Mar 032014

A few Sunday’s back I was able to spend a day at Loxahatchee NWR, and I had a wonderful time. It is a lovely place, and has some great wildlife.

Loxahatchee Boardwalk

Loxahatchee Boardwalk

I met a local who informed me that since the drought of 2011 that prey species, and hence “production”, was low … meaning less critter action. Still, for me it was wonderfully new, and engaging, so I wasn’t deterred. I found new (to me) birds, and other new and interesting species…

I started by walking the boardwalk. I couldn’t do it once only, I had to go around again. I found an Apple Snail shell, large, green and round … I see where the name comes from. I enjoyed the birds (Carolina Wren, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Cat birds and other LBJs) and loved the Lichens (Baton Rouge, Old Man’s Beard) but what really stopped me was a Spiny Orb-weaver (see photo.) As I left a Zebra Longwing Butterfly fluttered by with slow methodical wingbeats, quite eye-catching.

Before I visited the marshes I quickly went along to the boat ramp, access to some open water. A medium sized alligator was across the waterway, but most amusing was a huge alligator waiting patiently underneath the wooden dock, right below unsuspecting Fishermen; a savvy gator.

Once I started walking to walk around the marshes I immediately came upon a Limpkin, a mottled brown waterbird. A life-bird for me, this was an exciting start to a walk. Amongst other things, Limpkin feed on Apple Snails.

As I walked slowly around the park I found some quiet areas away from the other visitors. Wet dark turtle shells would surface in the weeds, snakes could be seen slipping through the water, dragonflies sunning on reeds and gators on the banks; there was life all around. Having spent the last few days in the bustle that is Florida it was good to slow down to the pace of these

One amazing treat was as I came around one of the far corners a couple of Snail Kites were hunting. Sitting on the bushes I initially wondered if they were Northern Harriers, but they didn’t have that wind dancer hunting style. Their facial features had a bit of a look of an Osprey, but were they seemed smaller, and were lighter and mottled. Despite binoculars I didn’t get a good look at a hooked beak, but the identification “felt” right to me (and so distinct from the lovely red-shoulder pair nesting nearby.) Snail Kites eat Apple Snails.

Probably the most interesting part of the whole trip was this final discovery. I’d never seen something like this in the field. Bright pink, large, and clearly eggs. Turns out they are Apple Snail eggs. What a wonderful thread to this whole day; the Apple Snail…


Apple Snail Eggs on a Stick

Aug 172013

I took the opportunity to hike to Devil’s Thumb last Thursday. (No, not the Devil’s Thumb in Boulder that everyone seems to think about, but the one at the Continental Divide above Hessie Trail near Nederland.)

First … oh my gosh, what a gorgeous trail! Open, nicely maintained, awesome variety, great scenery, wonderful wildlife and a spectacular destination. Well worth the 13+ mile round trip, and the aching afterwards.

Second … I am a fan of weasels. I’ve not had much experience with them, but each encounter has been special & I admire their tenacity as a deadly hunter. My encounters have been at altitude, mainly where the Weasel seemed to be hunting Pika.

This little guy was hunting at dawn, many miles back in the Colorado backcountry. The weasel had prey in it’s mouth and was in it’s white winter coat. It hopped across the snow and disappeared into a hole in front of me. Not a great photo, but an wonderful memory.

White weasel in the deep snow of the mountain backcountry.

Weasel in the deep snow of the backcountry.

On this hike recent I came upon a talus/scree field about halfway up the trail and saw what I imagined for a moment to be a baby weasel, it seemed so small. This is what I saw:

Again, not great photos … but I photograph more for later identification and memories with no aspiration to art. These photos don’t convey the critter bouncing around the rocks, but it is because of that incessant movement that I am grateful I even captured these. That and it was very early light.

I felt spoiled by this encounter, so am failing to mention the full pleasure of the many Pika and Yellow-bellied Marmots, the Mule Deer and the Coyote that I met on the trail, or the baby Red Foxes at the bottom. Wonderful wonderful hike.

Aug 172013

This summer in Colorado has been spectacularly rainy. That doesn’t comes without it’s downsides, but one upside are the fungi.

A week ago I took an early morning hike around the Snowshow Hare Trail in Golden Gate Canyon State Park (from Rifleman Philips to Dude’s fishing hole and back.) When I got to the moist area below the fishing hole … I started coming upon these guys.

All photos are taken by a phone, and were taken from the trail:

Note: Do NOT eat wild fungi. Some can be harmful and worse; irreparable liver damage & death. Enjoy the looking, but don’t touch.

Aug 052013

15 years or more ago I was out in the Colorado woods when I stumbled upon a Nighthawk. Normally I see these birds flying high overhead, doing us all a favor by clearing the skies of bugs. This bird was down, in amongst the trees, and was feinting a broken wing … along one log, up into on a tree branch. Quite fascinating. Moments later my attention was drawn away from the bird (and it’s impressively pathetic progress from tree to tree) by a chick at my feet. This chick was slowly walking away, hoping to go unnoticed. I’ve never forgotten that brief but enjoyable encounter.

Broken Wing Feint

Mother Nighthawk feinting a broken wing to distract from her nest / chicks.

More recently, when bat monitoring by a nearby pond down on the flatlands, I get a treat as large numbers of these birds fly overhead. Sitting quietly next to the water’s edge I not only get to enjoy the birds flying low over the water, but they casually breeze mere feet over my head. Most people I try describing this to don’t even know what a Nighthawk is, and I feel very lucky to have this uncommon experience.

So when in the woods recently and a large bird flew up from the ground I knew to stop dead. Nighthawk? Chick? I looked down, and for a while I saw nothing. Eventually my eyes came to this nest, right below me. I call it a nest, but really it’s nothing more than a scrape, a clearing in the duff.

Nighthawk Nest with Eggs

Nighthawk Nest with Eggs. Nothing more than a scrape.

I didn’t want to cause the mother stress, so I left as soon as I’d taken the photo. She was coming back around, and trying to distract me with her broken wing feint (above). I wanted her to beleive she’d succeeded, so I followed her away & left.

A week or so later I went back to the site. What a pleasure to see these two little fur-balls within a foot of the original scrape. As I’ve watched them I’ve enjoyed the striking difference in their color. I don’t know if they are different sexes, or if the color is something else.

Young Chicks

Furballs aka Nighthawk Chicks

Yet another week or few, and look what a difference! Now feathered, and looking less like fur-balls and more like small Nighthawks. See the color difference? Size difference? I think they are in the same position as the photo above.  These guys are starting to show that wide bug-swallowing mouth:

Nighthawk Chicks

Nighthawk Chicks starting to look like small Nighthawks…

Another week, and they were gone. That said, they could’ve been feet away and maybe I wouldn’t have been able to see them.

What an experience to treasure. Fascinating birds, wonderful behavior.

May 222013

Unfortunately the Boulder County Fairgrounds Osprey Camera suffered another outage, and it’s season is over. That said, it presents the opportunity for those in the surrounding area to go visit it, and share updates. Here is one…

Osprey at Cattail Pond, Longmont, Coloardo

Because in the real world these Osprey are easy to find, it was harder than expected to do so online. After finding reference to the Osprey being at Cattail Pond in some news articles, we found that on the Boulder County Fairground map. That said, when driving along Hover Road we easily spied the nesting structure and could park very close; just North/East of the Outdoor Arena.

After weeks (almost months) of watching these birds only from the perspective of the camera it was fun to see their pond, and the whole structure (including solar panels.) The first thing we learned was that while one bird is on the nest, the other is likely hanging out on the pole at the far end of the pond (see that pole/bird far right in the photo above?)

We were treated to a nest exchange and so got wonderfully close views of both the male and the female. They seem so much smaller off camera. Clearly they are incubating. I wonder how many eggs they are sitting atop now.

This is a small (and urban) setting, but was well worth a visit. Great Blue Heron, Geese (with Goslings), Huge Carp, Swallows, Red-winged Blackbirds, Robins, Butterflies and Dragonflies … and, of course, Osprey.

Male Osprey

Female Osprey

Female Osprey

May 192012

"Otterly in Love" by Jim Braswell

This weekend I will be traveling to Missouri (from Colorado) to meet with a wildlife photographer I greatly admire. Jim Braswell (aka @ShowMeNature) states goal is to “to capture the actions and behaviors of my subjects” and I am constantly thrilled by the results. I find his work draws me in, and transports me to the scene. When I was given the opportunity to meet Jim, and spend some time observing how he works, I jumped at the chance…

We’ll be photographing from kayaks; hopefully getting up close with critters without disturbing them. Hopefully we’ll see Beaver and/or Raccoon, and if we are really lucky perhaps Mink or Otter. Critters or no critters, we’ll be out in the wilds, and that is always good.

I’ve started posting a few of my photographs here, in the main so Jim can peruse them and see what pointers he’d like to give me. These aren’t my favorites, but some recent shots. I’ll try to keep posting a few to get a decent selection:

The start of a Journey?

I feel like I might be starting a journey. I’ve always loved wildlife and being in nature, but had mixed emotions about photography (for me.) If I focus on the shot, will I be missing the experience? Could I ever capture the essence of a scene in a still photograph? Jim has shown me it is possible to do amazingly, but I’m still not sure if I can, or if I’d like to try to words, or both. I feel the next few days will give me great insight on if this path, and if I could want to make it my path.

Here is a start…

Pond Skaters by Adam Jack (adam_jack) on
Pond Skaters by Adam Jack

May 022012

One of the best things I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in, for the past few years, is the Raptor Monitoring program of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP.) With conservation efforts, raptors have been recovering in Colorado, and even the re-introduced Peregrine Falcons (PEFA) are gaining in numbers. Volunteers (like me) monitor the nesting area weekly in order to determine territory occupancy, and reproduction productivity.

Peregrine Falcon Monitoring with iPad and iPhone

Field Notes with iPad and iPhone

I’ve been visiting my assigned location for a few years now, and never cease to be amazed by how much I enjoy it. I think of each trip as “another beautiful day in paradise” and it certainly is. I get to watch the change of the seasons, from late winter when the birds return to the area, to deep into summer. The changes of spring are quite thrilling to experience, and each year I feel a little more connected to this place.

I’d barely seen peregrine falcons in the wild, but now I’ve watched the peregrines select their scrape site, mate, incubate their eggs and raise their chicks to fledglings. I’ve heard and seen the awesome PEFA stoops, watched territory disputes, seems PEFA consume their prey, and become party to a wide variety of behaviors. I’ve gone from barely knowing these birds, to feeling somewhat connected. I feel honored.

I carry a pack on each of my monitoring session, and in it I have a notepad and pen in order to record notes. I’ve never cracked open that pad. For some reason I began taking notes in my iPhone, in Apple’s Notepad app, and kept on doing so. It’s taken me a few years to finally get sufficiently frustrated with typing on that keyboard, entering (and re-entering due to typos) times, and spending too much time looking at the phone and not admiring/observing the birds.

I finally wrote this application in order to make taking timestamped field notes a lot easier. I’ve used it on the past few weeks of observations, and it allows me to both record more and observe more. More time watching the PEFA is a good thing.

Feb 152012

Cloud Waves over the Flatirons in Boulder, Colorado

I took a wander down the mountain this morning. With all the snow we’ve had I’ve not been as active as normal, and I made a rookie mistake and forgot my camera (these are iPhone photos), although luckily I had my binoculars.

Elk in the trees at Sunrise, Colorado.

I went looking for mountain lion (I can dream :-) ) and once the sun started coming up I decided to check for Elk. The Elk were everywhere this morning. The deeper snows have led the Elk to find pockets of sun/slope dried grazing. (Notice Elk in the trees there? Oh for my camera, both sunrise through the fog and Elk, could’ve been a fun photograph.)

Apart from some beautiful views of Colorado, and some enjoyable Elk watching, I was treated to a Coyote and a few car-length icicles on the cliffs above. No mountain lion, but a wonderful morning.


Car sized icicles on the cliffs

Jan 072012
 Snowy Owl by Show Me Nature Photography

Snowy Owl by Show Me Nature Photography

I should be feeling for the lemmings and not just the Snowy Owls because a population decline in one, becomes a tough time for the other, and so both are suffering. The up side for humans, is an irruption of big beautiful birds “down south” in North America.

One of my goals of 2012 is to make the extra efforts to live my wildlife life. Today that meant getting up at 4:45a.m. driving over an hour to the “flatlands” (the plains) and visiting Barr Lake State Park. I do not chase birds, but word on the Colorado Birds mailing list was that this might be as much as a 40-50 year irruption. Snowy Owls have been spotted for the past few weeks, and much as I’d hate to stress and already stressed species, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to see such an amazing creature. I could keep my distance, and still get an amazing experience.

I arrived at the fields where a darker (and perhaps younger) Snowy Owl had been spotted, and I arrived in the dark. I was driving slowly down a dirt road when all of a sudden the owl materialized in front of me, big white bird in the dark, and a big wide white wing span. Oh my gosh, I had but arrived and there was the bird. I pulled over, turned off my lights/car and sat. Not pleased I had come closer than I intended, but hoping to minimize any interruption. It was pitch dark but the bird was just ahead on a short post. It didn’t seem bothered by me (now) and I was blessed with a sunrise slowly illuminating this beautiful bird. We must’ve sat there for 20 minutes or more.

The bird flew north over the field, presumably still hunting, but oh so low … even a northern harrier would be hard pressed to fly like that. I  watched the bird fly low across the field, land on a post, sit, then repeat. After a while I noticed the bird land in the middle of a field, and seemingly just hang out. (Most photos I’d seen of Snowy Owls had been atop power poles, and it was fascinating to see how low this one was happy to be. I now know to check fields and low perches for the birds.)

I moved on, hoping I’d kept my distance sufficiently (after the initial unintentional encounter) and went for a hike at Barr Lake. There I saw Bald Eagle, Belted Kingfisher, Northern Harrier and a bunch of Buteo and American Kestrels.

A morning most definitely worth losing sleep for…

Apr 182011

I do a lot of walking in the Colorado foothills, and I’ve seen a lot of chewed aspen. It still impresses me how the Elk chew this bark (the typical two teeth marks makes me think there must be a lot of buck teeth Elk out there.) How on earth do they digest that stuff? Crazily they even seem to enjoy it. In a snowy winter, I guess it is some of the better fare!

Today I came upon something new…

I entered this small aspen grove, and a number of the reasonably sized trees were downed. I didn’t figure out why, but with the winds and snows can be tough, so seemingly healthy trees were laying close to the ground. I found fresh tracks, a fresh bed, and significant signs of activity. These trees had been chewed, and chewed and chewed… from top to tail.

The Aspen Grove : downed trees

The Aspen Grove : downed trees

I’d never seen this much chew in one place. The trees must’ve been at the perfect height for a munch, and in a nice quiet, undisturbed location. The fresh tracks painted a picture of a single animal, and I imagined a solitary bull Elk spending the winter deep in these woods, finding this (perhaps literal) windfall.

Downed Aspen : chewed (a lot)

Downed Aspen : chewed (a lot)

It was a privilege to be in this place where a large animal had recently been spending it’s time. Eating, sleeping, chewing.

Nice virtual encounter…