Two years ago I enrolled as a volunteer at Boyce Thompson Arboretum near Superior; it’s an Arizona State Park and a 300-acre collection of towering trees, cactus gardens and paths -- fall foliage each November, and colorful wildflowers in March-April. All that vegetation means lots of habitat for "camera-ready" small animals - and the park boasts an impressive bird list. I’ve found it a good place for bird photography, some small mammals, and I finally got some shots at a couple of the foxes I know lived in the area.
If you go, the following is a suggestion from my go to friend at the Arboretum Paul Wolterbeek. “Get to know the groundkeepers and park staff; they're a friendly crew, welcoming to photographers, and usually quick to share insiders' tips about places and times to see and photograph animals and birds. When you pay your admission in the gift shop ($10-a-day, or $50-a-year to be a member), ask if Becky or Gonzalo are on duty that day, and if they'd have a minute to speak with you. Ask for Ricky, or Ruben or Chris Spencer -- each a knowl edgeable outdoorsman who knows the gardens and the animals which live there, knows their habits and what fruit trees they're feeding under this week!”
Paul alerted me this week about the Gray Fox, a tough species for anyone to photograph. He pointed out that the foxes have been seen daily - gobbling up the fallen fruit beneath the palm trees. They're also being seen climbing up in to the large, shrubby myrtle that overhangs the main trail just past the "pumphouse" (that's on your trail map), between the suspension bridge and the "catwalk" (that's not on your map - but any BTA staffer can point out the location. Fox are excellent climbers and will venture into trees after fruit, to raid nests for bird eggs, or just to nap on a limb. It wasn’t easy to find them but persistence and walking back and forth paid off.
I started this post saying I had signed-up as a volunteer, and here's an invite to meet me and learn why. Dec. 22 (Sunday) I'll be at BTA giving a lecture about bears, and showing a slideshow of recent photos. That's in the morning at 10am, and included with daily admission. That afternoon I'm giving a talk to the BTA Photo Club; that's not a public event, but you can attend if you're a BTA annual member and you're into photography. This is the 3rd time I've been involved with the BTA photo club - last year Lisa Langell and I offered a "tag team" presentation on wildlife photography, and then guided a walk into the gardens to demonstrate a few of the camera techniques we'd been discussing. Meet me at BTA on Dec. 22! As an added bonus, after the event at the Arboretum my family and I are heading over to one of my favorite Christmastime events in AZ, the once-a-year "festival of lights" up at the Besh Ba Gowah archaeological park in Globe, another 45-minutes drive east of BTA. The event is free, and lures photographers from across the valley. Read more & check out photos:
The number of high quality images both my clients and myself took in the first week of August 2013 continues to stun me, in a good way. Every time I open Lightroom to go over the images I keep finding another keeper that I need to process. Spending 2 full days at my favorite creek (I will share it with you when you book a trip) was the ticket for success on action shots. Here I just wanted to post a small slideshow of charging/diving bears. I estimate I have over 40 publishable images in excellent focus with great action. One of the benefits of this creek is we line up on one bank, and the bears are right across from us on the other. Luckily the fish are in between allowing us to get great shots, often coming right at us, as the bears dive for fish. It also allows for great "broadside" action if the bears are up or down river from us. Next year I'm bringing some tilers knee pads as I found the best POV was when I was kneeling in the water; good thing the lodge provides chest waders. This is just a few and hope you enjoy.
Well, both my clients and I had some wonderful bear shooting in Katmai National Park from August 1 through August 4 this year. We visited 3 different locations, Little Koo, Margot Creek, and we went to Morraine Creek twice. All had bears, the most activity was at Morraine but Margot has beautiful backgrounds to enhance your images. The weather was typical SW Alaska weather, highs in the upper 50’s low 60’s with some wind and rain. Cloudy every day; some day I will photograph bears in the sun in SW AK but not in the last 3 years. We did not visit Brooks this year as I planned the trip for later. By August 1 there were only a couple bears left which is what I expected. Brooks is still a fantastic place to go but timing is everything when it comes to fish running and the bears that follow. Both Rex and Ginna Short, and Clay and Carla Smith were happy enough with their images they were willing to share them with me for this site. So my first post will just include a couple of my images but many more of theirs. I attend workshops and training myself, and I thought you might be even more interested in what the attendees took than I so have a look at these wonderful shots from the brown bear capital of the world, Katmai National Park. All of the photos in the slide show below are from my guests. I'll be posting more of mine later and on my facebook page.
In mid March I decided to try to photograph birds during one of our snow storms in the high country. I was able to get permission to photograph at a private residence outside of Prescott where the owner vigorously fed birds and lived on the the USFS boundary. By setting up my blind, more for protection of my equipment as it was snowing hard I was able to get a few hard to photograph species with different backgrounds than the norm. I was happy with some of my bridled titmouse, dark-eyed junco, ruby crowned kinglet, hairy woodpecker, spotted towhee, and western scrub jay photos. I was really hoping for a nice stellar's jay but the snow was so wet that the crests of all the jays I photographed were droopy. Just gives me an excuse to go back next year in the same conditions.
If you are fond of photographing birds I strongly recommend you find ways of photographing them such that they come to you. My first 2 years of bird photography were "chasing" birds in some popular bird photography areas like Gilbert Riparian and the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden. Both are good spots and I return to the areas a different times of the year. However, I found that the number of species you could photograph well at either area was limited. If I wanted more perching birds I would have to find new areas.
I now concentrate at feeding areas such as this private residence, my favorite is a place discussed before, Elephant Head Pond, and you can go there by contacting owner Bill Forbes at Phototrap.com. I also use bird calls frequently and find this method very successful. I will be discussing some of my method for calling species in future blogs. Although I love the calling, it's hard to get near the species you will at a popular feeding area though.
I went for a scouting trip to Bosque del Apache in December for just a couple days but was very happy with the images I took in such a short time. It was crowded as the week before Christmas is a popular time for many of the tours but my fellow photographer and long time friend Bruce Taubert had an excellent time. Birds are back at the major roosting pond for the evenings and the magnificent fly outs, not in huge numbers as they are roosting in other ponds as well, but it still made for a nice fly out. The sunrises were spectacular as you can see below. The colors there never cease to amaze me and I slightly desaturated the images below as the red was overwhelming. There were approximately 65,000 geese there, 7,000 sandhills, and over 40,000 ducks of various species. As usual the northern pintails were the most numerous. The fly in to the major roosting pond by the sandhills was different than I have ever seen it before and it provided some great opportunities for flying birds. They were coming in from the east so you could set up on the west shore and get some excellent shots with the front of the cranes completely illuminated by the softer late afternoon light. I was dissapointed I only had one afternoon to shoot them in this light, but I still have many photos to process so I should not complain. Bruce and I headed to Albuquerque where he met his tour group and we all went to the zoo to shoot wood ducks, many to choose from at quite close distances as usual. The next morning I skipped the zoo in search of an area I might be able to photograph flying wood ducks and was lucky enough to find a few. Shooting flying birds is always tough and these little guys average around 45 miles per hour. I was able to get a few landing that I'm happy with but just didn't have the time to get a side view. I had to get back to work and make a Christmas shopping stop in Gallup which both my wife and son appreciated less than a week later.
In this new year I have many exciting photo trips lined up including south Florida, High Island in Texas, a few more trips to Bosque, my annual brown bear shoots in AK, back to Colorado for leaf color changes and elk again, and the pinnacle, 6 weeks in South Africa as I design a study abroad class on Wildlife Biology for ASU. I'll also have several local trips lined up. This late winter, early spring I hope to center on waterfowl, smaller predators through calling, and the desert breeding birds as the season is just around the corner. Happy New Year and Happy shooting to you all. I hope you feel as blessed as I do!
Here is the press release from the Boyce Thompson Arboretum:
Marvels of Migration Photography-Lecture By Stan Cunningham Dec. 9 Last winter Arizona birders and photographers were surprised when a wayward Common Goldeneye spent a few days at Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park, near the scenic copper-mining town of Superior, about 45-minutes drive due East of Mesa. Would you believe that of the 850 bird species in North America, more than 300 leave the continent and spend the winter in Central and South America and the Caribbean? In preparation, some transform themselves into “super birds”: gorging until they accumulate fat reserves that almost double their body weight in order to have the energy for transcontinental flight? Others take an opposite approach - flying just a few hours each day. And how do they find their way? An internal magnetic compass, eyes that can see polarized light or even magnetic directions, memorized celestial maps along with many other methods have all have been hypothesized and some convincing data collected. Research biologist and ASU Polytechnic Wildlife Professor Stan Cunningham will share these and more insights into avian migration during a lecture Dec. 9 at Boyce Thompson Arboretum accompanied by his impressive photography of birds on the wing. The presentation begins at 1:30 p.m. in the lecture room of the Smith Building and is open to the public, included with Arboretum daily admission of $9, and no pre-registration required. For the past three decades Cunningham has lived an adventurous life you'd expect to see depicted on film: crawling into black bear dens during wintertime as a wildlife biologist for the Arizona Game & Fish Department and spening a month each summer in Alaska as a professional photographer, shooting vivid pictures of Brown bears for magazines, tourist lodges and leading Alaskan photo safaris and ecotourism trips. A professor of wildlife biology at Arizona State University Polytechnic since 2006, Cunningham is known for his decades of research about bears, mountain lions, and the ecological effects of wildfire. On Sunday, Dec. 9, he will share some of the secrets scientists have learned on migration and navigation along with some of his most breathtaking avian photography.
I also will be talking about photographing migrating birds. I hope to see you there.
At an average of 4000 calories per fish stored, this is when the coastal brown bears really put on the weight, eating from 10 to 50 fish/day
When do the bears begin to eat the salmon?
The answer to this is easy, but not exact. It's as soon as they can! Bears seem to have an uncanny knack for knowing when the salmon begin to run and will show up within a few days, often congregating at shallow spots along the creek where it is easier for them to catch the fish. Depending on the geographic location in either Katmai or Lake Clark National Parks, salmon may be available as early as late June or as late as August-September in other areas.
How many salmon does a bear eat a day? Do they eat the whole
The short answer to both questions is it depends. How many salmon they eat depends how many they can catch, and how large of a bear they are. If the salmon are numerous and each bear can catch the number of salmon they want, they will catch somewhere between 10 and 20 a day, but large males have been seen catching and eating as many as 50.
Each salmon is roughly worth 4,000 calories in entirety, and 20,000 calories ingested a day is common. In the height of a salmon run, bears are estimated to gain from 2 to 4.5 lbs in fat a day. That’s very important for that winter hibernation period. If the salmon numbers are high, and the bear is skilled at catching fish (something they get better at with age), bears are known to switch to just eating the fatty parts of the fish. Fat has twice the calories of protein, so it's possible to see a bear just eat the brains, the skin, and the eggs if it's a female salmon. They may lay that carcass down and then go get another. Although you may consider that wasteful, nature won't allow it and the red mass of protein will be utilized later by less skilled bears, cubs, or even other species such as bald eagles, gulls, magpies, or even other fish like the dolly varden that follow the salmon.
This large bear is skinning the just caught salmon. When the fish are really running in large numbers some good fishing bears may only eat the skin, roe (eggs), and brains. The rest does not go to waste however, and the waste is quickly devoured by less skilled fishing bears and/or eagles and trout waiting near by.
I've posted over 70 new images I took on the Katmai 2012 trip. You can view them just under the description for the 2013 Katmai trips to see what kind of opportunities await. Or you can click here to see them on Flicker but note I keep the size of images small due to photo theft so if you enlarge them too much they won't maintain their quality. Drives me crazy but I've had one photo stolen and don't want it to happen again.
The Katmai workshop was a complete success. With 2 days at Brooks and 2 days at different fly out locations we all have more images to edit than time allows. I've gone from 2,600 to 600 to 200 images and still going. I'm sure I'll have at least 100 high quality publishable images from this trip. Brad and Phillip at Katmai Adventures were great hosts and we had no problems flying out every day, with each participant getting to sit in the copilot seat a couple times. The bears were fantastic, with at least 10 different individuals seen each day. The max I counted was 20. Brad asked me to try and bring 2 groups back next year so those dates will be posted soon. I want to thank each of the participants; Dixie, Denny, Kathleen, and Rebecca for being "troopers" and excellent photo companions.
Please check back as I have many more photos from this trip and other photo trips to post from this summer.
Tough to be entirely sure, but this is probably the Big Brown Bat.
I spent another evening shooting bats with Bill Forbes at his Elephant Head Pond along with a couple of the upcoming bear trip participants Dixie Pearson and Kathleen Reeder. In just one full night I was able to photograph 79 bats drinking. Of course some were going the wrong way. After editing I chose 9 keepers that I was happy with. This is the 4th time I've photographed over Bill's pond and these were the best set I got. I used 2 cameras, the 5 D Mark II with the 500 F4 and the 7D with the 70 - 200 2.8. Almost all of my favorite shots were with the 5 D and larger lens combo. You end up clipping more wings that way but I like the close ups better so it's a fair trade in my opinion. Almost all of the set up is done just before dark. Although I own a phototrap that Bill makes (Phototrap.com) Bill sets up his own equipment which involves multiple trips and 4 to 5 flashes. When the beam is broken it sets of the flashes, The camera is set for F16 and 20 sec exposures so the flash is the trigger, not the camera. The camera just records the image when light is available. You have the choice of triggering the camera yourself when you see a bat, or just leave it consecutively taking pictures as long as you are there. I chose the latter this time which allowed me to take pictures all night long. I left the cameras in Med Raw, and twice I changed the batteries and recharged them in the evening and once changed a cf card. This was easy since I just camped there but Bill has a nice cabin set up for visiting photographers at a very reasonable rate ($60 night). We ended up photographing at least 3 species that June evening, a pallid bat (Antrozous pallidus) which is the blond one above, a big brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus) that is skimming the water and at least one of the many Myotis spp found in Arizona. If you are interested in shooting on the pond please feel free to contact me and we can set up an evening. Or you can contact Bill directly and he can set you up as well.
The endangered long nosed bat approaches an agave flower to insert it's long tongue into the flower to lap up the nectar. They will feed almost all night.
My favorite time to shoot bats there is when the nectiverous bats come in to the hummingbird feeders and agave flowers in late August and September. It's possible to get hundreds of shots in an evening using the phototrap system.
This shot and the one below were taken with a 5 D Mark II and a 17 - 40 mm lens so I had the camera just inches from the flower to get as much detail as possible. There were 5 flashes set up here to make sure I got detail on the bats what ever direction they came from. The species of bat is actually an endangered species known as the Mexican Long Nosed bat (Leptonycterus nivalis). There is another nectar drinking bat, the Mexican long Tongued bat (Choeronycteis mexicana) and with a photo they can be distinguished from each other when they are flying. If you look on the photo below you will note that the membrane on the legs of the one of the species looks like "pants" as it is not continuous as is the other. That is the Mexican Long Nosed, the one with the complete skirt is the Long Tongued bat. Both are migratory species and in the few months they spend in Arizona they change locations to follow the large night flowering plants with whom they have a symbiotic relationship. They are known pollinators of many species including saguaros and Organ Pipe cactus. In Mexico they concentrate on agave and yucca flowers, both of which are used to make spirits such as tequila and mescal. It was originally thought that private tequila "stills" were resulting in reduced food sources but more recent studies dispute this. In fact, some of the large factory tequila mescal farms may actually be benefiting either or both species.
"chomping on some pollen"
They also eat pollen and of course when they go in for nectar their faces are covered with pollen from the flower they just left. This spreads and helps sexually reproducing plants pollinate, hence both species benefit from the relationship. It is quite exciting to see up to 40 bats hovering around one flower stalk. If you are interested I highly encourage you to contact myself of Bill so you can experience and photograph a phenomena in nature few even know about much less see.