Encouraging Osprey Update

On a day I thought was without hope for a photo shoot, there was a break in the persistent Colorado snow as of late, giving me a short window to visit Eleven Mile Canyon. That is not to say it was a beautiful sunny day, on the contrary it was cold, foggy and gloomy. But as a photographer, this kind of day is sometimes the best of all!

Deer Herd in Snow

The drive to the canyon was magnificent, amazing stormy clouds and fog, and beautiful white snow covering the pine trees of the Pike National Forest like vanilla frosting. As I approached the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument I spotted a herd of mule deer at the base of the stunningly beautiful hillside, so I pulled my truck over onto Upper Twin Rocks for a good vantage point. Soon a huge black Dodge blocked my line of sight, as I looked up I discovered it was some old friends from my church in their new ride stopping to say hi 🙂 They drove on and I proceeded to capture as many views and focal lengths as possible before the gentle ungulates moved on.

Storm Clouds on South Platte Rvier

I glanced over at the eagles nest upon arrival at the canyon entrance and mama eagle was on her usual perch. There isn’t much room in the nest these days with three voracious young ones all simultaneously clamoring for sustenance! However it was early and with all the gloom I knew that at best I would be able to obtain a bland noisy image, the likes of which I already have a collection of hundreds.

I made a slow cruise past the old osprey nest hoping to spot some action on the hillside indicating the construction of a new nest, even though I know that the possibility of such a thing is extremely unlikely following a failure to reproduce. Unfortunately I saw nothing to support my hopes for the newly homeless osprey couple. I continued my slow cruise up the rough canyon road carefully watching the dead trees along the banks of the South Platte as well as the riverbed for signs of wildlife.

Northern FlickerI stopped to snap a couple of images of the river and canyon along the way, but the trip upstream yielded nothing in the way of wildlife. Near the big dam at the headwaters of the canyon I heard a peculiar chirping sound, so I pulled big blue over to the side of the road and got out to investigate. I quickly spotted an unusual colorful bird, slightly bigger than a robin or common blackbird calling out from one of the choke cherry bushes. I snapped a couple of images for Merlin and then began to make my way around to the south where I knew I would have better light. Unfortunately I was never able to get a front view of this little character, but I did get a good enough image for Merlin to identify it as my first ever northern flicker of the woodpecker family. shortly thereafter I captured an image, another lifetime first, a chubby little bird known as a townsend’s solitaire, which I’ll soon be adding to my Instagram page, along with a ton of other images from this shoot and many more!

Great Blue HeronThings began to look up on the trip down as I made several sightings of a beautiful great blue heron fishing along the river banks. Most of the time the giant water bird took to flight before I could get an image but fortunately I was able to capture one fleeting moment and a couple of satisfying images.

Eventually the winding river road returned me to osprey territory. I wanted to film a little video footage by the stream so I decided to get out with my camera at a particularly beautiful spot along the river. Much to my surprise I spotted one of our osprey flying in from downstream, so I readied my camera for a white bird in flight image against the stormy Colorado morning skies: shutter priority, a 2000th of a second and auto ISO with +1 dialed into the exposure compensation. I was stunned and woefully out of position when the great raptor landed along the banks of the pristine river. I tried to stealthily approach in hopes of a closeup but I was quickly detected and the beautiful hawk took flight.

Osprey Retrieving a Stick

Fortunately my settings were still good for a flight against the sky and as he circled me a couple of times I was able to capture a number of images. At first I thought he had caught a fish, but later in the truck as I zoomed in with my LCD screen to inspect the image I discovered that he had actually made the trip in quest of a stick from the riverbank. I have been heartsick since discovering the downed nest so earlier I had prayed for a sign that the impossible would happen, that the pair would spend the remainder of the summer rebuilding for a return to the area following this year’s migration. And I believe this simple stick is just the sign I was looking for, why would the osprey pair be gathering sticks except for the construction of a nest? 

Heavy Snow on the South PlatteI tried to follow the determined traveler but big blue is unfortunately no match for osprey wings. I spotted one of the pair again later, flying past the eagles nest heading back into the canyon, but soon the ever frequent Colorado snow had obscured my sight and I decided to call it a day. However, it is now my belief that the intrepid couple are somewhere on the hillside, busily preparing for next year’s offspring. I will continue to make frequent visits to the area in hopes of locating their new home.

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.

 

 

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

The Mountains Decide

One of the rules of landscape photography is that you shoot right before sunrise or right after sunset or don’t even bother, the lighting won’t be interesting enough to make a decent image. However that rule, along with many others does not apply in the mountains. The mountains alone decide when they want to be photographed, climbed or just plain left alone.

Stormy Sangre De Cristo

Storm clouds on the Sangre De Cristo

Today was just such a day as sunrise was met with several inches of fresh snow and a layer of dense fog covering the entire area. I was thinking of an early hike with the camera but decided otherwise when I saw the conditions. Some biscuits and gravy at Bronco Billy’s seemed like a much better idea 🙂 However when I came out from breakfast everything was changed… The sun was trying to come out and I could make out some interesting cloud formations in the direction of the Sangre De Cristos so me and Big Dog headed for the trailhead.

The view from the trail summit was amazing, the clearest view I have seen of the mountains yet this winter! And to add to the scene, the storm clouds from the night before were still lingering, floating lazily just below the tops of the magnificent mountain range.

Sangre De Cristo Snow

Fresh snow on the Sangre De Cristo Mountain Range of Colorado

So for about an hour I had a window of opportunity to get some of the coolest shots of the season… not at sunrise or sunset, but on mountain timing. On my way home I noticed that the window was closing fast, the Arkansas Valley was rapidly filling with clouds and the mountain range was becoming invisible once again. By the time I got home it was snowing in earnest and the mountains were but a fond memory.  I thank the Almighty for the window of opportunity and for making me available to witness it in full glory.

Fresh Snow on Pikes Peak

I know it is going to be a good morning when my boots are the first to make tracks in fresh snow. There is something irresistible about being the first after a snow to experience the crunching of snow beneath my feet in the total solitude of the Rocky Mountain wilderness after a snowstorm.

The combination of fresh snow and the new light of spring hitting the north face of Pikes Peak was too inviting to pass up, even though I knew the morning would be cold and windy. I was not disappointed. The mountain was bathed in a beautiful new coat of white and the wind was whipping up clouds of snow in the dense pine forest below me. The beauty of the scene gave my legs the strength to climb the upper loop on my trail in hopes of finding some deer or elk foraging for food at the top of the ridge. The trail on the ridge was slippery so I had to pay close attention to my center of gravity and make use of the scrub oak branches to keep from turning the trail into a ski slope.

I didn’t find any wildlife to photograph, but the view of the peak was breathtaking and the fresh mountain air exhilarating. The shadows on the snowy ridges formed by the early morning light made for interesting subject matter as did the snow blowing around in the trees. I considered taking the lower loop past the burned out cabin back to the caves to search for the deer herd but decided against it. That place gives me a creepy feeling and I avoid going there.

It is now evening and the snow has already melted. However, my memories and the beautiful moment in time have been preserved in silicon for me to relive tonight.

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