Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Memories and Birds

Maybe you saw me.  I was the kid under the cream-colored cowboy hat — fishing pole in hand, pedaling his red, one-speed American Flyer bicycle along US 40 during the Utah trout season — that is if you drove that route in the mid 1950s.  Interstate 80 has long since eliminated that section of highway and the portion of one of the two streams I fished now lies under concrete.  It’s the one up Parley’s canyon that everyone knew didn’t have fish — the one where I drifted nightcrawlers or flies beneath undercut banks in quest of those “nonexistent trout.”  My canvas creel was usually a bit slimy with our dinner when I bicycled home.

My other destination was the foothills above Salt Lake City where I’d kick around in the scrub oaks “hunting” for pheasants and quail.  I didn’t have a gun, but that didn’t curtail my thrill in the chase.  Sadly, that area, too, has long since disappeared under subdivisions and asphalt. 

When I turned 14 my desire to hunt with shotgun or rifle was satisfied — although not on those hillsides, but rather in the marshes along the Great Salt Lake.  However, I never enjoyed actually shooting a living creature — a feeling of remorse quickly erased my moment of satisfaction.  That all changed when I purchased a Yashica camera with a telephoto lens.  In 1964 graduate students in the University of Alaska’s wildlife department seemed to be ordering cameras from Hong Kong en mass.  I caught the bug, one of life’s fateful decisions that chartered a happy new course for me. 

That course lead to Karen and a mutual love of photography.   Soon, Karen “shot” past me in capturing the thrill of the hunt.  It seems that, while I always appeared as a threat to our quary — anything that moves — critters somehow sense the gentle side of Karen. 

This winter, with her new Canon Powershot SX50 camera, Karen has been particularly successful in “bringing home the bacon.”   But, don’t look for her on her new Trek gun-metal silver 10-speed bicycle wearing a cowboy hat.  You’ll be more successful in finding her hiding behind pilings on the docks in Petersburg’s boat harbor or hunkered down along the Wrangell Narrows shoreline — if you look really hard.  She’s not always very obvious — to critters or us humans.

      Eagle eyed Karen spotted this northern pygmy owl during one of our walks.  I would have walked right past it.

                                   We're suspect this song sparrow would satisfy the palate of the owl. 

                                Even larger birds like the Steller's jay might find itself on the owl's menu.

Another predator -- Yes, the American dipper, famous for walking on the bottom of streams to feed on aquatic insects, also catches fish -- even juvenile salmon.

               Black turnstones over-winter along southeast Alaska shorelines brightening up drab overcast days.

              A pair of male buffleheads cause us to marvel at the diverse plumage of male waterfowl species...

As does this pair of male common goldeneye ducks.  We were surprised to find this species of goldeney because we're more used to seeing...

Barrow's goldeneye.  I always thought the primary difference between the two was she shape of the white patch behind the bill.  However, comparing these two photos, there's much more.

Some people confuse harlequin duck males with wood ducks.  However, harlequins have a considerably different life history, nesting along mountain streams in which they feed and overwintering along coastal shorelines.  Don't look for wood ducks in any of those locations.

When most people think of wild ducks, one of the first species that come to mind are mallards.  Here Karen "captured" a male with his drab (to our eyes) mate.

You can see why this male American wigeon earned the species the name baldpate even though it's head is far from bald, but rather adorned with white feathers.

Speaking of hair dos, this female common merganser looking for it's next fish dinner sports a dandy, only to be outdone by her "cousin," the red-breasted merganser.  Karen still has her eye out  for that species...as well as anything else that moves -- or even blows in the wind.



casey said...

amazing pictures--the buffleheads are my fave--& i love the stories, too! :)

Don and Karen Cornelius Artwork said...

I agree with you, Casey. It's my favorite photo in the bunch although the American dipper is my favorite bird in the group.

Carol Swanson McCabe said...

I love this post...beautiful!

Cindi said...

Very lovely!