Sandy had to work this weekend so she was up and gone early. One advantage to this is that she generally gets home around 1000 hours. Corey, Linda and I decided to get out and do something
and chose to drive to Boulder to check out the scenery traveling a road that Corey enjoys for the scenic beauty along the way. You don’t have to travel much in Colorado before you realize
every place is quite scenic and the landscape differs much from New England. |
We stopped and took photographs at Boulder Falls and the Boulder River area. We hiked about and took it fairly easy, enjoying the day. Afterwards we returned home and Sandy joined us as she had returned from work. Corey’s mother Marge was in the process of moving from Nebraska to the Denver area and her Lincoln Navigator was available for use, so we decided to travel in this vehicle. We took the Navigator and went riding the back roads checking out potential sites to image birdlife and to look around in general.
Linda and Corey at Boulder Falls
I was pleased to find so many raptors along the roads we traveled. It wasn’t a simple task to get close in some cases, but we viewed several Red Tailed Hawks and I was able to get
a few exposures off as they flew off into the distance.
A Swainson’s hawk that had been sitting on a pole near the field not far from where I’d set up, flew off his perch and into the meadow. We watched with interest to see what was happening and soon saw that the hawk was in pursuit of a smaller bird we couldn't readily identify. We were a bit horrified by all this, but this is the reason these hawks watch these meadows so intently, looking for prey. As we observed this activity, the hawk caught the bird in its left talon. Apparently the grip was insufficient because the bird was able to break free and redoubled the flight effort. In this case the prey escaped... I was able to get a quick shot off without much time to achieve focus lock as the action was swift. I enhanced this image as best I could and named it ‘Flight for Life’, because truly, that is what it was.
|Imaged with my Canon 500mm f/4L lens with a EF 1.4X II Extender at 700mm focal length, Aperture Priority mode, 1/320 second at f/5.6|
We viewed and imaged several Swainson’s Hawks both adults and immature. These prairie hawks appear to be dominant in the area we were in and we viewed many beautiful specimens of these
along the road. After a short while, Corey was trained to know when to pull over. I kept the camera, 500mm lens and 1.4X lens extender on the Sidekick and tripod mounted in the
back of the vehicle so it was a quick set up from the time the trunk door opened until I could start an exposure. I was becoming concerned that Corey and Sandy would think I was
a bit strange about this particular pursuit, but they took it all in stride and helped seek out imaging opportunities.
Corey knew about a park nearby where we were in Commerce City and thought this was something we should check out. It was getting later in the afternoon but we found it and drove into the entrance road. We stopped at the park, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, a former military base of twenty-seven square miles that was abandoned and being developed for various non-military uses. The park was preparing to close as it was the end of the day, but we went inside the Visitors Center and looked at the displays located there. I met and talked with a Ranger named Larry Maynard, who was quite knowledgeable about birds in the area and appeared to be the resident raptor guy. I showed Larry the group of images I’d taken that day, viewing these on my camera LCD. He helped in identification, aiding my efforts immensely; after all, he viewed most of these birds on a daily basis and pointed out some of the key identifying markers to tell what was what. He indicated the facility opened at 0600 hours the next day, and that we should come back as the birdlife was best in the morning and the schedule on weekday mornings differed, being not so advantageous for imaging. I was pleased that Larry was impressed with the quality of the images I had taken and he commented that he wasn’t aware a digital camera could capture the level of detail he was viewing. He asked me to email him photographs of one particular bird as he wasn’t certain of the identification and he wished to have one of the biologists view it. This proved to be an immature Swainson’s Hawk in the end result and I got some respectable shots of it.
We had dinner at an Italian restaurant, Three Sons, on the way back to the house; this was an excellent meal with great company. That night, Corey, being a good & dutiful son, planned to
drive to Nebraska to help his mother in the moving process and bring back a trailer load of her goods pursuant to the change of states. He left shortly after dinner and had a
four-hour journey ahead of him. Because Sandy was working until around 1000 hours the next day, Linda and I decided to drive to the Arsenal in the morning to
image birds and check the place out on our own. Later I was glad we did as it was a fun trip with good imaging opportunities.|
Black-Eyed Susans imaged along the roadside
We were up early… Sandy left for work around 0400 hours and Corey wasn’t expected back until that evening. We used Corey’s mother’s Navigator, and armed with excellent directions from Sandy,
we left the house about 0630 hours. I wanted to be in the park no later than an hour after sunrise, the ‘golden hour’ so we were on track for the most part. It was overcast and warm and
promised to be a nice day although with a chance of rain. We arrived at the Arsenal, just before 0700 and were walking towards the lake with the tripod slung over my shoulder when we were
approached by a Ranger, who asked us to check in - sign a log in book, which we did. She also indicated they had a trolley tour at 0900, indicating we should take this as you can visit
areas of the park that you can’t travel into by foot as they are off limits. The Park’s biggest ‘claim to fame’ is a pair of nesting Bald Eagles and the staff was most sensitive to
incursions anywhere near this area. Later we learned the tour didn’t go too near the nest but we were close enough one could view it at distance and perhaps see some of the nesting
brood in the vicinity.
We talked with another bird imager, who indicated he just missed the photographic tour that the park conducts periodically. Apparently he just ‘missed the bus’ (literally) and told me one has to sign up for these tours long in advance as they weren’t too frequent and filled to capacity quickly. He was impressed with the Canon 500mm f/4L IS lens I was toting and said this was what he’d hoped to obtain eventually.
There are three lakes in the park and as we had just less than two hours to look around before the tour, we walked down to the first from the entrance, Lake Mary. There were many people fishing, some groups consisted of entire families out for the day, seeking trout and other species in the lake. We walked along the paths and took some photographs of animals & scenery we viewed along the way, birds, some mule deer and a rabbit of the many running about. Linda walked up a set of stairs and saw another body of water on the other side.
We were pleased to see White Pelicans, Double Crested Cormorants, Herons and some other birds at this location. Unfortunately, we were quite far from these and had to
shoot across the entire body of water to get any images. We later learned that there isn’t a way for the general public to get closer to these birds, although the photographic
tours access these areas under supervision. Thanks to the 700mm focal length of my Canon lens, we were able to get some decent shots at this distance but the situation
was far from ideal from my perspective.|
The balance of our time was spent in this area and upon checking the time, headed back towards the parking area. On the way into the Visitor’s Center we stopped to photograph some Mule Deer. While in the park later after the tour, there were quite a few of these to be seen and I was able to get some great shots at a reasonable distance. We carried the lens on the tripod/Sidekick and my small camera bag with some accessories and additional lenses as we walked the grounds. Colorado doesn’t appear to have an abundance of birds along any given spot in the areas we checked out although we didn’t go into deep woods, which may have rectified this issue. We did see some perching birds and I imaged everything that was within range of my lens that I could. Later in the week, I was teasing Sandy that Colorado has only six bird types and I photographed all of them. Do keep in mind however, that this time away wasn’t necessarily about bird imaging and I didn’t conduct research and investigation into places to maximize this pursuit before going west.
Fishing on Lake Mary
We returned to the Visitor’s Center shortly before the tour and waited for commencement of this along with two couples we learned were from Michigan. So, there were six of us on the tour
plus the driver and a volunteer guide. The Ranger didn’t tell us when she enlisted us on the tour that you aren’t allowed to get off the trolley… I was not pleased with this news as
there is no way to shoot a long lens from a moving vehicle of this nature without camera shake and other incidental vibration. If the trolley had more than one spring in its
undercarriage I would have been surprised to hear about it. Producing good images is difficult enough when the tripod is solidly & firmly anchored on the ground. In the end result,
because the group was small and the other travelers were in agreement we did get off several times once I indicated I would share any photographs I received with all.
To this end, I turned over several website cards.
The trolley tour included a narration by a volunteer, Kathy by name and she aptly described the plant life, the history of the facility and their planned vision for the future as we drove the roads seeking out birds and other wildlife. Kathy was an excellent guide and we enjoyed the commentary. The first stop where I got off the trolley was to shoot some Snowy Egrets. I was still far way, too far for any type of detail shot, but did the best I could from the location I was offered. I also shot the White Pelican group again as I was a bit closer than when we were on foot. During the tour I was able to get several shots of birds on the wing, including the Pelicans, using my 70-200mm F/2.8L lens handheld. Later I shot some more Pelicans, Cormorants, a Great Blue Heron and a few other birds as the opportunity presented. Again, I was too far away to get more than birdscape shots.
Into the second hour of the tour strangely enough, Kathy was bitten/stung on the finger by a fly. We weren’t certain what the deal was, but she called the Center and had one of the
staff bring some medication and when we made the rendezvous point, they took her off the tour vehicle. We continued with just the driver and headed through the Prairie Dog village
to the area where the Burrowing Owls live in prairie dog holes along with other critters. |
Nary an owl did we see…
Prairie Scenery from the Trolley
The trolley travels along a gravel road to the end of the facility, executes a U-turn and returns on the same road. However, near the end of this road in the distance were two of the young
Bald Eagles sitting on telephone poles, hatched March 2006 – as stated previously, this eagle nest is important to these folks and they knew nearly everything possible about this group.
The driver indicated they would fly as we approached and the first one did, hopping several poles and perching again down the line. I asked her if we had time to stop (the two-hour tour
was running behind with the excitement/stop caused by the fly bite) and she said to photograph an eagle, she would stop… So, I went outside, Linda handed me the tripod and lens through a windowless
opening at the back of the trolley and I set up. I took several shots from fairly far away just in case the eagle took off and asked the driver if I could walk closer. She said yes,
but not too close, apparently worried about stressing the birds. I must comment, seeing an eagle where I’ve been seeing hawks, sitting on a telephone pole, really astonished me.
They are significantly larger than even a large hawk and once you see the difference, you won’t mistake the two at distance. I moved as close as I thought I could without
concerning the driver or the Eagle and took my time, bracketing the fledgling trying to make certain one of the shots would be good. The image scale wasn’t great but it was the first
opportunity I’ve had to shoot one of these magnificent birds. Did you know that it’s only into the 4th or 5th year that an adult eagle will show the white head feathers
that provide their name? This eagle was brown, fairly drab and looked like somebody had beaten it with a stick. I mean really, in the world of eagles this one looked untidy
and scruffy at best and like a disheveled slob at worse. However, no matter what else, I had captured the bird’s image sitting on pole along a gravel road in the park.
The return trip was rather anticlimactic after the eagle event… However, we finally saw one tiny Owl head; I viewed this for a fraction of a second before the bird went down the burrow.
I shot a prairie dog head popping out of a hole right next to the owl and that was that, we returned to the Visitor’s Center. I took some shots with the camera handheld bracing
against the jerking and bucking sides of the trolley. Two birds I really wished to photograph, a Magpie and a Western Kingbird were present in and around this area but
I was unable to obtain a decent shot of either of these much to my chagrin. I determined to get back to the Arsenal for a day before returning home if at all possible…
We stopped for lunch as Linda and I hadn’t eaten all day where we left so early and then with Sandy driving, we headed for the mountains. Shortly after arriving at the park
entrance and paying the fee, we viewed a bunch of cars stopped and everyone was out looking at a meadow. We pulled over to find out what they were looking at and spotted
two rather mangy Coyotes in the field. I’d planned how best to keep the 500mm lens on the tripod while in the car so it could be readily accessed as we drove along the roads.
Saturday had been good practice and I could get it out and ready to shoot rapidly enough, but with birds you often don’t get a chance to get an exposure off
before they’re gone. The Coyotes were moving off but not so quickly I didn’t have a chance to image both. These aren’t great but I did get an image of each and
like the eagle earlier in the day, they were looking fairly mangy in my view.
|Not too far from the Coyote sighting we pulled off at a scenic overview to look around. I took some landscape shots and imaged a weensy chipmunk and some kind of small squirrel native to the area. They hang around the rocks, probably looking to get fed; they are alert and skittish but don’t move too far from the visitors from what I could see. Not long after leaving the scenic turn out we came upon a group of Mallard ducks crossing the road. This group consisted of the Mother and five ducklings and they were marching along taking their time and enjoying the day. I imaged this group in the road and hobbling over the curb into the woods, shooting from the car with the window down. They were cute indeed and looked like they were on a mission…|
We continued along the park road and Linda spotted a turn off with a stream not far ahead. Thinking this would be an ideal birding spot we pulled in and walked the
boardwalk over a marshy area that ended with a deck where one could look around the area. There we met a father and two sons from Minnesota and Sandy provided
him directions and some local insight as they were heading for Denver. We viewed a single Sparrow and nothing else. It was here that I commenced teasing Sandy
about the dearth of birds in Colorado… Because I’d carried the tripod and lens down the boardwalk, I set up and took a few scenic shots although there wasn’t
a great deal that could be viewed. The mountains are everywhere around of course, so I shot what I liked from that vantage point.
Back in the car, we drove along & viewed the magnificent scenery while talking about all kinds of varied topics. Corey was sorely missed on this trip but we had a
great time as we climbed higher and higher into the Rockies. We soon came to a major scenic pull off that had restrooms and a truly breathtaking view of the valley below.
By this time the temperature had dropped significantly with the altitude gain and while we walked around, the girls were getting chilled. Sandy broke out
some windbreakers to warm up but for me, this was the first time I’d been in a comfortable climate for three months. All our work has been in Maryland and
Virginia during the recent heat wave and to me it felt great to be cool while outside.
This spot was an outstanding opportunity for bird imaging looking down and over the wall from the parking area. I shot several birds I’d never seen before and with the long lens they were close enough when perched in the tall pines that the imaging was close to ideal. The lighting was great, the sun was behind us and I shot a series of firsts on a Steller’s Jay and Clark’s Nutcracker. Both of these birds are scavenger types and most likely hang around this area hoping to get fed, but they were fine looking specimens. There was only one Jay and I never got an outstanding shot on him because this bird never perched in sight for a clear shot. The beautiful blue color these birds exhibit is really eye-catching. The Nutcracker was large, up to twelve inches I read and these also are beautiful in gray and blue/black colors. I have a close up shot where the wings look deep blue, a very nice specimen indeed… In between bird imaging opportunities, I shot a series of landscape shots into the valley below. This too was well worth the stop although shooting at distance indicated the haze/clouds prevalent in the area most of the time. My understanding is that very few days are perfectly clear, but when this occurs it must be a sight to behold.
We continued along the park road and traveled the various switchbacks and followed the ups and downs. Everywhere you looked was a photo op but you just couldn’t pull over wherever
as the road was narrow and there was no room to get off the pavement. After a time I had Sandy agreeing to stop dead in the roadway provided no cars were following directly.
I would take a quick couple of shots through the opened window and we’d get on the move again. The other issue was where you can’t pull over except in designated spots,
these areas were full of other folks doing the same thing, being tourists and looking around. Some of these areas didn’t provide sufficient parking for you to get
off the road even if you wanted to - they were full of vehicles.
|The next stop we made was near what we estimated to be about the highest point before you start down again. Unexpectedly, no other cars were there when we arrived. Actually, once we got out the reason for this wasn’t difficult to ascertain. It was cold, actually frigid to the ladies in our group. I was in a tee shirt and as I imaged some of the outstanding landscape around us, even I finally admitted it was cold with the temperature drop and breeze blowing across the high ground. I took a photo of Linda and Sandy at this location and you can see Sandy’s hair blowing in the stiff breeze. I also imaged a Horned Bunting at this location with a short lens. The bird wasn’t close and the detail isn’t there at that distance, but you can certainly tell what it is. We didn’t dally long at this turn off under the circumstances and headed down the mountain.|
As we continued on our way we viewed a plethora of vehicles pulled over at an area not really established as a scenic viewpoint, but with sufficient room to
get off the road. We figured there must be something worth checking out and pulled off where we could. There was a large herd of Elk grazing along the road
in a field, perhaps several hundred or so, mostly cows with young. There were some young bulls to be seen with their short antlers, but no adult bulls that
I could tell. This provided an opportunity to get some close up shots on some of the cows and the herd overall before we moved on. Corey later indicated
that one bull elk may well be the patriarch of thirty or forty cows with offspring.
Not far down the way from the herd we came across a bull elk grazing all alone off the road. I rolled down the window and took several exposures of this fine looking animal, who fairly well ignored us as we talked to him. Next came a few more scenery shots as we were nearing the end of the tour. The onset of dusk was in the offing and we were losing the light to photograph anything. I would comment here that I wish we could have arrived in the Rocky Mountain National Park earlier in the day to allow more time in this superlative setting.
Similar to when the elk herd drew a crowd, we came to another open field with several people watching from outside their vehicles by the roadside plus a handful perhaps a
hundred yards into the meadow. I couldn’t see what the hoopla was about and Linda took the field glasses and scanned the area. Have I
pointed out that Linda has excellent vision and is really good at spotting birds and wildlife at distance? Well, she is and after a
moment she indicated there were two large birds well out into the field and some folks were set up to photograph them. I took the
field glasses and had a look… I had no idea what they were from that distance, but she was correct, they were large indeed. I thought
they looked like Emu’s or Ostriches from my perspective but why they would be there was certainly a mystery. In any event, I’d seen
enough to know I was going into the field with the tripod and 500mm lens… I packed up what I required and down I went.|
The field was full of elk droppings and I quickly learned to keep eyes on the ground while walking. I was pretty far from the two birds the first time I set the tripod down. There were two reasons for this, one to take a look at what they were, plus any shot is better than no shot if the birds were watching your approach and skedaddled. There was no way to make a stealthy approach in the open field bar scooting on your behind or crawling on you stomach and I wasn’t about to do either in that particular field, plus the other imager was closer that I was to begin with, perhaps 45 or 50 or degrees to my right. He appeared to be shooting with a 300mm lens or so, camera on tripod with a cable release. It was late in the day and we were losing the light.
The first group of shots all exhibited camera shake from too slow an exposure, although my preview of them in the field looked okay. I was shooting in Aperture Priority at f/5.6. I was concerned enough to change my ISO to 400 in lieu of 100 which I generally shoot, which appeared to aid the effort in the failing light. I’m adverse to shooting above 400 ISO because my experience has been that little or no noise is introduced to the image at or below this rating. This was the correct solution and the shutter speed changed considerably although not as much as I would have liked. I moved closer again took some shots and identified the birds as some type of crane or heron, although nothing I was familiar with. I was still further away than the other shooter and the birds didn’t appear fazed by him in the least, so I picked up and moved into what I figured to be a close approach under the circumstances.
A Totally Unexpected Sighting
The birds were foraging for something intently but were moving off to my right enough to cause some concern because I didn’t want to miss the shot or spook them where
the other fellow was shooting away – he may not appreciate my presence and their moving. I got where I needed to be and shot the pair multiple times. Even with the ISO
rating changed, any movement while exposing caused the shots to exhibit blurring and many of the images weren’t usable. However, I got several good images and as I
prepared to head back, along with the other imager, I yelled over to him and asked what he supposed they were. ‘Sandhill Cranes’ was his reply and I may add, he was
none to polite in his response I thought… Later that night I enhanced two fine images of the male Sandhill Crane
and I was as pleased as could be. Both were beautiful in their summer colors and the mask on the male, red above the eye and white below is a clear identification mark.
I couldn’t have been more satisfied with this development. Had I viewed a white elephant in that meadow I would have been less taken aback then a pair of these cranes…
I did a bit of research and later learned there are supposedly around 40 pairs of nesting Sandhill Cranes in Colorado. They are on the State’s endangered species list because the population has declined significantly in a modest timeframe, mostly due to human expansion into their territory and breeding grounds. I was also startled to learn they have been hunted for of all things, food for many years… There are only two cranes in the United States, the Sandhill as noted above and the Whooping Crane, long on the endangered species list. This means I’ve imaged 50% of the crane species that can be viewed in North America (Ha!).
|By now the light was dimming to the point that imaging would provide marginal results without using a flash. I was happy, it had been an eventful day and I had nearly 8 gigabytes of RAW & Jpeg images to download and investigate. I’d been up early and it was getting late and we still had miles to go before reaching our night’s destination. It was at 1800 hours local time that once again we come upon a group on the side of the road gesturing and pointing into a swampy area. We too were curious so we pulled over to see what everyone was looking at. What we found was a Moose and a calf foraging by the water. They were going in and out of the trees and other growth. I figured why not get a shot so I put the 70-200 f/2.8L lens on the 5D and walked over. I’m certain I’m the only one there that managed a decent shot in the lighting conditions without a flash. I told Sandy that this was one heck of a note - travel to Colorado from Maine to photograph a Moose…|
One brave couple foolishly (in my view) went down the side of the stream toward the calf to take a photograph. When Linda and I saw the mother’s ears draw back
and flatten, a reactionary sign, a verbal warning was issued – ‘you probably don’t want to provoke the cow because if she feels her calf is threatened
she’ll take action and you may not like the end result…’ We left but there were still many excited folks jumping around like they won the lottery or
something watching the pair. In a way it was touching as we were all doing what we'd ventured there to do...
Sandy drove us to the Town of Grand Lake where Corey had made reservations at a place entitled Spirit Lake Lodge. We checked in, asked about where to dine and what time they closed, unloaded our luggage and discussed whether we should wait for Corey or go to dinner. It was close to 2100 hours and the lodge clerk indicated the restaurant she recommended closed at 2100 on Sunday, so we walked up to have dinner as Corey wasn’t expected for another hour. Upon returning to the lodge, he finally arrived with one four-wheeler on his truck and a second on a trailer. He informed us tomorrow, we were going four-wheeling in the Arapaho National Forest, not many miles from where we now were. It wasn’t long before we said our good-nights and off to bed we went. So ended Day Three and a wonderful day it was.
I was up early and working on the computer rendering some of the image files from the last few days. We’d been quite tired but our bodies were still
pretty much on Eastern Time (the time zone was two hours behind EDT) so it was a bit difficult to sleep in. After a time our party was up and ready
to get going, so we determined to seek out a restaurant for breakfast. We walked around town to learn what was available and found the restaurant from the
evening before open and serving.|
We had a great breakfast and afterwards the girls looked around some of the shops before we headed for the vehicles. Corey and I were in his pick up hauling the trailer and Sandy and Linda were in the Navigator as we traveled the twenty miles or so to the Arapaho National Forest. As is my usual practice, I kept an eye out for hawks and other birds along the way. I viewed a large Red Tailed Hawk in a tree right off the highway… this would have been an exceptional shot of a fairly close hawk high in a tree with a blue sky behind. However, it was not to be… I had my camera in the truck and the tripod in the Navigator; by the time both vehicles stopped and I started to get the gear out, the bird was long gone…
We arrived at the location Corey had selected. He and Sandy have ridden these trails and camped in the forest multiple times and were familiar with the area. As soon as I’d exited
the truck we viewed a Kestrel flying around and it landed in a high tree fairly close to us. I pulled the camera out and took a few shots of the bird on the wing and got off
one in the tree before a group of four-wheelers came roaring by and it flew quickly out of site. I had the 70-200mm lens with a 1.4X extender on the camera and with no chance
to change the lens or camera settings, shot as quickly as I could and managed one mediocre wing shot and a perched shot on this beautiful bird.
|We unloaded the four-wheelers and Corey gave me a brief lesson on how to operate it. Although I’ve been a motorcyclist for many years, this was a bit different. The gravel roads I saw looked fairly good and the trip into the forest was fun as I learned how to drive the machine with Linda on the back. Little did I know what Corey had in mind on this sightseeing journey… Our intent was to get up higher on the mountain and do some scenic photography, look for birds and other wildlife, etc., you know, vacation kind of stuff, not learn the technical aspects of riding motorized all terrain vehicles in nearly inaccessible areas.|
We continued up the trail looking around and admiring the view. ATV’s are noisy so there isn’t much hope of sneaking up on anything, but you never know what might be flushed out or
what static sights you’ll come across next. This type of riding was enjoyable to us (at least for Linda and me) as it allowed time to sightsee without much distraction from
operating the four-wheeler. We followed the trail higher as far as it went and ended up on a tree covered overview that had one side exposed to a falloff below, a side
looking deeper into the forest and one open for a beautiful view of the expanse beyond. It was a nice ride up and once there, we halted, took photographs and explored
the area for a time.
Along the way we’d stop and I’d take some shots including some mushrooms, flowers, etc., but never pulled the tripod out at first. We came down from our lofty perch and Corey decided to take another route as we traveled. This trail was rough, full of boulders, significant ruts and riding it was no pleasure to Linda and I as were weren’t familiar with doing this kind of riding. When we got off this section and back onto a smoother road, I indicated to Corey this wasn’t what we’d preferred and I asked him to keep more to the primary trails. I was concerned about my equipment banging around besides the wear and tear on us & he agreed.
|We saw few birds and except for a Moose and her calf in the woods, no other wildlife. Linda, with her excellent vision, viewed the Moose moving in the woods and we stopped and took a shot of the pair although it really was far from an ideal setting and the cow was obviously wary of our presence and hiding behind the trees. I wanted to go into the woods further but they we in quite a distance and Linda advised against it, rightfully so, as it may be perceived as a threat. So, we packed up and got on our way.|
|At one stop that had a nice overlook of the mountains beyond, I pulled the tripod off and imaged some flowers up close with my 70-300 DO lens. This lens can serve as a macro at 1.5 meters and I was using it for this purpose. It’s not as close up as a true macro lens but works well and is a good all purpose lens when you can only bring a few. Insects weren’t much of a problem although there were many varieties flying about. Just like when riding my Harley, you learn to keep your mouth closed to avoid swallowing the flying multitude of critters. There were many flies around that bite and when you stopped they were always present. I viewed some landing on flowers and took several close up shots of these and some landscapes. It was after leaving this area that Corey decided he knew a place with a ‘wonderful stand of Aspens’ that we ‘just had to check out’ and the trouble began…|
We came upon a rough section of trail and although I wasn’t especially pleased, we navigated this okay. At the bottom of this trail, another turned off to the left
and Corey decided this was where we should go. I was incredulous at best… I’ve seen moon photographs that had better surface conditions than what I was now viewing.
It wasn’t a trail or path, just a section void of trees four feet wide strewn with large boulders intertwined with gargantuan ruts with a steep pitch.
I talked with Linda about this and she agreed to go down, so with Corey and Sandy on the front machine, I did my best to follow his maneuvers through the boulders.
This photograph hardly does justice to the roughness of this 'trail'. It actually
looks fairly decent & relatively flat in this image, but trust me, it was not.
We did well until about three-quarters of the way down, where there was a significant rut that you couldn’t navigate around. Corey went first as I watched and after he was
clear, we followed. Things were going okay and we were almost through when the left side of the four-wheeler slid into the rut and started to flip. It was like a cartoon
filmstrip enacted in slow motion as we tried to counterbalance the ATV and right lean it back to stability. However, it was not to be and we pitched off into the rocks
and gravel and landed hard. I was up in an instant and greatly concerned about my camera bag, which was on that side of the vehicle and was now lying underneath the ATV.
Corey came over and asked if we were okay and righted the machine. I was fine, nothing hurt but my pride, but Linda had landed hard on her behind and we were both
fairly dusty. I pulled the camera out and inspected it carefully; much to my relief nothing appeared to be damaged. Corey took the ATV down the balance of the
steep trail and we walked down and discussed what had happened. I was afraid Linda was really hurt and didn’t wish to say anything further about it, but
she was walking and getting around okay although at this point neither of us was especially fond of four-wheeling. I indicated to Corey if this was his
idea of fun than he was truly a sick man indeed…
Linda & Kirk in Happier Times Before the Crash
Image by Sandy Stone
As poor as that trail was, things got worse. We went over some board bridges that straddled streams and continued riding the trail of ruts and boulders. I wasn’t feeling invincible anymore;
these ‘bridges’ and trust when I say this term is used loosely, are designed to be just wide enough for an ATV’s tires to ride the outside of the construction.
If you were to over or under compensate even a little, you’d take a plunge into the stream. With my camera gear aboard, I had little interest in this happening,
let alone having us falling in with it, so we let Corey and Sandy take the machines across and we walked.
Corey was right about one thing, the Aspens were nice and we stopped, took some shots, enjoyed the scenery and talked for a bit before leaving the area. In the end result, this plan and where we found ourselves now was about as poor a predicament as could be from my and Linda’s perspective.
One of the Brooks Spanned by a Bridge.
Image by Sandy Stone
The trail out was a nightmare and nothing like a sightseeing tour, more like a ‘Survivors’ episode as we tried to get out in one piece… forget about looking around, just keeping
to the task at hand took all one’s concentration and effort focused for the duration. Even as bad as this was it got worse. We were near the cars but to get there was an ordeal in itself.
Corey knew how to get back to the vehicles but the path was a rutted, nasty mountain trail, the term ‘trail’ being used with a good deal of latitude. It was steep, at times appearing 45 degrees or more, twisted and turning with switchbacks, ruts, boulders, tree roots, you name it. It was here that Linda and I gave it up. There was no way we could navigate this in safety and by now we knew better. So, we split up, I went with Corey as a passenger and Linda rode with Sandy. Once we started up I knew the decision was the right one as I hung on for dear life while Corey got us out. Twenty minutes later or so we joined up with the pleasingly smooth trail we’d started out on. By now in my humble view, this looked more like the Autobahn and I was quite pleased indeed to see it. We were ready to get moving on to Silverthorne, find a restaurant, then the hotel to get checked in. We loaded up the four-wheelers and with Corey and me in the truck and Sandy and Linda in the Navigator, we were on our way.
Corey, I love you like a brother but you are one truly sick individual… Next time you wish to see a ‘wonderful stand of Aspens’, I’ll buy you a postcard. Later I told our friends I’ll have to think of something equally nasty for them to do when they visit Maine next. I think I’ll take them to Newfoundland and have them kiss the rotting codfish… Knowing Corey, he’d probably enjoy this.
Corey's Stand of Aspens
Silverthorne, where we had reservations at a La Quinta Inn, was about thirty miles from where we loaded up. We decided to travel there before having dinner as
Corey had a particular steakhouse he liked and wanted to take us there. It was getting late, past 1900 hours when we departed. On the way we past a lake
that was noted as being a bird preserve, so we stopped in to find out what birds may be in the area. There were many Canadian Geese, Mallards and some
others near the entrance, but anything I may be interested in imaging were all on the other side, Cormorants, White Pelicans and some we weren’t certain about.
It’s an axiom in photography that no matter which side of the lake you come into, the wildlife is always on the other side. I always wondered how the
birds know where you’ll be entering… In the end result mostly because we were ravenously hungry, we didn’t break out the camera gear and got back on the road.
Near Silverthorne, just as we were coming into town, I spotted a huge nest constructed on a pair of telephone poles with a cross member. As we drove by, I viewed a flash of a large bird with white head feathers… this together with the size of the nest, it was enormous, automatically made me think the bird was a Bald Eagle and I asked Corey to pull over at the first possible opportunity. Another clue as we rode by was the fact the driveway was entering a residential facility called the Eagles Nest on Bald Eagle Drive.
We turned into a residential complex roadway across from the nest and Linda, who was behind us in the second vehicle, pulled out the field glasses and announced
they were Ospreys. I was disappointed at this information, but still, there were five or six Ospreys in sight in good lighting as the sun set behind the mountains
and I just couldn’t pass on the opportunity to image this group. Nobody was overly pleased about this development, I could ascertain this from the looks, but it
was now with the lighting or a return to the area later on if I was going to image the group, which I wished to do. I set up the tripod, Sidekick and camera,
swung it over my shoulder and crossed the street to see what I could come up with.
What I found after investigation, was a pair of adults, the patriarch was eating a fish on another pole by himself, with the mother feeding a fledgling in the nest. On the cross beam of the pole, two nearly full grown young Ospreys were perched looking around and hanging out with the family. I imaged all these birds and shot multiple bracketed series from four different locations. Overall it was a respectable effort and the images came out okay. It was only after the fact that I realized I’d shot the entire group in jpg in lieu of RAW or a combination; a bit of a disappointment perhaps, but not the worst thing that could have happened. The nest is close to where we were staying so I’d have the opportunity to do it all again if time permitted.
We had a great meal at a restaurant called ‘The Mine’. Here you pick out what you’d like for dinner from a lighted case; the staff gives it to you and you proceed to a grill room to cook it yourself. You order beverages and side dishes at the time of the selection and they bring it to the table. It was a good meal, we were all ready and it hit the spot. Afterwards we checked into the hotel and retired for the evening.
We’d planned on taking the four-wheeler into an area near Frisco, another national forest where you could ride in many fairly remote areas. Linda was still hurting
from yesterday and we talked with Corey about finding trails that weren’t too rough. He and Sandy had ridden this area as well on multiple occasions and from memory,
they figured we could get to the top of the mountain with little problem. This didn’t exactly pan out as planned and sections of the trail were painful to ride.
This was problematic enough that we decided to re-route and try another way. Near where we came about, I noticed a field to my right and as we progressed,
viewed several small ponds surrounded by trees, a perfect spot to find birds from what could see. Nowhere in my Colorado travels the last few days had I
found anyplace that would be considered a great spot to image birds, they simply weren’t many around in the areas we visited, at least not what I’d consider
a ‘target rich environment’ setting. From a distance, we viewed some kind of flycatcher flying into the field so hung around a bit to learn if anything
else may be going on. About this time a hummingbird flew around us and perched in a tree, where we had a good look at it. We later determined it was a
Black Chinned Hummingbird, the western equivalent to our Ruby Throat, but there was no opportunity to even get the camera out before it was flitting away
doing its own thing.|
It was determined that the top could not be obtained without traveling the worst of the trail, so we rode the better trails to other areas and had a great time. We flushed some birds along the way but never stopped to image anything. I actually didn’t unpack the camera for the entire ride this afternoon, just kicked back and enjoyed the day.
After the last few days we really didn’t expect to find any bird imaging opportunities of consequence, but it didn’t make sense not to be prepared as one never knows.
This time I brought my entire lens set and accessory equipment in the Lightware travel camera case that I use for flights and storage. This offered better protection
to the gear and allowed a choice of lenses as five or more can be fitted. This was strapped down on Corey’s ATV, the tripod was wrapped in a sheet and tied off to
mine and the 500mm lens was padded and placed in like a gym bag and tied off as well. The only draw back to this system was that access for a quick and dirty shot
was a task, which in the end result really stopped my shooting anything. We were in areas that were fully wooded and nothing we viewed appeared worthy of that much effort.
This ride lasted about four hours total and we came down the trail and packed up the four-wheelers. It wasn’t an overly exciting day and with the late start, a better plan was difficult to implement. Actually, a bit of down time at the hotel gave all of us a chance to kick back and relax some as we’d been on the go constantly. We headed back to Silverthorne, had dinner around 2000 hours and afterwards visited a local Borders book store. We only had about twenty-five minutes in the book store before it closed, but this was long enough for me to check out a few things, mostly books on local birds, before we left. We returned to the hotel and retired for the evening looking forward to a good night’s sleep.
Talking to Corey before they left, he laughed about our four-wheeling sessions and broke my heart by indicating that he and Sandy never ride such ‘easy’ trails
like those we traveled. Their preference is off-road motorcycles and in this pursuit they are fully outfitted and equipped for hard riding and exhibition of their
advanced technical riding skills. They do this as a family with Keenan, their son, who is also a skilled operator and travel around Colorado and other states to
vary the trails and challenges. I think this is great actually, but I’ll take my Harley and the open road – a real, paved road that is, anytime over the experience
of driving on boulders and ruts.|
We’d like to thank Corey and Sandy for their kindness and consideration on our Colorado adventure. Having you folks around for the days we spent together proved wonderful indeed and I’m certain it was no easy task to accomplish this with everyone having such a hectic life and busy schedule. We appreciate the warm welcome into you home, the great meals and pleasurable company and look forward to having you visit Maine so we can reciprocate in kind. And Sandy, when I referred to you and Linda as ‘skanks’, it truly was a term of endearment…
Sandy, Keenan & Corey in Utah
Image provided by Sandy Stone
So we were on our own and we really did miss our friends almost immediately. This also left me as the primary driver and less time to watch the
roadside for hawks and other animals of interest. We decided to do some touring with the time remaining before we attended the wedding rehearsal that afternoon.
We were in a beautiful area and didn’t need to do much or go far to take in the scenery and landscapes surrounding the mountain venues. It was still early
morning and we drove to an area at Lake Dillon and pulled into a day use park. The lighting was close to perfect and the lake reflected the beauty of the
surrounding mountains nicely in the serene water. Nobody was around at that time in the morning so I set up the tripod and changed to a shorter lens to
take in the scene through the viewfinder. This shot (noted below) represents one of my favorite landscape of those photographed during this journey. I enhanced and
printed this image and have it framed for display in my office.
Image provided by Sandy Stone
We left the lake and headed towards Breckinridge, the site of the rehearsal and wedding the next day. This was a ‘dry run’ to find the facility and to check out the area.
I’d visted here before in passing but never stopped for any length of time to look around, just passed through. On the way I spotted an adult Red Tailed Hawk perched on a pole
watching the area while hunting. This appeared too good to pass up in my view, so I pulled over and mounted the Sidekick and 500mm lens
on the tripod, installed the camera and adjusted the settings to take the image. I almost always take bird shots in Aperture Priority mode with the lens wide open using
spot or sometimes evaluate focus mode at an ISO rating of 100 or 200. This is how I set it up and with the Canon 1.4X extender; I was at 700mm at f/5.6. Using a 1.4X extender
will cause one to lose one stop of light; at 2X you lose two stops. Autofocus will work with an extender provided you don’t go above f/5.6. This is the reason I use the
1.4X in lieu of the 2X on the 500mm lens - I can still shoot with autofocus.|
Of course as soon as I was prepared, the hawk flew off… The bird crossed the road and landed on another pole about seventy-five yards from where we were parked. Viewing across the way, I saw that there was a side road that pulled off near where the hawk was now perched and figured I’d follow up to try a shot. We crossed the highway and pulled in near the raptor. I pulled the tripod out, now ready to go except for any height/leveling adjustment that may be required and walked in closer. The results of this endeavor can be viewed here.
We drove around Breckinridge and checked out the area. It has many shops, restaurants and scenic venues, a nice area indeed, but we didn’t stop or spend anytime in town. After a bit we headed back to Silverthorne and the hotel to do some last minute errands before we had to return to Breckinridge. We drove along the backside of Lake Dillon and found it quite scenic with a few places to stop and shoot down on the lake. We didn’t take advantage of this opportunity but noted it in case we came back this way. Because there was a after rehearsal dinner planned in Breckinridge after the event, we were going to change now so as not to have to return to the hotel between these events. Linda was hoping to purchase a slip and had asked a fellow at the hotel about where she may find one and we decided to get this accomplished. We made many stops in this quest and she couldn’t locate this garment anywhere... Finally after the fifth or sixth stop, she located one in a store that had us almost back in the town of Breckinridge…
We arrived at Ten Mile Station, the facility where the rehearsal was to be held about 0330 hours that afternoon. We were early and I took a few
photographs of the grounds. The rehearsal went well, we learned what was expected of us and the group broke up planning to meet later at the restaurant for the dinner afterwards.
The groom, Brent Mackenzie, hails from New Zealand and he and Sarah met in Breckinridge, where he works as chef and she is a nurse. Many of Brent’s family and
friends gathered for the wedding and it was great meeting everyone for the first time. We’d met Brent, known as Nick to his friends, previously, but this was
the first time we’d had the pleasure of meeting his family and it was grand.
Because we stayed in Breckinridge we had a few hours to hang out before dinner. There were a few errands to run and Sarah asked us to stop by the condo they had recently purchased. While at her place on the second floor, I walked out onto the deck and viewed about eight or nine hummingbirds playing and chasing around a feeder one her neighbors had set up. Intrigued, I watched this activity for a bit, looked at my watch and decided I had time to get in some images before dinner. The only problem was it was getting late and the light was faltering. It was difficult lining up a wing shot of one of the hummies but noticed several would perch on a roof gutter before zipping in for a quick suck at the feeder. I got some exposures off of the perched birds, but none of the wing shots taken as they approached the feeder came out as all indicated motion. This wasn’t surprising under the low light conditions without a flash. As it was, the image scale was quite small predicated upon the distance these tiny birds were from my set up. I later identified these as Broad Tailed Hummingbirds and this was the first time I’d imaged any. In the east, the Ruby-Throats are all one will find.
The dinner was great, we had a good time and I imbibed more than I should have (as Sarah so aptly informed me). Everyone was tired and as I had to give some rides back to their various accommodations, I left earlier than I would have although most had departed for the evening. So, we did what we had to do and headed back to the hotel in Silverthorne to retire.
Next on our agenda was the primary event and causation for our journey at this particular time, the wedding. As can be expected, this took up the balance of the day
and evening. Rather than go into a lengthy dissertation of this momentous occasion, I will simply state that the wedding was absolutely beautiful. It was well planned,
well executed and enjoyable. We all celebrated this union in a magnificent setting with friends and family, had a great meal and danced into the night. Sarah and Brent
are a lovely couple and she was stunningly beautiful on her wedding day. You don’t have to take my work for this as her father, simply take a look at the photograph.
We were departing for the return trip to Denver early in the morning in anticipation of our re-entry back into the real world. Because of this, when the festivities ended at the facility and the party was moving in town to continue, we called it an evening. It was getting late and we retuned to the hotel in Silverthorne.
The drive time to Denver wasn’t great and we’d discussed an afternoon plan with our friends to take another road trip together upon our return. Several options were discussed
but nothing was firmed up as to what we may do in the end result.
We made one stop on I-70 on the trip east. There was a turn off indicated as a Big Horn Sheep viewing point. We weren’t in any great hurry and although I’d seen these animals before, thought we could stop and have a look around to learn if any were present. Nobody else was in the parking lot initially and we had the place to ourselves. The scenery was majestic with a valley below us and a mountain continuing to rise behind us. I got the camera out and took some exposures with a short lens and noticed a finch like bird near a rock close to where we were.
Not wishing to take the time to unpack the 500mm lens, I took several shots of this bird with the 24~105mm f/4L lens, which was on the camera at that time. I wasn’t familiar with this bird and we later identified it as a Cassin’s Finch, not something we’d see around Maine as they are interior western birds. They appear to enjoy high altitudes and are considered a common resident of the western mountain regions where spruce and fir trees are abundant. I was pleased to have the chance to image this bird.
We were back on the road soon enough and not long afterwards arrived at the Stone residence. Our arrival found nobody home, but as we were expected, the door was unlocked. A bit of down time was okay with me and I broke out my laptop to get on line, check email and download the memory cards from the camera. During the week I attempted to download the cards on a daily basis for safety reasons (duplication of the RAW files) as well as to keep the cards available in case they were needed and I had to overwrite the data. I had three, four-Gigabyte cards with me for my primary use and two, two-Gigabyte cards as a reserve. There isn’t much chance that I’d shoot all the cards full at any given time unless I was unable to download them for several weeks at a time or something.
After several hours with nobody returning, we headed out and had some lunch. Not long afterwards, Sandy came home and Corey arrived shortly after; we had a leisurely balance of the day.
We discussed going to dinner and in the end result, decided to have a cook out at home as the best recourse. It turned out to be a fine evening and the right choice. Corey’s mom,
Marge arrived from her moving/unpacking tasks for the day and with her arrival everyone joining for the cook out was in the house. The night was warm and relatively clear.
We had a nice dinner with more food available than we could possible eat and Corey and I smoked a great cigar as we chatted on the backyard deck. We were all tired after a
fun filled, arduous week and planned to retire early.
I’ve got to comment on Marge’s fine Scotty dog, Baxter. He’d been in the house all along while Marge was otherwise indisposed with getting moved and we found him to be quite a character. I’d met Baxter several times before and upon my return to Maine had indicated to Linda that we had to get a dog just like this little devil. He and I became friends and we enjoyed the mutual company. While I viewed images on the laptop – for several hours as it turned out, Linda was playing with Baxter and soon enough he wouldn’t let her stop; he just wanted to play and play…
Any of us that travel by air or remain informed about world events will recall in August when the terrorists were arrested in England. This occurred when authorities were tipped off
about the liquid bomb’ plot… This event immediately sparked new regulations in airports causing undue delays and issues. It was into this atmosphere that we were
flying home in the morning, the event having occurred just days before. Our flight was at 0700 hours and it became clear that the 'normal' arrival time of two-hours pre-flight would prove insufficient. Sandy had to work
the next morning and planned to leave before 0400… We decided to have everything packed & 100% ready beforehand to be able to venture in with her at that heathenish hour to
get home. It was good we did. The airport was absolutely mobbed with people and Delta and other airline representatives were in the crowds yelling about cancelled
flights and offering instructions as to what you should do depending upon the flight you were scheduled for.
We learned soon enough we couldn’t check our bags at the kiosk, even with our pre-printed boarding passes. Our flight was one of those the representative indicated we had to stand in line for. It took time but there were far fewer people in front us than in line behind us as we looked around. It wasn’t just Delta either; several airlines had lines significantly longer than the one we occupied. I don’t know what was going on to cause this imposition. It could have been the result of the new screening processes being implemented but I don’t understand how this would impact so many flight cancellations. Eventually we made it to the ticket counter, checked our bags, received new boarding passes with the same itinerary although with an arrival time to Portland three or four hours later than planned. Armed with these, we headed for the security screening lines.
Much to my amazement, getting through security was by far the easiest thing we’d done all morning. Whatever the hold up at check in, the security screening point wasn’t impacted and this was the least amount of time I’ve expended during this process at a major airport. This and sitting for multiple hours at the gate as we waited to board our aircraft were our last reminisces of our terrific week in Colorado.