The Monument & Grand Mesa

Much of our free time towards the end of 2016 was spent in Colorado … for numeorus reasons.  Part of it is the efficient flights between Ft. Lauderdale to Denver … inexpensive (if timed just right) and nonstop is possible (always a bonus).  A big part of it is the beauty of Colorado … that great mix of wildlife and natural outdoor recreation and gorgeous landscapes.  It’s a state that I feel I have only recently touched the surface of, though I have visited numerous times.

There’s something really special about Colorado National Monument, a frequent location to visit when we’ve been out there.  The most prominent resident on the Monument is the desert bighorn sheep … a smaller version of the Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep.  We were so excited to see a family of sheep.  The females have horns, though not the curls like the males possess.
dsc_1217 A young one was following not far behind, with the male close behind.dsc_1215 The male bighorn totally fascinates me … their magnificent stance, their penetrating stare, their stillness, except for the chewing that seems to be ever-present.  The curls of the bighorn “talks” to the experiences and encounters that they have seen.  So fascinating!dsc_1231 Of course, Colorado has lots more than bighorns.  In the fall, mule deer can be spotted sporting their antlers.  Most of the time, they’re a bit shy, but once in a while, you get a cooperative subject.dsc_1292 dsc_1306 Birds are also out and about there, like this beautiful white-crowned sparrow, who was conveniently perched on the vegetation.dsc_1390 Some of the cutest, most curious chipmunks can be found atop of the Grand Mesa in western Colorado too.  So very cute … and so very fast!dsc_1432I believe that this is a female house finch … but don’t hold me to it.  LOL.  I’m far from the best bird identifier … even in my home area.
dsc_1487 Almost every day ends back up on the Monument … can’t get enough of these desert bighorn sheep.  Who could?dsc_1673 And the views ain’t too bad either!_dsc1836Then when the sun sets, it lights up the Bookcliffs across the valley.  A perfect way to end the day … and the blog post.  🙂
_dsc1866Next Up:  Back to the reality of home … more birding

© 2017  TNWA Photography / Debbie Tubridy

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

2016 Review… The “Far”

As with most years, many photographic opportunities presented themselves, not just in my home state of Florida, but the west was well represented in 2016.  Like the previous year end review post, I will focus primarily on the “new”.

Of course, there are a few images that never grow old, such as the frosty face of a bison fighting for survival in the harsh winters of the west.

_DSC6231-2Though I tend to forget sometimes the landscapes that lay before me, I tried to focus on them a bit in 2016._DSC4055There’s something magical about the iconic image of a beautiful red fox making its way across the snowy landscape …_DSC5569… though unique fox sightings such as this are quite beautiful and intriguing as well.  Never have I seen a setting like this one before._DSC5495It’s always fun to find a couple of coyotes in the snow as well, but it’s not everyday that you see this.  I know that to the casual viewer this looks like 2 coyotes standing there looking at us, which I suppose it was, but what makes this one so special is that they weren’t standing there being cooperative subjects by chance … they were tied after mating.  Once again, I’ve never seen anything like that before … and believe it or not, it was captured on Valentine’s Day.  🙂_DSC6495Another lifer for me was the elusive saw whet owl.  It had long been a dream of mine and I felt like I was floating on a cloud of joy when I got this one._DSC6977Sporting some nice red earrings and a necklace (i.e. tag and collar), my first mountain goats in the snow images were thrilling and a great bar to capture more natural ones in the future, though I do love the fluffy snow in this one._DSC7104This snowy day made photography a bit difficult, but I like most, still tried.  This group of elk in winter were getting tight as a group of either coyote or wolves were moving in on them. _dsc4122Speaking of wolves, I haven’t gotten a great shot of any wolves, outside of Denali NP in Alaska, before and still haven’t, but this is my first of that black wolf that calls Yellowstone home._DSC9812While I have lots of bison shots, this was the first year that I got out in the spring to capture those “red dogs”, who couldn’t be any cuter._DSC0192_DSC9570-2Predators can come in different forms and species, but the instinct to seek refuge is all the same.  Here I photographed a black bear cub who obediently climbed high (really high) to the top of a tree, while mom spotted a boar in the area.DSC_2910Speaking of things that I’ve NEVER experienced before was this aggressive protective behavior exhibited by this dusky grouse.  Though it played coy allowing images, it clearly felt threatened by some (especially women) and it ended with an entertaining, yet scary, encounter with Mr. Flashy Eyebrows, which incidentally change colors too.  LOL_DSC9981Usual sightings of beavers for me have been swimming around in the ponds, usually in the dusk hours, affording little opportunity for me to capture a great shot.  That changed in 2016 when this cooperative beaver exited the pond and sat, in the midst of flowers, on the bank and groomed itself for quite some time.  I was thrilled.DSC_4173-2Who wouldn’t want to have a lunch date with an incredible golden eagle? … Well, except the one being served as dinner.  I sat in awe as it devoured its dinner on the banks of the river, not far from where I was sitting.DSC_4697-2A first for me too was this ADORABLE little pronghorn antelope, that had to be less than one day old.  Nature is an amazing thing because this baby was so skilled at running and kept up with mom right from the get-go.DSC_2714In Florida, we have red-winged blackbirds, but out west they have these beautiful yellow-headed blackbirds.  Though a different species, their song is equally as distinct and lovely.
DSC_1400A definite goal of mine for 2016 was to get that iconic shot of the red-necked grebes swimming with their babies on their backs.  While I didn’t get that, I did manage to get not only the Western grebes, but an image of them offering the fish as part of their courtship behavior.DSC_1726Cuteness alert!  2015 I may have gotten my very first long-eared owls, but how about this?  It’s a long-eared baby owlet!  My heart melted the instant that our eyes met.DSC_21972016 was spent also on some landscape shooting … here from Steptoe Butte in the iconic Palouse …_DSC0513-HDR… and also from the Colorado National Monument, which overlooks the town of Grand Junction, CO._dsc1370-hdrIn what had to be one of the craziest shoots of 2016, was that very, very early morning at Maroon Bells in Colorado.  It was freezing when we started shooting some astro images in the wee hours, but continued to get colder as the sun began to rise.  That was my first time there … crazy, crazy, crazy the number of photographers congregating there!_dsc1135Fall in Colorado is a special treat.  The clouds, the mountains, the leaves … all jaw-dropping._dsc1577-hdrOf course, the golden leaf dropping aspens are always a favorite of mine, both on the ground …_dsc1160… as well as looking up towards the heavens._dsc7922Courtesy of Hurricane Matthew, which re-routed us from our return home, this bull elk chest deep in the lake was a new one for me too.dsc_8342The mule deer, also sporting their racks, were organizing as well.dsc_8998Yes, our time spent out west in 2016 was fascinating and full of firsts and new behavioral images.  Noticeably absent, in both this blog and in my heart, was Alaska.  It would have been our 10th consecutive year, but it wasn’t to be in 2016.  That only means that something super special must be in store for us there in 2017.  Can’t wait to find out!dsc_1673Thanks so much for our friends who participated in the fun during the year, including Jen & Travis, Amy & Scott, Rebecca, Jay, Phil, and Rick … we really appreciated sharing the good times with you guys.  I hope that you’ve enjoyed the trip down 2016 memory lane.  There’s one more segment to 2016 left though … hmm, what could it be?

Next Up:  Proud as a peacock moments

© 2016 TNWA Photography / Debbie Tubridy

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

Our Last Denali Day

So on our final day in Denali NP for 2014, what did we wake up to?  You guessed it … another bluebird day.  🙂  After a restful morning (the only one on our entire trip – LOL), we set out to “troll” again for wildlife and try our luck at Savage River.  As you can see the fall colors were already beginning to pass, though still evident and colorful, their vibrant peak of explosive color was already a thing of the past.

DSC_2496

Savage River is a wonderful place for taking a leisurely hike around the Savage Loop Trail along the river, as it meanders its way.  The cold fresh air, the sounds of the water rushing by and the birds calling out overhead, and those clear beautiful skies made for the perfect day to end with in our week long stay at Denali.

DSC_9441

It’s just so picturesque.  Knowing that this would be more of a landscape walk-about, I carried my 24-70mm f/2.8 lens mounted on my D800 camera body.  Tom outfitted himself with his 70-200mm f/2.8 lens onto his D7000 … just in case we encountered wildlife.  See, in years past, we’ve gotten amazing shots of the marmot sunning themselves on the rocks along the trail.  So, we were really scouting hard to find some.  Unfortunately, we never did find any and admittedly, I felt a bit dejected.  😦  But I reminded myself that we had an amazing stay in Denali already and certainly in Alaska as well.

DSC_9448

At some point, I saw a photographer shooting something on the hillside.  Of course, I had to know what it was.  Armed with a pair of binoculars, Tom was still unable to ascertain what it was.  Perhaps he was just shooting the landscape, but he had a longer lens.  Curiosity got the best of me and I inquired with another person who had spotted him as well.  To my surprise, he said that there was … wait for it … a LYNX!  I surge of excitement ran through my body as I set off uphill with my … wait for it … 24-70mm lens.  Sweet!  Quickly I realized that I had like… no chance … so I commandeered Tom’s 70-200mm and pursued that lynx.  🙂

_DSC2502

OK, now I’ll admit that this are not the stellar shots that I was hoping for, but I’ll take them!

_DSC2518

This lynx was intent on observing something … perhaps even more intent than we were on observing the lynx.  LOL  We photographed it for quite some time … just 3 of us … and I was thrilled beyond belief.

_DSC2532

Finally, the lynx got up and began to retreat from us, but not before giving us that “vogue” look.  It reminded me of the first lynx that I ever tried to photograph … only that time I missed for 2 reasons:  1. Our shuttle windows were frozen shut and therefore we couldn’t get the windows down.  2.  Once our windows finally were successfully lowered and the lynx gave me that same “vogue” look over the shoulder, I clicked and my shutter, only to realize that I had the shutter speed set to “bulb” from trying to photograph the aurora the night before.  Ugh … don’t you just hate when you’re not prepared?

_DSC2586

I vowed to never make that mistake again … you know, heading out without a wildlife lens … just in case!  After encountering and photographing this lynx though, I felt on top of the world again.  See, the lynx was seldom seen in Denali in 2014, since the snowshoe hare have declined in numbers lately, as they run in 7 year cycles in their plentiful numbers – just as the lynx do.  Nature at work again.

_DSC2365

So short of the marmot, our wildlife sightings this year were amazing and plentiful.  As we headed to return to the RV, we’re once again treated to this expansive sight.

DSC_9454

The colors have finally arrived towards the lower elevations of the park … aka the first few miles within the park boundaries.

DSC_9464 DSC_2498

Before we leave Denali NP, we opt to take one last hike in the Riley Creek area.  The trees are showing off beautifully against the skies covered in patchy clouds.

DSC_9480

No trip to Alaska, or just about anywhere away from home, is ever complete without our trademark cairn building and an image of our creation.  Built out of river rocks along the Riley Creek waters, Tom and build our cairn … one rock at a time … each representing a year that we’ve been together … united by our love for each other and for nature and the outdoors.  17 rocks in all … & counting  ❤

DSC_9487Here’s to 2015!

© 2014  TNWA Photography

 

I Didn’t Forget About Denali NP (Who Could?)

How do you know when you’re going to have a great time in Denali National Park?  Of course … when your first image goes something like this … how can you miss!  Denali is always an amazing place, but when you combine the beauty of the Denali wildlife & wilderness with the arrival of the fall colors and add a dash of sensing the beginning of the moose rut, this is what you get.

_DSC4048

Of course, on our first day in Denali NP, we were also greeted by the feeling of the arrival of winter as well!

DSC_8904

Now some visitors might have been quite bummed to have this greeting waiting for them, but when you reside in the heat and humidity, you tend to be quite excited!  SNOW! … and lots of it!  (Thanks to Rebecca Tifft for snapping this image of Tom & I for us)

DSC_8915

Denali NP is unique in that one can only explore the first 15 miles in their own vehicle.  After reaching Savage River, one can only travel to the interior of the park on a bus … whether it be an interpretive one or simply a shuttle bus.  But that doesn’t mean that awesome views and wildlife can’t be found in those first 15 miles.  The clouds in the skies provided for amazing landscapes.

DSC_8920 DSC_8961

Shortly after Savage River, one starts to look for caribou, amongst other wildlife.  In the late summer/early fall, the bulls may still have their velvet covered antlers or the velvet may have already been shed, leaving their antlers to be quite bloody looking.

_DSC4113

Bears are also quite often seen right outside your shuttle window.  This particular one was walking along the braided river and eventually entered the river to cross it.  Funny … if you look closely, it seems as those this one has white nails.  Apparently, they can have a variety of claw colors, though I found this one quite unusual.  LOL

_DSC4164

Sometimes, they are quite far away.  However, the sight of observing this sow and her 2 cubs, as they travelled across the snow covered landscape was pleasing to me.  Gives the viewer a sense of the vastness of the land … as well as the harshness of the winter-like conditions that they and the other wildlife endure.

_DSC4150

It wasn’t our first snowfall experienced in Denali, in fact once we had snowfall in July!  You just can’t predict the weather in Alaska … especially in Denali.  What you can predict is that you’ll be treated to some of the best wildlife viewing in the US.  When you get to see the animals in the midst of the snow-covered landscape, you’ll also know that you hit the jackpot!

_DSC4271

The landscape itself looks so dramatically different in the snow too, whether dusted with a thin cover of snow or dumped upon, it’s all quite breathtaking.

DSC_8979

The iconic view from Stony Hill Overlook is quite different in the snow, but still remarkable.  Now that I think about though … it’s always different no matter what time you visit.  Sometimes you get full mountain (Mt McKinley, aka Denali), which we did on several days while we were there, sometimes you get no view at all, and sometimes you get this partial view.

DSC_9034

And the viewing of Denali constantly changes throughout the day, so you can never give up on trying your luck (except of course when it’s dumping snow relentlessly, as it was on our first evening in the park).  🙂

_DSC4463

Unique images of the wildlife, desperate to continue to get their fill of nutrition before this unanticipated snow storm becomes an expected daily event, make for amazing photo opportunities.

_DSC4366 _DSC4533

Photo ops … it’s not just for the bears … as this adorable red fox entertains us with its own “vogue” looks as well.

_DSC1990

In the early evening, the snow cover from the night before had already began to melt, thanks to the clear skies which usually follow the snow’s nasty skies.  More bull caribou are encountered dining on the autumn-kissed tundra.  Below is actually a great example of how the bulls might have their velvet (on left), or may have previously shed their velvet already (on right).  Like most things in nature, everything progresses at its own pace.  The females which are pregnant later in the season will keep her antlers, while the other females as well as the bulls, will eventually shed them after the mating season.

_DSC5343

The moose rut usually takes place later in September or early October, so lots of bull moose begin to arrive near the front of the park (i.e. those first 15 miles) about this time and begin to jockey for superiority and the sweetest females.  🙂

DSC_9127

Often at this time the females will hang out with other females.  Sometimes they are followed closely by a bull that might be in pursuit.  The bulls are quite patient and wait until the time is right.

_DSC2068 _DSC4994

Of course, the sunsets of Denali NP are also a sought after image, though I find myself torn between pursuing wildlife images OR the landscapes … Decisions, Decisions, Decisions … and a nice “problem” to have.  Wouldn’t you agree?

DSC_9299

Stay tuned:  More to come from Denali NP and its grandeur.  I promise, I won’t make anyone wait that long either.  🙂

© 2014  TNWA Photography

http://www.tnwaphotography.com