The Burrowing Owls Are Back

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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.

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The burrowing owls have returned for another nesting season.

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.

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.

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sunflower

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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/

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Visit the Great Salt Lake for spectacular sunsets

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.

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american kestrel

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.

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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.

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great horned owl

Hummingbirds are one of my favorites.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The Unexpected Shot

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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.

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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.

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How Light Can Change Things

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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.