Photo of the Month
Welcome to the portion of my website featuring one of my favorite images from the previous month. The image will most likely feature wildlife, but on occasion I will sneak in a landscape or macro photo. Each image will include some information about where the photo was taken, what caught my eye about the photo, the story behind the photo and any special techniques I used to edit the photo.
Check back in the second half of each month to see the latest posting, and feel free to comment on what you like or don't like about the images.
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After a busy year both personally and professionally, I am hoping to get back to my photo of the month post on a more regular basis, because there still has not been a shortage of images to choose from this past year. If anything, I have more photos than ever to talk about.
Red_Bald_headed_uakari_Peru_2023_1A teenage female red bald-headed uakari (Cacajao calvus rubicundus) peaks out from the leaves in the jungle near Nauta, Peru. In late February and early March, I was a co-leader for a photo and bird workshop in the Amazon rainforest of Peru. It was my first trip to South America and I jumped at the chance to work with Wildside Nature Tours when they asked. In total, we saw at least six species of primates, 320 species of birds, at least one three-toed sloth every day, two anacondas, a rainbow boa constrictor, two species of tarantula, a capybara, a few frog species, including a cool looking monkey frog, two species of bats, and a wide variety of insects that I couldn't even begin to identify. (We did see a longhorn beetle, a praying mantis, an army of marching leaf cutter ants, and an assassin bug eating another insect.)
To put the volume of subjects and photo opportunities into perspective, I usually take about 1,000 photos a day for a new location. On this trip, for the eight days we were in the field, I collected more than 14,000 frames. That is more than 1,700 per day on average! It will take me a long, long time — if ever — to finish reviewing these files.
One of the first subjects I wanted to make sure I edited was of the red bald-faced uakari.
We were told this animal was a female teenager, and although she is wild, she enjoyed the protection of safe habitat on private property. There are four subspecies of bald uakari, each of which are considered vulnerable of extinction. This was a privilege to see, photograph and learn about this primate.
She jumped up and down, fed on large orange fruit and climbed in the nearby branches, peaking out from behind the leaves with that sweet red face.
We spent about 30 minutes with her and it felt like she was enjoying the attention.
This particular photo really caught my eye because I love the bashfulness of her peaking out from behind the leaves. The red and green, being complementary colors, also make a wonderful color combination in that soft light as a result of the overcast and rainy conditions.
Because it was a rainy day and we were in thick canopy of leaves, branches and vines, I had to keep the ISO bumped up high — this was shot at ISO 6400 on my Nikon Z9 and Nikon 80-400mm f4.5-5.6 lens with the Z converter — to get enough speed for this little cutie that just didn't want to sit still. Even then, I was still only at 1/1000 of a second at f5.6 (the widest on this lens at 240mm). Because of having the opportunity to be close enough for a shorter lens, we stayed quiet and unobtrusive to let this animal do what it needs to do, and she did, acting just like a curious teenager flying through the branches.
Black-bellied_whistling_duck_LFP_2022_5A black-bellied whistling duck (Dendrocygna autumnalis) lifts his head and "whistles", letting out a breath of air illuminated by the sunshine in Metairie, Louisiana. THE WHISTLE
Interested in photographing ducks? Then winter could be your season for bird photography.
Ducks transition into their finest breeding plumage in fall and early winter. This makes their feathers look the most appealing with vibrant colors and minimal wear on the feathers.
Many ducks also migrate together in large flocks so finding birds may be much easier than in the spring and summer when they spread out into pairs at nests to raise their broods.
If you live in a cold climate where some ducks migrate but you still see frozen water, then look for ducks in the ponds with aerators or where small patches of open water force ducks into this smaller space.
I have a couple of favorite spots to photograph winter ducks in Louisiana. Two of these locations see thousands of black-bellied whistling ducks. It can be hard to isolate a duck or two from the crowd but get to know the location, and you will be sure to find those better photo spots where the light and backgrounds are just right.
That was the case on a particularly cold morning. On my previous trip to the park, I found a perfect spot to catch the whistling ducks in flight flying directly toward me. A patch of green grass and a canal on the other side of the fence behind where I stood was the reason for their flight pattern. The sun was also conveniently positioned behind me. That put the birds in perfect front light.
But on my next visit, the ducks had moved. Only a scattering of them were in the park — maybe a few hundred instead of the estimated 1001 the week before. I found a few spots with a handful of ducks but I wasn't capturing photos that felt impactful. I kept walking around the water when I noticed a scene developing with my favorite type of light — backlight.
I sat on the ground slightly higher than the ducks so the heads were framed against the darker water. The sun had also risen pretty high at this point for backlighting, so I needed to be careful about shooting directly into the sun. I only had a little bit of time before the light would be too harsh.
And then one duck separated himself from the group by lifting his head above the others and let out that distinct whistling sound. As he did, the sunlight illuminated the breath as it hit the cold air. It turned out to be a true shot of the whistle.
Weasels...they aren't easy to find or photograph. I have seen plenty when I am out hiking on the high mountain tops of Colorado, usually darting in and out of the rocks on the talus slopes looking for their next meal. The first time I photographed one, it popped its head up out of the rocks for just a moment when I was photographing marmot babies, only long enough to get one sharp photo, before it was off and running again. That was six years ago.
Since then, I have only photographed them a handful of times. The most recent time was last summer in Rocky Mountain National Park where one was darting around a section of tundra near a pika colony. I never saw the weasel catch one, not like a previous time in 2018, where the weasel came up from the rocks with a pika in its mouth I had been photographing just moments before. Weasels have to eat too.
But this month I had my most memorable weasel experience to date.
I was again photographing an animal that is abundant because it is a source of food for predators. Wyoming ground squirrels live in large communities in the northern regions and higher elevations of Colorado. They come out of hibernation in April and are usually back in their dens for the winter by early August. Food for Rocky Mountain wildlife, like coyotes, hawks, eagles, fox and badgers, I was enjoying photographing one particular squirrel along a dirt road. It was popping in and out of its burrow on a snowy day. I prefer to photograph them in snow. It shows a condition they aren't usually seen in, and outside of a snowy landscape, the brown animal in a brown habitat doesn't give much contrast.
But then I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. And there it was, a long-tailed weasel staring at me from just a few feet away. It popped up out of a hole in the snow, presumably a ground squirrel burrow. It watched me, watched me some more, dove into the hole, and popped back up to watch me again.
For about 30 minutes, I watched this little yet ferocious creature scout the area for a potential meal. I thankfully didn't see it catch anything, but it did disappear back into that burrow, not to be seen again before I left another 15 minutes later.
Check out the full story about my winter with waxwings on my latest blog post.
When I am in Louisiana in the winter, I usually focus on photographing birds, especially brown pelicans. There are mammals in The Pelican State, but not the big, charismatic ones we have in the West. Most of the mammals are the smaller variety that slink around under the cover of night: gray fox, opossums, raccoons, armadillos, nutria (more about those in the blog feed). Usually all I see of these night creatures are their eyes reflecting back at me in the light of my headlamp when I am walking my dog before bed. White-tailed deer are prevalent in Louisiana as well but experience heavy hunting pressure and therefore exhibit a flight behavior when around people.
But every once in a while I get lucky and an animal makes an appearance during the day when I have my camera ready.
That was the case on a cold, rainy morning when a family of river otters passed right by me along a canal north of Lake Ponchartrain.
I was looking for my usual suspect—the brown pelican—hoping to photograph a few in the wet weather maybe shaking water from their feathers or posing in the falling rain. I went to my usual spot for the birds, took a few shots, and then moved along to find something a little more exciting.
I ventured down a new road along a canal where I saw snowy egrets, tri-colored herons, pelicans and a fishing osprey (check out the blog for a photo of this guy).
And then my eye caught something swimming through the water. It came up for air and then dove back down into the gray, murky abyss. Was that what I thought it was? I had only seen a river otter once before in Louisiana and that encounter was in a different location, although not far from where I was sitting now.
So I quietly waited along the bank of the canal. Yup, sure enough it was a river otter swimming down the channel. It turned out, however, not to be just one but three otters. I watched them for about an hour as they swam through the water, played with some feeding birds, and chased each other along the grassy banks. Otters are said to be one of the most playful animals in the animal kingdom, and their behavior on this particular morning reinforced that theory.
And then they disappeared for a few minutes. I closely watched the water for any movement but didn't notice anything until one popped up to my left. Not realizing I was sitting there, he swam off but gave me this look back as he joined the rest of his clan.
Although I didn't know where, when or if an otter would reappear but I knew that crouching down as close as I could to the surface of the water would give me the low angle I desired. The lower I could get, the farther the background would be and thus give the image a softer, less distracting background.
This image was captured on my Nikon D850 with a Nikon 500mm f4 lens and Nikon 1.4 teleconverter. Because of the low-light conditions, I bumped my ISO up to 2000 and opened up the aperture to 5.6 but kept the shutter speed fast (1/2000 sec) to freeze the swimming motion.
Winter is a wonderful time in Louisiana. So many birds head south and this southern state along the Gulf of Mexico is one spot where they wind up for the cooler months. Because of the thick cover and open shorelines, this state is also home to quite a few resident birds. Over the years I have seen cedar waxwings, huge groups of American robins, northern cardinals, eastern bluebirds, purple finches, blue jays, snowy egrets, cattle egrets, white ibis, black-bellied whistling ducks, wood ducks, little blue herons, tri-colored herons, great egrets, American white pelicans, osprey, bald eagles, willets, yellow legs, common gallinules, soras, and many more.
One of my favorite birds to photograph during my weeks down south each winter is the Louisiana state bird, the brown pelican. There is something about this odd looking bird that just peaks my interest. Their feathers have amazing detail. Their behaviors are fun to photograph. They have lots of color on their heads. And there are plenty around for photo opportunities.
This past winter, the temperatures were a little cooler than most years and on a cold, wet morning, I went to one of my favorite spots to photograph them in the rain.
The dozen pelicans slept with their heads tucked in tighter than usual but as the rain stopped, each one slowly woke from their bed on top of the pilings.
As this one pelican stretched his wings, he started to shake the water off of his feathers. As he shook, one of the frames I caught had his wings in a position that made it look like he was shrugging.
Since it was just a couple of days into January after the unbelievable year of 2020, I thought to myself, "What will 2021 bring?"
The pelican's wing position made me think he was saying, "I have no idea."
Captured on the Nikon D4s with a Nikon 500mm f4 lens and Nikon 1.4 teleconverter. Settings: 1/1600 sec, f5.6 and ISO 800.
Spring migration in Estes Park is a wonderful time of the year, and I am thankful to be able to experience it within minutes of walking from my home in Estes Park. The summer residents start returning and many species of birds use Lake Estes and nearby ponds, creeks, meadows and parks for refueling and resting before flying over the Continental Divide.
The mountain bluebirds are one of the first birds to return to the valley. This usually takes place the last week of February or first week of March with pairs selecting nests by the end of March.
Arriving this early at 7,500 feet usually means the birds have to weather a few spring snowstorms.
On April 12, we had a storm roll through that brought a couple inches of snow and temperatures in the teens. This poor little male bluebird did his best to stay warm. He got creative about how to do it by resting on the warm concrete, which had retained warmer temps from the 60-degree day only 24 hours earlier.
Another trick birds will do to stay warm is to fluff up their feathers. The fluffed feathers traps air and then their body heat warms up that air. You can see that in this photo by how round this little guy looks.
I have continued to see a bluebird in the same area where I captured this photo so I am hoping it is the same bird and he did well in the storm.
Oops, looks like I missed a month. Although I don't feel like I was out shooting that much in February, I know I was very busy with work: new 2021 calendars, BEARS of the Alaska Peninsula book, articles for several magazines and lots of other great projects. That being said, those are not excuses for not delivering on what I promise, so here are two images to inspire you to get outdoors and enjoy the fresh air while observing wildlife.
First, my favorite shot from my winter in Louisiana: a fresh catch of fish. There is a wildlife refuge near where I stay while in Louisiana on the North Shore of Lake Ponchartrain. Although it is best to have a boat to truly explore this area, there are a couple of roads and trails to explore if a watercraft is not your thing or not available to you. There are almost always some brown pelicans (one of my favorite birds to photograph down there) in the area and this past winter was no exception.
On several trips to the refuge in the mornings, I found a couple of juvenile brown pelicans hanging out together. They would fish in the shallow waters and hang out on the old pilings at the end of the road. I find mornings are better there for wildlife because a lot of people start arriving mid-morning and stay most of the day to fish. But one afternoon I took a chance and drove down there in some beautiful sunlight.
I found those two pelicans again but this time they were on the road. They had been fishing and eating the fish while standing on the road, something I have never seen them do. One flew off but this guy stayed, flipped a fish into his mouth and gulped it down.
The second photo is one that makes me smile each time I look at it, and I hope it makes you smile as well. As we navigate these difficult times, it is important to find those little things in life that remind us that we will overcome this hurdle.
Another behavior that is common with elk, and other ungulates, is the symbiotic relationship between the elk and birds. The birds actually pick fleas and ticks from the animals' fur. This in turn helps prevent the spread of disease and reduces itching, which can lead to hair loss from scratching the insects.
This magpie was enjoying a protein breakfast on this bull's back when the bull, who just dropped his antlers the evening before this photo, flipped his head towards his back. It is a fun photo to figure out what the two animals are saying to each other. "Oooh, that back scratch feels good." "Right there, that's the spot." "Ahhh, my neck feels so much better without that rack."
I haven't been out to photograph wildlife too much this past month. Much of December was spent chasing snow storms around Utah for dramatic scenic images but now I am in Louisiana and should be out to photograph birds soon. There was this one wildlife shot from December, however, that I was pretty excited to capture and experience.
Although Utah certainly has its share of wildlife, my trip was more to capture a batch of images showcasing the combination of snow on the red landscape. Late December can be a great time for this opportunity so we packed up the RV and off we went.
We visited Utah's Big Five—Canyonlands, Arches, Bryce, Capitol Reef and Zion—over the course of three weeks. During our visit to each park the forecast called for snow. And in each park, the forecast turned out to just get my hopes up with little to no snow actually falling until our visit to Zion over Christmas. That was quite special to have a white Christmas in a park as gorgeous as Zion.
But on our drive into Capitol Reef National Park, I captured this shot of a flock of turkeys.
We arrived late in the afternoon and I was excited to see what sunset opportunities presented to us as we drove the road into the remote park. I stopped a couple of times to capture some interesting scenery but the clouds never really caught my eye as I passed the best landscape features.
Then we came to the badlands portion of the road. These softer sedimentary rocks and clay-rich soils are characterized by steep slopes with minimal vegetation, and thus have been described as barren "bad lands" without much value. Along the base of these badlands, however, runs the Fremont River, which creates a lush valley full of grassy meadows, stands of cottonwood trees and farm fields.
We saw many mule deer along the road but then something unusual caught my eye—a flock of hundreds of turkeys! Turkeys certainly gather together in large groups but the most I have ever seen at one time is maybe 50. These turkeys just kept coming out of the trees and strolling through the field. The beauty of the timing was that it was approaching last light so the blue and gold hues of the barren slopes created nice leading lines down to the field with the turkeys.
I was hesitant to stop at first; who wants a scenic shot of turkeys? But after I looked at the shots later that evening I was quite pleased with my unexpected gift.
I have been out on the road revisiting a few national parks in Utah. Although I had previously explored all of the "Big 5" parks in Utah, I had not explored them as a photographer with a photographer's eye or a photographer's checklist for the iconic shots.
Mesa Arch, the location pictured here, is no stranger to having the area covered by tourists, photographers, and other onlookers. Visiting in December certainly is a much nicer experience with much smaller crowds. Here is the but; even though I arrived 70 minutes before sunrise, I was still squished on the far right end of the available space to catch the sun rising above the distant horizon after a dozen other photographers arrived 71 minutes or more before I did. In other words, there was still a crowd.
In the end, everyone was quite amicable about the space, worked well together—a few even snapped a few photos and moved out of the lineup to allow others into their slot—and chatted about where they lived. I was happy with the shots I captured but I still contemplated the absurdity of how crowded some locations have become in the last five years or so.
I was actually the only photographer that captured this shot pictured here — at least on that morning. I waited patiently until the sun rose above the arch, which happened about 60 minutes after sunrise. During that time I watched all 12 of those photographers pack up and leave. I watched a mother and her son come and go. I watched a couple accompanied by a friend come in to get their Instagram influencer shots and then scoot back to their car to capture their next image. They were the last to leave me in my peace and solitude as I waited for this perspective on an over-photographed scene.
If you do a Google search for "Mesa Arch sunrise," more than 2.4 million results come up with the images tab bringing up thousands of similar shots taken within that fifteen minute window when the sun is seen between the horizon and the underside of the arch. A search on Getty Images results in 339 images. Another search on shutterstock.com produces 2,385 images. And a search on almay.com generates 1,327 images.
So why was I out there trying to make an image of something that has already been done thousands of times? Because like everyone else, I too wanted to have that shot in my library of images. It is a cool image and a beautiful location to capture sunrise. And I like a challenge of finding a unique perspective on a common scene.
But I also wonder if someday, and maybe not so far away in the near future, we may no longer be able to get that photo. It is already happening in some locations. During this same trip I learned that you can no longer get the iconic shot of False Kiva, also in Canyonlands National Park. Thanks to some irresponsible people in the summer of 2018 who started a fire in the fire ring of the kiva and then used the ash to put their handprints on the walls, the park has decided to close the end of the trail. The closest you can get is about 20 feet away and you cannot enter the alcove.
It has happened at Maroon Bells too. This iconic location, considered to be the most photographed location in Colorado, has a new rope around the edge of the lake to prevent people from walking into the water. The rope also prevents access for getting along the shore to photograph the reflection, a popular shot during the peak of fall colors with hundreds of people lining the shores of Maroon Lake. (Just out of curiosity, I did a Google search for this topic—Maroon Bells fall color photo = 16 million results.)
So I don't have any answers. All I can offer is a warning that these changes will keep happening. Restrictions will keep getting tighter unless we start to think about our actions. Think about what impact you might have if you tag a photo with a location. Think about the impact you might have if you search out new photo spots and then post them on social media answering questions about where you took the shot. Think about the impact you have by going off trail or not respecting boundaries.
We are all in this together, and as people who love nature, we need to make sure it is there for future generations.
If you are interested in learning more or getting involved, look into friends groups for your nearest national park, become a member of NANPA or review the guidelines put out by Nature First and Leave No Trace. No one wants to say you can't, but we need to be respectful so we can.
So my photo of the month this month carries a little more weight with it than just a pretty shot. Thanks for listening, and thanks for being considerate to your fellow photographers and to the outdoors.
These animals all have similar behaviors when it comes to finding new mates. One that is particularly interesting to photograph is the lip curl, which is also referred to as the flehmen response. When a female pees on the ground, a male will sniff the urine and then typically lifts his head and raises his upper lip into the air. By doing this, the male exposes glands under the lip that will pull in the pheromones found in the urine and air. These pheromones will tell him if she is ready to mate.
By understanding this behavior, you can be ready to photograph the result when a ram or buck goes to sniff the urine. To truly capture the unique expression on the ram's face, try to be straight ahead of the ram or just slightly off to the side. Rams will frequently move their head a little to the right or left as well, allowing you to capture the expression in the eyes.
This ram, which I estimate to be about 7 or 8 years old based on the number of rings in his horns, was giving a really hard sniff and then proceeded to follow the ewe.
In late September, I traveled to Grand Teton National Park for the purpose of fall landscapes and moose photography. The fall colors were running about two weeks late and had barely started when I arrived. The moose rut, however, was right on time and there were several bulls in their usual fall location along with a few cows. The touch of yellow in the area where the moose were hanging out adds such a nice touch to the dark coat of the moose.
I do wish I could have stayed longer to spend more time with the moose and take advantage of the snow that fell only days after I left (as well as partake in a few workshops happening in town) but duty called at home. There will be next year and there are photos to go through to enjoy the few days I did have in one of my favorite parks for months to come.
Memorial Day weekend has come and gone, but the elk calves that always arrive starting at the end of May continue to run and play throughout Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. This is a fun time of year to see the new little ones learning about their big, new world.
Since buying a place in Estes Park last fall, I was wondering if there would be any issues with having elk around during calving season. So far no issues; only great opportunities to see the daily activities of the calves and the accompanying photo opportunities.
On Friday, May 31, I received a text that a newborn elk calf was near Lake Estes. Although I had seen a couple of calves earlier in the week in the park, t his was the first one I had heard about in town.
I tried to make it over to see the calf but the construction in town—four different roads were either closed or down to one lane due to construction—prevented any sort of timely arrival. By the time I got to the location, the cow had her newborn hidden somewhere nearby. I saw the herd but not the calf.
Later that day I went back to see what the herd was up to and spotted them in the same area. This time there were two elk calves but again, the new moms were keeping the calves shielded in the shadows of the trees. I decided to sit and watch for a bit. It was a good thing because the cows decided to move the calves around. I was lucky enough to capture a photo of one of the cows and calves walking along a ridge line before dropping down in the creek drainage.
The next morning I was photographing an event around Lake Estes and didn't have a chance to check on the calves. It would be a few days until I could check on them again. The next time I saw them was the following Wednesday. Now they were a little closer to my home and relaxing in the shade of some ponderosa in a backyard. The owners of the property saw me photographing them and invited me into their yard. From there I was able to get wonderful, full-frame images of the rapidly growing calves.
The calf in this shot, which is my feature for this month, was quite curious about my long lens and wasn't quite sure what to make of it. His mother is an old pro, the matriarch of the group and collared. Her collar number is one I have seen around town for several years. The calf seemed to pick up on her comfort level of being around people and just kept relaxing in the shade.
I am very thankful for the opportunity the homeowners gave me, and appreciative of the opportunities I have to be close to nature by living in Estes Park.
Since this photo was taken, I watched the herd migrate down to the Estes Park Fairgrounds on June 7. Later that day the group migrated down to the bird sanctuary at the western end of Lake Estes. They will stay in that vicinity until the calves are a little bigger. At that point they will move a little more around Lake Estes and the southern end of the lake. These are our "city" elk who now have a new generation of calves to train about living around people.
Here is my favorite shot from the past month. As the temps continue to hover in the range of needing a down jacket in Estes Park, I reminisce about my trip to Florida in late April. The warm weather felt wonderful, wonderful enough to break out the sandals. It also meant it was nesting season for the rookeries common throughout Florida.
We have rookeries in Colorado, but not with the variety of birds in an array of colors like seen in Florida. The rookeries in Florida can have tri-colored herons, roseate spoonbills, cattle egrets, little blue herons, snowy egrets, and great egrets. The spring nesting season starts with the pair bonding rituals, especially pronounced with the elaborate displays of the great egret. Next, the birds will incubate the eggs. Then, the feeding and growing season of the new chicks.
This roseate spoonbill, one of the prettiest of birds in my opinion, was photographed at the Alligator Farm in St. Augustine during a workshop as part of the Florida's Birding and Photo Festival. He was perched just above eye level in the warm afternoon sun preening his beautiful pink feathers after helping to feed the chicks.
Wow, where did 2018 go??? I guess there are plenty of images to catch up on from the last year and a half but for this post I have selected something more recent.
This photo was taken in on a recent trip to Minnesota. Although the location was ideal for arctic birds wintering in the lower 48 states and for owls, especially great grays and snowy owls, I was seeking out photos of American martens.
These fast, vicious predators can be difficult to photograph. They dart between trees in heavy forest searching for some of their favorite prey - squirrels - but will also eat voles, snowshoe hares and other small mammals and carrion. Although they are fairly common in the forests of the Rocky Mountains, they rarely sit still very long, making them difficult to capture in a photo.
This forest was known for a large population of red squirrels so I was hoping the elements would come together for a photograph of a marten seeking out a meal.
The first marten I saw was timid and hung back in the trees. The second marten, this one in the photo, was much more comfortable by the road where I sat in my vehicle with the heat off to avoid heat waves coming from the window. The temperature was hovering at least 10 degrees below freezing. The hand warmers and thick wool socks were doing their job so far. I sat there waiting for a couple of hours before I saw that first marten; this guy showed up about an hour later. The time spent with the marten lasted only about nine or ten minutes before he darted back into the forest.
I normally try to mix up the species of animals for image of the month each month but I have to say that the bighorn rut is just too good of a season and produces too many good photos to stick to that rule this month.
On Thanksgiving morning I found a group of ewes with two younger rams following them. They weren't the largest rams I had ever seen but they were reputable sizes. I gave it a go and stuck around to watch them. I captured some shots of lip curls and low-neck stretches, and then he showed up — the brute of the bunch who came in to show who was boss.
This new ram started causing trouble by leg kicking the other rams and instigating head ramming. These are normal behaviors during the rut for rams to show who is dominant and which ram gets the opportunity to mate with the ewes.
But this other ram had a trick up his sleeve; he moved as the instigator came in for the head butt causing him to do a face plant into the dirt. This went on for more than an hour. I had to leave for a Thanksgiving dinner but I was thankful for the time and photos I did capture of the sheep that morning.
Fall is mating season for a lot of animals in the Rocky Mountains. It starts in August with the bison rut, continues in September with the pronghorn rut, then the elk and moose go into rut next, which continues through early October.
The elk and moose have completed their mating cycle and have started moving into their winter ranges. The next animals to enter their mating season in Colorado will be the bighorn sheep and deer.
These animals are demonstrating the early signs of the rut season by determining their territories with a little sparring and following the girls - ewes for the sheep and does for the deer.
I love photographing the bighorn rut. I go out every year in November and December to photograph the rams clashing horns and chasing the ewes.
One shot I had not yet captured was a ram set against fall color demonstrating some rut behavior. It can be a little harder to capture this combination because weather may cause the fall leaves to drop before the rams begin the early rut behaviors.
Although I am still envisioning a shot with a bigger ram, I was happy to capture this scene of a younger bighorn ram demonstrating the flehmen response set against a soft background of fall color. The flehmen response, or lip curl, is a tactic the rams use to determine if a ewe is going into estrus. The ram will sniff a ewe's urine or hind end, then lift his head, curl up his upper lip and hold that pose for a moment. The behavior helps to move pheromones into an organ above the roof of the mouth and tells the ram the reproductive status of the ewe.
Bighorn sheep are diurnal animals, meaning they are mostly active during the day. This typically is not a good time of day for photography because the light—especially the bright, sunny light of Colorado—is harsh and contrasty. It was no different when I started the hike at noon to find the sheep. But the forecast was calling for clouds and the Broncos game was starting in a couple of hours so I was hopeful that would keep other hikers to a minimum. It all worked because by the time I found the sheep about 90 minutes later the light had softened under thin clouds and crowds had dwindled.
This photo was taken in Waterton Canyon near Littleton, Colorado.
Settings: Nikon D4s, Nikon 80-400mm lens at 400mm, 1/500 sec, f7.1, ISO 1000, handheld
Moose_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 One of the best places to photograph wildlife in fall colors is Denali National Park and Preserve.
Fall doesn't last long up there. The color on the tundra starts the last week of August and continues to the cottonwoods in the lower elevations about the second week of September. Then the snow often starts to fall and that is the end of autumn in Denali.
But during those three weeks, the colors are spectacular in shades of red, orange and yellow across the open landscape.
I had the opportunity to visit Denali this August. At first it looked like the fall colors were going to be a dud but then one afternoon it started. The yellows got brighter and the reds got more prominent.
I saw caribou in the red willows, willow ptarmigan set against yellow leaves, and grizzlies feeding on red berries from bushes with yellow leaves. But one of my favorite photos was this one of a bull moose walking across the tundra towards a foggy valley below the snow-capped peaks of the Alaska Range.
It turned out to be the only bull moose I would see during my week in the park. That was unusual but I was happy for the opportunity to watch this massive moose, even if only for a moment that foggy morning.
This photo was taken in Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska
Settings: Nikon D800, Nikon 80-400mm lens at 220mm, 1/100 sec, f16, ISO 500, handheld
Black_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 Being in Estes Park, Colo. for the summer has been amazing. The opportunity to see the wildlife on a daily basis has been more enjoyable than I could have ever imagined. The biggest thrill has been to just watch the daily progression and unexpected things that happen with wildlife in a mountain town. Last week I saw two young bull moose at the local park in Estes Park. They wanted to take a dip in the lake and didn't seem to mind the kids playing on the nearby playground but when the moose tried to cross the road, drivers honked and spooked the moose back into the mountains. Probably better for them.
I have had the opportunity to find, watch and photograph at least a dozen different nests with almost as many different types of birds: pygmy nuthatch, mountain bluebirds, hummingbirds, flycatchers, flickers, swallows, house wren.
I got a call midday one day last week about two other moose—two larger bull moose—swimming in Lily Lake. Being so close I was able to quickly drive over and capture the moment.
But I think the most special opportunity was the black bear sow with two cubs.
July 2017 marks 20 years since my first visit to Colorado and Rocky Mountain National Park. Five years later I moved to Colorado. Over those 20 years I figure I have visited Rocky Mountain National Park close to a thousand times yet I had never seen a black bear in the park. My timing just always seemed to be of Black_bear_and_elk_RMNP_2017_3A cow elk (Cervus elaphus) walks behind a black bear in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado f.
But one afternoon in early June, I got a call. "Black bear with two cubs are in the park." I was eating lunch but quickly changed my focus when I heard that great news.
I spent about an hour with her and her cubs. She slept at the bottom of a tree where her cubs were napping up above. I never did get a good photo of the cubs as I didn't want to disturb them.
While watching the sow, a cow elk came by. Based on her behavior, I suspected she had a calf nearby although I never saw the calf. She kept circling the bear and showing a lot of territorial behavior.
I heard the cow eventually ran the bear off from the area.
So here is to another 20 years of photographing wildlife in Rocky Mountain National Park.
These photos were taken in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.
Settings: (top photo) Nikon D4s, Nikon 500mm lens, 1/1600 sec, f8.0, ISO 1250; (bottom photo) Nikon D4s, 500mm lens, 1/800 sec, f6.3, ISO 1000
Bald Eagle in Estes Park, Colorado
Most days when I am out photographing wildlife, the experiences are fun but not always the most exciting or full of interesting stories. I will sit and watch animals waiting for a unique behavior or an intimate moment between siblings, parents and offspring or mates. Some days I just find it to be comforting and relaxing to enjoy the outdoors and not worry about the photo.
But one afternoon at the end of April when I was photographing the migrating birds coming through Estes Park I had an experience I will never forget.
I was photographing the shore birds that were using Lake Estes as a resting point before their difficult flight over the Continental Divide. Birds included an American avocet, two willets, and a semipalmated plover. All of a sudden, without me making a single movement, the birds flushed. At that same moment I heard a swoosh of feathers.
For those not familiar, it sounds like folds of taffeta fabric moving in the wind.
I looked up and all I saw were talons.
There are two bald eagles that call Lake Estes home. I believe the one I was now looking directly at above my head was going for the shore birds I was photographing because when the birds flushed, the eagle banked and flew in the direction of the birds.
It was an amazing experience. I unfortunately couldn't get the camera focused on the eagle fast enough because of how close he was but I did capture this one shot as he passed in front of me with Longs Peak in the distance as the setting sun illuminated its 14,259-foot peak.
Photo taken along Lake Estes in Estes Park, Colorado.
Settings: Nikon D4s, Nikon 500mm lens, 1/2000 sec, f6.3, ISO 800
Desert_bighorn_CNM_2017_4A desert bighorn lamb (Ovis canadensis nelsoni) stops in front of a cactus, showing the ability to blend into the environment, in Colorado National Monument, Colorado The western slope of Colorado starts to feel the spring temperatures much earlier than most of Colorado. The warm, dry climate means babies are born a little earlier as well for some animals, including the desert bighorn sheep.
The Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep are the state mammal of Colorado and live in the high, rocky slopes and canyons of the mountains. The desert bighorns, however, are a subspecies of the Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep and prefer the more arid, rocky, desert mountains and canyons of the southwest, such as those found in southwestern Colorado.
They have a few other differences as well. Desert bighorn sheep typically are a little smaller than their cousins, have the ability to survive long periods of time - from several weeks to a month - without water, and can adapt to the wide-ranging temperatures of the desert. Both varieties of sheep, however, blend in amazingly well with their habitat, as seen by this photo of the lamb in the desert landscape.
Desert bighorn sheep give birth to their lambs in late winter while the sheep of the mountains wait until the threat of spring snowstorms passes in late May in June. It was these little babies that I was searching for on a trip to Colorado National Monument.
I only found one lamb but it was a cute little newborn - probably about two weeks old - and he was quite happy to show off for the camera.
Ideal photographs should have clean backgrounds, but I liked the busier background behind this lamb because it shows the dry, desert landscape where this little one was born. It isn't easy living but this animal has adapted well to its rocky, canyon environment.
For more information about desert bighorn sheep, visit https://www.nps.gov/colm/learn/nature/desert-bighorn.htm.
Photo taken in Colorado National Monument in Grand Junction, Colorado.
Settings: Nikon D4s, Nikon 500mm, 1/125 sec, f8.0, ISO 3200
Island_fox_Channel_Islands_2015_4An 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 Living on the road and photographing wildlife in new places and old stomping grounds has been an amazing experience. I have many new favorite photos from my travels in October but this one in particular stands out to me.
I spent the last two weeks of October traveling around California. I had many places I planned to see but primarily I wanted to photograph unique wildlife that live only in specific areas.
One of the goals I have for this adventure is to photograph all of the different species of fox in North America. I love to photograph fox and there are quite a few unique variations.
In Channel Islands National Park just west of Ventura, Ca. there is a small fox called the island fox. It can only be found on the islands because of the separation from the mainland. As a result of this isolation, they have a limited food supply and get very little protein, which makes them a much smaller fox - about the size of a house cat.
It took me about three hours to find my first one but once I knew what I was looking for I had a little better luck in spotting the sly little critters. This one in particular was comfortable around people and posed for many fun shots.
For more information about the island fox in Channel Islands National Park, visit https://www.nps.gov/chis/learn/nature/island-fox.htm.
Pronghorn_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. Last month I started an exciting new adventure - I sold my house, bought an RV and started a new lifestyle of living on the road and photographing wildlife. My first six weeks were purely for building up a knowledge about the RV; I had never driven or owned one before. So I thought what better way than to visit a few areas I was already familiar. One of those places was Flaming Gorgeo National Recreation Area.
This high desert / sage brush steppe ecosystem is abundant with wildlife, including pronghorn antelope. What I had not planned was to be there during the rut for the pronghorn so I unexpectedly got some fun shots.
This photo is of a buck after he rubbed his head through some sage and tumbleweeds. They will do this to mark their territory, and I think it just might make the bucks a little more attractive for the does to sport some new headwear.
Spring is definitely baby season for wildlife. Starting in February, great horned owls start giving birth, and the newborns keep coming straight through early summer.
The last week of April marks the beginning of gosling season in the Denver area. I eagerly anticipate the calendar turning to April 24 - the earliest I have ever seen a newborn gosling. That is the day I start to look for and photograph these cute little babies. Goslings only stay yellow and fuzzy for one or two weeks. After that, they start getting brown and lanky looking before their growth spurt into adults.
This April and May we have had an unbelievable amount of moisture in the Denver area. It isn't unusual to see rain and even snow this time of year but it has been bordering on the description of non-stop. That has caused a lot of days to be very gray and gloomy but the worms have been enjoying it. And when the worms are out the goslings find little treats.
This little baby, probably only a day old, discovered I suspect his first worm while I was photographing him. He was the last to in a clutch of five to walk by me and seemed to be more fascinated with seeing the world rather than keeping up with the rest of his family.
As he walked across the grass, he stopped abruptly and came up with a worm in his beak. The worm was easily as long as he was tall so he kept tripping on the worm as he tried to drag it back to his mom. He dropped the worm, looked at it and quickly scampered back to his family. The worm could be heard sighing at the realization he would live another day.
This month I have selected a photo of an American white pelican. Early each spring, these large birds arrive back in Colorado where they will nest, raise their young and soar high in the thermals well into fall. There are at least three large nesting sites in Colorado.
The first time I saw a pelican shortly after I moved to Colorado in 2002 from New Jersey I thought it was a swan. I never saw pelicans in New Jersey, and my familiarity with the bird was the brown pelican. But that large bird floating in a small lake in Fort Collins was clearly white but didn't have the distinctive long neck of a swan. I was stumped. After a little research I learned about the American white pelican. The page is still marked in my bird guide book from that sighting as it was the start of learning about the new birds I would see in the West.
Brown pelicans are found along the coastal waters of North America and prefer the warm climates of the salt water coastline. The white pelican, on the other hand, is a freshwater bird that lives much of the year in the interior portion of North America with a few in Florida, Texas and California in the winter.
From a photography perspective they are wonderful subjects. You can find some of these large birds, which can be up to 70" wide from wing tip to wing tip, that are comfortable around people. In these cases, sit and watch them. They preen, the stretch their long necks and long bills, and stretch the pouch inside out on their necks. They will soar in the air in large groups where their distinct white wings are tipped in black like they just finished using their wings as paint brushes.
But my favorite part of photographing these birds is capturing the wonderful colors on their heads. Their eyes are ice blue. Their bills are bright shades of orange and pink. And their white feathers have subtle shades of pale yellow on their heads.
This particular photo really focuses on the white feathers and the complementary colors of yellow around the blue eye.
As with many animals, the population of white pelicans has been on the decline. This is mostly caused by loss of habitat, draining of wetlands and human disturbance. I have even seen on multiple occasions seen pelicans tangled in fishing line. So please enjoy the birds from a distance, encourage the conservation of wetlands and through away your used fishing line.
Feel free to ask me questions about how to photograph animals with white feathers. It can be a challenge to avoid blowing out the whites and losing the detail in their beautiful layers of feathers.
I love to photograph red fox but it has become a very difficult task near my home in Colorado. We used to have quite a few roaming around, especially up in Fort Collins, but mange, development and the increase in the coyote population seems to have taken its toll on these red beauties.
So when I was reminded about a fox in Grand Teton National Park I knew it was time to take a trek up there, even if for a few days.
I wasn't disappointed. She was quite inquisitive, cooperative and fun to watch. I'll have more postings of this little red gal, such as her curling up to sleep right in front of me, but of my edits so far, this is definitely my favorite.
I have been working on improving my skills at changing settings on the fly in changing light conditions. Just a few minutes before this photo she had walked through some shade in a wooded area so I had to quickly adjust the settings as she entered into the soft and warm afternoon light.
I am also working on keeping that ISO down as much as possible to avoid any unnecessary noise. Although the D4s is fantastic at higher ISO settings (I have used it as high as 20,000+ range), there is no point in adding noise if you can get the effect you want at a lower ISO setting.
Settings: 1/800 sec; f/6.3; ISO 400
Camera info: Nikon D4s, Nikon 200-400 mm lens with a 1.4 teleconverter, taken at 490mm
Feel free to ask questions about photographing wildlife in the snow - it is my favorite topic. And take a look at my other photos, purchase a print or check out the workshop schedule on this website.
I find Cherry Creek State Park to be one of the best places to photograph coyotes in the Denver area. The coyotes are used to being around people, and the landscape compliments the brown tones of the coyote fur.
I found this coyote hunting voles along one of the paths on the south end of the park. As he came down the path, he stopped and started listening to something at the base of a fence post. Although it looks like he is looking at me, he was actually fixed on the spot where he would pounce moments later just below the fence. He came up with the vole and trotted off with it hanging from his mouth.
This photo breaks a rule of distracting features - most photographers will not like the blurred out fence at the bottom of the picture. But with my photos, I really work at telling a story. To me this photo shows a coyote hiding a bit. They can be elusive animals and the partially hidden face communicates that sneaky message.
I did try a couple of other crops on the photo. This crop is about a tenth of the original photo so it isn't a terribly large file. I tried a crop showing his legs below the fence but then the message about hiding was lost. I cropped the photo up a little closer to the top of the fence line, just below his eyes, and then it looked odd because it felt like the nose was missing. Even though you can't see the nose, the perception is that there is enough space below the fence line to include a full nose.
I think the two lines - the horizontal fence line and the vertical post line - also help to frame the coyote's face and draw your eye to those staring eyes.
As for editing, I did very little. The photo was cropped, I applied two LR presets (Sharpen - Scenic and Punch - both under Lightroom General Presets). Then I adjusted the contrast a bit, added a little black and saturation, and checked all of the Basic Lens Correction boxes. In Photoshop, I removed any spots, adjusted highlights and shadows, reduced noise with the Neat Image plug-in, did an overall sharpening using the Smart Sharpen option, and then sharpened the eyes a little to make them pop a little more.