The Gangs All Here – Now What?

Rocky Mtn Bighorn Sheep rams captured by Z 6II / 180-400VR

“You go ask her, no, you walk over there and ask. Heck no, you go first!” You know that awkward time at the beginning of a high school dance, that’s what was going through my head as I watched these eleven Rocky Mountain Bighorns gather and munch. We had a total of fifteen curls but the ranch manager told us he’d seen eighteen the earlier in the week. The Ram Band had come down to meet up with the ewe band for that “birds & the bees” thing they do this time of year. We had spent a few hours with the sheep at this point (47 in all) and the light had gotten pretty hard but I sooo love being with sheep, I wasn’t going anywhere. Then the rams spread out in a line as you see. I wanted that picture, but how to tell the story?

Shooting with the 180-400VR, I could get this grouping or that grouping of rams, but that wouldn’t show them all! That’s when the idea of a pano came to mind. ACR (Adobe Camera Raw) makes it so darn simple as long as you give it plenty of info. I did what I recommend you don’t do, made awkward crops. The pano is a three image pano so you can see how I cropped right through somebodies but ACR had no issue putting them back together again. I worked really fast as they were moving so I had some doubts but it turned out pretty cool. Sharon really likes it so it might even end up on The Ranch wall. It sums up beautifully though a great week with these amazing critters!

Hello Mrs. P!

female Pileated Woodpecker captured by Z 6II / 180-400VR

It all started when we moved to The Ranch and I started investigating what were the local birds that we could attract might be. I found that across the valley (we’re in the Sapphires and the Bitterroots are on the westside) are Pileated Woodpeckers. Well, I wanted to have them in our yard so I put up some invites. It started with the woodpecker feeder and then the Pileated feeder. And if darn if they didn’t show up. We saw and photographed plenty of males, but we never saw a female. We even had two fledging males come on by. We thought once we saw her lurking in the back trees once, but never really sure. You can tell the male from the female at a distance by the male’s distinctive red mustache (I’m jealous, mine us to be red). Then on one of my trips, Sharon was entertained by one that was at The Ranch every day.
I got back and saw it and other than enjoying its presence and watching it, never really paid close attention to details. Last week I had the time so I grabbed the Z 6II / 180-400VR and spend some time with it. That’s when I realized he, was a she! Her pattern doesn’t vary much, eats at both feeders, heads down to Vs.4 water features, and then calls. It would seem the calling has to do with her letting other Pileateds know it’s her territory. She’s great company every day, Maggie or our chores don’t phase her so she’s a great addition. Now I’m on the hunt for the perfect nesting tree I can plant to encourage a more permanent occupation. So, say Hello Mrs. P!

No Bull

Alaskan Bull Moose captured by Z 6II / 180-400VR

The air started to bite with the drop in temps as the snow started to fall later yesterday afternoon. It’s a gorgeous, quiet time of year in Alaska with the changing of the guard from fall to winter. We’d spent the week in the Chugach Mountains, some days putting in seven miles going up and down the valley in search of our quarry that in previous years was chuck full. Something I’ve been doing for decades, this slam dunk subject has never been a challenge for me to find and photograph. With literally 50k plus images in my files from this one locale, its productivity keeps me coming back over and over again. This year, it’s all different and in the back of my mind, I’m very concerned.

There are some critters I know pretty well, Grizzly Bears, Sandhill Cranes, San Joaquin Kit Fox, and Moose. I’ve put decades of field time with these critters and those who have made it their life mission to understand them. This knowledge has numerous photographic benefits, one of them being in the right place at the right time. This year, it didn’t help out that much. After days of looking in locales where there should be herds of Moose only to find one, literally just one, and hearing from folks how they never gathered this year like in the past, I went to what Sharon calls Plan B. After a little time wandering, I finally found what we call in my family affectionately, my Northern Cousins.

The small band of a dozen Moose was held up in a small corner of Kincaid Park with this bull being the first and rightfully, the last one we spent time with. This is a dozen miles and at sea level from their mountain haunts. I’m saying bull but you’re seeing no giant rack so might be thinking it’s a cow. That’s because this big bull, and I mean big, has already shed its antlers which this time of year, is really abnormal! A sample of one, alone this doesn’t mean much. But we found other bulls missing one or both of their antlers. This along with their total absence in the valley high in the mountains where they should normally be doing that birds and the bees thing just feels really wrong as in, there is something wrong in their world. And when this is combined with the rest of the anecdotal evidence from the past two years going to old haunts to find critters missing or totally gone that for decades have been a treasure trove of photographs truly has me concerned for the natural world I so love. What have we done to our wild heritage? It keeps me awake at night, no bull!

They Start Young

6 Month Old Rocky Mtn Bighorn captured by Z 6II / 180-400VR

They are simply the cutest thing, Rocky Mtn Bighorn lamps. Though about six months old, this youngster was high up on a ridge above us along with the ewe band it probably grew up with. After a school bus pushed them back up the slope, they came back down to us as we had played “the game” perfectly. They accepted us as just being stupid photographers and came back down to feed. Some crashed right down the slope to the road, others meandered down at their pleasure. What a great afternoon with a piece of our wild heritage!

The Chill is In the Air

Alaskan Bull Moose captured by D5 / 180-400VR

The deer and elk around the ranch have all shed their velvet and the bucks and bulls are busy cruising for females. With the chill in the air and plants tucked in for winter, big game feels the pressure to procreate and get back to putting on fat while they can. This offers up great photographic opportunities for those getting out where the big game roam.
There are some considerations you must contemplate before you even make a photograph. Most importantly is the welfare of our subjects, they come before the photograph. Calories are precious and we cannot do anything that might cause big game to expel more calories because of our actions. This can is easily accomplished by using a long lens and not pushing the critters with our approach. Ideally, you never approach the critter but rather, let them approach on their own terms. You’ll not only protect their well being doing this, but you’ll also come back with better images.
When it comes to the rut, doing a little research on your target mammal is important. Moose gather up harems and spend time protecting them. Pronghorn do the same thing where Mule & White-tailed Deer don’t. You don’t want to get in the way of these activities yet take advantage of them. Watch the behavior before you make a move, understand the rhythm to protect the process while getting better photographs. You can do it, have a great time and come back with memorable photographs when the chill is in the air.

The Ageless Cycle Continues

Snow Geese capture by D3x / 600f4AFS

With fall comes change signaled by many things and celebrated by critters. Their preparation for winter takes many shapes, forms, and actions, and none like migration. Snow Geese nest in the far north and come south in wave after wave spending the winter in our warmer south. They take many paths heading south laying over in many regions through North America. They are more than likely in your own backyard!

There are many ways you can celebrate this, with every lens and time of day the perfect option for your visual storytelling. For this morning one December, I choose predawn color reflected off the pool to celebrate the well-earned rest of the flock. Is there a “trick” here, yes! Get out and experience, that’s it, that’s the trick to be part of as the agless cycle continues.

error: Content is protected !!