Morning Moose

It has always been a special pleasure to look out my window and find some of our resident wildlife hanging around the yard. Perhaps that is because I have never found myself nose-to-nose with a Grizzly or Wolf! And, of course, no winter would be complete without an occasional moose visit. However, not until this year, have I ever looked out the window to find a moose cuddled up enjoying its cud within a few feet of my bedroom!

Of course the pre-dawn light did not permit a decent photo - and I refused to disturb his relaxation by flashing a bright light his way merely for the sake of a picture. So, when a 'crunch' 'crunch' broke the morning stillnes a bit later, I knew he was on the move before the humans (or the dog) made an apperance.

But a dog doesn't need his eyes to know a visitor has been tromping up his yard while he slept. So it came as no surprise the recently vacated moose bed was the first place Bo inspected when released from his kennel. "Hmmm," you can almost hear him thinking, "They're getting a bit cocky, sleeping this close to MY house!"

However, as big as they are, moose are mighty adapt at hiding. So, it took us all a little time to figure out where he'd gone.

Yet, they ARE big animal, and Bo is pretty efficient at locating critters. Thus in no time, he sounded the alarm. Sure enough, there is our moose. Oh! Make that THREE moose! Where did you come from?

Left to herself, I suspect this cow would have been quite content to give Bo her 'best' side and call it even.

However, she was not alone. And, like any good mother, she appeared to consider 'safe' a better proposition than 'sorry'.

So, in obviously effective moose language she called her calf, and together they headed to off find a less noisy grazing ground.

Mr. Bull, on the other hand, appears completely unfrazzled by Bo and his noisy incantations. Fortunlately we were able to convince Bo his job was complete - and Mr. Bull was left to mosey his way out at his own speed.

Since this visit, so far as I know, we have had no moose cuddling up to the lodge. However, based on the tracks I'm seeing around, they aren't far away - just munching away around the corner or bedded behind the willows and out of sight!

Lady of the Lake


Moose Photo Opp

We all LOVE to see those upclose and personal photos - the ones which make us feel we could reach out and touch some illusive wild critter we usually only see from afar. However, sometimes I think we assume there is some kind of 'wizardry' or at least some extreme LUCK which only the *few* are allowed to possess.

I will admit: It is sometimes an accident - that being in just the right place at the right time. And, it does take a good lens (like anything else - the better the equipment, the better chance of a great final product). However, that is really most of what it takes.

The other day when hubby offered to make the cold trek across the field to attempt a capture of moose images, I sat in the warm vehicle and recorded his progress (and his object). Comparing the photos later, I realized together we had a captured the 'capturing' of a photo. So, when a Facebook fan recently commented on a closeup photo, I realized that process might be of interest to some of you.

Thus, what follows is the documentation of a photo opp - captured by two different lenses from two different perspectives.

It all starts by finding a subject. Sometimes that subject comes across your path offering only a few precious seconds to capture its image. However, in the case of Centennial Valley winter moose - usually if you aren't too aggressive, you can snap a few pictures - that is if you can find them. This one was fairly well hidden! Can you see here (this image is actually more magnified than your eye would actually see).

At first the cow just chose to ignore him. However, as he continued to approach, she deigned to give him a look.

NOTE: Whenever we attempt to photograph wildlife, our FIRST concern is to not scare or irritate them. Thus, while, as you will see, this moose gave way to hubby's pressure, he never pushed in close enough to cause her to exhibit any signs of irritation or fear.

Moving slowly and quietly and avoiding direct eye contact, he continued to approach her bed. Obviously she knew he was there. Yet, just as obviously, she is not overly anxious about his presence.

Here he stopped to take the first picture. As you can see, she is still quite unconcerned, cuddled down into her frosty bed.

As he moved in and manuevered for a grass-free face shot, she finally decided he was too close. Standing she presented him with her best side (or maybe she's just making it clear what she thinks of him disturbing her nap)!

And then came the surprise - a calf hidden in grass so deep neither of us knew he was anywhere around until he stood. Obviously he is a bit more curious as to the identity of the two-legged critter approaching their bedding ground than his mother.

While the photographer grabs another closeup you can almost hear the calf saying: 'But, Mom, what is *that* thing?'

Another possible shot? Obviously he debates whether that is possible without bothering them further - and decides no. So, he turns to leave them to mosey off at a leisurely pace, obviously already forgetting the rude two-legged critter who nudged them out of their warm beds on a frosty afternoon.

And for all those who think hubby was really getting up-close and personal, here's a little perspective. My photos above were taken with a 210 mm zoom which brings everything closer. It also compacts the subjects so they 'look' closer together than they really are. For a little perspective: Your eye sees at about a 50 mm. This last photo is taken at 70mm. As you can see - there was still quite a distance between the photographer and his subjects.

And so ends another Centennial Valley photo shoot. While we don't always capture the images we want, we certainly can't complain about a lack of variety or beauty!

Lady of the Lake


Swainson's Hawks

NOTE: I apologize, once again, for the lengthy delay between posts these last few months. I am finding it a bit too much to keep up with two social mediums. Thus the Facebook page gets my attention and the blog gets the left-overs - or so it seems. So, for those of you who would enjoy a more 'regular' dose of Elk Lake, please 'like' our Facebook page.

A couple of good photo opportunities provided me with a stack of Swainson Hawk photos I cannot keep to myself. Thus, I decided to dedicate a full post to these beautiful birds.

However, as lovely as the photos may seem (and a few are at least decent), the post would not be nearly as interesting without some fascinating facts - and these birds are actually very intriguing!

Swainson's Hawks are really quite an amazing bird. One of their most fascinating facts is their nesting habits. While they do not nest exclusively in one type of location, the fact that I have seen the young in this same - mostly open prairie - location for several years in a row peaked my curiosity. Where exactly had they been raised?

Surely, I assumed, in the general area. But where? I wondered. As the tallest trees where a mere 20 feet or so this 'typical' raptor nesting location didn't seem likely. Besides, I could see the trees clearly and surely would have spotted a nest as large as these birds require.

A brief discussion with Refuge personnel only added to my confusion. The 'general' opinion seemed to be they nested in the forest at the edge of the prairie. If so, why did these young appear and then remain for several weeks in a location at least 1/2 a mile from the nearest forest boundary? It didn't make sense.

So, like any good modern researcher I turned to Google (that's the modern way, right?). Here I found some interesting facts - about nesting and more. First off, to answer my burining question: Swainson's Hawks nest "in a solitary tree" (allaboutbirds.org) - "in a tree or shrub or on a cliff edge. . .occasionally a pair will nest on the ground or on a bank or ledge" (wikipedia.org) - "usually placed low in a tree, bush, or shrub" (peregrinefund.org) - "nest occasionally in sagebrush plants 2.5 m. [8 feet] tall" (prbo.org) - "in a tree, shrub, on the ground, or on top of a utility pole" (whatbird.com).

One thing became crystal clear - these birds are not overly picky about their nesting location. Apparently if it feels safe, it is safe. So, assuming these birds nest near where the young are seen soon after fledging, I began to strike out the impossible locations. Not a tree unless it was more of a bush (willow); certainly not the tall stately (empahsis on large) tree typically associated with raptors' nests. Not a ledge as no rocky ledges existed in the area. Not a cliff edge as no cliff's existed in the area. And certainly not a utility pole as the nearest was about 10 miles away.

That left a shrub (there are willows in the area although not large ones), a bush (sagebrush is plentiful), a bank (there are swales nearby where, potentially, there might be a suitable bank), or on the ground. Now, considering this is a predator-rich environment, that created a truly amazing proposition.

Could it be? Could these birds actually have successfully fledged their young for several years in a nest which seems so vulnerable as to be sure to fail? Based on what I have seen, it seems possible. However, I admit to not tramping about the scene for concrete evidence. At first this was my plan. But, after further consideration I wondered if my presence (if it were to somehow be detected by the returning pair next year) would disturb what has obviously been a successful family home to date. So, I decided to forego this plan, at least for the time being.

This, of course, is not all the interesting information I learned about this beautiful raptor. (Note, all information was obtained from the sites listed above). Swainson's Hawks are a bird which, to my mind, defy the odds in more ways than one. Not only do they nest in 'vulnerable' locations, in America only the tundra breeding Peregrine Falcons endure a longer migration.

These young Swainson's Hawks had to be ready to join a massive migration within 3 - 4 months of birth. Imagine, two young birds raised in the Centennial Valley solitude joining several thousand who, as a group, cover an average of 200 miles per day! Talk about culture shock and an extreme exercise program. No wonder they were reluctant to move during our photo sessions!

These two photos could be taken as further 'proof' these youngsters were raised on the ground. After all, what bird do you know which would sit on the ground, next to the road, unmoved by vehicles and people? One could almost mistake this beautiful creature for a house pet!

But their mild nature does not last. This parent seemed anything but 'tame' as it screamed and dove and appeared ready to attack me as I photographed its young. A protective parent and a skilled hunter, these adults feed themselves and their young on immature ground squirrels and other small mammals, insects, various small birds, and an occasional reptile or amphibian.

A few weeks - that was all - before they flew off to join those thousands on their long treck to South America. Hopefully they will return next year to successfully nest and fledge more beautiful young who - with any luck - will perch on these same posts and trees for yet another amazing photo opportunity!

Lady of the Lake