Photo Gallery and Blog 2003

City Foxes IV

Once again, a family of foxes has returned to its favorite den beside a dead tree near the Fort Collins post office, providing hours of entertainment for wildlife watchers. The sight of wildlife in the middle of town still seems incongruous. They completely ignore bystanders and even snorting diesel garbage trucks that rumble by, but stare intently at passing dogs.

This year there are five kits. They romp around the area near the den, playfully biting and chasing each other, all under the careful supervision of their mother. Mother fox regularly grooms her kits and sometimes they are positioned so both faces are visible. Occasionally she has to go retrieve a kit who has wandered too far away in the empty irrigation ditch. Other times she just curls up and watches. This action is wonderfully entertaining to watch but nearly impossible to photograph. Still photos of kits playing always turn out as blurry orange blobs, but I keep trying anyway. Most of the time I follow them around with my camera and 800mm lens, constantly refocusing, waiting for the brief instants when they stop moving. You have to be ready for that rare instant when something draws their interest and they seem to be posing for a family portrait.

Flowery Meadows
After five years of below-average precipitation, it seems unusual to be having a normal year. The rivers are just roaring with water from melting snow. The flowers are bursting out all over, at least it seems unusually florid compared to recent years. The golden banner and wild iris in this field were especially abundant. Then a small herd of cow elk wandered through, and I thought it looked pastoral. Lush green meadows full of flowers sure beats dry brown meadows and forest fires.

Coyote Lunch

I was slowly driving along a narrow gravel road in Rocky Mountain National Park and spotted a coyote out in the meadow. The coyote seemed to be hunting for ground squirrels and working its way eastward across the meadow. I drove ahead of it, got out my 400mm lens and waited. It methodically checked out each squirrel hole in the ground. In its quest for lunch, the coyote kept coming towards me as if I was invisible and I had to keep backing up.

Then apparently it found a hole with a potential meal. It stood there, staring intently at the hole and quivering with anticipation. Now I have seen photos of coyotes in midair as they pounce on their prey and I was expecting this one to leap into the air at any second. But instead, it suddently jammed its nose down into the hole while its rear end flipped over forward, so it somersaulted over into its back with its hind legs up in the air. Not very dignified, but it worked. The coyote came up with a squirrel in its mouth. It chomped on the squirrel a couple times, then swallowed it whole.

After that, there's nothing quite like a nice cool drink of fresh mountain stream water to wash down a dusty old squirrel. Aaaaaah!

Mountain Bluebird
It's late June and that means it's time for seething crowds of tourists. Oh yeah, and mountain bluebirds, those cheery birds that wear the sky on their backs. As always, finding an active nest takes many hours of searching through the woods. Not just any old nest will do, it has to be at a reasonable height and be located to receive direct sunlight. Nest holes on the wrong side of the tree or shadowed by another tree are not much good for photos. This year I only found one suitable nest, but that's all you need. It was quite high, which can lead to a sharp upward angle and a photo with lots of belly and not much head. But that angle was reduced by backing up and using the monsterously long 800mm lens. Very careful positioning produced the colorful out-of-focus composite background of green tree, blue sky, and orange ponderosa bark. And just about everything is out of focus with an 800mm lens.

Hummingbird Nest
It's a rare treat to find an active hummingbird nest. How rare? The last one I saw was in 1996. Usually they are up high up in trees and inaccessible. Even if some are lower, they are not obvious and easily overlooked.

Everything about hummingbirds seems small and dainty. The nest is about as big as a 50-cent piece, and the cavity in the middle is about as big as a quarter. The female hummingbird builds her nest of lichens and spider web, lays and incubates her eggs, all with no help from the male. An adult weighs only four grams, a little more than one penny.

Photographing the nest presents unique challenges. Nests typically are built in obscure places, sheltered by other branches. In this case, there was one particular position that afforded a clear view of the nest. I used a relatively short 80-200mm zoom lens, at its closest focus distance. I positioned two small flash units to light the nest and not project shadows of pine needles across the birds or the nest. Then I connected the remote shutter release wire, and waited. The mother bird hummed around the few seconds while I set up this equipment. Then she carefully inspected it all at close range--I guess she likes old Canon FD equipment--then she returned to her feeding duties.

The mother bird spent about 30-45 minutes collecting nectar from flowers between feeding sessions. I had nothing to do but sit on the ground and wait. Suddenly she would appear and perch on the side of the nest. She inserted her big long beak into the chick's mouth and regurgitated the nectar. It seemed like mother's beak was so long it would poke holes in the bottom of the baby, but I guess she knew what she was doing. During this brief feeding period that lasted 30-45 seconds, I took many photos. Most of them show the mother feeding the chick and a few have the mother posing over the baby. Then she would buzz off to the flower patch again.

There was only one chick in this nest, and it grew fast. As the chick grew, it got so big that mother couldn't get far enough away from it to get her beak down into its mouth while sitting on the edge, so she would hover beside the nest and feed it. A few days later, it fledged. It's truly a rare treat to witness this phase in the life of a hummingbird.

Autumn Aspens

Ruby Mountain

East Beckwith Mountain

West Beckwith Mountain

To paraphrase Mick Jagger, I wasn't getting any satisfaction with the aspens in Rocky Mountain National Park, so I went on a whirlwind road trip to the Kebler Pass area west of Crested Butte. I hadn't been there for many years and I was due for a return visit. It was TREE-mendous! Kebler Pass is renowned for its spectacular aspen forest, and they were wonderful. There were acres of golden aspen on the mountainsides as far as you can see. Part of the time you are driving through dense aspen forest and part of the time you have great vistas of Ruby Mountain or the Beckwith Mountains covered with colorful aspens. If acres of fluttering yellow aspen leaves can't put a smile on your face, nothing will.

Bull Elk
It looked like another wasted morning because of the bank of clouds on the eastern horizon. When this happens, it blots out the sun for the first half hour of the morning, ruining the best light of the day. But fortunately, just before dawn, the sun shone up underneath that strip of clouds, turning it orange. This one bull elk was standing on the little hill by Sheep Lakes in Horseshoe Park. I didn't have very long to take photos. Most of his actions involved twisting into contorted positions to scratch something with his foot, which were not very photogenic. But he did manage to squeeze out one quick bugle, and I got this one quick photo. Then the sun went behind the cloud and the elk disappeared into the woods.

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