Wildness and Connections

Clearing FogClearing Fog

This quote strikes a chord within me because I feel very connected to nature and wildness and that connection is with me every day of my life. I’m not separate from nature I am part of it. We all are.

I might purposely separate myself from people who affect my life in a negative manner by blocking them out but I can’t fathom blocking out nature. I need it as surely as I need air.

There are those people who can separate themselves from wildness and who connect to money and greed instead but I have to wonder if they are whole. I wonder if they are complete behind the wall they have built to disconnect from wildness, nature and themselves.

I’m back from my trip to extreme southwest Utah and the Mojave Desert, more on that later!


A Merlin, Prey and Fog

Merlin with prey in golden lightMerlin with prey in golden light – Nikon D810, f7.1, 1/640, ISO 500, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited or set up

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to photograph a Merlin two mornings in a row in the Centennial Valley of Montana, once in low light and once as a fog rolled in. The morning that I photographed this Merlin was cold and the fog rolled in from the lake a few miles away.  The Merlin had prey that appeared to have been cached because it was frozen and because it had prey it seemed less skittish. The light at first was beautiful, warm and golden.

Merlin with prey as the fog starts to roll inMerlin with prey as the fog starts to roll in – Nikon D810, f7.1, 1/640, ISO 320, +0.7 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited or set up

Three frames later the fog muted the warm light. The fog moved in like a wave and soon the sun appeared to be a ghostly orb hanging in the eastern sky.

Merlin with prey in fogMerlin with prey in fog – Nikon D810, f7.1, 1/160, ISO 500, +0.7 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited or set up

Not long after it was difficult to obtain sharp focus on the Merlin because of the density of the fog but I liked the images of the Merlin in both the golden light and the fog.

I am not sure exactly what the prey was that the Merlin was eating, at first I thought it might be a Western Meadowlark and then wondered if it was a Horned Lark or a sparrow. It really doesn’t matter much what it was just that the Merlin had enough prey for energy on that bitter morning to survive.


Female Short-eared Owl on a snowy day

Female Short-eared Owl on a snowy dayFemale Short-eared Owl on a snowy day – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/800, ISO 500, +1.0 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited

One year ago today the sky was cloudy, the fog was thick and the snow was blowing in northern Utah. I couldn’t see the tops of the mountains or across the Great Salt Lake but I did spot this Short-eared Owl perched on a snow-covered bush on the causeway on my way to Antelope Island. The island itself was completely covered with fresh fallen snow and there were near whiteout conditions at times, I also photographed Coyotes and Chukars in very low light conditions.

The snow on the ground now has been there for quite some time but the weather is changing today with snow forecasted for later this evening. It sure would be wonderful to have fresh snow, to have the inversion cleaned out of the valley but better yet it would be terrific if I found another Short-eared Owl on a snowy day.

Rough-legged Hawk on a foggy winter day

Rough-legged Hawk on a foggy dayRough-legged Hawk on a foggy winter day – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/1600, ISO 500, +0.7 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 257mm, natural light, not baited

This past Sunday I saw my first of the season Rough-legged Hawks and I was absolutely thrilled. There were definitely five different birds and a possible sixth. I mention possible because on the way to Bear River NWR’s auto tour route there was a Rough-legged Hawk perched on a tree on the north side of the river and on the way out I spotted a Roughie in flight about a half a mile away from that location and the bird that had been perched had left the tree. So it may have been the same bird or may not have been since all the Rough-legged Hawks seemed to be on the move.

I was dancing around in my seat seeing the Rough-legged Hawks again. They aren’t here in Utah for long because they only winter here.

Last winter their population numbers didn’t seem as high here in the Salt Lake Valley as in previous years and that may have been due in part to a crash in the vole population and because it was such a harsh winter with thick snow on the ground for long periods which made it difficult for any of the vole eating raptors to locate food.

The Rough-legged Hawk above was photographed in December of 2011 when the Roughies were in the valley in high numbers.

How many will we see this winter? That remains to be seen but I am excited all the same. The Roughies are back!


Short-eared Owl in a fog

Vertical Short-eared Owl female

Vertical Short-eared Owl femaleD200, f7.1, 1/640, ISO 400, 0.0 EV, 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 200mm, natural light, not baited

I shared other images of this female Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)  back in November, the post was titled Short-eared Owl female – 13 minutes of joy. Many of those images were taken using between 280 – 400mm, with these images I backed the zoom all the way back to 200mm because the owl had been exhibiting behavior that indicated she might take off soon and I hoped to get some flight shots when she did.

Unfortunately when she did take flight my shutter speed was too slow to get any sharp images of her lifting off and the fog that was present made for tricky exposures but I enjoy these images all the same. I like the head on stare we were getting from her in the image above.
Horizontal Short-eared Owl femaleHorizontal Short-eared Owl femaleD200, f7.1, 1/640, ISO 400, 0.0 EV, 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 200mm, natural light, not baited

I like the second photo because it shows the owl looking at something in the distance, completely comfortable with our presence and the beautiful yellow of her eyes. The fog lends a wonderful atmosphere and the subtle hues of the background compliment the colors of the owl.

I hope to find some Short-eared Owls this winter in Utah, I think that some snow would make for a lovely setting for these delightful & enchanting birds.