Diverse Day of Photography in the High Country
I don’t normally attempt any wildlife photography on holidays due to the customary full frontal assault on the wilderness from the city every time they get a day off down there. But Monday is the only day Kevin and I have off work on the same day so we decided to give it a go anyway. I arrived just after sunrise at the “eagles lot” to meet Kevin and just as I drove in I spotted the two members of our nesting pair overlooking the valley. One was in the nest far overhead and another on a dead tree closer to the old dam structure. Awesome, both of our nesting pair accounted for just a month before breeding season!
Second Pair Accounted For
The eagles were way too far away for pictures but I attached the 2x teleconverter to my Canon R7 and gave it a shot anyway. Unfortunately the distance and the lack of light resulted in too much noise at f/11 to make a detailed picture. However as I was working on those shots, another eagle flew in from the north. I assumed that eagle must be Speckles, the resident from up near the reservoir somewhere. Shortly thereafter his mate flew in to complete the last piece of the puzzle for this year’s mating season. I wasn’t sure Speckles still had a mate and I’m glad to find out that she is alive and well. It turns out there is a bit of open water in the Platte River just across the highway where it appears our eagles may have an easier time fishing than they do in the fast water of the upper canyon.
We spotted our first eagle photography opportunity near the bend just as the morning light began to spill over the east ridge and onto the river. But the eagle took flight before we could even get a shot off. Soon a second opportunity evaded us as the eagle took flight as soon as the car drove up. Finally at the very end of the canyon where I froze my kneecaps last week we spotted another opportunity. Once again, a fly away before we could even get off a decent shot. Fortunately the eagle flew back downstream where we knew we would have another opportunity.
As we neared the tunnels on the way back downstream we discovered the reason for our jumpy eagles. We have a weekend warrior who thinks the best way to get eagle pictures is to roar up and down the canyon as fast as he can in his truck. We were already in the one lane tunnel and for a second it appeared this fool was actually going to try to turn the tunnel into a two lane. But at the last second he slammed on his brakes and decided not to cause a head on crash. Anyway, I assume he had already been racing back and forth long enough to upset the eagles, and was the reason for the erratic behavior. I hope this guy soon gets a promotion or something pretty soon and gets transferred to New York City where he will be more at home.
Finally a Good Capture
Eventually we found one of our eagles perched across the river at the bend and we quietly approached in hopes of some good pictures. The eagle seemed a bit calmer and remained in place while we captured a few portraits. Eventually he did take flight and we got the best captures of the day. Mr. NYC was still racing up and down the canyon and missed the best picture opportunity of the entire morning 🙂
A Few American Dippers and A Lifetime First
At one of the spots we heard some happy chirping coming from the river and upon investigation it turned out there were a couple of American dippers fishing from the icy banks. The dippers like to fish in the shade so it was a little dark for pictures, but I gave it a shot anyway. I got a pretty nice capture of the little guy looking in my direct, albeit a noisy one. I’m working with Topaz DeNoise even as we speak to try to coax something usable out of the image 🙂 I assume the little guys can see into the water better in the shade, making it easier for them to snatch the little fish they so like to eat. I might add, these little guys are very quick and difficult to get pictures of! The fact that I got anything out of this is a testament to the R7 which managed to keep him in focus while I attempted to get the capture!
Earlier in the day we had spotted a chubby little song bird perched on a reed that worth a few captures. At first I thought it was a little mountain chickadee. When I got home I ran him through Merlin anyway, and discovered that he was actually a lifetime first sighting of a northern shrike! He may not have actually been my first sighting, it may be that I’ve seen one before and mistaken it for a chickadee. But anyway yesterday was the first time I have ever captured and identified this amazing little species. Apparently they are quite the fierce little hunter, capable of killing and eating prey as big as a mouse! I never cease to be amazed at the diversity of nature and of the birds in our canyon!
On our way downstream the final time we saw our eagles catching an updraft and soaring high into the sky, well out of range of our lenses. We decided to head on up toward Jefferson to see if maybe we could spot some red-tail hawks. Surprisingly we only got a few yards and there was already one perched on a fence post right across from the lake! Unfortunately he outsmarted us and flew back across the river before we could shoot any pictures.
The long snowy drive to Tarryall Reservoir didn’t produce much so we decided to press on to prime hawk country closer to the town of Jefferson. There was one beautiful specimen of a red-tail up there but he was far too smart for us. Every attempt to slow down or get out of the truck resulted in an immediate take off. Finally he grew weary of our antics and flew to the other side of the valley.
Elk and Pronghorn
Rather than go right back down the snowy and slippery Tarryall Road we decided to hit the highway and make a loop back to Lake George by way of Highways 285 and 9 in hopes of seeing pronghorn in South Park. About a mile down Highway 9 we spotted a nice herd of elk out in the open with the Mosquito Range right behind them. I have long wanted a picture of elk with snow capped mountains in the background! I would rather it had been a big bull, but I’ll take what I can get 🙂
Finally as we were cruising through Eleven Mile State Park we finally saw some pronghorn not too far out into the field. Fortunately they decided not to flee as we got out of the vehicle and continued their play as we got a few captures (below right).
One Last Eagle
Finally on our way out of the park, a bald eagle flew right over us. I assume that must have been Speckles or his mate heading for home after a long day of soaring high in the blazing blue Colorado sky. We weren’t able to track him, but it does give me a slight inkling of where his nest might be. I’ll look for that another time, perhaps when I get my state parks pass when I register my truck. This is the year when we get a discounted pass with our vehicle registration if we want to opt in! I shall attempt to register my truck early this year!
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