Red-breasted Merganser at rest on the Gulf shore

Red-breasted Merganser at rest on the Gulf shoreRed-breasted Merganser at rest on the Gulf shore - D200, handheld, full frame, f7.1, 1/640. ISO 200, 80-400mm VR at 360mm, natural light

I’ve mentioned in another post that “Some Days are Magic” and I felt that magic the morning I created this image of a Red-breasted Merganser at rest was just such a day. I’d gotten home the night before from a wonderful trip that I had taken with my mother and wanted to sink my feet in the warm sugar sand at Fort De Soto County Park and photograph some birds. I’d missed being on north beach and I had missed seeing the birds.

When Red-breasted Mergansers are feeding in the shallow waters of the Gulf and tidal lagoons they are partly submerged and usually you can see their backs just above the surface of the water. They move extremely fast, zipping through the lagoon so quickly it is hard to track them with a lens. It must be exhausting because there were several times I observed mergansers calmly resting after they had been feeding.

This Red-breasted Merganser was at rest after feeding when I came upon it and photographed it for about 15 minutes. At that point I turned to photograph another bird and when I turned back around the merganser had slipped back into the Gulf. It felt very special to me to lay on the shoreline and photograph this bird.

While I photographed this merganser I laid flat on my stomach in the sand to get a very low angle while shallow wavelets soaked my clothes (you just don’t know how good that feels when the temps are in the 90′s in FL until you do it!). In this image one of those shallow incoming waves produced an almost mirror-like effect that I find quite pleasing.

In a previous version that I had edited and posted on a nature photo critique forum I had cloned out the one small out of focus shell fragment in front of the two that are to the side of the merganser’s breast. I decided not to do that in this version because as I have grown as a photographer so has my resistance to manipulate what I photograph in post processing unnecessarily. I prefer to leave my images as close as possible to what was created in the camera to show the natural; though perhaps imperfect, beauty of the bird and setting.


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Sage Thrashers and Sagebrush

A fluffed up Sage ThrasherA fluffed up Sage Thrasher – Nikon D300, f7.1, 1/400, ISO 640, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited or called in

Sage Thrashers are considered sagebrush obligates meaning that they require sagebrush for some part of their life cycle and for the Sage Thrashers in Utah that means they need it during the breeding cycle. Antelope Island State Park has many large expanses of sagebrush steppe areas where the thrashers can breed.

A very alert Sage ThrasherA very alert Sage Thrasher - Nikon D300, f7.1, 1/800, ISO 640, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited or called in

In some areas where Sage Thrashers have bred in the past their habitat has been destroyed by ranchers tearing out the sagebrush and converting those areas to open rangeland. Just recently I saw a large swath of land cleared for either cattle or horses in the foothills of the Stansbury Mountains where I have seen Sage Thrashers during their breeding season. Large scale removal of sagebrush on public and private land also has a detrimental effect on other sagebrush obligates which include 8 species of vertebrates.

I adore the spicy, pungent aroma of sagebrush and every time I see a photo of a Sage Thrasher I can almost smell it. I wish computers had the ability to emit aromas for those of you who have never had the opportunity to get a whiff of sagebrush. Some people hate it but I am in the love it camp.


Wildlife Diversity in Sagebrush Habitats – University of Nevada Reno

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Earth Day 2014

Landing American White PelicanLanding American White Pelican – Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, Utah

Yesterday while I was out photographing at Bear River I saw and photographed some amazing behavior between American White Pelicans fighting over a huge carp and though I would have liked to post some of those images today but all day yesterday I thought about the significance of what today means to me. I will share just this one image of an American White Pelican I photographed yesterday.

It is Earth Day and I wanted to write about it this morning. I remember Earth Day 1970 and how I hoped that people would realize that our Earth was being polluted, torn apart and how all wildlife was suffering. We have come a long way since then, rivers have been cleaned up, the Endangered Species Act was born and people became aware of how pesticides were killing more life than we knew. People from all walks of life came together and on April 22 twenty million Americans protested the deterioration of our environment, our Earth.

The Earth Day movement became global in 1990. A LOT of good has come from everyone’s involvement in Earth Day but there is still so much to be done.

Coyote hunting in the snowCoyote hunting in the snow – Antelope Island State Park, Utah

I know I get overwhelmed by articles that I read, documentaries I see and by my own experiences in the field as a bird and nature photographer. Birds and animals that are endangered and near extinction. Apex predators being killed even though science says we need them for natural balance. Sea life is dying because of the pollution we have put into our oceans. Poisons are leaching into our soil and our water supplies. Air quality is suffering. Habitat is being destroyed. Forests are still being felled at an alarming rate.

Yes, some things have gotten better since 1970 but many things have rapidly gotten worse.

I worry what the climate will be like for my grandchildren’s children. As a bird photographer I wonder if they will only know some of the beautiful birds we have today through images their great-grandmother and others have taken?

Layers of Time - Capitol Reef National ParkLayers of Time – Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Earth Day is an important day but truthfully every day is or should be.

We can all make a difference individually and as a global community every day of our lives. One action multiplied by millions can and does make a change.

There are many organizations we can volunteer for, donate to, join or support that have made positive changes through education, action and awareness. I am going to list a few here and hope that my readers will also feel free to add others in their comments and perhaps why they feel the organization is important or the organization’s mission.


My list in no particular order:

Earth Day Network – All about Earth Day, its history and goals.

Project Coyote – Promoting coexistence between people and wildlife through education, science and advocacy.

Pledge to Fledge - A grassroots birding outreach movement, the Global Birding Initiative (GBI) mobilizes birders throughout the world to share their appreciation for birds with others.

NRDC Save BioGems – Our citizen action network is saving America’s last wild places.

Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) – NRDC works to safeguard the earth — its people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which all life depends.

American Kestrel Partnership – A project of the Peregrine Fund, a network of citizen and professional scientists working to collaboratively advance kestrel demographics and conservation.

Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance – The mission of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) is the preservation of the outstanding wilderness at the heart of the Colorado Plateau, and the management of these lands in their natural state for the benefit of all Americans.

American Birding Association (ABA) – The American Birding Association inspires all people to enjoy and protect wild birds.

WildEarth Guardians - WildEarth Guardians works to protect and restore wildlife, wild places and wild rivers in the American West.

The Nature Conservancy – The mission of The Nature Conservancy is to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends.

Great Salt Lake Institute – The Great Salt Lake Institute (GSLI) at Westminster College endeavors to increase the appreciation and understanding of Great Salt Lake

HawkWatch International – The mission of HawkWatch International is to conserve the environment through education, long-term monitoring, and scientific research on raptors as indicators of ecosystem health.

National Wildlife Refuge Association – The National Wildlife Refuge Association’s mission is to conserve America’s wildlife heritage for future generations through strategic programs that protect and enhance the National Wildlife Refuge System and the landscapes beyond its boundaries.

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Portraits of a Coyote

A Noble Beast - Coyote PortraitA Noble Beast – Coyote Portrait – Nikon D300, f5.6, 1/2000, ISO 640, +1.0 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited or called in

These Coyote portraits were created yesterday morning after finding the Coyote hunting voles along the causeway to Antelope Island State Park. I was so close to the Coyote that I could not fit the entire Coyote into the frame and since I didn’t feel like I had time to take off my teleconverter I opted to zoom in and take portraits of the Coyote.

Coyote PortraitCoyote Portrait - Nikon D300, f7.1, 1/1600, ISO 640, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited or called in

I felt hurried because there was traffic on the causeway, a bicyclist and truck heading west to the island,  the bicyclist zoomed by without seeing the Coyote just a few feet from the side of the road and the truck didn’t even slow down. I had thought the Coyote might move away but it stood its ground and continued to hunt.

There are times when my subjects do get too close for me to fit their whole bodies into the frame with my gear and quite often I will decide to take portraits instead of full body shots. I enjoy portraits though because they give me a sense of closeness and intimacy with my subjects.


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Sage Thrashers – Mockingbirds of the Sagebrush

Sage Thrasher singing on Antelope Island State ParkSage Thrasher singing on Antelope Island State Park – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/125, ISO 640, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited or called in

I spent some time yesterday on Antelope Island State Park photographing and listening to a very cooperative and melodious Sage Thrasher. The light was not the best because of clouds blocking the morning rays of the sun but the bird kept singing so I kept photographing it. Its not like bad light has ever stopped me before. :-)

Singing Sage ThrasherSinging Sage Thrasher - Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/160, ISO 640, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited or called in

This Sage Thrasher was singing from the top of an old stump of a dead Sagebrush close to the road, this stump is a favorite of Western Meadowlarks too.

Sage Thrasher looking upSage Thrasher looking up - Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/200, ISO 640, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited or called in

Sage Thrashers and Northern Mockingbirds are from the same family and they can mimic the sounds of other birds, in fact yesterday I thought I was hearing another Sage Thrasher in different location on the island but it turned out to be my first of the year Northern Mockingbird!

You can listen to the song of the Sage Thrasher here, they sing during the day but will also sing throughout the night especially during a full moon.

Sage Thrashers are currently listed by the IUCN as a species of least concern but a recent study by the USGS suggests that climate change may affect their habitat and could cause a 78% decline in their overall population.

I’m glad the Sage Thrasher are back on Antelope Island because I enjoy listening to them and photographing them is great too.



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