Pre-Trip Adrenalin

It’s almost time… our annual pilgrimage to Rocky Mountain National Park to see the elk rut. Actually it kicked in last night, that nervous feeling in the pit of your stomach that won’t let you sleep. I hate that feeling, the uncertainty, the wondering if everything is ready, if I have forgotten something. I finally managed to fall asleep but I was already awake again at 3:00 this morning 😦

Elk in Rocky Mountain National Park

I did catch a break though while I was drinking my coffee and watching wildlife videos on YouTube. I was kind of half asleep watching a video on setting up the Canon R7 for wildlife, one which I had already watched before, when I heard a tidbit that I had never noticed… The “Wild Alaska” guy said on the main AF settings he leaves “tracking set to off, that way you can turn it on and off with a button. If you set it to on it is always on.”. Now I had noticed that tracking wasn’t behaving properly, I programmed the exposure lock button to turn on and off tracking but it seemed tracking was always immediately coming right back on and disrupting my focus point selection. Well I did what he said and switched the main tracking setting to off and now my programmed button works the way I want it to. That’s an important setting for me because it is quite often that I need to have a very precise focus point to aim through branches or grass to grab right onto the animal. Also important when you set animal tracking to off, go ahead and leave animal eye focus turned on.

The second minor issue I got ironed out this morning while setting that up is that the lock button also locks in a focus point. I couldn’t get the joy stick to change the location of my points and finally determined that on my last photo outing I had used the lock button to lock down the exposure. I didn’t realize it also locked up the focus points, so that and the tracking issue were awesome things to get ironed out BEFORE the trip!

So it turned out that last year’s trip was a bit to early in the month and we missed peak rut season, but despite that I got some great video of the elk herd in action and one of my favorite elk pictures (above) of all time! Click here to see the full video on my YouTube channel!

Well anyway, I hope to be able to post some phone videos to my channel throughout the trip so stay tuned!

First Elk of the Season

I arrived at the trailhead early this morning with the intention of taking the long trail through the woods and up to the second set of peaks, in hope of finding some deer or maybe even elk to photograph. The wily hawk was not on his perch this morning so there was no need to stop and waste time with him. I cleared the first summit I looked all over the clearing but found no sign of the large ungulates. As I traversed the summit I stomped around a bit hoping to see the dusky grouse, but no luck there either.

Bull Elk

So I trudged up the steep trail through the trees to the 11,000 foot level above the treeline. As I quietly neared the summit I noticed the aspen leaves shaking wildly at the forest edge. As stealthily as I could I cleared the summit and made my way around one of the old mine digs closer to the action. As I neared I could see a large brown animal, but only the top of his head and his ears. At first I thought it was a bear foraging for food so I was a bit nervous about approaching, but I needed to get a little closer to make sure.  Eventually more of the animal came into view and I was disappointed but also a little bit relieved to see that it was a big bull elk, not a bear.

Free Range Cattle

Unfortunately my camera was set up all wrong, configured for birds in flight as I passed through the grouse zone, and as the grouse sometimes occupy the edge of the forest above the treeline I had opted not to adjust any of the settings. So the shutter speed was set to high, tracking was off and animal eye focus was off. Single point focus would have been fine but I had a larger zone selected and when I tried to focus on the elk I kept hitting the weeds. Then I finally got a shot off and for the first time in my life, the sound of the shutter actually scared away my subject. So on my way down the mountain I fiddled around with my settings and took some shots for practice of the free range cattle that had gone down to the watering hole 🙂

Thinking that my chances were done for the day I shut the camera off to save battery power and was soon startled as a whole flock of dusky grouse was taking flight all around me. I tried my best to get the strap for the monopod off my wrist and turn on the camera but in the end all I could do was watch helplessly as the beautiful birds disappeared into the dense forest 😦

Red-tailed hawk

Luckily I did come away with the one image of the elk before the great beast drifted back into the cover of trees, but now I’m thinking I need to set up a couple of custom modes for quicker reaction. With three to work with I think I could use a birds in flight, large mammals, and maybe even long exposure landscape custom settings.

When I got back down the mountain the hawk was on his perch so I chased him around a while, but he proved too elusive for me once again. No good shots in flight for today (I’m not happy unless I can see eyeball detail). Anyway, I hope you enjoy the couple of images I did manage to capture!

Also don’t forget to check out my books and calendars on Lulu Press and Amazon including my latest, “Wildlife Photography in the Colorado Rockies”!

Elk Herd on a Beautiful Rocky Mountain Evening

As always, the best of these images and hundreds more are available for purchase on my website as wall art on glossy metal or acrylic sheets, stretched canvas and traditional matting and framing. Tons of cool household and gift items are also available with any image you like including coffee mugs, t-shirts, blankets and pillows, battery chargers, phone cases, stationary and much much more! Just click on any image you like and all the choices, sizes and prices will appear! For my viewers interested in images for commercial use, please visit my image licensing portal! Also, if you would like to see a more complete record of today’s images please follow my Instagram account!

Many of my adventures have also been captured on beautiful HD video on my Youtube Channel! If you enjoy my content please subscribe to my channel, subscribers have a big impact on channel rankings!

Coyote on the Hunt

Quite a Day and a Roll of Film

Bitter cold greeted me two days from the official arrival of the Vernal Equinox, otherwise known as spring. One thing is for sure though, spring cannot be counted on in Colorado. So a day of photography that began with an ice scraper and frozen fingers could only get better from there, and a green chili breakfast burrito at the Mountain Burger in Florissant Colorado didn’t hurt 🙂

Frozen South Platte River Valley

Eleven Mile Canyon was also frozen, something I was anticipating and had planned for by bringing my old Canon AE-1 film camera with it’s six remaining frames of black and white film. Bald eagle photography hasn’t been great there lately due to the imminent spring hatch of new eaglets but I figured I could at least get a few shots of the frozen river valley following our spring snowstorm. The frost covered trees and frozen chokecherry bushes along the banks of the South Platte were as beautiful as they were frigid.

Mule Deer in the Brush

As Kevin and I cruised up the river there were no raptors to be seen. It’s about time for the osprey to return so we carefully watched the treetops on the ridge for their appearance, but it seems we will have to wait a bit longer. The literature says they can arrive anytime after the middle of the month and last year I didn’t see them until the end of March and the beginning of April. There were no eagles, but at the bend we spotted a small herd of mule deer so we pulled a little ahead and out of sight so we could sneak back and get a shot of them feeding down by the river. I only captured one clear image of one of the does before they wandered into the dense reeds along the river bank but it felt good to get out and do a bit of shooting, something I haven’t had much luck with lately!

Winter Elk

A few more miles down the road revealed another herd of animals, this time some rarely seen elk making their way down to the river bed. We thought they might be trying to get to the water but it soon became apparent that the reeds along the banks were their target, probably for their breakfast. From the distance we were at it was difficult to get a clear shot of them but I snapped a few anyway just to have a record of the unusual scene. I’m amazed at the awareness of elk, we were probably a hundred yards away on the other side of the river and yet these amazing animals were immediately aware of the vehicle stopping and windows opening.

Horned Lark at Eleven Mile

It didn’t appear that there would be any eagles visiting the canyon this day so we decided to move on to the big reservoir in Eleven Mile State Park where we had good prospects of photographing the herd of pronghorn antelope. A curious flock of small birds followed the truck as we proceeded along the road through the park. I wanted to get a bit ahead of these interesting little feathered visitors but they wouldn’t allow it. Each time the truck got close to catching up with them they moved further ahead. Finally I stopped to see if maybe they would come back within camera range. Sure enough, when the truck stopped they stopped and I was able to shoot out the window. I wasn’t confident that I’d get a usable image of the tiny birds but I hoped I would at least get a good enough picture for Merlin to identify.

Winter PronghornAnd as it turns out, my Merlin app identified the flock as horned lark, a lifetime first sighting for me! This particular specimen appears to be the less brightly colored female of the species.

Soon we spotted the main subject of this visit, a small herd of pronghorn antelope making their way through the snow. Unfortunately there was nowhere to hide and the furtive creatures spotted us right away and began to move further away. It’s difficult to get a compelling image of an animal that is moving away and showing you it’s hindquarters, but luckily they stopped few times to look back to see if we were following them. Our long lenses and 1.4x teleconverters came in handy to get good shots of the swift little ungulates.

American Bison in the Snow

By this time the sun was high in the sky and the lighting situation on the bright snow was nearly impossible. But a lone bison walking through the snow with the mountains of the Pike National Forest in the background was too tempting to avoid. I dialed in a stop and a half of exposure compensation to account for the dark animal on the bright white snow and did the best I could. With a bit of Photoshop help I was able to bring out some detail in the animal, probably creating my favorite image of the day mostly just because it was a buffalo. They are such amazing majestic creatures it would be hard not to like a picture of them!

To top off an amazing day, I was successful in shooting the remaining frames of my black and white film so I hope to make a trip down to the city to submit the roll for processing. Mike’s Camera still develops film on site, a rare thing these days so I plan to take it there. Since I use Ilford HP5 black and white film, it will be possible to develop it there with their C41 processing system. Apparently some black and white films need to be sent to the main lab in Boulder, still a reasonable turnaround time compared to some places that take weeks to get your film done these days!

I will be placing many more images from today on my website and my Instagram account so please feel free to follow my progress on both of these platforms!

Frozen South Platte River

 

As always, the best of these images and hundreds more are available for purchase on my website as wall art on glossy metal or acrylic sheets, stretched canvas and traditional matting and framing. Tons of cool household and gift items are also available with any image you like including coffee mugs, t-shirts, blankets and pillows, battery chargers, phone cases, stationary and much much more! Just click on any image you like and all the choices, sizes and prices will appear! For my viewers interested in images for commercial use, please visit my image licensing portal! Also, if you would like to see a more complete record of today’s images please follow my Instagram account!

Many of my adventures have also been captured on beautiful HD video on my Youtube Channel! If you enjoy my content please subscribe to my channel, subscribers have a big impact on channel rankings! And don’t forget to check out my books and calendars on Lulu Press and Amazon!

Amazing Alpine Hike with the Elk Herd

Funny how things work out… As I sat sipping my coffee this morning I decided I didn’t want to do any driving today. For one thing gas prices are insane, and for another… I really don’t like spending time on the road. So the plan I worked out included a short drive to my favorite trailhead and a good hard hike.

When I reached the first summit it was so pretty and quiet out that I decided to stop and capture a few seconds of video and post it as a greeting on Facebook. I sat and enjoyed the ambiance for a few minutes while the video clip uploaded and then I headed back down the trail. But then I began to hear the birds singing over in the woods, some song that I didn’t recognize. So I decided to take the hike to the next summit and hoped I might catch a glimpse of the new birds.

Herd of elk in the Pike National Forest of Colorado

As I neared that summit I could see over to the next high peak, and on it was a beautiful herd of elk. I knew if I cleared the summit they would see me and take off, so I quietly got my camera ready and began to film and photograph. As I watched through my long lens I wondered what the cows were looking at so I moved up a bit further and saw that  they were watching over their crop of new calves! It was then that I knew for sure I was going to have to make a real video 🙂

I filmed for awhile and then decided not to disturb them by walking toward them so I just went back down through the forest the way I came. As I neared forest edge a grouse startled me by jumping out of the grass right at my feet and flying into a nearby tree. I got a few seconds of footage of that guy and took a few stills before he grew annoyed with me and flew away for good. But I was glad to see the little fellows have returned to my mountain. They normally like to run along the ground on the high ridges so perhaps I’ll get some better pictures of him another time.

Dusky Grouse in the Morning Light

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the video and if you wouldn’t mind and you like the content, please like and subscribe!

As always, the best of these images and hundreds more are available for purchase on my website as wall art on glossy metal or acrylic sheets, stretched canvas and traditional matting and framing. Tons of cool household and gift items are also available with any image you like including coffee mugs, t-shirts, blankets and pillows, battery chargers, phone cases, stationary and much much more! Just click on any image you like and all the choices, sizes and prices will appear! For my viewers interested in images for commercial use, please visit my image licensing portal! I should mention at this time that this blog post is not sponsored by Canon or any other firm. All equipment used in the making of the blog and video have been purchased by me on my own volition.

A Wildlife Photography Smorgasbord

I wasn’t sure what I would encounter this morning as I made the familiar trip to Eleven Mile Canyon. I knew that shooting the eagles and osprey was going to be an iffy proposition with both species in the midst of their brooding

Herd of Elk

and hatching season. I always look for elk and deer as I pass the beautiful Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. Even though they are rarely spotted, large herds of the magnificent beasts reside there and I always hope to see them.

As I neared the monument I spotted a couple of elk cows out in the open and quickly found a place to pull over. Much to my surprise there were many more scattered around the meadow, all heading my way in a big hurry! Not sure why they were in such a hurry, I guess they just didn’t want to be left behind. I looked across Teller 1 to the west to see what they were moving towards and spotted the bulk of the main herd already waiting on that side. I just started shooting as many of the little groups as I could get my camera focused on… I know these moments are over as quickly as they begin. Later I wished I had shot a little video footage, but the still pictures are my bread and butter and they are often all I have time for.

Bald Eagles at the Nest

Eventually all the animals were on the west side of the highway, relaxing and feeding in a thick patch of reeds as they meandered toward the dense forest to the west. I wanted a capture of the entire herd but by this time all the beasties were facing away from me.

As I approached the entrance to the canyon I noticed that both bald eagles were in the nest so I stopped for a couple of images and some video as they cackled and squawked about something. We now have at least three great blue herons on the lower stretch of river but they were too far away for a meaningful image. A few merganser ducks, a couple of mule deer and some red-winged blackbirds rounded out the big variety of wildlife that were out enjoying a beautiful Colorado spring morning.

I went back to check on the osprey but there was little action at the nest… mama is sitting deep in the nest on the eggs and papa osprey is back on his regular perch high on the ridge to watch for threats, something he seems to have a great amount of patience for! I watched for a while but the cold wind blowing over the ice water of the South Platte River was more than I could handle for very long!

Mule DeerAgain there are far too many images from today to fit them all in this blog post, so please feel free to follow my Instagram page to see  the rest and much much more!

Also watch my Youtube Channel for a short video clip of the eagles!

As always, the best of these images and hundreds more are available for purchase on my website as wall art on glossy metal or acrylic sheets, stretched canvas and traditional matting and framing. Tons of cool household and gift items are also available with any image you like including coffee mugs, t-shirts, blankets and pillows, battery chargers, phone cases, stationary and much much more! Just click on any image you like and all the choices, sizes and prices will appear! For my viewers interested in images for commercial use, please visit my image licensing portal! I should mention at this time that this blog post is not sponsored by Canon or any other firm. All equipment used in the making of the blog and video have been purchased by me on my own volition.

Merganser Ducks

Elk in a Winter Wonderland

We had a pretty good snow last night and I know nothing brings out the elk like fresh snow! It was already getting close to sunrise so I scrambled to grab my camera and suitable clothing and ran out the door. Had to do a little shoveling in order to get out but I still managed to make it to the trailhead only 15 minutes or so after sunrise.

Herd of Rocky Mountain Elk

The second I set foot on the trail I regretted leaving my snowshoes at home. There was only an inch or two at my house, but up here another thousand feet it looked like three our four. But I had to beat that guy with his dogs to the top of the ridge in time to get plenty of pictures before he and his dog showed up to chase away all the wildlife. I was hoping the deer would be hanging around the tall grass at the top where I could get a nice closeup… but they weren’t there.

Young Elk Cow

I looked across the valley and there was the entire herd of elk… grazing and napping lazily in the morning sunshine on the hillside 🙂 I stopped to snap a few images and then devised a plan to get closer. I would climb to the the edge of the woods and sneak around the south end where I might be able to find a vantage point while remaining undetected until I was right in front of them. Much to my surprise… as I was plotting my next moves, a lone young elk cow ran right past me. I don’t know how she had managed to become so far separated from the herd but she was definitely in a hurry to reunite with her friends! I had time to snap a couple of shots as she made her way past and then took a few more as she galloped across the valley toward a couple of her companions that were also intent upon rejoining the main herd.

Herd of Rocky Mountain Elk

My plan mostly worked, except that the elk had already moved on up the mountainside. However I was able to get much better shots than I had from across the valley. I snapped a few and then began to move slowly toward the huge beasts. In seconds they detected my presence and began to make their move over the top of the mountain. I knew I wasn’t going to get any closer so I stopped and shot whatever I could. The groups of elk within the herd stopped occasionally to look at me which gave me opportunity for some nice group shots.

Herd of Rocky Mountain Elk

Eventually they had all moved over the mountain and I was faced with the fact that what I had intended to be a short trek around the loop trail had now developed into a significant back country adventure. The snow was fairly slick and a steep descent down the slippery mountain was ahead of me. I wished I at least had worn my ice trekkers, but they remained strapped to my backpack which I had left in the truck 😦

Fortunately my trekking pole proved enough on this day to anchor my steps and enable a safe descent to the dirt trail below. I will not be making that mistake again, the snowshoes will be taking up permanent residence in the backseat of my truck for the remainder of the winter!

A great view of the Sangre de Cristo Range came into view and I stopped for a few of the fresh snow, including this cool pano image 🙂

Beautiful Snowy Sangre de Cristo Mountains

As always, the best of these images and hundreds more are available for purchase on my website as wall art on glossy metal or acrylic sheets, stretched canvas and traditional matting and framing. Tons of cool household and gift items are also available with any image you like including coffee mugs, t-shirts, blankets and pillows, battery chargers, phone cases, stationary and much much more! Just click on any image you like and all the choices, sizes and prices will appear! For my viewers interested in images for commercial use, please visit my image licensing portal!

Sangre de Cristo mountains the day after a big Colorado snowstorm

Where the Spirit Moves

I had no plan at all when I awoke this morning… I might have been content to just sit in my chair with the dog and drink coffee, but as often occurs right about sunrise my mind wandered to my favorite mountain trail and it wasn’t long before I was dressed and out the door.

My hike to the summit of Grouse Mountain yielded nothing but a bit of exercise and before long I was back in the truck. As I contemplated going home with nothing to show for my day but the Spirit began stirring me to drive out to Eleven Mile again, a place I had recently decided I wasn’t going to visit for a while.

Big Herd of Elk

Saw this elk herd on my way, I would have stayed for more pictures but the huge beasts spotted me and began to run and I didn’t want them getting injured in a stampede so I quickly jumped back in the truck. The plan worked, almost as soon as I was out of sight they settled back down and went back to grazing on the mountain grass. Our elk in Teller County aren’t like the friendly ones in Rocky Mountain National Park that you can practically walk right up to!

Bald Eagle in Eleven Mile Canyon

As I drove into the parking lot I spotted my two favorite bald eagles sitting on a huge boulder together, surrounded by a fan club of crows. Unfortunately by the time I got out my camera, one of the huge raptors had already flown over to an ice floe in the river. I snapped a couple of the remaining bird with the crows and then it flew off as well. Much to my surprise though, the eagle made a return trip… circling past me a couple of times before flying past the cliffs to a treetop near the nest. I believe this is as close as I have ever been to a bald eagle in the wild and I am so happy that all the settings on my camera were just right for an eagle in flight! Very fortunate event in the life of a wildlife photographer 🙂

Bald Eagle in Eleven Mile Canyon

In the meantime the other eagle had flown back into the woods as well, perching on another treetop behind the nest, almost completely obscured by tree branches. I watched for about an hour, listening to the two mates calling out to each other but it appeared that they were done flying around for a while. I have learned eagles are content to sit on their branches for hours at a time if they aren’t in need of a meal.

Just as I was ready to call it a day this little muskrat came out to visit, making a couple of passes to check me out and see what I was up to 🙂

Muskrat in the South Platte River

My plans for the last couple of weeks have pretty much been a bust, nothing much from a trip to Waterton and nothing to speak of from another planned visit to Eleven Mile State Park on free State Park day. Gets me to thinking… maybe it’s best to just go where the Spirit Moves, after all… they are His Creation!

As always, the best of these images and hundreds more are available for purchase on my website as wall art on glossy metal or acrylic sheets, stretched canvas and traditional matting and framing. Tons of cool household and gift items are also available with any image you like including coffee mugs, t-shirts, blankets and pillows, battery chargers, phone cases, stationary and much much more! Just click on any image you like and all the choices, sizes and prices will appear! For my viewers interested in images for commercial use, please visit my image licensing portal!

Autumn in Rocky Looking forward to next weeks return visit! Be sure to subscribe to my channel so you don’t miss this year’s adventure!

Video of autumn in the Park. Looking forward to next weeks return visit! Be sure to subscribe to my channel so you don’t miss this year’s adventure!

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