Springtime at Joshua Tree National Park

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Yeah, I know it’s summer now, but I wanted to share what good winter moisture will do for one of my favorite parks, Joshua Tree National Park.  The desert comes alive with flowers and wildlife in the spring time.

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The Ocotillo (Fouquieria Splendens)  bloom with small crimson flowers at the tips of the branches.   Because of their sturdy nature, the stems/branches of Ocotillo have been used as fence posts and walking sticks.

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While exploring the southern portion of the park I came a number of gorgeous yellow bottle brush like plants, Desert Princes’ Plume (Stanleya Pinnata).  Just after capturing the image above, I heard what sounded like a hummingbird getting closer and closer.

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It turned out to be a White-lined sphinx or Hummingbird moth (Hyles lineata) gathering nectar from the Desert Princes’ Plume.

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Walking around some more I found these tiny, about a half inch across,  Wild Heliotrope (Phacelia Distans) flowers.

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A bit later in the day I was up in the Queen Valley area and found the bright magenta flowers of the Engelmann’s hedgehog cactus (Echinocereus engelmannii).

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And for the highlight of the day!  I’ve been coming to Joshua Tree National Park multiple times a year since I was a kid back in the 1960’s and I knew there were Big Horn Sheep that lived in the park, but I have never seen any.   I was driving one of the dirt roads in the Queen Valley when I came upon a herd of twenty to thirty Desert Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni) crossing the road about a hundred yards ahead.  Noticing they were moving towards me, I backed up a bit, parked and grabbed the long lens and spent the next half hour photographing them as they slowly moved up into the mountains. Wow!

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Ship Harbor Bird Watching

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Just a short walk from my home in Anacortes, Washington is the Ship Harbor Interpretive Preserve, home to eagles, osprey, owls, seagulls, numerous ducks, robins, crows, sparrows, swifts, rabbits, deer, mice and many other critters.

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As I approached the preserve, a young bald eagle(Haliaeetus leucocephalus) was standing at the waters edge looking for a meal.

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A few moments later it took flight and take refuge in nearly pine tree.

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Continuing farther into the preserve there are remnants of the old canning factories that once dominated this area.  Hundreds of  wooden pilings supported railroad tracks and a pier where the canning buildings once stood.  With the tide out, a dozen to so Great Blue Herons(Ardea herodias) were catching small fish in the shallow mud flats.

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Elephant Seals at San Simeon

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Like many large ocean mammals, Northern Elephant Seals(Mirounga angustirostris)   were hunted to near extinction in the 1800’s for the oil extracted from their blubber.  The last remaining seals, of which there were less than one hundred, found refuge on Guadalupe Island off the coast of Baja California and the Channel Islands off the California coast.  In 1922, Mexico gave these seals protected status and the USA followed suit a few years later.  With this protection, they have made a remarkable comeback.

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Since around 1990, Elephant Seals have been using six miles of the California Coast north of San Simeon as a home base.   Northern Elephant Seals come to this rookery in winter to give birth and mate, and return in the late spring to molt.

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Now numbering over 200,000, these huge animals spend up to eight months at sea traveling from as far south as Baja in Mexico to the Aleutian Islands west of Alaska foraging for  food.   Diving at deep as 3000 ft, they will hunt squid, fish, bioluminescent creatures during dives that can last from about thirty minutes to almost two hours.

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The size of these animals is just incredible.  Newborn pups weigh in at around 70 pounds,  females can be almost 1800 pounds and up twelve feet in length.  The males are absolutely immense, their skulls are more to twice as big as a Grizzly Bear, one of  the largest mammals in North America.   They can be over 5000 pounds and sixteen feet long.  That is HUGE.

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They don’t seem to care too much about the beautiful sunset, just another day.

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Although, a couple of them seemed to be fighting over something.

While Elephant seals can be seen almost all year round, during January and February one can see thousands along the California coast just north of Hearst Castle in San Simeon.

Rancho Guadalupe Dunes Preserve

The California coast is known for its rugged shoreline and sandy beaches, but south of Pismo Beach are miles and miles of enormous sand dunes.  Rancho Guadalupe Dunes Preserve is a Santa Barbara County Park known for its tall dunes, abundant wildlife and the site where  Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments” was filmed.    All that is left of the film site is a dune littered with weathered wood.

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The Preserves main focus is the main nesting area for the Snowy Plover (Charadrius nivosus), a small bird that nests in small indentations of the sand along the base of the dunes.   Just as a headed out from the parking lot way from the crashing waves towards the dunes I quickly noticed movement and realized I was entering an area where a few dozen Plovers were resting.    They are so small and barely visible sitting still in the small indentations of the sand.  I backed away and so not to scare them any more and used my 500mm lens to pick out one these adorable birds.

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Wondering away from the Plovers I almost stepped on an abandoned Plover egg sitting in the sand.   No bigger than the end my thumb, it looked just a whitish rock in the sand.

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Heading into the dunes towards the large estuary, there were lots of footprints of familiar and unfamiliar animals;  raccoon, dog, deer, sea gull along with some these Egret or Heron prints.

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When I got the edge of the estuary pond,  I sat for over and hour and just watched the hundreds of Plover, Gulls, Ducks and Pelicans fly in and out the pond.  So relaxing.

Fall Colors of Canyon De Chelly

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Every fall, the cottonwood trees of Canyon De Chelly National Monument turn from bright green to incredible shades of yellow and orange.

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Visiting my close friends, Jon and Lupita McClanahan, we took a hike down to their canyon line to do some chores to prepare for winter.

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Everywhere I turned the colors of fall mixed with the clear blue sky, evergreen trees and the earth tones of the canyon walls.

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I especially love to look back at the sun through the backlight leaves.

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While I was setting up for the photo at the top of post and enjoying the quiet stillness, I began to hear the sounds of flute echoing through the Canyon.  It was absolutely incredible.   And even more incredible was when I checked the photograph a week later I found that the flute player was in the image, you can see the small figure wearing a white shirt sitting on the dark rock layer rim of the canyon in the middle of the photo.

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This was the approximate location of the flute player and it’s easy be inspired by the view.  Known as Junction Overlook, it is a popular place to see the beauty of the Canyon from the rim.

Crater Lake With An iPhone

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One doesn’t always need a high end Digital SLR camera to capture good images.  That smart phone you carry around is more that capable.  On a trip to Crater Lake National Park recently, I thought I would try out my iPhone 7 and found the results were wonderful,

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I especially liked the panorama mode where the iPhone automatically creates a single photograph while one slowly and carefully pans the camera across the lake.

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One the of the incredible things about Crater Lake is how blue the water is, it reminds me of a painting by Mark Rothko.