Justine Carson Photography: Blog https://www.justinecarson.com/blog en-us (C) Justine Carson Photography justine@justinecarson.com (Justine Carson Photography) Mon, 24 Jul 2017 01:09:00 GMT Mon, 24 Jul 2017 01:09:00 GMT https://www.justinecarson.com/img/s/v-5/u87816016-o226741915-50.jpg Justine Carson Photography: Blog https://www.justinecarson.com/blog 120 80 Florida Gulf Coast: Limpkins and Chicks https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2017/7/florida-gulf-coast-limpkins-and-chicks Before my recent trip to Florida I had never seen (or even heard of) a Limpkin, but now I need to add it to my list of favorite birds. At Myakka River State Park I had the opportunity to observe multiple individuals of this species as they searched for food in shallow water and taught foraging skills to their chicks.

This chick stays close and pays attention as the parent demonstrates foraging techniques:

Limpkin and chickLimpkin and chickAdult Limpkin forages for food for its chick, Myakka River State Park, Florida

The Limpkin inhabits freshwater wetlands and marshes and feeds primarily on apple snails.  Studies have shown that its long bill often curves slightly to the right – as does the shell of the apple snail. Nature never ceases to amaze me!

Limpkin and chickLimpkin and chickLimpkin chick stays close and pays attention to fishing lesson, Myakka River, Florida A secondary food source is freshwater mussels as pictured below.

Limpkin, Myakka River, FloridaLimpkin, Myakka River, FloridaLimpkin finds a mussel in the Myakka River


justine@justinecarson.com (Justine Carson Photography) aramus guarauna florida" foraging limpkin myakka river state park https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2017/7/florida-gulf-coast-limpkins-and-chicks Mon, 24 Jul 2017 01:08:44 GMT
Alaska: Denali slowly revealed https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2017/7/alaska-denali-slowly-revealed Only about 10% of visitors to Denali National Park actually get to see the mountain. This is partially because of weather patterns – Denali creates its own weather and is often obscured by clouds.  Also, most visitors (primarily the land/cruise package tourists) don’t spend more than a day in the park and that day is spent in the eastern part of the park, where views are more rare than in the western part.

To maximize chances of viewing Denali, our photo tour included three days in the park.  On day one the mountain was completed socked in.  We enjoyed our 90 mile, east to west drive on the park road, spotting wildlife and checking out the wild flowers, but even the closer and lower Alaska Range was not to be seen.  On the morning of day two, the mountain was still not visible from the ground, but on a flight-seeing tour we could see both the North and South summits from above the cloud. Still, we wanted to see the whole mountain and planned a hike for the afternoon, hopes high.  

Our hike took us past Wonder Lake toward Blueberry Hill, but only the Alaska Range was in view.  Though impressive themselves, most of the peaks of this range are only one third the height of Denali, as we discovered as we continued our hike.

As a friend and I started the McKinley Bar trail, something began to come into view behind the Alaska Range and we realized we were getting our first glimpse of the mountain – and that its size was stunningly much greater than anticipated.

A hint of Denali behind cloudsA hint of Denali behind cloudsAlmost invisible; just the faintest hint of Denali behind the clouds over the Alaska Range

The clouds continued to shift as we continued our walk toward the McKinley River, giving us tantalizing glimpses of different parts of the summits and slopes.

Denali emerges from the cloudsDenali emerges from the cloudsDenali's summit emerges from behind clouds and towers over the rest of the Alaska Range

At last almost the entire summit was visible, dwarfing the foreground mountains almost to insignificance, and it became clear why Alaska Natives named the mountain Denali – the Great One.

The summit of Denali emergesThe summit of Denali emergesClouds reveal the summit of Denali towering above the Alaska Range

justine@justinecarson.com (Justine Carson Photography) alaska denali denali national park mckinley bar trail range" https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2017/7/alaska-denali-slowly-revealed Sat, 22 Jul 2017 20:12:20 GMT
Alaska: Flight-seeing over Gates of the Arctic National Park https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2017/7/alaska-flight-seeing-over-gates-of-the-arctic-national-park Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve is the northern-most and second largest of America’s national parks. Jimmy Carter designated Gates of the Arctic as a national monument in 1978.  When Congress passed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANCILCA) in 1980, it became a national park. Located to the west of the Dalton Highway, the park includes arctic tundra to the north; boreal forest and the central Brooks Range in the central and southern sections.

This park, at over 8 million acres (larger than Belgium) is designated as wilderness area, meaning that it has no roads and no trails.   You can fly in (and land on one of the gravel bars along the braided river channels) or you can walk in.  As you might imagine, this means that it is also the least-visited of all the national parks.

Lacking the time, equipment, and expertise to do an on-the-ground visit, I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to do a flight-seeing tour. On the day of our flight, weather conditions were mixed – some overcast, some high clouds, showers, and windows of sunlight – creating ideal conditions for some dramatic lighting.

Flying through the "gates of the arctic" -- Frozen Crags on the left and Boreal Mountain on the right -- with the North Fork of the Koyukuk River flowing between them:

Gates of the ArcticGates of the ArcticAerial view of the "gates of the Arctic," Frigid Crag and Boreal Mountain, with the North Fork of the Koyukuk River running between them

High peaks and a glacial lake in the Brooks Range:

Aerial view of Gates of the ArcticAerial view of Gates of the ArcticHigh peaks and glacial lake, Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska

Bull moose wading in kettle pond as we approach Wiseman airfield:

Photo by justinecarson.com

For more aerial views of Alaska, click here.

justine@justinecarson.com (Justine Carson Photography) alaska alces aces boreal mountain frozen crags gates of the arctic national park and preserve kettle lakes moose https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2017/7/alaska-flight-seeing-over-gates-of-the-arctic-national-park Thu, 20 Jul 2017 18:06:56 GMT
Florida Gulf Coast: Roseate Spoonbill https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2017/7/gulf-coast-birds-roseate-spoonbill Along with the Reddish Egret, the Roseate Spoonbill is another Gulf Coast favorite. I don’t think you could call it a beautiful bird – not with that almost bare white head, beady eyes, and gray spatulate bill, but it certainly is striking. Also, it's big (always a plus for photographers) and it’s pink, bright pink!  How can you not love it?

Roseate Spoonbill (Ajaia ajaja)Roseate Spoonbill (Ajaia ajaja)Spoonbill searching the shallow waters of Fort DeSoto for fish or small crustaceans

In evening light on dark water, it is even more striking:

Roseate Spoonbills at sunsetRoseate Spoonbills at sunsetA pair of spoonbills at sunset, Saratoga Bay, Florida

The Spoonbill feeds in shallow water by swinging its bill back and forth in the water, using its “spoon” to sift for insects, frogs, small crustaceans or fish. Below, this Spoonbill has captured a small crab.

Roseate Spoonbill catching a small crabRoseate Spoonbill catching a small crabSpoonbill extracts a small crab from the shallows, Fort DeSoto, Florida


justine@justinecarson.com (Justine Carson Photography) ajaia ajaja florida gulf coast platalea ajaja roseate spoonbill https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2017/7/gulf-coast-birds-roseate-spoonbill Wed, 19 Jul 2017 02:20:14 GMT
Along the Dalton Highway https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2017/7/along-the-dalton-highway The James W. Dalton Highway begins at the intersection with the Elliott Highway, about 80 miles north of Fairbanks, and ends approximately 414 miles later at Deadhorse.  All but about 100 miles is gravel road and very isolated.  There are only three towns along its length: Coldfoot, Wiseman, and Deadhorse.

It was constructed in 1974 in order to transport equipment and workers to build the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System and is still primarily used for pipeline maintenance and transport to and from the Prudhoe Bay oil fields.  It gets very little tourist traffic and was not open to the public until 1981.

Beginning at Deadhorse, our photo tour group spent three days driving south on the highway, with a two-night stopover at Wiseman.  After traversing the tundra of the North Slope, we climbed into the Brooks Range and crossed the Continental Divide at Atigun Pass, elevation 4,739 feet.  Other stops along the way include the Arctic Circle Wayside Rest Area and the E.L. Patton Yukon River Bridge.

Below are a few photo highlights from this trip.

Descending from the Brooks Range at Atigun Pass into the Diedrich Valley:

Dietrich ValleyDietrich ValleyDescending into the Diedrich Valley from Atigun Pass, Brooks Range, Alaska

Moose cow wading in roadside lake looks toward her calves hidden on shore: Moose (Alces alces)Moose (Alces alces)Female moose wading in pond, seen from the Dalton Highway

Leaving the mining town of Wiseman (population 14 at 2010 census):

Rainbow over Wiseman, AlaskaRainbow over Wiseman, AlaskaRainbow over Wiseman, Alaska, mile 189 on the Dalton Highway For more views along the Dalton, including caribou, brown bear, fox, and musk ox, click here.

justine@justinecarson.com (Justine Carson Photography) alaska dalton highway rainbows wiseman alaska https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2017/7/along-the-dalton-highway Mon, 17 Jul 2017 23:53:52 GMT
Florida Gulf Coast: Reddish Egret (Egretta rufescens) https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2017/7/florida-gulf-coast-reddish-egret-egretta-rufescens For its distinctive plumage and its energetic feeding behavior, the Reddish Egret is one of my favorite birds.  In contrast to its blue-gray body, breeding adults have shaggy rufous plumes on head and neck which fly around like rock-star hair as the bird actively pursues a meal.

While other herons and egrets prefer to move slowly through shallow water to stalk their prey, the Reddish Egret takes a more energetic approach.   Looking sometimes graceful and sometimes ungainly, it rushes actively about, wings upraised to form a canopy to shade the water. 

Photographing it while it engages in its frenetic feeding “dance” is challenging but entertaining.  Trying to maintain focus on the eye while the bird’s head bobs this way and that is quite the test for a bird photographer.  Luckily, over the course of a several days, a few cooperative birds gave me plenty of chances to get it right.

Keeping an eye out for an unsuspecting fish:

Reddish EgretReddish EgretReddish Egret keeping an eye out for a fish, Fort DeSoto, Florida

Creating a bit of shade, the better to see you!

Reddish Egret, Fort Desoto Beach, FloridaReddish Egret, Fort Desoto Beach, FloridaReddish Egret forms a canopy with its wings while searching for fish, Fort DeSoto, Florida


Reddish Egret catches a fishReddish Egret catches a fishWhile hunting in the surf at Fort DeSoto Beach, a Reddish Egret tosses back a fish

justine@justinecarson.com (Justine Carson Photography) desoto" egretta rufescens florida florida gulf coast fort reddish egret https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2017/7/florida-gulf-coast-reddish-egret-egretta-rufescens Sun, 16 Jul 2017 22:20:57 GMT
Deadhorse and Prudhoe Bay https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2017/7/deadhorse-and-prudhoe-bay Deadhorse, Alaska -- located at the end of the Dalton Highway and about ten miles from the Arctic Ocean -- is an unincorporated community in the North Slope Borough of Alaska.  The town consists mainly of a general store, airport, and housing for the contract workers for the Prudhoe Bay oil fields.  Oil field equipment and supplies, drilling rigs, heavy transportation equipment, and modular offices for oil field services companies are scattered across the nearby tundra (on gravel pads to prevent melting of the permafrost).  The oil fields themselves are widely scattered over hundreds of miles of tundra.

You might not expect such an industrial area to offer much in the way of wildlife viewing, but wildlife – from caribou and brown bears to arctic ground squirrel and fox – is definitely to be seen.  Though the area is semi-arid tundra, the underlying permafrost layer prevents surface water from penetrating, creating plentiful ponds and lakes -- desirable habitat for waterfowl and a variety of other birds.

My recent photo trip to Alaska started here in mid-June.  Spring was late arriving.  There was still snow on the ground and ice in the ponds and lakes.  Overcast skies kept temperatures in the thirties during our stay.  Low light and far-away subjects made for challenging photography, but it was exciting to see familiar species, such as Sandhill cranes and White-fronted geese, and also some new species – King and Spectacled Eider.

A low-lying landscape with scattered ponds among oil field equipment: Prudhoe Bay oil fields, north slope, AlaskaPrudhoe Bay oil fields, north slope, AlaskaOpen water/tundra ponds, Prudhoe Bay oil fields, Deadhorse, Alaska

Prudhoe Bay, AlaskaPrudhoe Bay, AlaskaOil field equipment and tundra ponds, Prudhoe Bay, Alaska And a sampling of the birds found around the ponds:

On the Ponds around DeadhorseOn the Ponds around DeadhorseLong-tailed Duck, King Eider, Pacific Loon, and Spectacled Eider

For a few more photos from around Deadhorse, click here.

justine@justinecarson.com (Justine Carson Photography) alaska deadhorse alaska lakes north slope oil fields oil fields ponds prudhoe bay tundra https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2017/7/deadhorse-and-prudhoe-bay Sun, 16 Jul 2017 04:14:21 GMT
Ol Pejeta Conservancy: Sanctuary for rhinos https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2016/9/ol-pejeta-conservancy-sanctuary-for-rhinos Ol Pejeta Conservancy is a 90,000 acre wildlife conservancy located in the Laikipia Plain region of central Kenya. Crossed by the equator, it lies between the Aberdare Mountains and the foothills of Mount Kenya.

For many years the land was used for cattle ranching and has had owners as various as Britain’s Lord Delamere and Adnan Khashoggi, Saudi arms dealer and billionaire. With the declining profitability of cattle ranching and the increasing need for wildlife conservation, the land has passed from private ranches to not-for-profit wildlife conservancy and land trust. Today Ol Pejeta is one of the world’s foremost rhino sanctuaries, with populations of both white and black rhino, and is also host to Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary, a home for orphaned and rescued chimps. 

The Black Rhino population reached the milestone of 100 animals in 2013. Ol Pejeta is also home to the only four remaining Northern White Rhino and a significant number of the closely related Southern White Rhino.

Below, Southern White Rhino has the distinctive wide, flat "lawnmower" mouth, well suited for grazing. 

White Rhino, Ol Pejeta Conservancy, KenyaWhite Rhino, Ol Pejeta Conservancy, KenyaThis view of a White Rhino shows the distinct squared-off mouth

While the Black Rhino has more curved, prehensile lips suited for browsing on leaves and branches. 

Black Rhino at waterhole, view from Sweetwater's Camp, Ol PejetaBlack Rhino at waterhole, view from Sweetwater's Camp, Ol PejetaPhoto by justinecarson.com

Female and young White Rhino, Ol Pejeta Conservancy, KenyaFemale and young White Rhino, Ol Pejeta Conservancy, KenyaPhoto by justinecarson.com Above, female White Rhino with offspring.

In spite of the costly and varied security measures employed at the conservancy, including fencing and patrols by aircraft, drone, dogs, and armed teams of rangers, rhino poaching continues to be a problem.  In the eastern part of the conservancy a rhino cemetery commemorates the Ol Pejeta rhinos lost to poaching since 2004.

Rhino cemetery, Ol Pejeta ConservancyRhino cemetery, Ol Pejeta Conservancy Ol Pejeta is home to Africa’s  well-known “Big Five” (rhino, elephant, buffalo, lion and leopard) and to a host of lesser-known animals and birds.  Click here to see more images from Ol Pejeta.


justine@justinecarson.com (Justine Carson Photography) Black Rhino Kenya Ol Pejeta Conservancy White Rhino Wildlife conservancy https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2016/9/ol-pejeta-conservancy-sanctuary-for-rhinos Wed, 28 Sep 2016 21:50:33 GMT
Kenya: Lake Nakuru https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2016/9/kenya-lake-nakuru Kenya’s Lake Nakuru is one of the Rift Valley's alkaline lakes and the centerpiece of Lake Nakuru National Park. My recent visit was my second to the park and I arrived to find many changes. Water level in the lake is so high that many roads that used to circle the lake are now flooded, as are acacia forests and park buildings. Below, a ghost forest rises out of the flooded lake.

Flooded acacia forest; new shoreline for Lake NakuruFlooded acacia forest; new shoreline for Lake NakuruPhoto by justinecarson.com

Though water levels have fluctuated over the years, the alkaline water consistently supported an abundant population of blue-green algae, which in turn attracted huge flocks of flamingoes to breed on the lake. However, water levels rose dramatically and mysteriously in 2013, flooding significant portions of the national park and diluting the salinity of the lake. As a result the flamingoes have mostly moved to another of the Rift Valley lakes, Lake Bogoria. Researchers are still investigating possible causes: increased rainfall in the watershed area, changes to the lake bottom, and the possible emergence of new underground springs feeding the lake. It is uncertain whether the lake will return to “normal” levels. In the meantime, birds, animals, and fish must adjust to a very different environment.

A small group of flamingoes foraging near shore, Lake NakuruA small group of flamingoes foraging near shore, Lake NakuruPhoto by justinecarson.com Above, a small group of flamingoes forages along the shoreline. Below, a wading zebra and egrets.

Zebra grazing at the flooded edge of Lake NakuruZebra grazing at the flooded edge of Lake NakuruPhoto by justinecarson.com

Lake Nakuru National Park is also a sanctuary for both black and white rhino.  Though the white rhino is endemic to the area, the black rhino have been relocated there for protection, as have a small population of Rothschild’s giraffe. 

White Rhino has wide mouth well-suited for grazing in short grasWhite Rhino has wide mouth well-suited for grazing in short grasPhoto by justinecarson.com Below, white legs distinguish the Rothschild's Giraffe from other species.

Young Rothschild's Giraffe shows distinguishing "white stockingsYoung Rothschild's Giraffe shows distinguishing "white stockingsPhoto by justinecarson.com

Click here for complete Lake Nakuru gallery.

justine@justinecarson.com (Justine Carson Photography) Flooding Kenya Lake Nakuru Lake Nakuru National Park Rothschild's Giraffe White Rhino https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2016/9/kenya-lake-nakuru Thu, 15 Sep 2016 21:32:28 GMT
Maasai Mara: The Wetlands https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2016/9/maasai-mara-the-wetlands While the Maasai Mara is primarily grassland, there are also significant areas of swampland in the Mara Triange (the area west of the Mara River).  Our visit to the Mara Triangle included visits to these areas where we enjoyed vieiwing a variety of wetland birds and animals.

The Defassa Waterbuck is most at home in wetland areas such as the Saparingo Swamp.

Defassa Waterbuck grazing in marsh, Maasai MaraDefassa Waterbuck grazing in marsh, Maasai Mara

A variety of birds make the swamp their home, including the Black-headed Heron and Egyptian Goose.

Pair of Egyptian Geese, Maasai MaraPair of Egyptian Geese, Maasai Mara

This Black-headed Heron is very similar to our local Great Blue Heron.

Preening Saddle-billed Stork, Maasai MaraPreening Saddle-billed Stork, Maasai Mara Preening Saddle-billed Stork; preening is an essential activity for birds to keep their feathers conditioned.

justine@justinecarson.com (Justine Carson Photography) Black-headed Heron Defassa Waterbuck Egyptian Goose Kenya Maasai Mara Marshes Saddle-billed Stork Swamps Wetlands https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2016/9/maasai-mara-the-wetlands Mon, 12 Sep 2016 17:22:03 GMT
Maasai Mara: Scavengers -- Essential to an ecosystem https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2016/9/maasai-mara-scavengers----essential-to-an-ecosystem Scavengers, useful in all ecosystems, are especially important in the Maasai Mara. With the many dead animals from river crossings or predator kills, scavengers help to clean disease-causing carcasses from the environment. Vulture stomach acid is particularly corrosive and allows the birds to safely digest putrid carcasses that might be lethal to other scavengers.

The characteristic bald head of vultures (and Marabou storks) historically thought to be a mechanism to keep the head of these birds free from bacteria, also plays a role in thermo-regulation.

Vultures have an interesting variety of collective nouns. A group of vultures feeding on a carcass is called a wake; in flight, a kettle; and roosting in trees or gathered on a termite mound, a committee, venue or volt.

Here, a wake of vultures is joined by a Marabou Stork.

Vultures and Marabou Stork compete for wildebeest carcass, MaasaVultures and Marabou Stork compete for wildebeest carcass, MaasaWhite-backed and Ruppell's Griffon Vultures and Marabou Stork feeding on wildebeest carcass, Maasai Mara Below, a mixed group of vultures (Lappet-faced, larger, darker, and with red head and neck; Ruppell's Griffon, light-colored beak; and White-backed, dark beak) rest after feeding on a carcass.  You might call this a post-wake venue of vultures.

A mixed-group of vultures rest on a termite mound after feeding on a carcass.

While not unusual to see groups of vultures gathering on the ground near carcasses, it was surprising to see them, along with a Marabou stork, feeding on carcasses in the Mara River.

White-backed Vultures cleaning up the river, Maasai MaraWhite-backed Vultures cleaning up the river, Maasai MaraWhite-backed Vulture struggles for balance on wildebeest carcass in the Mara River

A White-backed Vulture in flight, coming in to join a wake -- I couldn't zoom fast enough to capture the entire bird with its large wing-span.

Too much zoom!Too much zoom!White-backed Vulture in flight, Maasai Mara, Kenya

justine@justinecarson.com (Justine Carson Photography) Maasai Mara Marabou Stork Scavengers Vultures https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2016/9/maasai-mara-scavengers----essential-to-an-ecosystem Tue, 06 Sep 2016 19:38:55 GMT
Maasai Mara: Predators along the migration route https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2016/9/maasai-mara-predators-along-the-migration-route Numerous predators take advantage of the wildebeest migration: primarily lion, cheetah, and hyena. 

The Maasai Mara has one of the highest lion densities in the world. The Masai lion (Panthera leo nubica), found in East Africa, is a subspecies of the African lion. Male lions spend 18 to 20 hours sleeping, while females, who do most of the hunting, get about 15 to 18 hours.

Panthera Leo: Taking a siestaPanthera Leo: Taking a siesta That's why you'll often see scenes like the one above. Hunting is for the most part nocturnal, but lions can be seen, when not sleeping, feeding on the previous night's kill.

Male lion looks up from his meal, Maasai MaraMale lion looks up from his meal, Maasai Mara

Male Masai lions are known to have a variety of mane types.  Generally older males have fuller manes but geography also plays a role.  Lions in the lowlands of eastern and northern Kenya may have scanty manes or no mane at all.

Cheetah are seen more rarely than lions. Classified by the IUCN as “vulnerable,” they suffer from loss of habitat; they require a large home territory and much of their territory is unprotected, putting them on a collision course with farmers and pastoralists.

Hyenas are serious hunters, not just scavengers as they were once thought to be.  Clans are matriarchal and have an extremely complex and fluid social structure. Taxonomically they are closer to cats than to dogs and are classified in the Feliformia, along with cats and mongooses. Michigan State University’s Project Hyena has been conducting research on the Spotted Hyena population in the Mara Triangle since 1988. Here, seen outside the den entrance, this adult female with cub belong to a clan that's a subject of the MSU study.

Spotted hyenas: Adult female with cub outside den entranceSpotted hyenas: Adult female with cub outside den entrancePhoto by justinecarson.com Spotted hyenas: Adult maleSpotted hyenas: Adult malePhoto by justinecarson.com

A young male hyena on a mission!

The overall populations of predators in the Mara are controlled by the numbers of indigenous animals such as the buffalo, topi, eland, and impala, rather than by the huge numbers of animals participating in the migration.  However, the abundance of wildebeest and zebra as the herds pass through the Mara make life a lot easier for the local predators. 

justine@justinecarson.com (Justine Carson Photography) Cheetah Kenya Maasai Mara Masai Lion Predators Spotted Hyena https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2016/9/maasai-mara-predators-along-the-migration-route Mon, 05 Sep 2016 00:59:19 GMT
Maasai Mara: Great Migration and Crossing the Mara River https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2016/8/maasai-mara-great-migration-and-crossing-the-mara-river Once the animal herds of the Great Migration reach the southern part of the Maasai Mara, they must cross the Mara River to reach the fresh grazing areas of the Mara Triangle in the northwest.  The herds instinctively mass along the river bank, circling, jostling, and raising clouds of dust until “critical mass” is achieved.  At some imperceptible signal, the animals in front tentatively approach the water.  As others follow, pressure builds until the lead animals finally plunge in and cross the river, swimming, then scrambling up the opposite bank to safety and fresh grasses.

Chaos reigns as the herds charge down the river bank and enter the Mara RiverChaos reigns as the herds charge down the river bank and enter the Mara RiverPhoto by justinecarson.com

Crossings can have as few as a hundred animals or as many as tens of thousands.  For the largest crossing that our group witnessed, our guides estimates ranged from thirty-five to fifty thousand.  Wildebeest make up the majority of the herds, with zebras and various species of antelope participating as well.

Individuals can be separated from their family groups during the chaos of the crossing; sometimes a few animals will cross back, swimming against the tide.  Once most of the animals have crossed, loss of momentum may leave a group of animals behind on the far bank where they will wait until joined by new herds and critical mass is again achieved. 

A few Wildebeest defy the herd momentum and return to the east bA few Wildebeest defy the herd momentum and return to the east bPhoto by justinecarson.com Topi and Zebra cross the Mara RiverTopi and Zebra cross the Mara RiverPhoto by justinecarson.com

Above, a small group of Topi join the wildebeest and zebra herds. Below, just a few more leaps and they are across!

River crossing:  almost there; just a few more leapsRiver crossing: almost there; just a few more leapsPhoto by justinecarson.com


justine@justinecarson.com (Justine Carson Photography) Antelope Great Migration Kenya Maasai Mara Mara River River Wildebeest Zebra crossings" https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2016/8/maasai-mara-great-migration-and-crossing-the-mara-river Wed, 31 Aug 2016 17:08:52 GMT
Maasai Mara: Backdrop to the Great Migration https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2016/8/maasai-mara-backdrop-to-the-great-migration The Maasai Mara, located in the southwest of Kenya, is part of the greater Serengeti ecosystem.  “Mara” means spotted in Maa, the language of the Maasai, and describes the spotted or mottled texture of the area – grasslands dotted with thickets of croton bushes and the shadows of scattered clouds.

The Great Migration, a circular movement of hundreds of thousands of wildebeest, zebra, and a mixture of antelope takes place each year as these animals follow the rains and the new grasses that follow. Starting in the southern Serengeti of Tanzania in January to March, the herds graze and give birth; calving season usually beginning around February and lasting six to eight weeks.  As the grasses are depleted and the rains end by May, the herds begin their northward journey arriving in the renewed grasslands of the Maasai Mara from roughly July until October.

Mixed herds of Wildebeest and Burchell's Zebra congregate and graze near the Mara RiverMixed herds of Wildebeest and Burchell's Zebra congregate and graze near the Mara River

The most common grass in the Masai Mara is red oat grass (Themeda triandra), a palatable and nutritious food base for the vast herds of herbivores. Grazed down to stubble each year, the grasses are renewed by the long and short rains and fertilized by the copious droppings of the herds.  Below, zebra and wildebeest graze under a Balenites tree.

Small groups of zebra and wildebeest graze near a Balenites treeSmall groups of zebra and wildebeest graze near a Balenites tree

Obstacles to the migration are the Grumeti River in Tanzania and the Mara River in Kenya. Rapids, steep banks, crocodiles and hippos all pose a threat to the herds as they cross these rivers.  Also predators, present all along the migration route, can lie in wait in the thickets along the river.   Burchell's zebra graze near the Mara River; herds of Wildbeest in the backgroundBurchell's zebra graze near the Mara River; herds of Wildbeest in the background

More on the predators and the actual river crossings in future posts…

End of the day in the Maasai MaraEnd of the day in the Maasai MaraPhoto by justinecarson.com End of the day.

justine@justinecarson.com (Justine Carson Photography) Antelope Great Migration Kenya Maasai Mara Wildebeest Zebra https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2016/8/maasai-mara-backdrop-to-the-great-migration Sun, 28 Aug 2016 18:33:46 GMT
Three Mornings at Bryce Canyon https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2015/11/three-mornings-at-bryce-canyon It didn’t take long to figure out that Bryce Canyon, while stunning at any time of day, is, photographically, a morning location. The amphitheater (not strictly speaking a canyon since it was not formed by a river) is East-facing and the shapes and colors are best in morning light.

On our first morning, we photographed from the aptly named Inspiration Point. This overlook provides stunning views of the Silent City -- a part of Bryce with an especially dense concentration of hoodoos and fins with narrow channels between them.  To modern eyes they resemble a warren of skyscrapers and narrow streets. To the native Paiutes they are the “Legend People” dressed in their finest, colorful clothing.

In the pre-dawn light the colors began to glow from the diffused light. 

Bryce Amphitheater from Inspiration PointBryce Amphitheater from Inspiration PointEarly light on the Silent City, Bryce Amphitheater, intensifies pink and orange hues.

Less than ten minutes later, directional light revealed completely different colors and highlighted the shapes of the rock formations.

Silent City, Bryce CanyonSilent City, Bryce CanyonFirst light on the Silent City, Bryce Canyon, Utah On the second morning, after a sunrise shoot from Bryce overlook, I walked down into the amphitheater on the Queen’s Garden Trail to get a different view of the hoodoos.  Looking up, the sky was an even deeper blue than from the rim, making a dramatic contrast with the orange hues of the rock.

Hoodoo, Bryce CanyonHoodoo, Bryce CanyonHoodoo along the Navajo Loop Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

On morning three, a hike along the Navaho Loop Trail provided a variety of views of Thor’s Hammer, one of the most recognizable formations and one that quickly became a favorite.

Thor's Hammer, Bryce CanyonThor's Hammer, Bryce CanyonEarly morning light on Thor's Hammer, from Queen's Garden trail, Bryce Canyon, Utah

Thor's Hammer, Bryce CanyonThor's Hammer, Bryce CanyonThor's Hammer from Navaho Loop Trail, Bryce Canyon, Utah

Three days is nowhere near enough time to fully explore Byrce Canyon, just enough time to whet the appetite for a return visit.

justine@justinecarson.com (Justine Carson Photography) Bryce Canyon Hoodoos Morning light Silent City Thor's Hammer https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2015/11/three-mornings-at-bryce-canyon Sat, 07 Nov 2015 17:24:23 GMT
Another Visit to Antelope Island https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2015/10/another-visit-to-antelope-island Heading south from Yellowstone and the Tetons in early October, I had a chance to make a second visit to Antelope Island, an island and Utah state park located in the Great Salt Lake. I got a late start to my visit because of bad weather.  But, as I drove north on I-15 through a heavy downpour, I could see clearing skies to the west. By the time I crossed the causeway to the island the rain and clouds had given way to mostly blue skies.

Fremont Island, Great Salt Lake, UtahFremont Island, Great Salt Lake, UtahView of Fremont Island from the Antelope Island Causeway As one might guess from the name, “brine shrimp” (or Artemia, a genus of aquatic crustaceans) can live in water of high salinity.  So it’s no surprise that they are present in large numbers in the Great Salt Lake and serve as a food source for large flocks of migrating shorebirds.

Shorebird flock, Great Salt LakeShorebird flock, Great Salt Lake Antelope Island is home to a herd of American bison. On an easy hike along the lakeshore, I encountered several of them and -- rather unexpectedly they were right in front of me on the trail. I yielded to them and made a wide detour to get around them. Antelope Island bisonAntelope Island bisonMember of the Antelope Island Bison herd browzing among sage and colorful rabbitbrush. I also encountered a group of Chukars and large numbers of small lizards.  The Chukars proved to be too elusive for photographs, so I turned instead to the lizards, which have their own photographic challenges. Though numerous, they are quite quick to take cover under rocks and it is very difficult to get a catchlight in their deeply hooded eyes.

Antelope Island lizardAntelope Island lizard Not being by any means an expert on lizard identification, my best guess is that mostly what I saw were Western Fence Lizards (though I didn’t turn them over to see if they had blue on the underside). One of the lizards I photographed was in the process of regrowing its tail -- a condition which, so I've read, puts males at a significant disadvantage in the mating game. 

Lizard (Western Fence lizard?) Antelope Island, UtahLizard (Western Fence lizard?) Antelope Island, UtahLizard regrowing its tail

justine@justinecarson.com (Justine Carson Photography) American bison Antelope Island Bison bison Flocks Fremont Island Great Salt Lake Lizards Shorebirds Utah https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2015/10/another-visit-to-antelope-island Fri, 30 Oct 2015 01:40:04 GMT
Last morning in the Tetons: Mount Moran from Oxbow Bend https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2015/10/last-morning-in-the-tetons-mount-moran-from-oxbow-bend I spent my last night in Wyoming at Signal Mountain Lodge in Tetons National Park in order to have easy access to Oxbow Bend on my final morning.  From my very first visit to the Tetons (about thirty years ago) Oxbow Bend with its spectacular view of Mount Moran has been my favorite early morning location.  In addition to the great view of the Tetons from this location, the still water of the Snake River in the oxbow often provides stunning reflections as well.  

I had stopped by the Oxbow on the previous afternoon and saw that there was still some good fall color -- an added incentive to try for some early morning photographs. I got up about an hour before sunrise, gathered up my photo gear and headed out the door. On emerging from the cabin, I was stunned to find that the whole area was socked in with thick fog. I almost gave up and went back to bed, but decided to give it a try. If not the Oxbow, maybe there would be other early morning opportunities. 

At the Oxbow I waited patiently (with a number of other photographers who had not been discouraged by the fog) and slowly the fog began to drift away and reveal partial views of the mountains. As the sun broke through and illuminated the top of Mount Moran and gave a glow to the aspens on the shoreline, I was rewarded for my perseverance -- a beautiful goodbye to the Tetons.

Mount Moran from the Oxbow Bend, Tetons National ParkMount Moran from the Oxbow Bend, Tetons National ParkClearing mist gives way to a view of fall color and Mount Moran from the Oxbow Bend of the Snake River, Tetons National Park


justine@justinecarson.com (Justine Carson Photography) Bend" Fall color Fog Mist Mount Moran Oxbow Reflections Snake River Tetons National Park Wyoming" https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2015/10/last-morning-in-the-tetons-mount-moran-from-oxbow-bend Sun, 25 Oct 2015 22:07:44 GMT
Yellowstone National Park: Bighorn sheep https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2015/10/yellowstone-national-park-bighorn-sheep A highlight of the Yellowstone portion of my recent trip was the chance to photograph a small group of Bighorn ewes and juveniles. This group was encountered along a back road away from large crowds and, in spite of the number of photographers in our group, the Bighorn were quite comfortable and tolerant of our presence.  At this time of year (early October), the older rams are still hanging out at higher altitudes, separate from the ewes and young sheep.  

Backgrounds are as important as the subject when photographing wildlife and I love the soft greens of the grasses and sagebrush in these images.

Juvenile Bighorn, Yellowstone National ParkJuvenile Bighorn, Yellowstone National Park

Bighorn ewe, Yellowstone National ParkBighorn ewe, Yellowstone National Park

What's even better is getting some significant distance between subject and background, as with this young ram and the distant and darker hillside. 

Young Bighorn ram, Yellowstone National ParkYoung Bighorn ram, Yellowstone National Park

For more wildlife from this recent trip to Yellowstone, click here.

justine@justinecarson.com (Justine Carson Photography) Bighorn sheep Ewes Lambs Ovis canadensis Yellowstone National Park https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2015/10/yellowstone-national-park-bighorn-sheep Fri, 23 Oct 2015 18:36:57 GMT
Moose in the Gros Ventre campground, Grand Teton National Park https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2015/10/moose-in-the-gros-ventre-campground-grand-teton-national-park I’ve recently returned from a three-week-long road trip that began with one of my favorite places to enjoy the fall season --  Grand Teton National Park -- and ended with first visits to some spectacular national parks and monuments in Utah. So after a very long hiatus I’m finally adding some images to my website and I hope you’ll enjoy viewing these photographs from my adventures.

As mentioned previously, the Gros Ventre campground in Grand Tetons National Park is the best place in the park to see moose at just about any time of year.  What’s not so reliable are the viewing and photographing conditions.  Sometimes the moose congregate right in the campground among the RVs, tents and restroom facilities – not an ideal setting for wildlife photographs. Even when the animals are in more natural settings – sagebrush, cottonwoods, or willows – dappled light, tangles of branches, and crowds of photographers create challenging photographic conditions.

But whatever the situation, it’s always a great experience to see and photograph moose in late fall color in this park. Moose cow (Alces americanus)Moose cow (Alces americanus)Moose cow (Alces americanus) on a cool, fall morning in the Gros Ventre campground, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming Cool mornings pass quickly and give way to warmer temperatures.

Bull Moose (Alces americanus)Bull Moose (Alces americanus)Bull Moose bedded down in sagebrush, Gros Ventre campground, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming Bull moose beds down early to avoid over-heating in unseasonably warm weather for late October.

Bull Moose (Alces americanus)Bull Moose (Alces americanus)Bull Moose in sagebrush and fall color, Gros Ventre campground, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming


Bull Moose (Alces americanus)Bull Moose (Alces americanus)Bull Moose portrait, Gros Ventre campground, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming Finally this Bull moose poses for a portrait in good light!

justine@justinecarson.com (Justine Carson Photography) Alces americanus Fall color Grand Teton National Park Gros Ventre campground Moose Wyoming https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2015/10/moose-in-the-gros-ventre-campground-grand-teton-national-park Tue, 20 Oct 2015 20:58:06 GMT
Prince William Sound: Wildlife https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2015/6/prince-william-sound-wildlife Wildlife viewing on Prince William Sound is as exciting and varied as the scenery.  There is an abundance of birds and marine mammals and glimpses of land mammals on beaches or steep hillsides. Puffins, murres, loons, sea ducks and shorebirds are to be seen everywhere and it seemed that each bay or inlet had an eagle or two perched on a spruce tree or soaring overhead. 

Surfbirds on rocky shore of Knowles Bay, Prince William SoundSurfbirds on rocky shore of Knowles Bay, Prince William SoundMigrating Surfbirds (Aphriza virgata) in breeding plumage, Knowles Bay, Prince William Sound, Alaska Surfbird flock on rocky beach

Tufted Puffins, Prince William Sound, AlaskaTufted Puffins, Prince William Sound, AlaskaTufted Puffins in front of their burrows, "Forbidden Puffin Island", Prince William Sound, Alaska Tufted Puffins on cliff outside their burrows

Black-legged Kittiwakes, Prince William Sound, AlaskaBlack-legged Kittiwakes, Prince William Sound, AlaskaA squabble over territory at a crowded Kittiwake nesting colony, "Forbidden Puffin Island", Prince William Sound, Alaska Nesting colony of Black-legged Kittiwakes

Likewise otters and harbor seals could be spotted in the open sound, in bays, or hauled out on beaches. 

Northern Sea Otters are larger than the Southern subspecies that inhabits the coasts of Central California. Once hunted almost to extinction for their pelts, the otters have made a remarkable comeback.  However,thousands of Prince William Sound otters were killed by the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989.

Northern Sea Otter (Enhydris lutra), Prince William Sound, AlaskNorthern Sea Otter (Enhydris lutra), Prince William Sound, AlaskNorthern Sea Otter on rocky shore, Constantine Harbor, Prince William Sound

The Harbor Seal (Phoca vitulina, also called Common Seal) is one of the most widely distributed marine mammals.  The Pacific subspecies inhabits the coasts of North America. Both otters and seals are wary of humans but occasionally an individual would allow a closer approach before disappearing under the surface of the water.

Harbor Seal (Phoca vitulina), near Channel Island, Prince WilliaHarbor Seal (Phoca vitulina), near Channel Island, Prince Willia The Steller’s Sea Lion (Eumatopias jubatus) is the largest of the sea lions. The species is classified as Near Threatened due to a significant, unexplained decline in their numbers over recent decades. We observed a group of well over a hundred at a haul-out near Bull Head on Glacier Island.  Some literally filled the water while others sunned themselves on the rocks.

Steller's Sea Lions, off Bull Head, Prince William SoundSteller's Sea Lions, off Bull Head, Prince William SoundA tightly-packed crowd of curious Steller's Sea Lions check out the Discovery, Prince William Sound Steller's Sea Lion bull stands out from the crowdSteller's Sea Lion bull stands out from the crowdSteller's Sea Lion bull stands out from the crowd at haul-out, Bull Head, Glacier Island, Alaska For more wildlife images and the complete Copper Delta/Prince William Sound gallery, click here.

justine@justinecarson.com (Justine Carson Photography) Alaska Harbor Seal Northern Sea Otter Prince William Sound Puffins Shorebirds Steller's Sea Lion Tufted Puffin Wildlife https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2015/6/prince-william-sound-wildlife Sun, 07 Jun 2015 21:54:05 GMT