Photo Gallery and Blog 2005

Winter Eagles
Once upon a time, ten years ago, there was a large vacant area on the south side of Fort Collins covered with prairie dog colonies. On the crest of a hill were some trees, and sometimes in the winter, I could look far out across this open space and see a big black blob with a white head sitting in that tree--a bald eagle. We think eagles only inhabit far northern regions but actually quite a few of them spend the winter in Colorado. But alas, soon the area became a subdivision, and I thought that would be the end of the eagle. Eagles are supposed to be skittish birds who do not tolerate human activity at all, but apparently this eagle didn't know that.

Each winter she returned to the same tree, in spite of the houses popping up all around it. In fact, she sat there while workers excavated a foundation with a big backhoe.

This provided a great opportunity for photography. It was certainly a lot more convenient than Alaska. It was pretty simple to take a photo, as long as you had a monsterous 800mm lens handy. There were only a couple dedicated photographers who knew about this, and regularly came to visit. We tried to keep quiet and maintain a low profile since we were basically standing in people's front yards (with their permission) behind tripods and imposing lenses. We spent many cold hours watching and waiting, and shivering. This is winter after all. Mostly the eagle just sat there in the treetop, intently watching for activity in the prairie dog town. You can only imagine what she must see with those eagle eyes.

She seemed perfectly content up there in her tree and ignored all human activity. Noisy vehicles, children, dogs, joggers, all were paid no attention.

How did we know this eagle was a female? Occasionally we saw a second eagle in the area. Usually she would see this second eagle and chirp at it long before any of us could find it. A couple times this second eagle landed in the same area so we could compare them. Our friendly eagle was bigger so we knew she was female, because female raptors are larger than males. It's officially called "reverse sexual dimorphism." Exactly one time did they perch close enough to make for an interesting photo.

About once an hour, she would stretch one wing and one leg, then a few minutes later, do the other wing and other leg. About once a day, she would do this other wacky stretch, with both wings behind her back. Sometimes she would suddenly take off, glide between two houses, and disappear off to the prairie dog town to the south.

One time she returned to the tree, carrying a fresh prairie dog in her talons and proceeded to eat it. This was pretty gross but it didn't stop us from photographing it. This particular photo is one of the least gross ones. First she picked off the fur, then basically pulled it apart and gulped it down. Some parts were especially elastic and she stretched her head up high, trying to break it loose. Eew yuck!

Occasionally she saw something and squawked at it. But most of the time, she just sat there in her favorite spot in her favorite tree and with that stern look that eagles always have.

This could have gone on forever, but sadly, now the prairie dog colony has been completely replaced by houses, apartments, condos, swingsets and bluegrass. The eagle's food source is gone and so is she. Occasionally I still see an eagle soaring overhead but it's not the same.

Fox Kits
Late April and May is the time to go looking for baby foxes. I found some! This tiny young fox kit was at a den very near a highway. I watched and photographed it one morning. This precocious little kit explored the area around its den. I parked on the road shoulder and photographed it through my open passenger-side car window. It is a bit unnerving to have trucks roaring past at high speeds just a few feet away while trying to concentrate on photography. The kit ignored the traffic noise and seemed quite fearless as it poked around in the roadside weeds. I hoped it would be careful to stay out of the highway. Then we had ten days of gloomy overcast weather which is lousy for photographs, I mean, an exposure of 1/8 second at f/5.6 just does not work. I went back on the very next sunny morning, and was saddened to find the little pup dead on the highway. I was bummed.

A few days later, I happened to drive through Fort Collins and decided to check on an old den site in an unphotogenic vacant lot with piles of junk all over. Now there was a big pile of dirt temporarily dumped there too. What a mess. But there were foxes! I came back early the next morning and was disappointed to see nothing. I was about to leave when one adult fox appeared on top of the dirt pile. You would never know there is strip mall behind it. The den hole itself was in a low spot and surrounded by tall weeds. One kit came up and looked around for a little while, and chewed on an old shoe which was mostly hidden by the weeds. These kits were already quite large and after a few more cloudy unphotographable mornings, they were gone.

I mentioned my fox photo hunting endeavors to a friend, who then said "We have foxes in our backyard sometimes." The den was in a nearby greenbelt so I went there early the next morning. There were three kits. Mostly they just ignored me, more interested in the occasional jogger on the bike path. Two of them play-fought a bit, then took a big yawn, and settled down for a snooze.

Nesting Birds
Mid June is the time for photos of cavity-nesting birds. Even though I already have mountains of photos of them, mountain bluebirds are always my favorite. This year the birds nested in the same dead tree as last year and the bird was very cooperative. Some birds zoom directly in and out of the hole but this one regularly paused and posed on this branch. I am always amazed at their ability to locate bugs so fast. A bluebird can be sitting on top of a 20-30 ft tree, and suddenly dive to the ground and nab a bug.

Before you can photograph a bird, you have to find a nest, a nest not too high and with good light. This involves spending lots of time exploring areas with many perforated trees to see if anything flies into a hole. One morning I was doing exactly that, watching an area with a bluebird, sapsucker, swallow, and wren, when I saw four great horned owls. It was one adult and three owlets, all sitting in a group. I had been standing there for at least ten minutes and these owls didn't even move. It is startling to suddenly see big birds when your brain is looking for tiny ones. Of course I didn't have my camera with me at this time so I had to run back and get it. Sunny day owl photos usually don't work very well because their eyes are in shadow.

I found this flicker nest. The best photos are late in the season when the chicks are big enough to hang out of the hole. By that point, the chicks make loud squawking sounds so it is easy to find the nest. This particular nest was shaded by another aspen tree, so the light was kinda spotty. The adult flicker eats ants and tiny worms, then regurgitates into the baby's gaping mouth as they both rapidly vibrate their heads back and forth. It sounds terrible, but it works for them.

Babbling Brook
Rocky Mountain National Park is generally not where you would expect to find small brooks gently tumbling down through a lush, mossy green forest. This sort of thing is more typically found in the Smokeys instead of Rockies. Yet if you look far enough, it can be found here.

In this case, it is a bit misleading. This luscious green area is barely twenty feet wide, fed by the water in this brook. Outside of that, the forest is the typical Rocky Mountain style, open aspens and pines. Also, this area is protected from curious photographers by an army of killer mosquitoes. A two-second exposure seems like an eternity with bugs walking around on your head.

Autumn in Rocky Mountain National Park

Longs Peak over Bear Lake

Aspen reflection on Bear Lake

Cascade on Glacier Creek

Aspens on Bierstadt Moraine

Rocky Mountain National Park is generally not a hotbed of fantastic aspen vistas anything like areas in southwestern Colorado such as Kebler Pass or Dallas Divide. However there are still some very nice views available. It's hard to argue with gleaming yellow leaves and deep blue skies. The elk were busy with their annual rutting activities as well as their old tricks to frustrate photographers--standing in the shade and sticking their butts at me. They did slip up and actually look in my direction a couple times.

Next Year     Home     Last Year