Cold in the Canyon

I awoke at sunrise and took a peek out the front window to see what kind of day it was going to be, and  already I could see a beautiful day in the making.  I thought about a further trip but being the 4th of July weekend I was all too aware of the obligatory traffic jams in the mountains as the weekend travelers make the journey back home. I hadn’t seen the adult bald eagles for a few days and someone was trying to convince me that they had left for the season, so I decided on another trip to Eleven Mile Canyon to check it out for myself.

Morning Mule Deer

When I arrived the fledgling was perched on a branch above the nest, facing the wrong way of course… I waited about an hour and then he finally flew, but just from the nest back further into the trees where I couldn’t see him at all. Today there were no deer on the banks of the river either so I decided to make the hike back into the park to check on the osprey family.

It appears though that the deer had all congregated deep in the canyon today, and they were all trying to make their way out as I was making my way in. They warily approached me so I decided to appear non threatening and just sat down on a rock while they nervously passed. Right in that particular spot there is a cliff wall on one side and a drop off to the roaring whitewater below on the other, there is no other choice but to share the road! I did get a nice portrait of this doe though, with the beautiful canyon wall on the opposite side of the river creating a nice background for the image 🙂

Eventually the osprey nest came into view and I could see even from a distance that

Osprey Fledging

there was a bird in there. As I drew closer I could see that the mother and the two chicks were nestled snugly in their home on top of the trees. I made my usual climb up the other side of the bank to my vantage point and settled in for the wait. Fortunately it wasn’t too long before one of the fledglings was feeling frisky and started furiously flapping his wings 🙂 Of course my camera was on rapid fire for that display!

Osprey in Flight

Next on tap was a flight by daddy osprey who left his perch from a dead tree high above the nest, where he keeps a close eye out for danger. He flew off and was back in a short time with a stick which he swooped in to give to mama osprey. I was fortunate to capture a good one of him coming in for a landing at the nest clutching a prize in his formidable talons. He remained but a few seconds and flew back to his perch where he remained sentry for the rest of my morning.

Osprey Family on the Nest

Mama continued rustling around, occasionally reaching into the nest to tend to the chicks before finally taking perch on top of the edge of the nest. I was able to get some nice pictures of her and the chicks but I was really hoping for a flight.

Being the middle of summer I had left my sweatshirt in the truck and it wasn’t long before I was regretting that move! As I sat there in my short sleeved shirt sitting on the cold rock I just got colder and colder. Finally by 10:00 I think hypothermia was starting to set in and I was shaking so badly I could no longer steady the camera. I hung in there another half hour or so but mama didn’t appear inclined at all to go on a fishing trip so I gave it up and climbed back down the embankment, not an easy task on cold legs that had been doing nothing but stiffening for the last couple hours! Fortunately I made it back down without falling over the edge 🙂

As I neared the truck I thought I could see some action in a tree high above the eagles

Bald Eagle Fledgling

nest. I aimed my long lens up there but couldn’t really see anything except a big brown object. It looked kind of like an eagle but it could also just be a tree branch. Finally I snapped a picture and used the LCD playback to zoom in and examine the subject more closely. Sure enough, it was mama eagle sitting in the tree with her back facing me. Once again I devoted more time in the hope she would fly, but from what I could tell she never even twitched from her statuesque pose. As I was standing up getting ready to depart I heard the eaglet in the distance calling out to mama. She answered with a screech that echoed across the valley… and soon the young one was airborne and gliding toward the nest. Fortunately I ready and was able to capture a good image of him coming in for the landing 🙂 He is just a youngster but as you can see he is already looking quite fierce!

Now as I write, there is a beautiful rainstorm in progress, thunder echoing

Osprey Learning to Fly

through the valley to keep me company. I can’t say that I’m upset that the holiday weekend is almost over, definitely not a fan of the crowds the big days bring to the mountains.

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Baby Fox

I was greeted with a rare clear warm sunny morning today following a week of absolutely wretched freezing cold windy days. I could see from a glance out the window that the view of the Sangre de Cristo was already obscured from heavy haze and there were no interesting clouds either. Just a perfect Colorado mountain morning for me and Big Dog to go out walking in.

Mama and baby fox

I figured it was still early enough that there would be a good chance of seeing some deer or elk on the mountainsides so I grabbed the camera. I have plenty of shots of the Sangre in early morning sunshine so I didn’t bother to bring the polarizer. Sure enough on the trip out we spotted some mule deer grazing high on the mountainside, way too far away to get any kind of a reasonable picture. Looks like the prairie dogs are starting to come out of hibernation, or whatever the heck they do in the winter. Saw a few of them in the distance sticking their heads up to keep an eye on the dog I suppose. Haven’t done my studies on prairie dog behavior regarding hibernating and such, except that I did read that although cute from a distance they can be a bit violent and cannibalistic towards each other!

Looked like except for some good exercise for me and the dog, the day was going to be a photographic bust. But just about then I thought I could see a couple of ears sticking up above the mountain grass… Then after a closer inspection through the glass, I discovered that it was a red fox near her den so I took up a position to see if fortune would be in my photographic favor. As I steadied the camera I was delighted to see that mama was out sunning with some new babies. I thought there might be at least two but apparently by the time I got my lens focused only one was brave enough to stay above ground and pose for the camera. Unfortunately I could not get close enough to avoid having a few blades of the mountain grass obscuring part of my scene, but I was able to get a few cute ones nevertheless 🙂

Little one finally scampered into the den but mama fox didn’t seem to mind me standing at a distance photographing while she continued to bask in the sun drenched mountain morning. Looks like I’m going to have to do some significant cropping on these so I don’t think I’m going to be able to make any large prints, but the wildlife sighting was a rare treat and I do a have a few nice ones to keep a record of the day 🙂