August 30, 2016 Estes Park, Colorado

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World
Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

A Beautiful Morning at the Top of the World

Up and out at 5:15 every morning lately, climbing the mountain road in the dark and arriving at the top just as the first rays of the morning sun start to light up the mountains. The cloudy, overcast skies of the past week broke today, producing some of the nicest weather since my arrival here … oh, and along with the nice break in the weather, i am finally finding the elk up high in the mountains.

Elk in the Valley
Elk in the Valley

The image above, and the one just below were taken at the Alpine Visitor Center at the top of Rocky Mountain National Park. Behind the Center is a deep valley where the elk seem to gather in the very early morning. I have also seen four bull moose bed down there in the evening. It is a long way down.

Elk at the Bottom of the Valley
Elk at the Bottom of the Valley
Elk Herding Harem
Elk Herding Harem

There is a footpath and steps to the mountaintop from the parking lot at the Center. Seeing a bull elk pushing his harem up the mountain there, I decided I would climb to the top and perhaps be in position to get some nice shots. It is probably no more than 250  feet of elevation change from the parking lot to the top of the mountain, at a slope you can see in the images of the elk climbing.

Elk
Elk
Bull Elk and Part of His Harem
Bull Elk and Part of His Harem

I wanted to get to the top before the elk so I could get some shots of them with the sun to my back instead of shooting into the sun as these climbing images were shot.

The Harem
The Harem

But since this short climb was at 12,000 feet, I never did get ahead of the elk, since I had to stop and attempt to get my breath every 30 steps or so.

The Harem
The Harem

At the top, I did get this one image of the stragglers just making the summit, and staring at the photographer who was making all these gasping for air sounds.

Pika
Pika

Just a couple of more pika shots, taken while I waited in vain for a good shot of the long-tailed weasel.

Pika
Ouch!

I have no idea how this little guy can chomp down on this piece of what I am guessing is some sort of nettle.

Pika
That Has Got To Hurt

He made several trips down to the plant, ripped off a leaf and struggled with it back up to his den. Must be some kind of delicacy, since I can’t imagine that it would be used for bedding.

Pika Warning Call
Pika Warning Call

The shot above is of a pika letting out some kind of greeting ( ? ) or warning ( ? ) call.

Long-tailed Weasel
Long-tailed Weasel

Maybe letting others know the long-tailed weasel was in the vicinity. Not a very good shot of him, but the only one I got. I was unprepared for his appearance way down the hill and had my 70-200mm lens on for the close by pikas. By the time I changed to a longer lens, he was long gone.

Yellow-bellied Marmot
Yellow-bellied Marmot

While I sit on the roadside wall taking pika shots, the yellow-bellied marmots quite often get very close, sometimes within just a few feet.

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World
Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

What a Day!

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World
Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

By 9 AM, I had to quit trying for animal shots and just concentrate on the magnificent clouds and mountains. I had been waiting for a week to finally get a morning like this.

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World
Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World
Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World
Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

The clouds were just spectacular!

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World
Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World
Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World
Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World
Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World
Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World
Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World
Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World
Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World
Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World
Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World
Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World
Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World
Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

As always, the camera just can’t quite capture the felling of space and distance, but today was truly something special up here at the top of Rocky Mountain National Park.

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October 17, 2014 Willard Bay State Park, Utah

American Avocets Siesta
American Avocets Siesta

Finally Got My Pheasant ( plus a surprise find ! )

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

Made a morning and an afternoon trip to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge today and my patience and persistence finally paid off with my nemesis, the ring necked pheasants ! For over a week I have been being teased by these guys,

Ring Necked Pheasant Running Away
Ring Necked Pheasant Running Away

either they are running and too far off,

Ring Necked Pheasant
Ring Necked Pheasant

or, less often, too close with a poor background.

Ring Necked Pheasant
Ring Necked Pheasant

The light is too low or the grass is too high,

Ring Necked Pheasant
Ring Necked Pheasant
Ring Necked Pheasant Hiding
Ring Necked Pheasant Hiding

or they hunker down and hide as soon as I approach.

But today, I finally had one pose just the way I hoped I would eventually find one, not too far away and without deep grass half concealing his brilliant plumage.

Ring necked pheasant
Ring necked pheasant

Only took a week !

But then, later as I drove the loop road in the refuge where I didn’t expect to find any of these guys, I had a male dart across the road in front of me and run into the grasses by the canal. With only 15 feet of land between the road and the water, I figured I could probably flush him out if I got out of the car and walked the edge of the road. So with the monster 600mm lens attached and camera settings ready for a flight shot, I walked to the edge of the road … and he just exploded out of the grass, less than 20 feet in front of me.

Ring Necked Pheasant Flushed
Ring Necked Pheasant Flushed

Now, it’s not perfectly sharp, a 600mm lens is not meant to be handheld, but it’s not bad at all, I love the action and the blurred background, the long trailing tail feathers, and the backlighting has the wing feathers glowing. I’m actually kind of proud of this shot , mainly because of the degree of difficulty, and the fact that I worked for more than a week to get it.

Then, only a little farther along the loop road, I received a totally unexpected treat … a long tailed weasel !

Long Tailed Weasel
Long Tailed Weasel

Can’t say I have ever seen one of these before, and got a big kick out of watching him bounce around amongst the reeds and grasses.

Long Tailed Weasel
Long Tailed Weasel
Long Tailed Weasel
Long Tailed Weasel

He is tiny, so getting him without the grass concealing most of him took a little doing, but I was pleasantly surprised by how fearless he was of my presence, he almost seemed curious about me, and kept coming out and standing up to check on me.

But eventually, he went back to doing what he was here for, hunting for lunch,

Long Tailed Weasel With Lunch
Long Tailed Weasel With Lunch

and he proudly showed me what was on the menu.

Long Tailed Weasel With Lunch
Long Tailed Weasel With Lunch

I couldn’t resist more shots of the American Avocets in a small pond on the way out of the refuge.

American Avocet Reflection
American Avocet Reflection
American Avocets Siesta
American Avocets Siesta

All in all, a successful day at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge.

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