Justine Carson Photography: Blog https://www.justinecarson.com/blog en-us (C) Justine Carson Photography [email protected] (Justine Carson Photography) Mon, 20 May 2024 07:40:00 GMT Mon, 20 May 2024 07:40:00 GMT https://www.justinecarson.com/img/s/v-12/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


[email protected] (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

[email protected] (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.

[email protected] (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


[email protected] (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.

[email protected] (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

[email protected] (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.

[email protected] (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.


[email protected] (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.

[email protected] (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.

[email protected] (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

[email protected] (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. 

[email protected] (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


[email protected] (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.

[email protected] (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.

[email protected] (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

[email protected] (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


[email protected] (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.

[email protected] (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!

[email protected] (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.

[email protected] (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
Prince William Sound: Bays, Forests, Glaciers https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2015/5/prince-william-sound-bays-forests-glaciers Prince William Sound is separated (and protected) from the Gulf of Alaska by three islands: Montague Island, Hinchinbrook Island, and Hawkins Island. It is almost completely surrounded by the Chugach National Forest and mostly inaccessible by road or trail.  By boat, however, one can explore the peaceful bays, inlets, and fjords, and enjoy the views of the steep, forested hillsides, snow-covered mountains, and glaciers. 

Clearing storm, Prince William Sound, AlaskaClearing storm, Prince William Sound, Alaska

After a day of rain and overcast skies, a peaceful evening and clearing storm.

Rocky shoreline, temperate rainforest, Prince William SoundRocky shoreline, temperate rainforest, Prince William Sound

Seaweed, lichens, and moss add color to the shoreline near St. Matthew Bay. Spruce and hemlock, often covered by mosses have a precarious hold above the rocky shore.

Approaching Meares Glacier, Prince William SoundApproaching Meares Glacier, Prince William Sound Approaching Meares Glacier, Unakwik Inlet.

Meares Glacier calving, Unakwik Glacier, Prince William SoundMeares Glacier calving, Unakwik Glacier, Prince William Sound A closer look at Meares Glacier calving.

Waterfall and rocky cliffs line Harriman Fjord, Prince William SoundWaterfall and rocky cliffs line Harriman Fjord, Prince William Sound

Snowmelt creates a profusion of waterfalls along the steep walls of Harriman Fjord.

Rocky shore and reflections in Prince William Sound, AlaskaRocky shore and reflections in Prince William Sound, Alaska Calm water creates kaleidoscopic reflections of the rocks and lichens.

Prince William Sound is famously the site of the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989 in which more than 10 million gallons of oil was released into the sound. While the area appears to have recovered from the event, scientists are still finding new evidence of this ecological trauma.

Less well known, perhaps, is that the epicenter of the 1964 Alaska Earthquake was also located within the Chugach National Forest adjacent to the sound. As an oceanic plate plunged under a continental plate, some areas were uplifted while others sank. Ghost forests of dead spruce trees sometime line the shoreline, marking the areas that subsided and drowned the trees' root systems.

[email protected] (Justine Carson Photography) Alaska Fjords Glaciers Prince William Sound Waterfalls https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2015/5/prince-william-sound-bays-forests-glaciers Sun, 31 May 2015 01:16:15 GMT
Copper River Delta: Shorebird Migration https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2015/5/copper-river-delta-shorebird-migration The Copper River Delta is a 35-mile wide wetland complex east of Cordova, Alaska, and a critical stop-over for millions of migrating shorebirds on the Pacific Flyway.  It is particularly important for Dunlin and Western Sandpipers.  At least 90% of these two species pass through the Delta area for refueling on their way to their breeding areas in the high Arctic.

While accessing and viewing the birds on the Delta itself is difficult, many of the birds also pass through a low point in the Chugash Mountains and congregate at Hartney Bay, just to the west.  There it is possible to view and photograph flocks or individual birds as they pass through the area, stopping for a day or two to forage on the mud flats.  At low tide the birds are spread out over the extensive intertidal areas, but high tides push the birds into smaller areas and greater concentrations, making for a spectacular viewing experience.

The incredible synchronization of the individual birds in these large shorebird flocks is amazing to watch.  A wave passes through the flock as the birds change direction -- showing dark backs or white underparts -- rising or falling, breaking into smaller groups or consolidating into larger flocks – all with the mountains and bay as a beautiful backdrop. 

Shorebird flock over Hartney Bay, near Cordova, AlaskaShorebird flock over Hartney Bay, near Cordova, Alaska A flock of sandpipers masses and then, changing direction, circles low against the bay.

One Dunlin in a flock of sandpipers, Hartney Bay, AlaskaOne Dunlin in a flock of sandpipers, Hartney Bay, AlaskaDunlin (Calidris alpina), with black stomach patch of breeding plumage, stands out in a flock of Western Sandpipers, Hartney Bay, Alaska One lone Dunlin in breeding plumage (upper right with distinctive black patch) stands out in a crowd of Western Sandpipers.

Shorebird flock, Hartney Bay, AlaskaShorebird flock, Hartney Bay, AlaskaShorebird flock flies low over Hartney Bay, Chugash Mountains in the background. Shorebird flock with Chugash Mountains as backdrop.

The large flocks that congregate at Hartney Bay also produce opportunities for close-ups of birds in their bright breeding plumage.

Least Sandpiper, Hartney Bay, AlaskaLeast Sandpiper, Hartney Bay, AlaskaLeast Sandpiper, smallest of the sandpiper family, in breeding plumage, Hartney Bay, Alaska A clear view of the yellow legs makes it easy to distinguish the Least Sandpiper (above) from the black-legged Western Sandpiper (below).

Western Sandpiper (Calidris mauri) foraging in Hartney Bay durinWestern Sandpiper (Calidris mauri) foraging in Hartney Bay durin Semipalmated Plover, Hartney Bay, AlaskaSemipalmated Plover, Hartney Bay, AlaskaSemipalmated Plover foraging in grasses at the edge of Hartney Bay, Alaska Distinctive black collar, eye stripe, and bi-colored bill also make the Semipalmated Plover easy to identify.

For more images of the Cordova area and Prince William Sound, click here

[email protected] (Justine Carson Photography) Alaska Calidris alpina Calidris mauri Calidris minutilla Charadrius semipalmatus Copper River Delta Dunlin Hartney Bay Least Sandpiper Semipalmated Plover Shorebird flocks Shorebirds Spring migration Western Sandpiper https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2015/5/copper-river-delta-shorebird-migration Sun, 24 May 2015 03:05:26 GMT
Morro Bay: Foraging Shorebirds https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2015/3/morro-bay-foraging-shorebirds In early February I added another location to my favorite places: Morro Bay is just a four hour drive down the coast, but I hadn’t visited in years.  Now I hope to get there several times each year.

The flat, sandy beach north of the Morro Bay harbor and Morro Rock is an ideal place to observe and photograph shorebirds.  The tidal area is rich with marine creatures, notably mole or sand crabs, that attract shorebirds such as sanderlings, curlews, godwits, and willets.

Mole crabs live under the surface of the sand in the intertidal area. As each wave washes in, the crabs move toward the surface to feed, extending their antennae to filter nutrients out of the water. As each wave retreats again, the crabs burrow back down into the sand.  Foraging shorebirds actively patrol the beach between waves, probing the sand, and extracting the crabs with their long bills.

When the shorebirds are intent on feeding, one can generally approach them closely enough for good photographs.  The best perspective for photographing the birds is to get low, preferably lying down in the sand with camera and long lens on a ground pod, a device that looks like a Frisbee with an attachment for the camera.

Getting up and down from this position quickly enough to avoid the large incoming waves can be a problem. After nearly getting swamped by one particularly big wave, I learned to keep one eye on the waves and the other on the bird. With practice, I became quite accurate at predicting when I’d actually have to grab my gear and retreat.

Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus)Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus)Curlew successfully extracts a mole crab from the sand

A Long-billed Curlew successfully extracts a mole crab from the sand. Marbled Godwit (Limosa Fedoa)Marbled Godwit (Limosa Fedoa)Marbled Godwit digs deep for mole crabs, Morro Bay beach, CA

Shorebirds dig deep to find a meal. How do they find them? Marbled Godwit (Limosa fedoa)Marbled Godwit (Limosa fedoa)Godwit foraging along the surfline, Morro Bay beach, CA

They unearth other invertebrates, like this unknown creature.

Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus, Morro Bay beachLong-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus, Morro Bay beachCurlew juggles mole crab in attempt to swallow it, Morro Bay beach, CA

They have to be nimble to juggle the crab from bill to mouth.

Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus)Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus)Foraging curlew gets swamped by an unexpected wave, Morro Bay, CA

And sometimes, like me, they are surprised by an unexpected wave.

[email protected] (Justine Carson Photography) California Curlews Foraging Godwits Mole crabs Morro Bay Sand crabs Shorebirds https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2015/3/morro-bay-foraging-shorebirds Fri, 06 Mar 2015 22:56:43 GMT
More from San Benito County, California https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2015/2/more-from-san-benito-county-california My last post highlighted the bobcats encountered in San Benito County and they, with good reason, were the focus of the trip.  But the area offers much more in terms of both landscape and wildlife.

For landscapes, the undulating shapes of the hills, scattered oak trees, barns, and interesting cloud formations offer endless possibilities.  On this trip I only stopped briefly to snap a few shots, but the area definitely merits a return trip for further landscape exploration.

Rolling hills, ranchland, and oak, San Benito County, CaliforniaRolling hills, ranchland, and oak, San Benito County, CaliforniaWispy clouds over ranchland, San Benito County, California

Encountering a badger hanging out at the entrance to a large burrow was an unexpected treat.  Badgers are often nocturnal and nowhere near as plentiful as bobcats.  The same ground squirrels that provide food for the bobcats are also popular with badgers.  Their front legs and claws are designed for digging so, unlike the bobcat which must wait for the squirrels to emerge, the badger can excavate burrows to find a meal. In fact they are not very popular with the local ranchers because the large holes they dig are a danger to grazing cattle.

American Badger (Taxidea taxus), San Benito County, CaliforniaAmerican Badger (Taxidea taxus), San Benito County, CaliforniaAmerican Badger soaks up some sun atop recently excavated hole, San Benito County, CA

The Pinnacles area also provides excellent bird photography.  On this trip we photographed quail, Varied thrush, and Wild Turkey.

Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), Pinnacles National Park, CaliWild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), Pinnacles National Park, CaliMale Wild Turkey running, Pinnacles National Park, California

With good reason, San Benito County and the Pinnacles is now on my favorites list.  Click here to see more wildlife from the area.

[email protected] (Justine Carson Photography) Badger Bobcat California Canis latrans Coyote Lynx rufus Meleagris gallopavo San Benito County Taxidea taxus Wild turkey Wildlife https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2015/2/more-from-san-benito-county-california Sun, 01 Feb 2015 18:47:18 GMT
Bobcats of San Benito County https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2015/1/bobcats-of-san-benito-county Pinnacles National Park with its rolling oak woodlands and the surrounding ranchlands of San Benito County are prime bobcat habitat.  Over the last month I have spent three days in this area searching for bobcats with Brent Paull, one of the few wildlife photographers who specializes in photographing these elusive animals in California. After many years of experience in the area, he knows when and where to find bobcats and can even recognize individual animals. Also he is an excellent spotter and can find bobcats where most people would drive by, completely unaware of their presence.

On my first attempt to photograph these cats at the end of December, our group counted fifteen bobcat encounters, but none of them yielded excellent photo opportunities. In wildlife photography it’s all about time in the field, a good guide (if one is unfamiliar with the area), and some luck.  The best way to maximize opportunities for quality encounters is to be out there, so I decided to return for another two days of bobcat safari with Brent. This time we had fewer sightings but better photographic opportunities and were able to capture images of these beautiful cats engaging in a variety of behaviors.

Bobcat prey differs according to what's plentiful in the habitat; in the narrow valleys of San Benito County, ground squirrel, cottontail, and quail are primary food sources. Limited hunting and trapping plus the abundance of these prey animals contribute to the high numbers of bobcats resident in the area.  We were lucky to observe several cats stalking or waiting near burrows for a squirrel to emerge.

(c) Justine Carson 2013

Finding a cat in the open and at close range happens infrequently but we were lucky to see this female bobcat peek out warily and then walk along a fallen log.

Bobcat (Lynx rufus), Pinnacles National Park, CaliforniaBobcat (Lynx rufus), Pinnacles National Park, CaliforniaFemale bobcat cautiously emerging from behind log, Pinnacles NP, California

Bobcat (Lynx rufus), Pinnacles National Park, CaliforniaBobcat (Lynx rufus), Pinnacles National Park, CaliforniaFemale bobcat walking along a fallen oak, Pinnacles National Park, California

Bobcats are similar in appearance to and only slightly larger than domestic cats. Hunkered down in grass with only its face visible, a bobcat could easily be mistaken for a domestic cat except for the distinctive dark tufts at the tips of the ears.

Female bobcat (Lynx rufus), Pinnacles National Park, CaliforniaFemale bobcat (Lynx rufus), Pinnacles National Park, CaliforniaFemale bobcat hunkered down in the grass, Pinnacles NP, California

All in all, a very satisfying photo adventure to start the new year.


[email protected] (Justine Carson Photography) Bobcats California Lynx rufus Pinnacles National Park San Benito County hunting stalking https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2015/1/bobcats-of-san-benito-county Sun, 18 Jan 2015 00:44:08 GMT
Color, Pattern, and Feather Detail https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2015/1/color-pattern-and-feather-detail I think one of the reasons that I became hooked on wildlife, and especially bird, photography is that it gives me the opportunity to see details that I wouldn’t necessarily apprehend or appreciate when only seen in a wild habitat.  In fact I remember vividly the experience of viewing on a computer monitor my first images taken with a true “wildlife lens” and being astounded at the vivid colors and feather structure that the camera had captured.

Over the past five years or so I’ve had the opportunity to photograph several varieties of quail and they’ve become some of my favorite subjects. The variety of colors and patterns and, of course, those irresistible topknots, make them endlessly fascinating and excellent subjects for studying color, pattern, and feather detail.

Although they usually appear primarily gray, in the right light this male California Quail takes on unexpected colors of blue and gold.

The female of the species is less brightly colored but has beautiful patterns in muted colors.

Female California Quail, Monterey County, CAFemale California Quail, Monterey County, CAFemale California Quail (Calipepla californica) is not as strikingly colorful as the male, but still has lovely muted colors and plumage.

Due to the very limited depth of field of super telephoto lens, it's always difficult to get good focus on multiple subjects, but despite the technical issues, I think the image below highlights the distinct differences between the male and female California Quail.

Male and Female California Quail, Monterey County, CAMale and Female California Quail, Monterey County, CAStriking difference between color and pattern in male and female California Quail (Calipepla californica)

The plumage pattern of this more southern species of quail is well reflected in its name: Scaled Quail:

Scaled Quail (Callipepla squamata)Scaled Quail (Callipepla squamata)Scaled Quail, South Texas

The Northern Bobwhite, also a member of the Quail family, lacks the tuft or topknot of other species but has a strikingly patterned head and neck and beautiful rufous coloring on the breast.

Northern Bobwhite, South TexasNorthern Bobwhite, South TexasStriking head pattern and plumage, male Northern Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus), South Texas

[email protected] (Justine Carson Photography) Birds Color Feather detail Pattern Plumage Quail https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2015/1/color-pattern-and-feather-detail Sat, 10 Jan 2015 20:09:58 GMT
Texas Gulf Coast: Lamar and Rockport https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2015/1/texas-gulf-coast-lamar-and-rockport I had hoped to spend several days photographing birds along the Gulf Coast, but I caught a miserable cold almost immediately on arrival in Ingleside, Texas, to visit my brother and sister-in-law.  Thanks to my brother’s suggestion that we check out the towns of Lamar and Rockport, I did manage a half-day of photography before giving in to the cold completely, cutting our visit short and heading for home.

One of the highlights of this short visit was "The Big Tree" located within Goose Island State Park; it is one of the largest live oaks (Quercus virginiana) in Texas. At an age of over one thousand years, it has survived many a hurricane. It is showing its age and is currently supported by cables and props. 

Why do I not have a picture of this wonderful tree?  Foolishly I did not bring a wide-angle lens with me (I blame that on the fuzzy thinking caused by my cold).  I brought only my telephoto lens because we were hoping to find some Whooping or Sandhill cranes.  We did see some Sandhills overhead in flight. It was a grey day with dull light but I was nevertheless able to get a few images of familiar Gulf Coast birds.

Black vulture, Texas Gulf CoastBlack vulture, Texas Gulf CoastBlack vulture (Coragyps) foraging on beach, Texas Gulf Coast

A Black Vulture foraging on the beach in Rockport.  It's always nice to see these birds; a nice change from the Turkey Vulture commonly seen in most parts of the United States.

Double-crested cormorant, Texas Gulf CoastDouble-crested cormorant, Texas Gulf CoastDouble-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) drying its feathers, Texas Gulf Coast

Double-crested Cormorant drying its plumage.

Brown Pelican, Texas Gulf CoastBrown Pelican, Texas Gulf CoastAdult Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentals), Texas Gulf Coast

Adult Brown Pelican (above) and American White Pelican (below).

White Pelican, Texas Gulf CoastWhite Pelican, Texas Gulf CoastWhite Pelican (Pelecanus erithrorhynchos), Texas Gulf Coast


[email protected] (Justine Carson Photography) American White Pelican Black Vulture Brown Pelican Coragyps Double-crested Cormorant Pelecanus Pelecanus occidentals Phalacrocorax azurites Texas Gulf Coast atratus" erythrorhychos" https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2015/1/texas-gulf-coast-lamar-and-rockport Fri, 02 Jan 2015 20:46:36 GMT
Guilford, Connecticut https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2014/12/guilford-connecticut Almost every day I take a walk along the bluffs just a short walk from my house.  Each time I go, I see something new or different.  Sometimes it is just the sea and sky in a new combination of colors and moods. So I’ve been thinking for a while about creating a series of seascapes to try to capture the changes in these simple elements.

Many of my photographer friends say that a beautiful sunset does not necessarily make a good image.  Generally I agree, but sometimes I just want to reduce an image to its most basic elements – color, line, texture. 

I think I found image #1 of this seascape series when we visited my cousin in Guilford, Connecticut, on our recent road trip.  A short evening walk down to the shore with camera and tripod gave me a chance to watch, wait, compose, and click. I’ll be looking for similar opportunities wherever sky and sea come together.

[email protected] (Justine Carson Photography) Guilford, Connecticut Long Island Sound Sunsets https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2014/12/guilford-connecticut Sun, 28 Dec 2014 05:25:21 GMT
Antelope Island and Farmington Bay, Utah https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2014/12/antelope-island-and-farmington-bay-utah I’m a regular reader of Rod Dudley’s Feathered Photography blog.  He does much of his excellent bird photography around Antelope Island and Farmington Bay near his home in the Salt Lake area.  I’ve been hoping to spend some time there so our cross-country trip was a great chance to make a brief stop and scout it out for a more extended visit.

Antelope Island is the largest island in the Great Salt Lake and, though surrounded by salt water, has enough fresh water springs to support an abundance of wildlife. The island is home to a bison herd, mule deer, antelope, coyotes, and a variety of bird species, notably owls, hawks and falcons.

Farmington Bay separates Antelope Island from the northern suburbs of Salt Lake City and much of the bay is part of the Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area. The area provides a variety of wetland habitats – fresh water ponds, marshes, saline mud flats and open salt water – essential to resident and migrating birds.

We spent most of a beautiful afternoon exploring the area, enjoying the views of the Great Salt Lake and spotting many species of resident birds and wildlife.  It’s obvious that this area is a great place for bird and wildlife photography (not to mention some stunning landscapes).  Now I just have to figure out when I can get back there!

View from the causeway to Antelope Island: Island in the Great Salt Lake

Looking across Farmington Bay toward the Wasatch Range from shoreline of Antelope Island.

Great Blue Heron in flight, Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area.

Great Blue Heron captures a small fish, Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area.

Western Grebe with a large catch. He actually succeeded in swallowing this fish!

[email protected] (Justine Carson Photography) Aechmophorus occidentalis Antelope Island Ardea hernias Birds in flight Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area Great Blue Heron Great Salt Lake Marshes Utah Western Grebe https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2014/12/antelope-island-and-farmington-bay-utah Fri, 26 Dec 2014 20:12:44 GMT
Carhenge, Alliance, Nebraska https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2014/12/carhenge-alliance-nebraska Carhenge is Alliance, Nebraska’s answer to Stonehenge – the much more famous circle of standing stones located in Wiltshire, England.  Unlike Stonehenge, Carhenge is constructed from vintage American automobiles spray-painted gray.   Thirty-eight automobiles stand in a circle about 95 feet in diameter.   The upright “stones” are buried in the ground, trunk end down, and other automobiles, welded to the uprights, form arches that mimic the structure of Stonehenge.  The heelstone (the stone over which the sun rises on summer solstice) is a 1962 Cadillac.

We arrived just at sunset and the site, with its long shadows and the moon rising behind, was very evocative of the original on which it is modeled.  It was a perfect time of day to enjoy this quirky American landmark.

Created as a memorial to his father, Jim Reinders constructed Carhenge in 1987 after studying the original structure’s shape and proportions while living in England. Over the years, additional automobile “sculptures” and a visitor center have been added to the site.


[email protected] (Justine Carson Photography) Alliance Nebraska Carhenge https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2014/12/carhenge-alliance-nebraska Sun, 14 Dec 2014 05:10:16 GMT
Natchez Trace Parkway: Tupelo-Baldcypress swamp in fall https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2014/12/natchez-trace-parkway-tupelo-baldcypress-swamp-in-fall As mentioned in the previous post, the nature trails along the Natchez Trace Parkway are a popular feature which add to the enjoyment of the travel experience.  Two stops along the Trace allow access to one of the typical Southeastern ecosystems – the Tupelo-Baldcypress swamp. 

Nature trails with boardwalks at two places along the Trace,  Cole Creek (mile 175.6) and Cypress Swamp (mile 122), allow visitors to get a close-up look at this ecosystem without the need for waders or a boat.

Not many trees can survive in continuously flooded conditions, but the Water Tupelo and the Baldcypress are two species that can.  Baldcypress (Taxodium distichum) is a deciduous conifer that can grow up to 25 to 40 feet high with a trunk diameter of two to three meters. The wood is very resistant to rot which may contribute to its longevity – one specimen in North Carolina is over 1600 years old.

The Water Tupelo (Nyssa aquatica) is similar in appearance to the Baldcypress – notably the swollen base of the tree – but it is not a conifer. Rather it produces masses of flowers in the spring (which make it a favorite with bees) and bears a fruit that looks rather like an olive. The bark of the tupelo is smooth and gray and mosses grow readily on it. The Baldcypress has an orange-tinted bark, a bit shredded at the base, and not as apt to harbor mosses.

A short walk through these swamps on a partly cloudy day revealed intriguing shapes, shadows, and reflections.

[email protected] (Justine Carson Photography) Baldcypress Fall color Mississippi Natchez Trace Parkway Nyssa aquatica Reflections Swamp Taxodium distichum Water Tupelo https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2014/12/natchez-trace-parkway-tupelo-baldcypress-swamp-in-fall Thu, 11 Dec 2014 20:17:29 GMT
The Natchez Trace Parkway https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2014/12/the-natchez-trace-parkway The modern day Natchez Trace Parkway roughly follows the historical Natchez Trace as it winds 440 miles from Nashville, Tennessee, to Natchez, Mississippi.

Following a natural geological ridgeline, the trail was first used by animals traveling from their grazing lands to salt licks located in central Tennessee. Native Americans used the trail for centuries before it came into use by European explorers, settlers, preachers, bandits, and traders.

Some of the most colorful travelers on the trace were the “Kaintucks”, frontiersman from Tennessee and Kentucky that floated flatboats down the river, delivering goods to Natchez, Mississippi, before traveling back on foot to Nashville to begin the journey over again.

Today the Parkway provides a pleasant escape from the interstate highways,  of which we gladly took advantage on our recent trip.  The winding road through mostly forested land offers many opportunities to visit historic and natural sites.  The historic sites mostly tell the sad story of the making and breaking of treaties between the American government and the Natchez, Chickasaw, Choctaw nations who inhabited the area pre-European settlement.

Remnants of the original Trace are accessible from the Parkway, as are the remains of Native American ceremonial sites from the Middle Woodland period. 

Even in late fall the forest of mixed hardwoods and pines creates a colorful backdrop to a drive down the Natchez Trace Parkway.

A small portion of the old Trace is carpeted with fallen leaves and bounded by thick forest of hardwoods. The trace crosses four distinct ecosystems and is habitat for almost 1500 species of plants and trees.

Remains of a Native American ceremonial site dating back to the first or second century AD.

[email protected] (Justine Carson Photography) Mississippi Natchez Trace Natchez Trace Parkway Native American ceremonial sites Tennessee forests hardwoods natural diversity pines https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2014/12/the-natchez-trace-parkway Mon, 08 Dec 2014 02:57:55 GMT
If You Build It, They Will Come https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2014/10/if-you-build-it-they-will-come Water is essential for birds and other wildlife.  Monterey County, California, especially in the current drought, is no exception.  I recently visited a ranch in the rolling (and very dry) hills of Monterey County where a friend, Bruce Finocchio, has created a small oasis for local wildlife and a wonderful location for wildlife photography.

A small pool as water source, live oak and other shrubs as cover, and a few bird feeders attract a wide variety of visitors.  Add a few blinds for photography and you have an ideal place to spend a couple of days observing and photographing on beautiful fall days.

This modest little creation of water, food, and cover provides a smorgasbord for both wildlife and photographers.  Activity around the pool –- foraging, perching, bathing, drinking  -- was almost constant during my visit.  Sparrows, towhees, finches, quail, jays, thrashers, chipmunks and cottontails… if you build it they will come.

Western Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma californica), Monterey County, CaliforniaWestern Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma californica), Monterey County, California

A Western Scrub Jay enjoys a bath.

Merriam's Chipmunk (Neotamias merriami), Monterey County, CaliforniaMerriam's Chipmunk (Neotamias merriami), Monterey County, California

Merriam's Chipmunk gets a drink.

Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus), Monterey County, CaliforniaSpotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus), Monterey County, CaliforniaSpotted Towhee comes in for a drink, Monterey County California

Spotted Towhee pauses for a drink and is reflected in the pool.

Desert Cottontail (Sylvilagus audubonii), Monterey County, CaliforniaDesert Cottontail (Sylvilagus audubonii), Monterey County, California

Desert Cottontail remains wary while drinking.

California Thrasher (Toxostoma redivivum), Monterey County, CaliforniaCalifornia Thrasher (Toxostoma redivivum), Monterey County, California

California Thrasher enjoys a dip in the pool.

[email protected] (Justine Carson Photography) Birds California Monterey County Ranch Water Wildlife https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2014/10/if-you-build-it-they-will-come Mon, 27 Oct 2014 04:23:30 GMT
Tetons Wildlife: Elk https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2014/10/tetons-wildlife-elk The bugling of male elk to advertise ownership of females is an unmistakable sign of the arrival of fall in elk habitat.  In Grand Teton National Park, the sound of bugling usually begins in early October as elk herds descend from high-elevation summer ranges and move into open woodlands and meadows in the Park's valleys.

On my recent visit to the Tetons, only small numbers of elk had made this transition from summer to fall range but the behaviors associated with the elk rut – bugling, wallowing, and herding and courting of females, were definitely in progress.

Elk (Cervus canadensis), Grand Teton National Park, WyomingElk (Cervus canadensis), Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Elk (Cervus canadensis), Grand Teton National Park, WyomingElk (Cervus canadensis), Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

An elk’s antlers are testosterone-fueled, growing rapidly during the summer months and then shed each winter after the breeding season is over.  The antlers can weigh up to 40 lbs and grow to over 3 feet in length.

Though carrying an impressive set of antlers, this male had yet to attract any females and seemed completely intent on grazing. Elk (Cervus canadensis), Grand Teton National Park, WyomingElk (Cervus canadensis), Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

To view the complete gallery of Grand Teton National Park images, click here.

[email protected] (Justine Carson Photography) Cervus canadensis Elk Grand Teton National Park Rut Wyoming https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2014/10/tetons-wildlife-elk Wed, 22 Oct 2014 23:30:13 GMT
Tetons Wildlife: Pronghorn https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2014/10/tetons-wildlife-pronghorn The Pronghorn has an interesting evolutionary history.  It is not a true antelope, though it is sometimes referred to as the pronghorn antelope (or simply, antelope, as in “where the deer and the antelope play”).  Instead it is the only surviving member of the family Antilocapridae. It is a truly American species, evolving in North America during the Pleistocene period.  Of twelve Antilocapridae species, only five were extant when humans arrived in North America and only one, Antilocapra americana, remains.

It is considered the fastest mammal in the Western hemisphere and second worldwide only to the cheetah. Unlike the cheetah, which is strictly a sprinter, the pronghorn can sustain its high speeds for up to four miles.  Zoologists suggest that the pronghorn evolved its running ability to escape from now extinct predators such as the American cheetah. Currently there are no North American predators that remotely approach the speed of the Pronghorn.

At the turn of the 20th century, conservationists thought that the extinction of Antilocapra americana was likely.  Protection and habitat restoration efforts that begin in the 1920s and '30s have allowed pronghorn populations, except for three southern subspecies, to recover and thrive. Their range extends from Saskatchewan and Alberta in Canada, through the American West, and south to northern Mexico. They can often be seen in the sagebrush flats of Grand Teton National Park.

Here, only the distinctive head and antlers of a male Pronghorn are visible over the sagebrush.

Male Pronghorn (Antilocapra americana), Grand Teton National Park, WyomingMale Pronghorn (Antilocapra americana), Grand Teton National Park, WyomingMale Pronghorn, only its head and antlers visible among the sagebrush, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

In the two images below, the male Pronghorn is guarding his territory against younger males. In the first image, the distinctive pronged shape of the the horns and the dark patch which marks the scent gland are visible. Males rub this gland against the sagebrush and other vegetation to mark their territory.

Male Pronghorn (Antilocapra americana), Grand Teton National Park, WyomingMale Pronghorn (Antilocapra americana), Grand Teton National Park, WyomingMale Pronghorn watches over his territory Male Pronghorn (Antilocapra americana), Grand Teton National Park, WyomingMale Pronghorn (Antilocapra americana), Grand Teton National Park, WyomingMale Pronghorn defends his territory from other males, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

A female and a young male run side-by-side through the sagebrush.

Female Pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) and young male, Grand Teton National Park, WyomingFemale Pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) and young male, Grand Teton National Park, WyomingFemale Pronghorn and young male move quickly through the sagebrush, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

[email protected] (Justine Carson Photography) Antilocapra americana Evolution Grand Teton National Park Pronghorn Wyoming https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2014/10/tetons-wildlife-pronghorn Sun, 12 Oct 2014 03:52:56 GMT
Tetons Wildlife: Moose https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2014/10/tetons-wildlife-moose The Gros Ventre River runs along the southeastern boundary of Grand Teton National Park, and the Gros Ventre Campground, situated along this river in prime moose habitat, is one of the best places to observe moose in this national park. Moose are large, slow-moving (some might even say ungainly) animals and they spend their days alternating between foraging and resting. During the rut, bulls can be seen watching over their cows and occasionally defending them against interlopers.

This portrait highlights one of the features that distinguish moose from their relatives in the deer family: the antlers. Size and growth rate are determined by age and diet; older bulls have larger antlers and a mineral-rich diet is required to develop a set of large, symmetrical antlers.  In mature bulls antlers can weigh up to 70 lbs and measure over 5 feet from tip to tip.



Most of the moose activity we observed on our visit to the Tetons was of the foraging and resting variety.  When the moose are bedded down among the cottonwoods we could only catch a glimpse of head and antlers in the underbrush.

At other times a bull and multiple females could be seen grazing on brittlebush and other forbs. The overcast and rain plus late fall colors made an attractive, moody setting for photographing these impressive animals.



On one early morning we encountered a young bull (as evidenced by the much smaller antlers) making his way through sagebrush and emerging from the steam generated by nearby warm springs.

Whatever the location, I could not help but be impressed by the size and grace of the American moose -- Alces alces americana.


[email protected] (Justine Carson Photography) Alces alces Grand Teton National Park Moose Wyoming cottonwood trees foraging https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2014/10/tetons-wildlife-moose Wed, 08 Oct 2014 02:14:44 GMT
Black Bears in the Tetons https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2014/10/black-bears-in-the-tetons Black bears are famously omnivorous and their diet changes from season to season depending on which foods are plentiful. Fall is when bears feast on berries, fruits and nuts, all of which provide much needed carbohydrates and proteins for the bears’ winter hybernation.

Several areas in Grand Teton National Park are generously supplied with Hawthorn bushes, the berries of which are a vital food for Teton bears.  Though the bears were not as plentiful in these berry-rich areas as they have been in previous years, late one afternoon we found a female Black bear in an unexpected place – thirty feet up in a cottonwood tree.  We later discovered that she was a mother with three cubs (safely stowed in a thicket at the base of the tree) and surmised that she was taking a well-deserved break from mothering duties.


Black Bear (Ursus americanus), Grand Teton National Park, WyomingBlack Bear (Ursus americanus), Grand Teton National Park, WyomingFemale Black Bear resting high in a cottonwood tree, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming


Eventually she climbed down and rejoined her cubs. Since she seemed wary of our presence, we moved on so as not to disturb her important food-gathering and cub-tending activities.

Black Bear (Ursus americanus), Grand Teton National Park, WyomingBlack Bear (Ursus americanus), Grand Teton National Park, WyomingBlack Bear climbing a cottonwood tree, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming


On several occasions, we also observed a larger (possibly male) bear foraging for berries on a hillside thick with Hawthorn bushes. For the most part the bear was engrossed in gathering and consuming berries and was almost completely hidden in brush.  Once in a while, though, it paused and glanced our way through a clearing in the Hawthorn thicket.

Black Bear (Ursus americanus), Grand Teton National Park, WyomingBlack Bear (Ursus americanus), Grand Teton National Park, WyomingBlack bear foraging for Hawthorn berries, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

[email protected] (Justine Carson Photography) Black Bear Grand Teton National Park Ursus americanus Wyoming https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2014/10/black-bears-in-the-tetons Mon, 06 Oct 2014 00:17:26 GMT
Stalking Desert Lizards https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2014/9/stalking-desert-lizards During my trip to the Eastern Sierra earlier this summer, I had a chance to learn a bit about stalking and photographing lizards. Like most wildlife, lizards don’t like humans or other possible predators to get too close.  They have a “circle of fear” or “circle of tolerance” and as a photographer, you have to figure out how close you can get before spooking your photographic subject.

Successful lizard photography takes patience and a good spotter.  I had a good spotter, Marlene Planck, and a certain amount of patience, given that it was about 90˚ in the direct sun.  We drove down back roads  near Bishop, California, where Marlene had seen lizards on previous trips and she scanned the rocky hillsides for lizards.  Once found, I had to stalk the lizards by maneuvering myself and my unwieldy camera gear slowly closer to them, taking photographs every few steps until I discovered what my subject’s circle of tolerance was.  When the lizard scampered off into a crevice in the rocks, I knew I was too close.

At this point, I would back off a few feet and wait for the lizard to emerge again and then repeat the process.  

In the few days I had to learn the technique I was able to photograph three species of lizards:  Yellow-backed spiny lizard, Collared lizard, and a species of Zebra-tailed lizard.  The Zebra-tailed lizards were the smallest and the most skittish, and therefore I was least successful with them.

Anyway, here are some of the results of my stalking.  I look forward to more opportunities to study and photograph these elusive creatures.

Yellow-backed Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus uniformis)

Collared lizard (Crotophytus collaris

Zebra-tailed Lizard (Callisaurus draconoides) molting its old skin

More images from the Eastern Sierra are here, including more lizards.

[email protected] (Justine Carson Photography) Bishop, California Callisaurus draconoides Collared Lizard Crotophytus collaris Sceloporus uniformis Zebra-tailed Lizard wildlife photography https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2014/9/stalking-desert-lizards Wed, 24 Sep 2014 04:13:05 GMT
Bristlecone Pines and Alpine Flowers https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2014/7/bristlecone-pines-and-alpine-flowers The White Mountains of eastern California are home to one of the three species of Bristlecone pines – the Great Basin Bristlecone Pine (Pinus longaeva).  Individual members of this species are the oldest living organisms on earth, with one known specimen in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest documented at over 5000 years old.  The trees grow in isolated groves just below treeline.  One such grove in the Bristlecone Pine Forest is at an elevation of over 11,000 feet.

The Bristlecone pine finds a foothold in alkaline (limestone, sandstone or quartzite) soils that are inhospitable to most other trees.  Cold temperatures, dry soils, high winds and a short growing season all contribute to the extremely challenging environment uniquely inhabited by these trees.  The wood is dense, resinous, and durable.  Resistant to insects, fungi, and other pests, the trees erode, rather than rot, creating the unusual sculptural shapes that attract so many photographers and other visitors.

An unexpected surprise during my recent visit to the Bristlecone pines was the discovery that in spite of the current drought and generally inhospitable environment, the rocky soil surrounding the pines was carpeted with tiny, multicolored alpine flowers.  Most were no more than an inch or two in height but the profusion and variety of blooms was amazing. 


Bristlecone pine, White Mountains, CaliforniaBristlecone pine, White Mountains, CaliforniaBritslecone pine at over 11,000 feet, Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, White Mountains, California

A healthy Bristlecone in the grove at over 11,000 feet

Alpine wildflowers, White MountainsAlpine wildflowers, White MountainsAlpine buckwheat and other alpine wildflowers at 11,000 feet, White Mountains, California

A carpet of colorful alpine flowers among the Bristlecones

Bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva)Bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva)Bristlecone pine in evening light, with Owens Valley in the background

Bristlecone pine and view of the Owens Valley, California


For more images of the Bristlecones, the White Mountains and the Eastern Sierra, click here.

[email protected] (Justine Carson Photography) Alpine wildflowers Bristlecone California" Pinus longaeva pines" https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2014/7/bristlecone-pines-and-alpine-flowers Wed, 30 Jul 2014 21:30:53 GMT
Reddish Egret https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2014/6/reddish-egret Many of the species of shorebirds that I photographed on Mustang and Padre Islands were familiar to me.  Species such as Ruddy Turnstone, Black-bellied Plover, Lesser Yellowlegs and others can be seen on California beaches and bays as well as along the Gulf Coast.

To see the Reddish Egret, however, one must travel to the Gulf Coast, where it inhabits the coastal lagoons and saltwater marshes.  Almost extirpated by plume hunters by the early 1900s, it has made a comeback though it is still the rarest of the members of the heron and egret family (Ardeidae).

The Reddish Egret has distinctive and attractive plumage -- the body is slate gray and the long neck and breast are cinnamon to chestnut-colored with long showy plumes.  Like similar species, it feeds on small fish, crustaceans, frogs, and insects, but what is remarkable is its extremely active feeding behavior – running, hopping, and stirring up the water while foraging.  It often spreads its wings to create a canopy as it dashes about – reducing the glare on the water the better to spot its prey. 

On one occasion I was able to capture some of this behavior.

(c) Justine Carson 2013

For more Gulf Coast birds, click here.


[email protected] (Justine Carson Photography) Aransas Pass Coast" Gulf Reddish Egret Texas https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2014/6/reddish-egret Sun, 08 Jun 2014 02:11:04 GMT
A Flash of Red https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2014/6/a-flash-of-red The Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) is a very noticeable bird.  Growing up in New England, it was one of the first birds that I learned to recognize. I miss it out here on the West Coast and always look forward to seeing when I return East and, one of these days, I hope to capture one of those iconic ‘Cardinal in the snow” images.

Given its name, you might not expect to see it on a visit to South Texas for a few days of bird photography, but there it was – a favorite and familiar bird among all those South Texas specialties, like Crested Caracara, Scissor-tailed flycatcher and Green Jay.

I was happy to get multiple opportunities to photograph the Northern Cardinal --  males in their flashy red feathers, females more subdued but equally recognizable, and even recently fledged juveniles – engaged in a variety of interesting behaviors.


Male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinals)Male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinals)A flash of red as male Northern Cardinal takes off from his perch, Dos Venadas Ranch, Starr County, Texas

Female Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinals)Female Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinals)Female Northern Cardinal, Dos Venadas Ranch, Starr County, Texas


Male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinals) bathingMale Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinals) bathingMale Northern Cardinal bathing, Dos Venadas Ranch, Starr County, Texas


[email protected] (Justine Carson Photography) https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2014/6/a-flash-of-red Mon, 02 Jun 2014 23:40:01 GMT
Along the Dalton Highway https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2014/4/along-the-dalton-highway A significant part of my Alaska trip last fall was spent driving the full length of the Dalton Highway – from south to north and back. I must have gotten busy shortly after my return from this trip, because I realized recently that I had never fully reviewed my photos. So I’ve spent a few days this week revisiting this part of my trip and have chosen a few to post.

This mostly gravel road travels over 400 miles from where it branches off from the Elliot Highway (near Livengood) to Deadhorse and the Prudoe Bay oil fields.  Sometimes called the North Slope Haul Road, it was constructed from about 1974 to 1977 as a supply road to support the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System.

The Dalton is one of the most remote roads in the United States and, as you might imagine, even in early fall we encountered just about every kind of weather. We enjoyed the fall colors in bright sunshine on the southern portions.  Mist and rain appeared as we traveled farther north and culminated in driving snow as we crossed over Atigun Pass --  at 4749 feet, it is the highest point on the road.

In addition to the amazing fall colors of the tundra and boreal forest and the magnificent Brooks Range, there were many wildlife sightings along our way:  caribou, moose, musk oxen, and even a distant wolf.  If a drive along the Dalton Highway is not on your bucket list, it should be!  I hope to make this trip at least once more – maybe summer of 2016?

Fall color on the tundra, AlaskaFall color on the tundra, AlaskaA rainbow of color among the rocks on the Alaskan tundra

All the colors of the spectrum are represented in this scene along the Dalton.

Mount Sukakpak, from the Dalton HighwayMount Sukakpak, from the Dalton HighwayMisty view of Mount Sukakpak from the Dalton Highway

A misty view of Mount Sukakpak Musk Oxen (Ovibos moschatus) on tundra, North Slope, AlaskaMusk Oxen (Ovibos moschatus) on tundra, North Slope, AlaskaFall color and musk oxen, near the Dalton Highway

A few miles south of Deadhorse, we hiked across the tundra to get a better look at these musk oxen.

For a few more images taken from the Dalton, click here.

[email protected] (Justine Carson Photography) Alaska Dalton Highway Fall color Mount Sukakpak Musk oxen https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2014/4/along-the-dalton-highway Sun, 06 Apr 2014 02:53:17 GMT
Allen's Hummingbirds at the UCSC Arboretum https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2014/3/allens-hummingbirds-at-the-ucsc-arboretum The UCSC Arboretum in Santa Cruz is one of the best local places to observe and photograph Allen’s hummingbirds.  They are attracted to the flowering plants that are abundant in the gardens there, especially the South African and Australian areas.  Bruce Finocchio introduced me to the possibilities there last spring and I returned again this week for another morning with the Allen’s hummingbirds.  

Male hummingbirds have iridescent gorgets – patches of feathers on the throat and upper breast that are brightly colored when they catch the light. On the Allen’s Hummingbird the gorget can appear bright yellow-orange to coppery to an olive green, depending on how the light is refracting off the specially adapted feathers.

Male hummingbirds perform elaborate swooping or diving displays to attract females – fascinating to watch but impossible to photograph because they are so fast.  The males also like to guard their territories by staking out a high perch where they can watch for male intruders. They will usually return to their favorite perches after feeding forays or chasing away the other males, so finding those perches is one of the keys to photographing hummers.

For information on Bruce Finocchio's workshops or to access his blog, click here.


Allen's Hummingbird (Selasphorus sasin), UCSC Arboretum, Santa CAllen's Hummingbird (Selasphorus sasin), UCSC Arboretum, Santa CAllen's Hummingbird's tongue, used for gathering nectar, is about equal in length to its bill

Allen's Hummingbird on precarious perch: their long tongues make them efficient nectar gatherers.

Allen's Hummingbird (Selasphorus sasin), UCSC Arboretum, Santa CAllen's Hummingbird (Selasphorus sasin), UCSC Arboretum, Santa CAllen's Hummingbird returns to its high perch after chasing away a rival, USCS Arboretum, Santa Cruz, CA

As this bird comes in for a landing, its gorget colors range from gold to drab green.

Click here for more hummingbird images from USCS Arboretum.


[email protected] (Justine Carson Photography) Allen's Hummingbird California Santa Cruz Selasphorus sasin UCSC Arboretum https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2014/3/allens-hummingbirds-at-the-ucsc-arboretum Thu, 27 Mar 2014 23:45:33 GMT
Black Oystercatcher https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2014/3/black-oystercatcher The Black Oystercatcher is a regular inhabitant of the rocky coasts of San Mateo County.  They inhabit marine shorelines from coastal Baja California to the Aleutian Islands and they breed mostly on nonforested islands within their range.  Despite their name, they are not known to eat oysters, but forage on mollusks such as mussels, chitons, whelks, limpets and even barnacles.

Since their black plumage often blends in with the dark rock on which they forage, I usually hear the birds before I see them.  Their call is a distinctive keee and, once heard, I can usually spot the bright orange bills or pink legs among the black rocks. There are several places along the local coastline where they can be found regularly but they are most photographable at Pillar Point just north of Half Moon Bay.  I spent an hour there yesterday watching them feed on mollusks among the rocks and in the surf.

Their genus name, Haematopus, is Greek for blood eye.  The species name, bachmani, was given by John J. Audubon for his friend John Bachman.  The eye – with a bright orange orbital ring and a yellow iris -- is one of their most distinctive features.  Another not as noticeable feature (I only discovered this while editing some of my photos) is that they have black “toenails” on their pink legs. I now think of them as “goth birds.”

Black Oystercatcher (Haemapotus bachmani) feeds on small molluskBlack Oystercatcher (Haemapotus bachmani) feeds on small molluskBlack Oystercatcher finds food on barnacle-covered rocks, Pillar Point, Princeton-by-the-Sea, CA

Black Oystercatcher with mollusk on barnacle covered rocks

Black Oystercatcher (Haematopus bachmani), preeningBlack Oystercatcher (Haematopus bachmani), preeningPreening is important for removing ectoparasites, maintaining feathers in good aerodynamic condition and waterproofing

Preening removes parasites and maintains aerodynamic condition of feathers

Black Oystercatcher (Haemapotus bachmani) feeds on small molluskBlack Oystercatcher (Haemapotus bachmani) feeds on small molluskBlack Oystercatcher forages at the surf line, Pillar Point, Princeton-by-the-Sea, CA

Black Oystercatcher foraging in surf


Click for more birds of Pillar Point.

[email protected] (Justine Carson Photography) Black Oystercatcher California Foraging Haematopus bachmani Pillar Point Preening Princeton-by-the-Sea, California https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2014/3/black-oystercatcher Tue, 18 Mar 2014 21:56:39 GMT
Owls of Sulphur Creek Nature Center https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2014/3/owls-of-sulphur-creek-nature-center The Sulphur Creek Nature Center in Hayward, California, is a wildlife education and rehabilitation facility.  Injured animals and birds that are no longer able to live in the wild can find a home there where they support the educational and recreational programs offered by the Center.   Vultures, falcons, hawks and owls are among the rescued birds that are now residents.  On a recent photo workshop conducted by Oliver Klink and Kate Jordahl I had a chance to capture some owl close-up portraits.

These owl portraits give a good view of the distinctive facial discs.  These feathered concave areas surrounding the eyes collect sound waves and direct them toward the owl’s ears, making it possible for the birds to locate prey by sound.  The feathers can be adjusted to focus on sounds at different distances, which, along with the ability to turn their heads 180°, contribute to their effectiveness as night hunters.

Western Screech Owl (Otus kennicottii)Western Screech Owl (Otus kennicottii)Western Screech Owl swiveles his head 180° to look behind him, Sulphur Creek Nature Center

Western Screech Owl (Otus kennicottii)

Barn Owl (Tyto alba)Barn Owl (Tyto alba)Barn owl (Tyto alba) portrait showing structure of facial disk, Sulphur Creek Nature Center

Barn Owl (Tyto alba)

Great-horned owl (Bubo virginianus)Great-horned owl (Bubo virginianus)Portrait of Great-horned Owl (Bubo virginianus), Sulphur Creek Nature Center

Great-horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)


Click here for more images from the Sulphur Creek Nature Center


[email protected] (Justine Carson Photography) Barn Owl Facial disc Great-horned Owl Owls Sulphur Creek Nature Center Western Screech Owl https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2014/3/owls-of-sulphur-creek-nature-center Wed, 12 Mar 2014 03:23:07 GMT
Eagles and Swans https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2014/3/eagles-and-swans As part of a photographic group in search of over-wintering bald eagles, I made a short visit to the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges in mid-February. There were plenty of eagles and so much more.

The refuge complex is made of up six units consisting of almost 47,000 acres in the Klamath Basin of southern Oregon and northern California. Located on the Pacific Flyway, it is a migratory stopover for up to a million waterfowl and other birds.

We visited only two of the six complex refuges:  Tule Lake NWR and Lower Klamath NWR. The weather was challenging – because of rain and heavy overcast we had only a few hours of good light on each day – but when the sun did break through the clouds the blue sky and golden fields were stunning. It was an experience that definitely whets the appetite for return visits to the area to explore it more fully.  Thank you to our workshop leader, Jim Stamates, and our local guides, Gerry Hall and Barbara Scoles, for a great introduction to a wonderful location.

Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)Bald eagle takes flight; Tule Lake NWR

Tundra Swans in flightTundra Swans in flightTundra Swans (Cygnus columbianus) in flight, Lower Klamath NWR



More images from the Klamath Basin refuges.

[email protected] (Justine Carson Photography) Bald eagles Cygnus columbianus Eagles Flight Haliaeetus leucocephalus Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges Swans Tundra swans https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2014/3/eagles-and-swans Sun, 02 Mar 2014 22:03:42 GMT
Plovers and Peregrines https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2014/2/plovers-and-peregrines Today was my regular day as a Plover Watch volunteer at Half Moon Bay State Beach.  The light was good so I decided to take my camera.  The loosely-scattered plover flock (21 today) was hunkered down in the tire tracks and footprints, as they usually are. The plovers are very well camouflaged and unless you know what to look for and where to look, you are likely to walk by without knowing they are there.

Another reason for taking the camera was that recently a Peregrine falcon has been frequenting the north end of the state park beach and I hadn’t yet had a chance to photograph it.  As I reached the area where the peregrine has been seen, I caught sight of it on one of its usual perches, a large log not far from the lagoon.  As I approached I saw that it had just had a successful hunt and was busy plucking the feathers from its meal. When I got close enough to see the peregrine’s prey more clearly, I was relieved to see it wasn’t one of the plover flock! It was a much larger bird than the tiny plovers; at first I thought it might be a gull but on examining the pictures on my return, I could see that it did not have a gull’s feet – a dove perhaps.

I watched and photographed for a half hour or more.  To my amazement, the peregrine consumed everything! Once it had finished and flown off, I examined the log and, aside from a few feathers blowing in the wind, there was not a scrap left behind. 

Though it’s not a good idea to take sides in nature, I was happy to see that the beautiful peregrine had gotten a good meal – something more substantial than a plover


Snowy Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus), Half Moon Bay State Beach, CASnowy Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus), Half Moon Bay State Beach, CASnowy Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus) finds a footprint to hide in

Snowy Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus), Half Moon Bay State Beach, CASnowy Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus), Half Moon Bay State Beach, CASnowy Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus) resting amidst the beach wrack

Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus), Half Moon Bay State Beach, CAPeregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus), Half Moon Bay State Beach, CAPeregrine Falcon enjoying a meal after a successful hunt

Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus), Half Moon Bay State Beach, CAPeregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus), Half Moon Bay State Beach, CAWatchful Peregrine Falcon guards its prey

[email protected] (Justine Carson Photography) California Charadrius alexandrinus Falco peregrinus Half Moon Bay State Park Peregrine Falcon Snowy Plover https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2014/2/plovers-and-peregrines Wed, 26 Feb 2014 05:09:41 GMT
Final Race Day of the 34th America's Cup https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2013/9/final-race-day-of-the-34th-americas-cup It wasn't easy to become a fan of Oracle Team USA.  First there was the cheating thing. (The US team was penalized two races for a cheating incident a year ago, forcing them to start the America's Cup competition at minus two.)  Then there's Larry Ellison. Let's say he's not the most popular billionaire in the Bay Area. Then there was the failure of the race to attract more than a few competitors. 

All that was forgotten in the final week of this very memorable America's cup. I started out by watching the races on TV and quickly became hooked by a most unlikely comeback. With the US team down 8 races to 1, it looked like New Zealand would take the cup in a rout. But Jimmy Spithill and team kept their cool. They didn't whine about the penalty. They didn't make excuses. Larry Ellison kept a low profile and Team USA figured out how to sail their boat. 

When the contest came down to a winner-take-all 19th race, I decided I had to get down to the Bay to watch the outcome. I got there early, before the Pier 27 gates opened at 10:00 AM and staked out a spot near the finish line. It was a great day to hang out by the Bay. The race started on time at 1:15 -- no delays because of not enough or too much wind. I got a chance to see those amazing boats (as tall as a 13-story building) fly across the Bay at speeds over 50 mph.  Less than a half hour later, Oracle Team USA crossed the finish line 44 seconds ahead of the New Zealand boat in a truly amazing come-from-behind victory.



See more photos from the race here.

[email protected] (Justine Carson Photography) America's Cup New Zealand Fly Emirates Oracle Team USA San Francisco Bay catamarans sailing https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2013/9/final-race-day-of-the-34th-americas-cup Fri, 27 Sep 2013 00:53:04 GMT
The Polar Bears of Kaktovik https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2013/9/the-polar-bears-of-kaktovik  

Kaktovik is a Native Alaskan Inupiat village with a population of about 250 people.  It is located on Barter Island, which is in the Beaufort Sea just off the northeastern corner of Alaska. Like the well-known community of Churchill, it is a place where Polar bears gather in the fall to wait for formation of sea ice.

The primary food source for polar bears are the ringed and bearded seals that inhabit Arctic areas. The bears are considered marine mammals and can swim long distances.  However, they rarely catch their prey in the water but instead stalk the seals on the ice or seize them when they appear at their breathing holes. The presence of sea ice is essential — it is the platform from which they hunt.

Since the break up of the sea ice in early summer, the bears at Kaktovik have essentially been fasting and, though they can live on fat reserves for months at a time, the availability of other game or carcasses to scavenge can increase the chances of survival during this lean period.

Whale hunting for subsistence is a right granted to Alaska natives and the people of Kaktovik are allocated three whales per year. They do their hunting during the fall when Bowhead whales migrate along their coast.  The harvesting of a whale is cause for celebration in the village and once the whale has been brought ashore, butchered, and the meat and blubber divided up among the villagers, the whale carcass is taken to a spit at the end of the island — the “bone pile”.  This gives the bears another reason to gather near Kaktovik in fall. While the bears spend much of their time on narrow gravel bars off Barter Island, they visit the bone pile frequently in search of fresh whale remains.

The villagers have learned to adapt to life with polar bears.  In whaling season a bear patrol vehicle keeps the bears out of the village. (Polar bears are intelligent and have learned to respond to the sound of certain vehicles; a blast of the horn generally sends them on their way.) All doors are kept unlocked in the village and inhabitants can take refuge in any house if a bear wanders into town. In addition, in a program jointly sponsored by the village and US Fish and Wildlife, schoolchildren meet with tourists when they arrive in town and instruct them on how stay safe when polar bear watching.

My thanks to the people of Kaktovik for their commitment to co-existence with polar bears and for their efforts to teach us about these amazing animals. 

Montage of polar bear (Ursus maritimus) cubs playing on the beach, Beaufort SeaMontage of polar bear (Ursus maritimus) cubs playing on the beach, Beaufort SeaTwo polar bear cubs (Ursus maritimus) play in the water, Beaufort Sea See more of the Polar Bears of Kaktovik in this gallery.

[email protected] (Justine Carson Photography) Kaktovik, Alaska Polar bears Ursus maritimus co-existence whaling https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2013/9/the-polar-bears-of-kaktovik Fri, 20 Sep 2013 00:07:26 GMT
Photographing the Aurora Borealis https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2013/9/photographing-the-aurora-borealis  

One of the highlights of my recent trip to Alaska was the chance to view the aurora borealis, or northern lights.  I had seen them only once before and many years ago when a very unusual level of solar activity created a display that was seen as far south as Connecticut.

The aurora are normally visible only in far north or south latitudes — 10 to 20° from the magnetic pole. The lights are caused by charged particles colliding with atoms in the Earth’s atmosphere. A solar wind is a stream of these charged particles which originate in the upper atmosphere of the sun and are attracted to the Earth’s magnetic field.

The aurora can appear as a slight glow in the sky, a curtain of light, or bright swirls of light, generally a fluorescent green. They may remain static for long periods or change shape rapidly, creating swirls of light.

Solar activity seems to peak around the times of the equinoxes, making my early-September trip an ideal time to view the lights. I was in the right place (the auroral zone passes through northern Alaska) at the right time (within two weeks of the autumn equinox).  Now all that was needed was a good aurora forecast to coincide with a clear sky.

The conditions were ideal on September 6 when our photo group was staying in Kaktovik, a small Inupiat village located around 70°N. We got some spectacular displays and there were frequent clicking sounds coming from the cameras of eight happy photographers. 

Aurora borealis, or Northern lights, Katktovik, AlaskaAurora borealis, or Northern lights, Katktovik, AlaskaAurora borealis with reflections in a small lake on Barter Island, seen from Kaktovik, Alaska, around 70 degrees North latitude On the last night of the trip, farther south in Fairbanks (64.8°N), we got a partly clear night with a good aurora forecast and I was able to get a few additional pictures despite the lights of Fairbanks.

Northern Lights from Fairbanks, AlaskaNorthern Lights from Fairbanks, AlaskaLooking north across the Chena River toward a beautiful aurora display. City lights reflecting off the clouds give them their pink color.

For more images of the aurora, see my Northern Lights gallery.

[email protected] (Justine Carson Photography) Aurora borealis Fairbanks Alaska Kaktovik Alaska Northern lights aurora solar wind https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2013/9/photographing-the-aurora-borealis Thu, 19 Sep 2013 00:52:53 GMT
Geology is History https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2013/9/geology-is-history  

The Laki or Lakagigar fissure eruption, a volcanic eruption that occurred on the south coast of Iceland in 1783, had world-wide consequences. 

Locally known as the Skaftar Fires, this eruption started on June 8, 1783, and continued through February of the following year. The lava flow covered 565 square kilometers. Two churches and over thirty farms were destroyed in the initial eruptions. The long-term effects were even more devastating. Tons of toxic gases, principally hydrofluoric acid and sulfur dioxide, killed off half of Iceland’s livestock and the resulting famine killed almost one quarter of the population, leading this period to become known as the “Mist Hardships”.

The impact was equally dramatic on parts of Europe and around the world. In Britain, an estimated 23,000 people, notably agricultural workers, died from inhaling the poisonous gases that drifted southeast over the British Isles to Europe.  The thick fog of gases and ash caused disruptions of transportation and crop failures. The eruption is thought to be a factor contributing to the unusually cold winter of 1874 in North America and a weakened monsoon season in Africa and India. An unusually low flow in the Nile caused a famine which killed a sixth of the Egyptian population.

Today the Eldhraun lava fields are covered with a thick layer of mosses that create an unusual and much-photographed landscape. Because water flows quickly through the porous lava rock, most plants have a difficult time obtaining a foothold in these lava flows. Pioneer species, such as Woolly fringe moss which can absorb water directly though the leaves, probably began to appear around 100 years after the eruption.  Today they form a spongy carpet many inches thick.  A dull gray when dry, the mosses turn vivid shades of yellow-green after precipitation.

Eldhraun moss-covered lava fields, IcelandEldhraun moss-covered lava fields, IcelandEldhraun moss-covered lava fields, South Coast, Iceland

Lichens and thick carpets of moss begin the process of soil-development, Eldhraun lava fields, Iceland The Eyjafjallajokul eruption of 2010 which caused widespread airline delays and cancellations is a reminder of Iceland’s volatile geology and the impact it can have on our world. In California we sometimes worry about what the next major earthquake will bring. Maybe the next “big one” will be an Icelandic eruption and not a local earthquake at all.

[email protected] (Justine Carson Photography) Eldhraun lava fields Iceland Kakagigar fissure eruption Mist Hardships Skafta Fires Woolly fringe moss fissure eruptions mosses volcanic eruptions https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2013/9/geology-is-history Sun, 15 Sep 2013 19:36:30 GMT
Sometimes you just blow it https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2013/8/sometimes-you-just-blow-it  

To be a successful wildlife photographer, you have to be ready for action at any time and sometimes I’m just not!

On our recent trip to Zambia, we were in a small boat cruising along the Lufupa River in Kafue National Park.  The water was calm.  There were a few birds along the shore, but too far away for photographing.  To my right, in the sunlight, were some picturesque trees at the river’s edge. I decided to try some landscapes. I changed my f-stop to f11 and started to frame a few shots.

Suddenly the boatman/guide noticed some movement along the left bank.  To the left, on the shady side of the river, we spotted a group of wild dogs in pursuit of a puku. Without thinking, I turned, raised the camera, focused on one of the dogs and started to track him, clicking away.

The action was over very quickly.  The puku jumped into the river and swam to the other bank and the dogs were soon out of sight. Only then did I realize that because I had stopped down for the landscapes, my shutter speed was much too slow to capture sharp images of the dogs in action. What I got was, well, totally blown. 

Of course that turned out to be our only opportunity to photograph these dogs in the wild since they are endangered and rarely seen.  I couldn’t bear to delete all the shots so I kept a few to remind myself (again) to think before pushing the shutter. I guess you could say that the images at least capture something about the dogs – their beautiful distinctive coloring and their speed when hunting.

At least this story had a happy ending for the puku.


African wild dog, Kafue, Zambia

African wild dog (Lycaon pictus), Kafue, Zambia

[email protected] (Justine Carson Photography) African wild dogs Kafue National Park Lufupa River Lycaon pictus Painted dogs Wildlife photography Zambia https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2013/8/sometimes-you-just-blow-it Sun, 25 Aug 2013 21:26:13 GMT
A Visit to Jabulani School https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2013/8/a-visit-to-jabulani-school

On August 3, as part of my recent tour of southern Africa with Overseas Adventure Travel, our group made a visit to Jabulani village, just outside of Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.  

We were welcomed warmly by the headmistress and founder of the school.  Several students came to school on the Saturday of our visit to perform songs and dance for us.  Their poise in front of so many strangers was truly impressive. After introductions and the student’s performances, we were asked if we wanted to sing something for the students.  We managed to get through one verse of “This Land is Your Land” but I’m afraid our performance didn’t match theirs in quality.  There was a bit of eye-rolling on the part of the students as they listened.

Grand Circle Foundation, the non-profit entity of Grand Circle Tours and Overseas Adventure Travel, has recently added the primary and secondary schools at Jabulani to their list of sponsored schools. The list of the school’s needs is great – from basic school supplies to housing for the teachers – and I hope they will be met in the next few years by donations to the school through Grand Circle foundation. Meanwhile, the children are obviously proud of their school and were eager to talk with us, share their educational aspirations, and answer our questions as they took us on a tour.

The school tour was followed by a visit to the village.  We were welcomed into one of the traditional houses, listened to a short talk by the village headman, and then invited to visit with the villagers and take photos. Normally I’m not much of a ‘people-photographer” but I was inspired by the warm welcome by the villagers and students to try to capture some portraits from Jabulani.

[email protected] (Justine Carson Photography) Jabulani, Zimbabwe portraits school children village villagers https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2013/8/a-visit-to-jabulani-school Wed, 14 Aug 2013 19:43:04 GMT
A Morning with Grebes on Clear Lake, California https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2013/8/a-morning-with-grebes-on-clear-lake-california It's nesting season for the Clark's and Western Grebes on Clear Lake. I spent a beautiful Saturday morning on a pontoon boat (operated by Eyes of the Wild) observing and photographing the grebe pairs and their chicks. 

The young chicks spend the first weeks of their lives riding on the backs of the parents. Often they are completely hidden in the parent's feathers, but sometimes they take a peek out to receive a fish from the parent and get a look at their world. After a few weeks they begin to swim on their own but still rely on the adults for food. 

The nests, built and maintained by both members of the pair, are constructed of lake weeds.  Built in about three to four feet of water, they appear to be free-floating on the surface of the lake but are actually anchored in place by more lake weeds. The eggs are incubated for 24 days.

Unfortunately there is a high rate of failed nests on Clear Lake. The cause is not known but may be due to heavy lake traffic or predation by otters, gulls, or other birds.

For more pictures of the grebes, see my gallery "Western and Clark's Grebes, Clear Lake, California".

[email protected] (Justine Carson Photography) Aechmophorus clarkii Aechmophorus occidentalis California Clark's Grebe Clear Lake Nesting Western Grebe https://www.justinecarson.com/blog/2013/8/a-morning-with-grebes-on-clear-lake-california Mon, 12 Aug 2013 00:49:51 GMT