Images, Thoughts on Travel, Equipment and Techniques that somehow relate to Nature & Wildlife Photography.

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"The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness"... John Muir

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Red Tails

 

Red-tailed Hawk [Buteo jamaicensis]

The nest, exposed to the wind, rain and sun sits at eye level from the side of the hill. The moon and the stars of night watch over it. Mid morning the high pitched skreeee of an adult Red-tailed Hawk alerts everyone and everything in this small valley that mom (or dad) is coming home with a meal. Three small white puffs of down don’t seem overly excited by this development. It takes a lot of energy to just hold that wobbly head up and really, mom is going to rip little pieces of that once living rodent into bite sized pieces just right for a little hawk to eat. And eat they do, and grow they do.

Pin feathers start to show up about 2 weeks after hatching.

Pin feathers start to show up about 2 weeks after hatching.

Food is sometimes shared but with 3 chicks, the youngest is usually left out until the others are full.

Food is sometimes shared but with 3 chicks, the youngest is usually left out until the others are full.

This is not as unremarkable as it might seem. Two years ago a huge, violent hail storm killed the three hatchlings of that year. Last year the scene was similar yet different, adult hawks standing on the edge of the nest, looking down at the three lifeless forms that seemed fine the day before. Those little guys probably were poisoned by the food the adults brought, a small amount of rodenticide may not kill an adult but will surely kill the little ones.

A good friend called and said the hawks were back on the nest. Getting a ring side seat is not always an easy thing, so the invite to come on down was welcome. This particular red-tail nest is a tad over two hours from home but the trip is through interesting and beautiful country. The decision to make the trip about once a week was easy.

So we watched these kids grow up knowing that fledging and adulthood are not a sure thing. Getting them there takes a lot of work. Finding, catching and getting those gophers and small snakes to the nest isn’t the end of it. Protecting the nest from potential enemies of the young hawks is also a full time job. And there’s the neighbors. Land in the wrong tree and the adults are assaulted by (in this case) Stellar’s Jays, Robins and, unexpectedly Bullock’s Orioles. And that’s for just sitting there.

The smaller birds don't like a hawk perching near or in their territory.

The smaller birds don’t like a hawk perching near or in their territory.

I don’t know of a finer pastime than watching the world unfold as it should. Hope you agree, here are a few shots of “our” red-tails growing up.

Most birds of prey bring fresh green leaves or conifer needle clusters to the nest .... the vegetation may provide concealment from above, may serve as a natural coolant, or may reduce odors and fungal growths.  Conifer needles contain aromatic chemicals, called terpenes, that may repel insects and prevent a fungal disease.

Most birds of prey bring fresh green leaves or conifer needle clusters to the nest …. the vegetation may provide concealment from above, may serve as a natural coolant, or may reduce odors and fungal growths. Conifer needles contain aromatic chemicals, called terpenes, that may repel insects and prevent a fungal disease.

Where's mom, we're hungry!

Where’s mom, we’re hungry!

While one of the youngsters is exploring the tree above, groceries are delivered.

While one of the youngsters is exploring the tree above, groceries are delivered.

Rearranging the nest is one way to pass the time.

Rearranging the nest is one way to pass the time.

Exercising in the nest is another way.

Exercising in the nest is another way.

Fledged and learning to fly and land.

Fledged and learning to fly and land.

Thinking about the next limb up?

Thinking about the next limb up?

Fledged and curious about everything.

Fledged and curious about everything.

This is when the smaller catches up to its siblings.

This is when the smaller catches up to its siblings.

One of the perks of staying close to the nest. Its where the food is.

One of the perks of staying close to the nest. Its where the food is.

Sheesh....get a grip.

Sheesh….get a grip.

Landing in a small pinyon tree, this young hawk found itself facing inward with no obvious exit. Part of learning to fly and land is using their considerable intellect to get out of difficult places.

Landing in a small pinyon tree, this young hawk found itself facing inward with no obvious exit. Part of learning to fly and land is using their considerable intellect to get out of difficult places.

Details

Cottonwood leaf against red mud patterns; Pleasant Creek, Capitol Reef NP, Utah

Cottonwood leaf against red mud patterns; Pleasant Creek, Capitol Reef NP, Utah

They say the devil is in the details. Haven’t seen the devil but we have found a whole universe in the details, what Elliot Porter called the “intimate landscape”. When out trying to get a great scenic shot how many times have you had the light fizzle, the scene just not meet your expectations? If you have unlimited time that’s not much of an issue, just wait it out, something good is bound to happen. Most people don’t have boundless time to capture their vision. So, what do you do when all that planning or at least hoping goes south? We’ve all been there, I can’t tell you how many times a gray, high cloud has snuffed that spectacular late day light. But there you are, what to do?

"Eagle" eroding out of Navajo Sandstone, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

“Eagle” eroding out of Navajo Sandstone, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Iconic landscapes are a blessing and a curse, stunningly gorgeous places that are a joy to experience but have been photographed by virtually everyone. Finding that one-off shot that can set your image apart is difficult, requiring much time and luck. Who hasn’t wanted one of those killer shots of the Grand Canyon or Half Dome in Yosemite? You know, the one people tell you that should be in National Geographic.

Sandstone swirls, Crack Canyon, San Rafael Swell, Utah

Sandstone swirls, Crack Canyon, San Rafael Swell, Utah

That search for the Grand Landscape can blind us to the very things that make such a place special. Those are the details, a macro view of a place, the way wind and water has polished a rock, the way sand lays against a tree root, tracks in the snow. Another nice aspect of looking for the details is that these almost secret landscapes are everywhere. I suspect most of us from time to time travel the same routes that have become so familiar we no longer see them. We chase the light, when it refuses to be caught we just need to take a more contemplative look around. What do you do to salvage a view that just won’t cooperate?

sand patterns, looking like palm fronds created by surf at low tide; Playa Las Lajas, Panama

sand patterns, looking like palm fronds created by surf at low tide; Playa Las Lajas, Panama

Ice and sand patterns; Zion NP., UT

Ice and sand patterns; Zion NP., UT

Oak leaf litter; Colorado

Oak leaf litter; Colorado

Trail patterns in sand created by feeding snails at low tide; Playa Las Lajas, Panama

Trail patterns in sand created by feeding snails at low tide; Playa Las Lajas, Panama

Unexpected Travelers

Monarch Butterfly during winter migration, feeding on nectar of bottlebrush tree flowers.

Monarch Butterfly during winter migration, feeding on nectar of bottlebrush tree flowers.

Butterflies flit

that is all, amid the

field of sunlight…Basho

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On the Beach

We headed north out of the traffic cluster that is LA having attended an October wedding in the City of Angels.  Not our idea of a place to hang out, so having never visited the central California coast this seemed to be a good opportunity to see and photograph some of the wildlife found between Los Angeles and San Francisco.  After some research we knew there would be opportunities to see and hopefully photograph the monarch butterflies gathered for the winter at Pismo Beach.  We also knew that sea otters were common at Morro Bay and from there north of Cambria there would be elephant seals.

Northern Elephant Seal bull, the "beachmaster"

Northern Elephant Seal bull, the “beachmaster”

 

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The Celestial River

After a hiatus of about 12 years we felt that it was time to return to Costa Rica.  We had spent a good deal of time traveling around in the country starting back in 1990.  By 1992 we started on a project that, after 14 years, became the book “A Field Guide to the Plants of Costa Rica”.  We needed to see if the magic of CR was still there for us so in September we headed down. We knew that much had changed over the years but we didn’t have any real idea how considerable that change was.

Some places seem timeless. Things change but at a pace that seems reasonable, maybe in ways that aren’t noticeable, and then… Of course 2 million tourists a year are going to transform anyplace, particularly a small country that had an economy based on agriculture.  Places on the tourist circuit have changed and not always in good ways, still very nice but certainly not the “way it was”.  Fortunately not every place is on that circuit.

I hesitate to mention this area in northern CR but it is so special that people need to experience it.  There is a small town called Bijagua, near Volcan Tenorio and the national park of the same name.  A little town with a couple of places to eat, at least one of those is very good and a couple of places to stay, some very nice (if you find yourself there, check out Sueno Celeste) but not overrun with touristy stuff nor tourists.   There are a few places to stay closer to the park entrance.

Backroad view of Volcan Tenorio from Tierras Morenas to Highway 6 south of Bijaguas.

Backroad view of Volcan Tenorio from Tierras Morenas to Highway 6 south of Bijagua.

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