Swallows are those little birds we see with their
distinctive back swept, pointed wings and their forked “swallow tail”. They maneuver
through the sky at high speed, in a seemingly erratic pattern, catching and
eating insects in flight. They will also eat mollusks, spiders and sometimes
In the spring, along the American River, in the Sacramento
area, I commonly see two types of swallows: Tree Swallows and Cliff Swallows.
When I am lucky, I’ll see a Bank Swallow. I have been told we also have Violet-green
Swallows but I haven’t seen any.
The most common swallow that I see is the Tree Swallow. They are called Tree Swallows because the nest in cavities in trees. It is a beautiful iridescent blue on its head and back, white on its breast and underside and blackish color on wings and tail. These birds live along the gulf coast, southern Mexico and Central America in the winter and move north throughout the US in summer.
The Cliff Swallow is a multi-colored bird with off-white
underside, gray-brown wings, blue-gray back and head cap and a brown-red neck.
They are quire beautiful. They make nests of mud that appear precariously perched
on a cliff face. They also build nest in man-made structures like bridges and
buildings. They are very social; many birds build nests near one another and
hunt together. They also live along the gulf coast, southern Mexico and Central
America in the winter and move north throughout the US in summer.
The bank swallow is a bird with different names in different
parts of the world. In Europe, it is the Sand Martin while on the Indian subcontinent
it is called the collard sand martin. They make a nest, lined with straw or
feathers, in a hole they burrow into sand or gravel. They have mostly white
underparts but have a gray back, wings and head. They will sometimes have a
prominent grey collar at the base of their neck. They winter across they
southern 1/3 of the US in winter then migrate north in the summer.
Here are some images of these beautiful swallows.
Please click on caption to see these images in higher resolution.
In our area, we have a few rookeries; communal nesting areas
for herons, egrets and cormorants. There are other birds that nest in rookeries
but I am not aware of any I our area.
Rookeries are interesting. The two I see most often are in a
small cluster of tall trees along side of a river. The birds nest high above
the ground. Each bird tends to their own nest. But the colonies can contain two
dozen or more nests. The herons, egrets and cormorants will even nest in the
same tree. Many believe protection drives their desire to nest communally. More roommates make it easier to spot and
chase away predators.
I visited both rookeries last week and it appears to me that
the birds are sitting on eggs. If I am right, we should have babies soon. So, I’ll keep checking back and when I can,
post pictures. I can’t get close to the nets; I am about 75 yards away. So, I
won’t be able to photograph the chicks until they are big enough to pop their
heads above the sides of the nest.
Here are a few rookery images. Take note of the male Double-crested Cormorant. He is displaying his orange patch and the crest of feathers on his head. For me, its rare to see the crests displayed.
Here are images of a some animals that I’ve taken over the last few weeks; the Coyote, the Black-tailed Jackrabbit and the California Ground Squirrel.
Take notice of the coyote. His eyes face front. That is a trait of predators. The ground squirrel and the jackrabbit need to keep their eyes open for predators while they forage, so their eyes are on the side. Remember the adage: “Eyes in the front, the animal hunts. Eyes on the side, the animal hides.”
Please click on caption to see image at higher resolution.
This past week, we had a morning where the rain clouds were
breaking up in the early morning. I chose that day to explore Doton’s Point trail
at Folsom Lake Recreation Area; a trail that was new to me. The grasses and
other plants were displaying their spring green. The early morning sun helped
saturate the colors. Spring was at its finest. I went with the expectation that
I might see some different birds. Instead, I discovered that it was time for some
The beautiful rocks in this image are granite. The area around this portion of Folsom Lake is called Granite Bay because of the abundance of granite in the area. Like the Sierra Nevada mountains, this area sets on a pluton, a large blob of magma that cooled slowly underground to form granite then was uplifted and exposed.
Please click on caption to see image at higher resolution.
There are 2 major classifications of hawks. Buteos and Accipiters. Buteos are the familiar Red-tailed, Red-shouldered Hawks along with numerous others.The Accipiters are generally smaller, with shorter wings. This makes them more maneuverable; a skill needed because they live in more wooded areas and prefer to eat other birds. I’ve included images of 2 accipiters; the Coopers Hawk and the Sharp-shinned hawk.
Please click on caption to see images at higher resolution.
On our trip to Yosemite last week, a pair of ravens were
foraging among the trees outside our hotel room. They were totally unfazed by me as I followed
It was an interesting day to shoot ravens. Everyone knows
ravens are black. But black just means that its feathers absorb all frequencies
of color and reflect none back. Like some other birds, the raven’s feathers can
refract or bend light, allowing their feathers to appear other colors. When the
birds were in bright light, they were their bright, familiar, black. But, when
they were in lower light, depending upon how they positioned themselves, their
wing and tail feathers appeared blue. In one other instance, the light hit the
raven’s ruff under his chin and made it look brown.
Is it a raven or is it a crow. If its big and bulky and it makes a croaking sound, its probably a raven. If its smaller and makes the familiar caw, its probably a crow. But, sometimes its not so simple. I am collecting images to put together a simple but more complete illustrated guide.
Please click on caption to image at a larger size.
Last week, we took a trip to Yosemite National Park. We were a bit late in the season. We were looking for snow, but almost all of the snow was gone from the valley floor. There was some clinging to the nooks on the cliff side. It was sunny when we arrived but, as the golden hour approached, the skies became cloud covered and we got rain. Just being in Yosemite when there are few people is a real treat, so walking around in the rain was enjoyable even though photography opportunities were few. Little did we know the treat that would await us in the morning.
We dutifully got up and out ½ hour before sunrise – about an
hour before the sun would start to light up the valley walls. While planning
the trip, I learned we would have clear skies in the morning and that the sun
would be in a good position to light Yosemite Falls. Yosemite falls is often
shaded during the golden hours for photography. We found the position from
which I wanted to shoot and set up. It was then we got our first surprise –
snow had fallen on the cliffsides on either side of the waterfall. There was
even a dead tree that was partially snow covered that I could get into the
I set up my composition and waited in the cold. After a
period of time that seemed interminable, golden sunlight began to penetrate the
valley. Watching the sun light the mountain tops and valley walls is one of my
favorite experiences; I never grow tired of it. We watched and enjoyed. I would
shoot from time to time. But, I really wanted more light on the water fall.
When the light broke, I got a treat I hadn’t expected. The sun began giving the
water and the mist a golden glow. I watched and I shot as the different
sections would glow. We stayed through the entire show.
I’ve included 2 of the images I got that morning. I hope you enjoy them.
Please click on caption to see these images at higher resolution.