Morning treasures from six years ago today

Snowy Egret in dawn's lightSnowy Egret in dawn’s light

These images of wading and shorebirds were taken at Fort De Soto County Park’s north beach six years ago today on a beautiful morning.

I photographed this Snowy Egret as the sun came up over the eastern horizon and the light seemed to make the egret glow against the blues of the Gulf of Mexico.

Ruddy Turnstone on the goRuddy Turnstone on the go

This Ruddy Turnstone came in real close as I laid as still as a rock on the beach. I had to back up my zoom to fit the shorebird into the frame. I guess it shows that good things come to those with patience.

Resting Snowy PloverResting Snowy Plover

It was actually a cool morning and a lot of the smaller shorebirds; like this Snowy Plover, were resting on the sand and soaking in the warmth of the sun.

Resting Wilson's PloverResting Wilson’s Plover

Along with this Wilson’s Plover who was also resting nearby.

Resting Semipalmated PloverResting Semipalmated Plover

And a cute little Semipalmated Plover tucked into the wrack line not far from where I laid in the sand.

Tricolored Heron with preyTricolored Heron with prey

Later as the sun climbed into the sky I photographed this Tricolored Heron moments after to caught a small fish at the edge of the Gulf of Mexico.

I love what I do and I love my subjects too. Yesterday, today and all my tomorrows.

Life is good.


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Juvenile American Dippers

American Dipper juvenile looking for preyAmerican Dipper juvenile looking for prey – Nikon D810, handheld, f5.6, 1/160, ISO 640, -0.7 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR, natural light

The drive to Cascade Springs was beautiful yesterday with the beginnings of fall colors on the mountains but for me the best part was photographing American Dippers again. American Dippers are North America’s only aquatic songbird, not only do they fly and sing they also swim, wade and dive for prey. The two American Dippers I photographed yesterday are juveniles that hatched this year, I did not see the adult birds.

American Dipper juvenileAmerican Dipper juvenile – Nikon D810, handheld, f5, 1/400, ISO, 1600, -0.7 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR, natural light

The lighting was more than challenging as the two young dippers stayed mostly in the shaded area of a pool at the base of the spring while they foraged for food. I could tell on my camera LCD that ISO 640 just wasn’t going to cut it because my shutter speed was slow and most of the images were blurry so I cranked the ISO up to 1600. I was handholding or resting my lens on my knees as I sat on the wooden boardwalk to get these photos, I think next time I go I will haul my tripod to the springs so I can use it for a little more stability.

Juvenile American Dipper at Cascade SpringsJuvenile American Dipper at Cascade Springs – Nikon D810, handheld, f5, 1/1250, ISO 1600, -0.7 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR, natural light

American Dippers prefer fast moving, unpolluted waters that are found in mountain streams, creeks and rivers and their main prey items include aquatic insects, dragonflies, worms, small fish, fish eggs and flying insects. American Dippers aren’t migratory but in the coldest part of winter they may move to larger rivers that have more open water.  When searching for aquatic prey they dip their heads under the water up to 60 times a minutes giving them the name “Dipper”.

Behavioral display of a juvenile American DipperBehavioral display of a juvenile American Dipper – Nikon D810, handheld, f5, 1/400, ISO 1250, Nikkor 500mm VR, natural light

At one point I was focused on one of the juveniles when the other flew in and the first bird lifted its wings over its body and held them there for at least 30 seconds if not longer, the other juvenile did not raise its wings in response. This might be some kind of territorial display behavior but to be honest I am just speculating on that. This is certainly not a great shot because of the angle of the light but I wanted to share the behavior.

American Dipper juvenile with preyAmerican Dipper juvenile with prey – Nikon D810, handheld, f5, 1/400, ISO 1250, Nikkor 500mm VR, natural light

The air was crisp and clear and the rushing water was loud as tumbled over rocks as it headed down stream and I wish I could share that all. I tried to do a video on my phone but I couldn’t hold it still and the resulting video was so shaky that it looked like a drunken pirate took it so I will try that again another day. I can share the sounds of the American Dippers singing with rushing water found here though.

Several times I was able to get images where the American Dippers had prey in their bills and liked this frame because of the flying water droplets caused by the dipper shaking the prey, the low angle, prey in the bill and the eye contact from the young bird.

This was only the second time I have had the opportunity to photograph American Dippers and I hope that one day I will be able to photograph them out in the open sunlight as they go about their lives.

Life is good.


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Centennial Valley Cinnamon Teal

Cinnamon Teal wing flap on Elk Spring CreekCinnamon Teal wing flap on Elk Spring Creek – Nikon D810, f6.3, 1/1600, ISO 400, -0.3 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

Things were “just ducky” earlier this month in the Centennial Valley of Montana and this Cinnamon Teal seemed to be enjoying the warm late afternoon light. It had been only 11°F earlier in the day so I am sure the sun felt great for the duck, it did to me.

Cinnamon Teal male in eclipse plumageCinnamon Teal male in eclipse plumage – Nikon D810, f6.3, 1/1250, ISO 400, -0.3 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

I wish I had left a little more space at the bottom for this image for the “virtual” feet but I sure enjoy the view of the soft blue feathers that give this species its name.

The ducks were close and instead of taking off my 1.4x TC to allow more room in the frame I decided to switch my D810 from DX (cropped sensor) to FX (full frame) and it worked quite well with the other images but I didn’t frame this image well in the viewfinder. Live and learn!

Preening Cinnamon TealPreening Cinnamon Teal – Nikon D810, f6.3, 1/1000, ISO 400, -0.3 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

I loved how the water reflected the blue of the sky overhead which contrasted with the tone of the duck’s plumage and how dried vegetation reflected the same tones as the Cinnamon Teal on the water too.

Soon I will be seeing Cinnamon Teal in their breeding plumage here in Utah.

I think its nice to have a dash of Cinnamon to start the day :-)


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Bird Photography Isn’t Easy But It Does Have Its Rewards

Juvenile Swainsons' Hawk ground foragingJuvenile Swainsons’ Hawk ground foraging – Nikon D810, f7.1, 1/1250, ISO 400, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

It is true, bird photography isn’t easy but it does often have its rewards. Earlier this month I watched a light morph juvenile Swainson’s Hawk ground foraging in the Centennial Valley of southwestern Montana and the light was quite lovely. Swainson’s Hawks eat grasshoppers and in my experience it isn’t unusual to see individuals or large flocks of them running and walking on the ground after their prey.

Juvenile Swainson's Hawk running on the ground after preyJuvenile Swainson’s Hawk running on the ground after prey – Nikon D810, f7.1, 1/1250, ISO 400, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

This juvenile Swainson’s Hawk was actively searching for prey on the ground at a distance and it was interesting to see it walk, stop and then walk some more while hunting grasshoppers.

Juvenile Swainson's Hawk in the grasses in lovely lightJuvenile Swainson’s Hawk in the grasses in lovely light – Nikon D810, f7.1, 1/1250, ISO 400, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

I was hoping to get the young hawk lifting off from the ground in flight in the golden evening light, so I waited. I had the flight shots pictured in my mind, the golden light, the soft butterscotch and mocha tones of the bird against the tans and browns of the dried grasses. I could almost see the images on my computer screen at home.

Juvenile Swainson's Hawk taking flight in poor lightSwainson’s Hawk taking flight in poor light – Nikon D810, f7.1, 1/400, ISO 400, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

And just before the young Swainson’s Hawk lifted off from the ground… a large cloud blocked out that great light. This isn’t the way I imagined or hoped the lift off images would look. At all. My shutter speed dropped like a rock from 1/1250 to 1/400, too slow to get everything frozen without motion blur. The light went from golden to flat.

I won’t say it broke my heart that the light went flat but I sure wasn’t happy that it did.

Portrait of a Swainson's Hawk light morph juvenilePortrait of a Swainson’s Hawk light morph juvenile – Nikon D810, f9, 1/800, ISO 640, Nikkor 500mm, natural light, not baited

But being a bird photographer has its rewards beyond the most obvious which for me is being out in nature or better yet being a part of it. It means with patience and plenty of time in the field I do get it right. The light does stay great with some opportunities where everything falls into place. Subject… check. Great light… check.

Life is good.


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Trumpeter Swans – From Near Extinction to Restoration

Trumpeter Swan on Elk LakeTrumpeter Swan on Elk Lake – Nikon D810, f8, 1/3200, ISO 400, -0.7 EV, Nikkor 500mm, natural light

In the 1930’s Trumpeter Swans were thought to be extinct due to overharvesting for food, the use of their skins for ladies powder puffs and their feathers that were used in millinery. These huge birds with eight foot wing spans nearly went the way of the Passenger Pigeon, Carolina Parakeet and the Dodo.

Small populations of Trumpeter Swans were found in mountain valleys in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming and those birds are the reason we have Trumpeter Swans today.

In 1935 Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in the Centennial Valley of southwestern Montana was established to help save and restore Trumpeter Swans and it has been a success. By the 1960’s Trumpeter Swans were relocated to Minnesota and other areas of the Midwest to help increase their chances for survival. It took a long time for Trumpeter Swan populations to rebound and today they are still increasing and the swans are expanding back into their historical ranges.

There are still threats that can harm stable populations of the largest waterfowl in North America. They can be mistaken for Tundra Swans during hunting season, they can suffer poisoning from lead shot and deaths due to power line collisions.

I recall the first time I saw Trumpeter Swans at Red Rock Lakes as a pair of them flew past me as I stood on the shore of the Lower Lake and listened to their resonating calls. I felt honored to be able to see these amazing swans that at one point were so very close to extinction.

If not for the government, scientists, biologists, concerned citizens and refuge managers we might not have them gracing our skies, marshes and lakes now.

I can’t imagine the earth without them. I can’t imagine the Centennial Valley without their calls or their beauty and grace.


By the way, I don’t think we thank our National Wildlife Refuge Managers enough for the roles they play in the restoration of native species or for the sacrifices they make in living in remote areas like Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in Montana and Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge in western Utah. Bill West is currently the manager at Red Rock Lakes NWR and my friend Jay Banta was the manager at Fish Springs NWR for years before he retired.

Thanks to Bill West for his continuing efforts at Red Rock Lakes NWR. (Could you please get some water into the ponds by the dam at the Lower Lake? The shorebirds need it.)

Thanks Jay for all that you did for Fish Springs NWR. I know it is a better place because of you.

For more information visit The Trumpeter Swan Society.

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