May 14, 2016 Clayton Lake State Park, New Mexico

Abandoned Building
Abandoned Building

On to Clayton Lake State Park

Clayton Lake State Park Campsite
Clayton Lake State Park Campsite

After a ten day stay at Ute Lake State Park where I was able to get caught up on a lot on internet based work, thanks to the park’s great WiFi, I headed out Monday for Clayton Lake State park, just a couple hours northeast of Logan but a couple thousand feet higher in elevation.
I arrived at Clayton mid-afternoon and got settled in on my reserved Site E3, a level site just large enough to accomodate my rig and tow dolly. This is a site with water and 30 amp electric, no sewer, and, be aware, the park does not have a dump station. There is a nice sheltered picnic table on a concrete pad, along with a metal grill. Decent separation between sites, but there really is no privacy. A couple dings, to me anyhow, are the way too bright presence of a tall street light at the bottom of the hill that casts a strong beam up the hill and makes enjoying the clear starlit skies impossible. The other is the absolute lack of any Verizon signal. You can drive about six miles back towards Clayton and pick up a useable signal.

Clayton Lake State Park Primitive Campsite
Clayton Lake State Park Primitive Campsite

If I were to stay here again, I would take one of two or three primitive sites that are large enough to handle my rig and get away from the bright light in the electric section of the campground.

Clayton Lake State Park Primitive Campsite
Clayton Lake State Park Primitive Campsite

Exploring the Wide Open Spaces

New Mexico Grasslands
New Mexico Grasslands

I have been driving the back roads in the area looking for abandoned ranches and wildlife and have had a little success in that regard.

Abandoned Ranch House
Abandoned Ranch House

For the most part, this is a flat, wide open, mostly featureless grasslands landscape, yet on a blue sky day, especially one with puffy cumulous clouds, it still holds a lot of appeal to me.
Have to cover a lot of ground out here in this sparsely populated region to find these abandoned buildings.

Abandoned Building
Abandoned Building
Abandoned Ranch House
Abandoned Ranch House
Abandoned Ranch House
Abandoned Ranch House
Abandoned Ranch House
Abandoned Ranch House
Abandoned Ranch
Abandoned Ranch
Grasslands Pronghorn
Grasslands Pronghorn

I have been delighted to find small groups of pronghorns everywhere out here, even saw one doe with a new fawn, but didn’t have time to get a shot of them. Many of the does look quite close to delivering, so I hope I am able to see a few newborns before I leave, something I have not come across with pronghorns before.

New Mexico Grasslands Pronghorn
New Mexico Grasslands Pronghorn
Pronghorn on the Plains
Pronghorn on the Plains
Pronghorn
Pronghorn
Pronghorn
Pronghorn
Prairie Dog Community
Prairie Dog Community

Along the gravel back roads, I also am seeing a lot of prarie dog towns, but they always scurry down their burrows whenever I stop to get a shot. They seem pretty scared of any vehicle stopping which leads me to believe that perhaps they are used as target practice by the area ranchers?

Lots of Birds

Western Kingbird
Western Kingbird

And of course, I am finding new birds to shoot. It really is pretty amazing the number of birds inhabiting this featureless landscape. Literally hundreds of them all along the dusty back roads, perched on the barbed wire fences that line both sides of the many miles of back roads here.
Although new to me, most of these guys are very common birds on the open plains. The one thing I have not seen, not a single one, is any form of raptor, no hawks at all, wonder if I am just missing them, or if there is a reason for their absence.

Horned Lark
Horned Lark
Lark Bunting
Lark Bunting
Red-shafted Flicker
Red-shafted Flicker
Lark Sparrow
Lark Sparrow
Cliff Swallows
Cliff Swallows
Western Kingbird
Western Kingbird
Red-shafted Flicker
Red-shafted Flicker

I am not going to be doing many posts over the next several weeks, as the lack of a Verizon signal in the areas I am staying, and will be traveling in, makes uploading posts a bit of a challenge. Really enjoying the moderate temperatures and the dry air, cool nights, and unlimited visibility in these higher elevations, just a perfect spring climate for my tastes. I am at an elevation of about 6000′ here and will continue climbing upwards for the next few months. And unfortunately, Verizon signals will be hard to find.

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April 28, 2015, Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon

Gadwall Takeoff
Gadwall Takeoff

Yet Another Interesting Day at Malheur

Every day, when I leave home in the morning, I never know what I am going to find here at Malheur. Today was no exception.

As always, click on any image for a larger, sharper version.

Cattle Drive
Cattle Drive

I had decided to drive the Diamond Loop and check out the Peter French Round Barn and, on the drive there,  found myself face to face with about 100 head of cattle, being driven down the highway, as I was later told, a fairly common practice here.

Cattle Drive
Cattle Drive

No vehicle out in front on them to give oncoming motorists warning, I just came around a fairly sharp corner on a 65 mph road and there they were. A local person soon pulled up behind me and explained that the correct thing to do in this event is not to stop, as I did, but to simply proceed through them …  carefully and at a slow speed. They will make way for you, he assured me. And, of course, they did as he said they would and soon I came to the end of the herd and three real life cowboys that were driving them along ( the third cowboy had just cut off to the right to drive a stray back to the herd ).

Cattle Drive
Cattle Drive

All’s well that ends well !

Bing Mapper
Bing Mapper

Only a half mile down the road behind the cattle drive, I saw this fellow stopped in the road. After zipping by him, my curiosity got the better of me and I turned around and went back to ask a few questions.

Bing Mapper
Bing Mapper

This is Bing’s answer to Google Earth. The driver/operator of this vehicle was kind enough to show me the equipment used, camera, 10 TB hard drive, GPS, etc., and explained the process of collecting all the data. I asked if I went on Bing and highlighted this stretch of road, then hit their ” street view “, would I see images of him stuck in the middle of the cattle drive, and he assured me that, yes, I would. Just need to wait a couple months for all these new images to be upload, he said. Over the next two days, I saw two more of these Bing cars during my travels around Malheur and Burns.

Palomino
Palomino

Caught this beautiful creature gracefully trotting down a hill to a water hole by the side of the road.

Mallard Drake
Mallard Drake

I know, it’s only a mallard.

Mallard Splashdown
Mallard Splashdown

I liked the refection of this Northern Shoveler as he splashed down, something I had never caught before.

Gadwall Takeoff
Gadwall Takeoff
Gadwall Takeoff
Gadwall Takeoff

These two images show the takeoff sequence of a male gadwall. Notice how hard his wings drive down in the water to provide his initial lift. The second image of him in flight is about as good a shot of this type as I have been able to get to date, at least. The focusing system of my camera always has a very difficult time isolating the bird from the busy background of reeds and most images like this are always rendered out of focus.

Love Them Lips, Ruddy Duck
Love Them Lips, Ruddy Duck

Gotta love them lips, looks like he is puckering up to give his honey a big old wet one ! During mating season, the Ruddy duck’s bill turns this bright shade of blue to help make him irresistable to the ladies.

Ruddy Duck
Ruddy Duck
Teaching the Kids How to Hide
Teaching the Kids How to Hide

I always get a kick out of Canadian Geese dropping their necks to the water to ” hide ” themselves to me as I pass by.

Teaching the Kids How to Hide
Teaching the Kids How to Hide

These parents were doing a good job of showing their kids how to hide from dangerous photographers, but the little ones don’t seem to have caught on to the neck flattening thing.

Unescorted Ducklings
Unescorted Ducklings

The goslings are the first to hatch and the ducklings follow a week or two later in the spring. These are the first ducklings I have seen this year. These ten ducklings are only about half of this group, that must consist of the offspring of more than one set of parents. They were quickly trying to get themselves concealed from me by heading behind a dense bunch of willows growing on the water’s edge. It seemed odd that I never saw any parent’s anywhere near these cute little guys.

Old Dump Truck
Old Dump Truck
Old Dump Truck Detail
Old Dump Truck Detail

In the afternoon I drove back north towards Burns to check on the fields south of town. I happened upon this old dump truck on the way. Nice watercolr subject, when, and if, I ever get the brushes out again.

Black-necked Stilt
Black-necked Stilt

A Black-necked Stilt searching for morsels among the submerged grasses of a cow pasture.

Meadowlark
Meadowlark

 

Meadowlark
Meadowlark
Meadowlark
Meadowlark

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It truly is starting to look like spring as there are now all kinds of songbirds singing their hearts out along the road.

Barn Swallow
Barn Swallow
Barn Swallows
Barn Swallows

Not often I find these guys so easy to capture.

Red-winged Blackbird
Red-winged Blackbird
Robin
Robin
Yellow-headed Blackbirds
Yellow-headed Blackbirds
Yellow-headed Blackbirds
Yellow-headed Blackbirds

The Yellow-headed Blackbirds have arrived in clouds the past few days and sometimes you may see as many as a hundred of them perched on the fences here along Hotchkiss and Greenhouse Lanes.

Yellow-headed Blackbird
Yellow-headed Blackbird
Yellow-headed Blackbird
Yellow-headed Blackbird

This one was really getting into it, belting out his melody.

So, Spring has definitely sprung, and much as I am enjoying my time her at Malheur, I really do have to think about leaving and getting on my way north to Alaska.

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April 23, 2015 Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon

Pintail
Pintail

Grouse Lek in the Morning, Meadows Near Burns in the Afternoon

Once again I got out really early to get to the Sage Grouse Lek before sunrise.

Sage Grouse Display
Sage Grouse Display

As always, click on any image for a larger, sharper version.

Sage Grouse Display
Sage Grouse Display

Thankfully, the birds were there and doing their dance, unfortunately, the harsh lighting conditions were very similar to my last visit.

Sage Grouse Display
Sage Grouse Display
Sage Grouse Display
Sage Grouse Display
Sage Grouse Display
Sage Grouse Display

The forecast calls for rain in the next few days, so I shall return when there is a little better light, and will hope the grouse are still into doing this bizarre dance.

Pintail
Pintail
Pintail
Pintail
Pintail
Pintail

After leaving the lek, I drove north on Route 205 to explore the farm roads around the town of Burns. Managed to catch a Pintail Duck taking off from a portion of a small roadside wet area.

Greater Yellowlegs
Greater Yellowlegs

These fields or meadows around Burns are usually flooded in the spring and attract all kinds of birds. This year, a flooded field is hard to find, but Jim Palmer had given me some suggestions for areas to check on, and I did find some productive spots.

A Willet in a Hurry
A Willet in a Hurry

The water I did find off Double Zero Road yielded the above shots of pintail duck, greater yellowlegs, and willet, but the drought has left precious little standing water in the area and there simply weren’t that many birds around.

Burrowing Owl
Burrowing Owl
Burrowing Owl
Burrowing Owl

Acting on another tip from Jim, I drove out Ruh Red Road to pole #132 to check on some burrowing owls, and they were actually there. One of the pair actually was kind enough to almost completely show himself instead of remaining below ground, with just the top of his head showing, as is usually the case with these tiny birds.

Male Northern Harrier
Male Northern Harrier

I have driven the northern portion of the main refuge road pretty much every morning since I have been here, trying to get a good shot of one of the many male Northern Harriers here.

Male Northern Harrier
Male Northern Harrier
Male Northern Harrier
Male Northern Harrier
Male Northern Harrier
Male Northern Harrier

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unfortunately, i just can’t sneak up on them as the road is made with fairly large crushed rock and therefore produces quite a loud crunching sound as you drive over it. As a result, by the time I am close enough to get off a shot, I am usually shooting at a bird’s butt, or they drop down in the bunch grass or cat tails and are hidden from view. I’m starting to think I’m just not going to get that one great ” Gray Ghost ” shot I initially really thought I would get here.

Tree Swallows
Tree Swallows

These tree swallows aren’t put off by the road noise though.

Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl

And speaking of bird butts and frustration, there is this guy, a beautiful Short-eared Owl who I meet up with every day at the same place on the refuge road, yet just can’t get a shot of him. This is one of the few owls who hunt by day, but he too, always hears me coming and heads off before I can get close enough for a good shot.

Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl

 

 

 

 

 

Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl

Every morning, and some afternoons, he is sitting on the same bush, just taunting me, and I now must admit, I believe he has gotten the better of me. At least I have some painting reference shots.

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April 17, 2015 Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon

Ring-necked Pheasant
Ring-necked Pheasant

Yesterday I left Winnemucca about 10 AM after visiting WalMart looking for RV antifreeze ( I want to be prepared next time ), of course, this particular store didn’t have any, and then filling both gas and propane tanks at the Flying J across the road. Drove about 180 miles of very straight, flat, boring high desert terrain north on Route 95, then north on Route 78 to the Malheur NWR. Turning off Route 78 onto Lava Bed Road, I travelled a few miles and came to a sudden fork in the road with a tiny sign pointing right to the refuge that I didn’t see until too late, so ended up driving an extra 20 miles as I looped south on what turned out to be the Diamond Loop, and that eventually got me to Route 205, where I turned north and pulled into the Narrows RV Park around 4 PM.

As always, click on any image for a larger, sharper version.

Narrows RV Park
Narrows RV Park

The Narrows RV Park is directly on Route 205 and has about 40 spaces, both pull through and backin and really worked out to be a convenient place to stay. Full hookups with 30 or 50 amp electric with flat , pea stone sites, as usual much too close together.

Narrows RV Park
Narrows RV Park

During my stay there were only 5 or 6 other folks here so the closeness wasn’t a problem. I paid their $157 weekly rate so that came to $ 22.50/night, a good deal for a well kept park with friendly, helpful owners.

Malhuer NWR

Male Northern Harrier
Male Northern Harrier

Malheur is a very large refuge with a wide variety of reasons to come here and shoot wildlife. I may as well start off with my first wonderful discovery here, this appears to be the home of all of North Americas male Northern Harriers. 🙂  This has been one of the most elusive birds on my must photograph list.

Male Northern Harrier
Male Northern Harrier
Male Northern Harrier
Male Northern Harrier

 

 

 

 

 

 

I swear that I have seen a hundred female Harriers for every one male Harrier pretty much everywhere I have been. Never have understood how that works. But here at Malhuer I am seeing many more males than females, and finally am having opportunities to capture a decent image of the ” Gray Ghost “.

Male Northern Harrier
Male Northern Harrier
Ring-necked Pheasant
Ring-necked Pheasant

And then there is another of my favorite subjects here in abundance, the brilliantly colored Ring-necked Pheasant.

Ring-necked Pheasant Pair
Ring-necked Pheasant Pair
Ring-necked Pheasant
Ring-necked Pheasant

Today I drove the length of the center refuge road all the way south to Frenchglen and these guys were all over the open meadows along this washboardy gravel road.

Malhuer NWR Sandhill Cranes
Malhuer NWR Sandhill Cranes

There were a few pairs of Sandhill Cranes present feeding …

Sandhill Cranes preflight routine
Sandhill Cranes preflight routine

.. and then going through their weird pre-flight routine of leaning into the wind for several steps before running and powering off.

White-faced Ibis
White-faced Ibis

A huge flock of White-faced Ibis was feeding along the shore of one of the many small ponds along the road.

White-faced Ibis
White-faced Ibis

This bird usually appears as a dull dark brown creature, until the light hits him just so and all the iridescent colors come shining forth.

Red Wing Blackbird
Red Wing Blackbird
Swallows
Swallows

There is quite an assortment of small birds along the road,

Mallard in Flight
Mallard in Flight
Mallard in Flight
Mallard in Flight
Mallard in Flight
Mallard in Flight

 

 

 

 

 

 

as well as ducks, including these Mallards I managed to catch as they took off.

Mallard in Flight
Mallard in Flight
Mulie Hop
Mulie Hop

Mule deer and pronghorns were also encountered on this first drive through the refuge. The mule deer’s strange pogo stick hop when fleeing always amuses me. Jack rabbits as well as cottontails are present in large numbers.

Canada Goose Takeoff
Canada Goose Takeoff
Canada Goose Takeoff
Canada Goose Takeoff
Canada Goose Takeoff
Canada Goose Takeoff
Canada Goose Takeoff
Canada Goose Takeoff
Canada Goose Takeoff
Canada Goose Takeoff

And then there are Canadian Geese, lots of Canadian Geese. I generally forego photographing these large, some think, far too numerous birds, but I did like this takeoff sequence, so here it is.

My first impression of Malhuer NWR is… WOW ! Think I will be spending a little more time here than I originally planned. Stay tuned !

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