National Nature Photography Day

Today is National Nature Photography Day! In honor of nature photography, I decided to go through my catalogue, and pull out a few of my best photos that I never had occasion to share with you before. Enjoy!

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My brother enjoys nature photography as well. But he loves taking photographs of big trees. So when I saw him looking up at the big trees while framed by a maple on a path in the Hoh Valley of Olympic National Park, I knew it was perfect for him. I call this one “Wonderland”.

Mating Coopers Hawks

I saw these Coopers hawks building a nest when I was out walking my dogs one morning in 2009. I came back as soon as I could with my camera. What so unusual is that the female is actually a juvenile. When she is an adult, her plumage will be the same as the male’s. So that actually makes the picture a little weird…

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I like to take photos of flowers looking straight down into the flower to capture their structure and symmetry. This Mariposa lily turned out really well.

In 2014, the Denver Botanic Gardens hosted an exhibit of Chihuly glass sculptures. https://www.botanicgardens.org/exhibits/chihuly I was really impressed by it, so when I went out into my garden later that summer and saw the head of this purple coneflower glowing in the evening light, I knew I had to try to capture it.

2011 was a warm summer that didn’t cool down until September. Then, we had a cold front come through that dropped a lot of rain, and at the higher altitudes, snow. Suddenly the garden was full of hummingbirds who had been lulled by the mild weather into thinking they might not have to migrate that year. Nope. They still gotta go south. But we were delighted to have them stop by for a drink.

A Flicker and Two Hawks

My husband and I walk the dogs every morning, three quarters of a mile up the hill, then loop around and come back. It’s kept the covid pounds off, mostly.

It also provides the occasional benefit of letting us seeing some wildlife.

As we started up the hill earlier this week, I saw a funny knob on a tree just a few feet back from the sidewalk. I focused on it and realized it was a female red-shafted flicker, sticking her head out of a hole she’d pecked into a chokecherry tree.

The tree is just a few feet back from the sidewalk, and the hole is right at eye level. We are worried that there will be too much traffic for her to feel comfortable enough to raise a family. But there isn’t much we can do about her choice of nest sites except swing wide as we pass it.

As we worked our way around the neighborhood, we heard the loud, almost honking cry of a Cooper’s hawk. Contrary to what we’ve been trained by movies to expect, the only hawks that make the classic screaming sound are Red-taileds and Swainson’s. But we recognized the honking call because there have been Coopers nesting in this area for over a decade, (Coopers Hawk Misses Dinner) although I doubt the actual birds are the same. Regardless, we spotted the bird as he flew to his mate sitting on the nest.

Female Cooper’s hawk sitting on her nest.

At least we won’t have to work very hard to avoid her nest. But we will keep an eye on it, too, and see if any chicks hatch.

Speaking of screaming hawks, later that same day, I heard a hawk screaming as it landed in a neighbor’s yard. I grabbed my trusty camera and tripod and got a couple of shots.

By the time I got in position, this Swainson’s hawk was still preening and fluffing its feathers. Something really upset it. I suspect it got too close to a crows nest someplace, and they mobbed it.

Swainson’s are the same size as Red-taileds, and look somewhat similar. But they have longer wings; if you look closely, you can see that its wings extend beyond its tail as it sits on the branch. This bird is what is called a “pale morph.” You can’t see it here but its wings are white underneath, and it has a white chest. You can just make out some banding on its tail, but it is fairly light, too. But it does have the signature “chocolate bib” that all Swainson’s have.

I don’t know if it is nesting nearby. We had a Swainson’s come through the neighborhood last year too. (Hawk Conflict) I don’t think it was the same bird, but it might have been. It was as pale as this one. We’ll keep an eye out for it, anyway, and see if we can find out if it is nesting nearby.

Raptor Migration in Full Swing

Migrating turkey vulture

Migrating turkey vulture

The annual Raptor (aka Birds of Prey — eagles, hawks, falcons, owls and vultures) migration is in full swing. The birds of prey are migrating north to their summer nesting grounds. The raptors fly up the hog back for several reasons. First, it is an easy marker for them to follow —  a constant ribbon of rock from New Mexico into Wyoming. Second, the sun warms the rocks and provides up drafts. These up drafts give a little extra lift that the heavy birds of prey use to gain altitude. With the gift of lift, the raptors can soar for more miles every day.

Scientists take advantage of the concentration of raptors. There is a monitoring station perched on top of the Dakota Hogback at Raptor Ridge, just on the east side of Co Hwy 93, just south of the I-70/ Co Hwy 93 interchange. There is a parking lot at the base of the hog back, across from Mathews-Winters Open Space. http://jeffco.us/open-space/parks/matthews-winters-park/

Migrating Cooper's Hawk

Migrating Cooper’s Hawk

Migrating red-tailed hawk

Migrating red-tailed hawk

Scientists from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science initially manned the observation station, but budget cuts took their toll, and the job was passed on to Hawk Watch volunteers from the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory. http://rmbo.org/v2/web/getInvolved/hawkWatch.aspx These hardy folks volunteer to count the raptors as they fly overhead. Not a bad gig when it is nice out, but in wind or cold, it takes true dedication.

But their work pays off, and you can see it in their reports. Since they started watching at the beginning of April, almost 400 birds of prey have been spotted cruising over the hogback. https://groups.google.com/forum/?fromgroups#!topic/cobirds/N7YwWW90D3k

Hawk Watch will continue counting raptors  through May. Go up and see them and spot some hawks flying by.

 

Thanksgiving Dinner

There are two animals in this picture. Can you find them? The first is relatively obvious. The second may take some searching.Image

There are two creatures in this tree. Can you find them both?

I took this photo on Thanksgiving Day. I noticed the hawk in the tree as we were getting our own dinner ready. I took several shots of it before I noticed its prey plastered to the branch beneath it, the stillest thing in the tree. We usually think of birds as dinner on Thanksgiving, but this guy had other ideas.

After a while, my husband got tired of waiting for me, and I got tired of waiting for the hawk to see the squirrel. About the same time, the hawk got tired of waiting for the squirrel and flew off. The squirrel never got tired of being absolutely still, and I’m sure was truly thankful to survive for another day.

Some loose, some win.

This is the time of year when the sun gets low in the horizon. The change in light must make our windows appear clear to birds visiting our feeders. One of the visitors has learned to take advantage of this problem.

We have all sorts of birds come to our feeders — house sparrows, finches, chickadees,

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Juvenile Coopers hawk builds up the nerve to go down to the Mourning dove that has been killed by flying into our windows.

nuthatches, woodpeckers —  the list goes on. One of the largest visitors is the mourning dove.

Recently we have lost birds to flying into the windows. This only began over the last few years. We put up stickers, but still they would burst skyward and smack into our windows. We finally discovered why.

Local Cooper’s hawks have learned to startle the birds at the feeders, causing them to panic and fly into spaces they’d never attempt normally — spaces filled with glass. The birds smack into the windows and are killed by breaking their necks or skulls.

Juvenile Cooper's moves closer to kill.

Juvenile Cooper’s moves closer to kill.

 

The Cooper’s hawks then pick up the bird, sometimes as large as they are, and fly away to enjoy their kills.

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Juvenile Cooper’s hawk flies away with mourning dove. The hawk barely cleared the fence with its heavy load. But it took an extra turn along the back fence and made it over.