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Wildlife

Extreme closeup of one of the high country’s smallest creatures

It is pretty rare that the tiny American Pika stops long enough for you to compose a nice closeup. This particular one though did just that for me back in August. Despite the fact I was hanging out mere feet from its den, it seemed to revel in all the attention I was giving it and was very comfortable with me.

More than once we shared the same rock in the talus field as it would scurry right by me, sometimes pausing, sometimes rushing about gathering food to stash in its den for the season.

One time it made me a bit uncomfortable by actually stopping and resting on my foot! I couldn’t help but worry about the little dude scurrying up my pant leg. Ha! Unfortunately that was too close for my lens to focus to get it sitting there but it was kind of fun.

Right now these little ones are staying warm inside their dens, many probably under the snow by now. They don’t hibernate so rely on food they gathered during the summer months to sustain them.

Closeup of an American Pika in Rocky Mountain National Park. (© Tony’s Takes)

Closeup of an American Pika in Rocky Mountain National Park. (© Tony’s Takes)

Licking those chops thinking about a meal

Assembling my images for my 2017 photo book and you can be guaranteed there will be a few shots of this rare creature. The Black-footed Ferret is North America’s rarest animal and my encounter with this one in April was definitely ‘one for the books.’

Myself and a few other photographers were lucky enough to spend more than three hours watching it as it went around to various Prairie Dog burrows looking for something to eat. Few people have had the privilege of seeing this endangered species in the wild so I definitely count myself lucky.

An endangered Black-footed Ferret licks its lips while on the prowl on the Colorado plains. (© Tony’s Takes)

An endangered Black-footed Ferret licks its lips while on the prowl on the Colorado plains. (© Tony’s Takes)

Little hawk, big eagle

A marked contrast in size between these two raptors to say the least. I was taking pics of the beautiful Bald Eagle when this young Cooper’s Hawk landed nearby. While I wish they were closer together, the image does do a nice job showing the difference in sizes between the two.

While the eagle has a wingspan between 6 and 7 feet, the much smaller Cooper’s is less than half that big. At one point the hawk gave me a wide-eyed look as if to say, “Check out how big that eagle is!” 😉

While not often seen, the Cooper’s Hawk is actually quite common. Typically associated with forests and woodlands, they have proven themselves to be very adaptable and indeed seem to thrive in suburban and urban environments. However, they typically opt to hang out within the cover of tree branches and leaves, not normally out in the open.

A juvenile Cooper's Hawk and adult Bald Eagle pose near each other. (© Tony’s Takes)

A juvenile Cooper’s Hawk and adult Bald Eagle pose near each other. (© Tony’s Takes)

A juvenile Cooper's Hawk keeps watch on a nearby Bald Eagle. (© Tony’s Takes)

A juvenile Cooper’s Hawk keeps watch on a nearby Bald Eagle. (© Tony’s Takes)

A wide-eyed juvenile Cooper's Hawk. (© Tony’s Takes)

A wide-eyed juvenile Cooper’s Hawk. (© Tony’s Takes)

Bighorn Sheep ram pauses for his portrait

A fun day this past weekend with this big guy as he chased the ladies all over the canyon. I had hoped for a show of head butting with the rams as the rut is getting close but, for some odd reason, this guy was the only one that wanted to come down and play. He was probably quite happy about that as he then had all the ewes to himself. 😉

As he kept watch on the ladies, he paused and looked at me as if to say, “here’s your shot.” I of course took advantage of it and the fall foliage in the background really help to make for a nice image. Taken in Waterton Canyon near Denver, Colorado.

Found across much of western North America, Bighorn Sheep are adept mountain climbers, best known for the male ram’s monstrous horns. While the animals are social, rams and ewes typically only meet during mating season. The young are kept on high ledges to help protect them from predators.

The Bighorn Sheep is the Centennial State’s official animal and to me that is quite fitting. Just like the terrain and many of its people, these animals are very rugged, strong and tough. The animal is found in many places in the state’s high country.

Diseases from European livestock and overhunting had caused the animal’s population to drop precipitously by the early 1900s. Thankfully conservation efforts have been successful in helping the sheep rebound since then.

A Bighorn Sheep ram poses in front of fall foliage in the Colorado foothills. (© Tony’s Takes)

A Bighorn Sheep ram poses in front of fall foliage in the Colorado foothills. (© Tony’s Takes)

Battling mulies

A pair of Mule Deer bucks fight for the affection of the nearby ladies. This was very early in the morning so the lighting was not good at all but it was fun to watch these two go at it for a bit. They were pretty evenly matched and there was no clear winner. In fact, after they were done, they both continued to hang out right near each other, largely ignoring one another.

Found across western North America, Mule Deer are named for their oversized ears. Image taken at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge near Denver, Colorado.

Mule Deer bucks battle on the plains of Colorado. (© Tony’s Takes)

Mule Deer bucks battle on the plains of Colorado. (© Tony’s Takes)

Mule Deer bucks battle on the plains of Colorado. (© Tony’s Takes)

Mule Deer bucks battle on the plains of Colorado. (© Tony’s Takes)

Mule Deer bucks battle on the plains of Colorado. (© Tony’s Takes)

Mule Deer bucks battle on the plains of Colorado. (© Tony’s Takes)

Formation flying American White Pelicans

These four massive birds came gliding by the other day, taking a brief respite on the lake. They are undoubtedly preparing to head south to warmer environs as winter is quickly approaching the Colorado Front Range. With a wingspan that can reach an amazing 8+ feet, they are extraordinary fliers, able to soar with great ease, rarely flapping their wings.

American White Pelicans spend their winters along the Gulf and southern Pacific coasts as well as in Mexico. Springtime sees them move north with many going to Canada and the northern plains but some choosing to stop part way and spend the summer in the Centennial State, northern California and a few other spots.

American White Pelicans glide over a lake in northern Colorado.  (© Tony’s Takes)

American White Pelicans glide over a lake in northern Colorado. (© Tony’s Takes)

Squirrel faces off with a Bald Eagle

A very brave – or perhaps dumb – squirrel on this morning. Watching these two this morning was hilarious. The squirrel would approach and then the second the Bald Eagle looked at it, it would scamper back. The eagle would look away, the squirrel would approach. This went back and forth for five minutes. So funny! I shot mostly stills of the encounter but did switch to video briefly to capture some of it.

Bald Eagle launches into Freedom Friday

Finally! It had been more than a month since I had some quality time with a Bald Eagle and I was needing my fix. My first drive by to visit this common spot yielded nothing but when I returned an hour later, the female had arrived.

For about an hour she sat and posed giving me some great looks. Then, providing the proverbial icing on the cake, she launched into the air giving a fantastic series of captures including this one just as her talons released from the tree branch.

Bald eagles have been a spiritual symbol of Native Americans for hundreds of years. There were variations between tribes as to the eagles’ symbolism but for most it generally represented bravery, wisdom, strength and courage. It was believed that the eagles carried prayers to the Great Spirit.

Analysis indicates that Bald Eagle populations were as high as 500,000 in the lower 48 states before the arrival of Europeans. Adopted as the United States’ national symbol in 1782, there were only about 100,000 by then. Bald Eagle populations continued to decline in the 1800s due to loss of habitat and a corresponding loss of its prey.

It was said to be at the edge of extinction in 1940 and that was followed by the introduction of DDT, a pesticide which further threatened the raptor causing its eggs to have very fragile shells. By the early 1960s, there were a mere 487 pairs of mated eagles in the lower 48 it was declared an endangered species. DDT was banned in 1972 and since then the Bald Eagle has made an extraordinary comeback, being removed from the endangered species list in 2007.

A female Bald Eagle spreads her wings and takes flight in Colorado. (© Tony’s Takes)

A female Bald Eagle spreads her wings and takes flight in Colorado. (© Tony’s Takes)

Wood Duck drake on golden water

Water fowl rarely draw the attention of my camera but the one exception that will always have me clicking are Wood Ducks. Their iridescent, colorful plumage is simply too beautiful to ignore. There is pond in the southern suburbs of Denver where they make an appearance every fall. I haven’t been there in a couple years and am long overdue to pay them a visit. This image was taken in October 2014.

A Wood Duck drake goes for a swim in waters colored yellow by the leaves above. (© Tony’s Takes)

A Wood Duck drake goes for a swim in waters colored yellow by the leaves above. (© Tony’s Takes)

Red, white and blue

The colors of our nation’s flag represented in the landscape, the wildlife and the sky. 😉

Hearkening back to early September, just days before the road to access these cool creatures closed for the season. The Mountain Goat herd was late arriving at their usual spot and I had just about given up. As I head down from the summit to look elsewhere I found them and as always, thoroughly enjoyed my time. This nanny seemed anxious to get the rest moving to higher altitudes, climbing a bit, then stopping and making sure they were following, then climbing so more and checking yet again.

Mountain Goats are actually not native to Colorado, having been brought here in the early 20th century as a tourist attraction. Unfortunately, they can carry diseases which are deadly to our state’s official animal, the Big Horn Sheep. When the goats roam into sheep territory, they are often killed to prevent them from infecting the sheep.

A Mountain Goat nanny stands tall on the wide of Mount Evans in Colorado. (© Tony’s Takes)

A Mountain Goat nanny stands tall on the wide of Mount Evans in Colorado. (© Tony’s Takes)