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Blue Heron Launch

Blue Heron Launch
Blue Heron Launch

Blue Heron Launch

IT was very late Golden Hour Lighting and the sun was settling into a cloud deck. (thus the red colorcast… natural). I had been watching this 5x5x5 bird (5 pound, 5 foot tall bird with a 5 foot wingspan) for 15 minutes. Sitting across a pond literally on the Montana / Wyoming border, he is 50 feet up a mature CottonWood Tree. The Pond is artesian and never dries up. The birds commonly seen in marshlands in the south, are rare sightings in this backcountry setting. There is a Heron rookery on ranch so I see them more than most. This photosession was just 9 days ago as this posts.

The cottonwoods are leafing out. I could only see 1 nest in the tree line where 6 were visible a week ago. I’m worried about the huge wind storm that blew through a few days before this. I’m guessing 80 mph gusts took a few nests out. Hopefully others are just obscured by the leaves of the trees. I looked very carefully to sky other nests but could only make out one. There was a Red Tail Hawk Nest not far down the tree line that I also could not locate in the 15 minutes I was watching this timeline unfold.

Catching a bird of any size at take off is a matter of reading it’s body language. Birds OFTEN poop just before they go errrr launch (no pun intended). Then there is that Squat 200 microseconds before the feet leave the perch. Timing and anticipatory focus. I’m thinking the focal field is 2 feet deep here… maybe 3… Focus a few feet in front of where he is standing…

I left after this fellow flew the coop as the sun was going down and I was a way out in the backcountry. A few miles to go over grass fields in the dark is tricky sometimes…. .

Location: Bliss Dinosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands (Wyotana)

Title: Blue Heron Launch

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Heron High Jinx Landing

Heron High Jinx Landing
Heron High Jinx Landing

Heron High Jinx Landing

The Cotton Wood Trees are freshly leafing. Still some cold days to come and the Cottonwoods flowers were out a week ago. About to test the thinest branches at the crest of this 50 foot tall Cottonwood Tree. These birds are roughly 5 pound, 5 foot tall fully grown Great Blue Herons. That’s a big bird coming in for a landing. You can see the wind due to the flowers all blowing from right to left. A 15 – 20 mph gusty wind was blowing. The branches were moving left to right. Sometimes dramatically from the wind that afternoon.

This female had just returned from it’s feeding mission around the area. They usually hunt within a few miles of their rookery. In this pretty high gusty winds, she had to land on a moving target. She nailed the landing as she was essentially levitating not moving and just dropping inches a second. These Avian Dinosaurian descendants are AMAZING masters of the sky. This a shift change with a neighbor watching..

I’ve spent some time watching Heron’s over the years. Building a nest near the top of 50 foot high cottonwoods one stick at a time is a story of a lot of trips by the male. Identification is usually because the male carries sticks to the nest and I’ve never seen a female do so. The male does the stick supply route over and over again but it’s the gals job to build the house. She will carefully weave and cajole all the loose sticks together.

I’ve seen them land and take off in all wind situations. This shot shows one of the smoothest landings I’ve ever seen a bird make. Floating down as delicately as spider silk in the breeze. It’s amazing to watch a fine motor skill control stall speed in the single mph digits.

Location: The Heron Rookery in the wetlands at the Bliss Dinosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands.

Heron High Jinx Landing

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Blue Heron Balancing in the Breeze

Blue Heron Balancing in the Breeze
Blue Heron Balancing in the Breeze

Blue Heron Balancing in the Breeze

The Great Blue Heron is also know as Ardea herodias by hobbiests and professionals alike. Here it is hanging out 50 feet up above a lake in a big CottonWood Tree. You know, the tiny branches at the tippy top. It was variously gusty / windy that morning at 5 AM.

These are BIG birds weighing in at 4.5 – 5.5 pounds, stand 5 foot tall with a 5 foot wingspan….. They are truly AMAZING circus actors. As far as I can tell they are total masters of their environment!📸 This bird was sitting about 150 yards from my lenses while I was on an adjacent slope I can actually get at nest level on (50 feet above the lake). I gain distance from the birds though by gaining elevation up to them. Leaves will shortly be getting in my way of seeing into their cloistered world.. Soon the curtain will be drawn except for the coming and going of the birds from the rookery here on the ranch.

The rookery/colony is only a 6 nest group along a remote backcountry lake. The only visitors to this place are me and who ever hays the ground around the lake that year. 99 percent of the time no one bothers this area. I have a game trail camera under their nests but I won’t get there for some time as disturbing the nests is not a good plan. I won’t get out of my truck if I’m within 300 yards of these guys.

Location: Bliss Dinosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands (Wyotana).

Title: Blue Heron Balancing in the Breeze

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Heron Mated Pair Nested

Heron Mated Pair Nested
Heron Mated Pair Nested

Heron Mated Pair Nested

Great Blue Herons are not common birds here on the high plains but they do come to roost and breed each spring. Our ranches wetlands have our share of Heron Breeding Pairs. These two are sitting in a fixed up nest that still remained from the year(s) before. Breeding/Nesting in the high branches of Cottonwoods is a common thing to see up here for Herons. The Cottonwoods line water ways and courses in the borderlands of Wyoming/Montana. Tall and safe from any climbing creatures, they set up a home perched way up there. There were sitting birds in all the nests this eventing this was the only parent returning in light I could catch him in. Later was too dark to catch any action.

Absent all winter having migrated to warmer climes, they returned a month ago to start nesting. . These guys were also a football field away from the vantage I had on an adjacent ridge to get this level look at the tree tops. Add a very long lens and you get “up close and personal” if you will. Early on I can see most of the nesting in this 1/8 long mile extended cottonwood tree line. Habitants last year included a great horned owl and chick in addition to the Heron Rookery… I love this place’s diversity of subject matter. Raptors fly about harassing the Great Blue Herons.

Location: Bliss DInosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands. (Wyotana)

Title: Heron Mated Pair Nested

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Horned Owl Grounded

Horned Owl Grounded
Horned Owl Grounded

Horned Owl Grounded

Gotta look close here….

This is not something I see everyday lol. Owls bolt quickly if approached or I don’t see them at all. They blend in rather well. I was “quietly” driving down low in a wash/gully in my UTV. Owls as a whole, stay tree perched. This one was eating a tid-bit of something, perched stationary on the side of a hill/ground. He was VERY well camo’d and I just caught some movement out of the corner of my eye. His feathers are a disruptive camo to your eye. I have NO idea how I saw him… 😄

A Great Horned Owl is a big bird with plenty of presence. They can live 15 years in the wild and have up to a 5 foot wingspan. The predators body can be up to 25 inches long and they weigh as much as a blue heron at 5 pounds. They are all about claws and beaks though they have some of the best disruptive Camo colors/pattern I’ve ever seen. These guys are easy to recognize due to their “plumicorns” which are feather tuffs resembling horns. . They are not ears. I understand they are the most common owl in the Americas. They range from the Arctic to South America. Interestingly, the male Great Horned Owl is Smaller than the Female but has a much lower pitched call than his mate. “Hoo, H’ Hoos”!

My path taken here is the proverbial “Low” road . This ground is a wonderfully dissected steep topography. Low ground between the fingers of the drainage reaching to the higher hills nearby . This forest has the spirits of dinosaur walking about as fossils do roll out of the golden Cretaceous River Sands here. It seems to me that all the Dinosaurs didn’t die at the end of the Cretaceous with the meteor/bolide that “killed the dinos”. That Extinction Level Event (ELE) killed 80 percent of Life on the planet . Took place a mere 66 million years back if you believe a geologist/paleontologist.

Location: Bliss Dinosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands (Wyotana)

Title: Horned Owl Grounded

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Heron Pair Building Nest

Heron Pair Building Nest
Heron Pair Building Nest

Heron Pair Building Nest

With a pink “Belt of Venus” twilight sky behind, the Male Great Blue Heron brings the sticks to it’s mate. The female builds the next and this is a brand new nest for 2020. There are at least 6 other nests in this treeline for these 5x5x5 birds. (5 foot tall, 5 foot wingspan, and 5 pounds). They are basically dinosaurs without teeth and tail in this paleontologists opinion. Tough light to freeze a flying flapping bird…

Spring time, the trees are just leafing out thusly I can still see these birds in their “bush”. Getting to see nesting activities this late in the game is difficult and changes with the lighting direction. While I’m waiting around for “flybys” and “launches” plus lighting… I’m busy searching this tree line for the Raptor and Owl Nests as well. Earlier last season I got a few long range captures of a Great Horned owl and a “chick” just down the tree line. This is a very biologically productive spot.

I am able to see clearly all 7 nests in this “rookery” at this early date. The female builds the nest with the male providing the “sticks” and other materials used in the construction. They start way early in the spring taking a month to hatch their eggs. It’s just about when the leaves start budding out on the Cottonwoods when I start seeing fledgelings. The leaves will obfuscate most of the nests from my long lenses (150 yards across a lake and 50 feet up this Cottonwood)

These large wading birds eat about anything they can catch/spear or otherwise grab. They hunt along the shorelines of the many lakes long the old “Texas Trail”. That trail runs from Miles City pretty much right by this spot as it continues down to Newcastle Wyoming. Most of the old cattle routes eventually head towards Oklahoma and northern Texas. I suspect millions of Montana Cattle Raised Cattle passed by this spot historically. They drank from this spring fed pond and enjoyed the large grassy pastures surrounding. It’s a nice spot to camp out for a few nights you might say 🤠 I suspect the herons were around here then as well….👀. Northern Wyoming/Southern Montana is certainly known as/located in their breeding areas.

Location: Bliss DInosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands

Title: Heron Pair Building Nest

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Herons Watching the Sunset

Herons Watching the Sunset
Herons Watching the Sunset

Herons Watching the Sunset

These three Great Blue Herons are a mated pair and a third. The pair is busy building a nest, the third is waiting for it’s mate that is off fishing. Perched in their nest for the next few months there. Soon the yet to leaf Cottonwood Tree supporting them will conceal them. Soon hidden behind the canopy of this 50 foot tall tree. They have an amazing view up there until then. Sitting above a lake high in the Montana / Wyoming borderlands.

The Great Blue Heron is a wide spread species ranging to exotic places like the Caribbean, the Galapago’s Islands and the Bliss Dinosaur Ranch lolol. Now why several mating pairs (6) hang out up here about 1/2 way between the Equator and the North Pole, or in the Galapagos….hummm Choices. 😂 Actually there are a lot of frogs and fish in the waters up here and I don’t see them skinny lol. They usually raise 5 or 6 chicks and head out.

The rookery is adjacent to a tall grassy hill such that I can get an angle at the tree top level. This from about 150 -300 yards away depending on the angle. I have some serious good images of Blue Herons taken over the years both sunrise and sunset. This wetlands is one of a few on our remote highland ranch. The lake is a spring fed ponded behind an early 1900’s dam. Water from the Fox Hill Sandstone 200 feet below seeping through a crack to the surface. I’ve never seen that lake dry.

Location: Bliss Dinosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands (Wyotana)

Title: Herons Watching the Sunset

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Blue Heron Sunset

Blue Heron Sunset
Blue Heron Sunset

Blue Heron Sunset

The return of the Great Blue Herons signifies the start of their nesting season on Ranch. I have only seen 4 Herons so far but it’s early. We expect 5+ inchesnow/single digits over the weekend (a week ago as this posts). The Ranch has “left the light on” for others to straggle in as they work their way back from winter haunts south. There are 6 nests in the trees across the lake from my camera where this mated pair is building a nest. The third is probably waiting for a mate that is out hunting.

The group obviously weren’t worried about my truck as the three were mostly motionless for 20 minutes all through my maneuvering. Left them still standing like this as I backed up to leave. I drove away as the sun disappeared. It seems they just don’t care about my Black Ford Raptor. I have not been much of a concern to these birds. Many local wildlife are already familiar/tolerant to my 3 month old rig. Many see it at least 2 times a day on average.

Natural behavior occurs while I’m in this rig. I just drive around like I’m a grazing animal. Stop, Start, turn, sit a minute. The truck is all black and only a little smelly/noisy. Just like a Black Angus cow :). Going really Slow in a factory “Baja truck”…. only in America.. 😜🤘📸

Photographic Musings:

I approach groups of animals living here on the huge grasslands with respect. If I scare them, I don’t get to photograph them. Of course most wild animals sense your approach early. At my crossing some pre-determined line in the sand, most bolt. Learning where that line in the sand is becomes pertinent towards the pursuit of the image.

I find stopping well back, take a few photos, figure out the light, get your settings up for a quick exit shot, then move. I usually readjust my settings for quality, get the composition set and click. Then go back to settings for speed (faster shutter, more ISO and or bigger aperture/fstop.). Move closer….rinse and repeat until you get the shot. (you might think this is “tough” light to work…. You would be right).

Most of the time with really long fixed (non-zoomable) lenses, I fill the frame, get the shot and leave without causing the animals to move. (Pronghorn excepted since they move regardless). 😜

Location: Bliss DInosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands (Wyotana)

Title: Blue Heron Sunset

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Blue Heron Mated Pair

Blue Heron Mated Pair
Blue Heron Mated Pair

Blue Heron Mated Pair

These two could have cared less I was slowly moving in their general direction. They are just starting to build their next with the male bringing sticks to the female. She is the construction engineer of the two. He’s the classic hunter / gatherer. I believe these two killed a Red Tail Hawk I found under their nesting area a few weeks old carcass. Both flew off this AM from the harrassment. So I went to tend to a game trail camera along that tree line. Thusly I drove under the trees in my Black pickup. Screeches above… I watched from a terrible vantage an acrobatic chase routine of Herons getting bombed by 3 Red Tailed Hawks located in this treeline. I’ve seen all sorts of aggressive behavior and posturing between the two different species fighting for the good nesting spots. Raptor/Heron Wars!

I believe these guys more or less consider my truck just a noisy/smelly Black Angus Cow playing Sirus XM 56 most of the time. What’s good about my Ford Raptor is that when I’m moving it runs normally. When I stop, it shuts off to save gas. It is by far the coolest thing they could have built into the truck for photographers.. The vibration from running engines has ruined more than a few images of mine over the years. The Auto-off feature is WONDERFUL. If you take your foot off the brake, it starts before you can hit the gas. It’s all effectively way more quiet by far than my old Trail Friend a Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Location: Bliss Dinosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands (Wyotana).

Title: Blue Heron Mated Pair

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Backlit Red Tail Hawk

Backlit Red Tail Hawk
Backlit Red Tail Hawk

Backlit Red Tail Hawk

The difference in illumination of the front versus the back of this perched Raptor is huge. Bright unfettered “Golden Hour” sun was hitting this guy from behind JUST off frame left. I tried about every manual shutter and f-stop setting possible on the camera to get the shadow detail and not overexpose the rest of the scene. This was the best result of the scatter. I think the photo finished with his chest very pink but I would indicate that that area was in deep shadow and I’m grabbing detail out of that shadow.

Colors brought out of the shadows seldom survive photorealistically under these harsh differences in dynamic range. I couldn’t with any precision see it’s chest in the camera. Regardless, the detail was in the dark and I do take MANY photos dark only exposing the highlight correctly in the camera. .

The digital dark room enables me to bring differential exposure to life. My long time job as a professional ‘photo finisher’ is to do just that. It’s the same thing that Ansel Adams did sort of.. He laboriously, in the chemical darkroom masking off negatives so as to expose different parts to a different light exposure. That act VASTLY expanded the dynamic range of the technology at the time. Essentially I’m doing the same thing in the computer. Different subjects…. Be nice to have Yosemite to yourself….🤔👀 I don’t think, this birds chest was quite that pink. It’s the way it finished and I have no memory of that part of this image to argue with it. …

The sun did highlight the tail feathers nicely thank you. He sat that way for 5 minutes… tail 1/2 fanned. I think the branch kept it from opening all the way. Robin’s Egg blue sky just at the start of golden hour. Stay tuned to my narratives for the story of “Raptor’s versus Herons at this tree line. I watched battles this morning, found a casualty of a Red Tail Hawk under the Great Blue Heron Nest. Witnessed the battle from UNDER trees and barely caught on film (Horribly I suspect) , 3 Herons and 3 red tail hawks doing aerobatics. I expect this mornings timeline to publish next week (my current lag time). This mornings work was wonderful with a HUGE April Setting Supermoon to start my early morning.

Egg Moon images soon.

Till later and Be Safe. Stick with the plan folks. I’ll do the tourism for you 📷🤘

Location: Bliss Dinosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands (Wyotana).

Title: Backlit Red Tail Hawk

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Who Owns the Nest

Who Owns the Nest
Who Owns the Nest

Who Owns the Nest

There are two bird silhouettes in this image. I watched this little melodrama unfold through my camera lens from about 100 yards out. The Raptor on the left.. (I’m thinking a Red Tailed Hawk. Interested in staying overnight there it was. It’s a big comfy Heron nest . 50 feet up the fully mature Cottonwoods with a wonderful sunset going on below this frame off on the horizon. This was happening real time though. Here’s how it went.

The Raptor had spied this nest. He obviously had designs on the roomy spread. I don’t know how long Great Blue Herons have nested in this spot. So things got really sporty between these two with the Raptor heading out for the clouds beyond. I’m pretty sure that nest has been there a LONG time. Wood really decays slowly out here. I would not be surprised if it were 30 years old. It has been there since I moved onto this ranch in 2000. There have been birds nesting in it every year I’ve been here along with the other 5 nests. They have the best position on the tree line.. I’ve seen hawks nest down this line of trees. Smaller Raptor nests are pretty hard to find camo’d in the trees.

I would indicate that that Herons beak could pierce the raptor to the heart. If I were a hake, I would not want to fight a Great Blue Heron. Roughly 5 pounds at 5 feet tall and very capable of eating about anything silly enough to stay in front of it. These guys are basically dinosaurs in the mind of this Paleontologist. They just lack a tail and teeth. Everything else is pretty much there. All the Dinosaurs didn’t die off at the end of the Cretaceous. Some of them, the Avian Dinosaurs lived on. Flying around us today they are. 🤔👀⚒📸

Location :Bliss Dinosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands (Wyotana).

Title: Who Owns the Nest

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Great Blue Heron Sunning

Great Blue Heron Sunning
Great Blue Heron Sunning

Great Blue Heron Sunning

A Month from now they return… Spring time 2019, the trees were just leafing out thusly I can still see these birds in their “bush”. Getting to see nesting activities this late in the game is difficult and changes with the lighting direction. While I’m waiting around for “flybys” and “launches” plus lighting… I was busy searching this tree line for the missing Great Horned Owl Nest as well. These are big 5 pound 5 foot tall birds if you’ve never seen them before.

Earlier that season I got a few long range captures of a Great Horned owl and a “chick” just down the tree line. This is a very biologically productive spot. Earlier that season before leaves were in the way, I was able to see clearly all 6 nests in this “rookery”. The female builds the nest with the male providing the “sticks” and other materials used in the construction.

They start way early in the spring taking a month to hatch their eggs. It’s just about when the leaves start budding out on the Cottonwoods when I start seeing fledgelings. These large wading birds eat about anything they can catch/spear or otherwise grab. They hunt along the shorelines of the many lakes along the old “Texas Trail”. That trail runs from Miles City pretty much right by this spot as it continues down to Newcastle Wyoming. Most of the old cattle routes eventually head towards Oklahoma and northern Texas. I suspect millions of Montana Cattle Raised Cattle passed by this spot historically. They drank from this spring fed pond and enjoyed the large grassy pastures surrounding. It’s a nice spot to camp out for a few nights you might say 🤠 I suspect the herons were around here then as well….👀.

Location: Bliss Dinosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands (Wyotana)

Title: Great Blue Heron Sunning

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Wetlands Sunset Through Smoke

Wetlands Sunset Through Smoke
Wetlands Sunset Through Smoke

Wetlands Sunset Through Smoke

I find that you are where you are when the sun goes down. I tend to levitate to reflective scenes but this I live on a “dryland” ranch. We don’t have any running water except during a big rain. Then we have flash floods lolol. Limited to the gullies fortunately. We did have a 4 inch rain in about an hour during which shin high water was running around the back of my house. So we do get some water dumps now and then. Forest fires up wind veil the sunsets as this and give the whole world an eclipsed feeling. 🤔👀

Geologic Musings:

This lake however is a spring fed pond with artesian water rising from about 600 feet down. There is a fault or flaw in the seal over the widely spread Fox Hill Aquifer which enables water to trickle up from that source through all the intervening rocks . Hell Creek Formation sits on top of Fox Hill and has layers of Bentonitic Clay which would stop water from rising without some structural insufficiency breaking those shaley/clay seals. In other words, the Artisian water source under this has a crack it’s following up to the surface.

Geology is self explanatory if you can read the book. The Cretaceous Fox Hill Formation was the Beach for the Dinosaurs… The space between the sandy terrestrial river deposits and the epicontinental ocean just east of here in the Cretaceous. I envision Dinosaurs laying on beach chairs with little umbrellas in their drinks. I’ve never found a fossil umbrella though. Actually the Fox Hill is exposed at the surface about 14 miles to the east of my ranch. It is mostly un-fossiliferous as one would expect from a higher beach energy washed sand (a little argillaceous). I’ve never found a fossil in it. It’s a regional Aquifer stretching from Canada to Colorado and has a LOT of water connate in the formation. It’s good to know that the water we drink has been down underground for a “while” 😀

Location: Bliss Dinosaur ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands (Wyotana).

Title: Wetlands Sunset Through Smoke

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Wetland Sunset Summer Green

Wetland Sunset Summer Green
Wetland Sunset Summer Green

Wetland Sunset Summer Green

Boy I miss summer. I will say that there were some mosquitos out at this shooting. Some crimson to purple to blue gradients pop up each year but not many. I got a good one here though. The alpenglow ice that gives you summer crimson blends in like an acrylic paint into blue higher in the sky forging purple out of the mix. It’s a natural rare gradient that I see a few times a year. Real purple is much rarer in the world than you would think looking at forums. Beware of the electric blue images you see but this is a real color mix showing purple.

The grass was high, the hay bales in the distance attest to an expenditure of diesel fuel to gather each 1 ton bale. The big tree just across the inlet has a landing below it that I have several game trail cameras. They have taken hundreds of creatures from coyotes to Herons walking right in front of that wonderful cotton wood. This lake is literally miles from the nearest gravel county maintained road. I can’t tell you how many little places of zen like this exist in and around my ranch. I’m pretty sure infinity comes to mind for the time I have to spend here in my short human existence. Cowboys 100 years ago built the dam across this spring. It watered generations of cattle walking the Miles City Montana to Newcastle Wyoming Trail on the way to Texas.

Location: Bliss Dinosaur Ranch, Wyoming / Montana borderlands (Wyotana)

Title: Wetland Sunset Summer Green

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Snow Melt Flooding

Snow Melt Flooding
Snow Melt Flooding

Snow Melt Flooding

I live up on the high ridges of the Borderlands. About 300 feet lower from my place, this goes one. We’re all in trouble for floods to reach my door. Our homestead sits at 3700 feet. This flooded spot on the Montana border is 3419 feet above mean sea level. The Lowest spot in Wyoming is 3099 feet above mean sea level on the Belle Fourche River. My communication tower is 4013 feet or about 300 feet above my house. . A lot of water runs past this point in the right season.

This from last year showing the result of a quick warm up in March. The snow pack last year was greater at the same time than this year I observe. Drainage funneling down to choke points of course is a recipe for high water. Upstream here covers an area 50 miles long and 40 miles wide in some places. It’s several thousand square miles in the drainage of the “Little Powder River”. That’s a lot of ground with a couple of feet of snow melted down to 6 inches of well packed firn (granular snow) .

The local term is, “the river is coming down”. Now as a geologist, I think of the river coming down as referring to the water level declining. But this colloquial use means the water level is going up. All that water up stream is “Coming down”. I had never heard before I moved up here. Anyone else use this as a term for rising flood waters?

Location: Bliss Dinosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands (Wyotana)

Title: Snow Melt Flooding

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Great Horned Take Off

Great Horned Take Off
Great Horned Take Off

Great Horned Take Off

This is not something I see everyday lol. Owls bolt quickly if approached or I don’t see them at all. They also blend in rather well. Magic in the backcountry.

I was quietly driving down low in a wash/gully in my Polaris Ranger Crew. Owls as a whole, stay tree perched. This one was eating a tid-bit of something, perched stationary on the side of a hill/ground. Never got a look at what. He was VERY well camo’d and I just caught some movement out of the corner of my eye. His feathers are a disruptive camo to your eye. Makes you dizzy.😄 The path taken here is the proverbial “Low” road . This ground is a wonderfully dissected steep topography. Low ground between the fingers of the drainage reaching to the higher hills nearby . This forest has the spirits of dinosaur walking about as fossils do roll out of the golden Cretaceous River Sands from the famous “Hell Creek/Lance Formations. here.

It seems to me that all the Dinosaurs didn’t die at the end of the Cretaceous with the meteor/bolide that “killed the dinos”. That Extinction Level Event (ELE) killed 80 percent of Life on the planet . Took place a mere 66 million years back if you believe a geologist/paleontologist. MOST dinosaurs did indeed die but the ones that did’nt had feathers, a tail and teeth. Their modern descendants are flying around us now. There are two types of Paleontologists. (BAND and BAD). Birds Are Not Dinosaurs and Birds are Dinosaurs. Most are the Latter.

I have a few dozen good captures from this encounter but I have bigger “fish” to fry at the moment lol. . This G. H. Owl.

Location: Bliss Dinosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands. (Wyotana).

Title: Great Horned Take Off

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Pillars of the Sunset

Pillars of the Sunset
Pillars of the Sunset

Pillars of the Sunset Over the Grass Sea:

Here Lies within the ends of the great grass sea,

There seems no end to it’s lore and legend,

Forever an observer of history,

It witnessed things that will happen no more.

The snow covering the grass will disguise

those leaving tracks from the past

but is unable to eulogize when asked.

You leave and become part of days bygone

but the conclusion is foregone,

that your passing through these pillars

ending up as all of our past

Back but buried under the grass. (Frank Bliss 2019)

This is the time of year I get romantic with the past and all those that have come before us. This is the end of a decade yet again. This last decade saw numerous wondrous family and friends pass into that great grass sea. Each and every one of us has an unbroken connection to the very beginning of time on this planet.

However you construe the beginning, we all have that common connection. All of our ancestors threads connect to a common rope of a few individuals. Since that humble beginning, every one of our parents survived to reproduce successfully, culminating with us. Those “hardy” folks survived wars, famine, disease/ drought and they didn’t even have a 7/11 to pick up coffee at. They never had to look for their keys or cellphone….

I see clearly previous lives in the old homestead sites spread all around us. Vague names, a little speck of memory from an elderly one but the rest is lost to all but the grass sea. All of us end up spread upon or buried under the ground which gave us life to begin with. It’s the circle of life and it’s a real thing. It’s the end of the journey that only that ground has a memory in conclusion.

Our immortality is only guaranteed by what we do for others, not by who we actually are. This is a season of giving. Please do for others so as to live on past the time we have been given in this miraculous place.

Happy New Years Evening, God Bless from all of us at:

Location: Bliss DInosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands (My last post of this decade )

Title: Pillars of the Sunset

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Blue Heron Stall Speed

Blue Heron Stall Speed
Blue Heron Stall Speed

Blue Heron Stall Speed

Early in the Spring of 2019, the Cotton Wood Trees were not even leafing. The trees flowers were out. The thinest branches at the crest of this 50 foot tall Cottonwood Tree are about to get tested. This bird is a 5 pound 5 foot tall fully grown Great Blue Heron. That’s a big bird coming in for a landing.

You can see the wind due to the flowers all blowing from right to left. A 15 – 20 mph gusty wind was blowing. The branches were moving left to right sometimes dramatically. 10 feet below this frame is this birds mate and nest with several eggs. This bird had just returned from it’s feeding mission around the area. They usually hunt within a few miles of their rookery. In this pretty high gusty winds, he had to land on a moving target. He nailed the landing as he was essentially levitating no moving and just dropping inches a second. These guys are AMAZING masters of the sky.

I’ve spent some time watching Heron’s over the years. Building your nest near the top of 50 foot high cottonwoods one stick at a time is a story of a lot of trips by the male. The male does the stick supply route over and over again but it’s the gals job to build the house. She will carefully weave and cajole all the loose sticks together. I’ve seen them land and take off in all situations. This shot shows one of the smoothest landings I’ve ever seen a bird make. Floating down like a single feather.

Location: The Heron Rookery in the wetlands at the Bliss Dinosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands.

Title: Blue Heron Stall Speed

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Blue Heron Fledgelings Stretching

Blue Heron Fledgelings Stretching
Blue Heron Fledgelings Stretching

Blue Heron Fledgelings Stretching

It had just rained and the sky had cleared. These three Great Blue Heron fledgelings were about 6 weeks old.

These largest of the North American Herons have a small rookery of 6 nests/pairs out in the Cottonwoods. Nests built high over one of our wetlands lakes. These young birds are less than 10 weeks old and probably more than 7 weeks. They are nearly fully feathered but weren’t flying at that point. They were waiting “patiently” for both parents to come back and feed them. Almost ready to leave the rookery, these juveniles were stretching, flapping and otherwise exercising their wings.

Great Blue Herons always nest within a few miles of their hunting grounds. This colony is around a string of small ponds. I’ve seen them hunt the shores for years but have yet to catch one spearing a fish with that sharp beak. Adults are masters of the air. I’ve seen them landing on branches 50 feet up that don’t look like they could hold the 5 pound bird. These are very BIG birds with standing 5 feet tall. They sport a 5 foot wingspan. Coming in at just a few mph using the wind to literally float down for a landing. Graceful to say the least. These guys will be lucky if they don’t get wet the first time they fly starting over a lake lolol.

As a species they have been flying a while. Their Dinosaurian ancestry is obviously clear in these close up images. Just add some teeth and a tail and you’d have an Avian Dinosaur. They all didn’t die at the end of the Cretaceous.

Square Aspect Ratio. 18x18in

Location: Bliss Dinosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands (the Heron rookery in the wetlands)

Title: Blue Heron Fledgelings Stretching

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Blue Heron Shift Change

Blue Heron Shift Change
Blue Heron Shift Change

Blue Heron Shift Change

Here I caught mother leaving the nest. She sat there for hours while dad (right) is considering how to turn the eggs or rearrange some sticks. These nests are amazing to try to do yourself. The male will bring the female sticks and she will build the nest. We have 6 heron nests in our rookery.

The Great Blue Heron is also know as Ardea herodias by hobbiests and professionals alike. Here they are hanging out 50 feet up above a lake in a big CottonWood Tree. You know, the tiny branches at the top. These are BIG birds weighing in at 4.5 – 5.5 pounds, stand 5 foot tall with a 5 foot wingspan….. They are AMAZING circus actors. They are total masters of their environment!📸

This bird was sitting about 200 yards from my lenses while I was on an adjacent slope I can actually get at nest level on (50 feet above the lake). I gain distance from the birds though by doing so….further away. . . They are pretty used to my Jeep driving around and it is a wonderful portable blind. Pairs will change egg sitting shifts at irregular times so sitting and watcing for moving birds can take hours with a small 6 mating pair rookery.

This rookery is a wonderful photo location for long lenses and the trick is not to pressure the birds which I try really hard not to do… I get lots of natural behavior shots so that is the best indicator to me. 😊 Using my Jeep for a blind, Ive been able to observe these guys for hours at a time. 800mm and 1200mm lenses are the order of the day. Long things to hang out your car window. I use a v shaped bean bag on my window for general work but I can tripod too if I have to on that same window.

Location: Bliss DInosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands

Title: Blue Heron Shift Change

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Jabba the Owl

Jabba the Owl
Jabba the Owl

Jabba the Owl is a Great Horned Owl AND a fledgeling laying down under a wing.

This Capture is WAAAAAY far out there for the optical technology I had at that time. At least 300 yards across a lake at 3200mm. Taken last spring before the leaves sprouted on the host Cottonwood Tree. I only got a few opportunities on this nest as the spring COttonwood leaves totally hid it from me time and time again. . I just couldn’t see him for about a month after this shot. When I finally got lucky with a certain angle and a beam of light. At these distances a quarter mile line of cottonwoods all looks alike from different angles lol. These owls have some of the best disruptive camo I’ve ever seen. It was amazing I found him this time. I do have some other images with him and a fledge standing too.

There was no other way to approach this next as just finding it against the visual noise of the treeline that ALL looks like this lolol. That is a very small area of a big row of trees looking through a long tube with no landmarks lolol. One time I had a green frog at 15 feet in algae to find while looking through a 18 inch long lens. Under High Magnifications, this is nearly an impossible task. To point a camera that precisely with consistency time and time again….nope This capture is taken off a sandbag on a Jeep Window.

Location: Bliss Dinosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands

Title: Jabba the Owl

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Heron Flying Away 2:1 Aspect

Heron Flying Away 2:1 Aspect
Heron Flying Away 2:1 Aspect

Heron Flying Away 2:1 Aspect

Taking a Great Blue Herons profile from the same elevation is a pretty low probability encounter. I use my Jeep as a portable blind. Adjacent to the 50 foot tall Cottonwood Trees, exists a steep grassy hill that reaches over 50 feet above the trees. The higher you go, the further you are away from the Heron Rookery. This required a long lens to reach out and touch this guy.

Sort of the “drone” point of view but I don’t fly the things lol. I’ve never captured an image before where you could see the top AND the bottom of a heron’s wings at flight. (I take a lot of Blue Hero). I find photographers shoot what’s in front of them…..Kinda like some hunters… I would really have liked to have this shot from the other side. The longer I work this site, the more likely this will happen again. Good photography is a function of being there and paying your dues. There are of course, some technical considerations for a long range shot. 📷 I used an 800mm telephoto lens for this image.

Photographed in the late spring. (spring was on a Friday in 2019) Swing seasons between white and brown are usually one day long in this high ridge line prairie country. Spring weather would be welcome with a storm due as I type this narrative.

The ranch wetlands these birds nest on are wonderful places for biologic productivity. The Cottonwood trees they roost in grow on a many decade old dam across a spring fed pond. That pond is also runoff catchment for several square miles but the runoff is all grassy, broad and not gully like. It’s wonderful hay country there. The pond is a nice several acre puddle. There are a series of water sources in the area so the birds to fly away to hunt as well.

Great Blue Herons are big up to 5 pound birds. That is a 5 foot wingspan across this 40×20 inch image.

Location: Bliss DInosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands

Title: Heron Flying Away 2:1 Aspect

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Great Blue Heron Launching

Great Blue Heron Launching
Great Blue Heron Launching

Great Blue Heron Launching is a capture from early in 2019.

Spring time, the trees are just leafing out thusly I can still see these birds in their “bush”. Getting to see nesting activities this late in the game is difficult and changes with the lighting direction. While I’m waiting around for “flybys” and “launches” plus lighting… I’m busy searching this tree line for the missing Great Horned Owl Nest as well. Earlier that season I got a few long range captures of a Great Horned owl and a “chick” just down the tree line. This is a very biologically productive spot.

Earlier that season before leaves were in the way, I was able to see clearly all 6 nests in this “rookery”. The female builds the nest with the male providing the “sticks” and other materials used in the construction. They start way early in the spring taking a month to hatch their eggs. It’s just about when the leaves start budding out on the Cottonwoods when I start seeing fledgelings.

These large wading birds eat about anything they can catch/spear or otherwise grab. They hunt along the shorelines of the many lakes long the old “Texas Trail”. That trail runs from Miles City pretty much right by this spot as it continues down to Newcastle Wyoming. Most of the old cattle routes eventually head towards Oklahoma and northern Texas. I suspect millions of Montana Cattle Raised Cattle passed by this spot historically. They drank from this spring fed pond and enjoyed the large grassy pastures surrounding. It’s a nice spot to camp out for a few nights you might say 🤠 I suspect the herons were around here then as well….👀. Northern Wyoming/Southern Montana is certainly known as/located in their breeding areas.

Location: Bliss DInosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands

Title Great Blue Heron Launching

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Green Spring Wash

Green Spring Wash
Green Spring Wash

Green Spring Wash is a capture from May of 2019. Our region has been in a winter weather pattern since October 1. I figured it was time to put you here with me at that time. This is a broad wash (shallow gully) that can flash flood with feet of water)

I had driven there in an open ATV. Early may is a tad chilly as the sun rises as such I was aware of the temperature. It wasn’t windy when I was walking though. Just brisk. This gully is a few miles from my homestead and I hadn’t worked this before. This gully has wonderful sculpted rocks and cottonwoods along with the thickest grass I’ve seen up here. All the mineral sands from a few square miles of drainage area wash by here. It’s probably as fertile as it gets in this country. .

The sun had just risen a few moments before. The sky was blue as could be with a cloud bank to the left blocking the sun. Contrasts are important. This was just a small window to the sun on a mostly overcast morning. This wash was full of spring growth.

That sideways branch in the foreground was budding having broken away from it’s parent tree years ago. Just a fine connections (lifeline) is all it needs. Life is resilient as heck here. It has to be to make it past the floods, the winds, the cold and the summer heat. Drought and fire is a common event. As a famous Movie once stated “Life will find a way”.

2:1 Aspect to 40 inches

Location: Bliss Dinosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands

Title: Green Spring Wash

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Double X Golden Hour

Double X Golden Hour
Double X Golden Hour

Double X Golden Hour is filed under “Things I see traveling the backcountry”.

I drive many miles of two track roads up here in the borderlands. I see patterns rather easily and noticed this on the way past a nice long stand of Cottonwood Trees. Cottonwoods tend to grow where it is wet. They can be a clue to find water.

As a wood goes, Cotton wood is sort of a weed. It is used for shipping crates, pallets, along with other cheap wood products. It’s too wet, rots quickly and splits terribly. These attributes keep it from being a good firewood. The 3 species of Cottonwood trees are huge, growing 50 up to 160 feet high. I’ve never burned it but I understand it stinks and is very prone to creosote up your chimney . It does grow VERY fast and sucks water out of ponds. They tend to be weedy on dams locally. They stabilize the dam but they also suck up the water growing quickly in the moist conditions.

The sky show ongoing around and behind the X’s was pretty impressive that night. The color back there is actually the grassland behind the trees being out of focus (bokeh). This golden hour was living up to it’s name through out it’s extant that evening. This was taken later in the autumn. By then, the Cottonwoods have lost all their leaves after a few hard freezes.

Location: Bliss DInosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands (Wyotana)

Title: Double X Golden Hour

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Heron Catching Some Wind

Heron Catching Some Wind
Heron Catching Some Wind
A Great

A Great Blue Heron Catching Some Wind was this bird way of starting to take off. Spreading it’s wings you could see the branch lift as the weight is lessened on it. These birds are masters of their domain. This is 50 feet up at the top branches of a Cottonwood Tree.

For a shoreline wading bird, these guys handle the high tree life roost without a miss. They make their living eating frogs, small mammals, fish and anything else they can catch around their realm. These guys are widespread in our Hemisphere from the Galapagos to most of North America. They breed up here though. They like places where there isn’t much human activity. Where they set up their rookery is quite a ways off an already remote county road. Isolated they are from humans up here.

Not many people ever notice the rust colored feathers on their wings leading edges. Also of note are their chest feathers. The birds actively shread them to make a powder that soaks up all the fish and oils from the wetlands.

I’ve spent many hours sitting and watching these birds. After the nest is built, mostly they hunt/sit on eggs. The male will bring the female the sticks and the female does the engineering. Both parents feed the young and share the 4 weeks of egg sitting. I’ve had a pretty good window on several of the nests all breeding season in 2019. I have quite a few images to finish from these encounters still. Job security I suppose😀

Location: Bliss DInosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands

Title: Heron Catching Some Wind

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Spring Time Heron Rookery

Spring Time Heron Rookery
Spring Time Heron Rookery

Spring Time Heron Rookery is a capture from Late Spring (May) of this year. I know it’s a little out of season but I think a little green is good now and then.

There are 6 Great Blue Heron Nests are 50 feet high up those Cottonwood Trees. (Can you find them?). There were sitting birds in all the nests this eventing this was the only parent returning in light I could catch him in. Later was too dark to catch any action. This was a sunset looking north. Early in the year the sun is still way to the left and has just set. There is NO blue shadow under the pink that would represent the earth’s horizon’s shadow. If the sun had been down for 15 minutes, there would be a large wedge shaped blue shadow low over the distant hills. The pink band moves above as the red light is reflected by the ice in the atmosphere becomes blocked by the horizon.

As I said, any darker and the bird would have blurred. This is right on the edge of catchable in the camera. I would love to see green grass sooner than May. That isn’t happening up here lol. These 6 nests have been productive this year. The species as a whole haven’t been seen here for months now. They move south as the lakes they feed on freeze over.

This is a spring (and runoff of course) fed lake from an aquifer 500 feet below by a crack in the ground. (a fault). This crack allows water to seep up to the surface because the “hydraulic head” is higher than 500 feet at this place. The sandstone that provides this lakes source is literally a water tank full 500 feet higher than the sandstone is at this location..

Location: Bliss Dinosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands

Title Spring Time Heron Rookery

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Fledgeling Great Blue Herons

Fledgeling Great Blue Herons
Fledgeling Great Blue Herons

Having a Photobomber sneak into “Fledgeling Great Blue Herons” was a plus. I was focusing on the two above and in comes the head on the lower left frame. Curiosity got him in the photo lol. I appreciate him extending his neck as the tree was in his way. They can lift their necks up so high after all. Remember these little guys stand up to 5 feet tall and weigh 4-5 pounds. Masters of their domain they are 😎

This was tough light but I’m pleased with the opportunity to catch these guys before they migrated away from the rookery following their parents south. This image was captured early summer and the cottonwoods were fully leafed. I often loose track of the nests as the trees fill in with leaves . Thusly the cover over the nests keeps the privacy curtain up rather well. Not much assistance to me but I’m sure the birds like it.

These guys were up getting some sun. Mostly they had their feathers here but they were still waiting for their first flight. Parents were due to feed them shortly. Breeding/Nesting in the high branches of Cottonwoods is a common thing to see up here. The Cottonwoods line water ways and courses in the borderlands of Wyoming/Montana. Tall and safe from any climbing creatures, they set up a home perched way up there. There were 6 nests inhabited this year in our rookery.

Location: Bliss DInosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands

Title: Fledgeling Great Blue Herons

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Great Heron Needs a Tums

Great Heron Needs a Tums
Great Heron Needs a Tums

This Great Blue Heron Needs a Tums…

I caught tinder loving parent at a moment where he was “gaking” and within a minute was regurgitating some obviously troubling juices. (of course I have that picture but there is enough green in the photo from the Cottonwood. Birds generally feed their fledgelings that way of course.

Researchers say birds have maybe 20 taste buds over the same area that we have 10,000 so I’m not sure if it bothers him much. There are birds that don’t taste very well…( wait for it)…..but there are others that taste very well..😜🐣🦆🐓

Dinosaur Ranch right….. always considering..

These living dinosaurs (without a tail and teeth) pretty much do dinosaur behavior. Which means they hunt about anything they can catch. My view point as a paleontologist….. Frogs, fish, rodents (mammals) just like smaller dinosaurs hunted. The little mammals certainly were on the dinner plate for the distant relatives back in the Cretaceous here on ranch.

I find small mammal fossils on ranch mixed in with the dinosaur fossils. (rare and mostly isolated very small tooth fossils) Teeth of course are selectively preserved because they are hard and survived the fossilization process better than small softer mammal bones. A disproportionate number made it through fossilization, termed “survival-ship bias” (Phrase for the day)

But that tongue…….. Each bird species have tongues that are specialized to their lifestyle and environment/diet. Because the opportunistic Great Blue Herons also eats a pile of fish…. but its diet also includes frogs and other amphibians, reptiles, insects, and even small mammals if they are in striking distance. While it’s pointy dagger like beak has developed for catching prey, an unusual tongue also helps.

No teeth in that mouth though their avian dinosaurian ancestors certainly had teeth lining that mouth cavity. The hunting behavior was handed down generation after generation though and these guys are exemplar walking metaphors to dinosaurs. Some did survive the extinction at the end of the Cretaceous after all… The avian dinosaurs 🤔

Their Whole anatomy is all about fishing though. They even have specially adapted neck vertebra/muscles that enable them strike like a rattler at prey but they don’t usually catch and release lolol. I note that catch and release is a human invention not seen in nature unless you consider cat’s playing games with their prey……

Location: Bliss Dinosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands

Title: “Great Blue Heron Needs a Tums”

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Great Blue Heron Family

Great Blue Heron Family
Great Blue Heron Family

Great Blue Heron Family 50 feet up a CottonWood Tree

This family portrait was taken from about 100 yards out from an adjacent ridge. I’m in my portable blind at the time (Jeep Grand Cherokee). I find that vehicles make very good blinds. Most birds aren’t threatened by slow moving cars but these guys are aware when I move into their ‘territory’. Once I’m there and stationary, they go back to normal behavior soon. Maybe a few minutes of nervous and then they are all back to normal business.

Mostly watching Herons in the rookery is about shift changes. Sometimes it’s hours between comings and going even with several breeding pairs. There is no schedules to it as far as I can tell. Incoming parents switching out with their better half who has been sitting on eggs for hours. The male brought back a belly full for the young this time. It will be the turn of the female next turn around. They don’t spend too much time all three on the nest. Usually it’s just 2 or just the fledgeling after it gets old enough.

Great Herons do best when they are away and free from human disturbance and have areas nearby to forage. This rookery is several miles from any ranch building or human activity. That is except me in my car every few days during breeding season.

Great Blue Herons have specialized feathers on their chest that continually grow and fray. The herons comb these feathers into a “powder down” with a fringed claw on their middle toes. They use the down powder like a towel to remove fish slime, organics and other oils from their feathers as they preen. By applying this powder they protect their feathers against the water slime and oils of lakes and swamps.

Location: Bliss Dinosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands.

Title: Great Blue Heron Family