Saturday, July 24, 2021

Fool me once

The bluebirds fooled me once this summer. There were three fledglings around my nest box, so I assumed they were hatched in that box. Not true; when I opened the box to clean it, it was completely empty.

There has been a lot of activity around the box the past few days. I'm not assuming anything, but the hope is these younger birds will produce their own batch before the season ends. I have literally hundreds of trailcam images from the past few days, and these are some of the better ones. The sixth and seventh image show that the birds are going inside the box.

If I did this the way I usually do it, my website would be overflowing with trailcam images. Instead I'm using the capability of Blogger to put them all in a slide show. Click on an image to see the larger version, then use the arrow keys to go forward and backward.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

New visitors, old photos

Our new house in Montana is near the forest, but there aren't many trees in the immediate vicinity. As I've been documenting here and in my trailcam blog, there has been a parade of bluebirds and hummingbirds going through the yard at the places I have set up for them, but we don't get the variety of birds that I got at my house in Massachusetts, for example. This morning I saw a woodpecker and a goldfinch pair, first time here for both species.

The woodpecker was a flicker, which is a relatively big bird that often forages on the ground. The goldfinch pair was the bright yellow male and the less colorful female. I didn't get photos today of either species, but I have some in my galleries from days gone by. The flicker is from Massachusetts 2004, and the goldfinch is from South Dakota 2010.

Massachusetts flicker 2004

South Dakota goldfinch 2010

Monday, July 19, 2021

Bluebird hoax

Thirty-four days ago, I drilled out the hole of my bluebird box to accomodate the slightly larger size of mountain bluebirds. In the days since, I saw a bluebird pair going about their business around the box. Yesterday I saw three fledgling bluebirds within a few feet of the nest box, poking around the rocks and grass for insects. The timeline seemed tight but possible. A successful nestbox installation, yes?

Today I opened the box, intending to clean it for perhaps another brood yet this year. There was absolutely nothing inside, not a single blade of grass or pine needle. No nest, so where did the fledglings come from? They must have come from a box across the road, maybe 100 yards away. Why the parents hung around this box but didn't actually use it, I don't know. I do provide water, so maybe that's enough to attract them for day trips.

Wherever they are from, here they are.

Mountain Bluebird fledglings

Mountain Bluebird with a grasshopper

Mountain Bluebird fledgling

Mountain Bluebird fledgling

Mountain Bluebird adult male coming to empty nest box

Thursday, July 08, 2021

What's old

I've been using a Canon 5D Mark III as my flagship camera for the past nine years. It replaced a 1D Mark II, which I bought in 2004. I recently acquired a motion trigger that I can use with my Canon cameras, a Camtraptions Wireless Motion Sensor PIR v3. Its first mission was monitoring a bluebird nest box, and you can see the early results on my trailcam blog. In order to save wear and tear on the 5D shutter, I decided to get the 1D out of storage, where it has been since 2012.

The older camera is both amazing and frustrating. The amazing thing is it shoots bursts at a rate of 8.5 frames per second, which doesn't compare to what some modern top-end cameras can do but is faster than the 5D's 6 frames per second. That doesn't sound like a big difference, but I scared myself when I fired off a burst. The frustrating things about the 1D is it is terribly heavy and the sensor gets dirty. The 5D is much lighter and the vibrating sensor cleaner has been very effective. And of course the 1D has a low pixel count compared to later cameras, 8.2mp versus 22.3 for the 5D and 50+ for later cameras.

Still, the old camera took some good images. Here are three. The first is the very first I triggered in my back yard in Massachusetts on August 12, 2004. The second is one of my all-time favorites, a female cardinal, taken two days later. The third is another all-time favorite, perhaps my favorite image ever, Florida owls in 2008. The 1D Mark II was/is a capable camera and I hope to get some decent bluebird shots in my new back yard in Montana as I finally wear out its shutter.

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

Red Lodge Summer 2021

I haven't bought a new cowboy hat or shot a rodeo since the early 1980's. This week I bought a new cowboy hat and took some shots at the Home of Champions Rodeo on the 4th of July in Red Lodge, MT. Helpful hint: A rodeo in Montana would not be a good venue to disrepect the United States of America flag or pass around a petition to defund the police.

In addition to the rodeo, I have photo groups set up for backyard wildlife, rodeo parade July 2-4, and the fireworks July 4. I will be adding to the backyard photos for the remainder of the summer, but for now this is what I have.

Mountain Bluebird




Wednesday, June 16, 2021


What is officially known as the Robertson Draw Fire has caused a great deal of consternation in and around Red Lodge, MT, our new home. It actually started on Sunday but didn't become spectacular until Tuesday when rough terrain, 95-degree temperatures and high winds made it impossible to keep the flames from consuming the trees on most of Mount Maurice. A helicopter battling a blaze elsewhere in Montana crashed Tuesday due to the high winds (thankfully no fatalities), and everything was grounded here in the afternoon.

By Wednesday morning, conditions were more favorable for a string of airplanes and helicopters to dump water and fire retardant on the flames. The fire is still not under control, but it is not threatening the town at the moment. I thought for a while we might have to evacuate Tuesday, not in fear of the flames, but the thick smoke driven by the wind. Fortunately we were never hit by the smoke, and the forecast seems to indicate favorable winds (at least for us) for the next few days. Here are a few images and a video from Tuesday and Wednesday.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Bluebirds and Seattle

This spring has featured only one trip, to Washington State in May. Around home, the bluebirds, meadowlarks and deer make frequent appearances in the back yard. I used a trailcam to keep track of a bluebird couple scoping out my new birdhouse.

These images are of varying quality. The best ones are when I was able to bust out my DSLR and big 500mm lens. The Browning trailcams do a hideous job of image processing, but I got images I couldn't get without spending every daylight moment in the yard with the DSLR. The Reconyx trailcams have better image quality than the Brownings, but didn't seem sensitive enough to get the little birds so for now they are just tracking the deer and fox that traverse the yard. Click on one of the images to start the slide show at that point.

Mountain Bluebird

Mountain Bluebird on trailcam


Wednesday, March 03, 2021

More Yellowstone

In January we did a snowcoach tour to Old Faithful, and this month we followed up with a drive through the Lamar Valley, the only road open to private vehicles in Yellowstone during the winter. We saw lots of bison, a few elk, and a couple groups of bighorn rams. We also toured the terraces in Mammoth Hot Springs, sharing the boardwalks with just a few others. I so much prefer Yellowstone in winter because the mobs of tourists are not there clogging up the parking lots. Click on an image to start the slide show at that point.

Mammoth Hot Springs Upper Terrace

Bison taking a snow nap


Thursday, January 21, 2021

Yellowstone in Winter

We live near Yellowstone National Park now so it is an easy mini-vacation during the pandemic. Winter is the best time to do Yellowstone because the crowds are gone and you can actually get to the thermal features that have jam-packed parking lots during the summer. We did a snow coach tour to the waterfalls a couple years ago, and this time we did the Old Faithful tour. Along the way we saw plenty of bison, a few coyotes, and a fox off in the distance.

Sometime this winter we want to do the Lamar Valley, which unlike most of the park is driveable in winter. We would hope to see elk and bighorns in that part of the park, as we did two years ago. Click on the image to start the slide show.

Bison in a geyser field

Saturday, January 02, 2021

Photo of the Year 2020

As I was pondering my Photo of the Year for 2020, I realized I never picked one for 2019. Thanks to the miracle of backdating, I now have one posted. See below for "Yellowstone Coyote 2019." I certainly didn't have the volume of images from which to pick for 2020, in part because the pandemic cut down my travel, and in part because we completed our move from the Midwest to Montana. I ended up picking one where I wasn't even there to hit the trigger: A mountain lion on trailcam near Luther, MT. This is my second trailcam POY, the first being 2014 with the framing elk antlers. Other 2020 images of interest were the usual 4th of July fireworks in Red Lodge, MT, deer and moose in our new yard, Badlands burrowing owls and bighorns, and elk and bears in Yellowstone.

Mountain Lion
Mountain Lion

Here are my POY selections for 2002-2019.

Young red-tailed hawk Junior I (2002 edition) right outside my office window.
Junior I 2002
Gentoo penguins greet each other, Jougla Point, Dec. 4, 2003.
Gentoo Penguins 2003
Puffins on Machias Seal Island, Gulf of Maine, 2004.
Little Brothers 2004
Bald Eagle along the Mississippi River, 2005.
Bald Eagle 2005
Blue Jay, 2006.
Blue Jay 2006
Eagle with fish, 2007.
Eagle with fish 2007
Great Horned Owls, 2008.
Great Horned Owls 2008
Custer State Park Bighorn, 2009.
Custer SP Bighorn 2009
Keokuk eagle, 2010.
Keokuk Eagle 2010
Sertoma Butterfly
Sertoma Butterfly 2011
Dark Morph of Broad-Winged Hawl
Dark Morph 2012
Yellow Crowned Night Heron
Night heron 2013
Elk Frame
Elk Frame 2014
Squaw Creek Geese
Squaw Creek Geese 2015
Elk 2016

Eclipse 2017

Eagle 2018

Yellowstone Coyote
Yellowstone Coyote 2019