The World Can Be Tough!

Kodiak Brown Bears captured by Z 8 / Z600f4 w/Z1.4x

The drama unfolding on the bluff a half mile away was unknowns to us at first. We were with a couple of Kodiak Browns on the flats in front of us, 180 degrees from the bluff. Eagle Eye Chris, one of the best guides, period, spotted the mom and three cubs on the bluff and the giant 1200lbs male above them and made us aware of the drama unfolding. You look very closely, you can see the three, two year old cubs clinging on for dear life below the edge of the cliff in the brambles. Between them and the big male is mom, a great mom doing what they have done since the beginning of time, defend their young.

The males try to kill the young for one reason, the birds and the bees! Mom goes into estrus right after they loose their cubs and the males know that. It’s really that simple! In the video above you will see mom charge up that slope, and it’s quite a steep face, and challenge the male three times. You’ll see her smack that giant three times in the head, full force. And you’ll see the male shake it off as if to say, “That’s the best you’ve got?” Then the male will go off and scratch its back and finally wonder off. In the end, the cubs come up and curl up with mom and finally nurse. All of this transpired over about a half an hour, at least what we witnessed.

On the photographic side, I was shooting with the Z 8 / Z600f4 w/Z1.4x when I first swung 180 degrees to see the drama. The action was unfolding fast and while I would have loved to shoot it all as a video, I didn’t have the time to make the changes in the begining so I went to DX crop shooting at an effective focal length of 1762mm and as the action unfolded, I simply depressed the shutter release and never let up until the moment had passed. I then brought the 318 frames into Premiere via PhotoMechanic. PhotoMechanic converted the Nefs to Jpegs and Premiere turned the Jpegs into a video.

I have been incredibly fortunate in my lifetime to witness much of the big bears biology but this was the first “long defense” of young I’ve seen and been able to photograph. It’s something I will never forget and a constant reminder to me that the world can be tough!

To The Moon – A Small Step …

Broad-billed Hummingbird captured by Z 9 / Z400f4/5 w/Z1.4x w/2x Profoto A10

South of Tucson and just north of the border is a small piece of heaven, Madera Canyon. In the heart of the canyon is Santa Rita Lodge. Sharon & I first visited the lodge in 1980. We had driven all night and fell into our room late, real late! It seemed we’d just hit the pillows when there was the faintest of light out the window. Then the buzz started and as the light levels increased, so did the buzz. I just wanted to sleep and all I could think was we had a beehive outside our window with the loudness. I got up to close the window to find a ONE gallon hummingbird feeder surrounded by what seemed all the hummers on the planet. I was hooked! We’ve been going back ever since!

That sound is why I photograph the hummingbirds the way I do, so the wings are blurred. It’s why folks call them hummers. Up until this year, getting that shot required nearly all my attention. But technology has broken through so now I can concentrate more on the story then the settings. With the rig mentioned above, I watch and work at capturing the charisma that is wrapped up in all those jewels. In this case, it is the hummers ever present desire to chase the next hummer. They are constantly looking up to either chase or be chased. To me, they appear to be on launching pad just blasting off. I made strides in moving my hummer photography forward this year, I’m very excited. I’m more excited to keep working on it the rest of this summer at The Ranch as I have a whole bunch of hummer shooting planned for next summer. A “how I do it’ video will be posted soon, but it’s off to the moon, a small step.

It’s Only Two Months Old!

immature Rivoli’s Hummingbird captured by Z 8 / Z400f4.5 w/Z1.4x & 2 Profoto A10

Our biggest hummer, the Rivoli’s is perhaps our most striking. This young one is still growing out its adult plumage but it gives you a hint of the glory that’s coming. It’s just stunning.

These photos were taken with a simple rig as the hummer freely come and go to the feeder. The dual flash is reflected off all that color which is why we can see it. And while technology has made it so much easier, it still takes time to get the frame. Them suckers are fast! And it’s only two months old!

immature Rivoli’s Hummingbird captured by Z 8 / Z400f4.5 w/Z1.4x & 2 Profoto A10


Kodiak Brown Bear & 2yr old cub captured by Z 8 / Z600f4 @840mm

Life is one continuing lesson and for Kodiak Brown Bears, those lessons are really concentrated in the first 3-4 years. Mom spends as much time sharing the right thing to do as much as the wrong thing. The process has always fascinated me as the lessons can be literally, life or death or as simple as, don’t eat or play with that. Mom is at one time the most affectionate, playful parent you can ever imagine. And the next moment, incredibly harsh! She concentrates into those brief years where to find food in May, June, July etc, the different plants, fish and the like. Shares with them what’s fun to play with and what will kill them and to be afraid of. The whole time, she is their great protector those first years, as fierce a protector as they will ever find. Then in their late third or fourth year summer after learning all there is to learn about their home, mom rudely and at times nastily tells them to go away and to go make their own home somewhere else! It’s a circle of life and it fascinates me. I’m ever so grateful they permit me to peak in and witness it all, allowing my camera to capture some of the moments.

If you’re interested on feet on the ground, lens time with Kodiak Browns, we have one opening in our sixth trip to Kodiak in May, 2024. If you want to see if you are made of the right stuff, give Sharon a call 406 .240 .3503 to see if you’re a fit!

Better With Age

Northern Gannet, 3yr old captured by Z 8 / Z400f4.5 w/Z1.4x

Like species such as the Bald Eagle, Northern Gannets don’t have their adult plumage until year four and later. They pair for life and start nesting after age four. Their plumage is variable until then (see below). Avian flu went through the Cape Mary Bird Ecological Reserve in 2022 like wildfire killing 20-40% of the 40,000 Gannets. “The Beach was covered with carcasses” the biologist told me. With the mortality rate, this year a number of “younger” birds paired up and were stepping up with the older birds now missing would have been breeder. How this will turn out only time will tell.

Above is the one individual I really loved to photograph, who I called “Piano Keys” because of the pattern on its wings. It’s a three to four year old. Almost is pure white. Below you will see the various age classes with two year old on far left, three year old, 3-4 year old and 4-20 year old on far right. Once they leave the nest, they “crash” land into the ocean where their flight instruction begins. They survival after that is pretty certain, unless of natural disaster strikes. But like all, experience counts for a lot of that longevity, you could simply say, better with age.


So Well Worth the 40 Years!

Razorbill captured by Z 8 / Z400f4.5 w/Z1.4x

Perched on the point looking straight down the four hundred foot cliff, peering through the fog at the Atlantic below, I was incredibly excited! When I started out decades ago pursuing my passion for birds, I studied Peterson’s Guide to North American Birds every night. Every night! There was one bird that stood out as just cool, one I wanted to see but never thought I would, the Razorbill. A pelagic bird that only comes to shore to breed, it was nowhere I could ever imagine being. On this morning, I was told there was one pair present in the fog. One pair amongst literally 40,000 birds on the rocky cliffs. What were the odds of seeing it? What were the odds of getting glass on it? No matter, all the other birds took a background in my stare.

Then, literally within minutes there was the pair! Two Razorbills on a ledge, their nest platform (they use rock for a nest). Over the next five days we came to find there are approximately 1600 Razorbills nesting at Cape Mary Bird Ecological Reserve but the vast majority of them are around the corner where we cannot get to. That didn’t matter to me because as I always say when it comes to bird photography, it just take one! Nesting season is in full swing which means lots of activity. The nest you see below is the only nest site we could see, but there were at least three others below our feet tucked in on the cliff we were standing on. We could see them fly in and then vanish below our feet so we knew they were there but we couldn’t see them.

Then one afternoon one blessed us by perching for a very short period on a point of rock right in front of us (the photo above). My dear friend Eric brought back a much better shot than I did of this moment but I was over the moon just seeing a Razorbill so close and intimate. Even though it was for just a few minutes, it’s what keeps me going out in search of species I would love to see and photograph. It’s so well worth the 40 years!

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