Foggy Forest Canyon
OK, it's cold January and there's little to photograph.
Think back to last autumn.....
It was one of those days when the weather couldn't make up its mind whether to be cloudy or not.
Forest Canyon was pretty much full of fog and clouds.
Big globs of fog were blowing past.
Sometimes the sun would shine through and sometimes it wouldn't.
I hiked out on the Old Ute Trail to a point where it overlooked the edge of Forest Canyon,
hoping for a cool shot of Longs Peak through the fog.
I stood there for a half hour in the blowing fog, not seeing Longs Peak at all.
After a while it became clear that it wasn't going to become clear, so I gave up on that concept and hiked back to the car.
I drove west, which is uphill, and quickly climbed out of the fog.
Midway between Forest Canyon Overlook and Rock Cut I glanced back to see Longs Peak glowing
with the last rays of sunlight over the billowing clouds.
One uneventful February afternoon, I was mindlessly driving past some old gravel pits in town, looking at the treetops instead of the road,
and noticed some large dark spots high in the bare branches of a distant tree.
Closer inspection showed those dark spots had white heads--they were bald eagles.
Three were adults with fully white heads, and two were juveniles.
Of course I didn't have my camera with me at the time, so I hurried home to get it.
My long-standing theory that wildlife sightings are inversely proportional to the amount of camera equipment in the car was proven once again.
Apparently the eagles liked that tree so much because the water in the pond was only half covered with ice,
leaving a generous area of open water.
Lots of geese liked this same pond too, and the icy surface was covered with hundreds of geese.
I set up my camera on the tripod with my 800mm lens, but the eagles were far away and still tiny.
After a while, one of the eagles took off and began flying circles over the pond.
This raised a loud cacophony of honking from the geese.
The eagle started on the far side of the pond and then turned and came past me on the near side.
I tried to follow this flying eagle in the viewfinder, and focus on it at the same time.
That is really hard!
Focusing an 800mm lens is tricky enough on a stationary subject, not to mention a moving one.
It was quite fascinating to watch this large graceful bird flying around over this pond,
while at the same time feverishly trying to follow and focus on it.
This photo is the very first frame I took, and it's actually almost sharp.
After making several passes overhead, with loud scoldings from the geese, the eagle swooped down into the open water and
nabbed a small fish. Then it immediately flew off, back to its favorite distant tree, for a lunch of fresh fish.
Since then, I have checked that pond a dozen times for eagles and another chance at frantic focusing, and have not seen them again.
Must be because I had my camera along with me.
First light on Longs Peak
Sunrise on Hallett Peak over Bear Lake
Longs Peak and Snowy Trees
Mummy Mountain and Bighorn Mountain
Each year I wait all winter for the perfect storm to create beautiful snowy winter wonderland conditions.
Let me tell you, it is very rare. Last year it didn't happen at all.
It takes a fast-moving storm with just the right temperature to drop a foot of sloppy wet snow that sticks on the trees,
and then be gone by the next morning.
If the sky stays cloudy and gray, it just doesn't have the same punch as sunny blue sky.
Although the photos look like the middle of winter, typically this happens in April.
If you get a foot of snow in January, it just falls off the trees and makes a big icy mess on the roads.
But in April, it sticks on the trees and conveniently melts off the road.
The temperature drops pretty fast at night with clear skies.
This particular morning, it was 3ºF at sunrise at Bear Lake.
That sounds really cold, but I quickly developed a sweat after a few minutes of floudering around in clunky Sorel boots, wading through a foot of new snow.
There are piles of old snow drifted many feet deep, that make the overhanging tree branches seem pretty low.
If you brush against one, a load of snow will dump on your head and down your neck.
Overall, it is a very beautiful serene setting, with total silence and total solitude.
That is, if you stop long enough to appreciate it while frantically trying to remember the exposure compensation for snow-covered trees and get the snow off your neck.
After Bear Lake, I headed back to some other sites for other sights.
Usually the sun and wind conspire to remove all the snow from the trees within a few hours, so you had better take your pictures quickly.
With the whole landscape frosted with white, it is almost impossible to take a bad picture.
Unless you screw up the exposure, that is.
I have found that one stop less exposure than normal is about right, which means 1/125 at f/11 on Velvia 50.
You will kick yourself silly if you get the great opportunity to photograph wonderful snowy trees and blow the exposure.
The night before, I saw a few bull elk grazing through the snow, near the road.
First I took some close-up photos with my 400mm lens.
Those photos are kinda funny because the elk's snouts are covered with snow.
But then I switched to a shorter lens for scenic photos that happen to include an elk, and I like those much better.
I just wish this would happen more often. But if it did, it wouldn't be such a treat.
For four years, a family of red foxes has had a den on a bit of vacant land near the local post office
and I have enjoyed watching and photographing them there.
But this year, there was no activity there at all at that site. I was very disappointed.
As April gave way to May, it looked like I wasn't going to see any foxes this year.
I was very glad to receive a call from a fox-watching friend about their new location.
It's a different sort of "fox news network." I went there early the next morning.
There was one kit sitting atop the den hole when I arrived.
Being so late in the season, the kits were pretty large already.
The nearby area was cluttered with leftover fast food trash scoured from dumpsters and a tennis shoe.
The adults showed up occasionally to groom the kit.
Mostly they just walked around the vacant lot, taunted some geese, or snoozed on a nearby dirt pile, with a wary eye on me.
I wasn't all that close--these photos were taken with an 800mm lens and sometimes a 1.4x converter.
They seemed much more annoyed by passing traffic.
After only two days, the family moved on to a non-photographable site in a drainage ditch.
I was just glad to have seen them again.
Mid to late June is the time when cavity nesting birds have their babies.
For about two weeks, the adults will make zillions of trips to and from the nest,
bringing assorted bugs to feed their hungry chicks, and this is a great time to photograph them.
Before you can photograph the birds, you need to do your homework and find an active nest
in an accessible location with tolerant birds.
This isn't so easy. It takes lots of time, standing around by trees with promising cavities and waiting for any bird activity.
After doing this for many years, I have a pretty good idea where to look, but I found several new nests this year too.
Most of the nest holes are in bad locations, too high or shaded, or have skittish birds.
You have to find about ten nests to get one good one.
Besides being the cheery blue birds that wear the sky on their backs, bluebirds are usually quite tolerant and cooperative subjects.
You basically just stand by the nest hole (at a reasonable distance) and wait for the birds to arrive with insects.
At this particular nest site, there was a prominent branch nearby that served as a staging perch
for the birds on their way in and out of the nest, and was a great spot for photos too.
After several hours of watching the adults hunt for bugs, you have to be impressed with their ability to find bugs so rapidly.
I mean, could you find a caterpillar every five minutes for two weeks?
They often sit on some tree for a while, then flutter to the ground and nab a bug.
Several times one landed on the ground within several feet of me to grab some bug.
I guess I wasn't scaring them too much.
This year I also found a white-breasted nuthatch nest and a northern flicker nest.
Nuthatches typically walk down a tree trunk headfirst, searching for insects lodged in the bark.
Let me tell you, nuthatches don't stop and pose, and wait around to have their picture taken.
They are in constant motion.
This nest was barely three feet off the ground but in the shade of other trees
so I had to use a flash which complicates things even more.
Getting a decent photo is basically random luck since you don't have time to focus on anything.
The old trash bin fills rapidly with blurry nuthatch photos.
A Northern Flicker is a large brown spotted woodpecker.
It's pretty easy to find a flicker because of their distinctive sounds but finding their nest is a different story.
For the last few days before fledging, the chicks are quite large and routinely hang out of the nest hole,
especially when the adult comes to feed.
Although dealing with two subjects is harder than one, it makes for a much more interesting photo.
Last year I was lucky enough to find a hummingbird nest, and this year I was pleasantly surprised to
find another hummingbird nesting in exactly the same spot.
The adult hummer had refurbished the nest from the remnants of last year's nest and was calmly sitting on it.
I regularly checked on her progress. Incubation period is supposed to be 14 days.
At least 14 days passed, and she was still on the nest. What gives? Bad eggs?
The answer was revealed when she took off for lunch.
In the bottom of the nest were two tiny chicks, barely as big as the tip of your little finger,
mostly black with wisps of white fuzz. They had hatched on schedule--she was just keeping them warm.
I didn't take a picture at this point.
After another week passed, then they began to look a little like birds,
still mostly black but feather quills had appeared and tiny beaks were visible, as you can see.
The two chicks made tremendous progress over the next week.
They had grown much larger and were fully feathered.
Mom was very busy, gathering nectar from nearby flowers and returning periodically to feed.
She would perch on the edge of the nest, then regurgitate the nectar into a chick's open mouth.
That nectar must be powerful stuff to make these two chicks grow so much in just one week.
The feeding sessions lasted about 45 seconds, and then a 45 minute wait until the next one.
The chicks kept getting bigger and feeding soon became awkward.
Mom had a hard time finding the edge of the nest because the chicks were covering it.
One time the chick bent its neck over backwards to be fed.
Another time, mom simply stood on one chick while she fed the other one.
By now, the chicks were really big. They really didn't fit in the nest any more.
The two chicks were moving around quite a bit.
Their squirming had spread the top part of the nest itself.
The chicks took turns practicing beating their tiny wings, while hanging onto the edge of the nest with one foot.
At last, they were ready to go, lined up on the edge of the nest and cleared for takeoff.
They were gone the next day.
Many Faces of Sprague Lake
Sprague Lake is a very photogenic and readily accessible lake in Rocky Mountain National Park.
There is a spectacular view of three mountains, Otis Peak, Hallett Peak, and Flattop Mountain from its eastern shore.
At sunrise, the three mountains light up with pink or orange light.
Sometimes you even get a reflection if there is no wind and no ducks.
The key to a truly great photo is the clouds, so they add more color to the scene.
Having just the right amount of clouds in the right place at sunrise is very unusual.
Typically there are no clouds, or a heavy layer of gray clouds, or clouds that totally obscure the mountain, or clouds in the east that blot out the sun.
I don't have photos from all those days when the spectacular color didn't happen, and there have been plenty of those.
Here are some examples of the different ways clouds can change the same scene.
It's the first week of October and time to go see acres of aspens.
The nearby ones in Rocky Mountain National Park were particularly disappointing this year, blowing away immediately after turning yellow.
So I did another very quick trip to a few aspen hot spots in southwestern Colorado.
As whirlwind photo trips go, I was very lucky.
The trees at McClure Pass were especially colorful, showing many shades of red and orange as well as the dominant yellow.
And conveniently, there was overcast skies and no wind which made for easy photography.
Then on to the Kebler Pass road. There is a spectacular view of East Beckwith Mountain from the road.
A fresh dusting of snow on the peak and some puffy clouds made for a perfect evening.