Photo Gallery and Blog 1998

White Pelicans - May 1998
Sometimes you just get lucky. There is a swampy wetland area not far from my house which gets flooded with runoff every spring. This particular morning a dozen white pelicans were there, midway through their spring migration. I parked on the road shoulder. At first the pelicans swam away from me, but within a couple minutes they swam back. I wanted to stay in my car to minimize the disturbance, so I set up my tripod inside my car so I could shoot through the open window. The pelicans paddled around in this flooded marsh and I took pictures, as the traffic sped by, whoosh whoosh whoosh.

I went back the next day and the all pelicans were gone. Sometimes you get lucky.

White Breasted Nuthatch - June 1998
June is nesting time for cavity nesting birds in the mountains. This white-breasted nuthatch was busily feeding its chicks in its nest. In case you're wondering, this photo is oriented correctly. Nuthatches like to walk down trees head first.

The cavity was about waist-level in a dead ponderosa pine tree, in the shade. Height was no problem. I could leave the tripod legs barely extended and sit on the ground with my 400mm lens and a 25mm extension tube. Being in the shade was a problem. It required the use of flash. I used two flashes to illuminate the bird, one on each side. They had to be positioned so their light balanced the sun-lit background of green aspen leaves. This is where a flash meter is invaluable. The lighting from two flashes is so much nicer than the flat light from one on-camera flash, but it requires two more stands to hold the flashes.

Then I just waited for the nuthatch to come, and it didn't take long. It completely ignored me and my equipment, more concerned with the Williamson's Sapsucker nesting nearby that would swoop down and harass it. The tiny bird hopped around a lot as it worked down the tree trunk to its hole, pausing ever so briefly as I furiously tried to focus on it. Sometimes it would pause in its characteristic head-down position after leaving its nest before flying off. That gave me the opportunity for one shot.

Mountain Goats - July 1998

Mount Evans is a great place to see mountain goats, and early July is a good time to go. By then the new kids are romping around and loads of fun to watch. The big goats shed their wooly white coats during the summer, and their ragged coats are not the least bit photogenic. Male goats shed early in the summer, nannies shed later, and nannies with kids shed last. Yearling goats seem to shed all summer. In early July the nannies haven't started shedding very much, so you can try to get pictures of them with their kids. The goats are ridiculously tolerant of people, and eternally curious. I have had several goats walk up within a couple feet to inspect and sniff me. Mornings are best because the goats are more active. Later in the day, they just sit down and chew their cud.

This photo is a profile of a nanny goat, taken with my trusty 400mm lens. The distant shadowed mountain provides a dark background which contrasts pleasantly with the white goat head. She was looking into the sunlight, and the cross lighting helps define the detail in her coat. You don't necessarily need that much lens but it affords a nice reach, and mountain goats are smaller than you think. I like to use a 80-200mm zoom lens on one camera and a 400mm on another.

Mount Evans is a 14,264 foot mountain which is about 30 miles west of Denver, with a paved road all the way to the top. You have to pay $6 admission, but there are no developed facilities besides the restroom on top. This is not a casual trip for vertigo sufferers. There are no guardrails, and sometimes not even a shoulder. The road runs well into the treeless alpine tundra, and the elements can be brutal. The morning temperature is about 40ºF with a nasty wind, so bring your coat and gloves. I see plenty of people arrive wearing only a T-shirt and shorts, and they don't stay very long. You won't get many pictures if you are busy shivering.

Wildflowers - August 1998

Wild Chamomile

Queen's Crown

Yellow Monkeyflower
August is a slow month for wildlife photography. The nesting birds are done, and the large mammals haven't started their rut yet. The weather is still hot, so the large animals pass the time snoozing in the shade of the forest. What's left? Wildflowers!

Photographing wildflowers is completely different than photographing wildlife. One major difference is the lighting. While animals look best in direct early morning sunlight, flowers photos work best with cloudy overcast light. A field of wildflowers may look wonderful in the sunshine, but they will photograph better when clouds arrive. For more helpful hints, see Advice for flower photography.

Pronghorn in Yellowstone - September 1998
September is the month when the leaves start to change color and the large animals finally get active again. Everybody knows it is the time to make the annual pilgrimage to Yellowstone and photograph the rutting and bugling elk. Unfortunately for Kodak and Fuji, there wasn't much elk activity to photograph. There was one sleepy bull by the Madison Campground, and a couple bulls loafing around the Mammoth Campground but that was it. That's fine if you want campers and tents in the background. Places like Norris campground meadow, Elk Park, and Gibbon Meadows that traditionally were filled with large elk herds, were completely empty.

Bummer. So I had to search for other things to photograph. Even that was hard. One morning I found this pronghorn buck on the hills by Gardiner. I much prefer a pronghorn on a hill with some blue sky. Otherwise the whole background is the same drab brown color, the infernal "brown animal on brown grass" photo. Just hold your hand over the blue sky, and see how bland it becomes.

I left the park after only a couple days, when four days of rain and snow were predicted. Snow makes for interesting wildlife photos, but when there are no animals it is just a travel hassle.

(I checked at Norris Geyser basin. Steamboat geyser still hadn't erupted since 1991. That is seven years now.)

Bull Elk - October 1998
Sometimes the grass is greener on the same side of the fence. I had made the exciting 550-mile trip across the wastelands of central Wyoming to Yellowstone and returned without a single decent elk photo. So I returned to my standby, good ol' Rocky Mountain National Park, just 45 miles away. It is a little more tricky to photograph elk here. The Rocky elk seem allergic to sunshine. They don't just stand around in open meadows for hours like the Yellowstone elk. Usually they promptly head off into the trees within seconds of sunrise. You can't walk out into the meadows like you can in Yellowstone and basically have to photograph from the roadside. But at least there are some elk here.

There are two primary elk watching locations on the east side of the park, Horseshoe Park and Moraine Park. Mornings are much better than evenings, for two reasons. One reason is meadows go into shadow quite early in the afternoon as the sun slips behind the mountains. The other reason is the evening crowds. Evenings on weekends are especially crowded, with both sides of the road lined with parked vehicles and lawn chairs. Like so much of wildlife photography, mornings are the time for the action.

Electric Deer - November 1998
So you are wondering which mischievious teenagers stole your Christmas lights. Maybe it's not the kids at all. I saw this decorated mule deer buck on the outskirts of Estes Park. Apparently he had wandered out of Rocky Mountain National Park to a nearby lodging establishment and snagged some lights from a tree.

While this may not be the most aesthetically pleasing photo, it demonstrates the reason to have your camera nearby and ready at all times. I saw this buck approaching that roadside fence as I was driving by, quickly stopped, grabbed my camera with the 400mm lens already attached, and took this picture through the open car window. Within ten seconds, the buck had jumped over the fence and continued on his merry way.

Bighorn Ram - December 1998
Bighorn rams are spectacular animals, and I'm always glad to see them. Usually they are little specks high on a distant mountain, but in this case, several rams were licking up salt from the highway shoulder so it was hard to miss them. After a while, they headed up on the rocky roadside cliffs. I took this photo with a 200mm lens. I could have used a longer lens for a tighter portrait, but I liked the snow-covered rocks in the background.

You can see this was not a sunny day. Nonetheless, exposure for a snowy scene is still tricky. My incident light meter said 1/15 at f/4, while the in-camera reflected meter said 1/15 at f/13. I used the incident reading, and a solid tripod. Unlike mule deer, bighorns stand motionless and pose majestically which helps immensely when you're dealing with such a long exposure.

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