American Avocet Mating Ritual May 2017

Lake Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge May 2017

During May, I traveled to Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge to observe and photograph the mating behavior of the American Avocet. Located in north central Montana, Bowdoin is an isolated refuge consisting of 84,000 acres of prairie grasslands and wetlands. The refuge is a seasonal breeding ground for tens of thousands of American White Pelicans and thousands of ducks, geese, and shorebirds as well as songbirds and raptors. I spent a week at the refuge and found myself almost completely alone to enjoy the overwhelming silence. Bowdoin stirred my soul as the solitude afforded me thoughtful reflection and photography. Please click on the images to view them in full size.

Beautiful and elegant seasonal residents, American Avocets breed and nest in the wetlands of Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge, Montana.

Beautiful and elegant seasonal residents, American Avocets breed and nest in the wetlands of Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge, Montana.

American Avocet Mating Ritual May 2017

a pair of grand and white wading birds with long turned up bills mating

During their breeding ritual, the female avocet lowers her head to the surface of the water to initiate mating. When she lowers her head, the male begins pecking the water as he wades in circles around the female. American Avocet mating behavior is highly ritualistic consisting of courtship and elegant performance as it relates to the initiation and act of mating. As I observed the Avocets mating, their rituals became evident and I was able to predict when they were preparing to mate. The female always initiated mating; she flattens her neck, lowers her head to the water surface and remains perfectly motionless.

Prior to mating, the male perches on the back of the female and may stretch and flap his wings, as part of their highly ritualized mating behavior.

Prior to mating, the male perches on the back of the female and may stretch and flap his wings, as part of their highly ritualized mating behavior.

pair of blue legged shore birds crossing their long beaks

The final and most graceful aspect of the ritual occurs the moment that mating is complete as the pair join together with crossed bills in an apparent commitment affirmation.

mating pair of avocets

A closeup of the handsome American Avocet at Lake Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge, Montana.

A closeup of the handsome American Avocet at Lake Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge, Montana.

a fiery orange sunset at lake bowdoin in north central Montana

Sunset at Lake Bowdoin, Montana, May 2017.

Bosque del Apache

Bosque del Apache New Mexico December 2016

Fiery sunrises, glowing sunsets, and warm golden light define Bosque del Apache. Thousands of Sandhill Cranes and tens of thousands of Snow Geese grace this wetlands landscape in a way that is both primordial and ancient and at the same time elegant and vital. Perpetual raucous trumpeting of Sandhill Cranes and the roar of thousands of Snow Geese taking flight is a wondrous natural display. Creative photography opportunities are endless and the beautiful constantly changing light afford everything from silhouettes to sharp flight images.

snow geese chaotically erupt to flight in a blur of motion

Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis) remain calm as thousands of Snow Geese erupt to flight. I used a shutter speed of 1/15 second to intentionally blur and accentuate the chaos of the moment as the flock of Snow Geese explode from the pond. The Cranes were basically motionless throughout the event and my hope was that they would remain sharp within the image. Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico, December 2016. Canon 5D III, 500 mm f/4 IS, ISO 400, 1/15 second @ f/11, image size 5760 x 3375 pixels. Click on the image for a larger rendition.

SILHOUETTE OF A CRANE SKIPPING ALONG THE WATER AT SUNSET

At sunrise, a Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis) dances across the water in anticipation to fly. Although large and heavy, Cranes are elegant and nimble. Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico, December 2016. Canon 5D III, 100-400mm IS II, ISO 800, 1/1250 second @ f/5.6, image size 4430 x 2828. Click on the image for a larger rendition.

Established in 1939, Bosque del Apache is a 57,000 acre National Wildlife Refuge located 100 miles south of Albuquerque and about 15 miles south of Socorro, New Mexico. Tens of thousands of migratory birds, song birds, raptors, and mammals including cougars, bobcats, and coyotes make a living at this refuge. Bosque del Apache means woods of the Apache (Indians) as they frequently camped and hunted in this cottonwood forest habitat. The refuge is situated along the Rio Grande River in New Mexico and consists of thousands of acres of irrigated and flooded pools, ponds, and lakes. The rich soil supports an abundance of invertebrate nutrition and surrounding farm fields of corn and alfalfa provide sustenance for the snow geese, sandhill cranes, and thousands of ducks and waterfowl that call Bosque home during the winter months. The birds that occupy Bosque del Apache during the winter arrive in November from as far as the Arctic Circle and they remain until spring at which time they again migrate north to their breeding grounds. The time tested cycle of migration is a testament to the miracle of biological systems and species survival.

red and orange sunrise with snow geese flying and cranes roosting on a lake

At sunrise, Snow Geese (Chen caurulescens) take flight from their nightly roost to feed in surrounding fields. During the night, Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes remain safe from predators by roosting on water. Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico, December 2016. Canon 5D III, 100-400mm IS II, ISO 3200, 1/80 second @ f/5, image size 5753 x 2690 pixels. Click on the image for a larger rendition.


Warm light and the constantly changing hues of orange, pink, and purple is perhaps the most alluring aspect of Bosque del Apache. I would suggest that the landscape graces the wildlife and it is no wonder that the Apache people wanted to dwell in this inspiring place.

Sunset, Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, Montana

Mystic Sunset Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, Montana August 2016

orange fiery sunset in the Rocky Mountains of Montana

Mystic Sunset – Forest fire smoke enhances a backcountry sunset near Island Lake, West Rosebud Creek Drainage, Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, Montana, August 22, 2016. Canon 5D III, 24-70mm, ISO 100, .4 second @ f/22, image size 5555 x 3703 pixels.

While backpacking along the West Rosebud Creek Drainage in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness of Montana, my daughter Julia and I experienced a most beautiful sunset. We were cooking a late dinner in our campsite when I glanced up from my jetboil stove and noticed that Julia’s face was engulfed in an unusual salmon colored glow as was the entire landscape. We hastily grabbed our camera gear and made our way toward the creek. As we emerged from the forest, the scene overlooking West Rosebud Creek and the mountains was literally overwhelming; the colors of both the sky and the landscape were deeply saturated in hues of pink, orange and purple.

Harlequin Duck

Portrait Harlequin Duck Drake, Yellowstone National Park, May 2016

colorful harlequin duck ,clown of the rapids on raging rivers

Portrait of a Harlequin Duck Drake (Histrionicus histrionicus),
Lee Hardy Rapids, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, May 2016. Canon 5D III, 500 mm f/4 IS + 1.4x, RRS tripod, ISO 640, 1/1250 second @ f/8, image size 4776 x 3184.


Harlequin Ducks are beautiful and dignified and may appear unassuming in their relaxed demeanor. Observe these ducks in action and it becomes apparent that Harlequins are powerful and fearless swimmers. These diminutive beauties are able to negotiate the most violent rapids as they swim, dive, and even walk along the bottom of the river in search of insects and other sources of sustenance. It is a marvel that these birds live, feed, and spend their lives amongst the turbulence and turmoil of raging rivers.

CROSS FOX GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK

Cross Fox, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming February 2016

A magnificent Cross Fox (Vulpes vulpes), Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming February 2016. A cross fox is a “melanistic morph” (dark color variant) of a red fox (humans, bears, and many animal groups are represented by variously colored populations). Red fox are a genetically diverse species including many sizes and colors; white, orange, black, silver, brown, and “cross” colors have been observed and documented. Some “morph” red fox have a dark fur pattern that extends along their back and across their shoulders forming the shape of a cross; hence the name cross fox. The “cross” fox phenotype is common in Europe and in 1758, the Swedish taxonomist, Carl Linnaeus described the cross fox and named it Vulpes crucigera; crucigera is Latin for “cross bearer”. In North America, dark morph fox typically do not possess the cross pattern. The gene that is responsible for the dark or melanistic phase of a red fox is apparently pleiotropic (responsible for many traits) because melanistic red fox have larger tails, extra hair on the bottom of their paws, and thick curly ventral (chest and abdominal) hair.

Cross Fox (Vulpes vulpes), Canon 1D IV, 500mm f/4 IS, ISO 800, 1/1250 second @ f/8.

Cross Fox (Vulpes vulpes),Canon 1D IV, 500mm f/4 IS, ISO 800, 1/1250 second @ f/8, 3569 x 2724.

Coss Fox (Vulpes vulpes), Canon 5D III, 100-400mm IS Mark II @200mm, ISO 800, 1/1250 second @ f/8, 3664 x 2567.

Cross Fox (Vulpes vulpes), Canon 5D III, 100-400mm IS Mark II @200mm, ISO 800, 1/1250 second @ f/8, 3664 x 2567.

Cross Fox (Vulpes vulpes), Canon 1D IV, 100-400mm IS Mark II, ISO 800, 1/1250 second @ f/8, 4580 x 2960..

Cross Fox (Vulpes vulpes), Canon 1D IV, 100-400mm IS Mark II, ISO 800, 1/1250 second @ f/8, 4580 x 2960..

Coss Fox (Vulpes vulpes), Canon 5D III, 100-400mm IS Mark II @200mm, ISO 800, 1/2000 second @ f/8, 4803 x 2644.

Cross Fox (Vulpes vulpes), Canon 5D III, 100-400mm IS Mark II @200mm, ISO 800, 1/2000 second @ f/8, 4803 x 2644.

Brown Pelican, La Jolla, California, January, 2016

Brown Pelican, La Jolla, California, January, 2016

He appears to be peeking at me through his flight feathers as if peering through blinds.

“Peek-a-boo Pelican” Canon 5D III, 100-400mm IS Mark II, ISO 400, 1/800 second @ f/7.1, January 17, 2016 @ 8:57 AM, 3171 x 4126.

While in La Jolla, I spent quite a bit of time watching the pelicans preen their feathers. I was fascinated at the manner in which they carefully and deliberately rubbed, nibbled and stroked every inch of their feathered exterior to fluffy cleanliness. I photographed these prehistoric-looking creatures in every position imaginable as they twisted and contorted their necks in an effort to reach every feather.  Upon reviewing and editing my photos, I came across this pelican working on his wing. He appears to be peeking at me through his flight feathers as if peering through blinds.

Bald Eagles and raptors were not the only birds affected by the use of DDT; in fact hundreds of species were adversely affected and during the 1960’s and 70’s, the California Brown Pelican was facing extinction. DDT disrupts calcium metabolism resulting in defective egg shell development. The thin shelled eggs were either incompatible with life or broken during incubation; in either case the thin shells resulted in reproductive failure. In 1971, the Brown Pelican was listed as an endangered species and in 1972, DDT was banned; because of conservation efforts, the Brown Pelican population is now strong and viable. In 2009, nearly 40 years after Brown Pelicans were listed as endangered, they were removed from the Federal endangered species list. Pelicans remain vulnerable to chemicals, oil spills and nesting disruptions as they will hastily abandon their nest and eggs when disturbed.

Snowy Egret, La Jolla, California, January 2016

“Motionless and Movement”

Snowy Egret, La Jolla, California, January 2016

white egret in the silky foamy ocean tide

A Snowy Egret remains motionless allowing me to make a long exposure and accentuate the movement of the tide. Canon 5D III, 100-400mm IS Mark II, RRS tripod, cable release, ISO 125, 1/4 second @ f/20.

During my visit to La Jolla, this diminutive egret not only greeted me every morning but he remained motionless on more than one occasion affording me an opportunity to use slow shutter speeds to accentuate the movement of the water. Generally one needs a shutter speed of 1/2 second or more to achieve the silky effect of flowing water. The longer the exposure, the smoother the water will appear so experimenting by altering shutter speeds will allow you to determine the degree of texture and detail that is most pleasing for the scene.

Incorporating an animal into a scene complicates the process because a slow shutter speed will result in blurring and ghosting should the animal move; the bird or animal must be completely motionless to maintain detail and sharpness.

Depending on the time of day and amount of light, exposure parameters may require adjustment in order to realize adequately slow shutter speeds. Lowering ISO to 100 and stopping down your lens to it’s smallest aperture (f/22 -f/32) is often necessary. If lowering ISO and stopping down is not enough to lower shutter speed to 1/2 second or longer, a neutral density filter may be used. An ND or neutral density filter is basically a filter made of black glass; they come in various strengths and function to reduce the amount of light entering the lens. ND filters are usually designed to reduce the light anywhere from 3 to 10 stops of light. I carry a 10 stop ND filter so that I can limit the light striking the sensor allowing me to attain longer exposures. A remote shutter release and tripod are absolutely required to eliminate camera shake during the exposure.

The same egret posed for me in a different setting allowing me to utilize a slow shutter technique to create an interesting landscape image. Canon 5D III, 17-40mm lens @ 40mm, RRS tripod, cable release, ISO 100, 1/5 second @ f/18, January 19, 2016 @ 9 AM, processed in LR, image size 4684 x 2839.

The same egret posed for me in a different setting allowing me to utilize a slow shutter technique to create an interesting landscape image.
Canon 5D III, 17-40mm lens @ 40mm, RRS tripod, cable release, ISO 100, 1/5 second @ f/18, January 19, 2016 @ 9 AM, processed in LR, image size 4684 x 2839.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, these delicate beauties were nearly hunted to extinction; their elegant snow white feathers were highly prized for fashionable hat decorations. In 1918, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act provided them protection and by the mid 20th century, snowy egret populations were beginning to recover. Today, they inhabit the majority of their original range and snowy egret populations are stable.

La Jolla California Brown Pelicans Preening, January 2016

La Jolla California Brown Pelicans Preening, January 2016

PELICAN CLEANING ITS FEATHERS

A Brown Pelican preening it’s feathers; note the uropygial gland above it’s tail. La Jolla California, US. 5D III, 100-400mm IS Mark II @ 400mm, ISO 400, 1/250 second @ f/7.1.

Question: How do Pelicans keep their feathers healthy and waterproof?
Answer: Through the distribution of oils from their Uropygial Gland / Preening Gland / Oil Gland.

It is fascinating to observe Brown Pelicans constantly preening their feathers. These massive birds twist and turn their necks and bodies as they clean, fluff, and oil their feathers; they are very thorough and careful to groom every inch of their feathered exterior. Pelicans and most species of birds have a uropygial gland (oil gland); ostrich, emu, doves, and woodpeckers do not possess the gland.

The gland is located on their dorsum (back) above the tail; pelicans contort their necks as they reach for the gland with their beaks; the oil is then transferred from the gland to the beak and subsequently distributed to all the feathers via a relentless ritual of rubbing, biting, and stroking it’s feathers. The oil maintains the health and water resistance of the feathers.

a brown pelican twists it's neck in order to access the uropygial or oil gland. The oil is used to maintain health and waterproof feathers

A Brown Pelican preening it’s feathers; note the uropygial gland above it’s tail. La Jolla California, US. 1D IV, 100-400mm IS Mark II lens @ 286mm, ISO 1250, 1/640 second @ f/5.

2 colorful green red and yellow headed pelicans preening their feathers

A pair of Brown Pelicans preening their feathers, La Jolla California, US. 5D III, 100-400mm IS Mark II lens, ISO 640, 1/400 second @ f/18.

a brown pelican twists it's neck in order to access the uropygial or oil gland. The oil is used to maintain health and waterproof feathers

A Brown Pelican preening it’s feathers, La Jolla California, US. 5D III, 100-400mm IS Mark II lens, ISO 400, 1/800 second @ f/7.1

a brown pelican twists it's neck in order to access the uropygial or oil gland. The oil is used to maintain health and waterproof feathers

A Brown Pelican preening it’s feathers,La Jolla California, US. 5D III, 100-400mm IS Mark II lens, ISO 640, 1/1600 second @ f/7.1

Yellowstone National Park, December 29-31, 2015

“Dreams are the touchstones of our characters. Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake” Henry David Thoreau

Yellowstone National Park, December 29-31, 2015

snow covered round boulders look like pillows along the river.

“Winter Whimsy” – Fresh snow and ice accentuate the irregular landscape that lies beneath; along Soda Butte Creek, Yellowstone National Park. Canon 5D III, 17-40mm f/4 L, 10 stop neutral density filter, RRS tripod, cable release. ISO 160, 20 seconds @ f/11.

close up portrait or head shot of frost and ice covered bull bison

“Fearless” – Portrait of a snow and ice covered bull bison; survivor of countless brutal Yellowstone winters. Canon 5D III, 500mm f/4 IS + 1.4x, ISO 1250, 1/250 second @ f/5.6.

snow covered rocks along a rocky mountain stream with golden light reflecting off the water

Golden light and fresh snow transform the landscape along Soda Butte Creek , Yellowstone National Park. Canon 5D III, 17-40 mm L, ISO 160, 1/20 second @ f/22.

Frigid temperatures, wolves, moose, and fanciful winter scenery inspired exceptional photography and wildlife viewing during the last three days of 2015. The highlight of my excursion was photographing a small stretch of Soda Butte Creek that was transformed by snow into a fantasy-like landscape.

The Lamar Canyon wolf pack was active along the road for days and I observed them on more than one occasion howling and interacting. The pack was visiting two old elk carcasses that had been reduced to skeletons and on the evening of December 28, they apparently mortally wounded a huge bull elk near the confluence of the Lamar River and Soda Butte Creek; the elk was visible as he rested along the Lamar River. Moose were plentiful from the the east end of Lamar Valley to Cooke City. Each morning, I saw bulls and cows with calves as I made way from Cooke City to the park. Just outside of Silver Gate, I observed three cows each with two calves and a group of four bull moose were visible every day on the east end of Lamar along Soda Butte Creek. Wildlife was abundant; I observed wolves, coyotes, elk, moose, bison, antelope, bighorn sheep, mule deer, golden and bald eagles, dippers, and a variety of ducks and other species of birds.