Wapiti Wednesday

wildlife photography
Bull Elk – Colorado Rocky Mountains

Wapiti is a Native American word for elk.

This photo was taken in Rocky Mountain National Park.

During the annual Autumn rut, elk become infused with hormones and will do a lot of strange things to impress a girl. I found this guy next to a small tree honing his antlers on the trunk and he took his sweet time doing it.

Moose Monday

Photograph of a moose in Colorado
Shiras bull moose moving through a field in Northern Colorado..

It’s Moose Monday!

Taken in July of 2017, this particular moose seems to like the area where this photo was taken. I’ve seen him around several years in a row. Notice the mutant antler. I think their antlers grow back each year with the same basic configuration they had in previous years. The true test of this theory is to compare dewlaps, that flap of furry skin that hangs from their neck. If the mutation of the antler and the dewlap matches, it’s a good guess that it could be the same moose from an earlier outing or year.

I’m heading back to Red Feathers this coming weekend to scout a few new areas. As with every May, the weather is seldom good in Northern Colorado. Rain, snow, wind, thunder, lightning. It’s trips like this upcoming one that make the Moose Creek Cafe in Walden my favorite watering hole and grub stop. Granola bars on a dirt road in the rain doesn’t cut it.

Hunting moose is not for wimps.

 

Middle Of May

Photograph of a mule deer doe in the woods
Mule deer doe foraging for fresh Spring grass in Red Feather Lakes

Back home after opening up my cabin. We opened up a little earlier than normal this year, mainly to take advantage of the good weather and to allow us wiggle room for upcoming May events, Mother’s Day, graduations, Memorial Day weekend, things like that.

I have a few loose ends to tie up with the cabin. It appears that our hot water heater needs replacing. The old one is over ten years old and has suffered enough. The next trip to the village will be to get that issue resolved.

The wildlife is going strong though. In just a few brief outings near Red Feathers, I’ve already spotted plenty of moose and deer. We have bald eagles in the area along with the normal assortment of hawks and waterfowl.

On the home front, we’ve completed most of our Spring projects and I’ve actually mowed the lawn twice to keep up with the rapidly greening grass and blooming trees.

Winter’s grasp has loosened and I’m looking forward to sharing my upcoming adventures in photography from the edge of the map.

Stay healthy and happy.

This Year’s Moose Photography Kit

Moose photography by Gary Gray
Moose in Red Feather Lakes

I spent my day assembling my camera gear for the start of moose photography season. Here’s what I’ll be shooting with this summer.

Nikon D810 Full frame DSLR

Nikon D750 Full frame DSLR

Nikon D7200 Crop body DSLR (my teleconverter)

Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6 VR

Nikkor 70-200mm f/4 VR

Nikkor 24-120mm f/4 VR

Nikkor 20mm f/2.8 prime

Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 prime

External flash, spare memory chips, adapters, laptop, cleaning kits, flashlight, tools and other misc stuff to fill the pockets in the pack. The whole thing weighs less than 40 lbs.

I’ve retired the Nikon D800 this year.

This three body, five lens kit will get it done. All in one pack with room to spare. None of this gear costs a fortune and the image quality will be excellent.

I’ll probably start with the 200-500mm on the D810. I’m not inclined to upgrade it to the D850 yet and the fact that it’s still on back-order some 6 months after being released sorta sealed the deal for this year. I’ll wait a couple of years and pick one up used at a much cheaper price.

Why no D500?

Don’t need it. The image quality of the D7200 is superior and 10 frames per second isn’t needed for large ungulates. I won’t be upgrading the D7200 for a D7500 either as the D7200 has the best image quality of any crop sensor body ever made and specs out roughly identical to the full frame Canon EOS 5D Mk III.

I’ve never been someone who rushes out to buy the latest greatest camera. I shot with the Canon EOS 1Ds MK II for 8 years. My Canon 7D fired over 100,000 shots and is still to this day the camera that has made me the most money with wildlife photography. So all these latest/greatest bodies are very nice, but the truth is, you can pick up most of what’s in my kit used and save a fortune

Your mileage may vary.

 

My Job Is To Explore

Elk Photograph by Gary Gray
Young Bull Elk in Rocky Mountain National Park

For me, the month of May is the time of year when I begin gearing up for wildlife photography here in Colorado.

I’ll be heading to Northern Colorado later this week, where I will be spending a lot of time this summer. The Laramie Mountains of Northern Colorado are, from my view of the road, one of the least frequented areas of the state for photography. What that means to me is I get to work without crowds of tourists and weekend warriors to wade through.

Not that the northern mountains don’t get tourists, but the ratio of tourists per square mile is much lower than areas to the south such as Rocky Mountain National Park.

As a matter of fact, I’ve pretty much abandoned working in National Parks due to over-crowding and hostile park rangers. They can keep it. There are lots of unexplored and lesser known areas between Fort Collins and Steamboat Springs.

My job is to explore.

That’s A Different Story

Bull moose in a lake. Northern Colorado
Bull Moose – Northern Colorado

I suppose I’m a traditional type of person in that I find emotional comfort in certain traditions.

For internet purposes, I practice the tradition of “Moose Monday.”

I’m not quite certain of the origins of “Moose Monday” as it’s been observed by quite a few people I associate with. I’m I the reason? I don’t think so, but I may have contributed to the delinquency of others.

The Moose Collective. I think the first guy other than me who I recall using the phrase was Matt Dirkson and he too appears to have this insatiable appetite for photographing wild moose but we aren’t alone. Birds of a feather so to speak, it was inevitable that we collide and join a growing a photographic tradition of naming specific photographic themes for days of the week. Some days are better than others, literally.

Still, no one person gets credit for anything organizational in a collective. It’s more symbiotic than organized. We have “Moose Mommas” in the group too, so it isn’t a guy thing, I know that much.

These things aren’t just limited to Moose either. Us moose people in the collective are sort of a sub-collective. There are many sub-collectives in photography and we all appear to be traditional people from what I can see. Many of us are obcessed with our traditional ways, so we find our collectives and carry on.

To add to the confusions, I’ve picked up a nick-name as well.”The Moose Whisperer.” I’m not certain of the origin of that name, as I’ve heard it used many times over the years describing me but that’s a different story.

 

Adventures in Backyard Photography

Crows by Gray Photography
A Murder of Crows

My family pet, Doobie has new friends to play with.

A flock of crows has been hanging out in the cottonwood trees about 100 meters from our back porch. They gather here multiple times each day and when Doobie is in the yard they like to fly over and taunt him. I’ve watched one crow intentionally drop a stick in the yard. Some do laps.

I hope to document more of this activity. It’s fun watching the new pooch learn about the urban wildlife we have living with us.

Oh, and there’s at least one handsome fox frequenting the yard. I’m going to put the camera trap up today and get some photos. He has a nice multi-shade, thick coat and he is larger than the average suburban red fox too.

The Interloper

Great Blue Heron by Gary Gray
Great Blue Heron – Colorado (NIkon D810/200-500mm VR)

Spring is in full swing here in Colorado.

This morning’s weather was exceptional so I made my way to the tree in the lake shortly after sunrise this morning. It’s good to know and understand the light in the location you’ll be working. Though these birds are roosting in an open area, the sunrise light is actually obscured by trees and buildings for a wee bit on sunny mornings. No reason to rush.

Today, a new great blue heron showed up. When he arrived, he was quite surprised to see that all of the available nests in the trees on the island had been claimed. There are two nests with great blue heron in occupancy, with one mating pair in the most visible nest. The remaining nests are occupied by mating pairs of cormorants. This guy shows up thinking he’s found a spot, but the nesting cormorants would have nothing of it.

When the mating male heron left the nest to go stick hunting, this guy decided to make a pass at the now unattended female. He didn’t even bring her an offering of a stick. If you read my post yesterday, you’ll know her heart is not for the taking. She immediately gave this stick-less schmoozer the cold shoulder and a threatened him with a face or belly full of angry beak.

She’ll have none of the interloper.

Some Days, All You Have To Do Is Show Up

This morning was a very nice morning of photography at the tree in the lake.

The bird activity was primarily the double-crested cormorants, however, the great blue heron were present and ultimately gave me a present. Photographically speaking.

This morning’s gift was an entire great blue heron mating sequence in good light.

So, guess what today’s entry is going to be about.

These next five photographs explain everything. (Nikon D810/200-500mmVR)

It all starts with the stick. The male great blue heron will bring sticks to his nesting desire. If she likes the stick she will add it to the nest. If she really likes the stick, well, you’ll see.

She likes the stick.

She more than likes the stick. This is “thestick she has been waiting for.

Notice how the feathers on their necks puff up. Look at her gaze at the male suitor. This is the moment they choose each other.

The male asks her to mate and the female obliges by positioning herself in her new family nest.

Once the female has positioned herself, the male mounts her.

I’ll spare you the additional bird sex, but I will tell you that it last about 10 seconds and he’s gone.

Some days, all you have to do is show up.