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 🙂
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.
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!
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.
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.
And 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.
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!
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