American Avocets at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

American Avocet adult in low lightAmerican Avocet adult in low light – Nikon D7100, f8, 1/1000, ISO 640, +0.7 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

So far I have taken my new Nikon D7100 out into the field four times and haven’t really begun to put it to the test. I have had bad or low light and birds up close or good light and birds that are at a distance. I am looking forward to a day with great light and close subjects soon!

Last week I did spend a morning at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in northern Utah and even though the light wasn’t the best I still had a great time. There were plenty of American Avocets visible from the roads. It is breeding season and even though there are already some chicks running around some of the avocets are still incubating eggs too.

American Avocet eggAmerican Avocet egg in a scrape  – Nikon D7100, f8, 1/640, ISO 640, +0.7 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

Can you see the egg in this image? Some are very well hidden and before the adult left this egg it tugged and pulled some of the vegetation closer to the egg. It would be easy to accidentally step or drive over this egg in the location of this scrape so it is important at this time of the year to watch where we put our feet and watch where we drive.

This is a large crop from the original frame, I did not approach this scrape closely at all.

Hatching American AvocetHatching American Avocet – Nikon D7100, f6.63, 1/4000, ISO 640, -0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

From the south side of the auto tour route there is a flat area that usually has a thin layer of water over the mud but last week it was very dry, there were two adult avocets there that seemed quite alert so I started to look for small chicks but what I saw instead perplexed me. Out in the middle of the mud flat a tiny bit of movement caught my eye and then I saw part of an egg. This image shows a partially broken egg which is not in a scrape but a very exposed and open area. The chick was moving in the egg and the adults were perhaps 30 feet from it. I wondered if a predator, perhaps a night heron, tried to take the egg away but dropped the egg if the adult avocets chased after the heron. At any rate it puzzled me that this hatching egg would be where it is. I hope the chick made it to safety.

This image represents 0.433% of the original frame, I was a long, long way from the egg

Ethics on photographing nesting birds:

  • Do not approach too closely
  • If the birds show any sign of distress, back away
  • Don’t trim leaves, twigs or branches to get a clearer shot, you may inadvertently attract predators or cause the eggs/chicks to over heat
  • Follow local, state and federal guidelines concerning nesting birds
  • Don’t harass the birds to get an action shot
  • Don’t stay a long time with nesting birds or chicks, that disrupts their normal behavior
  • Always remember that your scent may draw predators to the area of nesting birds or birds with chicks.

For more information on the ethics of photographing nesting birds or chicks: the Principles of Birding Ethics published by the American Birding Association. Also NANPA’s Ethical Practices (pdf)

Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge is one of my favorite places to visit during the summer to observe and photograph nesting birds and take in the beauty of the refuge.


Western Grebe about to submerge

Western Grebe about to submergeWestern Grebe about to submerge – Nikon D300, f7.1, 1/1250, ISO 500, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

I often try to capture the eye of a bird diving into the water at the moment just before the eye submerges below the surface. I was able to succeed with the Western Grebe.

It might seem simple enough to capture that precise moment but it really isn’t. I can’t tell you how many times I have failed. I do get lots of practice with Western and Clark’s Grebes at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in northern Utah though which is where this image was taken. The light wasn’t the best but I can try again.


* I don’t know where I will be when this post is published but I bet I am having a great time! Feel free to share this post.

Nesting Cliff Swallows

Cliff Swallows nestingCliff Swallows nesting – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/200, ISO 500, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

Yesterday at East Canyon State Park in Morgan County I was able to photograph Cliff Swallows nesting on a cliff face that overlooks the reservoir. Some of the nests were completed and some were still being built. Cliff Swallows are social birds and they usually nest in colonies on natural and manmade structures like bridges, overpasses, culverts and under the eaves of buildings.

After selecting a colony location both the male and the female gather mud pellets to build their gourd shaped nest that may consist of up to 1,200 individual mud pellets. Female Cliff Swallows lay eggs in their own nests and also in a neighboring nest and occasionally the female will lay the egg in her own nest then carry the egg in her bill to a neighboring nest.

Cliff Swallow at Bear RiverAdult Cliff Swallow at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge – Nikon D200, f7.1, 1/640, ISO 400, +0.3, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

Cliff Swallows are common throughout Utah and are listed as a species of least concern but humans do have an impact on them through the use of pesticides because small flying insects are their main source of food.

The Cliff Swallows I photographed at East Canon State Park yesterday skim over the reservoir in search of prey. It will be a few weeks before the first fledglings start to leave their nests and join the adults on the wing.


Highlights from yesterdays trip to Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

Muskrat in morning lightMuskrat in morning light – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/250, ISO 500, -0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge is always a delight and I never know exactly what I might see when I am there which suits my spontaneous nature perfectly. Some of the highlights yesterday morning included seeing a Muskrat out of the water gathering food in the golden light of dawn. Normally I only get to photograph them in the water so it was wonderful to have this one on the shore.

Double-crested Cormorant drying outDouble-crested Cormorant drying out – Nikon D300, handheld, f8, 1/200, ISO 500, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

Double-crested Cormorants in Florida were well adjusted to human traffic and could appear quite tame but here in Utah it seems much harder to approach them so I was pleased when this one allowed me to get outside of the vehicle to take images of it. The cormorant was drying itself after feeding.

Marsh Wren searching for nesting materialMarsh Wren searching for nesting material – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/800, ISO 500, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

The Marsh Wrens at the refuge are busy singing, guarding territories and building nests right now and this one appeared to be searching for nesting material while it sang over the distant calls of Franklin’s Gulls, Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Red-winged Blackbirds along with Western and Clark’s Grebes.

Western Grebe eating a crayfishWestern Grebe eating a crayfish – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/500, ISO 500, +0.7 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

I’m used to seeing Western Grebes dive and come up with fish to eat but when I saw this one surface it had a Crayfish in its bill. Oh how I wish the light had been better but I am happy with this image despite the light. It is the first series I have of this species chowing down on a mud-bug!

Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge is a great location to see birds, scenery and other wildlife and to feel nature envelop all of your senses. And you just never know what you might see there.


Earth Day 2014

Landing American White PelicanLanding American White Pelican – Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, Utah

Yesterday while I was out photographing at Bear River I saw and photographed some amazing behavior between American White Pelicans fighting over a huge carp and though I would have liked to post some of those images today but all day yesterday I thought about the significance of what today means to me. I will share just this one image of an American White Pelican I photographed yesterday.

It is Earth Day and I wanted to write about it this morning. I remember Earth Day 1970 and how I hoped that people would realize that our Earth was being polluted, torn apart and how all wildlife was suffering. We have come a long way since then, rivers have been cleaned up, the Endangered Species Act was born and people became aware of how pesticides were killing more life than we knew. People from all walks of life came together and on April 22 twenty million Americans protested the deterioration of our environment, our Earth.

The Earth Day movement became global in 1990. A LOT of good has come from everyone’s involvement in Earth Day but there is still so much to be done.

Coyote hunting in the snowCoyote hunting in the snow – Antelope Island State Park, Utah

I know I get overwhelmed by articles that I read, documentaries I see and by my own experiences in the field as a bird and nature photographer. Birds and animals that are endangered and near extinction. Apex predators being killed even though science says we need them for natural balance. Sea life is dying because of the pollution we have put into our oceans. Poisons are leaching into our soil and our water supplies. Air quality is suffering. Habitat is being destroyed. Forests are still being felled at an alarming rate.

Yes, some things have gotten better since 1970 but many things have rapidly gotten worse.

I worry what the climate will be like for my grandchildren’s children. As a bird photographer I wonder if they will only know some of the beautiful birds we have today through images their great-grandmother and others have taken?

Layers of Time - Capitol Reef National ParkLayers of Time – Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Earth Day is an important day but truthfully every day is or should be.

We can all make a difference individually and as a global community every day of our lives. One action multiplied by millions can and does make a change.

There are many organizations we can volunteer for, donate to, join or support that have made positive changes through education, action and awareness. I am going to list a few here and hope that my readers will also feel free to add others in their comments and perhaps why they feel the organization is important or the organization’s mission.


My list in no particular order:

Earth Day Network – All about Earth Day, its history and goals.

Project Coyote – Promoting coexistence between people and wildlife through education, science and advocacy.

Pledge to Fledge - A grassroots birding outreach movement, the Global Birding Initiative (GBI) mobilizes birders throughout the world to share their appreciation for birds with others.

NRDC Save BioGems – Our citizen action network is saving America’s last wild places.

Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) – NRDC works to safeguard the earth — its people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which all life depends.

American Kestrel Partnership – A project of the Peregrine Fund, a network of citizen and professional scientists working to collaboratively advance kestrel demographics and conservation.

Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance – The mission of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) is the preservation of the outstanding wilderness at the heart of the Colorado Plateau, and the management of these lands in their natural state for the benefit of all Americans.

American Birding Association (ABA) – The American Birding Association inspires all people to enjoy and protect wild birds.

WildEarth Guardians - WildEarth Guardians works to protect and restore wildlife, wild places and wild rivers in the American West.

The Nature Conservancy – The mission of The Nature Conservancy is to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends.

Great Salt Lake Institute – The Great Salt Lake Institute (GSLI) at Westminster College endeavors to increase the appreciation and understanding of Great Salt Lake

HawkWatch International – The mission of HawkWatch International is to conserve the environment through education, long-term monitoring, and scientific research on raptors as indicators of ecosystem health.

National Wildlife Refuge Association – The National Wildlife Refuge Association’s mission is to conserve America’s wildlife heritage for future generations through strategic programs that protect and enhance the National Wildlife Refuge System and the landscapes beyond its boundaries.