Tucson to Greens Peak in 45 degrees

We got a tip that we might be able to find coatimundi at Cluff Ranch in Pima, AZ, a locale they had been seen many times before. Having never seen a coatimundi, we were anxious to follow up on the lead and hopeful to get a great shot.

We stopped at Tucson Mountain Park along the way. It was sunny blue sky the entire time, but we weren’t there for sunsets, we were there for the animals.

At Tucson Mountain Park we were delighted and entertained as we watched these little ground squirrel brave the ocotillo thorns just for a taste of it’s ‘candy corn’ fruit.

When we got to Cluff Ranch in Pima, AZ, we hiked in to the spot we thought we might see coatimundi, parked ourselves and hid for several hours, waiting in silence hoping for an encounter. Unfortunately, not all animal outings are productive. They work to their own schedule and don’t tend to appear on command.

The heat was intense at 97F, particularly for us mountain dwellers, so we made our way back through Hannigan’s meadow toward Greens Peak in hopes of catching some osprey fishing.

We were rewarded with a 53F day, nearly 45 degrees from the previous day in Southern AZ, and fortunate to see some osprey, yet unable to catch that illusive shot of them fishing… but I’ll keep trying.

Cedar Waxwings

Have you ever heard of these little birds? Chances are, if you have, you are from the Northern US or Canada. They are common little birds that are very social and flock together.

They are not particularly common to Arizona, though they have been seen wintering in Sabino Canyon outside of the Tucson area. They are an easily identified bird with their tails looking like they dipped it in a yellow paint bucket, with splashes of red on their wings, a yellow belly and masked face.

I had never seen them before, so had to do a bit of research to figure out what this strange breed (to me) of bird was in our forests of Northern Arizona. Apparently they are attracted all kinds of berries, and in our case the juniper and cedar berries.

Whatever wind may have blown them in, we are happy to have them for as long as they might visit.

Best Laid Plans

We planned well in advance for our trip to Toroweap Overlook, part of the North Rim Grand Canyon.

Toroweap (Tu-weep to the Paiute Indian) refers to ‘the earth’, and translates appropriately to ‘dry & barren’. It’s hard to imagine this long rough rocky 61-mile dirt road through sagebrush and salt bush can open up to something so enormous, vast, and beautiful.

As the Colorado River winds through the bottom of the canyon, the steep walls stretch out to the sky with abundant rock formations.

We got the camping permits 6 months in advance, as required, estimating that the end of March would be less crowded and have best potential for rainy weather and clouds, and not be too hot.

Truth be known, we hit the mark. We hoped for clouds and clouds we got. In fact, we got so many clouds that over the course of 3 nights and 3 days (that’s 6 sunset / sunrise shoots), we only saw the sun once.

Outside of that one time, the sun was behind a dense cloud bank and never made an appearance. And unfortunately, it never even lit up the sky.

While I was disappointed, it was a gorgeous spot to watch the sun rise over coffee, and end the evening watching it set (hoping the light would come).

Blue Sky Blues

I have to laugh at myself sometimes, we all should (read that how you like). When I first got into photography, oh so many years ago, I would complain when there were clouds. ‘Where’s the blue sky ?’, I would lament.

We went to Watson Lake Granite Dells in Prescott, AZ for a photo scouting trip. The sky was ablaze with blue. It really was a beautiful day, rock hopping, and taking in this magnificent place.

Because of the ‘boring’ blue sky, I had decided not to post the photos, and just go back for sunset / sunrise when there were picturesque clouds for better photographs.

In conversation with a friend however, who cocked their head when I mentioned Watson Lake, I decided I should give these photos some air time so that people could view it’s majestic beauty, even if it’s through blue sky blues.

Snow Shelter

Animals shelter when the temperature drops and the snow flys. They hunker down and protect themselves from the elements and predators seeking food sources.

So when the storm is over, we go out searching for critters coming out of hiding to gather food.

I always laugh as we bundle up to be the first ones out in the fresh fallen snow looking for animals. It seems like trying to find a needle in a haystack, but we are more lucky than not, and often find a number of wildlife, and even manage to get their picture (though not always).

… and luck is the apropos sentiment, as we leave our home and debate, ‘which direction should we go today’?

I admit to being very fortunate when we go out, but we also go out a lot, are prepared for what we might encounter, and tenacious enough to keep trying even if we aren’t successful the first time. They say, fortune favors the bold, in our case it favors the tenacious photographer.

Alamo Lake

It was my first time at Alamo Lake. I wasn’t sure what to expect. There isn’t much there but a campground and a lake. We brought the boat and figured we’d get some fish and some photographs.

While we didn’t get any fish, we got more than we bargained for when we saw a number of interesting, and unexpected wildlife.

We saw wild burro’s, very likely decedents of the Spaniards in the 1600’s or AZ miners, wandering the hills and coming down for water.

We saw grebes and blue heron…

.. and were surprised to find white, and brown, pelican.

As it turns out we got more than we expected, and were delightfully surprised.

Photography is like Golf

Photography is like golf, or any sport or hobby for that matter. You know, when you get that really great drive, perfect putt, or if you’re so lucky the coveted hole-in-one. It’s euphoric, and keeps you coming back for more.

That’s how I feel when I get that great shot. We go out every time it snows, looking for animals, hoping for that great encounter to capture.

With over 2′ of snow, we were hopeful that the ‘day after’ would bring the animals out foraging for food. We even saw a fleeting bobcat, but alas, didn’t get a photo. Darn!

But we did manage to see elk and deer. It makes me want to go out again! Bring on more snow.

Roosevelt Lake

Roosevelt Lake is one of several lakes around Arizona.

Years ago we used to enjoy it from the vantage point of the water’s edge, in a boat.

Now that we we are retired, we are more apt to enjoy the water from a vantage point high up from the lake so that we can capture photos of her allure from afar.

The Roosevelt bridge can be seen from the distance through smoke and haze. Either way, the water always attracts us and brings us back for more.

Birds-in-Flight (BIF) Photography

Sandhill crane fly across the sky

There are lots of genre’s of photography: sports, wildlife, landscape, portrait, etc., just to name a few.

But Birds-in-Flight is it’s own animal, forgive the pun. Before embarking on the long trek to Whitewater Draw I watched dozens of online video’s to help assure that I might come home with some decent images.

I have always shot single point focus as I take a lot of close up animals and landscape photos. But for BIF it was recommended that I use zone area to focus on a larger area (and improve my chances of getting a sharp image). While I was there, a kind photographer, JT, suggested I use the eye-focus that my camera offered. I must say, I found it very awkward and somewhat difficult. However, once I got more used to it, I found myself enjoying the fast focus ability of these new fancy cameras. Thanks, JT, for the great tip.

The eye focus had a particularly hard time picking out the eye in darker conditions, so I had to switch back to single point (or nine-point) focus for those situations. During the daylight hours I had better success, yet still struggled for the camera to focus on what I wanted to while recomposing the shot.

A fast shutter speed is essential to obtain a sharp photo, and not a streaky blur. However, in the early morning hours it was difficult to maintain a fast shutter speed, large enough aperture to get decent depth of field, and as low as possible ISO to reduce noise, even on a tripod. Admittedly, the daytime photos were easier to capture tack sharp pix.

I did learn that the closer the bird, and less distractions, the better the focus worked – and made for a cleaner more interesting photo. I also quickly realized that ‘bird butts’ make for a less than interesting photos, and it was best to pan across to get a profile or head shot.

Of course, wildlife photography is best with action shots and ‘gesture’. If I can capture something that has the animal doing something, or looking cute, that photo stands above the rest.

I had a hard time picking out the interaction among the birds from the flocks that surround them. With these high mega-pixel cameras, I was able to crop in to focus the attention and cut the clutter.

It helps to be in the right place at the right time. The best way to do that is scope out the area, find the best spot to take that great photo, and the best time. We were at Whitewater Draw for 4 days, allowing us ample opportunity for photographic greatness. Being prepared also means having the right equipment for the shoot. A fixed telephoto has very narrow flexibility, while a medium zoom provides options and a variety of story telling photos.

I took a lot of photos at varying focal lens with different lens to tell the complete story of the event, from the massive morning lift off to the late afternoon fly-ins, from the sandhill cranes interacting together, their mingling in the pools, to fly by’s. This diverse collection conveys a better sense of Whitewater Draw.

Above all else, I found practice was the best tool to improve my BIF shots. What do they say… practice makes you lucky. So true!

See more bird photos here… https://kritterspix.com/2022/02/06/whitewater-draw-workshop/ and https://kritterspaw.com/2022/02/06/birds-a-feather/

Whitewater Draw Workshop

Sandhill crane fly across the morning sky in the distance.

Have you heard of Whitewater Draw? Whitewater Draw is a swampy marsh area in McNeal, in southern AZ, east of Bisbee and north of Douglas (pretty much the border of AZ / Mexico).

Because of the food sources (namely corn fields) and marsh ponds, the sandhill crane flock to Whitewater Draw in droves in the winter months, Oct – March.

They sleep in the ponds to protect themselves from predators. Every morning they lift-off and go to graze in nearby fields.

In the afternoon some come back (between 10 am – noon) to rest and socialize in the ponds.

Just before sunset there is a mass fly in when the cranes come back for the night.

It is a sight to see! The noise of the cranes is deafening. The shear quantity of birds is impressive to say the least.

We participated in a Photo Workshop put on by Arizona Game & Fish (AZGFD). We watched the cranes take off from a distance crossing the moon in their path.

George Andrejko, AZGFD’s professional photographer for more than 20 years, walked around with us through the walking paths, pointing out different birds, and ducks along the way. Where else can you get a one on one with such a gifted and renown Arizona photographer? It was a special experience, one I would do again in a heartbeat.

The mere $25 fee to participate goes to a good cause so that the AZGFD can continue to care for the site and put on more such events.

We not only learned about the site, but were able to speak with talented and knowledgable AZGFD personnel. We met new and interesting like-minded people, enjoyed the outdoors, and had a ‘show’ throughout the day.

See more bird pix here ….https://kritterspaw.com/2022/02/06/birds-a-feather/ and https://kritterspix.com/2022/02/06/birds-in-flight-bif-photography/