The Passenger Pigeon

Tags

, , , , , ,

100 years ago today, the last Passenger Pigeon died in the Cincinnati Zoo. Her name was Martha and she never flew as a wild bird. A sad day indeed, as this species numbered in the billions in the mid-1800’s and was almost gone by 1890. Large flocks were reported to take days to fly over as they migrated in the spring from the southern US to the northern midwest states and beyond. They took over large tracts of forests for nesting colonies. It is a sight I would have loved to have seen. I imagine myself standing outside my home (with an umbrella) and watching in amazement at the sheer numbers of birds flying over. They were slaughtered by the millions as the recently-invented telegraph would send out word as to the location of the great flocks and nesting colonies. The carcasses were placed in barrels and shipped to the larger cities for fine dining and other uses.

Even with protection of the Migratory Bird Treaty or the Endangered Species Act, in today’s world, I believe the Passenger Pigeon would have a hard time surviving. We humans like our wildlife counted and orderly these days. There needs to be a “purpose” to these living beings. Do they provide food and nourishment, companionship, livelihood, recreation, or are they beautiful to look at? The Passenger Pigeon, I understand, was a beautiful bird, it could have fit in as a food source, and of course, it could have been very popular for recreational hunting. But it needed to live in large colonies covering miles of wooded areas for nesting, feeding, and roosting. Yes, we could have set aside large tracts of land as parks or refuges but this bird moved yearly to areas of plentiful acorns and beech nuts. This bird would not have tolerated being confined to specific areas. Would we allow this? Would we be grateful that we get to shovel our sidewalks of guano after we witnessed a million-bird flock passing over our house as it migrated to its northern nesting area? One would hope they would navigate around major cities but what if the flock decided to settle in on a foggy night in downtown Chicago. Amongst many other issues, imagine the traffic problems of a million crow-sized birds coming in for a landing, darkening the sky. I don’t think we are this tolerant, we would not have control of this bird that would always come along in large flocks.

As a photographer, I try to imagine what it would be like to photograph the incredible flocks along with individual birds of this species. I would have sat in a photo blind in the middle of a nesting colony, catching “the changing of the guard” as the males came in to relieve the females of the nesting duties and vice versa. I would photograph the squabs as they grew and then eventually drop to the ground where they moved en masse. What would a large, oak tree look like with pigeon nests covering all of the branches. What other wildlife would come through feeding off of this “endless” supply of food?

These are just a few of the thoughts I have. I would have loved to have seen and photographed these incredible flocks of birds and their annual life history. I consider the birds we now have and could lose. I would be devastated if I could not watch the lekking behavior of the Greater Sage Grouse each spring.

No photos available.

Advertisements

Old Faithful Geyser

Tags

, , ,

Old Faithful Geyser and grassesThis past weekend was spent at an employee reunion in which we reminisced about days working in the Old Faithful area in the mid-80’s. We all admitted it was a life-changing experience as we laughed over stories, adventures, and friends we had met in the summers spent in our first national park. It was lots of fun with the highlight of the weekend being a trip to the top of the Old Faithful Inn.

Old Faithful on cloudy dayI left the “big lens” home knowing photography was not priority for these several days but I did plan to photograph in the geyser basins. Upon arrival, I immediately noticed the colorful grasses in the area surrounding Old Faithful and made a note to myself to return first thing in the morning.  I did. The weather was cloudy but the colors were great and I had hopes for just a brief amount of sunshine with the erupting geyser. No luck, on either of the mornings I was there.  The clouds made for slow shutter speeds and blurry water spouts which were unique to the typical Old Faithful photo.

The geyser basin was quiet and calm at first light in August, but by the second eruption of Old Faithful the crowds were up and moving.  It was fun to see folks from around the world enjoy one of our national treasures! I myself have seen the geyser spout off on numerous occasions and each eruption is powerful and unique.  I again found myself wishing I had just one more day to catch this geyser in a little, different light!

Old Faithful Geyser and Inn

Reflective Mornings

Tags

, , , , , ,

Long-billed Dowitcher

By mid August early signs of fall migration are starting and a number of different bird species will head south via western Wyoming. I like to keep an eye on a local mudflat and watch the shorebirds come through, practicing my “non-breeding” plumage ID. This can be Long-billed Dowitcherchallenging and it is a necessity to pay attention to size and shape. Now, Sublette County is not known for it’s large flocks of shorebirds such as you may see on the coast or near large, inland lakes but we do get small flocks and individual birds that keep me guessing; such as the bird at the top of this blog. Is it a Long-billed or a Short-billed Dowitcher.  It hasn’t made a call thus I have no voice for help.  I, along with several experts, are hedging towards a Long-billed but it is in the process of molting, making it difficult to be positive, and the two birds, Long and Short-billed  are very similar in appearance.

I like to sit at this stinky, bug ridden mudflat as the foliage reflecting on the water creates great color for the background of my photographs.  It is beautiful on a calm morning with first light coming over the mountains. A different cast of characters is present each day, never numerous, but there has been at least one cooperative soul each morning.

Initially a small group of juvenile Wilson’s Phalarope were working the water surface, several of whom were quite fearless of me as they came in too close for my lens to focus. They were gone this morning thus I am believing they have moved on with the recent storms. I hope for a few more to stop and refuel on their journey south. They were quite entertaining, chasing after a variety of insects on the surface of the water.

Wilson's Phalarope

A Lesser Yellowlegs was present on several mornings. Very aware, he chose to ignore my presence on several occasions and came in close for photos. He was beautiful and easier to keep in focus than the phalaropes which were in constant motion with bobbing heads.

Lesser Yellowlegs

A family group of Common Mergansers have been in the area all summer and they make quite a ruckus as they snorkel under water looking and then chasing their prey. I did receive a brief encounter (as they are very wary). I was sitting around a corner and a juvenile came snorkeling by getting sight of me on the second head lift. I was ready and fired off several quick photos. With the reflective water, it was a beautiful set up.

Common MerganserThe local Killdeer and Spotted Sandpipers have been scattered along the shoreline also.  I felt as though I was “winning” if the alarmist Killdeer did not call out my presence to the other birds. I did notice all of the birds would raise their heads and pay attention to what this small shorebird was reporting. The Killdeer and the Spotted Sandpipers are wary of my lens but on rare occasions they did approach close for photos.  The photos showed various amounts of down on these birds telling me they are young of the year.  The Killdeer still had down on the end of the tail feathers and the Spotted Sandpipers had various amounts of down hanging on to the edge of their feathers looking quite comical and scruffy.

Killdeer

 

Juvenile Spotted SandpiperThe Foxtail grass is starting to lose it’s color now, decreasing the vibrance of the reflective water.  I will continue to work the shoreline in hopes of numerous migrants coming through. It is good practice to ID these birds and to also sit quietly in one place, something we don’t do much of these days.

 

 

 

Mountain Bluebirds

Tags

Mountain Bluebird PairI find it hard to resist this beautiful bird. I headed out one morning to specifically get a good, morning-light fix.  I was well aware the Mountain Bluebirds had fledged their young at this time but I decided to go anyways. I set up on the lichen covered sandstone and awaited sunrise and the arrival of the birds.  Sure enough the rocks lit up and the bluebirds arrived and greeted the morning sunrise.  Now I am well aware this rarely happens to a photographer but on this particular morning it did and I enjoyed the sweet light on this bluebird family!!Mt. Bluebird female and fledglingMountain Bluebird and fledglingMountain Bluebird family

Going to the Birds

Tags

,

Say's Phoebe with insectI have mentioned this abandoned RV camp once before in a discussion on Mountain Bluebirds. I have noticed a number of different birds in this particular area over Abandoned buildingthe past several years thus it has become a stop on my birding route along the Green River. This year a pair of Say’s Phoebes were nesting in the concrete block building. They built a thick, warm-looking nest on top of a wall-hung Say's Phoebe nestbox with an open lid which provided a sheltered nest site. The parents were feeding young at this time and would enter the nest from both sides making it impossible to photograph their entry.  They would often stop, prior or after delivery of their insect dinners, on the edge of the window sill allowing several photos. While photographing this pair feeding their young, I seemed to bring out the curiosity of a few other birds nesting in the area. A Sage Thrasher came in and sat on the top of the building’s air vent to take a long look at me. Sage Thrasher on pipe A family of bluebirds had just fledged from their RV hook-up box and enjoyed hanging out on the roof or in the rafters making their “mewing” calls to each other as they learned to catch insects. Several pieces of furniture were left to disintegrate outside of the building. The batting on the inside of the chair was providing an Eastern Kingbird with a soft lining of nest material.  She would stop by to fill her beak and then take off for the river bottom;  Mt. Bluebird Fledglingher distinctive black and white feathering set off by the faded orange armchair.

A Loggerhead Shrike arrived to inspect the inside of the building eventually finding a snack for it’s little ones. (I was hoping the young Phoebes were too big by this time and were not being eyed by this “raptor of the passerines”.) Vesper Sparrows, Horned Lark’s, a Western Kingbird all stopped in along with a lone Northern Mockingbird. My “first of the year” Common Nighthawk flew over letting me know he had arrived with it’s “peent” calls from the sky above me. All in all, a very birdy spot this beautiful morning.  My thoughts were: it is nice to know, we can abandon an area and leave quite a mess behind but it may someday go back to the birds.Eastern_Kingbird

 

 

Spring in Wyoming

Greater Sage Grouse strutting on snowThe calendar tells me spring has been going on for 6 weeks now.  If you talk to a fellow Wyomingite, they may tell you spring does not arrive until June.  If you watch the weather, you may decide spring does not arrive until June.  If you pay attention to the birds, they will tell you spring arrived sometime in early March.  I really enjoy this time of year with all of it’s frustrating weather that can put a damper on being outside and setting up a camera. This morning, May 7, it is snowing quite well outside and it is predicted to turn to rain as the day warms up.  I, of course, am hoping for a little break in the clouds in which a bit of sunshine will shine on this fresh frosting of snow.

I like to start spring with the Greater Sage Grouse strutting on their lek.  I was hindered slightly with the deep snowpack this year but I did get a chance to watch and photograph these birds on a number of mornings as they performed their annual mating dance and the antics that go with this ritual: chasing, fighting for dominance, indifferent hens, etc.  The snowpack was difficult at times but I came away with clean images without a lot of clutter in the background.  I did discover, the birds do not like struttingGreater Sage Grouse in fresh snow in a 10″ layer  of fresh snow.  I was disappointed on this particular morning, as the sun rose beautifully and the light was incredible.  All was in place for good photos except: I had no birds.  They made an attempt but then decided to go about their other daily business leaving this photographer to head home.

During this same time period I had been watching several nesting Great Horned Owls. I was determined to capture an image of a particular nest with an owlet sitting on the lip of the cavity. I have been working on this image for a number of years; my timing has always been wrong. This year I discovered the young owls were about a month ahead of where I thought they would be. I rearranged my schedule for fear of the two, young owlets fledging the nest any day. Despite the weather (the weatherman forecasted wind and cold temps), I arrived early to the site in hopes of getting a morning break from the wind. No luck! The weatherman was correct, windy and cold. I dressed warm and arrived just before sunrise. The owlets had not fledged but they were napping, I waited them out. I briefly stepped away to warm up during a large, cloud- covered moment.  When I returned, there sat a brazen, young owl on the lip of the cavity. Just what I had hoped for! I took a few distant insurance shots and then slowly moved into position. It could not have been any cuter! A photographer’s high was happening!Great Horned Owlet

Spring continues on with crazy weather but it does not stop the birds.  When they decide it is time to nest, they nest. A week later, I had a morning in which the spring weather was great; calm, warm, and sunny. I took a drive to go birding and scout a number of nest sites which included a Mountain Bluebird cavity. The Mountain Bluebird pair had returned and were nest building.  The male was present but the female was returning time after time with a beak full of grass or feathers. She was diligent with her task, filling the cavity with nesting materials. I did not stay long for fear of disrupting their nest building. I look forward to their eggs hatching and photographing the constant feeding routine of both parents.20140503_Boehm_1601

It is an exciting time of year with migration in full swing in Wyoming. I am seeing FOY (First of Year) birds almost every day, such as the lovely Lark Sparrow that did not mind a photographer coming in close for a photo. I do my best to not let the cold and wet weather keep me inside as you just have to “Get out and go for it” or you may be stuck inside for days. I was told by a wise photographer years ago that there was only one guarantee in this business: You won’t get any photos if you don’t get out and take them!  It is so true!

Lark Sparrow

 

Nebraska: Chickens and Grouse

Tags

, , ,

Praire Chicknen displayingI recently headed to Nebraska with a good friend and awesome photographer to witness the annual lekking courtship of the Greater Prairie Chicken and the Sharp-tailed Grouse.  We had to be good friends and very tolerant of each other as we spent ten mornings in small blinds in close proximity.  We did very well, I must say!  I have photographed our local Greater Sage Grouse on it’s lek on numerous occasions but wanted to see these two other birds displaying in the sandhills of Nebraska.  It was quite a sight and as always: I want more!!

The Greater Prairie Chicken male displays Prairie Chicken males displayinga pair of pinnae (ear like feathers) along with an orange and purple air sac as it produces a soft, low, hooting sound. They also do a short hop-flight with a cackle that sounds as though you may have just entered a jungle. They will battle each other for top spot in the lek. The bird that holds the top spot has most of the breeding honors. They will display to each other casually, but the real “ruckus” happens when a female enters the courtship arena. Suddenly, all of the males are hooting and dancing, sparring with each other as necessary, truly strutting their stuff. The hen wanders through the lek with an indifference to all of them, taking in the attention and checking out the merchandise. A spectacular audible and visual sight!Prairie Chicken male displaying to female

Male Sharp-tailed Grouse displayingThe Sharp-tailed Grouse is less colorful but no less spectacular.  These males entertain their hens on the tops of the sand hills. They have a smallerSharp-tailed Grouse female air sac but it is colored a bright purple.  They display with wings spread, air sac puffed, and yellow eyebrows raised.  Stomping their feet, they will all go into a display position and synchronize their moves with the top male initiating the start.  Crazy sounds are made by all consisting of hoots and snapping of tail feathers; as usual a flurry of activity comes into play with the presence of a female.

These two birds are truly something to see on their spring courting arenas. Like a number of our other native birds, their demise will be the loss of habitat. Historically, the grasslands they need have been under siege for a long time, shrinking the available habitat and thus decreasing their numbers. Conservation programs are coming into place and efforts are being made to preserve or restore the native prairies. May enough Americans find these birds worthy of saving!Sharp-tailed Grouse in sandhills

 

Trumpeter Swans

Trumpeter Swan stretching wingsWhat a grand sight it is to see and hear this beautiful bird, especially in flight. It is spring here in Wyoming and these birds are passing through on their way north. A few will stay and raise young in the area but the majority will continue northward.  We have had several pairs spend the winter allowing me a number of cold mornings of photography sitting under a blind.  They are wary birds and it took time and patience to approach the pond and give the swans time to relax and move within camera distance.  This particular morning it was cold and the frost was still visible on the birds feathers.Trumpeter Swans resting Unlike myself, they had no concerns over the sub-zero temperature. I watched them awaken and toss water over their heads to rid their feathers of the frost crystals.  The water literally rolled off their backs just like a duck!! The reality of the warmth of their feathering really hit home.Trumpeter_Swan_-2

The Trumpeter Swan is a large, white bird that was at one time headed for extinction.  It’s numbers have now increased but it is still easily disturbed at it’s nesting sight.  It lives along waterways, lakes, and in marshes eating submerged vegetation.  The call of this swan is described as a “ko-hoh” which can easily distinguish it from a Tundra Swan, a much smaller waterfowl that typically has a yellow spot on it’s upper mandible. Both can be seen during the migratory season in Wyoming thus it is always good to take a second look. The Trumpeter Swan can often be heard calling in flight and I thoroughly enjoy seeing a family group winging by on a cold, winter/spring day!Trumpeter Swan

The Bobcat

Bobcat on log by river

The bobcat (Lynx rufus) is an elusive feline that is often seen tail-end going into the bushes.  I feel fortunate to have seen a number of these medium-sized cats not to mention having had several great photo ops! These cats love the scrubby brush and trees along the river bottoms here in Wyoming. I often see tracks in the fresh snow throughout the winter and always hope to catch a glimpse. They are very stealthy and will eat a number of critters including small mammals, ducks, and carrion. They have even been known to take down much larger animals such as deer.

Recently in Yellowstone National Park, a bobcat has been seen and photographed frequently as it stalks and hunts the waterfowl along the Madison River.  We watched this awesome cat stalk it’s prey and try to blend in and hide, using the logs along the shoreline.  Like my indoor cats they are incredible athletes and very good at what they do; stalking, hiding, and catching prey!Bobcat hunting duck

Bobcat along RiverThe females have territories of approximately five square miles with no overlap within the same gender.  Males will have much larger territories and may have several females within their range.  The kittens will follow their mother around for almost a year before she sends them on their way.  On an autumn afternoon, I watched a family group slowly saunter away from me into the sagebrush; the two little ones stuck their short tails in the air and swaggered into the brushy ditch reminding me of my house cat as it rules our household. Watching these wild felines is truly awesome and having one in your viewfinder is definitely “a photographer’s high”.

Bobcat walking on snow covered hillside