioned so I thought about ways I could mix up that shot list.

One way is to think about what equipment you have in your camera bag. Since I drive to every shoot now that I live on the road, I always have my full arsenal of gear with me. A little cumbersome for some but I love the convenience and accessibility. I decided to grab my flash and the color correction filters to see what that would do with the scene. I liked the look of the green color correction filter but not the orange. Bluebonnets_Texas_2016_10Bluebonnets_Texas_2016_10A closeup of a bluebonnet from the top side near Ennis, Texas

Another tool in my arsenal that I do not get to use very often (being primarily a wildlife photographer) is my macro lens. This can be especially helpful with photographing flowers because you can get in close to the subject while obtaining a shallow depth of field at wide-open apertures.

Bluebonnets_Texas_2016_1Bluebonnets_Texas_2016_1A single bluebonnet stands out amongst the field of flowers on a sunny morning near Ennis, Texas And then I thought about an article I recently read in Outdoor Photographer. The author, George Lepp, talked about keeping backgrounds clean when photographing wildflowers and avoiding distracting elements in the shot. The article provided some great reminders about improving wildflower photos.

One method for doing this is to use a longer focal length lens. Again, being a wildlife photographer, I had my 500mm lens with me. I grabbed that so I could really focus on a single flower while getting a wash of color behind it with a shallow depth of field.

Overall it was a great couple of days.

As the saying goes, "everything is big in Texas," including the state of Texas. The fields of flowers were huge with many perspective opportunities. I spent two days just within a 20-minute radius of the campground. I even had a big field of flowers behind the RV to photograph my husky, Sage in the flowers. And there are many other locations with good bluebonnet fields that I look forward to exploring in the future. Sage_widlflowers_Texas_1Sage_widlflowers_Texas_1Sage sat quietly in a field of wildflowers at Highview Campground at Lake Bardwell near Ennis, Texas

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Texas bluebonnets depth of field nature nature photography photo photography spring tips tips for nature photographers travel wildflowers https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/4/rv-livin-15-bluebonnets Sat, 09 Apr 2016 04:23:22 GMT
RV Livin': My favorite shots from my first six months https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/3/rv-livin-my-favorite-shots-from-my-first-six-months So today marks the official six month anniversary of when I took off down the road in my RV. 

In those six months I have taken 22,865 photos. Most of the subjects are wildlife but I have also been branching out to photograph more landscapes. Ideally I am seeking wildlife in the landscape, but those shots are some of the hardest to successfully obtain. 

So here is a list of my favorite 12 photos from my adventures in an RV. Roll over each image to read a little about the shot.

Thank you for sharing in my adventure with me. Feel free to forward the link to friends and family so they can also learn more about this beautiful country. 

#12

Opossum_Fontainbleau_2015_2Opossum_Fontainbleau_2015_2An opossum (Didelphis virginiana) sits in the grass at sunset in Fontainbleau State Park near Mandeville, Louisiana. My goal for this trip is to photograph all the mammals of North America (with a complete understanding that I just may not get all of the squirrels, mice and voles that exist). Opossums were one of the animals I had never photographed. And since we do not have opossums in Colorado, this mammal was high on my list. This state park on Lake Ponchartrain is full of opossums but most come out after dark. This one, however, decided he wanted to see what the world looked like in the warm light of the setting sun.

 

#11

Brown_pelican_Salton_Sea_2015_4Brown_pelican_Salton_Sea_2015_4A brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) works on flipping a fish into his bill on a sunny morning at Salton Sea, California

#10

Elk_RMNP_2015_10Elk_RMNP_2015_10A cow elk (Cervus elaphus) pauses while eating some dried flowers in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. This is what I was off photographing the morning I met Richard. Funny how some timing can work out.

#9

Mountain_goat_Mt_Evans_2015_8Mountain_goat_Mt_Evans_2015_8A close up of a mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus) eats alpine plants on Mount Evans in Colorado. The road to the top was open quite a bit later this year because of some road construction earlier in the season. It was wonderful to be able to spend a few days up there in the fall colors thanks to the convenience of the RV.

#8

Desert_bighorn_ram_CO_Natl_Mon_2015_2Desert_bighorn_ram_CO_Natl_Mon_2015_2A desert bighorn ram (Ovis canadensis), which is a subspecies of the Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, stands on a rocky ledge in the early morning light at Colorado National Monument near Fruita, Colorado. This photo appeared as a full-page shot in the Coloradoan to accompany my article about Colorado National Monument. I have really enjoyed the ability to combine my interests in writing and photography to help keep the RV going down the road.

#7

Chimney_Rock_Fall_Colors_2015_2Chimney_Rock_Fall_Colors_2015_2The clouds of an approaching storm behind Chimney Rock light up in shades of pink, purple and orange at sunset in the Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado. I haven't had too many great sunrises or sunsets on this adventure. Some I have missed because I just needed the sleep. Many days have just been too clear or too cloudy. It is, however, making me appreciate the few days I have had the opportunity to photograph a perfect sunrise or sunset, such as this evening near Ridgway.

#6

Red_cross_fox_GTNP_2016_6Red_cross_fox_GTNP_2016_6A cross fox (Vulpes vulpes) walks through the snow on a sunny afternoon in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. This fox has had many, many photos taken of her. On a few days I actually left the area because of the volume of photographers but it was wonderful to spend a few hours with her over the course of a few days.

#5

Bison_YNP_2016_5Bison_YNP_2016_5A bull bison (Bison bison) covered in ice walks towards the camera near Biscuit Basin in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. This bison was photographed on a morning when the temps had dipped to -33 degrees. I was in the park with a few friends to photograph a bobcat. We never saw the bobcat but I was very, very happy to get this shot of the bison walking towards me out of the foggy forest.

#4

Dawn_and_huskies_YosemiteDawn_and_huskies_YosemiteDawn and her huskies sit in front of the sign for Yosemite National Park, California. Although this isn't one of the best photos of me by any means, it does remind me of how much I am happy to be traveling with my doggies. Nanook, the black and white husky in this photo, is not doing well. To be expected considering he is only 2 months shy of turning 15 years old. It has been wonderful to share this adventure with these crazy canines, especially in a place as beautiful as Yosemite National Park.

#3

Red_Fox_GTNP-2016_5Red_Fox_GTNP-2016_5A red fox (Vulpes vulpes) comes up to his partner and gives her a peck on the nose on a snowy afternoon in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. These top three photos were hard to arrange in order. Fox are one of my favorite animals to photograph and this tender moment between this mating pair really captured my heart.

#2

Firefall_Yosemite_2016_6Firefall_Yosemite_2016_6Clouds pass by the wall of El Capitan at sunset as the backlit water of Horsetail Fall lights up in what appears to be liquid gold in Yosemite National Park, California. This photo took four years in the making. I'll have a specific post in the coming weeks about the work behind this shot but just think of how Mother Nature delivers the elements you need for a perfect shot when you persevere, stay patient, and stay dedicated to your vision.

#1

Bobcat_Yosemite_2016_6Bobcat_Yosemite_2016_6A bobcat (Lynx rufus) walks through a wooded area in Yosemite National Park, California. Richard and I spent four hours with this cat. As I mentioned on the image of the frosty bison, I have traveled to specific locations just to photograph bobcats. In the last six months I have seen a total six bobcats, four more than I had ever seen before heading out on the road. But this encounter with this feline was one of the most magical I had ever had with a wild animal. We watched him hunt, almost get pet by a tourist (I still can't believe how close that man thought was appropriate with a wild cat), get chased off by a family of deer, and relax in the shade of some trees. It was a very special day.

 

Feel free to email me at [email protected] if you are interested in purchasing prints of any of these photographs.

 

 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) RV Living animal best bobcat favorite motorhome nature nature photography photo photography top 12 top images top photos travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/3/rv-livin-my-favorite-shots-from-my-first-six-months Wed, 09 Mar 2016 19:00:54 GMT
Six Months on the Road: This is a love story https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/3/six-months-on-the-road-this-is-a-love-story My Jeep and Thor Chateau on the road during my first destination after selling my home and moving onto the road full-time. So March 1, 2016 marked six months since I sold my house on September 1, 2015, and gave up a traditional home for life on the road. It took a week to get the final logistics arranged but on September 8, 2015, I finally drove the tires of the RV on the pavement away from my hometown of Fort Collins and started the exploring. 

Little did I know how much I would fall in love with many things when I left the hotel that morning. 

 

 

 

In these six months, I have:
- driven more than 20,000 miles
- visited 8 national parks, and visited 9 other locations in the national parks system 
- added photos of 7 new wildlife species to my inventory
- saw the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans plus the Gulf of Mexico 
- driven through 26 states 
- upgraded my RV already
- and have fallen in love - with the road and a new man in my life Dawn_and_huskies_YosemiteDawn_and_huskies_YosemiteDawn and her huskies sit in front of the sign for Yosemite National Park, California. I never felt alone with my critters by my side.

Yes, I hit the road alone. As alone as you want to think of it when I travel with two dogs and two cats, and meet tons of people everywhere I go. I brought only one wine glass - conserving extra weight meant thinking of only what I needed for just me. I only brought hiking pants, tshirts and sweatshirts - nothing fancy or dressy for nights out. It would be next to impossible to date on the road and no point in wasting the weight on clothes I had no need to wear. And in all honesty, I was enjoying the freedom of my own choices. 

And then one day, as I made a feeble attempt to level my RV in a campground in Rocky Mountain National Park, this handsome guy walks up and asks if I need help. 

At first I said no. I was a woman traveling alone so safety was always first on my mind. And I am a bit stubborn and independent; I could do this. But he had a very sincere look and sweet smile so I gave in to let someone help. 

After he very persistently but successfully wanted that RV perfectly level - it was one of the last spaces in the campground and had quite a pitch to it - we chatted for a while. 

Richards_TrailerRichard was traveling in a Forest River travel trailer towed by his Toyota Tundra

He was traveling alone too but in a travel trailer. He too had experienced some life altering events and decided to hit the road to discover where he wanted to be.  

We talked about all kinds of things as we stood in that campground. I was immediately comfortable with him. 

With all the people I have passed out my business card to with the hopes of selling a print or being hired for a photo assignment, this guy was the first I had hoped would see that phone number on the card for other reasons.

I wasn't looking for a relationship or to add a guy in my life. I hadn't been on a date in over a year. And I was quite comfortable with my simple life on the road.

But there was just something there with this man. 

Apparently he felt it too. 

He called a couple of days later. We talked every day for hours. 

We made plans to see each other again a few weeks later in Zion National Park. For a week we spent every day together there. 

He surprised me by showing up at my campsite at a state park in Colorado a couple of weeks after Zion.

Big BlueThis is the 39 foot Fleetwood Discovery we purchased together so we could hit the road on a new shared adventure.

But from there I was heading to NJ and he was going back home to Louisiana. His time on the road was coming to an end.

A week after thanksgiving I had altered my travel plans and was going to see him in Louisiana. 
We spent six weeks living together down there. By the end of that time we had bought a larger RV - a 39 foot 2005 fleet wood discovery. This monster of an RV would become our home as we started a life together on the road. 

There have certainly been ups and downs as with any relationship. Living in the small space of an RV is a definite challenge for even seasoned couples. As any nature photographer can attest, our crazy schedules of early rising, late evenings and sleeping midday so we can photograph in the golden hours of light on the cusps of the day can be tough on relationships. But it has been wonderful to share this adventure together. 

He takes care of the RV. I write and photograph. And on many occasions he has joined me as I venture into the field to shoot. 

In Zion, he didn't even know apertures, ISOs or how to adjust the shutter speed. Now he is taking some amazing photos and doing a great job of tracking wildlife with me. 

So you just never know what the road ahead has in store for you. Although the tragedies in my life taught me life is unexpected and unpredictable, the unexpected can also be amazing and beautiful.  Mr BobRichard's photography has been very impressive and very quickly.

Living life on the road has given me the opportunity to photograph the beautiful country and its interesting wildlife.

A couple of days before I ventured out on the road I got together for a beer and dinner with a friend. She asked me if I was scared. 

I believe I said something along the lines of I wasn't sure what to expect. 

She replied with, "give it six months before you make a decision."

She was right on target. 

I had planned the adventure up through seeing Yosemite in late February for the fire fall. After that I left the plans open. 

Looks like there was a reason. 

Here is to loving life on the road and to the next destination. 

 

Dawn_and_Richard_YosemiteDawn_and_Richard_YosemiteDawn and Richard pose for a photo in the late afternoon sun in Yosemite National Park, California

 


 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Full-time RV RV RV Living couple falling in love life love nature nature photography photo photography relationship road travel unexpected wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/3/six-months-on-the-road-this-is-a-love-story Sat, 05 Mar 2016 18:03:10 GMT
RV Livin' #14: The Big C Word https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/2/rv-livin-14-the-big-c-word "You may have cancer. You need surgery as soon as possible."

This was the news I received from my doctor's office literally the moment I was picking up the last pile of things out of my hotel the day I was heading out on the road full-time in my RV. That was September 9, 2015.

No one ever wants to hear the C-word delivered from their doctor. And not that there is a good time to hear this news, but the moment you are leaving the security of a brick-and-mortar building over your head (even if it was a hotel; I had sold my house a week earlier) to move into a roving home on wheels that you have sunk most of your savings into so you can continue to build your business is certainly not the ideal time. 

I fell to my knees.

Then I picked myself up and said I would deal with it later. I was not going to let that news put an end to my adventure before it ever began. 

But as I left the parking lot of the hotel in Fort Collins, and headed west to the mountains, the gravity of that news really started to hit me. 

"You may have cancer." 

I have been very quiet about this news the last few months. It has been scary and lonely and overwhelming but I wasn't willing to share the news. I wasn't prepared to hear the concern or questions about what I was going to do. I was going to travel, write and photograph. The whole reason I was doing this crazy lifestyle change was for exactly these types of situations - life is short and unpredictable and we need to grab it by the horns. 

To make matters worse, I discovered AFTER the initial tests that my doctor was not covered by my insurance plan. As a result of my moving - and it literally being within days of leaving the area of insurance coverage - I hadn't even yet thought about getting that changed. 

So after a long, unsuccessful battle with my insurance company I had to wait until the New Year when a new insurance plan could take effect. 

Two weeks ago Friday I had surgery to remove the cyst my doctor discovered last summer. I was petrified. I had never been through such a serious surgery. And I don't do well with being down. But I have a new companion by my side and he was phenomenal - even with my freaking out and yelling at him. 

It was strange to recover from surgery in an RV - and I kept that kind of news from my doctor. Not sure how she would handle me saying I was going to try to follow her orders to relax, rest and not lift more than 10 pounds from the cozy comfort of an RV parked at Horsetooth Reservoir. 

But it was very comfortable. And I am sure the fact of knowing I was still living my dream would help in my recovery. 

I had my follow up appointment with my doctor a week ago. This was the really scary appointment when I would hear the results of the pathology report about the cyst. 

"Good news. Cyst was non-cancerous."

I was relieved beyond all measure, and so happy I had not stopped my plans to travel, write and photograph. Life is short - grab it by the horns. 

So I am even more determined now to keep this plan on the road - literally. Plans have changed a bit. As I mentioned I am now traveling with a wonderful guy who takes great care of me and our pets. 

Off to West Yellowstone we went the day after my appointment with the doctor. I had made plans last September with a group of fellow photographers to look for and photograph a bobcat along the Madison River. I was not going to let that unwelcome surgery change that plan, even against the wishes of my doctor. 

We were not successful in photographing the bobcat but we did photograph several red fox, a raccoon, a coyote, several bison and a great blue heron. You have to always look at the bright side because there really is a bright side to everything.

I love my lifestyle and don't plan on giving it up anytime soon. I am very, very thankful I am given the opportunity to continue with this career and lifestyle path. We all know people who may not be so lucky with a cancer diagnosis; keep those folks in your hearts. And remember that when they feel a little down, stressed or beat up, give them a hug, hold their hand and tell them you love them. Let them take part in whatever activities they want and can do because life changes on us way too quickly. 

 

 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) RV RV Livin' cancer dreams goals healthy nature nature photography photo photography short sick surgery travel unexpected wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/2/rv-livin-14-the-big-c-word Mon, 08 Feb 2016 13:38:36 GMT
RV Livin' #13: Technology https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/1/rv-livin-13-technology I am going to stray a bit from wildlife photos from my travels and bring up the topic of technology. 

Over the years I have come and gone on my reliance on the latest gizmo and gadget that is supposed to make our lives easier. I certainly have learned, as I have aged, that I do not need the latest product on the market or the latest update to my favorite product to keep up with technology...until now. 

Traveling on the road means I don't have my full office of binders, business cards, files, etc. around me. Don't get me wrong - I like my paper, binders and print outs, and have brought some of it with me, but there just isn't room in an RV to store it. 

So I am little by little learning to rely on technology a little bit more. 

I am an Apple fan - have been since I first learned desktop publishing in college at Rowan University School of Communications (it was Glassboro State College then). That was the original Apple Macintosh - with its tiny memory and tiny floppy disks.

I have had numerous products from Apple over the years. I now use on a daily basis a MacBook Pro, an iPhone and an iPad - only the laptop is the latest and greatest. 

I randomly use the devices for contacts. I sporadically used the devices for to-do lists. I occasionally found use for the calendar feature. 

That was until I tried having little slips of paper and hand-written to-do lists in the RV, my Jeep and in my purse. It wasn't working. 

So I am giving in. And the beauty of the Apple products is that they sync with each other. 

I now methodically put all of my due dates in the calendar - and set reminders when an article or photo submission is coming due. I am little by little putting in my contacts - business and personal - into my phone so I can get those Christmas cards out without having to dig through binders and binders full of papers looking for the latest address of my clients. And I am using the Reminders feature to keep up with my latest and lengthy list of what needs to be accomplished. 

My fear with technology is that a hard drive dies (it has happened to me - numerous times) but that is why we must back up and back up often. It can also be hard to keep things charged while on the road but I am getting better at finding solutions to those challenges. 

And best of all, I can now take my favorite HBO shows and photo magazines with me everywhere I go. So here is to breaking the addiction of carrying around piles of paper and going electronic.

Next to purchase - a WeBoost signal booster because no matter how much we think we are always connected to a cell signal, there are many places that do not have a strong enough signal to work. 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Apple MacBook Pro RV Livin' WeBoost computers iPad iPhone organization photography road signal boost technology travel https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/1/rv-livin-13-technology Wed, 27 Jan 2016 19:53:48 GMT
RV Livin' Post #12: Point Reyes National Seashore https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/1/rv-livin-post-12-point-reyes-national-seashore Elk_Tule_PRNS_2015_4Elk_Tule_PRNS_2015_4A tule bull elk (Cervus canadensis nannodes) stands on a ridge above the mountainsides at Tomales Point in Point Reyes National Seashore near San Francisco, California After leaving the Malibu area, I headed north. My next destination was Point Reyes National Seashore about an hour north of San Francisco. 

This location had not even been on my Year in an RV list until I met another photographer during my fall colors trip in southern Colorado. Turns out he was from San Francisco and told me about these elk that live along the coast. I started having visions of elk on coastal ridges with waves lapping in the distance. It would be a very different setting for a photo compared to those of the elk I photograph in the Rocky Mountains. 

The drive through Oakland, San Francisco and the surrounding area was not the easiest in a 44 foot rig; not all drivers are very accommodating especially in rush hour traffic. And then I discovered that the roads up to Point Reyes were quite narrow and twisty on the Pacific Coast Highway - another lesson in better preparation and timing.

Elk_Tule_2015_1Elk_Tule_2015_1A tule bull elk (Cervus canadensis nannodes) stands in a hillside of brush changing into fall colors near the historic Pierce Point Ranch at Point Reyes National Seashore near San Francisco, California I arrived late in the evening - I think it was approaching midnight. Roads were dark, I had no reservation (only backpacking and tent camping are permitted in Point Reyes) and I was exhausted. I decided to head to the north end of Point Reyes National Seashore where I wanted to start my hike well before sunrise to find the elk so sleeping in the RV made much more sense. I never saw the sign for no overnight parking and the road was very rough and narrow out to the ranch - no turning around on that road. 

After sleeping for about three hours, I woke a couple of hours before sunrise to a foggy and cool morning with the sound of waves crashing in the distance. I was excited to get out on the three mile hike to Tomales Point, the location where I was told I would find the elk.  Elk_Tule_2015_2Elk_Tule_2015_2A tule cow elk (Cervus canadensis nannodes) stands on a ridge above the Pacific Ocean at Tomales Point in Point Reyes National Seashore near San Francisco, California

Before heading up to Point Reyes I did a little research about these elk. It turns out these elk, called tule elk, are a subspecies of the elk found in the Rocky Mountains and can only be found in California. The difference with these elk is that they are the smallest elk found in North America. Typical Rocky Mountain elk bulls can range from 600-1,000 pounds; tule elk bulls range from 450 to 550 pounds. 

So off I set to find the elk. It took me five minutes before I found my first one. Turns out the elk had been roaming around the parking lot of the Historic Pierce Point Ranch. There were hoof prints all over in the sand and sure enough there was a small group of cows just off the trail munching on the bushes and one large bull elk in the distance. 

I considered ending the hike right then and there; there was a lot of ground to cover. But I was determined to get this coastal shot. To the point I went. 

Black-tailed_deer_doe_Point_Reyes_2015_1Black-tailed_deer_doe_Point_Reyes_2015_1A black-tailed deer doe (Odocoileus hemionus) stands in the drying lilies found along the trail to Tomales Point in Point Reyes National Seashore, California It was a beautiful and pretty easy hike along the edge of the bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The fog began to lift revealing a pretty landscape. Along the trail I saw black-tailed mule deer, hawks, California quail and American crows. But sure enough, after about two and a half miles, I came across the elk herd near a watering hole on the north end of Tomales Point. 

There were several bulls, all with pretty impressive racks. These males, especially from a distance looked just like the Rocky Mountain elk. But as you approached them you could see that the racks were smaller, the neck muscles less defined and their height a little shorter. 

Elk_Tule_PRNS_2015_7Elk_Tule_PRNS_2015_7A tule bull elk (Cervus canadensis nannodes) stands on a ridge above the mountainsides and Pacific Ocean at Tomales Point in Point Reyes National Seashore near San Francisco, California I spent about two hours with the elk but the light was getting very harsh and the temperature was rising into the low 80s, even on this mid-afternoon day. So I started back to the parking lot. 

As I have discovered with many places I have visited, there is much to learn about an area. The best way to get to know the wildlife, the best locations to see them and to have the best opportunity to photograph wildlife in the best light is to have multiple days to explore. I regretted only budgeting one morning to visit Point Reyes National Seashore. I would have enjoyed photographing the elk at the Point in earlier light but I saw enough other wildlife along the trail to focus my attention. All in all the photography was successful; I now had my photo of tule elk set against the Pacific Ocean.

My camera was heavy this day but I was happy I had the long lens with me. After hiking with it for six miles, I was ready to head on to the next place - a visit to Muir Woods National Monument - where a shorter landscape lens and lighter tripod would do my body good. 

If interested in learning more about the tule elk at Point Reyes National Seashore, visit http://www.nps.gov/pore/learn/nature/tule_elk.htmLittle_brown_sparrow_PRNS_2015_1Little_brown_sparrow_PRNS_2015_1A little brown sparrow sits on top of a green bush along the trail out to Tomales Point in Point Reyes National Seashore, California

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) California Point Reyes National Seashore RV RV Living animal animals elk national park service nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography tips tips for nature photographers travel tule elk wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/1/rv-livin-post-12-point-reyes-national-seashore Wed, 20 Jan 2016 05:01:02 GMT
RV Livin' Post #11 - California: Part 2 https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/12/rv-livin-post-10---california-part-2 Boats_in_Ventura_HarborBoats_in_Ventura_HarborBoats sit docked in the Ventura Harbor on a sunny morning near Ventura, California


 After leaving the Malibu, Calif. area I headed a little further north to spend a day at Channel Islands National Park. 

This group of five islands sits just a few miles west of Ventura, Calif. in the Pacific Ocean. The only way to access the islands is by boat or plane. Once on the islands, the only accommodations are campgrounds. No pets are allowed on the islands. Since this limited my ability to bring my dogs, I decided to just do a day trip to Santa Cruz Island. 

Island_fox_CINP_2015_17Island_fox_CINP_2015_17An island fox (Urocyon littoralis) hunts for small mammals and bugs for a little bit of protein on Santa Cruz Island in Channel Islands National Park, California

My purpose for visiting this small archipelago is to find and photograph a fox that only lives on these islands called the island fox.

Because of the limited access to food, these fox have evolved into a fox much smaller than the more common red fox. The island fox only has birds and insects for protein so it survives mostly on plant-based foods.

I had heard these were smaller fox - about the size of a house cat - but it wasn't until I saw my first one did I really understand just how much smaller this fox is than its larger red fox cousin. 

The hour-long boat ride from Ventura went past a rookery of brown pelicans and a few buoys covered in sea lions. I arrived at the dock on Santa Cruz Island about 9 a.m. The sun was already bright and rising high in the sky so I knew lighting conditions would not be ideal and that the day would get hot quickly, even in October. 

After speaking with the volunteer host about the best trails to look for the fox, I headed out to hike around. 

Island_fox_Channel_Islands_2015_2Island_fox_Channel_Islands_2015_2An island fox (Urocyon littoralis) starts to come out from her hiding place in a bush in the campground on Santa Cruz Island in Channel Islands National Park, California

Several people told me some of the best places to look for the fox was near the old homestead and at the two campgrounds. So off I went on the trail for these areas. 

It took me three hours and several trips back and forth on the trail to find my first fox. It was a female who scavenged around the campground for handouts and leftovers. 

I was quite surprised by the small size but she was comfortable around people. I spent three hours watching and photographing her before she wandered up a hillside to presumably rest for the afternoon after she snacked on crumbs found in the campground and insects in the foliage. 

I also found two other fox. One had a hurt paw so I decided it was best to leave it to its own needs and not stress it by taking photos. The third fox was in the campground as well but seemed to be submissive to my model and didn't stay in the area for long.

Island_fox_CINP_2015_11Island_fox_CINP_2015_11An island fox (Urocyon littoralis) jumps off the top of a table in a campground where they look for food left behind by campers on Santa Cruz Island in Channel Islands National Park, California

 

In addition to the island fox, Channel Islands National Park is also home to a few other animals found no where else in the world, including an island scrub jay. I spotted these beautiful blue birds at the beginning of the trail when I first arrived. Since I was on the first boat of the day to drop off day trippers and campers for a long weekend, there weren't many other people around. Once other boats started to arrive the birds disappeared deeper into the trees. 

Island_Scrub_Jay_2015_1Island_Scrub_Jay_2015_1An island scrub jay (Aphelocoma insularis) hides in a thick bunch of trees on Santa Cruz Islands in Channel Islands National Park west of Ventura, California

I look forward to going back to Channel Islands National Park for some camping time there. This will provide an opportunity to maybe visit during denning season to see the cute little kits and to be on the island during the better times for light. The day trip is a great option to get to know an island but only offers the possibility to be there during the peak hours of sun - or if you are lucky you could have an overcast or cloudy day. 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) California Channel Islands National Park RV RV Livin animal fox island fox nature nature photography photo photography tips travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/12/rv-livin-post-10---california-part-2 Wed, 30 Dec 2015 18:06:07 GMT
RV Livin' Post #10 - California: Part 1 https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/11/california---part-1 CA_ground_squirrel_2015_2CA_ground_squirrel_2015_2A California ground squirrel (Spermophilus beecheyi) eats some dried leaves on a cloudy morning in Malibu Creek State Park near Malibu, California So, time to do a little backtracking on my travels. When I arrived in California three weeks ago, I had a short list of wildlife I wanted to photograph – sea lions, sea otters, tule elk, island fox and bobcats. Two of those animals are only found in California (tule elk and island fox) and two others I was hoping to capture some better photos (bobcats and sea lions). Photographing sea otters in California would be a first for me; I have only photographed them in Alaska.  Brandts_cormorant_Malibu_2015_1Brandts_cormorant_Malibu_2015_1A portrait of a Brandt's cormorant (Phalacrocorax penicillatus) as the warm light of sunrise lights up his chest and blue eyes near Malibu, California

I have found, with the expense of driving an RV, that staying targeted on a few things rather than trying to take it all in provides a better success rate on the photos. It is all about the quality rather than the quantity. So even though there are many places I want to visit and photograph in California I wanted to stay very focused on my target goals this trip. (The Yosemite visit was a definite departure from the targets but oh so worth it!)

After the Salton Sea (see post #8), the first place I visited was the Malibu area. I know, not really the first place that comes to mind for wildlife photography!

California_Sea_Lion_Malibu_2015_9California_Sea_Lion_Malibu_2015_9A California sea lion (Zalophus californianus) yawns really wide while resting on the rocks near Malibu, California

I camped at Malibu Creek State Park up the canyon from Pepperdine University. Nice park – at least during the week – but way too crowded and noisy on the weekend. The gates are also locked at 10 p.m. at night – no exceptions. I had to walk back to my campsite the first night. Nothing like walking through the dark in a new place and hearing critters moving across leaves and sticks along the road – not knowing what animal was making the noise.

Fence_lizard_Malibu_2015_1Fence_lizard_Malibu_2015_1A fence lizard pauses for a brief moment as he crawled along the dirt in the campground at Malibu Creek State Park near Malibu, California

But it worked out and there was fun wildlife right in the campground. The obligatory campground animal made an appearance – the deer – and a few coyotes were barking one foggy morning. A lot of fence lizards were running around the fence posts. And my dogs enjoyed watching the dozens of ground squirrels that ran around.  

California_Sea_Lion_Malibu_2015_11California_Sea_Lion_Malibu_2015_11A California sea lion (Zalophus californianus) looks out into the ocean while sitting on the rocks near Malibu, California

The ground squirrels were actually California ground squirrels. Since it was a new critter for me I took quite a few photos. If you are ever interested in photographing these little creatures, photograph them from your car. They dart into their burrows quite frequently if you get close, and they won’t make an appearance during the busy weekends.

Even after staying quiet and still for 20 or 30 minutes, all I could get from the squirrels was a small and quick little peek out from the burrow.

During my trip to Malibu, I caught up with a fellow photographer friend, Klaus, who I met several years ago in Yellowstone. I have really found that photography is such a wonderful way to meet really interesting people from all over the world. Klaus is no exception as he is an amazing photographer from Argentina.

He showed me some of his favorite locations in the area and we captured some great photos, including sunset along the beach, cormorants along the cliffs and sea lions on the rocks.

It was a beautiful time in that area in California.  El_Matador_Beach_2015_1El_Matador_Beach_2015_1The waves crash around the rocks at sunset along the beach near Malibu, California

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) California California ground squirrel Malibu Pacific Ocean RV RV Living animal beach bird camping ocean park photography sea lions squirrel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/11/california---part-1 Wed, 11 Nov 2015 05:53:06 GMT
RV Livin' - Post #9: Yosemite National Park https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/11/rv-livin---post-9-Yosemite Morning Light on El CapitanThe morning light illuminates the eastern face of El Capitan and reflects into the Merced River in Yosemite National Park, California I just got back from visiting Yosemite National Park for the first time.

When I was recently interviewed for GoRVing.com, the writer asked me what was top on my bucket list for my travels.

It is an interesting question because this trip – adventure – isn’t supposed to be about my bucket list. This adventure is about building up my photo inventory, finding stories to tell about wildlife, and teaching others about photography, wildlife, and the importance of saving and treasuring our open spaces.

But I had to admit I did have a place I have always wanted to see for a variety of reasons – and surprisingly none of the reasons were to photograph wildlife. That place was Yosemite National Park.

This park is considered the crown jewel of the national park system. It was made famous by Ansel Adams, John Muir and countless other photographers, writers and naturalists who found peace in its granite peaks, babbling rivers, and serene meadows.

The last few days have been wearing on me. I love what I am doing but I do worry that as a business and career decision it may not be the wisest. I don’t fear the challenge, but living the reality is a different story.

That became evident when I stopped at a WalMart near Stockton, California.

I was recently reminded that if I keep paying for camping fees each night – no matter how cheap – it still adds up to be close to a mortgage payment – but like rent where there is no benefit of paying towards an asset. So I decided I would strive to boondock each night until I reached my next destination in six days.

Sequoia_and_DogwoodSequoia_and_DogwoodThe leaves of the western dogwood trees in the Tuolumne Grove bring some color in fall to the grove of giant sequoias in Yosemite National Park, California. I had not planned on being in Yosemite at this time of year so I was very pleasantly surprised to see the fall colors.
The first night I thought I could find a spot near Point Reyes National Seashore where I wanted to photograph tule elk at sunrise.

After frazzling my nerves by driving through narrow, old, curvy streets in Marin County in the RV in the dark and realizing this area was nowhere near acceptable for a wide RV, I pulled into the first remote yet large enough parking area I could find. Unfortunately it turned out to be posted (I still never saw a sign) that there was no overnight parking. I thankfully was honest with the ranger about being there for a while so he let me off with a warning rather than the $125 ticket, but the point had been made – it was cheaper to pay for camping than pay for a ticket.

So I looked to another option for the next night.I thought I would try a WalMart parking lot. They are always open for overnight parking as long as you follow the “implied” rule of purchasing something. I needed groceries anyway – and a new chock block (I have driven over and basically exploded two already).

After hiking, photographing and driving all day, I arrived late again to my destination. It was about 11:30 p.m. when I strolled into the WalMart outside of Stockton on a Friday night. I should have known this wasn’t going to be a good idea when I saw the car show going on in the lot at that time of night.

Golden_Glow_in_Yosemite_ValleyGolden_Glow_in_Yosemite_ValleyThe golden glow of the late afternoon sun on El Capitan in Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park, California. I added an extra day to the trip because there was a forecast of an approaching winter storm that was going to bring 19 inches of snow to the higher elevations. Although I couldn't stay long enough to see the storm clear I did think it would bring some nice clouds for sunset. It didn't quite work out as I had hoped but I was still very happy to get the extra time in this beautiful park.

I picked up my bananas, cereal, milk and chock block and headed for the line. Only two lanes were open and each lane had about four people already standing there. This wasn’t going to be fast.

Coyote_Yosemite_2015_2Coyote_Yosemite_2015_2A coyote (Canis latrans) stops for a portrait while watching a bobcat behind him near the road in Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park, California. Although Yosemite is known more for its grand vistas than its wildlife, I had a few great encounters with some critters, such as this coyote and a bobcat. As I patiently waited, the guy who was two people ahead of me in line was declined on his card when he attempted to pay. He tried several more methods – all declined. Then he decided he would call his bank – all while we were standing there. He had the phone on speaker and the line on the other end just kept ringing and ringing and ringing. I thought that was odd for a business. Even on a Friday night there would still be some sort of message.

His transaction was suspended while he fiddled with whatever he was trying to do or whomever he was trying to call. He kept asking for the receipt saying the bank would need it but the cashier wouldn’t give it to him. There must be some sort of scam where thieves steal the receipt so they can show the receipt on the way out of the door. Mule_deer_fawn_Yosemite_2015_2Mule_deer_fawn_Yosemite_2015_2A curious mule deer fawn (Odocoileus hemionus) comes up over a ridge and pauses while walking through the woods in Yosemite National Park, California

The next person in line was a woman with an odd assortment of items – Christmas decorations, fuzzy sleepwear, a few t-shirts, knit hats, some make-up. She held cash in her hands and asked the cashier to start removing items because she didn’t have the money to cover it. She paid with her cash but was promptly asked to leave because one of the bills turned out to be a fake $100 bill. She didn’t put up an argument and quickly left the store.

Now I was getting nervous about what kind of area I decided to stop. I had planned on climbing into bed after purchasing my items but was now so nervous that I decided it would be best to avoid the area. The time had rolled on to 12:30 a.m.

There was another WalMart a littler further down the highway that seemed to be in a better neighborhood. I slept there for five hours and made an early morning purchase of cat food (which I forgot the night before) so that I honored the “parking lot for shopping center customers only” rule, and headed for the highway.

It is a reminder that moving around in a 44-foot rig is not easy. It is physically difficult to find parking lots large enough where I can turn around. It is difficult to be inconspicuous about wanting to just park and sleep for a few hours in the back of your RV. Pulling into an RV park or campground certainly seems easy enough, even if you are trying to keep your costs down, but even those can be tight, unknown locations because you can’t tell how big or easy it will be to maneuver through the sites in the dark. And there is always the safety factor of being a woman traveling on her own in areas she is unfamiliar.

So after two nights of boondocking, I was a nervous wreck about where I was going to wind up next. So I decided to head to Yosemite National Park as a last minute idea. Sleeping_on_El_CapitanSleeping_on_El_CapitanA climber hangs on the rock wall face of El Capitan in the late afternoon sun in Yosemite National Park, California. Climbing is one outdoor adventure that has never peaked much of an interest for me. After seeing how small this person was even at 700mm as they hung on the wall in the setting sun (meaning that was their bed for the night) it convinced me I wasn't missing much. Hope they succeeded and safely made it back down.

Aeric went to Yosemite a year or two before he died. I was going to go with him but yet again I put work before time with him. That was my first regret about Yosemite. But over the last few years I have started plans to travel to Yosemite in February to photograph the firefall. Every year I have had to change my plans for one thing or another.

So when I started this adventure, I put the park on the list but only if I could spend a large amount of time in the park to really explore its potential.

So here I was, just a couple of hours away from Yosemite, and needed a place I felt would be accepting of an RV. What better place than a national park. So I went online to book a campsite. Sold out. Wait, what?? Sold out? It was the last weekend of October!

Ultimately I just pulled into the first place within a reasonable distance to Yosemite that had an RV sign. It wound up being Pine Mountain Lake Campground. It was early enough in the day that I could check it out in the light and not worry about getting myself stuck. (Remember Sylvan Lake State Park?) It was also early enough that I could get a site and take a much-needed nap. It was a very quiet park – only two other campers. That would probably be a nice thing from the hustle and bustle in a sold-out campground. Dawn_and_huskies_YosemiteDawn_and_huskies_YosemiteI posed with my huskies for the obligatory tourist shot in front of the sign for Yosemite National Park, California

After my nap, I headed into the park, still a little stressed. But within minutes I could see why Ansel Adams conveyed such beauty in his photos from Yosemite and why John Muir wrote beautiful words about this area. It was serene, breathtaking, and inspiring.

My initial, but last minute, plan was to just spend one night in the area to photograph sunset and sunrise. I had not completed any research about where to go for either time of day or what locations were best for photography. I had not even looked at a map of the park.

For most of the national parks where I spend, or plan to spend, a significant amount of time I will pick up a book or two about the park – photo book with great captions detailing locations or a pure cheat book like the one I found for Yosemite.

In the bookstore was exactly what I needed – The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite, by Michael Frye. I highly recommend this book especially if you will only be in the park for a few days. It saved a lot of time. And at $12.95, it was a lot cheaper than hiring a guide.

I left, after photographing the warm colors of sunset on El Capitan, feeling much more focused, optimistic and positive about the road ahead. I don’t regret coming to my top bucket list location on a whim, without any specific plans, and no research. It actually felt good.

So, to the original point of this entry, Yosemite is still top on my bucket list. There are still many locations and scenarios I want to photograph in the park. Ansel Adams made a career of it and I don’t know if he ever felt like he captured it all. But I am glad I allowed nature to invite me in and open her heart to soothe mine.  El_Capitan_in_FallEl_Capitan_in_FallFall colors flank the Merced River as the sun illuminates El Capitan in the late afternoon in Yosemite National Park, California

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Ansel Adams California John Muir Merced River Michael Frye Yosemite National Park fall fall color nature nature photography photo photography tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/11/rv-livin---post-9-Yosemite Tue, 03 Nov 2015 18:26:25 GMT
RV Livin' - Post #8: Salton Sea https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/10/rv-livin---post-8-Salton-Sea The Salton Sea

RV_at_Salton_Sea_2015_1RV_at_Salton_Sea_2015_1My RV parked in the campground at sunset at the Salton Sea, California About 170 miles east of Los Angeles is a vast body of water where millions of birds spend the winter. October marks the beginning of their arrival, and thus my interest in visiting this oasis in the California desert for the first time. 

I had never heard of the Salton Sea until I read a blog post from a fellow female photographer and full-time RVer (Annie McKinnell, who travels with her husband) showcasing her dancing egret photo. What was this place with dancing birds? Where was it? What was the best time of year? What animals like the area? How do I get there? 

I came to California this month to photograph my cousin's wedding. (Beautiful wedding, couple, and day by the way.) I had initially planned to head to Tennessee immediately after the wedding to photograph black bears in fall colors - that is until reality set in about how much gas an RV consumes and how slow an RV travels. 

So I decided it would be better to stay in California before heading back to Colorado in mid November, and explore what this third-largest state in the U.S. has to offer in regards to wildlife photography. 

Salton Sea, which was almost directly east of where the wedding was located and is the largest lake in California, became my first stop on my tour of California.

I knew I only had one night/two days to visit since I had plans to meet a friend in Malibu. 

Since October is on the front end of the bird season at Salton Sea I decided to make this more of a scouting trip rather than a trip to photograph everything. I have to say that for a scouting trip, where I just picked up information and checked out what was near the campground, I was very pleased with what I found. I will definitely be back this winter to spend more time with the birds.  

So here is a short photo essay of the birds I saw within walking distance of the campground. Without even counting or doing a serious bird search I saw 16 species: American white pelicans, brown pelicans, snowy egrets, great egrets, green heron, black-necked stilts, great blue heron, great horned owl, roadrunner, eared grebe, coots, killdeer, California gull, western grebes, Caspian tern, and the new bird for me, the black-bellied plover.

Bird_Salton_Sea_2015_2Bird_Salton_Sea_2015_2A black-bellied plover walks along a rocky ridge of salt along the shores of the Salton Sea, California.

Black-bellied plover

Tern_Salton_Sea_2015_4Tern_Salton_Sea_2015_4A Caspian tern flys against the distant mountains at sunrise to hunt for fish in the Salton Sea, California Caspian tern

Green_heron_Salton_Sea_2015_1Green_heron_Salton_Sea_2015_1A green heron sits on the dock near a fishing hole at the Salton Sea, California Not the best of photos as I was shooting into the sun to prevent scaring off the bird - green heron

Great_egret_Salton_Sea_2015_1Great_egret_Salton_Sea_2015_1A great egret (Ardea alba) stands in the morning sun as he fishes along the edge of the Salton Sea, California Great egret

Brown_pelican_Salton_Sea_2015_2Brown_pelican_Salton_Sea_2015_2A brown pelican flys against a sky full of whte, fluffy clouds at Salton Sea, California Brown pelican

Brown_pelicans_Salton_Sea_2015_1Brown_pelicans_Salton_Sea_2015_1A group of brown pelicans fly low across the water as the colors of sunset light up the sky above the Santa Rosa Mountains at the Salton Sea, California Brown pelicans at sunset

California_gull_Salton_Sea_2015_1California_gull_Salton_Sea_2015_1A California gull flys through the air in the morning sunlight at the Salton Sea, California California gull

Black-necked_stilt_2015_Salton_Sea_4Black-necked_stilt_2015_Salton_Sea_4A black-necked stilt wades in the shallow water along the shore of the Salton Sea in California. Black-necked stilt

American_white_pelican_Salton_Sea_2015_1American_white_pelican_Salton_Sea_2015_1An American white pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) swims through the blue water on a sunny morning at the Salton Sea, California. American white pelican

Great_egret_Salton_Sea_2015_2Great_egret_Salton_Sea_2015_2A great egret (Ardea alba) chases off another egret at a fishing hold at the Salton Sea, California Great egrets

Snowy_egret_Salton_Sea_2015_1Snowy_egret_Salton_Sea_2015_1A snowy egret lands in the water along the edge of some rocks in a fishing hole at the Salton Sea, California. Snowy egret

Dead_Fish_Salton_Sea_2015_2Dead_Fish_Salton_Sea_2015_2Areas of the beach at the Salton Sea can be covered with piles of dead fish. The salt content of the water increases each year as more and more run-off enters the lake with little fresh water inflow and no outlet for the water to escape. This high salinity level - the Salton Sea is 40 percent saltier than the ocean - causes the water to be unsustainable for many species of fish. As a result, hundreds of dead fish wash up on the shores each summer.

Salton_Sea_Beach_2015_1Salton_Sea_Beach_2015_1The beach on the Salton Sea is made up of salt crystals and broken shells - rough on the feet but a beautiful white beach. The beach is covered in rough salt deposits and broken shells; wear shoes. 

 
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(Dawn Wilson Photography) California Salton Sea animal birding birds nature nature photography ocean photo photography sea tips travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/10/rv-livin---post-8-Salton-Sea Wed, 28 Oct 2015 12:15:00 GMT
RV Livin' - Post #7: Campground Critters https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/10/rv-livin-campground-critters For a little over a week I have been back in Colorado. The goal was to photograph fall colors and the elk rut, staples of any Colorado photographer’s fall agenda.

Chimney_Rock_Fall_Colors_2015_2Chimney_Rock_Fall_Colors_2015_2The clouds of an approaching storm behind Chimney Rock light up in shades of pink, purple and orange at sunset in the Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado The colors were wonderful in the San Juan Mountains. I even caught a beautiful sunset one evening, found a few waterfalls and saw some dusky grouse.

After a few days in the San Juans, I headed north to Rocky Mountain National Park. It was wonderful to stay in Moraine Campground next to Moraine Park, something I have rarely done even though I only lived an hour from the location. Elk_RMNP_2015_6Elk_RMNP_2015_6A bull elk (Cervus elaphus) pauses in a grassy meadow in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

The elk came through the campground each evening and were often heard bugling. Now that is something to cherish about this adventure – the sounds of bugling elk and crisp evening air wafting through the RV as I lay in bed with the dogs and cats. The dogs have seen elk and heard their bugling before, but the cats on the other hand were a little intimidated by the unusual sounds. Sage also found the pine squirrels in the campground very entertaining.

Sage and the SquirrelsSage was enjoying watching the squirrels squawk at him from up in the trees. The sight of the elk each morning on the walks with the dogs made me think about all of the critters I have seen in the different campgrounds. Although deer have been present in just about all of the campgrounds, there have been quite a few other critters: pronghorn at Flaming Gorge, turkeys at Devil’s Tower, sandhill cranes near the rest stop in Jensen, Utah, and great horned owls at Highline and Sylvan Lake State Parks.

I have always wanted to live someplace where I could walk out the back door and have wildlife at my doorstep. Although I had pictured that abode being a little more permanent, the RV has certainly satisfied that description.

South_Clear_Creek_Falls_2015_1South_Clear_Creek_Falls_2015_1South Clear Creek Falls spill into the beginnings of fall colors near Lake City, Colorado

So off to my next campground to see what critters might be residing there. 

Dusky_grouse_2015_1Dusky_grouse_2015_1A dusky grouse walks up a hill covered in pine needles along Last Dollar Road in the San Juan Mountains near Ridgway, Colorado

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) RV RV Living Road animal fall fall color living on the road logistics nature nature photography photo photography travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/10/rv-livin-campground-critters Wed, 14 Oct 2015 20:50:12 GMT
RV Livin' - Post #6: Cruising Through Wyoming https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/9/Crusing-Through-Wyoming When I started this new style of living, I anticipated maybe a week to get used to all the new mechanical gizmos and driving this much vehicle. I was clearly overly optimistic! I head back to Colorado later this week to take care of a few things before venturing back out again. I am thinking this is more like a soft launch for probably a month or two. I am not venturing beyond the states bordering Colorado until later in October. I have significantly scaled back my plans for each month and hope to continue settling into a routine where I can make this a profitable venture. 

This past week I have been visiting Wyoming via Utah. I have previously spent a lot of time on the roads of Wyoming but, like Colorado, there are still so many places I have never seen and many places I want to revisit. 

Sandhill_cranes_Jensen_2015_2Sandhill_cranes_Jensen_2015_2A sandhill crane (Grus canadensis) flies against a clear blue sky near Jensen, Utah So over the last week I left Jensen, Utah, where I photographed some sandhill cranes (the migration has started) and headed to Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. From there into Green River (where my dogs visited a sweet country-type veterinarian), up to Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge, back into Rock Springs and then up to Jackson and Grand Teton National Park by way of Pinedale. 

The western side of Wyoming contains a lot of sage brush landscape with canyons and buttes before changing to beautiful mountains in the northwest. 

From Grand Teton I will drive across the state with the goal of reaching the eastern side of Wyoming in a couple of days where the landscape is significantly different - more prairie and open landscape. 

It has been a great week. 

Pronghorn_buck_FGNRA_2015_3Pronghorn_buck_FGNRA_2015_3A pronghorn antelope buck (Antilocapra americana) looks towards some nearby does as he sports some sage stuck in his horns in Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area near Green River, Wyoming.

Flaming Gorge is a huge reservoir - 91 miles in length - with a wide variety of wildlife. On the southern end in Utah there are moose, bighorn, elk and Utah's largest concentration of nesting osprey. Unfortunately I didn't have a lot of time to explore that area but have it marked for a revisit, maybe in the spring. 

The northern end of Flaming Gorge, which sits in Wyoming, is more high plains desert with pronghorn antelope, lots of desert cottontail rabbits and golden eagles. I found a few ponds as well with some migratory birds.​

From Flaming Gorge, I visited Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge a few times. It is one of my favorite refuges but I haven't had much luck photographing wildlife until this trip. The biggest reason is because I had the time to take at the refuge rather than just a drive through. The ability to have time at each location I visit to really spend time with the local wildlife is the biggest reason for making this significant lifestyle change. It takes time - typically 3-4 days - to really get to learn where wildlife can be found in a new location. As I am on the road longer, my visits to locations will get longer to take advantage of the time flexibility I have created for myself. 

Moose_Seedskadee_NWR_2015_2Moose_Seedskadee_NWR_2015_2A cow moose (Alces alces) stands with her offspring along the Green River at Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge near Green River, Wyoming Seedskadee sits along a stretch of the Green River. A large majority of the refuge is dry, sage brush landscape complete with greater sage grouse and pronghorn antelope. The corridor along the river, however, is a lush, riparian habitat that is home to mule deer, moose, bald eagles and river otters. 

Although I don't stop to photograph wildlife when driving the RV like I do in a vehicle (not very safe to park that big thing on the shoulder), I did see a lot of pronghorn along the way. I do hope to photograph their migration back north one spring in the near future. 

Once in Grand Teton, wildlife became significantly more abundant. Late September is peak season for fall colors in the cottonwood and aspen trees, as well as peak season for moose and elk rut. Many animals are also frantically working on preparing for the upcoming winter by creating caches of food or bulking up on pounds to get them through the months of hibernation. The active wildlife makes for great photo opportunities. 

Teton's RainbowA rainbow, with a faint second rainbow, reaches down towards the Snake River on a rainy morning in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Tomorrow we hit the road, where I hope to find locations to photograph mule deer, more pronghorn and maybe some wild turkeys. 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area Grand Teton National Park Green River Jackson RV Livin' RV Living Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge Wyoming nature nature photography photo photography refuge road travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/9/Crusing-Through-Wyoming Mon, 28 Sep 2015 06:11:07 GMT
RV Livin' - Post #5: State Parks, a Winefest and a National Monument https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/9/rv-livin---post-5-state-parks-a-winefest-and-a-national-monument So let's get into some more fun topics on this blog. 

Over the last week or so I have had the opportunity to visit two Colorado state parks, one state wildlife area, a national monument, a wine festival and a national recreation area.

Maroon_Bells_Fall_2015_1Maroon_Bells_Fall_2015_1A clearing storm provides the dramatic clouds at sunrise on the Maroon Bells near Aspen, Colorado.

The travel plans have been slowed down dramatically. I have learned why full-time RVers do not plan like those in a car - it takes longer to get places in a slower RV, you are definitely more tired after driving a 44-foot set of tandem vehicles, things will go wrong and chores still have to be done (like grocery shopping and laundry) when you stop in towns, gas is expensive in a vehicle that only gets 10 mpg so you don't like to drive too far in one day, and you really can't get to see an area by driving in one night and leaving the next morning. Add on top of that the issues that have come up, like taking the Jeep in for the tire sensor repair or waiting for a UPS delivery for the missing hitch pin, and your schedule quickly goes out the window. 

So I am very thankful that I have had the opportunity to see what I have seen. In addition to visiting a few new places, I have also added new subjects to my photo inventory. A few days ago, I photographed desert bighorn sheep for the first time with good camera equipment. I now have a pretty varied collection of photos of wineries and Grand Junction. I photographed my first Gambel's quail in Colorado. Found some new small mammals to photograph. And I have a new set of recreation photos from one of Colorado's many great parks. 

Sunset_Highline_Lake_2015_1Sunset_Highline_Lake_2015_1A colorful sunset in shades of orange, pink, yellow and purple light up the sirus clouds and reflect orange light into Highline Lake at Highline Lake State Park near Loma, Colorado
After leaving Mount Evans, I stopped at Sylvan Lake State Park. This is one of my favorite spots in Colorado for fall colors. Unfortunately I was a little bit early but there were a few leaves starting to pick up the shades of fall. 

One afternoon I thought I would take out my kayak to photograph the lake at sunset. It was a pretty one. I left the kayak at the lake's edge to pick it up later rather than carrying it back to the campsite. Mistake because it meant I had to load it in the dark. I did, however, accomplish my first "download" of the black and gray water tanks with no issues - thankfully. Unfortunately that luck ran out when, after loading the kayak in the dark, I got the RV and the attached Jeep stuck in a tight spot at the edge of the lake. I basically missed a turn and almost turned into the lake. Being in the dark with no skills at backing up the RV with the Jeep attached, I decided it best just to leave it there until morning when I could evaluate the options (like unhitching the Jeep - LOL!) in the daylight. Won't do that again. 

It was cool though to take some photos of the lake and the Milky Way and watch a family of great horned owls hunt along the lake's edge all night. 

From Sylvan Lake State Park I went to Aspen, Colo. to check out the fall colors at Maroon Bells while I waited for the new hitch pin to arrive. Yes, I lost a hitch pin within the first week of being on the road. Thankfully I had stopped at a rest stop for another reason and saw the missing piece.  Desert_bighorn_ram_CO_Natl_Mon_2015_1Desert_bighorn_ram_CO_Natl_Mon_2015_1A desert bighorn ram (Ovis canadensis) is a subspecies of the Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep.

The sunrises were beautiful at Maroon Bells and a moose even made an appearance one day. (See top image of the Maroon Bells in fall color.)

While in Aspen I stayed in a great RV Park - the first for me - where I met a few folks from Indiana, sporting their Notre Dame apparel of course! 

From Aspen I went out to the Grand Junction area to work on an article about Colorado's wine country. I had not planned on being there during the biggest event of the year for the area - the Annual Colorado Mountain Winefest - and I paid the price by not being able to get a campsite nearby. I wound up at an unexpected gem in Loma, Colo. - Highline Lake State Park. 

This park, as I have since learned, is a great spot for bird migration in the fall, but I was a couple of weeks early for that opportunity. 

Even though I had not planned to attend the Winefest, I figured I might as well since I was in the area. It was a lot of fun with lots of tasty wines from all over Colorado. 

While in Loma, I checked out several nearby attractions including Colorado National Monument and Walker State Wildlife Area. 

The Grand Junction area has a great biking path along the Colorado River, which includes the state wildlife area. It was interesting to see turkeys, pheasants and a great blue heron right next to a busy interstate but it was a nice reprieve from the busy days. 

I spent quite a bit of time in Colorado National Monument, and I plan to come back several more times in the coming months. This red rock canyon landscape is Colorado's version of red rock country. It also has a large herd of desert bighorn sheep, which I have wanted to photograph for a long time. Unexpectedly (remember me mentioning those events? Well I am starting to have more positive unexpected events) I stumbled across some Gambel's quail and chukars around the park. 

Chukar_CO_Natl_Mon_2015_1Chukar_CO_Natl_Mon_2015_1A chukar (Alectoris chukar) stands on a piece of red rock in a canyon in Colorado National Monument near Fruita, Colorado

So all in all it was a great long weekend, and one that showed the importance of staying in an area for a while. There is still many more places I would like to check out here. There are two other state wildlife areas, I heard there are elk in the park in the winter, and there is a herd of wild horses nearby. 

Next I am off to my first trip out of state. I am heading north today to stop along the Green River for a few days while working on another article, and then off to Grand Teton National Park. 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado Colorado National Monument RV livin' RV living nature photography photo photography road state park travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/9/rv-livin---post-5-state-parks-a-winefest-and-a-national-monument Tue, 22 Sep 2015 18:58:01 GMT
RV Livin' - post #4 - Logistics https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/9/rv-livin---post-3---logistics In my last few posts I have hinted or flat out complained about the issues it has taken to get to the point I am at now of living on the road. Please don't take it as complaining, other than just complaining things aren't going my way. But as a friend reminded me, "who would have guessed that a brand new, completely different lifestyle with entirely new, complex mechanical gizmos would be so complicated." 

He was very insightful in that comment. And I suppose things will continue to go wrong although I hope I get better prepared to deal with them as I get more experienced at this. 

So here is a little insight into what it took to get this gig on the road.

First, sell the house. In the whole process, that now looks like the easiest. I made a nice profit on the house thanks to a great market in Denver. I am thankful those funds were there because I have blown my budget - bad - with things I didn't anticipate (keep reading). 

The biggest hurdle to overcome with regards to selling the house was that I had a cat who decided she liked hiding in the house and didn't want to come out. The new owner was thankfully very accommodating in letting her work out her issues. He found her late last week hiding under the floor board in the ceiling of the basement. He and a very good friend of mine who has gone above and beyond friendship and sisterhood is now watching her until I get back into town. 

Second, buy an RV. For more than a year I have contemplated this decision of selling the house and traveling on the road full time. I didn't take the decision lightly or quickly, but even with the research I did do, looking back I feel I was very unprepared. 

I contemplated all the options for vehicles. Just an RV? Tow a camper? Tow a car? Get a conversion-type van like a VW EuroVan or Sprinter? If I bought an RV, what kind? How big? How old? If I towed something, does a truck make sense with a fifth wheel? Maybe a small camper? Could I tow something on my Escape?

There was a lot to consider. I needed something I could work out of on the road, that could comfortably fit me and at least three dogs (when I started the plans, I wasn't sure what the situation would be with the cats and Jasmine was still alive). I wanted something that wouldn't be too expensive and didn't require a lot of maintenance. I was selling my house to pay for this adventure so I didn't think I would have time in between to get something ready. 

Ultimately I decided going with an RV and towing another vehicle would be the best option. Although the maintenance of two vehicles might cost more, it would give me the flexibility of having a place to keep the pets on hot days while having a convenient vehicle to use to go out and photograph each location. It also gave me the option of having something to still drive when in those situations where one vehicle needed to be in for maintenance or repair. And I would only have to buy one vehicle as I was under the impression my Ford Escape could be flat towed.

So far I haven't regretted the decision to travel with two vehicles, but that decision has been a big part of why the adventure has cost a bit more to get going. When I made the decision to get the RV, I had been incorrectly told that my Ford Escape could be flat towed. Many full-time RVers go with an option of a truck pulling a fifth wheel camper. I see now why they like that option. But at the time I didn't want to buy a truck and a fifth-wheel. I wound up buying two vehicles anyway. Lesson learned - do your own thorough research and don't rely on the advice of a car salesman. 

So not only did I have to buy a different vehicle to pull behind the RV but I had to do it quickly. I only found out about the lack of towing ability on the Escape about two weeks before I went to settlement on my house. 

That being said, I am loving the Jeep. I can only say, of all the vehicles I have had, I have truly only loved two of them - my two convertible Mustangs. They were just plain fun to drive. The other vehicles were great, functional and got me a lot of places but this Jeep is along the same infatuation as the Mustangs. I took the Jeep out for its first off-road drive today - fun!

But now I needed to figure out how to move two vehicles to each location when I would be the only driver. 

Although a straightforward solution, a hitch becomes a little more complicated than just getting it installed and hitting the road. In Colorado, a braking system is also required in the towed vehicle. This emergency system will actually stop the car if it somehow becomes detached from the RV. This was yet another unexpected expense that cost almost as much as the hitch and its installation. 

Third, working on the road. How will I work from an RV? How will I access the Internet? How will I continue to market myself? How will I have power to run my computer equipment? How do I back up photo files while maintaining a safe storage location?

About two weeks before I went to settlement on my house I had a virus infect my desktop PC. That was kind of the last straw for me in regards to using a PC. I have had quite a few issues with that particular computer ever since I bought it a couple of years ago. I wouldn't be able to use a desktop on the road, and my current laptop computer, a Mac Book Air, although fantastic for the purpose I bought it (purely for a lightweight computer for checking email and backing up photos while traveling), was not going to work as a full-time computer on the road. 

Off to the Apple store I went to purchase a new laptop. Thankfully the model I specked out online wasn't in stock in the store so I had to go with something a little slower (I haven't noticed any difference after coming off of the Air) thus saving me a little bit of money. But switching completely to a Mac system meant new software and a few other miscellaneous items to outfit the equipment I would need. 

Again, I have been very happy with the setup but it was an unexpected cost. 

Next was to figure out how to back up my files while traveling. I maintain a large quantity of external hard drives at my office to store all of the tens of thousands of photo files I keep saying I will someday go through. I couldn't bring those along in the RV. It wouldn't be wise to travel with my complete library of photo files, even if they are backed up in another location. And each one of the drives requires its own power supply. There are only two outlets in the RV. 

After quite a bit of research and some great information from a few friends, I wound up going with a NAS cloud storage system. This will give me a  much larger back-up system while being able to access the content on the drive through the Internet, thus eliminating the need for multiple hard drives in the RV. (I do still carry one with me just in case.)

Unfortunately I have yet to set up the system as I ran out of time before settling on my house. Plans are to get it going on my next trip back to Fort Collins. 

And finally, how would I access the Internet during my travels?

There are more than 12,000 full-time RVers registered on the Facebook group of that name. I would imagine that just about all of them have some sort of Internet connection while traveling - ranging in options from using free WiFi in various locations, a satellite receiver, or a personal hotspot through a mobile device.

I researched all of the options I heard about. Since I needed something reliable because of running a business, free WiFi hotspots were out of the question. The satellite option was certainly feasible but expensive. So I researched different options for a personal hotspot. I wound up going with one through my iPad data service. So far I have been very happy with it, although on occasion it gets a little choked up on sending data. The only limitation has been that I need a data signal, which isn't always available in more remote locations.

My backup option of finding a nearby Starbucks has so far been a great fallback plan. (It is amazing how many Starbucks there are out there all willing to sell you a $6 drink for some free WiFi.)

There are still a few miscellaneous items that seem to keep coming up. My original option for carting the kayak around on top of the Jeep failed me on its first trip when I noticed one of the straps was flapping around in the wind, meaning only one strap was holding the kayak to the roof. My car charger for my cell phone died the first day on the road. Thankfully it was only the charger and not the phone that needed replacing. A sensor on one of my Jeep tires said it was low on air. Thankfully it was the sensor that went bad and it was covered under the warranty rather than a need for a new tire. Two of my lenses need repair - both are fluttering when focusing - so I need to make a decision about replacement or repair. I constantly discover things I should have saved but sold or gave away in the moving sale or need a smaller version of for the RV, like a cordless vacuum to keep up with the dog fur and a small printer to continue to market my business. A pin fell out of the hitch on one of the longest drives so far of my adventure. I thankfully had stopped for another reason and noticed it before the dog bone fell out of the hitch arms. It took an overnight delivery and a ridiculous handling fee with UPS to get a new one after I learned that many RV Parks sell them since others have had similar situations. I now have three backup pins, including the one a neighbor at the RV park gave to me. And yesterday I lost my prescription sunglasses while photographing some vineyards. 

So to my friend's point that I mentioned earlier, things will go wrong now that I am dealing with a new lifestyle and a new set of mechanical gizmos. I definitely feel in over my head but each day I climb back out a little further as I learn more about life on the road. I have an amazing support system of friends who provide information, call once in a while to make sure I am okay and to ask where I am today, and take care of things back at home for me.

Ultimately life is about learning and growing so here's to new opportunities to learn and grow.

And of course see some amazing places, wildlife and scenery along the way.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) RV RV Living living on the road logistics nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photography road travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/9/rv-livin---post-3---logistics Tue, 22 Sep 2015 04:58:10 GMT
RV Livin' - Post #3 - Things I have learned https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/9/rv-livin---post-3---things-i-have-learned I am not quite a week into my crazy adventure, but there are already a few things I have learned:

  1. Things will go wrong with the RV – even with the new things
  2. Things will not always go your way on your travels – rain will fall, kayaks will loosen on top of vehicles, and dogs will bring mud into the RV and then jump onto the bed
  3. Whatever you think launching this lifestyle will cost, anticipate it will cost more
  4. Always return things to their proper location – making things accessible in their regular location saves time from hunting in all those nooks and crannies of creative storage spaces in RVs
  5. RVs use a lot of gas – A LOT!!!
  6. Always detach the Jeep from the RV on flat, level ground – thankfully I thought of this before detaching the Jeep
  7. RVs rattle a lot – nothing is spared from the constant jiggling (I found sticky dots work great to hold things in place)
  8. Vinyl flooring and seats make a ton of sense in RVs – road dust and dirt gets everywhere
  9. You will meet a lot of people who share stories, want to hear your stories and are willing to provide information
  10. Just because you no longer own a brick and mortar home doesn’t mean you don’t have chores to do – kitty’s claws still have to be cut, beds still need to be made (or else those muddy dogs dirty your clean sheets), and dishes still need to be washed (or else they will make beautiful noises as they rattle around in your sink along with everything else in the RV)

So far I have also learned that I am getting into a groove and am really enjoying the time spent outdoors.

My first day in the RV was last Thursday. After another delay with some installations, I was finally able to pick up the Jeep and hitch it to the RV.

The RV and the Jeep all decked out and ready to go

I am still amazed that the dealer hands you the keys to the RV, gives you a 30-minute session on how to attach the hitch and braking system, a two-hour walkthrough on the ins and outs of your RV (take good notes – you will refer back to them), and sends you on your way with 44 feet of motorhome and vehicle without much other training.

Needless to say I spent the first few days with white knuckles and cramped hands as I grabbed the steering wheel way too hard.

The first two nights I stayed at Horsetooth Reservoir just west of Fort Collins. It was close to the RV dealer, it was an area I was familiar, it was close to my office (where I still had a lot to do before heading out on the road), and was a beautiful location.

I didn’t detach the Jeep the whole time I was there – all those wires and cables were a little daunting – but I got in a little photography right by the campsite.

The local mule deer made an appearance on Friday night. I took some time to sit near them but quietly and not approaching. There were six does and two fawns, with the fawns being the most curious. They are so cute with their big ears that they haven’t quite grown into.

As I was photographing one of the fawns I had a distinct feeling of being watched from my right side. I looked up to find one of the does about a foot from me. She was quite curious about the equipment I had and came right up to it and sniffed my hand resting on the camera. It was a tender moment before she scampered away.

My next stop was Mount Evans. It is my favorite spot in Colorado to photograph wildlife and, since I knew it so well, I thought it would make a safe second stop on my soft launch of living on the road – a little further but not so far that I couldn’t get back into town if need be.

It was a good thing because I had to head back into the Denver area twice – twice to head to Rack Attack to purchase a better rack for the kayak (better than my original, makeshift option to save a little money – saving a penny will usually cost you a dollar), to Foothills Animal Shelter to look one last time for my missing cat, Bella, who decided she wanted to go AWOL the night before I sold my house, and to the Sprint store because in all this what timing wouldn’t be better to have your cell phone stop charging (thankfully it was the charger and not the phone). 

I spent two nights at Mount Evans parked in the lot by Echo Lake Lodge. The photography was great, the critters abundant, and the light gorgeous. There was a good chance it would be my last opportunity to head to the top of Mount Evans before they closed the road for the season so I took advantage of the time and really explored.

Bighorn_sheep_Mt_Evans_2015_2Bighorn_sheep_Mt_Evans_2015_2A herd of bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) runs over an alpine ridge covered in fall color near Summit Lake on Mount Evans, Colorado

So all things finally seemed to fall into place: the kayak rack and kayak were now securely attached to the roof of the Jeep; the bike was securely attached to the back of the Jeep; the backup camera on the RV seemed to be functioning properly; the hitch was attached and the braking system signal being received in the RV.

Off we went to the next destination – Grand Junction, Colo. – to work on my next article.

 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado Mt Evans RV RV Living living on the road nature nature photography photo photography road tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/9/rv-livin---post-3---things-i-have-learned Thu, 17 Sep 2015 01:22:30 GMT
RV Livin' - post #2 - purging a house https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/9/rv-livin---post-2---nerves I sold my house a week ago today. I didn't do much but pack, move, rent U-hauls and deal with a thousand other logistics for the week leading up to the sale and for the week since then.

There was some concern settlement wasn't going to happen on time because the appraisal report had not yet come through on Monday morning. I was relieved for the extra time. I thought I had prepared everything really well to get it all done on time. But moves never go as we anticipate or hope.

After renting three separate U-hauls as a result of my ridiculous need to keep clutter, I finally was out of the house with the kayak and last load in the U-haul. It was 11 p.m. Tuesday evening, and I was grateful to the new owner for his willingness to let me have a little extra time to get it all out of the house. A week earlier I took photos of the items I decided I wouldn't need in an RV, weren't worth paying to put into storage, or I wouldn't need on the other side of this journey. Things like a lawnmower, washer, dryer, and 24 foot extension ladder seemed silly to put into storage. I could always replace them should the time come again when I need them, although I have to say I hope I don't ever need a lawnmower again (I surprisingly detested that chore even though I do enjoy having a yard). 

I made a nice chunk of change at that sale, with a portion of that being a result of my friend and sorority sister, Mary's, talents for selling items. She even sold a bag of pens out of my old laptop bag for 50 cents! The money I made was just enough to pay for the moving truck/movers, the U-hauls moving everything up to storage in Fort Collins and gas I was putting into my vehicle for all of the running around.

The movers were coming the next day. They were shocked when they walked into the house and saw it was empty. They asked where was everything they were moving. I had purged a lot.

The two efficient and pleasant guys from Two Men and a Truck carefully move furniture from my house to storage. They both mentioned they were jealous of my forthcoming plans to live on the road.

The living room furniture was gone. The dogs and cats had done a number on the leather, including removing a cushion in the sofa, putting holes in the love seat and scratching up the chair. Surprisingly I sold the love seat and chair to a neighbor who needed a quick option for a new apartment, and, thanks again to Mary's sales tactics, it was advertised as pet and kid friendly! Too funny.

I had moved my office furniture a few nights earlier. Probably should not have done that on my own because I threw my back out moving the boxes of file folders. Dang need for saving receipts for the business. 

I was down to two beds, one set of dressers, some lamps, my den furniture and TV, a few bookshelves, and the family antiques. I thought for sure I had purged enough to stay within my budget and goal of no more than one 10 x 15 storage unit. The movers were optimistic until the stuff - and  that is what I am lovingly referring to the items now packed into a steel box - started to fill up the truck pretty quickly. 

I tried very hard to relieve myself of the items holding sentimental value. There was a lot of that in the house. The last time I moved I had just cleaned out Aeric's place two months earlier, and I was in the process of sorting through my Dad's items with my sister and Verna. I had not done a very good job of identifying the items I really wanted to keep from the two important men in my life who passed away within three months of each other. Everything had some memory attached to it, and with the feelings still so fresh when I moved in to this house in February 2013, I just couldn't go through it all without getting upset, emotional, and sentimental.

It was now 2 and 1/2 years later. The feelings are no where near as fresh but the feelings still hover below the surface. But I was able to get through some of it, until I started to run out of time.

So that extra day or two for pushing back settlement was a nice reprieve, until my realtor texted late Monday afternoon saying that although she was shocked it happened, the paperwork did happen. We were going to settlement in less than 15 hours. 

"Ruh roh, Scooby!"

I looked around and said, "I can do this."

Well, at three a.m. I was still going at it. My office was not finished - all those dang papers I seem to keep in my office - all those ideas I have - and my garage had now become the dumping ground for all the things I didn't know what to do with. Settlement was now in less than seven hours.

Thankfully I gave in and reserved a second storage unit - a 5 x 10 - two days earlier when it looked like the movers wouldn't be able to stuff it all on the 10 x 15 box. It came in handy to quickly move things out of the house. I'll have to go through that someday, however, and hopefully sooner than later.

There was one last item to take care of before heading to settlement. I had one mattress set that I kept in the house rather than have the movers put in storage. My wonderful huskies had some fun with pulling the stuffing out of the pillow top over the years so there wasn't much point in saving it. But the mattress came in handy for those last couple of nights in the house without furniture. 

My trash company wasn't known for picking up anything bulky without an extra fee and weeks of advance notice. A neighbor said her trash company took anything they put out so I could add it to their trash pile, which happened to be that morning. 

Have you ever tried to move a queen-sized mattress on your own? It isn't an easy feat. But I discovered a technique to get it down the block to my neighbor's trash pile - roll it down the street! Another neighbor was walking his dog. I heard him chuckling. I asked him if it was really the first time he had ever seen someone flip a mattress down the street. He said it was a first and proceeded to help me carry it. 

So, at a little after 10 a.m. on Tuesday, September 1, 2015, I officially became one of those folks that no longer owned a traditional home. Although my plans were to be in the RV and on the road by September 4, logistics and unexpected changes delayed that start.

My life has been stuffed into a 10 x 15 foot steel box in east-central Fort Collins, Colo. Other than the bike that will travel with me, the filing of papers in the file drawers, and the photo print supplies on the shelf for the occasional art show, I don't anticipate having a need for anything in this storage unit until I am ready to move off wheels and back into a traditional home in some un-set time from now.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) RV RV Livin' RV Living document home house move moving moving sale recreational vehicle road road living selling story travel https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/9/rv-livin---post-2---nerves Wed, 09 Sep 2015 06:49:49 GMT
Learning from the RV Living Bloggers https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/8/blogs-blogs-and-more-blogs-about-full-time-rving Two people in as many days have recommended this blog site to me. I have only skimmed the surface of reading the info they post (I have many more things on a more urgent timeline before joining folks like these on the road) but this post caught my eye. It is very similar to my own feelings and motivations for doing this crazy change.

http://www.technomadia.com/2015/08/you-deserve-more-than-a-1-week-vacation/

Remember that this is work - and a lot of it. I am looking forward to becoming a workaholic on the road while experiencing a beautiful office in the outdoors. I don't expect it to be easy - not really sure what kind of expectations I have since this is all completely new to me (what, I have to clean a black water tank??? Wait, what is a black water tank???) But I am looking forward to the adventure.

In all of the conversations I have had with people who have done this - from sorority sisters to full-time RVers to RV salesmen to other photographers doing similar work/living arrangements - I have not once heard someone say they didn't enjoy it. In fact, most have told me I will probably fall so far in love with it that I'll just keep doing it.

I don't want to get ahead of myself on that point - just taking this one day at a time - but I am looking forward to adding the check marks to the lengthy list of goals I have for road living.

So until the next post...

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Full-time RVer RV RV Living Technomadia adventure experience experiences full-time RVer new experiences photo photographer photography road travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/8/blogs-blogs-and-more-blogs-about-full-time-rving Fri, 14 Aug 2015 02:30:01 GMT
RV Livin' - Entry #1 https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/8/rv-livin---entry-1 So it is finally time to announce the next phase of my life, photography, travels and writing. I have hinted around over the last few months about some new adventures for me on the horizon. Well, the horizon is quickly approaching.

It is no secret that I love to travel and photograph wildlife. It is also no secret that I have not been terribly fond of living in Arvada. So I took the plunge (and advantage of the timing in this great housing market for sellers), sold my house and bought an RV. Well, the house sold earlier this week (after only three days on the market) and I put a deposit down on an RV. The house will belong to someone else on September 1 (barring any issues between now and then - fingers crossed all goes smoothly) and I'll be RV livin' shortly after the closing.

The Home on Wheels - The Wilson Chateau I spent 20 years chained to a desk wondering why I was never happy doing what I was doing. It took some major losses and changes in my life to open my eyes to the fact that we live in a beautiful world and that life is very, very short. I don't regret a minute of leaving behind office jobs to pursue this crazy life.

When I first started my travels in 2013, a friend asked if I was a vagabond. At the time I told her no. I guess that is changing. But this is a great change, a scary one for sure, but one that will give me the opportunity to really tackle that list of places I never got to see with Aeric before he passed, the places I have always wanted to see or have learned about over the last few years, and the new places I am sure I will discover along the way.

(By the way, I have been working on that list for close to two years and there are more than 350 places or subjects already on there. I also hope to include all 58 national parks, at least a large chunk of the 560 national wildlife refuges, a large chunk of the 300+ Colorado state wildlife areas and all 43 state parks in Colorado. Several of these places are not accessible by RV so we'll see how creative I get on visiting places like Hawaii and remote parts of Alaska. That should keep me busy for a while :) )

The map as it looks today. I have seen quite a few places already. Some I will revisit, but many more will be added to this map. For all I know I may hate it 30 days into it. If so, then I know I'll have options. If I love it, then full steam ahead!

So my next steps involve revising my business plan to make this a viable adventure, packing, and figuring out how to downsize from a three-bedroom house to a 24-foot RV. I'll be in Colorado at least through September 10. I also anticipate being back in the Fort Collins area at least once a month so I have rented an office space up there to have a place to work.

So here's to taking the plunge, doing something that scares the hell out of me (I am not the most mechanically inclined - I had to replace a lawnmower after only two years thanks to my lack of mechanical skills - hopefully the RV is a little easier - LOL!), and to sharing the beauty of this world with as many people as possible through my photography and writing.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) RV RV Livin' RV Living States US United adventure challenges destinations exciting locations map photography places road scary travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/8/rv-livin---entry-1 Sat, 08 Aug 2015 18:21:26 GMT
Tip #69: You have two eyes - use them https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/6/tip-69-you-have-two-eyes---use-them Black_bear_2015_YNP_1Black_bear_2015_YNP_1A black bear cub (Ursus americanus) sits in the middle of a field of clover and looks directly at the camera in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Our heads are equipped with two sets of eyes, and, surprisingly, they can work pretty well independently of each other. What I mean is that when shooting, use both of those eyes to survey your scene. 

Most of us look through the viewfinder with one eye - for me it is the right eye. But put the other eye to use by glancing up once in a while and seeing what is going on in the scene beyond the borders of the viewfinder. 

For example, I recently visited Yellowstone National Park. May and June are wonderful months to be in this amazing location. I was photographing a family of black bears - a sow and her three one-year old cubs. While watching one of the cubs through the view finder I would occasionally look up to see what the siblings were up to in the nearby meadow. With three little ones running around there was always something going on with them. 

Of course you have to be wary of missing the shot you are waiting for while looking through your viewfinder. And this technique is also a great way to stay safe. 

Elk_36Elk_36A bull elk (Cervus elaphus) looks directly at the camera while managing his harem of cows in Estes Park, Colorado

While photographing a bull elk during the rut I had been so focused on watching him through the viewfinder that I didn't keep surveying my surroundings with my other eye. If I had, I would have realized the reason for why I could no longer fit his antlers in my shot - he was approaching, and close. At the last minute I looked up with my other eye to see this beautiful bull almost breathing down my lens. Not something you want to do any time of year, but especially not during the rut when their hormones are running hot. 

 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado Yellowstone National Park animal animals black bear cub cubs elk eyes looking nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography seeing shooting survey tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/6/tip-69-you-have-two-eyes---use-them Fri, 26 Jun 2015 18:27:49 GMT
Tip #68: Vertical vs. Horizontal https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/6/tip-68-vertical-vs-horizontal Bison_18Bison_18Stock photo of a bison cow licking the head of her calf on a spring morning in Yellowstone National Park. During one of my first portfolio reviews, the reviewer made an observation. "So many of your photos are in a horizontal format. Try including more verticals," he said to me. 

I hadn't thought about it too much up to that point but he was right; I did shoot a lot of horizontal format photos. It is an easy mistake I suppose since our cameras are lined up that way. And at the time my camera only had the one shutter button. (I now have newer camera bodies that include a shutter button for the vertical orientation.)

Since then I make a point of spinning my camera around getting vertical shots as frequently as possible for each scene I am shooting. In particular situations, verticals actually work better than horizontals. For example, if an animal has approached fairly close, a horizontal format may no longer provide enough vertical space to include a full head or the appropriate amount of the animal's body. 

Another piece to consider for shooting vertical and horizontal photos is the use of the photo. Will the photo be submitted as a potential magazine cover requiring a vertical composition, or an interior double-page spread requiring a horizontal format? Is the frame you plan to place prepped for horizontal or vertical?  Bison_51Bison_51Stock photo of a bison cow licking the head of her calf on a spring morning in Yellowstone National Park.

And sometimes the mood of a photo can change with the orientation, such as with these two images of a bison cow with her calf. In the vertical image, the focus is purely on the cow's activity of cleaning her calf. In the horizontal image, the photo has more of a feel of where the animals are located and what is around them. 

In the case of landscapes, if you are using a polarizer or neutral density filter, remember to spin that too to get the correct orientation. 

Have fun trying out new formats. Remember, it is only a few more pixels to try it. If you don't like the outcome, the file can be easily deleted.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/6/tip-68-vertical-vs-horizontal Sat, 06 Jun 2015 00:48:51 GMT
Tip #67: Have an Emergency Fund https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/6/tip-67-have-an-emergency-fund Greater_Sage_Grouse_2015_1Greater_Sage_Grouse_2015_1A male greater sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) struts his stuff for the ladies during a spring snow storm near Walden, Colorado There has been more than one occasion when I have found myself in need of assistance while traveling. Sometimes that assistance may mean calling AAA or finding a hotel room for the evening. In each situation I have been happy to have funds available to cover the unexpected cost. 

My most recent situation was at the very beginning of a long weekend trip to photograph sage grouse and prairie chickens. I was picking up a colleague at the airport when my low tire pressure light illuminated. Usually that means just a slow leak so I thought I could get to the airport and then assess the situation before we drove into the mountains on a spare tire. Then came that tell-tale sound - "thump, thump, thump". Yup, flat tire all right. And not only flat, but something had punctured the side-wall. It was an irreparable tire. 

I called my friend, who had just landed, and told him the situation. He was extremely understanding while I waited for AAA roadside assistance (another great insurance policy to have considering the volume of driving nature and wildlife photographers do). To make a long story short, the quick trip to the airport turned into a 6 hour delay and four new tires. 

Without an emergency fund I would not have been prepared to head to the mountains on dirt country roads with a spare tire. We thankfully made it to our hotel just before dark and were on our way bright and early the next morning.

We had a great weekend with lots of fantastic photos of the dancing birds, but ultimately that was because of an emergency fund. 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) AAA Colorado animals delays emergency fund money nature nature photography patience photo photograph photographer photographers photography planning prepared tips tips for nature photographers travel understanding unexpected wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/6/tip-67-have-an-emergency-fund Mon, 01 Jun 2015 23:38:08 GMT
Creating a Landscape Pano https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/5/creating-a-landscape-pano Clearing_Storm_in_Rocky_Mountain_National_ParkClearing_Storm_in_Rocky_Mountain_National_ParkHorseshoe Valley below Many Parks Curve is full of fog and clouds as a spring snowstorm begins to clear, leaving the landscape in a blanket of white in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado I recently visited Rocky Mountain National Park. My purpose was to photograph wildlife in the snow with a particular hope of finding animals that represent spring, such as fox kits or mountain bluebirds. I love seeing the mix of seasons, and spring snowstorms, with a blanket of heavy, wet snow coating a spring landscape, are a particularly easy way to capture that in a photo.
 

As I drove through the park, I noticed that the clearing storm was leaving the snow-covered mountains rising above fog in the valley. I decided to drive up to Many Parks Curve to get a wider view, and the scene was gorgeous. It was perfect for a panoramic.
 

This is a pretty easy technique with the latest software from Adobe.
 

First, you must capture the images. This pano was created from 13 vertical images. I started on the left side of the scene, made sure I had a straight shot using the level on the tripod and the virtual horizon in my camera, and selected a point about 1/3 into the scene to help ensure as much of the shot as possible would be sharp. The photo was taken at ISO 100, f20 and 1/160 second using a Nikon D800 and a Nikon 16-85mm lens at 45mm. To reduce any further camera shake, I used a tripod, a remote shutter release and live view.
 

Each photo is overlapped by about 1/3 so that Photoshop has some common landmarks to stitch together.
 

Don't forget about composition. It is a little harder to envision the rule of thirds, foreground, middle ground and background content, and lines through the photo since you can't see the full final image. For a horizontal pano like this, the rule of thirds on the horizontal lines will continue to work. This image doesn't quite follow that rule mostly because some of the bottom was cropped off in the stitching process, but there are still distinct layers with the foreground trees, the middle ground mountains and the distant sky.
 

Second, I edited the photos in Adobe Lightroom. Because there is a lot of variety in the tones of this image - from the high key clouds to the dark shadows in the trees - proper exposure was tough. The clouds on the left were much brighter than those on the right but I made sure the histogram showed detail in those whites. I brought those whites down a little in Lightroom, added two Ligthroom preset filters (Scenic and Punch). Then I adjusted the saturation, contrast and applied the default lens corrections. Once the first photo was to my liking I copied and pasted the develop settings to the other 12 photos. The final step in Lightroom was to export the images as hi-res TIFFs.
 

Third, the photos were stitched together in Photoshop. The stitching feature in Photoshop is super easy to use but you cannot use RAW files, and thus the reason for doing the initial editing and exporting in Lightroom.
 

Open Photoshop, select File on the top menu, then Automate and then Photomerge. In the pop-up window, click on Browse and select all of the files you want to be included in your panoramic. There are several layout options on the left. I stick with Auto to let Photoshop do the best work. Sometimes the other options come out a little, well, odd. Check the Blend Images Together and Vignette Removal boxes and click OK. Then wait for the magic to happen.
 

Photoshop puts each image of the pano on its own layer and aligns them into one scene based on how the elements of the photo align. This will create blank areas on the outer edges of the photo. Using the crop tool, crop the pano into the your preferred look. You do not have to crop out the empty corners; the next step shows you an easy solution for that correction.
 

In the Layers panel flyout menu, select Merge Visible to merge the layers while leaving the transparent background on those corners. Select the magic wand tool and click in the white/transparent corners and any other areas around the photo edges that may be white/transparent. Holding the Shift key while you select each corner will select all four corners together. Expand your selection by 4 pixels by going to Select menu and under Modify choose Expand and enter 4. This will help with the overlap of content for a natural appearance.
 

Now, here is some more Photoshop magic. Select Shift - F5. The Fill dialog box opens. Select Content-Aware in the first drop-down menu. Leave Mode at Normal and Opacity at 100%. Then select OK.
 

Voila! Photoshop fills in those areas based on the nearby content. I do occasionally have to go back to these selections and refine the edges a bit to make it look more natural but each photo is a little different.
 

At this point you can do any final refinements in Photoshop, such as gradients, curves, etc.
 

Thanks to the technology in Photoshop, the longest part of this process is waiting for Photoshop to merge the images together.
 

Have fun creating your panos ready to grace the wall above your sofa!
 

Find more helpful photos editing and nature photography tips on my blog - www.DawnWilsonPhotography.com/blog
 

Contact me at [email protected] for information about private instruction in the field or on the computer.
 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Adobe Adobe Photoshop Colorado Photoshop composition edit instruction landscape landscapes nature nature photography pano panoramic photo photograph photographer photography scenic teach tips tips for nature photographers https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/5/creating-a-landscape-pano Fri, 22 May 2015 19:41:48 GMT
Tip #66: Keep It Simple https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/5/tip-66-keep-it-simple Oh, if we could keep it all simple - lives, clutter, schedules. Since this is a blog about photography, I'll let the professional organizers deal with the clutter and schedules; I'll stick to a few tips on keeping the photography simple.
 

For nature photographers, there are two ways to follow the K.I.S. (Keep It Simple) concept.
 

1. Reduce the complications by staying focused. I used to try to get all kinds of things done in the morning before heading out to shoot. That meant walking the dogs, feeding the animals, cleaning up the dishes, making the bed, pulling weeds, folding laundry, packing up lunch, etc. all before driving to a location for shooting at sunrise. In the winter, when the sun comes up around 7 in Colorado, this isn't too big of a deal. But in the summer, when sunrise can be as early as 5:30 a.m., trying to get chores done before leaving the house is just unrealistic. I was often one of two things: the photographer strolling up late for sunrise or the photographer imitating a zombie due to my lack of sleep.
 

I have come to learn, since I don't have a live-in maid, seven dwarves or helpful dogs, that it will all be there waiting for me when I return (other than feeding the critters who have on more than one occasion reminded me that they come first!). So stay focused on your task, leave all your stuff behind, and just bring the equipment you need. (Check out earlier posts, such as tips 8, 9, and 10, for ideas about what to keep in your car so you don't have to keep moving items around while trying to get out the door.)
 

I also realized, that when I worked a full-time office job and photographed on the side, I worried about a lot of unnecessary stuff in the mornings before heading out the door. I just don't worry about these things when I head out to shoot.
 

For one thing, I love being able to pull my hair back into a ponytail and stuff it under a hat. The critters and landscapes don't care if I am having a good hair day. It also means I don't worry about what my hair will do when I am standing in the rain and snow.
 

I also love the fact that I live in hiking pants and fleece. Attire for office jobs typically isn't very comfortable, functional or practical for photographing outdoors. On more than one occasion I tried to shoot before work in the morning only to regret it. That activity typically wound up with me coming to work with goose poo on my shoes, grass stains on my knees or dust from willow bushes on my pants. So I tried to carry a change of clothes and shoes for work and that just meant another bag to carry and get out the door.
 

Moose_2Moose_2This bull moose was following a cow who appeared to be in heat at the beginning of rut season at Brainard Lake, Colorado This photo of a bull moose was taken one morning in early autumn before work. I am lucky enough to live in a state where I can photograph moose in the morning and be at work an hour later. But it was a perfect example of coming into work looking a little disheveled after standing in water and willows for a couple of hours at sunrise. And of course my co-workers didn't quite understand my excitement about photographing moose at 5:30 in the morning when they asked me if I was okay (I guess because of my appearance!).
 

So keep it simple, focus on one thing at a time and be mindful of where you chose to put your focus.
 

2. Keep your shots simple. There is also the idea of keeping your shots simple. By staying focused on your task at hand, and reducing your stress while getting to a shoot, you can focus on simplifying the images. This topic is actually covered in a few other blog posts. See tips 18, 21, 25, and 39.
 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado animals easy focus focused keep it simple landscapes nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography simple simplify tips tips for nature photographers travel uncomplicated wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/5/tip-66-keep-it-simple Fri, 15 May 2015 18:12:15 GMT
Tip #65: Be Your Own Photographer - Part II https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/5/tip-65-be-your-own-photographer---part-ii In my last post I talked about finding your own perspective on a frequently photographed location.
 

But what do you do with that shot that is the same as the other two dozen people standing next to you?

In today's world of digital post-processing and manipulation, the options are pretty endless. Some edits can be subtle variations in perspective. You may decide to crop a photo differently or give it a different type of lighting. You could create a composite where your subject is placed on a moon landscape. Or use a filter to create an abstract.

Every one of those 24 photos of Maroon Bells on that morning may turn out very different.

Here is an example of an osprey photo.

© Dan Walters Photography. Used with permission. Osprey_2015_10Osprey_2015_10An osprey (Pandion haliaetus) brings in a long branch to the nest on a sunny spring morning in Longmont, Colorado Dan Walters and I were out photographing osprey early in the spring season. During that time of year, shortly after these birds of prey arrive back in Colorado for the summer, they work on the nest to repair it from the damage caused by winter weather and months no maintenance. Both adults will bring in sticks, divots of grass, and other materials to build up the structure of the nest prior to laying their eggs.

Unknowingly, Dan and I not only captured the same exact photo but decided to edit it and post it to our facebook pages. What is different is our treatment of the photos. The variations are subtle but they are there and you may prefer one over the other for any variety of reasons.

Dan's shot has a warmer tone than mine with a little more contrast. He also left the crop slightly askew to show movement in the flight of the osprey dragging the branch through the air.

I on the other hand kept the photo with a little less contrast and more of a cooler tone. I also straightened the photo to make it look like the osprey was dropping the branch straight down.

Is one more correct than the other? Not at all. We just took different perspectives of the same scene. That is what makes each of us unique in our skills as photographers.

Try it with your photographer friends. Go out at the same time with maybe 2 or 3 other photographers. After editing the photos, compare with each other and see just how different the results can be and then find out why each person took the perspective they did. They may open your eyes to something you had not thought of before, and could try the next time you are out shooting.
 

Osprey photo used with permission by Dan Walters Photography.
 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado animal animals be your own photographer bird bird of prey distinct nature nature photography original osprey photo photograph photographer photographers photography tips tips for nature photographers unique wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/5/tip-65-be-your-own-photographer---part-ii Tue, 12 May 2015 14:16:21 GMT
Tip #64: Be Your Own Photographer - Part I https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/5/tip-64-be-your-own-photographer Maroon_Bells_Fall_2014_1Maroon_Bells_Fall_2014_1First light hits the peaks of the Maroon Bells in the Maroon Bells - Snowmass Wilderness Area in fall near Aspen, Colorado There are many locations where photographers flock to by the dozens: Maroon Bells in Colorado in the fall, Yellowstone National Park in May and June, Delicate Arch in Arches National Park at sunrise. Their goal?: get the same photo as what they have seen in the magazines, posted on facebook or published in coffee table books. Why? Because these seasons and locations are iconic and have fabulous photo opportunities.
 

What that means for you is that you should rush out to these same places in the same seasons and get the same shots. We all look at scenery and subjects with very different creative eyes so your photos may turn out very different than the person next to you.
 

But once you are finished with those shots find something different.
 

Crowd_at_Maroon_BellsCrowd_at_Maroon_BellsA line of severl dozen people line up on the shore of Maroon Lake in fall. For example, Maroon Bells is one of the most photographed locations in Colorado, if not the most photographed. In the fall, as seen in this photo, photographers by the dozens line up along the shore of Maroon Lake to capture the iconic shot of the yellow aspen leaves in the valley below the 14,000 foot Maroon Peaks, which, if you are lucky, are reflected perfectly in the calm waters of the lake.
 

My guess is that every nature photographer in Colorado has this shot in some variation.
 

My suggestion is to try this same location in a different season or from a different location. I have been to this area in all four seasons. Each one is very unique and special, but only the fall season, at least in the early morning hours before the hikers and tourists arrive, has the volume of people taking the same photo. In winter I was the only one along the shoreline. In spring, when the aspens are just turning bright green I was also the only one along the shoreline. In summer, when the wildflowers are blooming along the shore and in the valley below the peaks, there was a handful of photographers with the same idea but we all selected different locations.
 

Maroon_Bells_Sunrise_1Maroon_Bells_Sunrise_1The clouds were pretty shades of pink and purple just moments before first light hit the peaks of the Maroon Bells in the Maroon Bells - Snowmass Wilderness Area near Aspen, Colorado This shot of Maroon Lake and Maroon Bells was taken in mid July. I have dozens of great shots of the area from this time of year with wildflowers in the foreground, fish swimming in the lake and macros of wildflowers.
 

So be your own photographer and get creative with the iconic locations.
 


 


 

 

 


 

 

 


 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado creative crowds iconic individual landscape landscapes nature nature photography opportunity perspective photo photograph photographer photographers photography tips tips for nature photographers travel unique wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/5/tip-64-be-your-own-photographer Thu, 07 May 2015 23:24:31 GMT
Tip #63: Tell a Story https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/5/tip-63-tell-a-story My undergraduate degree is in communications. I spent many semesters studying news reporting, public relations writing, public speaking and mass media journalism. The thread through all of these classes was to tell a story that interests your reader. I find I continue to do that with my photography.

Frequently people who enjoy my photos tell me they like hearing about the back story of the photo as much as looking at the photo. Some photos have more unique stories than others, but every photo has a story. So find something to tell about your photo. When you post the photo on facebook, Twitter, or any other social media outlet, give the viewer a little back story about how, why and when. Make them come back for more.

Bighorn_sheep_106Bighorn_sheep_106A group of bighorn sheep rams (Ovis canadensis) chase two instigating young rams on a snowy slope in the high country of Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming This shot of bighorn sheep, including 10 rams, running down a snowy mountain gave people a lot of smiles, at least based on the feedback I received. And it wasn't so much because of the photo; it was because of communicating about the moments that led up to this photo and what was happening during the moment I took the shot. (To see the original post on facebook, visit https://www.facebook.com/DawnWilsonPhotography/posts/694839133897410)

So reflect on the moment for your own enjoyment, and then share those smiles, heartaches, and learning opportunities with other folks.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado Wyoming Yellowstone National Park back story backstory blog funny humor light nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography serious story tips tips for nature photographers tone travel wildlife write writing https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/5/tip-63-tell-a-story Tue, 05 May 2015 13:52:59 GMT
Tip #62: It Really Might Be Your Camera https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/5/tip-62-it-really-might-be-your-camera Brown_Bear_LC_10Brown_Bear_LC_10A brown bear cub (Ursus arctos) paws at his mother's nose on a very rainy day in Lake Clark National Park, Alaska. Photograph by Dawn Y. Wilson, www.DawnWilsonPhotography.com, [email protected] I spent the better part of 2014 trying to figure out why I couldn't get sharp photos. The center area was coming up sharp but the areas to the left and right were soft, and almost blurry on the left side. I was using a tripod, vibration reduction, high shutter speeds, even tried different focal points and cable shutter release.

All of it was to no avail. (Although I finally broke out the camera and lens manuals and learned about some features I had not been using.)

Unfortunately the lens and camera body would have to go back to Nikon for repair, and I just didn't have the funds at the moment to pay for the shipping or the potential repairs. So off to the closet the set went for several months until funds became available.

Four months went by before I could finally send the pair back to Nikon. Sure enough one of the focus rings had been shifted from who knows what. While the equipment was at Nikon, I borrowed a consignment lens and was getting surprisingly tack sharp photos with the lens on another one of my camera bodies.

Moral of the story: trust that your skill set is good. If I knew how to get a sharp photo two years ago, then I certainly should have been getting a sharp photo a year later.

Thankfully the lens could be repaired. And several photos from last year have actually been published, including this one of a brown bear cub with his mom. Depending on my composition the blurry edges could actually give a unique look to the camera. The unfortunate part was that I lost many great shots on many great trips, including two to Alaska, one to Yellowstone and one to Bosque among dozens of photo outings in Colorado.

If I had trusted my instincts when the problem first appeared, I would not be clamoring to get back to Alaska to get those shots again. But whose complaining about returning to Alaska? Certainly not I!

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado animal animals blurry broke camera composition fix landscape landscapes nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography repair sharp soft tack sharp tips tips for nature photographers travel trust wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/5/tip-62-it-really-might-be-your-camera Sat, 02 May 2015 03:53:07 GMT
Tip #61: Always Have Your Camera https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/4/tip-61-always-carry-your-camera Always. Never forget it. Absolute must. Sloans Lake at Sunrise 3Sloans Lake at Sunrise 3Sunrise over the Denver skyline reflecting into Sloan's Lake.

You just never know what you might see on the way to the grocery store or the mall or to work. Or even what you might see while out shooting but traveling from one location to the next.

 Colorado has some stunning sunrises, especially on days after storms or a day where a storm might roll in later. I am often amazed at the variety of colors in clouds in the early morning or as I head home in the late afternoon.

This shot of sunrise over Denver was taken on my way to photograph birds at this lake. Wolf_4Wolf_4Leader of the pack, alpha female 832F or better known to her admierers as 06 for the year she was born.

I shoot a lot - every day if I can. Sometimes that may mean an all day photo outing or just a couple of quick photos on my way to an appointment. But I always keep a camera handy rather than in my bag because you just never know what might cross your path.

Squirrel_and_hummingbird_3Squirrel_and_hummingbird_3A hummingbird attacks a squirrel, who seemed to be minding her own business as the hummingbird dives and flys off in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

I have had encounters with wildlife crossing the road, such as when the famous 06 alpha female wolf of the Lamar Canyon Pack crossed my path in Yellowstone National Park. She is no longer with us, which makes the photo that much more special. Even though I was traveling along the road to another destination, I had my camera ready and was able to capture a series of photos.

Or the time I had a hummingbird attacking a squirrel next to the road as I drove up to Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Having a camera ready is a lot easier today. Each time I go out I actually have five cameras with me - my three professional bodies plus an iPhone and an iPad. Phones on mobile devices have also improved dramatically and you capture some stunning shots with those devices as well so that you don't miss the moment.

One afternoon while waiting for a friend for coffee in Fort Collins, Colo. I snapped a shot of the colorful sky above the iconic Northern Hotel with my iPhone. I edited on the spot with SnapSeed. 

So never leave home without it - your camera that is!  Northern_Hotel_SunsetNorthern_Hotel_SunsetThe sky lights up in shades of pink, blue and purple at sunset above the Northern Hotel in Fort Collins, Colo.

 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado Fort Collins Rocky Mountain National Park SnapSeed Yellowstone National Park animal animals camera carry edit on the fly goal have landscape landscapes missed moments nature nature photography never leave home without it opportunities photo photograph photographer photographers photography squirrel tips tips for nature photographers travel weather wildlife with you https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/4/tip-61-always-carry-your-camera Fri, 24 Apr 2015 12:58:16 GMT
Tip #60: Silence is Golden https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/4/tip-60-silence-is-golden Grizzly_bear_3Grizzly_bear_3Stock photo of a grizzly bear standing on his hind legs in a snowy meadow in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. I am certified as a Leave No Trace instructor. The 7th principle is Be Considerate of Other Visitors. Among other concepts this includes being quiet or keeping noise levels to a minimum when in nature. Remember, we are visitors in the world of wildlife and Mother Nature when we venture into the outdoors.

When photographing wildlife, it is important to reduce your disturbance to the animal. These types of photos will actually make better shots for you as you capture the animal doing their normal activities, such as looking for food, feeding babies or looking for a mate.

Most if not all wildlife photographers - myself included - have at one time or another used a call or clucked or whistled to get the attention of an animal. In many cases, a better photo will be when the animal looks directly at the camera. But in reality, the best way to do this is to just be patient.

I have actually found that many animals will just ignore you or all you will get is a flattening of the ears, a trait you do not want in a photo as it shows the animal annoyed or in distress. Photos of animals should show the subject calm, natural and at ease. Their body language communicates this.

This photo of a grizzly bear is an example of what happens when an animal is disturbed by human activity.

I was in Yellowstone National Park talking with another photographer when this grizzly bear walked into a sage meadow. We started photographing the bear as he dug in the snow and mud looking for grubs.

He was minding his own business when two vans full of tourists pulled up. More than a dozen tourists started pouring out of the vans, cameras in hand and squeals coming out of each person as a reaction to their excitement of seeing a grizzly.

The bear immediately stood up on his hind end to see what this annoying noise was. Not only did the squealing disrupt the quietness of the outdoors but it caused the bear to change his behavior. As soon as he stood up the tourists yelled, ran back to the van and drove off.

Although the other photographer and I continued to photograph the scene, the bear clearly was looking in a different direction. The photo tells a story, which is ultimately what any photo should do but not at the expense of the animal's energy or safety.

So remember when you are outdoors, there are many living things, including other people, that will be disturbed by noisy visitors. You may be breaking the serenity of the person snowshoeing as they seek peace and quiet from their hectic life. You may cause a photographer, who is working at making a living in the outdoors, to lose an opportunity to photograph animals doing normal activities. Or you may be disturbing a very large grizzly bear wondering what you are doing.

Stay safe out there and enjoy the solitude and serenity of what Mother Nature has created.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado Leave No Trace Yellowstone National Park animal animals bear disruption disturb enjoy grizzly grizzly bear nature nature photography outdoors peace photo photograph photographer photographers photography quiet silence solitude standing tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/4/tip-60-silence-is-golden Mon, 20 Apr 2015 12:37:38 GMT
Tip #59: Trust Your Instincts https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/4/tip-59-trust-your-instincts White-tailed_deer_buck_18White-tailed_deer_buck_18A white-tailed deer buck (Odocoileus virginianus) runs through a snowy field of grasses during a fall snow storm at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in Commerce City, Colorado I frequently tell attendees in my workshops and presentations that the best thing you can do to get the action you want when photographing wildlife is to be patient, wait and trust your instincts.
 

When we see an animal, we want to chase them, follow them to wherever they might be going.
 

But my recommendation is to observe and watch what the animal wants to do. Is it during the rut so that the white-tail bucks will follow the does? Is it shortly after burrowing owls have arrived back to the area and are getting ready to mate? Is it the peak of the summer months when the bison are hoping to escape the heat of the hot sun?
 

A buck will always follow the does during the rut. The burrowing owls will always pick a favorite burrow where they will fly in to copulate and spend time with their mate. Bison will typically want to escape the hot summer sun by retreating to the shade or to water.
 

Understanding what goals an animal has will help you know where they will be going.
 

Just before taking this photo of a white-tailed buck, three does had crossed the road in front of me. My initial thought, lead by my trigger finger, was to follow the does and see where they might be going. But my instinct reminded me that it was the middle of the rut season in Colorado; a buck had to be nearby. So I patiently waited in my car near the spot where the does crossed the road. And sure enough, here came the buck, galloping through the grasses and sage in hot pursuit of his girls.
 

So trust your instincts that something more might be happening. Read the situation and don't listen to that happy trigger finger.
 

 

 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado animal anticipate instincts nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography react think tips tips for nature photographers trigger finger trust wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/4/tip-59-trust-your-instincts Thu, 16 Apr 2015 00:42:41 GMT
Tip #58: Creativity with Key Words https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/4/tip-58-creativity-with-key-words Burrowing_owls_2015_6Burrowing_owls_2015_6A burrowing owl (Speotyto cunicularia) holds onto the neck of the female owl during copulation on a spring afternoon near Greeley, Colorado Key words are an important part of getting your photos selected in magazines and sold to folks looking for something in particular. Although not everyone wants to sell their photos, most still enjoy a few extra bucks in their pocket from their passion.

A key word is a word or phrase that helps identify and describe the content of your photo. These words, which are used by search engines such as Google and image sites such as flickr and Photoshelter, help narrow down a search for a photo on a particular subject. The content for key words is entered into the metadata of your file prior to exporting or saving the file in software applications such as Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. Key words can also be added into description areas on a photo storage site, such as on Zenfolio.
 

All of my photos get key words added to the file when I import the photos from the memory card to Lightroom. These include very general words and phrases that I include on every photo, such as United States, U.S., nature and environment. Being a photographer that specializes in wildlife of the Rocky Mountains and Alaska I find that 95% of my photos will be correctly identified with these terms. I save myself a few minutes of extra time by doing this on import.
 

Once I edit a photo, I apply a standard set of key words. Every edited photo gets the following keywords: locations where photo was taken (state, nearest town, facility such as a refuge name, etc.), horizontal or vertical, which direction the animal is looking, if it is a landscape or wildlife shot, if it is in color or black and white, the common and Latin names of the animals (if applicable), ecosystem of photo (ie., mountains, prairie) and prominent colors in the photo.
 

From there, however, the sky is the limit. What is the animal doing? Does the activity remind you of anything people do? Is the animal dancing, kissing or smiling? Is there an emotion being evoked?
 

Many photos portray animals in anthropomorphic situations. These human traits should be noted and even looked for in a photo. This photo is an example of a very obvious correlation to a human activity. The male burrowing owl (in the back) just flew in to copulate with the female owl in the front. But the feeling is a more intimate, sentimental representation of owls kissing. He looks like he is hugging her and kissing her on the cheek. She looks like she is smiling and enjoying the kiss. In reality, owls don't kiss in the sense people do. But the feelings are there and every term associated with that should be linked to this photo. Such terms would include love, kiss, intimate, affection, like, infatuation, Valentine's Day, sentimental, fondness, amore, adore, etc.
 

And of course these are just the ideas I have. Each person will see their own associations with a photo and may get more creative or more literal (think dirt, grass, rocks, etc) for a photo.
 

Have fun with it, and definitely put that thesaurus to use!
 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Lightroom Photoshelter Photoshop Zenfolio affection animals burrowing owls flickr fondness google key words landscapes love nature nature photography photo photography tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/4/tip-58-creativity-with-key-words Tue, 14 Apr 2015 21:41:06 GMT
Tip #57: Reset Your Settings https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/4/tip-57-reset-your-settings I don't know how many times I have done this but it is more than I should and enough that I shouldn't still do it on occasion. I am talking about shooting at night or shooting a landscape and then forgetting to update to the proper settings for my next shoot.
 

Dream_Lake_sunrise_1Dream_Lake_sunrise_1Clouds light up in orange and pink hues at sunset above Dream Lake and Hallett Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado Here's an example. One summer I went to Rocky Mountain National Park to photograph the Milky Way and nightscapes. I was out until maybe 1 a.m. when I finally went to the campground for a few hours of sleep. I had plans to get up early to hike up to Dream Lake before sunrise to capture the first rays of light on Hallett Peak.
 

This is a frequently photographed location but clearing clouds and a calm lake for reflections can be a rare event. I was thrilled when I arrived at the lake in plenty of time to set up before sunrise to see perfect clouds above Hallett Peak and a perfect reflection in the calm waters of Dream Lake.
 

 I picked a spot, set up my tripod and waited for one of the most beautiful sunrises I have ever seen in Colorado. The pink tones of the first rays of light filled the peak with color and the clouds turned into stunning shades of purple.
 

Fifteen minutes AFTER sunrise, just as the clouds started to lose their best light, I realized I was still shooting at the high ISO I use for night skies - ISO 1600.
Dream_Lake_sunrise_3Dream_Lake_sunrise_3Early morning light illuminates Hallett Peak above Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Par, Colorado

I quickly changed to a more appropriate ISO setting - ISO 100 - but the moment was lost.
 

This image of Dream Lake is still a favorite of mine but more because it brings out the memory of that beautiful morning. The image unfortunately  loses some of its sharpness as I reduce the noise from shooting it at an ISO of 1600.
 

I will be sure to hike up many more times to Dream Lake for sunrise but next time I will definitely make sure I am set up properly for landscape photos. (And maybe a little more sleep to help me think clearly!)
 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado camera composition landscape nature nature photography photo photographer photography settings tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/4/tip-57-reset-your-settings Tue, 14 Apr 2015 02:56:35 GMT
Hanging with Goats - Part II https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/3/hiking-with-goats---part-ii Hanging with Goats - Part II

Mountain_goat_5Mountain_goat_5Stock photo of a mountain goat standing at attention on a mound of grass with a snowy background on Mount Evans in Colorado. After my previous post last month about hiking up Quandary Peak to photograph mountain goats in the winter, I had quite a few questions and requests about the goats, including requests to see more photographs. So here are a few more thoughts about how to capture stunning photos of mountain goats.

When I photograph an animal that lives in a unique destination, like high above treeline in the alpine tundra of the Rocky Mountains, I focus on taking three types of photos: portraits, interactions and environmental.

For mountain goats, I do this with just one camera body and one lens. The hike is long and rises into high elevations. Carrying a lot of heavy gear just weighs you down and slows you down (or I may need to work on getting in better shape or hiring a sherpa).

If the day is sunny, and expected to stay nice, I bring my Nikon D800 with the Nikon 70-300mm lens. This body allows me to get large files to produce large prints because of its 36 mp resolution. The camera is also quite a bit lighter (2 lb 3 oz) than my other camera bodies. I do not feel, however, that this camera is good in low light. Its amazing resolution provides wonderful detail in the photos but processing is slow to save all those pixels. This makes it a great camera for slower moving animals, like mountain goats that mostly just stand and eat and sleep. Mountain_goat_32Mountain_goat_32A mountain goat nanny (Oreamnos americanus) gives her lamb a little nudge on the nose on top of Quandary Peak near Breckenridge, Colorado

If the weather will get cloudy or start snowing, I will revert to my more typical wildlife camera bodies - the Nikon D4s and D3s, which have faster frames per second rates and better high ISO capabilities for lower light but are a bit heavier.

For hiking the 70-300mm lens is ideal. It is compact, durable and light weight at only 26.3 oz. Although I do not encourage moving in too close to the mountain goats - those horns look way too sharp for me to test the theory that they would hurt - mountain goats don't move very fast nor do they go very far. If anything, the goats may move towards you if you are quiet and still. This lens gives you an ideal range for an animal that tends to not venture too far from you.

Mountain_goat_24Mountain_goat_24An adult mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus) looks at the camera while standing in a meadow on Mount Evans, Colorado. 1. Portraits: These are the intimate, close-up shots of the animals. The photo should capture a mood, an emotion or the beauty of the animal, just like a portrait would of a person. The best settings are wide open apertures (f4-f7.1 range) to really soften the distant background and provide enough depth in the face to get detail in the eye, nose and mouth. Using your light meter, adjust the shutter speed to allow enough light into the camera for the current conditions. Aperture priority or manual mode works in this situation. And don't forget to check the histogram to make sure you don't blow out the detail in that white coat.

2. Interactions: Mountain goats are beautiful animals with big, furry, white coats, but when it comes to interactions they don't do a whole lot. The winter and spring are probably their two most mellow seasons when they are purely surviving the seasons of cold and snow. This means they will move around to find food, paw at the ground to release lichens and minerals from below the snow, and create shallow depressions in the snow and dirt to use as beds for naps. On occassion you may see a bossy and possessive goat tell another through a little false charge that the feeding area is taken. In the summer, the best interactions come from mother and lamb and between lambs. The lambs, born between mid-May and mid-June, are adorable little balls of white fluffy fur. They make the cutest little cries when Mountain_Goat_13Mountain_Goat_13Stock photo of a mother mountain goat with her yearlying kid high on the top of Mount Evans with a few clouds in the sky behind them on a sunny day in Colorado. seeking out mom and play pretty hard for short periods of time with other lambs. Fall can also be a good season for interaction during the rut season, which lasts November through December. Although not as obvious as the elk bugle or the bighorn ram head butting, the male goats will still make efforts to fend off other male goats that could lead to some interesting interaction shots. A fast shutter speed is priority in this situation to stop the action, so shooting in manual mode or shutter priority would be important. My preference is manual mode to keep the aperture open (f4 to f8) to get nice depth of field while obtaining a fast shutter speed to stop the action. Adjusting the ISO levels can help attain these two settings.

3. Environmental: Lately these have been my favorite photos to capture. This style of photo is a combination of landscape and wildlife, and I think one of the hardest photos to effectively capture. Although it may seem like an easy opportunity to compose the shot with the animal as your focual point and then a scenic background, it really is much more involved. The best environmental shots can almost be a landscape photo on its own; the wildlife in the photo brings life to the scene. And the rules guidelines for photographing wildlife still apply - avoid butt shots, tack sharp eyes, looking at the camera, etc. Since I love the feeling when I stand on top of a peak and seeing the vast sea of peaks surrounding me, adding a mountain goat to that scene completely evokes the majestic scenery of the Rocky Mountains. Add in some beautiful skies at sunset and you have a pretty sweet shot. Since this is primarily a landscape shot, you will want a large depth of field so stop down the aperture to f11 to f16 to get the detail in the background. I completely shoot in manual mode in this situation because I typically am working on evoking a particular sense of the light and scene. I also play around with the settings and see which I like later in post-processing. Shooting with the 70-300mm lens at 300mm will compress the scene a bit and bring those distant mountains in a little closer. Shooting that shot at f7.1 or f8 may soften those distant backgrounds to give a sense of place while keeping it vague to bring focus to your animal. Mountain_Goat_37Mountain_Goat_37A mountain goat (Oreamnous americanus) stands on a snowy ridge and looks down the valley on Quandary Peak in White River National Forest near Breckenridge, Colorado

As we head into spring and summer, the roads to the high country in Colorado will be opening up access to the alpine tundra of Rocky Mountain National Park, Mt Evans and Pikes Peak. As I always do this time of year, I am counting down the days to when I can spend ALL my days in the high country with the wildlife in the high alpine tundra surrounded by mountain peaks and colorful wildflowers.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado Quandary Peak Rocky Mountains animal composition landscapes mountain goats nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photography tips tips for nature photographers wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/3/hiking-with-goats---part-ii Tue, 24 Mar 2015 20:44:22 GMT
Traveling with Bears https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/3/traveling-with-bears Traveling with bears

Black_Bear_2Black_Bear_2Black bear sow checking out the surroudings to protect her cubs, who are in the bushes at her feet. Taken in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado. North America has three types of bears: polar, brown and black. I have had many wonderful opportunities to spend time with all three - the black bear sow with her two adorable little cubs that were taking a morning stroll in Mesa Verde National Park (surprisingly, the only black bears I have photographed in my home state of Colorado); the curious, large white bears of the Arctic that seem to worry more about playing than the changes happening in their climate; and the beautiful brown bears of Alaska.

Photographing the brown bears (Ursus arctos) has really peaked my interest. Over the last few years I have spent many days and hours photographing them as they eat, play, sleep and raise their young.

There are a few subspecies of brown bears (coastal, Kodiak, grizzly) depending on a few factors, including the region they live, but they are all related.

Polar_bear_8Polar_bear_8A young polar bear (Ursus maritimus) sits in the snow on a barren landscape on Barter Island near the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska The grizzly bear is a brown bear that is smaller and lives in a few northern states in the continental U.S., interior Alaska, and southern Canada. These are the brown bears visitors to Yellowstone National Park will see. They are smaller due to their diet of moths, seeds, roots, and the occasional carcass of elk, deer, or bison.

Kodiak and coastal brown bears are very similar, but Kodiak brown bears are considered the largest Ursus arctos. Both can be extremely large - weighing up to 1,400 lbs - and live along the coastal habitats of Alaska and western Canada, with Kodiak bears being unique to the Kodiak Archipelago in Alaska. Their size is often attributed to their abundant diet of fish.

The coastal brown bears are the bears I have spent the most time with in the last couple of years, including being as close as 15 steps from one very curious three-year old bear.

Brown_bear_walking_9Brown_bear_walking_9A sub-adult brown bear walks through a sedge meadow near Hallo Bay in Katmai National Park, Alaska. Photographing them is an extremely fun activity that yields wonderful results to remember for a lifetime.

The most important thing to think about when planning a bear photo trip is to select the season. Brown bears come out of hibernation in early spring and are hungry after sleeping through the winter. These first few weeks out of hibernation will keep bears busy foraging for food.

As the weeks roll into May, brown bears will enter their mating season, which typically lasts through June. Males will find a female in heat and follow her around for several days to a couple of weeks. The females are not always responsive, and the interaction can be interesting to photograph.

June brings warmer days and wildflowers start to bloom in Alaska. Sedge meadows start producing food for bears and clamming becomes a popular yet necessary means for food. It is amazing to watch a large brown bear use their large claws to pry open a clam shell only inches long and scoop out the tasty morsel in the mud flats at low tide. Newborn cubs also start making appearances but wary mothers keep their eyes on the little cubs of the year to protect them from their biggest enemy, male brown bears.

In July and August, salmon by the thousands swim upstream to spawn throughout coastal Alaska. This smorgasbord of food attracts bears by the dozens to fishing holes full of the tasty fish. These congregations of bears can be full of activity at low tide when spotting salmon are easier for bears. Fights break out over fish, hungry bears tear open large salmon, and cubs eagerly learn the art of fishing.

As the summer winds down September brings an urgency to bulk up for the winter. Bears will move in search of berries as the leaves move through the phases of fall colors. Brown_Bear_HB_11Brown_Bear_HB_11A large male brown bear fishes in a creek near Hallo Bay in Katmai National Park, Alaska

By October, brown bears are preparing their dens for a long winters nap.

Check back in the coming weeks for tips and techniques about how to successfully photograph brown bears in various seasons.

If interested in photographing brown bears in coastal Alaska, join professional and award-winning wildlife photographers Dan Walters and Dawn Wilson for the brown bear photo workshop in June 2015.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Alaska bear brown bear nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photography tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife workshop https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/3/traveling-with-bears Mon, 16 Mar 2015 03:05:28 GMT
Hanging with the Goats - Part I https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/2/hanging-with-the-goats Hanging with the Goats

Mountain_Goat_35Mountain_Goat_35A mountain goat (Oreamous americanus) stands on a snowy ridge with the wind whipping through his hair on Quandary Peak in White River National Forest near Breckenridge, Colorado As a wildlife photographer who specializes in wildlife of high latitudes and high altitudes, I enjoy photographing mountain goats. They have an unbelievable ability to survive in a cold, harsh, unforgiving environment at or above treeline.

Although I have photographed mountain goats a lot, I had never photographed them in the winter. Most of the locations I know where to find them in Colorado are inaccessible in winter because of the closure of roads or trail heads or both. Where do the goats go when the temperatures drop and snow levels increase? Do they stay at 14,000 feet? Do they come down into the trees to be protected from the strong winds of high altitude? What do they eat? How do the babies survive? How thick do their coats get? What is their rut season like? Do the males fight each other? Do the mountain goats gather in large numbers in winter and during the rut?

These were just a few of the questions I had about my white, furry friends of the high country.

In 2013, I started a new project of climbing 14ers - the peaks in Colorado that rise to or above 14,000 feet. Now I don't know if I will ever climb all of the 50-plus 14ers in Colorado (I have "bagged" 6 so far), but I hope to see over the peak of a good chunk of them. As someone who loves the high country, the endless views I am awarded standing on top of these peaks, and the wildlife I encounter along the way, brings me peace and happiness. And mountain goats live on some of these peaks. Mountain_Goat_39Mountain_Goat_39A herd of mountain goats (Oreamnous americanus) walks up through the saddle just below Quandary Peak in the White River National Forest near Breckenridge, Colorado

In late summer 2014 I was reading a few posts on a facebook group about the 14ers in Colorado. One particular comment caught my eye - a hiker mentioned seeing mountain goats on Quandary Peak near Breckenridge, Colorado. So I quickly added it to my list of 14ers to climb and reached its summit just a few weeks  later. And I too saw the mountain goats along the way - at about 12,000 feet. Mountain_Goat_44Mountain_Goat_44A yearling mountain goat (Oreamnous americanus) walks over a rocky ridge towards the camera on Quandary Peak in White River National Forest near Breckenridge, Colorado

This 14er is unique because it is one of the few where the parking lot for the trail head sits next to a state highway that is plowed all winter. I had found my mountain to photograph mountain goats in the winter.

To see the mountain goat rut activity, which is typically mid-November to mid-December, I hiked up one November afternoon and found the goats at about the same elevation I saw them in the summer. There wasn't much rut activity, and I later found out that I was a little early for the rutting season. There also wasn't much snow, but that changed over the next few weeks.

Since I was a newbie to climbing 14ers in winter, I was a little hesitant to climb a snow-covered mountain. I am not well versed in reading snow for avalanche dangers or knowing how to self-arrest should I slip and fall. But the more I read about Quandary Peak, the more I realized this was a pretty frequently climbed mountain in winter.

So I picked a warm, winter day in February to climb it again to find the goats in their thick winter coats on Quandary Peak in the White River National Forest.

The day I went - February 13, 2015 - had a predicted high of almost 60 degrees in Breckenridge, the closest town to Quandary Peak, and a forecast of full sun. It was a gorgeous day. I headed up about 1 p.m. with my winter coat tied around my waist.  I was sure I would need it eventually as I reached the top but for now a shirt and fleece was more than enough warmth.

The previous two times I saw the goats was at about 12,000 feet. From the trail head this took me about two hours to climb. This would put me at the goats right about 3 p.m., just in time for the gorgeous, warm afternoon light.

Well, animals will do what animals want to do. And I didn't know what to expect in regards to what or where goats went in winter.

I ran into eight people on the trail that afternoon. The first two guys and their dog told me they had not seen any goats but they only went up to treeline. The second couple with their two dogs told me they saw 20 goats at the last ridge before the push up to the summit of Quandary. A single female hiker didn't say much of anything. The next couple said they saw 19 goats at the same ridge as the previous couple. And a single female backcountry skier with her herding dog said there were about 50 goats in the saddle just below the summit.

Mountain_Goat_45Mountain_Goat_45a mountain goat (Oreamnous americanus) walks over a rocky ridge against the backdrop of the distant mountains on Quandary Peak in White River National Forest near Breckenridge, Colorado This news gave me mixed feelings. I was elated to hear there were possibly 50 goats. I had never seen more than maybe two dozen at one time. But this saddle was at about 13,200 feet. That was at least another hour up the trail and I would be fighting getting there to have enough time to photograph the goats before the shadows started moving down the mountain.

So I pushed on. But my body fights me at this elevation - no matter how much climbing I do - and I had to take it slow. I made it to the saddle at about 4:15 p.m. where I was greeted by my first goat. I snapped as many photos as I could as quickly as possible - verticals, horizontals, close ups, wide angles. The light was gorgeous but the wind was strong. I don't carry a tripod with me to these elevations so I make sure I bump up my ISO as high as I am comfortable doing without creating noise in the files but to get as fast a shutter speed as possible. Photographing white animals on a snowy landscape against mountains starting to fall into shadows can also be tricky to not blow out the white in the fur and snow while still getting detail in those mountains.

A second goat came over the ridge, and a third. I kept capturing photos. I peeked over the ridge. The shadows had already descended into the high valley below, but I could clearly make out 30 mountain goats. I kept snapping.

I had about 30 minutes of nice light and took 273 photos. It is a good thing mountain goats don't do too much that is different - lick some rocks, walk along a ridge, butt heads every once in a while if another goat gets too close, dig a little in the snow. But I had many of my answers. And I also now know that the next time I need to leave earlier just in case those goats are higher. Apparently mountain goats don't come down to lower elevations in winter like many other ungulates such as bighorn and elk - or at least not on this day. If anything they went higher where the winds were exposing the lichens, rocks and grassy remnants on the high ridges. Mountain_Goat_41Mountain_Goat_41A mountain goat (Oreamnous americanus) stands on a snowy ridge and looks at the camera on Quandary Peak in White River National Forest near Breckenridge, Colorado

Any photographer will tell you morning and afternoon light is best. It is warm, soft, colorful and lacks the contrast of highlights and shadows found in the middle of the day. I have only - so far - climbed one mountain before sunrise to get that morning light so if I want the nice light I climb in the afternoon and then hike down in the fading light. Often I can be back at my car before it is really dark because the hike down takes half the time as the hike up (and I always carry a headlamp and enough food and water in case I get stuck out in the dark). But it limits me on how much time I can have to photograph wildlife once I do find them. That was the case with these mountain goats.

So I will be back up there to photograph these white, furry beauties in the snow on the windy ridges of Quandary Peak this winter and winters to come. I still have the question: where do the pikas go in the winter? But I will save that for another hike and another post.

Feel free to email me at [email protected] with any questions about photographing wildlife at high elevations.

 

 

 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Quandary Peak goats high country mountain goats mountains nature nature photography photo photograph photography tips tips for nature photographers wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/2/hanging-with-the-goats Sun, 15 Feb 2015 06:42:32 GMT
Creating the snow goose composite https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2014/12/creating-the-snow-goose-composite Creating the flight pattern of a snow goose

Snow_Goose_Flight_Sequence_1Snow Goose Flight Sequence 1A composite of four images showing the flight pattern of a snow goose (Chen caerulescens) at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge near Socorro, New Mexico. Photographing birds in flight is one of the most fun subjects in wildlife photography. It really challenges your ability to focus, know your camera and understand the behavior of birds.

One technique I had wanted to try was to show the flight pattern of a single bird in a single panoramic photo. Several years ago, I had first seen this technique, called a motion panoramic, done in a panoramic photo of a hot air balloon in flight as it dipped into a lake. The same photographer also showed the technique applied to birds in flight.

Now a snow goose is a lot smaller than a hot air balloon, and a lot more erratic in its flight pattern. But there are a lot of snow geese to photograph at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in the winter so I took many, many flight shots and went through them in Lightroom to find a series that would work. Here is the process I followed in Lightroom and Photoshop to create this image.

First I needed to find a sequence of images where the goose did not overlap in each frame. The two middle frames of the flight pattern were pretty close but I include below how I corrected for that issue. In most cases, you would use every other shot of the bird if photographing at eight frames a second to avoid the overlap. The sequence also needs to have some identifying background so Photoshop can find common pieces to each image. It is best to overlap images by at least 20% to merge them in Photoshop.

This shot of the snow geese was photographed with a Nikon D3s, which shoots at 9 fps in FX mode. Snow geese must move pretty quickly because I used four sequential images (not the every other one mentioned above).

First, I edited the first image in the sequence in Lightroom using my presets, cropped the image, and adjusted white balance, contrast, highlights, shadows, whites, clarity, vibrance, saturation, and selective adjustments to saturation and luminance of the mountains, bills and feet. When one image was complete, I hit Copy to copy all of the adjustments (except crop) and then applied that to the other three images in the sequence by selecting the Paste button. These three images were then cropped in a similar fashion to focus on the bird without cropping out the overlapping areas for merging the files in Photoshop. I exported them to one folder titled Sequence Flight Source Files in my Bosque folder.

Next, in Photoshop, I selected File - Automate - Photomerge. In the pop-up window, I left Auto checked on the left side, selected the Browse button and opened the folder of the source files. Below the file box, I checked the box Blend Images Together but left the other two blank. Then selected OK to let Photoshop do its magic.

The processed image takes a few minutes to create. Photoshop will open on image and then create layers of the other images in the sequence.

When Photoshop was finished with the processing, only two of the geese were included in the pano file and there were some areas on the outer edges that were blank where the photos did not overlap because the goose was flying in a downward motion.

First, I added in the other two geese by opening the files with the missing geese, putting an elliptical marquee around the goose, copying the selection and then pasting it in the pano file. I dragged the selection around until the edges of the selection exactly matched up to the background. I repeated for the second goose.

The second and third flight movements were pretty close to each other, and the selection I pasted in of the third movement cut off the beak and wings of the second movement. By selecting the layer with the third movement, I could use the eraser tool to remove the background of the top layer to reveal the beak and wings on the layer below.

I then flattened the layers.

Second, I had to take care of the blank areas. Easiest was to crop off the outer edges without removing any of the important parts of the photo. There was one corner that remained that was blank. Using the Magic Wand Tool, I selected that area, hit Shift - F5 (PC) to open the Fill dialog box. In the drop-down, I selected Content Aware with Dissolve and 100% Opacity in the other boxes. Hit OK. There were a few pixels I had to manually clone out to fix the edge of the selection.

At that point, I just finished up the image with some spot removal, noise reduction and sharpening.

I hope you have some fun trying this technique on your own images. I can see a lot of fun possibilities with this - running horses, eagles in flight, or dog chasing a ball.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge Lightroom New Mexico Photoshop Socorro bird birds in flight flight fly goose motion motion panoramic nature panoramic photo photography tips tips for nature photographers https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2014/12/creating-the-snow-goose-composite Tue, 16 Dec 2014 17:13:19 GMT
Finding Swans https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2014/12/finding-swans Trumpeter_Swan_IP_1Trumpeter_Swan_IP_1A family of trumpeter swans (Cygnus buccinator) take off from the Henry's Fork River near Island Park, Idaho On my recent trip to Wyoming, one of my goals was to get some new flight photos of trumpeter swans. Although some swans will nest in the Yellowstone Ecosystem during the summer, a large number of these beautiful swans travel from much farther north to winter in the open waters around Yellowstone. Many of the rivers and ponds in the Yellowstone Ecosystem stay free of ice because of the abundance of hot springs in the area.

A few years back I decided to take the western route to get into Yellowstone in the winter. Because all of the entrances to Yellowstone are closed in winter, except the north entrance near Gardiner, Montana, any trip into the park can be a long one, and dangerous depending on what the weather decides to do.

The western route starts in Jackson, Wyoming, then over Teton Pass (not for the faint of heart), down into Driggs, Idaho, up past the West Yellowstone entrance and then on to Bozeman, Montana to finally loop back down into Livingston and then Gardiner. It is a beautiful drive weaving through open farm fields and thick forests of the Targhee and Gallatin National Forests.

On that trip I just happened to time it right when I drove through the small town of Island Park, Idaho and found dozens of trumpeter swans along the Henry's Fork River. But I was on a mission to get to Gardiner before dark, and had lost a lot of time due to a storm causing white-out conditions near Ashcroft, Idaho so I couldn't stay to photograph the birds. I vowed to come back.

Last year I planned a trip to Island Park only to find out I missed the birds by about a week so I canceled the trip.

So this year I tried again. I found lots of swans but I may have been a little early - there was still a lot of ice-free water so the birds were pretty scattered. But I did manage to find a few cooperative birds - adults and cygnets - willing to pose for some take-off shots.

So, as with all nature photography, weather plays a big part, timing is important but can't be controlled, and you have to make the most of the situation presented to you - and have good snow tires :)

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Idaho Island Park Wyoming Yellowstone Yellowstone Ecosystem bird birds composition cygnet family flight fly nature nature photography photo photographers photography swan swans tips travel trumpeter swan weather wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2014/12/finding-swans Fri, 12 Dec 2014 16:52:24 GMT
Hiking with the Bighorns https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2014/6/hiking-with-the-bighorns Bighorn_ram_86Bighorn_ram_86A bighorn ram (Ovis canadensis) stands on a rocky ridge in the high country of Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming Just returned from a lengthy trip through Colorado, Wyoming and Montana to photograph spring aspens, wildlife babies and meadows of wildflowers. I found it very interesting that I ran into more people that I know on my travels in Colorado and in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks - including my roommate from my trip to Churchill last fall!! - than I do in the town where I live in Colorado. That to me was very eyeopening that I am finally following a professional career that I love and in the places that I love the most. It felt great to be working outdoors, seeing friends, and meeting new people who share the same passions as me.

A friend asked me this week what was the most memorable moment from the trip. I thought that would be hard to answer as it was a trip filled with many wonderful sights and experiences, but one experience popped into my head right away.

I was working on a shot list for a magazine while traveling. On that list from the editor was a request for photos of bighorn sheep. No problem. I know of lots of places to photograph bighorns - but in the fall when they hang out in lower elevations. So I was on a mission to find them at higher elevations.

Bighorn sheep like several places in Yellowstone National Park. I was having some pretty good luck with these locations but only ewes and lambs from last year were using the areas. I was in search of rams.

While watching some wolves one morning, someone pointed out that a large herd of rams were resting on the nearby ridge - about 2000 feet up.

Now I do most of my traveling by myself. That usually means I don't venture too far from the road on hikes. In Yellowstone especially, the terrain can be rough and the bears can have some fun with you. But over the years I have yearned to venture into the backcountry of Yellowstone - to see what is over that next ridge and what wildlife might be just out of view of the road. So I decided that seeing those rams high up on the ridge was goal enough to get me past my fears of hiking alone.

So I bought my bear spray, loaded up on Cliff bars, memory cards and camera batteries, and off I went. Of course the day I decide to Bighorn_ram_94Bighorn_ram_94Two bighorn sheep rams (Ovis canadensis) fight with each other as two other rams join in the fun on a snowy slope in the high country of Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. hike up to see the rams they were no where to be seen on the ridge. Oh well, I wanted to see what was on the ridge anyway.

It was a burner of a hike - in the calves on the way up and the knees on the way down. Although it wasn't a long hike, it was steep. And there were several spots where there were false ridges - points where you think you have reached the top only to discover that another ridge lies ahead of you.

But it was worth it because when I neared the peak, I discovered what was occupying the rams' attention - a field of snow!

There were about 20 bighorn sheep. Five of the group were ewes and lambs from last year, and where hanging out to the side. There was a group of about five three to four-year-old rams who were still showing signs of their young age by bouncing through the snow like kids on the first snow day of the school year. But the rest of the group were older rams with huge curls and massive muscles.

At first I thought only the younger rams were enjoying the snow, but as I watched I realized that the young rams would charge towards the older group, who would then charge back and chase the younger rams. The snow went flying, heads went butting and horns were cracking. They were having a grand old time!

This went on for about an hour. And I was the only one to witness it. The time spent with those sheep was so peaceful, rewarding and entertaining. For those who have been to Yellowstone, you know how the crowds can get very, well crowded, along the roads. I avoid the park in July and August, and am seriously considering adding June to that list, but discovering the rams has taught me that Yellowstone is a very big place beyond those miles of roadway along the Grand Loop Road. I will get out there more frequently into the backcountry to experience those unique moments with the wildlife and the landscape.

Bighorn_sheep_106Bighorn_sheep_106A group of bighorn sheep rams (Ovis canadensis) chase two instigating young rams on a snowy slope in the high country of Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) National Park Wyoming Yellowstone bighorn hiking national parks photography rams sheep travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2014/6/hiking-with-the-bighorns Fri, 13 Jun 2014 21:16:33 GMT
Tip #56: Isolate Your Subject https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2014/1/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-56 Tip #56: Isolate Your Subject

Keep it clean. Avoid distractions. Isolate your subject. Tighten up the shot. Keep it simple.

There are a number of ways to say it but they all mean the same thing: keep that photo free of distractions by isolating your subject in the image. This may mean zooming in tighter or changing up the background so that there are no distractions to move a viewer's eye away from the main subject. This will make the subject really stand out and clearly communicate a story.

Growing up I had a friend that always told me a great acronym for a variety of situations: K.I.S.S. It stands for Keep It Simple Stupid. It applies well for this tip.

Another more famous variation on the same theme is the quote from novelist Henry James, who said, "In art, economy is always best."

So when composing your picture - ideally when taking the photo to avoid loss of pixels rather than cropping in post-processing - avoid too much in your shot.

There are lots of ways to do this - from zooming in to physically moving closer to your subject to changing the camera settings for shallow depth of field - but which way you choose will depend on the story you want to tell with your photo and how you want to best present the subject.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado K.I.S.S. Rocky Mountain landscape Rocky Mountain wildlife Rocky Mountain wildlife photographer Rocky Mountains avoid distractions composition depth of field isolate your subject keep it clean keep it simple landscapes nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photography tighten up the shot tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2014/1/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-56 Mon, 27 Jan 2014 08:43:20 GMT
Tip #55: Keep Yourself Organized https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2014/1/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-55 New Year's Day calls for resolutions right? Well, resolutions are usually something we should be doing anyway; the day just reminds us that we aren't.

One thing photographers usually aren't doing enough of is staying organized, and I am certainly guilty of this. So make it a point, as part of your daily photo routine, to clean out the old files, keep the new ones organized and back up as often as possible. Reduce space on your computer and hard drives by deleting photos you don't need - like those blurry landscapes and out of focus birds in flight. Move images off of your computer and onto external hard drives; your computer will thank you. And disconnect the backup hard drive when not in use.

Happy New Year!

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado back backup clean delete drive hard landscapes nature nature photography organization organize photo photograph photographer photography resolutions storage tips tips for nature photographers travel up wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2014/1/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-55 Thu, 02 Jan 2014 06:22:40 GMT
Tip #54: Anticipate, Anticipation, Anticipatory https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/12/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-54 All morning I had the Carly Simon song Anticipation running through my head. I couldn't figure out why until I looked at my photos from this mornings outing. I must of, at some point in the morning, triggered the word "anticipation" as a result of what I was photographing. And just like that, the song was in my head.

However you want to phrase it, anticipating your subject's actions will help to improve your photo. As I photograph wildlife, I have to anticipate what that animal might do. That means reading up about their behavior, studying them in the field, taking in the surroundings and being patient.

For example, this morning, I woke up a couple of hours before sunrise with hopes of going out to photograph some wildlife. It had snowed the night before and the temperature had dropped, but there were still clouds to the east and a little fog from the steam rising from warm water in the nearby rivers, ponds and streams. Would the clouds dissipate in time to let the sun shine through at sunrise?

I headed out to Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge east of Denver just as the sun was breaching the horizon - the clouds lifted. Anticipating the weather is an important - but uncontrollable - piece of nature photography. In Colorado, the day after a winter snow storm is very often a beautiful but cold, sunny day. Today lived up to that trend.

Bison_calf_49Bison_calf_49A bison calf (Bison bison) walks through the snow in the middle of the herd on a cold, snowy morning at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in Commerce City, Colorado I first went to the north side of the driving tour at the Refuge in hopes of finding the bison. They were there - but on the wrong side of the fence. The light was getting gorgeous - warm and soft thanks to the fog in the cold air. But I noticed the pasture gate was open and that the bison were facing that gate. So I decided to wait. Sure enough, about 30 minutes later, that herd of about three dozen bison strolled down the fence line and through the gate right into beautiful morning sun and fresh snow on the ground.

Then I spotted a herd of mule deer in the distance near a lake at the Refuge. There were two bucks following about a dozen does and fawns. I considered at first that they were too far away but changed my mind when I reviewed the situation - they were using a game trail I had frequently seen them on in the past. This trail crosses the road near where I was so I decided to turn around and wait. Sure enough the does and fawns meandered down the trail and across the road. The buck followed and I captured some stellar shots of a buck coming over a ridge.

So in each situation, I reviewed the surroundings, referred back to a few memories of what I had seen and experienced in the past and created my own luck for some pretty good shots today.

As Louis Pasteur said, "Chance favors only the prepared mind." That includes our knowledge and insight that we bring with us to each location.

Happy shooting!

 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Arsenal Colorado Mountain National Refuge Rocky Wildlife anticipate anticipation anticipatory behavior bison composition historical history landscape landscapes nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography snow storm storms subject tips tips for nature photographers travel trend weather wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/12/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-54 Sun, 29 Dec 2013 20:16:21 GMT
Tip #53: When to Find a Foggy or Misty Morning https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/12/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-53 One of the prettiest effects, I think, when photographing nature is to capture an animal standing in their environment when it is misty or foggy. The moisture in the air softens the whole photo. By back-lighting the subject, their silhouette becomes even more abstract yet you still know exactly what you are looking at in the photo.

Yellowstone National Park is a fantastic place to experience this phenomenon as the warm waters from the thermals and rivers often gives off steam in the cold air of winter or cold mornings in spring and fall.

Most places where the temperature drops to freezing or below will experience this type of event. The best time to see it, however, is after a warm day or two.

For example, here in Colorado, we may have a warm streak in November or December that keeps the daytime temperatures in the 50s and 60s. This will warm up the water, especially shallow water that doesn't take as long to warm. Then, after a night when the temperature drops to freezing or lower right after those warm days, be prepared to go out the next morning to find a pond with the mist rising off the surface.

You will be very happy with the results. Just watch the exposure to make sure you don't blow out any highlights or underexpose the photo. The lighting can be tricky because of the darkness. Your camera may also want to focus on the mist or fog rather than your subject. Manual focusing can help solve this issue.

Happy shooting!

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado back light back lighting backlight composition fog foggy landscapes misty morning nature natur