Band of Brothers

Full Grouse Mountain MapBand of Brothers,  that’s the new name I’ve given the growing herd of buck mule deer on my mountain 🙂 I decided to go further than ever before in the park today, thinking it would be a good stepping stone for my “hoped for” ascent of Mount Quandary this fall. I know,

Band of Brothers Mule Deer Bucks

it’s an easy one… but I’ve never climbed it before and it would be my first 14er in my sixth decade of life on this planet 🙂 Plus it was only a few months ago after surgery it was all I could do to walk a half a block down to the store! So anyway, I was pleased with my progress on this hike and am feeling more confident about a 14er summit this autumn!

As I cleared the top of the ridge I saw a buck mule deer peering through the trees at me so I avoided the trees and took the long way around the dense pines to the other side where I hoped to approach them without scaring them away. This resulted in a tough rocky climb that I had hitherto deemed impossible. I guess it’s true “Where there’s a will there’s a way!”. Had I gone through he woods they would have instantly bolted at the sound of my clodhoppers crashing through the branches. Fortunately they couldn’t see me until I cleared the summit and at the distance I was from them they just looked at me Summit Grouse Mountainwith curiosity. In fact one of the brothers took a few steps toward me to get a better look!

Then I set my sights on the distant peak, the summit of Grouse Mountain. It was actually difficult to tell if that peak was any higher than the one I was on, but I wanted to check out the unobscured view of the Sangre de Cristo. This may be the only place where you can see the entire eastern range without some kind of mountain or trees in the way! When I arrived at the top I took a look back and it was indeed quite a bit higher.

Female Dusky Grouse

Along the traverse I spotted a pretty good sized bird waddling past one of the old mines so I decided to take a break from the climb to see if I could get a picture of this peculiar bird I’d never seen before!  Well this one was quite a character, when she noticed me she quickly scampered under the cover of dense trees that had created an oasis of this abandoned mine high on the barren rocky mountain tundra. I quietly approached the mine hoping to get another chance and I saw her trot over to the other side of the mine behind the trees.  So I crept around the mine hoping she would go out in the sun where I could  get a decent shot, but wherever I went, she went the other way around the mine, never coming out from the shade of the tall trees 😦 Finally I decided to just shoot through the trees and do the best that I could to get a record of my sighting.  I posted the picture but didn’t get an immediate response on the ID of the bird so I downloaded a free app from Cornell Labs called Merlin.  I was pleased when it came right back with the name of the bird… female Dusky Grouse 🙂 it said that she was an uncommon find in these parts!

Lone Doe in the Pike National Forest

From there it wasn’t far to the summit with the fantastic view of the Sangre de Cristo block fault range (above). It was awesome to stand in full view of the mountains from a place I had been eyeing for so many years 🙂 I stopped and put my pack down to take in the view while recovering from the climb with a nice drink of Gatorade 🙂 I traded out my long lens for a wide angle with a polarizer to cut through the morning haze, and captured a few views of the distant mountain range.

The trip back down was easy with only a small part of it on unfamiliar terrain. There really isn’t a trail most of the way, only the faint wagon tracks left behind by the miners over 100 years ago, most of which I have already explored. This was such an enjoyable hike that I hope to make it once a week to get in shape for the upcoming 14,000 foot climb to the summit of Mount Quandary! I was hoping to see the resident Rough Legged Hawk on the way down, but no such luck. I was privileged to spot this lone doe foraging on the mountain grass! If you look carefully you can see the massive Collegiate Peaks mountain range appearing faintly in the background!

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!

 

El Quattro

Herd of Mule Deer Bucks

El Quattro, my son Chris’s idea… when a new buck joined the “Three Amigos” band of buck mule deer.  Not sure, I’m just calling them the “Three Amigos + 1”. I was near the end of my hike this morning and it was looking like they were nowhere to be found. But as I was walking down the mountainside rolling around ideas to avoid a photographic shutout, I looked across to the next ridge and spotted a lone buck. he was looking right at me so I quick snapped a picture.

Herd of Mule Deer Bucks

Soon however others began meandering up the steep hill so I just found a place to sit and watch to see how this scene was going to develop. Two of the band of four drew closer together and I was able to capture a couple images of the friendship before they wandered over the hill and down into the valley.

I decided to go around the ravine and see if I could spot them on the downside but I could only find one of the majestic fellow. He was posing against a very nice rugged backdrop though, nicely rounding out my morning! Any thoughts of a long drive to another location vanished as I looked through what I had already captured. Instead of continuing on I decided upon a nice breakfast and home to process the images!

Herd of Mule Deer Bucks

Yesterday I was looking for an image of the Three Amigos on my website to send to someone and decided that it was time to add a collection with just deer. I have a specialized collection for Deer in Snow but I think it’s now a  good time for the Just Deer collection to contain my huge collection of deer imagery including those in snow and all seasons including some beautiful autumn captures 🙂

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!

Eureka!

No long photo trip for this morning… just a nice visit to my favorite local mountain. The “Three Amigos” were there, along with a couple of new buddies that have joined them. If these fellows stick around I’m going to have to think of a new name for the group! The guys were not in the best place for lighting purposes but there was no way I was  going to make it past them and around to the other side so I just had to do the best I could. Luckily it was a bit cloudy so I didn’t have to contend with a super bright background. I think these came out OK!

Portrait of a Mule Deer Buck

A good day, and to top it off I solved a problem that has been vexing us all summer, the issue of setting exposure compensation (EC) when in manual mode. Normally manual means manual and EC is irrelevant but it comes back into play if you select auto ISO, which now means you aren’t really shooting in full manual mode. You can select the shutter speed and the aperture to control the creativity in your shot but if there isn’t enough light for the selected ISO you will underexpose your image. The easy fix of course is to select your creative parameters and let the ISO float, allowing the camera to assure a correct exposure.  But then your front wheel is used for the shutter speed, the rear wheel for aperture and there isn’t another control with which to select your EC.

Mule Deer Portrait

My original solution to the problem was to just use Tv mode, knowing the camera would probably select a decent aperture. But!!!! I finally looked into it and discovered the real solution at least for Canon cameras, the Q button… EUREKA! If you click the Q button all the pertinent parameters come up on the LCD screen where you can change them, shutter, aperture, ISO, and a graph for the EC! If you have a camera new enough for a touch screen you can just change it right there to whatever you desire. With the 1DX that has no touch screen I assume you could wheel over to it and change it with the set button.

I have to say, I have grown quite fond of  Tv mode as a method of controlling my images, especially when it comes to bird photography. It is easy to quickly change from bird in

Herd of Bucks

flight to photographing a deer in  the meadow with a spin of the front dial to change the shutter speed if you run across an unexpected subject change. However I am glad that I can once again just leave the camera on manual most of the time, knowing that I have control over all my important settings.

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 I should add that this article was not sponsored by Canon or any other camera company. All equipment used was purchased by me on my own volition.

 

Birds Eye View

I promised this bird’s eye view with the wide angle… and today was the day 🙂 I had other reasons for making this climb too… I wanted to see if I could find Mr. Hawk, the rough legged hawk I found up there the other day. There was a beautiful fog bank today so I was also thinking I might be able to get a neat wide angle of the Sangre de Cristo Range.

Fog bank on the Sangre de Cristo Range of Colorado

This time I was smart, in addition to packing the wide angle I also had the forethought to bring some fluids and energy bars 🙂 The initial climb to the top of the first ridge is pretty invigorating to say the least, but is often rewarded with a few shots of deer or elk at the top. Nothing today and no sign of Mr. Hawk either.

Beyond the high meadow is a patch of forest that I’ve been eyeing for a couple of years, the place where the elk go to vanish when I try to follow them. I’ve always wondered what it was like in there, I don’t see any sign of a real trail of any kind. I decided against going directly in there and chose a path around the edge as I climbed higher with the summit in mind.

Eventually I had two choices, the long way around the south end of the summit, or a short cut directly through part of the forest, I chose the short cut and finally after all these years I got to see inside the apparently impenetrable woods. It seems as though this forest has been untouched for a long time, many fallen trees lying all over the place making a direct path impossible. Don’t think I would want to be there in a windstorm, you might be the unlucky recipient of a large pine tree on top of your head 😦 I found a deer trail of sorts and followed it in and around all the dead foliage to the final approach to the summit.

From there it was just a short walk to my favorite vantage point, one that I had first

Fog bank on the Sangre de Cristo Range of Colorado

scouted out with my dog years ago. I found a good spot to take off my pack and sit in full view of the beauty before me. The dense fog of early morning had given way to a picturesque layer just beneath the Sangre de Cristo Range in the distance. I just sat there for a while taking in the view, but mostly just feeling heartbroken that my four legged buddy crossed Rainbow Bridge some time back and wasn’t there to enjoy the conquest with me.

Eventually I summoned the strength and attached my 24-105 lens with a circular polarizer to cut through the residual morning haze. As it turned out the images looked the best with about a 50mm focal length, any wider and the Sangre were too insignificant to do the scene justice.

Rough Legged Hawk in the Rockies

I continued to look for Mr Hawk on the trek down the other side of the mountain, but he was nowhere to be seen on this day. In fact the landscapes that I shot at the summit are the only record of today’s hike.

As always, the best of these images 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!

Where Eagles Dare

Herd of Mule Deer

Well technically hawks in this case 🙂 I didn’t set out to do anything special this morning, I just wanted to climb my usual mountain just for the exercise. About halfway up the ridge though I spotted a buck mule deer just off the path standing in the shade staring at me. The sun was about to clear the ridge line on the east so I decided to interrupt my hike and wait a few minutes for the morning light. While I waited the third buck joined the group I like to call the Three Amigos.

Herd of Mule Deer

Once the group was reunited, they began to move towards the top of the ridge and into the sunshine. As they moved I slowly followed and shot various combinations of the three animals until they eventually crossed over the top of the ridge and out of view. I was hoping they would still be there when I circled around the mountain on the trail.

Sangre de Cristo Mountains

However as I circled the mountain I had my eye on another mountain… the one directly to the south. I have been looking at it for years, approaching occasionally in vain pursuit of the elk herd, but I have never climbed it. As I pondered the view from the top I began to veer towards what looked like a deer trail angling up the east side. The closer I drew to the steep approach to the summit, the more I  wanted to see the top. From there I knew I would have an awesome 360 degree view of the entire area 🙂

Rough Legged Hawk

I chose a route that crossed the mountain to the south and then angled back, it looked like the easiest approach. As I passed a tall solitary pine tree there was a commotion and a hawk took flight, I believe this to be the Rough Legged Hawk that has been soaring high above the mountains lately, but I’m not sure. I readied my camera as quickly as I could and started shooting. Unfortunately I was on the wrong focus mode for the initial captures so I changed to zone mode and began to shoot. A faster shutter speed would

Rough Legged Hawk

have been better but it looks like a got a couple of good ones 🙂

When I was almost to the summit I could see the Three Amigos, now miles ahead of me heading for some serious wilderness over the ridge line connecting the local peaks. Even though the distance was great between us, the majestic beasts spotted me and hastened their journey over the ridge and out of sight.

Herd of Mule Deer

The view from the summit was indeed spectacular, obscured only by the smoke and dust from the summer fires to our southwest. The local peaks were in full view along with the Sangre de Cristo range to the south. I’m thinking this will be an excellent vantage point when the colors change in the fall and when the snow flies in the winter.

From the summit I could see the real trail so I followed an old wagon trail down the south side of the mountain and onto the main trail. By now I was wishing I had planned better and brought along some water! Perhaps I’ll make the trip again this week with more supplies and a wide angle lens to better capture the grandeur of these mountains!

As always, the best of these images 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!

A Perfect Morning

Morning Mule Deer

I know we like our sunshine here in Colorado but sometimes some clouds and humidity are a welcome sight, especially for a photographer! It was a perfect morning, a slight breeze, cool and quiet, and rain clouds overhead providing just enough cover to soften the morning light for photography 🙂

Finch on a Perch

It wasn’t long before I spotted a pair of mule deer, buck and doe enjoying a break from the usual intense sunlight. Usually by this time of morning they would have retreated to shady areas under the tall pines of the Pike National Forest. Today however, the wary couple gave me a few minutes to photograph them before vanishing into the dense wilderness.

I continued my hike along the high meadow at the top of the mountain enjoying the sound of birds happily chirping out their approval of such a pleasant morning. I stopped and sat for a while on a flat rock hoping for an opportunity to capture a couple images of the furtive little creatures and fortunately they obliged 🙂 Not the best pictures, but I did manage to get a couple shots of what appear to be a couple of the finch variety.

Clouds on the Sangre de Cristo

Winter in May

Clouds on the Sangre de Cristo Range of Colorado

It was definitely winter when I was loading my camera equipment into the truck for my hike on the mountain today! Yesterday afternoon a cold front came through and we got snow, hail, thunder, lightning and wind! This morning the ice was all still present and it took me about 15 minutes just to scrape out a place to see through the windshield!

It was also winter when I started my hike through the fresh snow at 11,000 feet. The

Baby Prairie Dog

wind was blowing and I was glad I had a hood on my jacket, which I quickly pulled over my frozen and aching ears. Eventually I cleared the ridge and thankfully the wind subsided. The Sangre de Cristo range soon came into view in all it’s glory, still sporting storm clouds from yesterdays weather. I stopped there for a while to take in the sound of the wind blowing in the tall pines and the chirping of happy song birds, and of course to capture a few images of the magnificent snow capped peaks.

By now the it was warming up quickly and spring had returned to the Rocky Mountains. The prairie dogs were chirping out their happiness to see the sunshine and luckily for me this one little fellow stuck around long enough for me to get his picture. I moved around to the sunny side while he warily kept a little black eye on my movement. I was able to get two captures before the diminutive creature retreated back into his den.

 

Deer on the Mountainside

Deer on the Mountain

Had a good hike this morning… finally found the deer herd close enough to get a picture of, and they even stuck around for a couple of pictures! It was also nice to get out and hear the birds chirping and feel the warm spring sun on my face 🙂 Unfortunately my experience with the deer lasted only seconds but it was gratifying that my favorite one of the whole set turned out nicely.

Deer on the Mountain

Climbing the steep hillside to the top of the ridge seemed a little easier today but I felt more tired at the end of the trek than I did yesterday. Maybe that’s a sign that I should take the day off of hiking tomorrow!  Maybe I’ll just take a cruise in the truck up to 11 mile. Hopefully since it will be May 1st the place will not be closed.

Last Mile of the Marathon

I swear, these last few months crawling by before retirement from the regular rat race remind me of the last couple miles of a marathon. You’ve been running for three hours, you are exhausted, feet hurt, knees feeling like they are going to explode. Only two miles left but you still don’t know if you are really going to make the finish line, head down mind on that one singular moment in time…  when you see that white line pass under your feet.  But those last two miles feel like a whole new marathon ahead, like it is never going to end

Sunrise on the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range of Colorado in winter

That’s what it’s like now… years of sleep deprivation, hundreds of hours of abuse from mouthy customers and managers bogging you down like an ocean of quicksand. I just want it to be over and I can’t seem to think about anything else 😦 It has even managed to affect my photography. The cold and the snow and the fatigue from the late nights of work have depleted my strength, my mornings now consist of trying to pry my eyes open instead of hiking on my favorite mountain.

But today, I looked out at the beauty of the Sangres and I found some strength in my legs, enough to go to my office and retrieve my camera. The morning sun on the snow was so amazing today that I had to go out and see it! I wasn’t sure I was going to need my snowshoes but I thought I would regret not lugging them along, the parking lot and the lower trail were dry and rocky but it looked like snow up in the trees. Sure enough, half way up the mountain, when I entered the trees the snow got deep and they became necessary. The surface of the snow was hard and crusty, impossible to get through with just boots, but a joy to effortlessly walk on top of  on with snowshoes!

Soon the summit and the anticipated view of the mountains… Tired and worn now, back in my office at the computer, but happy and proud that I was able to get it together and make the hike 🙂

Bittersweet Morning

A special morning in the mountains today… After months of closure for some invisible project being performed by the mine to the north, my trailhead is finally open again. Whatever they had been doing appeared to have been completed months ago, but still the trail remained closed. Finally I called and prompted someone to look into it and it turns out that the trail could be opened.

Small herd of mule deer enjoying a beautiful Colorado winter morning

So this morning I loaded up the camera and the snowshoes and headed for the hills. It has been so long… I wondered if my ungulate friends were still there or if they had all  been shot by the trigger happy redneck population so prevalent here in the high country?

Well my question was soon answered… as I made my way up the steep ascent I could feel eyes upon me. I stopped and looked around a bit and sure enough, peering over the mountaintop were a couple of does wondering what I was up to 🙂 I stopped for a few shots before ascending further. The deer were waiting for me at the summit, warily staying just ahead of me in case they deemed it necessary to flee.

And ahead of me they stayed… about 100 yards all the way to the overlook where our

Small herd of mule deer enjoying a beautiful Colorado winter morning

paths parted. They meandered into the woods to the north as I turned left to complete the loop and head back down. One lone free range cow greeted me in  the deep snow, other than that I just made my way back down the mountain in the quiet of the morning.

Sadness filled my heart in the silence of the windward side of the mountain as I remembered my beautiful four legged companion who was so filled with joy at the freedom of the trail and the fresh mountain air his nose was constantly sampling. This was our special place and to be there without him was heartbreaking at first. soon however, I found comfort in the knowledge that he is no longer constrained by the bounds of this present reality and is free to visit his favorite place anytime he desires 🙂 I think maybe I could feel his presence galloping along the hillsides as I made my way back to the truck.

Small herd of mule deer enjoying a beautiful Colorado winter morning