Making Connections: Birds and Humans

Watching a bird preen his feathers reminds me of watching a girl brush her long hair. It’s pretty special to watch wildlife behavior and learn about what birds and other wildlife do naturally. But the cool thing about observing preening — or hair brushing in humans — is that you feel like you catch a glimpse of private time, where the bird (or the girl) takes a few minutes to think of herself and make herself look good and feel good. In a way, it’s intimate.

This Great Blue Heron was taking time to preen before low tide, which is time to hunt for food. Early in the morning, he was getting ready for his day. (I assume this heron was male, due to the breeding plumage, the long wispy feathers in front.) Here are a series of photos:

#heron  #preening, #greatbluleheron, #sanibel, #dingdarling, #preen, #wildlife, #behavior
Great Blue Heron preening, with his neck twisted around into an S curve. Sanibel Island, Florida.
#heron, #greatblueheron,#breeding plumage, #preening, #preen, #wildlife, #behavior
With his head tucked under his wing, this Great Blue Heron’s head is hidden. Sanibel Island, Florida.
#heron, #greatblueheron, #preening, #behavior, #preen, #preening, #wildlife, #birdphotography
With a bit of down in his beak, this Great Blue Heron is preening his feathers. It’s a privilege to observe this beautiful bird up close in Sanibel Island, Florida.

As I photographed this preening session with the Great Blue Heron, I thought of Renoir’s paintings of his red haired daughter brushing her long hair. Are you familiar with that painting? Do you share the connection I make with hair brushing and preening?

The Puddle Challenge

Here is a challenge to all of you photographers out there. Yes, this includes all of you with an iphone camera! After the next big rain storm, take a walk and look for reflections in the puddles. Maybe you will see your surroundings in a whole new light!

Cathedral Rock of Sedona reflected in a puddle I discovered while hiking Red Rock Crossing.

Coconino sandstone does not absorb water quickly. The bad news is you need to be wary of a flash flood while hiking a low lying canyon. The good news, is the rain will erode the soft sandstone over time and in the short term leave some puddles for your visual enjoyment.

Rock or Ice Cream? Erosion Tales

I’m fascinated by erosion patterns in rock that make solid rock look like ice cream that has been scooped with a spoon or carved with a giant fork. So, I was transfixed by this “fork action” on the red rock in Sedona.

Seeing this horizontal pattern in the sandstone along Oak Creek made me wonder how Nature made this carving. So I asked my geologist friend, Steve Austin. Location: West Fork Trail, Sedona, AZ, USA.

It’s amazing what Steve can tell us just by examining this photo and knowing its location. He said, “The sandstone has horizontal layers but also has inclined layers internally (25 degrees). The cliff shows these inclined layers because rockfall has sculpted the surface. These inclined layers were formed in underwater sand dunes by flow velocity of 2 meters/second.”

Wow! That’s why they call Steve “Mudflow Man.”

Crossing Oak Creek 26 times

Both Charlie and I slipped and got one shoe wet while crossing Oak Creek, hiking the West Fork Trail in Sedona. Only one slip for each of us was pretty good considering the rocks and logs we needed to balance on while crossing the ice cold water. I snapped a few candids with my new iphone 11 Pro Max as we crossed a few times, to show how tricky it was.

With his Steeler hat and jacket, Charlie is ready to talk NFL football with anyone he meets, while climbing boulders and trying to stay dry crossing Oak Creek.
You hope that the rock you step on is sturdy and won’t tip over, sending you and your backpack into the water. Crossing Oak Creek on the West Fork Trail, Sedona in November.
After 5 hours of hiking and plenty of quad and knee exercise, we were a bit tired, but we paused and made a strategy for one of the last crossings of the day on West Fork Trail.

Rewards of West Fork Trail

Sedona’s West Fork Trail is described in the guide books as iconic with towering cliffs and 13 stream crossings as you follow Oak Creek for 6.4 miles round trip. The elevation change is moderate (245 ft.), so I considered it doable with camera equipment on my back.

It took us 3.5 hours to reach the end point, as I stopped for photos so often, but the exertion was well worth it. You know you have reached the end when you can’t go further without getting wet, and in November it’s too cold for that!

A mirror-like reflection was the reward at the end point of the West Fork Trail. Sunny conditions were perfect for the hike, as rain can create dangerous flash floods, and snow would make the hike too slippery.

The cave like erosion you can see along the left side of the creek reminded me of “the subway” in Zion National Park created by the Virgin River. I had to explain myself to my husband after exclaiming, “there is the subway!”

I find myself fascinated by the power of moving water that erodes rock over time. Are you?

And you thought forest fires were a problem?

At first glance, you might not look at this photograph and realize something is terribly wrong. Something is killing the lodgepole pine trees in Western Canada. Do you see the “red” trees? They are dead lodgepole pines, and the blight has engulfed nearly half the forest in Jasper National Park.

In this picturesque view of the Athabasca Falls in Jasper National Park, you can see the “red” trees. Acres of lodgepole pine trees are dying, and they only regenerate after a forest fire.

The villain behind this vast arboricide is a tiny insect called the mountain pine beetle. It lays eggs under the bark that leads to fungus, blocking the circulation inside a pine tree trunk, killing it. With the warmer weather of climate change, the pine beetle has flourished, unchecked by mild winters.

What is Parks Canada going to do? For a long time, the answer was “nothing,” because the philosophy was not to interfere with the ways of Nature. Recently, however, workers have begun cutting down some of the dead trees to reduce fire risk to nearby communities.

Botanists have discovered that the lodgepole pine cones, containing the seeds that would start regeneration only open in the extreme heat of a forest fire. After a natural forest fire has swept the acreage, then the seeds will begin to grow the next generation of lodgepole pines. To me, it seems like a harsh path of evolution wherein the pest thrives, the verdant hillside dies and waits for lightening to strike.

To read more about the pine beetle crisis, you can click here.

The Glistening Bow River

From the summit of Sulphur Mountain, high above Banff, let’s travel down to the Bow River flowing past the village of Banff. Enjoy a scenic walk with me into Banff past the falls and across the pedestrian bridge. On this day, there was plenty of sunshine, fresh air and no sound but the rushing water and the gravel underfoot.

The clear rushing waters below the falls lead the eye toward the distant mountains of Banff National Park.

This image will be included in the 2020 wall calendar Cathy just designed, featuring photographs of the Canadian Rockies. Send Cathy an email if you would like to reserve a calendar for yourself or a holiday gift.