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!
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.
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.
I 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!
Things 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.
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?
I 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.