SPRING TREKKING

A couple weeks of rain was not enough to break the drought…

Lake Oroville

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but after it ended spring fever hit me and I loaded the photography gear and headed out to some of my favorite spots in central California.  My first stop was Putah Creek where for some unknown reason, diving ducks congregate.  My quarry was the hooded merganser and after a lot of distant shots, one came close enough for a good image.

Hooded Merganser

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Then it was off to Moss Landing and Elkhorn Slough, a small bay on the coast just north of Monterey.  The area abounds with marine life, sea otters, sea lions, seals and shorebirds in the mud flats.

Sea Otter PortraitsImage

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Snacking on a  crab

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Sea Lions

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Harbor Seals & Gulls

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Pelagic CormorantImage

Long-billed Curlew

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Whimbrel (eating  crab)

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Willet

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From Moss Landing I headed inland to Pinnacles National Park hoping to get some photos of the California condors that are now occupying that area.  No luck on condors but there was lots of other wildlife and scenic opportunities.

Pinnacles National Park-The Pinnacles

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Yellow-billed Magpie

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California Quail

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Scrub Jay

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California ThrasherImage

Brown Towhee

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Wild Turkeys (The Boys!)

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Next month I’m headed to Panama for more bird photography.

 

No Room For Compromise

When I was a child growing up in the 1950’s some of my most pleasant memories were of the friendship and comradery between my father, grandfather, uncle and cousin.  The family gathered at our home on three or four holidays, usually Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas.  After dinner, the men gathered in the living room for “after dinner drinks” and conversation that lasted well into the wee hours of the morning.

Being a child I was sent to bed early and fell asleep to the sound of their voices, shouting and guffawing at each other’s political views.  They seemed to agree on very little and the loud argumentative conversation indicated such.  Yet in the morning they were again friends, laughing and talking.  I learned early that differences of opinion are acceptable as long as intelligent dialogue and discourse are permitted.

This is not the case today.  Political and religious differences, even slight ones, alienate friends, split up families, and have become the primary obstruction to creating new friendships.  The new model is: You must agree with me on EVERYTHING or you’re my enemy!  There is no longer any room for intelligent discourse or debate; no interest in facts that may or may not support a pre-determined point of view; and a reliance on rhetoric, ridicule and intimidation to make ones point.

Being a scientist, I rely primarily on facts.  If none are available, the least I can accept is logical theory with some factual foundation.  Being both a progressive and an atheist, I am obviously acquainted with a number of people who strongly disagree with my views on many issues, particularly politics, the role of individuals in society, and/or religion.  A few of these are friends with whom I can discuss these issues; express my views; listen to theirs; and if nothing more, at least understand the thought processes and basis by which our views were formed.  Occasionally, with one or the other of us there is the revelation, “Gee, I never thought of that!”  But unfortunately, so many others have become former friends.  They have set the bar so high that even the hint of non-agreement sets them into a rage and have thus written me off.  One of the most hurtful experiences in my recent past was when a long-time friend with whom I had spent many enjoyable years with, wrote me in an e-mail that “People like you are what’s wrong with this country.”   Another — our families having grown up together since college — dragged me across a restaurant table by my shirtfront when he perceived I disagreed with him on the interpretation of the 2nd Amendment.

Unfortunately, such divisiveness is not limited to personal relations; it now extends into all our political entities from the local town councils to Congress and, in all walks of life, appears to be growing in application and acceptance.  Where does this inevitably lead us?  I fear for our society and wish for a return to a time when decisions were made using facts, common sense and civility, not so much for me but for my grandchildren.  Maybe I wish for too much.

NO TRESPASSING

The rain lightened this morning giving me a chance to take the dog for a much-needed run, something her breed requires almost daily.  She’s been cooped up by the fire during the storm lasting for the past two days, staring at me with soulful eyes every time I put on my jacket to go for more wood for the fire.

Our morning walk often parallels a small lake fed by a flume maintained by the Pacific Gas and Electric Company.  It takes water from the upper Feather River and channels it through 4 generators in a powerhouse built in the 1930’s but still in operation and eventually back into the river.  It’s a route we’ve used a couple times a week for the past 10 years. 

Part of the flume is on state land and part on an old ranch, the latter no longer viable for cattle production.  Until the recent economic downturn it was proposed for a potential housing development pending the ability to purchase scarce water locally.  The old barbed wire fences have mostly fallen and the primary access gates are often left open in the summer to allow immediate access in the case of a wildfire.  A handful of local residents know of this part of the flume and use it for early morning walks with their dogs or just to observe the abundant bird-life found there due to the water.  Since we have been walking this route we have rarely encountered other hikers, and only twice mountain bikers, and the area has remained devoid of trash and other debris.

Today, after circumventing the lake and starting down the flume we came to the first gate.  On it was a newly attached sign with fluorescent letters, NO TRESPASSING.  An adjacent gate leading up an access road also had the same sign…NO TRESPASSING.

It’s unclear why landowners of vacant unused lands in this country feel compelled to prevent others from enjoying foot access even as these lands are neither maintained for livestock production or other commercial or recreational uses.  I recently had a conversation with a sales person in a local store who was lamenting that California was not as restrictive as his native Tennessee where he claimed it was legal to shoot trespassers (I find that hard to believe!)

The attitude of “I’ve got mine; to Hell with everyone else” is the foundation of a failing society bent on eventual revolution.

Being at the Right Place at the Right Time Pays Off

A good friend of mine, Pete Bengeyfield, an accomplished nature photographer and writer, is publishing a book entitled You Can’t Be Everywhere at Sunrise.  His point was that sunrise was the prime time for great photos.  Well, last week I was parked in a photo blind at the Delevan National Wildlife Refuge at sunrise (6:45 a.m.).   By 9:00 I had grown tired of looking at the few coots that wandered close and watching other waterfowl landing a long distance away, so I closed up shop and left without having taken any interesting photos (I have lots of coot pictures…little black feathered guys with less personality than an amoeba).  As I was already in the area, I decided to take a swing around the auto tour route at the Sacramento NWR, a nice place to look at birds but never really great for photography since the birds are usually distant from the tour road, you’re not allowed out of your car, and there’s often a bunch of birders blocking the road, oblivious to anything except what they see through their binoculars.  Well, there are days when it’s just the “luck of the Irish” for we photographers and this was my day for being everywhere at sunrise.  Here are some of the images I got:

Peregrine Falcon-For the past few winters I’ve seen one in about the same place but never could get close enough for a photo.  This one just sat and let m from the sunroof on my truck.

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Red-tailed Hawk-Lots of these in the refuge but often obscured by tree branches.  These two were out in the open.

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American Kestrel-Next in line was this guy having lunch.  He wouldn’t wipe his chin and finally got nervous and flew off.

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Bald Eagle-There’s always a few bald eagles here in the winter but usually far from the road.  This one was cooperative.

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Golden Eagle-The big surprise of the day was this golden eagle.  There were two of them perched on the power lines along the road.

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A great day for raptors but there were opportunities for lots of waterfowl.

Pied-billed Grebe

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Mallard

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Pintail

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Green-wing Teal

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Shoveler

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Ring-necked Duck

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White-faced Ibis

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All in all, a pretty good day!

Ecuador is for the BIRDS!

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Ecuador….a country divided by the Equator…bathed in cloud forest…the Andes…the Amazon.  Obviously a place for short pants and t-shirts for the hot…humid…tropics…right?  Not!  Quito, the capitol city, is 9,350 feet in elevation, the highest capitol city in the world and surrounded by a number of volcanoes, some reaching well over 20,000 feet in elevation.  But, this country with over 2,300 bird species is certain to attract any biologist/photographer.

Quito is a modern city with a population of over 2 million

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Antisana Volcano (18,714 feet) towers over the area

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Accompanied by my grandson, Jesse, we joined a 5-person photographic tour that took us from 9,000 feet to 14,500 feet; from cool damp cloud forest to blistering cold icy winds and fog at summits.  We hiked down steep trails through jungles of tropical plants and on treeless grasslands and mossy tundra looking for birds to photograph.

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At 10, 250 feet this felt more like Alaska than on the Equator.

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Here’s the quarry up here…a Seed Snipe.  Jesse got the shot; it flew before I arrived (gasping for breath!)

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Antisana plateau; over 10,000 feet Image

Carunculated Caracara on the plateau

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When The Creator molded the Andes he only had defined 2 words…”up” and “down.”

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There’s water running everywhere, from numerous rivulets and waterfalls along every slope to rushing rivers.

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Torrent ducks brave the rapids in the rivers

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The bird-life is spectacular and well worth the temperature and elevation extremes, cold winds and very steep muddy trails and the pain in my rapidly failing ankle.

Going through the forest.

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The birds ranged from Andean condors soaring over the cliffs…

It was a half-mile away…but seeing an Andean condor was a lifetime thrill for an old condor biologist.

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 …to secretive antpittas hiding in the forest floor vegetation. 

Moustached ant pitta

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Ochre-breasted antpitta

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The tanagers, barbets, acaris, motmots, trogons, etc. are as colorful as the many flowers and fruits on which they feed.

Blue-winged Mountain Tanager

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Black-chested Mountain Tanager

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Black-chinned Mountain Tanager

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Golden Tanager

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Flame-faced Tanager

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Lemon-rumped Tanager

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Golden-naped Tanager

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Grass-green Tanager

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Masked Flowerpiercer

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Pale-mandibled Acari

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 Crimson-rumped Toucanette

 

 

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Toucan Barbet

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Red-headed Barbet

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Masked Trogon

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Cock-of-the-Rock

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Variable Hawk

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Yet it’s the 132 species of hummingbirds that we bird photographers to Ecuador, A few of the over 30 hummingbirds we encountered included:

Sword-billed Hummingbird

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Booted Racquet-tail

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White-necked Jacobin

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Sparkling Violet-ear

 

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Purple-throated Woodstar

 

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Glowing Puffleg

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Great Sapphirewing (about the size of a sparrow)

 

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Collared Inca

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Velvet-purple Coronet

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Chestnut-breasted Coronet

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The ten days went fast…too fast.

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Relaxation in Quito at the end of the tour.

Snake River Birds of Prey Area, Idaho

I got the bug to head up into Idaho and visit the Snake River Birds of Prey area for a couple days of raptor photography.  Around a 600 mile trip one way…14 hours on the road.  Stayed in Nampa…now just a suburb of the greater Boise urban sprawl (having been I Idaho resident for 7 years I realize they disregard anything we Californians tell them NOT to do).  My expectations were that I would be inundated with raptors on every rock outcrop, canyon wall and power pole but this was not the case.

Primary BOP habitat (w/o trash)

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Most of the area is high desert sagebrush interspersed with private lands in alfalfa, corn and other water hungry crops.  Lots of dirt roads and tracks over the hills where the motorcycles and dune buggies have denuded the area.  This opened the area for “free” dumping of all kinds of trash…old mattresses and couches, broken swing sets and just lots of bags of garbage.  But, amid the rubble I did find some cooperative burrowing owls and spent a morning and an evening photographing them.

Burrowing owls

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My favorite shot

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Going down into the Snake River Canyon was a welcome change…really picturesque scenery with some faunal photographic subjects.

Dedication Point

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Snake River Canyon from Dedication Point

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The sheer cliffs provide nesting habitat for several raptor species

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Prairie falcon at eyrie (as close as I could get)

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Marmots live in the rock falls at the cliff base

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So do canyon wrens…

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and Rock wrens.

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Ospreys made use of abandoned power poles

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So, I cut my trip short by a day and headed back over the miles and miles and miles of sagebrush lands in Idaho, Oregon and Nevada (glad I brought a couple dozen CDs and have cruise control!)  Next adventure is Ecuador in July!

Eagles, eagles and more eagles!

 

 

 

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Hood Canal, Washington…the western-most channel in Puget Sound.  Tides range up to 15 feet and at the very low tides in the spring and early summer, bald eagles congregate along the northern sections to feed on the fish—sculpins—that  become stranded in the rocky shallows as the tide goes out.  Here they compete with great blue herons, gulls and crows for the abundant food.

With the eagles come the photographers.  I went with a group led by Nate Chappell, a professional nature photographer originally from this area.  Typical Washington weather…rain, sun breaking through, then more rain didn’t discourage us and had no effect on the eagles.  Lots of action; lots of digital images (I had many of the sky where the eagle just was); time sped by.  Here’s a few of the several thousand frames I took:

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Starting with my favorite shot, an adult bald eagle on a moss-covered rock on the beach.

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Eagles don’t seem to be bothered by the photographers

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Sitting on the beach watching the eagles and herons performing at the water’s edge

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After eating their fill, the eagles roosted in the conifers that came down to the water’s edge.

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The crows delighted in harassing the roosting eagles

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Fifteen to twenty eagles were actively feeding at any given time

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A marine smorgasbord

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Eating their fill, they’d roost in the trees and dry their wings

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The really action was the interaction of eagles with the great blue herons and with each other

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Back off, buddy!

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Wanta dance?

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Mixed company.

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Family feuds were common

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Such fantastic birds…

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It’s nice to know they’re no longer Endangered.