Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Sage grouse

Early, every spring, sage grouse begin their mating dance that is played out on the prairie floor with great energy and persistence. In mid march and early April the male grouse begin gathering at breeding grounds called leks.

Many leks have been in use for longer than records have been kept. The males return year after year to continue the dance and attract females for breeding. They arrive in the middle of the night and reserve a favorite spot to display. Just before dawn, the females fly in from the surrounding sage and the party begins. Females stroll by, seemingly ignoring the strutting males. Then for some reason undetectable to this observer she will select a male and mate.

It is a process that has gone on for hundreds of years in the same place. Recently efforts have been undertaken to catalog and study these leks in an effort to sustain this species and better understand them.

In order to photograph these fascinating birds you first have to locate a suitable lek. Then be prepared to arrive well before daylight, set up your blind, and stay until the birds leave, well after sunrise.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


A pika is a small, furry creature that lives in rocky slopes at high altitudes in the mountains of the western U.S and Canada. They are actually the smallest member of the Rabbit family and look a little like a cross between a rabbit and a mouse.

Pika thrive in one of the most inhospitable habitats to be found anywhere. They endure sub-alpine winters where the snow depth can be in excess of 30 feet and the temperature regularly reaches -30 F. in the winter. This is particularly interesting since, as rabbits, they do not hibernate.

Pika have adapted a very interesting lifestyle in order to deal with the harshness of their environment. They develop family communes in the rocks and work together to fill their needs. During the short alpine summer, they scurry about gathering grasses and sedges that surround the rocks and pile them up in stone pockets that are found under the surface of the talus slope. When the snow flies and the wind blows in the winter, the pika in the colony retreat to the depths of the rock pile and eat the fruits of their labors all winter long. The temperature under the surface stays warmer as they are insulated by the snow cover and in this way they are able to survive the cold.

Pika can be found on almost any mountain top over 9,000 feet. Locate them by walking through the rocks and listening for the "chee chee" sound that they emit when they are alarmed. To photograph them just find a comfortable place to sit and soon you will see them scurrying about gathering their years supply.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Mule deer

We are just coming into the best time of year to photograph wild Mule deer. The month of November is the mating season for muleys and the bucks are at their prime.

Referred to as the RUT, the mating season lasts for about 4 weeks and the competition is high for the does. Mature bucks will gather harems of females and defend them against all other bucks that may try to steal one or two. This is one of the few times that bucks and does spend any time together.

Two of my favorite places to photograph mule deer are almost in my back yard. Zion National Park receives little visitation from humans in November but I'll be there with my telephoto lens. Look for deer up Zion canyon near the Zion Lodge. Some nice bucks move into the park for the winter and they are quite approachable.

The other location is called the Paunsugunt and is located to the South and East of Kanab, Utah. This is a limited entry, trophy deer hunting unit and can be quite spectacular in November.

California Condor

The California Condor is one of the rarest birds in the world. There are less than 325 of them flying in the wild. The last remaining wild birds were taken from the mountains of South Central California and put into a captive breeding program in 1983. They were later reintroduced in California, Baja and Northern Arizona. More than 60 of these magnificent birds frequent the Kolob reservoir area in Southern Utah near Zion National Park. There is no better place to see and photograph them. The largest flying birds in North America, condors have a wingspan that approaches 10 feet. They can sail for hours on thermals and frequently travel for miles without stopping. They feed exclusively on carrion and locate food by using their keen eyesight and believe it or not, by following turkey vultures and ravens.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


I love to photograph moving water. Two of my favorite places to do this are the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon and Glacier National Park in Northern Montana. I love the color and pristine look of the streams.

I really like the look that can be achieved when you slow the shutter to less that 1/4 second and let the water move through the frame while the shutter is open. I also love to photograph when there is a little fog or mist in the air.