Okay, so I can’t seem to stay away from shooting birds at the Commons Open Space. So much so that lately that is all I can do! Met a couple of other photographers this morning and yesterday morning drawn by the Great Horned Owls that have become celebrities here in Broomfield these past couple weeks. Monday, in fact, the parks service put up orange snow fence to keep people away from the tree where the nest is. An unbelievable number of relentless snapshot takers were trying to get in right under the nest (where you can’t even see the owls from there anyway) because their camera phones and point and shoots can’t get a decent shot of them from a distance. These types of things are irk me to no end. I find it irksome. Bunch of inconsiderate irks…Anyway…Keeping a respectful distance from the area, I was surprised to see the male owl keeping watch (though napping too) a couple trees away in the sun. I had a great view with almost no branches obscuring the shot, and great morning light to boot. Other than the attraction of the owls, a Crested Cormorant was fishing in the pond. I must have been knelt down for at least forty five minutes trying to get a good click of him with a fish in his mouth. The trouble I was having was that he would dive down, and I couldn’t tell where he was going to surface again. This required some very quick reflexes, which wasn’t a problem, except the camera’s auto-focus was having trouble acquiring the subject fast enough. So I got two so-so images out of about a hundred. Yellow-headed Blackbirds are more abundant this year than they have been in the past, and are just a cool bird to photograph in the bright light with their contrasty plumage. One of the other photographers I met directed my attention to a couple of Northern Flickers that had carved a home out of the old cottonwood near the small parking lot off of Lowell Boulevard. Yesterday the Flickers were residents, today the European Starlings had taken over that prime piece of real estate. Of course the Red Tail Hawks were circling, with some nice clouds as a backdrop yesterday as well. This morning the star of the blue sky was a lone Peregrine Falcon that I nearly missed shooting. He flew directly above me at a high rate of speed, and I almost fell over backward trying to get the shot! I wasn’t sure if I made a decent shot, since the technique ended up being more “spray and pray” than careful shooting. Whatever the method, I got lucky and came away with a nice click.
I have been neglecting my miscellaneous spring time shots from the open space, and decided that May Day was a good day to catch up, especially since I have the day off! I was thinking just this morning how many different type of birds I see here in the spring time, and came up with 21 different species that call the Commons Open Space home for some period of time; fairly impressive for a small suburban pond. Lately there has been some action with the Great Horned Owls nesting on the south side; the chicks hatched a couple weeks ago, but today was the first time they could be seen from the ground. There are three of them, fluffy in their downy coats, wide eyed and hungry. The male and female have been trading off guarding the nest and hunting to feed themselves and the chicks. Also included in the gallery are the obligatory black and white images, and some random scenic shots from the past month.
That’s right, wolves are living down the street from my house! Well, coyotes are anyway, though they have lost that particular name over the past several decades, coyotes are still the closest relatives to wolves we have living in viable numbers in Colorado. Here are a couple shots of the ones that live in the open space by my house. We used to see them more commonly on our morning walks, but for the last year or two, they have been very shy, which probably had something to do with the coyote attacks that occurred here in Broomfield, as well as further south. For some reason, the cold and snowy weather brings these critters out in the open more often in their search for food. The day these were taken was no exception, the snow was coming in and it was getting mighty chilly!
Here’s a couple shots from the Broomfield Commons Open Space. I feel very fortunate to be able to walk five minutes from my house and have some kind of photographic opportunity, especially when things get busy and I can’t make a longer trip, I always have my open space!
I didn’t realize until I began to write this that my last post was on October 31st! I have only been sporadically shooting at the open space; Red Tail Hawks, Canadian Geese, Mallard Ducks, and a Coyote or two. I was able to stop on my way home today and shoot a couple Mule Deer browsing in the grass at the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge, which to me is still strange to see deer on that property. When I was a kid, tanks used to patrol the fence lines that I had my camera lens stuck through this afternoon! More evidence that time passes and things we don’t expect to change end up very much different than we imagine.
Get comfortable, because this is going to be a long winded post!
The blackpowder hunting season here in Colorado has become my favorite. Not because I have had any better success, but because of the traditional feel of it. I hunt with a traditional cap and ball Hawken style .50 caliber rifle, no optics (not even binoculars) wearing a wool sweater and canvas pants or kilt; as close as one can get to the “old days”. For this year, I drew a buck deer tag for GMU 500. For the uninitiated, that means I’m hunting Bambi’s dad near Boreas Pass, between Como and Breckenridge. I have hunted this area before, and know where the deer and elk like to hang out. Unfortunately, I chose to start my hunt four days after the opening weekend; which was September 11th, I started on September 15th. What this means is that the animals will have already had a few days of hunting pressure (not including the archery hunters that started much earlier), and will have scattered also. There were a few other factors to consider as well; phase of the moon, weather patterns, availability of water and food. If the moon is anywhere from full to half, the deer and elk move around more in the night, making it harder for hunters to locate them. This is also compounded when the weather is fair, if there is rain or snow, they move to the lower elevations and the thicker cover to protect themselves. When it is dry, like the area has been of late, the animals move to where there is water and green stuff to eat.
Wednesday afternoon I had camp set up and was ready to hunt that evening. I had hunted this area before , so I knew theoretically where the deer would be, since I had seen them before. I found my spot and waited, watching, until the sun sunk behind the mountains see neither hair nor hide of a deer. So I headed back to camp for the customary “first-day-of-the-hunt” whisky. I was planning on shooting some star trail shots when the moon when down, but that proved to be closer to morning than I originally planned. I abandoned that effort in favor of sleep since I knew I would be up before the sun the following morning to hunt.
Thursday morning I was up at five and in my chosen spot by half past. By six thirty I heard heavy footfalls that could only be made by elk; and elk it was, two cows and one of the biggest bulls I had ever had the pleasure of seeing in the flesh. They passed by me without stopping or even noticing my presence, only about thirty yards away! If only I had a tag for elk, my hunt would have ended that morning. So ends the only action for the Thursday morning hunt, and with it I planned to take a fairly long walk with the camera, since mid-day hunting sucks. I ended up hiking three miles out to a stand of bristlecone pines, whose bare twisting silver trunks always fascinate me, and make for awesome photo subjects. While I was in a great area for fall Aspen colors, I was surprisingly not near many Aspen groves; pines and spruce dominate the landscape. I was back to camp in the late afternoon for a short rest and something to eat before the evening hunt. Although after burning so much energy during the day, leaving the comfort of my camp chair was less than appealing. Besides, it was a beautiful evening to sit and enjoy just being outside; the elk were bulging like crazy, and continued to do so until after the sun went down. My camera has HD video capability, which I never thought I would really use all that much, but I decided to try to capture the ambiance of the evening with it. This was the night I also chose to take a long exposure, but waiting for the half moon to go down was out of the question. I say A long exposure because it was an hour and a half! The moonlight kinda washed out some of the stars, but overall it came out pretty cool. A few points about long exposures with the 7D versus my old Rebel; first, the live view with the 7D makes it soooo much easier to focus the scene! I was fairly well guessing with the Rebel. Second it the noise I got with the Rebel during an hour long exposure (due to the sensor getting hot) was non-existent with the 7D. I also should have used a wider aperture, that way the star streaks would have been broader and brighter, but enough of that.
Friday morning’s early hunt at the same locale yielded another close encounter with elk, and later, a close encounter with two very young spike bucks and one four point buck that was just too young to be a shooter. Although the minimum size for a legal buck in Colorado is four points, the shot was sketchy, at best. I was standing on top of a hill looking slightly down at them, with the four-pointer facing me straight on, and one of the spikes behind. He was also standing enough below the crest of the hill that I could not get a decent shot at his vitals. So many things calculated in a fraction of a second; still amazes me to think that my mind worked all that out so quick! Friday mid-day was time to collect fire wood (which I was very low on from the night before), and take a drive around to get some photos of the fall color. I am very much a “morning-evening” hunter that I usually don’t bother with the time in between; the animals want a rest and so do I! My sometimes boss and friend has a cabin down in the valley below my camp, and with all the beetle-killed trees, he had no shortage of firewood available. So on my way down to poach *ahem* borrow some firewood from him, I stopped along the way to record the changing Aspens. By the time it was time for the evening hunt, I was getting tired of getting skunked and almost gave up the rifle hunting altogether, and stick with the camera, but my sense go the better of me (knowing Murphy’s law inflicts those of Celtic descent ten fold) I went fully loaded with photo and hunting gear to a place I knew the animals to be. This involved a climb to near the top of Red Mountain (13,229) to about 12,500 feet, and a three mile hike laterally to cross Hoosier ridge on the northern flanks of Mount Silverheels. I had eyeballed the area previously knowing if was good hunting ground, but was daunted by the thought of coming back should I shoot something! With the growing desperation that drives the hunter, I headed out at three for the previously described area. I was in place at five settled in for some action. And action I got; too bad it was all elk, and not a single deer to be seen. This is where the photo-hunting took over, and my first wildlife photography experience other than photographing birds. I also put the HD video feature to good use here and caught some cool video of real wild elk (not those half-tame Rocky Mountain National Park elk). It started when I heard a lot of bugling and crashing around in the thick timber across the small valley I was situated to overlook. I didn’t actually see the bulls fighting (that would have made for some awesome video), but I could hear them crashing together. Then I see this young spike bull emerge from the timber in the valley floor, then a cow, then another cow, and another. Next out comes one of the largest bulls I have had the pleasure of laying eyes on! He came out of the timber, bugled, sniffed round the grass a moment, bugled again, charged back into the timber with a crash. Much more ruckus took place and he emerged again and stood on a small rise above his harem, looking very kingly, literally king of the forest! Stood in a thicket of stubby willows and bugled again, then proceeded the thrash the hell out of said willows with his magnificent antlers. He then came down from his overlook to join the harem and browse for a small bite to eat. Suddenly all the elk looked back into the woods the came from, and then took off up the steep valley wall across from my vantage point, covering ground that would have taken me at least forty-five minutes to cover. They stopped above tree line to browse the short vegetation there before leisurely making their way over the ridge, and out of my view. I wanted so much to follow them, but the sun was nearly down and I had a fair distance to travel, and I didn’t relish making it in the dark with no trail to follow. I got back to camp, made some quick dinner, and promptly passed out on the cot, visions of elk still in my head.
Saturday morning rolled around, and I made no effort to get up too early to hunt. The hunt was nearly gone from me, but when I was up and moving, I decided to make one last trip up the hill, going light, taking only rifle, bag, and powderhorn. Another hunter, the first one I had seen in all my time here, had made it to the same spot I had hunted the week past. Somewhat discouraged after only a half hour of watching, I turned back to the same spot I had seen the deer the day before. And there standing before me, not thirty five yards away, was the neck and back of a mule deer. When he raised his head and looked at me, I almost forgot what I was there for. Staring at me was a gorgeous six point buck with a nice twenty inch spread in the antlers. Hands shaking, I raised the rifle, cocked the hammer and took aim. The hammer came down, and nothing happened; the deer stared at me still. Cocked the hammer again and pulled the trigger; the percussion cap snapped, but still no fire. My deer took off, leaving me fumbling for another cap. Now, let me explain something about deer versus elk. If this had happened with an elk, said elk would have been in the next county in a wink. Deer will run away a few yards and stare at you, then go a bit further, look back again. With my deer now about seventy five yards off, stopped looking back, me finally with another cap on the rifle. Took aim again, and BOOM! Finally the damn thing fired! Though through the smoke I could see already I pulled the shot to the right, evident by the large track of dirt freshly tilled by a .50 caliber bullet. The deer took off again, leaving me indecisively trying to pursue, and pour powder into the measure and pour it into the rifle, and stuff a bullet in, and ram it down, and put a fresh cap on, and not lose sight of the deer. He stopped just outside of some stunted pines up the hill from me giving me one last shot before disappearing like a ghost. After traipsing around looking for sign of my deer on the hard dry ground, or sign of a possible hit, I gave up and headed back to camp to pack up and head home. I was feeling contented, slightly disappointed, and worn out as I packed up camp. I found what I came for though; solitude in the wilderness, great photos, and best of all, to feel the thrill of the hunt. On the way home I stopped here and there to make some last clicks of the fall colors, which were at their very peak! And now, here are the photos, the videos will be posted soon…
On my walk this morning, I for some reason deemed it unnecessary to bring the camera along; a decision I ended up regretting. We have had Horned Owls around the house since we moved in 7 years ago, and it was still more like farmland than suburbia. With owls being a normally nocturnal bird, it was VERY hard to capture one in a photo (especially with the old Rebel). So when I saw two ravens chasing a larger bird this morning, I naturally assumed they were harassing a hawk. But when I reached the trees they stopped in, I was surprised and disappointed all at once; surprised to see an owl, disappointed I didn’t have my camera. I all but ran back to the house to nab the camera, jumped in the truck and hauled ass the half block to the parking lot for the open space, close to the cottonwoods where the ravens had pinned the owl. I then realized that I had left my flash card in the reader (still full of hunting photos; post will be forthcoming.) Fortunately I had a smaller card left in the truck (a 512MB no less!) which allowed me a total of 12 shots on full RAW resolution (18 MP). Needless too say, I felt like a bumbling moron trying to get the tiny card in the camera while walking, trying to meter the light at the same time, before the owl decided he had enough of the ravens coarse shouts. The moment I raised the camera was when the owl decided to get out of Dodge, and my exposures were not dialed in. While the shots were definitely not what I was hoping for, one actually turned out very cool. More abstract than your traditional bird shot, this image came right out of the camera with no editing or touch up; I love it when that happens!
Maybe some of you are getting tired of seeing photos of the Swainson’s Hawk, but they are the closest easiest subject I can practice on with my super-tele. I hope to see a difference from the first few I took when I first got the camera, so I leave it up to you to make that call. Hunting season is right around the corner, so perhaps I will have something else in the wildlife category other than birds and my pets! This morning was pretty cool though; one of the Swainsons had a rabbit and that attracted the attention of the other two, and caused a fair amount of screaming among them. Then the American Kestrel showed up trying to muscle the hawks out, but was out-gunned and out numbered, especially since the Kestrel was about a third the size of the hawks! The usual assortment of carrion birds arrived to clean up the leftovers, but I didn’t get any shots of that action. I did also photograph a Western Kingbird, a species I hadn’t seen around here before.
A few quick shots taken this morning while walking Malie at the Broomfield Commons open space. The Swainson’s hawks were uncharacteristically tolerant of my presence today, which made for a couple great shots!
For you who don’t know already, I recently bought a new camera and long telephoto lens, which opens new doors for me in the realm of photography. The lens that I have been wanting most is a decent telephoto; well I fulfilled my wish with a new Sigma 150-500mm OS lens. I have felt for a long time that a 300mm lens just doesn’t have the reach to get good shots of wary wildlife, such as hawks. In the open space near the house, I have seen Red Tails, Swainsons, even a rare Harlan’s race Red Tail. Most of which I couldn’t get really clear shots of, until now! This is the first test drive, so I am still learning a bit of what the camera is capable of, and getting used to the lens. Check out the details for yourself.
Took these shots a week ago, and am just now getting around to posting them.
So my cousin B. Petro and I have been meaning to go out for one of those lengthy photographer hikes for some time now, and finally last Friday we made it happen. When she asked me “where should we go,” I said “Rocky Mountain National Park at sunrise!” Now watching the weather reports leading up to that day, I began to get a sinking feeling that there would be no sunrise (at least one we could see) on Friday morning. I won’t go into how most of the time weather people can’t predict the weather, especially spring weather in the Rockies, but this time they were right. We awoke at 4:00 am to partly cloudy skies that were only partly cloudy to give us a tiny glimmer of hope that the sun might shine long enough to get some of that great morning light that landscape photographers chase. As the sky lightened from dark grey to light grey, we decided not to enter RMNP, and instead stop short of entering the park. We instead made a brief stop to shoot the St. Malo Chapel on the rock in the gathering light. Unfortunately for us, Mount Meeker, the usual backdrop for the chapel, was shrouded in the low clouds. On the other hand, it made for some spectacularly moody light on the stone church. From there, we headed toward the Long’s Peak trailhead that can be accessed from near Allenspark. While Long’s is contained withing Rocky Mountain National Park, this trailhead can be accessed without entering the park itself. We took a short 1.4 mile hike to the Eugenia Mine through the somewhat hard packed snow. If you have never taken a trail hike in April in the Rockies, let me tell you that it is more work than you think. Snowshoes aren’t required if you stick to the packed trails made through the winter, but the possibility of slipping off to one side of the track and into thigh deep snow is very high, making for a bit of work, and wet socks. The Eugenia mine itself wasn’t much to speak of, making for quite an anti-climactic end to the hike. However, the low clouds made us turn our camera lenses down to the forest floor for some nice macro shots in the even light. On the return hike, we were visited by a very curious Grey Jay, also known around here as a Camp Robber, due to their tendency to snatch unattended food and flit away without a sound. We also caught a couple Grey Squirrels munching on pine cones recently uncovered by the receding snow. Back at the trailhead, we thought we would drive a bit down the road to see if there was anything of interest at Lily Lake. Just off state highway 7 between Allenspark and Estes Park, Lily Lake offers a short walk on a graded path around the lake itself, and great views of Long’s Peak (when not overcast). We were less than thrilled at the flat lighting and lack of mountain views, but we did our best with what we had to work with. Until we reached the north side of the lake, and found the forest awakened with bird life! I counted seven species of birds that we could see just standing on the path; American Robins, Mountain Chickadees, Mountain Bluebirds, Northern Flickers, Clark’s Nutcrackers, and Ravens. Too bad only one of us brought a telephoto lens, and it happened to be mine, who’s only favorable attribute is its ability to shoot closeup macro! But again we chose to make lemonade from apples, and traded said lens back and forth between us (good thing we both shoot Canon SLRs) and got a few good clicks of the Clark’s Nutcrackers flying to and fro. It was good to spend time with my cousin again, since life gets in the way of what we want to do so often. Here’s the results from the our morning out:
Well, it’s been a week since we returned from Montrose, and I am just now getting around to posting some photos from that return trip! Since Interstate 70 had only one lane open through Glenwood Canyon, we took the “scenic” route via US285/US50 which takes you past a great variety of climes in this great state. My opinion is that you get a bit of every type of landscape Colorado has to offer along this route; plains, high mountain passes, fourteeners, high mountain parks, down to the arid semi-desert dotted with stunted pines on the western slope. Along the way we had seen mule deer, pronghorn, golden eagles, bald eagles, bluebirds, and ravens. Coming up to Cerro Summit, we paused a few minutes so I could take a couple clicks of a Bald Eagle perched in a cottonwood watching Cedar Creek for a nice fish (who can blame him?) We then stopped for lunch near the Blue Mesa Dam, and looked down at the start of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Next, we stopped along US285 with a great view of Mount Shavano and company to let the dog stretch her legs a bit. Afterward, we just drove straight on home, as we were both fairly exhausted by that point and wanted to get home.
No, it’s not a company run by birds, just a fancy way of saying “bird gallery”. I was searching through photos from the past five years, and I realized that I have more bird pictures than of any other wildlife. Why? I guess it’s because as a younger man, I wanted to be a pilot and I could feel myself flying. That dream didn’t materialize, but I never stopped watching the birds fly. Again, living close to an open space area gives me an opportunity to see more kinds of birds than one would normally see in a suburban setting. I have also made a concerted effort in recent years to identify the birds I see as well, so here is a collection of some common and not-so-common avians.
While driving home from some mundane Saturday chores, my lovely wife spotted a single bald eagle fly over the car and land in one of the long dead cottonwood trees in the Broomfield Commons Open Space right near the house. So she leashed up the dog, I grabbed my camera and we walked the half mile to where Jen spotted the eagle. On the way, we passed a man walking his dog, and he mentioned that there was not one, but two bald eagles in said tree. We have quite a few Red Tail hawks, Swainson’s Hawks, Peregrine Falcons, and American Kestrels visit the area, but in six years, this is the first Bald Eagle I have seen. One was keeping a watch out on a high branch, while the other was munching on what I deduced to be a prairie dog, more by the color of a spot of fur than anything else. At first I didn’t give the general populace the benefit of doubt when I said that we were the only ones that saw the eagles, quite the opposite was true; there were about a dozen people that stopped to pull out a camera phone, and snap a few shots. All in all, quite an unexpected sight, these magnificent birds.
I woke up one morning last week disgusted with the fact that I haven’t really been outside of a city block in almost four days. I know, yuck. So I headed off before sunrise to catch some of the great winter morning light on the front range, which I missed by about 10 seconds, also the fact that there were some clouds hanging out over the eastern horizon limited the light to about 45 seconds total! Brushing that off, Malie and I headed west toward Brainard Lake, thinking about what that area looks like in the winter, and I was not disappointed. The road from Ward up to Brainard has a winter closure gate about a mile and a half from the lake itself. From that gate, there are a couple snowshoe trails and a nordic-ski-only trail up to Brainard Lake, and the nordic ski trail continues on up another two miles from there to Lake Isabelle. It was easier to just walk up the road where there wasn’t enough snow to require the snowshoes, and I could avoid the other people as well, since I was in need of some alone-in-the-wilderness time. I reached Brainard Lake in about forty five minutes and was continuing on to the Long Lake trailhead when I spotted what I thought were a cow and bull moose browsing in the willows on the south side of the lake. Not expecting to see much wild life at all, I left my 70-300 lens in the truck, arming my self with only my 18-200. After watching the moose for a while through a measly 200mm, I could see that I wasn’t looking at a cow and bull, but three very large bulls! All of them quite mature, with their great palmated antlers stretching at least sixty inches in width. The wind biting at any exposed skin forced me to move back from the lake shore, into the trees, and on to Long Lake. After another mile and a half, I reached the trailhead to Long Lake. The last time I was at this particular trailhead, my close family and I were beginning the fifteen mile, one-way journey to Monarch Lake, a smaller tail-lake of the enormous Lake Grandby. Here are the images from that journey. The short quarter-mile trip to Long Lake was the only section that required showshoes. I was completely amazed that no one else had broken a trail in the snow from there, it brought to life again my inner explorer to know that I was the first one to tread here for some time. Although it was a nice sunny day in the upper forties down in the city, the wind up at ten thousand feet dropped the temperature below the zero mark. The extremely strong winds prevented me from staying as long as I wanted to. All said, it was a good day outside, with some good photographic results:
Once again, fall in Colorado has shown how very bi-polar it can be. One day the temperature can be in the upper sixties, and the next day can be thirties and snowing. These images demonstrate that, since they were taken on two successive days in early October. For me, one of the things that heralds the arrival of fall is when the Canadians invade (geese that is), so I took the telephoto lens and shot some waterfowl, Mallards and Canadian Geese.