The Burrowing Owls Are Back

burrowing owl

Saturday afternoon I decided to take an owl excursion of sorts. I went out in search of burrowing and short eared owls. Last year was a banner year it seemed so I was hoping for the same this year. So far on this first owl excursion I have only seen 2 short eared owls and 5 burrowing owls but I am hoping this is the start of another great year for owls. This burrowing owl was the only one which gave me an opportunity to get a photograph yesterday. It sat just long enough for me to snap a quick picture before it flew off further away from the road and well out of photography range. I am excited for another summer photographing and observing these beautiful birds.

burrowing owl
The burrowing owls have returned for another nesting season.

Canada Goose Take Off Series

canada goose on the bear river migratory bird refuge

A few weeks ago I took a drive out to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge to see how the flooding has affected the refuge. Along the drive I came across a canada goose on a canal road so I stopped to take its picture. It gave me a most interesting take off series so I decided to post the series this morning as the weather is still cloudy and no chance to go photograph anything. Spring is here and time to get out and see this great natural world we live in.

canada goose on the bear river migratory bird refuge
Canada goose on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge.
canada goose take off
Canada goose beginning its take off on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge.
canada goose on the bear river migratory bird refuge
Canada goose on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge.
canada goose
Upstroke wing beat of a canada goose taking to flight on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge.
canada goose
Down stroke wing beat of a canada goose taking to flight on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge.

Another Great Horned Owl Opportunity

Earlier today I went out and photographed a great horned owl in my yard but it was very cold, windy and cloudy. Well, it’s still cold and windy but the sun came out, at least partially, for a few moments so I went back outside and tried to get another shot of this handsome owl and a short video of him perching in my tree. Here is the result of my efforts with one photo and a short video below it.

great horned owl
A great horned owl roosting in my tree.

.

My Great Horned Owl……Revisited

Ok, I love owls. I never get tired of seeing them, especially the ones that frequent my yard. Lately I have had a great horned owl roosting in my trees but rarely perched in a photographic spot and rarely when the light is decent to photograph. Well, today he was back and the light was horrible due to the low clouds but the owl was in a better spot, not perfect but better, so I opted to try a couple shots of him. Continue reading “My Great Horned Owl……Revisited”

Female House Finch at the Feeder

One of the more common birds at my feeders, especially during the cold winter months is the house finch. They often squabble with the american goldfinches over the limited perches at the feeder to partake of the thistle seed I set out each day for them. A few weeks ago I wanted to capture on video a house finch at the feeder. I was hoping for one of the brilliant red males but they seemed to be a little bit camera shy that day so I ended up with this female house finch instead. The wind was blowing so the feeder was swaying a bit. Winter is the best time to put out a feeder and watch and photograph birds in your yard.

Song Sparrow on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

Along with photographing birds, I like to watch birds. The Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge is one of my favorite places to watch birds in their natural settings. Recently, on a cloudy and rainy day, I found myself on the refuge and although the light was too low to shoot still photography I opted to record a simple video of a common but interesting bird on the bear river migratory bird refuge, a song sparrow.

Pied-billed grebes on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in severe winter conditions

The other day while visiting the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge I came across a small flock of pied-billed grebes in a pocket of open water. Lately the temperatures have been at or below 0 degrees F at night and have rarely gotten above 20 F during the day the past few weeks. This has led to the refuge being completely frozen over except for these very small pockets of open water kept open by the birds to feed and roost. I am not sure why these birds don’t migrate and leave these harsh conditions but they seem to get by and manage. I have seen several locations on the refuge like this one, small pockets of open water with a congregation of pied billed grebes as well as a few other species of birds depending upon the open water for survival. The refuge in the winter time is a harsh place for birds but they are very resilient.

A Barn Owl Hunting in the Wind

A few days ago I headed out to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge for a birding and photo excursion. It was super cold and windy and even though I brought along my camera equipment, like I always do when I am on the refuge, I didn’t expect to see much but I still had hope of seeing something photographic.

The wind was fairly stiff and as I drove up to the refuge parking lot I noticed a barn owl hunting up and down the road, using it’s wings to soar ever so slowly just above the frozen ground in search of mice. I rarely see owls flying in the day so I was surprised by this sight but I quickly pulled over and grabbed my camera and took what shots I could while the opportunity was available.

Barn owls are beautiful animals and I have had them in my yard many times but I have never had a chance to photograph one on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge until now. After watching it fly over the marsh, back and forth, it came back near the road where I was sitting in my vehicle. The owl hovered for a minute then dove into the snowy bank. It finally caught a mouse and I was able to get a few shots of it before it grabbed it’s newly found meal and headed out on the frozen ice to eat it.

Even though the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge is mostly frozen right now it is a great time to see raptors. I was able to come across 2 bald eagles, 2 falcons, several rough legged hawks, a couple unidentified hawks, numerous northern harriers and this barn owl, all within a couple hours on the auto tour route. It’s a great place to visit year round no matter what the weather is like.

barn owl
Barn owl on the bear river migratory bird refuge.

.

barn owl
Barn owl hunting on the bear river migratory bird refuge.

.

barn owl eating a mouse
Barn owl in the bear river migratory bird refuge eating a mouse.

.

barn owl
Barn owl in the snow on the bear river migratory bird refuge.

.

barn owl
Barn owl hunting on the bear river migratory bird refuge.

The Northern Shovelor

The northern shovelor, a common waterfowl species found on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge has never really caught a lot of my attention due to it’s common nature, until now. I was fortunate enough the other day to come across a couple of drake northern shoovelors while out looking for tundra swans on the refuge. For some reason, instead of bolting and flying off they decided to stay and pose.

northern shovelor
A pair of northern shovelors.

.

northern shovelor
A pair of drake northern shovelors on the bear river migratory bird refuge.

.

northern shovelor
Northern shovelors on the bear river migratory bird refuge.

.

northern shovelor
A pair of drake northern shovelors on the bear river migratory bird refuge.

My Resident Barn Owl

Over the past month or more I have had a barn owl living in my backyard trees. It has been there each and every morning, faithfully perched on the same branch facing the same way, sleeping off the night’s hunting activities. With the onset of winter a few days ago, my resident barn owl disappeared on me. It seemed the rain, high wind and eventual snow, not to mention the sub-freezing temperatures might have encouraged the owl to find better accommodations. Continue reading “My Resident Barn Owl”

A Visiting Great Horned Owl

I am lucky to have owls fairly regularly around my house. I often hear great horned owls hooting at night and see them in my large trees in the yard from time to time. I am also lucky to have the occasional opportunity to photograph them in my yard, like this shot I got of one a week or so ago perched on a large branch in my backyard. Nothing beats waking up in the morning and going outside to have this view in your yard.

great horned owl
A great horned owl perched in a tree in m yard.

The American Goldfinch, Revisited……Again

I admit it, I am a huge fan of the american goldfinch and photograph them as much as I possibly can. I love their soft chirps and their brilliant yellow plumage in the summer. They are the primary bird species I put feed and water out for each year. Along with the house finch, the american goldfinch makes up the bulk of my winter bird population at my feeders and some days I have 40 or more of them at my feeder at any given time.

american goldfinch
An american goldfinch in my yard, perched on a sunflower branch.

.

american goldfinch
Winter plumage american goldfinch perched on a sunflower.

.

american goldfinch
an american goldfinch perched on a cold fall day.

Taking a Shot at the House Sparrow

The house sparrow is a much maligned bird in the birding world. It’s non-native and invasive reputation around here in North America has given many bird watchers a less than positive view of this little bird. I for one like the house sparrow, as I do all birds. It can be a pest around the feeder and I do have them in great numbers around my house year round but I still like having them in my yard. Continue reading “Taking a Shot at the House Sparrow”

Feeding American Goldfinches

Bird feeding and bird watching are great activities one can enjoy year round. Winter is the most active time at a bird feeder due to the low amount of natural food and water. I put out a simple tube feeder year round for goldfinches and finches of all varieties that might stop by for a quick meal. Sitting and watching birds at a feeder is a relaxing way to unwind for the day. I encourage anyone thinking about trying bird feeding to give it a try. Start simple with a simple feeder and some seed and go from there. I love goldfinches and house finches so I use a tube feeder and thistle seed to attract these varieties of birds but other feeders and blends of bird seed can attract a wide variety of different bird species and you will have days at the feeder where you will see new birds you have never seen before. Put out a feeder and find out how fun and enjoyable bird feeding and bird watching is in your own backyard.

american goldfinches
american goldfinches at a thistle seed feeder.

Western Pygmy Blue Butterfly

The western pygmy blue butterfly is one of the smallest butterflies in the world. It can also be one of the hardest to photograph because of it’s such small size. I was able to photograph this super tiny western pygmy blue butterfly on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge a month ago while out looking for birds to photograph. They are hard to spot and often hard to photograph but well worth the effort. Keep your eye out for one of nature’s smallest creatures, the western pygmy blue butterfly.

western pygmy blue butterfly
One of the smallest butterflies in the world, the western pygmy blue butterfly is less than half the size of a dime.

A compilation of my sunset photography and my guitar music

Photography and guitar music are my two biggest passions. I have played guitar for almost 30 years, just for myself, and I have been into photography about the same length of time. I decided to combine them into a short video depicting one of my favorite photography subjects, sunsets. All the sunset photographs were taken by myself and all the background music was written and performed by myself. I hope you like it.

A Collection of Monarch Butterfly Shots

monarch butterfly

Monarch butterflies are fascinating creatures. I often spend time searching for the monarch butterfly on the bear river migratory bird refuge each fall in hopes of catching them feeding or resting on a sunflower to photograph and make into greeting cards. Today was one of those days, well sort of. I started out in search of birds to photograph this morning but as I drove up to the refuge gate I realized my effort to photograph birds might not work out too well today as the youth waterfowl hunt was underway and most of my usual spots were already taken. Continue reading “A Collection of Monarch Butterfly Shots”

Images of the American White Pelican

american white pelican

The american white pelican is a very common visitor on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge during the summer months. This large white pelican, one of the largest birds in North America with a wingspan up to 9 feet long, is commonly viewed on the Bear River Refuge in large groups fishing for carp and other species of fish found on the fresh water marsh.

american white pelican
american white pelican

The american white pelicans have been studied and observed to favor isolated islands for nesting. This is quite true for this Northern Utah population as it has been said most if not all of the birds are found to nest on one remote island in the far reaches of the Great Salt Lake, gunnison island.

american white pelican
american white pelican

Gunnison island has been mentioned to be one of the three largest colonies in western North America. This northern Utah colony of american white pelicans has been estimated to have around 18,000 nesting birds on the Great Salt Lake and an average population of around 25,480 in July and August with a peak number of birds occurring at an incredible 85,834 in 1997.

american white pelican
american white pelican

I spend a lot of time on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge watching and photographing the american white pelican. They are easy to spot and easy to watch on the refuge, making them an ideal bird to come see on the Bear River Refuge. Photographing them can also be a fairly easy task as they are often feeding close to the auto tour route, making them an easy target for the bird watcher as well as the bird photographer. Keep an eye out for the american white pelican while visiting during the summer months. I have sat and watched them for hours in one spot, watching them fish, preen, rest and interact with other pelicans and bird species. My favorite is when one comes in for a landing, using those long white wings to effortlessly glide down to the water and make an splash landing. They have been described as being very awkward on their feet but very graceful in the air.

american white pelican
american white pelican

During the summer months the american white pelican can often be seen splashing around in the open water, taking a bath and cleaning their plumage of white feathers. They are also been known to try and steal a freshly caught fish from other pelicans. I have observed this behavior many times as one pelican makes a great catch of a large carp and needing a few minutes to swallow the large fish gives other pelicans the opportunity to try and make the successful fisherman drop his catch.

american white pelican
american white pelican

What ever your interest, bird watching, photography, or both, the american white pelican is a great bird to get to know and enjoy on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge and other wildlife management areas in northern Utah along the Great Salt Lake shoreline.

american white pelican
american white pelican
american white pelican
american white pelican
american white pelican
american white pelican

The End of Summer

Summer is fading fast. It looks like all my hummingbirds have moved on and the bees are in a feeding frenzy, cleaning out my hummingbird feeders almost daily. Soon it will be fall with cooler temperatures, shorter days and fall like colors in the mountains. I will miss the bright yellow of the vibrant sunflower and the quirky antics of the migrating hummingbird but fall and winter offer their own rewards, mostly somber and solitude-like scenes for me to photograph and enjoy. Fall is soon upon us and it is time to enjoy the end of summer.

sunflower
sunflower

IMG_3494a

The chase is on

Quite often birds during breeding and nesting season get very territorial and protective of their small patch of real estate. This phenomenon isn’t limited to birds in the same species category but can often cross those barriers as well. Many times a smaller bird will run a much bigger bird out of it’s turf. These moments are spur of the moment and hard to capture on film but I was lucky to get just a moment one summer on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge when a red winged black bird had just about enough of a snowy egret and undertook the task of running the much larger bird out of the area. It was a sight to behold.

snowy egret
snowy egret

Head study of a great blue heron

This past summer while photographing birds on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge I came across a great blue heron that for some unknown reason sat and posed for me while I took photographs of it. That is quite unusual, especially just a few feet away, as most of the time I get a quick fleeting shot of the heron as it launches to leave the scene. but for some reason this one defied all odds and stayed put and gave me a great close up shot of it’s head and beak. something I haven’t been able to do until now, even with a big telephoto lens.

great blue heron
great blue heron

A most unusual backyard bird

About a month ago I had the most unusual sighting in my yard with regards to bird watching. The unusual part isn’t because the bird sighted is rare by any means. In fact, during the summer it is a very common bird here in northern Utah with one of the largest breeding colonies in north america, if I am remembering my facts correctly, here on one of our national wildlife refuges, the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. All over northern Utah during the summer months the white faced ibis can be seen feeding in flooded agriculture fields and pastures, probing for microorganisms in the soft deep mud with their long curved beaks. Their arrival each year is a sure sign spring is close at hand. So why is this such an unusual sighting? Well, the unusual part is they aren’t a bird often sighted in a backyard setting like they were earlier this year in my backyard, only a few yards from my house. At first it was just a couple birds but the flock grew and grew and by midday there was about 30 of them in my small patch of wild grasses. Despite the low light from the low hanging clouds I opted to get a few shots of these unique birds in such a close setting. Usually they don’t sit well for the camera so I had to take advantage of the rare but most welcomed situation. The white faced ibis are gearing up to head south for the winter now as it’s once again that time of year but I can always remember them as my most unusual backyard bird sighting.

white faced ibis
white faced ibis
white-faced ibis
white-faced ibis
white-faced ibis
white-faced ibis
white-faced ibis
white-faced ibis
white-faced ibis
white-faced ibis
white-faced ibis
white-faced ibis
white-faced ibis
white-faced ibis

My Favorite Hummingbird

With hummingbird season coming to a quick and early close this year I often think about my favorite hummingbird of the year, and quite frankly possibly of all time. This tenacious little hummingbird showed up one morning at one of my feeders, looking a bit wore out from the constant battles and squabbles migrating hummingbirds endure on their journey. This little hummingbird seemed to have gotten into a few too many scrapes as it’s tail feathers were completely gone from the in-flight bickering over food. I watched the feeders off and on all day that day and to my surprise this feisty little bird kept coming back time and time again, even after getting chased off countless times, sometimes resulting in an aerial display of 2 hummingbirds in winged aerobatic duel. If you have never seen migrating hummingbirds protect a feeder then you haven’t seen some of nature’s most tenacious creatures. They don’t hold back and often times chase their rivals for unseen long distances and many times feather fly as the two, and often times more, hummingbirds try and settle who is in charge in a in-flight combat session. It’s part of their charm, their tenacious and feisty demeanor within such a tiny little frame. Well, I saw my favorite hummingbird, a black-chinned hummingbird of unknown age and gender, fighting for a spot at the table many times that day and I was impressed with how resilient it was even after so many losing efforts to partake of the sugary meal at hand. Hats off to my favorite hummingbird. I hope your journey is successful.

black chinned hummingbird
black chinned hummingbird
black chinned hummingbird
black chinned hummingbird
black chinned hummingbird
black chinned hummingbird
black chinned hummingbird
black chinned hummingbird
black chinned hummingbird
black chinned hummingbird

Marsh Wren Basics

The marsh wren, possibly the smallest resident of the marsh is a tough subject to photograph. They are tiny, very active as they are never sitting still, and live in a dense jungle of thick cattails, reeds and other marsh vegetation. Photographing them can be quite tricky. Certain times of the year lead to an easier time of it than others. Like most birds, spring is the easiest time to photograph and watch the marsh wren. The male is occupied with nest building and finding a suitable mate for the year. The male builds numerous nests to both attract a female and to trick potential predators by numerous fake nests. Photographing the marsh wren in the spring calls for patience and some luck. The luck comes in finding an active nest site where the male is constantly working on its nesting area, only stopping for a bit to call from a high strand of cattail to pronounce its territory and to possibly attract a mate. Its not hard to find an active nest site but the difficulty and the luck comes in finding one that isn’t buried deep in the marsh vegetation, rendering it almost impossible to photograph. Once a good spot is found the patience part of the equation takes over as it is patience that allows the photographer to watch and study and follow the feisty little bird to a routine in it’s territory where a predictable and photograph-able perch can be found. I was able to do just that this summer. I spend many an hour on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge on a couple of active nest sites on the auto tour route and was able to get the following shots of a marsh wren. They are fun and challenging birds to photograph and when you get a good shot of one you come away learning something about marsh wrens, outdoor photography and bird photography for sure.

marsh wren
marsh wren
marsh wren
marsh wren
marsh wren
marsh wren
marsh wren nest
marsh wren nest
marsh wren
marsh wren
marsh wren
marsh wren

Female Black Chinned Hummingbird

Hummingbird season is quickly coming to a close here for the year. It seems they have started to migrate out a couple weeks sooner than normal. Usually I still have a decent population of the migrating marvels after the labor day weekend but the past 2 weeks I have seen a steady and steep decline at my feeders. I am still seeing a lone hummingbird make an appearance at the feeders but I don’t have the quarrels and squabbling over the feeders like I did a couple weeks ago when I would have up to a dozen birds fighting for a spot at the dinner table at one time. It seems most of the birds I am still getting at the feeders are female black-chinned hummingbirds. I still get a young rufous hummingbird as well but I have noticed a lot of female black-chinned hummingbirds still passing through. I don’t know why they are still so abundant and the other 3 regional species have seemingly moved through a bit earlier. I was able to get a couple good shots of a female black-chinned hummingbird on a salvia flower as well as a good close up of a perched black-chinned hummingbird, resting from the days labors I suppose. It’s sad to see them go for the season but they will be back in the spring and so will my feeders, ready for their yearly patrons.

black-chinned hummingbird
black-chinned hummingbird
black-chinned hummingbird
black-chinned hummingbird
black-chinned hummingbird
black-chinned hummingbird

Western Grebes on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

I am a frequent visitor to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. It offers some fantastic bird watching opportunities for both the novice and expert birding enthusiasts. It is a huge wetland at the bottom end of the bear river where it opens up into the great salt lake. It offers nesting and resting habitat for both migratory and resident birds and other forms of wildlife. Birds, however, are the main draw to the refuge for it’s daily birding visitors which drive the refuge auto tour route and one of the most common birds on the bear river migratory bird refuge in the summertime is the western grebe. A nesting species on the refuge that offers spectacular water courtship dances during the spring and summer. This year I was fortunate to see an active nest of western grebes which had set up shop fairly close to the refuge auto tour route. I was able to film a little of their daily routine, nest building and incubation exchange of these two nesting western grebes. It’s something very few people get to see and because of the close proximity of the nest to the road I was able to capture a little of their hidden lives to show other bird enthusiasts as well as anybody else that might be interested in bird watching. I will say, however, I did wait until now, well after the nesting season was over, to post the video as to not bring any undue and excess pressure to the nesting site as it was very close to the road. Although it is incredible to watch such scenes in the wild we must also remember they are wild animals and can be sensitive to too much pressure from the well meaning viewers. The video was actually shot from the auto tour route from inside my vehicle, allowing the grebes to behave as they normally would. Quite often birders want to get a closer look and get out of their vehicles and try to move closer to such sensitive sites and many times theses birds may abandon their nests. I have found the best way to view birds on the refuge is to drive slow, stopping along the auto tour route to listen and search for birds and to stay inside my vehicle. It makes a great viewing blind as many birds on the refuge are accustomed to vehicles but very wary of foot traffic. Visit the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge throughout the year for some of the best bird watching opportunities available in the united states, especially for waterbirds and waterfowl. It is an incredible place to view and get interested in migratory birds.

American goldfinch on a sunflower

I usually spend most of the winter photographing american goldfinches in my yard. They are quite plentiful and eager to pose for the camera during the winter but it has been hard for me to get a great shot of a fully colored male american goldfinch in it’s summer plumage. They seem to become less interested in my feeders as more natural food becomes plentiful when spring makes an appearance, just about the time they are starting to molt in their summer plumage. This year I decided to not do a vegetable garden and out of lack of desire to keep it cleaned up this year a ton of wild sunflowers have grown up in the garden. It didn’t take long for the goldfinches to find them and since then I have had a little luck getting some birds to cooperate for portrait shots, even though the goldfinch’s summer plumage is starting to fade as they are molting back into their winter attire. I did get this one decent shot of a male american goldfinch, still pretty vibrant yellow and black. I am excited for the winter bird feeding season to get here but at the same time I am sad to see the extraordinary colors of the american goldfinch begin to fade back to their more drab winter colors.

american goldfinch
American Goldfinch

Backyard photography

One of my favorite venues to photograph is my own yard. I love finding stuff to shoot with my camera at my house. Not only does it save time and the expense of traveling but it is quite rewarding to be able to go outside and find something beautiful to share with others right from your own place. Tonight I was able to do just that. I had the urge as I often do this time of year to go out and photograph hummingbirds. I usually like photographing them over flowers but my efforts to get a flower garden started in my yard the past two years hasn’t quite gone as well as planned. I have had a struggle getting some color in my yard besides wild sunflowers but while out this afternoon I noticed one purple flower in my large patch of sunflowers. I am not sure what kind it is or even if I planted it but I noticed the hummingbirds would give it a brief look due to it’s color so I kept my eye on it hoping to get a shot of a hummingbird around it. My efforts tonight paid off as I did get one shot of a hummingbird investigating my lone patch of color in my otherwise bland yard. It might only be a small patch of color but its enough to put a smile on my face today with this shot.

IMG_1644newa

Black chinned hummingbird

In my neck of the woods, we get 4 types of hummingbirds, with one being pretty uncommon to see. We get broad tailed hummingbird, rufous hummingbirds, black chinned hummingbirds and the calliope hummingbird. The calliope is one I have only seen 1 of in my life, up in the mountains around 9000 feet this summer but never at my house. Broad tailed and rufous hummingbirds are very common in the fall during migration and are found fighting over my numerous feeders all day long. The black chinned hummingbird, although not uncommon around this region, is one hummingbird I have had very little luck in getting a good flying shot of. They don’t seem to be as aggressive over the feeder as the rufous hummingbird and quite often get run out of town by the more aggressive rufous hummingbird. The other day I sat and photographed hummingbirds at one of my feeders and the first bird that came in was a black chinned hummingbird. I was lucky enough to be ready to get one shot of him before he left, never to be seen again that day as the feeder was dominated the rest of the afternoon by a pesky and determined young rufous hummingbird. It’s only one shot but I am glad I was able to get a good flying shot of a black chinned hummingbird this year. I don’t get to see them as consistently as I do the rufous and broad tailed hummingbirds so even one shot of one puts a smile on my face. We are in the middle of the fall migration right now so I am hopeful I will get another shot as I am still seeing an occasional black chinned hummingbird at the feeders.

black chinned hummingbird
black chinned hummingbird

Rufous hummingbird head study

The rufous hummingbird is one of the most beautiful hummingbird out there. It is definitely my favorite of the regional hummingbirds we get out west. I haven’t had much luck getting a real good shot of a male rufous hummingbird over the past couple of years. They migrate early and I am usually not in hummingbird mode when they are passing through. This year I started watching for them about a month earlier than I usually do so hopefully I can get some great shots of these beautiful little birds. I was able to get a decent, not great but decent, shot of a male rufous this evening before my good light left me and I had to call it quits for the evening and just sit and watch them without a camera. It’s still fun but I love the challenge of trying to get a super great shot of a hummingbird and never knowing what species will come to the feeder next is also part of the excitement.

IMG_9873a

rufous hummingbird close-up

Just finished photographing the few hummingbirds I have at my house at the moment. I was pretty excited to see a couple close-up shots of a rufous hummingbird’s head. I have yet to photograph an adult male but hopefully I will see one soon, before they migrate south.

IMG_2757crop2a

A couple of quick hummingbird shots

Yesterday I came home and noticed an adult male rufous hummingbird at my feeder. It was the first time I have seen an adult male at a feeder in my yard. I was excited and immediately grabbed my camera and began to watch the feeder for when he came back to feed. Well, I never saw him again. I guess he was passing through as their migration south has begun and he just stopped by for a quick snack. I stayed positive and hopeful as it was the first hummingbird I have seen in my yard for a couple months, since spring migration actually. I don’t get summer residents like a lot of people do for some reason so I have to wait for the influx of southbound travelers to my yard each fall to get any abundance of the little guys. Sitting at my feeder yesterday I had time to reflect at how many feeders I have at three different locations, family members houses. I counted 16 feeders dispersed at three locations covering a distance of 45 miles apart. I am a hummingbird addict of sorts. I love photographing them and seeing which varieties will come pay me a visit. Yesterday, however, my efforts paid off as another rufous came to the feeder. It wasn’t an adult male like I had seen before that day but any hummingbird at the feeder is a good hummingbird at the feeder. I was able to snap a couple quick close up shots before he too left and was never to be seen again. Well, I am not disappointed I only got a couple quick glimpses of hummingbirds but rather excited actually. It’s hummingbird season and I am ready for them.

IMG_2572a

IMG_2578a

Baby on board with Western Grebes

One of the most fascinating behaviors in the bird world to me is how baby grebes will ride on their parents back while they are young. They can often be seen resting on their parents backs as their parents float around in the water. Quite often one of the parents will be diving under the water in search of small fish or minnow to feed their hungry family and will bring it to the baby riding on the parents back. I was out on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge a couple weeks ago and witnessed this behavior. It is very common to see the youngsters riding around on their parents backs from hatching and quite often through the month of July on the refuge. I was able to capture some photographs of this strange but cute behavior.

IMG_7900newnewa

IMG_7843a

IMG_7826newa

IMG_7646a

Great Blue Heron on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

Lately I have spent a lot of time photographing baseball games, following a little league team around to several local tournaments and trying to catch the action. It has taken me away from my love for birds and bird photography so the other day I took a break from editing thousands of baseball pictures to go relax and visit the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. It was a great day as great blue herons were in great abundance although they weren’t too willing to sit for a portrait. I was, however, lucky enough to get a couple shots of a flushing great blue heron before it got out of sight. They can be tricky birds to photograph as often times they won’t sit still for a picture and at other times they seem to want to pose for the camera. Either way, they are a fascinating bird and one of my favorites to photograph.

IMG_4960a

IMG_4957a

Water Conservation for the Great Salt Lake

Our water resources here in Utah are in high demand and that demand will only increase as our population continues to grow. We are the second driest state in the nation and we need to start conserving our water before it’s too late. There are many important demands and uses for our water resources but we all need to find ways we can conserve and use less water each year or we may find ourselves without it. For example, the Colorado river has been drained to the point it doesn’t even reach the ocean any more due to too much water being pulled out of it. We face a similar scenario here in Utah as we watch the Great Salt Lake dry up because more and more water is being taken out of its rivers for other uses. We could lose one of our states greatest natural resources if we keep taking more water out of the Great Salt Lake ecosystem than it can handle. There are many important uses for water in this state but all of us need to start thinking of conserving water or we may lose an an incredible recreation area and ecosystem. The Great Salt Lake and all its tributaries and marshes provide a great source of economic benefit to the state through recreation and tourism, not to mention just the intrinsic value of having such a great and unique natural place so close by. Water conservation does matter and can affect us if we choose not to conserve. And by the way, this picture was shot on the great salt lake a couple of months ago and normally this spot would be under 5-10 feet of water and is now a mudflat. Food for thought.

fb43

The American Avocet

The american avocet is a summer resident on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. It is one of the priority species the refuge directly manages for. They are an interesting and quirky bird, often found squabbling over a small patch of territory during breeding season. Like many birds the american avocet molts and changes it’s feathery attire from a drab winter coat to a more colorful breeding plumage. When they arrive on the refuge they are already colored in their breeding plumage and will transform back into their winter plumage in late summer. Avocets don’t usually stick around when the cold weather hits but this past year I witnessed avocets on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge all the way until about Christmas time with temperatures dipping down in the single digits and most of the refuge locked up in winter’s icy grip. They are a great bird to come explore and get to know on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge and soon they will make their return to the refuge for yet another breeding season.

american avocet
An american avocet on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

Photographing Great Blue Herons

Great blue herons are a favorite bird of mine and I spend a ton of time on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge watching and photographing them. These unique fishermen offer a great opportunity for birders and photographers alike to get a great portrait shot of one of nature’s skilled and incredible birds who fish for a living. Their slow and stealthy technique, often standing completely still for 5-10 minutes or more, offer a great opportunity to photograph these birds. Quite often it is hard to get great action shots on moving birds but a fishing great blue heron is a prime opportunity to get a great shot of a heron. Visit the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge this summer to see these great birds in action.

great blue heron
Great Blue Heron fishing on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

Great Salt Lake Sunset

Photography is all about light and color. Sunsets provide the best opportunities to capture and exhibit the great color nature has to offer. I go out and photograph sunsets every chance I get, whenever it looks like there is even the remotest possibility of a grand sunset. The shoreline of the Great Salt Lake offer some incredible spots to capture the colors offered by Utah’s scenic and colorful sunsets. Sometimes there is little color and cloud variation and sometimes there is a lot of deep color and cloud shapes but each one is unique and breathtaking in it’s own way. Great color and light can make even the most ordinary of subjects or scenes come alive. When I shoot outdoors I do so hoping for great light and warm colors from the sun because that is what makes a picture come alive.

IMG_6653a

Red Winged Blackbirds

Red winged blackbirds are one of my all time favorite birds. I love their sweet sounding spring songs as they perch high on a cattail and declare their territory towards other male blackbirds. They also offer a unique and challenging subject to photograph due to their dark black feathery attire, allowing for little contrast for the bird. Often times when a camera reads the extremely dark feathers it over compensates and over lightens the background as it tries to tone down the dark subject. It is also often a challenge to get a good clean facial shot of a blackbird, especially looking towards the camera because of the dark feathers and little contrasting color on the bird. But these aspects are why I love photographing the red winged blackbird so much. It is a great challenge to get a good clean sharp shot of these birds because of their very dark attire and the tricks it often plays on a digital camera. Spring time isn’t too far away, even though the calendar still reads February, because the male red winged blackbirds have started their annual ritual of singing each morning to declare their territory. It’s a sure sign spring is just down the road.

red winged blackbird
Red winged blackbird perched on a reed on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge
red winged blackbird
Red winged blackbird
red winged blackbird
Red winged blackbird
red winged blackbird
Red winged blackbird
red winged blackbird
Red winged blackbird
red winged blackbird
Red winged blackbird
red winged blackbird
Red winged blacbird
red winged blackbird
red winged blackbird

Neck Collared Swans

Photographing and watching birds has been a life long passion of mine. It is challenging and rewarding to get a great photograph of a wild bird in a natural setting. But for me there is more to it than just watching and photographing birds. I love birds, always have ever since I was a little kind, and bird migration fascinates me. When I was younger I wondered how biologists figured out when and where birds migrate to each spring and fall. It seemed like an daunting task as many birds migrate thousands of miles each year. I got my answer when I had the opportunity to help the state and federal biologists band waterfowl on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge many years back. We went out in air boats at night and netted numerous ducks that were flightless due to their summer molt. Once caught and back on shore the birds were tagged with metal leg bands and the day and location and band number were recorded for future reference if the bird ever was caught again or harvested by a waterfowl hunter.

bblswan2a

Banding birds and getting reports from hunters has aided in valuable knowledge of bird migration but it has a limit. Unless the bird is caught again in another study, the only other way for the bird to reveal vital migration information is to be harvested by a hunter, which means it can only give valuable data once. Another method of marking birds so they can be spotted by anyone countless times, such as birders or biologists any time of the year, is to put a neck collar on the bird along with the standard aluminum leg band. The neck collars are colored and have large numbers and letters on them, making them easy to spot and record without having to harvest the bird. This allows for more sightings of a particular bird all along the migration route and throughout the year, giving more detailed data of a birds migration, survival and behavior.

IMG_5965a

I have been fortunate to see two separate neck collared tundra whistling swans on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, one in 2013 and one just a week ago. I was able to record the numbers and send in the date, location and neck collar markings to the Bird Banding Laboratory in which I received a certificate on when and where the swans were banded. It’s cool to note that the swan in these pictures is actually the swan referred to in the certificate.

2013swana

It’s really cool to find out such information about a wild bird and know where it has been and how old it is. So when you are out watching swans on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, keep your eye out for swans and also canada geese with plastic colored collars around their neck. Record the number, color, date and location and send it to the Bird Banding Laboratory on their website http://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/bbl/

bblswana

IMG_5966newa

IMG_5949newa

Great Salt Lake Black and White Sunset

Photographing sunsets on the great salt lake is one of my all time favorite things to do. It offers a very unique and serene setting and countless miles of shoreline to find a great spot. Today I found myself out on the great salt lake again in search of another sunset, much like I do on any day there are a few clouds forming in late afternoon. It’s quiet and peaceful out on the lake shore. One thing I have been getting into more and more lately are black and white as well as sepia versions of sunsets. They are more somber and moody. Tonight the sunset didn’t quite show any spectacular colors so I thought they would look more unique in a black and white format. I might be the only one but I am really liking black and white sunsets and waterscape shots. Here are a the results of my efforts today on the great salt lake. Most of them are in black and white but I did add one color shot that I liked.

IMG_7930asepia

IMG_7955asepiaa

IMG_7948asepia

img_7973a

american goldfinch winter

It has been a very mild winter this year. It’s only mid February and we have had many days in the 50’s and even 60’s for temperatures. I don’t mind the warm weather at all, in fact I am loving it with one exception. I have noticed ever since the weather turned from the short but brutal cold temperatures we had earlier in the year, dropping down to near zero degrees at times, the american goldfinches in my yard have been less eager to come and feed at my feeders. Earlier this winter when it was much colder I have had 30-40 at any given time but with the warmer temperatures its rare to have more then 5-7 now at any given time. I am glad they aren’t having to deal with the colder temperatures and can find more natural food with the current and long standing lack of snow cover but I do miss them watching them squabble over a perch on the feeder. I have noticed also some are just barely starting to get some of their summer yellow feathers to come in as well.

american goldfinch
American Goldfinch

Bird Watching and Photographing at Home

I love to get out and see new places and even photograph in places I have frequented often. But the times I enjoy the most are those times I get to sit in my own yard and just watch nature’s bounty around my house. Today I was able to do just that, spend a few minutes watching the american goldfinches and house finches come to my feeder. I was able to get a few good shots although photographing them was secondary to me just being able to sit and watch them for a few minutes and not have to do much else. Bird watching is a great way to relax. I sometimes forget how enjoyable it is when I am out trying to find cool things to photograph. It’s nice to be able to just sit and watch the birds and enjoy them. They can remind us how important nature is and how easy it is to enjoy, even in our own backyards. Put out a feeder and water container for the birds this year in your own yard and enjoy what comes to visit.

IMG_4008asepia

Winter Solitude on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

Winter is a quiet time on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. Most of the birds have migrated south and the marsh is overcome by a thick layer of ice. It is quiet and peaceful on the refuge at the time but not completely barren of visitors. Winter time brings down bald eagles and rough legged hawks to the refuge in search of winter food. In mild winters, like we are experiencing this year, tundra swans often return early to the refuge hoping to find pockets of open water in which to rest and feed on. But sometimes the most beautiful things on the refuge this time of year are the things often taken for granted, the peace and solitude of being out in nature. I try to find things often overlooked when out photographing. Things which I find beauty and peace in and which might have a small story to tell, such as a feather from a migrating tundra swan blowing in the wind and being caught on a reed. The Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge is a great place to visit year round, and even when it isn’t filled up with much of the millions of birds that frequent the sanctuary each year it has beauty on it in all of its forms.

IMG_3947a

Swans on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

Spring migration is a favorite time of mine. Although spring is still a couple months away the current warm winter we have been having here has led to tundra swans stopping short on their southbound migration and staying on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. Typically tundra swans leave the refuge right after freeze up but this year I have seen swans on the refuge all winter long. Yesterday and today I ventured out in search of birds to photograph on the refuge and came across large numbers of tundra swans on the bear river bird refuge. It is a bit early for tundra swans to be on the refuge as it is usually frozen up now but to my surprise there were possibly thousands of swans and a good portion of open water on the refuge.

bear river migratory bird refuge
Tundra swans on the bear river migratory bird refuge
bear river migratory bird refuge
Tundra swans on the bear river migratory bird refuge
bear river migratory bird refuge
Migrating tundra swans on the bear river migratory bird refuge
bear river migratory bird refuge
Tundra swans are showing up on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge
bear river migratory bird refuge
Tundra swans on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge
bear river migratory bird refuge
Tundra swans on the bear river migratory bird refuge

summertime butterflies

Summertime offers an abundance of things to photograph, especially wildflowers with butterflies and moths landing on them. They can be tricky at times as quite often they don’t sit still, especially when you get too close but the effort is well worth it when you succeed in getting a great shot of a butterfly on a wildflower. This is one I did last year in Cache National Forest.

IMG_0180cropa

Great Salt Lake Sunsets

Some of the most incredible things I have ever seen in my endeavors in photographing nature are sunsets on the Great Salt Lake in Northern Utah. It offers incredible views and spectacular colors on those days when the clouds are around to offer up one of Utah’s spectacular sunsets. I visit the lake as much as I can and I have rarely seen sunsets which rival those shown over the Great Salt Lake. They are just plain spectacular and the whole Great Salt Lake itself deserves a trip to explore and understand and appreciate its beauty, both its natural wonders and it’s wildlife. Visit the Great Salt Lake and see what kind of sunsets and other natural treasures it has to offer.

great salt lake
Visit the Great Salt Lake for spectacular sunsets

black and white sunset

As many people know, I love to photograph sunsets. I love the color and the unique and individual nature of each one. Some are grand and glorious in color and have spectacular cloud shapes and formations and others are soft and subtle with less distinctive cloud arrangements but all offer a great scene. Lately I have been playing around with black and white sunsets, something not often done because sunsets are always associated with vibrant colors. But for me, sunsets are more than just about color. Don’t get me wrong, I love a great sunset with lots of deep rich color but I also love the moody aspects of sunsets that can be brought out with black and white shots. Shots which can highlight the cloud formations and the reflections on glass smooth water. I will continue to chase sunsets and the vibrant reds, oranges and pinks they often throw but I am also now looking for the other side of sunsets, the moods brought out which only black and white shots can offer.

IMG_7678a

American Kestral Posing

One of the hardest birds I have tried to photograph is the american kestrel. It’s quite perplexing as they are very common birds. But for some reason they just don’t sit still for me when I am in range to photograph them. I was able to get a quick portrait shot of an american kestrel the other day as it sat and watched me fumble with my camera, trying to change lenses before it flew off. I had been out shooting portraits and forgot to change lenses when I arrived at the wildlife refuge entrance. Lesson learned the hard way. But I was able to get one good shot of him so I came away happy.

american kestrel
american kestrel

Just For a Brief Moment

Photography is about seeing something unique in a large setting and being able to cut it out from it’s surroundings so it tells a story. There are so many things around us that are beautiful and unique if we look close enough and spend the time to see the world around us. I have driven past this particular place a 100 times but it only takes the one time, the right time, in the right light to see something that wasn’t there before. The key is being able to cut out what detracts from the story or setting and keep just that part which says something to the photographer and it may not speak the same thing to all those who see it. It never ceases to amaze me how many people don’t stop and enjoy scenes like this when those rare occurrences happen and they just drive on by. I was heading home when I shot this and I had all my gear packed up and wasn’t even thinking there would be anything to shoot that late and in this location but you never know and you can never control when nature shows itself in all its beauty and grandeur. A photographer just has to be ready for those moments when they happen at a moments notice because, much like this particular moment, they only last for a few minutes and when they are gone they are gone. A great photographer once wrote that he would rather photograph an ordinary subject in extraordinary light than photograph an extraordinary subject in ordinary light. I fully agree with that statement. This particular spot is very plain and ordinary and I never really gave it much thought until I saw it in this light. I have tried to photograph it before but in ordinary light and it just isn’t the same as it is when the light is working in one’s favor, if only for a fleeting moment.IMG_0968a

Sunset Over The Bear River Bird Refuge

A couple days ago I realized I haven’t been out photographing sunsets in a long time so I decided to grab my camera and head out to one of my favorite places to visit, the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. Being we are right in the middle of a cold snap this winter I didn’t expect much open water as I love to photograph reflecting sunsets over water. I was surprised and glad I was met with a lot of open water. The sunset didn’t disappoint either. It ended up being a spectacular show of colors and reflection.

IMG_0587a

Great Blue Heron on the Refuge

Today I found myself going through some old photographs I took on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge and I came across this shot of a great blue heron. I can’t remember why I never edited and produced this photograph in the past but I like it a lot so I am finally showing it. Great blue herons are common visitors to the refuge with some staying year round. During the summer months they are quite common on the refuge auto tour route but not always easy to get a photograph of as many times they will fly off before you get close enough for a shot, even with a telephoto lens. But once in a while they stay put and show off a bit, just like this one did for me last summer. He was about 30 feet away when I took this shot and stayed and fished right in front of me for 20 minutes or more before flying off to a different spot to fish. Great blue herons are a favorite of mine on the refuge and one big reason I keep going back to the refuge.

great blue heron
Great blue heron on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

Water off a ducks back

A couple days ago I had the urge to brave the cold and see what birds are still hanging around the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. The temperatures have dropped significantly this week and knowing most if not all of the refuge water would be frozen I went but with the expectation of not seeing as much as I normally do when the refuge has open water. As I came across one of the water control structures I found a small patch of open water and a single ruddy duck. I stopped and watched this bird for a minute and it began to dive and come back up. I noticed something peculiar on it’s back as it came up from a dive. A large bead of water would form on the back of the duck and the duck’s feather appeared to be completely dry. I know ducks use oils from glands to keep their feathers “water repellent” but this is the first time I have actually witnessed it in person. It was about the only photography I was able to do on the refuge that day but it was well worth it.

IMG_6774a

IMG_6895a

IMG_6848a

IMG_6833a

The Right Moment

rough legged hawk

Sometimes photography is all about planning and preparation but sometimes it’s about being in the right place at the right time. I don’t necessarily think of it as luck as a photographer still has to be prepared and ready for such opportunities when they do arise as well as knowing locations that would offer such situations from time to time. I do believe, however, no matter how much preparation and planning goes into photographing nature and the outdoors, especially wildlife, there is a level of opportunity that cannot be controlled and a photographer has to relish and make the most of when those times occur. I had such an opportunity last winter on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge while looking for rough legged hawks, a common winter visitor on the refuge. All I was hoping for was a good photograph of these unique birds but what I found on my camera when I got home to edit the photographs was way more than I was hoping for with the exact moment caught with my camera. It wasn’t chance I found the hawks on the refuge and it wasn’t chance I was ready when one made it’s appearance but I will admit the result wasn’t anything I could have planned or even thought of when I shot the photograph. It is one of my favorite photographs because of the unpredictable results. A copy of this photograph is available in our shop page under prints and greeting cards.

IMG_4835aa

Todays Visitor

I get a lot of birds in my yard and trees throughout the year and that is always exciting. One frequent visitor stirs more excitement, however, than most other birds and he paid me a visit again today. I got to see another great horned owl in my yard today, up close and personal. Too bad it was a cloudy day with little light so I couldn’t get any great shots of him but just having him in the yard is worth it. The past few nights I have hear a lot of hooting outside but as morning comes around all I see are remnants of him with droppings and owl pellets in the driveway. He is a frequent visitor but rarely do I get a chance to get a great photograph of my favorite visitor. Hopefully he will be back again soon when there is more direct sunlight for a better portrait of him than what I was able to get today.

great horned owl
great horned owl

American Goldfinch

american goldfinch

Photographing birds is a very strong passion of mine. It’s something I feel I am still learning at and have a long way to go but every once in a while I get a photograph I am pretty proud of. Today is one of those days. After sitting for several hours, watching and trying to photograph goldfinches at my bird feeder I finally filled up my camera card and decided to call it a day and go look at what I had captured. Today was a slow day, the birds just weren’t coming in to the feeder at all, possibly due to the unseasonably warm and dry winter we are experiencing. I thought I didn’t get much as I didnt take many photographs due to the lack of birds and not much memory left on my card. To my surprise as I was looking through my photographs for the day I came across this one of an american goldfinch which really caught my eye and made the whole morning of sitting and waiting for long periods of time with no birds well worth it. As a photographer the one photograph out of hundreds and hundreds that resonates within you when you first see it on the computer makes all the frustration of all the time sitting and waiting and not ending up with much for the days efforts. I prescribe to the theory and notion if an outdoor photographer gets 1 stellar photograph out of maybe 50 or even 100 that is a good day. Not to say there aren’t others that arent good and arent print worth but rather I am talking about that spectacular photograph that just grabs you the very instant you see it and you know its a keeper. This particular american goldfinch photograph will most definitely be added to my shop as a greeting card, print and framed art for anybody wanting a copy of it. I hope you like it as much as I do.

american goldfinch
american goldfinch

Getting Excited About Bird Watching

american goldfinch

As an outdoor photographer, I love to photograph anything in the outdoors that looks cool and can result in a great picture but one of my favorite subjects to photograph is birds. I love photographing birds and just watching birds in general. I love seeing new birds at my feeders I haven’t seen before and I love seeing the first arrivals each spring at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge as birds return from their winter homes.

house finch
house finch

Bird watching is a simple activity to get started with but can lead to many hours of enjoyment for many years to come. I have always loved birds and can sit and watch them for hours. I remember when I was a young boy one saturday my father took me to a local wildlife management area to go bird watching. That day is forever engraved in my head. It really sparked my interest in birds and bird watching.

american avocet
american avocet at the bear river bird refuge

Recently I have started to get interested in what kinds of birds I may have around the house so a couple years ago I started off with a simple hummingbird feeder. I had never seen any hummingbirds at my house before so I didnt know what to expect or if I would even see any but I put out a feeder in hopes of seeing one. It wasn’t an hour after my feeder was out I had numerous hummingbirds swarming the feeder. I was amazed at how many hummingbirds were in my yard and I didnt even know it. It started to get me really excited to see what types of hummingbirds I will get at the feeder each day. I now look forward each spring to when I can put out the feeders again, waiting for that first sighting of a hummingbird.

hummingbird
hummingbird

I think people would be amazed at how many birds might be in their yards if they put out a simple feeder and wait to see what comes in. For the past few years I have been putting out seed feeders to attract any and all types of song birds and I have been amazed at the results. I had no idea I had so many american goldfinches in my yard. At times I would have 30 or 40 of them in my feeder tree, the tree I hang my feeder in, at a time fighting over the best spot at the bird feeder.

american goldfinch
american goldfinch

The exciting thing is when I see a new bird at the feeder I haven’t seen before. Yesterday while photographing the american goldfinches I had a bird at the feeder I had not seen before. As it turns out it was a pine sisken, a bird I can now cross off on my checklist of birds I have seen. Bird watching is like having Christmas each time you go out and watch the feeder, you never know what you will get but it’s exciting to sit and watch as birds come into the feeder, hoping for that new, never seen before bird to make an appearance.

pine siskin
pine siskin

But bird watching can be more than just a feeder at home. I find myself visiting the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge many times a week looking for new birds I may not have seen before. Last summer I cam across one I have never seen before, a green heron. It was another bird I could check off of my list and another bird I was introduced to by bird watching. Finding new birds at the Bear River Bird Refuge is exciting and keeps me coming back, looking for more new bird species each time I drive around the auto tour route.

green heron
green heron

To get involved in bird watching all one needs is a desire to learn about birds. You don’t have to know much about birds to enjoy them and love watching them and finding species you haven’t seen before. You don’t have to be an expert bird identifier either to enjoy the activity. I am the worlds worst bird identifier but that doesn’t stop me from bird watching and loving being out looking for birds. I usually keep my bird book with me to help make an identification and I frequent many bird pages on Facebook where people are always helpful with identifying pictures of birds I am struggling with making an identification on.

bird feeder
pine siskin and american goldfinches at feeder

If somebody wants to get into bird watching I would suggest getting a simple bird identification book and a bird checklist from their local wildlife agency or ornithological/Audubon society to keep track of birds they have seen. A pair of binoculars or a spotting scope will also help in spotting and making identification of birds but all one really needs is a desire to go watch and learn about birds. I do a lot of bird watching in my own yard, where I really don’t need any fancy equipment but rather just a simple bird feeder, my bird book and a chair. I find myself often sitting for hours watching the feeder during the day when I have the time.

loggerhead shrike
loggerhead shrike at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

Bird watching is a fun and very enjoyable activity for anybody at any age. It can be done in one’s own backyard and will offer many hours of enjoyment and fun for a lifetime. Get started today and get out and go bird watching.

Tundra Swan

tundra swan

Each fall and spring the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge is full of migrating tundra swans. One of the first sure signs of spring is on it’s way is the arrival of northbound migrating tundra swans on the refuge. Quite often these birds arrive when there is still much ice on the Bear River Refuge but it isnt long before the ice gives way to open water, allowing these majestic birds to feed and rest for a bit on their long journey north. Each spring the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge hosts a Swan Day on the refuge to celebrate these magnificent birds. It is a great day to come visit the refuge and see these great birds before they are gone for the season, only to return on their long journey southward in the fall.

tundra swan

Fall House Finches

house finch

Fall is a great time for photographing birds. One of my favorite birds to photograph is the house finch but it can be a hard bird to get great shots during most of the year. These birds are fairly elusive for me and my camera for much of the year but late fall and winter provides a great opportunity to photograph house finches as well as a variety of other song birds. Putting out a feeder with thistle seed and having some patience often pays off on getting these elusive birds to come and pose in front of the camera. Try putting out a feeder and some wild bird seed in your yard this winter and see what kinds of birds you may have around to watch and photograph in your own backyard. It is one of my favorite winter activities and I wait all summer for this time to photograph bird species which are fairly hard to photograph during the summer months.

house finch

Another great way to attract more birds to your yard all year long is to put out some fresh water and a bird bath. I have some hanging water containers I use during the summer months but take them down when temperatures approach the freezing zone. I do utilize a shallow bird bath all year long which attracts many birds to my yard. The important thing to remember is to keep the bird bath and water clean and change it often as birds will leave their droppings in the water. Change it daily if you can and during the winter months I use warm water to defrost the ice in the bird bath and replace it with fresh water. Depending on the temperatures this will allow birds to drink daily at the bird bath for a few hours or more each day before any potential refreezing may occur. Water is critical during the winter months as it is throughout the year and by keeping fresh water around the yard you can attract many more birds to your feeder if fresh water is close by.

IMG_5998a

IMG_5989a

IMG_5966a

Hummingbirds are one of my favorites.

IMG_5379a

Hummingbirds are quickly becoming one of my favorite subjects to photograph. They are so fascinating with how they fly and how one bird will guard a feeder at almost any cost. It seems the protective hummingbird spends more energy fighting over the endless supply of sugar water at my house than it is worth.

IMG_5639a

During peak migration it is not unheard of to have a dozen or so hummingbirds gathered around the feeder, all jockeying for a place at the table. This makes for a very interesting photo shoot as I have had many times the crazy little birds come over and scope me and my red lawn chair out when there is such commotion going on at the feeder.

IMG_5634a

Nothing is funner than watching hummingbirds and trying to get a great picture of a hummingbird in flight. I have learned a lot about photography buy just trying to photograph these fascinating and often neurotic little birds. It gave me a chance to try things I haven’t done before and I learned a few tricks that not only has helped me with photographing hummingbirds but with other birds as well.

IMG_5364a

If you want to add some beauty and have a peaceful activity at your house, put out a hummingbird feeder. It is an incredible way to find peace and joy with such an incredible and beautiful bird. There is something very therapeutic about bird watching and hummingbirds are one of the easiest to attract to ones house.

IMG_5395a

IMG_5490a

The Unexpected Shot

IMG_4813a

A couple of weeks ago I wanted to go find a new place to photograph birds so I fueled up the car and headed to the Bear Lake National Wildlife Refuge on the northern end of Bear lake in Idaho. I was excited as I planned on some new shots and some new birds from what I had been seeing down at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge.

Don’t get me wrong, I love taking photographs on the Bear River Bird Refuge but I am out there several times a week so I wanted to change things up a bit. Try something new and unknown.

The Bear Lake Refuge is about 2 hours away, quietly tucked away in the most southeastern portion of Idaho. I had visited it before, many years ago, but I couldn’t remember much about it and I actually had to stop for directions when I got to the nearest town because it had been so long since my only visit.

It was hot and dry on the refuge with low water conditions prevailing on much of the marsh. My visit was sadly becoming a disappointment since the only birds I had seen were Canada geese, a couple of white faced ibis, a family of rudy ducks and a couple of pelicans on the Bear River. I did eventually see a northern harrier off in the distance as I was contemplating my next move, which included leaving and cutting my loses by maybe making it back home for a sunset shot somewhere.

IMG_4832a

I was sitting on the bench, far away from my vehicle out in the marsh on an interpretive trail, watching butterflies dance around some purple flowers. I didn’t want to leave without taking a picture or two so I thought this would be a great time to practice taking some pictures on a subject I have not done before, butterflies on flowers.

Not expecting too much I snapped a few quick shots and headed for the car, sadly disappointed in the day’s events. I wasn’t even planning on looking at the pictures when I got home.

Later that night, I decided to take a quick peak at the pictures before I went to bed, thinking the day’s efforts were a loss. Much to my amazement, when I opened the file and looked at them I was stunned. I didn’t expect to have them turn out the way that they did. I quickly looked through them all and started to format them for facebook to share with my friends and their response was incredible.

It just goes to show when you go out to take a certain type of picture always keep your eyes open for the unexpected shot because you never know when or where it may come up. Admittedly, I was so impressed with those pictures, the next day I headed back out to photograph butterflies, ending up at a local mountain spot I knew that had a good hiking trail and meadows in search of more butterflies to photograph.

Most of my favorite shots have been from similar experiences such as this, I head out for one shot and come home with something completely different and totally unexpected. I always try to keep an open mind and my eyes open for those unexpected shots that are always around us if we take a few minutes to find them. And as a final note, the first two pictures on this post with the white butterflies on the purple flowers are from that day on the Bear Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

IMG_5198a

IMG_5200a

How Light Can Change Things

galleryimage13fulla

There are a lot of similarities between life and photography, with the most apparent being success in both are all about what kind of light you look at things through. An example is the photo I attached. It might not mean much to anyone else or be the most exciting picture but it is a good example of this.

I had driven past this place literally a thousand times in my life, never giving it a second look. It is up in Logan right across the street from the Cache County Landfill and not a very attractive site. One day I was coming home from photographing a sunrise and the way the light and shadows were I slammed on my brakes and waded in snow up to my waste to get this picture. Somehow the light made all the difference that day. It was incredible and I wish I could have captured every ray of light that was present. Each time I drive past it now i am reminded of that day and how the light was just perfect and took a very boring and unattractive setting and turned it into one of my favorite photographs.

It’s all about looking at things in the right kind of light. Life is the same way. We can either choose to be down and frumpy all the time or choose to make our own “good light” and see things in a different way. Photography has given me the drive to change how I look at things and try and look at them in a different light because, like the above example, I can see now that anything can look great if we look at it in a whole new light. Even tough life struggles can have a silver lining if we look for it in a different light.

I would suggest to look at things in our lives through a metaphorical camera, looking and searching for the light that takes something unappealing and turns it into something amazing. It is all about what kind of light we look at things with.

Photograph What You Like

 

pelicansSitting here on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge waiting for something cool to happen so I can try and photograph it has given me a lot of time to think about my passion for photographing birds. I am a true believer in you will naturally get better pictures if you photograph things that interest you. It just makes sense, doesn’t it?

Maybe that is too simplistic to even worry about but people always ask me how I get some of the shots I have gotten. The answer is simple, I love photographing birds and that passion gets me outside photographing as much as I possibly can. That is the first hurdle, actually getting out with a camera and pushing the shutter button and that will happen more if it is a subject you are interest in and the subject moves and compels you to go photograph. And the more you take pictures, the better they will be. Practice makes perfect, right?

The second reason why photographing something you like will naturally turn out better pictures is you will most likely have even a basic knowledge and understanding of your subject and that will also lead to better pictures.

IMG_5576anewI love taking pictures of geese and having a basic understanding of how they act and where they live and what times might be best to find them in certain places all lead to better pictures. One of my favorite series of pictures of canada geese are of a pair taking off. I was able to get that series of shots because I knew enough about geese and knew when they were getting anxious and were about to take off so i was able to take those photos.

I am by no means a bird expert but my passion for birds and passion for photographing birds gives me the desire and ability to take some great shots. Even if it is a bird I am not familiar with, just having a passion for birds in general helps me take better pictures and compels me to learn more about a certain bird species so I can improve on what I am trying to do with that bird.

If you want to take better pictures, start with a subject you are familiar with and find exciting, even if nobody else does. Having a certain level of familiarity of a subject and a passion for it will naturally lead to better pictures.

pelicans