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.

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.

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/

You Must Have A Good Camera

People often ask me, “what kind of camera do you have?”  Or my favorite statement, “you must have a good camera!”

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It reminds me of a story I heard some time ago, about the photographer who goes to a gourmet chef’s house for dinner.

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The well known published photographer shows up at the woman’s house for dinner.  The home owner & chef goes on about how beautiful his photographs are and as she invites him in she adds, ” I love you photographs.  You must have a great camera.”

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After a lovely evening and an amazing gourmet meal, as the photographer is leaving, he tells the woman how wonderful the meal was, and in parting “you must have a great oven!”

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The right camera gear is essential, skill… is priceless.

 

Sandhill Cranes

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I have never been much of a bird watcher, but being retired, and living in the ‘wilderness’ has made me so much more aware of the animals and birds around me that I ever was living in the big city going to work every day.

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There are so many interesting animals and birds out there, that I feel I have barely scratched the surface of being able to appreciate and identify the wide variety of species we have in AZ.

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The sandhill cranes are among the more interesting migrating birds that call AZ their temporary home.

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Then their are the snow geese that come for the summer – and I’m not talking about the east coasters that come in travel trailers and crowd Phoenix during Noreasters back home!

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Northern shovelers with their platypus-type bills are among some of the interesting ducks we have.

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Along with the pintail ducks that flock to our AZ lakes.

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At Whitewater Draw in southern AZ, you might find yourself saying ‘who?’ to any number of bird species in this small, confined riparian area that serves as home to a snow bird of another feather.

Great Whites

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I thought I had seen it all… at least most of the animals there were to see.  (Though I still have never seen that elusive mountain lion.)  The other day we even got the opportunity to see a Ringtail Cat.  Which was super cool.  I didn’t get a photo, alas… they are nocturnal.  I felt fortunate enough just to see this odd little weasel-like creature with a raccoon-ish big stripped tail bigger than his body.  (You can see a photo of him here…  https://kritterspaw.com/2018/10/30/ring-tale/).    But I digress.

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The other day, we were outside and this ‘swarm’ of white birds was circling overhead.  They settled in the tree in our front yard!  Moreover, they stayed!

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I’m guessing they were migrating from here to there… where ever the here and there are.  But in transit, they needed a rest, and found a good spot right here!  Wow!

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I can tell you, I got little else done that day!!!

So, they appear to be Great White Egrets… while they are ‘common’ birds…. they certainly aren’t common in our front yard here in the mountains.  So I was delighted to have them find rest at our home.

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They were here… then they were gone.

I was happy to entertain them… or moreover, have them provide my entertainment, albeit for a short respite.

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Woodpeckers are in

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redseed2PSi.JPGYou can tell when the weather is nice, even if only for a short period of time… the birds and squirrels come out in droves to collect seeds and food before the storms return.  They are fun to watch as they happily hop around soaking up the fleeting sunshine.

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We have red headed Acorn Woodpeckers and Northern Flickers in these parts.

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… and the occasional endearing dear and crazy squirrel .

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Bosque del Apache

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Sometime when we are young we learn that birds fly south for the winter.  So I’ve known that somewhere deep in the recesses of my mind, but haven’t really contemplated it or given it much thought.

Yet when we went to Bosque del Apache outside of Socorro, New Mexico that very principle is live and in your face.  Thousands of sandhill cranes, white geese, canadian geese, and other waterfowl fly from Alaska – south, to Bosque del Apache wildlife refuge.

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Even though it was a ‘light’ year for the birds flocking to Bosque, it was still a sight to see, watching these numerous birds of all different kinds spiraling into the ‘crane pools’.

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We watched them early morning (6 am sunrise) and evening (5pm sunset) as they would ‘lift off’ and go to safe ground in the ‘crane pools’.  During the day they would flock to the farm fields and feed off the grass.  It was definitely good cheap entertainment.

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