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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Yellowstone & Grand Tetons: Birds, Getting the National Geographic Shot

Ok so it was fantastic of course to see 11 new birds to cross of my nerdy birdy list, but not only the new birds deserve the love. As my photography gets better and my patience/ability to get closer to nature I find myself having to retake many of the birds that I have shot years ago. The goal is to eventually get what my parents and I call ‘National Geographic’ shots of them all. For instance of course I have a photo of the American Robin but it is just an ok kinda blah image, see here. On this trip I knew I would be seeing a million Robins and I wanted to make sure I captured a special photo of this bird. I was lucky to get a shot of a Robin early one morning standing on the ground in a patch of wildflowers singing his little heart out. I love the way his red breast contrasted with the bright yellow background.

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A FANTASTIC SHOT OF THE AMERICAN ROBIN

One new bird that I found that I have never seen before, sadly it isn’t on my nerdy birdy list, is the blue grouse. I managed to find this guy trying to cross the road. All I saw was a short partridge like bird... that was enough for me to screech my car into the nearest turnout.

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BLUE GROUSE

These birds are difficult to find. They like to hide, they like to stay very very still and they blend in so well with their surroundings. I was happy with this normally difficult bird being so un-difficult.

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BLUE GROUSE

I also got to see a different variation of the dark headed junco. They have six subspecies in North America. While I was in the Grand Canyon two years ago I found the Slate Colored Variant, see here, and now in Yellowstone I found the Pink Sided Variant.

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DARK EYED JUNCO – PINK SIDED VARIANT

Birds are complicated enough with having to know the male and female plumage, the juvenile look and then most birds have a summer and a winter look without throwing VARIANTS in there as well. Keeps me on my toes I guess. Here are photos of both the male and female Mountain Bluebirds. They look very different from each other.

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MALE MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD WHAT A STRIKINGLY BEAUTIFUL BLUE HE IS

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FEMALE MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD IS MUCH MORE DRAB

I was lucky enough to spot a few of the resident bald eagles although none of them really allowed me to get fantastic photos of them I did enjoy seeing this majestic bird hunt and preen.

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BALD EAGLE RESTING ON A POLE – WOULD HAVE BEEN BETTER IF IT WAS A DEAD TREE

However I wasn’t too interesting in getting a fantastic photo of a bird on a pole, I was more interested in him taking off... preferably toward the mountains so I could get a good flight shot and a nice blurred background. I waited; I knew eventually he would get hungry and take off. After years of watching large raptures I knew what I was looking for so I at least got to sit during the hour or so wait it took for him to start giving signs that he was about to take off. It makes sense when you think of it. They do the same thing that we do when we get out of bed or get out of a chair after sitting for a long period of time. They stretch their wings, they go to the bathroom and then a few minutes later they take off. This guy was predictable to a T and after five minutes of him doing his rounds of stretching and bathrooming, I finally got the photo I was looking for.

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BALD EAGLE FLYING WITH THE TETON MOUNTAIN RANGE BEHIND

I love it when wildlife cooperates or when I finally get used to a species enough to reasonably read their cues! Speaking of fantastic models I fell in love with this Red Shafted Northern Flicker. Generally these guys leave me chasing them over the river and through the woods. Every time I have gotten a photo of them it was after HOURS of work and generally that photo was way far away. I remember the first photo of a flicker I took a picture of, he had to be a mile away. And then as I am driving to a new location I see a flicker perched on a sign ignoring the cars go by. Sometimes birding from the car can give you an advantage. The birds have learned to ignore vehicles, while a person on foot they would normally run from a car parked on the side of the road is nothing to be worried about. I parked, I got my camera out, I held my breath and I just shot away. Other than looking up at me, thank you for that Mr. Flicker, he seemed to ignore my presence and I got some FANTASTIC shots.

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THIS RED SHAFTED NORTHERN FLICKER WAS THE PERFECT MODEL

The good luck just kept on coming a few days later when a ranger mentioned a Great Horned Owls nest. Sadly I didn’t get to see any of the babies but I did get lucky enough to find the mother conveniently resting in one of the only open parts of a large pine tree.

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GREAT HORNED OWL

I ended up getting a little too close to this Lesser Scaup’s pond. Every animal species has its own area of comfort zone and if you pay attention you can see when alarm bells go off. I snapped this shot of him extending his neck and craning to see me... he was showing a sign of alarm so I slowly backed off. It’s not worth terrifying the animals to get a shot.

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LESSER SCAUP SHOWING SIGNS OF ALARM

This next shot was taken while I was having a snack near a pond. Thankfully while I snacked on my orange I had left my camera on the tripod and ready. I was lazily watching a group of Common Mergansers eating at the banks when a group of motorcycles passed close by. Those Common Mergansers took off into the sky. I love how they seem to walk on water when they take off and I was able to get a shot of the bird mirrored against the almost perfectly calm lake with his footsteps trailing behind him. I was super happy with this shot and the light reflecting off the water.

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COMMON MERGANSER

More than anything two birds in particular drove me nuts on this trip. The first bird, the White Pelican, got me going every time. I was looking for the mute swan and all I could see in general with the naked eye was a large white bird. It was only the millionth time as I took my binoculars out and got the bird in view that my hoped for swan sighting ended up being just the White Pelican. Pretty bird anyways but not a swan for sure.

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THE WHITE PELICAN IN NO WAY LOOKS LIKE A SWAN BUT FROM SUPER FAR AWAY A LARGE WHITE BIRD COULD BE A SWAN

The other bird that drove me crazy was the Red Tailed Hawk. This bird is super common where I am from. I see it everywhere but I was constantly scanning the skies hopping to see the Golden Eagle (which I did end up finding by the way). Every single time I saw a large silhouette in the sky I jumped out to check. Most often it was the Red Tailed Hawk, but you don’t know that for sure until I had stopped and checked. GRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!!

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THE NUMEROUS SIGHTINGS OF THE RED TAILED HAWK’S WERE DRIVING ME CRAZY

Although the Osprey didn’t drive me crazy I did constantly mistake them at first glance for the Bald Eagle. A large dark bird with a white head has to be closer scrutinized. I have seen many Osprey but they are not super numerous where I live so seeing them so often here was still a mini-treat.

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I FOUND AN OSPREY ENJOYING HIS MORNING BREAKFAST – YUMMM SUSHI ANYONE

I also got to see an Osprey nest. I had stopped at a vista lookout on one of the winding mountain roads and while drinking in the scenery saw movement. Osprey’s have very large nests and this one was precariously perched on the end of an outcrop. A nice safe nesting area to keep your babies away from predators for sure but I cannot imagine the day that flying lessons start for the small baby birds that hatch here.

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A MOTHER OSPREY AND CHECKING HER EGGS – I COUNTED THREE

Sometimes I shoot a questionable looking bird not remembering what kind he was in hopes that it is a new bird and then sometimes I cannot figure out what bird that it was. This is some kind of sparrow I think, what the photo does not show well is that he had a bright yellow streak right under his eye and extending back to his eyebrow. For the life of me I cannot figure out what he is.

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SOME KIND OF SPARROW, PERHAPS A JUVENILE

The last photo is a bird I have a million photos of, I don’t know why I took another photo other than the fact that the Yellow Rumped Warbler is a striking bird in the summertime. This guy with his bold black white and yellow accents was perched on an interesting rock with the same colors and I just couldn’t resist. Although I generally like closer crops of the bird, with the bird being the focus, there is something about this shot, about the bird and the rock sharing focus that makes this photo interesting.

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AN INTERESTING SHOT OF A YELLOW RUMPED WARBLER COLOR COORDINATING WITH A ROCK – A BIRD AFTER MY OWN HEART FOR SURE

WHEW long post I know. Birds who would have known they could be so interesting, at least to me, mom and Ms. Ivey that is.

2 comments:

paul peggy zeus said...

Maybe it's a baby American Tree Sparrow, Pink bill, White eye ring, streaked breast spot, but doesn't yet have the rusty crown? Love the Merganser dancing upon the water.

lilmansworld said...

I too love the Merganser. I was shaking in my boots at the alarmed scaup(insert sarcasm here)

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