The snow geese are famous visitors to Skagit County in the winter, but they are not the only large birds to show up in big numbers. The trumpeter swans also appear and, while they might not be in the large flocks of the snow geese, there are still loads of them around. They also don’t seem to mind being close to the humans. I had seen a bunch of them as I was driving around and pulled off the road at one point as so many were in the adjacent field.
The fun thing about photographing swans is getting them taking off. Two or more of them flying at low level as they build speed is pretty cool. You might normally wait for ages for this to happen but, with so many of them around, it seems as if there is almost always a take off occurring. Consequently, while some might seem distant, you know another will be closer in before too long. (I do like the head on look but that does require getting to more inaccessible spots usually.)
After shooting at the same spot for a while, I continued south. I was getting back to an area south of Mt Vernon when I came across even more swans sitting right by a side road. They were ridiculously close to the road and, when I pulled up and stopped, they did start to drift away a little. I guess even swans can be slightly circumspect when it comes to humans arriving. However, they quickly got used to me and I got some shots of them too!
There were many animals I was looking forward to seeing when we visited Kenya and Tanzania. One that I hadn’t thought much about and, if I had, it wouldn’t have been positive, was the hyena. They have a pretty bad image since they clean up all of the debris that is left and will also do their own hunting in the pack. While this is no different to many other animals, they seem to have been given a more negative image.
When we arrived, we immediately saw loads of hyena. They were out walking alone and moving in groups. They are not the sleekest looking animal, but I found myself surprisingly interested in them. When one would come into view carrying a trophy from a carcass, I would see this as a positive when others were focusing on the negative. We saw one hyena limping across the road with an obvious wound on its leg. This reminded me of just how perilous life is for everything in the wild.
Later in the trip we came across a den for the pack. One hyena was walking back in with a wildebeest leg in its mouth. This was going to feed some hungry mouths. There were some cubs in the den, and we could hear them before we could see them. They were fighting with each other between sessions suckling from their mother. It was really fun to watch this whole pack of animals in their social setting.
I’m not expecting anyone reading this to suddenly love hyenas. Some of the pictures will probably reinforce thoughts that yo might already have had about them. However, I will say that I saw them in a very different light over the time I was in Kenya and Tanzania, and I will never think of them the same way again.
My Skagit trip was primarily looking for geese, but I was also going to see whether the short-eared owls were back out and about. I ended up in East 90 again which has a solid reputation for the owls. As I pulled up, various other raptors were flying very close by, so I knew the chances of seeing stuff were going to be good. Unfortunately, the owls were not playing ball. There were loads of them flying but they seemed to have staked out their interests further across the fields and away from the road. The northern harriers were the ones close by. The owls seemed to be wheeling about each other off in the distance so I had to make do with longer range images of them and get some of the other residents instead.
The colder, damper conditions that fall and winter bring have resulted in plenty of fungi appearing and that seems to have been reflected in the blog recently. I seem to be adding pictures of fungi a lot. This time they are from the areas around where I work. At lunchtime I walk down the hill to get something to drink with my lunch and, with these guys springing up along the sidewalk and close by, it was time to get the phone out and capture some shots. Modern phones are so useful in situations like this.
When people think of photographing birds, the more exotic types are going to probably be of more interest to many. While I am obviously (if you follow this blog) partial to photographing an eagle or an owl, I also find the more common birds cool. A pigeon has some amazing flying capabilities, gulls can look elegant in flight and crows have fantastic feather coloration. One of them was sitting on a fence very close to me as I sat in the car. The light was glinting off the feathers making the subtle colors show up nicely. How could I not photograph it? You might dismiss the average crow, but they can look very cool.
Kenya and Tanzania both provided us with multiple opportunities to observe elephants. Sure, I have seen elephants before including one encounter in the wild in South Africa. None of these encounters in any way prepared me for the time with elephants we had on this trip. There were so many of them, I was constantly taken aback by the experience. They would be traveling in groups and often several groups would be together. There were so many of them.
Each time we would come upon some, I would be momentarily amazed that there were elephants so close. Then I would realize that there were more around than I had first thought. They would be so close, so uninterested in us and so impressive. There would be all ages with senior females, younger elephants and some tiny calves. It was just incredible.
Seeing so many of them in lots of different places means it becomes harder to narrow down to a few for one post. The early experiences made a big impression on me but the later ones were still outstanding. In Amboseli, we ended up with the sun setting over Kilimanjaro as loads of elephants were grazing in the foreground. At one point, we were standing up in the truck and everywhere I looked there were elephants feeding. I took the phone out of my pocket and panned around to show just how many there were. Truly amazing.
Another time we were crossing a river and there were loads of them in the water and along the banks. They gradually made their way towards us and, at one point, an adult and a calf climbed the road away from the river and the view of them heading off was amazing. Another time, we found some up on the top of the river bank. They split up with some foraging along the shore and others fording the river to try their luck on the other side.
Another memorable moment was a lone male slowly heading by the road we were on. We stopped to watch him for a while, and he turned and started heading towards us. Having seen videos of elephants pushing vehicles out of their way, I was wondering whether we were going to have to make haste out of his way but apparently we were not his concern and we were able to stay and watch him for a while.
All of these moments were amazing but were not the sum of our encounters. We had so many times with the elephants that I can’t count them. I wish I could truly convey just how amazing they were. Forget the closer moments. Just watching a family of elephants in the water making their way through the foliage in the distance as they fed was fantastic. I just love elephants – but then I doubt that is a controversial position.
When going on a safari, there are animals that will be the ones many people will want to see most. Lions, elephants, maybe rhinos will be top of the list. I am not saying I didn’t want to see those because I clearly did but I have a fascination with hippos and seeing them was very high on the list of things I wanted. Thankfully, we had plentiful opportunities to see them in various locations.
I knew that they were one of the more dangerous creatures, but we never got in any situation where they were a direct worry to us. They tend to come out at night and feed before retreating to the water in the morning to stay cool and away from any predators. Therefore, many of our sightings were when they were in rivers. However, this wasn’t always the case. We would see them wandering on land, heading through marshy ground and even asleep on the land. I should note that one hippo we saw asleep on the land was showing signs of attack with wounds across its body so this may have been out of character.
We came upon one river that had loads of hippos in it. We watched then for a while and then, as some of the other trucks pulled out, our guide moved us up into the dead end where they had come from. This brought us in to sight of another big group of hippos way closer in. It was amazing to see so many of them together.
What was the shot I wanted? It had to be the mouth. Hippos yawn and show off their large mouth and the huge teeth. I so wanted to get that shot. One hippo was in the water looking straight at me and I was just willing it to yawn but it didn’t oblige. However, I did get some more distant shots when the full yawn was happening so that was really great. They are such excellent creatures and, considering that they are vegetarians, ones that need to be treated with great caution. What a treat.
Our time in Kenya and Tanzania included plenty of lions but, when it came to the next big cat on the food chain, things were a lot less common. The leopards were there to be seen but they were not anywhere near as numerous. It doesn’t help that, unlike the lions that live in large prides, the leopards have a solitary existence. If you are in a territory, it is one leopard that you are looking for.
We did have some encounters, though. The first leopard we came across was at the beginning of the day as we headed out from the hotel. We hadn’t got very far when our guide spotted a leopard sitting on a termite mound. We stopped and got some shots of it and then tried to get closer but leopards are a lot more skittish than other cats and it didn’t take much to spook this one. It ran off up the hills.
Our next encounter was with one that had been busy feeding. On a couple of occasions, we had seen carcasses of animals up in trees where the leopard had pulled them. In this case, the leopard had then taken to another tree to rest after its meal. We were quite close beneath it, but it didn’t seem bothered about us and I don’t think it was likely to pounce down on us. Instead, it was sleeping and barely recognizing our presence.
The other encounters we had were probably with the same leopard but this time down in some bushes alongside a river. The first time the leopard was pretty well in the bushes and was lying down. It didn’t seem intent on doing much and we left it after a short while. Back in the same area on another day, it was on the move. We were able to be ahead of it and it walked towards us before cutting back into the bushes and being lost from sight again.
The leopards are such powerful creatures, and they look far more menacing than, say, the cheetahs. Their ability to haul a heavy animal up into a tree is impressive and, pound for pound, they are stronger than the lions. However, the lions will still take them out if given the chance. With overlapping territories, this is not something to be ruled out. I’m glad we got the time with them that we did.
Earlier in the year, I was up at Juanita Bay before things got too warm to make it enjoyable. We get plenty of ducks and coots on the bay but, on this occasion, there were a load of grebes on the water. The types of grebes I grew up with a larger than the ones I saw here. To be honest, I am not certain whether these were adults or juveniles because they seemed to have very small wings. Maybe that is how they are, but it could be that they weren’t fully grown. Maybe some of you know your birds well and can enlighten me.
Anyway, they would periodically get excited and start zipping around the bay. They would be flapping these small wings furiously and just skimming across the water until they found somewhere that they were happier to be. I don’t know whether this is just normal movement or that they were spooked by something but it was fascinating to watch them hurtling around.
It has been a while since I was down at Juanita Bay. During the summer, the light is harsh, the heat haze is tough, and the humidity is uncomfortable. I also sometimes find myself getting bitten by stuff. However, a pleasant fall afternoon after work seemed like a good time to head down and see what was going on. Things were not too active, but it was nice to relax in the sun as the wildlife did its thing. Sure, an eagle did fly over at one point, but it seemed more interesting in annoying the other birds than actually hunting.
There were tons of coots on the water. They were grouped together with lots of preening and bathing going on along with the regular feeding. At some point, something happened to spook them, though. I don’t know whether there was really anything there or not. I wondered if an otter was under the water, but I never saw any sign of one. Whatever happened, the coots all seemed to get upset and they took off in bunches to go to another part of the bay. Some of them came very close to me so I got them “running” across the surface of the water to find somewhere they felt more relaxed.